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In our news wrap Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced more than $241 million in grants to improve U.S. ports. Low mortgage rates and high demand during the pandemic have caused new home sales in the U.S. to jump 12.4 percent in November, compared to last month. At least four people were injured in Texas after a "major industrial accident" at the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown.
In the day's other news: The U.S. economy churned out another month of low unemployment and high inflation.
The Labor Department reported new jobless claims held steady at 205,000 last week. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said consumer prices jumped 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier. Even so, consumer spending rose more than half-a-percent last month.
The Biden administration is looking to help reduce that inflation by easing bottlenecks in the supply chain. Today, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced more than $241 million in grant funding to improve U.S. ports. The money is available immediately for 25 projects in 19 states.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it is a worthy investment.
Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:
These grants demonstrate rapid action commitments in the Biden-Harris Port Action Plan. Investing in our infrastructure will strengthen our supply chains, help speed the flow of goods, and lower prices for Americans.
The Department of Transportation acknowledged that it may take months for consumers to feel the effects from these improvements.
Low mortgage rates and high demand during the pandemic have caused new home sales in the U.S. to jump 12.4 percent in November over the previous month. That is the fastest pace in seven months. It's also 14 percent higher than last November. Sales for previously owned homes also saw a steady increase for the third month in a row.
At least four people were injured in Texas after what authorities are calling a major industrial accident at one of the country's largest oil refining and petrochemical facilities. A large fire broke out early this morning at the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown about 25 miles east of Houston.
Nearby residents were jolted awake.
Sharon Rogers, Witness:
I heard this huge explosion, boom. It rocked this whole house, knocked me out of my bed, woke me up. Scared me to death.
The cause of the incident is still under investigation. ExxonMobil said the air quality remained safe.
President Biden signed a bill today banning imports of products from China's Xinjiang region over forced labor concerns. The bipartisan legislation aims to hold Beijing accountable for its abuse of China's Uyghur Muslim minority. The U.S. government and human rights groups have said it amounts to genocide, but China has denied the claims.
Former President Trump today asked the Supreme Court to block the release of White House records to the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection. It is his legal team's last-ditch effort, after a federal appeals court ruled against him two weeks ago. Mr. Trump insists he has the right to assert executive privilege.
The humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia is expected to escalate even more next year. A new United Nations report out today estimates that 22 million Ethiopians will need humanitarian aid. That comes amid ongoing conflict in the Tigray region and elsewhere. the east African country is also facing drought, flooding, disease outbreaks, and locust infestations.
Pope Francis urged Vatican cardinals, bishops, and administrators today to embrace humility this holiday season. At his annual Christmas address to the Vatican bureaucracy, Francis said their pride and the — quote — "glitter of our armor" was corrupting their spiritual lives and the church's mission.
Pope Francis, Leader of Catholic Church (through translator): The humble give life, attract others, and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead. The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid.
Also today, the pope removed the head of the Vatican office that oversees the environment, migration, and COVID-19 issues, following the undisclosed results of an internal investigation.
In Hong Kong, the last public memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre is now gone. The so-called Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong depicted a 26-foot-tall pile of mangled bodies, symbolizing those killed in the violent crackdown. It was hauled away from campus earlier today. It is the latest effort to stamp out public memory of the 1989 massacre.
On Wall Street, stocks surged for a third straight day. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 196 points to close at 35950. The Nasdaq rose 131 points. And the S&P 500 added 29.
And two passings to note tonight. Legendary American author and essayist Joan Didion died today in New York of complications from Parkinson's disease. Her writing explored politics and culture and even her own personal grief. Her memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking" written after her husband's death went on to win the National Book Award. Joan Didion was 87 years old.
And we will have more on her life later in the program.
And Franklin A. Thomas, the first Black leader of a major American philanthropic organization, has died. He rose from the streets of working-class Brooklyn to become president of the Ford Foundation from 1979 to 1996. He restructured the organization and raised both its number of grants and its endowment. Thomas passed away last night at his home in Manhattan. He was also 87 years old.
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