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November 9, 2011

Not even Santa is safe in these troubled economic times. In New York's Suffolk County, county administrator Steve Levy opted to trim $660 from the annual $2.7 billion budget by giving St. Nick the boot. Levy says he couldn't justify paying 83-year-old David McKell, a former homicide detective and WWII vet, to play Santa when hundreds of county employees were facing layoffs. After constituents called the Republican Levy a Grinch, a local Democrat gunning to succeed Levy stepped in to pay Santa's salary out of his own pocket. Christmas crisis averted. The Week Staff

2:50 p.m. ET
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Only 51 percent of 30-year-old Americans make more money than their parents did at the same age, economists and sociologists from Stanford, Harvard, and the University of California have learned. The results of their study reflect a shocking decline from four decades prior, when 92 percent of American 30-year-olds in 1970 earned more than their parents did at a similar age.

"My parents thought that one thing about America is that their kids could do better than they were able to do," Raj Chetty, an economist on the research team who emigrated from India at age 9, told The Wall Street Journal. "That was important in my parents' decision to come here."

It isn't immediately clear why Americans aren't earning as much, but economic growth and the widening income gap are likely causes. Regardless, reversing the trend is a daunting task: "If income distribution remains as tilted toward the wealthy as it is now, [the researchers] calculate, it would take sustained growth of more than 6 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, to return to an era where nearly all children outearned their parents," The Wall Street Journal notes. "Since World War II, the U.S. hasn't experienced anything near that level of growth for a lengthy period of time." Jeva Lange

2:36 p.m. ET

While at an amber market in Myanmar, Chinese paleontologist Lida Xing stumbled upon an extraordinary clue about the appearance of dinosaurs. Enclosed in a chunk of amber for sale, Xing spotted what turned out to be the perfectly preserved tail of a dinosaur that roamed the Earth some 99 million years ago. Her discovery marked the first time a mummified dinosaur skeleton has ever been found, and a paper on it was just published in the journal Current Biology.

Interestingly, the tail was neither big nor scaly. Instead, it measures about 3.7 centimeters in length and it is covered in feathers that appear to be chestnut-colored. The tail's vertebrae aren't fused like that of a bird's tail, suggesting the dinosaur could've moved the appendage in a "whip-like" fashion. Scientists believe the tail came from a young coelurosaur "about the size of a sparrow," BBC reported. At full size, NPR says the dinosaur likely would've been "a little smaller than an ostrich."

Different as this tiny, feathered dino may sound from the mammoth creatures featured in films, scientists say coelurosaurs are actually closely related to both the Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptor. Moreover, this newly discovered tail has more and more scientists thinking this feathery creature might be a more accurate portrait of dinosaurs than the ferocious beasts of Jurassic Park. "The more we see these feathered dinosaurs and how widespread the feathers are, things like a scaly velociraptor seem less and less likely and they've become a lot more bird-like," said Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist who co-authored the paper. "They're not quite the Godzilla-style scaly monsters we once thought." Becca Stanek

2:01 p.m. ET
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The reality TV producer best known for his work on The Apprentice will play a role in orchestrating Donald Trump's Inauguration Day festivities, The New York Times reports. Mark Burnett, who is also the executive producer of The Voice, Survivor, and Shark Tank, is reportedly huddling with Trump to plan the events of Jan. 20, 2017:

Despite the modest nature of the events under consideration, [Thomas Barrack Jr., who is leading the presidential inauguration committee], said Mr. Burnett was actively involved in producing the inauguration week festivities. He will have a large team to work with, as the committee's staff in Washington is expected to swell to more than 300 people by Inauguration Day.

"Mark is a genius, and the president-elect loves him," Mr. Barrack said. [The New York Times]

The Inauguration Day events are expected to be completed by Monday, although some details, including two balls, a candlelit dinner, and a "victory reception," are already known. "The president-elect wants this to be simple," Barrack said. "He wants this to be about the people." Jeva Lange

12:59 p.m. ET

Donald Trump and his allies spent the bulk of the presidential campaign criticizing the "donor class," but at least six of Trump's top appointees so far have been direct or indirect contributors to his campaign, Adam Smith of the nonprofit political advocacy group Every Voice pointed out on Twitter:

Andrew Puzder, who was selected by Trump as labor secretary Thursday, "gave $10,000 to pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now in August," CNBC reports. "He also donated $75,000 to a Trump joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party and gave the maximum $2,700 to Trump's campaign in May." Steven Mnuchin, Trump's treasury secretary, is also a donor, having given $2,700 to Trump's presidential campaign. Trump's secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross Jr., is described as a "donor and longtime associate of Trump's," by NPR. Additionally, Ross "helped [Trump] resurrect his casino company after it went bankrupt in the early 1990s." And the Chicago Tribune reports that Todd Ricketts' family spent "$1 million to back Trump's presidential bid." Ricketts was recently tapped for deputy commerce secretary.

Betsy DeVos, who is Trump's pick for education secretary, is described by The New Yorker in such a way: "It would be hard to find a better representative of the 'donor class' than DeVos, whose family has been allied with Charles and David Koch for years." Finally, Linda McMahon, whom Trump named Wednesday as the head of the Small Business Administration, donated $6 million to Trump's Super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, in August and September, The Washington Post reports. Jeva Lange

12:18 p.m. ET
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The world's giraffe population might be nearing its last legs. A new Red List — a log of species facing the threat of extinction — released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revealed the world's tallest animal is now "vulnerable" to extinction, Time reported Thursday. Per NPR, that means the giraffe is "facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future."

Over the last 30 years, the global giraffe population has declined by 38 percent. As of last year, the giraffe population in southern and eastern Africa totaled 97,500 — a big drop from the 157,000 giraffes that roamed the Earth in 1985. The report blames humans for the long-necked animal's demise, citing "illegal hunting and destruction of the giraffe's habitat to make way for agriculture and mining operations" as leading causes of the drop-off, Time noted.

"Whilst giraffes are commonly seen on safari, in the media, and in zoos, people — including conservationists — are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction," said Julian Fennessy, co-chair of an IUCN group specializing on giraffes and okapi. "It is timely that we stick our neck out for the giraffe before it is too late." Becca Stanek

11:13 a.m. ET

Mexican politicians spent their annual Christmas party taking out their pent-up rage against Donald Trump. While attendees at white tablecloth-draped tables looked on, legislators from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution took swings at a piñata modeled after America's president-elect.

Trump and Mexico haven't had the chummiest of relationships so far, after Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans "rapists" and "criminals" and then vowing to build a border wall that Mexico would pay for. In fact, for each surge in the polls Trump saw during the U.S. election, Mexico watched its currency's value decrease; after the election, the peso dropped to a record low.

Mexican Sen. Miguel Barbosa insisted the holiday party activity was all in good fun. "We must not take it as a provocation but as it was, a Christmas pre-fiesta that showed the rejection and a way of thinking of many Mexicans," Barbosa said.

This piñata, unlike the one bashed by former Mexican President Vicente Fox in September, wasn't "totally empty." Watch the partygoers bust out the candy in the video below. Becca Stanek

11:09 a.m. ET
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State admitted Thursday that it carried out an airstrike on the main hospital in Mosul, Iraq, NPR reports. The attack was carried out at the request of the Iraqi military, which is backed by the coalition, and was intended to target the ISIS fighters defending their last major holdout in Iraq.

Iraqi forces had reportedly attempted to capture the hospital, which is being used by ISIS "as a base of operations and command and control headquarters," but were pushed back by the militants. "On Dec. 7th, after Iraqi forces continued to receive heavy and sustained machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from [ISIS] fighters in a building on the hospital complex, they requested immediate support from the coalition. In support of the Iraqi Security Forces, coalition aircraft conducted a precision strike on the location to target enemy fighters firing on Iraqi forces," the coalition said in a statement.

It is not immediately clear if there were patients in the hospital at the time of the attack. The coalition "takes all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants," it said in a statement.

"The U.S. military doesn't normally target hospitals," NPR's Jane Arraf said. "There's no word on civilian casualties." Jeva Lange

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