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Former President George H. W. Bush in intensive care

Former President George H.W. Bush is being treated in the intensive care unit at a Houston hospital after suffering “a series of setbacks,” including a stubborn fever, his spokesman said. In a brief email Wednesday, Jim McGrath, Bush’s spokesman in Houston, said the 88-year-old former leader had been admitted Sunday to the ICU at Methodist Hospital. McGrath said Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, was alert and talking to medical staff. He said doctors are cautiously optimistic about Bush’s treatment and that the former president “remains in guarded condition.” He said Bush was surrounded by family. Early Thursday, McGrath
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Obama’s controversial EPA administrator resigns

The Obama administration‘s chief environmental watchdog, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, is stepping down after a nearly four-year tenure marked by high-profile brawls over global warming pollution, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, new controls on coal-fired plants and several other hot-button issues that affect the nation’s economy and people’s health. Jackson, the agency’s first black administrator, constantly found herself caught between administration pledges to solve controversial environmental problems and steady resistance from Republicans and industrial groups who complained that the agency’s rules destroyed jobs and made it harder for American companies to compete internationally. The GOP chairman of the House Energy
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Consumer confidence hits four-month low in December

Consumer confidence fell to a four-month low in December as a looming budget crisis sapped what had been a growing sense of optimism about the economy, a private sector report released on Thursday showed. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 65.1 from a downwardly revised 71.5 in November. Economists had expected a reading of 70.0, according to a Reuters poll. November’s number was originally reported as 73.7. While the present situation index rose to 62.8 from an upwardly revised 57.4, its highest in more than four years, the overall survey suggested most
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‘Fiscal cliff’ deadlockers heading back for last minute effort

Efforts to save the nation from going over a year-end “fiscal cliff” were in disarray as lawmakers fled the Capitol for their Christmas break. “God only knows” how a deal can be reached now, House Speaker John Boehner declared. President Barack Obama, on his way out of town himself, insisted a bargain could still be struck before Dec. 31. “Call me a hopeless optimist,” he said. A look at why it’s so hard for Republicans and Democrats to compromise on urgent matters of taxes and spending, and what happens if they fail to meet their deadline: ___ NEW YEAR’S HEADACHE
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No Senate run for actor Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck is taking his name off the list of possible candidates for U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s seat, which would be open if the Democratic senator from Massachusetts is confirmed as secretary of state. Affleck says in a Monday posting on his Facebook page that while he loves the political process, he will not be running for public office. Speculation about the Cambridge, Mass., native rose slightly when he did not completely rule out a Senate bid during an appearance on CBS’ Face The Nation on Sunday. In his Facebook posting, Affleck says he would continue working with the Eastern
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Shoppers spending disappoints retailers during holiday

U.S. shoppers spent cautiously this holiday season, a disappointment for retailers who slashed prices to lure people into stores and now must hope for a post-Christmas burst of spending. Sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent compared with last year, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report. That was below the healthy 3 to 4 percent growth that analysts had expected — and it was the worst year-over-year performance since 2008, when spending shrank sharply during the Great Recession. In 2011, retail sales climbed 4 to 5 percent during November
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Smaller crowd expected at Obama’s second inauguration

Visitors coming to the nation’s capital for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration can’t stay in the one place President Ronald Reagan‘s family once called an eight-star hotel. That spot is the White House, and it’s booked for the next four years. Still, inauguration-goers have a range of lodging options — from crashing on a friend’s couch to reasonably priced rooms to ones that cost thousands of dollars a night. With second inaugurations tending to draw fewer spectators, finding a place to stay in Washington won’t be nearly as difficult as in 2009. City officials are expecting 600,000 to 800,000 visitors
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Christmas presents from Mother Nature: Storms, hurricanes

Forecasts of snow, sleet and freezing rain threatened to complicate Christmas Day travel around the nation’s midsection Tuesday as several Gulf Coast states braced for a chance of twisters and powerful thunderstorms. A blizzard watch was posted for parts of Indiana and western Kentucky for storms expected to develop Tuesday amid predictions of up to 4 to 7 inches of snow in coming hours. Much of Oklahoma and Arkansas braced under a winter storm warning of an early mix of rain and sleet later turning to snow. Some mountainous areas of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches
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Record number of calls to Santa

Most of the thousands of children who call the annual Santa-tracking operation at a Colorado Air Force Base on Christmas Eve ask the usual questions: “Where’s Santa, and when will he get here?” So volunteer Sara Berghoff was caught off-guard Monday when a child called to see if Santa could be especially kind this year to the families affected by the Connecticut school shooting. “I’m from Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting was,” she remembers the child asking. “Is it possible that Santa can bring extra presents so I can deliver them to the families that lost kids?” Sara, just 13
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Going over the ‘fiscal cliff:’ How hard will we land?

Efforts to save the nation from going over a year-end “fiscal cliff” were in disarray as lawmakers fled the Capitol for their Christmas break. “God only knows” how a deal can be reached now, House Speaker John Boehner declared. President Barack Obama, on his way out of town himself, insisted a bargain could still be struck before Dec. 31. “Call me a hopeless optimist,” he said. A look at why it’s so hard for Republicans and Democrats to compromise on urgent matters of taxes and spending, and what happens if they fail to meet their deadline: ___ NEW YEAR’S HEADACHE
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