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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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Guunman set trap to lure, shoot firefighters in New York

A man who set his house on fire then lured firefighters to their deaths in a blaze of flames and bullets had attracted little attention since he got out of prison in the 1990s for killing his grandmother, authorities said. But two months ago, William Spengler‘s mother died, leaving the 62-year-old ex-con in a Lake Ontario house with his sister, who he “couldn’t stand,” a friend said. Spengler set a car and a house in his neighborhood ablaze early Monday, luring firefighters to the neighborhood and then killed two, wounded two others and injured a police officer while several homes
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Right-wing Mormon Senator busted for DUI

A conservative U.S. senator from Idaho who has said he doesn’t drink because of his Mormon faith has been charged with drunken driving. Sen. Michael Crapo, a three-term Republican with a reputation as a social and fiscal conservative, registered a blood alcohol content of .11 percent after police pulled his car over in this suburb south of Washington, D.C., authorities said. The 61-year-old lawmaker, who faces a court date Jan. 4, apologized in a statement issued hours after his arrest early Sunday. “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance,” Crapo said in the statement Sunday
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Lawmakers see ‘fiscal cliff’ deal slipping away

With anxiety rising as the country lurches towards a “fiscal cliff,” lawmakers are increasingly skeptical about a possible deal and some predict the best possibility would be a small-scale patch because time is running out before the yearend deadline. Sen. Joe Lieberman predicted Sunday: “We’re going to spend New Year’s Eve here, I believe.” Even those who see the possibility of a deal don’t expect a lot. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she expects “it is going to be a patch because in four days we can’t solve everything.” With the collapse Thursday of House Speaker John Boehner‘s plan
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