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Chuck Hagel Allies Fire Back; Critics Push For Michèle Flournoy

After days of attacks on the man said to be Barack Obama’s top pick to be his next Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel’s friends are speaking out on his behalf.

As for his adversaries, they’re pushing somebody else to run the Pentagon: Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy.

First, Hagel’s allies: In response to sustained criticism by pro-Israel voices, Hagel’s former aides on Wednesday released a fact sheet outlining his positions on national security, Israel and the Middle East.

"Chuck Hagel is being misrepresented as anti-Israel and 'soft' on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. These accusations misrepresent Sen. Hagel's positions on national security, Israel and the Middle East," according to the fact sheet.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/chuck-hagel-allies-fire-back-critics-push-for-michele-flournoy-85336.html#ixzz2FcncmI77

U.S. Economy Grew 3.1% Last Quarter, More Than Forecast

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter, more than previously reported, reflecting the first gain in state and local government spending in three years, more consumer purchases and a smaller trade gap.

The revised gross domestic product reading exceeded the highest projection in a Bloomberg survey and compared with a previously estimated 2.7 percent gain, according to Commerce Department figures released today in Washington. The median estimate of economists called for a 2.8 percent advance.

The world’s largest economy will be hard-pressed to maintain that pace of growth this quarter as global demand cools and companies limit spending and hiring ahead of looming tax increases and spending cuts. While a stronger housing market will provide some cushion, the Federal Reserve is pursuing record stimulus aimed at driving bigger gains for the expansion.

“We’re going to have some weakness closing out this year and starting off next year,” said Omair Sharif, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “We really want to see business investment coming back because, ultimately, that’s going to lead to hiring.”



Guns Sold Out at Wal-Mart as Ammo Surge on E-Bay

With President Barack Obama endorsing sweeping gun restrictions in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, prices for handgun magazines are surging on EBay (EBAY) and semi-automatic rifles are sold out at many Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) locations.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said yesterday that it would continue to sell guns, including rifles like the one used at Newtown, where 26 people, most of them children, were killed on Dec. 14. By contrast, Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS) suspended sales of similar guns at its more than 500 stores.

Searches of five kinds of semi-automatic rifles on Wal- Mart’s website showed them to be out of stock at stores in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama. Wal-Mart doesn’t sell guns online, instead asking customers to input a zip code to see if their local store carries a specific weapon.

“We remain dedicated to the safe and responsible sale of firearms in areas of the country where they are sold,” David Tovar, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said yesterday.



Sales of Existing U.S. Homes Increase to Three-Year High

Source: Bloomberg

Sales of previously owned homes rose more than forecast in November to reach a three-year high as lower borrowing costs sustained the U.S. housing rebound.

Purchases of existing houses increased 5.9 percent to a 5.04 million annual rate, the most since November 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 82 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected an increase to a 4.9 million rate. Property values climbed 10.1 percent over the past 12 months as inventories dropped to the lowest level in 11 years.

Record-low mortgage rates and an improved job market are boosting sales and cutting inventories, giving the market the opportunity to absorb foreclosures. Prices are rising as a result, which will probably draw more buyers seeking to take advantage of current affordability in housing, helping retailers such as Pier 1 Imports Inc. (PIR) and Lowe’s Cos. Inc.

“The housing market is staged for continued improvement,” Anika Khan, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, before the report. “Underlying fundamentals are continuing to improve despite uncertainty. We’re seeing better labor market numbers, and that’s also reflected in better consumer confidence. Sales activity is going to be volatile but the underlying trend is still improving.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-20/sales-of-existing-u-s-homes-rose-to-three-year-high-in-november.html

Candanian Auto Wrks Pres Lewenza ‘Shocked’ GM Moves Chevy Camaro Production From Oshawa To Michigan

Source: StarPhoenix

The Canadian Auto Workers says a decision by General Motors to move production of its next-generation Camaro from Oshawa, Ont., to Michigan could potentially lead to the loss of thousands of jobs from the assembly plant and its suppliers.

Ken Lewenza, CAW president, said there was no earlier indication the Camaro work was at risk in Canada and he only was notified of the decision Wednesday morning as GM made its announcement.

“I’m still shocked,” he said during a press conference in Oshawa, where he urged the federal and provincial government to pressure GM to reverse its decision.

It’s too early to accurately predict what any employment impact would be, and so, at this stage we can’t give any speculative answers

General Motors of Canada Ltd. said it will shift assembly of the Camaro to its Lansing Green River plant in Michigan when the life cycle of the current model ends as part of an effort to consolidate its rear-wheel drive vehicle production alongside the Cadillac ATS and CTS.

Read more: http://www.thestarphoenix.com/business/fp/build+Chevrolet+Camaro+Oshawa/7721817/story.html

Mayan Calender: Genesee, Lapeer County(Michigan) Schools Closed Rest Of Week Over Fear Of Violence

FLINT, MI -- Schools in Genesee County will be closed Thursday and Friday after threats of violence allegedly tied to the end of the Mayan calendar swirled around area school districts. The Genesee Intermediate School District offered this statement:

"It is clear that last Friday changed all of us. As educators, we acknowledge, and we believe our communities would agree, that schools are at the center of concern right now. As school district Superintendents we have been in constant communication with one another and there are too many unique factors that have influenced our unanimous decision to cancel school and all school activities for Thursday, December 20 and Friday, December 21."


Lapeer Schools cancel classes for the remainder of the week
LAPEER, Mich. (WJBK) -- Lapeer Community Schools will be closed for the rest of the week because of a potential threat of violence.

The superintendent says there is no credible threat at this time -- just rumors.

However, in light of the Connecticut school shooting last week and the Mayan's prediction of an apocalypse this Friday, school officials have decided to keep students at home.

http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/20388573/lapeer-schools-cancel-classes-for-the- remainder-of-the-week

Kristol-Founded Group Targets Hagel

By MAGGIE HABERMAN | 12/19/12 1:14 PM EST
The William Kristol-founded conservative Emergency Committee for Israel says it’s launching cable ads starting Thursday slamming Chuck Hagel, the latest in a spate of criticism over the man who’s said to top President Barack Obama’s list for Secretary of Defense.

The spot, which hits Hagel for voting against sanctions on Iran, is an indication of the next phase of attacks on the former lawmaker, whose past stands on Israel have gotten the most attention.

It’s set to air on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN in the Washington, D.C. market, the group says.

“Secretary of Defense Chuck ” the spot says. “President Obama says he supports Iran sanctions. Hagel voted against them. Hagel voted against labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/kristol-founded-group-targets-hagel-85310.html#ixzz2FWZ1YRwm

If Not Hagel, Flournoy?

Last night, we posted my story on some (some) pro-Israel objections to President Obama's rumored choice for defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

No one in the administration has formally touted Hagel, mind you -- not in the way that Obama himself made clear he was considering Susan Rice for the job at State, when he defended her against her attackers.

And one of the odd things about the emphasis on Hagel as a frontrunner is that another name kept cropping up, with not much less frequency -- Michele Flournoy, the current deputy defense secretary.

So now, the Hagel-dislikers (Hagel Haters works better phonically, but is inaccurate) are flooding my Inbox with cheers for Flournoy, who under Obama has been at the nexus of the U.S.-Israel defense realtionship -- the area of the relationship where close working relationships have flourished (as opposed to the diplomatic arena, where there have been tensions).

Naturally, one's conspiratorial mind begins to diagram jiu-jitsu plays -- Was Hagel an Obamatron decoy to make sure Flournoy gets a clear run? Are the neoconservatives on to this and preemptively embracing Flournoy so it looks like a win for their side?



New Orleans Schools Ban Creationism And ‘Revisionist’ History In Rebuke Of Texas

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 9:56 EST

The school board for Orleans Parish in Louisiana voted Tuesday night to ban the teaching of creationism as science and what they called a “revisionist” history curriculum promoted by the state of Texas.

None of the six schools run by the board actually teach creationism, according to The Times-Picayune, but outgoing Orleans Parish School Board President Thomas Robichaux felt strongly about the measure (PDF) anyway, which passed in two parts.

The first policy change pertains to the selection of textbooks. “No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories,” it reads.


The school district is not alone in pushing back against growing religious and conservative influence on science and history curriculum. When education officials in Texas began altering textbooks to reflect right-wing and religious viewpoints, lawmakers in California acted quickly to pass a bill that bans the state’s revisionist standards in California schools.



Tax Filing Season at Risk of Delay as Budget Talks Drag

The Internal Revenue Service is tracking congressional budget squabbles as the agency tries to determine if it can start the tax filing season on time in mid- January.

With fewer than two weeks left in the year, Congress hasn’t prevented expansion of the alternative minimum tax for 2012. Unless lawmakers act, tax filing for more than one-third of taxpayers might be delayed until at least late March.

For one thing, 32 million taxpayers collectively would owe $92 billion more in taxes if a so-called AMT patch isn’t enacted. Further, inaction would require the IRS to reprogram and test its computer systems. Officials must gauge by early January whether Congress is likely to act on the AMT, as it routinely has done in past years.

“It’s a very challenging situation,” said Linda Stiff, a former acting IRS commissioner and now a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Washington. “This country has a really strong system of voluntary compliance and that’s kind of built for decades around people knowing what’s going to happen from January to April.”


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