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Associated Press

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 12:00 PM

OBAMA

NEW: Obama to hold year-end news conference

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will hold an end-of-the year news conference at the White House Friday afternoon.

Obama is likely to face questions about the rough rollout of his health care law and his trouble passing big legislative initiatives like immigration reform through a divided Congress.

At the end of his fifth year in office, Obama's job approval and personal favorability ratings have fallen to around the lowest point of his presidency.

Obama will depart later for his home state of Hawaii for his annual Christmas vacation trip. It's the first time in his presidency that his departure plans have not been delayed by legislative action in Washington.

HOLIDAY-TRAVEL-WEATHER

Foul weather could be trouble to travelers

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A stew of foul weather, ranging from freezing rain and snow in the Midwest to thunderstorms and possible tornadoes in the South, is arriving just in time for one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

Much of the nation is bracing for something: Freezing rain, then 6 inches of snow, is possible in the northern Plains; torrential rains are expected in the Appalachian region; weekend thunderstorms in the South could spawn twisters.

It's all moving into the East, too, creating travel worries in the days leading up to Christmas from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York.

AAA projects that nearly 95 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday period, which runs from Saturday through Jan. 1.

TARGET-DATA BREACH

Some Target customers unable to get through to company

NEW YORK (AP) — Some people who may be victims of credit card fraud as a result of Target's security breach say they're having trouble contacting the company through its website and call centers.

Target is apologizing -- and says it's adding more workers to handle calls and help solve website issues.

The company acknowledged yesterday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over Thanksgiving weekend.

Some furious customers are threatening to stop shopping at Target, during the busiest shopping time of the year.

A Virginia man, Christopher Browning, says he was the victim of credit card fraud earlier this week, and thinks it was tied to a purchase he made at Target with his Visa card on Black Friday. When he called Visa yesterday, the company couldn't confirm his suspicions. He says he hasn't been able to get through to Target's call center.

Browning says there were two attempts to use his credit card in California -- one at a casino for $8,000 and the other at another casino for $3,000. Both occurred on Sunday and both were denied. He canceled his credit card and plans to use cash -- and says he won't shop at Target again until the people responsible for the theft are caught, or the causes of the breach are identified and fixed.

ECONOMY-GDP

US economy expands at 4.1 percent rate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed. Much of the upward revision came from stronger consumer spending.

The Commerce Department's final look at growth in the summer was up from a previous estimate of 3.6 percent. Four-fifths of the revision came from stronger consumer spending, primarily in the area of health care.

The 4.1 percent third quarter growth rate came after the economy expanded at a 2.5 percent rate in the second quarter. Much of the acceleration reflected a buildup in business stockpiles.

Economists believe growth has slowed to between 2 percent and 2.5 percent in the current quarter, in part because they believe inventory growth has slowed.

WALL STREET

Stocks rise after strong US growth

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market is pushing deeper into record territory after the U.S. reported solid growth in the third quarter.

Red Hat jumped 15 percent after the open-source software company said that its earnings rose nearly 50 percent and beat Wall Street's expectations. The stock rose the most in the S&P 500 index.

China's stock market fell 2 percent, closing lower for the ninth straight day.

REID HOSPITALIZED

Senate's Reid in hospital for observation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in the hospital for observation after not feeling well over night.

Aides to the Nevada Democrat have released a statement. It says Reid felt unwell early Friday and went to the hospital.

Aides say tests revealed nothing wrong, but he'll stay in the hospital for observation.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois opened session Friday saying he talked to Reid and the majority leader feels good.

The 74-year-old Reid suffered a mild stroke in 2005.

OBAMA-MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT

Obama orders military to review sexual assault

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is ordering a review of the military's response to sexual assault in the armed forces.

Obama says in a statement provided to The Associated Press that his administration has "an urgent obligation" to respond. The president is giving military leaders a year to report on their progress in responded to the crime — including in the military justice system.

The president's remarks are his first on legislation that would crack down on sexual assault passed by the Senate late Thursday.

Obama says if he doesn't see progress, he will consider further reforms to — quote — "eliminate this crime from our military ranks."

Obama isn't specifying what other reforms he would consider. The Senate is debating legislation that would take authority for prosecuting attackers away from commanders.

IRS-COMMISSIONER

NEW: Senate confirms turnaround specialist to head IRS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has voted to confirm President Barack Obama's choice to head the Internal Revenue Service.

John Koskinen is a retired corporate and government official who has run numerous organizations in crisis. He'll serve a five-year term as IRS commissioner. The vote was 59-36.

The 74-year-old Koskinen has extensive experience in the public and private sectors.

He came in to overhaul mortgage buyer Freddie Mac after its near-collapse at the end of President George W. Bush's administration. He also oversaw preparations for potential computer problems associated with the Year 2000 under President Bill Clinton.

The IRS has about 90,000 employees and processes more than 140 million individual income tax returns each year. Next year, the IRS will oversee much of Obama's new health care law.

SUPERFUND FIRE

UPDATE: Industrial fire at Tenn. Superfund site put out

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A large industrial fire at a federal Superfund site in central Tennessee has been put out.

Kim Skelton in the Hickman County mayor's office said federal, state and local officials were meeting Friday morning to discuss whether an evacuation order for about 50 households could be lifted. Officials say the blaze was put out overnight.

Officials have not yet said what caused the fire at a plastics recycling facility on a portion of the Superfund site, about 45 miles southwest of Nashville. Federal Superfund sites were created to clean up areas that contain hazardous toxic waste.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency On-Scene Coordinator Kevin Eichinger says air quality monitoring will continue for a while. He said environmental officials still have to determine what needs to be done to clean up the site.

TERROR-CHARGES-ALABAMA

Ala terror suspects get 15 years each in prison

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge in Alabama has sentenced two men to 15 years in prison each for conspiring to support terrorists.

U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose imposed the sentences Friday on 26-year-old Randy Lamar Wilson of Mobile and Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair, who's originally from New York.

The men pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Prosecutors say the two men met over the Internet and Abukhdair moved to Mobile, where Wilson lived. The two had become business partners before their arrests a year ago.

Federal prosecutors portrayed Wilson as an Islamic radical who wanted to reunite with Omar Hammami, an Alabama native who became a jihadi in Africa. Somali rivals killed Hammami in September.

COLORADO-SCHOOL-SHOOTING

Arapahoe student vigil planned week after shooting

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Arapahoe High students in Colorado are coming together to pray for the recovery of a classmate a week after she was injured in a school shooting.

Claire Davis remains in critical condition a week after she was shot by Karl Pierson, who then fatally shot himself.

The candlelight vigil Friday night is in Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church near the high school.

Police say Davis wasn't targeted by the shooter. They say she was shot when Pierson sought vengeance on a school librarian who disciplined him.

Classes at Arapahoe have been canceled until next year.

Students were allowed into school Friday to retrieve belongings. Juniors and seniors were allowed to return for their things Thursday.

ITALY-SERIAL KILLER

Italy: fugitive serial killer captured in France

ROME (AP) — Italy's justice minister has announced that a serial killer who failed to return to prison after a two-day good-behavior pass has been recaptured in France.

Annamaria Cancellieri announced the news Friday just hours after she had briefed Parliament on the embarrassing escape of Bartolomeo Gagliano.

A justice ministry official said Gagliano was captured in Menton, France, just across the border from Italy on the Mediterranean coast.

CANADA-PROSTITUTION

NEW: Canadian court strikes down anti-prostitution laws

OTTAWA (AP) — Canada's highest court has struck down the country's prostitution laws in their entirety in a unanimous 9-0 ruling.

The high court on Friday struck down all three prostitution-related laws: against keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution, and street soliciting.

The ruling is a victory for sex workers seeking safer working conditions because it found that the laws violated the charter guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.

But the Supreme Court of Canada decision also gives Parliament a one-year reprieve to respond with new legislation.

Ontario's Appeal Court previously struck down the ban on brothels on the grounds it exposed women to more danger.

Friday's landmark ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld the country's anti-prostitution laws.

SANTA SCARE-NH

NEW: Trying to spread cheer, Santa in NH scares instead

HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) — Police in southern New Hampshire say a man dressed as Santa Claus was only trying to spread some cheer but ended up panicking officials when he knocked on school windows and entered the building.

The Nashua Telegraph reports (http://bit.ly/J1Uxog ) that administrators at the Hollis Primary School called police around 10 a.m. Thursday after they saw the man running around the school, tapping on windows and waving at students.

He was buzzed into the building but fled when he saw a look of alarm on a staffer's face.

Other schools and parents were notified and kids were kept inside for recess.

The man has contacted police to say he was only trying to spread "holiday cheer" and didn't mean to cause panic. Police aren't identifying him because he wasn't charged.

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