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10 things you need to know today: December 27, 2012
Russia plans to ban U.S. adoptions, Obama cuts his holiday short, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making the news and driving opinion
 
Obama boards Air Force One in Honolulu. He arrived in Washington earlier than expected this week to attend to the fiscal cliff crisis.
Obama boards Air Force One in Honolulu. He arrived in Washington earlier than expected this week to attend to the fiscal cliff crisis. Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

1. PUTIN SAYS HE WILL BAN U.S. ADOPTIONS
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said he would sign a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children, despite objections by the Obama administration and children's rights groups in Russia. The bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by Russia's parliament, the Duma, is widely seen as a retaliatory gesture against a new U.S. law calling for sanctions against Russians who have allegedly committed human rights abuses. Americans have adopted an estimated 60,000 Russian children in the past 20 years, making Russia the largest source of foreign adoptions in the U.S. [Associated Press]
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2. OBAMA CUTS VACATION SHORT TO ATTEND TO FISCAL CLIFF
President Obama ended his Christmas vacation in Honolulu early in order to return to Washington in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. The president flew home on Wednesday night, giving him just five days to negotiate with Republicans before a series of tax increases and deep spending cuts kick in. [Washington Post]
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3. TOYOTA TO PAY $1 BILLION TO SETTLE ACCELERATION SUIT
Toyota on Wednesday agreed to pay $1 billion to settle a class-action suit stemming from faulty vehicles that accelerated unintentionally, allegedly leading to deaths and accidents. Under the deal, which still has to be approved by a federal judge, Toyota would make direct cash payments to owners to make up for their vehicles' loss of value. The settlement is one of the largest ever for an automaker, and Toyota still faces a raft of personal-injury and wrongful-death suits. [New York Times]
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4. 9 DEAD, SEVERAL INJURED AS WINTER STORM HEADS NORTHEAST
At least nine people have died as a massive winter storm system dumped snow and sleet on the Midwest and unleashed tornadoes on the Deep South, leaving 100,000 people without power in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. The storm is expected to complicate winter travel plans and bring blizzard conditions as it heads toward the Northeast. [Associated Press]
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5. NEW YORK PAPER'S GUN DATABASE INCITES CONTROVERSY
A suburban New York newspaper thrust itself into the center of the gun-control controversy after it published the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties on an interactive map on its website. The article, which was published by the White Plains-based Journal News and on its affiliated website, LoHud.com, drew instant backlash from pundits and readers alike despite the fact that it obtained all its information legally from a Freedom of Information Act request. "Any member of the public has a right to inquire about a specific person as to licensure status," said one Journal News reader. "That said, your newspaper does not have the right to ADVERTISE this information WHOLESALE. What you have done is reprehensible." [The Week]
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6. U.S. JOBLESS CLAIMS FALL
The Labor Department reported on Thursday that 350,000 Americans applied for unemployment insurance in the week ending Dec. 22, down 12,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average of benefit claims also fell to 356,750, its lowest level since March 2008. The report is seen as the latest evidence of the labor market's slow-but-steady recovery. [Bloomberg]
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7. INDIAN RAPE VICTIM AIRLIFTED TO SINGAPORE
The 23-year-old victim of a brutal beating and gang rape in India was airlifted to Singapore for medical treatment, days after thousands of protesters took to the streets to assail the government for failing to prosecute cases of rape and sexual assault. Activists tried to stage new protests in New Delhi, the capital, on Thursday, but were thwarted by riot police armed with water cannons and tear gas. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has maintained that women's security is a priority for his government, but critics say rapes are often brushed under the carpet. [Reuters]
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8. BENAZIR BHUTTO'S SON LAUNCHES POLITICAL CAREER
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 24-year-old son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on Thursday launched his political career with an impassioned speech on the fifth anniversary of his mother's assassination. In a country where the Bhutto family is still revered by many, Zardari has long been seen as a potential candidate to fill a leadership void that has left Pakistan vulnerable to the influence of violent Islamic extremist groups, which are widely believed to have been behind Bhutto's death. [Associated Press]
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9. RETAILERS HOPE FOR BOOST AFTER WEAK HOLIDAY SALES
After Hurricane Sandy disrupted shopping season and fears of the fiscal cliff infiltrated consumers' minds, U.S. holiday sales growth slowed by more than half this year, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. Retail sales grew by a meager 0.7 percent this year, compared to two percent during the same period last year. Still, retailers are hoping that last-minute shopping from the two days before Christmas could boost sales and that revenue from layaway programs could provide an added bonus. [Los Angeles Times]
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10. U.S. HOME PRICES RISE, HOUSING RECOVERY SUSTAINS MOMENTUM
The real-estate market appears to be gaining momentum, as U.S. home prices rose more than expected in October. Property values in 20 cities increased 4.3 percent from October 2011, the biggest 12-month advance since May 2010, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values. "The housing market is definitely starting to recover," said Ryan Wang, an economist with HSBC Securities USA Inc. Wang added that higher property values have "added about a trillion dollars to household wealth just since the beginning of this year" and this boost in household net worth will "provide an important benefit for consumers and the broader economy." [Bloomberg]

 

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