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10 things you need to know today: January 8, 2014
A record freeze turns deadly, Robert Gates slams Obama in a new memoir, and more
 
Some parts of the US have been colder than Antarctica this week. 
Some parts of the US have been colder than Antarctica this week.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

1. Towns struggle with record freeze
Local governments in the east opened emergency warming shelters on Tuesday as a "polar vortex" spread record-breaking lows across much of the U.S., killing at least nine people. The extreme cold forced mass flight cancellations and school closings. On the plus side, the subzero wind chill also prompted an escaped prisoner in Kentucky to call police and request to return to his warm, minimum-security cell. [Los Angeles Times, Lexington Herald-Leader, Reuters]
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2. Former Defense chief says Obama lost faith in Afghanistan
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticizes President Obama's handling of Afghanistan in a new bookDuty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War — saying the president lost faith in his own troop-surge strategy. Obama isn't his only target, though. Gates also slams the Pentagon bureaucracy and "the partisan abyss in Congress," saying Vice President Joe Biden was "wrong on nearly every major foreign policy" issue over four decades. [The Wall Street Journal]
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3. Jobless benefits renewal clears a key hurdle
Senate Democrats on Tuesday advanced a bill to renew jobless benefits for 1.3 million Americans, mustering the 60 votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster and begin debate on the measure. The Senate could vote to approve the three-month extension later this week. That would send it to the House, where it will die unless Democrats agree to a deal to cover the $6 billion cost without adding to the federal debt. [Reuters]
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4. Ex-NYC cops and firefighters accused in disability scam
More than 100 retired New York police officers and firefighters have been indicted in a disability scam that cost the Social Security system hundreds of millions of dollars. The defendants, half of whom received money for PTSD claims after 9/11, were allegedly coached on how to act during doctors' visits to qualify for pay-outs. Some were later photographed on jet skis, fishing, playing basketball, and running road races. [CNN]
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5. U.S. Air Force helicopter crashes in England, killing four
Four people were killed Tuesday in the crash of a U.S. Air Force helicopter along the eastern coast of England. The first reports said the aircraft crashed into the North Sea, but British authorities later said it went down over land, apparently in a bird sanctuary frequented by geese migrating from Greenland, Iceland and North America. Locals speculated the helicopter might have hit birds while passing over the protected marshes. [USA Today]
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6. Lindsey Vonn withdraws from Sochi Olympics
Lindsey Vonn, the first American woman to win Olympic gold in downhill skiing, has dropped out of the Sochi Winter Games due to a knee injury. Vonn, who won two medals from the 2010 Vancouver Games, was trying to come back but reinjured the knee in November, and will need further surgery. She said "the reality has sunk in that my knee is just too unstable to compete at this level." She hopes to return for the 2015 World Championships. [ESPN]
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7. Ready for Hillary raises $4 million
Ready for Hillary, a super PAC pushing a possible Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016, announced Tuesday that it raised more than $4 million in 2013, with donations increasing sharply late in the year. The group said it had more than 33,000 donors, which it claimed was "more contributors than all other presidential super PACs ever, combined." Clinton has indicated she might decide whether to run by the end of this year. [Politico]
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8. Spanish princess accused of money laundering
A magistrate formally accused Princess Cristina, the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos of Spain, of money laundering and tax fraud on Tuesday. The case, which is damaging the royal family's popularity, centers around the princess' husband, former Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdangarin, who has been accused of embezzling $8.2 million in government money through his sports foundation. Princess Cristina is summoned to appear in court March 8. [The New York Times]
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9. Ex-Miss Venezuela killed in robbery
Soap-opera actress and former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and her former husband were killed trying to resist a robbery — the latest victims of a crime wave in Venezuela that has hit everyone from ambassadors to professional baseball players. Spear, 29, and her British ex were on an isolated road heading for Caracas at night when something punctured their tires. They locked themselves inside the car, but the assailants opened fire, killing them and wounding their five-year-old daughter. [Associated Press]
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10. Velveeta shortage hits ahead of the Super Bowl
Kraft Foods is facing a shortage of Velveeta "just as the dip season kicks into full gear" with the NFL playoffs leading to the Super Bowl, AdAge reports. Some East Coast grocery stores are running low and don't expect new deliveries until February. The company says the shortage of the processed cheese product, which it boasts "melts better" than cheddar cheese, is due to high demand, although one grocer blamed a plant problem. [AdvertisingAge, Fox News]

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Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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