Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 24, 2014

Image
Harold Maass
The Santa Claus rally of 2014 (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

1.

Stocks hit record levels as the economy posts its best quarter since 2003

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped to close above 18,000 for the first time ever on Tuesday after the Commerce Department said the economy had grown at a surprisingly fast 5 percent in the third quarter, the strongest rate since 2003. The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index also hit a record high. Analysts said the surge added to indications that the economic recovery is gaining steam. The market often shoots higher this time of year in what is known as a Santa Claus rally, as fund managers snap up hot stocks to end the year with winners in their portfolios. [CNN]

2.

Police officer fatally shoots man near Ferguson

A police officer shot and killed an armed man at a gas station on Tuesday a few miles the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where protests have simmered since a white officer fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August. Police said an officer conducting a routine business check approached two men, and one of them pulled a pistol and pointed it at him. The officer fired several shots, hitting the man with the gun, police said. Local media has identified the dead man as the Antonio Martin, 18. Early Wednesday, about 100 people gathered at the gas station, some of them yelling at police officers. [Reuters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

3.

ISIS captures pilot of downed Jordanian warplane

Islamic State militants captured a Jordanian pilot on Wednesday after shooting down his warplane over Syria. The aircraft was involved in strikes in and around the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa. It was the first aircraft the U.S.-led coalition has lost since launching attacks against the jihadist group in September. ISIS said it shot down the jet with a heat-seeking missile, and released a photograph showing the pilot, Flight Lt. Moaz Youssef al-Kasasbeh, with his captors. [BBC News]

4.

Violent weather leaves 4 dead in the South

Four people were killed Tuesday in violent weather that included rare December tornadoes in southern Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana. Two people in a mobile home were killed by violent weather in the town of Laurel, Mississippi, and two others were killed in Columbia — one in a trailer park, the other in a strip mall. A tornado-storm system was expected to disrupt Christmas Eve travel with strong winds, thunderstorms, and snow along the East Coast on Wednesday.  [NBC News]

5.

FDA relaxes ban on blood donations by gay men

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that it was ending a longstanding lifetime ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men. The prohibition was imposed in 1983, when the AIDS epidemic was beginning. Harvard law professor I. Glenn Cohen called the move a "major victory for gay civil rights," signaling the end of "the old view that every gay man is a potential infection source." Still, the ban will remain in place for any man who has had sex with another man in the last year, which advocacy group G MHC called "offensive and harmful." [The New York Times]

6.

Australia arrests 2 in alleged Islamist plot to kill random victims

Australian authorities arrested two men in connection with the investigation of an alleged plot by Islamist terrorists to kill random people, police in Australia said Wednesday. The bust came a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott said intelligence officials had detected an elevated level of terrorist chatter following last week's deadly siege by an Iranian-born, self-styled Islamic cleric in a Sydney cafe. One man, 20-year-old Sulayman Khalid, was charged with possessing documents linked to a terrorist plot. [The Associated Press]

7.

Keurig recalls 6.6 million single-serve coffee machines

Green Mountain's Keurig on Tuesday announced the recall of 6.6 million Mini Plus Brewing Systems because of concerns that the single-serve coffee machines could overheat and spray hot water. The move came after 200 reports, some involving burn injuries, had already been filed against the company. The models involved in the recall were the K10 and B31 produced between December 2009 and July 2014. [CNET]

8.

New York congressman pleads guilty to tax evasion charge

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) pleaded guilty to a felony tax evasion charge on Tuesday, but said he would not resign. "As of right now I'm still in a capacity to serve and that’s exactly what I'm going to do," said Grimm, who won re-election to a third term in November. Grimm was indicted on 20 counts in April, but in a deal with prosecutors entered a guilty on just one charge — filing a false 2009 income tax return that understated receipts at a Manhattan restaurant he then owned. [New York Daily News]

9.

George H.W. Bush hospitalized with shortness of breath

Former President George H.W. Bush was taken by ambulance to a Houston hospital with shortness of breath on Tuesday. Bush, 90, spent the 2012 holiday season in a hospital, undergoing seven weeks of treatment for bronchitis and other health problems. He was so ill then that he briefly was feared near death, but he recovered so strongly that he marked his 90th birthday this year with a parachute jump. [Reuters]

10.

Sony decides to release The Interview on Christmas, after all

Sony Pictures says it will release The Interview in about 300 theaters on Christmas Day, reversing a decision to cancel the film's debut due to threats of violence made by hackers. Independent cinemas, including arthouse theaters and college-town movie houses, asked Sony to let them to show the film, a comedy about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after major chains shunned it. President Obama applauded the decision as a victory for free speech. Sony also reportedly is considering releasing the film for free on its Crackle video-streaming service. [Bloomberg, The Washington Post]