While iPods, Kindles, and Angry Bird stuffed animals were some of the hottest items of the 2011 Christmas season, December saw record-breaking numbers for gun sales, as droves of Americans found firearms and ammunition under their Christmas trees. According to FBI statistics, gun dealers requested more than 1.5 million background checks to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in December, the highest single-month figure since the statistics first began being recorded. Nearly 500,000 of those took place in the six days before Christmas and an astounding 102,222 background checks were administered on December 23 alone, the second-busiest single day in history. However, the actual total may have been even higher if individual buyers purchased more than one gun each, because exact sales are not recorded or reported. The FBI indicates that there is not a one-to-one correlation between background checks and the total number of guns sold because of "varying state laws and purchase scenarios." USA Today reported:
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney eked out an eight-vote win in the Iowa Republican caucuses January 3 with just under 25 percent of the vote, ahead of second place former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (also just under 25 percent), in a tight six-way race that included Ron Paul pulling a close third place at nearly 22 percent. Romney used the narrow victory to target President Obama in his victory speech. "He said three years ago, after being inaugurated, he was on the Today Show, and he said look, if I can't get this economy turned around in three years, I'll be looking at a one-term proposition. And we are here to collect." Romney is viewed as the Republican front-runner, and is far ahead in the polls in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. But he actually trails in polls in other early primary states, such as South Carolina and Florida. Romney's campaign is seen as the most viable because of his position in the polls nationally, and in New Hampshire, as well as his fundraising ability. Romney has raised more money than any of his Republican rivals, and is the top recipient of donations from employees of elite Wall Street banking concerns such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Bank of America. According to entrance polls in Iowa, Romney drew heavily from votes from establishment and veteran Republican functionaries, which carried the state for him.  
Employers across the country are facing new concerns related to federal oversight in hiring, as a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) warns that requiring a high-school diploma from a job applicant might infringe on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The revelation has some employment analysts concerned that the commission’s guidance will generate an educational backlash by shackling the incentive for students to graduate from high school, as well as subjecting employers to frivolous lawsuits and spawning a new industry for lawyers. In an "informal discussion letter" posted on the commission’s website on December 2, EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members asserted that under ADA standards, a qualification test or other selection criterion, such as a high-school diploma requirement, that "screens out an individual or a class of individuals on the basis of a disability must be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity." A qualification standard, the letter notes, is "job-related" or "consistent with business necessity" if it accurately measures the applicant’s ability to perform the job’s fundamental duties. Thus, the letter reads:
The Democrats have the best public-relations team in the world.  It’s called the U.S. media.  As a consequence, the Republicans essentially have to spot the Democrats a certain number of points every election. How much do the media steal for statists? While it’s hard to say if the figure is 10, 15 or 20 percent, how it’s stolen is obvious — if you’re not trapped in the Media Matrix.  
The Obama administration gave states and the gambling industry an early Christmas present December 23 in the form of a controversial Department of Justice (DOJ) opinion that reversed years of federal policy covering online gambling. As reported by Reuters News Service, previously the DOJ had held that “online gambling in all forms was illegal under the Wire Act of 1961, which bars wagers via telecommunications that cross state lines or international borders.” The recent DOJ opinion, dated in September but released only in late December, makes the qualification that “[i]nterstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.” The New York Times reported that the opinion, in the form of a memorandum, came in response to “requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961 … prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.” The Times added that while the memorandum “dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.”  
In kicking off the New Year, Washington has become the first state with a minimum wage of more than $9 an hour, as it joined seven other states in similar measures that index their minimum wage rates to inflation. Including workers in all industries, Washington’s minimum wage increased 37 cents to a record high of $9.04 an hour (the rate for workers who are 14 or 15 years old is $7.68), which went into effect the first day of the New Year. According to data from the Census Bureau, more than a million low-wage U.S. workers will see their hourly wages rise, including workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Based on a typical 2,000-hour work year, the wage hike will generate annual salaries for minimum-wage workers of between $15,280 and $18,080, depending on the state. A total of 10 states currently tie their minimum wage to inflation, eight of which made adjustments for an effective date of January 1; Missouri opted to wait on a rate change and Nevada plans to make adjustments later this year. The increases per state range from $0.28 an hour in Colorado to $0.37 in Washington, and new minimum wages in the eight states now range between $7.65 and $9.04 an hour.  
A religious liberty case involving candy canes, pens, and pencils with Christian messages — which has been dragging on for eight long years — has finally made its way to the highest court in the land. The conservative legal advocacy group Liberty Institute is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hold school districts accountable that violate the free speech rights of students who wish to express their religious faith in school. The case in question began in 2004 when first grader Jonathan Morgan was banned by the principal of Thomas Elementary School in Plano, Texas, from handing out pens, shaped like candy canes, to fellow students at his class “winter party” because the pens had the name “Jesus” imprinted on them. The principal, Lynn Swanson, had met with the youngster’s parents before the party and explained that teachers would confiscate any religious-themed materials or items, and that the school children would also be prohibited from using the word “Christmas” during school activities. Two years earlier, another student at the school, Michaela Wade, had faced similar repercussions when she tried to hand out treat bags that included pencils with the inscription, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
In her article on Monday, financial journalist Jessica Mortimer said that the euro had just set a new record low against the Japanese yen: Its value is now the lowest it’s been in 10 years. The irony wasn’t lost on her as she also noted that it was just 10 years ago that the euro was first denominated in coins and currency, three years after being introduced electronically among the member states. And she sees further weakness in the euro, now trading below $1.30 versus the dollar, and likely to move ever lower into the New Year: “In the absence of a comprehensive European policy response to the debt crisis, the euro could test its 2010 low of $1.18.” This would imply at least another nine-percent loss in value in less than a year. She touched on only one of the few remaining options open to keep the euro from blowing up altogether: more austerity on the backs of the citizens of the member states who took excessive advantage of lower-than-market interest rates to load up on debt that they can't pay back. She noted the survey that came out over the weekend indicating that a key European manufacturing index remains persistently below recovery levels, with further declines into a full-blown recession in Europe likely. Additional austerity measures would simply hasten that recession. Kathleen Brooks, director of research at FOREX.com, told her clients: “We remain a sell on rallies (with the euro) as we tend to think the euro zone crisis will actually get worse before it gets better.”
Hysteria over Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program has been steadily rising among some U.S. and Israeli officials. But Tamir Pardo, the chief of Israel’s intelligence service known as the Mossad, said last week that a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian government would not necessarily pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. “What is the significance of the term ‘existential’?” Pardo was quoted as saying in an article by the Washington Times. Citing Israeli diplomats who met with the spy chief last week in a closed-door session, the paper reported that, according to Pardo, the danger posed by a hypothetical nuclear weapon in Iranian hands was being overblown. “If you said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an ‘existential’ threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop,” the Mossad boss told the gathering of about 100 Israeli ambassadors. “That’s not the situation. The term is used too freely.” Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, several diplomats said Pardo had stated that a nuclear-armed Iran would “absolutely” pose a threat to the nation. But even if the Iranian regime were to acquire a bomb, the intelligence chief was quoted as saying, it would not mean the destruction of Israel.
One of the ways that Whirlpool Corporation celebrated its 100th anniversary last year was to file petitions against two of its main South Korean competitors for “dumping” washing machines onto the market on Black Friday. Whirlpool claimed that Samsung was selling their 3.7 cubic-foot top-loading washing machines at a wholesale price of $363.18, way below the $751.46 Whirlpool says it would cost them to make the same product. Consequently, Samsung and LG Electronics sold thousands of their washers over the Black Friday weekend, taking substantial market share away from Whirlpool. In its complaint, Whirlpool demanded an investigation into their rivals’ practice of “dumping” washers at prices that Whirlpool couldn’t match, and then demanded sanctions — tariffs — against the offending competitors and their products. It’s worked before. Last March Whirlpool filed a similar petition about their competitors dumping high-end refrigerators and the Commerce Department agreed, applying a 37-percent duty on those refrigerators as well as forcing those competitors to post bonds if they didn’t raise their prices to “fair value.”
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