1. ‘POLAR VORTEX’ GRIPS MUCH OF U.S., BRINGING RECORD LOWS
On Tuesday, the whirlpool of cold air plunged temperatures into the single digits and teens from Boston and New York to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Little Rock — places where many people don’t know the first thing about extreme cold. Authorities reported at least 21 cold-related deaths across the country since Sunday, including seven in Illinois and six in Indiana.
2. CHEMICAL SPILL SHUTS DOWN MUCH OF WEST VIRGINIA CAPITAL
A chemical spill left the waters in West Virginia’s capital tinted blue-green, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to rely on bottled water and stop taking showers and doing laundry. The federal government joined the state in declaring a disaster following Thursday’s spill, while federal authorities launched an investigation into how the irritant escaped a chemical plant and seeped into the Elk River. Just how much of the chemical leaked and how long it will take before the water is safe remained unclear.
3. NJ GOV. CHRISTIE FIRES AIDE, SAYS HE KNEW NOTHING ABOUT TRAFFIC JAMS TO PUNISH MAYOR
Republican Gov. Chris Christie fired one of his top aides on Thursday and apologized repeatedly for his staff’s ‘stupid’ behavior, insisting he had no idea anyone around him had engineered traffic jams as part of a political vendetta against a Democratic mayor. Hundreds of pages of documents subpoenaed by a New Jersey legislative committee investigating the September traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge were released Friday.
4. SENATE CONFIRMS JANET YELLEN TO HEAD THE FEDERAL RESERVE
Yellen, confirmed by a 56-26 vote Monday, faces a significantly different economic landscape from the one that dominated Ben Bernanke’s time as chairman — a tenure that was largely consumed with the Great Recession and his efforts to cure it by pushing down interest rates and pumping cash into the economy. Many economists think Yellen’s big challenge will be deciding how to ease off some of those very policies.
5. SURPRISINGLY WEAK HIRING IN DECEMBER PUZZLES ECONOMISTS
The weakest month of hiring in three years ends 2013 on a sluggish note and raises questions about whether the U.S. job market can sustain its recent strong gains. Employers added a scant 74,000 jobs in December after averaging 200,000-plus in the previous four months. Friday’s weak report from the Labor Department was particularly surprising because it followed a flurry of data that had pointed to a robust economy, and left economists struggling for explanations.
6. FIRST BATCH OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS TAKEN OUT OF SYRIA
In an important milestone to rid President Bashar Assad of his deadly arsenal by midyear, the chemicals were loaded onto a Danish ship Tuesday under tight security. The operation took place against the backdrop of a widening civil war. The chemicals will eventually be transferred to a U.S. ship, which has been fitted with special machinery to render the materials inert.
7. LINDSEY VONN TO SKIP SOCHI OLYMPICS DUE TO INJURED RIGHT KNEE
The 29-year-old skier from Vail, Colo., announced her decision Tuesday, exactly one month before the opening ceremony in Russia. She took home two medals from the 2010 Vancouver Games, becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic gold in the downhill.
8. JPMORGAN CHASE TO PAY MORE THAN $2.5 BILLION FOR FAILING TO DETECT FRAUD
The nation’s largest bank will forfeit a record $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges, plus pay $543 million to settle civil claims by victims of Bernard Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme. Authorities said Tuesday it also will pay a $350 million civil penalty for what the Treasury Department called “critical and widespread deficiencies” in its programs to prevent money laundering and other suspicious activity.
9. PRIVATELY LAUNCHED CARGO SHIP BLASTS OFF FOR INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its unmanned Antares rocket Thursday from Wallops Island, Va., hoisting a capsule packed with 3,000 pounds of equipment and experiments provided by NASA, as well as food and even some ants for an educational project. Christmas presents also were on board for the six space station residents. The delivery was delayed three times, most recently by a strong solar storm.
10. DENNIS RODMAN CRITICIZED OVER VISIT TO NORTH KOREA
The former basketball star brought in a group of ex-NBA players to play a goodwill game for the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un. Rodman was slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, who is held by North Korea. In a TV interview, Rodman appeared to imply Bae was at fault, but apologized Thursday for his comments, saying he had been drinking.