Nation & World Briefs 11-23-12 U.S. consumer confidence rises

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WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumers are optimistic the unemployment rate will drop over the next 12 months, boosting their confidence to the highest level in five years.

The University of Michigan says its consumer sentiment index ticked up to 82.7 this month from 82.6 in October. The index has increased 19 percentage points in the past year.

Optimism about the job market is high. Of those surveyed, 30 percent expect the unemployment rate will fall over the next 12 months. That matches October's percentage and is the highest since 1984.

Still, consumers are concerned about the "fiscal cliff," the combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next year. If the White House and Congress don't reach a deal to avoid the cliff, confidence could fall.

Navy to briefly reduce carriers: The Navy said Wednesday it will temporarily shrink its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two to one because of a mechanical problem with the USS Nimitz, a carrier based in Bremerton, Wash. The Nimitz was scheduled to deploy in January to relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, but that will be put off until summer in order to complete repairs to its propulsion system. The problem was discovered while the ship was doing pre-deployment maneuvers. That means that in December and January the USS John C. Stennis will be the only carrier in that area, although there are other naval forces there, including Marines aboard a three-ship contingent led by the USS Peleliu.

Resumes command duty: Gen. John Allen has returned to Kabul to resume his duties as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, more than a week after the Pentagon announced it was investigating potentially "inappropriate" correspondence between the four-star general and a woman linked to the David Petraeus sex scandal. Lt. Col. Les Carroll, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said Allen returned to work Wednesday. Allen's office in Kabul issued a brief statement saying he was happy to be back in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his troops.

Jockeying begins to replace Jackson Jr.: The jockeying to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. began before the ink was dry on the former congressman's resignation letter. Among those expressing an interest: Chicago aldermen, a former NFL linebacker and a defense attorney who represented R&B singer R. Kelly and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But as the field of would-be successors grows to a dozen or more names -- one of whom may be another member of the Jackson family -- party leaders and political analysts say a stampede of candidates could pose risks for the Democratic stronghold.

Ranbaxy recalls generic Lipitor doses: Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals is recalling several doses of its generic version of Lipitor because some batches of the cholesterol fighter may contain small glass particles. The generic drugmaker's website says it is recalling 10-, 20- and 40-milligram doses of atorvastatin calcium tablets. The recall is tied to certain lot numbers of the drug. It is not tied to an 80-milligram version of the tablets. Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals is a subsidiary of Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. Lipitor was the world's top-selling drug until it lost patent protection nearly a year ago. Ranbaxy is one of several companies selling generic versions of the drug.

Tries to change country's name: Mexico's president is making one last attempt to get the "United States" out of Mexico -- at least as far as the country's name is concerned. The name "United Mexican States," or "Estados Unidos Mexicanos," was adopted in 1824 after independence from Spain in imitation of Mexico's democratic northern neighbor, but it is rarely used except on official documents, money and other government material. Still, President Felipe Calderon called a news conference Thursday to announce that he wants to make the name simply "Mexico." His country doesn't need to copy anyone, he said.

Think campaign stopped too soon: A poll shows about half of Israelis think their government should have continued its military offensive against Palestinian militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza. The independent Maagar Mohot poll released today shows 49 percent of respondents feel Israel should have kept going after squads who fire rockets into Israel. Thirty-one percent supported the government's decision to stop. Twenty percent had no opinion. Twenty-nine percent thought Israel should have sent ground troops to invade Gaza. Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire two days ago.

Two killed, 60 wounded: A suicide attacker detonated a car laden with explosives today in eastern Afghanistan, killing two civilians and wounding about 60 others, officials said. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying in a statement that the attack was in response to the recent execution of four Taliban detainees at the Afghan government's main detention center in Kabul. The men were convicted and sentenced to death in Afghan courts for a variety of crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery and cruelty against children. The Taliban condemned the hangings, saying the detainees were prisoners of war who were unjustly jailed.

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