The mishmash (Updated)

Hi guys,

1. Recovery: Initial Jobless Claims in U.S. Fell to 404,000 Last Week

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance payments fell more than forecast last week, adding to evidence the labor market is healing.

Applications for jobless benefits decreased 37,000 in the week ended Jan. 15, the biggest decline since February 2010, to 404,000, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 420,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls fell, while those getting extended payments rose.

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2. Recovery: December Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Jump to 7-Month High

Purchases of existing houses, which are tabulated when a contract closes, increased 12 percent to a 5.28 million annual rate, the most since May and exceeding the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

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3. Recovery: Leading Indicators Index in U.S. Increases More Than Forecast

The index of U.S. leading economic indicators increased in December more than forecast, a sign the recovery will gather steam in the new year.

The Conference Board’s gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months rose 1.0 percent after a 1.1 percent gain in November, the New York-based group said today. The December reading, the sixth consecutive monthly increase, exceeded the 0.6 percent gain in the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

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4. It’s official: 2012 campaign headquarters will be in Chicago. Interesting read from Lynn Sweet:

WASHINGTON–President Obama’s team made it official on Thursday: his 2012 re-election campaign will be based in Chicago and will formally kick-off in March or April. The Sun-Times has learned White House Social Secretary Julianna Smoot will be leaving to take on a large role in the drive for a second term.

Obama headquartered his 2008 national campaign from a high rise at 233 N. Michigan Ave., an ideal location at the time since Obama was an Illinois senator living in Chicago and his top advisor–David Axelrod–and his top fund-raiser–Penny Pritizker–lived in the city and Chicago was a central jumping off for the early primary states.

Axelrod, now a senior White House advisor, will be leaving Washington in a few weeks to return to Chicago for the re-election campaign. A lease has not yet been signed on heaquarter office space.

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*The Democratic National Committee will start moving field resources to Chicago, including Mitch Stewart, the director of Organizing for America, which was the Obama for America 2008 successful grass roots effort. DNC executive director Jen O’Malley Dillon will move over to the 2012 campaign as the deputy campaign manager.

*The new DNC executive director will be Patrick Gaspard, who now runs the White House political office. That office, a Democratic official told me, will soon be closed and all political activity run out of the DNC and the re-elect campaign.

And more from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will close the office of political affairs at the White House, aides said, restructuring his organization to prepare for his re-election campaign, which is to start building a fund-raising and grass-roots operation based in Chicago by late March.

Mr. Obama has signed off on the plan to set up his campaign headquarters away from Washington, a first for a modern-day presidential re-election campaign. To avoid turf battles, chaotic communications and duplicated efforts, aides said, a significant realignment is underway in the West Wing, with the duties of the political office being taken up by the Democratic National Committee.

The president intends to formally declare his candidacy in about two months by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission, aides said. That step would allow him to start raising money and hiring a team of advisers, whose job it would be to make him the second Democrat since World War II to be elected twice to the White House.

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5. They’re talking our Frreeeedommmmmmm!

Michelle Obama, Wal-Mart announce healthy food campaign

First lady Michelle Obama joined Wal-Mart executives at a Southeast Washington community center Thursday morning to announce a campaign by the low-priced retail giant to offer more healthful foods and push its suppliers to do the same.

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Michelle Obama and Bo surprises visitors on White House tours on the second anniversary of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. This is HILARIOUS.

Two glorious days in January

Hi guys,

It was 50 years ago today, when a young, charismatic, inspiring and full of hope new president delivered his inaugural address to the world:

And it was two years ago today, that a young, charismatic, inspiring and full of hope new president delivered his inaugural address to the world:

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That legendary date in 1961, and the legendary man who was sworn in in 2008, will meet tonight when president Obama delivers remarks at the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration (7pm EST).

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The president will celebrate his two-year anniversary with yet another poll showing a serious bounce:

WSJ/NBC: President’s Ratings Climb To 53%

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More from China’s state dinner last night: