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Last year was a very good year for the German automaker Volkswagen, but 2012 could be even better.

Sales for Volkswagen Group's brands — including Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini — increased by 20 percent in the U.S. last year. For the Volkswagen brand itself, sales rose 26.3 percent. And if things continue to go Volkswagen's way, it could become the No. 1 carmaker in the world.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced Wednesday that she is suspending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The conservative provocateur finished a disappointing sixth in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa, with just 5 percent of the vote.

"Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice," Bachmann said at a mid-morning news conference in West Des Moines. "So I have decided to stand aside."

Though he said last night that he would go home to reassess his bid for the presidency — a signal that he might drop out of the race — this message just popped up on the personal Twitter page of Texas Gov. Rick Perry:

"And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State...Here we come South Carolina!!!"

President Obama will use what's known as a recess appointment to name Richard Cordray the head of the country's new consumer watchdog agency.

A Canadian man has been making headlines because he used an image of his passport saved on his iPad — instead of the official document itself — to cross the U.S.-Canadian border two times.

Martin Reisch, 33, says he forgot his passport when he left for a car trip across the border in Quebec. But he had an iPad with him, and it contained a scan of his passport. So Reisch gave the device to the U.S. border officer, along with his drivers' license, and the explanation that he was merely driving to Vermont, to drop off some Christmas presents.

Iowa proved a road to victory for Mitt Romney, but it was a road to nowhere for Michele Bachmann.

"Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside," Bachmann said Wednesday at a West Des Moines news conference. The Minnesota congresswoman decided to end her 2012 presidential bid after finishing sixth in Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa — the state where she was born and where, just five months ago, she won a Republican straw poll in Ames.

The United States saw an 1.8 percent uptick in orders to factories in November, marking a four-month high and signaling continued economic recovery. The Commerce Department also revised the data for Ocotber, which recorded a 0.2 percent drop.

Bloomberg reports:

Afghanistan's president said his country would back a deal, which might allow the Taliban to open an office in Qatar where they could hold peace talks with the United States and Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan agrees with negotiations between United States of America and the Taliban which will result in the establishment of an office for Taliban in Qatar," President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday.

The AP adds:

The photo finish in Iowa — officially, Mitt Romney bested Rick Santorum by only eight votes — has catapulted Santorum into the front ranks of Republican presidential hopefuls.

"This is huge news for Santorum," says Charlie Arlinghaus, who directs a conservative think tank in New Hampshire. "I don't think there's a way to spin the results without saying he's the big winner tonight."

To welcome the Year of the Dragon, China's postal service plans to release commemorative postage stamps featuring the fabled beast. But many customers are finding the image to be a little over the top.

Here are some reactions cited by China's Xinhua news agency:

Calories Trump Protein For Weight Loss

Jan 4, 2012

When it comes to keeping off fat, protein sounds to some like a magic bullet.

For decades, people have been making the case that eating a lot more of it, as in the Atkins diet, or lots less of it, will change the body's metabolism, spurring weight loss.

But alas, it ain't so easy.

Year over year, the number of Spanish-speaking kindergarteners at Vardaman Elementary School in northeast Mississippi has been on the rise.

Census numbers show the South has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the country. Now, Vardaman Elementary is about to become Mississippi's first predominantly Latino primary school, and that's posing special challenges when it comes to finding teachers who can help Spanish-speaking students adapt to the American classroom.

Vardaman Takes Its Own Approach

After Mitt Romney's narrow win in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, the GOP presidential hopefuls move on to New Hampshire, where voters cast their ballots in a primary next week. For more on the Republican presidential race, Steve Inskeep speaks to NPR's Brian Naylor, who is in New Hampshire.

Michele Bachmann Ends Her Presidential Bid

Jan 4, 2012

Update at 11:29 p.m. ET. 'People Of Iowa Spoke':

Saying "the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice," Michele Bachmann announced she was ending her bid to become the Republican nominee for president.

Bachmann started her announcement with a litany of grievances against President Obama. She said she was inspired to run for president the day Obama passed his healthcare reform.

She knew, she said, that "Obamacare endangered the very survival of the United States of America."

The Republican Race, Beyond Iowa

Jan 4, 2012

We've been helping our friends at It's All Politics on the big story of the morning, which, as you've no doubt heard, is that after a nail-biter of a night, Mitt Romney took the Iowa primary by eight votes. Rick Santorum pulled a surprising turn around to end up second.

Here's some of the territory we've covered on IAP:

McCain Expected To Endorse Mitt Romney

Jan 4, 2012

Several news outlets, including the AP and The New York Times, report that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will endorse Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum's impressive turnaround in Iowa has given him a slight boost in New Hampshire, according to a "flash" poll conducted last night.

The CNN/ORC International poll talked to 554 likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire first in December, and then last night. It found that Mitt Romney's sizable lead remained the same: 47 percent of those polled said they'd vote for him, followed by Ron Paul at 17 percent.

NPR News has prepared a special podcast on the first presidential contest of the year — and where the race goes from here.

The podcast includes highlights from NPR's reporting from the Iowa caucuses as well as analysis of the potential impact. You'll hear from the candidates — several of whom count themselves among the winners — plus others who are reassessing their chances. Republican caucusgoers weigh in on how they made up their minds, and we hear from Democratic caucusgoers preparing for battle in the fall.

At the start of his show yesterday morning, MSNBC's Chuck Todd could not contain his glee: "It's caucus day. Finally! I've been waiting for this day for 3 1/2 years."

Speak for yourself, Chuck.

In the build-up to the Iowa caucuses, we heard about the ground game, the expectations game, the endorsement game, and the super PACs. And we get the justification: It's blood sport, it's a vetting process, it's a surge, it's a generous slathering of awesome on an Iowa corn dog.

Rick Santorum's stunning finish in Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses Tuesday breathed life into his dogged campaign and had his New Hampshire supporters dreaming of a top-three spot for him in next week's Granite State primary.

But the path to a good finish in New Hampshire is not an easy one. Santorum's evangelical bona fides are bound to matter much less than in Iowa. And Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, has consistently held wide leads in preference polls.

Iowa Offers Little Clarity For GOP Field

Jan 4, 2012

You might think that after a spectacular night of political drama, one in which Mitt Romney eked out an eight-vote victory over Rick Santorum in Iowa, we might have a little more to tell you than the GOP field is just as unsettled as it was before the caucuses.

There are a lot of photo apps out there for the iPhone. With most of them, you take a picture, put a filter on it and maybe add some lens blur. But many of them don't have a built-in way for you to share the photo.

"When we combined those two key ingredients, we came up with something that became Instagram," says Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, who is also one if its founders.

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