Today’s edition of quick hits:

* The housing market isn’t getting worse: “Five years into the worst housing depression since the 1930s, the latest monthly data from the Census Bureau indicate that the homebuilding industry is slowly coming back to life. Housing starts jumped 9.3 percent in November to an annual rate of 685,000, the highest reading in 19 months.”

* Amusing economic tweet from Daniel Gross: “with retail sales rising, GDP growth accelerating, positive data flow, U.S. in danger at growing above trend — unless gov’t acts soon!”

* A political dispute in Iraq worth keeping an eye on: “The political crisis that has erupted in Iraq widened Tuesday after the country’s Sunni vice president strongly denied terrorism charges leveled against him, alleging that three of his bodyguards gave false confessions after interrogations by Shiite-controlled security forces.”

* Interesting request: “The federal government on Tuesday asked two science journals to censor parts of two papers describing how researchers produced what appears to be a far more dangerous version of the ‘bird flu’ virus that has circulated in Asia for more than a decade.” It’s the first such request made by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.

* What’s next in North Korea? Fred Kaplan noted how scary it is that we know “practically nothing” about the new North Korean leader and his plans.

* Speaking of scary, if you missed this report on defrosting permafrost in the Arctic, it’s worth reading. (You might want to skip it, though, if the threat of a looming climate catastrophe makes you uncomfortable.)

* Worthwhile research: “Congress has approved dedicating $10 million to research the mysterious Gulf War illness, ending concerns from veterans’ groups that the money would disappear because of budget problems.”

* Aaron Carroll has some compelling thoughts on why the Obama administration’s misguided decision on access to Plan B contraception matters.

* Considering competing explanations for why more college students don’t graduate.

* And it’s not at all encouraging that Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has become the voice of reason in Republican politics when it comes to a possible military confrontation in Iran.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.