January 14th, 2012
WASHINGTON—U.S. defense leaders are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran, over U.S. objections, and have stepped up contingency planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region in case of a conflict.
President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike. The U.S. wants Israel to give more time for the effects of sanctions and other measures intended to force Iran to abandon its perceived efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Stepping up the pressure, Mr. Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv next week.
The high-stakes planning and diplomacy comes as U.S. officials warn Tehran, including through what administration officials described Friday as direct messages to Iran's leaders, against provocative actions.
Tehran has warned that it could retaliate to tightened sanctions by blocking oil trade through the Strait of Hormuz. On Thursday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to punish the perpetrators of the assassination—blamed by Iran on the U.S. and Israel—of an Iranian scientist involved in the nuclear program.
The U.S. denied the charge and condemned the attack. Israel hasn't commented.
The U.S. and Iran, however, have taken steps in recent days apparently designed to ease tensions. Iran has agreed to host a delegation of United Nations nuclear inspectors this month. The U.S., meanwhile, has twice this month rescued Iranian sailors in the region's seas.
Covert efforts by Israel's intelligence service to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons have been credited with slowing the program without the high risk of military conflict that could be sparked by an airstrike. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful uses.
But Israel has declined to rule out a strike, as has the U.S.
"It is the policy of the Israeli government, and the Obama administration, that all options remain on the table. And it is crucial that the ayatollahs in Tehran take this policy seriously," said Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S.
Mr. Netanyahu said in a recent interview that Iran has begun to "wobble," a signal some U.S. officials believe suggests he is willing to follow the current U.S. strategy, which seeks to avoid a military confrontation with Iran.
"Recent comments by the Israelis show they understand how tough the sanctions we've put in place are and are giving them time to work," said a senior Obama administration official.
The U.S. military is preparing for a number of possible responses to an Israeli strike, including assaults by pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, according to U.S. officials.
The U.S. believes its embassy and other diplomatic outposts in Iraq are more vulnerable following the withdrawal of U.S. forces last month. Up to 15,000 U.S. diplomats, federal employees and contractors are expected to remain in Iraq.
In large measure to deter Iran, the U.S. has 15,000 troops in Kuwait, and has moved a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf area.
It has also been pre-positioning aircraft and other military equipment, officials say. Arms transfers to key allies in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have been fast-tracked as a further deterrent, officials say.
Israeli officials said Mr. Netanyahu's government continues to closely coordinate with the U.S. in responding to the Iranian threat. "Israel believes that heightened sanctions combined with a credible military threat may dissuade the Iranian regime from developing nuclear capabilities," Mr. Oren said.
Mr. Panetta and other top officials have privately sought assurances from Israeli leaders in recent weeks that they won't take military action against Iran. But the Israeli response has been noncommittal, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials briefed on the military's planning said concern has mounted over the past two years that Israel may strike Iran. But rising tensions with Iran and recent changes at Iranian nuclear sites have ratcheted up the level of U.S. alarm.
"Our concern is heightened," a senior U.S. military official said of the probability of an Israeli strike over U.S. objections.
Tehran crossed at least one of Israel's "red lines" earlier this month when it announced it had begun enriching uranium at the Fordow underground nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom.
The planned closing of Israel's nuclear plant near Dimona this month, which was reported in Israeli media, sounded alarms in Washington, where officials feared it meant Israel was repositioning its own nuclear assets to safeguard them against a potential Iranian counterstrike.
Despite the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel, U.S. officials have consistently puzzled over Israeli intentions. "It's hard to know what's bluster and what's not with the Israelis," said a former U.S. official.
Inside the Israeli security establishment, a sort of good cop, bad cop routine, in which Israeli officials rattle sabers amid a U.S. scramble to restrain them, has assumed its own name: "Hold Me Back."
Some American intelligence officials complain that Israel represents a blind spot in U.S. intelligence, which devotes little resources to Israel. Some officials have long argued that, given the potential for Israel to drag the U.S. into potentially explosive situations, the U.S. should devote more resources to divining Israel's true intentions.
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—Charles Levinson and Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.
January 14th, 2012
UK Daily Mail
By Emily Allen
Sixty nine people are believed to be missing and three are dead after a packed cruise liner began capsizing off the Italian coast after running aground.
About 4,200 passengers and crew were on board the Costa Concordia which had left port at 7pm for a seven-day Mediterranean Cruise - but within two hours, it ran aground in the sea with a major electrical fault.
The 13 deck liner then began to take on water after hitting a rock creating a 160ft gash in the hull, near the island of Giglio, off the Tuscan coast - two weeks into the Titanic centenary year.
Following a large-scale evacuation of passengers and crew last night, Italian officials said 69 had not yet been accounted for, although they warned the passenger list might not be fully up-to-date.
All 25 British holiday-makers and 25 British crew members are safe but the bodies of two French passengers and a Peruvian crewman were recovered from the water.
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Italian news agency Ansa said 4,165 out of the 4,234 people on-board were safe but did not know the whereabouts of the remaining 69
Damage: The luxury cruise liner lies virtually flat, its right-hand side submerged in the water. The huge hole in the hull is clearly visible
Italian news agency Ansa said 4,165 out of the 4,234 people on-board were safe but officials did not know the whereabouts of the rest.
Coast guards and divers have spent the morning searching the submerged decks, the BBC said.
Meanwhile, the Concordia's grounding should serve as a wake-up call to the shipping industry and those who regulate it, the maritime professionals' union Nautilus International said.
Passengers said the ship had begun to list so much it was difficult to launch lifeboats, while some holiday-makers leaped into the water to swim to safety.
The Concordia's grounding should serve as a wake-up call to the shipping industry and those who regulate it, the maritime professionals' union Nautilus International said
Lifeboats are pictured in the foreground. Among the dead was a man around age 65, who officials believe may not have been able to withstand the cold of the sea at night
The bodies of two French passengers and one Peruvian crewman have been recovered from the sea. Fourteen people are believed to have minor injuries such as bruising.
January 14th, 2012
The Christian Science Monitor / By Patrik Jonsson
As America gets ready to take Monday off in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the creators of the new MLK Monument in Washington will be thinking about how to fix what some have called a monumental misquote on the granite edifice.
At issue is a prominent quote on the side of the memorial that now states, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The problem, as MLK's son pointed out in a CNN interview, is, “That's not what Dad said.”
While the quote comes off as a boast, the actual line uttered by MLK in a speech a month before his April 4, 1968, assassination in Memphis had a different tone.
IN PICTURES: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
“If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace…,” King said, putting a less self-congratulatory spin on it.
The mistake not only makes King sound like “an arrogant twit,” as the poet Maya Angelou said last year, but undermines King's point in the so-called “Drum-Major Instinct” sermon, which was about the “folly” of wanting “to be great without doing any great, difficult things.”
“As many have since pointed out, the 'if' and the 'you' entirely change the meaning,” writes the Washington Post's Rachel Manteuffel, whose editorial on the mistake started the correction process churning. “To King, being a self-aggrandizing drum major was not a good thing; if you wanted to call him that, he said, at least say it was in the service of good causes.”
On Friday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees the National Mall, gave the King Memorial Foundation 30 days to come up with an alternative excerpt for the north side of the 30-foot-tall statue. “This is important because Dr. King and his presence on the Mall is a forever presence for the United States of America, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” Salazar told the Post.
Salazar also addressed the issue during a Monitor breakfast before the Oct. 16, 2011 dedication of the sculpture. “I looked at the quote," he said. "I looked at all the other quotes. It is a wonderful memorial. But there are some issues that we will resolve and we will work on them ..."
January 14th, 2012
Compelling new scientific evidence suggests United Nations peacekeepers have carried a virulent strain of cholera -- a super bug -- into the Western Hemisphere for the first time.
The vicious form of cholera has already killed 7,000 people in Haiti, where it surfaced in a remote village in October 2010. Leading researchers from Harvard Medical School and elsewhere told ABC News that, despite UN denials, there is now a mountain of evidence suggesting the strain originated in Nepal, and was carried to Haiti by Nepalese soldiers who came to Haiti to serve as UN peacekeepers after the earthquake that ravaged the country on Jan. 12, 2010 -- two years ago today. Haiti had never seen a case of cholera until the arrival of the peacekeepers, who allegedly failed to maintain sanitary conditions at their base.
"What scares me is that the strain from South Asia has been recognized as more virulent, more capable of causing severe disease, and more transmissible," said John Mekalanos, who chairs the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School. "These strains are nasty. So far there has been no secondary outbreak. But Haiti now represents a foothold for a particularly dangerous variety of this deadly disease."
More than 500,000 Haitians have been infected, and Mekalanos said a handful of victims who contracted cholera in Haiti have now turned up in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and in Boston, Miami and New York, but only in isolated cases.
How cholera landed in Haiti has been a politically charged topic for more than a year now, with the United Nations repeatedly refusing to acknowledge any role in the outbreak despite mounting evidence that international peacekeepers were the most likely culprits. The UN has already faced hostility from Haitians who believe peacekeeping troops have abused local residents without consequence. They now face legal action from relatives of victims who have petitioned the UN for restitution. And the cholera charge could further hamper the UN's ability to work effectively there, two years after the country was hobbled by the earthquake.
Over the summer, Assistant Secretary General Anthony Banbury told ABC News that the UN sincerely wanted to know if it played a part in the outbreak, but independent efforts to answer that question had not succeeded. He said the disease could have just as easily been carried by a backpacker or civilian aid worker.
Banbury said the UN, through both its peacekeeping mission and its civilian organizations "are working very hard ... to combat the spread of the disease and bring assistance to the people. And that's what's important now."
"The scientists say it can't be determined for certainty where it came from," Banbury said. "So we don't know if it was the U.N. troops or not. That's the bottom line."
A UN spokeswoman repeated the answer when asked again last week: "The [scientists] determined it was not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti," said the UN's Anayansi Lopez.
Scientists Trace Cholera Superbug to UN Peacekeepers
But ABC News has interviewed several top scientists involved in researching the origins of the cholera outbreak, and each expressed little doubt that the UN troop was responsible. The reason: A genetic analysis of the strain found in Haiti matches identically the one involved in an outbreak in Nepal in August and September of 2010; The Nepalese peacekeeping troops deployed for Haiti at precisely that time; Two weeks before the outbreak, Haitians had reported sanitary breakdowns at the Nepalese encampment set along a tributary to the Artibonite River, about 60 miles north of the capital Port Au Prince. The next month, the earliest cases of cholera surfaced in the same remote area, from Haitians who had been drinking and bathing in the river.
"The scientific debate on the origin of cholera in Haiti existed, but it has been resolved by the accumulation of evidence that unfortunately leave no doubt about the implication of the Nepalese contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti," said French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, whose research on the outbreak was published by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control journal.
Mekalanos agreed, saying the single strongest piece of evidence came from the genetic analysis of the strain, which he said was virtually identical to strains that caused cholera in Nepal around the time that the troops shipped out. Taken in concert with sanitation problems at the Nepalese base, which was located near the epicenter of the outbreak, he said "almost any other explanation I can think of is well behind in confidence to the likelihood that that strain was introduced by UN troops," he said.
"It's outrageous for the UN to try to deny responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, whose group has been monitoring relief efforts in Haiti. "Was it gross negligence on their part? This is one of the questions they won't have to answer if they can sweep this whole thing under the rug."
Experts said understanding the origin of the outbreak is important. Louise C. Ivers, an infectious disease specialist and professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, published a paper this week that traced spread of cholera back to the first victim, a mentally ill man who ingested contaminated river water. She witnessed firsthand the destruction it caused as hundreds of villagers started dying from an unfamiliar malady.
"It was overwhelming," she said. "There were no reported cases in Haiti before 2010, ever. Really people had no idea what was happening. To hear the fear and the suspicions and the lack of understanding about how this was happening is very, very sad. The outbreak put a huge stress on what was already a very fragile health system. I'm afraid it will be a problem for the foreseeable future."
She said what has made Haiti so vulnerable was a lack of latrines and clean potable water. She said there have been small outbreaks in the Dominican Republic, but nothing on the scale of what hit Haiti because conditions are more modern and sanitary.
Mekalanos said there are steps that the UN and other aid organizations can and should be taking if they are sending workers from an area where cholera is active into a region where it has long been absent. In the future, he said, the UN might consider giving troops a prophylactic dose of antibiotic before deploying. Or they could do more to insure proper sanitary conditions at UN encampments.
With the likelihood that cholera will be part of the landscape in Haiti for decades to come, though, Mekalanos said his hope is that the missteps that brought the ugly strain of the disease from Asia to the west will not repeat and lead to its further spread.
"Cholera is a disease of the impoverished," he said. "When the standards of living are already at the lowest levels, cholera is a killer of historic proportions. If it spreads to other parts of the world, in those kinds of settings, I fear there will be a very high rate of death."
UN officials said Banbury is currently in Haiti, "actively discussing with the Mission what more the UN can do to help Haiti deal with the outbreak."
January 14th, 2012
The bitter 2012 Republican primary had been a hard-fought, uphill battle, with many near disastrous revelations and clearly vicious political street fighting; however, the extensive experience, insider financial connections, and tentative mainstream media backing had ultimately paid off. Conservative businessman, Herman Cain, and Texas Governor Rick Perry had nearly capsized Romney's glistening campaign juggernaut. Nevertheless, in the end, the establishment would win out.
But not completely. VP selectee, Herman Cain sat among the spectators, enjoying the fact that someone else would have the duty to debate for a change, while worrying over the next campaign stop on the left coast. Cain, smiling knowingly, casually pish-poshed hangers-on for unceasingly crowing over his being the first Black VP nominee in US history, but his entourage's banter soon eased as the countdown approached the one minute to air-time signal.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney now stood, gleamingly spotlighted before an expectant crowd of over 400 academians at Wake Forest University near Raleigh, NC. TV cameras and microphones bristled in every direction. Romney was in his element. Polished and confident, across from Romney stood the current leader of the Free World, President Barack Hussein Obama, the crease in his pants clearly separating him from the proletariat. The first debate between the two had been but a carefully crafted skirmish, each respectfully feeling out the other's vulnerabilities and strengths, neither emerging as the clear winner.
But this night would be different, as over 75 million viewers would witness the course which would be laid out for America over the next four years.
An Immoderate Moderator
The list of Debate moderator prospects had read like a who's who among the insider media elites. A mini tug-of-war, with oafish sniping and even some veiled, mostly empty threats had ensued; however, it was folksy Liberal and oddly likable Bob Schieffer, the CBS Anchor, who eventually won the honor of carefully crafting the questions which would determine this particular debate's outcome.
After the final instructions had been delivered, both to the spectators and contestants, the 2012 Presidential debate theme music blared, both men tensed, and all camera's zeroed in on the two candidates selected who would largely determine the future course for the, somehow, still largest economy on the planet.
Schieffer went through his monologue, delivering a quick summary of the rules for the viewer audience's comprehension, and then the debate began.
The first question seemed tailored for an immediate coup de' grace, when Schieffer stated, "To begin, and as an introduction, why should each of you be elected President of the United States in 2012?" Schieffer squinted into the lights, smiled tightly and directed an expectant gaze to Romney, who had been granted the first response.
Romney answered with a laundry list of polished, yet succinct reminders of how the US economy had only trudged laboriously at best under the kindergarten tutelage of Barack Hussein Obama, carefully staying away from the Republican's avowed centerpiece of Obamacare's planned demise, desiring to put that subject off for as long as possible. With a technically correct flourish, Romney finished his response and smiled glisteningly.
Schieffer then turned to the President, expression deliberately solemn, and thoughtfully stated, "Now, why do you think that you should be elected for four more years, Mr. President?"
Obama, flashing a sarcastic smile, stated: "Well, um...in large part because Mitt Romney has already told us verbatim that there are a lot of reasons not to elect him as President, and that was even back in September of last year. Do the American people really want a President who admits that there are a great many reasons not to elect him as their President?"