US warns Iran over threat to block oil route. ›

The US Navy has said it will not tolerate disruption to a vital oil-trade route, following an Iranian threat to close it.

Iran warned it would shut the Strait of Hormuz if the West imposed more sanctions over its nuclear programme.

The US and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon - a charge Tehran denies.

Reacting to Iran’s warning, a US Fifth Fleet spokeswoman said it was “always ready to counter malevolent actions”.

The Strait of Hormuz links the Gulf - and the oil-producing states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - to the Indian Ocean. About 40% of the world’s tanker-borne oil passes through it. (BBC News)

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Vice President: This is what a real opportunity society looks like. ›

Today millions of Americans are meeting their responsibilities every day, yet falling behind. They are not looking for handouts or bailouts, but rather an economy in which their hard work is rewarded and the prospects for their children will be brighter than their own.

This is the basic compact that has made America great. These are the basic values that have helped make our workers the most productive, our entrepreneurs the most innovative and our economy the envy of the world. These are the principles on which our vision for the future must be built.

Romney appears satisfied to settle for an economy in which fewer people succeed, while the majority of Americans are left to tread water or fall behind.

Romney also misleadingly suggests that the president and I are creating an “Entitlement Society,” whereby government provides everything for its people without regard to merit, as opposed to what he calls an “Opportunity Society,” where everything is merit-based and every man is left to fend for himself.

Quite simply, the president and I believe this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. That is how we define opportunity. It’s an America where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talents and drive will take them, and where the middle class is growing, not shrinking. (Vice President Joe Biden)

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Republicans under pressure on payroll tax. ›

US House Republicans are coming under pressure to pass a bipartisan deal on extending a payroll tax cut, in a wrangle that has split the party.

Economists have said the US economic recovery would suffer if wage-earners were hit with an effective $1,000-a-year (£638) tax hike.

House Republicans, who propose extending the payroll tax holiday for a full year, are now urging the Senate to return from its holiday for formal negotiations.

Republicans initially showed little enthusiasm for the $120bn plan, until their political opponents began to accuse the party of being interested in tax cuts only when they applied to the wealthiest Americans.

On Wednesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner called the media to a Capitol Hill conference room where he was joined by his deputy, Eric Cantor, and eight other Republican lawmakers.

Mr Boehner said eight empty chairs across the table were reserved for Democratic lawmakers to join them for negotiations.

But Senate Democrats, who are said to be relishing their opponents’ political divisions, have refused to reopen negotiations.

"I urge you to reconvene the House to act on the Senate’s bipartisan compromise as soon as possible," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a letter on Wednesday to Mr Boehner.

That message was echoed by Democratic President Barack Obama - who has delayed a family holiday to Hawaii until the deadlock is resolved - in a phone call to Mr Boehner on Wednesday. But a Boehner aide said afterwards that the House Speaker did not budge.

Later, the president went on a shopping trip to Virginia, stopping in a pet shop to buy a bone for his dog Bo and in an electronics store for some Nintendo Wii video games.

The excursion came as a reminder that Mr Obama is “home alone”, having said he will stay in Washington until Congress passes an extension of the payroll tax holiday.

The White House said Mr Obama would work with Republicans to pass a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut, if the House approved the interim deal as a first step.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, not usually a critic of congressional Republicans, lambasted the party’s handling of the payroll tax dispute.

Its editorial on Wednesday said the caucus had “achieved the small miracle of letting Mr Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter”.

Republicans should “cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly”, it added.

Several Republican senators have also criticised their colleagues over the dispute.

Massachusetts Sen Scott Brown, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, said: “House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions.” (BBC News)

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Gingrich Push on Health Care Appears at Odds With G.O.P. ›

As Mr. Gingrich runs for president, he is working to appeal to Republican primary voters suspicious of big-government activism, especially in the realm of health care. But interviews and a review of records show how active Mr. Gingrich has been in promoting a series of recent programs that have given the government a bigger hand in the delivery of health care, and at the same time benefited his clients.

During the Bush administration, he was a leading Republican advocate for the costly expansion of Medicare, which many in his party now regret. And he and his center pushed some policies that are reflected in Mr. Obama’s health care record — a record Mr. Gingrich regularly criticizes on the campaign trail. All the while, his center functioned as a sort of high-priced club where companies joined him in working the corridors of power in Washington and in state capitals.

Although he now says he is opposed to the so-called individual mandate, in a May 2009 conference call — previously unreported — he told health care executives, “We believe there should be must-carry; that is, everybody should have health insurance, or if you’re an absolute libertarian, we would allow you to post a bond.” (Rutenberg & McIntire, The New York Times)

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Marines promoted inflated story for Medal of Honor recipient. ›

President Obama told the audience in the White House East Room on Sept. 15 that Meyer had driven into the heart of a savage ambush in eastern Afghanistan against orders. He’d killed insurgents at near-point-blank range, twice leapt from his gun turret to rescue two dozen Afghan soldiers and saved the lives of 13 U.S. service members as he fought to recover the bodies of four comrades, the president said.

But there’s a problem with this account: Crucial parts that the Marine Corps publicized and Obama described are untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated, according to dozens of military documents McClatchy Newspapers examined.

Sworn statements by Meyer and others who participated in the battle indicate that he didn’t save the lives of 13 U.S. service members, leave his vehicle to scoop up 24 Afghans on his first two rescue runs or lead the final push to retrieve the four dead Americans. Moreover, it’s unclear from the documents whether Meyer disobeyed orders when he entered the Ganjgal Valley on Sept. 8, 2009.

The statements also offer no proof that the 23-year-old Kentucky native “personally killed at least eight Taliban insurgents,” as the account on the Marine Corps website says. The driver of Meyer’s vehicle attested to seeing “a single enemy go down.”

What’s most striking is that all this probably was unnecessary. Meyer, the 296th Marine to earn the medal, by all accounts deserved his nomination. At least seven witnesses attested to him performing heroic deeds “in the face of almost certain death.”

Braving withering fire, he repeatedly returned to the ambush site with Army Capt. William Swenson and others to retrieve Afghan casualties and the dead Americans. He suffered a shrapnel wound in one arm and was sent home after the battle with combat-related stress. Meyer’s commander, Lt. Col. Kevin Williams, commended him for acts of “conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life … above and beyond the call of duty.”

But an exhaustive assessment by a McClatchy correspondent who was embedded with the unit and survived the ambush found that the Marines’ official accounts of Meyer’s deeds — retold in a book, countless news reports and on U.S. military websites — were embellished. They’re marred by errors and inconsistencies, ascribe actions to Meyer that are unverified or didn’t happen and create precise, almost novelistic detail out of the jumbled and contradictory recollections of the Marines, soldiers and pilots engaged in battle. (McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post)

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I nominate either Redford or Eastwood to direct this guaranteed future film.

U.S. Officially Ends Its Mission in Iraq. ›

BAGHDAD — The United States military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday even as violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power.

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The muted ceremony stood in contrast to the start of the war in 2003 when an America both frightened and emboldened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent columns of tanks north from Kuwait to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The war was started by the Bush administration in March 2003 on arguments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda that might grow to an alliance threatening the United States with a mass-casualty terrorist attack.

As the absence of unconventional weapons proved a humiliation for the administration and the intelligence community, the war effort was reframed as being about bringing democracy to the Middle East.

As of last Friday, the war in Iraq had claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.

The tenor of the 45-minute farewell ceremony, officially called “Casing the Colors,” was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It now ends without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many officers had hoped.

The tenuous security atmosphere in Iraq was underscored by helicopters that hovered over the ceremony, scanning the ground for rocket attacks. (Shanker & Schmidt, The New York Times)

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