WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-FIVE

January 1, 2012     Iran said that its scientists have produced the country's first nuclear fuel rod and that its navy has test-fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile--Iran had said that it would be forced to manufacture the rods because it is barred from buying them on foreign markets:

  • The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear payloads for missiles, but Teheran denies the charge, saying it needs the technology to generate electricity and to produce radioisotopes to treat cancer patients--on December 31st, President Obama signed a defense bill that includes new penalties against financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank, an attempt to hamper Teheran's ability to fund the program.

January 3, 2012     Iran's military sharpened its tone toward the U.S. with a blunt warning that a U.S. aircraft carrier that left the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormux last week should not return--the warning by Iran's military chief was the latest and most aggressive volley in a nearly daily exchange of barbed statements between Iran and the U.S.:

  • Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the Defense Department, declined to discuss further movements of the carrier, the John C. Stennis--he said, "The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades."

January 4, 2012     President Obama bypassed the Senate and installed a national consumer watchdog on his own, provoking GOP threats of a constitutional showdown in the courts:

  • Obama named Richard Cordray, a former attorney general of Ohio, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after giving up on hopes for a confirmation vote in the Senate--the appointment means the agency is able to oversee a vast swath of lending companies and others accused at times of preying on consumers with shady practices;
  • The president also named three members to the National Labor Relations Board--presidents of both parties have long gotten around a stalled confirmation by naming a nominee to a job when the Senate is on a break through a process known as a recess appointment, but Obama went even further by squeezing in his appointment during a break between rapid Senate sessions this week, an unusual move that the GOP called an arrogant power grab.

January 5,  2012

1.     President Obama outlined a broad new military strategy for the U.S., one that refocuses the armed forces on threats in Asia and the Pacific region, continues a strong presence in the Middle East, but makes clear that American ground forces will no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan:

  • In an appearance in the Pentagon briefing room, Obama put his mark on a military strategy that moves away from the grinding wars he inherited from the Bush administration and relies more on naval and air power in the Pacific and the Strait of Hormuz as a counterbalance to China and Iran--Obama arrived at the Pentagon to describe the new strategy with his defense secretary, Leon Panella, and with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; officials said that it was the first time a president had held a news conference at the Pentagon.

2.     President Obama vowed that the U.S. will maintain the best-equipped military in history despite deep and looming budget cuts, but Pentagon leaders acknowledged that the changes present additional risk:

  • The strategy, devised through a comprehensive review by civilian and military leaders, centers on the military the country needs after the "long wars of the last decade are over," Obama said--the president announced that the military will be reshaped over time with an emphasis on countering terrorism, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland, and "deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary."

January 6, 2012

1.     The Obama administration wants to more quickly reunite Americans with their illegal immigrant spouses and children in a move long sought by advocates but panned by Republicans:

  • The new proposal will likely affect tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000, illegal residents, and it would end a requirement that undocumented immigrants with parents or spouses in the U.S. leave the country first if they wish to file paperwork that would forestall deportation on the grounds of family hardship--without the so-called hardship waiver, illegal immigrants are barred from re-entering the U.S. for up to ten years, and the existing rule often means that people seeking waivers must separate from their families for months or, in some cases, years while their applications are processed.

2.     Four years after the recession struck and wiped out 8.7 million jobs, the U.S. may finally be in an elusive pattern known as a virtuous cycle: an escalating loop of hiring and spending:

  • The nation added 200,000 jobs in December, a burst of hiring that drove the unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, its lowest in almost three years and led economists to conclude that the improvement in the job market might last--It was the sixth month in a row that the economy added at least 100,000 jobs, the longest streak since 2006; the economy added jobs every month last year, the first time that has happened since 2005.
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