Thursday March 21, 2013

Obama vows unwavering support for Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Renewing U.S. support for the difficult "work of generations," President Barack Obama assured Israel on Wednesday that his administration would pursue an elusive Mideast peace that would allow residents of the Jewish state to live in peace and free from the threat of terror.

"In this work, the state of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States," the president declared after meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres during his first visit to Israel as president.

Perez, in turn, said he welcomed Obama’s clear message that "no one should let skepticism win the day, a vision that says clearly that peace is not only a wish, but a possibility."

Obama was meeting later with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and holding a joint press conference with the Israeli leader, who has just formed a new government.

At an extravagant welcoming ceremony, Obama sounded a message that "peace must come to the Holy Land" and that goal would not be achieved at Israel’s expense. U.S. backing for Israel will be a constant as the Middle East roils with revolution and Iran continues work on its nuclear program, he said.

"The United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend," Obama affirmed, as soon as he landed on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.


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"Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril," he said, calling his visit "an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors."

Seeking to alter a perception among many Israelis that his government has been less supportive of Israel than previous U.S. administrations, Obama declared the U.S.-Israeli alliance "eternal."

"It is forever," he said to applause as Israeli and U.S. flags fluttered in a steady breeze under clear, sunny skies.

Even before leaving the airport for Jerusalem, Obama offered a vivid display of the U.S.commitment to Israeli security by visiting a missile battery that is part of Israel’s Iron Dome defense from militant rocket attacks. The United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing the system with Israel.

Obama and Netanyahu toured the battery, brought to the airport for the occasion. They met and chatted with soldiers who operate the system that Israel credits with intercepting hundreds of rockets during a round of fighting against Gaza militants last November.

"Let me say as clearly as I can: The United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel," Obama said.

"We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land," he added. "For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors."

Netanyahu, who sparred frequently with Obama over the course of the U.S. president’s first term, was lavish in his praise for the president.

"Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East," he said. "Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat."

Survey shows high pessimism among low-wage workers despite job gains

WASHINGTON (AP) -- America’s lower-income workers have posted the biggest job gains since the deep 2007-09 recession -- but few are bragging.

As a workforce sector, those earning $35,000 or less annually are generally pessimistic about their finances and career prospects. Many see themselves as worse off now than during the recession, a two-part Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of workers and employers shows.

The survey revealed that many people at the lowest rung in the workplace view their jobs as a dead end. Half were "not too" or "not at all" confident that their jobs would help them achieve long-term career goals. And only 41 percent of workers at the same place for more than a decade reported ever receiving a promotion.

Yet 44 percent of employers surveyed said it’s hard to recruit people with appropriate skills or experiences to do lower-wage jobs, particularly in manufacturing (54 percent). While 88 percent of employers said they were investing in training and education for employee advancement, awareness and use of such programs among the lower-wage workers was only modest.

Although President Barack Obama made it a national goal to "equip our citizens with the skills and training" to compete for good jobs, the survey shows a U.S. workforce that has grown increasingly polarized, with workers and their bosses seeing many things differently.

New government estimate finds autism more common than before; 1 in 50 school kids diagnosed

NEW YORK (AP) -- A government survey of parents says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has autism, surpassing another federal estimate for the disorder.

Health officials say the new number doesn’t mean autism is occurring more often. But it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.

The earlier government estimate of 1 in 88 comes from a study that many consider more rigorous. It looks at medical and school records instead of relying on parents.

For decades, autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.

The new estimate released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mean at least 1 million children have autism.

Computer networks crash at South Korean banks, media companies; North Korea attack suspected

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Computer networks at two major South Korean banks and three top TV broadcasters went into shutdown mode en masse Wednesday, paralyzing bank machines across the country and prompting speculation of a cyberattack by North Korea.

Screens went blank promptly at 2 p.m. (0500 GMT), with skulls reportedly popping up on the screens of some computers -- a strong indication that hackers planted a malicious code in South Korean systems, the state-run Korea Information Security Agency said. Some computers started to get back online more than 2 1/2 hours later.

Police and South Korean officials said the cause was not immediately clear. The government issued a cybersecurity advisory warning website owners to beware of cyberattacks, the state-run Korea Communications Commission said.

But speculation centered on North Korea, with experts saying a cyberattack orchestrated by Pyongyang was likely to blame.

The shutdown comes amid rising rhetoric and threats of attack from Pyongyang in response to U.N. punishment for its December rocket launch and February nuclear test. Washington also expanded sanctions against North Korea this month in a bid to cripple the regime’s ability to develop its nuclear program.

Nevada town with deep military history mourns Marines who died in training exercise explosion

HAWTHORNE, Nev. (AP) -- Hundreds of residents in a rural community steeped in military history turned out to mourn the loss of at least seven Marines as investigators arrived at an ammunition depot to try to determine how a mortar shell exploded at the Nevada base and sent shrapnel flying into troops during a training exercise.

Families with children clutching small American flags were among the nearly 300 people who attended the brief memorial service, where a trumpeter played taps at a city park as a giant American flag flew at half-staff across the street from the base at dusk.

Marine officers from Camp Lejeune, N.C., who arrived at the Hawthorne Army Depot on Tuesday could not attend the memorial, as they began the task of figuring out what caused a mortar shell to explode in its firing tube. The accident prompted the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapons until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said.

"All of the officers are tied up with the investigation," said John Stroud, a Veterans of Foreign Wars official from Fallon who led the memorial service. "For obvious reasons, they’ve got important work to do."

The explosion Monday night at the sprawling facility during an exercise involved the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune. At least seven men were killed and eight were injured, officials said.

From risotto to resoling, Rome’s old Borgo district is where up-and-coming cardinals go

ROME (AP) -- When a future pope needed new soles, he strolled to a shoe repair shop practically around the corner from the Vatican. When he was pope and nearing retirement, he had the same shoemaker craft a pair of comfy, calfskin slippers.

Borgo, the sleepy, medieval neighborhood with a timeless feel right outside the Vatican’s borders, has been at the service of pontiffs for centuries. From resoling to risotto, from light bulbs to linguine, Borgo is the go-to place for up-and-coming cardinals and sometimes even for popes.

Pilgrims may hurry through Borgo’s narrow cobblestone streets to catch papal blessings in jam-packed St. Peter’s Square. But gastronomically picky, red-hatted prelates and black-robed monsignors often stop to dine in the neighborhood’s eateries, debating the qualities of the next pontiff while tucking into tagliatelle and sausage in pistachio pesto or marsala-soaked braised pork.

Stroll Borgo’s slow-paced streets between meal times, and you might spot prelates on errands like the ones Joseph Ratzinger ran, when as a German cardinal he lived in an apartment just outside Vatican walls. Proudly displayed inside the shoemaker’s shop and in a lighting and electrical repair store are photographs of the businesses’ owners with their faithful client Ratzinger, more famous as the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Borgo means ‘’village" in Italian, and, indeed, the neighborhood has a quaint, insular quality, perhaps because some of its streets are closed to traffic.

Cyprus archbishop says
will put church assets at country’s disposal to help emerge from crisis

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- The head of Cyprus’ influential Orthodox church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, says he will put the church’s assets at the country’s disposal to help pull it out of a financial crisis, after lawmakers rejected a plan to seize up to 10 percent of people’s bank deposits to secure an international bailout.

Speaking after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades Wednesday, Chrysostomos said the church was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds.

The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery. Tuesday’s rejection of the deposit tax has left the future of the country’s international bailout in question.

Cyprus needs 15.8 billion euros to bail out its banks and shore up government finances to avoid default and a potential exit from the European joint currency.