Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Panetta: US 'fully prepared' for an Iran challenge

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military is now "fully prepared" to deal with any Iranian effort to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Persian Gulf avenue for international oil shipments, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.
At a Pentagon news conference, Panetta was asked whether, in light of Iran's threat to close the strait in retaliation for stronger international economic sanctions, Washington is adjusting U.S. forces in the region.
"We are not making any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation," Panetta replied. "Why? Because, frankly, we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now." He noted that routine planning continues as the U.S. and its allies consider a range of potential Iran-related problems.
The Navy this month added a second aircraft carrier strike group in the Middle East, portraying it as part of a normal rotation and not a deliberate buildup of force. The carriers are the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Abraham Lincoln, under the control of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.
The U.S. has kept a continuous naval presence in the Gulf region for decades, but international concerns about a potential confrontation have grown amid tensions over the advancement of Iran's nuclear program.
The U.S. also has military forces in nearby United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf nations.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the country's most powerful military force, says Tehran's leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz if Iran's oil exports are blocked as a result of sanctions. A senior Guard officer said earlier this month that the decision has been made by Iran's top authorities.
Iranian politicians have made the threat in the past, but this was the strongest statement yet that a closure of the strait is official policy.
In his remarks at the Pentagon, Panetta said he still holds out hope for a diplomatic solution with Iran.
"It takes two to be able to engage, and we've always expressed a willingness to try to do that," he said. "But we've always made clear that in terms of any threats to the region, in terms of some of the behavior that they've conducted in the region, that we'll also be prepared to respond militarily if we have to."
In what some view as a sign of concern about aggravating tensions with Iran, the U.S. and Israel have postponed what Panetta has called the largest-ever U.S.-Israeli air defense exercise. It was supposed to be conducted in April.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said on Monday the postponement was a "joint" decision with Washington. "The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise," he said. He refused to elaborate.
Asked about this Wednesday, Panetta said Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, had approached him to suggest the delay "in order to be able to plan better." Panetta said the decision had nothing to do with Iran.
Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, issued a statement Tuesday saying the delay "stemmed solely from technical issues." He said the exercise, dubbed "Austere Challenge 2012", would be held in the second half of this year.
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Mitt Romney’s not the only 15 percenter: John Kerry paid 13 percent in taxes in 2003

By Liz Goodwin | The Ticket – 17 mins ago
Mitt Romney acknowledged yesterday that his tax rate is probably about 15 percent--lower than what many high-income families pay. Romney, whose net worth is estimated to be between $200 and $250 million, pays a lower tax rate because most of his income comes from investments instead of a salary. Romney's less-wealthy rivals for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination certainly pay higher tax rates than he does. Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that he paid about 31 percent of his income after deductions in taxes in 2010 and will release his returns this week. Rick Perry's tax returns showed he paid about 23 percent of his income in taxes.
Romney did not specify if 15 percent is his total tax burden or just his marginal income tax rate. Your effective tax rate is usually defined as the percentage of your total taxable income that you pay in federal taxes.
How does Romney's effective tax rate compare to the recent presidential nominees from the major parties?
In 2004, John Kerry and his wife released portions of their separate tax returns that showed the couple paid an effective federal tax rate of about 13 percent on $5.5 million in income from the year before. (At first, Kerry only released his own tax return. He later released the first two pages of the tax return of his millionaire wife, Teresa Heinz.) Some conservatives, like Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, used Kerry's effective tax rate to criticize him for his opposition to a flat tax that would raise his taxes.
George and Laura Bush paid about 28 percent of their income in taxes in 2003, though their yearly income was a tenth of the Kerrys' that same year.
Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, paid only 20 percent of his $1.3 million income in taxes in 2003.
In 2008, John McCain at first only released his own tax records, which showed he paid about 32 percent in taxes on his adjusted gross income of more than $400,000 a year. His far wealthier wife, Cindy, eventually made public the first two pages of her 2006 and 2007 returns, as Teresa Heinz did four years earlier. The 2007 return showed that she paid a rate of about 26 percent on more than $4 million in investments and salary.
The Obamas, newly wealthy from the sales of "Dreams of my Father," paid a rate of 35 percent in 2007 on $4 million in income. In 2010, the Obamas' effective tax rate was 26 percent, spokesman Jay Carney said this week.