Tuesday December 4, 2012

Obama wants Wasserman Schultz to stay on at DNC

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama wants Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to stay on as his party’s chairwoman.

Wasserman Schultz has overseen the Democratic National Committee since early 2011. Party officials credit her in part with helping the president carry her home state of Florida, as well as leading the party to an expanded majority in the Senate and more seats in the House.

"I’ve asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to continue her excellent work as chair of the DNC," Obama wrote on Twitter Monday. "Thanks for all you do, Debbie."

The tweet was signed "bo", which the White House says is a signal that the president wrote it personally.

Wasserman Schultz also took to Twitter to respond, writing, "Thank you, Mr. President. I am honored to serve."

Democratic officials said Obama asked DNC members to back Wasserman Schultz when they meet in January, just after the president’s inauguration.

A mother of three and a breast cancer survivor, Wasserman Schultz, 46, has represented a reliably Democratic Fort Lauderdale-area district since 2005. Along the way she has earned a reputation as a workhorse and as an outspoken liberal happy to duke it out on television with her Republican counterparts.

Throughout the presidential election, Wasserman Shultz was a particularly prominent spokeswoman for Obama in Florida, the critical swing state where the president eked out a close win in the November election. As a Jew and a strong advocate for Israel, she also provided a bulwark for Obama against Republican efforts to paint him as anti-Israel.

Wasserman Schultz also buoyed her reputation as a fundraiser during the 2012 election cycle, with Democrats noting that she was particularly adept at bringing into the fold donors to Bill and Hillary Clinton who had been wary of supporting Obama. She supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

U.S. slams Israel on new settlement plan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration on Monday harshly criticized its top Mideast ally, Israel, over new settlement construction plans in areas the Palestinians claim for a future state and urged it to rethink them.

The White House and State Department said the plans run counter to longstanding U.S. policy, particularly as they relate to a sensitive piece of land outside Jerusalem known as E1.

"We reiterate our long standing opposition to Israeli settlement activity and East Jerusalem construction," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "We oppose all unilateral actions, including settlement activity and housing construction as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations and this including building in the so called E-1 area."

"We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two state solution," he said.

At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said the E1 plans are "especially damaging" to prospects for a resumption in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The E1 area "area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution," Toner said in a statement.

Israel on Friday announced that it would move ahead on plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem on territory the Palestinians claim as theirs to punish the Palestinians for winning U.N. recognition. It also said it would begin planning work in E1, where construction would essentially end hopes for an eventual Palestinian state to be contiguous.

Building in E1 would sever the link between the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim for a future capital. It would also cut off the northern part of the West Bank from its southern flank.

The Palestinians say construction in that territory would kill any hope for establishing a viable state of Palestine. Successive U.S.governments have agreed, and under intense American pressure, Israel has avoided building settlements in the area. It has, however, developed roads and infrastructure and built a police station.

Manufacturing shrinks in November to 3-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A survey shows U.S. manufacturing shrank in November to its weakest level since July 2009, the first month after the Great Recession ended. Worries about automatic tax increases in the New Year cut demand for factory orders and manufacturing jobs.

The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its index of manufacturing conditions fell to a reading of 49.5. That’s down from 51.7 in October.

Any reading above 50 signals expansion, while readings below 50 indicate contraction. Manufacturing grew in October for only the second time since May.

Businesses expressed concerns about the "fiscal cliff." That’s the name for sharp tax increases and government spending cuts that will take effect in January if Congress and the Obama administration fail to strike a budget deal before then.

Worries about the fiscal cliff have led many companies to pull back this year on purchases of machinery and equipment, which signal investment plans. The decline could slow economic growth and hold back hiring in the October-December quarter.

Superstorm Sandy had only a limited impact on factory activity last month, according to the ISM survey. The storm hit the East Coast on Oct. 29 and affected businesses in 24 states.

Two regional manufacturing surveys released in mid-November showed the storm disrupted factories in the Philadelphia and New York regions. On Friday, the government said Sandy contributed to a decline in consumer spending in October.

Coast Guardsman dies when boat is rammed

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. (AP) -- A suspected smuggling vessel rammed a U.S. Coast Guard chase boat during a counter-drug operation off the California coast, killing one Coast Guardsman and injuring another, authorities said.

The panga -- an open, low-sided fishing boat favored by Mexican smugglers -- was captured after the Sunday crash near the Channel Islands, west of Malibu.

Authorities say such vessels carrying drugs or illegal immigrants from Mexico have been ranging farther and farther north along the California coast.

Asked whether any drugs were found on the boat seized Sunday, Coast Guard spokesman Adam Eggers said he could not immediately comment.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, of Redondo Beach was pronounced dead Sunday after he was brought ashore at Port Hueneme, said James Baroni, Ventura County chief deputy medical examiner.

Horne suffered a traumatic head injury in the crash, Coast Guard officials said.

The second man was treated for minor injuries. His name wasn’t released.

Horne and others were aboard a small inflatable boat deployed from the Marina del Rey-based Coast Guard cutter Halibut.

The Halibut’s commanding officer, Lt. Stewart Sibert, told a press conference Monday that he and his crew were devastated by the loss of the man he called the best shipmate he had ever known.

"He was my friend, he was my confidante, he was the glue that held my crew together," Sibert said, choking back tears. "He gave me advice more times than I could count."

Sibert credited Horne with helping to rescue people on a struggling sailboat just a few months ago off of the Channel Islands.

"It was pitch black, the winds were howling, the seas were building and everything was getting worse," Sibert said.

Horne came up with a plan, and his experience and professionalism saved three lives, Sibert said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Horne and fellow crewmembers of the Halibut "were engaged in an at-sea interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat."

A Coast Guard maritime patrol aircraft spotted the panga before dawn and the cutter was sent to intercept it, officials said.

The cutter deployed the smaller inflatable chase boat, but as that vessel approached the panga with its blue light flashing, the panga veered toward it at high speed and struck it before fleeing.

Horne and another crewman were thrown into the water.

Another Coast Guard vessel stopped the fleeing panga and detained two suspects.

"Our fallen shipmate stood the watch on the front lines protecting our nation, and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice," said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Coast Guard commandant.

Napolitano said the tragedy was a reminder of the dangers men and women in uniform face daily while protecting the nation. She said her thoughts and prayers were with Horne’s family and all Coast Guard personnel.