Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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Ten years, ago, 19-year-old Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch was rescued with multiple injuries after her supply unit had come under fire and she was taken captive in Iraq. Lynch was the only POW in her unit to come out alive, and the first woman POW to be rescued in war.

Lynch, on the 10th anniversary of her rescue, went on the “Today” show on Monday to talk about the intervening years and the difficulty she had had with being in the spotlight. Thanks to the story of the capture having been inaccurate, the Iraq war veteran had gone from being a media darling to the poster child for an ill-prepared war effort.

She recalled, “I set the record straight as much as I can. I did Congress and testified to let everyone know … the real story.” For example, her many broken bones, attributed to enemy fire, came from her Humvee crash. And while it was reported that she used her M16 rifle, she said it actually had jammed.

The West Virginia native is now a motivational speaker, teacher and mother—the latter is the role for which “she feels the most pride,” she said.

Lynch told “Today,” “I’m happy we’re at this 10-year mark, but I’m happy to put Iraq in the past. It’s always going to be part of my life.”

She added, “I’m blessed and happy to be here.”

Her injuries, however, always serve as a reminder of the war: She has had 21 surgeries, including for a broken back and two broken legs. She wears a brace on the left leg and her right leg still hurts. She said, “I do the best that I can and am just thankful that I’m here.”

Lynch also told “Today” that as the only one in her unit to survive, she has had to deal with survivor’s guilt. “My best friend [Lori Paestewa] didn’t get to come back, and I did. She had two beautiful kids,” Lynch said. “It’s hard to know they’re going to have to grow up without their mom.”

She added, “I have that never-give-up attitude. As long as you keep it in your mind, you can do anything. That’s what it’s all about, it’s persevering.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — How do you convince millions of average Americans that one of the most complex and controversial programs devised by government may actually be a good deal for them?

With the nation still split over President Barack Obama’s health care law, the administration has turned to the science of mass marketing for help in understanding the lives of uninsured people, hoping to craft winning pitches for a surprisingly varied group in society.

The law’s supporters will have to make the sale in the run-up to an election — the 2014 midterms. Already Republicans are hoping for an “Obamacare” flop that helps them gain control of the Senate, while Democrats are eager for the public to finally embrace the Affordable Care Act, bringing political deliverance.

It turns out America’s more than 48 million uninsured people are no monolithic mass. A marketing analysis posted online by the federal Health and Human Services Department reveals six distinct groups, three of which appear critical to the success or failure of the program.

They’re the “Healthy & Young,” comprising 48 percent of the uninsured, the “Sick, Active & Worried,” (29 percent of the uninsured), and the “Passive & Unengaged” (15 percent).

The Healthy & Young take good health for granted, are tech-savvy, and have “low motivation to enroll.” The Sick, Active & Worried are mostly Generation X and baby boomers, active seekers ofhealth care information and worried about costs. The Passive & Unengaged group is mostly 49 and older, “lives for today,” and doesn’t understand much about health insurance.

The challenge for the administration is obvious: signing up lots of the Healthy & Young, as well as the Passive & Unengaged, to offset the higher costs of covering the sick and worried.

Uninsured middle-class Americans will be able to sign up for subsidized private health plans through new insurance markets in their states starting Oct.1. Low-income uninsured people will be steered to safety net programs like Medicaid.

“The goal here is to get as many people enrolled as possible,” Gary Cohen, the HHS official overseeing the rollout of the law, told insurers at a recent industry conference. Partly for that reason the first open enrollment period will continue until March 31, 2014.

Coverage under the law takes effect Jan. 1. That’s also when the legal requirement that most Americans carry health insurance goes into force. Insurance companies will be barred from turning the sick away or charging them more.

The new law is mainly geared to the uninsured and to people who buy coverage directly from insurance companies. Most Americans in employer plans are not expected to see major changes.

Administration officials say they see an opportunity to change the national debate about health care. They want to get away from shouting matches about the role of government and start millions of practical conversations about new benefits that can help families and individuals.

The HHS marketing materials reveal some barriers to getting the uninsured to embrace the law.

The Healthy & Young lead busy lives and tend to be procrastinators. Plus, why would they need health insurance if they’re full of vigor? The Passive & Unengaged fear the unknown and have difficulty navigating the health care system. The Sick, Active & Worried dread making wrong decisions.

Marketing for the new system will start this summer, going into high gear during the fall after premiums and other plan information becomes public.

There’s already widespread concern that the new coverage costs too much, because of a combination of sicker people joining the pool and federal requirements that insurers offer more robust benefits. A recent study by the Society of Actuaries forecast sticker shock, estimating that insurers will have to pay an average of 32 percent more for medical claims on individual health policies.

The administration says such studies are misleading because they don’t take into account parts of the law that offset costs to individuals and insurance companies, along with other provisions that promote competition and increase oversight of insurance rates.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who has long supported coverage for the uninsured, is predicting vindication for Obama once people see how the program really works.

“It’s harder to sell what is a pretty new idea for Americans while it is still in the abstract,” said Schakowsky, who represents Chicago. “I think as people experience it, they’re going to love it, much like Medicare.”

That will put wind in the sails of Democratic candidates. “I think it’s going to be a very popular feature as far as the American way of life before too long,” Schakowsky added.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says Democrats have been predicting for years that Americans would learn to love the health care overhaul and that has not happened. McConnell had his picture taken next to a 7-foot stack of “Obamacare” regulations recently to underscore his disdain.

“I agree that it will be a big issue in 2014,” said McConnell. “I think it will be an albatross around the neck of every Democrat who voted for it. They are going to be running away from it, not toward it.”

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Online:

HHS marketing study — http://tinyurl.com/aycgowc

 

This undated photo taken from the Kaufman County, Texas, website shows Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland. McLelland and his wife were found killed in their house, Saturday, March 30, 2013, two months after one of his assistants was gunned down near their office, authorities said. (AP Photo/Kaufman County)

KAUFMAN, Texas (AP) — Two months after one of his assistant prosecutors was gunned down, a north Texas district attorney and his wife were found killed in their home, authorities said.

The bodies of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found in their home Saturday, Kaufman County sheriff’s Lt. Justin Lewis said. Authorities would not comment on a motive.

“Everybody’s a little on edge and a little shocked,” Forney Mayor Darren Rozell told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It appears this was not a random act.”

Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot to death in a parking lot a block from his office on Jan. 31. No arrests have been made in his death.

Lewis declined to say how the couple died or whether authorities believe their deaths are linked to Hasse’s. Police, FBI agents, Texas Rangers and deputies were all part of the investigation.

Rozell said what’s so shocking is that the attack occurred at the district attorney’s home, an unincorporated area just outside Forney, which has 15,000 residents within the city limits and about 40,000 in the area. Kaufman County is 33 miles southeast of Dallas.

Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh told The Dallas Morning News that the McLellands had been shot in their home, and although investigators didn’t know if their deaths were related to Hasse’s killing, they couldn’t discount it.

“It was a shock with Mark Hasse, and now you can just imagine the double shock and until we know what happened, I really can’t confirm that it’s related but you always have to assume until it’s proven otherwise,” Aulbaugh told the newspaper.

Sam Rosander, who lives in the same unincorporated area of Kaufman County as the McLellands, told the AP on Saturday that sheriff’s deputies were parked in the district attorney’s driveway for about a month after Hasse was killed.

Aulbaugh said recently that the FBI was checking to see if Hasse’s killing could be related to the March 19 killing of Colorado Department of Corrections head Tom Clements, who was gunned down after answering the doorbell at his home.

Evan Spencer Ebel, a former Colorado inmate and white supremacist who authorities believe killed Clements and a pizza deliveryman two days earlier, was killed in a March 21 shootout with Texas deputies about 100 miles from Kaufman.

Hasse was chief of the organized crime unit when he was an assistant prosecutor in Dallas County in the 1980s, and he handled similar cases in Kaufman County.

“Anything anybody can think of, we’re looking through,” McLelland said after Hasse’s death.

McLelland graduated from the University of Texas before a 23-year career in the Army, according to the website for the district attorney’s office. He later earned his law degree from the Texas Wesleyan School of Law.

He and his wife have two daughters and three sons. One son is a police officer in Dallas.

McLelland and his wife had moved into the home within the past few years ago, Rozell said.

“Real friendly, became part of our community quickly,” Rozell said. “They were a really pleasant happy couple.”

___

Associated Press writer Michael Graczyk in Houston contributed to this report.

Collected from-http://news.yahoo.com/mayor-deaths-texas-da-wife-not-random-act-155206177.html

North Korea issues more threats, the Vatican defends the pope’s feet-washing, and more in our round-up of stories that are making news and driving opinion….

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1. NORTH KOREA DECLARES STATE OF WAR WITH SOUTH KOREA
North Korea has said it is entering a “state of war” with South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its southern neighbour and the U.S. A statement promised “stern physical actions” against “any provocative act.” North Korea has threatened attacks almost daily after it was sanctioned for a third nuclear test in February. It has also reacted angrily to annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The U.S. has condemned the North’s “bellicose rhetoric”, while China and Russia have called for an easing of tensions. North and South Korea have technically been at war since the armed conflict between them ended in 1953, because an armistice was never turned into a peace treaty. [BBC]

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2. VATICAN DEFENDS POPE’S ACTIONS ON GOOD FRIDAY
On Good Friday, the Vatican dismissed criticism of Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of two women during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a Rome youth prison. The move came under fire from Catholic traditionalists who say that the rite is a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the 12 apostles before his death, and thus should be limited only to men. Traditionally, popes have washed the feet of 12 priests during a solemn Mass in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica. A 1988 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship states that only “chosen men” can be admitted to the foot-washing ceremony, but including women in the rite is a widespread practice in the United States and elsewhere. This is Pope Francis’ first Easter celebrations as pontiff. [Washington Post]
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3. U.S. BUSINESS GROUPS NEAR IMMIGRANT LABOUR DEAL
The nation’s top business and labor groups are nearing agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, according to officials involved in the talks. An agreement between the labor and business communities would clear one of the last hurdles for an overall deal on immigration legislation in the Senate, which the bipartisan group hopes to introduce early next month. The United States Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, have been in discussions parallel to those of the Senate group, and have reached a tentative agreement about the size and scope of a temporary guest worker program, which would grant up to 200,000 new visas annually for low-skilled workers. [New York Times]
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4. RESCUES CONTINUE AFTER TANZANIAN BUILDING COLLAPSE
Rescuers in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, continued to search for survivors under a mountain of concrete and twisted metal Friday night following the collapse of a high-rise building. At least four people were dead and 60 missing after the 16-story building under construction collapsed, government and emergency officials said. Five children are believed to be among the missing. In addition to the deaths, at least 17 people were injured, said Suleiman Kova, a regional police commander. The Tanzanian Red Cross said rescue efforts would continue through the night. But the group also expressed relief, saying that casualty figures could have been far higher, but the streets were relatively empty of vendors and shoppers due to a holiday. [CNN]

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5. UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FALL ACROSS U.S.
Unemployment rates fell in 22 U.S. states in February, a sign that hiring gains are benefiting many parts of the country. The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates rose in 12 states and were unchanged in 16. Nationally, the unemployment rate slid to a four-year low of 7.7 percent in February, down from 7.9 percent in January. Since November, employers across the country have added an average of 200,000 jobs a month, nearly double the average from last spring. States hit hardest during the recession, like Nevada and Florida, are showing improvement. One reason for the big drop is that people have stopped applying for jobs, but hiring accelerated, too. Overall, 42 states added jobs in February from January, and just eight lost jobs. The biggest monthly job gains came in Texas (up nearly 81,000) and California (up more than 41,000). [TIME]
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6. STUDY FINDS NO CONNECTION BETWEEN VACCINES AND AUTISM
A study just published in the Journal of Pediatrics found no correlation between autism and increasing antigen number through completion of the vaccine schedule up to age 2. The study, led by Frank DeStefano, was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This topples one of the key pillars of  the “vaccines cause autism” argument, which is that the increase in the number of childhood vaccines over the years has increased autism prevalence. The twist in the study is that the children studied were born from 1994 to 1999, during a time when a single shot could contain more than 3,000 of the molecules that fire up the immune system. Today’s vaccine-related antigen exposure is considerably less. [Forbes]
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7. NAVY SEAL DIES IN PARACHUTE ACCIDENT
A Navy SEAL died following a parachute training accident, a Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman told ABC News on Friday evening. The SEAL, a senior chief, was participating in a routine free-fall training exercise at the USSOCOM Parachute Testing and Training Facility at Pinal Airpark in Arizona on Thursday when he, along with another SEAL, a petty first class officer, was injured, according to a Defense Department Official. The two men were evacuated to the University of Arizona Medical Center, where one of the SEALs died, according to the Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman. His family has been notified of the death. The second SEAL was in stable condition, a Department of Defense official said. The cause of the accident has not been officially determined, pending further investigation. [ABC News]
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8. JUDGE INDICTS PRINCIPAL IN SCHOOL CHEATING SCANDAL
A grand jury Friday indicted Beverly L. Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta School District, on racketeering and other charges, bringing a dramatic new chapter to one of the largest cheating scandals in the country. The grand jury also indicted 34 teachers and administrators in addition to Dr. Hall, who resigned in 2011 just before results of an investigation into the scandal was released. Hall could face up to 45 years in prison. Fulton County prosecutors painted a picture of a decade-long conspiracy that involved awarding bonuses connected to improving scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the state’s main test of core academic subjects for elementary and middle schools, and a culture where, in some schools, cheating was an acceptable way to get them. [New York Times]

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9. FACEBOOK TO ANNOUNCE ANDROID PHONE
Facebook will reportedly introduce a modified version of Google’s Android operating system. This version of Android will reportedly put Facebook front and center and will debut on a handset made by HTC. “Imagine Facebook’s integration with iOS 6, but on steroids, and built by Facebook itself,” says TechCrunch‘s Josh Constine. “It could have a heavy reliance on Facebook’s native apps like Messenger, easy social sharing from anywhere on the phone, and more.” [NBC News]
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10. EPA REGULATIONS WILL TIGHTEN EMISSIONS REGULATIONS
The Obama administration proposed new regulations Friday to clean up gasoline and automobile emissions, claiming the new standards would provide $7 in health benefits from cleaner air for each dollar spent to implement them. The costs likely would be passed on to consumers in higher gasoline and automobile prices. The EPA said the new rule would reduce sulfur in gasoline and tighten automobile emission standards beginning in 2017, resulting in an increase in gas prices of less than a penny per gallon. The agency estimated it also would add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025, but predicted it would yield billions of dollars in health benefits by slashing smog- and soot-forming pollution. The oil industry, Republicans, and some Democrats wanted EPA to delay the rule, citing higher costs. An oil industry study says it could increase gasoline prices by 6 to 9 cents a gallon. [TIME]

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What should the world do about North Korea? Share your thoughts on CNN iReport.

(CNN) — North Korea’s threatening rhetoric has reached a fevered pitch, but the Pentagon and the South Korean government have said it’s nothing new.

“We have no indications at this point that it’s anything more than warmongering rhetoric,” a senior Washington defense official said late Saturday.

The official was not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named.

The National Security Council, which advises the U.S. president on matters of war, struck a similar cord. Washington finds North Korea’s statements “unconstructive,” and it does take the threats seriously.

“But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for NSC.

The United States will continue to update its capabilities against any military threat from the north, which includes plans to deploy missile defense systems.

North Korea’s rhetoric

North Korea declared it had entered a “state of war” with neighboring South Korea, according to a report Saturday from the state-run Korean Central News Agency. It included a threat to “dissolve” the U.S. mainland.

“The condition, which was neither war nor peace, has ended, North Korea’s government said in a special statement carried by KCNA.”

North Korea and South Korea technically remain at war since their conflict between 1950 and 1953 ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty. On March 11, the North Korean army declared the armistice agreement invalid.

Saturday’s report included a direct threat to the United States, while also asserting any conflict “will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war.”

The statement made the prospect of war contingent upon “a military provocation … against the DPRK” in sensitive areas on the border between North and South.

The South: It’s not new

In a statement later Saturday, South Korea did not treat their neighbor’s latest threat as imminent danger.

Seoul noted scores of its personnel had entered the Kaesong Industrial complex — a joint economic cooperation zone between the two Koreas situated on the North’s side of the border — on Saturday morning with hundreds more set to join them later in the day, seemingly suggesting they were going about business as usual.

“The announcement made by North Korea is not a new threat, but part of follow-up measures after North Korea’s supreme command’s statement that it will enter the highest military alert” on Tuesday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Map appears to show U.S. targets

A day earlier, the same official North Korean news agency reported its leader Kim Jong Un had approved a plan to prepare standby rockets to hit U.S. targets.

In a meeting with military leaders early Friday, Kim “said he has judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” KCNA reported.

The rockets are aimed at U.S. targets, including military bases in the Pacific and in South Korea, it said.

“If they make a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, (we) should mercilessly strike the U.S. mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” the report said.

Behind North Korea’s heated words about missile strikes, one analyst said, there might not be much mettle.

“Unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed,” James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly,wrote in an opinion column published Thursday on CNN.com.

Analysis: Just what is Kim Jong Un up to?

U.S. official: We’re ‘committed … to peace

U.S. defense officials said Friday that the North’s bantering is destructive.

“This is troubling rhetoric that disrupts the prospects for peace on the Peninsula,” the senior official said.

Some observers have suggested that Washington is adding to tensions in the region by drawing attention to its displays of military strength on North Korea’s doorstep, such as the flights by the B-2 stealth bombers.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel argued against that assertion Thursday.

Threats of annihilation normal for South Koreans

“We, the United States and South Korea, have not been involved in provocating anything,” he said. “We, over the years, have been engaged with South Korea on joint exercises. The B-2 flight was part of that.”

Washington and its allies “are committed to a pathway to peace,” Hagel said. “And the North Koreans seem to be headed in a different direction here.”

Opinion: Why North Korea regime is scary

Amid the uneasy situation, China, a key North Korean ally that expressed frustration about Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, also called for calm.

“We hope relevant parties can work together to turn around the tense situation in the region,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Friday, describing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as “a joint responsibility.”

North Korea’s threat: Five things to know

Tensions have been rising for months

Tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula after the North carried out a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. Security Council to step up sanctions on the secretive government.

U.S. officials concerned about North Korea’s ‘ratcheting up of rhetoric’

Pyongyang has expressed fury about the sanctions and the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, due to continue until the end of April.

The deteriorating relations have killed hopes of reviving multilateral talks over North Korea’s nuclear program for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Pyongyang has declared that the subject is no longer up for discussion.

Korean nightmare: Experts ponder potential conflict

 

(CNN) — North Korea’s leader has approved a plan to prepare rockets to be on standby for firing at U.S. targets, including the U.S. mainland and military bases in the Pacific and in South Korea, state media reported.

In a meeting with military leaders early Friday, Kim Jong Un “said he has judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” the state-run KCNA news agency reported.

“If they make a reckless provocation with huge strategic forces, [we] should mercilessly strike the U.S. mainland, their stronghold, their military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” KCNA reported.

Analysis: Just what is Kim Jong Un up to?

Later Friday, North Korean state media carried a photo of Kim meeting with military officials. The young leader is seated in the image, leafing through documents with four uniformed officers standing around him.

On the wall behind them, a map entitled “Plan for the strategic forces to target mainland U.S.” appears to show straight lines stretching across to the Pacific to points on the continental United States.

South Korea and the United States are “monitoring any movements of North Korea’s short, middle and middle-to-long range missiles,” South Korean Defense Ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok said Friday.

Kim’s regime has unleashed a torrent of threats in the past few weeks, and U.S. officials have said they’re concerned about the recent rhetoric.

“North Korea is not a paper tiger, so it wouldn’t be smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster,” a U.S. official said Wednesday.

But Pentagon spokesman George Little said Thursday that it was important to remain calm and urged North Korea to “dial the temperature down.”

“No one wants there to be war on the Korean Peninsula, let me make that very clear,” he told CNN’s “Erin Burnett Outfront.”

Behind North Korea’s heated words about missile strikes, one analyst said, there might not be much mettle.

North Korea’s threat: Five things to know

“The fact is that despite the bombast, and unless there has been a miraculous turnaround among North Korea’s strategic forces, there is little to no chance that it could successfully land a missile on Guam, Hawaii or anywhere else outside the Korean Peninsula that U.S. forces may be stationed,” James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, wrote in an opinion column published Thursday on CNN.com.

North Korea’s latest threat Friday morning came after the United States said Thursday that it flew stealth bombers over South Korea in annual military exercises.

The mission by the B-2 Spirit bombers, which can carry conventional and nuclear weapons, “demonstrates the United States’ ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will,” a statement from U.S. Forces Korea said.

The North Korean state news agency described the mission as “an ultimatum that they (the United States) will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean Peninsula.”

The North has repeatedly claimed that the exercises are tantamount to threats of nuclear war against it.

But the U.S. military stressed that the bombers flew in exercises to preserve peace in the region.

“The United States is steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region,” the statement from U.S. Forces Korea said, using South Korea’s official name. “The B-2 bomber is an important element of America’s enduring and robust extended deterrence capability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The disclosure of the B-2 flights comes a day after North Korea said it was cutting a key military hotline with South Korea, provoking fresh expressions of concern from U.S. officials about Pyongyang’s recent rhetoric.

Tensions escalated on the Korean Peninsula after the North carried out a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test last month, prompting the U.N. Security Council to step up sanctions on the secretive regime.

U.S. officials concerned over North Korea’s ‘ratcheting up of rhetoric’

Pyongyang has expressed fury over the sanctions and the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, due to continue until the end of April.

The deteriorating relations have put paid to any hopes of reviving multilateral talks over North Korea’s nuclear program for the foreseeable future. Indeed, Pyongyang has declared that the subject is no longer up for discussion.

While Kim appears to have spurned the prospect of dialog with U.S. and South Korean officials, he met with Dennis Rodman during the U.S. basketball star’s bizarre recent visit to North Korea.

Sharp increases in tensions on the Korean Peninsula have taken place during the drills in previous years. The last time the North cut off military communications with the South was during similar exercises in March 2009.

North Korea has gone through cycles of “provocative behavior” for decades, Little said Thursday.

“And we have to deal with them. We have to be sober, calm, cool, collected about these periods. That’s what we’re doing right now,” he said. “And we are assuring our South Korean allies day to day that we stand with them in the face of these provocations.”

The recent saber-rattling from Pyongyang has included threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea, as well as the declaration that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 is null and void.

On Tuesday, the North said it planned to place military units tasked with targeting U.S. bases under combat-ready status.

Most observers say North Korea is still years away from having the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile, but it does have plenty of conventional military firepower, including medium-range ballistic missiles that can carry high explosives for hundreds of miles.

Little said Thursday that the United States was keeping a close eye on North Korea’s missile capabilities.

“The important thing is for us to stay out ahead of what we think the North Korean threat is, especially from their missile program,” he said. “They’ve been testing more missiles, and they’ve been growing their capabilities and we have to stay out ahead.”

Korean nightmare: Experts ponder potential conflict

CNN’s K.J. Kwon in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

North Korea plan to attack US mainland revealed in photographs

North Korea has revealed its plans to strike targets in Hawaii and the continental United States in photos taken in Kim Jong-un’s military command centre.

North Korea has revealed its plans to strike targets in Hawaii and the continental United States in photos taken in Kim Jong-un's military command centre.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (sitting) convening an urgent operation meeting at 0:30 am on 29 March 2013 at an undisclosed location Photo: EPA

By Julian Ryall, Tokyo

12:08PM GMT 29 Mar 2013

The photos appeared in the state-run Rodong newspaper and were apparently taken at an “emergency meeting” early on Friday morning. They show Kim signing the order for North Korea’s strategic rocket forces to be on standby to fire at US targets, the paper said, with large-scale maps and diagrams in the background.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike US and South Korean targets at any time (EPA)

The images show a chart marked “US mainland strike plan” and missile trajectories that the NK News web site estimates terminate in Hawaii, Washington DC, Los Angeles and what they claim is Austin, Texas.

The text on the map, which shows the west coast of North America, says “Plan to hit the U.S. mainland”

The meeting of Pyongyang’s senior military leaders was called after two US B2 bombers, flying out of bases in Missouri, carried out simulated bombing raids on North Korean targets on an island off the coast of South Korea.

“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the US mainland, its military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” the state-run KCNA news agency reported.

A U.S. airforce B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea

It added that the B2 test flights demonstrated Washington’s “hostile intent” and said the “reckless” act had gone “beyond the phase of threat and blackmail.”

The North’s military was placed on its highest alert level earlier this week and a hotline link with the South Korean military was severed.

North Korea has also cut the mobile Internet link for foreign visitors, only weeks after the 3G service was introduced.

North Koreans have held a rally at Kim Il-sung Square in central Pyongyang in support of military action

Despite the increasingly belligerent rhetoric and new images emerging from the North Korean regime, analysts believe its missiles are not capable of striking targets as far away as the US mainland and are not, as yet, capable of delivering a nuclear payload.

The images of Kim surrounded by his officers and diagrams of targets in the US are designed for a domestic consumption and to demonstrate the young leader’s mastery of military affairs, experts believe.