WASHINGTON

U.S.  plans military exercises to put pressure on N. Korea

The Obama administration Monday announced plans for two major military exercises off the Korean peninsula in a show of force aimed at North Korea, which has been blamed by investigators for a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship.

The White House called U.S. support for South Korea “unequivocal” and said in a statement that President Obama had directed military commanders to work with the South “to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression.”

North Korean leaders have denied responsibility and warned against any retaliation, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday blamed the North for the crisis.

U.S. officials hope a united international response, coupled with a display of military might, will deter North Korea’s neo-Stalinist regime from ratcheting up tensions.

Court rules for black firemen in hiring discrimination suit

The Supreme Court ruled Monday a group of African-Americans did not wait too long to sue Chicago over a hiring test they challenged as discriminatory, freeing them to collect a lower court judgment.

It is the second time in two years the high court has tackled bias in testing within the firefighting ranks.

In a landmark case last year, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision said New Haven, Conn., violated white firefighters’ civil rights, throwing out an exam in which no African-Americans scored high enough to be promoted to lieutenant or captain.

In Monday’s unanimous opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court that the applicants’ lawsuit over a city of Chicago test used to weed out potential firefighter trainee applicants was not too late.

The ruling “should ensure that no other fire department or employer uses a discriminatory test, and LDF will go the extra mile to make sure that they do not,” said John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., who argued the case.

LONDON

Doctor who linked vaccine,autism barred from practice

The doctor whose research linking autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella influenced millions of parents to refuse the shot for their children was banned Monday from practicing medicine in his native Britain.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study was discredited – but vaccination rates have never fully recovered, and he continues to enjoy a vocal following, helped in the U.S. by endorsements from celebrities like Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy Wakefield was the first researcher to publish a peer-reviewed study suggesting a connection between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.

Legions of parents abandoned the vaccine, leading to a resurgence of measles in Western nations where it had been mostly stamped out. There are yearly outbreaks across Europe and sporadic outbreaks in the U.S.

“That is Andrew Wakefield’s legacy –  the hospitalizations and deaths of children from measles who could have easily avoided the disease,” said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

LOS ANGELES

Failed contact attempts prompt Mars Lander closure

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday they are closing down the Phoenix Mars Lander program after repeated attempts to contact the craft failed and new images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed that it is apparently irretrievably damaged.

“We will make no further efforts to contact it,” said JPL’s Barry Goldstein, project manager for the program.

The decision was not particularly surprising because virtually no one had expected the craft to survive the long Martian winter.

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008. Designed for a three-month lifespan, the craft sent its last message Nov. 2 of that year as the sun was sinking below the horizon.