Today's Takeaway: Five Days Until the Iowa Caucus

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Days Before The Iowa Caucus, is Santorum In and Gingrich Out?; Separating Fact from Fiction in Iowa Political Ads; Is The US Prepared to Attack Iran?; Iraqi War Veteran Teaches Dance; The Art of the Political Flip-Flop; Real Life Superheroes; A Look Back at the Arab Spring

Todd Zwillich guest hosts with Celeste

Top of the Hour: Kim Jong-un Declared 'Supreme Leader' in North Korea, Morning Headlines

A day after the state funeral of Kim Jong-il, his son Kim Jong-un was declared "supreme leader of the party, state, and army." At a memorial service for his father in Pyongyang, the younger Kim received the government's first public endorsement of his leadership.

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Days Before The Iowa Caucus, Is Santorum In and Gingrich Out?

With five days to go until the Iowa caucus, all six contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are making their rounds in small towns across Iowa. Newt Gingrich's poll numbers continue to fall in the Hawkeye state, opening up the possibility for another candidate to overtake the lead. Hopefuls who have stuck it out since the beginning — like Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — have experienced a recent uptick in popularity.

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The Thinning 'Red Lines': Could the US Attack Iran?

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta complicated U.S.-Israeli relations by calling the potential consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities "a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret." The remark resulted in a formal diplomatic protest lodged by Israel's ambassador to the U.S. The Obama administration has since assured the Israelis of the existence of so-called "red lines" — in essence, the White House acknowledges that certain actions undertaken by Iran could trigger U.S. military action against it.

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US to Sell Weapons to Iraq, Despite Concerns

Despite deep worries over the continuing stability of the Iraqi government, the U.S. is planning on selling $11 billion of arms and training to Iraq's military. The sale comes as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has attempted to marginalize Iraq's Sunni minority since the U.S. withdrew its forces earlier in the month, setting off concerns over civil war. The Obama administration hopes the sale, which includes tanks and fighter jets, will help Iraq build its military and secure its border with Iran. But some American officials worry Iraq's government will move to align itself with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran.

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Home From Battle, An Iraq War Vet Teaches Ballet

Roman Baca is an Iraq War veteran and the artistic director of Exit 12 Dance Company. He has toured veterans hospitals and military bases around the world with his ballet "The Homecoming," which is about service members dealing with homesickness and the experiences of their loved ones waiting at home. He is heading back to Iraq, but this time as a dance teacher.

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Top of the Hour: Iran Threatens to Block Crucial Trade Route, Morning Headlines

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran are escalating further after Iran announced that it will block a crucial trade route in the Persian Gulf if new sanctions are imposed on its exports of crude oil. The Obama administration says the closure of the Strait of Hormuz will disrupt the free flow of goods and services vital to global prosperity. The 34-mile-wide channel between Iran and Oman is heavily trafficked by oil tankers.

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The Art of the Political Flip-Flop

Newt Gingrich was for health care mandates before he was against them. Rick Perry was for allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest before he was not. And Mitt Romney has changed his positions on climate change, health care, abortion, and gay rights, just to name a few. In 2004, the caricature of John Kerry as a "flip-flopper" partly cost him the presidential election. Although flip-flopping is almost universally portrayed as negative, these changes of heart sometimes reveal an evolution of ideals and maturity. "When the facts change, I change my mind," John Maynard Keyes once said. "What do you do, sir?"

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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a... Real-Life Superhero?

There are over 300 registered superheroes in the United States. Coming from all walks of life, they patrol the streets, stop crimes, and do community outreach in homemade costumes. While each real life superhero has a different reason for taking up the cause, the one thing that's certain about this eccentric bunch of concerned citizens is that their ranks are growing: The New York Initiative, a New York City-based collective of superheroes, has gone from four members to 12 in 2011.

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As Unemployment Claims Decline, Disability Claims Rise

Since 2007, the number of people collecting social security disability benefits, or SSDI, has grown by 3.4 million. Two new studies, one co-produced by the Obama administration, document a direct relationship between those seeking SSDI after their unemployment benefits run out. With 10.6 million Americans receiving payments of roughly $1,000 a month plus access to Medicare and Medicaid, there are concerns that the Social Security Trust Fund will be completely depleted by 2017.

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Group Says Syria Attacks Protesters as Monitors Arrive

An opposition group said Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in a Damascus suburb on Thursday, the latest incident of violence since Arab League peace monitors arrived in the country. Activists say over 20 people were injured outside the Grand Mosque in the Douma suburb, and two were killed. Eight other deaths were reported in Syria on Thursday. The violence comes a day after Arab League observers visited Homs, the epicenter of anti-government demonstrations. There, the team's leader was criticized after saying he had seen "nothing frightening" during the visit. On the third day of their mission, the monitors will visit Deraa, Hama and Idlib.

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A Look Back at the Arab Spring

One of the biggest stories of the year was the Arab Spring. Starting in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, the ongoing protests across the Middle East and Northern Africa toppled decades-old dictatorships and forever changed the world's perception of the region. 

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Unmanned Drones: Coming to a Police Department Near You?

As unmanned aircraft have become a popular tool for the United States military, private companies are developing new drones that can be used by law enforcement domestically. The new drones — one under development the size of a hummingbird — have police departments across the U.S. excited for their possible applications. But the idea of robotic planes spying on American citizens have civil libertarians raising concerns. The BBC's Alistair Leithead filed this report on the next generation of drones.

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