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US resumes drone strikes in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday carried out its first drone strike in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas in nearly two months, ending a pause that was intended to avoid worsening relations between the countries after a U.S. airstrike in November killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Missiles fired from a remotely piloted aircraft struck a house outside of Miranshah in the North Waziristan tribal area, killing at least three militants, Reuters reported, citing a local intelligence official.

Officials in Washington confirmed the strike but, as is customary with missile attacks from drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, they would not provide any details.

The CIA last conducted a drone strike in Pakistan on Nov. 16, 10 days before the attack that killed the Pakistani troops in two remote outposts along the border with Afghanistan.

U.S. officials decided after the cross-border episode to suspend the strikes pending a wide-ranging Pakistani review of its security relationship with the U.S.

U.S. officials said over the weekend that any lull in drone strikes did not signal a weakening of the country’s counterterrorism efforts, and suggested that strikes could resume soon.

—Eric Schmitt, The New York Times

Justices weigh relevance of broadcast decency rules

WASHINGTON — In a rollicking Supreme Court argument that was equal parts cultural criticism and First Amendment doctrine, the justices on Tuesday considered whether the government still has good reason to regulate cursing and nudity on broadcast television.

The legal bottom line was not easy to discern, though there seemed to be little sentiment for a sweeping overhaul of the current system, which subjects TV broadcasters to fines for showing vulgar programming that is constitutionally protected when presented on cable television or the Internet.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. suggested that the court should not rush to resolve a question concerning a technology on its last legs.

“Broadcast TV is living on borrowed time,” he said. “It is not going to be long before it goes the way of vinyl records and eight-track tapes.”

In the meantime, though, a majority of the justices seemed content to leave in place the broad outlines of a regulatory structure built on rationales that have been undermined.

In 1978, the court said the Federal Communications Commission could restrict George Carlin’s famous “seven dirty words” monologue, which had been broadcast on the radio in the afternoon. The court relied on what it called the uniquely pervasive nature of broadcast media and its unique accessibility to children.

Neither point still holds, lawyers for Fox and ABC told the justices.

—Adam Liptak, The New York Times

Family of condemned American in Iran hires prominent lawyer

The family of a U.S. man who has been sentenced to death by Iran on espionage charges has hired a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer who successfully negotiated the release of an Iranian-American businessman from a Tehran prison less than two years ago, a business associate of the lawyer said Tuesday.

The lawyer, Pierre-Richard Prosper, was formally retained by the family of the condemned American, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, in the past 10 days. That was well before the Iranian judiciary’s announcement on Monday that Hekmati, a 28-year-old former Marine, was guilty of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency and would be executed. The ruling is subject to appeal.

Hekmati’s incarceration, trial, conviction and death sentence shocked his family, which contends he is an innocent political pawn, and came against a backdrop of Iran’s increasingly bellicose relations with the U.S. over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

The case has escalated into a new point of contention and possible bargaining leverage in Iran’s struggle to counter the tightening vise of Western sanctions because of the nuclear program, which are threatening Iran’s economy and have worsened its already estranged ties with the West.

—Rick Gladstone and Harvey Morris, The New York Times

For Romney, South Carolina poses tests on ideology and faith

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney has now defied a generation of political gravity, doing what no nonincumbent Republican has done since 1976, winning the one-two states of Iowa and New Hampshire in his quest for the party’s presidential nomination.

But on Wednesday morning, Romney’s plane will deliver him to the tougher proving ground of South Carolina for what could be a crucial test.

It will be there — a place famous for surfacing the dark undercurrents of American politics — that he has the opportunity to show he can overcome doubts among evangelicals and Tea Party adherents about his ideological commitment and assume leadership of a party that has spent the last two years under the sway of a conservative insurgency.

If he succeeds, it will be a triumph of political rebranding, a long effort by Romney to leave behind a past that includes former support for abortion rights and authorship of a health care plan that helped inspire President Barack Obama’s.

A Republican Party whose more energetic precincts have been gripped throughout the Obama presidency by a desire to expel moderates and upend the establishment will have put itself in the hands of a candidate who, more than anyone in the race, comes out of a moderate, establishment Republican tradition.

—Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times