In Disasters’ Wake, Japan Races to Diffuse Nuclear Threat

An explosion Monday afternoon ripped through Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan and destroyed the roof of a reactor building. The Japanese government quickly imposed a 12 mile quarantine and required residents to immediately evacuate, but said those beyond were not at risk. Japanese safety authorities continued to struggle Monday to stave off a worst-case scenario of a radioactive explosion at nuclear power reactors damaged in Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said a hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. the reactor’s containment vessel was intact after the explosion, and the possibility of a large radiation leak is very small. Japan’s nuclear safety agency said six workers were injured in the explosion. A complete meltdown, or the collapse of a power plant’s ability to keep temperatures under control, could leak dangerous levels of radioactivity and pose major health risks. Unlike the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the Japanese reactors are housed in a sealed container to prevent such a release of contamination.

Japan said at least 1,800 people were confirmed killed in the quake and giant wall of water that followed on Friday; about 1,400 people were missing. Nearly 200,000 people evacuated the area around two nuclear power plants along Japan’s northeastern coast. The bodies of hundreds of people washed ashore Sunday while search crews pulled bodies from mud-caked homes. Even as aid rushed in from around the world, the misery of dislocated survivors grew in the face of freezing temperatures, crumbled cities and the desperate need for food and clean water. Hundreds of thousands of survivors streamed into emergency centers.

Japan was shaken anew by a strong earthquake Sunday off its eastern coast, closer to Tokyo than the massive quake that hit Friday. The latest temblor swayed buildings in the capital. The U.S. Geological Survey says the temblor had a magnitude of 6.2 and struck at 10:26 a.m. It was centered about 111 miles east of Tokyo, at a depth of 15.2 miles. Japan has been rattled by more than 150 aftershocks since Friday’s massive quake.

California Harbor Closed After Tsunami

Boats aren’t being allowed to travel through California’s Santa Cruz Harbor as crews work on hauling up sunken boats and removing debris after Friday’s tsunami. A U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said Sunday that 18 boats sunk in the harbor, while approximately 100 were damaged. No vessels are being allowed to move through the harbor, though boat owners are being allowed access to boats docked in the harbor. A helicopter crew spotted a “light sheen” of surface oil Saturday, but there have been no additional reports of pollutants in the water.

Thousands of Protesters in Wisconsin

Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the Capitol Square on Saturday, vowing to take the fight over collective bargaining powers from the streets of Madison to the voting districts of Wisconsin. Two days ago, Republican Gov. Scott Walker put his signature to an historic measure that severely curtails the ability of public union employees to bargain collectively. Walker said the law is necessary to give financially strapped state, county and local governments the latitude to negotiate labor contracts. His detractors say the governor’s plan sets back labor laws in the state decades and they have vowed to pursue recalls against Republican officials who approved the changes. Opponents of Republican Gov. Scott Walker went to work Sunday on recall efforts targeting Republican state senators who supported the new governor’s overhaul of public employee union rights.

  • As necessary measures are taken to deal with the debt crisis, protesters will seek to maintain the status quo in their particular area of concern. But we all must take a hit to survive this crisis. The status quo will sink us for good. Just because something seems good and is nice to have doesn’t mean it’s an entitlement.

Obama’s Restrictions Driving Up Oil Prices

Gas prices are rising, and Republicans are urging voters to take it out on President Obama. In today’s Republican radio address, Sen. Lisa Murkoswki, R-Alaska, attributed higher prices to the administration’s environmental efforts and a slow permitting process that amounts to a “de facto moratorium” on domestic oil drilling. “Instead of canceling leases and refusing to issue permits, we need to put people back to work,” Murkowski said. The Alaska senator said prices have been pushed up by “international events” — presumably a reference to the Middle East unrest — “but our own short-sightedness and restrictions have also played a critical role.” Gasoline prices have risen by 40 cents over the past month, Murkowski said, and “more than doubled since January of 2009” — which just happens to be the month Obama took office.

  • America has huge oil reserves, but our dependency on foreign oil has increased over the past few years. This is an unconscionable bow to the dictates of the globalists seeking to rein in influence of the USA.

Records Show Lax Border Security

A public-interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption says recent documents it obtained from the government illustrate the failure of the Obama administration to prevent potential terrorists from sneaking into the U.S. In late January, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the number of illegal alien apprehensions by the Border Patrol in FY 2010. Those records, obtained last week, revealed that more than 59,000 “Other than Mexican” illegal aliens were apprehended through October 7, 2010. By far, the majority came from three Central American countries just south of Mexico. But some came from the four countries currently on the State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” — Cuba, Iran, Syria, and the Sudan — as well as the Islamic countries of Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said, “N ow the numbers themselves aren’t all that huge — 14 from Iran, 5 from Syria, for instance — but you really don’t need that many to cause a lot of terror, as we learned on 9/11,” he offers. “So that’s the concern…that our porous borders are a national security threat.”

East-West Military Gap Rapidly Shrinking

Western cuts and swiftly rising defense spending in emerging economies are redrawing the global strategic map, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday, with the danger of conflicts between states also rising. In its annual Global Military Balance report, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the shift in economic power was already beginning to have a real military effect and closing any strategic gap. “Western states’ defense budgets are under pressure and their military procurement is constrained,” said IISS director general John Chipman. “But in other regions — notably Asia and the Middle East — military spending and arms acquisitions are booming. There is persuasive evidence that a global redistribution of military power is under way.”

Federal Funding of Public Media Under Fire

Public broadcasting fans have a lot more to worry about than the embarrassing tape, released this week, of a National Public Radio executive criticizing Tea Party activists, evangelical Christians and Republicans. Critics of the federal government’s $460 million a year outlay to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) — which contributes to NPR and PBS— call the expenditure an unneeded luxury at a time when most households are awash in media. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned Wednesday amid the political fallout surrounding the tape. But supporters of public media say it’s important to have programming that isn’t beholden to advertising. Mark Meckler, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, says the purpose of funding public media once “was to provide another voice. But there’s a cacophony of voices on the radio and on the Internet today.”

  • PBS and NPR have become mouthpieces for the liberal left. While there doesn’t appear to be any real reason to fund public media with scarce taxpayer dollars, it ought not represent one political faction over another.

Toxin Killed Millions of Sardines

The millions of sardines that were found floating dead in a Southern California marina this week tested positive for a powerful neurotoxin. High levels of domoic acid were found in the sardines, which may have distressed them off the Los Angeles coastline and caused them to swim into the Redondo Beach marina. Critically low oxygen levels in the water caused the sardines to suffocate, but it’s possible the toxin may have been one explanation for why they crowded into the marina. Domoic acid is often found in the stomach of fish that have been feeding on plankton during toxic algae blooms. The toxin has been linked to neurological disorders, illnesses and deaths in seabirds, sea lions, sea otters and whales. The presence of the toxin in the sardines could lead to health complications for pelicans, gulls and other sea life that have been feasting on the dead fish.

Aircraft Collisions with Birds Increase

Severe collisions between airborne jetliners and birds — such as the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight downed over New York two years ago by a flock of geese — have soared the past two years, a USA TODAY analysis of the latest federal data shows. The trend, driven by a growth in the population of large birds, has unnerved some of the field’s leading experts and prompted calls for new efforts to reduce the dangers. The number of severe bird strikes suffered by airline flights above 500 feet reached a new high of 150 in 2009, the federal data show. That represents a 40% increase in the rate of bird strikes compared with the average from 2000 through 2008. In an era in which airline crashes have become increasingly rare and whole categories of accidents have disappeared, birds remain a stubborn problem.

Some TSA Scanners Producing Excessive Radiation

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation — 247 machines at 38 airports — after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected. However, the highest readings listed on some of the records — the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes — appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation. Even so, the TSA has ordered the new tests out of “an abundance of caution to reassure the public,” spokesman Nicholas Kimball says. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released “as they are completed,” the agency said on its website.

Economic News

Amid a painfully slow job recovery, one of the great mysteries of this recession has been the disappearance of several million workers from the labor force. The decline in the participation rate — the percentage of the population who say they are part of the workforce — has eclipsed every other recession of the past 50 years. The numbers are staggering. Since the labor force peaked in October, 2008 at 155 million, 2.4 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force. In the prior recession earlier this decade, the labor force dropped by just 600,000. Before the recession, 66% of the population said to count them in the labor force. Now, it’s fallen to 64.2%.Younger people have fallen out of the labor force in numbers never before seen, especially younger women. Meanwhile, the aging trend of the workforce, in place before the recession, has dramatically accelerated, especially among older women.

Oil and gasoline prices are sky-high, and heating oil use is tumbling as people find alternative ways to stay warm — evidence that Americans’ efforts to wean themselves off oil can bear fruit. Millions of U.S. households use oil to heat their homes, but the Northeast has a higher proportion of people who use it as their primary heating source than any other region. Nowhere is the dependence greater than in Maine, where oil heats three out of four homes. Heating oil prices have shot up 32% over the past four months in Maine. But consumption has fallen more than a third in the past five years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally, sales of residential heating oil have fallen 26%.

Japan’s central bank pumped a record $184 billion into money markets and took other measures to protect a teetering economy Monday, as the Tokyo stock market nose-dived following a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average slid 6.2% in its first day of trading since the quake centered on northeastern Japan struck Friday. Escalating concerns about the financial and economic fallout of the disaster triggered a plunge that hit all sectors of the stock market. By flooding the banking system with cash, the Bank of Japan hopes banks will continue lending money and meet the likely surge in demand for post-earthquake funds.

Libya

Troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi pounded an oil town in eastern Libya with artillery fire and airstrikes Sunday after the Arab League shunned the Libyan leader and asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone. Analysts in the region say Arab leaders have turned away from Gadhafi out of concern for their own political survival in the pro-democracy uprisings of the Middle East. The White House said Sunday that the Arab League has taken an “important step” and that there is a clear international message that the violence in Libya must stop. President Obama has called for Gadhafi to step down but has not ordered the U.S. military to impose a no-fly zone unilaterally.

Gadhafi forces said they captured the oil port of Brega from rebels, which would be the latest in a series of setbacks for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country. Gadhafi’s troops have reversed many of those early gains, in places such as Bin Jawwad and Ras Lonouf, slamming the rebels with superior firepower from the air and ground. Rebels fighting Gadhafi have urged the West to impose a no-fly zone because they are convinced it is the only way to neutralize Gadhafi’s firepower advantage over them.

Egypt

Egypt has jailed an ex-lawmaker from the former ruling party on charges of ordering a brutal attack on protesters during the country’s 18-day uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. Prosecutor General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud ordered the imprisonment of Abdel Naser al-Jabri, suspected to be among officials who unleashed Mubarak loyalists on horses and camels that charged into the protest encampment on a central Cairo square with whips and swords, attacking demonstrators. Officials put the number of protesters killed during the uprising at 365, but rights activists say the figure is much higher.

Bahrain

Clashes between protesters and security forces in Bahrain resulted in more than 1,000 people hospitalized, human rights activists told CNN Monday. A key part of the capital was taken over by protesters, and about 100 demonstrators blocked access to the Bahrain Financial Harbour with barricades such as trash cans and cinder blocks, effectively shutting down the commercial district. A pro-government group of parliamentarians is urging the king of Bahrain to impose martial law for three months in the wake of the protests, which have been going on for about a month. Saudi Arabia sent about 1,000 troops into Bahrain on Monday to help put down weeks of protests by the Shiite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war. Analysts saw the troop movement as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that political concessions by Bahrain’s monarchy could embolden the Saudi kingdom’s own Shiite minority.

Iraq

A suicide bomber blew up his booby-tapped car early Monday outside an Iraqi army battalion headquarters in the country’s east, killing 10 soldiers and wounding 29 people in a bombing that brought down the building. The bomber drove his car past a security gate and detonated his explosives right outside the headquarters of an army intelligence battalion in Kanan, east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. Diyala provincial council spokeswoman Samira al-Shibli said emergency workers were still frantically trying to rescue victims from beneath the rubble several hours later.

Pakistan

Pakistani intelligence officials say an American missile attack has killed three militants traveling in a vehicle close to the Afghan border. Monday’s attack was the fourth in the space of 24 hours in northwest Pakistan. The intelligence officials say the strike took place in Malik Jashdar village near Miran Shah in the North Waziristan region.

Ivory Coast

A rebel army allied with Ivory Coast’s democratically elected president has taken control of a fourth town in the country’s far West. the New Forces rebels captured the small town of Doke over the weekend, extending earlier gains that included the prefecture of Toulepleu and the town of Zouan-Hounien on the Liberia border. The rebels have thrown their weight behind Alassane Ouattara, the recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election who has been prevented from assuming office by the country’s strongman who is refusing to leave office. Months of diplomacy have failed to persuade Laurent Gbagbo to yield power.

India

The Indian navy captured 61 pirates from a hijacked boat after a brief gunfight in the Arabian Sea, the military said Monday. Indian ships also rescued 13 crewmembers from the Mozambiquan fishing vessel Sunday night nearly 695 miles off the coast of Kochi in southern India. The navy was still checking whether the pirates were from Somalia or Yemen. Piracy has plagued the shipping industry off East Africa for years, but violence and ransom demands have escalated in recent months. Pirates held some 30 ships and more than 660 hostages as of February. This was the third anti-piracy operation by the Indian navy this year. The navy captured 28 Somali pirates last month and another 15 in January.

In its race to join the club of international powers, India has reached another milestone — it’s now the world’s largest weapons importer. A Swedish think tank that monitors global arms sales said Monday that India’s weapons imports had overtaken China’s, as the South Asian nation pushes ahead with plans to modernize its military, counter Beijing’s influence and gain international clout. India accounted for 9% of all international arms imports in the period from 2006 to 2010, and it is expected to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future. China dropped to second place, with 6% of global arms imports. The United States was the largest arms exporter, followed by Russia and Germany, according to the report.

South Sudan

Southern Sudanese officials said they will suspending talks and diplomatic contact with northern Sudan over claims that the northern government is funding militias in the south, a move that could further destabilize what will become the world’s newest country in July. The announcement Sunday follows clashes that have killed hundreds of people in recent months. The oil-rich south voted in January to secede from the north, but there are many issues that still remain unaddressed, including the sharing of oil revenues, the status of southerners or northerners living across the border, and who controls the disputed border region of Abyei, a fertile area near large oil fields.

Wildfires

Nine wildfires are burning in Oklahoma, having consumed about 7,000 acres thus far. Two other wildfires were fully contained over the weekend after scorching 820 acres. Meanwhile, the Pena wildfire eleven miles west of Nogales, Arizona, expanded by 2,700 over the weekend and has now burned about 4,300 acres.

Weather

Rain-swollen waterways in northern New Jersey were slowly receding Sunday after cresting overnight, causing fewer evacuations than expected but still flooding roadways around in the region. Despite clear skies in the forecast, officials said flooding will remain a concern for at least the next few days, and it’s not clear when all affected residents will be able to return to their homes. The flooding continued to cause major travel disruptions in the region. Several major roadways remained closed, while traffic was moving slowly through others water-logged roadways. Some cars stuck in high waters had been abandoned, and a bus became stuck on a bridge in Paterson early Sunday due to the flooding along the Passaic River. Most residents in other northern towns who had been evacuated earlier in the week were back home Sunday,

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