Surging Radiation Levels in Japanese Nuclear Plant

Japan suspended operations to keep its stricken nuclear plant from melting down Wednesday after surging radiation made it too dangerous to stay. Surging radiation levels forced Japan to order emergency workers to temporarily withdraw from its crippled nuclear plant Wednesday, losing time in a desperate operation to cool the overheating reactors — the most urgent crisis from last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. The technicians were dousing the nuclear reactors with seawater in a frantic effort to cool them when they had to retreat in the late morning. The plant’s operator ordered the technicians back to the site in the evening after radiation levels subsided. Conditions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant appear to be worsening. A white cloud of smoke or steam rising above Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Wednesday may have been caused by a breach in the containment vessel in another one of its reactors, government officials said.

The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Millions of people struggled for a fifth day with little food, water or heat, and already chilly temperatures turned to snow in many areas. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor in school gymnasiums. Nearly 3,700 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb over 10,000 since several thousand more are listed as missing.

Japanese Radiation Cloud Could Pose Threat to US

President Obama told a Pittsburgh television station today he is not worried about radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant reaching the United States. However, if a radiation cloud from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors eventually reaches the western United States, it could pose a threat to American crops and the people who eat them, nationally known neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D., told Newsmax. “Most of the health risks are not going to be due to acute radiation poisoning,” he tells Newsmax. “It’s going to be a risk of increased cancer. The big danger in this country is the crops being contaminated, the milk in particular, with Strontium 90. That radiation is incorporated into the bones and stays for a lifetime.” If radiation does arrive in the United States, people would need “to change their diet. They need to stop eating Western farm products,” Dr. Blaylock says.

  • It’s way too early to tell how much radiation will eventually escape and be carried eastward toward the U.S. Obama typically downplays possible problems before they fully manifest, as in the Gulf coast oil spill.

Quake shifted Japan coast about 13 feet, knocked Earth 6.5 inches off axis

Friday’s massive earthquake may have shifted Japan’s main coastline by up to 13 feet to the east, experts tell the BBC, citing the country’s network of 1,200 GPS monitoring stations. It may also have knocked Earth off its axis by about 6.5 inches, causing our world to rotate faster and shortening the day — by about 1.8 millionths of a second. The Japan Meteorological Agency has raised the quake’s magnitude to 9; the U.S. Geological Survey puts it at 8.9. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday that very low levels of airborne radiation were detected at Yokosuka and Atsugi bases, about 200 miles to the north of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Fox News reports.

Tsunami Damage in California more than $40M

A California official estimates that statewide damage from last week’s tsunami exceeds $40 million. In Santa Cruz Harbor, 18 vessels sank, about 100 were damaged and another 12 remained unaccounted for. The damage in Santa Cruz Harbor alone is estimated at $17 million. Officials at Crescent City Harbor, which also suffered significant wave damage, are still working on a damage total.

U.S. Public was More Generous after Haiti Earthquake

Charitable giving for the Japanese earthquake is running far behind the donations rung up from Americans in the days after last year’s earthquake in Haiti, CNN reports. Blame Japan’s relative wealth — and maybe Twitter. Four days out from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, giving totalled about $23 million, CNN said, citing The Chronicle of Philathropy. That compares with about $150 million raised within four days of the crisis in Haiti. “Japan is not Haiti and it’s not Indonesia, it’s a developed country with a GDP somewhat similar to our country,” Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, told CNN. “It’s not what people typically think of as a country in need of wide-scale international aid.”

International Pedophile Ring Smashed

European police say they have rescued 230 child victims of abuse and arrested 184 suspects in a global investigation into a Dutch-based international pedophile ring. The three-year investigation codenamed Operation Rescue identified and rescued children in more than 30 countries. The ring was based around an online forum and was “probably the largest online pedophile network in the world.” Police say the forum called boylover.net, based in Amsterdam, had up to 70,000 members.

1000+ Chaplains Join Lawsuit to Restore Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) have filed legal briefings defending military chaplains with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to reverse a district judge’s decision to strike down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” [DADT] the policy that prohibited open homosexual behavior. The friend-of-the-court brief explains that Congressional action to change the law in December did not justify the activist judge’s attempt last fall to dismantle the 1993 law judicially, and that chaplains’ free speech rights are now under fire. At least 8 chaplain endorser groups are joining the lawsuit Log Cabin Republicans v. USA, representing over 1000 chaplains from the Lutheran Missouri Synod, Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, National Association of Evangelicals, Church of God of Prophecy, Conservative Congregational, Grace Churches, and Evangelical Churches.  Arthur Schulcz, counsel for the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, helped draft the brief.

Hispanic Population has Grown More than Prior Estimates

The Hispanic population grew more dramatically than expected in states with smaller and newer immigrant populations, according to an analysis of Census data out today. The 2010 Census counted almost 600,000 more Hispanics than the Census Bureau had estimated in the 33 states for which data have been released so far, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Twenty-eight states had more Hispanics than expected. he Census count of 38.7 million Hispanics is 1.5% higher than the bureau’s estimates. The underestimates show that immigrants continue to spread into the South and the Midwest from traditional gateways, such as California and New York.

  • The glut of illegal immigration comes home to roost. Such increases should have been expected.

GOP Pushes to Make English Official Language of the U.S.

Republicans introduce legislation in the House and Senate to make English the official language of the U.S. Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would declare English the official language of the United States and require the development of English language testing guidelines for those applying for U.S. citizenship. The English Language Unity Act would set out a new chapter in U.S. code that imposes an obligation on U.S. officials to “preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government.” Part of this chapter would include a “uniform English language rule” holding that “all citizens should be able to read and understand generally the English language text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution.”

Pepsi Unveils 100% Plant-Based Bottle

PepsiCo on Tuesday unveiled a bottle made entirely of plant material. The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business. The new bottle looks, feels and protects the drink inside exactly the same as its current bottles, said Rocco Papalia, senior vice president of advanced research at PepsiCo. “It’s indistinguishable.” PepsiCo says it is the world’s first bottle of a common type of plastic called PET made entirely of plant-based materials. The discovery potentially changes the industry standard for plastic packaging. The plastic is the go-to because it’s lightweight and shatter-resistant, its safety is well-researched and it doesn’t affect flavors. It is not biodegradable or compostable. But it is fully recyclable.

House Passes 3-Week Stopgap Spending Bill

The House of Representatives passed a second stopgap spending measure this month, funding the government for three more weeks while cutting $6 billion. The vote was tighter than last time, 271 to 158, with 104 Democrats and 54 Republicans voting no. Lawmakers on both sides said patience for short-term spending bills is running out. Congress cut $4 billion in the last short-term spending bill, which expires midnight Friday. Tuesday’s measure would have an expiration date of April 8. The short-term spending bills are necessary because the Senate voted down a House-passed plan to fund the government through September, but with $60 billion in cuts. The new measure is likely to pass the Senate. Six Republican senators voted against the earlier short-term spending bill, and more defections are almost certain when the Senate addresses the new bill, which tea-partiers have condemned because it includes federal tax dollars for abortions in the nation’s capitol and funds non-abortion services for Planned Parenthood.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve expressed more confidence in the U.S. economy even as Japan’s nuclear crisis raised worries around the globe. The Fed said the economic recovery is on “firmer footing” and the jobs market is “improving gradually” in a statement released after its meeting Tuesday. The Fed on Tuesday, in a unanimous decision, said it was maintaining the pace of its $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase program to help the economy grow more strongly and to lower unemployment, which now stands at 8.9 percent.

A wholesale price index jumped last month the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame. The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6% in February — double the 0.8% rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2%, less than January’s 0.5% rise. Food prices soared 3.9% last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Wheat prices have doubled in seven months, corn has increased more than 90 percent and soybeans have surged more than 55 percent. Energy prices rose 3.3% last month, led by a 3.7% increase in gasoline costs.

The Commerce Department said home construction plunged to a seasonally adjusted 479,000 homes last month, down 22.5% from the previous month. It was lowest level since April 2009, and the second-lowest on records dating back more than a half-century. The building pace is far below the 1.2 million units a year that economists consider healthy.

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan hit gold and commodities almost as hard as stocks. Gold for future delivery fell Tuesday to $1,392.80 an ounce, a 2.3% drop. Silver tumbled harder, falling 4.8% to $34.12 an ounce. Other commodities fell as well. The drop in gold is unusual, because gold is normally touted as a haven in turbulent times. But you can’t eat gold. Another theory: Even gold is looking too volatile to some investors.

Cuba’s central bank is devaluing the country’s peso by about 8% in relation to the dollar and other foreign currencies, hoping the move will spur exports and local production as the government tries to overhaul a moribund economy. It was the first time the government has revalued the currency in six years, when it increased the nominal value of its currency in relation to the dollar. Monday’s shift puts the exchange rate back to where it was before.

Investors cheered on Monday a surprisingly broad European package of measures to deal with the government debt crisis that has over the past year threatened the existence of the euro currency. Eurozone leaders increased the size of the bailout fund — the so-called European Financial Stability Facility — and lowered the interest rates on the loans bailed-out Greece has taken out.

Middle East

The Israeli navy intercepted an Egyptian-bound ship carrying a large delivery of weapons off the country’s Mediterranean coast on Tuesday, saying the arms had been sent by Syria to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. At least three crates of weapons were uncovered on board. Hundreds of others will be inspected once the ship arrives in Israel. Israel’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu said it represents “more evidence of the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah axis.” Israel has long blamed Iran and Syria for smuggling weapons to militants in Gaza and Lebanon, a claim both nations have denied. Iran and Syria are the main backers for two of Israel’s main foes — Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians thronged major squares in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Tuesday to deliver an impassioned appeal to their leaders to end the long-running feud that has divided the Palestinian people between two rival governments. Protesters waved the black, red, green and white Palestinian flag in their largest show of grassroots strength since democracy-fueled protests began rocking the Arab world in January. Demonstrators on each side of the Palestinian divide hoisted banners urging their leaders to unite the government that split after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007, leaving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party ruling only the West Bank.

Libya

Moammar Gadhafi’s troops pummeled rebel forces Tuesday in the last major city outside their stronghold of Benghazi, pounding them with airstrikes, missiles, tanks and artillery. Residents of Ajdabiya fled as tanks rolled into the city from two directions, and rockets pounded homes and shops. People drove out of town with furniture strapped to car roofs. If the city of 140,000 falls, Gadhafi will have a clear shot at the entire east of Libya, which 10 days ago was in rebel hands. Earlier Tuesday, Gadhafi had said his forces recaptured the last rebel-held city west of Tripoli, Zwara. The only other significant opposition-held city in the western half of the country was Misrata, which has been under siege for days and cut off from food and water deliveries.

Supporters of a no-fly zone over Libya introduced a U.N. resolution aimed at stopping Moammar Gadhafi’s planes from bombing civilians, with France urging quick action but Russia and Germany expressing misgivings. Lebanon, the council’s only Arab member, introduced the draft resolution Tuesday afternoon. The Arab League has called for the measure, and the Arabs are strongly backed by France and Britain, which drafted elements of a no-fly resolution last week, although now it looks like it might be too late to forestall Gadhafi’s counterattack even if the measure eventually passes.

Bahrain

Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles Wednesday to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom. At least six people were killed. The full-scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of uprising against Bahrain’s rulers since it began more than a month ago. Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square from the protesters’ tents set ablaze. It was unclear whether the offensive included soldiers from other Gulf nations who were dispatched to help Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, which has been under relentless pressure from the country’s majority Shiite Muslims to give up its monopoly on power.

Egypt

Egypt’s interior minister on Tuesday dissolved the country’s widely hated state security agency, which was accused of torture and other human rights abuses in the suppression of dissent against ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule. The new interior minister, Maj. Gen. Mansour el-Essawy, a former Cairo security chief, said in a statement that a new agency in charge of keeping national security and combatting terrorism will be formed. Dismantling the State Security Investigations agency was a major demand of the protest movement that led an 18-day uprising to oust Mubarak. Since he stepped down on Feb. 11, Egyptians have stormed the agency’s main headquarters and other offices, seizing documents to keep them from being destroyed to hide evidence of human rights abuses. Many protest leaders have said that despite the fall of Mubarak and his government, the agency remained active in protecting the old regime and trying to sabotage the democratic transition.

Pakistan

A Pakistan court has acquitted an American CIA contractor of two murder charges and freed him after the victims’ family received “blood money” and pardoned him. Raymond Davis, 36, had been charged with shooting to death two men in Lahore in January during what he said was an attempted armed robbery. In pardoning Davis, the relatives acknowledged to the court today that they had received $1.4 million in “blood money,” or compensation for the deaths, a common practice in Pakistan for settling disputes. The dispute had touched off a diplomatic row with the United States who claimed Davis was protected by diplomatic immunity. U.S authorities will now investigate the killings.

Iran

Iran has intensified its crackdown on opponents as well as executions of drug traffickers, political prisoners and juvenile criminals, the United Nations said on Monday. In a report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also voiced concern at floggings, amputations and the continued sentencing of men and women to death by stoning for alleged adultery. Journalists, bloggers and lawyers have been arrested or had their work impeded, and allegations of torture and unfair trials are rife, he said in a report to the Human Rights Council. ‘The secretary-general has been deeply troubled by reports of increased executions, amputations, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials and possible torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition activists,’ the U.N. report said. Ban called on Tehran to allow U.N. human rights investigators to go to Iran to assess the situation. No visit had taken place since 2005 despite repeated requests, he said.

Malaysia

Christians in Malaysia say they are “greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered” by what they say is government-sanctioned withholding of Bibles in their native language, Bahasa Malaysia. The Christian Post reports that 30,000 Bibles are being held at port cities, according to the Christian Federation of Malaysia. The group includes the nation’s largest ecumenical, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Christian bodies, and says almost no Bibles have been allowed in the country since March 2009. The group believes the withheld Bibles are the fallout of national debate two years ago on whether Christian publications were allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. Although the Malaysian courts officially sided with churches, the Ministry of Home Affairs has held 5,000 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia since March 2009.

Weather

Flooding continues to be a problem in parts of northern New Jersey more than a week after rain-swollen rivers drove residents from their homes. The Passaic River at Little Falls isn’t expected to drop below flood stage until Thursday. Motorists continue to face road closures in Paterson. Public schools in Paterson and Woodland Park were closed Tuesday. Residents elsewhere in northern New Jersey began cleaning up and assessing damage.

Federal officials on Tuesday continued keeping close tabs on the swollen Ohio River and communities near where it links to the Mississippi River, saying significant flooding already in southern Illinois and neighboring Missouri could worsen in the next week or so. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last weekend went into its highest stage of flood-fighting readiness in the region, setting up emergency field offices in several Missouri cities Floodwaters appear to have swallowed up some farmland, rural roads, and fishing and hunting areas in low-lying areas, though there were no immediate reports that homes or major highways were affected.

A surprise snowstorm snarled traffic in the St. Louis area Tuesday. The wet, slick snow caused slow-going on roadways throughout the region. A few slide-offs and fender-benders were reported during the morning commute. Snow, rain and patchy drizzle were also reported elsewhere around Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska early Monday. The snow caused several traffic delays in Kansas City, but authorities said no major accidents were reported.

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