Japan Shows Progress in Stabilizing Nuclear Plants

Japan’s imperiled nuclear facility stabilized Sunday, even as concerns rose over radiation-contaminated foods and aftershocks rumbled in the wake of an historic earthquake and tsunami. The scope of the tragedy climbed even higher Sunday. In its latest tally, Japan’s National Police Agency said the death toll had climbed to 8,649 people, with 13,262 missing from the massive magnitude-9.0 quake that struck March 11. The World Bank said in a report Monday that rebuilding may take Japan five years and cost $235 billion. Meanwhile, aftershocks have been a constant since the quake. On Sunday alone, about 20 quakes, from magnitude-4.4 to 5.8, shook Japan anew.

Releases of radiation-laced plumes from the damaged reactors and two pools already have exceeded 1979’s Three Mile Island accident in the USA. Over the weekend, water-cannon trucks aimed seawater at the two spent fuel rod pools of most concern. Engineers also reconnected power to the facility, which they hope will allow them to restart the automatic cooling of overheating reactors this week. The reactors are now cooled with seawater pumped into them, a desperation measure that may have averted disaster.

Radiation Contaminates Japanese Food Supply

Japan reported elevated radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex, as emergency teams scrambled Saturday to restore power to the plant so it could cool dangerously overheated fuel. The first word on contaminated food in the crisis came as Japan continued to grapple with overwhelming consequences of the cascade of disasters unleashed by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The tainted milk was found 20 miles from the plant while the spinach was collected between 50 miles and 65 miles to the south. While the radiation levels exceeded the limits allowed by the government, the products “pose no immediate health risk” and that more testing was being done on other foods. Japan’s Health Ministry says it has advised a village near a crippled nuclear plant not to drink tap water due to elevated levels of radioactive iodine.

No Radiation Threat Along West Coast

U.S. and California officials sought Friday to dispel fears of a wider danger from radioactivity spewing from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors, saying testing indicated there were no health threats along the West Coast of the U.S. Driven by winds over the Pacific Ocean, a radioactive plume released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi reached Southern California on Friday, heightening concerns that Japan’s nuclear disaster was assuming international proportions. However, the results of testing reflected expectations by International Atomic Energy Agency officials that radiation had dissipated so much by the time it reached the U.S. coastline that it posed no health risk whatsoever to residents.

U.S. Marines, Sailors Arrive in Japan to Aid Quake Relief

More than 4,000 U.S. Marines and sailors have arrived in Japan to help with earthquake relief. “If approved for operations, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is ready to rapidly send vehicles and aircraft east toward the affected areas,” said operations officer Lt. Col. Michael Monti. “We can move water production capabilities to areas where there are water shortages, heavy equipment for debris removal, medical personnel to treat the wounded, and many other capabilities to help those in dire need.” The Pentagon said about 17,000 U.S. military personnel are involved in the relief operations.

Assault on Libya Inflicts Heavy Damage

A two-day U.S. and allied air assault on Libya has inflicted heavy damage on leader Moammar Gadhafi’s ability to fire missiles or attack rebels, according to Pentagon officials and reports from rebel strongholds. In Benghazi, the major rebel stronghold, residents fired weapons in jubilation Sunday and climbed on the burned-out shells of tanks destroyed by the airstrikes. They were celebrating the allied attacks, which came after Gadhafi’s forces pounded the city with artillery and tank shells and entered the outskirts. Air attacks over the weekend hit tanks, rocket launchers, radar and communications facilities of forces loyal to the Libyan strongman. Tomahawk missiles — 124 launched from ships and submarines on the first day of the attack — limited Gadhafi’s ability to shoot down allied planes with surface-to-air missiles. A three-story administration building in Gadhafi’s residential compound was blasted by a cruise missile late Sunday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. expects to turn over control of the Libya military mission to a coalition headed either by the French and British or by NATO, “in a matter of days.” President Obama, whose administration was cautious about using force in the conflict, said the military would place strict limits on American involvement. Analysts say events will be largely dictated by what happens on the ground, regardless of American intentions, raising concerns of escalating U.S. involvement in yet another theater of war, joining two major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gadhafi is hunkered down in Tripoli and remains in control of powerful parts of his military. He pledges to wage a “long war” against “Colonial Western forces.” Some military analysts say the overall goals are unclear and worry that the West’s urgent action over the weekend isn’t backed by planning for what sort of Libya will be left behind when the aerial campaign stops.

E.U. High Court Rules Crucifixes Do Not Violate Freedom of Conscience

Crucifixes in public school classrooms do not violate a student’s freedom of conscience, a European high court ruled Friday in a verdict welcomed by the Vatican in its campaign to remind the continent of its Christian roots. The case was brought by a Finnish-born woman living in Italy who objected to the crucifixes in her children’s classrooms, arguing they violated the secular principles public schools are supposed to uphold. The debate divided Europe’s traditional Catholic and Orthodox countries and their more secular neighbors that observe a strict separation between church and state. Initially, the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights sided with the mother. Italy appealed, supported by more than a dozen countries including the late Pope John Paul II’s predominantly Catholic Poland, and won. Friday’s reversal has implications in 47 countries, opening the way for Europeans who want religious symbols in classrooms to petition their governments to allow them.

Franklin Graham: World’s Christians in Grave Danger

The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham. “The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department… “It’s like a farmer asking a fox, ‘How do I protect my hen house?’” That same Muslim Brotherhood is fomenting much of the rebellion and the deteriorating social order roiling the Middle East, forcing millions of Christians to flee for their lives, says Graham, son of beloved evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, and founder of The Samaritan’s Purse international charity. “Under [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarek and [Jordan’s] King Hussein and other moderate leaders, Christians had been protected,” Graham says.

  • An Islamic democracy is an oxymoron. New Muslim leadership will promote Sharia law which marginalizes Christians under the best of circumstances, and makes them outcasts subject to discrimination.

Judge Blocks Contentious Wisconsin Union Law

A Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state’s new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect. The judge’s order is a major setback for new Republican Gov. Scott Walker and puts the future of the law in question. Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi issued the order, which was requested by that county’s District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat. Ozanne filed a lawsuit contending that a legislative committee that broke a stalemate that had kept the law in limbo for weeks met without the 24-hour notice required by Wisconsin’s open meetings law. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure and Gov. Scott Walker signed it last week. Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said the state will appeal the ruling.

N.Y. Sting Pulls 14 Buses Off Roads after Fatal Crash

A sting operation by New York state transportation investigators and law enforcement a week after a horrific fatal tour bus crash included a single stop in Manhattan in which all 14 tour buses pulled over were ordered off the road. State investigators reported nine “major issues” Friday night with the drivers, including lack of an updated log book required to show how long a driver has been behind the wheel. The state Department of Transportation investigators found 10 major vehicle issues and 40 minor infractions. New York City police, which participated in the sting, reported that 54 criminal summonses were issued Friday night in Manhattan, with eight buses towed away because of safety violations. Other buses ordered out of service were driven away by qualified drivers.

Arizona Faces Water Challenge

In 1911, a group of farmers on the lower Salt River, struggling to cope with floods and drought, built Roosevelt Dam and developed a reliable water supply that has met the needs of a growing region for 100 years. In 2011, the challenge is no longer how to ensure enough water to develop farming in the arid Valley, but where Phoenix and other Arizona cities will find water for the next 100 years. Demand has spread beyond the capacities of Roosevelt and the other dams on the Salt and Verde rivers. Drought has underscored the vulnerability of Colorado River water, delivered to the Valley in the last big water project built here, the Central Arizona Project Canal. Climate change has added uncertainty. Most water experts agree that if the region continues to grow, its cities will need to find more water – or use less of what is now available – to avoid drawing too deeply on non-renewable groundwater supplies. Arizona pioneered large-scale water banking, storing unused Colorado River water by pouring it into recharge basins to percolate into the ground for later use. So far, the state has banked about 1.6 trillion gallons. What worries some water managers is that the banked water could end up being used as a long-term source instead of an emergency supply.

Economic News

Oil prices jumped to nearly $103 a barrel Monday in Asia after the Libyan leader vowed a “long war” amid a second night of allied strikes in the OPEC nation. U.S. stocks rallied Monday, with the Dow surging more than 200 points in a broad-based rally. Investors were encouraged by progress in Japan’s nuclear crisis and AT&T’s $39 billion deal to acquire T-Mobile USA.

Fewer Americans bought previously occupied homes in February and those who did purchased them at steep discounts. The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed home prices down to their lowest level in nearly nine years. Sales of previously occupied homes fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That’s down 9.6% from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market. Nearly 40% of the sales last month were either foreclosures or short sales, when the seller accepts less than they owe on the mortgage. The median sales price fell 5.2% to $156,100, the lowest level since April 2002.

After a reign as the nation with the second highest corporate income tax rate, the United States is set to move into first place when Japan lowers its rate next month. The combined federal and state rate in the U.S. is 39.2 percent of corporate profits, a new analysis by the Tax Foundation disclosed. When Japan, which currently has a rate of 39.5 percent, enacts a planned cut of 4.5 percentage points in April, America will have the highest rate of all the economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group of 34 advanced nations with economies most comparable to the U.S.

State governments are rushing to pay billions of dollars of medical bills before special federal assistance for Medicaid expires July 1. The hurry-up-and-pay effort will put an extra $1 billion or more into the pockets of financially struggling states — and increase the federal deficit by a similar amount. To beat deadlines for reduced federal aid, states are writing checks swiftly, paying off backlogs of bills and asking hospitals and doctors to send in bills as fast as they can.

Middle East

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 50 rockets into Israel on Saturday, the heaviest barrage in two years, Israeli officials said. A Hamas official was killed and four civilians were wounded when Israel hit back with tank fire and air strikes. The violence comes amid increasing calls for reconciliation between Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his bitter rivals in Hamas. Abbas is seeking U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state by the fall and is currently lobbying for votes worldwide. But the internal rift makes their vision of statehood harder to achieve and hinders their ability to reach a peace agreement with Israel.

Brazil a Model for Budding Mideast Democracies

President Obama told residents of Rio de Janeiro Sunday that pro-freedom movements in Libya and throughout the Middle East can take inspiration from the example of a free and vibrant Brazil. Brazil “shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy,” Obama said in a speech that focused on the U.S. relationship to his host country’s growing economic power. Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, a regime that was eased from power not by a sharp, violent revolution, but through a long, massive popular movement of peaceful protest and strikes led in large part by labor unions and dissident political groups. The nation’s first female leader, President Dilma Rousseff, who took power in January, was a key member of a Marxist militant group that battled against the dictatorship.

  • A Marxist, socialistic “democracy” is Obama’s ideal

Egypt

Voters in Egypt have overwhelmingly backed changes in their constitution that will allow for early elections and limit a future president to two terms. Official results show that 77% of voters in Saturday’s referendum supported the changes, the BBC reports. The voting on Saturday came less than six weeks after a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years. It is a marked change from elections under Mubarak that usually had a very low turnout and an outcome determined in advance. Officials say 45 million people, or 41.2% of eligible voters, turned out. It was the first time that the Muslim Brotherhood, which backed the changes, has campaigned openly since it was banned in 1954.

Bahrain

Bahrain’s king said Monday that a foreign plot to “subvert security and stability” in the Gulf island kingdom has been foiled, and praised the Saudi-led force he invited to help quell the unprecedented unrest in this majority Shiite nation. Any reference to a foreign conspiracy against Bahrain’s Sunni dynasty can be interpreted as jab at the region’s Shiite powerhouse Iran. Gulf Sunni kings and sheiks are concerned Iran will gain more influence in the oil-rich region by helping Bahrain’s Shiites in their revolt for greater political freedoms. Bahrain on Friday tore down the 300-foot monument at the heart of a square purged of Shiite protesters this week, erasing a symbol of an uprising that’s inflaming sectarian tensions across the region.

Yemen

Rival tanks deployed in the streets of Yemen’s capital Monday after three senior army commanders defected to a movement calling for the ouster of the U.S.-backed president, leaving him with virtually no support among the country’s most powerful institutions. A crackdown that has killed dozens of protesters failed to stop massive demonstrations as crowds of thousands clashed Saturday with security forces smashing their protest camps and even seized control of one southern city. In the capital, the government had to bring out tank units and other military forces to protect key buildings as crowds swelled. Protesters also stood their ground in the southern port of Mukalla, surging out of their destroyed encampment and encircling a police station. More than a month of daily protests calling for political freedoms and an end to corruption have presented President Ali Abdullah Saleh with the most dire challenge to his 32 years of running Yemen, a deeply impoverished land of restive tribes and numerous conflicts on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Syria

Police fired live ammunition and tear gas Sunday at thousands of Syrians protesting in a tense southern city for a third consecutive day, killing one person and signaling that unrest in yet another Arab country is taking root. The violence in Daraa, a city of about 300,000 near the border with Jordan, was fast becoming a major challenge for President Bashar Assad, who tried to contain the situation by freeing detainees and promising to fire officials responsible for the violence. Protesters in Syria would face a tough time trying to pull off a serious uprising along the lines of those that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. Assad’s Syria is a country that crushes political dissent, closely controls the media and routinely jails critics of the regime.

Morocco

Several thousand protesters have staged protests in cities around Morocco to demand more political changes. A group of protesters in the commercial capital Casablanca clashed briefly with pro-government activists who arrived at the end of a demonstration. The protests were organized by the February 20 movement, which has led protests for the past month, with support from Morocco’s best-known Islamist movement, Adl wal Ihsan, which is barred from politics in the kingdom. The state news agency MAP says protests were held in Fes, Tetouan, Tangiers and other cities and towns. King Mohammed VI has pledged changes to the constitution for the first time in 15 years, amid a push for greater democracy across the Arab world.

Turkey

Though the horrific scale of the 2007 Malatya murders has not been repeated in Turkey’s Protestant church, a recent report shows harassment continues to be a daily problem for the country’s Christians. In a report published earlier this year, the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches’s (TEK) Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs showed Turkish laws and “negative attitudes of civil servants” continue to make it nearly impossible for non-Muslims to establish places of worship. Compass Direct News reports that missionary activities are still considered a national threat despite the existence of Turkish laws guaranteeing citizens the freedom to propagate and teach their faith, and children are victims of discrimination at school, according to the report. “After four years [since the Malatya murders], Turkey’s religious freedoms have not improved as desired,” said attorney Erdal Dogan.

Haiti

One candidate is a musician with a bad-boy past. The other is a former first lady with a long political resume. Haiti voted Sunday for one of them to lead a country where anger with the government runs deep and nearly a million people are living on the streets. The election, already delayed by a political crisis, is also clouded with uncertainty over the return of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular but divisive figure whose mere presence was considered by the U.S. government and others as a possible threat to the vote. Mirlande Manigat, the former first lady, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a star of Haitian compas music, emerged as the top two finishers in a first-round vote in November with 18 candidates that was marred by fraud and disorganization. One of Martelly’s most high-profile supporters, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean — himself a would-be candidate until officials disqualified him — was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his hand late Saturday. The details surrounding the shooting were unclear.

Mexico

The crime report describes the body of the shooting victim in the plain, unadorned language of the police: Thin. Black hair, light brown skin, purple blouse. Bullet wound in chest. Then comes the age: About 4 years old. Children, from toddlers to early teens, are increasingly falling victim to the brutal violence of Mexico’s drug war, a conflict that has killed more than 34,000 lives in the last four years. Once, Mexican cartel gunmen took out their targets with accurate fire, often leaving their children sitting unharmed in the same car. Now the killers increasingly seem to be willing to kill even the youngest of children. The problem has become particularly acute in Acapulco, the Pacific coast resort that has become the scene of bloody cartel turf battles. The U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned Saturday amid furor over a leaked diplomatic cable in which he complained about inefficiency and infighting among Mexican security forces in the campaign against drug cartels. President Felipe Calderon publicly criticized Pascual’s cable, which was divulged by the WikiLeaks website.

At least three people who allegedly worked for a Mexican drug cartel face charges of plotting to buy a Stinger Missile, anti-tank rockets and other military firepower, according to federal court papers unsealed Friday in Phoenix. “The object of the conspiracy was to obtain and possess military grade weaponry, and then to export that weaponry to the Republic of Mexico, and supply that weaponry to a Mexican drug trafficking organization,” says an indictment in U.S. District Court. The defendants – David Diaz-Sosa, Jorge De Jesus-Casteneda and Emilia Palomina-Robles – were indicted by a grand jury on multiple conspiracy counts involving drugs and weapons.

Haiti

One candidate is a musician with a bad-boy past. The other is a former first lady with a long political resume. Haiti’s voters will choose one of them Sunday to lead a country where anger with the government runs deep and nearly a million people are living on the streets. The election, already delayed by a political crisis, is also clouded with uncertainty over the return of ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular but divisive figure whose mere presence was considered by the U.S. government and others as a possible threat to the vote. Mirlande Manigat, the former first lady, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a star of Haitian compas music, emerged as the top two finishers in a first-round vote in November with 18 candidates that was marred by fraud and disorganization. One of Martelly’s most high-profile supporters, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean — himself a would-be candidate until officials disqualified him — was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to his hand late Saturday, a spokesman said. The details surrounding the shooting were unclear.

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