Radiation Spikes Spark Renewed Fears in Japan

A spike in radiation levels in Tokyo tap water spurred new fears about food safety Wednesday as rising black smoke forced another evacuation of workers trying to stabilize Japan’s radiation-leaking nuclear plant. Radiation has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and seawater since a magnitude-9 quake and killer tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant nearly two weeks ago. U.S. officials announced a block on Japanese dairy and other produce from the region. The crisis is emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disaster on record, likely to cost up to $309 billion, according to a government estimate Wednesday. The death toll continued to creep up, with more than 9,400 bodies counted and more than 14,700 people listed as missing. Progress in cooling down the overheated facility has been intermittent, disrupted by rises in radiation, elevated pressure in reactors and overheated storage pools.

Vermont Nuclear Plant Gets OK for 20-Year Renewal

Federal regulators on Monday gave the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant a 20-year license renewal, despite calls for reconsideration following the nuclear disaster in Japan. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement Sunday calling for a moratorium on new licenses or license renewals for U.S. reactors in the wake of the Japanese crisis. “It’s hard to understand how the NRC could move forward for a license extension for Vermont Yankee at exactly the same time as a nuclear reactor of similar design is in partial meltdown in Japan,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “The idea of keeping Vermont Yankee open … until it is 60 years of age defies comprehension.”

  • The Japanese nuclear plant was not designed to experience a 9.0 earthquake, just an 8.5 quake. The quake caused the plant to fail, not internal processes. Such strong earthquakes are not expected in Vermont. As we try to wean ourselves off Muslim oil sources, we need to be careful not to overreact about nuclear power.

U.S. Radiation Expert Sees No Need for Alarm — For Now

As the race to cool down the reactors at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant continues, a U.S. expert on radiation contamination says there is no need to be alarmed, for now. That advice comes as Japanese food inspectors have detected trace amounts of iodine and cesium in some spinach and milk from farms several miles away from the plant and the World Health Organization calls on Japan to make sure such foods are not sold to nearby residents or export markets. “The fact that they can detect something doesn’t mean it’s harmful,” says Richard Morin, chair of the safety committee for the American College of Radiology. Morin says everyone is exposed to some form of natural radiation every single day. “You get an increase in your radiation dose when you eat a banana,” he says. “A banana has a bit of potassium-40 in it. Morin also says the history of the nuclear power industry in the USA, which uses 104 nuclear plants, including 23 similar to the stricken one in Japan, is “one of very good safety.” “Right now, there is no cause for alarm,” Morin says.

Libyan Fighting Continues

Blasts and gunfire were heard in Tripoli Wednesday, hours after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said his nation was laughing at coalition rockets. Four days of allied strikes have battered Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air force and largely destroyed his long-range air-defense systems, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday. But there was little evidence that the attacks had stopped regime forces from killing civilians or shifted the balance of power in favor of the rebels. International airstrikes forced Moammar Gadhafi’s forces to withdraw tanks that were besieging a rebel-held western city Wednesday, residents said, while people fleeing a strategic city in the east said the situation was deteriorating amid relentless shelling.

Western diplomats, meanwhile, said an agreement was emerging about NATO would take responsibility for a no-fly zone over Libya after the United States which has effectively commanded the operation until now — reiterated that it was committed to the transition. NATO warships were to begin patrolling off Libya’s coast Wednesday to enforce the U.N. arms embargo. The international coalition continued airstrikes and patrols aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone and protecting Libyan civilians early Wednesday.

U.S. intelligence agencies are fretting that a desperate Moammar Gadhafi could resort to using weapons of mass destruction in acts of terrorism against Western targets or his own people. Gadhafi has extensive stockpiles of mustard gas and high explosives at his disposal that could be employed in attacks against targets in Europe or against rebels in Libya, the Wall Street Journal reports.

S.D. Enacts New Abortion Law

Women who want an abortion in South Dakota will face the longest waiting period in the nation — three days — and have to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions under a measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Within minutes of Daugaard’s announcement that he had signed the measure, abortion rights groups said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which one said could create particular hardships for women who live in rural areas hundreds of miles from the state’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls. Daugaard said in a written statement that he had conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state’s court fight..

Democrats Continue Assault on Marriage

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, liberal Democrats — led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York — have decided to take advantage of the situation and have introduced a bill to overturn DOMA, which restricts marriage to between a man and a woman. Nadler, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, reintroduced the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act” legislation in the Senate last week. Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, refers to the bill as the “Disrespecting Marriage Act.” “We have a faction of radical leftists in the House and in the Senate who are willing to side and align themselves with extremist, homosexual pressure groups in order to try to take a sledgehammer to the institution of marriage, which is fundamental to any healthy society,” says Barber.

Black Population Falls in Major U.S. Cities

The black population is declining in a growing number of major cities — more evidence that the settlement pattern of African Americans is changing as they disperse to suburbia and warmer parts of the nation. 2010 Census data released so far this year show that 20 of the 25 cities that have at least 250,000 people and a 20% black population either lost more blacks or gained fewer in the past decade than during the 1990s. Blacks, many in the middle or upper-middle class, are leaving cities for the suburbs, and many of those living in the North are leaving for thriving Sunbelt centers of the South.

Economic News

The Federal Reserve is paying a record $79.3 billion to U.S. Treasury after the central bank earned a record amount of money last year from programs aimed at boosting the economy. The Fed says its payment to the Treasury Department for 2010 is 67% higher than the $47.4 billion it paid in 2009, the previous record. The central bank earned a record $81.7 billion last year from its massive holdings of securities, which were purchased to help stabilize the financial system and pull the economy out of the recession. Part of those earnings go toward funding the Fed, which receives no appropriations from Congress. Any money left over is turned over to the U.S. Treasury.

  • The Federal Reserve is not a government agency but rather a private organization given the right to function as our central bank. It is controlled by a cabal of international investors whose interests do not necessarily put the U.S. first.

The cost of the American and European assault on Libya already easily tops hundreds of millions of dollars, and has the potential to rise significantly if the operation drags on for weeks or months. The U.S. has fired 161 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libyan territory, with 24 missiles being fired overnight Monday into Tuesday. Each missile is priced at $1 million to $1.5 million apiece. An array of U.S. warplanes; 11 ships steaming in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers and two amphibious ships; and one F-15 fighter jet that crashed, costing $75 million or more — it all adds up to numbers that are unnerving budget-conscious lawmakers as they grapple with the debt and job crisis back home.

Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis could deliver a bigger blow to that nation’s economy and U.S. manufacturers than originally estimated, some economists say, due to extended disruptions to Japan’s power grid and factory supply chains. Some large U.S. electronics makers likely will shut down due to the temporary loss of components from Japanese suppliers.

Egypt’s stock market is poised to reopen after being closed for nearly two months. Officials worried that keeping the market closed would further rattle already-shaken investor confidence in the country after the uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The relaunch of the Egyptian Exchange, expected Wednesday, comes after the prime minister accepted the resignation of the market’s chairman and appointed a new, temporary head.

Middle East

A bus has exploded in Jerusalem, and people are being taken away on stretchers, the AP reports. The explosion occurred near the main entrance to Jerusalem. The BBC reports “many casualties feared.” Bloomberg News, quoting Israel’s Channel 2, reports about 20 people injured in the blast. The explosion may be related to Tuesday’s shelling by Israel aimed at Palestinian militants that missed its target, killing three children and their uncle and wounding 13 other family members according to Palestinian sources. That attack was launched in response to repeated rocket fire toward Israel. It dramatically escalated a recent round of simmering violence with Palestinian militants and threatened to set off the first heavy fighting in more than two years. The Israeli military acknowledged civilians were killed but said it was aiming at Palestinian militants who had launched seven mortar shells against Israel earlier Tuesday.

Egypt

Fire swept the upper floors of Egypt’s Interior Ministry building on Tuesday as policemen protested outside to demand higher pay. A security official accused demonstrators of starting the blaze in downtown Cairo. Many Egyptians still associate the Interior Ministry’s security forces with the worst excesses of the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this month, protesters rallied outside State Security offices across the nation, storming some of them in a search of evidence of human rights violations. Tuesday’s protest outside the ministry, however, was held by policemen themselves. They want a minimum salary of $200 a month — much more than many get now — and other benefits, including improved health care.

While Egypt’s Christians were happy to see Hosni Mubarak leave, they aren’t welcoming a new government with open arms. Reuters reports that many Egyptian Christians say they voted Saturday to reject proposed constitutional amendments in a referendum that would have allowed quick elections. Christians say they fear rushing elections could sweep Islamist groups into power. “I fear the Islamists because they speak in civil slogans that have a religious context, like when one said he believed in a civil Egypt but at the same time no woman or Copt should run for president,” said Samuel Wahba, a Coptic doctor. If approved, the amendments would put parliamentary elections on the calendar for late Septembers with a presidential election in December.

Yemen

Yemen’s parliament enacted sweeping emergency laws Wednesday after the country’s embattled president asked for new powers of arrest, detention and censorship to quash a popular uprising demanding his ouster. The law suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests and gives security forces 30 days of far-reaching powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process. Yemen’s embattled U.S.-backed president said Tuesday that a military coup would lead to civil war and pledged to step down by year’s end but not hand power to army commanders who have joined the opposition. There was no immediate response from the opposition, which has won the loyalty of influential clergy and tribal leaders, along with the powerful army commanders now calling for Saleh’s ouster. Saleh had previously rejected an earlier opposition demand that he resign by the end of the year.

Syria

New violence in a restive southern Syrian city killed as many as six people Wednesday, making it the deadliest single day since anti-government protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world reached this country last week  The six people died in Daraa when security forces launched an attack near the al-Omari Mosque, where anti-government demonstrators have taken shelter. The Syrian government has sought to contain the first serious intrusion of the Arab world’s political unrest by firing the governor of the southern province of Daraa, where security forces had killed seven protesters over the weekend. But the dismissal failed to quell popular anger and the protests reached the province’s village of Nawa, where hundreds of people marched demanding reforms on Tuesday.

Iran

White House concerns that Iran’s hand is being strengthened by recent events in the Middle East is central to its response to the turmoil, say U.S., European, and Arab officials. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to use military force against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces was made in part by his administration’s fear that Western inaction could further embolden Tehran, these officials say. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Shiite government are locked in a battle for regional influence. U.S. military planners are also concerned Iran could benefit from an overthrow of the monarchy in Bahrain, home to U.S. naval operations that help control the Persian Gulf’s oil flow. In Yemen, too, Washington’s closest Arab allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, are worried the potential overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh could strengthen Iran in the region.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on Christians worldwide to pray for believers in Iran, who face increasing pressure from authorities. On March 8, five Iranian Christians were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “crimes against the Islamic order” by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. The group was arrested last June and spent almost eight months in prison before a temporary release in February. Concern also remains high for another Church of Iran leader, Pastor Yousef Nadakharni, who was sentenced to death for apostasy, and whose appeal is pending at the Supreme Court. At least 282 Christians have been arrested in more than 30 Iranian cities since June 2010, though many were released. Christians in the country say the situation has deteriorated quickly since Dec. 26, 2010, when authorities began a fresh wave of arrests.

Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that his security forces will soon take charge of security in seven areas around the nation — the first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers protecting the entire nation by the end of 2014. In a speech Tuesday in Kabul, Karzai said, “The Afghan nation doesn’t want the defense of this country to be in the hands of others anymore.” He struck a nationalistic chord in his speech, which was peppered with criticism of the international effort. Karzai also reiterated his call for the Taliban to join the peace process and that the death of civilians must end. A series of recent airstrikes that have lead to the death of numerous civilians have seriously eroded relations between Karzai and the U.S.-led military coalition.

Nigeria

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that more than 4,000 people have been displaced in a series of nightly attacks by Muslim tribesmen in central Nigeria. The attacks have persisted since March 10 despite the deployment of secruity personnel in the area. At least five Christians have been murdered in the Bauchi state during the violence, and churches report that at least 463 homes and 13 churches have been torched. Local sources attribute the attacks to a group of around 2,000 militants from Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto and other northern Nigerian states. The area has experienced numerous sectarian attacks since 1991, when a disagreement between a Fulani man and a Tsayawa meat seller escalated into violence that killed 400 people.

Ethiopia

Baptist Press reports that damage surveys following recent anti-Christian violence in Ethiopia showed at least 69 churches were burned. Another 30 Christian homes, a Bible school, a Christian orphanage and a church office were also burned. The anti-Christian attacks started March 2 after Muslims allegedly accused Christians of desecrating the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Violence continues to affect residents of the area. During the initial days of the attacks 3,000 Christians were displaced; International Christian Concern reports those numbers now have climbed to 10,000. Although Ethiopian Orthodox churches are predominant throughout the country, at least the first 55 churches burned belong to evangelical denominations, according to one anonymous Christian worker who served in Ethiopia from 2007 until 2010.

Wildfires

About 100 homes in the mountains west of Denver remained under evacuation orders Monday and hundreds more were on standby as strong winds helped spread a wildfire scorching more than a square mile of drought-stricken brush, trees and grasses. The fire has already blackened 1,200 acres(about two square miles) west of Golden, in Jefferson County, and officials said it was 15% contained. Gusts up to 40 mph fanned flames up and down the steep, rugged mountainsides in the suburb about 15 miles from downtown Denver. Air tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water on a wildfire in the tinder-dry foothills west of Denver on Tuesday while 17 homes remained under evacuation orders.

A 4,000-acre wildfire is burning in Arizona, about eleven miles northeast of Nogales. Many structures are threatened and several local road closures are in effect. As of Monday, the fire is only 5% contained. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Arkansas have ten active wildfires burning, having consumed 3,600 acres thus far.

Weather

A Pacific storm system moved across Arizona on Monday, bringing periods of heavy snow, rain and wind across the state, and causing at least 30 crashes and 24 highway slide-offs. Heavy snow fell in Flagstaff, and the white stuff fell at lower elevations including Prescott. Lower desert areas, including Phoenix, saw periods of heavy rain. Winds were high across the state, as strong as 40 mph in Tucson. The weather led to 30 crashes, two of which were fatal; 10 others involved injuries. Weather advisories were in effect throughout much of the state, including a red-flag warning in southeastern Arizona that means an increased danger of wildfires.

Miles of southern California beach remained closed Tuesday from a sewage spill stemming from a major spring storm, and forecasters said California would get only a single day to dry out before wet weather rolled in again. The weekend storm that dumped up to 10 inches of rain in some areas overwhelmed some sewage systems. Snow, ice and rockslides forced the shutdown of major highways and thousands were without electricity, while concerns about flooding and mudslides forced dozens of evacuations. Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles was shut down as wintry conditions through the mountains made passes too dangerous. The closure temporarily left drivers without the main route from Los Angeles to northern and central California.

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