Nation & World briefly: International air raids hit Gadhafi hometown and strategic stronghold of Sirte
RAS LANOUF, Libya (AP) – International air raids targeted Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte for the first time Sunday night as rebels made a high-speed advance toward the regime stronghold, a formidable obstacle that must be overcome for the government opponents to reach the capital Tripoli.
A heavy bombardment of Tripoli also began after nightfall, with at least nine loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire heard, an Associated Press reporter in the city said.
Earlier in the day, rebels regained two key oil complexes along the coastal highway that runs from the opposition-held eastern half of the country toward Sirte and beyond that, to the capital. Moving quickly westward, the advance retraced the steps of the rebels’ first march toward the capital. But this time, the world’s most powerful air forces have eased the way by pounding Gadhafi’s forces for the past week.
Sirte is strategically located about halfway between the rebel-held east and the Gadhafi-controlled west along the coastal highway. It is considered a bastion of support for Gadhafi that will be difficult for the rebels to take and the entrances to the city have reportedly been mined. If the rebels could overcome it, momentum for a march on the capital would skyrocket.
After nightfall, foreign journalists in Sirte reported loud explosions and warplanes flying overheard. They said the city was swarming with soldiers on patrol. Libyan state television confirmed air raids on Sirte and Tripoli.
NATO to assume command of air operations – including air strikes – in Libya
BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO will assume command of all aerial operations in Libya from the U.S.-led force that has been conducting air strikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, officials said Sunday.
NATO jets on Sunday already began enforcing the no-fly zone, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced. Diplomats said the full transfer of authority would take several days.
“NATO allies have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement. “NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The North Atlantic Council – the alliance’s top body – took two hours to approve a plan to expand a previously agreed mission to enforce the U.N. arms embargo and no-fly zone. It agreed to protect civilians from attack – which effectively means bombing Gadhafi’s forces if they are threatening to harm the civilian population.
The U.N. authorized the operation after Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who demanded that he step down after 42 years in power
AP IMPACT: Japan utility used bad assumptions to conclude nuclear plant was safe from tsunami
TOKYO (AP) – In planning their defense against a killer tsunami, the people running Japan’s now-hobbled nuclear power plant dismissed important scientific evidence and all but disregarded 3,000 years of geological history, an Associated Press investigation shows.
The misplaced confidence displayed by Tokyo Electric Power Co. was prompted by a series of overly optimistic assumptions that concluded the Earth couldn’t possibly release the level of fury it did two weeks ago, pushing the six-reactor Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to the brink of multiple meltdowns.
Instead of the reactors staying dry, as contemplated under the power company’s worst-case scenario, the plant was overrun by a torrent of water much higher and stronger than the utility argued could occur, according to an AP analysis of records, documents and statements from researchers, the utility and the Japan’s national nuclear safety agency.
And while TEPCO and government officials have said no one could have anticipated such a massive tsunami, there is ample evidence that such waves have struck the northeast coast of Japan before – and that it could happen again along the culprit fault line, which runs roughly north to south, offshore, about 220 miles (350 kilometers) east of the plant.
TEPCO officials say they had a good system for projecting tsunamis. They declined to provide more detailed explanations, saying they were focused on the ongoing nuclear crisis.
Emergency crews impeded by mounting obstacles in Japanese nuclear crisis
TOKYO (AP) – Mounting problems, including badly miscalculated radiation figures and inadequate storage tanks for huge amounts of contaminated water, stymied emergency workers Sunday as they struggled to nudge Japan’s stricken nuclear complex back from the edge of disaster.
Workers are attempting to remove the radioactive water from the tsunami-ravaged nuclear compound and restart the regular cooling systems for the dangerously hot fuel.
The day began with company officials reporting that radiation in leaking water in the Unit 2 reactor was 10 million times above normal, a spike that forced employees to flee the unit. The day ended with officials saying the huge figure had been miscalculated and offering apologies.
“The number is not credible,” said Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Takashi Kurita. “We are very sorry.”
A few hours later, TEPCO Vice President Sakae Muto said a new test had found radiation levels 100,000 times above normal – far better than the first results, though still very high.
Rising Medicare premiums threaten to wipe out Social Security COLA for third straight year
WASHINGTON (AP) – Millions of retired and disabled people in the United States had better brace for another year with no increase in Social Security payments.
The government is projecting a slight cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits next year, the first increase since 2009. But for most beneficiaries, rising Medicare premiums threaten to wipe out any increase in payments, leaving them without a raise for a third straight year.
About 45 million people – one in seven in the country – receive both Medicare and Social Security. By law, beneficiaries have their Medicare Part B premiums, which cover doctor visits, deducted from their Social Security payments each month.
When Medicare premiums rise more than Social Security payments, millions of people living on fixed incomes don’t get raises. On the other hand, most don’t get pay cuts, either, because a hold-harmless provision prevents higher Part B premiums from reducing Social Security payments for most people.
David Certner of AARP estimates that as many as three-fourths of beneficiaries will have their entire Social Security increase swallowed by rising Medicare premiums next year.
Gangs of men, some with swords and sticks, roam violence-hit Syrian city after protests
LATAKIA, Syria – Gangs of young men, some armed with swords and hunting rifles, roamed Sunday through the streets of a Syrian seaside city, closing alleys with barricades and roughly questioning passersby in streets scarred by days of anti-government unrest.
The scenes in Latakia, a Mediterranean port once known as a summmer tourist draw, were a remarkable display of anarchy in what had been one of the Mideast’s most tightly controlled countries.
Syria has been rocked by more than a week of demonstrations that began in the drought-parched southern agricultural city of Daraa and exploded nationwide on Friday, with security forces opening fire on demonstrators in at least six places and killing dozens.
The government has also tried to calm the situation with concessions, and President Bashar Assad is expected to announce Tuesday that he is lifting a nearly 50-year state of emergency and moving to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms.
Member of Parliament Mohammed Habash told The Associated Press that lawmakers discussed the state of emergency during a Sunday night session and Assad would make an announcement about the issue on Tuesday. He offered no further details.
Even in Florida, Republicans say it’s time to curb federal retirement programs
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) – If there’s any place where tea partiers in Congress might hesitate to call for cuts in Social Security and Medicare to shrink the federal debt, Florida’s retirement havens should top the list.
Even here, however, Republican lawmakers are racing toward a spending showdown with Democrats exhibiting little nervousness about deep cuts, including those that eventually would hit benefit programs long left alone by politicians.
In fact, many GOP freshmen seem bolder than ever. It’s Democrats, especially in the Senate, who are trying to figure out how to handle the popular but costly retirement programs. Congress, meanwhile, is rapidly nearing critical decisions on the budget and the nation’s debt ceiling.
In southeast Florida last week, first-term GOP Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite, called for changes that some might consider radical: abolish the Internal Revenue Service and federal income tax; retain tax cuts for billionaires so they won’t shut down their charities; stop extending unemployment benefits that “reward bad behavior” by discouraging people from seeking new jobs.
As for entitlements, West told a friendly town hall gathering in Coral Springs, if Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid “are left on autopilot, if we don’t institute some type of reform, they’ll subsume our entire GDP” by 2040 or 2050. GDP, or gross domestic product, measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States.
Israel deploys cutting-edge system to defend against spike of rocket attacks from Gaza
BEERSHEBA, Israel (AP) – Israel deployed a cutting-edge rocket defense system on Sunday, rolling out the latest tool in its arsenal to stop a recent spike in attacks from the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Israel hopes the homegrown Iron Dome system will provide increased security to its citizens, but officials warned that it can’t do the job alone. The system went into operation shortly after an Israeli aircraft struck a group of militants in Gaza, killing two. Israeli said they were about to fire a rocket.
The Iron Dome system has raised hopes that Israel has finally found a solution to the years of rocket fire from Gaza. The primitive rockets have evaded Israel’s high-tech weaponry, in part because their short flight path, just a few seconds, makes them hard to track.
The government approved Iron Dome in 2007. Its developers have compared the effort to a high-tech start-up, working around the clock in small teams to perfect its weapons, radar and software systems. The developer, local defense contractor Rafael, declared the system ready for use last year.
Iron Dome uses sophisticated cameras and radar to track incoming rockets, determine where they will land, and intercept and destroy them far from their targets. If the system determines the rocket is headed to an open area where casualties are unlikely, it can allow the weapon to explode on the ground.
Are you speeding? Smile, cameras on I-95 nab lead-foot drivers, spark controversy in SC
RIDGELAND, S.C. (AP) – As Interstate 95 sweeps past this small town along South Carolina’s coastal plain, motorists encounter cameras that catch speeding cars, the only such devices on the open interstate for almost 2,000 miles from Canada to Miami.
The cameras have nabbed thousands of motorists, won accolades from highway safety advocates, attracted heated opposition from state lawmakers and sparked a federal court challenge.
Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges said the cameras in his town about 20 miles north of the Georgia line do what they are designed to do: slow people down, reduce accidents and, most importantly, save lives.
But lawmakers who want to unplug them argue the system is just a money-maker and amounts to unconstitutional selective law enforcement.
“We’re absolutely shutting it down,” said state Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Harry Coover, creator of Super Glue, dies in Tennessee at 94; invented the stuff by accident
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) – Harry Wesley Coover Jr., known as the inventor of Super Glue, has died at his home in Kingsport, Tenn. He was 94.
Coover was working for Tennessee Eastman Company when an accident resulted in Super Glue, according to his grandson, Adam Paul of South Carolina. An assistant was distressed that some brand new refractometer prisms were ruined when they were glued together, marking the invention of the popular adhesive.
President Barack Obama honored Coover in 2010 with the National Medal of Science.
Coover was born in Newark, Del. He received a degree in chemistry from Hobart College in New York before getting a master’s degree and Ph.D., from Cornell.
He worked his way up to vice president of the chemical division for development for Eastman Kodak. Coover and the team of chemists he worked with became prolific patent holders, achieving more than 460. The work included polymers, organophosphate chemistry, the gasification of coal and of course, cyanoacrylate, better known as Super Glue.