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AP: Regulators up scrutiny of Fort Calhoun nuclear plant after finding more problems December 16, 2011


December 15, 2011

by legitgov

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AP: Regulators up scrutiny of Fort Calhoun nuclear plant after finding more problems 14 Dec 2011 Several new problems have been found at a Nebraska power plant that suffered flood damage earlier this year, federal regulators said Tuesday, so inspectors will be watching the plant north of Omaha even more closely as repairs from flooding are made. The tougher oversight for the Omaha Public Power District plant in Fort Calhoun will likely further delay its restart from early next year until sometime in the spring as it makes repairs from the summer flooding. Fort Calhoun has been shut down since April, when it was being refueled.

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Chevron faces $10.6bn Brazil suit December 15, 2011

Chevron says it got the leak under control on 13 November

Prosecutors in Brazil are demanding $10.6bn (£6.8bn) from US oil company Chevron for environmental damage caused when one of its oil wells leaked off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.

The prosecutors also asked the court to immediately suspend the operations of Chevron and its drilling contractor, Transocean, in Brazil.

Brazil has already fined Chevron $28m for the spill on 8 November.

A Chevron official said the company had not yet been notified of the suit.

The prosecutors who brought the case argued that “Chevron and Transocean weren’t capable of controlling the damages from a spill of 3,000 barrels of oil, which proves a lack of environmental planning and management”.

They also accused Chevron of keeping information from Brazil’s oil regulator, known by its initials ANP.

Chevron has been banned from drilling any new wells for at least three months, while the ANP investigates the spill.

Chevron has accepted full responsibility for the leak.

The company said it had underestimated the pressure of underwater oil deposits while drilling, causing oil to rush up the bore hole and seep into the surrounding seabed.

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China imposes tariff on US car imports

The tension between America and China over international trade escalated on Wednesday when Beijing imposed additional duties on cars imported from the United States.

China‘s commerce ministry accused America’s car industry of “dumping and subsidising”, thereby causing substantial damage to China’s domestic car industry. From Thursday, levies will be charged on larger-engined cars from several manufacturers, some being European firms with factories in the US.

General Motors faces the greatest impact, almost 22% extra on some sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and other cars with engine capacities above 2.5 litres. Chrysler faces a 15% penalty, while a 2% levy will be imposed on BMW, whose US plants make many of the cars it exports to China.

Existing taxes and duties already push up the cost of US imports by 25%, and the new levies make it even more expensive for Chinese consumers to buy American. The move was swiftly attacked in the US. Carl Levin, the Democratic senator for Michigan (which includes the motor city of Detroit), called it an “unjustified” attempt to circumvent international trade laws. “Instead of ending its unlawful trade practices, China is choosing to take further steps that are unauthorised by world trade rules,” he claimed.”The livelihoods of American families and the integrity of global trade law are at stake.”

GM says the levies will have little immediate impact, as it mostly exports lower-power cars to China. Analysts, though, said the decision underlined China’s determination to protect its car industry.

“The move shows that China is always capable of intervening politically in its markets,” Juergen Pieper of Bankhaus Metzler, the German investment bank, told Bloomberg. Georges Dieng, a Paris-based analyst with Natixis Securities, said the levies had been set to “inflict pain on the Americans, above all”. Shares in General Motors fell by over 3%, while BMW’s shares slipped 5%.

China and the US have peppered each other with legal actions and tariffs over the past few years.

Earlier this month, the US International Trade Commission ruled against China’s solar-power industry after an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation. Last week, the US pledged to take China’s anti-dumping measures against American poultry imports to the World Trade Organisation.

Debbie Stabenow, the junior senator for Michigan, urged the US government to take China’s car levies to the WTO as well. “China relentlessly breaks international trade rules, and seeks to gain an anti-competitive advantage over our companies and workers. America must be equally relentless in fighting back,” she said.

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Iran Shows Footage of Purported US Drone December 9, 2011

Iranian state television on Thursday released the first images of what it said was a U.S. unmanned reconnaissance drone downed on Sunday along Iran’s eastern border after it made a brief incursion into its airspace.  

The footage shows Iranian military officials inspecting an aerial vehicle resembling a high-tech RQ-170 Sentinel drone.  The vehicle appears to be in good shape and with no visible damage.

The chief of the aerospace division of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, General Ami Ali Hajizadeh, said Iranian forces brought the drone down through a “cyber attack.”  He said the drone “fell into the trap of electronic warfare unit” who then managed to land it with minimum damage.

Also Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, to protest the drone incident.  The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, and Switzerland handles American interests in Iran.  The state television said that the ministry demanded an explanation and compensation from Washington.

U.S. officials have acknowledged the drone’s loss and described the incident as a major setback to the stealth drone program.  They said there are real fears that the Iranians will share the drone technology with China or some other country, but also expressed doubts the Iranians have the expertise to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft.

The drone incident came at a time of heightened political tension over Iran’s controversial nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons.  The United States and Israel said they were considering “all options” on Tehran, if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute.  

During a news conference in Washington Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Iran has a clear choice, to end its pursuit of atomic weapons in favor of a peaceful nuclear program or continue to resist global pressure and face increased isolation.  

Mr. Obama said “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is contrary to U.S. security interests, as well as to the national interests of U.S. allies, including Israel, and Washington will work with the world community to prevent that.”

Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

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Iran shoots down US drone December 4, 2011

Iran‘s armed forces have shot down an unmanned US spy plane that violated Iranian airspace along its eastern border.

An unidentified military official quoted by the official Irna news agency on Sunday warned of a crushing response to any violations of Iranian airspace by US drone aircraft.

“An advanced RQ170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran’s armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran’s armed forces,” Irna quoted the official as saying.

No further details were given.

Iran is locked in a dispute with the US and its allies over Tehran’s alleged nuclear programme, which the west believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the accusations, saying the programme is designed to generate electricity and produce isotopes for medical use.

Tehran said in January it had shot down two other unmanned spy planes over its airspace which were operated by the US.

Iran itself has focused part of its military strategy on producing drones, both for reconnaissance and offensive purposes.

It announced three years ago that it had built an unmanned aircraft with a range of more than 600 miles, far enough to reach Israel.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unveiled Iran’s first domestically built unmanned bomber in August 2010, calling it an “ambassador of death” to Iran’s enemies.

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Bradley Manning lawyer: White House review found ‘leak’ did no real damage November 29, 2011

The US army intelligence analyst suspected of giving classified material to WikiLeaks says a White House review has concluded that the alleged leaks did no real damage to national security.

Bradley Manning‘s defence attorney made the claim in a court filing he released publicly on Monday.

The filing also claims a defence department review found that all the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already known because of previous public disclosures.

Manning is seeking the reports to aid in his defence.

His lawyer also contends it was common for soldiers to add unauthorised software to their work computers. Two of the 22 counts Manning faces allege he added unauthorised programs to his work station.

Manning’s first hearing is set for 16 December at Fort Meade.

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Airstrike Against Iranian Nuclear Facilities Could Kill 100s of North Koreans and Russians November 18, 2011


November 17, 2011

by legitgov

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Airstrike Against Iranian Nuclear Facilities Could Kill 100s of North Koreans and Russians By John Daly 16 Nov 2011 As the drums for direct military intervention to derail Iran’s purported covert military nuclear weapons program beat louder in both Jerusalem and Washington, an overlooked issue is the possibility of international “collateral damage,” to use the Pentagon’s favourite euphemism for civilian casualties. On 14 November South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo stated, “Hundreds of North Korean scientists and engineers are working at about 10 nuclear and missile facilities in Iran, including Natanz…” Russian technicians also remain at Iran’s first nuclear electrical energy facility, Bushehr. So, any aerial strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities could result in significant numbers of dead Russian and North Korean specialists as “collateral damage,” with all the diplomatic uncertainties that might ensue from Moscow and Pyongyang as the body bags start arriving home.

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We need Occupy to help deliver equality | Kate Pickett November 15, 2011

When Richard Wilkinson and I sat down towards the end of 2007 to start writing The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, which was published in March 2009, we had a clear objective. After years of research, and having published a large number of papers in academic journals, we were frustrated that what we and other researchers had learned about the damage caused by income inequality was so little known.

We had shown that bigger income differences lead to worse physical and mental health, more drug use, violent crime and higher rates of imprisonment, less trust and worse child wellbeing, more children doing poorly in school and low social mobility. Yet when any of these problems were discussed in the media, there was absolutely no discussion of the role of inequality. Politicians and policymakers were happy to talk about poverty, but almost always failed to make the necessary distinction between absolute poverty and relative poverty. In the rich, developed countries, it is relative poverty and inequality that really matter and, because inequality wreaks its damage through status competition and status anxiety. Almost all of us are touched by the impact of inequality, not just the poor, the unemployed or the disenfranchised.

In the UK, as in so many other western countries, inequality began to rise dramatically and inexorably in the 1980s, because neoliberal economics became the dominant ideology, leading to reductions in top tax rates, anti-union legislation, deregulation of financial markets and an unhealthy emphasis on individual aspirations and materialism. We lost sight of the importance of a cohesive society and began to flatter and hero-worship the money-makers and financial “wizards” who were rewarding themselves so richly. Surveys showed that most British people felt that high salaries and bonuses must be deserved, because the people who earned them worked harder, or have superior abilities, and a large majority still feel that big income differences are “inevitable”.

Yet research studies, and a comparative perspective, show these beliefs are simply not true; they are myths that need to be debunked. Many successful market democracies have much smaller income differences than the UK, and perform much better on indicators of health and social wellbeing. Large income differences are no more inevitable than they are beneficial. Nobel prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, in his new book Thinking, Fast and Slow discusses the large body of evidence showing that financial traders and investment advisers are not exercising high-level skill or professional expertise; any successes they have are due to luck more than judgment. Two out of three mutual funds perform worse than the market average every year. Yet their firms continue to reward them as if they were exhibiting skill and judgment.

So the truth is that not only are high salaries and bonuses often undeserved, but the inequality they create damages society. Those countries that have a smaller gap in income and wealth between the bottom 99% and the top 1% do not suffer, they flourish.

To some extent, what we hoped for when we wrote The Spirit Level has happened. There is now a much greater awareness of the effects of inequality among public, policy makers and politicians. There is more debate and more of an appetite for change. This is a necessary first step. In part it has also been due to the shock of the global financial crisis and the stock taking that has followed. Few doubt that it was the actions of the rich and the super-rich, the 1%, that created the crisis.

But sadly, debate has not yet been translated into action. Austerity measures hit hardest those who least deserve them. Regulation is resisted by those who have the most vested interests in maintaining their undeserved wealth. The voices and the rights of the 99% are still overwhelmed by the myth-peddling of the 1%, who continue to believe in their own superiority, in trickle-down economics and that the UK is a land where equality of opportunity means that anybody who works hard enough can rise to the top.

One UK survey showed that 80% of us support measures to tackle inequality. In the USA, when asked to choose between three different distributions of wealth, 92% of people said they would prefer to live in the society that, unbeknown to them, matched Swedish levels of equality.

This is why we need the Occupy movement and the staunch actions of the trade unions – why we need protest and demonstrations and activism. We must continue to demand that politics and policy serve the needs of the many, not the selfish demands of the few – the evidence supports this and so does the democratic opinion of the vast majority of the people.

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Rare earthquake shakes Oklahoma November 6, 2011

The US state of Oklahoma has been shaken by a 5.6 magnitude earthquake, thought to be the strongest in its history.

Some buildings cracked and a highway buckled, but there were no immediate reports of serious injury or damage.

The quake was centred near the town of Sparks, some 44 miles (71km) north-east of Oklahoma City, at a depth of 3.1 miles (5km).

It shook a packed football stadium at Oklahoma State University.

Nearly 60,000 fans were leaving the stadium having watched Oklahoma State’s victory over Kansas State when the stadium shook for several seconds.

“Everybody was looking around and no one had any idea,” said Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was in the locker room with the other players at the time.

“We thought the people above us were doing something. I’ve never felt one, so that was a first,” he told Associated Press.

The quake struck at 10:53pm local time (03:53 GMT Sunday) and followed a 4.7 magnitude tremor that had been felt near the town of Prague earlier on Saturday.

Observers say that if the 5.6 magnitude reading given by the US Geological Survey stands, then it would be the most powerful earthquake ever recorded for Oklahoma, which is more used to dealing with tornadoes.

Are you in Oklahoma? Did you feel the earthquake? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

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Herman Cain dismisses sexual harassment claims as ‘witch hunt’ November 1, 2011

Herman Cain, one of the frontrunners in the Republican race for the White House, dismissed allegations of sexual harassment against him as a “witch hunt” as he launched a damage limitation exercise to keep his candidacy afloat.

Over the course of two public appearances before the media and an interview with Fox News, Cain confirmed that he had been the subject of sexual harassment complaints involving two female workers in the restaurant industry – but insisted he had been “falsely accused”.

He also said he was unaware of any of the women receiving settlements over the claims, which he described as “trumped up”. Cain said he was “unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything.”

On Sunday night, Politico revealed that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association had received payouts after making harassment claims against Cain while he was the organisation’s president.

According to Politico, the women left the association after complaining about inappropriate behaviour by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable. They reportedly received settlements in return for signing non-disclosure agreements.

On Monday, Cain refused to answer questions about the claims during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He then gave an interview to Fox News in which he said: “I have never sexually harassed anyone, and, yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association. And I say falsely, because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless.”

Later, during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Cain repeated his denials, saying: “In all of my over 40 years of experience – running businesses and corporations – I have never sexually harassed anyone.”

Suggesting the story had come out now as a response to his popularity in the Republican leadership contest, Cain added: “This bullseye on my back has gotten bigger. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt.”

He said again that he had no knowledge of any settlements being paid. But NBC News said later it had independently confirmed that at least one of the women had received a settlement from the restaurant associaton.

During his National Press Club appearance, Cain gave a little more detail about the complaints, saying that as president of the association he had “recused” himself from the investigation, and left it to the lawyers and human resources officials. He said they had “concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis”.

But soon after Cain’s comments, Politico published another story detailing how the association’s HR chief at the time, Mary Ose, had told the website last week that she was unaware of any allegations about Cain’s behaviour. A reporter spoke to her again on Monday to ask about Cain’s insistence that HR officials had run the investigation, to which Ose reponded: “You and I have talked and I have nothing more to say.” She then put the phone down.

Cain’s apparent failure to address the allegations head-on will ensure that journalists keep pushing until they find more details of the accusations, including how much was paid to the women, and who authorised any settlement. That could be even more damaging for Cain, especially if it emerges that he did know about the reported payout.

In his Fox interview, Cain acknowleged that the row was going to do some damage to his campaign, which has seen him take the lead in some polls.

“Obviously, some people will be turned off by this cloud over my campaign, but a lot of people are not going to be turned off,” he said.

Cain, 65, a former chief executive of the Godfather’s Pizza chain, has been leading the pack in the race for the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in November next year. The first electoral test is scheduled for 3 January, when Iowa holds its caucus.

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Flooding Devastates Thailand, Burma October 23, 2011

Thailand battled to protect Bangkok Sunday from being swamped by flood water, while officials in neighboring Burma say floods there have killed at least 100 people.  

Authorities in Thailand’s capital shored up weak areas in the city’s defenses and attempted to protect infrastructure.

The flooding is the worst to hit Thailand in decades, killing at least 356 people, displacing more than 110,000 and doing huge damage to the economy.

In neighboring Burma, an official said flooding killed at least 100 people last week.  The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper mentioned the flooding Sunday, but kept the toll to three dead and 80 missing.

Heavy rains since July have inundated large parts of Southeast Asia, forcing millions from their homes. Another 336 people have died in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.  

A growing number of countries are pledging aid to the flood-ravaged region.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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D.C. mayor to request FEMA funding for Washington National Cathedral October 22, 2011

WASHINGTON (CNN) — On the eve of submitting a request for funds to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Washington Mayor Vincent Gray inspected the damage done to the National Cathedral from the August 23 earthquake that rattled the nation’s capital and much of the East Coast.

“This is far more than a than a religious institution. This is an iconic structure,” Grady said during his visit to the cathedral Thursday, in an apparent effort to ward off any controversy over the use of federal funds for a religious institution.

“It’s a place (that) has an enormous role in the nation.”

Gray added that there are precedents in federal funding supporting help for the site, which is host to many official state events, and he said he feels justified in requesting funds from FEMA. There is no guarantee the request will be granted, he said.

Cathedral administration currently pegs repair costs at $15 million, with the work taking at least 10 years to complete.

The damage to the cathedral and the Washington Monument have gotten much of the attention in the aftermath of the 5.8-magnitude quake. Gray was quick however, to assert Thursday that there was damage to some District of Columbia schools and public facilities totaling another $7 million.

Built from private donations, the cathedral is largely self-funded. But, the U.S. National Parks Service declared the site a national treasure and has awarded the landmark $750,000 in restoration grants — money that the senior director of finance and administration for the cathedral, Andrew Hullinger, said has not yet been dispensed.

If FEMA funding is ultimately not granted, or sufficient, Hullinger says, “We will go back to our roots, essentially, and go coast-to-coast and seek donations to restore this national cathedral.”

The cathedral draws at least 500,000 tourists a year, and Gray noted that those visitors also contribute to the local economy.

The cathedral is still on schedule to reopen to the public on November 12.


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Monument assessment to begin anew October 3, 2011

Washington (CNN) — Assessment of the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument is expected to begin anew Monday.

Authorities halted inspections Friday after wind gusts blew one of the roped-in workers off the monument, and moved him 30 feet away.

“Safety is always our first concern,” Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said in a statement Sunday. “And we had anticipated that there might be some weather delays.”

In an earlier statement, the National Park Police said as the engineering team was finishing Friday, climber Erik Sohn, who works for the Difficult Access Team from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE), was lifted by the wind and pushed from the west face of the monument over to the south face.

“This is not unusual in these kinds of operations,” Dan Lemieux, project manager from WJE, said in a statement. “Our guys are trained to deal with this kind of event. Erik’s fine, and I think he even kind of enjoyed the ride.”

The team is assessing the exterior of the monument following damage from an 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook much of the East Coast on August 23.

“The heaviest damage appears to be concentrated at the very top of the monument, in what is called the pyramidion, where large cracks of up to 1 1/4 inch wide developed through stone and mortar joints,” Vogel said. Rainwater has leaked into the monument through the cracks and that could cause further damage.

The Park Service said an interior assessment of the monument found it to be structurally sound and there is no danger of collapse.

The Difficult Access Team has mainly focused on the top of the monument but will eventually rappel down the sides for a full inspection. The Park Service officials say they hope the assessment is completed by October 14, at which point they will have a better idea when the monument can be reopened to the public.

CNN’s Greg Clary contributed to this report.


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Wind gusts blow back monument check October 2, 2011

Washington (CNN) — Assessment of the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument will begin anew no earlier than Monday because of wind gusts, the National Park Service said in a statement released Sunday. The inspection was halted after wind blew one of the roped-in workers off the monument, and moved him 30 feet away, on Friday.

“Safety is always our first concern,” Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said in the statement. “And we had anticipated that there might be some weather delays.” The Park Service said it would re-evaluate weather conditions at noon.

In an earlier statement, the National Park Police said as the engineering team was finishing Friday, climber Erik Sohn, who works for the Difficult Access Team from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE), was lifted by the wind and pushed from the west face of the monument over to the south face.

“This is not unusual in these kinds of operations,” Dan Lemieux, project manager from WJE, said in a statement. “Our guys are trained to deal with this kind of event. Erik’s fine, and I think he even kind of enjoyed the ride.”

Scaling down the Washington monument

The team is assessing the exterior of the monument following damage from an 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook much of the East Coast on August 23.

“The heaviest damage appears to be concentrated at the very top of the monument, in what is called the pyramidion, where large cracks of up to 1 1/4 inch wide developed through stone and mortar joints,” Vogel said. Rainwater has leaked into the monument through the cracks and that could cause further damage.

The Park Service said an interior assessment of the monument found it to be structurally sound and there is no danger of collapse.

The Difficult Access Team has mainly focused on the top of the monument but will eventually rappel down the sides for a full inspection. The Park Service officials say they hope the assessment is completed by October 14, at which point they will have a better idea when the monument can be reopened to the public.

CNN’s Greg Clary contributed to this report.


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Earthquake rocks Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant September 29, 2011


September 29, 2011

by legitgov

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Earthquake rocks Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant 29 Sep 2011 A 5.6-magnitude earthquake shook an area of northeast Japan which includes the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant Thursday. There were no reports of damage to the facility, officials said. The moderate quake struck offshore near the coast of Fukushima at 7:05 pm (1005 GMT) with a “very shallow” focus, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. There were no fears of a tsunami following the tremor, the agency said.

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