Thursday, March 31, 2011

FUKUSHIMA, Japan -- Radiation levels outside the devastated Fukushima Dai-ichi are surging, rising 1,000 times the legal limit in one day.

Seawater some 360 yards from the shore south of the plant measured 4,385 times the legal limit Thursday, up from 3,355 times the allowed amount the previous day, officials from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Experts say the radioactive particles are unlikely to build up significantly in fish, and in any case is expected to dissipate quickly in the vast Pacific Ocean.

Because of the radiation leaks a mandatory evacuation zone around the plant has been ordered, and authorities have also recommended people in the 20-mile band might want to leave, too.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday that radiation levels in a village outside even the voluntary band registered at twice the threshold the agency recommends for evacuations, raising questions about whether to expand the mandatory 12-mile zone.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said authorities are carefully monitoring the radiation in village of Iitate, 25 miles from the plant.

"But we believe the situation does not require any immediate change to our current evacuation policy," he added.

American Idol’s top 11 took the stage again last night to perform all Elton John songs and Haley Reinhart earned the top praise from the judges for having the “best performance of the night!” Haley sang “Bennie and the Jets” with a lot of her sexy growling, but did you think it was the best performance?

OK! NEWS: AMERICAN IDOL BLOG — THE TOP 11 PERFORM, AGAIN!

Haley embraced the stage and started her performance on top of a piano before getting the audience to raise their hands up with her to the song.

“Yes that was it, Haley! That was it, Haley!” Jennifer Lopez said.

“For me, I know this is going to sound strange coming from me, best performance of the night right there!” Randy Jackson added. “Right there! Right there! You gave it up you deserve it.”

“Haley, it just goes to prove what a well-placed chorus will do,” Steven Tyler explained. “You. Sing. Sexy.”

Did you agree with the praise Haley received? Was it the best performance of the night?



Thin may be the American ideal, but that view appears to have gone global, a new study finds.

Negative attitudes toward fat people have taken root in several other cultures around the world, even in countries where chubbiness was once considered attractive, anthropologists at Arizona State University report.

Why that's so isn't entirely clear, but some experts suggest it might be the unintended byproduct of global efforts to curb obesity. Health campaigns about the risks of being overweight may be seen as criticizing and casting blame on individuals — you eat too much and don't exercise enough! — rather than on environmental and social factors, leading people to adopt the same perspective.

For their study, published in the journal Current Anthropology, the ASU researchers asked people to answer true or false to a variety of statements, each with a varying degree of fat stigma: "Fat people are lazy" or "Some people are fated to be obese" or "A big woman is a beautiful woman."

They got responses from 700 people in 10 countries or regions, including American Samoa, Argentina, Iceland, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Tanzania, two sites in Arizona and London.

With Facebook evolving into a major rival, Google is meeting the challenge by building its own social network centered on its lucrative search business.

On Wednesday, Google introduced the "+1" (plus-1) service that would let people who connect to friends using their Google Profile to share their recommendations for websites and online advertisers on search results. Google hopes to eventually expand the feature to include a person's friends on other social networks.

The service has the potential of changing the way people use Google's search engine. Today, search queries are answered through machine algorithms. In the future, the website recommendations of people and their friends could also play a role in how results are displayed.

"What I like about this is it give you the best of both worlds," Allen Weiner, an analyst for Gartner, said in an interview. "It gives you a machine answer and it gives you a human curated answer by adding recommendations from other people."

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The way that will be done is by people clicking on the "+1" that will start appearing on websites and online advertising. People in a person's social network within the Google community will then see the symbol on results fed to a related search query. The symbol could eventually be useful to people searching for products and services, since experts agree that word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing tool.

BRUSSELS — Google played down the significance of an antitrust complaint filed by one of its main rivals, Microsoft, on Thursday and said its discussions were continuing with European Union regulators.

“We’re not surprised that Microsoft has done this, since one of their subsidiaries was one of the original complainants,” said Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels.

Google was “happy to explain to anyone how our business works,” Mr. Verney said.

Amelia Torres, a spokeswoman for E.U. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, said Google would be given “an opportunity to comment and to give its own version of the facts” following the complaint.

Ms. Torres emphasized that the E.U. investigation of Google was still at a “preliminary stage.”

Even so, the complaint significantly raises the stakes in Europe for Google, which is already the subject of a wide-ranging antitrust investigation opened by Mr. Almunia in November.

Google controls more than 90 percent of the market for Internet search in some parts of Europe and is well ahead of Bing, a rival search engine developed by Microsoft. Google’s search engine and its other sites have become hubs for advertisers and generate huge revenue for the company.

Until now many of the complaints in Europe against Google have focused on competition between search engines, and come from technology companies that are relative minnows in the sector. One of those complaints was made by a Microsoft subsidiary called Ciao, a price comparison site.

Tightly controlled exchange rate regimes are the main flaw in the international monetary system and the solution is simple, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a G20 meeting on Thursday.

In a thinly veiled swipe at the Chinese hosts of the seminar of the Group of 20 wealthy and developing economies, Geithner said that countries should have flexible exchange rates and permit free flows of capital to be major players in the global currency order.

He also used his speech to call for a stronger International Monetary Fund and to defend U.S. policies, acknowledging that past failures had caused much damage but saying the government was aiming to stabilize debt levels to avoid future problems.

The G20 seminar was spear-headed by France, which is pushing a bold reform agenda in its year-long presidency of the group, and was meant to be focused on ills in the monetary system.

Geithner offered a straightforward diagnosis. While major currencies moved freely and most emerging economies were well along that path, there were still some with little exchange rate flexibility and extensive capital controls, he said.

This asymmetry fueled inflation risks in the economies whose exchange rates are undervalued, magnified currency appreciation in others and also generated protectionist pressures, he added.

"This is the most important problem to solve in the international monetary system today. But it is not a complicated problem to solve," he said, according to the prepared text of his remarks.

"It does not require a new treaty, or a new institution. It can be achieved by national actions," he added.

Although Geithner did not mention China by name, the United States has long called on Beijing to let its currency rise more quickly, accusing it of keeping its exchange rate artificially cheap to give its exporters an unfair advantage.

In recent months, Geithner has taken to casting the Chinese currency as a broader global problem, saying that it is making life difficult for other developing economies. India and Brazil, among others, have agreed, saying that a cheap yuan has undermined their competitiveness.


The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is focusing attention on a problem that has bedeviled Washington policymakers since the dawn of the nuclear age -- what to do with used nuclear fuel.

Currently, spent fuel -- depleted to the extent it can no longer effectively sustain a chain reaction -- is stored in large pools of water, allowing the fuel to slowly cool and preventing the release of radiation.

But events in Japan, where two of the six spent fuel pools at the Fukushima Daiichi facility were compromised, have raised questions about practices at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors, which rely on a combination of pools and dry casks to store used fuel.

"I truly believe we must re-think how we manage spent fuel," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

In California, Feinstein said, fuel removed from reactors in 1984 is still held in spent-fuel pools, well beyond the minimum five to seven years required by federal regulators. "It's hard to understand why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not mandated a more rapid transfer of spent fuel to dry casks," Feinstein said.

Currently, there is no maximum time fuel can remain in spent fuel pools, the NRC said Wednesday. As a result, critics say, nuclear plants have made fuel pools the de facto method of storing fuel, crowding pools with dangerous levels of fuel, industry critics say.

As of January 2010, an estimated 63,000 metric tons of spent fuel was in storage at U.S. power plants or storage facilities, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


Glue a wig to your head and put Eminem on speed dial because it's Elton John week on "American Idol X: Ballads Or Bust."

The Top 11 returned to primetime because Casey Abrams was saved last week. ("Saved" in the "Idol" sense, mind you. Lord knows if he's accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.) Producers were keen on trumping up the drama as much as possible, even going so far as recapping last week's results show with a graphic that mimicked a screenplay. "Hope has been renewed. But no more second chances," the Courier font typed out. Because if there's one thing us diehard "Idol" freaks love, it's having Nigel Lythgoe imply that last week's intense results were manufactured by a writer. Whoops!

The Top 11 also stopped by Entertainment Weekly for a photo shoot. Some of them even got makeovers. All that was missing from this "America's Next Top Model" homage was a campy egomaniac and an "I'm not here to make friends" declaration. (If only Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres were still on the show!)

Before I go on a rant about how season three's Elton John theme gave us some of the worst performances in "Idol" history and why in the world would they dip their toe in that pool again, let's get to the performances.

David Sokol, who resigned yesterday as a top manager at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said he did nothing unethical when he bought stock in a company that he later proposed as a takeover target to Chairman Warren Buffett.

“I don’t believe that I did anything wrong,” Sokol told CNBC today in a televised interview. “I can understand the appearance issue and that’s why we made it public.”

Sokol, 54, bought about 96,000 Lubrizol Corp. shares in January, less than two weeks before recommending the company as a target, Buffett said yesterday in a statement. Sokol had started confidential talks with Lubrizol the month before, according to a regulatory filing last week. Lawyers at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission were reviewing Buffett’s statement and discussing the matter, according to one person with knowledge of the talks.

“The SEC is going look at that deal to check for insider buying and selling, so if there’s an issue, the time to clean it up is now,” said Daniel Genter, president of RNC Genter Capital Management in Los Angeles, which oversees about $3.7 billion.

Berkshire Class A shares fell $1,919, or 1.5 percent, to $126,184 at 9:32 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Sokol was chairman of Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings and its roofing unit Johns Manville. He was also CEO of NetJets Inc., Berkshire’s luxury-flight subsidiary.

Sokol told CNBC that Buffett decides all acquisitions. Sokol had “no authority whatsoever” over investment decisions, he said in the interview. “I couldn’t spend a dollar of Berkshire’s money buying a security.”

Share Purchases

Sokol bought 96,060 Lubrizol shares on Jan. 5, 6 and 7, Buffett said. Berkshire agreed to buy the firm for $9 billion on March 14. The stock purchases may have given Sokol a profit of about $3 million, according to Buffett’s disclosure and data compiled by Bloomberg. Sokol’s compensation from MidAmerican totaled $59.5 million in the last five years, according to the unit’s SEC filings.

“It’s just a classic case of someone not fitting into that Buffett culture,” said Lawrence G. McDonald, president of McDonald Advisory Group in New York and author of “A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers” with Patrick Robinson. “That’s the type of thing you might do at another hedge fund, but you don’t do it at Berkshire.”

Buffett said in the statement that he thought Sokol’s stock purchases were legal. Sokol said he didn’t trade on inside information, according to a statement from Fox Business Network.

Buffett’s Interest

“I didn’t think Warren would be interested in buying Lubrizol anyway,” Fox Business Network cited Sokol as saying in an interview. “The only reason Warren Buffett mentioned it in the release is because it would have to be brought up anyway when Berkshire put the purchase up for a vote.”

Ann Thelen and Tina Potthoff, spokeswomen for MidAmerican, didn’t return calls and e-mails seeking comment from Sokol. Debbie Bosanek, an assistant to Buffett, confirmed his statement.

The CIA has sent a small, covert team into rebel-held eastern Libya while the White House debates whether to arm the opposition, NPR has confirmed.

The operatives are in Libya to gather intelligence to help direct NATO airstrikes and to help train inexperienced rebel fighters.

"The CIA team is there to train them how to shoot, how to fight, how to have military discipline," NPR's Deborah Amos reported from Cairo. "They are joining a team of former Libyan military officers who are now training about 30,000 young Libyans in the rebel stronghold to also improve discipline, improve communications and make it into a more coherent fighting force."

The move was authorized after President Obama signed what's called a "finding," a legal step necessary before the CIA can carry out secret operations, NPR's Tom Bowman reported.

"They'll no longer be able to say that the coalition is there only to protect civilians," Bowman said.

The White House has made no comment on the CIA teams, but President Obama said Wednesday on NBC that he was not ruling out arming the rebels. Britain's prime minister and France's foreign minister have also suggested that direct military assistance to the rebels was under consideration.

Battlefield setbacks are hardening the U.S. view that the poorly equipped rebels are probably is incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior American intelligence official told The Associated Press.

In another blow to Libya's government, Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa — one of Gadhafi's closest allies — defected to Britain on Wednesday. U.K. officials said he is talking and will not be immune from prosecution.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the resignation showed the regime is "fragmented, under pressure and crumbling."

Koussa flew by private jet from Tunisia to southern England of his own free will and then announced his resignation, according to British officials. The officials said he has been talking voluntarily and that they hope to glean information on Gadhafi's state of mind.

A Libyan government spokesman refused to confirm outright that Koussa had defected.

Japan said on Thursday that its crisis-hit nuclear plant must be scrapped, but currently had no plans to evacuate more people, despite calls for a larger exclusion zone around the crippled facility.

Grappling with the aftermath of a massive earthquake and tsunami, its biggest post-war disaster, Japan's government hosted French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called for clear international standards on nuclear safety.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, in talks with the Communist Party leader, the facility at the centre of the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986 must be decommissioned, Kyodo News reported.
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Officials have previously hinted the plant would be retired once the situation there is stabilised, given the severe damage it has sustained including likely partial meltdowns and a series of hydrogen blasts.

Iodine-131 in the Pacific Ocean near the plant has risen to a new high of 4,385 times the legal level, the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

However, there were no plans to widen a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant despite the UN atomic watchdog saying radiation at Iitate village 40 kilometres away had reached evacuation levels.

"At the moment, we do not have the understanding that it is necessary to evacuate residents there. We think the residents can stay calm," said Yoshihiro Sugiyama, an official at the nuclear safety agency.

Japan's top government spokesman Yukio Edano also said further evacuations were not imminent, although he did not rule out that this could change.

"We will continue monitoring the level of radiation with heightened vigilance and we intend to take action if necessary," he told reporters.

The Libyan rebels are so poorly organised that they cannot defeat Muammar Gaddafi without arms or training, British official sources say.

British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted his government was considering arming them following talks in London with Libyan opposition leaders, despite having previously indicated this might not be possible under the terms of arms sanctions imposed on Libya.

Concern is growing after rebel forces were forced to retreat again and surrendered several towns in the face of heavy resistance from troops loyal to the regime.
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However, there are fears that any move to arm the rebels could lead to ''mission creep'', dragging Western ground forces into the civil war.

A military stalemate is now a real possibility, partly as both sides are struggling to re-equip their forces.

While the regime is thought to be ''hurting more and missing more'' because many of its heavy weapons have been destroyed, the rebels could struggle to take advantage because of their own problems. They do not have a supply chain or logistical mechanisms.

It is understood that Libyan opposition leaders have requested anti-tank weapons and other equipment, which could be provided by a Middle Eastern country, such as Qatar, in return for oil.

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons: ''It is an extremely fluid situation, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind the ceasefire is still being breached and it is absolutely right for us to keep up our pressure under UN Security Council [resolution] 1973.''

JIHADIS may be planning new terrorist attacks against Westerners in Indonesia, according to the Foreign Affairs Department, with the arrest of a key Bali bombings suspect inflaming tensions on the archipelago.

Umar Patek, south-east Asia's most wanted terrorist suspect and known in Indonesia as the ''Little Arab'', was arrested several weeks ago in Pakistan following a tipoff from the CIA.

He is suspected to have been Jemaah Islamiyah's deputy field commander during the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali and personally helped build the car bomb that ripped through the Sari Club.
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Indonesia's spy chief, Sutanto, said Umar Patek was captured following a violent raid, in which he was injured. His wife was also captured in the raid, he said.

''He has been arrested and he is currently in custody in Pakistan,'' Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told The Age yesterday.

But General Abbas declined to confirm reports coming from Pakistan that Patek had confessed to his role in the Bali bombings as well as disclosing details of further terrorist plots, including attacks targeting Australians.

Reports by Pakistani media yesterday suggested Patek, who has eluded capture for the past decade despite a US$1 million reward, may have already provided information of use to counter-terrorism officials.

Earlier this month, we reported that the Apple iPad 2 got jailbroken by iOS platform enthusiast hackers after three days of its availability in U.S. iPhone Dev Team's member MuscleNerd stated via his Twitter account that the jailbreak submitted by Stefan Esser (i0n1c on Twitter) is solid and is currently being beta tested for overall iOS 4.3.1 issues, if any.

Stefan Esser is the same guy who came out with an Antid0te tool to secure the jailbroken iOS devices more than three months ago. Apparently, he managed to discover the exploits in the iOS update for developing untethered jailbreak and passed on the same the iPhone Dev Team. The untethered jailbreak allows the iOS device to reboot without help of a Mac or a PC.


CHARSADDA, Pakistan — A suicide bomb blast targeting an Islamic party chief killed at least 13 people in Pakistan Thursday, officials said -- the second attack against him and his supporters in two days.

The bombing took place in the northwestern town of Charsadda, close to the convoy of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party.

"At least 13 people were martyred including four police officials and 42 others were wounded in the suicide bombing," senior administration official Ajmal Khan told AFP.

"The bomber was on foot and he jumped on the main road in front of the police vehicle and detonated his explosive when the convoy of Maulana Fazlur Rehman was coming," Khan said.

Rehman and his companions were unharmed, senior police official Nisar Khan Marwat told AFP, adding that the politician had gone to the town to address a party meeting.

Rehman's party spokesman Asif Iqbal Daudzai confirmed that the party chief and other leaders were not hurt, but two security guards travelling in the vehicle in front were wounded.

"Maulana Fazlur Rehman and others are safe, their vehicle was damaged in the bomb blast," Daudzai told AFP.

S&P 500 stock index futures edged lower on Thursday after new U.S. claims for jobless benefits fell less then expected last week ahead of Friday's closely watched non-farm payrolls report.

S&P 500 futures fell 2.2 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures added 4 points and Nasdaq 100 futures slid 2.5 points.


WASHINGTON -- Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are dropping and companies may be stepping up hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people seeking benefits dipped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 for the week that ended March 26. That's the second decline in three weeks.

Applications near 375,000 or below are consistent with a sustained increase in hiring.

Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.

The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose to 394,250. Still, that figure has dropped by 35,500, or 8 percent, in the past eight weeks.

The department also revised the previous five years of data. The changes showed that applications in recent weeks were moderately higher than previously reported.

As applications have fallen, hiring has started to pick up. Economists forecast that employers added a net total of 185,000 jobs in March. That would be just below February's gain of 192,000 -- the most jobs added in nearly a year. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.9 percent.

The March data will be released Friday.

Still, hiring must rise by about 300,000 per month to rapidly bring down the unemployment rate, economists say. The economy has gained more than a million jobs in the past year but still has 7.5 million fewer jobs than before the recession.

The number of people collecting benefits also dropped. It fell by 51,000 to 3.7 million in the week ending March 19, the latest data available. But that doesn't include millions of people receiving aid under the emergency unemployment benefit programs put in place during the recession.

All told, 8.8 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ending March 12, the latest data available. That's slightly higher than the previous week.


Forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi used deadly force against rebels and civilians in Misrata Wednesday, killing at least 20 people, a rebel spokesman told Reuters.

The spokesman says that Qaddafi forces are using artillery to bombard the rebel stronghold.

"Artillery bombardment resumed this morning (Thursday) and is still going on. The (pro-Qaddafi) brigades could not enter the town but they are surrounding it... Massacres are taking place in Misrata." the spokesman told Reuters by phone.

This comes as NATO assumed command of all air operations over Libya early Thursday, taking over from the U.S. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Stockholm that NATO's position is that "we are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people."

Britain and the U.S. believe that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions on Libya could allow for foreign governments to arm the rebels, despite an arms embargo being in place.

The NATO secretary-general said he has "taken note of the ongoing discussions in a number of countries but as far as NATO is concerned ... we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo."

Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance assumed sole command of all air operations over Libya at 2 a.m. ET Thursday. NATO now commands the international force that has been bombarding forces loyal to the Libyan leader. A rebellion against Qaddafi's 42-year rule erupted last month, and international forces including the U.S., France and Britain stepped in March 19, just as it appeared Qaddafi was on the verge of crushing the revolt.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito was taken to a hospital after his car was hit broadside at a West Hollywood intersection.

The crash occurred shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday at Sunset Boulevard and Sunset Plaza Drive, Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Joseph Morien told The Associated Press.

The pitcher was taken to a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for observation, but Morien said he doesn't have any details on his condition.

"It was just to be checked out if he had injuries or not, and I believe he was released from the hospital," the sergeant said.

Cedars-Sinai declined to say if Zito was treated there. City News Service said the other driver wasn't hurt.

Morien said Zito was not at fault, but the officer did not provide other details of the crash. He said Zito's car had major damage.

The crash is still being investigated, and Morien said he didn't know if the other driver would be cited.

The Giants open the season Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zito, a former Cy Young winner and the team's No. 4 starter, had been expected to pitch over the weekend.


PARIS — The Fukushima nuclear crisis has prompted anti-nuclear marches across the world, persuaded the Chinese authorities to delay the construction of new reactors and even lost the German government an important state election.

In France, a country that obtains nearly 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, compared with 24 percent in Japan and 19 percent in the United States, there has been conspicuously little reaction. So when the president of the French nuclear safety watchdog stated the obvious on Wednesday — “Nobody can guarantee that there will never be a nuclear accident in France” — it came as something of a shock.

In an open hearing before members of Parliament, AndrĂ©-Claude Lacoste, head of the Nuclear Safety Authority, said France would draw the necessary lessons from the Japanese disaster and upgrade safety procedures across the country. The most urgent task — and one so far neglected, he admitted — is a re-evaluation of the potential impact of natural disasters on nuclear safety, Mr. Lacoste said.

The fact that several natural disasters can occur at the same time, as happened in Japan with the earthquake and the tsunami, “is a subject that until now we didn’t really take into account,” he said, promising a fresh look at the risk that tectonic activity could produce on French territory, particularly along the coast.

Over the last millennium, France has been the site of some 1,700 noticeable earthquakes, geologists estimate. Its nuclear reactors were built to withstand five times the impact of the worst earthquake ever registered here. But with severe flooding incidents and bad weather having intensified in recent years, Mr. Lacoste said the past was not necessarily a good predictor of the future.

“Climate change is changing the situation,” he said, “Extreme events that so far happened every thousand years along the coast now happen every hundred years.”

Ohio lawmakers sent a bill limiting collective bargaining by state and city workers to Governor John Kasich for his signature, passing a measure similar to the Wisconsin bill that spurred protests from coast to coast.

The Senate voted 17-16 for the measure yesterday after the House of Representatives passed it earlier in the day. Kasich has backed the bill, which also would require government workers to make minimum payments for health-care coverage and pensions.

Ohio Democrats have pledged to ask voters to repeal the measure. That would require more than 231,000 voters to sign petitions within 90 days of passage to prevent it from taking effect until the public vote, according to the secretary of state. The measure and a similar bill sought by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have spurred nationwide labor protests.

“These folks are not numbers on a page or lines on a graph,” said Representative Matt Szollosi, a Democrat from Oregon, near Toledo. “They do not deserve to be slapped in the face and put further into harm’s way, because the liberty groups or Tea Party groups or whoever is pulling the Republican strings right now have demonized public workers.”

Ohio’s Republican-led House voted 53-44 yesterday to accept changes made by a committee March 29, sending the measure to the Senate, which concurred and moved it to Republican Kasich.
Needed Measure

“Helping local governments reduce their costs so they can begin lightening Ohio’s tax burden helps us compete better against states that are far friendlier to job creators,” Kasich said in a statement released after the Senate vote.

I was in the security line at an airport a few months ago when I watched a fellow passenger do something I'd never seen done before: He dissed the scan.

"I'd like to opt out," he said, as a security agent went scurrying for a male agent to give this man a full-body pat-down, the requirement for anyone who refuses to go through a full-body scanner.

Wow, I thought, this man really must want to avoid the scanner if he's willing to get groped by a total stranger.

The Transportation Security Administration says the scans, which emit a small amount of radiation, are safe. "Multiple independent studies have confirmed that the technology used to protect passengers when they fly is safe for their health," says TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball. "TSA takes many precautions to regularly verify that all machines are operating properly."

So why all the worry? In my obnoxious journalist way, I pounced on the guy to ask him why he'd done it.

"I'm a doctor at M.D. Anderson, and I don't want radiation if I can avoid it," he said.

I was next in line. I'd just watched a doctor at M.D. Anderson, a top cancer hospital, opt out because he wanted to avoid radiation. Does that mean I should, too? I had a second to make a decision. I decided to opt out, too.

The pat-down, I learned, is not such an easy option. First, you have to make a bit of a spectacle of yourself by publicly asking for something different. Secondly, it takes time (not a lot, but enough to be a problem if you're running late) and thirdly, I ended up being touched in places previously reserved for my husband and my gynecologist.

Libya's rebel forces continued to struggle against Muammar Qaddafi's superior firepower on the ground, as the United States and other allies consider whether to supply them with weapons.

The rebels have given up nearly all the ground they have gained after allied airstrikes took out some of Qaddafi's heavy weapons. Now government forces are changing tactics, leaving behind the armed military vehicles and moving in armed pickup trucks like the opposition does, reports CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark. That makes it difficult for coalition forces overhead to distinguish who's who on the ground.

Faced with a series of setbacks after recent gains, the rebels now are starting to show their combat fatigue, reports Clark Outgunned and often outflanked in the field, they lack any sort of military strategy or leadership. They are eager to take ground, but are quick to flee when they face any real fighting. The reality is that a rebel military victory seems increasingly unlikely.

On Thursday, the rebels came under heavy shelling by Qaddafi's forces in the strategic oil town of Brega on the coastal road that leads to Tripoli. Black smoke billowed in the air over Brega as mortars exploded.

"Qaddafi's forces advanced to about 30 kilometers east of Brega," said rebel fighter Fathi Muktar, 41. Overnight, he said the rebels had temporarily pushed them back, but by morning they were at the gates of Brega. "There were loads of wounded at the front lines this morning," he said of rebel casualties.

"American Idol" has a new power couple.

The freshly-saved-by-the-judges Casey Abrams and bottom three magnet Haley Reinhart rocked Elton John night on Wednesday, and here's the best part: They're supposedly hooking up.

The rumor mill is churning that Casey and Haley are an item -- and if it's true, it's doing wonders for their performances.

A week after he was granted Season 10's one-and-only save (and nearly passed out onstage), Casey trimmed his beard, dropped his silly "antics" and sang an especially heartfelt rendition of "Your Song" (perhaps he was thinking about Haley?)

Randy called it "brilliant," Steven called him a "true artist" and we thought it was the most perfectly imperfect performance of the night.


Randy's vote for best performance of the night, on the other hand, went to Casey's rumored gal pal Haley, who without a doubt gave her best performance of the season so far singing "Bennie and the Jets." Haley all but definitely graduated from the bottom three (at least for now) with the polished, sexy performance, and the song really showed off the unique tone of her voice.

Toothpaste poster boy Paul McDonald is still holding his own near the top of the heap, though Jimmy Iovine wants him to prove that he's more than just a guy with a great smile (and a $4,500 white suit -- he wore it again). Randy called his soft performance of "Rocket Man" a "quiet comfort," but Jennifer wondered if he's holding back.

(Meanwhile, we're wondering if Paul could be an "Idol" winner that everyone could be happy with. Little (and big) girls think he's cute, he's different and he has talent. But we digress …)

NATO has assumed full command of all air operations over Libya, taking over from the U.S., which had played a leading role since international forces began enforcing a no-fly zone on March 19.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition was completed early Thursday. The NATO operation, called "Unified Protector", includes enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution that mandates the no-fly zone along with an arms embargo and airstrikes to protect civilians.

Meanwhile, U.S. media reports say the CIA has sent teams of operatives into Libya to gather intelligence and make contact with anti-Gadhafi forces. The reports cite officials as saying intelligence agents are looking into the identities and abilities of rebel forces before foreign allies consider providing them with direct military aid.

British sources told The New York Times that British special forces and intelligence officers also are in the North African nation.

In Washington, the White House repeated that the U.S. has not made a decision on whether to provide arms to rebel forces in Libya. Wednesday's statement was issued amid reports that President Barack Obama has approved a secret authorization for covert efforts to support anti-government rebels.

Earlier Wednesday, troops loyal to Gadhafi drove anti-government rebels from key coastal cities they had seized days before, reversing opposition gains made since international airstrikes began.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s disaster plans greatly underestimated the scope of a potential accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, calling for only one stretcher, one satellite phone and 50 protective suits in case of emergencies.

Disaster-response documents for Fukushima Daiichi, examined by The Wall Street Journal, also contain few guidelines for obtaining outside help, providing insight into why Japan struggled to cope with a nuclear crisis after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility.

The disaster plans, approved by Japanese regulators, offer guidelines for responding to smaller emergencies and outline in detail how to back up key systems in case of failure. Yet the plans fail to envision the kind of worst-case scenario that befell Japan: damage so extensive that the plant couldn't respond on its own or call for help from nearby plants. There are no references to Tokyo firefighters, Japanese military forces or U.S. equipment, all of which the plant operators eventually relied upon to battle their overheating reactors.

On Wednesday, the president of plant operator Tepco was hospitalized for dizziness, offering the latest sign of leadership trouble. Earlier in the disaster, Tepco was faulted for a sluggish initial response; now it appears that its written emergency plans were themselves inadequate.

"The disaster plan didn't function," said a former Tepco executive. "It didn't envision something this big."

The two main documents examined by the Journal are Fukushima Daiichi's disaster-readiness plan, which discusses general preparations and communications, and its accident-management protocol, which focuses on technical operation of plant equipment in an accident.

The main disaster-readiness manual, updated annually, envisions the fax machine as a principal means of communication with the outside world and includes detailed forms for Tepco managers when faxing government officials. One form offers a multiple-choice list of disasters, including "loss of AC power," "inability to use the control room" and "probable nuclear chain reaction outside the reactor."

Tepco spokesman Hiro Hasegawa said the plans followed and sometimes exceeded legal requirements, and proved useful in the crisis. For example, he said the emergency injection of water to cool the reactors followed the accident-management protocol.

Nuclear-power experts say few operators anywhere are likely prepared for the kind of disaster that struck Fukushima Daiichi. On March 11, the plant was hit with a magnitude 9.0 quake, followed by a tsunami estimated at 45 feet. The twin catastrophes wiped out the normal power and backup generators of nearly all the plant's six reactors and also damaged roads and communication lines through which the plant could seek help.

Previous big nuclear accidents, such as those at Three Mile Island in the U.S. and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, resulted from poor safety standards and bad management, said Kazuo Sato, a consultant at the Nuclear Safety Research Association, who headed Japan's watchdog Nuclear Safety Commission in the late 1990s. "This one was a natural disaster—it's qualitatively different," he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations agency, has hundreds of pages of safety recommendations for nuclear-facility operators, but its recommendations aren't binding on individual countries. An IAEA spokesman declined to comment on whether Japanese emergency plans fulfill IAEA guidelines.

The Journal compared the Fukushima Daiichi accident-management protocol against the IAEA's general principles, and it appears the plant document generally hews to them. However, the IAEA calls for operators to cover "appropriately selected external events, such as fires, floods, seismic events and extreme weather conditions…that could damage large parts of the plant." The Fukushima Daiichi protocol doesn't specifically discuss how such events could damage the plant.

In the U.S., operators are expected to continuously update emergency plans and to conduct large-scale drills, typically lasting from eight hours to two days, at least every two years. The exercises are graded by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires correction of deficiencies. The NRC describes the capabilities it expects plants to have but often doesn't specify the equipment required.

Critics allege Japan's regulators and operators tend to avoid talking about or preparing fuller disaster scenarios, partly to avoid scaring the public. Fukushima Daiichi's own report on its accident-management protocols says: "The possibility of a severe accident occurring is so small that from an engineering standpoint, it is practically unthinkable."

Banri Kaieda, chief of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said Wednesday that the ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency plans to tighten scrutiny of emergency plans in light of Fukushima Daiichi. "We are painfully aware" the plans were inadequate, an agency spokesman said.

Following Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, Japan's industry ministry in 1992 asked nuclear operators to come up with voluntary protocols for each of their plants in the case of accidents that exceeded their safety specifications. Those "accident-management plans" don't have to be periodically revised. Tepco submitted the report on its plan for Fukushima Daiichi in 2002.

A serious accident at a Japanese uranium-processing facility in 1999 led Parliament to pass a law on nuclear emergencies. The law requires operators to have "disaster-readiness operation plans," reviewed annually. It also sets base protocols that operators must follow, such as minimum numbers of masks.

In some cases, Fukushima Daiichi's crisis planners exceeded minimums. The plan calls for 49 radiation-detecting meters, versus six required by law, and 100 cellphones on two systems, versus the seven required.

Still, many of the numbers suggest the six-reactor plant anticipated at most a modest emergency. It calls for a four-man medical team to attend to people exposed to radiation and other victims. Four protective suits with oxygen tanks were to be stocked, as well as a single ambulance and radiation-measuring vehicle.

Much hinged on the fax machine. One section directs managers to notify the industry minister, the local governor and mayors of nearby towns of any problems "all at once, within 15 minutes, by facsimile." In certain cases, the managers were advised to follow up by phone to make sure the fax had arrived.

The disaster-response plans at other operators in Japan follow the same structure as Fukushima Daiichi's, although some are more thorough.

Accident-management plans are generally written to deal with internal plant problems and don't take into account external shocks such as a quake or terrorist attack, said Hokkaido University Prof. Kenichiro Sugiyama, who served on a government panel on nuclear accident readiness.

Tepco's Mr. Hasegawa said the company is doing its utmost to put in place "emergency-response measures based on the operational plan for disaster prevention." He pointed to successful steps such as the establishment of a disaster headquarters as soon as the quake struck.

After this crisis is settled, Japan will have to rethink everything, industry veterans said. This catastrophe shows "there is no such thing as overdoing it" in preparing a disaster manual, said Tsuneo Futami, who was superintendant at Fukushima Daiichi from 1997 to 2000. The attitude must be that "anything can happen tomorrow."


Back when Barack Obama was a Senator, he had high expectations for a new kind of U.S. foreign policy. The "United States still lacks a coherent national security policy," Obama wrote in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope. "Instead of guiding principles, we have what appear to be a series of ad hoc decisions... Without a well-articulated strategy that the public supports and the world understands," he wrote, American actions lack "legitimacy" at home and abroad.

Now that Obama is President, he's the one being graded for clarity. "I don't think there is an Obama doctrine," said Newt Gingrich, a likely 2012 presidential contender, on March 21. "His current policy is so incoherent and so confused that it is literally indefensible." (Gaddafi Drives Out The Rebels.)

But Obama defended his policy with a March 28 speech explaining his decision to intervene militarily in Libya and offering his criteria for using military force when there's no imminent threat to America. But a full-blown "doctrine" it was not. Obama didn't explain whether any larger principles have guided him through the historic convulsions of the 2011 Arab Spring. Nor does he care to. The word doctrine "suggests a rigidity that you're going to apply in every country," says National Security Council aide Ben Rhodes. And Obama's recent actions have at times seemed to reflect the kind of ad hoc decisions he complained about in 2006. He has vocally denounced crackdowns on protesters in some countries (Libya, Egypt) but been quieter about others (Bahrain, Yemen). He was initially hesitant to intervene in Libya — then acted with surprising force. (Is Libya really a top priority?)