Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from South Florida and a key White House defender, was chosen by President Barack Obama on Tuesday to become chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Obama picked the four-term lawmaker from South Florida to succeed Tim Kaine, who earlier Tuesday announced he would seek a Senate seat in Virginia. The move elevates Wasserman Schultz to a crucial role as Obama looks toward a re-election campaign that will use the DNC to define his likely Republican rivals.

"As Chairman Kaine departs, new leadership must come on," Vice President Joe Biden wrote Tuesday afternoon to members of the Democratic National Committee, which will have to ratify her selection.

"In selecting Debbie to lead our party, President Obama noted her tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit and her ability to overcome adversity."

If the full DNC ratifies the choice as expected, Wasserman Schultz would be the first woman elected chair by the full body. Two others have served as appointed chairwomen.

Investigators officially closed the books Tuesday on shootings last year in rural Illinois and Indiana after DNA evidence helped show a man killed in a suburban Chicago robbery attempt months later was the shooter.

For months, authorities called Gary Amaya, 48, of Rankin, Ill., a suspect in the Oct. 5, 2010, shootings that left one dead and two injured. Amaya was killed in December with his own gun during what police said was an attempted robbery of a tanning salon in suburban Chicago.

Ballistic tests showed the handgun in the robbery attempt matched one used in the rural Illinois and Indiana. But authorities wanted to await DNA testing, including some on handwriting samples.

"In our guts, we felt that Amaya was the responsible party," said Will County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said.

California's parole board on Tuesday granted parole for a man convicted of hijacking a school bus and holding 26 children and their driver captive underground in 1976, the latest turn in a years-long debate over whether the three men involved in the crime have served enough time.

Richard Allen Schoenfeld was set for release in 2021. However, any governor in the next 10 years can ask the board to reconsider its decision, board spokesman Luis Patino said.

Schoenfeld, now age 56, along with his brother Jim, and Fred Woods, captured the nation's attention when they used guns and nylon masks to commandeer a Chowchilla school bus and buried the children and driver in a truck underground. The three were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The captives all escaped without serious injuries after digging their way out of the buried moving van when their kidnappers, all in their mid-20s, fell asleep. In the years since, judges, prosecutors and investigators who sent the three kidnappers to prison have helped push for their release.

Workers are using a milky white dye as they frantically try to trace the path of highly radioactive water gushing from a tsunami-damaged Japanese nuclear plant and leaking into the ocean.

Over the weekend, workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant found a crack in a maintenance pit, the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment.

The leak underscores the chicken-and-egg nature of the containment efforts at the stricken plant: the radioactive risk will be high as long as the cooling system is out, but the cooling system won't work until the radioactive water leaks are stopped long enough for workers to start it.
'We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side-effect, which is the leakage.' — Hidehiko Nishiyama, Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency
The plant's operators also deliberately dumped 10,000 tonnes of tainted water into the ocean Monday to make space for more highly radioactive water. The dumped water is 500 times the legal limit for radioactivity.

Efforts to plug the leak took an unconventional turn Monday as officials tried to plug a suspected leak with concrete and then a mixture of polymer, sawdust and shredded newspaper, closer to where they believed the source was.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and the top Republican in Congress failed to produce a deal Tuesday to avoid a partial government shutdown as both American political parties continue their brinksmanship over how much the government will be allowed to spend for the next six months.

Short of an agreement to cover the rest of the budget year ending Sept. 30, the House leader, Speaker John Boehner, said after the talks his Republicans want a bill that would keep the government running for another week and slash another $12 billion in spending. The White House has shown no interest in that approach.

In the stormy conflict over government spending and the spiraling U.S. debt, Republicans opened a second front Tuesday by introducing a spending plan for next year that they say would slash the nation's deficit by $5 trillion in the coming 10 years.

The Republican plan brought forth by House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan far exceeds the $1 trillion-plus in cuts outlined in Obama's February budget in line with recommendations from Obama's own bipartisan deficit commission in December. The Ryan plan blends unprecedented spending cuts with a fundamental restructuring of taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor.

Boehner: GOP 'will not be put in a box'
The White House sit-down between Obama and Boehner took place against a backdrop of Democratic accusations that Republicans are insisting on harmful spending cuts and attaching their own social policy agenda to the must-pass spending bill. Republicans counter that the White House is pressing budget gimmicks at a time that big cuts are needed to avoid dire financial consequences.

Texas Instruments said on Monday afternoon that it had agreed to acquire National Semiconductor for $6.5 billion in cash.

The deal would combine two leaders in analog semiconductors, a $42 billion market last year. Analog chips process continuous signals, as opposed to 1’s and 0’s, and are used in thousands of products, many of them digital, from cameras to medical products.

Under terms of the agreement, National stockholders will receive $25 in cash for each share, a premium of 78 percent to National Semiconductor’s closing stock price on Monday. The deal values National Semiconductor at nearly 10.6 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a high multiple compared with many of its rivals.

“This acquisition is about strength and growth,” said Rich Templeton, the Texas Instruments chief executive, said in a statement. “National has an excellent development team, and its products combined with our own can offer customers an analog portfolio of unmatched depth and breadth.”

“The combined sales team will be 10 times larger than National’s is today,” he added, “and the portfolio will be exposed to more customers in more markets.”

Texas Instruments said its plans to use cash on its books and debt to finance the acquisition. Texas Instruments has more than $3 billion in cash, according to Capital IQ. Morgan Stanley is providing $2.5 billion in financing.

"Dancing With the Stars" had its first onstage disaster Monday night.

Kirstie Alley and "Dancing with the Stars" partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy fell in the ballroom during the live performance show.

Just seconds into their rumba routine to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on Monday, Chmerkovskiy wiped out, taking the 60-year-old actress down with him.

A limping, apologetic Chmerkovskiy later told the judges that his thigh "just gave out."

After a few moments the pair recovered and went on to earn the praise of the judges and a score of 21 - one point higher than their score for last week's quickstep.

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba says, "Sometimes tragedy leads to amazingly beautiful moments."

After the show, Chmerkovskiy tweeted his apologies to Alley and their supporters.

"To all the fans...I'm sorry! It will never happen again and I will never 'fall'! To @kirstiealley You were..FLAWLESS! In more ways than one!"

The Libyan government on Tuesday said it was open to political reforms but rejected Western demands that country’s strongman Muammar Qadhafi step down, saying he was a unifying force and must stay in power to avoid a Somalia or Iraq-style power vacuum.

Mr. Qadhafi’s spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said that everything except the exit of the Libyan leader was negotiable, in first concrete comments from the beleaguered regime whose forces have been hit relentlessly by Western missiles and air strikes for weeks.

“The kind of political system which can be implemented in the country is negotiable. We can talk about it,” he told reporters in the capital as rebel forces made a renewed push to recapture the oil town of Brega and the U.S. military withdrew its fighter jets from an international air campaign over the war-torn north African country.

Quoting rebel spokesman, Al-Jazeera said, opposition forces had managed to push into the town seizing half of it.

The control of the oil town is vital to rebel stakes as the capture of the oil pipeline terminus, small refinery and the Mediterranean port could boost the opposition hunt for revenues.

The pan-Arab channel said the rebel forces stormed into the city after U.S. and allied air strikes had hit Mr. Qadhafi’s defending tank column.

“The rebels are in the streets of new Brega, a largely residential town separated from the city’s oil refinery by a stretch of highway,” the Al-Jazeera said.

The firm comment by the Libyan government spokesman that Mr. Qadhafi would not quit came after opposition rebels flatly rejected a reported peace deal that could have seen the dictator’s son Seif-ul-Islam taking over.

Terming Mr. Qadhafi as the “safety valve”, the Libyan spokesman said his stay in power in the country was essential for the unity of nation’s tribes and peoples.

A Republican proposal for sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs appears unlikely to pass Congress, but could electrify the debate over the budget going into next year's elections.

House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is set to outline a budget plan on Tuesday that is expected to propose phasing out traditional pay-for-service Medicare and instead provide government subsidies for the elderly to obtain healthcare through private insurers.

The change would be for future retirees. Anyone currently over 55 would be enrolled in the current system.

The proposal represents significant political risk for Republicans who made big gains in last year's congressional elections running against Obama's healthcare overhaul, which they said would cut benefits for Medicare recipients.

"The Ryan plan is likely to become a lightning rod for Democrats in the 2012 elections," said Chris Krueger, political strategy analyst at MF Global's Washington Research Group.

But Ryan says the changes are needed to protect the programs for future generations. The current rate of spending increases for the programs is unsustainable, he said.

"Medicare itself, literally, crowds out all other government spending at the end of the day," Ryan said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "We can't sustain that. We have got to get Medicare solvent."

With four days left until the federal government’s spending authority runs out, the talk grew somewhat more pessimistic on Monday as Republicans declared themselves not satisfied with what Democrats in the Senate were offering. At the same time, President Obama invited lawmakers from both parties to the White House on Tuesday for a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement.

Each day, The Caucus will offer a daily roundup of the public relations effort by both sides as the April 8 deadline approaches. Check back here to get caught up on the back-and-forth.

* Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that the $33 billion in cuts being offered by Democratic senators was “smoke and mirrors” and he called them unacceptable. “As I’ve said for a week, there is no agreement, and will be no agreement on a number until everything — including the important policy provisions from H.R. 1 — is resolved,” Mr. Boehner said, referring to the House budget bill. “Despite attempts by Democrats to lock in a number among themselves, I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors. That’s unacceptable.”

Revered Hindu holy man Sathya Sai Baba is hospitalized on breathing support as followers gather at his ashram in southern India.

The 84-year-old guru entered the Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences last week for lung and chest congestion. A hospital statement said he was stable Tuesday, after describing his condition as critical.

Sai Baba has a huge international following, and devotees are flocking to his ashram in Puttaparti town in the southern Andhra Pradesh state. They consider him a living god and miracle worker who can conjure small objects such as rings and watches from his curly hair.

Police are on guard to prevent devotees from gathering outside the hospital in hopes of receiving a blessing from the guru.

Huskies on top

The only thing that could stop Kemba Walker and Connecticut's amazing run was the final buzzer.

On a night when the massive arena felt like a dusty old gym, UConn made Butler look like the underdog it really was, winning the national championship Monday night with an old-fashioned, grinding 53-41 beatdown of the Bulldogs.

Walker finished with 16 points for the Huskies (32-9), who won their 11th straight game since closing the regular season with a 9-9 Big East record that foreshadowed none of this.

They closed it out with a defensive showing for the ages, holding Butler to a 12-for-64 shooting. That's 18.8 percent, the worst ever in a title game.

It was one of the ugliest games anyone can remember on the sport's biggest stage. But definitely the kind of game a veteran coach like Jim Calhoun could love.

At age 68, he became the oldest coach to win the NCAA championship and joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles.

“It may be the happiest moment of my life,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun coaxed this win out of his team by accepting the reality that the rim looked about as wide as a pancake on a cold-shooting, defensive-minded night in Houston. He did it by making his players pound the ball inside and insisting on the kind of defense that UConn played during this remarkable run, but which often got overshadowed by Walker's theatrics.

UConn trailed 22-19 after a first half that came straight out of the ‘40s.

“The halftime speech was rather interesting,” Calhoun said. “The adjustment was, we were going to out-will them and outwork them.”

And so they did.

Connecticut outscored Butler by an unthinkable 26-2 in the paint. The Bulldogs (28-10), in their second straight title game and hoping to put the closing chapter on the ultimate “Hoosiers” story, went a mind-numbing 13 minutes, 26 seconds in the second half making only one field goal.

During that time, a 25-19 lead turned into a 41-28 deficit. This for a team that never trailed Duke by more than six during last year's epic final.

I’ve written in praise of the iPad 2 for The Spectator’s latest luxury supplement. Here’s the piece in full.

“Lucy and I think the iPad is, like, the new mini-disc,” a sarcastic colleague told me last week. “They’ll get junked as soon as the fuss dies down – none of her mates have even bought one.”

I flinched theatrically at this comment: my iPad lay gleaming on my desk. Plus, he was implying that only Lucy’s crew – trendy London socialites – get to decide what’s in and what’s out. But what do they know?

They’ve probably just been listening to Charlie Brooker. On Channel 4 the other day he sneered at iPad owners, calling them “rectangle-worshipping sycophants” – they’re w—— who’ve just found a new way to draw attention to themselves.

Now the iPad 2 has launched, you can expect these people to whine even louder. “It’s still just a big iPhone that you can’t even make calls with,” they’ll say. Or, unimaginatively: “If you have a phone and a laptop, why would you need something in between?”

Fools, all of them: my sarcastic colleague, Lucy’s mates, Charlie Brooker and the other naysayers. What they refuse to accept is the scale of Apple’s success and how much people love these things. The company sold fifteen million iPads in 2010. It was launched in April, so that’s more than all other tablet PCs ever sold, in just nine months.

Why are so many people buying these shiny devices? Apple says it’s because they’re “magical” and “revolutionary”. This is true, but the iPad is only as good as the programs – the “apps” – which run on it. An iPad without decent apps is like the shell of an Aston Martin. You have to put the right things under the bonnet.

So on Sunday mornings you will now find me reading The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times via iPad apps. If I’m feeling especially middle-aged, I might even watch the Andrew Marr show on the BBC app with a cup of tea in bed. Or use a radio app to listen to the cricket.

Will most people still read magazines on paper in 2020? I doubt it. A recent train journey to York flew by for me. On my iPad, I took The Spectator, Vanity Fair and The Economist – not to mention a few ibooks and episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm – without having to take a laptop or a massive suitcase. If I had wanted to work, then Pages or Numbers, the equivalent of Microsoft Word and Excel, would have sufficed.

Liberals have long-bemoaned Obama's transformation from would-be demolisher of Bush's "War On Terror" architecture to its most effective buttress. Faced with a concerted Republican onslaught on the issue from the earliest days of his presidency, Obama chose to husband his political capital for higher priorities like health care reform and the mid-term elections and never tried to rally the country to his ideals, the liberals argue. If only he'd tried, they say, he could have succeeded in rolling back the Bush era expansion of presidential power and bolstered his own political power in the process, becoming more Lyndon Johnson than Jimmy Carter. Some have even suggested that Obama never intended to follow through on his campaign pledge to close Gitmo and reform terrorism detention and trial policies and that he just said he would to rally his base in the 2008 election.

In fact, Obama tried and failed to implement his campaign promises on the issue and was beaten back soundly by the GOP, independents and occasionally Democrats. After making an unrealistic pledge to close Guantanamo Bay and suspend military commissions two of his first acts in office, Obama faced a broad-based, targeted attack led by Mitch McConnell in the Senate, who identified terrorism policy, along with spending, as a key Obama vulnerability. At first Obama tried to stick with those in the administration who wanted to deliver reform. But independent voters fled the idea of closing Gitmo and centrists inside and outside the administration began backing away. Obama tried to hold the line at Bush's previously stated positions in a speech at the National Archives in May 2009. But Hill Republicans, sensing a winner, continued to push the policy to the right.

The latest example of the administration's failed efforts to jawbone the rightward shift in the country on this issue came with the announcement today that the administration would send Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and four 9/11 co-conspirators to trial at military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Late in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder had announced that KSM would stand trial in a civilian court in Manhattan. Holder made a run at publicly defending the position at hearings on the Hill, but soon every New York politician, including the state's two Democratic Senators, opposed it, and Holder and the administration were forced to abandon the plan.

SANAA, Yemen — Uniformed soldiers killed 15 people Monday when they fired on a crowd of protesters demanding the ouster of longtime ruler President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Riot police moved on demonstrators with water cannons and pickups mounted with guns in the mountainous southern city of Taiz. They used tear gas to disperse them and then soldiers fired on them, witnesses said.

It was the second day demonstrators were fired on. On Sunday, one person was killed.

"More young people came today to join the protests after police attacked us yesterday," said Abdul Khadul, who witnessed the shootings. "Uniformed soldiers on rooftops fired on the youth after the riot police fired (tear) gas canisters."

Many demonstrators came from villages outside the city to join the protests. Demonstrators ran with the wounded to a nearby mosque, which was inundated with hundreds of activists suffering from inhalation of tear gas fumes, the witnesses said.

Plainclothes gunmen also opened fire on protesters in the Red Sea port of Hodeida after demonstrators took to the streets there. Yemen's official news agency, Saba News, denied that soldiers shot at protesters.

Saba News reported that the violence broke during clashes between supporters of the government and protesters. It said that anti-government protesters tried to storm government buildings and "forced police to open fire into the air and use tear gas to stop them."

With the possible theft of millions of e-mail addresses from an advertising company, several large companies have started warning customers to expect fraudulent e-mails that try to coax account login information from them.

Companies behind such brands as Chase, Citi and Best Buy said over the weekend that hackers may have learned their e-mail addresses because of a security breach at a Dallas-based company called Epsilon that manages e-mail communications.

The e-mail addresses could be used to target spam. It’s also a standard tactic among online fraudsters to send e-mails to random people, purporting to be from a large bank and asking them to login in at a site that looks like the bank’s site. Instead, the fraudulent site captures their login information and uses it to access the real account.

The data breach could make these so-called “phishing” attacks more efficient, by allowing the fraudsters to target people who actually have an account with the bank.

David Jevans, chairman and founder of the non-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group, said criminals have been moving away from indiscriminate phishing towards more intelligent attacks known as “spear phishing,” which rely on having more intimate knowledge of the victims.

“This data breach is going to facilitate that in a big way. Now they know which institution people bank with, they know their name and they have their e-mail address,” said Jevans, who is also the CEO of security company IronKey.

“You’re not going to see typical phishing where 90% of it ends up in spam traps and is easily detected. This is going to be highly targeted,” he added.

Among the affected companies are financial companies like Capital One Financial, Barclays Bank, U.S. Bancorp, Citigroup, Ameriprise Financial and JPMorgan Chase, and retailers like Best Buy, TiVo, Walgreen and Kroger.

The College Board, the not-for-profit organization that runs the SATs, also warned that a hacker may have obtained student e-mail addresses.

Walt Disney Co.’s travel subsidiary, Disney Destinations, sent e-mails warning customers on Sunday. Hotel chain Marriott International issued a similar warning.

Epsilon said Friday that its system had been breached, exposing e-mail addresses and customer names but no other personal information.

Epsilon, a unit of Alliance Data Systems, sends more than 40 billion e-mails annually and has more than 2,500 clients.

The scale of the data breach meant that many people got warnings from multiple companies over the weekend.

A 13-year-old girl has been arrested on hate crime charges and is accused of helping bully and attack a Muslim girl at their New York City middle school.

The girl is being charged as a juvenile, along with a 12-year-old boy who was arrested last week. She is charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime and attempted robbery. She is due in Family Court Tuesday.

Authorities say the two bullied and tormented a 13-year-old Muslim girl at the Staten Island school, calling her a terrorist and trying to steal from her.

They say the abuse culminated with the two trying to rip off her head scarf. The girl suffered minor injuries.

If convicted, the 13 year old faces 18 months in juvenile detention. School officials say disciplinary action is pending.

The operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish.

The reading of iodine-131 was recorded Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. Another sample taken Monday found the level to be 5 million times the legal limit. The Monday samples also were found to contain radioactive cesium at 1.1 million times the legal limit.

The exact source of the radiation was not immediately clear, though Tepco has said that highly contaminated water has been leaking from a pit near the No. 2 reactor. The utility initially believed that the leak was coming from a crack, but several attempts to seal the crack failed.

On Tuesday the company said the leak instead might be coming from a faulty joint where the pit meets a duct, allowing radioactive water to seep into a layer of gravel underneath. The utility said it would inject "liquid glass" into gravel in an effort to stop further leakage.

Meanwhile, Tepco continued releasing what it described as water contaminated with low levels of radiation into the sea to make room in on-site storage tanks for more highly contaminated water. In all, the company said it planned to release 11,500 tons of the water, but by Tuesday morning it had released less than 25% of that amount.

Although the government authorized the release of the 11,500 tons and has said that any radiation would be quickly diluted and dispersed in the ocean, fish with high readings of iodine are being found.