Sunday, November 6, 2011

'This is only a test,' but it is nationwide

Bay Area radio and television stations will join others across the country Wednesday for the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. For decades, the stations have aired localized alerts - those familiar beeps and then the "this is a test" message. But this is the first time it will be done on a nationwide scale.

The goal is to determine whether the system would be effective in reaching the entire country in case of a substantial disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency began preparing for the nationwide alert with a statewide test in Alaska last year. Alaska was selected because, much like the entire country, it has both tiny towns of a few dozen residents and large urban centers, officials said.

A follow-up test there in January corrected several problems with how the alert signal was transmitted to stations. Emergency officials also slowed the text that scrolls across television screens, in response to complaints from the deaf and hearing-impaired. The system alert was created in the 1950s as a way for the president to communicate with citizens.

"Its shortcoming is that it's basic," said Damon Penn, a FEMA spokesman. "But that's also the beauty of it, that it's basic."

The 30-second test was planned for early November because the peak hurricane season has passed and severe winter weather has not set in. Next month, an alert system compatible with wireless devices like some smart phones will become available in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Federal officials say they have let individual cell phone companies determine how and if they want to provide the service. Some customers may eventually have to buy new phones if they want to be able to receive the alerts; other phone makers may offer a software upgrade.

The nationwide test is being coordinated by FEMA, the Federal Communication Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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Oklahoma earthquake rattles residents

Central Oklahoma was recovering Sunday after a swarm of weekend earthquakes, including the largest in state history, buckled a highway, damaged several homes and left residents worried they may be living on an increasingly active fault.

Mary Reneau, 68, saw her home of 25 years, a two-story brick ranch house six miles northwest of Prague, Okla., battered by the quakes.

"There isn't a room in the house that hasn't sustained damage," Reneau said. "It looks like a bomb fell."

She said she had never felt an earthquake as intense during all her years in central Oklahoma, where she and her husband run a custom hay-baling business on their 440-acre ranch.

The largest in the latest round, a magnitude 5.6, occurred at 10:53 p.m. CDT Saturday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake caused major damage to at least five homes, according to Aaron Bennett, a Lincoln County emergency management dispatcher. One man reportedly was injured when he tripped and hit his head while attempting to flee his home.

U.S. Highway 62 buckled in at least two places during the quake, but road crews repaired the damage overnight Saturday, Bennett said.

The quake damaged a 40-foot spire at St. Gregory University in Shawnee and ruptured a water pipe in Chandler, dispatchers said.

The temblor was felt as far away as Chicago, Omaha and Austin, Texas.

Paul Caruso, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said there was no link between Saturday's earthquakes and one that struck Virginia in August with a magnitude of 5.8. He also said there was no indication that the Earth was shaking more than it had in the past.

"There's no statistical inference that seismic activity is increasing. We've just had a lot more quakes in the news because they have occurred where people live," Caruso said.

Reneau said she had noticed an increase in earthquakes during the last two years, and wondered whether it might be connected to oil and gas exploration in the area.

"There's been a lot of drilling," she said.

In August, a research seismologist published a study noting a swarm of earthquakes in January in an area of south-central Oklahoma with active hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a form of natural gas and oil drilling using pressurized water and other materials.

The researcher at the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the University of Oklahoma in Norman noted 50 small earthquakes, ranging in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8, had occurred within about two miles of Eola Field, a fracking operation in southern Garvin County.

"There have been previous cases where seismologists have suggested a link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes," the study noted. "But data was limited, so drawing a definitive conclusion was not possible for these cases."

Caruso said the study also examined earthquakes in a different part of the state, and that despite concern in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Pennsylvania, there have been no recent studies he knows of showing that fracking causes earthquakes, a phenomenon that would be considered "induced seismicity."

Caruso said other cases of "induced seismicity," or earthquakes caused by humans, were related to injection wells such as those used by the U.S. military near Denver that were linked to a series of quakes in the 1960s. But Caruso said he knew of no recent studies showing that fracking caused earthquakes.

"Right now, we don't necessarily see any correlation," he said.
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Obama seeks consensus on response to violence

US President Barack Obama has called the leaders of the UK, France and Italy as international efforts to respond to the crisis in Libya gather pace.

Mr Obama outlined a range of possible measures, including plans for humanitarian assistance.

Earlier, the White House said all options were on the table, including sanctions. It said the military would present its own proposals to Mr Obama.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi meanwhile blamed the uprising on al-Qaeda.

Speaking on state television, he repeated claims that hallucinogenic drugs had been given to young people to incite them to revolt.

Opposition supporters in Tripoli have said they are planning to protest in Green Square after Friday prayers at noon (1000 GMT).

On Thursday, fierce fighting was reported in nearby towns, as pro-Gaddafi forces tried to regain control of areas seized by the opposition.

A witness in Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) to the west, said an army unit had attacked protesters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.  Until a few days ago, Benghazi was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Libya. Now it's safely in opposition control and the port has become an evacuation route for thousands of foreign nationals.

Local people told me how protesters took on Col Gaddafi's best fighters who were in a huge base in the centre of the city. The government troops shot at them using heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns and mortars. Around 300 protesters were killed.

But gradually they armed themselves with makeshift weapons. They stole construction vehicles, loaded them with petrol then loaded them to blast holes in the walls of the military compound.

The city is now run by a committee of judges and lawyers. There are signs everywhere urging people to go back to work. Some people from the city have armed themselves with looted weapons. They are now pushing forward to oust Col Gaddafi's forces from their remaining strongholds in the west. Reports from the capital say that the bodies of people killed there have been cleared off the streets. Witnesses said pro-Gaddafi militiamen - including foreign mercenaries - were patrolling the Tripoli's main streets, firing in the air.

Security had also been stepped up outside key government buildings, and homes and hospitals had been raided in search of opposition supporters, they added.

"Now is the time of secret terror and secret arrests," one resident told the Associated Press. "They are going to go home-to-home and liquidate opponents that way."
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Sexual Harassment Pervasive in Grades 7-12

It can be a malicious rumor whispered in the hallway, a lewd photo arriving by cell phone, hands groping where they shouldn't. Added up, it's an epidemic — student-on-student sexual harassment that is pervasive in America's middle schools and high schools.

During the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media, according to a major national survey being released Monday by the American Association of University Women.

The harassers often thought they were being funny, but the consequences for their targets can be wrenching, according to the survey. Nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fueled reluctance to go to school at all.

"It's reached a level where it's almost a normal part of the school day," said one of the report's co-authors, AAUW director of research Catherine Hill. "It's somewhat of a vicious cycle. The kids who are harassers often have been harassed themselves."

The survey, conducted in May and June, asked 1,002 girls and 963 boys from public and private schools nationwide whether they had experienced any of various forms of sexual harassment. These included having someone make unwelcome sexual comments about them, being called gay or lesbian in a negative way, being touched in an unwelcome sexual way, being shown sexual pictures they didn't want to see, and being the subject of unwelcome sexual rumors.

The survey quoted one ninth-grade girl as saying she was called a whore "because I have many friends that are boys." A 12th-grade boy said schoolmates circulated an image showing his face attached to an animal having sex.

In all, 56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.

After being harassed, half of the targeted students did nothing about it. Of the rest, some talked to parents or friends, but only 9 percent reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor or other adult at school, according to the survey. Reasons for not reporting included doubts it would have any impact, fears of making the situation worse, and concerns about the staff member's reaction. The report comes at a time when the problem of bullying at schools is in the spotlight, in part because of several recent suicides of beleaguered students.

The AAUW report observes that sexual harassment and bullying can sometimes overlap, such as the taunting of youths who are perceived to be gay or lesbian, but it says there are important distinctions. For example, there are some state laws against bullying, but serious sexual harassment — at a level which interferes with a student's education— is prohibited under the federal gender-equality legislation known as Title IX..
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Keystone pipeline decision could be delayed until after election

The Obama administration is considering a move that could delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline by requiring sponsors to reduce the project's environmental risks before it can be approved, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The step might put off a decision until after the 2012 election and be a way for the White House to at least temporarily avoid antagonizing either the unions that support the pipeline or the environmental activists who oppose it as President Obama gears up for his campaign.

The 1,700-mile Keystone XL, which would run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, needs a permit from the State Department because it crosses a national border. The administration has said the State Department probably would decide on the so-called presidential permit by the end of the year.

Until recently, the pipeline seemed to be heading for a green light. Its union supporters tout the jobs it would create. And administration officials say the oil that would flow south from Canada's oil sands — viscous petroleum trapped in clay and soil — would improve energy security.

But the plan has become a major issue for environmental groups, which object to running a giant pipeline above an aquifer that holds water used by large parts of the Plains states. They also say producing crude from oil sands would generate huge amounts of the gases believed to cause global warming. Environmental activists have threatened to withhold campaign donations and stop volunteering for Obama's reelection effort.

Requiring that a new route be found to avoid the most sensitive areas, or that further steps be taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions, could help the administration out of a jam. Assessing the environmental effects of a new route, for instance, could take months.

On Sunday, thousands of onetime Obama supporters, including donors, environmentalists, campaign volunteers and at least one former White House staff member, formed a human chain around the White House to highlight the growing opposition to granting Keystone XL a permit.

The State Department is now determining whether the project is in "the national interest," a process that entailed holding hearings recently along the proposed route. As a result, some issues have become more "salient," said a State Department official familiar with the process, "including the routing issue in Nebraska."

"The State Department is committed to conducting a thorough, rigorous and transparent process that leads to a decision that is in the national interest, including, if needed, gathering and assessing additional information," said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the issue and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Any new assessments open up the possibility of further delays.

TransCanada, the company applying to build Keystone XL, said it had heard nothing to indicate that the State Department's decision would be put off. It has opposed any delay, saying the cost would be prohibitive.

For many opponents of the pipeline, a delay is inadequate if it fails to take into account what they say is the flawed role of the State Department in the permit process. Pipeline opponents, including members of Congress, have demanded an investigation after publicly released emails showed State Department diplomats working closely with Canadian officials and TransCanada lobbyists on developing oil sands and easing the permit process.

Other critics do not want the pipeline built at all.

"The tar sands are awful and they need to stay in the ground," said Courtney Hight, 32, a former Obama organizer and former staff member for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Building the pipeline is not the way to break free from oil."
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Cain ‘Back on Message,’ if His Rivals Will Allow It

If Herman Cain has been less than clear about exactly what happened during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, when he was accused of sexual harassment, he is being perfectly clear about how he intends to conduct himself now. “We’re getting back on message, end of story,” Mr. Cain said here on Saturday night after a debate with Newt Gingrich, which ended up being more of a Tea Party pep rally than a clash of ideas. At no point during the nearly three-hour event, a fund-raiser that began with cocktails, did Mr. Cain address what had consumed his campaign the previous week.“Don’t even go there,” Mr. Cain warned reporters who clamored to ask him at least one question after the event.

But Mr. Cain’s effort to move past the story were thwarted on Sunday by what may be a sign of things to come. One of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., and an influential Republican leader, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, used appearances on a Sunday morning talk show to urge Mr. Cain to be more forthcoming in responding to the accusations.

“Legitimate questions have been raised,” said Mr. Huntsman, a former governor of Utah. Mr. Cain has built his reputation on being a folksy and straight-talking former pizza executive, an alternative to his rivals with years of political experience. But his recent denials and evasions threaten to become a turning point, or at least a midcourse correction, on his unlikely but thriving campaign for the presidency.

The very qualities that endeared Mr. Cain to so many conservatives appear to be undercutting his chances, as new questions are raised about his management style.

Mr. Cain, inexperienced on the national political stage, has stumbled repeatedly since Politico broke the story of the harassment accusations a week ago. He has issued an avalanche of confusing and often contradictory statements, lashing out at his rivals, accusing Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign of leaking the information, and ultimately blaming the news media for covering the story. “His base is skeptical of the allegations,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist. “However, he will have to get it behind him sooner rather than later. I suspect this week will be the key week on the issue, and then it will die. Of course, that depends on what the accusers are allowed to say.”

Mr. Cain told reporters after the debate on Saturday that instead of asking him questions, they should read a copy of “the journalistic code of ethics.” And he has not budged on his insistence that he will not address the specifics of the accusations.

Until Sunday, his Republican opponents had for the most part refrained from bringing up the accusations. But Mr. Huntsman, appearing on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” signaled that was no longer the case. “It’s up to Herman Cain to get the information out and get it out in total,” Mr. Huntsman said.

And Mr. Barbour, also on “Meet the Press,” said, “People need to know what the facts are.”

Such comments could undercut Mr. Cain’s case that the accusations were stirred up by a left-wing news media intent on destroying his candidacy.

Still, polls released late last week suggested that the crisis was not eroding Mr. Cain’s standing as a top-tier candidate; he was running neck and neck with Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts. J. D. Gordon, a spokesman for Mr. Cain, said the campaign had raised $6.7 million since Oct. 1, effectively tripling what it had collected during the entire summer. He said the campaign staff had grown to 65, up from 30 paid workers at the end of the summer.

The Cain campaign did not respond on Sunday to a request for comment about its strategy. But judging from the lack of any public campaign events over the next several days, Mr. Cain is likely to be spending time behind closed doors preparing for the next debate with the large field of Republican candidates, which will be held Wednesday.

The debates have been an opportunity for Mr. Cain to shine, highlighting his capacity for making quick and catchy remarks while promoting his simple policy prescriptions, like the “9-9-9” flat tax plan. But it is unlikely that he will be able to evade questions about the harassment accusations or make light of them should they arise in the debate. Simply allowing time to pass might not be the best strategy. “Bad news is not like fine wine,” Mr. Barbour said, paraphrasing a quote from Henry A. Kissinger. “It doesn’t improve with age.”
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