Powerful Earthquake, Tsunami Strike Japan

Oarai town is submerged after a tsunami in Ibaraki prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The tsunami spawned by the largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people.
Oarai town is submerged after a tsunami in Ibaraki prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The tsunami spawned by the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people

It hit in the middle of the afternoon at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. in Washington).  A powerful 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit at a depth of 15 miles and about 80 miles off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture, a mostly rural but still densely populated part of Honshu, Japan’s largest island.

Japan’s Kyodo News agency said between 200 and 300 bodies were found near Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the population center nearest the epicenter of the quake.

Initial forecasts warned of potential devastation throughout the Pacific Rim, including Hawaii, and reaching east around the globe to the continental United States. But the waves that reached Hawaii around 8 a.m. Washington time were relatively modest, and while beaches flooded, no significant damage was reported.

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Higgins Fights Flood Map for Old First Ward

Congressman Asks FEMA to Take Hundreds of Buffalo Homes Out of Flood Zone

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) is again waging a fight against federal flood maps, this time taking aim at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood zone in the City of Buffalo’s Old First Ward. 

“Again we see federal flood zone designations not based in science or reason placing unfair burdens on local homeowners and discouraging investment in the Old First Ward,” said Congressman Higgins, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over FEMA.  “We stand with local residents and business owners and approach this fight like we do others, by providing good, solid facts that support our argument.” 

Congressman Higgins sent a letter to the FEMA Regional Administrator requesting a revision of the Flood Insurance Rate Map for the Buffalo neighborhood.  Higgins asserts the neighborhood’s position over 2.5 miles inland and comparative estimates of the time it would take for water to travel to the area represent empirical evidence confirming the existing maps are flawed.  

Higgins has been vocal in his criticism of FEMA flood maps for Western New York, which have simply not fairly represented accurate flood risk and have cost local homeowners financially through mandatory flood insurance.  The Congressman’s ongoing efforts over the last several years have resulted in over 2,700 homes being removed from federal flood zones.

A timeline of Congressman Brian Higgins’ advocacy to remove Western New York neighborhoods from FEMA flood zone map is available at: http://higgins.house.gov/FLOOD_ZONE_TIMELINE.pdf

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Damned If He Does; Damned If He Doesn’t

There is no way a President can win.  If they take a strong stand on a global issue they are condemned for putting their nose into business that is none of theirs.  If they stand back and let other countries they are condemned for being weak. 

President Obama is content to let other nations publicly lead the search for solutions to the Libyan conflict, his advisers say, a stance that reflects the more humble tone he has sought to bring to U.S. foreign policy but one that also opens him to criticism that he is a weak leader.

The tactic is anathema to many conservatives and worries some liberal interventionists, who believe that only overt American authority can assemble an effective opposition to brutal authoritarian governments such as that of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

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Appeal of iPad 2 Is a Matter of Emotions

Attaching the cover of the iPad 2, held by magnets, also turns off the device.

When the iPad came out did you go out to purchase one?  It was about $500 so many people let it pass.  Now Apple is about to launch the iPad 2 and it will run about $500 for the Wi-Fi-only model with 16 gigabytes of storage, or $830 with 64 gigabytes and both Wi-Fi and cellular Internet connections.  Are you interested now?

On paper, Apple didn’t do much. It just made the iPad one-third thinner, 15 percent lighter and twice as fast. There are no new features except two cameras and a gyroscope. I mean, yawn, right?

And then you start playing with it.

My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight. So are rounded edges, which the first iPad didn’t have.

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Skin Cells Converted to Stem Cells

There is a wonderful new scientific advancement out there today.  A Harvard research team announced yesterday that they have turned ordinary skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells — without having to use human eggs or make new human embryos in the process, as has always been required in the past.

Scientists’ Work Could Clear Moral Hurdle to Embryonic Research

The technique uses laboratory-grown human embryonic stem cells — such as the ones that President Bush has already approved for use by federally funded researchers — to “reprogram” the genes in a person’s skin cell, turning that skin cell into an embryonic stem cell itself.

The approach — details of which are to be published this week in the journal Science but were made public on the journal’s Web site yesterday — is still in an early stage of development. But if further studies confirm its usefulness, it could offer an end run around the heated social and religious debate that has for years overshadowed the field of human embryonic stem cell research.

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Census Offers New Facts

The 2010 census is being studied and dissected for information that the government will use for a plethora of uses.  One of the newest “wrinkles” that just released shows that more than half of the children in California are Latinos.  Our most populated state is approaching the day when Hispanics overtake whites as the largest minority.

Barely one in four Californians under age 18 are non-Hispanic whites, who declined in number along with black children as the number of Asian American and Hispanic children soared. Because of differing birth rates and migration patterns, the total number of children remained relatively stagnant.

The overall population grew to more than 37 million, dwarfing the nation’s second-largest state, Texas, by 12 million people.

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U.S. Economy Is Better Prepared for Rising Gas Costs

The American economy may be better prepared for higher fuel costs than it was back in 2008. 

Gasoline prices have risen by nearly a third in the last year, and oil costs more than $100 a barrel for the first time in more than two years, driven by fears of extended Middle East supply disruptions and increased demand from an improving global economy.

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21 Priests Suspended in Philadelphia

The suspension of 21 priests comes after Justin Francis Rigali said there were no priests in active ministry with established allegations against them.

One has to wonder when it will end, or if it will ever end.  More Catholic priests have been suspended following accusations that involved sexual abuse or otherwise inappropriate behavior with minors.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Tuesday that it had suspended 21 priests from active ministry.

The mass suspension was the single-most sweeping in the history of the sexual-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, which archives documents from the abuse scandal in dioceses across the country.

The archdiocese’s action follows a damning grand jury report issued Feb. 10 that accused the archdiocese of a widespread cover-up of predatory priests, stretching over decades, and said that as many as 37 priests remained active in the ministry despite credible accusations against them.

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In Utah, Sen. Hatch Courts Tea Partyers

Orrin Hatch courts conservatives in quest for survival

Senator Orrin G. Hatch is preparing for the fight of his life.  He has hired a midwife and made friends with the man who builds custom roadsters.  Why?  Simply because he knows they are among the most influential of Utah’s tea party organizers, who last year shocked the establishment by taking down veteran GOP Sen. Robert Bennett in favor of tea partyer Mike Lee.

At the moment, they are two of the 3,500 voters who matter most to Hatch – the activists who are likely to select the GOP’s 2012 Senate nominee at next year’s state party convention. Whichever Republican they pick will almost certainly win election in this conservative state.

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1200 Parents & Students Rally Against $1.5 Billion in Education Cuts


Protect Kids, Not Millionaires

ALBANY–1200 parents and students from across the state were joined by elected officials, clergy, teachers and community organizations in a rally against the proposal by Governor Cuomo to enact $1.5 billion in cuts to schools combined with $4.6 billion in tax cuts for wealthy New Yorkers. The rally, at the Albany Armory, was followed by a march to the Capitol and Legislative Office Building and lobby visits with legislators. Governor Cuomo’s cuts are the largest ever proposed in the history of New York State, the tax cuts for the state’s highest income earners are supported by the Senate Republican Majority as well as the Governor. Polls show that three-quarters of New Yorkers oppose the education cuts and two-thirds of New Yorkers oppose tax cuts for high income earners.  If the cuts are enacted, schools across the state will need to get rid of thousands of teachers, guidance counselors and librarians, cut arts, sports, music, college and career prep courses and basic educational services.  School closings are also proposed in districts across the state as a result of the proposed cuts.  The rally was sponsored by the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, New York Communities for Change, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Metro Justice of Rochester, Make the Road New York, and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

“Education is the most fundamental obligation government has to society’s children. If we have to move mountains to make sure our children have a quality education, then that’s what we’ll do. I’m asking ALL elected officials to step up and uphold what the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is all about. A budget crisis is never an excuse to turn our backs on our kids,” said New York Council Education Chairman Robert Jackson, Lead Plaintiff in Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

“The Governor’s budget is a travesty for New York’s students, particularly poor children and children of color who have been systematically disadvantaged for years.  It strips away the initial investments of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity promise and makes it significantly harder for them to receive their Constitutional right to an opportunity to learn,” said Dr. John Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

“Overwhelmingly New Yorkers disagree with Governor Cuomo’s record setting cuts to schools and with the plan by the Governor and the Senate Majority to give the wealthiest New Yorkers a tax cut,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “Tax cuts for the rich, and massive school cuts for our kids? It’s nonsensical.”

 “A $24 million cut to Buffalo City schools will mean that our district may be forced to eliminate instruction to students in their native language, a program offered by bilingual aides to %12 of students.  Too many children that rely heavily on this and other programs to achieve their dreams of on-time graduation will be let down if Governor Cuomo’s tax break to the wealthy makes it in the final budget,” said Bryon McIntyre, of Citizen Action of New York, a parent from Buffalo.

 “It’s irresponsible for the Governor to balance the budget on the backs of those of us who need funding the most, while allowing the wealthiest New Yorkers continue to ride the wave of prosperity. We demand that he make them pay their fair share so that teachers can keep their jobs and resources and programs can be provided for our children so they can be college and career ready!” said Ocynthia Williams, a New York City parent and member of the Coalition for Educational Justice.

 “The governor’s education budget proposals are well far off from what most of us believe and know to be right for our children.  I am optimistic however that this governor, which we elected, will listen, and he will get our message, which we must deliver loud and clear, I do believe we have a governor who understands the value of a sound education, and will provide the appropriate funding to make sure our children really do not get left behind,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry of Brooklyn, Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators.  “We must commit to our children from pre-K through college.  I stand together with the many concerned parents that traveled to our state capital today, and assure them that I will tenaciously advocate on their behalf and work towards passing an education budget that provides every single one of our children with not just a sound, basic education – but a first-class, quality education that will help them be successful in life and firmly plant their feet on the path to success.”

“Working families and communities of color like the ones I represent in the Bronx are being disproportionately impacted by proposed budget cuts to education funding and crucial state services. They are the ones that send their children to public schools and depend on English as a second language programs and special education programs that are facing drastic cuts. My neighbors understand the need to sacrifice during tough times, but we cannot ask them to bear the brunt of these budget cuts and then give a tax cut to the wealthiest New Yorkers. We have to work toward a budget that is about shared responsibility and shared sacrifice – minimizing cuts to education funding,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.

“Last year’s massive education budget cuts meant a loss of lost teachers, educational staff and programs that students need to be college and career ready, such as after school, tutoring, math, reading and English as a second language. Now, Governor Cuomo’s budget proposes to take an additional $1.5 billion from school children. How much more can we take and still expect our students to excel?” said Marie Pierre, New York Communities for Change board member.

“I am delighted to join with other religious leaders in support of the AQE and CEJ fight to challenge the Governor and legislators that the state’s financial crises should not be solved by destroying the communities that are most in need and vulnerable.  We urge Albany legislators not to cut Education, Senior Services and Healthcare,” said Bishop Orlando Findlayter, Churches United to Save and Heal.

“It is unthinkable that we would continue to break the promise we made in 2007 to our schools and the children they teach to properly fund our low-and middle-income districts in order to give the multi-millionaires and billionaires of our state a tax break. That new yacht can wait — kindergarten only happens once. Most New Yorkers are clear on what’s more important,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of Ithaca.

“When politicians demagogue about public servants, their pensions, collective bargaining or other hard earned benefits, it is our democracy that is being attacked. This must stop. Tax the rich!” said Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan.

“Allowing the rich to benefit at the expense of school children will mean that so many of our children will face heart break while the rich welcome a $1 billion tax break and continue to become wealthy.  The state budget should be balanced in a way that allows everyone to pay their fair share and the only way to do this is to extend the millionaire’s tax,” said Javier Valdés, Deputy Director Make the Road the Road New York

“With a $1.5 billion cut in aid to schools, now is not the time for a tax cut for the state’s wealthiest,” said Senator Jose Peralta of Queens.  “This is not about creating a new tax or raising taxes.  This is about shared sacrifice.  Balancing the budget will require many difficult choices.  Extending the surcharge will not be one of them.”

 “We need to make sure that people in every community on Long Island realize how damaging these cuts will be to their children. Every district is looking at cuts. In some districts the students will be losing an opportunity for a second language. Others it will mean no pre-k program at all. What will happen to my granddaughter when there is no program offered for her?” said Amparo Sadler, Central Islip grandmother and Long Island Progressive Coalition member.

“The Committee to Save NY has it backwards. The best investment we can make is in the people of NY, especially our children. Give our kids the education they need and our communities, and all of NY, will flourish. Committee to Save NY?   Real Estate moguls and Wall St. Executives?   I am not impressed. I would be more impressed if they were saying, ‘Yes. These are tough times and we will help. We believe in the people of NY.’ When times are tough, everyone has to pull together. That includes the wealthiest among us. What makes this state great is the belief in the value of every New Yorker, and the potential for each person to do great things, a good education is key to that,” said Cathy Fahey, 7th Ward Councilmember, Albany.

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