Saturday October 13, 2012

Space shuttle Endeavour kicks off final mission; trundles through LA
streets to museum home

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It’s a surreal sight residents won’t soon forget: A hulking space shuttle strutting down city streets, pausing every so often to get its bearings as it creeps toward retirement.

Endeavour’s terrestrial journey began before dawn Friday when it departed from the Los Angeles International Airport, rolling on a 160-wheeled carrier past diamond-shaped "Shuttle Xing" signs.

Hundreds of camera-toting spectators, some with pajama-clad children in tow, gaped as the 170,000-pound Endeavour inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.

Over two days, it will trundle 12 miles at a top speed of 2 mph to its final destination -- the California Science Center where it will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit.

After an initial bumpy ride and a brief delay, the shuttle pulled off a massive feat of parallel parking by backing into a shopping center parking lot for a layover as crowds cheered on.

Romney: Biden ‘doubling down on denial’ in Libya attack, White House defends vice president

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Broadening his attack on administration foreign policy, Mitt Romney accused Vice President Joe Biden on Friday of "doubling down on denial" in a dispute over security at a diplomatic post in Libya that was overrun by terrorists who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

"The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials," the Republican presidential candidate said, eager to stoke a controversy that has flared periodically since the attack on Sept. 11 "... American citizens have a right to know just what’s going on. And we’re going to find out."

President Barack Obama had no campaign appearances during the day, leaving it to White House press secretary Jay Carney to defend Biden’s assertion in a campaign debate Thursday night that "we weren’t told" of an official request for more security at the site.

The spokesman rejected Romney’s claim of a contradiction. Biden "was speaking directly for himself and for the president. He meant the White House," Carney said.

With his accusation, Romney once again pushed foreign policy to the forefront of a campaign dominated for more than a year by the economy, which has been painfully slow to recover from the worst recession in more than a half century.

Opponents, supporters
of Egypt’s Islamist president clash in
Cairo’s Tahrir Square

CAIRO (AP) -- Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt’s new Islamist president clashed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago, as liberal and secular activists erupted with anger accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to take over the country.

The two sides hurled stones and chunks of concrete and beat each other with sticks for several hours, leaving more than 100 injured, according to the state news agency. Two buses used by the Brotherhood to bring in supporters were set aflame behind the Egyptian Museum, the repository of the country’s pharaonic antiquities, and thick black smoke billowed into the sky in scenes reminiscent of last year’s clashes between protesters against the regime of then-leader Hosni Mubarak and his backers.

The melee erupted between two competing rallies in Tahrir. One was by liberal and secular activists to criticize Morsi’s failure to achieve promises he had made for first 100 days in power, the other had been called by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The clashes come as criticism among leftists, liberals and secularists against Morsi has been growing since he was inaugurated more than three months ago as Egypt’s first freely elected president. Opponents accuse Morsi, the Brotherhood and other Islamists of trying to impose their dominance and Islamize the state, including through the writing of a new constitution.

Some Egyptians are also frustrated that Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood figure, has not done more to resolve the multiple problems facing the country -- from a faltering economy and fuel shortages to tenuous security and uncollected piles of garbage in the streets.

Panetta’s warning reflects U.S. fears of Iran cyberattack; analysts say the capability is there

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s pointed warning that the U.S. will strike back against a cyberattack underscores the Obama administration’s growing concern that Iran could be the first country to unleash cyberterrorism on America.

Panetta’s unusually strong comments Thursday came as former U.S.government officials and cybersecurity experts said the U.S. believes Iranian-based hackers were responsible for cyberattacks that devastated computer systems of Persian Gulf oil and gas companies.

Unencumbered by diplomatic or economic ties that restrain other nations from direct conflict with the U.S., Iran is an unpredictable foe that national security experts contend is not only capable but willing to use a sophisticated computer-based attack.

Panetta made it clear that the military is ready to retaliate -- though he didn’t say how -- if it believes the nation is threatened by a cyberattack, and he made it evident that the U.S. would consider a preemptive strike.

"Iran is a country for whom terror has simply been another tool in their foreign policy toolbox, and they are a country that feels it has less and less to lose by breaking the norms of the rest of the world," said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and now in private law practice. "If anybody is going to release irresponsible unlimited attacks, you’d expect it to be Iran."

Interior secretary approves plan to streamline solar development on public lands across West

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Federal officials on Friday approved a plan that sets aside 445 square miles of public land for the development of large-scale solar power plants, cementing a new government approach to renewable energy development in the West after years of delays and false starts.

At a news conference in Las Vegas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the new plan a "roadmap ... that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands."

The plan replaces the department’s previous first-come, first-served system of approving solar projects, which let developers choose where they wanted to build utility-scale solar sites and allowed for land speculation.

The department no longer will decide projects within the zones on a case-by-case basis as it had since 2005, when solar developers began filing applications. Instead, the department will direct development to land it has identified as having fewer wildlife and natural-resource obstacles.

The government is establishing 17 new "solar energy zones" on 285,000 acres in six states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. More than half of the land -- 153,627 acres -- is in Southern California.

Buffeted by debt crisis, European Union wins Nobel Peace Prize for fostering peace, democracy

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Commission president had no reason to expect anything but another bad day. Then, out of the blue, after three years of back-biting and seemingly daily financial crisis, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for fostering peace on a continent long ravaged by war.

It was a badly needed morale boost for a 60-year-old union in the midst of a midlife crisis.

Even as it announced the award Friday, the Norwegian prize jury warned that the financial crisis challenging the 27-nation bloc’s unity could lead to a return to "extremism and nationalism." It urged Europeans to remember the EU’s role in building peace and reconciliation among enemies who fought Europe’s bloodiest wars, even as they tackle the economic crisis that threatens its future.

The award was hailed at EU headquarters in Brussels and by pro-EU leaders across Europe, but derided by "euroskeptics" who consider the EU an elitist super-state that erodes national identities.

Emerging for a brief encounter with reporters, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was beaming as he declared: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have to say that when I woke up this morning, I did not expect it to be such a good day."

Letters show Ryan asking for federal programs as he pushed for smaller government with Romney

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is a fiscal conservative, champion of small government and critic of federal handouts. But as a congressman in Wisconsin, Ryan lobbied for tens of millions of dollars on behalf of his constituents for the kinds of largess he’s now campaigning against, according to an Associated Press review of 8,900 pages of correspondence between Ryan’s office and more than 70 executive branch agencies.

For 12 years in the House, Ryan wrote to federal agencies supporting expansion of food stamps in his Wisconsin district. He supported city officials and everyday constituents who sought stimulus grants, federally guaranteed business loans, grants to invest in green technology and money under the health care law he opposes.

On the campaign trail, Ryan has called those kinds of handouts big-government overreaching. He tells crowds he supports smaller government and rails against what he calls President Barack Obama’s wasteful spending, including the president’s $800 billion stimulus program. Ryan renewed his criticism about stimulus spending in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.

"Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland or on windmills in China?" Ryan said. "Was it a good idea to borrow all this money from countries like China and spend it on all these various different interest groups?"

Yet the AP’s review of Ryan’s congressional correspondence showed that he sought stimulus funding on behalf of residents and at one point told federal regulators that cutting a stimulus grant in his district at the 11th hour would be "economically devastating."