Thursday November 15, 2012

After Sandy, officials are wondering what it takes to get people to heed evacuation orders

NEW YORK (AP) -- Despite days of dire forecasts and explicit warnings, hundreds of thousands of people in New York and New Jersey ignored mandatory evacuation orders as Superstorm Sandy closed in. Now, after scores of deaths and harrowing escapes, emergency officials will look at what more can be done to persuade residents to get out when their lives are in danger.

"The issue of those who either can’t or won’t abide by those orders -- that is a question that we have to address," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a tour of ravaged Staten Island over the weekend.

The same troubling pattern has been seen in previous storms, and the ideas tried across the country include stern warnings about the dangers of staying behind, moral appeals not to imperil rescuers, scary ads, and laws that threaten fines or jail time. And yet people refuse to leave, and some come to regret it -- that is, if they survive.

"Staying there was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done," acknowledged Steve Shapiro, a 55-year-old Staten Island resident who witnessed Sandy’s surge lift nearby houses off their foundations. Two of his neighbors, a 13-year-old girl and her 55-year-old father, died when the rushing water destroyed their house.


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Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said officials should work to make sure residents can feel safe in shelters and confident their homes will be safeguarded in their absence.

Israel kills Hamas military chief, warns of broader operation in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel carried out a blistering offensive of more than 20 airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, assassinating Hamas’ military commander and targeting the armed group’s training facilities and rocket launchers in Israel’s most intense attack on the territory in nearly four years.

Israel said the airstrikes, launched in response to days of rocket fire out of Hamas-ruled Gaza, were the beginning of a broader operation against the Islamic militants codenamed "Pillar of Defense." Israeli defense officials said a ground operation was a strong possibility in the coming days though they stressed no decisions had been made and much would depend on Hamas’ reaction. There were no immediate signs of extraordinary troop deployments along the border.

The attack came at a time when Israel seems to be under fire from all directions. Relations have been deteriorating with Egypt’s new Islamist government, Egypt’s lawless Sinai desert has become a staging ground for militant attacks on Israel, and the Syrian civil war has begun to spill over Israel’s northern border. Earlier this week, Israel fired back at Syria -- for the first time in nearly 40 years -- after stray mortar fire landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

With at least 10 Palestinians dead, including two young children, Wednesday’s offensive was certain to set off a new round of heavy fighting with Gaza militants, who have built up a formidable arsenal of rockets and missiles.

It also threatened to upset Israel’s relations with neighboring Egypt and shake up the campaign for Israeli elections in January. In a preliminary response, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest.

Obama says he’ll withhold judgment on handling of Petraeus probe as legislators grill FBI, CIA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday he’s withholding judgment about the handling of a federal investigation that cost the CIA director his job, but he’s seen no evidence "at this point" that national security was damaged by the widening sex scandal.

"I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI," Obama said, offering only qualified words of support for the agency. But the president added that if the FBI had given the White House an earlier heads-up about the inquiry into possible national security violations, he might now be facing questions about why he’d interfered in a criminal investigation.

The inquiry that led to CIA Director David Petraeus’ resignation began last summer, but the White House didn’t learn about it until the day after the election. Two days later, on Friday, Petraeus resigned after acknowledging he’d had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

As Obama spoke about the scandal from the White House, legislators on Capitol Hill were grilling FBI and CIA officials about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized and why they didn’t know about the investigation sooner.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce met first with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, then crossed the Capitol to meet with the House Intelligence Committee.

Irish abortion debate flares over death of critically ill woman denied an abortion

DUBLIN (AP) -- The debate over legalizing abortion in Ireland flared Wednesday after the government confirmed that a woman in the midst of a miscarriage was refused an abortion and died in an Irish hospital after suffering from blood poisoning.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was awaiting findings from three investigations into the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant. Her case highlighted the legal limbo in which pregnant women facing severe health problems can find themselves in predominantly Catholic Ireland.

Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling found the procedure should be legalized for situations when the woman’s life is at risk from continuing the pregnancy. Five governments since have refused to pass a law resolving the confusion, leaving Irish hospitals reluctant to terminate pregnancies except in the most obviously life-threatening circumstances.

The vast bulk of Irish women wanting abortions, an estimated 4,000 per year, simply travel next door to England, where abortion has been legal on demand since 1967. But that option is difficult, if not impossible, for women in failing health.

Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, said doctors at University Hospital Galway in western Ireland determined she was miscarrying within hours of her hospitalization for severe pain on Sunday, Oct. 21. He said over the next three days, doctors refused their requests for an abortion to combat her surging pain and fading health.

No trains, no planes, big strikes: EU nations hit as workers protest cuts, layoffs

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of Europe’s beleaguered citizens went on strike or snarled the streets of several capitals Wednesday, at times clashing with riot police, as they demanded that governments stop cutting benefits and create more jobs.

Workers with jobs and without spoke of a "social emergency" crippling the world’s largest economic bloc, a union of 27 nations and half a billion people.

The protests were met with tear gas in Italy and Spain, but were largely limited to the countries hardest hit by the austerity measures designed to bring government spending into line with revenues. Wealthier nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark saw only small, sedate demonstrations.

Governments backing the line of stringent austerity were not impressed by the show of force.

‘’We must nevertheless do what is necessary: break open encrusted labor markets, give more people a chance to work, become more flexible in many areas," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. ‘’We will of course make this clear, again and again, in talks with the unions."

Israel says rebels take Syrian frontier villages; conflict moves closer to Jewish state

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Syrian rebels control almost all the villages near the frontier with the Israel-held Golan Heights, the Israeli defense minister said Wednesday, bringing the conflict dangerously close to the Jewish state and raising the possibility of an armed clash with the region’s strongest power.

During a tour of the Golan Heights, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave a scathing assessment of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and said Israel will remain "vigilant and alert."

"Almost all of the villages, from the foot of this ridge to the very top, are already in the hands of the Syrian rebels," said Barak, who was accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The Syrian army is displaying ever-diminishing efficiency."

The civil war in Syria has renewed tensions over the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in 1967. Despite hostility between the two countries, Syria has been careful to keep the border quiet since the 1973 Mideast war.

But in recent days, Israeli troops have fired into Syria twice after apparently stray mortar shells flew into Israel-held territory. On Wednesday, an Associated Press journalist said an Israeli helicopter was patrolling the border area, and gunfire could be heard. The source of the gunfire was not immediately clear.

California debuts landmark cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing carbon emissions

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- California began auctioning permits Wednesday for greenhouse gas emissions, launching one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to cut heat-trapping gases from industrial sources.

The California Air Resources Board said it began selling the pollution "allowances" in a closed, online auction expected to create the world’s second-largest marketplace for carbon emissions.

Under the program, the state sets a limit, or cap, on emissions from individual polluters. Businesses are required to either cut emissions to cap levels or buy allowances through the auction from other companies for each extra ton of pollution discharged annually.

The board said the results of the auction -- what price is paid for a ton of carbon, and how many companies participated -- would be released Nov. 19.

The cap-and-trade plan is a central piece of AB32, the state’s landmark 2006 global warming regulations.

Suspect indicted in 1979 kidnapping, death of
NYC boy Etan Patz

NEW YORK (AP) -- A man authorities say confessed to the infamous 1979 disappearance of a 6-year-old boy from his New York City neighborhood has been formally charged with murder and kidnapping, a major milestone in a case that has stymied investigators and Etan Patz’s devoted family for decades.

The indictment against Pedro Hernandez, 51, of Maple Shade, N.J., was made public Wednesday and sets up a potential showdown at trial over whether prosecutors can convince a jury that his claim that he strangled the boy -- a secret kept for more than 30 years -- is credible.

The suspect’s attorney has argued that Hernandez, who is due Thursday in state court in Manhattan on second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping charges, is mentally ill and prone to hallucinations, and that his confession can’t be trusted.

"Nothing that occurs in the course of this trial will answer what actually happened to Etan Patz," defense attorney Harvey Feinstein said in a statement. "The indictment is based solely on statements allegedly made by my client, who has, in the past, been repeatedly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia."

Prosecutors countered that an exhaustive post-arrest investigation found enough evidence to seek an indictment and proceed to trial. Obama stands firm on raising taxes on richest Americans, says best way to avert ‘fiscal cliff’

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama challenged congressional Republicans Wednesday to let taxes rise on the wealthiest Americans on both economic and political grounds, noting he campaigned successfully for re-election on the point and contending it would instantly ease the threat of the "fiscal cliff" plunging the nation back into recession.

"A modest tax increase on the wealthy is not going to break their backs," Obama said of the nation’s top income earners. "They’ll still be wealthy," he said at his first news conference since winning a second term.

At the same time, the president stressed he was amenable to compromise on other approaches from Republicans who say they will refuse to raise tax rates. "I believe this is solvable," he said during the news conference.

Asked if it would be a deal-breaker for Republicans to refuse to allow the top tax rate to revert to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent, he sidestepped. "I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas if the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn’t getting hit, reduces our deficit."

Wall Street wasn’t encouraged that agreement was becoming more likely. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 185 points for the day.