Wednesday November 28, 2012

As Great Lakes water levels plummet, tourist towns struggle to keep shallow harbors open

ONEKAMA, Mich. (AP) -- For more than a century, easy access to Lake Michigan has made Onekama a popular place for summer visitors and a refuge for boaters fleeing dangerous storms. Now the community itself needs a rescue, from slumping lake levels that threaten its precious link to open water.

The Great Lakes, the world’s biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year’s almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.

Some of the greatest suffering is in small tourist towns that lack the economic diversity of bigger port cities. Yet they are last in line for federal money to deepen channels and repair infrastructure to support the boating traffic that keeps them afloat.

"How do you like our mud bog?" Township Supervisor Dave Meister asked on a recent afternoon, gesturing toward the shoreline of Portage Lake, part of a 2,500-acre inland waterway that connects Onekama to Lake Michigan. A wide expanse that normally would be submerged is now an ugly patchwork of puddles, muck and thick stands of head-high cattails. A grounded pontoon boat rested forlornly alongside a deserted dock.

The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that about 30 small Great Lakes harbors will need attention in the next couple of years.

U.S. relies on Egypt’s Morsi -- but there’s concern with his actions at home

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has been here before, praising an Egyptian leader for championing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts while expressing concern over his commitment to democracy at home. But with options limited, the Obama administration is keeping its faith in President Mohammed Morsi.

In a hectic week of Mideast unrest, Morsi emerged as America’s key partner in working toward peace between the Jewish state and the Hamas leaders of the Gaza Strip, assuming a leadership role left vacant since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster nearly two years ago.

After winning U.S. and worldwide praise, Morsi immediately cashed in on his new political capital by seizing more power at home.

His actions are the latest reminder that Washington can’t be sure where its relationship will stand with the Arab world’s most populous country as it transitions from decades of secular autocracy. It’s moving to a more democratic government, but one that is less pro-American than its predecessors.

For now, the U.S. -- as it did for years with Mubarak -- wants to separate Morsi’s domestic political maneuvers from his role as a Middle East mediator.

As rival enters race, Israel’s Netanyahu seems vulnerable in re-election bid

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared to be cruising to re-election a few weeks ago, suddenly appears vulnerable as the country prepares to go to the polls in January.

The political comeback of a popular former foreign minister on Tuesday, coupled with the ruling Likud Party’s selection of an especially hard-line slate of candidates, has suddenly raised questions about Netanyahu’s prospects. Eager to portray Netanyahu as an extremist, opposition parties see an opportunity to mount a formidable challenge to the Israeli leader.

Ousting Netanyahu remains a formidable task, but the return of Tzipi Livni, who served as Israel’s foreign minister and chief peace negotiator from 2006 to 2009, injected a high-profile name into what had been a lackluster race. Well respected internationally, Livni immediately took aim at what she called a "leadership vacuum" and promised an aggressive push for peace with the Palestinians.

"I came to fight for peace," she said. "And I won’t allow anyone to turn peace into a bad word."

During Netanyahu’s nearly four years in office, peace efforts with the Palestinians have remained frozen.

Rice concession on initial take about Libya raid fails to mollify 3 GOP senators

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told lawmakers Tuesday that her initial explanation of the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya was wrong, but her concession failed to mollify three Republican senators who signaled they would oppose her possible nomination to be secretary of state.

In a closed-door meeting that Rice requested, the ambassador answered questions from Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She was joined by acting CIA Director Michael Morell.

"The talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: There was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi," Rice said in a statement after the meeting. "While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case the intelligence assessment has evolved."

Rice’s unusual visit to Capitol Hill -- typically only nominees meet privately with lawmakers -- reflects the Obama administration’s campaign for the current front-runner to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton against some strenuous GOP opposition.

"We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was leading up to the attack on the consulate," McCain told reporters after emerging from the hour-plus session that he described as candid.

France plans ‘yes’ vote on Palestinian statehood at UN General Assembly

PARIS (AP) -- France announced Tuesday that it plans to vote in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly this week.

With the announcement, France becomes the first major European country to come out in favor, dealing a setback to Israel. The timing of the announcement appears aimed at swaying other European nations.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament that France has long supported Palestinian ambitions for statehood and "will respond ‘Yes"’ when the issue comes up for a vote "out of a concern for coherency."

The Palestinians say the assembly is likely to vote Thursday on a resolution raising their status at the U.N. from an observer to a nonmember observer state, a move they believe is an important step toward a two-state solution with Israel. A Palestinian state would still not be a full General Assembly member, however.

Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and the resolution is virtually certain of approval. But such a vote by France -- a permanent council member -- could weigh on decisions in other European capitals.

With victory elusive, Syrian rebels and civilians prepare for
a long civil war

HAREM, Syria (AP) -- Before the civil war, Ramiz Moussa was a middle class civil servant who processed fines for littering, illegal construction and disturbing the peace in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Now, the 40-year-old squats with other rebels in damaged, abandoned homes in this embattled town. He rarely sees his family and thinks of little beyond the next attack on government soldiers.

"We no longer count the days," he said, standing in a rubble-strewn alley, holding a rifle and two rocket-propelled grenades. "Today we’re in a battle, but we can’t remember when it started, much less the past battles. You could ask me what day it is, but I can’t tell you."

A dark realization is spreading across northern Syria that despite 20 months of violence and recent rebel gains, an end to the war to topple President Bashar Assad is nowhere in sight.

As a result, civilians and rebel fighters are digging in, building an infrastructure to secure rebel towns, care for the wounded and escalate the fight against Assad’s forces.

Family challenges ‘locator’ chips in student ID cards at Texas schools

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- To 15-year-old Andrea Hernandez, the tracking microchip embedded in her student ID card is a "mark of the beast," sacrilege to her Christian faith -- not to mention how it pinpoints her location, even in the school bathroom.

But to her budget-reeling San Antonio school district, those chips carry a potential $1.7 million in classroom funds.

Starting this fall, the fourth-largest school district in Texas is experimenting with "locator" chips in student ID badges on two of its campuses, allowing administrators to track the whereabouts of 4,200 students with GPS-like precision. Hernandez’s refusal to participate isn’t a twist on teenage rebellion, but has launched a debate over privacy and religion that has forged rare like-mindedness between typically opposing groups.

When Hernandez and her parents balked at the so-called SmartID, the school agreed to remove the chip but still required her to wear the badge. The family refused on religious grounds, stating in a lawsuit that even wearing the badge was tantamount to "submission of a false god" because the card still indicated her participation.

On Wednesday, a state district judge is expected to decide whether Northside Independent School District can transfer Hernandez to a different campus.

Boy still missing after Northern Calif. family gets swept to sea by strong surf

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon state beach on Saturday, playing fetch with their dog Fran as eight-to-10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.

Kuljian tossed a stick that took the dog down to the water’s edge, and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble.

In the end, Kuljian, 54, his wife Mary Scott, 57, and son Gregory "Geddie" Kuljian were all engulfed by the roiling waters after trying to save the dog, then each other. The two parents’ bodies were later recovered, but the Coast Guard called off a search for the boy.

The Humboldt County coroner’s office said Tuesday that the body of the 16-year-old boy still had not been found.

The couple’s 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Gregory’s girlfriend could only watch from the beach as the horror unfolded. The dog later made its way safely back onto the beach.

Stores turn to star power to boost sales this season, but it doesn’t always work

This holiday season you’re likely to spot singer Jennifer Lopez in Kohl’s. You could get a peek at pop music icon Madonna in Macy’s. You might even catch a glimpse of reality TV star Kim Kardashian in Sears.

Well, not literally.

These celebrities likely won’t be making guest appearances in the aisles of your favorite department stores. But clothes, shoes and even ties that bear their names will.

It is part of a big push by stores to cash in on celebrities’ money-making names. The move can be savvy. After all, who wouldn’t want to don the stylish duds of a superstar? It can also be risky. The stars, figuratively, have to be aligned for celebrity lines to become a hit with shoppers. That can mean having the right celebrity pair up with the right store at the right time with the right amount of involvement in the design of the line.

"If it’s simply to monetize your moment in the sun, it is not going to work in the long term," says Ivanka Trump, the daughter of real estate mogul Donald Trump who is an executive vice president for his Trump Organization and appeared on his "Apprentice" reality TV show.