Nation & World News

NASA To Study A Twin In Space And His Brother On Earth

By Nell Greenfieldboyce on March 27th, 2015 | Last updated: March 27, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Later today, a Russian rocket is scheduled to carry a Russian cosmonaut and an American astronaut to the International Space Station, where they will live for a full year, twice as long as people usually stay.

No American has remained in space longer than 215 days. Only a few people have ever gone on space trips lasting a year or more — the longest was 437 days — and they’re all Russian cosmonauts. The last year-plus stay in space occurred nearly two decades ago.

What’s more, NASA’s upcoming mission offers scientists a unique opportunity to study the effect of spaceflight on the human body. That’s because the astronaut making the trip, Scott Kelly, has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, who’s a retired NASA astronaut.

Initially, NASA did not plan to compare the earthbound twin with the one on the long-duration space mission. But after Scott Kelly got this assignment, he went to a briefing to get ready for a press conference.

“And I asked the question, ‘Hey if someone just asks … will there be any comparative studies between you and your brother, how should I answer that?’ ” Scott Kelly recalls in a NASA video.

A few weeks later, he explained, a program scientist came back to him and said, “It actually looks like this might be something that the science community is interested in.”

Over the next year, researchers will scrutinize the Kelly brothers in what NASA is calling the Twins Study. Ten separate investigations will look at space travel’s effect on everything from gut bacteria to eyesight.

Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, will be searching for changes in gene activity. “The advantage of this study is that we will get a complete profile, I would even argue the most comprehensive molecular profile of a human being that’s maybe ever been generated,” says Mason. “And then, to boot, we’ll get the comparison of someone on Earth who’s the identical twin.”

His colleague Francine Garrett-Bakelman has already been collecting blood from the twins, and she’ll periodically get more samples from Scott Kelly that are returned to Earth. Scientists can’t draw any definitive conclusions from just one set of twins, she notes, “but you can get some idea of what things might change over time, between space and Earth.”

That’s something NASA needs to know as it contemplates attempting longer spaceflights to places such as Mars.

This will be Scott Kelly’s fourth space trip. He did two shuttle missions and also lived on the station for about five months. While there, he sent back a video tour of his cramped crew quarters, where he seemed pretty comfortable. “I sleep much better up here than I do in my own bed at home,” he said, demonstrating how he zips himself into a sleeping bag hanging from the wall.

But recently, he’s said that there are some things on Earth he expects to miss during his year in space — his children’s birthdays, good food and the rain.

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Transcript :

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Later today, NASA is sending an American astronaut to live on the International Space Station for a full year. Only Russian cosmonauts have ever gone on such a long trip. NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce reports this mission offers a unique opportunity for scientists because this astronaut has a twin.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: In a NASA video, astronaut Scott Kelly recalls a meeting that occurred after he was selected to do the year in space mission. Officials were prepping him for an upcoming press conference.

SCOTT KELLY: And I asked the question, hey, if someone just asks will there be any comparative studies between you and your brother, you know, how should I answer that?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: His brother, Mark, is a retired astronaut and his identical twin. Now, apparently no one at NASA was planning to compare an earthbound twin with a twin on a long-duration space flight. But Kelly says a few weeks later, a program scientist came back to him.

KELLY: And said, you know, we took your question and we were kind of discussing it. And it actually looks like this might be something that the science community is interested in.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Over the next year, researchers will scrutinize Scott and Mark Kelly, looking at space travel’s effect on everything from gut bacteria to eyesight. Christopher Mason is a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College. He’ll be searching for changes in gene activity.

CHRISTOPHER MASON: The advantage of this study is that we’ll get a complete profile – I would even argue the most comprehensive molecular profile of a human being that’s maybe ever been generated. And then, to boot, we’ll get the comparison of someone on Earth who’s an identical twin.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: His colleague Francine Garrett-Bakelman has already been collecting blood from the twins. She’ll periodically get more samples that are returned to Earth. She says from just one set of twins, you can’t draw any definitive conclusions.

FRANCINE GARRETT-BAKELMAN: But you can get some idea of what things might change over time between the space and earth.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And that’s something NASA needs to know as it contemplates longer spaceflights to places like Mars. This will be Scott Kelly’s fourth space trip. He lived on the station once before for about five months and sent back a video tour of his cramped crew quarters. He seemed pretty comfortable.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

KELLY: I sleep much better up here than I do in my own bed at home.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But recently, he said that during his year in space, there are some things on earth he’ll miss, like his children’s birthdays, good food and the rain. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Official Report: Nuclear Waste Accident Caused By Wrong Cat Litter

By Geoff Brumfiel on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 27, 2015 at 9:03 am

A yearlong investigation by government scientists has concluded that a major accident at a nuclear waste dump was caused by the wrong brand of cat litter.

The U.S. Department of Energy has released a 277-page report into an explosion that occurred on Feb. 14, 2014, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. According to a summary of the report, the incident occurred when a single drum of nuclear waste, 68660, burst open.

As NPR reported shortly after the accident, cat litter was the chief suspect. The highly absorbent material is great at soaking up liquid nuclear waste, and it has been used for years in cleanup activities at the nation’s nuclear laboratories.

Unfortunately, workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, also in New Mexico, apparently switched from inorganic clay litter to organic litter. According to the report, workers put the brand “Swheat Scoop” inside drum 68660.

“Experiments showed that various combinations of nitrate salt, Swheat Scoop®, nitric acid, and oxalate self-heat at temperatures below 100°C. Computer modeling of thermal runaway was consistent with the observed 70-day birth-to-breach of Drum 68660,” the summary of the report concluded.

In other words, the litter caused the drum to burst after it arrived at the dump, releasing radioactive uranium, plutonium and americium throughout the underground facility.

WIPP has come under intense scrutiny since the accident for what critics say was a lax culture of safety and oversight. But the Energy Department wants the dump to get back to work. It hopes to reopen it early next year.

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Census Data Prove It: We Prefer Sunshine And Golf Carts

By Marilyn Geewax on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

If you live in a town still dotted with dirty piles of old snow, this is not going to come as good news:

The U.S. Census Bureau today listed the nation’s fastest-growing metro areas. And it turns out, Americans prefer Florida’s sunshine, lakes and beaches to your cloudy, cold climes.

Back in December, the bureau announced that Florida’s population had grown enough to displace New York as the third-biggest state, after California and Texas. Now its latest metro-area data confirm that Florida’s growth is so strong and dispersed that it marks “a significant demographic milestone for our country,” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said in the release.

Here’s what’s happening: Baby boomers are retiring and heading south. The single fastest-growing metro area was The Villages, a retirement community west of Orlando. It’s famous for its golf carts and courses — and lack of children.

The population there jumped to about 114,000, up 5.4 percent from mid-2013 to mid-2014.

In fact, Florida turned out to have six of the nation’s 20 fastest-growing metro areas. That growth has boosted the state’s population to nearly 20 million.

The population surge is especially impressive when you consider that a lot of people die in Florida. “Migration to Florida from other states and abroad was heavy enough to overcome the fact that in about half the state’s counties, there were more deaths than births over the 2013 to 2014 period,” the Census Bureau said.

Other states with strong metro-area growth include the Carolinas and Texas.

And where were people leaving? “Wayne, Mich. (Detroit) remains the county with the largest numeric decline, by far, at just less than 11,000. The next largest decline belonged to Cuyahoga, Ohio (Cleveland) at slightly more than 4,000,” the report said.

WBUR’s Here & Now discussed the Census report on today’s show:

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Indiana’s Governor Signs ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill

By Scott Neuman on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 27, 2015 at 4:04 am

Indiana business owners who object to same-sex couples will now have a legal right to deny them services after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

The legislation, approved by Indiana’s GOP-controlled House and Senate, prevents state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless a compelling governmental interest can be proved.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said in a statement after signing the bill.

Democratic lawmakers, civil liberties groups and LGBT advocates opposed the measure as opening the door to legal discrimination.

“This is a sad day for Indiana. Over the past month, Hoosiers who want our state to be open to everyone filled the halls at the Statehouse. We wrote letters and delivered them in person. We called until they stopped answering the phones. We made it clear that this law will only be used to harm other Hoosiers, and that’s not the Indiana way,” Freedom Indiana campaign manager Katie Blair said in a statement.

But Gov. Pence insists the bill is not about discrimination.

“If I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.” he said.

Religion News says: “Supporters of the law say it will keep government entities from forcing business owners — such as bakeries and florists who don’t want to provide services to gay couples — from acting in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Gay marriage became legal in Indiana last year following an appellate court ruling.”

However, the law’s application could go beyond same-sex couples. During debate on the legislation, state Rep. Bruce Borders cited the example of an anesthesiologist who objected to putting under a woman who was preparing to undergo an abortion.

According to The Indianapolis Star: “The proposal is modeled on a 22-year-old federal law known as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. That law played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that allowed Hobby Lobby and other closely held corporations with religious objections to opt out of an Affordable Care Act requirement that they cover certain contraceptives for women.”

A similar state law was passed by Arizona’s Legislature last year but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

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Richard III, Whose Remains Were Found Under A Parking Lot, Reburied

By Krishnadev Calamur on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Richard III, the last English king to die in battle and who famously, in literature, offered his kingdom for a horse, was finally given a burial fit for a king — some 530 years after he was killed.

Hundreds lined up to watch the last Plantagenet king being laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral in England.

“People have come in their thousands from around the world to this place of honor, not to judge or condemn but to stand humble and reverent,” said the Right Rev. Tim Stevens, bishop of Leicester. “From car park to cathedral. … Today we come to give this king, and these mortal remains the dignity and honor denied to them in death.”

If you recall, researchers identified remains found under a car park in Leicester three years ago as that of the king depicted by Shakespeare as, in the words of NPR’s Mark Memmott, “a dark, deformed man — ‘rather like a spider’ — who murdered his way to the throne and then killed two of his nephews.” But historians say his enemies unfairly maligned him.

Richard III was killed at age 32 at the Battle of Bosworth Field against Henry Tudor on Aug. 22, 1485. The battle marks the end of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of York and Lancaster.

Reuters adds: “Following the battle, his naked body was thrown on the back of a horse, taken to nearby Leicester and buried in a humble grave. … Despite reigning just 777 days, he still fascinates not just historians but ordinary people across the world, some of whom made the trip to Britain to witness the ceremony.”

Queen Elizabeth II, in a message, called today’s reburial an event of “great international significance.”

Among those attending were Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, and members of the royal family. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who has been identified as a distant descendant of Richard III, read “Richard,” a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s poet laureate.

On Sunday, some 35,000 people stood in Leicester to watch as Richard III’s coffin was brought on a horse-drawn hearse to Leicester Cathedral. His remains lay in a coffin made by a descendant.

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Pilots Downing Their Planes Is Unusual, But Not Unprecedented

By Scott Neuman on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Investigators have concluded that the crash of a German airliner earlier this week that killed all 150 aboard was a deliberate act by the co-pilot, and that there is “nothing to suggest a terrorist attack.”

Even so, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, speaking at a news conference in Paris today, refused to characterize the actions as suicide.

Aviation consultant Keith Mackey says in the past, there has been a reluctance to describe such incidents as “pilot suicide,” even when all the signs appear to point that way “because no one wants to think that the pilot flying their plane is mentally unstable.”

Although uncommon, such incidents are not unheard of. Since the mid-1970s, air-crash investigations have brought to light eight others in which intentional actions by a pilot or co-pilot to bring down an aircraft were either confirmed or suspected.

The loss of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 could take its place next to two others as the deadliest crashes in this category:

Dec. 19, 1997: SilkAir Flight 185, a Boeing 737 en route from Jakarta to Singapore crashes in Indonesia, killing all 104 passengers and crew.

The plane was cruising smoothly at 35,000 feet when it suddenly began a rapid descent from which it never recovered, crashing into a river jungle in Palembang on the island of Sumatra. Indonesian authorities were never able to determine a cause of the crash, but they rejected suicide as a possibility.

However, U.S. investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board concluded “that the captain may have committed suicide by switching off both flight recorders and intentionally putting the Boeing 737 in a dive, possibly when the first officer had left the flight deck,” according to Aviation Safety Network.

The BBC writes:

“In a letter to Indonesian investigators this week, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said there was nothing wrong with the plane and “the accident can be explained by intentional pilot action”.

“The NTSB said investigations showed [Capt. Tsu Way Ming], once a stunt flyer with the Singapore Air Force, was in serious debt from financial market speculation and had been reprimanded by management several times in the weeks before the crash.”

Oct. 31, 1999: EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767 en route from Los Angeles to Cairo, crashes about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass., killing all 217 aboard.

After a scheduled intermediate stop at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the plane took off again bound for its intended destination, Cairo.

Shortly after takeoff, the relief first officer, Capt. Gamil el Batouty, asked to relieve the command first officer at the controls three hours before his shift was to begin. His request was granted, and el Batouty proceeded to level the plane at 33,000 feet.

Eight minutes later, the command captain left the flight deck to go to the toilet.

Within a few minutes of reaching cruising altitude, el Batouty relieved the command first officer, something The Atlantic says was “unusual” because “with standard EgyptAir and international procedures, flights of 990’s duration carry two crews — a command crew consisting of a lead pilot and first officer and a relief crew with the same complement. The lead pilot and first officer are responsible for departure and arrival as well as the first third and last third of the flight.”

In a chilling transcript of the flight’s final moments, el Batouty can be heard saying to himself, “I rely on God.” According to ASN, “the throttle levers were moved from their cruise power setting to idle, and, one second later, the FDR [flight data recorder] recorded an abrupt nose-down elevator movement and a very slight movement of the inboard ailerons.”

The captain, from the flight deck, can be heard asking loudly, “What’s happening? What’s happening?” El Batouty is heard saying, “I rely on God,” a dozen more time before the plane crashes.

Egyptian investigators refused to label the crash a pilot suicide. NTSB officials concluded in 2002 that Flight 990 crashed due “as a result of the relief first officer’s flight control inputs,” but said it could not determine the reason for el Batouty’s actions.

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Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Released From Prison

By Scott Neuman on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has stepped out of a federal prison in Alabama and now goes to a halfway house to complete a 2013 sentence for spending hundreds of thousands in campaign money on personal items.

WLS in Chicago reports: “The Jackson entourage, consisting of his father, Reverend Jesse Jackson; his wife, Sandi Jackson; and the former congressman’s two children, arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base around 4:15 a.m. Thursday.”

The 50-year-old Democrat, pleaded guilty in Nov. 2013 to using some $750,000 from his campaign on luxury items for personal use. Jackson’s wife was sentenced to one-year in prison for filing false joint federal income tax returns.

The Associated Press quotes his father as saying Jackson Jr. is doing “very well” after his release from the minimum security facility at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., and that the occasion was a “joyous reunion.”

After 17 months behind bars, his family is driving him to halfway house in Washington, D.C., where he is expected to serve the remainder of his 30-month sentence. He must also complete another three years on supervised release over which time he’s required to do 500 hours of community service, according to the AP.

WLS quotes Delmarie Cobb, Jackson’s former campaign manager, as saying that although he is unlikely to serve again in public office, he might still be a voice on public policy.

“His time has been served and he’s headed to a halfway house. I mean, it gives me hope that he’s well on his way to starting a new chapter in his life,” Cobb said, according to WLS.

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Co-Pilot Showed ‘Willingness To Destroy Aircraft,’ Prosecutor Says

By Krishnadev Calamur on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET

The co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 appears to have deliberately crashed the plane carrying 150 people into the French Alps after the pilot had left the cockpit, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said at a news conference Thursday.

“The interpretation … that we can give at this time … is that the co-pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander and activated the button that activates the loss of altitude,” Robin said, providing often chilling details into the final moments before the airliner crashed.

But, he said: “There’s nothing showing that this is a terrorist act.” He also refused to characterize the actions as suicide.

The information was gleaned from the cockpit voice recorder, which was recovered from the crash site on Wednesday.

Robin, a lead French investigator, described the conversation between the pilots at the initial part of the flight, after takeoff from Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday as “lively, pleasant, courteous,” but he said that later, when the pilot was preparing the aircraft for landing in Duesseldorf, Germany, the co-pilot’s answers seemed “short and curt.”

Robin identified the co-pilot as Andreas Lubitz, 27, a German national. (We earlier reported he was 28.) The Wall Street Journal reported that Lubitz lived in Montabaur, Germany. He had 630 hours of flying time and had joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training.

The vastly more experienced pilot, whose name has not yet been released, had left the cockpit apparently to “satisfy natural needs” and handed the controls to the co-pilot, Robin said. Knocks, “very violent knocks,” on the cockpit door can be heard on the voice recorder as the pilot tried to regain access, Robin said. The co-pilot can be heard breathing until final impact, he said.

The Marseille prosecutor said the co-pilot did not respond to multiple attempts to get in touch by air traffic controllers in Marseille, and the co-pilot did not issue a mayday distress signal.

“He didn’t say anything,” Robin said. “Not a single word.”

Robin said that screams from passengers can be heard moments before the final impact, but he noted: “Death was sudden and immediate” when the plane hit the mountain.

German Transport Minister Alexander Dorbrindt, at a news conference in Germany, said the version put forward by Robin was “plausible.”

At a separate news conference, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said: “When a man is responsible for more than 150 lives, it’s more than suicide.”

Spohr said Lubitz had a “long break” during his training. He said he did not know why the break was taken, but that it was not unusual. Spohr said that upon Lubitz’s return, he was put through a series of tests to gauge his skills.

“There was never any doubt over his competence or skills,” he said, adding Lubitz had gone through “psychological tests with flying colors.”

“It’s going to take a long time before we can unravel everything here,” he said.

Updated at 3:15 p.m.

The U.S. State Department has identified the third American killed on the flight as Robert Oliver, but did not provide details.

“We are continuing to review our records to determine whether any other U.S. citizens might have been on board the flight,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said, according to Reuters.

Updated at 9:52 a.m.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had gone through “psychological tests with flying colors.”

But Lubitz went through an interruption in training, a “long break,” Spohr said.

He said he did not know the reason for the break, adding it could be medical, but privacy rules would bar him from knowing what those reasons were. And, he said, breaks in training are normal. When Lubitz returned, he said, he was put through a series of tests to gauge his skills.

“There was never any doubt over his competence or skills,” he said.

And, he added: “It’s going to take a long time before we can unravel everything here.”

Updated at 8:22 a.m.

The recovery of the bodies of the passengers is likely to continue until the end of next week, said Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor.

Updated at 8:14 a.m.

“There’s nothing showing that this is a terrorist act,” said Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor.

And, he said, he would not use the term “suicide” to describe the co-pilot’s apparent actions.

Updated at 8:09 a.m.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin identified the co-pilot as Andreas Lubitz. He did not offer more details about Lubitz, except to say he was “obviously capable of piloting the plane by himself.”

But The Wall Street Journal said Lubitz, 28, was from Montabaur, Germany.

Screams can be heard before the final impact, Robin said, adding the passengers did not realize what was happening until the final moments.

But he noted: “Death was sudden and immediate” when the plane hit the mountain.

Updated at 7:50 a.m. ET

The actions of the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 have been “analyzed as willingness to destroy the aircraft,” Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, said at a news conference today.

“The interpretation … that we can give at this time … is that the co-pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander and activated the button that activates the loss of altitude,” Robin said.

The co-pilot was breathing normally through the entire process. The pilot was locked out of the cockpit, Robin said. His comments were in French and translated into English on France 24.

Both pilots are German nationals, he said. The co-pilot was not on any terrorist list, Robin said.

Our original post continues:

The focus of the investigation into what caused Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 to crash in the French Alps on Tuesday has shifted to the pilots.

The plane’s captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying time, Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, said. He joined the airline in May 2014, after previously having flown for Lufthansa and the German airline Condor. The co-pilot had flown 630 hours. He joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training.

The New York Times, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse are all reporting that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit before the crash. The Times based its report on a “senior French military official” while the AP quoted “an official with knowledge of black box audio recordings” and AFP cited a “source close to the investigation.”

Reuters, meanwhile, quoted Christoph Kumpa at the prosecutors’ office in Duesseldorf, as saying “one [pilot] was in the cockpit and the other wasn’t.” He said the information came from the investigators in France.

It’s important to note here that it is unclear what that means or which parts of those reports, if any, are accurate. It is also important to note that investigators have so far said sabotage appears unlikely, though they have been equally quick to point out that nothing is being ruled out.

Germanwings, in a statement, said it could “neither confirm nor deny the reports.”

A senior French military official told The Times the two pilot engaged in a “very smooth, very cool” conversation during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany. Then the audio from the cockpit voice recorder, which was recovered Wednesday, indicated one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.

“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator told The Times. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

He added: “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

The plane had 150 people onboard — and they are all believed to have perished.

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Saudis Say Iranian Advisers Aiding Houthis In Yemen As Strikes Continue

By Krishnadev Calamur on March 26th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm

This post was last updated at 6:29 p.m. ET.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington says the Saudi air operations against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen will continue and “we will see coalition partners join in the effort” and he accused Iran of sending advisers to aid the Houthis.

Saudi warplanes pounded Houthi rebels overnight in an effort to stop their advance on southern Yemen. The Saudis and nine other allies launched airstrikes Wednesday after the Shiite militants captured airstrips around the southern port city of Aden, and fired on the residence of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The embattled president fled the palace ahead of the rebel advance and is now in Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, told reporters. He said Hadi would likely attend a regional meeting in Egypt this weekend.

The U.S. said late Wednesday that it is providing logistical and intelligence support to the military effort by Yemen’s allies.

Shiite Iran, which backs the Houthis, called the operation the operation “dangerous” and likened it to an invasion. NPR’s Deborah Amos reports that Iran complained that the air campaign against the rebels was a U.S.-backed operation.

The Guardian reports that the Al-Arabiya news channel said Saudi Arabia had lined up 150,000 soldiers in preparation for a ground offensive. Egypt has said it will help. Jubeir said the Saudis were talking to a “couple of countries that are interested in participating, and we’re still talking to them about what type of participation.” Various news reports say Pakistan is prepared to commit troops.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have raised the possibility of ground troops entering the country to fight the Houthis. But Jubeir said that was unlikely for now.

“This is just the beginning of the operation,” he said. “The hope is that we degrade and destroy their military capabilities. The hope is that wisdom will prevail and that they will join the political process; That they will give up the heavy weapons and withdraw from the areas they occupy.”

Jubeir said the Houthis possessed an air force, heavy weapons and ballistic missiles, adding they “have staged a coup.” And, he said, Iran was also to blame.

“It’s the Iranians who interfered in Yemen,” he said, adding: “There are Iranian advisers advising [the Houthis] and Hezbollah operatives advising them.”

He said Saudi Arabia’s end game with its military strikes was “to remove the threat to Yemen — and the threat to Saudi Arabia. If it can be done politically, that’s fine. If it has to be done militarily, then so be it.”

The increasing chaos in Yemen could set up a new front between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shi’ite Iran. The New York Times reports that the Saudi Arabian intervention in Yemen immediately raised the threat that Iran might retaliate by increasing its own support for the Houthis with weapons and money.

Yemen has been spiraling into chaos since February when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, dissolved Parliament and seized power. The Houthis want greater autonomy for the north of Yemen.

Its members are anti-U.S., but are also battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. They are also likely to take on the self-described Islamic State. Both AQAP and ISIS are Sunni and regard Shiites as heretics.

As NPR reported Wednesday: “The ongoing volatile political and security situation has forced the U.S. to pull all its remaining personnel — civilian, military and intelligence — out of the country. The move could have an impact on U.S counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered one of the most dangerous offshoots of the terror group.”

The escalating tensions in the Middle East have sparked a modest rise in oil prices,according to Reuters news agency. Yemen has a coastline on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. The news agency says on average almost 4 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait every day.

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Midwest Town Braces For More Steel Layoffs

By David Schaper on March 25th, 2015 | Last updated: March 26, 2015 at 2:04 am

U.S. Steel will be shutting down a steel mill in southern Illinois, laying off more than 2000 workers. The company says in a statement that it will consolidate its North American flat-rolled operations and temporarily close its Granite City Works plant, which is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Granite City Works is the primary flat-roll steel supplier for U.S. Steel’s Lone Star, Texas, business that makes pipe and specialty tubular products for the oil and gas industry. It’s another sign that the plummeting price of oil is hurting the nation’s second-largest steelmaker; the sharp drop in oil prices has led to a drop-off in drilling and oil and gas production, thus reducing demand for Lone Star’s tubular steel products.

U.S. Steel Corp. has also been hit by a surge in cheaper imported steel, especially from China. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, steel imported to the U.S. rose 38 percent last year from 2013 levels. The strong dollar makes imported steel cheaper for U.S. buyers, but the company and the United Steelworkers Union also blame unfair trade practices.

Union officials say they have no idea how long the shutdown and the layoffs of 2,080 workers will last. A company spokeswoman says re-opening will be “based on market conditions.”

No matter how long it lasts, the plant closing will likely hit Granite City hard. The city is already dealing with the pending permanent closure of U.S. Steel’s coke-making operation there, which will cost 176 people their jobs, as well as the temporary shutdown of one of Granite City Works’ blast furnaces.

Granite City’s mayor and other leaders fear a “domino effect,” as the layoffs will hurt businesses that rely on the steel mill and its employees as customers.

NPR profiled the town’s efforts to diversify its economic base and become less dependent on the steel mill two years ago, as Granite City tried to apply lessons learned after the last time the plant closed in 2008 and 2009.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
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