Niger Delta Vigilante Movement Attack Hotel, Killing 13 In Nigeria

Armed militants attacked targets in Nigeria's main oil industry centre of Port Harcourt on Tuesday, leaving 13 people dead, a military spokesman said.

Bands of armed men invaded the city in the morning, attacking two police stations and raiding the lobby of a major hotel. Four policemen, three civilians and six attackers were killed, said Lt Col Sagir Musa, spokesman of the military task force in charge of security in Nigeria's troubled oil region.

The Niger Delta Vigilante Movement, led by militia leader Ateke Tom, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group spokesman Richard Akinaka told a news agency by telephone.

The group's strongholds in the creeks surrounding Port Harcourt have come under military bombardment in recent days. On Sunday, military planes bombed suspected training camps thought to be run by the militia group in mangrove swamps and creeks in the Okirika district, south of the city.

Tom later threatened reprisal attacks on the oil hub, where major Western oil companies have their operational bases.

The group is one of several armed movements active in the southern Niger Delta oil-producing region. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer, and fifth-biggest source of US oil imports.

The attacks have cut the country's oil exports of 2.5 million daily by more than 20 per cent in the last two years, and have added to the upward pressure on global oil prices.

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IOWA Polls: Is Barack Obama Really Ahead Of Hillary Clinton?

Jane Hamsher
There has been much gnashing of the new DMR poll that puts Obama at 32%, Hillary Clinton at 25% and Edwards at 24%. Everyone has an opinion but most people who voice problems with the poll do so based on the fact that they estimate 60% of the caucus goers will be first timers. It's summed up well by desmoinesdem at th Iowa Independent:

ARG had Clinton up by 14, DMR has Obama up by 7.

At least one of those is an outlier, and probably both are, given the number of other polls showing all three candidates within the margin of error.

Two things jumped out at me regarding the DMR poll. One, it predicts that 60 percent of Democratic caucus-goers will be first-timers. I find that simply impossible to believe. I've been working my precinct, where we had 175 at the 2004 caucus. I have found very, very few people who attended in 2004 and do not plan to caucus again.

If 60 percent of the caucus-goers are new, that would suggest a turnout in my precinct of at least 300 people. Seems impossible.

Also, the DMR projects that 40 percent of Democratic caucus-goers will be independents who changed their registration and 5 percent will be Republicans who changed their registration. In 2004 those numbers were 19 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

Obama's lead comes entirely from an assumed unprecedented turnout of first-time caucus-goers, independents and Republicans. I am not buying it, but we'll all find out on Thursday night.

Big Tent Democrat does the math and concludes that if Obama truly if the DMR model is correct and Obama is truly ahead, the majority of his support is not from Democrats. Which is probably one of the reasons he feels at liberty to engage in wink-wink, nudge-nudge derision of them in an appeal to more conservative voters.

Obama gets some help today when Kucinich tells his supporters to vote for Obama on the second ballot.

Meanwhile, Mark Ambinder explains why the importance of John Edwards' lead as a second-choice among likely caucus goers is important.

Tonight's big event will be the Huck'n'Chuck, when Huckabee trots out Chuck Norris to stump for him. Not to be outdone, Edwards has just announced that tomorrow night John Cougar-Mellencamp will appear at a "This Is Our Country" rally at the Val Air Ballroom.

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Mike Huckabee & John McCain Tag-Team To Stop Mitt Romney?

The Republican presidential race may look like a cluttered and chaotic mess, but it’s actually become fairly simple: Mitt Romney will win the nomination unless Mike Huckabee and John McCain can stop him.

Mr. Romney, unlike from every other G.O.P. candidate, is positioned to contest every state on the primary calendar. He has unlimited money, an enviable campaign organization and a message and style tailored to draw in Republicans of varying ideological stripes—or at least to get them to throw up their hands and say “good enough." If Mr. Romney is to be stopped, it must happen now. And that’s where Mr. Huckabee, the only candidate who can possibly beat Mr. Romney in Iowa, and Mr. McCain, the lone non-Romney hope in New Hampshire, come in.

Both men, severely underfunded and viewed with something between suspicion and scorn by influential components of the G.O.P. interest group establishment, plainly recognize their status as brothers in arms. Their strategy: Team up to make Mr. Romney himself an issue in the closing days of the campaign.

In a Sunday morning interview of ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. McCain sought to use Mr. Romney’s latest batch of New Hampshire attacks ads—which criticize Mr. McCain for advocating an immigration plan that Mr. Romney himself only two years ago described as “reasonable”—to raise questions about his opponent’s character and to give Mr. Huckabee some cover in Iowa.

“He’s attacking Huckabee in Iowa, who’s a good man,” Mr. McCain said. “And that shows that they’re worried, and that’s been his history—of spending lots of money attacking his opponents when they get close.”

Mr. Huckabee returned the favor minutes later on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Asked about Mr. Romney’s aggressive attacks against him in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee said that his opponent has run “a very desperate and very dishonest campaign” and noted that Mr. McCain in New Hampshire is a victim of the same ugly politics.

“Senator McCain is an honorable man, and I believe he's an honest man,” Mr. Huckabee said. “I believe he's a man of conviction. And I felt like that, when Mitt Romney went after the integrity of John McCain, he stepped across a line. John McCain's a hero in this country. He's a hero to me.”

He added: “If you aren't being honest in obtaining a job, can we trust you to be honest if you get the job?”

The McCain/Huckabee line of attack just may work, mainly because it highlights Mr. Romney’s chief vulnerability—the perception that he is a slippery beguiler -- while also drawing attention to the character attributes that underlie Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Huckabee’s personal appeal.

Mr. Romney is in such an advantageous spot right now because he’s methodically thrown a career’s worth of positions and rhetoric out the window and remade himself into a candidate who just so happens to embrace every attitude that polls well among Republican voters—a jarring transformation that he’s pulled off by projecting sincerity whenever he’s been questioned about it.

For three of the four years he held the post, he was an absentee governor in Massachusetts, racking up no meaningful accomplishments (other than jetting back home to claim credit for a health insurance plan that was drawn up by the state Legislature and that has thus far failed to come close to its goal of universal coverage) and alienating so many voters that a re-election campaign was out of the question.

Doubts about his trustworthiness remain, thanks to the paper trail he’s left and his own tendency to embellish—like his claim of being a lifelong hunter, or of having marched through Detroit with Martin Luther King.

Mr. Romney has poured tens of millions of dollars into savaging Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee for their various departures from conservative orthodoxy, whether on immigration, taxes, or torture, and it has worked well enough. Because Mr. Romney knows and is willing to say exactly what Republican audiences like to hear on these subjects, Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee can’t defeat him by arguing about these issues.

What they can do is draw on their own reputations for integrity -- Mr. Huckabee is a Bible-quoting Baptist preacher and Mr. McCain is a former P.O.W. who has paid dearly in politics for his willingness to take unpopular stands—to raise questions about Mr. Romney’s.

And so the G.O.P. race has come down to this: Will Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans go for a charmer with a knack for hitting the exact right ideological note whenever he speaks—someone who exhibited the same trait in liberal Massachusetts? Or will they ask themselves whether such a candidate might just a little too good to be true?

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2007: A Year of Freezes, Hurricanes, and Deadly Tornadoes

Andrew Rosenthal
WeatherBug Meteorologist

From hurricanes to tornadoes, freezes to lake-effect snow, the world of weather in 2007 brought plenty of surprises. Here's a look back at some of the noteworthy weather events of the past year.

Devastating Freeze: 2007 got off to a frosty start, as a strong blast of arctic air dropped into southern California in January. Snow levels dropped to their lowest levels in decades, and snowflakes were even reported falling in the beach community of Malibu. Downtown Los Angeles recorded a low of 36 degrees on January 17, while inland Lancaster, Calif., dropped to 3 degrees above zero the same night. The freeze also devastated the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley, destroying 75 percent of the citrus crop, with an estimated loss of more than $1 billion.

Incredible Snowfall: The Tug Hill Plateau in is known for recording among the highest seasonal snowfall totals in the United States, preparing residents of the north-central New York region well for monstrous snow amounts. Lake-effect snows off Lake Ontario can bring well over 100 inches of snow to the region over the course of a season. However, a single lake-effect storm in early February would bring this much snow and more to the winter-hardy communities of the Tug Hill Plateau.

A blast of cold, arctic air moved across the Great Lakes on February 1, firing up the lake-effect machine along Lake Ontario, and over the next eleven days, the snow continued to fall. Redfield, N.Y. in the heart of the Tug Hill Plateau recorded an incredible 141 inches of the white stuff, with nearby Parish coming in just behind, at 121 inches. The snow was so deep in spots that single-story buildings were buried to their roofs.

Small Tornado with a Punch: Even as the nation turned its attention toward the Groundhog, Central Florida was the site for a small but very powerful tornado on February 2. Forming from a series of strong thunderstorms marching their way across the Florida Peninsula before sunrise, the twister killed twenty-one from Lake County to Volusia County. The storm was estimated to be 450 yards wide, and the estimated $270 million damage was described by survivors as "much more devastating than the hurricanes" that devastated the region in 2004 and 2005. The first tornado to be rated under the new "Enhanced Fujita" scale, which started only one day before, the twister weighed in as an EF-3 tornado.

Killer Outbreak: The beginning of March saw the first major tornado outbreak of the season, with 57 tornadoes forming from the Central Plains into the Southeast from February 28 to March 2. The worst twisters occurred on March 1, when a single storm devastated the town of Enterprise, Ala. An EF-4 tornado with winds estimated at greater than 200 mph hit Enterprise High School, causing massive damage. Eight students were killed when walls collapsed at the school. School buses were on site to dismiss students, and it is believed that had the buses been filled, the death toll would have been much higher. In all, twenty fatalities were reported from the outbreak, with damage reports in excess of $500 million.

Devastation in Kansas: On May 4, the strongest tornado of the season occurred, devastating the town of Greensburg, Kan. One of 91 tornadoes to form across the Plains that day, the twister that hit Greensburg was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 tornado, with winds up to 300 mph. The storm was estimated to be 1.7 miles wide, and destroyed 95 percent of the town, causing devastation similar to that seen in other top-of-the scale storms. The previous extreme tornado, which slammed Moore, Okla., in 1999, wrapped pickup trucks around metal poles, and wiped houses and buildings clear from the ground. In Greensburg, crop silos were leveled, and to make matters worse, chemicals leaked from a nearby train, hampering rescue efforts more difficult. Even the city's Greensburg Meteorite was buried for a week before being recovered. Thirteen people were killed in Greensburg that day, with damage estimates of more than $150 million.

Record Hurricanes
No year would be complete without memorable hurricanes, and 2007 was no exception. This year saw two hurricanes make landfall as top-of-the-scale Category 5 storms, the first time that had ever happened.

Hurricane Dean formed in mid-August, moving through the southern Lesser Antilles. It brushed Jamaica on August 20, killing three and causing near $5 billion in damage there. It then grew into a 160-mph monster, slamming into a lightly-populated part of Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula on August 21. The storm weakened as it crossed the peninsula, and made landfall on the Mexican mainland as a weak hurricane. The fact that Dean hit an area with low population probably limited the damage caused by the storm, as less than $1 billion damage was reported in Mexico.

The other Category 5 storm, Hurricane Felix formed at the very end of August just east of the Lesser Antilles. Felix moved south of Dean`s path, a few hundred miles north of the "ABC Islands" of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao off the South American coast. After strengthening to 165 mph, Felix set its target on the Central American coast, hitting along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. Similar to Dean, Felix made landfall in a lightly-populated area, lowering the death toll from the storm. However, the 15 to 25 inches of rain that the hurricane produced caused significant flooding and massive mudslides, killing 133 people in the region, including 25 fishermen who were killed when their boat was swept away in the storm.

Parched in the Southeast
Throughout 2007, the Southeast U.S. dug deeper into a drought as the region saw little rainfall. Across the Carolinas, western Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, many cities were ten to fifteen inches below a normal year`s rainfall. Reservoirs in the region, such as Georgia`s Lake Lanier, began to reach dry lake bed when replenishing rains did not come.

Under the threat of the lakes drying completely by the spring of 2008, states sought other means to replenish their water supply. In one case, a solution between states was worked out to redistribute water from the rivers to the reservoirs. Another instance involved a statewide prayer for rainfall. However, without significant rainfall in early 2008, the drought will continue to stress the region`s water supply well into the 2008.

California in Flames
Another drought in southern California led to a significant wildfire in late October. This year was the driest on record in the Los Angeles and San Diego area, setting the stage for a major fire. On October 20, a strong, dry Santa Ana wind developed. Complete with winds approaching 100 mph and temperatures in the middle 90s, wildfires rapidly developed throughout the region`s mountains. The largest U.S. evacuation since Hurricane Katrina was mobilized in the San Diego area, as almost 1 million people were moved into schools, stadiums and other buildings in safer locations. By the time the fires wound down in early November, 500,000 acres of land burned from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border, a span of more than 200 miles. Fourteen people were killed by the fires. Although damage may take years to be fully calculated, it is expected to be well into the billions.

October Outbreak
Proving that severe storms are not limited to the spring, 2007 provided a late-season outbreak across the Plains and Deep South. The largest October tornado outbreak ever produced 52 tornadoes from Oklahoma to Missouri and Florida to Michigan from October 17 to 19. In Tulsa, Okla., a street festival received significant damage from a severe thunderstorm with winds estimated at 80 mph, although no one was killed. Others in Kentucky weren`t so lucky as tornadoes in the outbreak killed five people.

Autumn Floods Around the World
Hurricane Noel formed in late October in the northern Caribbean, moving along the east coast of Cuba before stalling over the island. While the storm spun over Cuba, it dropped ten to twenty inches of rain on the neighboring island of Hispaniola, causing massive flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm started moving again on October 30, racing up the East Coast, bringing rain and strong winds to Eastern New England. However, in the Caribbean, more than 100 people were killed by the floods and mudslides.

Around the same time, massive flooding also occurred in Mexico as the Rio Grijalva in the state of Tabasco was overwhelmed by heavy rains on October 30. By November 3, flood waters had impacted as much as 80 percent of the state, displacing as many as 1 million people and virtually wiping out Mexico`s cocoa crop.

In November, a tropical storm in the northern Indian Ocean strengthened into a Category 4 cyclone. With winds of 135 mph, Cyclone Sidr slammed into the low-lying nation of Bangladesh on November 15, dropping more than a foot of rain and causing tidal waves in excess of 16 feet. Early damage estimates of $450 million are expected to rise significantly, as the country`s rice crop was completely devastated by the cyclone`s flood. Already, almost 3,500 people have been reported dead from the cyclone, with several thousand still missing. Many relief groups estimate that the Sidr`s death toll could rise as high as 10,000 once everyone is accounted for.

Icy Plains
In early December, the central and southern Plains were greeted by a major ice storm. Starting on December 8, rain fell onto a sub-freezing central U.S., creating a massive ice storm across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

All of this ice knocked out power and caused numerous accidents. Twenty-three people were killed during the storm, largely from car accidents as ice-covered roads caused massive pile-ups. At the height of the storm, nearly one million people were without power, mostly in Oklahoma and Missouri.

Ottawa, Okla. received the most ice during the storm, with reports of more than two inches of ice accumulating on roads, power lines, and trees. Widespread reports of ice accumulations of more than an inch were reported from central Oklahoma across the Ozarks, and from northeastern Kansas to southern Illinois. Many people were still without power more than a week later, with damage likely to reach into the billions.

Tropical December
The tropics decided to go overtime in 2007, providing us with an extra storm after the traditional season-ending on November 30. The fifteenth named storm of the season, Olga, formed as a hybrid subtropical storm on December 11 just north of Puerto Rico.

It moved westward into the Dominican Republic, becoming a tropical storm just before landfall. Forty people were killed by the storm, of which 20 of the deaths occurred when floodgates were opened on the Yaque del Norte River in the Dominican Republic. The dam then released a 66-foot high wave of water on towns below without warning. The storm then tracked across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before weakening south of Cuba.

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US Department of Transportation Ban Loose Lithium Batteries In Checked Baggage

Effective January 1, 2008, the Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will no longer allow loose lithium batteries in checked baggage. These batteries may continue to be packed in carry-on baggage.

Under the new DOT rule, lithium batteries are allowed in checked baggage under one of the following conditions:

  • The batteries must be in their original containers.
  • The battery terminals must not exposed (for example placing tape over the ends of the batteries).
  • The batteries are installed in a device.
  • The batteries are enclosed by themselves in a plastic bag.

Loose lithium batteries found in checked baggage may be removed.

Some Tips for Safe Travel With Batteries
* Keep batteries and equipment with you, or in carry-on baggage - not in your checked baggage! In the cabin, flight crew can better monitor conditions, and have access to the batteries or device if a fire does occur.
* Buy batteries from reputable sources and only use batteries approved for your device – avoid counterfeits! A counterfeit battery is more likely to cause a fire in your equipment – costing you more in the long run, and compromising safety.
* Look for the mark of an independent testing or standards organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
* Do not carry recalled or damaged batteries on aircraft. Check battery recall information at the manufacturer's website, or at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
* Only charge batteries which you are sure are rechargeable! Non-rechargeable batteries are not designed for recharging, and become hazardous if placed in a battery charger. A non-rechargeable battery placed in a charger may overheat or cause damage later.
* Only use a charger compatible with your rechargeable battery – don’t mix and match!
* If original packaging is not available for spare batteries, effectively insulate battery terminals by isolating the batteries from contact with other batteries and metal. Do not permit a loose battery to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys, or jewelry.
* Place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package, or place tape across the battery's contacts to isolate terminals. Isolating terminals prevents short-circuiting.
* Take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting a high degree of pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.
* If you must carry a battery-powered device in any baggage, package it to prevent inadvertent activation. For instance, you should pack a cordless power tool in a protective case, with a trigger lock engaged. If there is an on-off switch or a safety switch, tape it in the "off" position.

Lithium Batteries: Safety and Security
Image of a lithium ion battery.Lithium-ion batteries, often found in laptop computers, differ from primary lithium batteries, which are often used in cameras. Some newer AA-size batteries are also primary lithium.

While there is no explosion hazard associated with either kind of battery, the Federal Aviation Administration has studied fire hazards associated with both primary and lithium-ion cells, and their extensive research is publicly available. As a result of this research, the FAA no longer allows large, palletized shipments of these batteries to be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft.

The research also shows that an explosion will not result from shorting or damaging either lithium-ion or primary lithium batteries. Both are, however, extremely flammable. Primary lithium batteries cannot be extinguished with firefighting agents normally carried on aircraft, whereas lithium-ion batteries are easily extinguished by most common extinguishing agents, including those carried on board commercial aircraft.

TSA has and will continue to work closely with the FAA on potential aviation safety and security issues, and TSA security officers are thoroughly and continually trained to find explosive threats. TSA does not have plans to change security regulations for electronic devices powered by lithium batteries.

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