Thursday, April 1, 2010

Notes From All Over

US Navy Captures Pirates, Ship After Attack

Suspected Somali pirates fired on a U.S. Navy warship off East Africa early Thursday in what appeared to be a ransom-seeking attack on an American guided missile frigate, officials said.

The USS Nicholas returned fire on the pirate skiff, sinking it and confiscating a nearby mothership. The Navy took five pirates into custody, said Navy Lt. Patrick Foughty, a spokesman.

International naval forces have stepped up their enforcement of the waters off East Africa in an effort to thwart a growing pirate trade.

Last May, pirates chased a U.S. Navy warship and fired small arms fire at it. The ship, which had recently served as a prison for captured pirates, increased speed and evaded the attack. French and Dutch naval ships also have been attacked by pirates, said Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the British think tank Chatham House.

Thursday's attack came just shy of a year since pirates attacked the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama and took American Richard Phillips hostage. Phillips was rescued five days later when Navy SEAL snipers shot three pirates in a lifeboat.

The U.S. Africa Command said the five pirates seized Thursday would remain in U.S. custody on board the frigate for now. The Nicholas is home-ported in Norfolk, Va.

Experts say piracy will continue to be a problem until an effective government is established on Somalia's lawless shores. The country has not had a functioning government for 19 years.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan government said it fears a Taiwanese fishing boat may have been hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast. Officials lost contact with the 79-ton Jih-chun Tsai 68 fishing trawler on Wednesday.

US Issues Tough Fuel Efficiency Standards

The Obama administration set tougher gas mileage standards for new cars and trucks Thursday, spurring the next generation of fuel-sipping gas-electric hybrids, efficient engines and electric cars.

The heads of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency signed final rules setting fuel efficiency standards for model years 2012-2016, with a goal of achieving by 2016 the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The EPA set a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, equal to what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. The EPA issued its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.

Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles. Automakers that build more small cars will have a higher target than car companies that manufacture a broad range of cars and trucks. The standard could be as low as 34.1 mpg by 2016 because automakers are expected to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including preventing the leaking of coolant from air conditioners.

The new requirements will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program. The new standards move up goals set in a 2007 energy law, which required the auto industry to meet a 35 mpg average by 2020. The rules should add costs to new cars and trucks. The government said the requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016 but would save more than $3,000 over the life of the vehicle through better gas mileage.

EPA and the Transportation Department said the requirements would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 960 million metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, or the equivalent of taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030.

Environmental groups have sought curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, and challenged the Bush administration for blocking a waiver request from California to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than required by the federal government. The request was granted by the Obama administration last year.

Automakers have been working on an assortment of fuel-efficient technologies, including hybrids, electric cars and technologies that shut off an engine's cylinders when full power isn't needed.

Nissan is releasing its electric car, the Leaf, later this year, while General Motors is introducing the Chevrolet Volt, which can go 40 miles on battery power before an engine kicks in to generate power. Ford is bringing its "EcoBoost" line of direct-injection turbocharged engines, which provide a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency, to 90 percent of its models by 2013.

Dog Saves Owner From Bullet, Disappears

A faithful dog that disappeared after taking a bullet for his Texas owner during a robbery has turned up alive months later. Buster's owner said the online networking site Craigslist led to the dog's recovery.

"I just had given up pretty much already after three months," said owner Leon Escalon. "I didn't think he was going to come around."

Escalon last saw Buster, a 9-year-old boxer, on Jan. 22, when he was held up at gunpoint at a convenience store and Buster jumped in front of him and took a bullet, then ran away scared.

But Escalon's aunt, Trisha Cisneros, never gave up hope.

"I knew it all along," she said. "I told Leon, 'We can't give up. The Lord is good. We've got to find him.'"

Since Buster's disappearance, Cisneros has been putting the dog's picture on Craigslist. On Wednesday, she got a hit from an anonymous caller.

"He told me where he lives. He said 'It looks like the picture of your dog,'" Cisneros said.

She found Buster chained up next to a landfill in Donna, miles away from where he disappeared.

"He recognized me right away," Escalon said. "I went, I unhooked him, and he bolted straight into the truck. I had the door open, and he jumped straight into the truck and sat right there where he originally was like nothing ever happened at all."

The folks who had him chained up said they had no idea who the dog belonged to and were happy to see him back with his rightful owners.

Google Changes Name To 'Topeka'

Some popular brand names are involved in April Fools' Day tongue-in-cheek changes.

On the search engine usually known as Google, users Thursday are having their computer redirected to Topeka. Google said its new name is a response to Topeka's decision to change its name to "Google, Kan." for the month of March.

Topeka jokingly changed its name as part of a campaign to convince Google to choose the Kansas capital as a test site for a much faster experimental fiber-optic network.

In a blog posting by Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the prank shouldn't be mistaken for the company picking Topeka, adding that the renaming of his company will have no effect on which cities get chosen.

Starbucks is getting in on the April first fun, too. The coffee giant announced on its company blog that there will soon be two new drink sizes. "Plenta" is a hefty 128 ounces, while "Micra" is a tiny two ounces.

Starbucks suggests once a customer is finished with a Plenta drink, the cup can be used for a rain hat or a lampshade. It says a Micra cup can be used as a milk dish for kittens or a paper clip holder.

US Navy/DoD; US Dept of Transportation; US EPA; Natural Resources Defense Council; Reuters; AP; Fox News; Washington Post; Wall Street Journal.

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