www.wvgazette.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazette.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Supreme Court OKs enforcement of 'straw purchaser' gun law http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140616/GZ01/140619432 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140616/GZ01/140619432 Mon, 16 Jun 2014 17:53:39 -0400 By Sam Hananel The Associated Press WASHINGTON - A divided Supreme Court sided with gun control groups and the Obama administration Monday, ruling that the federal government can strictly enforce laws that ban a "straw" purchaser from buying a gun for someone else.

The justices ruled 5-4 that the law applied to a Virginia man who bought a gun with the intention of transferring it to his uncle in Pennsylvania - even though the uncle is not prohibited from owning firearms.

The decision split the court along familiar ideological lines, though it has no direct bearing on the Second Amendment right to own guns. It settles a split among appeals courts over federal gun laws intended to prevent sham buyers from obtaining guns for the sole purpose of giving them to another person. The laws were part of Congress' effort to make sure firearms did not get into the hands of unlawful recipients.

Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan said the federal government's elaborate system of background checks and record-keeping requirements help law enforcement investigate crimes by tracing guns to their buyers. Those provisions would mean little, she said, if a would-be gun buyer could evade them by simply getting another person to buy the gun and fill out the paperwork.

"Putting true numbskulls to one side, anyone purchasing a gun for criminal purposes would avoid leaving a paper trail by the simple expedient of hiring a straw," Kagan said.

Her opinion was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often considered the court's swing vote, as well as liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the language of the law does not support making it a crime for one lawful gun owner to buy a gun for another lawful gun owner. He was joined by the court's other conservatives - Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The case began after Bruce James Abramski, Jr. bought a Glock 19 handgun in Collinsville, Virginia, in 2009 and later transferred it to his uncle in Easton, Pennsylvania. Abramski, a former police officer, had assured the Virginia dealer he was the "actual buyer" of the weapon even though he had already offered to buy the gun for his uncle using his expired police identification to get a discount.

Abramski purchased the gun three days after his uncle had written him a check for $400 with "Glock 19 handgun" written in the memo line. During the transaction, Abramski answered "yes" on a federal form asking "Are you the actual transferee buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual buyer, the dealer cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you."

Police later arrested Abram­ski after they thought he was involved in a bank robbery in Rocky Mount, Virginia. No charges were ever filed on the bank robbery, but officials charged him with making false statements about the purchase of the gun.

A federal district judge rejected Abramski's argument that he was not a straw purchaser because his uncle was eligible to buy firearms, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Obama administration had argued that accepting Abramski's defense would impair the ability of law enforcement officials to trace firearms involved in crimes and keep weapons away from people who are not eligible to buy them.

"This is a very big and very positive decision that will save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The National Rifle Association sided with Abramski, asserting that the government wrongly interpreted the law and improperly expanded the scope of gun regulations. Twenty-six states also submitted a brief supporting Abram­ski's view of the law, while nine states and Washington, D.C., filed papers bolstering the Obama administration.

Scalia scoffed at the majority's reading of the law, noting that if Abramski intended to buy the gun as a gift or to use as a raffle prize, the government would consider him the true buyer.

"If I give my son $10 and tell him to pick up milk and eggs at the store, no English speaker would say that the store 'sells' the milk and eggs to me," Scalia said.

Kagan responded with her own analogy: "If I send my brother to the Apple Store with money and instructions to purchase an iPhone, and then take immediate and sole possession of that device, am I the 'person' (or 'transferee') who has bought the phone or is he? Nothing in ordinary English usage compels an answer either way."

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121,000 veterans wait for care from VA http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140609/GZ01/140609254 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140609/GZ01/140609254 Mon, 9 Jun 2014 16:52:21 -0400 By Matthew Daly The Associated Press WASHINGTON - More than 57,000 U.S. military veterans have been waiting 90 days or more for their first VA medical appointments, and an additional 64,000 appear to have fallen through the cracks, never getting appointments after enrolling and requesting them, the Veterans Affairs Department said Monday.

It's not just a backlog problem, the wide-ranging review indicated. Thirteen percent of schedulers in the facility-by-facility report on 731 hospitals and outpatient clinics reported being told by supervisors to falsify appointment schedules to make patient waits appear shorter.

The audit is the first nationwide look at the VA network in the uproar that began with reports two months ago of patients dying while awaiting appointments and of cover-ups at the Phoenix VA center. A preliminary review last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were "systemic" throughout the VA medical network, the nation's largest single health-care provider, serving nearly 9 million veterans.

"This behavior runs counter to our core values," the report said. "The overarching environment and culture which allowed this state of practice to take root must be confronted head-on."

VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson said Monday that VA officials have contacted 50,000 veterans across the country to get them off waiting lists and into clinics and are in the process of contacting 40,000 more.

The controversy led VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign May 30. Shinseki took the blame for what he decried as a "lack of integrity" through the network. Legislation is being written in both the House and Senate to allow more veterans, including those enrolled in Medicare or the military's TRICARE program, to get treatment from outside providers if they can't get timely VA appointments. The proposals also would make it easier to fire senior VA regional officials and hospital administrators.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the report demonstrated that Congress must act immediately.

"The fact that more than 57,000 veterans are still waiting for their first doctor appointment from the VA is a national disgrace," Boehner said.

The new audit said a 14-day agency target for waiting times was "not attainable," given poor planning and a growing demand for VA services. It called the 2011 decision by senior VA officials to set the target, and then base bonuses on meeting it, "an organizational leadership failure."

A previous inspector general's investigation into the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an official, electronic waiting list.

The report issued Monday offers a broader picture of the overall system. The audit includes interviews with more than 3,772 employees nationwide between May 12 and June 3. Respondents at 14 sites reported having been sanctioned or punished over scheduling practices.

Wait times for new patients far exceeded the 14-day goal, the audit said. For example, the wait time for a primary-care screening appointment at Baltimore's VA health-care center was almost 81 days. At Canandaigua, New York, it was 72 days. On the other hand, at Coatesville, Pennsylvania, it was only 17 days and in Bedford, Massachusetts, just 12 days. The longest wait was in Honolulu - 145 days.

But for veterans already in the system, waits were much shorter.

For example, established patients at VA facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and Battle Creek, Michigan, waited an average of only one day to see health-care providers. The longest average wait for veterans already in the system was 30 days, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a military-heavy region with Fort Bragg Army Base and Pope Air Force Base nearby.

Gibson said the department is hiring new workers at overburdened clinics and other health-care facilities across the nation and is deploying mobile medical units to treat additional veterans.

The VA believes it will need $300 million over the next three months to accelerate medical care for veterans who have been waiting for appointments, a senior agency official said in a conference call with reporters. That effort would include expanding clinics' hours and paying for some veterans to see non-VA providers. The official said he could not say how many additional health providers the VA would need to improve its service.

The report said 112 - or 15 percent - of the 731 VA facilities that auditors visited will require additional investigation, because of indications that data on patients' appointment dates may have been falsified, or that workers may have been instructed to falsify lists, or other problems.

Gibson also has ordered a hiring freeze at the Washington headquarters of the Veterans Health Administration, the VA's health-care arm, and at 21 regional administrative offices, except for critical positions personally approved by him.

Boehner said the House would act on legislation this week to allow veterans waiting at least a month for VA appointments to see non-VA doctors, and said the Senate should approve it too. An emerging bipartisan compromise in the Senate is broader than that, but senators have yet to vote on it.

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Federal court upholds pollution limits on coal power plants http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140415/GZ01/140419557 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140415/GZ01/140419557 Tue, 15 Apr 2014 16:41:26 -0400 By Pete Yost The Associated Press WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's first emission standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In its ruling, the court rejected state and industry challenges to rules designed to clean up chromium, arsenic, acid gases, nickel, cadmium as well as mercury and other dangerous toxins.

The EPA's determination in 2000 that regulating emission standards is appropriate and necessary, and the agency's reaffirmation of that determination in 2012, "are amply supported by EPA's findings regarding the health effects of mercury exposure," said the court.

Congress did not specify what types or levels of public health risks should be deemed a hazard under federal law. By leaving this gap in the statute, Congress delegated to the EPA the authority to give reasonable meaning to the term "hazard," said the court.

In the majority were Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Judge Judith Rogers, both appointees of President Bill Clinton. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush, joined most of the decision, but he parted company with his colleagues on the issue of cost - specifically, whether the EPA is obligated to consider industry costs in deciding whether regulation of hazardous air pollutants from power plants is appropriate.

"The problem here is that EPA did not even consider the costs," Kavanaugh said. "And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year - that's billion with a B - by EPA's own calculation."

In response, the majority said the EPA properly decided that the decision whether to regulate mercury should be based on health risks, not compliance costs. The majority added that the EPA had determined that benefits of the rule exceeded costs by a factor of at least 3 to 1. Some industry groups have said the EPA was overstating the benefits.

It is only in the first stage of rule-making that the EPA doesn't consider industry costs, the majority opinion said. It added that the second stage leads to standards that are more restrictive and that, when setting those, the EPA does consider costs.

The new regulations are designed to remove toxins from the air that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.

Most companies operating power plants will have until March 2015 to meet the standards, but a state could grant an additional year and the EPA could extend the deadline until 2017 if the unit was critical for reliability.

The EPA proposed the rules in 2011.

Tuesday's ruling is "a giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, which was a party in the case.

The EPA called the decision "a victory for public health and the environment."

"These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children's ability to learn," the EPA said.

Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said that due in part to regulations like the one in Tuesday's ruling, almost 300 coal-fueled generating units in 33 states have announced they will shut down, costing the electricity sector roughly $200 billion in compliance costs and destroying at least 544,000 jobs.

Sheehan said that impacts of EPA's rule-making processes aimed at coal have already been seen this past winter, with coal power plant retirements leading to increased reliance on natural gas - a just-in-time fuel source subject to volatile price spikes that many consumers and small businesses bore the brunt of. She said such impacts will only increase as more coal units are retired, especially next spring, the deadline for complying with the mercury standard.

The coalition says industry has invested $130 billion to reduce major emissions from coal-fueled power plants by nearly 90 percent and that it plans to invest another $100 billion over the next decade on clean-coal technology.

National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said the federal rule "imposes enormous costs upon households and businesses but provides little additional environmental benefit. The court recognized the EPA has the authority to consider costs but upheld EPA's decision to ignore them."

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Squirrel blamed for $300K damage to Ind. building http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140412/GZ01/140419775 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140412/GZ01/140419775 Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:49:35 -0400 FORT WAYNE, Ind. ­- Officials say a wayward squirrel caused about $300,000 in damage to an eastern Indiana community center set to open in June.

Fort Wayne Parks Department officials say the squirrel got into the electrical equipment of the building in McMillen Park last week, causing a power surge that damaged the heating and air conditioning systems and some parts of the boiler system. The squirrel didn't survive.

Parks director Al Moll said the repairs will be covered by insurance, minus the department's $50,000 deductible. The Journal Gazette reports crews are working to make repairs so the center can open as planned on June 7.

A nearly $2 million project is transforming the former McMillen Ice Arena into a community center with basketball courts, an indoor track and other activities.

- The Associated Press

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Spy's U.S. release in play for Mideast peace http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140401/GZ01/140409922 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140401/GZ01/140409922 Tue, 1 Apr 2014 19:37:21 -0400 By Lara Jakes The Assocaited Press WASHINGTON - Every president since Ronald Reagan has refused to release Jonathan Pollard from prison. A CIA director once threatened to resign when Bill Clinton briefly considered freeing the convicted spy as part of Mideast peace talks. But now, in a gamble to extend negotiations that appear on the brink of collapse, the Obama administration is bringing the U.S. closer than it has been in years to granting Pollard an early release.

If Pollard's freedom leads eventually to a final peace settlement, it could mark a major victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has toiled to achieve an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians after decades of distrust and violence. But if Pollard is freed and the talks fail, it could be a costly embarrassment.

Releasing Pollard now, just to keep Israeli-Palestinian negotiations going, "portrays a weakness on our part and a certain amount of desperation," says Aaron Miller, who was part of the U.S. negotiating team at two rounds of peace talks during the Clinton administration. "It guarantees almost nothing."

The White House insisted Tuesday that President Obama has not decided on whether to release Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in prison nearly 30 years ago for selling classified military documents to the Israeli government. Kerry, asked about prospects for Pollard's release, told reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels, "There is no agreement, at this point in time, regarding anyone or any specific steps."

"There are a lot of different possibilities in play," Kerry said. He added: "All I can tell you is that we are continuing, even now as I am standing up here speaking, to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward."

But Kerry abruptly canceled plans to meet Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, an indication that the talks are flailing as they approach an end-of-April deadline for a decision on whether to continue.

Israel has for years pushed for Pollard to be freed, and gave him citizenship in the late 1990s. His release now could be used to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu political cover from fallout at home in exchange for concessions that could be made to the Palestinians to keep the talks going.

People briefed on the matter said those concessions could include Israel freeing Palestinian prisoners who are considered terrorists by many Israelis. The conditions also might require Israel to freeze construction in settlements in disputed territory and to continue in the negotiations, according to two people, both of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomacy by name. Palestinians leaders have balked at proposals that would have them relinquish much of Jerusalem and recognize Israel as a Jewish state

Though Pollard is serving a life sentence, he becomes eligible for parole in November 2015. But the U.S. government could object to letting him go.

Pollard has been serving his sentence at a medium-security prison in Butner, N.C., where inmates are awakened at 6 a.m. and spend their days performing various jobs. They have limited telephone access and are granted supervised recreation time. He is believed to be in poor health.

For the most part, U.S. military and intelligence officials have strongly opposed Pollard's release, although the Pentagon, four former secretaries of defense and the CIA either didn't respond to messages seeking comment or declined to comment for this story.

Abbe Lowell, a Washington lawyer who has represented clients charged under the Espionage Act, said the facts of Pollard's case could have supported a shorter sentence, and he said that Pollard "has now served longer than anyone in similar circumstances."

"If the president wants to address this issue - whether because the time has come anyway or as part of a larger Middle East peace initiative - he has the absolute power to do so as the head of the government by commuting Mr. Pollard's sentence to time served," Lowell said in an email.

The documents Pollard smuggled out of a Navy facility included classified information about U.S. weapons and military capabilities. They also detailed radar-jamming techniques and electronic capabilities of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and other moderate Arab governments, and included information about intelligence gathering in the United States by China. The Israeli government paid Pollard $45,000 for the documents, reimbursed him for three trips to Europe and Israel, and lavished expensive jewelry on his wife.

In a 1986 court statement that was made public in December 2012, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said Pollard had done "irrevocable" damage to the U.S. He said Pollard had provided the Israelis with more than 800 U.S. classified publications and more than 1,000 classified messages and cables.

"The defendant has substantially harmed the United States, and in my view, his crimes demand severe punishment," Weinberger wrote. The court statement was part of a declassified CIA assessment of national security damage caused by Pollard's disclosures.

During 1998 negotiations for a land-for-peace deal brokered at Wye River, Md., CIA Director George Tenet told Clinton he would resign if Pollard were freed as part of the talks. That apparently is the closest the U.S. had come to considering his release.

"I was shocked to hear Pollard's name arise in the middle of these negotiations," Tenet wrote in a memoir. "We were there to broker peace, not to pardon people who had sold out their country."

But over the years, some former U.S. officials have softened. Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey have called for Pollard's release, as has Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Even so, McCain said Tuesday that linking Pollard's release to the Mideast peace negotiations "smacks of desperate diplomacy." He joined a chorus of Obama administration critics who said Pollard should be freed either on the merits of his parole application or on humanitarian grounds - not as a carrot to keep talks afloat.

Even Democrats were skeptical. "It's hard for me to see how that would jump-start the Mideast peace talks," said Senate intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. "It's one thing after an agreement. It's a totally other thing before an agreement."

Elliott Abrams, a senior Mideast adviser to President George W. Bush, said it was logical that Pollard's freedom would be given more consideration now, when he is close to parole eligibility. But Abrams said "it's a very bad idea" and warned that it would amount to injecting politics into a foreign policy process.

The U.S. initially hoped to secure a peace agreement by the end of April. When it became clear several months ago that neither side was anywhere close to an agreement Kerry said he aimed to reach a framework by then to serve as the basis for continuing negotiations. But even that benchmark appeared elusive as Israeli and Palestinian leaders failed to agree on what the framework would include. Abrams said he believes Pollard should be released, but he said it appears it is being considered now only to keep Abbas from walking away in anger as a result of Israel failing to release more prisoners.

"It's diplomatic malpractice in my view," Abrams said. "You're going to keep Abbas at the table for a few more months. What are we going to give him next year to keep him at the table?"

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Duke Energy wants citizens group out of ash action http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140401/GZ01/140409919 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140401/GZ01/140409919 Tue, 1 Apr 2014 20:08:34 -0400 By Mitch Weiss The Associated Press CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Duke Energy is asking a judge to prevent citizens groups from taking part in any enforcement action that would make the company clean up nearly three dozen coal ash pits across North Carolina.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources filed a complaint against Duke last year. Several citizens groups got involved in the case, saying the waste dumps polluted groundwater.

But Duke filed a motion Monday to remove the citizens' groups from the case.

The company said the groups have an "independent right" to file claims and seek relief. But they are "prohibited from expanding this enforcement action beyond the claims asserted and relief sought by" the state environmental agency.

Duke did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

The company also filed motions in response to the state's enforcement action, denying allegations in the complaint.

Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the state regulatory agency, said he couldn't comment about Duke's action.

"We're back to a period of very actively litigation on the matter, and we will have to stick with what we said in our lawsuits," he said.

But Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Duke's motion runs counter to what the company has been saying since a Feb. 2 massive coal ash spill at Duke's plant in Eden, which coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge.

"What Duke's CEO has been saying publicly is they accept responsibility. Duke officials have said they are better than this, that they want to do the right thing for the state and they want to take action to protect our water resources. But instead of cleaning up, what they've done is lawyer up. They have filed a legal document in court denying any legal liability whatsoever," he said.

Holleman said Duke is taking the position that community groups should not play any role in the case.

"This is contrary to the spirit of what Duke is saying ... that it wants to work with local communities to clean up the site and clean up our natural resources," he said.

This is the company's latest filing. Duke recently asked a judge to shield its records from North Carolina regulators and environmental groups while a federal criminal probe is ongoing.

Federal prosecutors have issued at least 23 subpoenas as part of a widening criminal probe triggered by the Duke has received two of the subpoenas, which order the company to provide reams of documents to a grand jury that has convened in Raleigh.

Federal investigators are looking at whether the company received preferential treatment from the state environmental agency. Duke has nearly three dozen other ash pits spread out at 14 coal-fired power plants across the state.

The state enforcement case began last year when the environmental law group, working on behalf of a coalition of citizens groups, tried to use the U.S. Clean Water Act to sue Duke in federal court over groundwater pollution leeching from its coal ash dumps.

The state environmental agency instead used its authority to issue violations and take the case to state court, quickly negotiating a settlement involving two plants that would have fined Duke $99,111 with no requirement that the $50 billion company clean up its pollution. The citizens groups protested, calling it a "sweetheart deal" intended to protect Duke from possibly harsher federal penalties.

The agency asked a judge to dismiss that agreement two weeks ago, saying it now intends to move forward in court. The citizens groups have intervened in the case, meaning they will have access to documents Duke would provide.

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Floating objects seen in Flight 370 search area http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140326/GZ01/140329563 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140326/GZ01/140329563 Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:06:40 -0400 By Todd Pitman and Rob Griffith The Associated Press KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -They are the most tantalizing clues yet: 122 objects spotted by satellite, floating in the turbulent Indian Ocean where officials believe the missing Malaysian jetliner went down. But bad weather, the passage of time and the sheer remoteness of their location kept answers out of the searchers' grasp.

Nineteen days into the mystery of Flight 370, the discovery of the objects that ranged in size from 3 feet to 75 feet, offered "the most credible lead that we have," a top Malaysian official said Wednesday.

With clouds briefly thinning in a stretch of ocean known for dangerous weather, aircraft and ships from six countries combed the waters far southwest of the Australian coast. Crews saw only three objects, one of them blue and two others that appeared to be rope.

But search planes could not relocate them or find the 122 pieces seen by a French satellite. Limited by fuel and distance, they turned back for the night.

That echoed the frustration of earlier sweeps that failed to zero in on three objects seen by satellites in recent days. Forecasters warned that the weather was likely to deteriorate again today, possibly jeopardizing the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished early March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

With the search in motion, Malaysian officials again sought to assuage the angry relatives of the flight's 153 Chinese passengers. But Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also expressed exasperation. About two-thirds of the missing are Chinese, but Hishammuddin pointedly said Chinese families "must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones," as did "so many other nations."

The latest satellite images, captured Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defense and Space, are the first to suggest a debris field from the plane, rather than just isolated objects. The items were spotted in roughly the same area as other objects previously seen by Australian and Chinese satellites.

Clouds obscured the latest satellite images, but dozens of objects could be seen in the gaps. At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin said some of them "appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials."

Australian officials did not say whether they received the French imagery in time for search planes out at sea to look for the objects, and did not return repeated phone messages seeking further comment. None of the three objects spotted by searchers Wednesday "were considered to be distinctive to MH370 or relevant to the satellite imagery," Australian Maritime Safety Authority officials said.

If the objects are confirmed to be from the flight, "then we can move on to deep sea surveillance search and rescue, hopefully, hoping against hope," Hishammuddin said.

But experts cautioned that the area's frequent high seas and bad weather and its distance from land complicated an already-trying search.

"This is a really rough piece of ocean, which is going to be a terrific issue," said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "I worry that people carrying out the rescue mission are going to get into trouble."

"We're facing an extremely challenging environment, and 'unprecedented' is an overused word that in this case applies," said John Cox, a former airline pilot and accident investigator who is now president and CEO of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation safety consultancy.

The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves forced crews to take a break Tuesday. Twelve planes and five ships from the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating, hoping to find even a single piece of the jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash and provide clues to the rest of the wreckage.

Malaysia said Monday that an analysis of the final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had gone down in the sea, with no survivors.

That data greatly reduced the search zone to an area estimated at 1.6 million square kilometers (622,000 square miles), about the size of Alaska. Wednesday's search focused on an 80,000-square-kilometer (31,000-square-mile) swath of ocean about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) southwest of Perth.

"We're throwing everything we have at this search," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine Network television.

"This is about the most inaccessible spot imaginable. It's thousands of kilometers from anywhere," he later told Seven Network television. "We will do what we can to solve this riddle."

Malaysia has been criticized over its handling of one of the most perplexing mysteries in aviation history. Much of the most strident criticism has come from relatives of the 153 missing Chinese passengers, some of whom expressed outrage that Malaysia essentially declared their loved ones dead without recovering a single piece of wreckage.

At a hotel banquet room in Beijing on Wednesday, a delegation of Malaysian government and airline officials explained what they knew to the relatives. They were met with skepticism and even ridicule by some of the roughly 100 people in the audience, who questioned how investigators could have concluded the direction and speed of the plane. One man later said he wanted to pummel everyone in the Malaysian delegation.

"We still have hope, but it is tiny, tiny," said Ma Xuemei, whose niece was on the flight. "All the information has been confusing and unreliable."

China dispatched a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, who met Najib and other top officials, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

China, which has warships and an icebreaker in the search zone, has backed the demands of the Chinese families who want detailed information on how Malaysia concluded the jet went down - details that Hishammuddin said Malaysia handed over Wednesday.

China's support for families is the likely reason why authorities - normally extremely wary of any spontaneous demonstrations that could undermine social stability - permitted a rare protest Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing. Relatives chanted slogans, threw water bottles and briefly tussled with police who kept them from a swarm of journalists.

Though officials believe they know roughly where the plane is, they don't know why it disappeared shortly after takeoff. Investigators have ruled out nothing - including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

The search for the wreckage and the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders is a major challenge. It took two years to find the black box from Air France Flight 447, which went down in the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew within days where that crash site was.

The batteries on the recorders' "pingers" are designed to last 30 days. After that, the pings begin to fade in the same way that a flashlight with failing batteries begins to dim, said Chuck Schofield of Dukane Seacom Inc., a company that has provided Malaysia Airlines with pingers in the past. Schofield said the fading pings might last five days before the battery dies.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the southern search operation, said a U.S. pinger locator arrived in Perth along with a Bluefin-21 underwater drone. The equipment will be fitted to the Australian navy ship the Ocean Shield, but AMSA could not say when they would be deployed.

Sieh said the seafloor in the search area is relatively flat, with dips and crevices similar to the part of the Atlantic Ocean where the Air France wreckage was found. Depths in search area range from 10,000 to 15,000 feet (3,000 to 4,500 meters).

"The idea of searching a potential area larger than the state of Texas is simply daunting," said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "We will need an extraordinary stroke of luck to recover floating debris, let alone identify where the wreckage is (on the ocean floor). It is just overwhelming the challenge that the investigators are facing."

Griffith reported from Perth, Australia. AP writers Eileen Ng and Scott McDonald in Kuala Lumpur, Christopher Bodeen and Didi Tang in Beijing, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.

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Government wants ads for junk food banned at schools http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140225/GZ01/302259901 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140225/GZ01/302259901 Tue, 25 Feb 2014 00:01:00 -0400 The Associated Press The Associated Press State of the Union: Obama won't 'stand still' http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140128/GZ01/301289972 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140128/GZ01/301289972 Tue, 28 Jan 2014 00:01:00 -0400 The Associated Press More Air Force missile men implicated in test cheating http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140128/GZ01/301289979 GZ01 http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140128/GZ01/301289979 Tue, 28 Jan 2014 00:01:00 -0400 The Associated Press