Hurricane Season Ends as One of the Busiest, Yet Mildest on Record

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The 2010 hurricane season officially ends Tuesday, and although 19 storms in all were named, the season was one of the mildest on record.

"It was one of the busier ones that we've observed since our records began back in the 1800s, mid-1800s," says National Hurricane Center meteorologist Todd Kimberlain.  "We had 19 named storms, 12 of those became hurricanes, five of those were major hurricanes."

Of those named storms, only one made landfall in the U.S.: Tropical Storm Bonnie.  Bonnie moved over south Florida in late July, but only for a brief period of time.

Kimberlain says, "For the sheer amount of tropical cyclone activity that we had, to not observe one U.S. landfall is kind of unusual.  We would have expected something."

A few factors may have led to the storms' relatively gentle natures.  According to Kimberlain, "We had a very persistent trough of low pressure offshore the U.S. east coast and that directed a lot of storms north and then northeast out to sea.  There were other storms that formed down in the western Caribbean and they primarily affected Central America and Mexico because of a very strong ridge of high pressure over that area."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


WikiLeaker Seeks to Expose 'Lying, Corrupt and Murderous Leadership'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The chief WikiLeaker whom the U.S. promised Monday to prosecute said his Internet site was just beginning to unload its diplomatic secrets and said the documents will skewer "lying, corrupt and murderous leadership from Bahrain to Brazil."

Julian Assange, the Australian who heads the secret-sharing website, told ABC News Monday he believes his safety and freedom are in danger. He responded to questions by e-mail from a clandestine hideout.

He was undaunted by vows from the U.S. and Australia to prosecute him and said the forthcoming diplomatic cables are aimed at "lying, corrupt and murderous leadership from Bahrain to Brazil."

"We're only one thousandth of the way in and look at what has so far being revealed. There will be many more," he wrote defiantly.

Assange also dismissed a warning Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said the dump of secret documents "puts people's lives in danger," particularly those sources who provided the U.S. with information about abuses in foreign countries.

The Obama administration's top diplomat and lawyer put WikiLeaks and Assange on alert Monday, promising to prosecute any individual, regardless of nationality, who broke U.S. law by making public hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables.

"[To] the extent that we can find anybody involved of breaking American law who has put at risk the assets and the people that I have described...they will be held responsible. They will be held accountable," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference.

"Some mistakenly applaud those responsible," Clinton said. "There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people...nothing brave about sabotaging peaceful relations between nations."

Though dedicated to bringing to light secret government documents, WikiLeaks operates in the shadows, running a sophisticated website, manned by an international team from a bunker in Iceland.

The current raft of documents, some 250,000 diplomatic cables that span decades and include various -- and sometimes embarrassing -- details about the way U.S. envoys see their foreign counterparts, is the latest document dump WikiLeaks received last year from Army Private Bradley Manning, currently awaiting court-martial.

Holder's declaration that he would seek to hold WikiLeaks responsible was met with praise from across the aisle.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he supported the efforts Holder was taking and said Assange's "purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Both Holder and King agreed that WikiLeaks should not treated as a media outlet, but a criminal entity intimately involved in the effort to steal secret documents and make them public.

King also called on Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization.

Over the course of the year, WikiLeaks has released secret military documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Report: Americans More Positive Regarding U.S. Progress in Afghanistan

U.S. Department of Defense (PRINCETON, N.J.) -- According to recent USA Today/Gallup poll results, Americans are increasingly optimistic about U.S. progress in Afghanistan. 

Although 54 percent of Americans polled say the U.S. is not doing well in Afghanistan, 45 percent -- the highest percentage since July 2009 -- believe the U.S. is advancing rather well.

As for an assessment of President Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, Americans appear to be divided almost evenly.  Forty-four percent approve of the president's direction, while 49 percent believe Obama could be managing the situation better.

Overall, those surveyed are more supportive of the Afghanistan war than the war in Iraq.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Federal Judge Bars Oklahoma Ballot Initiative on Sharia Law

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge in Oklahoma on Monday barred the implementation of a ballot initiative, passed by 70 percent of voters in Oklahoma, that would have forbidden state courts from considering Sharia Law in their decisions.

"This order addresses issues that go to the very foundation of our country, our Constitution, and particularly, the Bill of Rights," Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange wrote. "Throughout the course of our country's history, the will of the 'majority' has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals," she wrote.

The controversial initiative was passed even though its supporters acknowledged they had no evidence that the state's courts were considering Sharia -- the body of law based on Islam and the Koran -- in their decisions.

The initiative was immediately challenged by Muneer Awad, Oklahoma executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who filed suit claiming the measure violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which forbids the government from giving preference to one religion over another.

Opponents of the initiative say it is an unconstitutional scare tactic aimed at discriminating against Muslims. They say it will have a broad impact in the areas of family law that come before the courts and could prove to have national implications.

"The Court finds that plaintiff has shown that he will suffer an injury in fact, specifically, an invasion of his First Amendment rights which is concrete, particularized and imminent." Judge Miles-LaGrange wrote in granting Awad's request for a preliminary injunction. "The actual language of the amendment reasonably...may be viewed as specifically singling out Sharia Law, conveying a message of disapproval of plaintiff's faith."

State Senator Rex Conrad, who penned the legislation, told the Los Angeles Times, "Oklahoma does not have that problem yet...but why wait until it's in the courts?"

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Wikileaks Cable Details American's Harrowing Escape from Iran

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A 75-year-old Los Angeles dentist made a harrowing escape from Iran on horseback in January after officials in Tehran confiscated his passport, a U.S. State Department cable obtained by Wikileaks reveals. Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, paid $7,500 to two drug smugglers who led him on an extraordinary three-day trek into Turkey, including a 14-hour overnight ride through the mountains in temperatures below freezing.

A "visibly shaken" Vahedi ended up at the U.S. consulate in Ankara, suffering only from "some aches and pains," the cable said. Officials later helped him avoid deportation back to Iran by Turkish authorities and fly home to the U.S. to reunite with his family.

Vahedi had traveled to Tehran in May 2008 to visit his parents' gravesite and spent an uneventful four weeks there with family and friends. But when he tried to leave the country on June 6, authorities confiscated his passport and refused to let him leave.

Authorities sought a $150,000 fine to "make the process move more quickly" and assurances that his sons -- popular Persian pop singers who use "occasional anti-regime rhetoric" -- would end their music business, he told consular officials, according to the cable.

But after seven months of unsuccessful appeals before an Iranian court, Vahedi became desperate, believing a covert escape would be his only option of getting home.

Vahedi's story is one of dozens of interesting anecdotes buried within the initial release of secret U.S. government documents exposed by Wikileaks Sunday and posted online by The New York Times, the U.K.'s Guardian and France's Le Monde.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Police: Father of Three Missing Boys Lied About Mystery Woman

Photo Courtesy - WXYZ-TV Detroit(MORENCI, Mich.) -- The father of three missing Michigan boys lied about having a relationship with a woman to whom he said he gave the brothers in an attempt to shield them from his botched suicide attempt, police said Monday.

"We can confirm that there is no established relationship between [John Skelton] and the person he described as Joann Taylor," Morenci Police Chief Larry Weeks said.

Skelton had told police that he handed sons Andrew Skelton, 9, Alexander Skelton, 7, and Tanner Skelton, 5, off to Taylor to return them to their mother on Thanksgiving evening. Skelton is separated from his wife, Tanya Skelton, who has full custody of the boys.

Skelton had said he met Taylor and her husband a few years ago when he helped them after their car broke down, and then began e-mailing her, police said.

But confirming that Taylor even exists has been a challenge for authorities since the boys disappeared.

Police have said that the boys, who have been missing for four days, could be in "extreme danger."

Search crews, as well as hundreds of volunteers, looked for the boys throughout the weekend, focusing much of their efforts in wooded areas surrounding Skelton's home.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


More Classified U.S. Documents Exposed by WikiLeaks

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- To no avail, the State Department warned the founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks that its latest planned document dump puts the lives of “countless individuals” in danger.

Despite the plea to reconsider, Julian Assange went ahead with the massive leak of 250,000 records Sunday although their appearance was delayed by a denial-of-service attack that WikiLeaks blamed on hackers determined to stop their release.  Just the same, Assange provided the materials to The New York Times as well as Britain’s The Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel.

This sensitive trove of information contains information that is at the very least embarrassing to Washington because of some unflattering portrayals of world leaders and at worst, jeopardizes those who expected their conversations with Americans to be confidential while giving enemies of the U.S. a heads-up on formely classified information that they can exploit to their advantage. 

Among some of the revelations:

-- Washington believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that are capable of reaching Moscow and various Western European capitals.

-- Arabian Peninsula governments have implored the U.S. time and time again to launch a military preemptive strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities which they consider a threat to the stability of the region.  In particular, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was said have to repeatedly asked the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” before it’s too late.

-- Israel has always expressed its trepidation about allowing a nuclear Iran to develop.  Last year, Israeli defense Ehud Barak told U.S. lawmakers that attacking Iran later than 2010 “would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

-- The U.S. has tried unsuccessfully since 2007 to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor that could be used to build an illicit atomic bomb.  The Pakistanis have resisted inspections because they’re worried that an attempt “certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons.”

-- Deep suspicions remain about corruption inherent in the Afghan government as the U.S. tries to work with an unreliable ally.  Last year, Afghanistan’s vice president was caught by the Drug Enforcement Agency carrying $52 million in a suitcase while on a visit to the United Arab Emirates.  The official was still allowed to keep the money without explaining what he was doing with it.

-- China’s Politburo, a group of 24 who oversee the Communist Party of China, authorized the hacking of Google’s computer systems in that country while operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the government have broken into the computers of the U.S. and its western allies since 2002.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Alleged Christmas Tree Bomber Heads to Court

Photo Courtesy - Multnomah County Jail(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- A 19-year-old Somali-American accused of attempting to set off a car bomb at an Oregon Christmas tree lighting is expected to appear in federal court Monday, authorities said.

According to undercover FBI agents, Mohamed Osman Mohamud was the target of a six-month FBI sting in which he allegedly believed he was detonating a bomb inside a parked van near Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday night.

However, the bomb wasn't real and his alleged associates were actually FBI agents.  They arrested Mohamud after he dialed a cell phone number he believed would trigger the blast.

"The FBI took great caution to insure that the arrest was planned in a way to insure public safety," said U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton.

According to the FBI, Mohamud was "anxious to go operational and learn about explosives" and "allegedly considered a Mumbai style shooting rampage."

When told Mohamed might see body parts and blood, FBI agents allegedly recorded Mohamud saying, "I want to see that, that's what I want for these people...I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured."

If convicted, Mohamud faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Local Governments Ordered to Buy New Street Signs

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  The Federal Highway Administration is ordering all local governments -- from the tiniest towns to the largest cities -- to go out and buy new street signs that federal bureaucrats say are easier to read.  The rules are part of a tangle of regulations included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The 800-plus page book tells local governments they must:

-- Increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current four inches to six inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour.  This must be done by January 2012.

-- Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018.

-- And whenever signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in all caps.

In Milwaukee, this will cost the cash-strapped city nearly $2 million -- double the city's entire annual for traffic control.  In Dinwiddie County, Virginia -- with lots of roads, but not many people -- the cost comes to about $10 for every man, woman and child.

The Federal Highway Administration says it's concerned about safety.  The new regulations, which were written under the Bush Administration, are designed to make sure that signs are easier to read for an aging population.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Ex-Boyfriend Charged in Death of College Student

Photo Courtesy - findjennilyn(dot)com(SYRACUSE, N.Y.) -- Onondaga County, New York District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said on Saturday officials had treated the ex-boyfriend of a missing college student as a witness but knew all along he was the prime suspect in the disappearance of 20-year-old Jenni-Lyn Watson.  Watson's body was found Saturday in a park near her suburban Syracuse, N.Y., home, in a marsh behind the playing fields. 

Steven Pieper, 21, pleaded not guilty in town court, where he is charged with second-degree murder.  Officials say he and Watson had been romantically involved, off-and-on, for about a year and a half but Watson broke it off in October.

She came home for Thanksgiving from college in Pennsylvania, where she was a dance major and disappeared from her parents' home Nov. 19.  Hundreds of searchers combed the countryside looking for her, finally discovering the body Saturday in Clay Central Park. 

Authorities say they do not have any eyewitness reports linking Pieper to the Watson home, where they believe the girl was murdered.  They are asking neighbors to contact authorities if they saw Pieper's black Volkswagen in the neighborhood on the day Jenni-Lyn Watson disappeared.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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