Thursday, March 31, 2011

Israel: Gaza Fires Rocket at Ashkelon

After two days of relative quiet on the Gaza front, Gaza terrorists fired a short range missile into Israel Thursday. It exploded south of Ashkelon, but caused no casualties or damage. Israeli security forces are looking for the remains of the rocket.

The Iron Dome system, which is supposed to protect against missile strikes, is currently only stationed near Be'er Sheva. It did not go into action.
On Tuesday, a rocket exploded in the Shaar HaNegev area. No one was hurt.
IAF jets attacked a terrorist cell in Gaza Wednesday, in response to the rocket fire Tuesday. An Islamic Jihad terrorist was killed. Arab sources said the man was killed east of Rafiah. (read more)

Ivory Coast's main city braced for war as opposition forces reach Abidjan outskirts

Ivory Coast's most senior military commander has defected from the embattled president as rebel troops were last night at the outskirts of Abidjan, the last major stronghold of the sitting leader.

Previously a close ally of Laurent Gbagbo, Gen Phillippe Mangou fled his post with his wife and five children and sought refuge at South Africa's embassy.

Mr Gbagbo has refused to concede the presidency since losing November's elections. The move will damage Mr Gbagbo's chances of clinging to power following the disputed poll, as the Army is one of the key levers of power which had remained loyal to him and supported him in his bid to retain the presidency.

Gen Mangou's desertion came as Alassane Ouattara's Republican Forces took the key seaport of San Pedro on Thursday, and extended their zone of control to within close range of the commercial capital after a week of military advances from their northern strongholds.

Mr Ouattara called for all remaining pro-Gbagbo troops to lay down their weapons or join his side as Abidjan braced for battle.

Gunfire and heavy artillery was reported close to one of the city's main military barracks, and in the area where the Presidential Palace is located. It was unclear whether the clashes indicated that Republican Forces had entered the city. (read more)

Knut 'cannot be stuffed', say alarmed polar bear activists

Fans of Knut, Germany's superstar polar bear who died this month, are planning a demonstration on Saturdy against plans for his body to be preserved and put on display in a Berlin museum.

Knut died suddenly aged four on March 19 and activists have been collecting signatures both on the internet and on the streets. An online condolence book provided by his zoo is full of angry messages. "Knut cannot be stuffed. When are you going to get the message!," reads one from Michael S. "Leave him alone for once! You cannot be serious. Let Knut rest in peace !!!"

An open letter to zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz says: "Nobody wants to look at a stiff, dead Knut."

According to a survey of more than 2,400 people published in the Berlin tabloid BZ, 73 per cent of those questioned are opposed to the bear being put on show at the museum.

Campaigners accuse the zoo, which has already made millions of euros from Knut in merchandising and entrance fees, of wanting to milk him for even more. They say Knut should be cremated.

Even if the plans go ahead, Knut is not actually going to be stuffed: a plastic model of an animal's body is made with the fur, skin or scales pulled over. (read more)

Japan activist rams gate of nuclear plant near stricken reactors

A man drove his truck into the compound of a nuclear power plant on Thursday just miles from Japan's quake-stricken reactors, managing to evade police for two hours and embarrassing the country's already heavily criticised nuclear authorities.

He had driven inside the government's 20 km (12.5 mile) evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which has been leaking radiation after it was by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The man's motives were unclear but he appears to have been a right-wing activist. Apart from breaking down a gate to get in, he caused no other damage.

"At 12:21 this afternoon, a man in a propaganda truck drove up to the main gate of Fukushima Daiichi plant and demanded entry. The plant's personnel refused, so the truck then drove to Daini (nuclear plant, 12 km away)," Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told a daily news briefing.

"Being refused entry at the main gate there, he went around to the western side gate, rammed it, and entered," said Nishiyama, who looked surprised at the interest shown by reporters in the incident. (read more)

Radiation levels in seawater off Japan plant spike to all-time highs

The levels of radiation in ocean waters off Japan's embattled Fukushima Daiichi plant continue to skyrocket, the nation's nuclear safety agency said Thursday, with no clear sense of what's causing the spike or how to stop it.

The amount of the radioactive iodine-131 isotope in the samples, taken Wednesday some 330 meters (361 yards) into the Pacific Ocean, has surged to 4,385 times above the regulatory limit.

This tops the previous day's reading of 3,355 times above the standard -- and an exponential spike over the 104-times increase measured just last Friday.

Officials have downplayed the potential perils posed by this isotope, since it loses half of its radiation every eight days.

Yet amounts of the cesium-137 isotope -- which, by comparison, has a 30-year "half life" -- have also soared, with a Wednesday afternoon sample showing levels 527 times the standard. (read more)

NATO takes over air operations as CIA works the ground in Libya



NATO took sole command of air operations in Libya on Thursday as CIA operatives worked the field to connect with rebel fighters who have seen their surge toward Tripoli impeded.

A U.S. intelligence source said the CIA is operating in the country to help increase U.S. "military and political understanding" of the situation. "Yes, we are gathering intel firsthand and we are in contact with some opposition entities," the source told CNN.

Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, indicated Thursday that in his view, the presence of foreign intelligence personnel would not violate the U.N. resolution authorizing action in Libya. The resolution prohibits "occupation forces," a term that "has a quite clear meaning," Di Paola said at a news conference in response to a question from CNN.

He also said NATO receives and uses intelligence from allies and does not judge the sources.

The CIA has had a presence in Libya for some time, a U.S. official told CNN earlier this month. "The intelligence community is aggressively pursuing information on the ground," the official said.

The CIA sent additional personnel to Libya to augment officers on the ground after the anti-government protests erupted, a U.S. official told CNN. The official did not give details. (read more)

Vanishing act by Japanese executive during nuclear crisis raises questions

In normal times, Masataka Shimizu lives in The Tower, a luxury high-rise in the same upscale Tokyo district as the U.S. Embassy. But he hasn’t been there for more than two weeks, according to a doorman.

The Japanese public hasn’t seen much of him recently either. Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, the company that owns a haywire nuclear power plant 150 miles from the capital, is the most invisible — and most reviled — chief executive in Japan.

Amid rumors that Shimizu had fled the country, checked into a hospital or committed suicide, company officials said Monday that their boss had suffered an unspecified “small illness” because of overwork after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake sent a tsunami crashing onto his company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

After a short break to recuperate, they said, Shimizu, 66, is back at work directing an emergency command center on the second floor of Tepco’s central Tokyo headquarters.

Still, company officials are vague about whether they have actually seen their boss: “I’ll have to check on that,” said spokesman Ryo Shimitsu. Another staffer, Hiro Hasegawa, said he’d seen the president regularly but couldn’t provide details. (read more)

How big is the US federal budget disaster?

The devastating images from Japan are seared into our collective memory. With 10, 901 dead and another 17, 038 still missing, the human toll is almost beyond comprehension. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that ravaged Japan has become the most expensive natural disaster in recorded history.

From Fox News:
Japan's Cabinet Office on Wednesday estimated the catastrophe...could cause losses between 16 trillion yen ($198 billion) and 25 trillion yen ($309 billion). That figure compares with estimates from the World Bank and Goldman Sachs for losses of $235 billion and $200 billion, respectively.

The $309 billion price tag would make Japan's earthquake the costliest on record, surpassing the $125 billion that the Insurance Information Institute estimates Hurricane Katrina cost the Gulf coast in 2005. It would also top the $100 billion in damage caused by the 1995 Kobe quake in Japan.
Uh... hold on a minute. Something seems wrong with these numbers. Do I understand this correctly; all those coastal cities and towns that were leveled, the tens of thousands of cars and homes that were pulverized, all the stores, shops, factories, warehouses, schools, freeways, roads, ships, aircraft, trains, port facilities and infrastructure reduced to rubble and it will only cost as much as US Federal deficit for a couple of months? (read more)

When the Fukushima Meltdown Hits Groundwater, It Will Be Worse Than Chernobyl

Fukushima is going to dwarf Chenobyl. The Japanese government has had a level 7 nuclear disaster going for almost a week but won’t admit it.

The disaster is occurring the opposite way than Chernobyl, which exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactions are getting worse. I suspect three nuclear piles are in meltdown and we will probably get some of it.

If reactor 3 is in meltdown, the concrete under the containment looks like lava. But Fukushima is not far off the water table. When that molten mass of self-sustaining nuclear material gets to the water table it won’t simply cool down. It will explode – not a nuclear explosion, but probably enough to involve the rest of the reactors and fuel rods at the facility.

Pouring concrete on a critical reactor makes no sense – it will simply explode and release more radioactive particulate matter. The concrete will melt and the problem will get worse. Chernobyl was different – a critical reactor exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactor cores are still melting down. The ONLY way to stop that is to detonate a ~10 kiloton fission device inside each reactor containment vessel and hope to vaporize the cores. That’s probably a bad solution.

A nuclear meltdown is a self-sustaining reaction. Nothing can stop it except stopping the reaction. And that would require a nuclear weapon. In fact, it would require one in each containment vessel to merely stop what is going on now. But it will be messy. (read more)


Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon expects inflation



U.S. consumers face "serious" inflation in the months ahead for clothing, food and other products, the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations warned Wednesday.

The world's largest retailer is working with suppliers to minimize the effect of cost increases and believes its low-cost business model will position it better than its competitors.

Still, inflation is "going to be serious," Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said during a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board. "We're seeing cost increases starting to come through at a pretty rapid rate."

Along with steep increases in raw material costs, John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says labor costs in China and fuel costs for transportation are weighing heavily on retailers. He predicts prices will start increasing at all retailers in June.

"Every single retailer has and is paying more for the items they sell, and retailers will be passing some of these costs along," Long says. "Except for fuel costs, U.S. consumers haven't seen much in the way of inflation for almost a decade, so a broad-based increase in prices will be unprecedented in recent memory." (read more)

Tests Show Irish Banks Still Ailing

Once again, Ireland’s banking mess seems to be sending a message that Europe does not want to hear: only by dealing with stricken banks can the Continent expect to end its debt crisis soon.

Just months after a banking collapse forced an 85 billion euro ($120 billion) rescue package for the country, the Irish central bank is expected to announce on Thursday that the latest round of stress testing shows that the nation’s banks may need 13 billion euros to cover bad real estate debt. On top of the 10 billion euros already granted by Europe and the International Monetary Fund for the banks, that would bring the total bill for Ireland’s banking bust to about 70 billion euros, or more than $98 billion.

Some specialists say the final tally could be closer to $140 billion, an extraordinary amount for a country whose annual output is $241 billion. Trading in shares of Irish Life and Permanent, the only domestic bank to have avoided a state bailout, was suspended Wednesday after reports that it might have to seek government aid as well. (read more)

Ohio Lawmakers Pass Anti-Union Bill

The two houses of the Ohio Legislature approved a far-reaching bill on Wednesday that would hobble the ability of public-employee unions to bargain collectively and undercut their political clout.

They sent the bill to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, who lawmakers said would sign it in the next few days.

The Republican-dominated Senate voted 17 to 16 in favor of the bill Wednesday evening, hours after the House passed it, 53 to 44, with 5 Republicans joining 39 Democrats in opposition.

Republicans applauded the bill, saying Ohio’s deficit-plagued state and local governments could no longer afford the costs that public-sector unions extracted in collective bargaining. But Democrats criticized the legislation, saying it effectively eviscerated public employees’ bargaining rights and would make it harder for them to stay in the middle class.

The bill would bar public employees from striking and would prohibit binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters. It would allow bargaining over wages, but not health coverage and pensions and would allow public-employee unions to bargain only when the public employer chose to do so. (read more)

Opposition in Ivory Coast Seizes Capital

The rule of Ivory Coast’s strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, took another blow on Wednesday as the country’s administrative capital fell to forces loyal to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, with little resistance.

The battle for the country’s presidency appeared to be entering a decisive phase. By late afternoon, Mr. Ouattara’s troops were patrolling the streets of the capital, Yamoussoukro, to welcoming greetings and celebratory gunfire from citizens, two residents there said. Meanwhile, Mr. Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, delivered an ultimatum to Mr. Gbagbo on French radio and television, saying he had only “several hours” to give up power.

Spokesmen for Mr. Ouattara, the man recognized internationally as the winner of elections last November, said the taking of Yamoussokrou had been accomplished with hardly a shot fired — another easy victory in a week when Mr. Gbagbo’s forces appeared to be crumbling from east to west in the West African nation. (read more)

Low levels of radiation found in US milk

Very low levels of radiation turned up in a sample of milk from the West Coast state of Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, but federal officials assured consumers not to worry.

The FDA said such findings were to be expected in the coming days because of the nuclear crisis in Japan, and the levels were expected to drop relatively quickly.

Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex began leaking radiation after it was damaged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami this month.

Results from a March 25 milk sample taken from Spokane, Washington, showed levels of radioactive Iodine-131 that were still 5,000 times below levels of concern set by the FDA, including levels set for infants and children.

``Radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and these findings are a miniscule amount compared to what people experience every day,'' said Patricia Hansen, senior scientist at the FDA. ``A person would be exposed to low levels of radiation on a round-trip cross-country flight, watching television, and even from construction materials.''

EPA said it was increasing the level of nationwide monitoring of milk, precipitation and drinking water.

Spokane, a city of 208,000, is more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) east of the Pacific coast. Kim Papich, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District, said the agency was aware of the EPA report and preparing to issue a statement to residents. (read more)

UK: Some public forests will still be sold off

A chunk of England's publicly owned forest will still be sold off, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary has admitted, despite the public outcry over plans to privatise woodland.

In an embarrassing admission earlier this year, the minister was forced to back down from plans to change the law so the government could sell all the 258,000 hectares of woodland owned by the taxpayer.

"I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people's concerns," Mrs Spelman told the commons in February.

But giving evidence to the Environment Select Committee, she admitted that the government would still go ahead with plans to get rid 15 per cent of UK woodland - the maximum allowed without changing the current rules.

It means some 38,700 hectares, will be sold off over the next five years.

Proposals to sell off the land have generated huge public opposition with one petition calling for the plans to be scrapped generating more than 500,000 signatures. (read more)

Japan passes record budget, but deadlock remains

The Japanese parliament Tuesday passed a record $1.1-trillion budget for the year starting April but faced deadlock over key funding bills needed to put much of it into action.

The impasse is fuelling worries over an economy reeling from a record earthquake and tsunami that tore into Japan's northeastern coast on March 11.

The 92.4-trillion-yen budget, formulated before the disasters, was enacted after the government-controlled lower house of parliament overrode an earlier veto by the opposition-controlled upper house.

Under the constitution, the annual budget must be enacted within 30 days of being sent to the upper house after the lower house's approval, even if the upper house rejects it. The lower house voted for it on March 1.

But Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) needs opposition support to pass key legislation, including approval to issue deficit-covering bonds to fund 42 percent of planned spending.

Designed to boost the pre-quake economy, the budget also threatens to add to Japan's debt pile, which at nearly 200 percent of GDP is the industrialised world's biggest. (read more)



Osama Bin Laden 'seeks to join Arab revolts'

Reports that Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted fugitive with a $50 million U.S. bounty on his head, has broken cover to move around Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent weeks has raised concern he may be planning a new major attack on the West.

But a specialist with access to Islamist militants says the objective may be even more dangerous: merging al-Qaida's war against the West with the wave of uprisings across the Arab world that largely target regimes allied to the United States.

The Arab pro-democracy revolts have toppled Presidents Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and currently threaten President Ali Abdullah of Yemen, where al-Qaida is particularly active, and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya.

Trouble is brewing too in the Persian Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and its regional allies have dispatched troops to the island kingdom of Bahrain to support the Sunni monarchy against protesters.

Many see the hand of Shiite Iran in the swelling gulf violence, with toppling the U.S.-allied monarchy of Saudi Arabia, one of the world's leading oil producers, as the ultimate target. (read more)

Zimbabwe's killing fields: Mass grave of over 600 bodies found in mine shaft (France, U.S., U.K. and UN what are you doing about this?) 31st Mar 2011

*Mugabe loyalists blame Ian Smith regime for corpses
*Pathologists say bodies appear less than 30 years old

Hundreds of skeletons found in a remote mine shaft in Zimbabwe have been used as political propaganda by supporters of President Robert Mugabe.

The Fallen Heroes of Zimbabwe Trust, a previously little known group of Mugabe party loyalists, says says the remains of more than 640 bodies have been discovered in the disused Chibondo gold mine near the provincial center of Mount Darwin, 110 miles from Harare,

But while the trust says the bodies are those of victims of colonial atrocities committed under former leader Ian Smith, pathologists say visual evidence may point to more recent killings in a nation plagued by election violence and politically motivated murders.

The trust last month launched a program to exhume skeletons in the mine shaft in northeastern Zimbabwe, saying the country's former rulers were guilty of human rights violations that far outweigh any accusations of rights abuses leveled against Mugabe's party and his police and military.

Zimbabwe's sole broadcaster, in news bulletins and repeated interruptions to regular programs, has urged ordinary citizens to visit the disused mine to witness the horror of colonial atrocities. Read More

Gaddafi defector must face war crimes trial over Lockerbie, insist MPs - but has he already done a deal with the government? - 31st Mar 2011

The former Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain should face justice over the Lockerbie bombing, MPs said today.

Musa Kusa is said to have been the brains behind the 1988 terror blast on Pan Am flight 103 and is today being questioned in a 'secure location' in the UK after defecting following pressure from MI6.

Scottish prosecutors today told the Foreign Office they want to question Kusa over the attack - and David Cameron insisted that there was nothing to stop them carrying out their investigation.

Kusa's arrival in the UK was welcomed with jubilation by relatives of those killed at Lockerbie, who said he could finally reveal 'how Libya carried out the attack and why'.

Families of the victims may even finally discover if Gaddafi himself ordered the bombing.

One MP raised the prospect of a trial for 'war crimes' if he is found to have been mastermind of the attack that killed 270 victims.

But despite government insistence that Kusa had not been granted immunity from prosecution in British or international courts, there were concerns about what kind of deal might be being struck behind closed doors.

Foreign Secretary William Hague today admitted that he had been in contact with Kusa for days before he fled Libya, and had held several telephone conversations with him. Read More

Catatumbo Lightning - Most Amazing Natural Phenomenon In The World - 31st Mar 2011

Catatumbo Lightning - The mysterious "Relámpago del Catatumbo" (Catatumbo lightning) is a unique natural phenomenon in the world. Located on the mouth of the Catatumbo river at Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela), the phenomenon is a cloud-to-cloud lightning that forms a voltage arc more than five kilometre high during 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours a night, and as many as 280 times an hour. This almost permanent storm occurs over the marshlands where the Catatumbo River feeds into Lake Maracaibo and it is considered the greatest single generator of ozone in the planet, judging from the intensity of the cloud-to-cloud discharge and great frequency. Source

Asian youths sent on £2,000 jaunt to Blackpool to avoid clashes at Right-wing march jailed for car park fight - 31st Mar 2011

A group of Asian youths taken on a day-trip to Blackpool to avoid becoming embroiled violence at an EDL march ended up knocking a man unconscious in a car park brawl.

Five teenagers have been found guilty of their part in the incident in which a father-of-two was punched to the ground.

The five were part of a group of youths who were taken to on the trip on July 17 last year, the day of an English Defence League march in Dudley in the West Midlands.

The day-trip cost the public purse £2,113 and saw the group from the Tipton and Oldbury areas of the West Midands accompanied by a police officer and officials from the council.

The clash happened after the youths got off their coach and began chanting racist comments at Derek Brownhill, who had just got off a coach parked nearby.

The chants were heard by Mr Brownhill's pregnant partner and two young daughters, as well as a group of elderly people, the court was told

In the ensuing confrontation Mr Brownhill was punched and hit with such force by Riad Hussain, 19, that both feet left the ground.

Wolverhampton Crown Court was told the blows left unconscious and with bruising and swelling to his face and head.

The group then punched Hussain, from Oldbury, in the face to give him a bruise so they could try to claim that his actions were in self defence. Read More

BREAKING NEWS: Suspected Tornado Collapses Airport Hangar, Trapping 70

At least 70 people are trapped in a collapsed building at a central Florida airport after severe weather hit the region, Fox News confirms.

An air show was taking place at the Lakeland Regional Airport when the violent weather tore through.

Powerful winds, severe thunderstorms and some tornadoes are sweeping across Tampa Bay and central Florida.

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue said Thursday that a tractor-trailer was blown over on its side and fell on two vehicles. All of the people involved declined medical treatment.

At the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, several small planes were blown over and there are multiple reports of downed trees and power lines.

Winds gusted up to 90 miles per hour in Tampa, and emergency crews were responding to a report of a building collapse with no injuries.

A janitor at an elementary school in a suburb northwest of downtown Tampa was taken to a hospital after he lightning struck near him.

It was the second day of strong storms in the region. (read more)


Stricken Portugal 'lacks the cash to meet debt payments'

Portugal insisted it could cope with looming debt repayments, after analysts warned it does not have enough money to meet its obligations.

The debt-laden nation faces around €9bn (£7.9bn) in bond redemptions by June, but currently has no more than €5bn in cash, analysts at Barclays Capital estimated.

"Portugal needs to find financing in the coming weeks in some way," they said, suggesting credit lines or some sort of bridge loan. "In our opinion, Portugal is likely to find financing, but it is not in a comfortable position."

Portugal denied that it could not afford to pay off its debt.

Carlos Costa Pina, the country's treasury secretary, told Bloomberg: "Portugal has conditions to face up to the debt redemption commitments scheduled for 2011, especially the redemptions of long-term debt that will take place in April and June."

However, Portugal's 10-year bonds are trading with yields at euro-era highs of over 8pc, as investors demand more reward for taking on the risk. (read more)

Libya: Rebels pledge to forgive Kadhafi turncoats

Libya's rebel National Transitional Council vowed Monday they would forgive supporters of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi as long as they turned their backs on the leader whose forces have been pushed back under fierce coalition airstrikes.

"We ask the people around Kadhafi to abandon him. If they do so, we will forgive their wrongdoings," the main spokesman for the government-in-waiting, Abdulhafiz Ghoga, told reporters in the eastern rebel stronghold of Beghazi. (read more)

‘Freelance jihadists’ join Libyan rebels: Ex-al Qaeda member speaks out

A former leader of Libya’s al Qaeda affiliate says he thinks “freelance jihadists” have joined the rebel forces, as NATO’s commander told Congress on Tuesday that intelligence indicates some al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists are fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.

Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who renounced his al Qaeda affiliation in 2000, said in an interview that he estimates 1,000 jihadists are in Libya.

On Capitol Hill, Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO commander, when asked about the presence of al Qaeda terrorists among the rebels, said the leadership of the opposition is made up of “responsible men and women.”

“We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al Qaeda, Hezbollah,” the four-star admiral said. “We’ve seen different things. But at this point, I don’t have detail sufficient to say that there’s a significant al Qaeda presence, or any other terrorist presence, in and among these folks.”

The military is continuing to “look at that very closely,” he said, because “it’s part of doing due diligence as we move forward on any kind of relationship” with the opposition.

Outside observers generally estimate the number of trained Libyan fighters to be about 1,000. (read more)

Obama Cuts in Line and Gets an iPad 2 -- Apparently he has nothing better to do these days...

Few would debate that President Barack Obama is the most tech savvy president in American history.

Mr. Obama has a custom-rigged Blackberry and he has admitted to owning an iPod.

Now the former law school professor law school lecturer is trying to prove his technical worth by telling reporters that not only does he own a computer -- a MacBook Pro reportedly -- but the leader of the free world also uses an iPad 2.

AllNewsMac for what it's worth is questioning how the president got his iPad. With Apple running shortages across the globe, it is safe to assume Mr. Obama was not waiting in line outside of an Apple store in Georgetown.

A CNN photographer also reportedly saw the president playing around with an iPad in the Oval Office shortly after Mr. Obama dined with Apple CEO Steve Jobs in the Bay Area in February. The dinner took place before the iPad 2 was unveiled. (read more)

Members of Congress Collect Many Unpaid Tickets - $15,000 worth - but it's ok if they do it, of course

Members of Congress have immunity from many routine parking tickets in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try to rack up fines.

According to a Roll Call survey of vehicles parked on Capitol Hill and at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as of mid-March, lawmakers were carrying at least $15,000 in outstanding tickets — ranging from expired meters to speeding camera violations — and potentially thousands of dollars more.

Three-quarters of those tickets, worth about $11,500, were in default at the time of the survey, having gone more than 60 days, and in some cases years, without payment.

Roll Call canvassed Congressional parking facilities, as well as a special Members-only parking lot at the airport, and reviewed about 300 vehicles displaying a House- or Senate-issued Member parking tag.

Information on parking violations was obtained from the District of Columbia’s public ticket database, which is searchable by license plate and includes information on minor violations.

While many vehicles registered a single ticket, valued at as little as $20, a handful of automobiles reported several hundred to thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets. (read more)

No Joke for New Jersey: Snow Storm on Tap for April 1 -- Expect 10 inches at least!

April Fool's! Or not.

Yet another spring snow storm is slated to hit New Jersey on Friday. Computer models indicate parts of Connecticut and New York may also be in Mother Nature's wintry path, but it's still too early to tell.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for Passaic, Union, Bergen and Essex counties in New Jersey from late Thursday night until 8 p.m. Friday. The watch also applies to southwest Connecticut and New York's lower Hudson Valley.

The storm is expected to develop Thursday night off the Virginia coast and intensify Friday near the Jersey and southern New England coasts.

Heavy snow is possible at times, with accumulations amounting to up to 10 inches in parts of northeast New Jersey. Wind speeds up to 20 mph with gusts as high as 30 mph are also expected. (read more)

Japan to scrap stricken nuclear reactors

Japan is to decommission four stricken reactors at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, the operator says.

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) made the announcement three weeks after failing to bring reactors 1 - 4 under control. Locals would be consulted on reactors 5 and 6, which were shut down safely.

Harmful levels of radioactivity have been detected in the area.

More than 11,000 people are known to have been killed by the devastating 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

Emperor Akihito visited a centre for earthquake and tsunami victims in the Tokyo area on Wednesday.

The emperor's visit "gives me strength" said one of the evacuees.

"Amid all the destruction, it is a safe haven”

Japanese experts are considering whether to cover the reactor buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi plant with a special material, to stop the spread of radioactive substances, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says.

On Wednesday, the government ordered nuclear power plant operators to start implementing new safety measures immediately.

The steps - to be completed by the end of April - include preparing back-up power in case of loss of power supply.

Fire trucks will be on standby to intervene and ensure cooling systems for both reactors and pools of used fuel are maintained. (read more)

US Finances Rank Near Worst in the World: Study

The US ranks near the bottom of developed global economies in terms of financial stability and will stay there unless it addresses its burgeoning debt problems, a new study has found.

In the Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index, the Comeback America Initiative ranked 34 countries according to their ability to meet their financial challenges, and the US finished 28th, said David Walker, head of the organization and former US comptroller general.

"We think it is important for the American people to understand where the United States is as compared to other countries with regard to fiscal responsibility and sustainability," Walker said in a CNBC interview. "Americans are used to rankings and they're used to ranking very high, but frankly in this area we rank very low." (read more)

Unreported Soros Event Aims to Remake Entire Global Economy

Two years ago, George Soros said he wanted to reorganize the entire global economic system. In two short weeks, he is going to start - and no one seems to have noticed.

On April 8, a group he's funded with $50 million is holding a major economic conference and Soros's goal for such an event is to "establish new international rules" and "reform the currency system." It's all according to a plan laid out in a Nov. 4, 2009, Soros op-ed calling for "a grand bargain that rearranges the entire financial order."

The event is bringing together "more than 200 academic, business and government policy thought leaders' to repeat the famed 1944 Bretton Woods gathering that helped create the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Soros wants a new 'multilateral system," or an economic system where America isn't so dominant.

More than two-thirds of the slated speakers have direct ties to Soros. The billionaire who thinks "the main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat" is taking no chances.

Thus far, this global gathering has generated less publicity than a spelling bee. And that's with at least four journalists on the speakers list, including a managing editor for the Financial Times and editors for both Reuters and The Times. Given Soros's warnings of what might happen without an agreement, this should be a big deal. But it's not.

What is a big deal is that Soros is doing exactly what he wanted to do. His 2009 commentary pushed for "a new Bretton Woods conference, like the one that established the post-WWII international financial architecture." And he had already set the wheels in motion. (read more)

Detroit's Population Crashes: Census Finds 25% Plunge as Blacks Flee to Suburbs; Shocked Mayor Seeks Recount

The population of Detroit has fallen back 100 years.

The flight of middle-class African-Americans to the suburbs fueled an exodus that cut Detroit's population 25% in the past decade to 713,777, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday. That's the city's lowest population level since the 1910 census, when automobile mass production was making Detroit Detroit.

The decline, the fastest in city history, shocked local officials, who had expected a number closer to 800,000. Mayor Dave Bing said the city would seek a recount.

"If we could go out and identify another 40,000 people that were missed, and it brings us over the threshold of 750,000, that would make a difference from what we can get from the federal and state government," Mr. Bing said at a news conference Tuesday.

In all, the city lost more than 237,000 residents, including 185,000 blacks and about 41,000 whites. The Hispanic population ticked up by 1,500. Meanwhile, the black population in neighboring Macomb County more than tripled to 72,723, constituting 8.6% of the county's population in 2010, compared with 2.7% a decade earlier. Oakland County's African-American population rose 36% to 164,078.

Detroit's population has fallen steadily since the heyday of the auto industry in the 1950s, when it peaked around two million, but the declines have accelerated in recent years as manufacturing jobs have disappeared and the mortgage crisis has devastated even stable, middle-class neighborhoods. The number of vacant housing units doubled in the past decade to nearly 80,000, more than one-fifth of the city's housing stock, the Census Bureau reported. (read more)


Hispanics Now Majority In Texas Public Schools

Hispanic students for the first time make up the majority of students enrolled in Texas public schools.

The Texas Education Agency reports Hispanic students this school year account for 50.2 percent of the state’s 4.9 million children enrolled in public schools, including pre-kindergarten and early childhood education.

Currently, there are an estimated 2.48 million Hispanics students in Texas public schools.

Hispanics last year made up nearly 49 percent of the students.

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said Tuesday that the Hispanic population is the fastest-growing group of students.

Texas lawmakers are dealing with a projected $15 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year spending period. Possible funding cuts for public education have been discussed. (read more)

How China should rule the world

“Reform and opening up” has been China’s mantra for more than three decades. The result has been not only the emergence of a new economic superpower but of one highly integrated into the world economy. A big question, then, is how China should use its influence. It is one I addressed in a speech at this year’s China Development Forum in Beijing. My argument was that China has achieved greatness and now has responsibility for the global system thrust upon it.

This colossus is now the world’s largest exporter and second largest importer (after the US), unless the European Union is treated as a single unit. It has the world’s largest trade and current account surpluses and owns a third of world currency reserves. Its flow of savings is the world’s biggest. It is the largest importer of many commodities and the price-setter for many products. China’s influence is, in short, both pervasive and growing. Yet it is also a developing country ruled by the Communist party. This is an unprecedented combination.

China needs to develop its own view of how to use its influence. In doing so, it will have to start from a definition of its national interests and objectives. China’s overwhelming interest lies, I suggest, in a stable, peaceful and co-operative global political and economic environment. Only in such a world can China hope to sustain rapid development. (read more)

How should China achieve its aim? Broadly, it would be best achieved via further development of the rules-governed, institutionally based global system. The obvious alternative would be a hierarchical arrangement, with China at the apex. But such an approach would, I fear, lead to unmanageable conflicts with the other great powers. With this idea in mind, let us consider trade, payments, finance and resources.

Japan Ignores UN On Nuclear Exclusion Zone - 31st Mar 2011

The Japanese Government says there is no need to expand the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear power station, despite mounting pressure to move more people away from the crippled plant.

The current evacuation zone is limited to a 20km radius around the stricken reactors, which have been in crisis since the March 11 earthquake.

Most foreign governments have told their citizens to go no closer than 80km, and Japanese opposition parties have attacked Prime Minister Naoto Kan for failing to widen the exclusion area.

Now both the UN nuclear watchdog and Japan's own nuclear safety agency say radiation 40km from the plant exceeds levels set for evacuation.

Greenpeace says radiation levels it measured independently in one village could cause long-term health effects if people were exposed to it over several days. Read More

Hague: 'No Immunity' For Gaddafi Insider Musa Kusa - 31st Mar 2011

Musa Kusa will not be offered any immunity from international or British justice, foreign secretary William Hague has said.

Addressing the concerns over the defection of the controversial Libyan foreign minister to the UK, Mr Hague added he that had been communicating with Mr Kusa over recent weeks.

"He has been my channel of communication to the regime in recent weeks and I have spoken to him several times on the telephone.

"His resignation shows that Gaddafi's regime...is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within.

"Gaddafi must be asking himself: who will be the next to abandon him?" Read More

Birds, turtles and Black Swans found dead - Australia - 31st Mar 2011

THE bodies of 24 Pacific black ducks were found in and around Lake Kimberley at Banora Point on Tuesday.

The North Coast office of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) received two calls advising of the duck deaths and has launched an immediate investigation.

A DECCW North Coast spokesman said two black swans, two moorhens, some turtles and water dragons had also been reported as being dead or sick.

“These two reports are the only reports of this nature received in the Banora Point and Tweed region,” the spokesman said yesterday.

“The department has staff investigating this incident today.

“The investigation will entail collecting samples of dead specimens, water sampling and questioning nearby property owners and businesses to identify the likely cause of this event.” Read More