Saturday, May 7, 2011

Four years after oil company's criminal conviction for pollution, still no sentencing for Citgo Petroleum

Almost four years ago, a federal jury convicted Citgo Petroleum Corp. of two criminal violations of the Clean Air Act, having found that the company’s refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, afflicted a nearby community with toxic air pollution.

For nearly a decade, the jury found, emissions of benzene and other hazardous chemicals — from two hulking, uncovered tanks — regularly swept into a mostly poor, minority neighborhood known as Hillcrest.

That was in June 2007. To the dismay of the refinery’s neighbors, Citgo still hasn’t been sentenced — a delay legal scholars say is unusual. A Citgo lawyer blames federal prosecutors for the delay.

The judge in the case recently held that the residents — who blamed a variety of health problems on the tank emissions — didn’t qualify as crime victims because the government failed to prove their ailments were directly tied to the pollution.

Some in Hillcrest wonder when, or if, Citgo will ever be punished.

“They should have been sentenced a long time ago,” said Jean Salone, 70, who has lived a few blocks from the refinery since 1962.

Salone, a witness in the 2007 trial, said that odors from the open-top tanks at times were overpowering. “One time I was in a dead sleep, and the smell came into my house and woke me up,” she said.

The occupants of Hillcrest’s 300 or so homes have had a range of conditions, from cancer to asthma, Salone said. A state environmental inspector who visited the neighborhood is among those who fell ill. Yet the judge in the case has ruled that residents’ symptoms have many potential causes besides exposure to chemicals from the Citgo tanks. (read more)

Controversy over China's 'black jails' continues

Sun Yingxia, 64, could have had little idea of the 12-day ordeal that awaited her when she went to the Tianganghu township government in Sihong county, Jiangsu Province, for "negotiations" on the demolition of her house on June 1 last year.

Sun and two other villagers, who had also refused to sign the demolition agreement, insisted on being compensated with the equivalent units of land, forcing the negotiations into a deadlock.

Later Sun and the two villagers were forced by a dozen or so people into a van, according to a Southern Metropolis Daily report on April 27. They were driven for more than an hour to an enclosed yard some 50 kilometers from the township government building.

Sun was quoted by the report as saying she was shut in a small, windowless room for 12 days and suffered mental and physical torture.

"Several of the village and township leaders were at the scene when we were dragged into the car," Sun told the newspaper. "They watched us being taken away."

A member of the Sihong Public Security Bureau told the Global Times that they had no information about the secret yard in Sihong.

Sources told the Southern Metropolis Daily the yard had previously been used as a "petitioner study center" – a secret jail for petitioners. But in recent years, it has not only been used to imprison petitioners, but also members of nail households, a term given to people who refuse to make way for demolitions, the report said. (read more)

Sandstorm covers Shanghai in dust

The eastern coast of China has borne the environmental brunt of a massive sandstorm that has swept across a large swath of the country, causing air quality in Shanghai to plummet to its worst level in years.

The sandstorm originated in the Southern Xinjiang Basin and has been traveling all the way east to the coastal regions since Thursday, blasting Shanghai and other cities in the Yangtze River Delta with sand and dust.

Statistics from the State Forestry Administration show the sandstorm has swept through 10 provinces and regions in the north and west of China, affecting an area of 2.3 million square kilometers and a population of 90 million. Beijing was hit by the sandstorm Saturday.

Nanjing, Suzhou, Nantong, and Ningbo, together with Shanghai, are areas that suffered the most severe conditions, according to a daily report on the air quality of major Chinese cities issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection on Monday.

Rains will ease the poor air quality in east China while sandstorms will linger in the north until today, according to a forecast from the China Meteorological Administration.

The air was so polluted that skyscrapers in Shanghai, particularly in Lujiazui in the Pudong New Area, were enshrouded in a cloud of mist and dust. Vehicles parked outside were covered with a thick layer of yellowish sediment.

"The air quality is the worst I have seen since I arrived in Shanghai in 2007," said expat Kevin Grimson. "I could hardly see the buildings two blocks away from my apartment." (read more)

Asthma Rate Rises Sharply in U.S., Government Says

Americans are suffering from asthma in record numbers, according to a study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly one in 10 children and almost one in 12 Americans of all ages now has asthma, government researchers said.

According to the report, from 2001 to 2009 the prevalence of asthma increased among all demographic groups studied, including men, women, whites, blacks and Hispanics. Black children are most acutely affected: the study found that 17 percent of black children — nearly one in five — had a diagnosis of asthma in 2009, up from 11.4 percent, or about one in nine, in 2001.

While officials at the Centers for Disease Control emphasized that asthma could be controlled if managed effectively, they were at a loss to explain why it had become more widespread even as important triggers like cigarette smoking had become less common.

“We don’t know exactly why the number is going up, but, importantly, we know there are measures individuals with asthma can take to control symptoms,” said Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the centers. (read more)

Four million people at risk as record breaking floods sweep Mississippi Delta - 7th May 2011

More than 4 million people living in 63 counties close to the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico could be affected by flooding in the coming days.

Communities all along the banks of the Mississippi have been carefully watching the river rise, like a giant bathtub filling up with water.

Record river levels, some dating as far back as the 1920s, were expected to be broken in some parts along the river. In Memphis, the river was expected to crest at 48 feet on Wednesday, just shy of the 48.7-foot record from the devastating flood of 1937.

But the current crest in Memphis is already the second-highest for the city, eclipsing the previous 45.9-foot peak set during the historic flood of 1927.

The Coast Guard closed a five-mile stretch of the Mississippi to protect the town of Caruthersville in Missouri on Friday and said barges could be banned for up to eight days.

They reopened it later in the day after the National Weather Service lowered the projected crest at Caruthersville from 49.5 feet to 48.1 feet.

The fear was that the wake from big boats would push water over a floodwall and into the town of 6,700.

Coast Guard Capt. Michael Gardiner said river monitoring will continue and that navigation will be restricted when necessary.

Barges regularly move coal, grain, ore, gravel, auto parts and other vital products down the Mississippi. Read More

Osama Bin Laden Videos released - 7th May 2011

The US Department of Defense releases video of Osama bin Laden while hiding from authorities in Pakistan.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Obama played golf as US special forces prepared to kill bin Laden - 2nd May 2011

President Obama, it turns out, is by far the most golf-mad of all the Presidents in history. Yesterday, the President was playing the 66th round of his presidency, and his fifth round in five weeks, as US special forces prepared to move in on bin Laden.

There’s nothing wrong in all that golf. The odd thing about being President is the amount of time you have on your hands, punctuated by sudden moments of extreme tension, requiring great decisiveness – like the correct and admirable decision to attack bin Laden’s bunker.

What is unfair – not that this is Obama’s fault – is the criticism meted out to President George W Bush for his golfing. He only played 24 times in all eight years of his presidency, but was cast as the country club plutocrat for his love of the game. Michael Moore mocked him in his documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, for condemning “terrorist killers” on the golf course in 2002, before adding, “Thank you. Now watch this drive.”

None of this is either to attack Obama or praise Bush – just to say that it’s OK for presidents, both Republican and Democrat, to swing a club from time to time, even at moments of great political and military importance. Source

New species of lizard created in lab that reproduces by cloning itself - 6th May 2011

A genetics research group working in a lab in Kansas, has succeeded in creating a new species of lizard by mating two distinct species of North American Whiptails, both native to New Mexico. The offspring, all females are not only fertile, but can reproduce by laying eggs that don't need to be fertilized, which means, they actually clone themselves.

Scientists have known for years that some species exist due to interspecies mating, the whiptail lizards have provided proof of that; they’ve been creating new species themselves for at least several hundred thousand years.

What’s new is the process being manipulated by another species, us,
Homo sapiens. Geneticists have been trying for years to create a new breed of pretty much anything by urging lab “volunteers” of differing species to mate with one another, not exactly earth shaking science when you consider a dog that tries to mate with a human leg.

Efforts such as these are, not surprisingly, more often successful than not; the problem is, the offspring are usually infertile, such as mules, or too weak to survive. The trick has been to create a new species that is able to both survive and reproduce, because otherwise, it can’t really be called a new species if it only exists for the duration of one generation.


In a paper published in PNAS, lead researcher Peter Baumann of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, describes how he and his team paired an A.inornata male with an A.exsanguis female resulting in six eggs; all of which hatched, resulting in young lizards that were more similar to the female than the male, save a bit of blue tint on the tails.

Each also had four copies of their parental genes (normally there’s just two), three from their mother, the other from their father. They were also all female and all able to reproduce by cloning themselves.
Read More

Fact or Fiction - Ancient Aliens "Alien Devastations" - 7th May 2011

Aliens may have caused various disasters, as depicted in the Bible and other texts, or even tried to warn man of them; such as Noah of the Great Flood. Also proposed is that some disasters ushered changes in human evolution and that our leaps in technology over the centuries were achieved with alien help.

Fukushima Groundwater Contamination Worst in Nuclear History: Fairewinds Associates

An interesting caption attached to the video: "A report from the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission Ex-Secretariat, Dr. Saji, credits the current status of the accident to 'luck'. Gundersen discusses what could have happened if the wind had been blowing in-land."

U.N. warns about standoff in oil-rich Sudan region

Violence in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei will jeopardize relations between north and South Sudan governments as the two sides gear up for a permanent separation in July, the United Nations said.

Northern Sudan's army clashed with southern forces in the region this week, killing at least 14, the United Nations said Friday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "is deeply concerned by the continued tension" in the area.

"The military standoff is unacceptable," Ban said in a statement.

South Sudan in January voted to split from the north, and is expected to officially become an independent nation in July.

However, the fate of the oil-rich Abyei region remains a flashpoint.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said last month that his government would not recognize the new state of South Sudan if it claims Abyei.

"Abyei is a part of the north and will remain a part of the north," the president said in a speech broadcast on state television.

Al-Bashir's declaration reneged on an earlier promise to honor the results. (read more)

Fears grow as flooding worsens in multiple US states

Fears are growing among US residents living along the Mississippi River as rising flood waters threaten communities in states from Illinois to Louisiana.

Police officers went door-to-door in Memphis, Tennessee urging residents to leave nearly 1,000 homes near the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Sections of the Mississippi Delta also began to flood early on Friday.

The rising waters have already broken records set in 1927 and 1937.

But levees put in place over the past several decades are expected to prevent flooding from being as devastating as it was roughly 80 years ago.

'Property in danger'

In Tennessee, where officials do not have the authority to order evacuations, emergency responders were said to be handing out flyers on Friday in both English and Spanish that read: "Evacuate!!! Your property is in danger right now."

The flyers included a phone number to arrange transportation to shelters throughout the region.

The director of emergency management in Shelby County, Bob Nations, said there was still time for residents to take precautionary measures. (read more)

Money may soon be worthless, precipitating a collapsed US government?

Saudi Arabia reducing oil supply as facade of excess capacity shows cracks

The three biggest lies current in the world today: 1) “The check is in the mail” (still a favorite, after all these years). 2) “Lower taxes for the rich means more jobs for the poor” (well into its fourth decade as a popular inversion of reality). And 3), the newest and in some ways the biggest; “Don’t worry, Saudi Arabia will increase oil production to keep prices from going too high, OR to compensate for the loss of Libya’s/Iraq’s/Egypt’s production, OR to reassure the re-election of American politicians if their name is Bush, OR whatever.”

It’s easy to understand why the Saudis do it. If the ordinary people who work in the oil fields and the palaces of Saudi Arabia ever understand what is about to happen to them — that their jobs and security are about to start evaporating, with no hope of recovery — especially in this Arab Spring of rebellion against wealthy tyrants, then a lot of Saudi princes and hangers-on will shortly lose their jobs, if not their heads.

What is not so easy to comprehend is why the industrial world accepts the increasingly desperate lies of the Saudis about their ability to meet world oil demand, as they sound more and more like tales from the Arabian Nights. Perhaps it’s for the same reason a person dying of cancer will blow his life savings on treatments with gamma rays from the planet Boron focussed by an aluminum-foil hat. He doesn’t like what the real doctors are telling him, he’s going to go with the optimistic hack. (read more)

Probiotics cure anxiety and depression -- evidence piles up that mental illness may not be in the mind, as Big Pharma frowns

Studies that point to probiotics and a healthy digestive and immune system as being just as affective as deadly psycho-drugs at relieving "mental illness":

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19338686?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

http://www.herbs2000.com/articles/09-04-17_probiotic_anxiety.htm

http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20090408/bc_dr/20090408?hub=BritishColumbiaHealth

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T8T-4SF9CF9-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=8017e5f14460288998902092d40a1bbb

Is there ever a case when nature doesn't do it's job? Why are corporations becoming our cathedrals in times of trouble? Haven't they caused us enough trouble already?

A world without Islam... would be exactly the same as it is today (if not worse)

What would the world be like without Islam? In A World Without Islam, former CIA official and historian Graham Fuller says it wouldn't be much different from the world today.

According to Fuller, the West's fraught relationship with the Middle East isn't really about religion — and actually predates the spread of Islam.

Fuller tells NPR's Neal Conan that he found "deep-rooted conflicts that still exist over ethnicity or economics or warfare or armies or geopolitics [that] ... really don't have anything to do with Islam, and indeed, existed long before Islam came into existence."

One of those conflicts can be traced all the way back to antiquity.

"The ancient Greeks fought wars with the ancient Persians for several hundred years, from about 500 to 300 B.C., struggling over the same turf," Fuller says. "The people who came to occupy them later, the Byzantine Christians, fought the same wars, and then the Turkish Muslims came and they fought the same wars." (read more)

Tornadoes whipped up by wind, not climate -- so where is the extra wind coming from?

US meteorologists warned Thursday it would be a mistake to blame climate change for a seeming increase in tornadoes in the wake of deadly storms that have ripped through the US south.

"If you look at the past 60 years of data, the number of tornadoes is increasing significantly, but it's agreed upon by the tornado community that it's not a real increase," said Grady Dixon, assistant professor of meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University.

"It's having to do with better (weather tracking) technology, more population, the fact that the population is better educated and more aware. So we're seeing them more often," Dixon said.

But he said it would be "a terrible mistake" to relate the up-tick to climate change.

The tornadoes that ripped through the US south this week killed over 250 people, in the worst US weather disaster in years, with residents and emergency workers sifting through the rubble on Thursday.

Violent twisters that famously rip through the US south's "Tornado Alley" are formed when strong jet winds bringing upper-level storms from the north interact with very warm, humid air mass from the Gulf of Mexico, said David Imy from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. (read more)

“Planned-opolis” Cities Already Being Tested in South Korea: Always connected, always watched -- coming to a city near you

In 2008 Old-Thinker News reported on the deployment of Ubiquitous Computing technology in South Korea as a testing ground for future development of cities world-wide.

South Korea was chosen for the test because, in the words of the city’s developers, “There is an historical expectation of less privacy.” Recent attention has been given to plans for “planned-opolis” cities – as presented by Embarq, Vodafone and others – that are rigidly controlled to “cut greenhouse gases,” and where travel is tightly restricted. As reported in 2008,

“South Korea is at the forefront in implementing ubiquitous technology. An entire city, New Songdo, is being built in South Korea that fully utilizes the technology. Ubiquitous computing proponents in the United States admit that while a large portion of the technology is being developed in the U.S., it is being tested in South Korea where there are less traditional, ethical and social blockades to prevent its acceptance and use.”

As the New York Times reports,

“Imagine public recycling bins that use radio-frequency identification technology to credit recyclers every time they toss in a bottle; pressure-sensitive floors in the homes of older people that can detect the impact of a fall and immediately contact help; cellphones that store health records and can be used to pay for prescriptions.

These are among the services dreamed up by industrial-design students at California State University, Long Beach, for possible use in New Songdo City, a large “ubiquitous city” being built in South Korea. (read more)

Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, Muslim religious leaders kicked off U.S. domestic flight after pilot refuses to take off with them - 7th May 2011

Two Muslim religious leaders were asked to leave a commercial airliner in Memphis - and were told it was because the pilot refused to fly with them aboard.

Masudur Rahman and another imam had already been allowed to board their Delta Connection flight from Memphis, Tennessee, to Charlotte, North Carolina before they were asked to get off the plane.

'It's racism and bias because of our religion and appearance and because of misinformation about our religion.' Mr Rahman said. 'If they understood Islam, they wouldn't do this.'

Mr Rahman said he and Mohamed Zaghloul, of the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis, were cleared by security agents and boarded the plane for an 8.40am departure.

The aircraft pulled away from the gate, but the pilot then announced the plane must return, Mr Rahman said.

When it did, the imams were asked to go back to the boarding gate where they were told the pilot was refusing to accept them because some other passengers could be uncomfortable.

Mr Rahman said Delta officials talked with the pilot for more than a half-hour, but he still refused to fly with them aboard.

The men were taken to a lounge and booked on a later flight. They flew on to Charlotte later the same day.

Mr Rahman said a Delta manager apologised for the pilot's actions, but that he and Mr Zaghloul never spoke directly with the pilot. Read More

Inside Osama's squalid hideaway: New pictures emerge as White House gets set to release Bin Laden home videos - 7th May 2011

Image: Rubbish-strewn: With paint peeling off the walls, the dirt-infested compound appears barely habitable and is a far cry from original claims the compound was a sophisticated £1m hideaway.

Extraordinary footage of Osama Bin Laden's secret compound in Abbottabad show the terror leader had been living in virtual squalor.

Strewn with rubbish and with paint peeling off the walls, the dirt-infested compound appears barely habitable and is a far cry from initial claims the compound was a sophisticated £1m hideaway.

The ramshackle structure resembles like a building site and the pictures of the outside show steel rods protruding from the roof, suggesting it may have been incomplete.

Of course, some damage would have been caused during the American Navy Seal mission to capture the 9/11 mastermind, but the footage is still very revealing.

It was released today on the Al Jazeera English website and gives a shaky tour of what appears to be the inside of the main house, a few outbuildings and a small fruitless orchard.

The video emerged as it was revealed that home videos and propaganda tapes that were found in the compound may be released which show Bin Laden strolling around his secret lair.

U.S. officials aid they may even be put out later today. Read More


Greek PM denies country will leave euro amid currency panic - 7th May 2011

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Saturday denied there was even unofficial discussion over Greece quitting the euro zone and asked that his troubled country be "left alone to finish its task."

Ministers from the euro zone's biggest economies met in Luxembourg to discuss Greece's debt crisis on Friday but Athens and senior EU officials denied a report by Germany's Spiegel Online that the Greek government had raised the prospect of leaving the 17-member euro zone.

"These scenarios are borderline criminal," Papandreou told a conference on the Ionian island of Meganisi. "No such scenario has been discussed even in our unofficial contacts...I call upon everyone in Greece and abroad, and especially in the EU, to leave Greece alone to do its job in peace."

European Central bank Governing Council member Erkki Liikanen on Saturday shot down reports of Greece exiting the euro and said restructuring its 327 billion euro ($470 billion) debt would offer no permanent solution to its problems.

"No euro zone country wants to leave the euro," Liikanen, who also heads the Bank of Finland, said in an interview at Finnish national broadcaster Yle.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the group of euro zone finance ministers who called the late Friday meeting, said there was a broad discussion of Greece and other international economic issues but said the idea of exiting the euro was stupid.

"We have not been discussing the exit of Greece from the euro area. This is a stupid idea. It is in no way -- it is an avenue we would never take," he told reporters after the meeting attended by ministers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Read More

'Gaddafi Planes Bomb Oil Tanks In Misratah' - 7th May 2011

Libyan government forces have used small planes to drop bombs on oil storage tanks in Misratah, according to a spokesman for the rebel movement.

Ahmed Hassan claims that forces loyal to the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi have used planes designed for crop spraying to deploy the weapons, defying the no-fly zone and destroying a series of fuel tanks.

Sky News is unable to verify the claim independently but has received photographs said to show the bombardment close to Misratah's port.

Under United Nations resolution 1973, no planes are allowed to fly in Libyan airspace except Nato planes tasked with enforcing the resolution to provide protection for civilians.

Misratah is Libya's third city and has been a centre of heavy fighting for more than two months.

Yesterday Amnesty International said that the siege in the city amounted to a possible war crime.

"The scale of the relentless attacks that we have seen by Gaddafi forces to intimidate the residents of Misrata for more than two months is truly horrifying," Amnesty senior adviser Donatella Rovera said.

"It shows a total disregard for the lives of ordinary people and is in clear breach of international humanitarian law," she said. Read More

Al-Awlaki targeted by U.S. military drone in Yemen - 7th May 2011

A U.S. military drone fired a missile within the last two days in Yemen aimed at the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but the strike did not appear to have killed him, a U.S. official told CNN on Friday.

The missile was fired at an area in southern Yemen that al-Awlaki is known to have frequented, the official said.

The targeting information was not the result of information gathered from the seizure Monday of materials from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, the official said.

A U.S. defense official confirmed that the drone was under the control of the American military -- not the CIA.

Inside al Qaeda succession: Who is likely to step up

The defense official said the strike appeared to have killed two al Qaeda operatives affiliated with al-Awlaki.

Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico and preached at a mosque in Virginia before leaving the United States for Yemen.

Early this year, a Yemeni court sentenced al-Awlaki in absentia to 10 years in prison for charges of inciting to kill foreigners.

Prosecutors charged al-Awlaki and two others with "forming an armed gang" to target foreign officers and law enforcement in November.

Western intelligence officials believe al-Awlaki is a senior leader of al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, which claimed responsibility for the attempt to ship explosives into the United States via cargo planes late last year. Read More

Passenger Plane Crashes Into Sea in Eastern Indonesia - 7th May 2011Indonesia: 'No survivors' after plane crashes off Papua - 7th May 2011

Image: Twin Turboprop Plane - NOT the crash of 7th of May

There were no survivors from the crash of an Indonesian passenger aircraft into the sea with up to 27 people on board, a navy officer says.

The plane went into the sea in poor weather just short of the airstrip serving the small port town of Kaimana, in the eastern province of West Papua.

Fifteen bodies have been recovered by rescuers searching for survivors.

The Indonesian archipelago relies heavily on air transport and has one of Asia's worst air safety records.

"I can confirm that all the passengers were killed when the plane exploded as it crashed into the sea," the unnamed navy officer, who took part in the search and rescue operation, told ElShinta radio.

"The aircraft was smashed to pieces... We found 15 bodies floating on the water and the other passengers are trapped inside the wreckage."

Transport ministry official Bambang Ervan told AFP news agency there were 21 passengers and six crew on board the twin turbo-prop plane, operated by Merpati Airlines, which was flying from the coastal city of Sorong.

Indonesia has seen a number of commercial airline crashes in recent years. Source

At Least 17 Dead as Severe Storms Hit Deep South - 6th May 2011



BOONE'S CHAPEL, Alabama -- Vicious storms and howling winds smacked the U.S. South, killing at least seven people in Alabama including three family members whose homes were tossed into nearby woods.

The storms that smacked the Midwest

and South with howling winds and pounding rain left 17 people dead in four states -- the nation's deadliest storm of the season.

Henley Hollon said Saturday that his 65-year-old brother, Willard Hollon, lived across the street from him in the Boone's Chapel community about 25 miles from Montgomery. Henley Hollon said Willard Hollon and Willard's two adult children, Steve and Cheryl, were killed when the storms roared through.

Henley Hollon said he had been watching the weather forecast on television -- and thought the worst was over when the winds started to pick up.

"It got up real fast. The lights went out," he said. "We had to feel our way into the hall. It lasted less than a minute." Read More

Haiti caught cholera from UN peacekeepers - 6th May 2011

Where did Haiti's cholera come from? Most Haitians believe the bacteria that have so far sickened 286,000 of them - and killed 4870 - were brought in by United Nations peacekeeping troops from Nepal.

And this certainly seemed likely, given where and when the disease broke out, and the fact that regions of Nepal were experiencing cholera outbreaks around the same time that the Nepalese left for Haiti.

Yet the UN mission in the country has consistently denied the allegation. It said natural cholera could have invaded Haiti from the sea, and refused to test its troops.

Now it turns out the Haitians were right. A blue-ribbon panel of scientists nominated by the UN to settle the matter has now reported that "the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion" that someone contaminated Haiti's Meye river with south Asian cholera.

Other scientists, and New Scientist, had already figured as much. But the new report places the issue beyond reasonable doubt. The team combined data on water flow with hospital records to show an "explosive" outbreak started on the Meye 150 metres downstream from the Nepalese base, on 17 October last year and spread through the Artibonite river system in three days - exactly matching the natural flow of water downstream. Nothing suggested it came in from the sea.

The report concludes that sanitation at the Nepalese base was "not sufficient to prevent contamination", to put it mildly. As the UN has insisted, the Nepalese who arrived in Haiti just before the cholera began were indeed given a clean bill of health before they left Nepal. But, the panel now adds, after the health checks and before the troops flew to Haiti they were given 10 days' leave. There was cholera in Kathmandu at the time. Ah.

Then there's the smoking gun. Previously all we knew was that the cholera in Haiti genetically matched strains from south Asia. But the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea, sent the panel cholera samples from Nepal. The Haitian strain is a "perfect match" for one from 2009. Read More

1st Case Human Case Of Bubonic Plague (The Black Death) Reported in New Mexico - 6th May 2011

Our neighbors to the west have recorded the country's first human case of the dreaded bubonic plague. A 58-year-old man in the area of Santa Fe, New Mexico is recovering in hospital, reports Albuquerque CBS affiliate KRQE.

It is not unusual to find bubonic plague in the West Texas rodent population, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Department.

Plague epidemics agonized humans for centuries. The 14th Century outbreak in Europe was particularly notorious for wiping out up to half the population.

Thankfully, modern medicine has brought the mortality rate of plague in the United States down to about 1 in 7. Between five and 15 Americans die from plague in an average year.

"Whenever there is a human case of plague, the [New Mexico] Department of Health takes several steps to ensure the safety of the immediate family, neighbors, and health care providers," [New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Catherine]Torres said in a statement released by her office. "We inform neighbors door-to-door about plague found in the area and educate them on reducing their risk.

It’s spread to people by direct contact with infected animals such as prairie dogs, squirrels, cats, rats and mice. The odds of this happening are low, but take care anyway. Plague fully deserves its dread-disease status and can be fatal if not treated promptly. Source

Kate McCann Haunted By Visions of Madeleine - 7th May 2011

Image: Church Service 12th May 2007, 9 Days after Madeleine Disappeared.

Kate McCann was stuck in an "endless bad dream" and haunted by visions of her missing daughter Madeleine after her disappearance, she reveals in a new book.

After the three-year-old vanished during a family holiday in Portugal, Mrs McCann immediately feared that the youngster had fallen victim to a paedophile.

In an extract from the book, entitled Madeleine, the 43-year-old says she was feeling a "macabre slideshow of vivid pictures in my brain that taunted me relentlessly.

"I was crying out that I could see Madeleine lying cold and mottled, on a big grey stone slab.

"The pictures I saw of our Madeleine no sane human being would want in her head, but they were in mine.

"I simply couldn't rid myself of these evil scenes in the early days and weeks."

The book, which goes on sale next week, was written by Mrs McCann using her personal diaries.

In another extract, serialised by The Sun, she reveals her husband Gerry was also wracked with similar harrowing thoughts and visions.

Mrs McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, lays bare how she wanted to kill and "inflict the maximum pain possible" on the person who had abducted her daughter. Read More

Image 2: McCann Apartment where the 3 children where left alone, Tapas restaurant where the Adults where having a night out.

Could Saturn's largest moon Titan house a giant underground water ocean? - 7th May 2011

Saturn's largest moon Titan might house a huge underground ocean, according to scientists.

Researchers used radar aboard Nasa's Cassini spacecraft to see through Titan's dense atmosphere.

They found that, over a period of time, a number of prominent surface features shifted their position by up to 19 miles.

This suggests that Titan's crust is moving because it rests on liquid made of water and ammonia, the scientists said.

Aside from Earth, Titan is the only known world to have liquid on its surface. Confirmation of water under its surface would greatly increase the likelihood of the moon harbouring alien life.

The data transmitted back by Cassini also showed that Titan's axis of rotation was tilted by 0.3 degrees.

his appeared high to the researchers, given their estimate of its resistance to changes to its rotation.

The most likely explanation for its tilt is that Titan is not completely solid.

Rather it has an icy shell on top of a liquid water ocean, an icy mantle and an icy, rocky core, reported website AstroBio.net.

One unlikely reason that has been touted is that Titan is solid than is less dense near its centre than at its surface. Read More

Tourists' horror as security guard stabbed at McDonald's in centre of Manhattan - 6th May 2011

Tourists watched in horror as a security guard was stabbed outside a McDonald’s in the centre of Manhattan.

The man was knifed in a busy shopping street next to Macy’s department store as he tried to escort a homeless man from the fast-food restaurant.

Dozens of shocked onlookers watched as the guard, in his early 40s, tried to fight off his attacker outside the store at Eighth Avenue and West 34th Street.

The victim was thrown to the ground and stabbed in the leg twice as he tried to fend off the man.

The suspect fled through the heaving streets with the knife, before being captured several blocks away. Read More


Rescue operation underway as 16 whales are stranded on Florida beaches - 6th May 2011

Conservationists are today frantically battling to rescue more than a dozen pilot whales stranded off the Florida coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had found at least 16 pilot whales, including one calf, in three locations over a distance of about seven miles.

A team of around 50 rescuers have managed to get six of the whales into a sea pen they have constructed, but at least two others have died.

Marine mammal experts said it was unclear why the animals had beached themselves.

The whales were found stranded on Thursday afternoon as close as 200 yards from the shore in shallow Gulf of Mexico waters.

Art Cooper, chairman of the Marine Mammal Conservancy, said rescuers are attempting to move all the stranded whales, which are presumed to be from the same pod, to one location.

Before sunset on Thursday, responders had built a sea pen at one of the sites and were treating six of the whales.

Mr Cooper said that rescuers did not know why the whales had become stranded. Read More

Russian Military Satellite Created 'Northern Lights' Effect - 6th May 2011

It was a sight that attracted the attention of space watchers the world over - but the lights which illuminated the night sky were not the result of a UFO, but rather the Russian military.

The Soyuz rocket, launched to carry a military communications satellite into orbit, created a spectacular light show as it passed over Ekaterinburg, the biggest city in Russia's Ural Mountains.

The eye-catching blue streaks were thought to be caused by moonlight shining through particles emitted by the rocket.

The stunning display was produced when the rocket's Fregat strap-on boosters separated from its upper stage, and dropped to the ground. Rockets can be made up of multiple sections, known as stages, each of which contain an engine and can be jettisoned when their fuel runs out.

Witnesses likened the phenomenon to the Aurora Borealis or northern lights, a natural light display that most often occurs in polar regions and is caused by the collision of charged particles directed by the Earth's magnetic field.

However, Ekaterinburg, which is on the same latitude as Glasgow, is too far south for such a natural display, meaning the light shining through the rocket's emissions is the likeliest explanation.

Some residents who did not know about the launch in advance thought they were seeing an alien spaceship. Read More


'Evacuate! Your property is in danger right now': Memphis residents warned as record-breaking floods sweep Mississippi Delta - 7th May 2011

Thousands of people in Memphis are being told to evacuate as the slowly surging Mississippi River threatens to engulf their homes.

Emergency workers are handing out fliers to nearly 1,000 homes that read 'Evacuate!!! Your property is in danger right now'.

Hundreds of families from Illinois to Louisiana have already fled their homes and those living further north could be forced to evacuate in the next two weeks.

Families face the agonising decision about whether to stay or abandon their homes as water levels rise threatening to swamp communities on the Mississippi Delta just yards from the giant river.

Shelters have been opened and the bright yellow fliers include a phone number to arrange transportation as people leave.

The flood water is expected to almost break an 84-year record on Wednesday when officials say the river level will top 48 feet. In 1937 the river reached 48.7 feet in Memphis.

But officials warned people could be dealing with the aftermath of the flood for weeks as it may be the end of May before the flooded areas dry out.

The Coast Guard closed a five mile stretch stretch of the Mississippi on Friday because of concerns that the wake from big boats could push water over floodwalls into the town of Caruthersville.

At Muddy Waters, a sliver of land in northwest Mississippi, Ken Gelston, said: 'We're getting our mamma and daddy out,' as he helped pack furniture, photos and other belongings into pickup trucks in Greenville, Mississippi.

His parents' house sits on Eagle Lake, which the Army Corps of Engineers expects to rise significantly.

'We could have five feet (1.5 meters) of water in there,' Mr Gelston said, nodding at the house. 'That's what they're telling us.' Read More

Forget the iPhone, here's the smartphone made out of 'paper' that will shape with your pocket - 6th May 2011

In an industry where unbreakable and smaller are best, the world's first interactive paper computer looks set to dominate for years to come.

The PaperPhone has a flexible electronic display that is set to herald a new generation of computers.

Extremely lightweight and made out of a thin-film, the prototype device can do everything a smartphone currently does.

It can store books, play music, send text messages - and, of course, make phone calls.

Most impressively, the PaperPhone uses no power when nobody is interacting with it.

Inventor Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen's University Human Media Lab in Kingston, Ontario, said: 'This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years.

'This computer looks, feels and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper, meaning that when users are reading they don't feel like they are holding a sheet of glass or metal.

'You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen.' Read More


Euro falls sharply as rumours spread that Greece may abandon currency - 7th May 2011

The euro fell sharply in late trading last night amid rumours that Greece may try to exit the eurozone.

Investors sold stocks of the single currency after a report in the online edition of German publication Der Spiegel claimed the debt crisis in Greece had taken a dramatic twist.

It reported that finance ministers and European Commission representatives were holding secret crisis meetings in Luxembourg last night.

The claims were immediately denied by Greece and the EU.

However, European officials had denied the existence of bailouts that later materialised.

Greece was the first of three eurozone countries to have taken a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund. Ireland and Portugal have since sought help.

The Spiegel website said: ‘Greece’s economic problems are massive, with protests against the government being held almost daily.

‘Now Prime Minister George Papandreou apparently feels he has no other option. Spiegel Online has obtained information from German government sources [with knowledge of the situation] in Athens indicating that [his] government is considering abandoning the euro and reintroducing its own currency.’

The report sent the euro tumbling to $1.4408, from $1.4530 on Thursday. Read More

David Simmonds, 21, charged with killing Thorntons manager Jia Ashton 'worked at the same company' - 7th May 2011

A man charged with killing Yellow Brick Road murder victim Jia Ashton worked for the same company as the economics graduate, it was claimed yesterday.

David Simmonds, 21, is believed to have previously worked at Thorntons chocolate factory, where Miss Ashton was employed as a management trainee.

The man, whose family home is just a few feet away from where Miss Ashton was brutally battered to death, was at a nearby Indian restaurant when he was arrested.

Police raided the Spice Inn restaurant in Heanor, Derbyshire, on Thursday, where Mr Simmonds is believed to have worked as a waiter.

Residents described him as a pleasant and polite young man who was usually smartly dressed and had a shaved head.

Mrs Ashton, 25, was murdered eight weeks ago as she walked her usual mile-and-a-half route home along a path known locally as the Yellow Brick Road in Somercotes.

Her body was discovered on March 13 covered in twigs and brushwood after a search and rescue team checked nearby woods.

Her husband Matthew Ashton, 26, a primary school teacher and piano instructor, was originally arrested for her murder but was later released without charge.

He referred to his wife as his ‘pocket princess’ – a reference to her standing just 4ft 10in tall. Read More

U.S. threatens new action unless Syria ceases slaughter - 7th May 2011

The United States, reacting to the killing of 27 protesters by Syrian security forces on Friday, threatened to take new steps against the Syrian government unless it stopped killing and harassing its people.

Rights campaigners said the dead were among thousands of protesters who demonstrated after Friday prayers in cities across the country, from Banias on the Mediterranean coast to Qamishly in the Kurdish east, demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

The European Union agreed to impose sanctions in response to Assad's violent crackdown on protesters, which rights campaigners say has killed more than 580 people.

"The United States believes that Syria's deplorable actions toward its people warrant a strong international response," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

"Absent significant change in the Syrian government's current approach, including an end to the government's killing of protesters ... the United States and its international partners will take additional steps to make clear our strong opposition to the Syrian government's treatment of its people."

The United States imposed sanctions of its own last week against some figures in the Syrian government.

Friday's bloodiest confrontation was in the city of Homs where 15 protesters were killed, activist Ammar Qurabi said.

State television said an army officer and four police were killed in Homs by a "criminal gang," though another activist, Wissam Tarif, said witnesses told him nine soldiers defected in Homs to the protesters and may have clashed with other troops.

Four protesters were killed in Deir al-Zor, said a local tribal leader from the region which produces most of Syria's 380,000 barrels per day of oil. They were the first deaths reported there in seven weeks of nationwide unrest.

International criticism has mounted against Assad, who has gone on the offensive to maintain his family's four-decade grip on power in the country of 20 million and crush demonstrators demanding freedom. Read More

Europe meets to discuss Greece debt restructuring as debt and currency crisis looms

Senior European ministers were locked in secret discussions with Greece on Friday night that may lead to a restructuring of the embattled nation's mountain of public debt.

Finance ministers from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland met their Greek counterpart, Giorgos Papaconstantinou, in Luxembourg as part of efforts to draw a line under the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis.

A restructuring of Greek debt, which would see the terms of the loans extended and borrowing rates reduced, is understood to have been central to the talks.

Greece was the first member of the single currency block to fall in May last year, when it accepted a €110bn (£95bn) rescue package. Ireland followed in November with €67.5bn of external help, and Portugal last month agreed in principle to an €80bn deal.

Greece has since had the rate on the emergency loan cut in return for pushing through further austerity. Ireland is also trying to negotiate more favourable terms, while Portugal claims to have secured a better deal than either of the others.

Sources said the negotiations would address all such concerns, from a restructuring of Greek debt to easier terms for Ireland and a final deal for Portugal. The future leadership of European Central Bank (ECB) was also said to be on the agenda, amid speculation that German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes the widely-fancied Italian head of the Financial Stability Board Mario Draghi taking over from Jean-Claude Trichet in November. (read more)