Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tokyo travel industry on the brink after triple disasters

In the cavernous lobby of the Tokyu Hotel in Tokyo, executives sip US$14 coffees, crisply dressed waiters hover with English-language menus and bilingual reception clerks wait patiently for incoming guests.

All that’s missing is the foreigners in this five-star Shibuya landmark that normally hosts tens of thousands of overseas visitors every year.

A lone American couple says they nearly cancelled their trip. “Our daughter is teaching here -- it if wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have come,” explains John Heddens, who waits in the lobby with his wife, Mindy, for the airport shuttle .

“My concern is that the government doesn’t seem to be forthcoming about the radiation.”

More than eight weeks since the March 11 mega-quake sparked Japan’s worst crisis since World War II, tourism is still on its knees. The number of foreign guests staying at the Tokyu is down by half, according to its marketing manager Takayuki Yamano -- a pattern repeated throughout Japan.

“I’ve been here for 10 years and we’ve been through 9/11 and SARS and this is by far the worst,” he explains.

Just three months ago, the Japan Tourist Agency was predicting a bumper crop, with over 9 million people forecast to visit the country in 2011 -- up from 8.6 million in 2010.

Statistics from March, the latest available, suggest that figure is not remotely attainable. Year-on-year figures for the month were down by 50.3 percent, with the number of foreign travelers plummeting from 679,500 to 352,800.

Visitors from South Korea, Japan’s biggest source of tourists, were down by 47 percent, while fully two-thirds fewer Germans came in March. (read more)

Libya rebels issue call for help as Gadhafi forces reportedly using a previously unseen type of mortar


Rebel forces in the Nafusa Mountains of western Libya were under heavy attack Tuesday by forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi and had issued a call for help, the National Transitional Council said.

"Representatives have confirmed that Gadhafi forces are using GRAD missiles, snipers, and a previously unseen type of mortar," it said, adding that three locals were killed and another nine wounded on Tuesday.

The Tunisian border is a portal for the delivery of humanitarian aid, which can no longer reach civilians in the area, it said.

Pro-Gadhafi forces were also attacking the northwest Libyan city of Yafren, focusing on the hospital there, the statement said.

Tunisia's state-run news agency corroborated the attacks, but cited different casualty figures. It said at least two people were wounded, two of them seriously, in shelling that began Monday night and continued until Tuesday afternoon in the Nafusa Mountains, the state-run Tunisian news agency said. (read more)

Endeavour viewed from 37,000 feet as commercial pilot snaps shots of shuttle launch

China forced to ration electricity as inflation pounds world economies

Chinese provinces are rationing electricity as soaring coal prices squeeze power generation companies, underlining the challenges facing the world's largest energy consumer as global fuel prices rise.

While China experiences power cuts each summer, some provinces have started rationing earlier than usual this year. In recent days Hunan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces have implemented cuts, alongside Shanghai and Chongqing.

Chinese officials have been warning for weeks that shortages would be more severe than usual this year. On Tuesday, Xue Jing of the China Electricity Council, an industry body that reports to state regulators, told state media that China would "face its most severe electricity shortage since 2004".

Ms Xue said there could be a national shortage of 30m kilowatt hours this summer, which she said would equate to the consumption of three Chongqings, referring to the southern city of 31m.

Chinese electricity companies are facing financial pressure from the increase in global energy costs as Beijing hesitates to increase state-controlled electricity prices because of concerns over inflation.

While the price of thermal coal -- which fuels 70 per cent of China's power plants -- has risen by nearly one fifth since last year, Beijing has raised electricity tariffs by just 2 per cent during the same period, and the price gap has prompted some stations to close or reduce generation.

"Power plants promise industry regulators that they will generate power at full steam, but privately they don't because of their financial losses," explains Lin Boqiang, an energy economics expert at Xiamen university.

Compounding the problem of rising energy costs, hydropower generation has also fallen after a dry winter in southern China. In Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, which draws much of its electricity from hydropower, roadside lights have been dimmed and city districts are experiencing rotating one-hour power cuts, according to one resident, who first noticed the changes a few weeks ago. (read more)

European and IMF officials visit Athens as pressure for further bail-out grows: Protests, clashes, violence -- a sign of things to come for Europe?

European Union and International Monetary Fund officials are in Athens carrying out a review of Greece's finances and reform measures to determine whether the indebted nation merits a critical new slice of funding from its bail-out package.

The visit by the EU and IMF officials, along with representatives from the European Central Bank, coincided with a general strike against the Greek government's austerity measures.

Rail, boat and air traffic have been halted along with all state services and police clashed with youths close to where the meetings were taking place to determine whether Greece will get a fifth tranche from the €110bn (£97bn) of emergency loans that saved it from bankruptcy last year.

The Greek economy is at a critical point because the government denies it needs to restructure its debt to avoid a default, while a sceptical bond market has pushed up Greece's borrowing costs to unaffordable levels.

Yields on 10-year government bonds widened on Wednesday to 15.7pc as investors continued to price in the a high probability that the country will eventually need to restructure its debt despite hopes of more aid.

A year after being granted the rescue loan in return for a radical overhaul of its economy, Greece remains struck in recession and looks unlikely to be able to stand on its own feet again by 2013, when the current bail-out program runs out. (read more)

Iran building rocket bases in Venezuela: Die Welt -- Is a Venezuelan Missile Crisis looming?

Stop us if this sounds familiar: An antagonistic South American strongman invites one of America's worst enemies to build long-range missiles in his country, sending the region -- and damn near the world -- to the brink.

Hugo Chavez apparently would love nothing more than to follow his buddy Fidel down that path. A German newspaper is reporting that Chavez has invited Iranian engineers to start work on a missile base on the Caribbean coast with 20-meter-deep rocket silos. Eeep!

The report by Die Welt, a major Berlin-based daily, cites "Western security sources" in writing that Chavez secretly met in February with the chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Air Force, Amir al-Hadschisadeh.

The pair finalized a location for the missile base, Die Welt says, on the Peninsula de Paraguana, a jut of land 120 kilometers from the Colombian border. Engineers from the Iranian state-owned construction agency, Khatam al-Anbia, have begun preliminary work on the base. (read more)

Nikolai Shadrin the cannibal arrested after Moscow police find "human stew"

Russian authorities arrested a man Tuesday in connection with dismembered body parts that were scattered around Moscow, police said according to reports.

The suspect was arrested after police found a stew made from a human liver in a fridge at his Moscow apartment, the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The Agence France Presse identified him as Nikolai Shadrin, citing an Investigative Committee statement.

"During a search of the apartment, tools used to dismember the victim and a human liver were found," the statement reportedly said.

Police found a decapitated head in the Moskva River on Wednesday and an arm severed at the wrist in water at Tsaritsino Park on May 2, Novosti reported. Two feet, a hand and another arm were later discovered around the city, AFP reported.
Story: Police: Would-be cannibal arrested after gunbattle in Slovakia

The victim was identified as Ilya Yegorov.

"Detectives established the identity of the dead body by taking fingerprints," police spokesman Alexei Savelyev said according to Novosti. "After that police tracked down the suspected offender through a circle of the deceased's friends."

Police say they believe the murder suspect tried to cover up his crime by scattering his victim's body parts across the city, reports said. (read more)

Toyota warns strong yen could see it exit Japan

Toyota has warned it could move manufacturing out of Japan because the strength of the yen is damaging the car maker.

The yen hit post-war highs against the dollar in March and on Wednesday it was revealed its strengthening wiped off ¥290bn (£2.2bn) from Toyota's annual net income.

Satoshi Ozawa, Toyota's chief financial officer, said on Wednesday: "I feel strongly that our efforts may have exceeded the limits of what is possible in dealing with the yen's impact."

Toyota manufacturers roughly half of its vehicles in Japan and has always pledged to protect job in its homeland. However, in the opening three months of 2011, net profits slumped by 77pc as the impact of the Japanese earthquake was exacerbated by the strengthening of the yen.

Akio Toyoda, chief executive, said: "I fully understand that we can't go on with just a desire to protect manufacturing in Japan."s

The Japanese earthquake, has so far cost ¥110bn because Toyota has been forced to cut production due to a shortage of components and electricity blackouts. (read more)

Middle Tennessee Police Profiting Off Drug Trade? -- US



A major NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered serious questions about Tennessee's war on drugs. Among the questions: are some police agencies more concerned about making money off the drugs, than stopping them?

At the center of this months-long investigation are laws that let officers pull driver over looking for cash. Those officers do not even have to file criminal charges against a person to take his/her money.

It turns out, those kind of stops are now happening almost every day in Middle Tennessee.

Case in point: a 2009 stop where a tractor trailer was stopped for a traffic violation, leading to a search and the discovery of large blocks containing almost $200,000 cash -- cash that officers keep on the suspicion that it's drug money.

"What's wrong with having a large amount of cash?" asked Karen Petrosyan, a California businessman who owned the truck.

Petrosyan refuses to admit there's anything suspicious about the stash that police discovered. Officers later released his father, who was driving the truck, without filing a single charge -- and authorities cut a deal that let Petrosyan come to Tennessee to get his big rig back. (read more)

Was Fukushima a China Syndrome? -- Time Magazine weighs in

The China Syndrome refers to a scenario in which a molten nuclear reactor core could could fission its way through its containment vessel, melt through the basement of the power plant and down into the earth. While a molten reactor core wouldn't burn "all the way through to China" it could enter the soil and water table and cause huge contamination in the crops and drinking water around the power plant. It's a nightmare scenario,the stuff of movies. And it might just have happened at Fukushima.

Last week, plant operator Tepco sent engineers in to recalibrate water level gauges in reactor number 1. They made an alarming discovery: virtually all the fuel in the core had melted down. That means that the zirconium alloy tubes that hold the uranium fuel and the fuel itself lies in a clump---either at the bottom of the pressure vessel, or in the basement below or possibly even outside the containment building. Engineers don't know for sure, though current temperature readings suggest that fission inside the reactor core has definitely ceased for good (i.e. there will be no further melting).

Anecdotal evidence doesn't bode well for how far the fuel melted: Tepco has been pumping thousands of tons of water onto reactor 1 to try to cool it—yet the water level in the containment vessel is too low to run an emergency cooling system. That means the water is escaping somewhere on a course cut by molten fuel--probably into the basement of the reactor building, though it's also possible it melted through everything into the earth. (read more)

Coffee prices set to soar on shortage fears

A cup of coffee is about to get even more expensive.

The price of raw green beans has more than doubled in less than 12 months and coffee shops say they can no longer absorb the soaring costs.

Danny Erlich, co-owner of Prahran coffee roaster and retailer Ciscos Coffee, said he expected Melbourne cafes to raise the price of a cup of coffee by up to 50 cents.

He said a shortage of beans and an increase in the number of coffee speculators - traders who make bets on coffee prices - were forcing cafes to increase prices.

‘‘They’ve got no choice,’’ he said.

Mr Erlich said he had increased his prices by up to 10 per cent in the past 12 months.

Others said the price could rise by 30 to 40 cents a cup.

"It's absolutely going to affect [cafe] prices; I don't think anybody can avoid it," said Warren Reynolds, executive manager of Perth's growing coffee franchise Muzzbuzz. (read more)

Chinese watermelons exploding on the vine... from using too much growth cheimcal -- this drug is legal to use, by the way


Watermelons have been bursting by the score in eastern China after farmers gave them overdoses of growth chemicals during wet weather, creating fields of "land mines" instead of the bounty of fruit they wanted.

About 20 farmers around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were affected, losing up to 45 hectares of melon, China Central Television said in an investigative report.

Prices over the past year prompted many farmers to jump into the watermelon market. All of those with exploding melons apparently were first-time users of the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, though it has been widely available for some time, CCTV said.

The farmers used it during an overly rainy period and put it on too late in the season, causing the melons to burst open, CCTV said, citing agricultural experts.

Chinese regulations don't forbid the drug, and it is allowed in the U.S. on kiwi fruit and grapes. But the report underscores how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilizers.

Farmer Liu Mingsuo ended up with three hectares of ruined fruit and told CCTV that seeing his crop splitting open was like a knife cutting his heart.

"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (burst watermelons) but by the afternoon it was 100," Liu said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore." (read more)

Syrian government denies mass grave found near Daraa

The Syrian government is denying claims that a mass grave was found near the embattled city of Daraa, a focal point in the nationwide wave of anti-government rage.

The country's Interior Ministry said the news was untrue and is part of a "campaign of incitement and slandering," Syrian state TV reported Tuesday.

Multiple bodies -- as many as 20 by one account -- were found early Monday in a shallow, unmarked grave near Daraa, an opposition leader told CNN.

A local farmer told CNN that another farmer was heading toward his grove of olive trees on the outskirts of Daraa when he smelled the stench of bodies. The farmer searched the field and found a human hand protruding from the earth.

The farmer sought help from local residents and, working with a backhoe, the group unearthed seven bodies, five recognized as being from one family. Among the bodies were those of a young child and woman, the farmer said. (read more)

More than 100 fires raging across Alberta: Canada

More than 100 forest fires continued to burn across Alberta Tuesday — 36 of them out of control, including three around the already almost half-destroyed town of Slave Lake.

Scores of firefighters were being sent to the Slave Lake area Tuesday from across Canada in hopes of getting the blazes under control and saving the rest of the town. All of its 7,000 residents have left under a mandatory evacuation order.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, who toured the area Monday, couldn't say precisely when people would be allowed to return, but people in the shelters were being told it would be at least three or four days before they get back to the town to see what is left. Stelmach said the province is doing what it can to save the community. (read more)

Guatemala's president declares 'stage of siege' after 'massacre' -- mass grave of headless bodies found

Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom has declared a "state of siege" in a northern border province, ordering in the military after police found 29 migrant workers brutally killed on a farm over the weekend.

Colom, in a televised address late Monday, promised to challenge the drug dealers authorities believe are responsible for the killings, which have been described as a "massacre" by the state-run Guatemalan News Agency.

"Despite the few resources we have, even with the lack of military personnel, we will still come face to face with organized crime," he said.

One man was captured and two were killed during a shoot-out between suspected drug-runners and police, Colom said.

The killing spree, which officials said took place late Saturday into early Sunday, is one of the nation's worst since the end of the civil war in 1996.

The killers -- believed to be members of Mexico's Zeta drug cartel -- decapitated several victims and left their body parts strewn across the terrain, police said.

Colom called the killings "sadistic and perverse."

Survivors who detailed the killing spree included a pregnant woman who covered her daughters and begged for mercy, Guatemala's Prensa Libre reported. The woman said the group that attacked the farm consisted of more than 50 armed men in fatigues, who had Mexican accents. (read more)

Strange alignment of Osama-related news stories suggesting an impending event (planned or otherwise?)

Osama Bin Laden: Another false flag operation?

On Sunday, May 1, 2011, in the late hours, news stations across America carried Barack Hussein Obama's address to the world, announcing that Osama bin Laden had been taken down.

Initial reports were sketchy, and in the following days it became apparent that early reports were riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies.

Americans, lied to too many times, began to doubt the very veracity of reports that bin Laden was killed at "his compound" in Pakistan, not far distant from a prestigious Pakistani military academy.

To which the talking heads trotted out government mouth pieces hailing, "believe me, he's dead … I've seen the pictures, he's dead." Always the witting and willing dupes, the mainstream media has played their part.

Inconsistencies began to emerge –

1. DNA tests, the results of which were known in a matter of hours, proved it was Osama. Unless the CIA and military have access to DNA tests that the rest of the populace does not, it takes more than a few hours for a DNA match to be made.

2. No one heard two Black Hawk and two Chinook helicopters fly in. Even with radar evading "stealth" technology, this claim is hard to believe.

3. No one heard a very loud explosion (the downed Black Hawk being blown up) or the large caliber gunfire emanating from the compound as SEAL Team 6 supposedly made its way to the room where Osama was cloistered with at least one of his wives. (read more)

John Kerry warns Pakistan over Bin Laden

A visiting senior United States senator warned Pakistanis on Monday that members of Congress were asking "tough questions" about economic aid to Islamabad after Osama bin Laden was killed on Pakistani soil.

Senator John Kerry told a news conference he had not come to Islamabad to apologize for the May 2 secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and infuriated the Pakistani military.

But the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Democrat close to President Barack Obama, said U.S.-Pakistani ties were too important to be unraveled by the incident.

In a veiled warning to the Pakistani security establishment, made up of the powerful military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, he said: "The road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions."

"I emphasized to our Pakistani friends -- and they are friends -- that many in Congress are raising tough questions about our ongoing economic assistance to the government of Pakistan because of the events as they unfolded, and because of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan," he said.

Washington's fragile ties with ally Islamabad took a beating after U.S. special forces flew in from Afghanistan on a secret operation and killed bin Laden on May 2, nearly 10 years after he orchestrated the September 11 attacks on the United States. (read more)

Police hunt for sick yobs who shot dead family of eight swans they used for live target practice - 17th May 2011

(Image) Cruelty: The adult swans and their adorable six cygnets, pictured two days before their death, were shot dead in the neck and chest.

Police are hunting a 'sick' gunman who shot dead a family of eight swans in a horrific attack at a lakeside beauty spot.

The family of two adult swans and six two-week-old cygnets were shot in the chest and neck by a yob who picked the birds off with an air rifle.

They were found floating in a lake at the picturesque Ford Green Nature Reserve in Smallthorne, Staffs.

Police and RSPCA were called and were forced to call in the fire service to remove the swans from the lake, as horrified onlookers watched in tears.

A reward of £350 has now been put up for anyone who can help find the killer of the swans, who were discovered with air rifle pellets in their bodies.

They were taken to an RSPCA centre where X-rays revealed numerous air rifle pellets had been blasted in the necks and chests of the swans.

RSPCA Inspector John Groarke attended the scene and said he was horrified at the 'appalling' attacks.

He said: 'We are horrified that anyone could use an air gun and shoot an entire family of swans.

'It's absolutely appalling to think someone considers this acceptable behaviour and we're appealing for anyone who knows who may be responsible to contact us.' Read More

John Van Hoy Jr, 33, dies after being sucked into hotel jacuzzi - as staff 'ignored fiancée's cries for help' - 17th May 2011

The family of a man who met a bizarre and tragic end by being sucked into a jacuzzi at a Bahamian resort is suing the hotel for negligence, emotional distress and false imprisonment.

John Van Hoy Jr, 33, of Liberty, Missouri, died on December 28, 2010 after he was sucked into the drain of the hotel's whirlpool and drowned while workers allegedly ignored his fiancée's cries for help.

His family are suing the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, its American-based marketing firm, and the companies that built or supplied parts for the whirlpool.

According to Courthouse News Service, Mr Van Hoy was 'in excellent shape, and could bench press over 300 pounds', but when he dunked his body underwater he got caught in the whirlpool's suction drain and could not free himself.

The father-of-two's fiancée was said to be relaxing nearby when she noticed he did not come up for air.

She screamed for help, then jumped into the pool to try and save him herself after she claims that staff ignored her, but she was unsuccessful.

The suit says: 'Nicole Cleaveland then sought the help of a Royal Bahamian employee who ignored her pleas for help and walked away.'

There was no emergency shut off button nearby and other guests tried in vain to save him.

When he was finally freed, the suit says that it took an ambulance 45 minutes to arrive and there was no one on site to administer CPR on Mr Van Hoy.

The complaint said: 'No Sandals employees were either trained or willing to provide CPR for the 45 minutes or more that transpired before an ambulance arrived.'

He was pronounced dead when he arrived at hospital. Read More

Russian Hannibal Lecter cannibal dubbed 'Hannibal Lectrovsky',caught feasting on human liver stew and potatoes - 17th May 2011

Russian police have tracked down a suspected killer after finding half-eaten human remains in his fridge.

Police found their suspect in his Moscow home eating a human liver with some potatoes before finding the remains of the organ in a stew.

In gory scenes reminiscent of the horror film The Silence of The Lambs, the officers tracked down a man after a trail of body parts were found scattered across the capital.

Police said they have detained the suspected killer, who has been dubbed 'Hannibal Lectrovsky', who they believe is behind the recent mysterious appearance of dismembered body parts.

The decapitated head of a middle-aged man was found in the Moscow River last week after hands, feet and arms were found elsewhere.

'When the police came to arrest the suspect, he was eating a human liver with potatoes,' a police spokeswoman for the Moscow's western district said.

The police spokeswoman said the cause of the acquaintance's death was not clear.

'Detectives established the identity of the dead body by taking fingerprints,' police spokesman Alexei Savalyev told Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

'After that police tracked down the suspected offender through a circle of the deceased's friends.'

The prosecutor general's main investigative unit said the suspect had owned up to the sick crime: '(The suspect) admitted his crime and that he had eaten part of his acquaintance's liver.'

Police say the suspect may suffer from mental illness. Read More

Secrets of the plague revealed: Scientists discover why human cells fail to defend against killer disease - 17th May 2011

Scientists can finally explain exactly how and why a cell's defences fail against some invaders, including the plague, while successfully fending off others.

A new super-resolution microscopy technique is providing researchers with never-before-seen detail of a cell membrane.

They claim the development could open doors to new diagnostic, prevention and treatment techniques.

Jesse Aaron, a researcher at of Sandia National Laboratories, said: 'We're trying to do molecular biology with a microscope, but in order to do that, we must be able to look at things on a molecular scale.'

The cell membrane is a bustling hub of activity on a minuscule scale. While providing structure and housing the cell's interior, the membrane regulates movement of materials in and out of the cell, controls adhesion to other objects and co-ordinates the cell's communications and subsequent actions through signalling.

Receptor proteins on the surface of immune cells, known as toll-like receptors (TLRs), are tasked with recognising intruders, or antigens.

The TLR4 member of this receptor family responds to certain types of bacteria by detecting lipopolysaccharides (LPS) present on their surface.

TLR4 proteins then alert the cell and activate an immune response. Read More

Mass grave found outside Syrian protest city as troops stop relatives from reclaiming bodies - 17th May 2011

The Syrian Interior Ministry has denied that a mass grave had been found near the southern city of Deraa, which the army entered last month to crush protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

'Reports of a mass grave in Deraa are completely untrue,' state television quoted the Interior Ministry as saying, adding they were part of a 'campaign of incitement' against Syria.

Deraa residents said on Monday villagers had pulled 13 bodies from a single grave discovered in farmland on the outskirts of the southern city.

They said the bodies included those of a 62-year-old man and four of his children, along with bodies of a woman and child. The rest of the bodies were said to be unidentified men.

A Syrian rights group, the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, also reported that a mass grave had been found near Deraa on Monday morning. It said troops had surrounded the area to prevent people taking the bodies away.

Many international media organisations have been barred from Syria, making it difficult to verify accounts.

Deraa residents say dozens of civilians were killed during the military assault on the city's old quarters after troops and tanks rolled into the city late last month. Read More

Anthony Dockerty, 41 A paedophile maths teacher who raped and sexually assaulted teenage pupils is jailed for 15 years - 17th May 2011

A paedophile maths teacher who repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl he met at the school where he worked has been jailed for 15 years.

Anthony Dockerty, 41, raped one girl, sexually assaulted another 15-year-old and groomed a third teenager when he 'bombarded' her with explicit Facebook messages.

The 'sex-obsessed domineering bully', who was head of maths at Winifred Holtby School in Bransholme, Hull, sent one pupil more than 150 indecent messages on the social networking site.

A court heard Dockerty, who regularly took cocaine, ecstacy and viagra, abused his position of trust to target teenage girls by plying them with alcohol.

The predatory teacher made one girl dress up in her uniform for him, as well as buying her nightwear and telling her he fantasised about her.

After admitting she had a 'crush' on him, the father-of-four lured the girl to his home, when it was only by chance that a friend saw the pair's Facebook conversation and alerted police.

Dockerty had been urging his victim to delete the Facebook messages to ensure he would not get caught.

Hull Crown Court had previously heard the teacher sent 40 messages to a female pupil in one day.

He told a 15-year-old girl: 'You are excellent at school, so bright' and 'You are far more grown up than some of the other girls.' Read More

Monica Helm, 61, a Crèche owner drugged children as young as SIX MONTHS with Valium to keep them quiet - 17th May 2011

A crèche owner has been found guilty of giving Valium to children as young as six months at her nursery.

Monica Helm, 61, crushed up the pills in water and fed them to the children, causing sleeping and medical problems, the court near Cape Town, South Africa, ruled.

One parent who used the Kinderland crèche in Cynaroides Street, Heldervue, claimed her child started falling asleep everyday at 10am while another was taken to hospital with dehydration because of constipation.

Another parent, Janine Heyns, 31, took her son Michael to the doctor after hearing rumours that children were being given medication and noticing a change in his behaviour. Traces of Valium were found in tests on the boy’s urine.

Police were contacted and Helm and her assistant Angeline Carolus arrested.

Carolus then turned state witness, giving evidence against her employer and saying she was asked to administer the drug to children aged between six months and three years.

Magistrate Marylin Cannon found Helm, who had run the crèche for 24 years, guilty of seven counts of dosing children with a homemade sleeping concoction and one count of running an unregistered day care centre.

An assault charge was dismissed.Link

According to police, the drug was mixed with water and given to the children on a daily basis to make them sleep. The children would have woken by the time their parents collected them.

During the trial Helm claimed she had been framed but Ms Cannon threw out the charge, saying that Carolus had been a reliable witness. Read More

Radioactive substance detected in green tea leaves in Ibaraki towns - 15th May 2011

Higher levels of radioactive cesium than the national provisional limit were detected in green tea leaves harvested in Daigo and Sakai in northern Ibaraki Prefecture, the prefectural government announced May 16.

The government said radioactive cesium of 894 becquerels per kilogram was detected in green tea leaves picked May 15 in Sakai and that of 570 becquerels per kilogram in Daigo in green tea leaves picked May 14, compared with the official interim limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

The prefectural government ordered the two towns May 16 to halt shipments of green tea leaves.

Meanwhile, radioactive cesium of 3 becquerels was detected in the hot extracts of green tea in Sakai and 30 becquerels in Daigo against the provisional limit of 200 becquerels for drinking water under the Food Sanitation Law.

Green tea in Sakai and Daigo bears the brand names of Sashima tea and Okukuji tea, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, alarmed by the high levels of the radioactive substance in tea leaves, ordered Tokyo and 13 prefectures in northeastern and eastern Japan to check steam dried green tea known as "Aracha." Read More

Nisha Rani, 22, a Nursery worker, faces jail after hitting boy, 2, over the head with a space hopper - 17th May 2011

A nursery nurse is facing jail after she hit a two-year-old boy over the head with a space hopper, a court heard.

Nisha Rani, 22, left the youngster in tears after knocking him to the floor with the bouncy toy, the hearing was told.

Just a week later, Rani, from Coventry, pushed another boy off a play mat when he was waking up after telling the playgroup: 'Shh, this will be funny.'

Her bullying was uncovered after a female student on work experience reported what she had seen to her tutor who called the police.

Rani was convicted of two counts of common assault in a one-day trial yesterday and faces jail when she is sentenced next month.

Coventry Magistrates Court heard how she attacked the two-year-old boy with a space hopper on September 23 last year.

Mike Nicklas-Carter, prosecuting, told the court: 'The defendant was employed as a nursery nurse for children up to the age of five years.

'During that time several work experience students from a college had placements at the nursery.

'They became alarmed by what they had witnessed and made complaints to the college authorities.

'The first assault was the defendant hitting the boy over the head with a space hopper. He fell to the floor and it was told that he was in shock by the incident.'

According to witnesses, the boy struck his head on 'spongy tarmac' and needed to be comforted by staff. Then, seven days later, Rani launched another attack on a different boy.

Mr Niklas-Carter said: 'The second incident involved a young boy who was in the sensory room at the nursery. He was on a play mat and had just woken up. The defendant said to the rest of the party 'Ssh, this will be funny' and pushed him off the mat and on to the floor.

'The incidents would be deemed minor if it was on a robust teenager or between adults fooling around but the law looks at each case individually and with children of this age there is a much higher duty of care.' Read More

Police in five-hour stand-off with 'gunman' at Tesco... who turned out to be armed with just a carrier bag - 17th May 2011

Shoppers fled from a supermarket yesterday after reports that a man armed with a shotgun had entered the store.

Police were called at 8.30am to a branch of Tesco in Aston, Birmingham, leading to a five-hour stand-off as armed officers surrounded the building.

The incident ended peacefully, however, when a man was taken from the building to a waiting police van.

And despite a search for a gun, no weapon was found - although bomb disposal experts were called in to investigate a green carrier bag which the man had taken with him.

The incident began when witnesses said they heard three shots being fired.

The area was cordoned off by police as staff and customers were evacuated and negotiators moved in to deal with the situation.

The man was eventually taken from the scene at about 1.30pm. Read More

Young girl aged Two killed in Arkansas building collapse - 16th May 2011

MORRILTON, Ark. - Authorities say a young girl has died and several other people are injured after a building collapsed in central Arkansas.

CBS affiliate KTHV Little Rock reports the victim was a 2-year-old. At least six other people were injured

The building on houses several businesses. Morrilton Mayor Stewart Nelson said that someone had recently bought a closed store, Bobbye's Wedding Creations, and was replacing it with a photography studio. He said that supports may have collapsed during the remodeling.

Conway County Sheriff Mike Smith says rescue teams are searching the wreckage of the building in downtown Morrilton for any other people trapped inside. Rescuers are still sweeping the building but said they believe everyone has been taken out.

Christy Hockaday, the CEO of St. Vincent hospital in Morrilton, confirms that one person died and said two others are being airlifted to area hospitals. She says one victim is in stable condition at St. Vincent and three others are expected to arrive there soon.

It's not clear how many people were inside the building at the time of the accident.

Morrilton is about 55 miles west of Little Rock. Source

Teen Raped As She Walks Home From School - 17th May 2011

A 13-year-old girl has been dragged into bushes and raped as she walked home from school in Manchester.

The girl was attacked between 3.30pm and 4pm on Monday as she was walking through a field in Gorton.

A man, who is described as black and in his early 20s, approached her and pulled her into some bushes before raping her.

Police said the man then ran off and the girl went home and told her family what had happened.

The man is described as about 5ft 6in tall, with short hair. He was wearing a grey tracksuit.

"We are in the early stages of this investigation and we are urging anyone who may have seen the victim being grabbed, or the offender running away, to contact us," said Superintendent Stuart Barton.

"The victim has been left traumatised by what happened but trained officers have been speaking to her and she has fully supported our investigation.

"We understand that this incident will cause some concern in the community but we are treating this as an isolated incident. We also have an increased police presence to provide reassurance.

"While a teenager should never be subjected to such an attack when walking home from school in the afternoon, we would like to remind girls and women of some very basic steps for their safety.

"They should stick to busy roads, walk with others where possible and take public transport if they can."

:: Anyone with any information should call police on 0161 856 4245 or call the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Source

BBC: Osama Bin Laden video released by White House features man that "isn't Osama"... and is possibly some other guy's neighbour - is this acceptable?

Faulty gauge at Japan Fukushima nuclear plant may have lead to reactor 1 meltdown: Japan's nuclear struggle continues

A low water level in a reactor building at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan may have exposed fuel rods and caused them to melt, the owner of the facility said Thursday.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. blamed the incident on a faulty gauge that monitors the water level in the pressure vessel in the No. 1 reactor building.

Once the gauge was reset, workers discovered Thursday that the water level had dropped more than three feet (1 meter) below the fuel rods that need to be cooled by water to keep them from melting.

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said there's a high possibility that the fuel rods have melted and are now being cooled by water in the bottom of the pressure vessel.

The company said it suspects there is a leak in the pressure vessel since the water level was low despite the company pouring 150 tons of water a day on the No. 1 reactor to cool it.

A March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at Fukushima Daiichi, causing the three operating reactors to overheat. That compounded a natural disaster by spewing vast quantities of radioactive material into the atmosphere. (read more)

US trade deficit jumps to $48bn as expensive oil batters economy

US companies sold a record amount of goods and services overseas in March, but a big jump in oil imports pushed the nation's trade deficit higher.

The Commerce Department says the trade deficit rose 6pc to $48.2bn (£29.4bn). That's up from $45.4bn in February. Exports increased to $172.7bn, the largest on records dating back to 1996. The dollar's decline in recent months has made US goods cheaper overseas, and exports have also risen due to rapid growth in developing countries.

However, oil imports soared to $39.3bn, an 18pc rise from the previous month. That's the highest level since August 2008, and reflects steep price increases and more demand.

The trade deficit with China decreased to $18.1bn. That's down slightly from $18.8bn in February. (Source)

IMF says debt-hit euro states face contagion of crisis proportions

Debt-hit states on the fringes of the eurozone need "unrelenting" reform efforts to try to prevent the current crisis spreading, the IMF has warned.

Greece and the Irish Republic have needed bail-outs, and Portugal is also now asking for assistance.

The IMF has also called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to refrain from increasing interest rates further.

And it urged the EU and member states to strengthen banks that need bigger cash cushions against another downturn.

The IMF estimates that the 17 member eurozone will see economic growth of 1.7% this year and 1.9% in 2012, if debt crises do not harm the economy.

'Contagion' risk

"Unrelenting reform efforts at the national level of the crisis-afflicted countries need to be the first line of defence," the report from the Washington-based organisation said.

"Contagion to the core euro area, and then onward to emerging Europe, remains a tangible downside risk."

The Irish Republic and Greece are already dependent on 52.5bn euros ($74.44bn; £45.7bn) of International Money Fund aid.

Meanwhile Portugal's bail-out is expected to be worth 78bn euros in the form of loans from other European countries and the IMF.

Many banks in these troubled nations are also being kept afloat by liquidity provided by the ECB. (read more)

Mississippi flooding covers millions of acres as "worst ever" scenarios take hold



A near-record crest is forecast in Greenville, Mississippi, Tuesday as the bloated Mississippi River makes its relentless march toward the Gulf.

By the weekend, flood waters are expected to peak at record levels in Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, as well as in Red River Landing and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service.

"It is very difficult to grasp the idea of the possibility of our communities flooding," said Mary Beth Hanks, who has a home in New Roads and a fishing camp in Batchelor, Louisiana. "What would we do? Where do we go?"

In Louisiana's Atchafalaya River basin, residents packed up treasured possessions and scrambled to build makeshift levees as federal authorities diverted more water from the swollen Mississippi in an effort to spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

"I moved everything out of the bottom and put everything I could upstairs and brought it to my mother's house," Neil Rabeaix of Butte Larose told CNN affiliate WWL. (read more)

UK inflation rate rises to 4.5% in April

The UK Consumer Prices Index (CPI) annual rate of inflation rose to 4.5% in April, up from 4% in March.

The rise was due to a jump in transport costs, particularly Easter rises in air and sea fares, and alcohol and tobacco.

However, the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation - which includes mortgage interest payments - fell slightly to 5.2% from 5.3% in March.

The rise in CPI was bigger than analysts had forecast and follows a surprise fall in the index last month.

CPI is now at its highest level since October 2008.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said "by far the largest upward effect" on prices came from air transport, where fares rose by 29% between March and April. Sea fares rose by 22.3%. (read more)

B.C. warned ocean will rise by 1 metre by 2100

A new report from the B.C. government is warning builders and developers to plan for a one metre rise in the sea level within the next 90 years.

The report, Climate Change Adaption Guidelines for Sea Dikes and Coastal Flood Hazard Land Use, predicts that sea levels will rise faster and greater than previously thought.

It recommends land use planners take into consideration a 0.5-metre rise in sea levels for developments with design life spans up to the year 2050, and 1.0 metres up to the year 2100.

The report says the frequency and intensity of coastal wave and storm surge events are not expected to change significantly, but significant cross-government collaboration and education will be needed to deal with the effects on B.C.'s coastal communities. (read more)

Can the planet support 10 billion people?

A United Nations report released on Tuesday projects that world population, instead of stabilizing at above 9 billion by 2050, will keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by 2100.

The population of Africa, for instance, could more than triple, rising to 3.6 billion by century's end. Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, could see its population increase from 162 million today to 730 million by 2100. Accelerating rates of growth are already evident: world population is expected to pass 7 billion in October, only a dozen years after reaching 6 billion.

How will the world accommodate this growth? What have we learned from history about how countries adapt to feed and house ever more people? (read more)

World population pyramid chart shows crisis leading up to 2050 due to aging population

Looming Mexico oil drilling disaster could dwarf BP Deepwater Horizon disaster: Experts



A year ago this month, an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Horizon oil platform cost the lives of 11 men. It also caused the largest marine oil spill in history and wrought havoc on the southern coastline of the United States.

The political fallout was considerable and the battle over responsibility and compensation will drag on for years. But the disaster also gave rise to much debate about the human and environmental costs of oil production – particularly in offshore waters.

The argument has become particularly heated in the country from which the Gulf draws its name. Mexico is a major oil producer and the huge profits from Pemex, its state-owned oil giant, have long underpinned the country's economy.

Now, with some of its most productive inshore fields beginning to run dry, Pemex is pushing exploration out into ever deeper waters. And that, say many activists, is worrying because the company's safety and environmental record is not as good as it should be. (read more)

San Francisco's free 'organic biosolids compost' filled with toxic chemicals... and your own poop -- A buried reminder of big business "organic" fraud

The Food Rights Network (FRN), a nonprofit research group, recently issued a press release explaining the test results from a study of San Francisco's free "organic biosolids compost".These independent tests revealed that the free soil, given to the public by San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission, is loaded with endocrine-disruptive chemicals.

Scientists found "appreciable concentrations" of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, triclosan, an antibacterial agent, nonylphenol detergent breakdown components, and other things in the compost.

According to the commission, the compost is derived from sewage sludge and given out to the public for use in home gardens and at schools. But due to chemical contamination, many are calling on the city end the program immediately.

"Giving out sludge-based 'compost' that contains PDBEs, triclosan, and who knows what other toxins, while calling it 'organic compost', knowing it would be applied to school and home gardens, is wrong on a number of levels. Given the toxic compounds that have been found...the 'compost' giveaway should be permanently ended by the City of San Francisco," explained Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist with Consumers Union, to FRN. (read more)

Manitobans brace for dike breach as floods worsen: Canada

Provincial officials are assessing the Manitoba flood situation hour by hour, trying to determine if and when to breach a dike along the Assiniboine River and intentionally inundate about 150 properties.

On Wednesday, officials said the breach would take place at 8 a.m. CT Thursday, but later in the day decided to take a wait-and-see approach and monitor conditions.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said they'll "make a decision this morning on what the best alternative is to protect as many people and properties as possible."

A decision about a controlled cut in the dike, southeast of Portage la Prairie, will happen "no earlier than noon today unless something very serious happens with the existing dikes breaking," Selinger said, adding he is trying to give people "as much time as possible to adapt to the very very difficult circumstances."

The province initially said on Tuesday that 150 homes could be affected by the release, but at least one municipal official said as many as 300 houses and some of the province's most fertile farmland could be swamped.

The spill would threaten an area 225 square kilometres wide and flow into the La Salle River basin, putting properties there at risk.

The release of water is necessary because many dikes are stressed from the pressure of the river. Should they fail, there could be more catastrophic uncontrolled flooding over a wider 500-square-kilometre area. (read more)

From now you must jail EVERY burglar, judges will be told - 12th May 2011

Judges and magistrates are to be told to send burglars to jail in instructions that end a decade of official leniency.

Rules for the courts made public today said a criminal who burgled somebody’s home should ‘expect a custodial sentence’.

In a shift away from efforts to reform burglars, the rules put the harmful effect of crime on victims before the hope of rehabilitating offenders.

The least serious crimes will continue to attract community punishments, but the guidelines say only in exceptional cases should a domestic burglar escape jail.

Drawn up by the Sentencing Council, a body dominated by judges, the guidelines reflect an Appeal Court ruling by the Lord Chief Justice more than two years ago in which Lord Judge declared that ‘our homes should be our castles’.

They end a slide towards soft sentences for burglars which began in 2002 when former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf said more burglars should be kept out of prison because few criminals were deterred by the threat of jail and community sentences were cheaper for taxpayers.

Sentencing Council rules demanding jail sentences and longer prison terms are also a rebuke to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who is pursuing a policy based on Lord Woolf’s thinking which encourages greater use of supposedly reforming community sentences.

Since 2000, the proportion of burglars convicted in the courts who are sent to prison has fallen from more than 50 per cent to less than 40 per cent. Read More

NATO, Pakistan exchange fire on Af-Pak border: BREAKING NEWS

Somewhere, John Kerry is gesturing for an aide to bring him three Advils and a Bushmill’s chaser. Just after the Massachusetts senator cajoled the Pakistanis into returning the remains of the stealth helicopter used in the Osama bin Laden raid, NATO helicopters got into a shooting match with Pakistani troops at a border post, injuring two soldiers. Timing is everything.

Initial reports indicate that the NATO helicopters crossed into North Waziristan. It’s not yet clear if the helicopters were pursuing insurgents, but they encountered a border post manned by 20 soldiers at Datta Khel. A statement from the Pakistani military suggests that the soldiers shot first, prompting an “exchange of fire,” but the actual sequence of events isn’t clear yet.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports that the Pakistanis sent their own helicopters from Mirinshah to Datta Khel, but the “purpose of the Pakistani mobilization was unclear.” The Pakistani Army filed a “strong protest” with NATO, Dawn adds. While the Pakistanis tolerate U.S. drone strikes on its territory, crossings by soldiers are officially a no-no. NATO is still investigating what happened and has yet to issue its account of the incident.

The immediate question is whether NATO troops just got into a shooting match with their ostensible Pakistani allies.

Maybe the Pakistanis were trigger happy after the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden — and plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations into the toilet. Maybe NATO helicopters misidentified their target. No matter what, it’s a clear indication that NATO isn’t adequately communicating with Pakistani border troops, despite an assurance from the outgoing commander of NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan. (read more)

Schwarzenegger acknowledges having child with staffer: Remember people, these are the kinds of idols you adore, role models you set up for kids



Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child more than 10 years ago outside of his marriage to Maria Shriver, a source close to the former California governor confirmed to CNN on Tuesday.

The revelation, published first by the Los Angeles Times, came about a week after Schwarzenegger and his wife of 25 years announced that they were "amicably separating."

"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger said in a statement obtained by CNN. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry."

Schwarzenegger fathered the child with a household staffer, the Times article said. He has provided support for the child since birth, the source told CNN.

The staffer told the newspaper that the child was fathered by her then-husband. She declined to comment after learning of Schwarzenegger's statement, the newspaper reported. (read more)

Eruption of enormous flare from exploded supernova baffles Nasa scientists - 12th May 2011

An enormous flare which erupted from the remnants of an exploded star in a faraway constellation has left Nasa scientists baffled.

Last month, the famous Crab Nebula supernova, first observed in 1731, gave off a flare five times more powerful than any previously seen from the object.

On April 12, Nasa's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope first detected the outburst, which lasted six days.

The nebula is the wreckage of an exploded star that emitted light which reached Earth in the year 1054.

It is located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. At the heart of an expanding gas cloud lies what is left of the original star's core, a superdense neutron star that spins 30 times a second.

With each rotation, the star swings intense beams of radiation toward Earth, creating the pulsed emission characteristic of spinning neutron stars, known as pulsars.

Apart from these pulses, astrophysicists believed the Crab Nebula was a virtually constant source of high-energy radiation.

But in January, scientists associated with several orbiting observatories, including NASA's Fermi, Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, reported long-term brightness changes at X-ray energies.

'The Crab Nebula hosts high-energy variability that we're only now fully appreciating,' said Rolf Buehler, a member of the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) team at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a facility jointly located at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. Read More


Worst Drought in 50 Years - China's Yangtze river closed to ships by severe drought - 12th May 2011

The Yangtze river, the longest waterway in Asia and China's most important shipping route, has been closed by the worst drought in 50 years that has left cargo ships stranded and 400,000 people without drinking water.

Water-levels have sunk as low as 10ft in the main thoroughfare of the 3,900-mile long river that stretches from the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau to the coastal city of Shanghai.

The Yangtze river basin is home to one-third of China's population and is responsible for 40 per cent of the country's economic growth.

Emergency teams have been sent to the river's middle reaches around Wuhan in the central province of Hubei, to rescue two ships that have been grounded in the past week and help any others that become stranded.

The river's management office has now closed a 140-mile stretch of the river above Wuhan to ocean-going vessels because of the shallow water.

It also said the river is 160 feet narrower in key sections than it was last year. Source

Anxiang Lu, 52, Named on Most Wanted List as Christmas Portrait of Murdered Family is Released - 11th May 2011

Police today released an image of the murdered Ding family celebrating Christmas as they named the man wanted in connection with their murder as the 'most wanted' in Britain.

Anxiang Lu, 52, was identified on the Crimestoppers website as one of the eight 'most wanted' criminals in the UK.

A mugshot of Du has been uploaded, alongside a description and a rundown of the shocking killings he is accused of carrying out.

He is alleged to have stabbed to death university lecturer Jifeng Ding, his wife Helen Chui and their two children Xing, 18, and Alice, 12, at their home in Northampton, on Friday April 29.

A spokesman for Crimestoppers said anyone who gave information to the charity that leads to a successful arrest and conviction could be in line for a cash reward.

It follows a manhunt by police, which has included officers staging reconstructions of Du's last known movements, resulting in 200 eyewitness reports being received.

Meanwhile, police said they have now been able to trace family members of the Dings in China and America following their horrific killings.

They have spoken of their pain at losing four family members in such a brutal way.

In a statement released through the police they said: 'We are shocked and saddened to lose our family members in such a violent manner. Read More

James Lee Troutman, Most Evil, Raped and Strangled nine year old Skyler Kauffman in the Basement, whilst fiancee was in the apartment - 12th May 2011

Suspect 'sat down to dinner with fiancée just minutes after beating schoolgirl to death in basement'

The fiancée of a man accused of raping and strangling a nine-year-old girl has revealed she overheard the attack.

Heather Clemens was in the apartment directly overheard as young Skyler Kauffman was killed in the basement - allegedly by Miss Clemens' fiance James Lee Troutman.

She said heard a female voice 'wailing', along with screams, crashing sounds and someone crying, 'Nooooo!' according to a police complaint.

'I thought maybe it might have been a parent arguing with a child, and the child was going 'Nooooo,' like, 'Why are you taking my toy?'' Miss Clemens told KYW-TV.

'I thought any number of things at that point except what this turned out to be.'

She told the station that she felt disbelief and shock when Troutman was arrested.

'I was horrified that they actually said that he was the one who did it,' she said.

'Never in a million years did I think he was capable of doing this.'

She told another station: 'I felt like I was living with a stranger, a monster, maybe even a demon.'

The badly-beaten body of nine-year-old Skyler Kauffman was found wrapped in a blanket and thrown into a rubbish bin behind her apartment block in Souderton, near Philadelphia, after she failed to come home for dinner.

Police arrested 24-year-old James Lee Troutman when a detective spotted blood on his trainers, and allegedly found blood-soaked clothes stuffed into a hamper in his bedroom.

Yesterday Skyler's mother, Heather Gebhard, said she believed the tragedy could have been avoided if police had listened to her. She said: 'They blew me off.'

She called police on April 18, after her daughter and a friend came home saying Troutman had locked them in his apartment, and only let them go when they started screaming.

Surrounded by hundreds of mourners at a vigil for her daughter yesterday, Miss Gebhard wept as she said police 'twisted everything my daughter said, they didn't believe her.'

She described Skyler as outgoing and friendly, and said 'it's like a nightmare. She was loved by everybody.'

But the girl's father, Eric Kauffman, said he believed it wouldn't have made a difference if police had arrested Troutman at the time

'I guess either way it probably would have happened,' Mr Kauffman told The Associated Press yesterday from the home he shares with his parents in Harleyville.

Troutman admitted he strangled Skyler with his hands and said her head hit the basement floor 'a couple of times at least', according to the arrest affidavit.

He told investigators 'it was like white-out' and he 'snapped'. According to the affidavit he said: 'I got rid of her. Once I took her down [there], I knew she could get me in trouble.'

He allegedly wrapped her body in a blanket, carried her outside and threw her into a nearby dumpster, leaving a trail of blood behind. Read More


Diverted Mississippi River waters spell doom for Louisiana oysters - 11th May 2011

When the planet acts in ways that prompt humans to claim “natural disaster,” ecologists calmly point out there are no disasters in nature, only events. Louisiana’s oyster industry is about to be the next example.

Opening spillways to divert the rising flood of the Mississippi River away from cities and across local wetlands will almost certainly kill a significant portion of the nation’s richest oyster grounds, bringing immediate financial disaster to fishing families from Lake Borgne to Vermilion Bay still recovering from the BP oil spill, state biologists said.

But the event is also good long-term news for the oysters, beginning as early as this fall.

“This will be a terrible blow to the industry, to the fishermen, no question,” said Patrick Banks, biologist in charge of the oyster program for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “But we know from records that these large freshwater events usually result in greatly improved conditions for production in the future.

“You have to remember that floods of water from the rivers originally were part of the natural cycle that helped Louisiana develop the incredible oyster resource it has.”

Most of the reefs that help Louisiana produce 40 percent of the nation’s crop are located along the southeastern corner of the coast from Lake Borgne to Vermilion Bay. Records from the 1973 and 1983 spillway openings, which match the river volume and timing of this year’s event, indicate widespread oyster mortality can be expected in key areas, Banks said.

“The impact of every opening is different and depends largely on the length of the opening and the (stage of the oyster’s life cycle) that they occur,” Banks said. “Judging from those other events, we could see 100 percent mortality in some of these areas.” Read More

Meteor likely caused mysterious boom - NASA scientists say not uncommon - 12th May 2011

Meteor likely caused mysterious boom: wavy.com



VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Virginia Beach is a city full of sound. Waves crash at the Oceanfront and fighter jets scream overhead. However, a boom Tuesday night caught hundreds of normally unfazed residents from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore completely off-guard.

"It shook my house," said one man.

"It almost felt like an earthquake and then I had to think about it. We're in Virginia Beach we don't get earthquakes," said Pam Trotter.

10 On Your Side called the military, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy. Turns out the answer may be found out of this world.

"It's most consistent with a meteor coming into the Earth's atmosphere and creating a large sonic boom," said NASA scientist Dr. Joe Zawodny.

Dr. Zawodny said sonic booms are not uncommon. Two years ago, hundreds of people across the region heard a similar boom most likely caused by a meteor.

This just happens to be a popular time of year for them said Dr. Zawodny.

"We're on the tail end of a meteor shower here which peaked last week. It could be associated with that," he said. Read More

Back to reality: Obama poll rating falls below 50 per cent as 'Bin Laden bounce' wears off - 17th May 2011

President Barack Obama's approval rating has slipped to 48 per cent - ending the so called 'Osama bounce'.

The President had enjoyed a near record high of 51 per cent in the days following the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2.

But with many Americans focused on rising gas prices, high unemployment and a troubled economy, Obama has been swiftly brought back to reality with a bump according to the latest set of Gallup poll numbers.

According to pollsters, the economy is top priority for Americans, with three in four naming some type of economic issue as the 'most important problem' facing the country today.

General economic concerns occupy 35 per cent of respondents, while 22 per cent are focused on unemployment.

The news comes as the President announced a U-turn in his previously cautions oil drilling rhetoric.

On Saturday, the president outlined plans for what he called 'safe and responsible' drilling, with the emphasis on speeding up the leasing process for the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve.

He also plans to create better financial incentives in oil company leases, extending the leases for those in the Gulf of Mexico.

On top of this, the President also fast-tracked test exploration off the east coast in a bid to promote the possible exploitation of reserves there. Read More