Monday, June 13, 2011

Greece's credit rating cut again on higher risk of default -- now CCC rating, just four notches above default

Greece's recovery plans have suffered another hammer blow after Standard & Poor's cut the country's credit rating because of "a significantly higher likelihood of one or more defaults".

The rating agency reduced the long-term rating on Greek sovereign debt from B to CCC – only four notches above default. It added that in its view the country's credit outlook was "negative".

The yield on 10-year bonds issued by Greece has soared to 16.9pc and the country's sovereign debt is now the lowest rated in the world, ranking below Ecuador, Jamaica and Grenada. The move also impacted Portuguese and Irish bonds, which are also experiencing similar problems to the Hellenic nation.

The downgrade triggered an angry response from the Greek finance ministry which claimed Standard & Poor's decision was made on the back of "rumours and statements by representatives of the European Commission and European Central Bank".

The ministry said: "However, the decision ignores the intense consultations taking place between the same institutions and the International Monetary Fund aimed at designing a viable solution that will cover the financing needs of Greece in the coming years."

The statement added that the Greek government had shown "determined efforts" to "avoid at any costs" a default or restructuring of its debt repayments, as well as a "strong desire" to stay within the eurozone. It pointed to the tough fiscal strategy submitted to the Greek Parliament last week as evidence of its commitment to economic reforms. (read more)

Rebels report advances in Libya's western mountains

As Washington urged African countries to reject the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, rebels reported progress Monday against government forces in western mountain cities.

After a siege of nearly two months, rebels have freed the city of Al-Rayyana, northeast of Zintan, said Talha Al-Jiwali, a rebel fighter. Nine rebels were killed, and 35 were wounded, he said.

Al-Jiwali said forces entering Al-Rayyana found that more than 20 residents had been killed, a number of the women had been raped, and the town's electricity and water had been cut.

In nearby Zawiet al-Baqool, just east of Zintan, 500 to 600 government forces retained control, but the fighting was ongoing, he said.

Al-Jiwali added that nearly 100 members of Gadhafi's forces were killed in the two cities and that rebels confiscated their vehicles and arms.

The reports of fighting came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged countries in Africa on Monday to kick out diplomats representing Gadhafi's government.

Clinton made the remarks at a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (read more)

2 Missouri River levees break near Iowa-Missouri border

Two Missouri River levees broke Monday along the swollen Missouri River near the Iowa-Missouri border, a local official and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

The first breach, which was some 300 feet wide and growing, was a "full breach," the Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement. The break was in Atchison County, Missouri, just south of Hamburg, Iowa, it said.

The National Weather Service warned that flooding could affect Interstate 29 and the town of Hamburg.

"The concern is that anybody ... near the river would see some floodwaters that could impact either their road or homes," said David Pearson with the National Weather Service in Omaha, Nebraska.

The second breach was located just south of Atchison, in Holt County, Missouri, said Holt County clerk Kathy Kunkel.

She said flooding was affecting farmland.

A breach earlier this month prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people in the Hamburg area as a precaution. No evacuations were immediately recommended or ordered as a result of Monday's breaches, officials said.

However, "people's safety is our number one concern, so we want to stress how important it is for the public to stay off these levees as we continue to assess the risk," said Omaha Corps District Commander Col. Bob Ruch.

The breach near Hamburg was deemed too substantial to repair, said Pearson. "The next step is to attempt to mitigate the flooding with another levee between the one that failed and Hamburg." (read more)

North Korea likely can miniaturize nuclear device: Seoul

North Korea has probably succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear device, South Korea's defense minister said on Monday, an advance that would in theory allow the hermit state to place an atomic warhead on a rocket.

Regional powers have for years tried -- with a mix of aid offers and punitive sanctions -- in vain to stop Pyongyang pressing ahead with a nuclear weapons program it argues is a necessary defense against a hostile United States and South Korea with which it still has no peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim Kwan-jin offered no evidence to back his assertion but said the North had had enough time for such a development.

"It has been quite a while, enough time for them to have succeeded in miniaturization," he told a parliamentary defense committee.

If true, it would mark a key advance in the North's drive to develop a functioning nuclear weapon though that threat appears to be potential rather than actual.

It detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 but neither was considered by weapons experts to have been successful, though they say the impoverished state has enough fissile material for up to 10 nuclear weapons.

It is believed to be preparing a third test at a test site on its east coast.

The North has also been working, so far with little success, to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon across the Pacific, as far as the United States. (read more)

Vietnam seeks US support in China territorial dispute as tensions ratchet skyward and guns begin booming

Vietnam has called on the US and other nations to help resolve the escalating territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, in a move likely to anger Beijing, which opposes what it sees as outside interference.

Tensions between China and Vietnam continued to rise over the weekend, ahead of live-fire drills planned by Vietnam’s navy on Monday on an islet around 20 miles from the coast of central Vietnam, which Hanoi described as “routine”.

Stirred by a number of maritime confrontations with China over recent weeks, hundreds of Vietnamese took part in rare anti-China protests on Sunday for the second straight weekend, with the usually draconian police allowing the demonstrations to take place.

“China is running an information campaign to blind people,” said Pham Gia Minh, a 55-year-old investment consultant who attended a protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi. “We have to let people understand that we want peace but when the aggressor comes we will stand up to them.”

In addition to China and Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan claim some or all of the territory in the contested area of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves and incorporates key trade routes and abundant fish stocks.

The Vietnamese government has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent weeks amid growing public disquiet over perceived maritime bullying by China, which dominated Vietnam for 1000 years and fought a brief but bloody border war against it in 1979. At the weekend Vietnam’s foreign ministry said that it would “welcome” efforts by the US and other nations to help resolve the South China Sea dispute and maintain peace and stability. (read more)

Congressional Travel Spikes, Despite Vows of Austerity

With America's economy in the gutter, lawmakers pledge to cut back—except, apparently, when it comes to fancy trips around the globe at the expense of taxpayers and special interests. Laura Colarusso reports on the troubling spike in congressional travel.

With gas prices pinching the wallet and the national debt mounting, members of Congress proclaim that they feel Americans’ pain and are committed to cutting back. Just not one of their favorite perks—globetrotting to far-flung locations at the expense of taxpayers and special interests.

Lawmakers’ trips are up sharply during the first five months of 2011, erasing any memory of Hill leaders pledging just last summer to rein in travel costs, a Daily Beast review of congressional trip reports shows.

The pledges of travel austerity have been replaced this spring with fresh images of lawmakers strolling down an ornate European street with their spouses or touring the Bosphorus by boat—all supposedly in the name of doing the people’s business.

Not a bad business if you can get it.

“This is an important issue for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that millions of dollars are spent on flying lawmakers all around the world,” says Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “It is a form of influence peddling when sponsored by private entities. When the government pays for it, we need to know that tax dollars are being used wisely instead of funding junkets.”

Lawmakers can travel at taxpayers' expense or accept free trips to symposiums paid for by academic institutions and think tanks. The latter often gets lawmakers and their family members to exotic destinations for a little food for thought and a whole lot of wining and dining.

Take, for instance, the 20 lawmakers from both parties—with all but one spouse in tow—who were ferried off to Vienna for a weeklong conference on nuclear proliferation. They stayed in style at Intercontinental Hotel.

That trip cost about $225,000 and was paid for by the elite Aspen Institute think tank.

In all, lawmakers have taken more than 200 trips financed by private groups, costing more than $1 million since January. That’s almost double the amount spent during the first five months in 2010 and well above the first five of months of 2007, before Americans were swept into a recession and trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits. (read more)

FBI expands agents’ investigative power as citizen rights are further curtailed

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents — allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The FBI soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.

The FBI recently briefed several privacy advocates about the coming changes. Among them, Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued it was unwise to further ease restrictions on agents’ power to use potentially intrusive techniques, especially if they lacked a firm reason to suspect someone of wrongdoing.

"Claiming additional authorities to investigate people only further raises the potential for abuse," German said, pointing to complaints about the bureau’s surveillance of domestic political advocacy groups and mosques and to an inspector general’s findings in 2007 that the FBI had improperly used "national security letters" to obtain information like people’s phone bills.

Valerie E. Caproni, the FBI general counsel, said the bureau had fixed the problems with the national security letters and had taken steps to make sure they would not recur. She also said the bureau — which does not need permission to alter its manual so long as the rules fit within broad guidelines issued by the attorney general — had carefully weighed the risks and the benefits of each change.

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an "assessment." The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations "proactively" and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity. (read more)

France pushes for U.N. response to Syria

France said on Sunday that it was doing what it could to secure a U.N. response to increasingly brutal repression in Syria.

"France is continuing its efforts with its partners in the international community to see that the United Nations Security Council takes responsibility and speaks out without delay on the Syrian crisis and regional consequences," a statement issued by the French foreign ministry said.

Syrian tanks and helicopters stormed Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday, according to residents, and state television reported heavy clashes between army troops and gunmen opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The assault on Jisr al-Shughour, astride a strategic road in northwest Syria, is the latest action by Syrian armed forces to crush demands for political freedom and an end to oppression that pose an unprecedented challenge to Assad's 11-year rule.

"France strongly condemns the ever more brutal repression in Syria, including the use of heavy weapons in Jisr al-Shughour, which many civilians are fleeing to seek refuge in Turkey," said

"It must stop," the statement said. (Source)

US Is in Even Worse Shape Financially Than Greece: Bill Gross

When adding in all of the money owed to cover future liabilities in entitlement programs the US is actually in worse financial shape than Greece and other debt-laden European countries, Pimco's Bill Gross told CNBC Monday.

Much of the public focus is on the nation's public debt, which is $14.3 trillion. But that doesn't include money guaranteed for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which comes to close to $50 trillion, according to government figures.

The government also is on the hook for other debts such as the programs related to the bailout of the financial system following the crisis of 2008 and 2009, government figures show.

Taken together, Gross puts the total at "nearly $100 trillion," that while perhaps a bit on the high side, places the country in a highly unenviable fiscal position that he said won't find a solution overnight.

"To think that we can reduce that within the space of a year or two is not a realistic assumption," Gross said in a live interview. "That's much more than Greece, that's much more than almost any other developed country. We've got a problem and we have to get after it quickly."

Gross spoke following a report that US banks were likely to scale back on their use of Treasurys as collateral against derivatives and other transactions. Bank heads say that move is likely to happen in August as Congress dithers over whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling, according to a report in the Financial Times. (read more)

Debt-hit Greece sees profit in air pollution: report

Greece could earn up to 170 million euros for its cash-strapped treasury from a trade of greenhouse-gas emission allowances on the Athens stock exchange, a report said Sunday.

Eleftherotypia daily said a first-ever auction of one million emission allowances (EUAs) will be held on Wednesday, ironically as many Greek factories will be shut by a general strike against the government's economic policies.

The Athens stock exchange, which is overseeing the sale alongside the Greek environment ministry, has said that 10 million EUAs will be traded this year.

Eleftherotypia said emission rights fetch up to 17 euros (24 dollars) a tonne in other parts of Europe.

Follow-up auctions will be held on the last Wednesday of every month except August and December, the stock exchange said.

Europe's Emissions Trading System (ETS) is a carbon market covering more than 12,000 power plants and factories.

"One emission allowance (EUA) gives the owner of a plant situated in a European Union member state the right to emit in the atmospheres one tonne of CO2 or an equivalent to CO2 during a certain period," the stock exchange said. (read more)

"Anonymous" group makes interesting videos warning "world elite"



Alabama Town Stops Paying Retirees' Pensions, Some Residents Destitute

A small town in Alabama, which has stopped paying its retirees' pensions, could be an early casualty in a coming pension disaster, the New York Times reports.

As public pension funds across the nation suffer from years of underfunding, and from assets that lost value in the financial crisis, experts say that days of reckoning are fast approaching. In Prichard, Alabama, that day came last year: When the fund ran out of money, the city stopped paying retirees, the NYT reports. Retirees have sued, but to little avail. The money simply does not exist.

Without pension checks, 11 retirees have died, according to the NYT. Others have declared personal bankruptcy. The rest of the 150 retired workers are struggling to get by.

After years of procrastination, governments across the nation are beginning to be crushed under the enormity of their pension promises. State laws require that retirees be paid -- Prichard is breaking the law -- but there are fewer legal requirements that governments actually put the money behind their promises. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, many cities delayed funding their pensions, as assets were seeing high returns and governments expected good times to last.

But as the crisis hit, from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2009, funds lost 29 percent of their value. Now, funds still expect the kinds of returns they were seeing before the crash, effectively disguising the hole. (read more)

Organic Food May Become a Thing of the Past

Riceland Foods is the largest rice cooperative in the U.S. The cooperative filed suit against the Bayer Corporation for damages it suffered as a result of Bayer's unapproved genetically-modified rice contaminating natural long-grain rice -- one of hundreds of similar lawsuits that have been filed against Bayer in federal and state courts.

As a result of this contamination, countries within the European Union refused to purchase U.S. long grain rice, and rice farmers and cooperatives lost millions of dollars in sales. They also incurred substantial clean-up costs.

According to the Jere Beasley Report:

"Riceland alleged in its lawsuit that the presence of Bayer's Liberty Link rice caused the cooperative to lose $389 million in projected and future earnings. The jury found that Bayer caused tremendous harm to Riceland and the entire industry and awarded Riceland $11.8 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages. The jury also found that Bayer was solely responsible for any damages incurred by farmers as a result of the loss of the European market."

In related news, a new electron microscopic pathogen in the shape of a medium-sized virus has been discovered, which appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. (read more)

Is the U.S. headed for another Great Depression?

If a depression by any other name would feel as bleak, what do you call the current state of the U.S. economy? A number of influential American economists are no longer mincing words: They argue that deficit-obsessed politicians in Washington are setting the United States up for a repeat of the 1930s.

“What we're experiencing may not be a full replay of the Great Depression, but that's little consolation for the millions of American families suffering from a slump that goes on and on,” insists Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.

“At some point, the pain of high unemployment may lead to some new thinking in Washington – but until that time, welcome to the second Great Depression,” adds Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

At first blush, the analogy seems ludicrous. The U.S. unemployment rate hit 25 per cent during the Dirty Thirties. It's now at 9.1 per cent, after peaking at 10.1 per cent in late 2009. So-called automatic stabilizers – from unemployment benefits to food stamps – mean economic downturns now resemble a big pothole more than a bottomless pit. There are no bread lines. (read more)

Is economic chaos coming in August?

A number of Wall Street's biggest banks are preparing to lower their use of U.S. Treasuries in August, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The decision comes as a precaution against any turbulence that could follow if conflicting Republicans and Democrats fail to increase soon the U.S. debt ceiling, the newspaper said, citing a senior bank chief.

The report did not provide names of specific banks that would be cutting their use of U.S. Treasuries.

One alternative strategy that bank executives disclosed to the FT is to have more cash on hand to put up as collateral against derivatives and other transactions, decreasing the financial system's reliance on Treasuries.

Investors worldwide own large amounts of the debt that has been sold by the U.S. government as part of their portfolios.

President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers are engaged in a high-stakes standoff over raising the $14.3 trillion U.S. borrowing limit, which the administration says must happen before August 2 to prevent the United States from defaulting on its obligations.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has told the Treasury that such a scenario could create huge problems for financial markets. (read more)

"Alien interrogation video" -- Fact or fiction?



We really need readers to weigh in on this one, because we're stumped. The video goes from being passable as a puppet show at the beginning, but then oddly develops into what almost seems like a real-life scenario, complete with distressed facial expression on the part of the "alien". Expensive art show? Leaked footage?

We'd like to put out the following questions:

1. Have any of you seen this video before?
2. What is your opinion of its authenticity?
3. Have any other videos come along to debunk it or challenge its authenticity?

"But, but, it's aliens!?!" ...We're never afraid to ask questions -- hopefully you can help us find answers. We'd appreciate it.

-- Matt & Lynsey

One thousand China migrant workers clash with police for third night in Ghuangzhou as riots spread

Chinese migrant workers have clashed with police for a third consecutive night outside the southern city of Guangzhou.

About 1,000 protesters set fire to cars and damaged government buildings on Sunday night near the city in China's manufacturing heartland, reports said.

Police reportedly fired tear gas and deployed armoured vehicles.

The protests began over the alleged mistreatment of a pregnant migrant worker by security guards.

Eyewitnesses said she fell to the ground - some say she was pushed - after a disagreement with security officials, who wanted her to move her stall from in front of a supermarket.

When news of the incident spread, other migrant workers - most from far-off Sichuan province - went on the rampage, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

Bricks and bottles were thrown at police, windows were smashed, and police vehicles were overturned, reports said.

At least 25 people have been arrested.

The town of Zengcheng - just outside Guangzhou - is a hub for clothing factories and is home to migrants working in a number of textile factories.

"The case was just an ordinary clash between street vendors and local public security people, but was used by a handful of people who wanted to cause trouble," Zengcheng Mayor Ye Niuping was quoted by the China Daily newspaper as saying.

Complaints about corruption and abuse of power are widespread, and incidents like this happen across China every week, our correspondent says. (read more)

New Christchurch earthquake damage photo gallery

The incredible shrinking shopping baskets -- Products shrink, but prices stay the same

A host of familiar grocery products are getting smaller while their price stays the same. Why?

Tough times might be weighing heavily on UK shoppers, but one burden, at least, is becoming lighter: their shopping trolleys.

With the cost of getting products onto the shelves rising higher and higher, some suppliers are reducing the size of their wares while maintaining the same retail price.

Imperial Leather soap is the latest item to shrink. Manufacturer PZ Cussons said it was reducing the size of its bars from 125g to 100g, citing a steep rise in the cost of ingredients like palm oil, to avoid a hike in the amount charged to customers.

In February, Cadbury's Dairy Milk bars went down from 140g to 120g - the equivalent of two chunks - while the recommended retail price remained unchanged.

At the same time, Toblerone bars became one triangle shorter to ensure the Poundland chain could carry on selling them for £1, blaming "increases in cost bases".

To producers, it is a rational business strategy. To consumer advocates it has all the hallmarks of a rip-off. (read more)

Fact or Fiction: Alien Invasion - 13th June 2011







To see remaining Parts >>>>>>>>>>>

Pakistani paramilitary forces , who shot and killed an unarmed teenager will be tried in anti-terrorist court - 13th June 2011

Six members of Pakistan's paramilitary forces accused of killing an unarmed teenager last week have been turned over to police and will be tried under the country's terrorism act, a police official said Monday.

The Supreme Court has sent the case to an anti-terrorist court, which was ordered to conclude proceedings within a month, said Ahtisham Ali, a senior Karachi police official.

Anti-Terrorist Courts in Pakistan are special courts where hearings are expedited and decisions come more quickly than in the regular court system.

The accused -- members of the Sindh Rangers -- can be seen opening fire on 17-year-old Sarfraz Shah in a chilling video captured by a local television cameraman and broadcast across Pakistan's networks last week.

Before being shot twice, Shah pleads with the men carrying automatic rifles. "I am helpless," he cries. "Please do not fire."

Shah begs to be taken to a hospital before bleeding to death.

The incident was the latest in a series of human rights incidents that has horrified the south Asian nation and deeply eroded public confidence in security agencies.

"This kind of anger among the public and even politicians hasn't been seen before," said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission.

"It was the way the young man was brutally shot dead in close quarters," she said. "And the footage showed very clearly that he was not armed. The footage itself is so crystal clear. It tells the whole story."

Shah tried to rob people at a park named in honor of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Karachi police official Rafiq Gulsaid Shah pointed a pistol and wanted to steal cash and cell phones.

He was handed over to park security and then to the Rangers.

Shah apparently tried to snatch the Rangers' guns, Gul said. That's when the soldiers opened fire.

The video shows Shah reaching for their weapons before backing away. Read More

"National Government may have hacked IMF"

Hackers who broke into the International Monetary Fund's computer system may have been backed by a nation state, according to security experts.

They point to the sophisticated nature of the attack and the resources needed to develop it.

Malicious software, designed to steal confidential files, was installed on at least one IMF computer.

Although government involvement is widely suspected, the IMF has not released enough details to be sure.

Based on the limited information made public, it appears that the attack came from a specific PC that had been deliberately infected.

Hacker software was likely to have been installed on it in what is known as a spear-phishing attack, which sees highly targeted scam e-mails sent to specific victims.

A memo circulated internally at the IMF reported that "suspicious file transfers" had been detected.

Tom Kellerman, a security expert who has worked for the IMF and now sits on the board of the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance told Reuters news agency that it was "a targeted attack" with code written specifically to give a nation state a "digital insider presence" on the IMF network.

Graham Titherington, a security analyst with research firm Ovum agreed with the nation state theory.

"Any attack that shows money, time and resources went on it points to a state attack. States and their intelligence agencies have far more resources than criminal gangs," he said. (read more)

Thousands of Syria refugees huddle at Turkish border as Syrian army is poised for revenge

Thousands of Syrians waited along the border with Turkey on Monday to see what happens next in the tense struggle between the government of President Bashar Assad and rebel forces.

After circling Jisr al-Shughour, a town of about 50,000 people 20 kilometres southeast of the border, for days, Syrian armed forces led by Assad's brother took control Sunday, swooping in with tanks and helicopters to crush an alliance of rebels and mutinous members of the security forces.

Turkey's foreign ministry said Monday that hundreds of Syrians have crossed over since Sunday. Turkey has given sanctuary to more than 6,000 fleeing Syrians, nearly all of them in the past few days from Idlib province.

"Thousands of people are coming across the border still, and many of them are just stopping short, in fact, of the frontier," the BBC's Owen Bennett Jones told CBC News Monday from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Fleeing the armed forces, the refugees are coming with their vehicles and their animals, but are reluctant to give those things up.

"So they are just staying right by the frontier and waiting to see what happens, Bennett Jones said. "And they say if the Syrian army comes close, then they'll take those final few steps to safety and be in Turkey. They are terrified, many of them, that they'll be killed if they get anywhere near the Syrian security forces." (read more)

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500 flee forest fire in northern Saskastchewan

A forest fire has forced 500 people from their homes in northern Saskatchewan.

The fire was about four kilometres from the communities of Hall Lake and Sikichu, southwest of La Ronge, Sunday afternoon when officials made the call to move the residents.

Officials say the fire, which at last report covered about 25 hectares, was started by lightning and was reported around 1:16 p.m. CST on Sunday.

The evacuees have been moved to La Ronge, about 100 kilometres to the northeast, for safety.

Hall Lake and Sikichu are part of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

It's the largest evacuation since about 1,200 people from Wollaston Lake and Hatchet Lake First Nation were forced out of their homes last month. Those people have now returned. (read more)

China's bank lending dips as authorities tighten policy

China's banks extended fewer than expected new loans in May as the country kept up its efforts to rein in rising prices.

Chinese banks lent 551.6bn yuan ($85bn; £52bn) in new loans, compared with 739.6bn yuan in April, according to the People's Bank of China.

Authorities have been trying to slow down lending in an attempt to rein in rising property prices and inflation.

China is the world's second largest economy.

"The lending growth last month is slower than market expectations, showing that tightening measures are biting," said E Yongjian of Bank of Communications in Shanghai. (read more)

30% Firms to cut health plans as Obamacare reform starts

Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly.

The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change. It also found that for some, it makes more sense to switch.

“At least 30% of employers would gain economically from dropping coverage, even if they completely compensated employees for the change through other benefit offerings or higher salaries,” the study says. (read more)

UFOs Spotted Over California?

A short night-vision video posted on YouTube depicting three lights in the night sky over California has been getting attention on the Web. The video was allegedly recorded in Oakland a few days ago by someone using the handle "KevinMC360."

Was it a UFO?

Almost certainly, since KevinMC360 was unable to identify the flying objects.

Was it an alien spacecraft?

Probably not. [See the video here]

A careful examination of his methods suggests why the flying objects he spotted remain unidentified. In another video of the sky over Oakland recorded on June 11, 2010, KevinMC360 begins by videotaping airplanes for "reference." Later in the video (it's not clear whether the recording was edited or otherwise manipulated), he records other lights in the sky and concludes that they must be "a squadron of spacecraft." [Video: UFO Battles Over San Diego?] (read more)

Edge of Solar System Filled with Bubbles, NASA Says

The edge of our solar system is filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles, according to new NASA research.

Scientists made the discovery by using a new computer model, which is based on data from NASA's twin Voyager probes. The unmanned Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which launched in 1977, are plying the outer reaches of our solar system, a region known as the heliosheath.

The new discovery suggests that researchers will need to revise their views about the solar system's edge, NASA officials said. A more detailed picture of this region is key to our understanding of how fast-moving particles known as cosmic rays are spawned, and how they reach near-Earth space.

Cosmic rays are a threat to astronauts, as they can slam into spaceflyers' cells and damage their DNA. Earth's atmosphere attenuates cosmic rays, shielding folks on the ground from their worst effects.

NASA hasn't revealed many details about the new find. The space agency will hold a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday (June 9) to discuss it in more depth. (read more)

India: Eat, Pray, Give: Krishnan Narayanan gives up 5-star chef career to feed India's poor, mentally-ill and forgotten



India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It also has a growing gulf between the country's burgeoning rich and poor.

While the wealthy face issues like obesity and diabetes, the majority of the population struggles each day to find enough food to eat.

The tens of millions of Indians suffering from mental illness face even greater hardship, often abandoned by their families and surviving on the streets without care or treatment.

This uplifting and confronting film follows Krishnan Narayanan. Once destined for a high-end culinary career, Krishnan's life changed when he met an old man living in depraved and squalid conditions.

Rejecting a lucrative European job and ignoring strict caste conventions, Krishnan now devotes his life to helping those unable to fend for themselves, cooking meals for the dispossessed, dumped and neglected in his home city of Madurai. (Source)

6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Molucca Sea - 13th June 2011

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck the Molucca Sea at a depth of 53.3 km (33.1 miles), the quake hit at 14:31:22 UTC Monday 13th June 2011.
The epicenter was 210 km (130 miles) ENE of Manado, Sulawesi. Indonesia
No tsunami watch, warning or advisory is in effect. No reports of Damage as yet.

200 hospitalized by 'food poisoning', Philippines - 13th June 2011

CALUMPIT, Bulacan, Philippines — At least 200 people, mostly children, were taken to hospitals on Sunday after allegedly suffering food poisoning at a birthday party for a two-year-old boy in Barangay Meysulao.

Most of the victims suffered stomach and chest pains, diarrhea and vomiting, Municipal Health officer Dr. Rizalli Lucas said.

Calumpit Mayor James P. de Jesus said that the situation is now contained and controlled but they still have to implement health measures and to determine the cause of the alleged food poisoning.

Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino M. Sy-Alvarado and Mayor De Jesus assured medical assistance to the victims.

Senior Supt. Fernando H. Mendez Jr., acting Bulacan police director, ordered Supt. Jesus Reyes, Calumpit chief of police, to investigate the apparent food poisoning incident.

Initial investigation showed that early dawn on June 12, Norman Ramos and his three children suffered stomach ache, diarrhea, and severe vomiting.

Immediately after, Ramos sought the help of their neighbor who brought them to Calumpit District Hospital where they were admitted for confinement.

Later, more people complaining of the same symptoms were brought to the Bulacan Provincial Hospital in Malolos City, Perez Hospital in Hahonoy town, and Macabebe District Hospital in Pampanga.

The victims claimed cause of their food poisoning was the spaghetti served during the birthday celebration.

Mayor De Jesus said a medical mission will be sent to Barangay Meysulao today to determine the health condition not only of the victims but all residents to detect other health problems aside from possible food poisoning. Source

Heavy rain, hailstorm destroy crops in Bajaur Agency, Pakistan - 13th June 2011

Heavy rain and hailstorm destroyed standing crops spreading over thousands of acres of land in Bajaur Agency on Sunday night.

According to Met office, a total of 18 millimetres of rain was received which also broke the backbone of the sweltering heat in the region.

Trees, signboards on roadside and pasted on building walls have also fallen due to heavy storm which badly affected the gardens of apricots, watermelon, melon, vegetables and standing crops. Food stuff was also destroyed due to accumulation of rain water which inundated shops and houses.

The routine life was also badly affected due to hailstorm in the agency. The boundary walls of dozens of houses collapsed while power supply was suspended in several parts due to uprooting of electricity polls.

The local people demanded of the government to provide compensation for losses they received. Source

Rain-triggered landslide traps over 100 on highway in Tibet, China - 13th June 2011

More than 100 people in nearly 60 vehicles were trapped after a rain-triggered landslide Monday interrupted traffic on a highway in Tibet Autonomous Region.

The debris of the landslide, which happened around 8 a.m., buried about 30 meters of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway in Tibet's Nyingchi County, said rescue squad leader Liu Wanlin.

Twenty-five rescuers are attempting to clear the debris with an excavator and two loading machines, as well as free those trapped individuals and get them to safety, Liu said.

He added that it's hard to estimate when traffic will resume, as the cleanup efforts have been hampered by the risk of further geological calamities. Source

Syrian Villagers Rounded Up After Brutal Raid - 13th June 2011

Syrian troops have rounded up hundreds of villagers surrounding a town they forcibly retook from protesters, according to reports.

Nearly 7,000 Syrians have fled the region around Jisr al Shughour to seek sanctuary in Turkey as President Bashar al Assad's military continue to crack down on anti-government uprisings.

The latest wave of arrests came after an army assault on the town which involve helicopters and tanks, one week after authorities said 120 security personnel were killed in fighting.

Some residents said the killings followed a mutiny, or a refusal by some troops to shoot on their own people who had joined nationwide demonstrations calling for Assad's downfall.

Thousands of residents of the town of 50,000 people, located on a vital road junction, fled to Turkey, about 12 miles away, before Sunday's assault, leaving much of the town deserted.

One person who escaped the town, called Khaled, said two mosques were hit by shells. Another said there were nine bodies in the town and seven on the outskirts.

Government troops reportedly removed 10 uniformed bodies from a mass grave in the town, close to a military police building.

Reports said four of the bodies had been decapitated or struck on the head with an axe.

People who fled for the Turkish border said about 60 mutineers were defending the town alongside some 200 unarmed residents.

Their fate is unknown, but the Government has reported three deaths in the fighting - one of its own soldiers and two unidentified men whose bodies were shown to reporters. Read More

Feared 'Deadly Shark' Spotted Off Cornwall - 13th June 2011

A species of shark thought to be behind hundreds of attacks on humans has been reported off the coast of Cornwall.

One sighting of an oceanic white tip shark was made by a fisherman who said his wooden boat was rammed as he fished for mackerel.

The harbour master's office in St Ives confirmed a second person on a separate boat had also reported seeing one of the sharks a mile offshore.

The species is blamed for many attacks on humans and brought terror to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh last year when a 'rogue' white tip reportedly killed a German woman.

A spokesman for the harbour master in St Ives said they were not "100%" sure if the sharks spotted were oceanic white tips and stressed that people should not blow the reports Link"out of all proportion".

The pelagic - or ocean-going - species is usually found far further south in deeper waters away from the coast, with Portugal being the usual northern-most reach of its habitat. Source

Blaze at South African care center kills 11, injures up to 50 - 13th June 2011

A blaze at a care center in the South African city of Springs on early Monday morning killed at least eleven people, authorities said. Dozens more were injured.

Netcare 911 spokesman Jeffrey Wicks said the fire broke out on early Monday morning at the Struisbult Care Center in Springs, a city on the East Rand in Gauteng province. The center is home to dozens of elderly people, some of whom are mentally handicapped.

"Netcare 911 paramedics arrived at the scene to find firefighters battling the fire which had swept through a large portion of the single story structure," said Wicks. "The elderly and mentally ill were pulled from the burning building by rescue teams from the Ekhurleni Metro Fire Department."

The spokesman said at least eleven people were killed in the fire, while nearly 50 others were injured. "One woman was in a critical condition and was intubated and placed on a manual ventilator at the scene before she was transported by ambulance to the Pholosong State Hospital for the critical care that she required," Wicks said.

Most of the injured were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and were then transported by ambulance to several medical facilities in the region. "Praiseworthy firefighters quickly brought the fire under control," Wicks said.

The cause of the deadly blaze was not immediately known. "The cause of the blaze and the series of events leading up to it remain unclear and will form the subject of a South African Police Force investigation," the spokesman said.

In August 2010, seventeen people were killed and several others were injured when a fire ripped through an old age home in Nigel, not far from the South African city of Johannesburg. More than 80 others were Rescued. Source