Saturday, June 25, 2011

Report: Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in Critical Condition: Venezuela Gripped by Uncertainty

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is hospitalized in Cuba and is in critical condition, according to a report published in the Miami, Florida-based El Nuevo Herald newspaper.

He was last heard from on June 12 when his voice was broadcast on a telephone call with Venezuelan state television. At the time, the president told the interviewer doctors had found no sign of of "malignant" illness.

An official statement from the Venezuelan government said Chavez had been operated on for a pelvic abcess on June 10 in Havana. At the time he was in Cuba on an official state visit.

However, the report quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence sources who said Chavez is currently in "critical condition, not grave, but critical, in a complicated situation."

According to the EFE news agency, the president's daughter Rosines and his mother Marisabel Rodriguez "urgently" were flown to Cuba in a Venezuelan air force plane either Wednesday or Thursday last week.

A number of media reports have said that Chavez is actually suffering from prostate cancer, although intelligence sources have not confirmed the reports.

On Friday, four "tweets" were sent on Chavez's Twitter account in what appeared to be an attempt to quiet rumors that his condition was grim.

"Tiday is the day of my army and the sun dawned bright. A big hug to my soldiers and my beloved people," he allegedly wrote. (read more)

Hezbollah Moving Hundreds of Missiles into Lebanon from Syria as Assad Regime Nears Collapse

Hundreds of missiles have been moved into Lebanon from Syria in the past several weeks, according to a report published Saturday in the French newspaper Le Figaro.

A "Western expert" quoted in the report described trucks ferrying long-range Iranian missiles to Hizbullah bases in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, just over the border.

Among the ordnance were Fajr 4, Fajr 3 and Zilzal missiles, allegedly removed by Hizbullah from Syria due to fears the regime of President Bashar al-Assad may fall.

According to the report, Hizbullah is unsure it would enjoy the same strong support under a new government that it has under the Assad regime, where it was able to maintain its own storage depots.

The terrorist organization is also fearful that Israel may bomb its convoys as they transport the missiles to Lebanon, the source told the French newspaper. Unnamed intelligence agencies have been monitoring the progress of the convoys, which are camouflaged. (read more)

Flotilla of Anti-Israel Vessels Sail from France to Greece, then Gaza

The first of the Summer 2011 anti-Israel Gaza flotilla ships have set sail from France. The two vessels left port in Corsica on Saturday, according to a Channel 2 news report.

Both headed for the coastal waters of Greece, where they are scheduled to meet up with the rest of the participants in the flotilla, dubbed "Freedom Flotilla II." Only six people were aboard one of the vessels.

The entire fleet will sail for Gaza next week, French coordinator Julien Rivoire told the AFP news agency.

The United States has warned American citizens who are determined to participate that they will face legal action from Israeli authorities. They may also face similar action from their own country as well, the State Department warned.

On Friday, the State Department said in a statement the attempt by the flotilla to break Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza is "irresponsible and provocative." It noted that well-established means of delivering humantarian assistance to the PA residents of Gaza already exist, such as through the port of Ashdod.

The State Department also noted in its release -- the third in three days -- that Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which has been designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization. As such, Americans who provide any form of support to Hamas are subject to fines and jail.

A group of 36 Americans announced last week they would participate in the flotilla aboard the "Audacity of Hope" vessel, bearing the U.S. flag, a ship whose name was reportedly inspired by the best-selling book penned by President Barack Obama. Among the group will be novelist and poet Alice Walker. (read more)

Diabetes explosion leads to 350 million suffering from disease worldwide

Rates of diabetes have exploded in the past three decades with an estimated 350 million people in the world now suffering from the disease, according to new research.

Almost every region of the planet has seen a rise in diabetes prevalence or has failed to reduce levels of the disease, a major international study has revealed.

The condition, which is the result of poorly controlled sugar levels in the blood, can lead to serious compliations such as damage to the kidneys, blindness, nerve damage, heart disease and limb loss.

Each year, high blood sugar levels and diabetes kill three million people worldwide.

Increasing life span and increasing body weight are thought to be the main factors causing diabetes rates to rise, especially among women, say researchers.

But genetic factors in some ethnic groups, nutrition in the womb, diet in early life and levels of physical activity have also played a role in the rising diabetes rates. (read more)

Mexican troops replace police in half a state that borders Texas as drug wars rage

Mexican troops fanned out across the border state of Tamaulipas this weekend, taking over security operations in half the state's cities and towns.

About 2,800 soldiers were deployed to 22 of 43 cities in the state, which borders Texas and is among the most violent in the country. The show of force came as President Felipe Calderon defended his drug war strategy in the face of mounting criticism from activists.

The soldiers took over policing duties in the state's largest cities, including the capital, Ciudad Victoria, and the border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros.

"The support is of temporary and extraordinary character," Mexico's ministry of defense said in a statement, but didn't offer details. (read more)

Risking it all: The daredevil pilots of Colombia (Must-see documentary, just 25 min)



t is one of the most perilous air routes in the world. Colombian pilots fly through storms in decrepit planes over dense forests to deliver food and goods to villagers isolated from the rest of the world.

Jumping off point is Villavicencio, a city in the foothills of the Andean Cordillera. The destination is any one of the number of native Indian villages scattered throughout the jungle, cut off from civilisation.

The plane's arrival in the villages is a major event. It stops here only once or twice a month, its cargo comprising vegetables, beds, dogs, chicken, TV sets.

In Colombia, DC3s operate more like rural buses.

Somewhere over Colombia, high above the Amazonian rainforest near the borders with Brazil, an old DC3 prop plane is caught in a violent tropical storm.

No visibility. Radio silence. Undoubtedly flight 30-37 is in trouble. Captain Raul tries to stabilise the twin-engine plane to bypass the worst of the storm. (read more)

America 'playing with fire' in South China Sea boundary dispute, China says

Senior Chinese and American officials are to meet this weekend as Beijing warns Washington that it is "playing with fire" by supporting countries that contest China's claim to own the whole of the South China Sea.

The meeting in Hawaii between China's Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and United States Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell comes after weeks of sharp confrontations in the disputed waters between Chinese ships and those of Vietnam and the Philippines.

Although not officially on the agenda, the issue of the contested claims to the South China Sea is likely to elbow its way into the Cui-Campbell talks, which are billed as the first in a series of consultations aimed at stopping the downward spiral in Beijing-Washington relations over Asian regional security.

The long-standing rival claims to areas of the South China Sea between China on the one hand and Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei on the other has been dormant since a 2002 agreement to pursue the dispute according to international law.

But in the past 18 months tensions and the number of confrontations have increased. (read more)

Levee Fails Upstream From Cooper Nuclear Station -- Authorities: "Everything is fine"

A levee three-miles upstream from the Cooper Nuclear Station at Brownville failed Thursday night, but authorities said the incident presented no threat to the nuclear plant. The failed levee, in Atchison County, Missouri, was breached at about 9 p.m.

Atchison County borders Nemaha and Otoe Counties in Nebraska. The Cooper plant, operated by the Nebraska Public Power District, is in Nemaha County.

An emergency evacuation was ordered for Atchison County west of I-29, including Landgdon, Watson, Phelps City, and Nishnabotna.

“This is a large breach and water will be moving rapidly. Persons should stay out of this area if previously evacuated due to danger,” the Atchison County Emergency Management office said in a prepared statement. (read more)

China's Hand in the Renewed Civil War in Burma (What, you didn't know there was a civil war in Burma? Join the club; shame on journalists)

The current armed conflict in Burma's northern Kachin State has effectively ended nearly two decades of ceasefire between the country's second largest ethnic army, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and the newly sworn-in Naypyidaw government, bringing a strategic region near the Chinese border to the verge of a civil war.

The gunfire that was exchanged between the KIA and the Burmese army over the past seven days has claimed only a few casualties on both sides. But, despite concerns that the fighting will spread to other areas, no other clashes have been reported in the region since midday on Monday.

The past week's conflict is extraordinarily significant because for the first time it has reignited a civil war in northern Burma which has been in hibernation mode since a fragile “gentlemen's” agreement was reached in 1994.

The clashes that broke out last Thursday presented a new challenge in the armed struggle of Kachin rebels who initially demanded independence in 1961 but later called for a federal union.

The new and daunting challenge for the KIA today is its neighbor China. Across Kachin State, Chinese state-owned mega-corporations such as China Power Investment and China Datang are constructing a number of large-scale hydropower dams. And the electricity from those dams will be exported to China.

KIA spokesperson La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the immediate cause of the latest fighting stemmed from the Burmese army's aggressive attempts to control areas surrounding the hydropower dams, which are located near the Chinese border—areas which have long been under the control of KIA forces, and just a few kilometers away from China's strategic oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan Province which passes through central Burma. (read more)

Pakistan: Just a few disciplined soldiers and politicians hanging on by fingernails is keeping the country from collapse

Pakistan is caught today in a web of complex geopolitics and internal strife. Standing between it and total collapse are a smattering of political forces and discipline within the military. If either is undermined, it will be the end.

It is hard to find an overriding reason for the continued US and NATO presence in Afghanistan. If the stated purpose of denying Al-Qaeda a base is taken at face value, it stands partially achieved. The Afghan Taliban are ready to distance themselves from it and a majority of Al-Qaeda-allied militants are no longer in the country.

The death of Osama bin Laden, while symbolic, also signifies attrition in top ranks of the organisation. Its viability as a coherent entity with a unified command structure is seriously in doubt. Yet, the Americans are keen to have a continuing presence in Afghanistan with up to 50,000 troops permanently stationed there.

What this implies is that the war in Afghanistan is unlikely to end soon. While the Taliban led by Mullah Omar are ready to talk, their principle demand of no foreign forces in the country cannot be met if the Americans are determined to remain there. Even President Karzai, who is an American creation, has begun to describe the US-Nato presence in the country as an occupation force. (read more)

Economic crisis: Should the U.S. brace for European-style riots?

The European Union is suffering on a scale much larger than just the crisis in Greece. Timothy Garton Ash, a contributing editor to Opinion, says it’s because the old political and emotional motivators of the EU have faded.

While Greece is urgently in need, anger is beginning to stir among those in other countries who are also bearing the brunt of irresponsible lending and leadership. There’s also panic about immigration from North Africa and frustration over underdeveloped military forces in Libya.

Ash suggests Angela Merkel's leadership and the German economy are the key to recovery. Here's an excerpt from today's Op-Ed.

Those powerful driving forces included searing personal experiences of war, occupation, holocaust, fascist and communist dictatorships; the Soviet threat, catalyzing west European solidarity; generous, energetic American support for European unification; and a West Germany that was the mighty engine of European integration, with France on top as the driver. All these are now gone, or very much diminished. While there are intellectually convincing new rationales for the project, including the rise of non-Western giants such as China, rationales are no match for emotional motivators.

The key to so much of this, especially on the economic side, is Germany. For much of its history, what has become the European Union pursued political ends by economic means. For [German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl and [French President Francois] Mitterrand, the euro was mainly a political project, not an economic one. Now the boot is on the other foot. To save a poorly designed and overextended monetary union, the political must ride to the rescue of the economic. […]

For no one has more to lose from the disintegration of the Eurozone than the Continent's central economic power. It may soon be too late. (read more)

"U.S. Job Market Won’t Rebound for Years"

When will the U.S. economy return to full employment? No sooner than 2018, according to a new report from McKinsey — oh, and that’s the best-case scenario. Worst case, the economy produces a measly 9-10 million jobs over the rest of the decade, far short of the 21 million jobs the consulting firm estimates we need to bring unemployment down to around 5 percent by 2020.

Here’s how that more pessimistic prognosis would show up in the U.S. labor market, McKinsey says:

It would mean further contraction in manufacturing employment, a continued wave of automation and offshoring in administrative and back-office positions and a new wave of automation in retail (for instance, more widespread adoption of self-checkout).

In short, if the economy doesn’t snap back into place, it would look a lot in nine years like it does now, only more so. Over the next five years, companies think the biggest change in their workforce will be an accelerating shift toward part-time, temporary or contract workers. (In which case, arrivederci, middle class America — it was nice while it lasted.) Other expected changes include more telecommuting, additional offshoring and outsourcing, and a greater reliance on older employees. (read more)

Israel launches major home front defence drill

Israel on Sunday launched a major five-day home front defence exercise intended to prepare its population and emergency services to respond to massive missile attacks, the Israeli military said.

Named "Turning Point 5," the exercise involves testing nationwide siren systems and the cellular network, distributing emergency kits, improving coordination and practising evacuation and shelter procedures.

As part of the exercise, now in its fifth year, Israelis are being asked to enter their "pre-selected protected spaces" when they hear sirens sound on Wednesday.

The sirens will sound twice, once in the morning, once in the evening, to give citizens two opportunities to participate in the drill, the military said.

Among the scenarios being prepared for are sustained rocket attacks on the Tel Aviv region, the electrical grid or a geriatric hospital, local media reported.

Israel came under heavy rocket fire during its 2006 war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and the country's southern towns near the Gaza Strip have also frequently been fired on from the Palestinian territory.

For the first time, lawmakers will also be called on to participate in response to a simulated attack on the parliament building in Jerusalem.

Some 80 municipalities will be taking part, along with the military, police, fire service and emergency services. The military's Home Front command will also test an emergency SMS service during the exercise, the army said. (read more)

Missing SAMs in Libya alarms the West

The United States and its allies are concerned that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups may have got their hands on scores, if not hundreds, of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles plundered from Libyan military bases after the civil war erupted there in March.

So far, only four missiles have been recovered, mainly by two European mine-clearing outfits -- the Mines Advisory Group of Britain and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Actions -- hired by the U.S. State Department to scour Libya for the missing SAMs.

Russia has sold countless thousands to Moammar Gadhafi's regime over the years, mainly Strela-2s, also known as SA-7s. But it's not known had many Libya had when fighting broke out there.

This type of missile, known in military-speak as man-portable air defense systems, or manpads, were designed to shoot down military aircraft using heat-seeking or radar-base guidance systems.

The first weapons were produced in 1944 by the Germans, who adapted the ubiquitous 22mm Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket launcher for use against aircraft. It was called the Fliegerfaust.

The first missiles using infra-red guidance systems, such as the U.S. Redeye, were introduced in the 1960s. Laser-guided variants followed.

SAMs were first used by terrorists in the 1970s and they've taken a toll of civilian aircraft over the years, mainly during civil wars or insurgencies.

There have been no successful shoot downs involving manpads for several years anywhere in the world, although Western and allied intelligence services have thwarted several plots targeting airliners in the United States and elsewhere. (read more)

Inflation in Vietnam rises to 21%

Labour unrest is on the rise in Vietnam as the country struggles under ever rising inflation.

Food costs are up and not everyone can negoatiate higher wages.

Official figures show the inflation rate nearing 21 per cent -- putting it among the highest in the world.

SNOWDON: Vietnam's inflation rate reached 28% two years ago and hit triple figures in the 1980's. Economist Adam McCarty thinks inflation will rise to 25% this year before beginning to fall. He says some government policies like controlling credit have kept inflation from ballooning to past excesses but other policies are poorly targetted

MCCARTY: They try to regulate their way out of these problems by regulating absolutely everything and targetting absolutely every policy instrument.

SNOWDON: Is it working?

MCCARTY: Yes, but some of the policy choices cause more pain than gain.They underestimate the business uncertainty that they create by regularly changing a lot of small business regulations like it's become more difficult to import consumer goods. They've added more paperwork requirements, simply just to reduce imports of consumer goods as a tiny little step towards solving their trade balance issue.

SNOWDON: Professor Adam Fforde from Victoria University says the problem started with the credit surge when Vietnam joined the WTO in 2007, and has been made worse through political interference in the central bank.

FFORDE: Well I think the underlying politics of this are very hard to resolve unless either somebody pops up to the top who has authority to knock heads together and that hasn't happened, or you have some probably very Vietnamese complicated process of political development which basically means that the population through some process participates in elections or something, which means again the government has authority to govern. Neither of those two things appear to be happening.

SNOWDON: Wages are rising for skilled workers who can negotiate them but food, electricity and fuel are also rising, leaving real incomes stagnating or falling. Interest rates are very high. Adam McCarty is the Chief Economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi.

MCCARTY: Then of course you have a large number of people who are unable to increase their incomes that easily.

SNOWDON: So they must be doing it pretty hard?

MCCARTY: Well some of those people are agricultural producers and others are working in factories, that's why we've had a bit more strike action over the last twelve months as they've tried to keep their real wages stable. (read more)

A Grim Trade: Trafficking Palaung Women to China

Unscrupulous traffickers, Burma's economic decline and militarization, and a shortage of females caused by China's “One Child Policy” have all combined to contribute to the trafficking of women from the Palaung region of Burma into China, says a locally based activist group.

“Since 2007, we have documented 72 cases of actual and suspected trafficking involving 110 people,” said Lway Moe Kam of the Palaung Women's Organisation (PWO). The caseload includes 11 children under 10 years of age.

Twenty-five percent of the women trafficked were forced to marry Chinese men and 10 percent of the caseload were coerced into the sex trade, according to the PWO, which grimly concluded that nine out of 10 trafficking victims do not escape.

According to a particularly gruesome account given by one victim of trafficking, she was taken to a building in Shandong, eastern China, where people were kept as live feed for leeches, used in Chinese medicine. “I saw some people in that room lying in pools of water. They were all fat, but looked lifeless and were not moving. Then I saw that there were leeches sucking those people's blood,” said the unnamed woman.

The PWO concedes that the number of trafficking victims is likely to be higher than reported, with real figures difficult to determine due to local cultural constraints, further hampered by the logistical and security challenges confronting researchers working in the area. In 60 percent of the cases analysed, it remained unclear exactly what kind of situation the victim was trafficked into.

“Traffickers work in secret, and the presence of the army means that we have to be careful when doing research and talking to people,” said Lway Aye Nang, another PWO representative. (read more)

Russian woman, Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, dies at her own funeral after being mistaken for dead


A Russian woman died from a heart attack brought on by the shock of waking up at her own funeral.

Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, 49, was mistakenly declared deceased by doctors, the Daily Mail reported Friday.

But she later woke up - in a coffin surrounded by sobbing relatives. She started screaming after realizing she was about to be buried alive.

Mukhametzyanov, a resident of Kazan, was rushed back to the hospital where she was declared dead -- this time for real.

Her husband, Fagili Mukhametzyanov, was distraught.

"Her eyes fluttered and we immediately rushed her back to the hospital but she only lived for another 12 minutes," he said.

He told The Sun that he would sue the hospital.

"I am very angry and want answers. She wasn't dead when they said she was and they could have saved her." (read more)

South China Sea issue: A perspective from the Philippines

It seems that the situation in the South China Sea is taking a turn for the worse. The increasingly harsh rhetoric is now being backed by a display of muscle. China sent one of its most modern surveillance vessels on a run through the South China Sea from Guangzhou to Singapore. The Philippines sent its largest – and apparently only – warship, a WWII vintage destroyer, on patrol through waters it now calls the West Philippine Sea. Vietnam and China have each conducted live-fire exercises while the US and ASEAN navies have just completed their annual joint naval exercise. This war of words and saber-rattling, if not handled properly, can lead to a situation that would complicate and even make it impossible for a diplomatic solution to be reached.

That is why it is important for the Philippines to speak with one voice and by that I mean not just one message but one person aside from the President. The cacophony of conflicting voices – some defiant and inflammatory, others clearly betraying ignorance of the nuances of international relations – from officials in the executive to the provincial level, not well versed in the art of diplomacy and geopolitics, risks escalating tensions. Senator Ponce Enrile was right to caution the President’s subalterns from speaking on the issue and calling for the Department of Foreign Affairs to do the talking. Enrile said not only is the “tough talk” unproductive, it might paint the President in a corner, since it is now the President’s office speaking.

The President speaking on the issue, through the Foreign Secretary, is the wisest course of action to take. Fortunately, this advice is being heeded. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s sober presentation of the Philippine case and of advancing a “rule of law” approach to settle the dispute is just the right tone. Getting the envoys of six ASEAN member states in Manila to issue a statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the dispute was helpful even if largely symbolic. It reinforces our call for the multilateralization of the issue. While on one level this may give us greater leverage than if we were to negotiate this bilaterally, it also makes eminent sense because there are other claimants who are ASEAN members themselves as well as non-claimants who nevertheless have significant stake in the state of affairs in this busy shipping lane through which more than a quarter of world commerce passes. (read more)

DeMint Warns Republicans They May Be 'Gone' if They Support Debt Ceiling Increase

Conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint has a message to fellow Republicans in Congress: If you support increasing the debt ceiling without first passing a balanced budget amendment and massive across-the-board spending cuts, you're gone -- destined to be swept out of Congress by a wave of voter anger.

"Based on what I can see around the country," DeMint, R-S.C., said in an interview for the ABC News Subway Series, "not only are those individuals gone, but I would suspect the Republican Party would be set back many years.

"It would be the most toxic vote," DeMint said. "I can tell you if you look at the polls, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they do not think we should increase the debt limit."

DeMint is not just talking political analysis here. He has a significant fundraising base and has shown a willingness to use his campaign money to support or oppose fellow Republicans. (read more)

Exclusive: Top U.S. admiral admits we are trying to kill Qaddafi

The top U.S. admiral involved in the Libya war admitted to a U.S. congressman that NATO forces are trying to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same admiral also said he anticipated the need for ground troops in Libya after Qaddafi falls, according to the lawmaker.

House Armed Services Committee member Mike Turner (R-OH) told The Cable that U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the NATO Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him last month that NATO forces are actively targeting and trying to kill Qaddafi, despite the fact that the Obama administration continues to insist that "regime change" is not the goal and is not authorized by the U.N. mandate authorizing the war.

"The U.N. authorization had three components: blockade, no fly zone, and civil protection. And Admiral Locklear explained that the scope of civil protection was being interpreted to permit the removal of the chain of command of Qaddafi's military, which includes Qaddafi," Turner said. "He said that currently is the mission as NATO has defined."

"I believed that we were [targeting Qaddafi] but that confirmed it," Turner said. "I believe the scope that NATO is pursuing is beyond what is contemplated in civil protection, so they're exceeding the mission."

Later in the same briefing, Turner said, Locklear maintained that the NATO mission does not include regime change. "Well, certainly if you remove Qaddafi it will affect regime change," Turner said that he replied. "[Locklear] did not have an answer to that." (read more)

Water filling 2,500 homes in Minot as river rises: All levees now being breached or failing

The Souris River's full weight hit Minot on Friday, swamping an estimated 2,500 homes as it soared nearly 4 feet in less than a day and overwhelmed the city's levees. City officials said they expected more than 4,000 homes to be flooded by day's end.

More than a quarter of the city's 40,000 residents evacuated earlier this week, packing any belongings they hoped to save into cars, trucks and trailers.

"The river's coming up rapidly," Mayor Curt Zimbelman said. "It's dangerous and we need to stay away."

Fed by heavy rains upstream and dam releases that have accelerated in recent days, the Souris surged past a 130-year-old record Friday and kept going. The river was nearly 5 feet above major flood stage Friday afternoon and expected to crest over the weekend after reaching more than 8 1/2 feet beyond major flood stage.

The predicted crest was lowered a foot based on new modeling by the National Weather Service, but it was little consolation in Minot.

"This has been a very trying time for our community," Zimbelman said. "It's emotionally draining for all of us."

As they had the past two days, emergency officials focused on protecting water and sewer systems to avoid the need for more evacuations. They were confident about the water system, but a little less so about the sewer treatment plant. It had been sandbagged as high as possible.

Also of concern was the Broadway Bridge, a key north-south route. Levees protecting the northern approach were being raised, but Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann said it was touch and go. The levee work also protected the campus of nearby Minot State University. (read more)

17 More hospitalised in E.Coli alert in France - 24th June 2011

SEVENTEEN people have been hospitalised after two further outbreaks of food poisoning in France. Health authorities are investigating what appears to be an E.Coli infection in Bègles-en-Gironde, near Bordeaux. Seven adults are in hospital and three are said to be in a serious condition with kidney problems.

The Agence Régionale de Santé said: "We are trying to find out where the patients have eaten and where they have shopped, but it is too early to reach any conclusions."

However it has ruled out any link with the hamburger E.Coli scare that caused eight children to be hospitalised in Lille last week, one of whom is still in a coma.

A separate case of poisoning has been reported in the Nord, affecting 50 children who were served hamburgers at a school canteen.

Ten children have been admitted to hospital as a precaution. Authorities say their lives are not in danger and the symptoms are not the same as those seen in Lille last week.

Meanwhile, further tests on a batch of meat that was withdrawn from supermarkets yesterday over E.Coli concerns have come back negative.

Producer Maison Spanghero said the recall had been a false alarm. Some 12 tonnes of hamburgers and meatballs were pulled from supermarket shelves, mostly in the south of France. Source

Fort Calhoun Spent Fuel In Ground Pools, Flooded Already?

Ft. Calhoun is the designated spent fuel storage facility for the entire state of Nebraska...and maybe for more than one state.*

Calhoun stores its spent fuel in ground-level pools which are underwater anyway - but they are open at the top. When the Missouri river pours in there, it's going to make Fukushima look like an x-ray. But that's not all. There are a LOT of nuclear plants on both the Missouri and Mississippi and they can all go to hell fast.

BTW, US plants hold about four times OVER capacity in their spent fuel pools PLUS all the new and recently removed fuel from Calhoun...the plant was officially being refueled.

Be aware that Ft Calhoun isn't a BWR like Fukushima - it's a PWR. But that doesn't matter, because the fuel is all sitting OUTSIDE the reactor waiting to wash away or explode - which will destroy about 15,000 square miles of what used to be the corn belt. That's all being washed away by the flood waters anyway.

Calhoun may already be spewing radiation into the flooding Missouri...the public will be the last to be told. Therefore, everything the river water touches on its way downstream will or could become contaminated.

This could be nothing...or, it could wipe out the middle of America. Note the following:

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant located on 660 acres (270 ha) between Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, and Blair, Nebraska adjacent to the Missouri River. This plant has one Combustion Engineering pressurized water reactor generating 500 megawatts of electricity. In 2003, the plant had its operating license renewed for an additional twenty years, expiring in 2033. (read more)

Acoustic 'cloaking device' shields objects from sound -- But will it work against Hilary Clinton?

Scientists have shown off a "cloaking device" that makes objects invisible - to sound waves.

Such acoustic cloaking was proposed theoretically in 2008 but has only this year been put into practice.

Described in Physical Review Letters, the approach borrows many ideas from attempts to "cloak" objects from light.

It uses simple plastic sheets with arrays of holes, and could be put to use in making ships invisible to sonar or in acoustic design of concert halls.

Much research has been undertaken toward creating Harry Potter-style "invisibility cloaks" since the feasibility of the idea was first put forward in 2006.

Those approaches are mostly based on so-called metamaterials, man-made materials with properties that do not occur in nature. The metamaterials are designed such that they force light waves to travel around an object; to an observer, it is as if the object were not there.

But researchers quickly found out that the mathematics behind bending these light waves, called transformation optics, could also be applied to sound waves.

"Fundamentally, in terms of hiding objects, it's the same - how anything is sensed is with some kind of wave and you either hear or see the effect of it," said Steven Cummer of Duke University. "But when it comes to building the materials, things are very different between acoustics and electromagnetics.

"The thing you need to engineer into the materials is very different behaviour in different directions that the wave travels through it," he told BBC News. (read more)

Libya says NATO strikes kill 15 civilians

NATO airstrikes hit a bakery and a restaurant in the Libyan city of al-Brega Saturday, killing 15 civilians, a Libyan government official told CNN.

NATO denied the claim and said it had struck key command-and-control centers. The alliance said there was "no indication of civilian casualties in connection with these strikes."

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces have occupied buildings in an abandoned area of al-Brega from where they are launching attacks on civilians, a NATO statement said. The alliance monitored the buildings and said it determined them to be clear military targets.

"This continues to show Gadhafi's reprehensible tactics of placing military assets and operations at the heart of civilian neighborhoods," said Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, NATO commander for the Libya campaign.

"We have meticulously monitored these developments for a significant period and it was time to remove this threat," he said.

Al-Brega is a key oil refinery town about 500 miles east of Tripoli that has been the scene of heavy fighting between pro-Gadhafi forces and rebel fighters. (read more)

To the Last Drop: Residents of one Canadian town are engaged in a David and Goliath-style battle over the dirtiest oil project ever known



The small town of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta is facing the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project, which may be the tipping point for oil development in Canada.

The local community has experienced a spike in cancer cases and dire studies have revealed the true consequences of "dirty oil".

Gripped in a Faustian pact with the American energy consumer, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to protect the dirtiest oil project ever known. In the following account, filmmaker Tom Radford describes witnessing a David and Goliath struggle.

I shot my first film, Death of a Delta, in Fort Chipewyan in 1972. I shot it with a hand crank Bolex camera with a maximum 26-second wind. I had to make sure people knew what they were talking about. There was no time for red herrings. In our new film, To the Last Drop, the latest in digital HD and Cineflex cameras capture the landscape of northern Alberta as never before.

But while technology can go through multiple revolutions in 49 years, the issue that drives both our films remains the same: the rights of downstream communities, and the need to recognise those rights, no matter how powerful their upstream neighbours.

Death of a Delta documented the fight of Fort Chipewyan to have a voice in the construction of a massive hydroelectric project on the Peace River, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. At stake was not only the survival of the oldest community in Alberta, but the protection of a World Heritage site, the Peace Athabasca Delta, a convergence of migratory flyways and the greatest concentration of waterfowl on the continent.

In the David and Goliath struggle that ensued, David won. Water was released from the dam and water levels in the Delta returned to normal. The unique ecology of the region was saved. The town survived.

Today, that same David, the collective will of the thousand residents of Fort Chipewyan, is fighting an even more imposing Goliath. The Alberta oil sands is arguably now the world's largest construction project. Its expansion will have an estimated $1.7 trillion impact on the Canadian economy over the coming decades. An area of boreal forest the size of Greece will be affected by industrial activity. (read more)

The teenage miners of Bolivia -- teenagers look for a way out of desperate poverty and lives blighted by mining-induced ill health



Jorge Mollinedo and Alex Choque are best friends. They have worked together in the tin mines of Bolivia, hammering out a living from the underground rock.

They are now teenagers and looking for a way out of their desperate poverty and lives blighted by silicosis and ill health caused by mining. Jorge sees the military as a way to change his life and his country. But Alex's plight keeps him tied to the mines.

This is the third time that Witness has filmed with these two, the original Child Miners, over several years. Teenage Miners is a poignant look at the lives of two young people fighting the cycle of poverty as they grow up into young men.

Here, filmmaker Rodrigo Vazquez writes about turning the idea of filming two child miners as they grow older into a reality.

Jorge Mollinedo, the main character in the award-winning film Child Miners, is now 15 years old and has become an energetic teenager determined to have a better life than his father, who has been a miner all his life and has contracted silicosis, the 'miners' disease' that kills thousands of people every year. (read more)

Human trafficking and the U.S. -- nearly 20,000 people trafficked annually

Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, according to a 2005 report from the U.S. State Department. (Source)

Cleaner Fishes' sex changing linked to 'workplace' tiffs

Male bluestreak cleaner wrasses tend to punish female "co-workers" more severely if they are at high risk of turning into males, a British researcher has found.

Cleaner wrasses remove parasites from the flesh of coral reef fish in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, who visit them at special "cleaning stations" where a dominant male cleaner wrasse works with a harem of about 16 females.

"It's something like going to the hairdresser for the clients," said Nichola Raihani, a postdoctoral researcher at the Zoological Society of London Institute of Zoology.

However, the relationship between cleaner fish and their clients does involve some conflict of interest, Raihani told CBC's Quirks & Quarks in an interview set to air Saturday.

"Although cleaners will eat ectoparasites, what they actually find far more delicious is…eating the mucus of the clients and their living tissues."

Hence, cleaner fish are known to sometimes bite their clients, which typically won't tolerate that kind of treatment.

"Often, they'll just immediately swim away and say, 'I'm done here. I'm out of here. This is not good service,'" Raihani said. (read more)

Eisenhower's worst fears came true: We invent enemies to buy the bombs

Why do we still go to war? We seem unable to stop. We find any excuse for this post-imperial fidget and yet we keep getting trapped. Germans do not do it, or Spanish or Swedes. Britain's borders and British people have not been under serious threat for a generation. Yet time and again our leaders crave battle. Why?

Last week we got a glimpse of an answer and it was not nice. The outgoing US defence secretary, Robert Gates, berated Europe's "failure of political will" in not maintaining defence spending. He said Nato had declined into a "two-tier alliance" between those willing to wage war and those "who specialise in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks". Peace, he implied, is for wimps. Real men buy bombs, and drop them.

This call was echoed by Nato's chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who pointed out how unfair it was that US defence investment represented 75% of the Nato defence expenditure, where once it was only half. Having been forced to extend his war on Libya by another three months, Rasmussen wanted to see Europe's governments come up with more money, and no nonsense about recession. Defence to him is measured not in security but in spending. (read more)

"The Bear is back, and this time it will be much worse"

Don't let the perma bulls fool you, this is not a normal correction, and it has nothing to do with Greece or Spain. This is the beginnings of the next leg down in the secular bear market and the start of the next economic recession/depression. And this time it's going to be much much worse than it was in `08.

For months now I've been warning investors to get out of the general stock market. I was confident that once the dollar put in its three year cycle low the next deflationary period would begin and stocks would enter the third leg down in the secular bear market.


Well, the dollar did put in the major three year cycle bottom in May and stocks almost immediately started to head down.This won't end until stocks drop down into the four year cycle low due sometime in mid to late 2012.


Let me explain to you what is unfolding so you don't listen to Wall Street or CNBC and get sucked down into the next bear market.


In a healthy bull market intermediate degree corrections hold well above the prior cycle troughs. Higher highs and higher lows. When that pattern of higher highs and higher lows on an intermediate time frame gets violated it is almost always a sign that the market is topping. We are at that stage now as the market is moving down to test the March intermediate cycle low.
(read more)

Missing moon dust from Apollo 11 found at auction house - and returned to Johnson Space Centre - 25th June 2011

It was a giant leap for mankind, a truly historic moment, and so many people wanted a apart of it.

Now, 40 years after some moon dust brought back from the Apollo 11 mission went missing, it has been recovered at a St. Louis auction house and returned to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

David Kols, of the Regency-Superior auction house where the dust had been placed for sale, said: 'It's a speck - the size of a fingertip.

'But it's lunar material, and since we're not going back to the moon in my lifetime or yours, that makes it worth a lot to some people.'

The U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis, which announced the recovered moon dust on Thursday, said that investigators with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) believed the dust had come from the film cartridge of a camera used by astronauts on the trip to the moon in 1969.

The dust was lifted from the cartridge using a one inch piece of clear tape.

Somehow, it reached the black market and was sold in 2001 to a German collector, NASA investigators believe.

He cut the tape into tiny slivers, presumably thinking he could make more money out of it that way.

When investigators from both NASA and the U.S. Attorney's office noticed moon dust listed for sale in St. Louis they acted.

They shut down the transaction with the cooperation of the auction house and the seller. Read More

Suicide bombing in southeast Afghanistan kills 35 - 25th June 2011

Thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bombing at a hospital in Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, provincial officials said on Saturday.

Another 45 people were wounded in the blast in the remote Azro district.

"The information we have is that a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a hospital, killing 35 civilians and wounding 45 more," said Deen Mohammad Darwish, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Wali Wakil, head of the provincial council, confirmed the toll.

Interior minister deputy spokesman Najib Nikzad said a suicide bomber in a car set off his explosives, but did not give details.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility and said insurgents never attack hospitals. Source

Wall of Flames destroy 13 homes, Oklahoma town threatened - 24th June 2011

Churning fire described as a "wall of flame'' threatened a remote Oklahoma resort town Friday, pushing through dry brush on 30 mph wind gusts after destroying at least 13 homes.

Comanche County authorities ordered more than 1,500 people from their homes along the northern fringe of the Fort Sill U.S. Army post. Fire crews attacking the blaze on the ground and from the air had the 5,500-acre fire about 40 percent contained by Friday afternoon. High winds refueled the blaze, pushing it farther northeast across Oklahoma Highway 58 south of Lake Lawtonka, county spokesman Chris Killmer said. Additional homes were evacuated before crews contained the flare-up about an hour later, Killmer said.

The fire spread a thick, smoky haze over the foothills near the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. "The humidity is really low, there's high winds and it's very rough terrain,'' said Medicine Park Fire Chief David McCoy. Weather forecasters imposed a red flag warning Friday for temperatures of up to 108 degrees, winds of 20-30 mph and humidity readings below 20 percent.

"I've never seen it in my life as dry as this,'' said Doug Wright, chief of the Paradise Valley Volunteer Fire Department, which sent 18 firefighters to help battle the blaze. "We never fight major fires in June and July because it's usually green.''

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb issued an executive order Friday declaring a state of emergency in 33 counties in western and southern Oklahoma, including Comanche County. That marks the first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary, and may be amended to include additional counties. Read More

Eight killed after iron ore mine collapses, China - 25th June 2011

Eight people were killed and seven injured after an iron ore mine collapsed in East China's Fujian province Friday afternoon, local authorities said Saturday.

The cave-in was triggered by a nearby landslide at around 1:30 pm Friday in Peifeng township, Yongding county. The injured people had been sent to the hospital, but two of them were discharged as of Saturday morning, according to a statement from the county government.

The police were hunting down its three owners who had fled after the accident. The mine had been under illegal operation, the statement said.

The police were identifying the killed people. A further investigation on the cause of the accident was under way, it added. Source