Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pentagon reveals 24,000 files stolen in cyber-attack

The Pentagon has disclosed that it suffered one of its largest ever losses of sensitive data in March when 24,000 files were stolen in a cyber-attack by a foreign government.

William Lynn, the US deputy secretary of defence, said the data was taken from the computers of a corporate defence contractor.

He said the US government had a "pretty good idea" who was responsible but did not elaborate.

Many cyber-attacks in the past have been blamed on China or Russia, and one of the Pentagon's fears is that eventually a terrorist group will acquire the ability to steal data.

Mr Lynn disclosed the March attack in a speech outlining a new cyber-strategy, which formally declares cyberspace a new warfare domain, much like air, land and sea.

It calls for developing more resilient computer networks so the military can continue to operate if critical systems are breached or taken down. (read more)

Las Vegas resort warns some guests to test for Legionnaires' disease

A Las Vegas resort is warning some former guests that they may have come in contact with high levels of the legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia, the hotel announced Thursday.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas is telling guests who stayed at the Aria from June 21 to July 4, 2011, that they may need to be tested for the bacteria, according to a letter to guests from Paul Berry, the hotel operations' vice president. Water tests at that time indicated high levels of the bacteria in several guest rooms.

The hotel -- part of a vast collection of hotel rooms, condominiums and its own shopping center in Las Vegas' CityCenter -- has been connected in the past with six cases of Legionnaires' disease, said the Southern Nevada Health District. The district identified the six cases beginning in the spring of 2010, said Jennifer Sizemore, a manager at the health district.

The hotel regularly inspects their water supply with a series of tests; the health district only gets involved when there are cases of illness or elevated levels of bacteria reported, said Sizemore.

The health district contacted the hotel after the first reported case and "inspected their water system ... they had everything in place that needed to be," said Sizemore. "There wasn't evidence at that time that indicated they had (the bacteria)." (read more)

Libyan spokesman: 'We will die for oil'

Libya's embattled government accused rebels and the NATO military alliance of carrying out a coordinated air, sea, and land attack on the strategic oil town of Brega on Thursday, the same day a government spokesman vowed to "die for oil."

In an unexpected late-night appearance before a hastily assembled group of journalists, a Libyan government spokesman called the attack "heavy, merciless and surprising."

CNN was not able to reach anyone from NATO or the Transitional National Council, based out of the opposition-held eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, to confirm reports of the Brega attack.

The government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, also issued a warning that he said he hoped would make headlines around the world. "We will die for oil. We will kill for oil," Ibrahim said. "We will kill everyone who comes near our oil. Rebels, NATO, we don't care. We will defend our oil to the last drop of blood that we have."

His comments came shortly after Gadhafi used similar imagery in pledging not to knuckle under to international demands that he cede the power he has held tightly for nearly 42 years, and instead said he would remain "until the last drop of my blood."

"It is impossible for me to leave my loyal people," he told an enthusiastic crowd numbering in the thousands in the western city of Ageelat, in a speech that was broadcast over state television.

"I will remain with my people and with my firearm until the last drop of my blood. We will win over this unjust campaign. We will win over the campaign of colonization, the campaign of hatred." (read more)

The forgotten people of Africa's famine cry out for aid

It is a long walk from Fini village to Dadaab, the Kenyan refugee camp now the focus of attempts to save millions of people from starving to death in the Horn of Africa.

There, daily aid flights bring Hollywood stars and hand-wringing Western politicians to tour the apparent epicentre of a hunger crisis that many are warning risks tipping into a famine.

In Fini, a place so small it appears on no maps, there are no visitors.

This cluster of three dozen stick-built shacks, bisected by a sandy track rarely passed by traffic, is growing daily as more and more people trek in from the wilderness.

They are here to find help. But almost nothing has come, The Daily Telegraph was told again and again during two days in areas of northern Kenya still largely untouched by the millions of pounds given to aid agencies' latest appeals.

No one is bringing food, or medicines, or offers to buy their few remaining goats. The little food that people have hoarded is shared around ever more mouths. (read more)

'Carmageddon' set to bring chaos to Los Angeles

In the movies it has been hit by meteors and attacked by alien spaceships but now Los Angeles is preparing for what officials are describing as a real-life "Carmageddon."

A temporary closure of America's busiest road intersection, for 53 painful hours this weekend, is expected to bring unprecedented gridlock to a city already renowned for its epic bumper to bumper traffic jams.

Despite the impending, horn-blaring chaos few in the notoriously pavement shy City of Angels plan to walk, and many are taking to the skies instead.

Cut price $150 helicopter taxis are being frantically booked to get commuters to downtown and Los Angeles International Airport, and airlines are running "planepool" flights for the 40-mile hop between airports in the north and south of the city. Hundreds of plane tickets were offered at just $4 and sold out in hours.

Lance Strumpf, chief pilot of Briles Wing and Helicopter, which normally charters helicopters for $2,500 an hour, told his customers somewhat gleefully: "You can look at all those people stuck in traffic down below." More than 500,000 vehicles usually battle their way along the Interstate 405 mega-highway each weekend and it serves as an artery between the city and the sprawling suburban San Fernando Valley to the north.

Mike Miles of the the California Department of Transportation said traffic could be backed up for 64 miles as commuters desperately try to find shortcuts. (read more)

Puppy stung to death by bees prompts fears over craze for bee keeping

Keeley Connolly, 44, a former stockbroker, drove her 15-month-old pet Sara to the vet but the dog died 72 hours later.

The mother-of-one said the hives in her neighbour's garden were a danger to local children, and called for tighter controls on amateur bee keeping.

Keeping bees has become a popular middle-class hobby in recent years, with the number of registered hives doubling to 80,000 since 2007.

Although there are no rules to prevent hives being kept in public places, owners are expected to ensure the hives - like any other livestock - do not pose a threat to humans.

The latest incident has led to renewed calls for both the public and bee enthusiasts to be educated on the dangers posed by agitated bee swarms.

Mrs Connolly said she returned from work to find the dog struggling to get into the house. She let the puppy into the living room followed by a swarm of “thousands of angry bees”.

She said: "I can't describe the noise. They started stinging me and I rushed us both out into the car and drove her to the vets.” A few days later Sara died. (read more)

Scientists discover lost Borneo Rainbow Toad in Malaysian jungle

Scientists have rediscovered a spindly-legged toad species almost 90 years after it was last sighted in Malaysia's Borneo jungle, an environmental group said on Thursday.

The Sambas Stream Toad, or Borneo Rainbow Toad, was found by a team of scientists after months of scouring remote forest in Sarawak state on Borneo island, Conservation International (CI) said in a release.

The endangered toad was last seen in 1924 and was previously known from only three individuals.

"It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet's escalating extinction crisis," amphibian specialist Robin Moore of the Virginia-based group said.

"Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere," he was quoted in the release.

Malaysian researcher Indraneil Das set out with his team to rediscover the Sambas Stream Toad last August, searching after dark along the rugged ridges of a mountain range in western Sarawak state. (read more)

Horn of Africa drought: Kenya to open Ifo II camp

Kenya has agreed to open a new refugee camp near its border with Somalia, as thousands of people flee the region's worst drought in 60 years.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the Ifo II camp, which can fit up to 80,000 people, would open within 10 days.

Some government ministers had feared opening the camp would encourage more Somalis to cross the border.

Announcing the move, Mr Odinga said: "Although we consider our own security, we can't turn away the refugees."

Mr Odinga had earlier visited the nearby Dadaab refugee camp, where he said the situation was unacceptable.

Aid workers say conditions at the camp - which is made up of three settlements - are desperate. About 370,000 people are crammed into an area set up for 90,000 people, they say. (read more)

Minnesota shutdown puts MillerCoors beer sales in doubt

Beer giant MillerCoors may be forced to stop selling 39 popular beers in stores and bars in Minnesota because of the state's ongoing government shutdown.

The company failed to renew their brand label registration before a budget dispute prompted a shutdown on 1 July.

State employees who process alcohol licence renewals were laid off when the government shut down, Minnesota official Doug Neville said.

Mr Neville said MillerCoors must take action within "days instead of weeks".

But a company spokesman, Julian Green, said the second largest brewer in the US, still hoped to resolve the dispute through talks with state alcohol regulators.

"With 39 brands at stake in one of our largest markets in the country, during one of the highest selling periods in the summer, we don't take our business of ensuring proper state licences lightly," Mr Green said. (read more)

Texas Governor Rick Perry Sued over Prayer Meeting

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit to stop Texas Gov. Rick Perry from holding a day of prayer event in Houston.

In a video promoting the Aug. 6 event dubbed "The Response," Perry called on Americans to "make plans to be part of something even bigger than Texas."

But the watchdog group of atheists and agnostics said the governor's call for a day of prayer violates the constitutional ban on the government establishing a religion.

The plaintiffs are "nonbelievers who support the free exercise of religion, but strongly oppose the governmental establishment and endorsement of religion, including prayer and fasting, which are not only an ineffectual use of time and government resources, but which can be harmful or counterproductive as a substitute for reasoned action," the group said in their complaint.

Eric Bearse, spokesman for The Response, told ABC News the lawsuit, came as no surprise.

"We expected this kind of legal harassment," he said. (read more)

Kurd rebels ambush Turkish soldiers; 20 killed in clash

Kurdish fighters killed 13 Turkish soldiers in an ambush Thursday and seven militants died in the firefight that marked the worst clash since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ended a cease-fire in February.

Grenades thrown by the militants ignited a fire in the heavily forested area where the clash occurred and the troops perished in the blaze, according to a statement released by the chief of staff.

At least seven soldiers were wounded in the attack, two of them seriously.

"Turkey will succeed in overcoming the terror and the powers behind it without compromising democracy, justice and brotherhood," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

Immediately after the attack, Erdogan met the army and intelligence chiefs as well as the interior minister and head of the paramilitary gendarmerie in Ankara.

Security forces, backed by warplanes, launched a hunt for the rebel fighters in the mountains of Diyarbakir province, and the military chief of land forces had gone to the area.

The PKK moved to what it calls an "active defence" stance, whereby its fighters defend themselves if threatened, after ending its 6-month-old cease-fire. (read more)

Is Iran Producing Its Own Spy Technology?

Iran may not be importing cyber spy equipment, according to a newly released government report, yet the Iranian regime’s beefed up cyber surveillance abilities have many believing that Tehran has begun producing its own homegrown spy technology.

The report, issued last week by Congress’ investigative division, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), was unsuccessful in tracking specific suppliers selling high-level communications spy technology. Recent government crackdowns, however, have officials certain that Iran is employing sophisticated monitoring equipment in suppressing online opposition.

The finding was announced at the end of a four-month study, aimed to enforce broadened sanctions imposed against the Iranian government in July 2010, which forbade the U.S. government from doing business with companies that export sensitive technology to Iran.

The question remains whether communications technology is purchased from abroad or developed by Iranians, making the government self-sufficient in defending itself against the opposition’s ongoing cyber revolution. (read more)

Stelios Morfis: Photograph of man who murdered Robert Sebbage, English football mascot

Posing with his Rottweilers, this is the taxi driver who allegedly stabbed a British teenager to death on a Greek holiday island.

Robert Sebbage, 18, was stabbed in the heart in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Taxi driver Stelios Morfis, who will be charged with murder today, was described by locals as ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

Robert’s friend Jordan Manson, 18, was left with a punctured lung, and three other British teens suffered minor stab wounds in the vicious assault on the island of Zakynthos.

Back in Hampshire, Mr Sebbage’s former school, Hurst Community College, was preparing to hold a minute’s silence today for the tragic teenager.

His former head teacher, Malcolm Christian, said yesterday: ‘All at the Hurst Community College were saddened to hear of Robert’s untimely death.

‘He held a special place in our hearts for the way in which he had fought hard to overcome a significant medical condition when he was younger.

‘We remember the many friendships he had created, his quiet tenacity in overcoming adversity and how well he achieved with us at GCSE level prior to going on to sixth form college.’

Supporters of Reading Football Club – the team the former England football mascot followed – were also calling for a minute’s silence before the first game of the season against Millwall next month. (read more)

CNN crew come under attack as Gaddafi's forces advance (or so we're expected to believe)

Americans remain calm to crisis as Spain revolts

40 People Killed In Mexico, 10 Found Headless In Car Trunk

Imperial Palace, Las Vegas Flood Captured on Film

Pakistan: Fourteen killed in Karachi violence after Minister Zulfiqar Mirza's comments

Fresh political violence gripped Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, on Thursday, leaving 14 people dead in fighting sparked by a senior ruling party leader's criticism of the city's dominant political group.

Angry mobs went on a rampage and burned vehicles after Zulfiqar Mirza, a minister in the Sindh provincial assembly and senior member of President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), urged the people of Karachi and Hyderabad, the second-largest city of Sindh, to "stand up ... and rid yourselves" of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

"I appeal to the people of Karachi especially, and of Hyderabad, to stand up for yourselves, for Pakistan, for Karachi and for your innocent children, and rid yourselves of these cursed ones," he said while talking to reporters, referring to senior MQM leaders. (read more)

Rogla snow storm: But don't worry, the world's weather is normal -- right?

Pakistan suspected in latest Mumbai bombings: What will happen next?

Like a deadly unwanted relative refusing to sever connections, terrorism revisited Mumbai after nearly three years, with three bomb blasts on the evening of July 13. Twenty-one people have died in the explosions and over 140 injured. The death toll is rising.

The bombs exploded at around 6.45 pm: outside a school bus stop in suburban Dadar, the busy jewelry market zone of Zaveri Bazar and the diamond trading district at the Opera House area in south Mumbai. The timing and location of the explosives showed intent to target heavily crowded areas during rush hour.

Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik told media personnel at the blast sites that the bombs at Zaveri Bazaar and Opera

House seemed to have been high-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs), judging by the damage in the two areas. The Dadar bus stop bomb was of relatively lower intensity. The bombs exploded within 10 minutes of each other, Patnaik confirmed.

No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts, and no suspects have been officially named. From the familiar pattern of the attacks, security agencies unofficially mentioned the involvement of the so-called Indian Mujahideen. But this group of killers, said to be supported by, or a front for, the Pakistani terrorist outfit Lakshar-e-Taiba, has not sent its trademark e-mail to media outlets claiming credit for this latest exhibition of terror.

All the same, there can be little doubt that in the public's mind - and among officials - the attack carries the hallmark of Pakistani involvement; Indian officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of helping coordinate and fund previous attacks.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram was quoted on Thursday as saying, "All groups hostile to India are under radar. We are not ruling out anything. We're looking at everyone and we will find out who is behind these attacks."

He added, "Whoever perpetrated these attacks has worked in a very, very clandestine manner. It's not a failure of intelligence." (read more)

Moody’s Places U.S. on Review for Downgrade As Debt Talks Stall

Moody’s Investors Service put the U.S. under review for a credit rating downgrade as talks to raise the government’s $14.3 trillion debt limit stall, adding to concern that political gridlock will lead to a default.

The Aaa ratings of financial institutions directly linked to the U.S. government, including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Banks, and the Federal Farm Credit Banks, were also put on review for cuts, Moody’s said in a statement today.

The U.S., rated Aaa since 1917, was put on review for the first time since 1995 on concern the debt limit will not be raised in time to prevent a missed payment of interest or principal on outstanding bonds and notes even though the risk remains low, Moody’s said. The rating would likely be reduced to the Aa range and there is no assurance that Moody’s would return its top rating even if a default is quickly cured.

“It certainly underscores the importance of passing the debt ceiling and not putting us in default status, and making sure there’s a longer term fiscal plan to contain spending and the deficit we’ve been running up over the last few years,” said Anthony Cronin, a Treasury bond trader at Societe General SA in New York, one of the 20 primary dealers that trade with the Federal Reserve. “Maybe it’s the impetus to say we’ll need more of a concession.” (read more)

Kadhafi has 'suicide plan' for capital: Russia envoy

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi has a "suicidal plan" to blow up the capital Tripoli if it is taken by rebels, the Kremlin's special envoy to Libya told a Russian newspaper Thursday.

"The Libyan premier told me: if the rebels seize the city, we will cover it with missiles and blow it up," Kremlin envoy Mikhail Margelov said in an interview with the Izvestia daily.

Margelov met Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi last month.

"I imagine that the Kadhafi regime does have such a suicidal plan," he added, saying that Kadhafi still had plentiful supplies of missiles and ammunition.

But Margelov, who has had rare access to senior Libyan officials, questioned reports that Kadhafi could be running out of arms in the drawn-out conflict.

Kadhafi had still not used a single surface-to-surface missile, he argued.

"Tripoli theoretically could lack ammunition for tanks, cartridges for rifles. But the colonel has got plenty of missiles and explosives." (read more)

Major Planetary Catastrophe Coming, No One Notices

While humankind has made enormous progress in improving material welfare over the past two centuries, this progress has come at the lasting cost of degradation of our natural environment. About half of the forests that covered the earth are gone, groundwater resources are being depleted and contaminated, enormous reductions in biodiversity have already taken place and, through increased burning of fossil fuels, the stability of the planet’s climate is being threatened by global warming. In order for populations in developing countries to achieve a decent living standard, especially the billions who currently still live in conditions of abject poverty, and the additional 2 billion people who will have been added to the world’s population by mid-century—much greater economic progress will be needed.

Continuation along previously trodden economic growth pathways will further exacerbate the pressures exerted on the world’s resources and natural environment, which would approach limits where livelihoods were no longer sustainable. Business as usual is thus not an option. Yet, even if we stop global engines of growth now, the depletion and pollution of our natural environment would still continue because of existing consumption patterns and production methods. Hence, there is an urgent need to find new development pathways which would ensure environmental sustainability and reverse ecological destruction, while managing to provide, now and in the future, a decent livelihood for all of humankind. (read more)

D.C. Firefighters To Help Police Streets?

Both D.C. firefighters and police officers are upset over a new program that forces the fire department to help fight crime.

For the past three weeks, D.C. Fire and EMS personnel have been parking their trucks at high crime neighborhoods.

"It's to prevent things from bubbling up. The idea is that if you have a fire engine with adults there no one is going to commit a crime," said D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander.

City officials said they just want firefighters to call 911 if they see suspicious activity.

The D.C. police union and firefighters union say the plan is not safe.

"I think it is a disaster," said D.C. Police Union spokesman Kris Baumann. "You're putting untrained, unsupervised, unequipped firefighters in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in town to perform a law enforcement function." (read more)

David Potts disappears into Maui blowhole and is never seen again

Witnesses who watched a Northern California man get sucked into a Maui blow hole to his apparent death say that the tourist was dancing around and frolicking in the sprays of water moments before a wave knocked him down.

Rocco Piganelli, of La Jolla, Calif., said he stared in horror as he watched a large wave push the tourist into the hole off Nakalele Point on Saturday afternoon. The man popped up briefly with the next wave, then disappeared.

"We all stared for like 30 seconds and then I realized — he's gone. He's down there," Piganelli told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I felt like I was going to throw up."

Piganelli, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, readied himself to attempt to resuscitate the man, fully expecting him eventually surface. But the man never did.

"The girl who was with him let out this horrifying scream," he said. (read more)

Childhood Obesity: A Call for Parents to Lose Custody



Harvard University child obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig's recent claim that some parents should lose custody of their severely obese children has sparked outrage among families and professionals across the country.

The national outcry led one family to share how its personal experience with the matter damaged their lives.

Ludwig, an obesity expert at Children's Hospital Boston and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, shared his divisive idea in an opinion piece that ran in the Journal of the American Medical Association Wednesday: that state intervention can serve in the best interest of extremely obese children, of which there're about 2 million across the United States.

"In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents' chronic failure to address medical problems," Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health. (read more)

The burnt-out generation: Desperate to hold it together, they push themselves to the limit at work AND at home until they explode under the strain

When her alarm went off at 6am every morning, Sunny Moran’s first thought was how she was going to juggle the many deadlines that loomed ahead of her. She would check the text messages on her phone, drag herself out of bed, dash for the train and then try to make herself presentable during the 90-minute commute to her desk at a London public relations firm.

Then one morning, Sunny could take no more. After six years of round-the-clock working during which she had neglected her health, diet and relationships, her spirit was crushed.

‘I woke up and opened my eyes, but instead of panicking about how I was going to cope, I felt as if my head was glued to the pillow. I felt numb, as if I’d gone into auto-pilot,’ says Sunny, 31.

‘I’d been surviving in a sink-or-swim atmosphere in the office and working every night until 10pm. But it had finally caught up with me.

‘In previous weeks, I’d suffered severe anxiety and was having trouble concentrating.

‘Lunch breaks were frowned on, so I lived on wine, chips and pasta when I got home. As a result, my weight had ballooned from 9st to 12st.
‘I always prided myself on being able to handle stress, but that day something snapped inside me. For the first time, I switched off my phone so no one could get hold of me.’

Sunny walked into work at 11am that day wearing clothes she’d picked up off her bedroom floor and not a scrap of make-up. She went straight to her boss’s office to tell him she was leaving immediately.

‘He didn’t argue with my decision and I didn’t cry as I spoke to him. The tears came later. But my boss could tell from the blank look on my face that I was broken,’ she says. (read more)

Kim Jong-Il touts son to China: analysts

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il showed to a visiting Chinese delegation that his youngest son is firmly on the succession path, analysts said Wednesday.

The senior Kim Tuesday received a Chinese communist party delegation visiting the North to mark the 50th anniversary of a friendship treaty, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The leader, who suffered a stroke in August 2008, has been grooming his youngest son Jong-Un as eventual successor in an attempt to extend the family dynasty into a third generation.

Jong-Un last September was made a four-star general and given senior posts in the ruling communist party.

KCNA named the son first when it listed guests at Tuesday's reception.

It quoted leader Kim as telling his guests that the two countries, which are close allies, had "powerfully demonstrated before the world the tremendous vitality" of their friendship.

That bond would remain unchanged "no matter how much water flows under the bridge and no matter how frequently a generation is replaced by another", he added.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said: "Through this meeting with Chinese delegates, Kim Jong-Il underscored that the junior Kim is well on the path to becoming an eventual successor with cooperation and support from China."

"He was also sending a message to China that the two countries should carry on their friendship to the next generation," Yang told AFP. (read more)

Fukushima pensioner army waits for call-up to frontline duties

So far, about 9,000 workers have been involved in the four-month operation to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where three of six reactors experienced meltdown in the aftermath of the 11 March tsunami.

If Yasuteru Yamada gets his way, the Fukushima workforce of the future will include a band of fearless pensioners calling themselves the skilled veterans corps.

This month the retired engineer for Sumitomo Metal Industries, one of the world's top steel manufacturers, is expected to visit the plant with four colleagues to carry out preliminary inspections. They propose to help design a replacement for the destroyed reactor cooling system.

The 72-year-old graduate of Tokyo University will survey the damage and, pending final approval from the government and Tepco, the plant operator, call on hundreds of registered volunteers, all over 60, with expertise in a range of disciplines.

In April, he and two former colleagues reached out to 2,500 potential volunteers by phone and email. Before long their plea had been repeated on Twitter and via blogs, and for days Yamada's phone did not stop ringing.

As of last week, 430 people had volunteered, according to the group's website. Their average age is in the late 60s. The oldest is 82.

The government and Tepco have welcomed the plan with caution – they have yet to approve the hiring of hundreds of eager pensioners while conditions at the plant remain hazardous. (read more)

What Happened to the $2.6 Trillion Social Security Trust Fund?

Here’s how President Barack Obama answered CBS’s Scott Pelley’s question about whether he could guarantee that Social Security checks would go out on August 3, the day after the government is supposed to reach its debt limit: “I cannot guarantee that those checks [he included veterans and the disabled, in addition to Social Security] go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.”

And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner echoed the president on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday implying that if a budget deal isn’t reached by August 2, seniors might not get their Social Security checks.

Well, either Obama and Geithner are lying to us now, or they and all defenders of the Social Security status quo have been lying to us for decades. It must be one or the other.

Here’s why: Social Security has a trust fund, and that trust fund is supposed to have $2.6 trillion in it, according to the Social Security trustees. If there are real assets in the trust fund, then Social Security can mail the checks, regardless of what Congress does about the debt limit.

President Obama’s budget director, Jack Lew, explained all this last February in USA Today:

“Social Security benefits are entirely self-financing. They are paid for with payroll taxes collected from workers and their employers throughout their careers. These taxes are placed in a trust fund dedicated to paying benefits owed to current and future beneficiaries. … Even though Social Security began collecting less in taxes than it paid in benefits in 2010, the trust fund will continue to accrue interest and grow until 2025, and will have adequate resources to pay full benefits for the next 26 years.”

Notice that Lew said nothing about raising the debt ceiling, which was already looming, and it shouldn’t matter anyway because Social Security is “entirely self-financing” and off budget. What could be clearer? (read more)

Bank Delays Are Seen Pushing One Million U.S. Foreclosures Into Next Year

Lender delays in processing home- loan defaults will push as many as 1 million U.S. foreclosure filings from this year to 2012 or beyond, casting an “ominous shadow” on the housing market, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

The number of properties receiving a notice of default, auction or repossession plunged 29 percent in the first half of 2011 from the same period last year, the Irvine, California- based data seller said today in a report. About 1.17 million homes got a filing, or one out of every 111 households.

Procedural delays caused by a probe into bank documentation errors, combined with weak consumer sentiment and a jobless rate above 9 percent, are weighing on a property recovery by adding to a backlog of distressed homes, RealtyTrac said. A clogged foreclosure pipeline may prevent real estate prices from finding a bottom as the housing slump enters its sixth year.

“If you accept the premise that foreclosures are the black cloud hanging over the market, we’re not going to get price stability and people won’t leave the sidelines until that cloud is cleared away,” Nicolas Retsinas, professor of real estate at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview.

U.S. home prices fell 33 percent from a July 2006 peak through April, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of 20 cities. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in testimony to Congress yesterday that ongoing weakness in home values is reducing household wealth and limiting consumer confidence. (read more)

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake Negros, Philippines - 14th July 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck Negros, Philippines at a depth of 43.2 km ( 26.8 miles), the quake hit at 18:49:28 UTC Thursday 14th July 2011.
The epicenter was 119 km (73 miles) WNW of Dumaguete, Negros, Philippines

No tsunami watch, warning or advisory is in effect. No reports of Damage as yet.

600 people relocated and 70 Houses leveled after rain lashes South West China - 14th July 2011

Sichuan's Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Garze has been lashed by heavy rains since Tuesday, the Sichuan Flood Control Office said in a statement.

Rainfall in 10 counties has exceeded 25 mm while four other counties have registered a precipitation of over 50 mm, according to the statement.

Rain-triggered floods and mudslides have affected six counties in Garze, forcing 632 people to relocate and destroying 73 houses.

No casualties have been reported.

In Yajiang county, about 1,500 liquefied petroleum gas bottles, 500 of which are filled with gas, were washed into the Nyakchu River Tuesday night.

Rescue workers and villagers living downstream of the river have been mobilized to retrieve the bottles.

Meanwhile, State Highway 318 was closed as more than 20 sections of the road were damaged by the flood.

Continuous downpours have wreaked havoc in Sichuan since the end of last month affecting more than 1.5 million people and leaving at least eight dead.

Another highway, State Highway 213, which was referred to as a "lifeline" by rescue workers following the devastating 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, was cut off early this month by mudslide at several sections.

At about 5 pm Thursday, the highway was reconnected after a 12-day rush repair, the emergency response office of Wenchuan said in a statement.

However, the newly repaired highway needs further reinforcement and will not open to vehicles till next week, according to the office. Source

Elaborate Hoax or a Sign from outta Space? Mystery of 200ft crop circle within yards of Stonehenge - 14th July 2011

Who built Stonehenge has long been the subject of debate among scholars.

But now the ancient site has offered up another conundrum - in the form of a giant crop circle.

This impressive 200ft design appeared within sight of the ancient monument yesterday.

And as ever the debate will rise as to who is responsible.

Some believe they are manmade, others that they are caused by earth's magnetic field. And there are a number who are convinced they are the work of extra-terrestrials

The ancient site is widely considered the most important prehistoric monument in Britain and is proving to be a hot spot for the phenomena this season.

Yesterday's design is just the latest in a spate of crop circles to have appeared in Wiltshire in the past few weeks.

Online enthusiast Eliakis Joseph-Sophia attempted to offer some explanation, believing the that the 'three half moons in the crop and that could indicate plans due to budgets in the third quarter.

'The crop is the other side of the road from Stonehenge. So clearly, the people involved in this crop cannot reach the sacred stones.' Read More

3.9 Magnitude Earthquake struck the English Channel and it the biggest to strike the region in 300 years - 14th July 2011

Tea cups rattled at breakfast-time this morning as an earthquake struck the English Channel - and almost went unnoticed.

Some witnesses appeared to doubt whether the small tremor was anything more than a heavy lorry rumbling by on the south coast.

Others based in Worthing, West Sussex, questioned whether the 3.9 magnitude quake was simply a trick of their imagination.

But according to the British Geological Survey (BGS), it is the biggest to strike a 16 mile region in 300 years.

People living in parts of West Sussex said buildings shook for a few seconds at around 8am.

On Twitter, one social networker wrote: 'I think there was just an earthquake in Worthing. I haven't had any coffee yet, so it could just be my brain making things up (again)!'

And another user of the microblogging site added: 'shook my bed and rattled my cupboard doors! Others felt it, not (too) mad...'.

One worker said it felt like a 'big lorry had gone by in a hurry'.

Brian Baker, data manager at the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership, felt the earthquake in his office on the coast in Shoreham, near Brighton.

He said: 'The office wobbled slightly, the building shook, monitors on the table rattled and the roof creaked a bit. It lasted about two to three seconds. Read More

NOTE: This Article in the Mail mentioned that the Magnitude registered at a 3.9, when in fact it was a 4.3 Magnitude with a depth of 10 km, The earthquake struck at 06:59:09 UTC - Epicenter 80 km South of Portsmouth - Seismic Report

This earthquake was later followed by a 2.4 Magnitude at 13:30:48 UTC with a depth of 12 km - Epicenter 73 km North West of Le Havre - Seismic Report

Obama walks out: Tempers flare as debt talks get tense at White House



A fifth session of talks in five days is set for Thursday to head off a possible government default.

Wednesday's session ended on a tense note with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and President Barack Obama squaring off over the Republican's call for a short-term extension of the federal debt ceiling.

At one point, Obama said the political wrangling confirmed what the public considers to be the worst of Washington, according to Democratic sources familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of not being identified.

Multiple sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama told the gathering that "this could bring my presidency down," referring to his pledge to veto any short-term extension of the debt ceiling. Sources say he vowed, "I will not yield on this." (read more)

Natural gas not the answer, climate groups say

Natural gas is not a "transition" fuel to a low-carbon energy future, says a report from two of Canada's most respected environmental think-tanks.

Switching from coal to natural gas could help meet Canada's short-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. But if that's the only change Canada makes, the 2050 targets — an 80 per cent greenhouse gas reduction — would be almost impossible to achieve.

"In the end, natural gas isn't actually a transition fuel. It's something that could actually delay action on climate change," said Dale Marshall, climate change policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Burning natural gas releases about half as much carbon dioxide as coal.

The 40-page report, written in partnership with the Pembina Institute, recommends the government bring in an emissions-reduction plan that emphasizes energy-efficiency measures and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro.

"If governments are serious about climate change, they have to be moving away from natural gas," said Matthew Bramley, Pembina's director of research.

The report also found other problems with the increased development and production of natural gas. Among them are environmental impacts unrelated to climate change.

Unconventional sources of natural gas — like shale gas — are becoming more popular because Canada's supply of conventional gas is dwindling. Drilling companies employ a technique called "hydraulic fracturing" — or "fracking" — to extract the gas. Fracking involves forcing water and chemicals into the rock to free the gas.

Environmentalists and some governments worry about the effect that it could have on drinking water sources. (read more)

Are these ruins of biblical City of David?



Archaeologists in Israel have found remains which may be the biblical City of King David, the first evidence that the ancient Jewish empire actually existed.

The bible refers to a powerful 10th century B.C. Kingdom of David, Israel's second king, stretching from Egypt to the Euphrates, but little evidence of its existence has ever been found.

Now, an archaeological discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in Elah Valley, 30 km from Jerusalem, appears to show signs of a Jewish settlement.

Professor Yosef Garfinkel, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that evidence found at the site included a single pottery fragment with an inscription believed to be an early form of Hebrew and olive pits dated as 3,000 years old.

He said: "The buildings and the city wall are abutting each other. This is a typical Judan urban concept."

Garfinkel added: "We do have animal bones. Thousands of animal bones were on site. We have sheep, cattle and goats. But we have no pigs at all. In Canaanite and Philistine cities you will find up to 20% pig bones."

Only 10% of the site has been excavated so far, so more significant finds are still likely. (read more)

Syphilis cases spike in Halifax, in great part due to increase in unprotected sex: Canada

Doctors in Halifax are treating a rising number of syphilis cases, mostly among men.

Cases of the sexually transmitted infection have spiked since 2008, when it was virtually unknown in the city.

Since January, that pace has accelerated, said Dr. Todd Hatchette, a specialist in infectious diseases at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

"Last year, we saw probably 18 cases, so we've seen as many cases in the first six months of this year as we did all of last year," he told CBC News.

Syphilis is transmitted through oral, genital or anal sex with someone already infected with it. Symptoms include hair loss, a rash, swollen glands, and muscle and joint pain, but they can disappear on their own and the infection remains.

Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. If untreated, though, it can affect the brain, blood vessels and heart, and ultimately lead to death.

The resurgence of syphilis in Halifax follows a national trend.

In 2001, there were 300 cases in Canada. The numbers have been rising ever since, with outbreaks in Alberta and New Brunswick. In 2009 — the most recent numbers available — there were more than 1,600 cases across Canada.

Hatchette said a decline in condom use contributes to the pattern, along with the mistaken belief that oral sex is safe.

He said so far in Nova Scotia, every case involves men having sex with men, but he expects that to change. (read more)

Asian markets hurt by U.S. debt downgrade warning

Most Asian stock markets slipped after Moody's Investors Service threatened to lower the United States' credit rating, spreading ripples of caution across the region.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average finished down 0.3 per cent at 9,936.12. Exporters lost ground as the U.S. dollar weakened against the yen, which reduces the value of overseas profits when repatriated.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.3 per cent at 21,868.52, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.5 per cent to 4,490.70.

But losses were limited as investors looked ahead to U.S. corporate earnings.

"In a manner similar to the Chinese economy, corporate profits in the U.S., while slowing, remain quite strong," Barclays Capital equity strategist Barry Knapp said in a note to clients.

The dollar fell into the mid-78 yen range at one point, prompting Japan's finance minister to issue his strongest language this week on the Japanese currency.

"I think this is a move far removed from reality, and we will be troubled if this [trend] is underpinned," Noda told reporters, according to Kyodo News agency. (read more)

Pastafarianism: Austrian driver's religious headgear "strains" credulity, nyuck

An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear".

Niko Alm first applied for the licence three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional reasons.

Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism.

Later a police spokesman explained that the licence was issued because Mr Alm's face was fully visible in the photo.

"The photo was not approved on religious grounds. The only criterion for photos in driving licence applications is that the whole face must be visible," said Manfred Reinthaler, a police spokesman in Vienna.

He was speaking on Wednesday, after Austrian media had first reported Mr Alm's reason for wearing the pasta strainer.

After receiving his application the Austrian authorities had required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive.

According to Mr Reinthaler, "the licence has been ready since October 2009 - it was not collected, that's all there is to it".

The idea came into Mr Alm's noodle three years ago as a way of making a serious, if ironic, point.

A self-confessed atheist, Mr Alm says he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted, US-based faith whose members call themselves pastafarians. (read more)

Sudan's South Kordofan fighting: 'Mass graves found'

Satellite images show mass graves following recent fighting in Sudan, a campaign group set up by Hollywood star George Clooney says.

The Satellite Sentinel project says the apparent massacre took place in the town of Kadugli, in South Kordofan.

Fighting began in the state last month, between rebels from the Nuba mountains and the Sudanese armed forces.

A Sudanese military spokesman denied allegations that civilians had been killed.

South Kordofan borders South Sudan, which last week became an independent state.

Some 70,000 people have fled the recent fighting there.

The Satellite Sentinel project says the satellite images are consistent with allegations the Sudanese armed forces and government-aligned militias have targeted civilians.

A recent UN report said bombing and fighting was continuing in South Kordofan despite a peace deal.

The BBC's James Copnall in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, reports that it is extremely difficult to get accurate information, as journalists and diplomats are barred from the region and the UN faces restrictions on its movement.

The images released by the Satellite Sentinel Project show three apparent mass graves, it says. (read more)

California Pays Doctor With No Patients $700,000 salary for Mail Room Duty

He once had a psychiatric crisis where he engaged in "bizarre, irrational and delusional communications." He led police on a high-speed chase from a hospital to his home. And he was fired from his job for alleged incompetence.

So what does that get you in California, a state struggling with its budget?

Mail room duty with a $770,000 payout.

A California surgeon at a state prison who has not seen a patient in six years because the state is concerned about his medical skills, rakes in a salary that is four times that of the state’s governor, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Dr. Jeffery Rohlfing, 65, is on mail room duty, where he rummages through medical histories.

"We want taxpayers to know we had no choice in this," Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver in charge of California's inmate health care, told the Times. "If you are ordered to bring somebody back to work, and you can't trust them with patients, you have to find something for them to do.”

Rohlfing, who had a psychiatric crisis in 1996, was fired from his post in 2007 for alleged incompetence. But he won a lawsuit that ordered the state to reinstate him, according to the report. He got his job back in 2009, and the state was ordered to pay him for the two years he was out fighting the termination. Indeed, his base salary is $235,740 a year; the additional money is back pay. (read more)

Sulphur from Chinese power stations 'masking' climate change

The huge increase in coal-fired power stations in China has masked the impact of global warming in the last decade because of the cooling effect of their sulphur emissions, new research has revealed. But scientists warn that rapid warming is likely to resume when the short-lived sulphur pollution – which also causes acid rain – is cleaned up and the full heating effect of long-lived carbon dioxide is felt.

The last decade was the hottest on record and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1998. But within that period, global surface temperatures did not show a rising trend, leading some to question whether climate change had stopped. The new study shows that while greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise, their warming effect on the climate was offset by the cooling produced by the rise in sulphur pollution. This combined with the sun entering a less intense part of its 11-year cycle and the peaking of the El NiƱo climate warming phenomenon.

The number of coal-fired power stations in China multiplied enormously in that period: the electricity-generating capacity rose from just over 10 gigawatts (GW) in 2002 to over 80GW in 2006 (a large plant has about 1GW capacity).

But rather than suggesting that cutting carbon emissions is less urgent due to the masking effect of the sulphur, Prof Robert Kaufman, at Boston University and who led the study, said: "If anything the paper suggests that reductions in carbon emissions will be more important as China installs scrubbers [on its coal-fired power stations], which reduce sulphur emissions. This, and solar insolation increasing as part of the normal solar cycle, [will mean] temperature is likely to increase faster."

Prof Joanna Haigh, at Imperial College London, commented: "The researchers are making the important point that the warming due to the CO2 released by Chinese industrialisation has been partially masked by cooling due to reflection of solar radiation by sulphur emissions. On longer timescales, with cleaner emissions, the warming effect will be more marked." (read more)

China: Bailing out the world

China's Christians detained, arrested, sent to concentration camps and more

Floods, Droughts And Heat Waves -- A new, persistent norm for the world?

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has put together some resources for examining the link between anthropogenic climate change extreme weather events—floods, droughts, and heat waves. No single extreme weather event can be tied directly to global warming, but there is rise in the probability of such events over time. For example, whereas a so-called "hundred-year-flood" used to occur on average every 100 years, now we will get one on average twice a century or four times a century. The chances of such a flood occurring in a given year will have changed from 1/100 to 1/50 or 1/25. These kinds of odds will likely rise as the world gets warmer.

Scientific American provides a good overview in Global Warming and the Science of Extreme Weather.

Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is "consistent" with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere. Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming. The reason: The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the "noise"—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.

Scientists compare the normal variation in weather with rolls of the dice...

The simple statistical concepts involved have been a source of great confusion for the general public, a great number of whom have no interest in Reality in any case. Nevertheless, the Pew Center tries to explain what's going on.

Why can’t scientists say whether climate change “caused” a given weather event?

Climate is the average of many weather events over of a span of years. By definition, therefore, an isolated event lacks useful information about climate trends. Consider a hypothetical example: Prior to any change in the climate, there was one category 5 hurricane per year, but after the climate warmed for some decades, there were two category 5 hurricanes per year. In a given year, which of the two hurricanes was caused by climate change? Since the two events are indistinguishable, this question is nonsense. It is not the occurrence of either of the two events that matters. The two events together – or more accurately, the average of two events per year – define the change in the climate. (read more)

People evacuated as strong winds threaten to blow over 70 Meter chimney, Rotterdam, Holland - 14th July 2011

There is a threat of a 70 meters chimney being blown over from a factory in Rotterdam. The police have cordoned off the area and evacuated people from the immediate area.

Earlier today at a tram stop in Den Haag, two people were injured when a broken branch hit them, one of them seriously injured. There have also been dozens of reports in Den Haag of flooding.

Code Yellow: In parts of the country as events have been canceled throughout the country. dozens of flights have been canceled at Schiphol and many delays are expected.

Code Yellow means that there will be at least 25 - 50 mm of rain fall accompanied by winds up to 80 km per hour. Source

Equipment with radioactive material stolen, Canada - 14th July 2011

A piece of construction equipment containing radioactive material was stolen from a work site in Regina, Sask., Tuesday.

Police said a RoadReader Nuclear Density Gauge was taken in the break-in. It contains americium-241/beryllium and cesium-137 -- two radioactive materials commonly used in construction, agriculture, oil refining and other industrial and household applications. The RoadReader is a piece of equipment that detects the density of the ground and its compactness.

Americium-241 poses a significant risk if swallowed or inhaled, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "It can stay in the body for decades and continue to expose the surrounding tissues to both alpha and gamma radiation, increasing the risk of developing cancer," says the agency. Exposure to cesium in high levels also increases the risk of cancer.

The gauge is safe as long as the unit remains undamaged and everything inside remains intact, police said.

Police are urging whoever took the RoadReader not to tamper with it, and are asking for it to be returned -- anonymously, if necessary. Source