Friday, July 15, 2011

Libya says 1,100 dead in NATO 'war crimes'

Libya's prosecutor general charged on Wednesday that NATO air strikes in support of rebel forces since the end of March have killed more than 1,100 civilians and wounded about 4,500 others.

Mohamed Zekri Mahjubi told foreign journalists in Tripoli he was seeking to prosecute NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Libyan courts for "war crimes."

"As NATO secretary general, Rasmussen is responsible for the actions of this organisation which has attacked an unarmed people, killing 1,108 civilians and wounding 4,537 others in bombardment of Tripoli and other cities and villages."

He drew up a list of charges.

Apart from war crimes, Mahjubi accused Rasmussen of trying to kill Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, "deliberate aggression against innocent civilians" and of "the murder of children."

Also, the NATO chief stood accused of "trying to overthrow the Libyan regime" and replace it with a rebel movement under its control to "take over the wealth" of oil-rich Libya. (more)

Europe Fights the Growing Currency Crisis: Der Spiegel

For a while, Europe's common currency crisis seemed to be cooling down. But this week Italy joined other debt-ridden euro-zone countries in the crosshairs of the financial markets. Europe's indebted nations are fighting to get their houses in order -- with some success.

In spite of massive cash transfusions and bailout packages, the euro-zone has started trembling again over its weakest members. The future of the common currency is, again, at stake. Ireland and Portugal will receive billions of euros in support, and a second bailout for Greece is in the works. And just as European politicians were starting to think about their summer vacations, Italy's public debt has slipped into focus.

It looks almost as if speculators are working slowly through a list of European governments, namely the indebted ones known under the notorious acronym PIIGS -- Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (which may be up next). What's certain, though, is that all five governments will be under close observation by financial markets as long as the EU comes up with nothing but short-term fixes.

The common impression of a single big debt crisis in Europe, though, is deceptive. The euro zone's problems are wildly different from one indebted nation to another, so the dangers vary. Governments have also fought for some time against financial collapse, and in some ways they've started to win. (more)

Canadian Economy Crumbling, and so is Montreal Bridge

Libya: The West 'Ignoring Rebel War Crimes'

The regime has insisted the West is turning a blind eye to war crimes committed by rebels - and took Sky News to meet civilians who they say have fled to Tripoli.

We were taken to temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the capital, which used to house Chinese labourers working in the now collapsed construction industry.

The Chinese are long gone - and instead families who have come from the western mountains and the east of the country live here now.

We met sisters Abir and Raja who told us they had brought their sick mother to the capital for fear of persecution.

They said their mother Saida has a serious heart condition - but still wanted to make the drive from Benghazi because the family were in fear of their lives.

Abir says they feared being attacked because they are Gaddafi supporters - she has the Colonel's name tattooed onto her hand. (more)

Broadway flooding Englewood, Colorado

Woman Faces Jail For Planting Vegetable Garden

Here's Who Got A Bailout In Europe And Who Didn't

After international markets went into a panic earlier this week over concerns that Italy, the European Union’s third largest economy, would not be able to pay its debt – which amounts to 120 percent of the country’s GDP – the Italian Senate today passed an austerity measure, cutting some $57 billion in spending.

An Italian bond auction also successfully raised $8 billion.

But Italy’s rapid response has done little to quell growing fears that Europe’s PIIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – have dug themselves into a financial hole that they and the rest of the European Union will have difficulty emerging from.

For the last year and a half, investors have engaged in a game of chicken with each of these countries, expressing concern that their debt is unmanageable and cannot be mitigated by spending cuts, assurances from other EU members that bills would be paid, and — in the case of Ireland, Portugal and Greece — bailouts. (more)

Two dogs in a swing: Why can't we be more like them?

'Diary of a policewoman': racy photo scandal grips Hong Kong

Hong Kong has been gripped by another photo scandal, after racy images featuring policewomen were taken from a blog and splashed across the territory's newspapers.

The photographs - which numbered more than 100 - showed Hong Kong policewomen touching a colleague's breasts, dressed in their underwear, pointing guns at each other and pulling up their skirts.

They were uploaded onto the personal blog of a 25-year-old female constable who joined the force in 2007, officials said.
Media coverage of the blog - called "the diary of a policewoman" - prompted local authorities to launch an internal inquiry.

"Police will not tolerate any conduct that damages the force's reputation," Hong Kong police said in a statement published in the South China Morning Post newspaper.

"An internal investigation has been launched into the incident," Assistant Police Commissioner Alan Fan Sik-ming, the Kowloon West regional commander, told the Post. (more)

Napkin use on British dinner tables in decline: Indicates family dinners are also on decline

The napkin, once a staple of the British dinner table, is being replaced by kitchen roll as evening meals become a more informal affair, a survey has found.

Nearly half of Britons now prefer a casual meal with friends or a barbecue to a traditional three course dinner party, with just 15% of people laying the table with napkins.

A quarter of people spend less than 15 minutes in the kitchen when entertaining their friends, while half of those surveyed admitted to passing off shop bought dessert as their own.

The tradition of gathering round the table as a family also appears to be disappearing, with less than half saying they eat together, with most preferring to have their meal in front of the TV instead. (more)

TEPCO nuclear deadline looms: Will it make it?

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is aiming to meet its first stage deadline to bring the plant under control by injecting nitrogen into its No.3 reactor containment vessel. But a problematic wastewater system may delay their goal.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company started the injection on Thursday evening to prevent a hydrogen explosion.

The utility had already begun the procedure at the plant's No.1 and 2 reactors, but the work was delayed due to high radiation levels.

The injection is essential for the utility to complete the first step of its plan to bring the plant under the control by the target date of July 17th.

But a French-made system installed to recycle radioactive wastewater continues to work below its target capacity. The device is meant to decontaminate radioactive wastewater and send it back into the reactors as coolant. Tokyo Electric says the problem has been malfunctioning filters.
The utility plans to introduce a newly developed device as an alternative in August. (source)

Anonymous Hacking Group vs US Military

Chemtrails Public Law 105 85: Bio warfare or population reduction funded by the Dept of Defense -- Fact or fiction?

'Massive heat wave' on way; Oklahomans urged to pray

While much of the U.S. was cooler Thursday ahead of another heat wave, temperatures were still around triple digits in Oklahoma and Texas — where ways to beat the heat included dumping 2,400 pounds of ice into a pool with hundreds of people.

"The stage is being set for a massive heat wave to develop into next week as a large area of high pressure is anticipated to circulate hot and humid air over much of the central and eastern U.S.," the National Weather Service warned. "Maximum heat index values of at least 100°F are likely across much of this area by the middle of next week, with heat index values in excess of 110°F possible over portions of these areas."

"The big story for the coming weekend will be the building heat," added Jim Keeney, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "It looks like it's going to be a long-term heat wave."

In the thick of the heat wave is Oklahoma where Gov. Mary Fallin asked Oklahomans to pray for rain this Sunday. (more)

Bus Stop Moved To Avoid Homeless Woman's Smell

A city bus stop has been temporarily moved so bus drivers and riders can get away from the smell of a homeless woman who's living at a busy Honolulu bus shelter. That’s the first time the city has relocated a bus stop because of a homeless person, according to City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka.

The concrete bus shelter on Kapiolani Boulevard, right across from the Nordstrom store at Ala Moana, has been home to an elderly homeless woman for at least the last year.

“We were getting quite a few complaints from bus riders about her smell,” Yoshioka said. “We are trying to be as sensitive as possible,” he added, noting that it’s not illegal for the homeless to stay at bus shelters.

Bus drivers told KITV 4 News that the woman is sometimes so smelly that her odor wafts in buses when they open their doors outside the bus shelter and the smell lingers for a while inside the bus.

So the city temporarily moved the bus stop 60 feet down the street to the area in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Keeaumoku Street.

“It’s difficult to co-exist with someone like that,” Yoshioka said.

When a reporter tried to interview the homeless woman, she declined, saying, “No. Excuse me, I don't want no question ... No comments."

Bus riders said the woman she usually keeps to herself and she sometimes talks to herself with no one else nearby. (more)

Phil Grande takes homeless from downtown to million dollar neighborhood



Five Points Park in downtown Sarasota has become a magnet for homeless people and it makes Phil Grande crazy.

"Everybody thinks of a homeless guy as somebody who just lost his job at G.E., who is sitting on a park bench with his wife who looks like Mary Poppins with two kids and a puppy," says Grande.
"That's not homeless," he continues. "Homeless is a guy urinating, masturbating, stealing from you and drunk."

Grande, a businessman and radio talk show host who lives downtown, asked Vice Mayor Terry Turner to help, but Grande says Turner told him to move out of Downtown. According to Grande, the Vice Mayor said he lives in Cherokee Park and doesn't have to put up with it.
Turner says it is untrue and he did not say that to him.

But Turner does admit the problem isn't as severe as it once was. He says when it was a serious problem he took it seriously. So Grande is now taking the homeless to Turner's neighborhood, of million dollar homes, once a week to feed them. Grande says Turner thinks they they are ok in downtown, so he is going to move them to Turner's neighborhood and see if he is a hypocrite. (more)

Un-BEE-lievable: NYC Fines Man $2,000 For Not Watering His Hive



This story probably falls into the category of Ripley’s “bee-lieve” it or not.

The Bloomberg administration socked a Queens man with a hefty fine for failing to water his beehive, reports CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer.

It’s a new one in the annals of city government. The cash-strapped Bloomberg administration has mounted a “sting operation” against city beekeepers — ticketing a Douglaston man an unbelievable $2,000 for not watering his beehive.

“It’s outrageous. It’s difficult to understand how this could happen,” Tip Sempliner said.

And here’s why: there is a beehive waterer a few feet from the hive.

When asked if it’s logical to assume the bees could fly two feet to get the water, Sempliner said, “I don’t know if they’d bother. They could just step out of the hive and fall in the water.”

But that’s not all. Sempliner’s property is right on Little Neck Bay and he has several fresh water ponds nearby, so if the bees don’t like their water dish. There are many other bee-utiful options.

“I felt sorry for the inspector. I thought we should probably buy him some glasses,” Sempliner said. (more)

Dr. Marc Midei: Loses license for performing hundreds of unnecessary heart operations (likely to fatten his wallet, no doubt)

He’s accused of performing unnecessary surgical procedures on hundreds of his patients. And now many of those patients are celebrating news that state yanked Dr. Marc Midei’s medical license.

Derek Valcourt has reaction to the decision by the Maryland Board of Physicians.

Many of Midei’s patients are calling this vindication. And for their attorneys filing civil lawsuits, it’s more ammunition.

The 88 page report from the Maryland Board of Physicians blasts Dr. Marc Midei for violations they call repeated, serious and indefensible. So severe–they revoked Midei’s medical license.

“That’s what I was hoping for,” said Vicki Marrs. “Happy. He doesn’t deserve to have his license.”

Marrs is one of 585 people who received a letter from St. Joseph Medical Center saying Midei may have unnecessarily given her a stent–a tiny device designed to open up blocked arteries. A charge Midei has vehemently denied.

“What I did is what I would have wanted for myself for anybody in my family, my mother, my father,” Dr. Midei said in October of 2010.

But the State Board of Physicians found in 4 of the 5 patients cases they reviewed, Midei willfully fabricated information about the severity of blockages. (more)

A call to end a corporate welfare agency

If you believe the likes of liberal columnists Thomas Frank, Frank Rich, and Jane Mayer, the Cato Institute is part of a "pro-corporate movement." I would like Frank, Rich, and Mayer, then to explain this Cato Institute paper calling for the abolition of the most blatant bit of corporate welfare in our government -- the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Ex-Im exists to subsidize the exports of U.S. manufacturers -- mostly Boeing -- by loaning money and guaranteeing private bank loans to foreign buyers who buy American goods. In short, Ex-Im puts taxpayer money on the line to boost the sales of Boeing, GE, Halliburton, Bechtel, and Westinghouse.

For all of President Obama's talk about ending special interest favors and "turning government into a game only [the wealthy] can play," it's the libertarians -- not the Obamaites -- calling to end corporate welfare here. In fact, ramping up Ex-Im activity is one of Obama's stated goals. (more)

6.0 magnitude quake -- OFFSHORE VALPARAISO, CHILE

Magnitude6.0
Date-Time
Location33.798°S, 72.074°W
Depth22.9 km (14.2 miles)
RegionOFFSHORE VALPARAISO, CHILE
Distances47 km (29 miles) WSW of San Antonio, Valparaiso, Chile
94 km (58 miles) SSW of Valparaiso, Valparaiso, Chile
128 km (79 miles) WNW of Rancagua, Libertador O'Higgins, Chile
136 km (84 miles) WSW of SANTIAGO, Region Metropolitana, Chile
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 19.8 km (12.3 miles); depth +/- 7.3 km (4.5 miles)
ParametersNST=281, Nph=282, Dmin=134.7 km, Rmss=0.78 sec, Gp=130°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=8
Source
  • USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)

94-year-old upset by TSA pat down: Told to get out of her wheelchair



A 94-year-old wheelchair-bound Florida woman says a search she went through at Raleigh/Durham International Airport went too far.

Marian Peterson said it happened July 6 as she went through a TSA security checkpoint before boarding a flight home.

Peterson said she was selected for extra screening. First, security officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her stand in a full body scanner. Then, she was given a physical pat down.

"They took me to one side and they patted me down, and they made me stand for, with my arms out, for over 10 minutes," she said. "I was beginning to feel that I wasn't going to be able to continue to stand, I was going to fall down or something."

"I asked, I said why are you doing this, and the woman was very polite and said 'I don't know, maybe the scanner detected something or maybe she moved,'" recalled Peterson's daughter Marian Malone.

Peterson's family said it's not just the length of the search they object to, it's the way it was done.

"She said it would be in-depth. She started the putdown, and at that point, she asked mom to spread her legs. She stood there with her legs spread and she checked every place thoroughly," said Malone.

"They groped her. All of her body. Her crotch, her breasts. And everything else," said son Joe Peterson.

The Petersons said the search seemed unnecessary given Marian's obvious age.

"I didn't think I was much of a threat to anybody," said Marian Peterson. (more)

New California law requires gay history in textbooks -- including curriculum for kindergarten kids

Public schools in California will be required to teach students about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans starting Jan. 1 after Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a controversial bill to add the topic to the social sciences curriculum.

Textbooks now must include information on the role of LGBT Americans, as well as Americans with disabilities, though California's budget crisis has delayed the purchasing of new books until at least 2015.

"History should be honest," Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books."

The governor called the legislation, SB48, introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, "historic."

The law - the first of its kind in the nation - adds the two groups to an existing list of minority and other groups that are required to be part of the social sciences curriculum. (more)

Black men survive longer in prison than out: study

Black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they're in prison than if they aren't, suggests a new study of North Carolina inmates.

The black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases.

But that pattern didn't hold for white men, who on the whole were slightly more likely to die in prison than outside, according to findings published in Annals of Epidemiology.

Researchers say it's not the first time a study has found lower death rates among certain groups of inmates -- particularly disadvantaged people, who might get protection against violent injuries and murder.

"Ironically, prisons are often the only provider of medical care accessible by these underserved and vulnerable Americans," said Hung-En Sung of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

"Typically, prison-based care is more comprehensive than what inmates have received prior to their admission," Sung, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health by email.

The new study involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005. Sixty percent of those men were black. (more)

Pentagon to treat cyberspace as "operational domain"

The Defense Department unveiled a new strategy for protecting military computer networks from hackers on Thursday, designating cyberspace as an "operational domain" U.S. forces will be trained to defend.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the Pentagon wanted to avoid militarizing cyberspace, but aimed to secure strategic networks with the threat of retaliation, as well as by mounting a more robust defense.

"Our strategy's overriding emphasis is on denying the benefit of an attack," Lynn said in a speech at the National Defense University. "If an attack will not have its intended effect, those who wish us harm will have less reason to target us through cyberspace in the first place."

Identifying intruders and responding to serious cyber attacks are part of the strategy, he said. But the military now focuses its strongest deterrent on other nation states, not transnational groups.

"Terrorist groups and rogue states must be considered separately," Lynn said.

"They have few or no assets to hold at risk and a greater willingness to provoke. They are thus harder to deter. If a terrorist group gains disruptive or destructive cyber tools, we have to assume they will strike with little hesitation." (more)

Return of the Gold Standard as world order unravels

As the twin pillars of international monetary system threaten to come tumbling down in unison, gold has reclaimed its ancient status as the anchor of stability. The spot price surged to an all-time high of $1,594 an ounce in London, lifting silver to $39 in its train.

On one side of the Atlantic, the eurozone debt crisis has spread to the countries that may be too big to save - Spain and Italy - though RBS thinks a €3.5 trillion rescue fund would ensure survival of Europe's currency union.

On the other side, the recovery has sputtered out and the printing presses are being oiled again. Brinkmanship between the Congress and the White House over the US debt ceiling has compelled Moody's to warn of a "very small but rising risk" that the world's paramount power may default within two weeks. "The unthinkable is now thinkable," said Ross Norman, director of thebulliondesk.com.

Fed chair Ben Bernanke confessed to Congress that growth has failed to gain traction. "Deflationary risks might re-emerge, implying a need for additional policy support," he said.

The bar to QE3 - yet more bond purchases - is even lower than markets had thought. The new intake of hard-money men on the voting committee has not shifted Fed thinking, despite global anger at dollar debasement under QE2.

Fuelling the blaze, the emerging powers of Asia are almost all running uber-loose monetary policies. Most have negative real interest rates that push citizens out of bank accounts and into gold, or property. China is an arch-inflater. Prices are rising at 6.4pc, yet the one-year deposit rate is just 3.5pc. India's central bank is far behind the curve. (more)

Texas Drought Causing Cattle Deaths...From Too Much Water?

It seems like everyone is feeling the heat this summer. Human, canine, feline, or even bovine, we're all at the mercy of high temperatures.

Unfortunately, AccuWeather.com meteorologists foresee no signs of relief from 100-degree heat and drought conditions in Texas and the southern Plains any time soon.

According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, "It appears the high pressure system responsible for the long-lasting heat wave and drought will stay close to Texas through at least the end of July."

In Texas, cattle are dying due to the drought-like conditions. The hitch is, they're not dying of thirst. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Cattle are dying from too much water.

The drought conditions have caused cattle producers to move their herds from pastures where water tanks have dried to new pastures with healthier water supplies. The cattle then gorge themselves on too much water and die within minutes of water intoxication, according to The Associated Press (AP).

"They overdrink because they're thirsty," said Dr. Robert Sprowls of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in Amarillo. "Once they fill up on water it happens pretty quickly." (more)

Debt fears drive US youth away from college

The eldest of Pamela Fettes’ three sons only recently celebrated his 15th birthday, but she is already worrying about the cost of their college education.

Ms Fettes, a 46-year-old single mother, lives in Belvidere, a blue-collar town 70 miles north-west of Chicago. She earns $50,000 a year as a regional healthcare co-ordinator, putting her right at the US’s median household income – although she also works two nights a week as a hospital clerk and decorates cakes on the side. She took on the extra work after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and getting divorced last year, both of which involved considerable expense.

Ms Fettes says she has about $200 left each month after all her bills are paid, but she is also trying to pay down $8,000 in credit card debt and has little saved up, meaning she will be unable to contribute to the cost of her sons’ higher education.

When she studied psychology in the 1980s at Loyola University, a private Catholic college in Chicago, Ms Fettes took out loans to help pay annual tuition costs of about $7,000 a year. The same degree today costs $33,000 in annual tuition and fees – an increase that makes Ms Fettes very nervous at the financial implications for her sons if they chose to follow in her footsteps.

“There’s no way they’d be able to build up tens of thousands of dollars in debt and get an income to pay it off afterwards with a degree in psychology,” she says. “I’d steer them towards a more affordable and a more practical programme.” (more)

Sammay Blackwell: Looked like Casey Anthony, attacked by minivan



An Oklahoma woman believes outrage over the Florida murder case almost cost her her life. The 26-year-old says a crazed woman tried to kill her because the woman thought she was Casey Anthony.

It happened in Chouteau last Friday night, July 8, 2011, just days after the Casey Anthony verdict.

Sammay Blackwell hopes she never hears this again:

"You look like Casey Anthony, I'm like 'okay,'" she said.

Blackwell doesn't think it's funny after what happened last week.

Blackwell works at a convenience store in Chouteau and said Shireen Nalley came in that night around 10 p.m. and looked strange, very suspicious, then left after buying gas.

"I just couldn't keep my eyes off of her," she said.

Sammay got off work at 10:30 that night and walked out to her car, which was parked on the other side of the building, and got inside.

"Began to back out and looked and I could tell she was staring directly at me; I could almost see the whites of her eyes," she recalled.

"I proceeded to pull out of the parking lot, and she was right behind me," Sammay said.

Blackwell drove a few miles and says Nalley suddenly rammed her van into the back of Blackwell's truck.

"I said, 'Oh my God, help me,'" Blackwell told News On 6. (more)

Cruz Loya Alvares: Illegal immigrant working inside nuke plant arrested

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies arrested an illegal immigrant working inside the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant, the nation's largest nuclear plant and one of the most closely monitored in the country.

Cruz Loya Alvares was taken into custody by Sheriff Deputies Wednesday and interrogated by the Sheriff's Human Smuggling detectives.

Deputies determined that the worker is, in fact, here illegally. Cruz admitted he has been in the U.S. illegally for most of the past 15 years. He was detained and deported in 2000 but paid a coyote for re-entry into the U.S. And last month, Cruz admitted that in June 2011, Mesa Police cited him for driving with a suspended license.

According to Sheriff Arpaio, Cruz tried to gain access to the Nuclear power plant on Monday but was denied entrance because his Mexican Driver's license was expired.

He then returned on Tuesday, this time as a passenger in a contractor's vehicle. Cruz presented an Arizona Identification card and was permitted into the facility. When plant authorities more carefully examined the card some time later, officials thought it may be illegitimate and contacted the Sheriff's Office. (more)

One million Syrians protest as more are shot dead

Syrian security forces shot dead at least 12 protesters on Friday as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country in the biggest protests so far against President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad, facing the greatest challenge to 40 years of Baath Party rule, has sought to crush demonstrations. But although rights groups say some 1,400 civilians have been killed since March, the protests have continued unabated and swelled in size.

"These are the biggest demonstrations so far. It is a clear challenge to the authorities, especially when we see all these numbers coming out from Damascus for the first time," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Police fired live ammunition and teargas in the capital Damascus, killing five people, and in southern Syria near the Jordanian border, where four people were killed, witnesses sand activists said. Three protesters were shot dead in the northern city of Idlibm, they said.

"We are in Midan and they are firing teargas on us, people are chanting," a witness said by telephone from the center of Damascus.

In the city of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, live video footage by residents showed a huge crowd in the main Orontos Square shouting "the people want the overthrow of the regime." (more)

Venezuela's Chavez to boost prison construction

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday said he is instructing officials to boost prison construction after a 27-day uprising by inmates highlighted problems of overcrowding and violence.

Chavez likened the problems in Venezuela's prisons to cancer, saying dealing with them requires "deep treatment."

Days before Chavez underwent a cancer operation last month in Cuba, troops stormed a prison near Caracas in a search for weapons, and armed inmates began an uprising in response. The nearly monthlong crisis ended on Wednesday when hundreds of prisoners emerged from the adjacent Rodeo II prison after negotiations with authorities. Officials have said that several inmates also escaped, including four who were killed by troops.

"New facilities must be built," Chavez said in an interview with state television, adding that he has also decided to create a new Cabinet ministry to oversee prison issues.

"Those old jails must be transformed," Chavez said. "Thanks to God that this case was resolved." (more)

GOP Debt Ceiling Ace in the Hole: Obama’s (Ridiculously Luxuriant) Birthday Bash

Oh boy, this is going to look bad.

The Republicans may not realize it, but they have an extra point of leverage in the debt ceiling talks: Barack Obama’s birthday.

It’s on Aug. 4. The president is turning 50. He’s decided to have a quiet celebration with family and a few close friends.

NOT.

Instead, the president is planning an extravagant fundraising bash Aug. 3 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, including a birthday concert teeming with celebrities and – for couples contributing $35,800 – a private dinner with the president. All this just one day after the government is scheduled to run out of cash!

Undoubtably, the sight of so much money getting thrown around and dissolute stars crooning to Obama will make a stirring contrast with a federal government bankruptcy featuring unpaid government workers, seniors and soldiers wondering how they’ll afford the groceries, shuttered national parks, and angry investors trying to cash out their Treasury Bills.

If the government defaults, you can be sure the birthday bacchanal will do much more to harm Obama’s reelection prospects than help them. Maybe House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has been refusing to back down while needling Obama to the extent that the president stomped out of a White House meeting yesterday, already knows this.

The excitement kicks off at 4 pm with a concert that may feature singer Jennifer Hudson and other A-List stars, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

To show that hope and change is for everyone, a pauper section will be included for those contributing a measly $50. But the general admission ticket is $200, and the more you give, the more you get.

For $1,000, you can sit in the rich people’s area with easy access to alcohol. And for $10,000 you not only get a great seat, but a photo with The Birthday Boy. (more)

BOLTON: North Korea edges toward next nuke test -- Obama takes little notice of menacing developments in Pyongyang and Tehran

You wouldn’t know it from the Obama administration, but North Korea’s global threat continues to metastasize. South Korea recently concluded that extensive cyber-attacks against civilian and military targets in the South emanated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Following China’s lead in information warfare, the North is creating yet another asymmetric military capability it can deploy against its adversaries and also peddle for hard currency to other rogue states and terrorists.

Although Pyongyang limited its targeting of this particular sortie to South Korea, the potential cyberwarfare battlefield is global and includes the United States, which already is the subject of extensive cyberprobing, exploitation and espionage by China. For a country perennially on the brink of starvation, North Korea’s military foray into cyberspace demonstrates its continuing malevolence.

The DPRK’s nuclear-weapons program has not rested on its laurels, either, with widely observed surface-level preparations for a possible third underground test well under way.

The North’s development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear payloads is also advancing apace, as Russian missile designer Yuri Solomonov highlighted last month in a Kommersant interview. This is hardly surprisingly given Iran’s increasing long-range capabilities, the extensive Tehran-Pyongyang collaboration, and their programs’ common base in Soviet-era Scud missile technology.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan has released documents purportedly showing prior North Korean bribery of senior Islamabad officials to grease the transfer of nuclear or ballistic-missile technology. While their authenticity is disputed, the documents are part of Mr. Khan’s continuing campaign to prove he did not act solo in the world’s illicit nuclear-weapons bazaar. (more)

Denver International Airport rape victim was on her way to a convent to become a nun

A detective testified in Denver court Thursday that the victim in April’s assault at Denver International Airport was headed to Illinois to become a nun.

Noel Bertrand, 26, of Portland, is accused of raping the woman on the largely deserted A Concourse just after midnight on April 12. Testimony for the preliminary hearing for the former Marine was presented Thursday morning, as well as pictures of physical injuries to the woman.

She suffered a swollen left eye and bruises to her hand. She told police her head was slammed into the ground during the attack.

Bertrand claims the sex was consensual.

The victim told police she had met the suspect at a bar and they had struck up a conversation over drinks about faith and morals.

Denver Police Detective Edward David testified that the two walked from the bar to the gate together and talked for another 20 minutes. The victim told police that when they changed seats and moved closer to the window, that is when Bertrand did a, “180 turn. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde change,” testified David. (more)

Rash Of American Flag Burnings Become An Alarming Trend In Roselle Park, New Jersey

Who is torching American flags?

It’s a disturbing and potentially dangerous trend in one New Jersey community, reports CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport.

Someone is definitely up to something sinister in Roselle Park.‪

A day or two before the Fourth of July, two homes on West Colfax Avenue and another on East Lincoln Avenue all had their flags burned. The charred black remains of Robert Lingenfelter’s flag are still stuck to his pavement.

“It’s not the thing to do to burn something like that,” Lingenfelter said.

Over at Jill Stanton’s house, the situation was just as bad.

“It was just shocking to me,” she said. “Someone burned it. There was nothing left of the flag. It was burned down to the metal.”

Then just this past Tuesday a home on Chestnut Street had its flag torched.‪

Throughout the town many are asking themselves the same questions: who’s doing this and why?

“To desecrate the flag like that, I just don’t understand it,” resident Clem Gibeault told CBS 2’s Rapoport. (more)


ATF Florida Gun Probe Earns Congressional Scrutiny in Wake of 'Fast and Furious'

Several lawmakers are questioning the Obama administration about whether the controversial "Fast and Furious" gunrunning probe may have had a cousin in Florida that resulted in guns being trafficked to Central America.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., penned a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson inquiring about a program known as "Operation Castaway." Other top lawmakers are also starting to look into it, though ATF claims the program was above board and not similar to Operation Fast and Furious at all.

The Justice Department says Castaway was an anti-gun trafficking operation handled by an ATF division in Florida. It resulted last year in a slew of convictions for defendants the department claimed provided firearms linked to violent crimes around the world. But in light of questions surrounding the Fast and Furious probe out of ATF's Phoenix division, Bilirakis questioned whether Castaway bore the same suspicious hallmarks. (more)

Syria protesters 'die as troops open fire'

Syrian security forces have open fired on anti-government protesters in cities across the country leaving at least 14 people dead, activists say.

At least seven people died in the capital Damascus where about 20,000 took part in protests, reports say.

The demonstrations appear to be among the largest since the anti-government uprising began in March.

The government has launched a "national dialogue", but many protesters want President Bashar al-Assad to quit.

Protests have routinely taken place following Friday prayers.

There are reports of mass demonstrations in several locations including the cities of Homs, Deraa, Deir al-Zour and Idlib and in the Damascus neighbourhood of Qabun.

The Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights estimated about 20,000 people were protesting in Damascus.

Spokesman Abdel Karim Rihawi said two people had been killed there and three more in Idlib.

Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said about 350,000 people had taken to the streets in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. (more)

Mexico finds huge marijuana farm in Baja California -- largest ever

The Mexican army says it has discovered a huge field with mature marijuana in the northern state of Baja California.

Soldiers were patrolling the area, some 300km (190 miles) south of the US border, when they found the plantation.

The field near the town of San Quintin, measuring 1.2sq km (300 acres), was surrounded by a hedge of cacti. It is the largest marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, officials say.

They say it would have yielded a harvest worth about $160m (£99m).
Map

A Mexican army spokesman told the BBC it was unclear who owned the territory.

An estimated 60 people were working on the plantation, said the local army commander, Gen Alfonso Duarte.

"When they saw the military personnel, they fled," he told reporters.

The Mexican army has led the war on drug gangs launched by President Felipe Calderon in December 2006. (source)

US debt talks deadlock drags on

President Barack Obama has told lawmakers he wants agreement on a US debt deal in 24-36 hours, Republican and Democratic aides say.

A fifth consecutive day of cross-party negotiations at the White House between President Obama and congressional leaders failed to make a breakthrough.

The president plans to hold a news conference to discuss the troubled talks at 1100 (1500GMT) on Friday.

The US must raise its $14.3tn (£8.9tn) debt ceiling to borrow beyond 2 August.

Failure to reach a deal would rattle a world economy still trying to put the 2008 downturn behind it, analysts say.

On Thursday, Standard & Poor's became the second of the major credit rating agencies to place US debt under review, citing an increasing risk of a payment default.

Another ratings agency, Moody's, warned a day earlier that it might cut Washington's triple-A debt rating.

President Obama said that if congressional leaders could not "find agreement on the path forward" in the next 24-36 hours, the negotiations would have to continue into the weekend, according to Democratic and Republican aides. (more)

Whaling meeting 'ignores needs of whales'

The International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting has closed after a tense final day when relations between opposing blocs came close to collapse.

Latin American nations attempted to force a vote on a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic.

Pro-whaling countries walked out, but eventually it was decided to shelve any vote until next year's meeting.

Environment groups said the delays and wrangling meant important issues for whale conservation were neglected.

But a number of nations pledged new funding for research on small cetaceans, some of which are severely threatened.

Earlier in the meeting, governments agreed new regulations designed to prevent "cash for votes" scandals that have plagued the IWC in the past, and passed a resolution censuring the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for putting safety at risk during its annual missions to counter Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

But the sanctuary issue threatened to derail the entire session.

"Whale species and populations from the Southern Atlantic oceanic basin were amongst the ones that suffered the most due to commercial whaling on a large scale," Roxana Schteinbarg, from the Argentina-based Institute for the Conservation of Whales, told delegates. (more)

They just can't get enough of our money: Fresh EU cash grab 'will force Treasury to raise VAT - 15th July 2011

British consumers face a fresh VAT hike as EU chiefs are planning a tax grab to fund their pet projects.

At the moment 0.3 per cent of VAT in every pound spent goes directly towards EU funding.

But Brussels politicians are planning to raise the levy to 1.3 per cent - and the cost will almost certainly be passed on to consumers if the plans are approved.

The increased tax could be absorbed by the Treasury, although with the Government imposing fierce cuts in spending they would likely be forced to ramp up VAT from 20 to 21 per cent.

The European Commission's seven-year budget proposals from 2014 include controversial moves to step up Brussels' direct revenue-raising powers, through a new EU levy on European banks - a 'Financial Transactions Tax' - and by increasing the EU 'take' from national VAT income.

As the EU budget proposals were being finalised at Commission headquarters last month, Eurocrats suggested that the extra 1 per cent VAT 'take' for Brussels should be itemised separately, to make the public aware of their direct contribution to running the EU.

According to insiders, Britain's EU Commissioner, Baroness Catherine Ashton, raised objections and the idea was dropped. Read More

'Unusual event' declared at Salem 2 nuclear reactor after radioactive water leaks during testing of emergency cooling system - 15th July 2011

An “unusual event” was declared by operators of the Salem 2 nuclear reactor here overnight after a leak of radioactive water developed during the testing of an emergency cooling system.

An unusual event is the lowest of four emergency classifications as defined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency which oversees operations of the nation’s nuclear power plants.

The unusual event was declared at 8:53 p.m. Thursday and ended at 3:39 a.m. today, according to Joe Delmar, spokesman for the plant’s operator, PSEG Nuclear.

There was no threat to either plant personnel or the public, Delmar said today.

The water that leaked is radioactive, but none of the workers were contaminated.

Workers were performing a routine monthly venting of the emergency core cooling system’s high head safety injection piping when a leak was discovered on a valve that had been opened. It is believed a crack on a weld on the motorized valve was the cause of the leak.

Over a 6-minute period, before the valve was closed, approximately 90 gallons of water leaked into the auxiliary building next to the reactor containment building at a rate of between 11 and 15 gallons per minute. Operating rules allow water leakage of up to 10 gallons per minute, but since this leak exceeded this amount, the unusual event was declared.

The leak also caused the pressure in the system to drop.

Operators declared the system temporarily inoperable and began to power down the plant, eventually taking it offline at 1:55 a.m. today. Read More

Severe thunderstorms cause delays at Minneapolis airport - 15th July 2011

Severe thunderstorms with heavy rain and frequent lightning is causing delays for air travelers Friday in the Twin Cities.

Travelers are experiencing delays of up to 90 minutes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Officials expect flights to be affected throughout the day Friday and urge travelers to check with their airline for flight status.

Airport spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski says the lightning also temporarily caused air traffic controllers to ground flights Friday morning.

Thunderstorms will continue to move through the Twin Cities with heavy downpours of rain and frequent lightning into the early afternoon. Some of the storms may contain hail and gusty winds at times.

The storms will mainly be north and east of the metro by 3 p.m. but additional storms could redevelop at anytime. The most likely time for dry weather today will be from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. then more storms likely after midnight.

In between storms the humidity will be increasing and the hot and humid weather will settle in for the next seven days.

Heat index values will range from 105 to 110 degrees by Sunday. Read More

Why what happens in Vegas WON'T stay in Vegas... if you get Legionnaires' disease at hotel - 15th July 2011

Guests at an exclusive Las Vegas resort could be at risk from an outbreak of the deadly Legionnaires' disease, after six cases of the illness was reported from guests who had recently stayed there.

The Aria Resort and Casino has discovered high levels of the illness' bacteria in their hotel rooms' water and are now alerting former guests that they may have been exposed.

Now guests who stayed at the Aria from June 21 to July 4 may need to be tested for the bacteria, according to a letter from Paul Berry, the hotel operations' vice president.

Water tests at that time indicated worryingly high levels of the bacteria in several guest rooms.

In the letter, Mr Berry wrote: 'Health officials have recently notified us of a few reported incidents of guests who visited Aria, were diagnosed with, treated for, and recovered form Legionnaires' disease (a form of pneumonia) caused by Legionella bacteria.' Read More

Wild fire destroys 2,300 hectares of pine wood on Brac island, Croatia - 15th July 2011

Over 2,300 hectares of old pine wood have vanished in a wild fire that hit the Croatian island on Thursday afternoon.

Some 200 tourists were evacuated from the island's western village of Bobovisca as the fire threatened the houses.

Local fire brigade officials have revealed today (Fri) all the houses were defended during the night.

The wild fire hit the island at the peak of the tourist season when temperatures have stayed at 40 degrees Celsius for days that made the fire fighter's job additionally tough. Source

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake KERMADEC ISLANDS, REGION - 15th July 2011

LinkA magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck Kermadec Islands Region at a depth of 37.7 km ( 23.4 miles), the quake hit at 16:14:16 UTC Friday 15th July 2011.
The epicenter was 152 km (94 miles) from Raoul Island, Kermadec Islands

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

U.S. drone strike kills at least 50 in Yemen

A U.S. drone strike targeting militants in southern Yemen Thursday killed at least 50 people, two Yemeni security sources said.

This comes as the United States and the Yemeni government step up their efforts to target militants, including those Islamists who've taken over several cities in recent weeks.

The government claims that a U.S. drone was not involved in the attack and that its air forces conducted the raid. The interior ministry said on its website that nine fighters were killed, but dozens were injured and that the number of deaths is expected to rise.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials.

Both sources, a security official and a senior security source, didn't want their names used because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The airstrike occurred in al-Wathee district in Abyan province. One of the sources said more than a dozen people were injured.

The strike targeted a police station which had been taken over by suspected al Qaeda fighters, the sources said. U.S. drones have been seen flying over the area every day and more attacks are expected, the sources told CNN.

At least seven vehicles belonging to the fighters were destroyed in the attack as well as equipment.

"The casualty toll is high because fighters were gathered in that area with family members," said the senior security source in Abyan.

Two eyewitnesses said that at least 30 civilians who were hiding from the continuous attacks were among the dead. (read more)

Bankruptcy Bar? States Aim to Deny Distressed Cities Chapter 9 Option

The Depression-era bankruptcy code provision known as Chapter 9, which lets local governments seek protection from creditors while restructuring debt, is a rarely used tool.

Since 1937 there have been a total of just 623 Chapter 9 filings in the United States, with 252 of them coming in the past 30 years. Compare that to the 13,500 Chapter 11 filings entered in 2010 alone.

Yet with local governments throughout the U.S. continuing to suffer the lingering effects of a sputtering economy, state lawmakers are apparently sensing a possible surge in new Chapter 9 filing--and are moving to stop it before it starts.

Consider Pennsylvania, where the capital city of Harrisburg--as detailed in the July/August issue of sibling publication The American Lawyer--is teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Facing a debt load of $300 million, Harrisburg has enrolled in Pennsylvania's so-called Act 47 program for distressed municipalities and is now weighing a state-approved recovery plan that calls for the sale of municipal assets, a wage freeze for city workers, and the renegotiation of union contracts. The Harrisburg City Council is to vote on the package July 19. Should the council reject the plan, Mayor Linda Thompson must come up with an alternative solution to the city's fiscal problems.

The vote on the Act 47 plan comes some eight months after the City Council hired Cravath, Swaine & Moore pro bono for advice on how to address its mounting financial woes. Cravath, which is now counseling the city on the state-issued recovery package, was initially brought in to advise on the ramifications of a possible bankruptcy filing.

But Chapter 9 is no longer an option. Last month Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law that prohibits any financially distressed third-class city in the state--a category that includes Harrisburg--from filing for bankruptcy through June 2012. (more)

Gingrich's Advice to House Republicans: Call Obama's Debt Ceiling Bluff



This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," July 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: GOP presidential hopefuls are in key primary states making their case as to why they think they're the best candidate to take on the president in 2012.

They all have one key focus, that's the economy. Newt Gingrich says this is the Obama depression. He's urging Republicans to stand strong against the government establishment and not raise any taxes when it comes to the debt ceiling deal.

Here to explain the man himself, author of "A Nation Like No Other, Why American Exceptionalism Matters," former speaker of the House, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, good to see you.

NEWT GINGRICH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's good to be with you. We had a great Tea Party town hall meeting in Charleston, South Carolina tonight. Very, very strong opposition to any tax increase and to any giving in on the debt ceiling fight.

HANNITY: This is now key. First of all, do you buy -- I was asking Governor Kasich this -- do you buy into this deadline issue that August 2nd comes, there's no deal and the world as we know it comes to an end. Because I don't believe that's the case. There's still money coming into the government. We can still payoff our debt.

GINGRICH: I think the House Republicans should call President Obama's bluff. President Obama said today that he couldn't guarantee that Social Security checks would be paid on August 2nd or August 3rd.

The House Republicans ought to go in tomorrow or the next day, pass a $100 billion cut in spending and a $100 billion increase in the debt ceiling so it is exactly balanced. That takes us all the way through to September. They should call that the Social Security payment guarantee bill.

Then they should say to the president, here we've taken care of August. All you have to do is get Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats to pass it. You sign it. We can guarantee every senior citizen their Social Security check. Now, Mr. President, are you prepared to stop senior citizens from getting their check?

Put the shoe back on his foot. Make him responsible. You can do that once a month for the next 18 months. You can find $100 billion a month to do it. (more)

Default clocks tick

As the debt default clock ticks away in the United States and Europe, markets are understandably nervous. The potential for another financial crunch in the next two years is certainly a non-zeroprobability event, even if the current U.S. and European efforts are likely successful at avoiding a sovereign default this summer.

The root of today's sorry state of public finances goes back to 2009, when industrialized governments wisely co-ordinated their fiscal and monetary policies to forestall a depression. The losses in the financial sector, beginning with the U.S. mortgage default, were largely transferred to the public sector, which sharply increased indebtedness.

Overall, the global gross public debt as a share of GDP has risen from 57.6% in 2008 to 69.3% in 2011. This roughly corresponds to an increase of $10-trillion in world public liabilities.

Today, governments are trying to avoid default by effectively pushing the problem further into the future. Recent bailouts by stable countries through transnational organizations create potential losses for their own taxpayers.

The large increase in sovereign debt would not be a significant issue if governments could stabilize their debt-GDP ratios with spending reductions or tax increases. For most emerging countries and Northern Europe, Canada and Australia, fiscal policy is well under control. Other countries are far more challenged fiscally.

Japan is the debt king among industrialized economies. While this does constrain its public spending in the future, the Japanese themselves hold most of its debt.

Markets are now judging Italy as a risk as credit spreads increase for Italian debt. A bit of an over1reaction, since the historical sins of the past have been righted in recent years with smaller deficits and relatively little new external financing required annually. (more)

Who is ultimately to blame for the American economic crash?

The highly anticipated and already contentious Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission report has been released after a lengthy investigation into the economic collapse in America. The 600 page report concludes that Wall Street, especially at the executive level, is to blame. It is rumored that the rejection of these findings is the conservative movement who assert the government regulated us into this mess while supporters of the findings note that executives knowingly led banks into the slaughterhouse.

Although many looked to the FCIC report to be the final stamp of decision on the matter, it appears to have only made the issue more divisive.

Some point to trade associations like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) for lobbying for homeownership. Critics believe that people were sold an idea that wasn’t really for them and they should have remained renters.

There is even a rare pundit on television who claims Realtors knowingly sold homes for more than they were worth and took a massive profit and were motivated by financial gain.

Politicians are being blamed for caving to lobbyists and legislating not based on long term economic health but on short term gains in housing.

Others point to Barney Frank alone and to his staunch position to promote affordable homeownership almost as a civil right that led to the liar loans that weakened the foundation of housing itself.

Some point to the American drive to innovate as having tone too far and securitizing cash-flow streams to extremely.

Alan Greenspan is taking heat as his position was to keep dramatically low interest rates which although benefited homeowners, it forced investors to take tremendous risks in order to see any yields worth recording. (more)

Sovereign debt crisis worsens in Europe

Ireland's debt was downgraded to junk status yesterday, as the sovereign debt crisis in Europe deepens, but the big worries are Spain and Italy.

Satyajit Das is a globally renowned risk analyst, who accurately forecast the global credit crash and its causes.

He says the growing cost of funding Italy's debt is a major problem and there is now a serious risk of a catastrophic meltdown.

He spoke to me this afternoon.

SATYAJIT DAS: The position is quite serious because Italy has substantial amount of debt per capita, that is per Italian, the debt they have is second only to Greece.

But the real problem in the case of Italy is the quantum of its debt. Its debt is around $2.3 trillion. Now in comparison the Greek debt problem which has plagued the financial markets for now 15 months is only $340 billion. So the scale is very, very large.

STEPHEN LONG: Are you saying that Italy is at risk of default?

SATYAJIT DAS: I don't think Italy is at risk of default but it is at the moment at risk of two things, one is losing access to funding from commercial sources, which is what we saw happening to Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

STEPHEN LONG: And therefore needing a bail-out from the European Union.

SATYAJIT DAS: Indeed. And also what is also happening is that the cost of Italian debt is rising. It is now close to 6 per cent for 10 years. And the problem is once your debt cost gets to around the 6 to 8 per cent mark, with the tremendous burden of debt - because the Italian debt is around 120 per cent of everything Italy produces each year - that debt very quickly becomes impossible to service. (more)

Mullen: North Korea remains a danger

The threat from North Korea -- which started a war with South Korea in 1950 and launched two attacks against the South last year -- is very real and they could well attack again. That's the candid view of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

"North Korea shows no sign of relenting in pursuit of its capabilities and I'm not convinced they won't provoke again," he told reporters. "I've said for a long time the only thing that is predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability."

Fresh from a four-day visit to China, Mullen said he has asked China to take more of a leadership role in the region when dealing with North Korea and he wants a measured, multilateral approach when dealing with the hermit state, calling on Japan to help build a sense of deterrence.

However, Mullen did accept China's limitations when persuading North Korea to follow a particular path, saying "China certainly has influence in Pyongyang but it's not an infinite amount of influence and we need to understand that as we continue to work that challenge". (more)

Volcano eruption in Indonesia sends thousands fleeing

A volcano in central Indonesia spit lava and smoke high into the air early Friday, sending thousands of panicked residents racing down its fiery slopes.

One person died of a heart attack, but no other casualties were reported.

Mount Lokon in northern Sulawesi province unleashed its first powerful eruption at 10:46 p.m. Thursday, said Brian Rulrone, a disaster management agency official. That blast was followed by a second just after midnight and a third at 1:10 a.m. Friday.

Glowing lava cascaded from the mouth of the crater, triggering forest fires along its western slope, said Ferry Rusmawan, an official at the nearest monitoring post, adding that activity remained high and another eruption appeared imminent.

The 1,750-metre mountain continued to rumble during the day.

'Glowing lava flowed like flames in the darkness and it sounded like we were in a war.'—Nelson Uada, evacuee

Soldiers and police helped evacuate homes on the mountain's fertile slopes, said Jimmy Eman, the acting mayor in the nearby town of Tomohon, adding that the only victim so far was a 56-year-old woman who died of a heart attack while fleeing.

More than 6,000 people were crammed into schools, churches and other temporary shelters, and authorities said 27,000 others living within 3.5 kilometres of the crater also would be moved. (read more)

Drought in the Horn of Africa - does the world still care?

So far there is only one piece of relative good news to cling to in the giant humanitarian crisis now threatening 10 million people in dust-blown, rain-starved East Africa.

It is that we are still dealing with a severe drought, not yet an actual famine, a difference that is absolutely crucial.

"I liken this to a slow-motion train wreck," Robert Fox, the head of Oxfam Canada told me this week. "We still have a very short time to get people off safely before the crash."

What he means is that while the people affected are struggling with failed crops and lost cattle herds, the rest of the world by now should have received enough advance warning to provide large-scale relief.

Clean water and food is needed, bore holes have to be dug to find deeper wells and cattle saved where possible. But on top of that, central feeding centres with medical supplies need to be established — all on the double. For we're very late.

The UN admits it is already "behind the curve" because the early warnings of environmental disaster in these stricken parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and just-independent South Sudan, were not heeded in time by governments — both local and those abroad — and many international relief agencies. (read more)

Orange fireball UFOS filmed in Pennsylvania skies: What are they?

World sea attacks up 36 percent in first half of 2011 as pirates get bolder, watchdog says

Sea piracy worldwide surged to 266 attacks in the first half this year, up 36 percent from a year ago, as Somali pirates became bolder and raided more vessels, a global maritime watchdog said Thursday.

Sixty-one percent, or 163 of the attacks globally, were carried out by Somali pirates largely in the Arabian Sea frequented by crude oil tankers, the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur said in a statement. This was up from 100 attacks by Somali pirates in the same period last year.

“In the last six months, Somali pirates attacked more vessels than ever before and they’re taking higher risks,” said the maritime bureau’s director Pottengal Mukundan.

For the first time, pirates in June fired on ships in rough seas in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon season, he said. In the past, they stayed away from attacking in difficult conditions.

However, the bureau said Somali pirates hijacked only 21 ships, down from 27 in the first half last year, thanks to increased ship vigilance and international navies’ action in disrupting pirate groups off East Africa.

“It is vital that this naval presence be sustained or increased,” it said.

As of the end of June, Somali pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew members, and demanding ransoms of millions of dollars for their release, the bureau said.

They fired at 76 vessels, killing seven people and injuring 39. At the same time, 62 piracy attempts were reported to have been thwarted in the first half of the year.

Also this year, a wave of violent and highly organized attacks has hit the coast of West Africa. (read more)

Tarpon Springs homeowners concerned about sinkholes

Gallo Says Euro May Come Under `Severe Pressure'

CNBC: Impact of a US Default

Report: Investigate Bush, Other Top Officials for Torture

New study finds minor planets in asteroid belt have highly unstable orbits

Astronomy & Astrophysics is publishing numerical simulations of the long-term evolution of the orbits of minor planets Ceres and Vesta, which are the largest bodies in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres is 6000 times less massive than the Earth and almost 80 times less massive than our Moon. Vesta is almost four times less massive than Ceres. These two minor bodies, long thought to peacefully orbit in the asteroid belt, are found to affect their large neighbors and, in particular, the Earth in a way that had not been anticipated. This is showed in the new astronomical computations released by Jacques Laskar from Paris Observatory and his colleagues. Although small, Ceres and Vesta gravitationally interact together and with the other planets of the Solar System. Because of these interactions, they are continuously pulled or pushed slightly out of their initial orbit. Calculations show that, after some time, these effects do not average out. Consequently, the bodies leave their initial orbits and, more importantly, their orbits are chaotic, meaning that we cannot predict their positions. The two bodies also have a significant probability of impacting each other, estimated at 0.2% per billion year. Last but not least, Ceres and Vesta gravitationally interact with the Earth, whose orbit also becomes unpredictable after only 60 million years. This means that the Earth’s eccentricity, which affects the large climatic variations on its surface, cannot be traced back more than 60 million years ago. This is indeed bad news for Paleoclimate studies. This unexpected discovery comes at a time when both objects are the targets of the NASA/Dawn mission. The Dawn probe will encounter Ceres in February 2015. At present, Dawn is approaching Vesta, and the flyby will occur on this coming Saturday, July 16, 2011. (read more)

Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities

At the most recent Zhuhai air show, the premier event for China’s aviation industry, crowds swarmed around a model of an armed, jet-propelled drone and marveled at the accompanying display of its purported martial prowess.

In a video and map, the thin, sleek drone locates what appears to be a U.S. aircraft carrier group near an island with a striking resemblance to Taiwan and sends targeting information back to shore, triggering a devastating barrage of cruise missiles toward the formation of ships.

Little is known about the actual abilities of the WJ-600 drone or the more than two dozen other Chinese models that were on display at Zhuhai in November. But the speed at which they have been developed highlights how U.S. military successes with drones have changed strategic thinking worldwide and spurred a global rush for unmanned aircraft.

More than 50 countries have purchased surveillance drones, and many have started in-country development programs for armed versions because no nation is exporting weaponized drones beyond a handful of sales between the United States and its closest allies.

“This is the direction all aviation is going,” said Kenneth Anderson, a professor of law at American University who studies the legal questions surrounding the use of drones in warfare. “Everybody will wind up using this technology because it’s going to become the standard for many, many applications of what are now manned aircraft.”

Military planners worldwide see drones as relatively cheap weapons and highly effective reconnaissance tools. Hand-launched ones used by ground troops can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Near the top of the line, the Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, costs about $10.5 million. By comparison, a single F-22 fighter jet costs about $150 million.

Defense spending on drones has become the most dynamic sector of the world’s aerospace industry, according to a report by the Teal Group in Fairfax. The group’s 2011 market study estimated that in the coming decade global spending on drones will double, reaching $94 billion.

But the world’s expanding drone fleets — and the push to weaponize them — have alarmed some academics and peace activists, who argue that robotic warfare raises profound questions about the rules of engagement and the protection of civilians, and could encourage conflicts.

“They could reduce the threshold for going to war,” said Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield in England. “One of the great inhibitors of war is the body bag count, but that is undermined by the idea of riskless war.” (read more)