Monday, July 18, 2011

Japan scrambles to protect damaged Fukushima reactor from typhoon Ma-on

Workers in Japan scrambled Monday to build a protective covering over a damaged nuclear reactor ahead of an approaching powerful typhoon, an energy company spokesman said.

Typhoon Ma-on -- currently a "Large" and "Very Strong" storm, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency -- should strike Japan well south of the damaged no. 3 reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

But the Tokyo Power Company, which is responsible for the plant wracked by the March 11 tsunami that struck northeast Japan, is constructing a "roof-like structure to prevent rain from entering holes on the turbine building," said spokesman Satoshi Watanabe.

The energy company says it aims to complete construction late Monday.
Workers enter reactor No. 1 in Japan

Typhoon Ma-on is predicted to make landfall Tuesday, according to the country's meteorological agency. (source)

Israeli warplanes pound Gaza for fourth straight day as fears grow of a coming war


Israeli warplanes attack Gaza by presstv

Five swept away in floods at Patalpani waterfall in Indore

Libyan rebels report street fighting in Brega (so where is the video footage of this fighting?)

The battle for Brega switched from the desert to intense street fighting in the oil town's northeast on Sunday, as veteran Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed never to quit and fresh blasts rocked Tripoli.

Rebel forces re-entered Brega -- putting them within sight of a major strategic victory -- but said they had not yet managed to wrest control of the town from Gaddafi's troops, who have held it since April.

'Some small groups have made it inside, but we do not control the whole (town) yet,' said Mohammed Zawi, a spokesman for the rebel forces.

He also dismissed rumours that Gaddafi troops had abandoned the town altogether. 'It is now close fighting,' he said, indicating a new phase in the four-day rebel campaign.

Until now heavy artillery had set the tenor of the battle, but mortars and rockets appear to have given way to heavy machine guns -- a more useful weapon for fighting at closer quarters.

But that did little to stem the bloodshed.

Three rebel fighters were killed and 96 wounded on Sunday according to medical staff.

That toll brought to 15 the total number of fighters killed and 274 the number of wounded since the battle for Brega began on Thursday.

In Brussels, a NATO statement said its forces were monitoring 'the dynamic situation across the country, including around Brega'. (more)

Flash floods wreaking havoc throughout India; tens of thousands affected -- "Worse is yet to come" says authorities

Wall Street tumbles as debt default day edges closer

Stock markets tumbled on Wall Street as the prospect of the US government defaulting on its debts moved a step closer after another day of political paralysis in Washington.

With no signs of progress from the series of parallel debt talks on Capitol Hill, investors moved quickly to reduce their exposure to shares in what is shaping up to be a fraught four trading days. The S&P 500 fell 1.3pc at 1,299.71 in early afternoon trading, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.2pc at 12,333.00.

Despite a slew of America's biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Apple and Goldman Sachs, reporting results this week, Wall Street's attention is now riveted on the negotiations aimed at lifting America's $14.3 trillion (£8.9 trillion) debt ceiling.

The markets "continue to have whipsaw trading as macro news continues to confuse and concern investors", said Mary Ann Bartels, a strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Investors are understandably maintaining a low profile."

The relatively relaxed attitude Wall Street has so far taken to talks that began two months ago is now being replaced by growing anxiety as the August 2 deadline approaches. US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has warned that if the debt ceiling - or the country's legal borrowing requirement - hasn't been raised in two weeks time then the government will no longer be able to pay all its bills.

With some politicians in Congress downplaying the significance of a temporary default on its debts, on Monday ratings agency Fitch said that America risks losing its prized AAA credit rating for the first time in its history. "Agreement on a credible fiscal consolidation strategy will secure the US 'AAA' status," Fitch said. "Failure to do so will inevitably weaken the sovereign credit profile." The warning echoes those made by Standard & Poor's and Moody's last week. (more)

World markets tumble on eurozone debt crisis fears

Mounting fears that politicians will fail to resolve the eurozone's debt crisis sent markets sliding and Spain and Italy's borrowing costs nearing the "point of no return".

Investors are unconvinced that the euro-sharing nations will manage to reach agreement on a second bail-out for Greece before Thursday's crunch summit in Brussels.

Continued deadlock over how to contain the crisis raises the risk of Athens being forced into a disorderly default, which could wreak havoc on the global financial system, or of other, bigger economies becoming swept up also.

The yields, or returns, on Spanish and Italian 10-year government debt hit euro-era highs over 6pc as investors demanded greater reward to shoulder the risk. The borrowing costs implied by such yields close to the levels where governments can not afford to fund themselves and must be bailed out, said analysts.

"If we reach 7pc on Spain and Italy, we are probably approaching very quickly the point of no return," said Nicola Marinelli, a fund manager at Glendevon King Asset Management. "Once the market is shut, it is shut for good. The examples of Greece, Portugal and Ireland are clear."

Gold breached $1,600 an ounce for the first time as the turmoil, combined with the row in the US over its debt ceiling, sent investors scurrying towards the "safe haven". (more)

Portugal loses patience with Europe -- and it's entirely understandable

It has begun. At last, some raw emotional Gaulliste patriotism from the victims of Europe’s Maquina Infernal.

Portugal’s new premier Pedro Passos Coelho — a free marketeer — threw down the gauntlet over the weekend. “We want to take part in an ambitious European project and make our contribution so Europe can confront its problems in the most ambitious way, but as prime minister I will not stand by and allow Europe to govern Portugal,” he told the party faithful.

For Portuguese readers: “Nós queremos participar num projecto europeu ambicioso e queremos dar o nosso contributo para que a Europa saiba encontrar respostas mais ambiciosas para os problemas, mas como primeiro-ministro nunca ficarei à espera do que a Europa tenha que fazer para governar Portugal”

Please correct me if my loose translation is wrong.

So, it has begun: last week Greece’s premier George Papandreou launched two angry broadsides against EU magnates. How could he do otherwise after Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper that Greece’s sovereignty would be “massively limited”?

“Massively limited?”

Mr Juncker should be clamped in irons if he dares set foot on Greek soil. (more)

Japanese tsunami stood at 132.5ft -- taller than Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue

The tsunami that struck north-east Japan in March rose to a maximum height of 132.5ft, according to researchers, taller than Rio's Christ the Redeemer.

In comparison, Nelson's Column stands 169 feet tall and the pedestrian walkways between the two towers of Tower Bridge are 143 feet above the River Thames. The Rio statue stands at 130ft.

The study by 150 experts from 48 research organisations across the country determined that the wave that roared out of the Pacific on March 11 was the largest to ever hit Japan when it struck the Omoeaneyoshi district of Miyako City, in Iwate Prefecture.

The experts collected data from 5,400 locations the length of the east coast of Japan after the magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake. The survey used marks left on buildings and trees that rise up the sides of the valley where the town is located to reach a conclusion on the scale of the disaster.

The group had previously estimated the height of the tsunami at 127.6 feet, which was already above the 125.3 feet reached by the previous record wave, which was set by the Minami Sanriku Earthquake in 1896.

The research shows that the tsunami was taller than the December 2004 tsunami triggered by the undersea earthquake off Indonesia. That tsunami reached a height of 108 feet and claimed an estimated 230,210 lives in Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. (more)

Top Chinese gymnast found begging on the street

One of China's most promising young gymnasts, who seemed destined for Olympic glory before his career ended in injury, has been found begging on the streets of Beijing, prompting criticism of the country's Soviet-style sports system.

Zhang Shangwu, 28, a specialist on the still rings, had even sold the two gold medals he won at the World University championships in 2001 for just £10 in order to buy food.

Mr Zhang said there were others like him who had found themselves in a desperate situation after being cut loose from China's state-run sports system.

Speaking on a mobile phone he bought for 30 yuan (£2.90) in order to find work, Mr Zhang said he had received a phone call recently from another struggling gymnast.

"He thought I might draw some attention to the problem. But I can barely look after myself at the moment, let alone take on anyone else's worries," he said.

Born into a peasant family in Baoding, Hebei province, Mr Zhang was sent to a local gymnastics academy at the age of five. After seven years of gruelling training, he showed enough promise to be selected to China's national team and in 2001 he was entered by officials into the World University Games, despite not having an education outside his sport. (more)

Cornell Team Builds Space-Time Invisibility Cloak

For the first time, a device has created a "hole in time" -- for a few nanoseconds anyway.

The theoretical possibility of an "event cloak" -- a metamaterial space-time device that could theoretically conceal an entire event in time from the view of an outsider -- has been written about for years. And while some bright minds have been talking about bending space-time to their whims, a team at Cornell was doing it. And it works. For 110 nanoseconds.

Basically, you need two time-lenses -- lenses that can compress and decompress light in time. This is actually possible to do using an electro-optic modulator (what, you don't have one?). Two of these modulators can slow down or compress the light traveling through the first lens; a second lens downrange from the first can then decompress, or accelerate, the incoming photons from the first lens.

Think of the photons like steadily flowing traffic on a highway. If you slow the traffic at a point upstream, you create a gap. You can cross the highway through the gap and then accelerate that traffic to catch up to the traffic ahead, closing the gap. To someone further downstream, the gap isn't there -- to that observer, the gap might as well have never existed because there's no evidence of it. (more)

Egyptian 'Indiana Jones' Zahi Hawass Fired

He's hanging up the hat.

After decades of popularizing Egyptology -- from exploring the pyramids to studying mummies to digging for buried treasure -- Egypt's top archaeologist has lost his post, fired Sunday under pressure from critics who attacked his credibility and accused him of being too close to the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Zahi Hawass, long chided as publicity loving and short on scientific knowledge, was well known for his trademark Indiana Jones hat, an icon that made him one the country's best known figures around the world. He and about a dozen other ministers were fired in a Cabinet reshuffle meant to ease pressure from protesters seeking to purge remnants of Mubarak's regime.

"He was the Mubarak of antiquities," said Nora Shalaby, an activist and archaeologist. "He acted as if he owned Egypt's antiquities, and not that they belonged to the people of Egypt."

Despite the criticism, Hawass has been widely credited with helping boost interest in archaeology in Egypt and tourism, a pillar of the country's economy. (more)

Pirates seize tanker off Somali coast... just when you thought they retreated to count their chests of gold

Pirates have seized a tanker ship in the Indian Ocean and appear to be taking it to Somalia, the European Union Naval Force Somalia said Monday.

Pirates boarded the MV Jubba XX on July 16 as the ship traveled between the United Arab Emirates and Berbera, Somalia, according to a task force statement.

A patrol plane spotted the ship on Sunday headed for northern Somalia. The task force said it believes nine pirates are aboard the ship, which has a crew of 16. No information about their condition was available.

The ship was not registered with the Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa, which provides 24-hour tracking of vessels traveling through the pirate-infested area, the agency said.

Somali pirates have attacked merchant vessels 163 times in the first six months of 2011, up 63 percent over the same period in 2010, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre. Twenty-one of those attacks resulted in successful hijackings, the organization said.

Somali pirates were holding 20 vessels and 420 crew members as of June 30, the group said. (source)

21 Dead From Bootleg Alcohol in Equador Town of Urdaneta in Los Rios province

Authorities in Equador have banned the sale of alcohol in a community where 21 people have died after drinking bootleg liquor.

Public Health Minister David Chiriboga says 103 others have been treated for intoxication from adulterated alcohol in the coastal municipality of Urdaneta in Los Rios province, where eight were initially reported dead.

Chiriboga says police have seized 28 containers each with 55 gallons of alcohol contaminated with methanol. Methyl alcohol is a toxic substance sometimes used to illegally produce cheap liquor.

The health minister said Sunday that a law prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol has been in effect since Saturday in the area. The owner of the alcohol is being sought by police. (source)

Amerca's heatwave in a picture

Spain busts 'biggest' European drugs network, 20 held

Spanish police Monday announced the seizure of 25 million euros ($35 million) in cash and the arrest of 20 people in an operation against "the biggest money-laundering and drug-trafficking network in Europe."

A total of 16 people were detained in Spain and four in the United States, said the police, who worked in cooperation with the FBI and judicial authorities in Miami.

It was "the biggest quantity of cash seized at one time," they said in a statement.

It said authorities seized 21 properties in Spain and four in the United States worth a total of 75 million euros, as well as 60 cars.

"One of the money-laundering methods was to buy and sell luxury cars," the statement said. (more)

7,500 earthquakes hit Christchurch, a now-shattered New Zealand city

It's been 10 months since the first big earthquake struck New Zealand's second-largest city. It's been nearly five months since a far more devastating one killed 181 people and crippled the downtown. But it's been just a few hours since yet another aftershock startled Christchurch residents during the night.

"I stop breathing," said Sheridan Cattermole, a bartender and a mom. "I get pins and needles all over. I either freeze or run. I just want things to be back to what they were like this time last year. I had my vege garden, and my sunflowers."

Seismologists have recorded 7,500 earthquakes in Christchurch since September — an average of more than 20 a day. The rumblings are rattling the psyche of the still-battered city. They have left the land under thousands of homes unsafe to build on. Some people have left town entirely. Yet many have proven resilient, and some now see a reconstruction boom on the horizon.

Christchurch is the disaster that the world forgot. When the deadly quake toppled the iconic Cathedral spire and flattened buildings in this city of 390,000, people around the globe paid attention. But two weeks later, the massive earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 in Japan took center stage. (more)

Indonesian volcano Mount Lokon erupts twice in half an hour

A volatile volcano in central Indonesia has erupted again, spewing ash almost 2,000ft (600m) into the air.

Monitoring official Farid Ruskanda said Mount Lokon on Sulawesi island erupted twice within half an hour today.

Mount Lokon has been dormant for years but rumbled back to life late last week.

Yesterday, it unleashed its most powerful eruption yet, spitting hot ash as high as 11,400ft (3,474m).

Some 5,000 people near the mountain have been relocated to safer areas.

Indonesia is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a horseshoe-shaped string of faults which lines the Pacific Ocean. (more)

Tesla Electric Car Firm Pulls Plug on Singapore: "No money in it"

American electric car company Tesla Motors is pulling the plug on plans to market its zippy, battery-powered sports cars to the wealthy and environmentally hip here – just six months after setting up an office at Suntec to do just that.

It will pack up next week, without having sold a single car.

The Straits Times understands that the company is pulling out because it failed to secure ‘green’ tax incentives for its cars, making them unviable.

The two-seater Tesla Roadster, which runs entirely on lithium-ion batteries that can be charged from a normal household socket, would cost $400,000 to $500,000 without the incentives.

That is in the ballpark of cars like the Porsche 911 and Maserati Granturismo.

But had the tax break been granted, the car would have cost around $250,000 or less.

The Economic Development Board, which is in charge of approving the tax break, said Tesla had not met ‘technical requirements’.

A Tesla insider said the company had garnered about a dozen bookings, most on condition that the tax break be granted. A few were willing to buy the car without the tax break, but Tesla said the numbers were too small to justify its presence here. (more)

Projected path of Typhoon Ma-on as it approaches Japan

Somalia Drought 'One of the Largest Humanitarian Crises in Decades'

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing drought and famine in Somalia in search of food and water in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The crisis has been brought on by a deadly combination of severe drought, with no rain in the region for two years, a huge spike in food prices and a brutal civil war in Somalia, where it is too dangerous for aid workers to operate.

Somalians are walking as far as 50 miles to reach the Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. The trek can take weeks through punishing terrain, which is desolate except for the carcasses that litter the land.

A mother of six was forced to decide today whether to leave behind her daughter, who is simply too sick to travel, in order to save the rest of her family. Suffering from malnutrition, her daughter isn't strong enough to continue with their 30-day, 50-mile journey from Somalia into neighboring Kenya.

The mother, who was so traumatized that she couldn't continue describing her ordeal or even give her name, had to leave her child by the side of the road to die. (more)

Forecasters 'warned of Horn of Africa drought' last year (But since it's only Africa, no one listened)

Forecasting systems were warning about a serious drought in the Horn of Africa as much as a year ago — but communication problems between scientists and decision-makers meant the alerts went largely unheeded, according to forecasters.

Warnings about the drought — which the United Nations says is the worst in 60 years — were issued last August, when the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) released a brief on food security in East Africa following the declaration of a La Niña event, a cooling of the sea surface in the Pacific Ocean known to affect weather in Africa.

"We were very confident that the October to December rains were going to be poor," Chris Hillbruner, a food security early warning specialist with FEWS NET, told SciDev.Net. "And there was an increased likelihood that the March to May rains were going to be poor as well."

Once the predictions for October–December proved correct, the agency started releasing food security alerts for the region in November, February, March, May and June, and organising multiagency meetings in Nairobi, in February, March and May.

The drought is now affecting ten million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

Chris Funk, a climatologist with FEWS NET, said that the organisation's experts have been "a little frustrated that we provided this information quite early" but not enough has been done to make good use of it. (more)

The Film ‘Farmageddon’ Says It’s 1984 for Small Farmers

The documentary film Farmageddon explores the fine line between consumer protection and government intrusion when it comes to food safety. Certainly we all want wholesome food, but what happens when rules written with agribusiness in mind are inflexibly applied to family farms by overzealous regulators? It often means the latter are harassed to the point of being driven out of business, less choice for consumers and ultimately less healthy food.

Written and directed by Kristin Canty, Farmageddon relies on case studies to show that food-safety reporting requirements have become so onerous that only large factory farms have the resources to comply; many pay full-time staff to handle the work, something smaller operations simply cannot afford.

An early focus of the documentary is small producers of raw milk, which is outlawed or severely restricted across most of the country. Yet there are growing numbers of people, like Canty, who seek it out believing it is healthier than processed milk—not in spite of its large contingent of bacteria, but because of it.

The film points out that until relatively recently, raw milk was the norm. The process of killing all of the bacteria in milk, called pasteurization, reduces the remote chance of a deadly bacteria being carried in the product, but also kills off useful enzymes and healthful bacteria. These days, raw milk is difficult to obtain thanks to officious federal, state and local enforcers of food regulations who find it easier to go after family farms on minor charges than to take on heavily lawyered agribusiness giants.

Canty had a very personal reason for creating the film. She is the mother of four, one of whom had asthma and severe allergies until she cured him by switching to “local raw milk from grass-fed cows.” When she found that farmers, co-ops and buying clubs across the country were being raided for dealing in raw milk, she decided to make a movie about it. (more)

Girls urged to strip to support Vladimir Putin as president

An online campaign has been launched in Russia urging young women to support Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a presidential vote by taking off their clothes, a lawmaker's site showed on Sunday.

Called "Putin's Army", it features a video of a blonde student called Diana who struts along Moscow's streets in high heels and a black suit before scrawling "I will tear my clothes off for Putin" on a white top in red lipstick and starting to undo her clothes.

Inviting girls to strip off for Putin for the chance of winning an iPad2, the campaign comes ahead of the March 2012 presidential vote. Putin was president between 2000-2008 before handing the reins to his protégé Dmitry Medvedev.

Widely seen as Russia's key decision-maker, Putin may return to the Kremlin next year.

"The goal: For Putin to be president!" said a statement on its page on social networking site vkontakte.ru/armiaputina, Russia's answer to Facebook.

During Russia's Soviet era, nudity in advertising was taboo but has since become widespread, a fact which has outraged Russian feminists who say it only intensifies an already sexualised culture where prostitution is common. (more)

Holocaust museum evacuated as fire nears Jerusalem

Israeli rescue services evacuated the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on Sunday as a large forest fire raged out of control, threatening several Jerusalem neighbourhoods, rescue workers said.

Thick grey smoke billowed up through the forested hills on Jerusalem's southwestern flank as fire fighters battled the blaze and diving aircraft attempted to douse the flames, an AFP photographer said.

"We have evacuated all the workers and tourists from Yad Vashem," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, adding that one person was hospitalised for smoke inhalation.

A Yad Vashem spokeswoman said some of the staff had remained behind to try to protect the trove of irreplaceable artefacts.

"Some of the staff including the director general and security people have remained behind to try and help and make sure everything is okay," Esti Yaari told AFP.

"The flames are not yet at Yad Vashem but it is very smoky here," she said. "Nothing has been damaged as far as we know at the moment and we hope it stays like that." (more)

64 missile warheads stolen from Romanian train

Dozens of small, old rocket warheads were stolen from a train carrying military equipment from Romania to Bulgaria, officials said Monday.

Authorities promised that the 64 warheads posed no danger to the public but offered varying explanations why.

The Romanian national police said there was no risk because they were not attached to rockets. Spokesman Florin Hulea declined to provide further details.

Two daily newspapers cited officials close to the investigation as saying the warheads did not contain explosives. The papers, Evenimentul Zilei and Adevarul, did not identify their sources.

Bulgaria's Economy Ministry said the warheads belonged to 122mm (4.8-inch) diameter Grad rockets, which are typically fired from vehicle-mounted multiple-rocket launchers.

It said in a statement the shipment was part of a transfer of "nonfunctional components and parts" for reprocessing at the VMZ factory — one of Bulgaria's largest military factories — in Sopot, central Bulgaria, where the components and parts were to be replaced and the warheads prepared for sale.

"The fuses (warheads) were transported separately from the projectiles," the ministry added.

Transport police in the central city of Brasov told the Mediafax news agency that the warheads were in four boxes in one of the cars on a train carrying equipment from a Romanian company that produces artillery shells and ground-to-ground and air-to-ground missiles.

Romanian officials also tried to portray the Saturday theft as accidental. (more)

Burglers steal 19-year-old's ashes along with tooth fairy money



Bradenton, Florida - A Bradenton family still reeling from the loss of their loved one has decided to offer a $500 reward for the return of their loved one's ashes.

19-year-old Nicholas Reek, a Manatee High School graduate, was killed in December of 2008 when an impaired driver pulled out in front of his motorcycle.

But earlier this month, his family came face to face again with the loss after someone pried open a window in the family's home and went straight for their safe which is where his ashes were stored.

Lori Reek says, "I just don't want him left on the side of the road or in the dumpster somewhere. He needs to be home."

She's posted a bright neon green poster in front of her home that reads, "Bring Nik Home!"

Lori says it's tragic enough that her 19-year-old son's life was cut short, but the theft of his ashes makes the loss even harder to accept. She says her husband, who is in the Army and is stationed at Camp Blanding, had planned to go skydiving to release the ashes.

She says it's one of the things Nik wanted to do with his father and never got the chance to.

Lori adds, "I don't think they realized that Nicholas was in the safe." That's because Nik's ashes weren't in a traditional urn.

"It was in a tin can that had his name labeled on it." (more)

Ratings agencies rattle cages in U.S., Europe

The credit ratings agencies are again angering governments, but this time they are taking on the big fish of the world economy.

From Washington to Brussels, Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch have added to the intense pressure on governments trying to deal with crushing sovereign debt.

Their warnings about the precarious finances of the world's top economies have also roiled investors more accustomed to seeing emerging market countries take the brunt of criticism.

Tension hit new highs on both sides of the Atlantic last week as Moody's and Standard & Poor's threatened to downgrade the United States' prized "triple-A" rating.

A few days earlier, Moody's slashed ratings in Ireland and Portugal to "junk" status, triggering an outcry from European officials.

"These opinions, they continue to give them in such a way that it worsens the crisis," Ewald Nowotny, a member of the European Central governing council, said on Tuesday, referring to the agencies. He said markets could live without them. (more)

Daniel Self: Colorado murderer suing state for saving his life

A convicted murderer is suing the state of Colorado for saving his life after his heart stopped beating.

Daniel Self says he suffers from sleep apnea and he ordered prison guards not to resuscitate him if he stopped breathing. The 54-year-old says in a lawsuit filed in federal court that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his right to refuse medical treatment when he stopped breathing in 2009.

Self tells the Denver Post death would be a welcome relief after he was convicted in 2003 of killing 24-year-old Leah Gee, who was pregnant.

Self says Gee shot herself.

A Colorado prisons spokeswoman says the state has not been served with Self's lawsuit and she could not comment about the case because it is in litigation. (source)

Jason Fordell: "I was beaten, taunted for being white," Bronx man says after subway attack

A Bronx man was viciously assaulted and robbed on a subway train Sunday by four men who he says taunted him for being white.

Police confirmed they are investigating the assault and robbery of Jason Fordell, 29, but have not labeled it a hate crime.

They are seeking the four assailants, who fled the scene. A fifth passenger who police say spontaneously joined in the attack has been arrested.

"Everyone on the train was egging them on," said Fordell, 29, of the early-morning attack on the 4 train.

He said he was returning home at 5 a.m. from an East Village nightclub where he sells his hand-designed leather accessories when his Gothic getup drew unwelcome attention.

After Fordell transferred to a crowded 4 train at 42nd St., four young, black men began harassing him, cops said.

"People started saying stupid little comments - cracker this, white boy this, f----t this," Fordell said. "I told them the only reason they were saying this is there was four of them and one of me." (more)

Police officers shoot each other as they try to arrest child porn suspect at Harry Potter screening

Two policemen are recovering after they were shot by fellow officers as they tried to arrest a man on child pornography charges outside a crowded move theatre.

The incident happened as undercover officers tried to apprehend the unarmed man in the parking lot as he left a screening of Harry Potter in Plainville, Connecticut.

The officers opened fire after Eric Gothberg, 45, suddenly reached for his waistband after resisting arrest.

One policeman arriving as back-up was hit by a bullet in his arm. Another was injured by shards of glass.

Both officers were taken to St Francis Hospital in Hartford where they were treated for non-life threatening injuries. (more)

GOP leaders ignore Obama’s deadline as debt crisis in US intensifies

House Republican leaders have missed a 36-hour deadline President Obama set during a Thursday meeting for lawmakers to give him a plan to avert a national default.

The deadline came and went Saturday morning without a response from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Instead, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) plan to move the Cut, Cap and Balance Act on the floor next week, which would require passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt limit is raised.

A House GOP leadership aide said at noontime Saturday that Boehner and Cantor did not send Obama a revised proposal to raise the debt-limit, as the president requested.

A White House official said talks continue despite the missed deadline.

"The president, vice president and staff have been in frequent communication with leaders and staff in both chambers and parties, discussing various options," said the official.

At a meeting late Thursday afternoon, Obama gave congressional leaders 24 to 36 hours to meet with their colleagues to figure out a plan that could pass both chambers.

“It’s decision time,” Obama said. (more)

US: Get Ready for a 70% Marginal Tax Rate

President Obama has been using the debt-ceiling debate and bipartisan calls for deficit reduction to demand higher taxes. With unemployment stuck at 9.2% and a vigorous economic "recovery" appearing more and more elusive, his timing couldn't be worse.

Two problems arise when marginal tax rates are raised. First, as college students learn in Econ 101, higher marginal rates cause real economic harm. The combined marginal rate from all taxes is a vital metric, since it heavily influences incentives in the economy—workers and employers, savers and investors base decisions on after-tax returns. Thus tax rates need to be kept as low as possible, on the broadest possible base, consistent with financing necessary government spending.

Second, as tax rates rise, the tax base shrinks and ultimately, as Art Laffer has long argued, tax rates can become so prohibitive that raising them further reduces revenue—not to mention damaging the economy. That is where U.S. tax rates are headed if we do not control spending soon.

The current top federal rate of 35% is scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013 (plus one-to-two points from the phase-out of itemized deductions for singles making above $200,000 and couples earning above $250,000). The payroll tax is 12.4% for Social Security (capped at $106,000), and 2.9% for Medicare (no income cap). While the payroll tax is theoretically split between employers and employees, the employers' share is ultimately shifted to workers in the form of lower wages.

But there are also state income taxes that need to be kept in mind. They contribute to the burden. The top state personal rate in California, for example, is now about 10.5%. Thus the marginal tax rate paid on wages combining all these taxes is 44.1%. (This is a net figure because state income taxes paid are deducted from federal income.) (more)

New Doll That Teaches How To Breast Feed Causing Controversy

A new doll hitting stores in the U.S. is causing some controversy with parents. It’s called The Breast Milk Baby and it claims it teaches young girls how to breast feed.

The doll is made by Berjuan Toys, a company out of Spain. It comes with a special halter top that has two flowers where nipples would be. When a little girl puts on the top and holds the baby doll up the flowers, it makes suckling sounds.

The company says the doll is a top-selling toy in Europe and on its website, says the toy ”lets young girls express their love and affection in the most natural way possible, just like mommy!”

But the toy has many parents asking if it’s going too far.

“I think that it’s totally bizarre to teach a prepubescent child how to breastfeed,” said Nicole from Manhattan. “Quite strange.”

“I think it’s very creepy,” said one woman. “I don’t think little kids should be breastfeeding.”

“I don’t approve of it at all. I think it’s ridiculous for a child. Let her learn it when she’s older,” said another woman.

Scott from Manhattan says he wouldn’t buy the doll, but gives credit to the company for coming up with the idea. “Make a product, if it sells, it sells,” he said. (more)

Moody's: Want to fix debt ceiling problem? Just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether! (polishes baseball bat)

Ratings agency Moody's on Monday suggested the United States should eliminate its statutory limit on government debt to reduce uncertainty among bond holders.

The United States is one of the few countries where Congress sets a ceiling on government debt, which creates "periodic uncertainty" over the government's ability to meet its obligations, Moody's [MCO 35.34 -1.11 (-3.05%) ] said in a report.

"We would reduce our assessment of event risk if the government changed its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty," Moody's analyst Steven Hess wrote in the report.

The agency last week warned it would cut the United States' AAA credit rating if the government misses debt payments, increasing pressure on Republicans and the White House to come up with a budget agreement.

Moody's said it had always considered the risk of a U.S. debt default very low because Congress has regularly raised the debt ceiling during many decades, usually without controversy. (more)

Worst heatwave in years grips Midwest, moving east

An oppressive and potentially deadly summertime mix of sizzling temperatures and high humidity baked a large swath of the country again on Sunday, pushing afternoon heat indexes in dozens of cities to dangerous levels.

Forecasters warned the heatwave would persist through much of the coming week and cautioned residents in more than three dozen states to take extra precautions.

The National Weather Service posted excessive heat warnings for much of the country's midsection, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, as well as South and North Dakota, where forecasters predicted heat indexes could hit 115 degrees.

"This will likely be the most significant heat wave the region has experienced in at least the last five years," the weather service said.

Cities especially hard hit by the heat included Rapid City, South Dakota, Springfield, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, where AccuWeather.com meteorologists were predicting long-standing high-temperature records would fall this week.

Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, predicted the heatwave will affect more than 40 states.

All the states will see temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, she said, and "a large number of them will bake above 100 degrees for days on end."

The scorching weather is the latest in a series of meteorological problems to best the Midwest in recent months. (more)

Newborn Wildlife Abandoned Because of Heat, Drought

The extreme heat and persistent drought seen in much of Texas is taking its toll on wildlife, with deer, birds and other animals abandoning or unable to feed their young.

Pregnant does are having problems carrying fawns to term, and most of them born prematurely aren't surviving, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Other does are abandoning their newborns because drought-induced malnutrition has robbed them of their ability to produce milk.

Abandoned fawns found all over the Panhandle and South Plains have been brought to the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Ten had been brought to the Lubbock wildlife center by the end of last week.

"With the drought, there is no feed for the mother deer. And if they can't feed, they can't produce milk. They can't feed their babies, so they are leaving them," center volunteer Gail Barnes told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

The newborns that don't starve are easy prey for predators such as bobcats. One fawn that survived an attack was brought to the South Plains center, Barnes said. "It's in isolation, it's torn up so bad," she said. (more)

Drought cripples southern US farms

Half of Dahlen Hancock’s cotton fields are dead. The other half are clinging to life.

The 5,800 acres he farms near Lubbock, Texas, are half irrigated and half at the mercy of the clouds. And the past nine months have been the driest in Texas on record.

The Lone Star state is at the epicentre of a once-in-a-generation drought stretching from Arizona to Florida. The US’s southern underbelly is scorched like meat on a grill.

The drought has spawned wildfires, turning grasslands to ash. In Texas, the leading cotton producer in the US, 59 per cent of the cotton crop is in poor condition or worse. Harvests of hard winter wheat, prized for yeasted breads, have plummeted in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas as yields and acreage contracted. Ranchers cannot feed their cattle on parched pastures.

Mr Hancock, a fourth-generation farmer, says the cotton seeds he planted on his 3,000 dryland acres never germinated. “All I see is dry, barren farmland. The weeds really haven’t even grown,” he says.

His irrigated crop is also “right on the edge”, as temperatures in Lubbock have hovered near 38C all month. Last month was the hottest June in Texas on record, breaking the previous peak in 1953. (more)

Gold Tops $1,600 an Ounce as Debt Fears Simmer

Gold prices rallied to record highs above $1,600 an ounce in Europe on Monday, as investors spooked by the euro zone debt crisis and the threat of a U.S. default bought into the metal as a haven from risk.

Risk aversion swept the markets after euro zone stress test results failed to address the potential for a Greek sovereign debt default before a summit in Brussels on Thursday, and as a deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling loomed.

Stock markets, peripheral euro zone debt, oil prices and the euro [EUR=X 1.4044 -0.0069 (-0.49%) ]came under pressure, while the Swiss franc [CHF=X 0.8174 0.0077 (+0.95%) ]—often seen as a safe haven—and precious metals climbed.

Spot gold [XAU= 1605.59 12.29 (+0.77%) ] rose as high as $1,602.86 an ounce and was up 0.4 percent at $1,600.26 an ounce. Gold rose more than 3 percent for a second straight week to Friday, a feat it has not achieved since February 2009.

"Gold has room to go up. The smouldering debt crisis in the euro zone peripheral countries and the uncertainty over the debt limit in the United States are currently supporting prices," said Commerzbank analyst Daniel Briesemann. "It seems gold will stay well supported unless we get a real and convincing solution from the extraordinary EU summit that takes place on Thursday." (more)

"Full Spectrum Decay" of the United States

The Pentagon has a policy which can only be called the zenith of militaristic arrogance and stupidity: “Full Spectrum Dominance”.

As the name implies, the policy’s aim is for the United States’ military to control all aspects of a battlefield—or as proponents of the doctrine call it, the “battlespace”: Air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

The doctrine’s concept, in its essence, is for the American military to be “better” than anyone else at everything else: The most carrier groups, the biggest nuclear subs, the latest military technology, etc., etc., etc., all of these pieces fitting together to overwhelm—and not merely defeat—any enemy or any threat, be they real or unlikely, or even imaginary. (For the American military’s hunt for imaginary threats, look up Iraqi WMD.)

Of course, a child can realize that “full spectrum dominance” is essentially brawns over brains: The only way you can achieve it is by sacrificing ingenuity, imagination, flexibility and common sense at the altar of Bigness. (more)

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake ANDREANOF ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA - 18th July 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck Adreanof Islands, Alaska at a depth of 9.4 km ( 5.8 miles), the quake hit at 19:09:24 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 84 km (52 miles) from Atka, Alaska

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

Sean Hoare A former reporter for the News Of The World who blew the whistle on Phone Hacking Found DEAD at his Home - 18th July 2011

A former reporter for the News Of The World who blew the whistle on the extent of phone hacking at the paper has been found dead at his home.

Hertfordshire Police have said Sean Hoare's death is being treated as "unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious".

His body was discovered at his home in Watford after there was concern about his whereabouts.

Mr Hoare claimed Andy Coulson had "encouraged" him to hack phones in an article for the New York Times.

He accused Mr Coulson of being aware of the practice, an allegation the former NOTW editor denied.

He was interviewed by police in September about the allegations but made no comment.

Mr Hoare - who worked as a showbiz journalist - was sacked by the News Of The World over problems he had with drink and drugs. Source

Rainstorm kills 6 in northeast Brazil - 18th July 2011

At least six people died in the torrential rains that buffeted the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco over the weekend, emergency management officials said.

A mudslide killed four members of a family in Camaragibe, a city in the Recife metropolitan area, the Pernambuco emergency management office said.

A man was killed by a mudslide in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, and a 13-year-old girl died when she fell into a flooded ditch in the neighboring city of Olinda.

The heavy rains, which hit the region on Saturday and Sunday, caused at least 48 mudslides in Pernambuco, affecting traffic and the delivery of some essential services.

Moderate rainfall is expected this week in the region, the weather service said.

About 50 cities in Pernambuco were affected by heavy rains in April and nine municipalities, where nearly 15,000 people were affected by flooding and other problems, were declared disaster areas. Source

3 Die, 180,000 affected by Torrential rains in southern Mexico - 18th July 2011

At least three people died and more than 180,000 others were affected by the torrential rains that hit southern Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec over the weekend, officials in Oaxaca state said.

Two people died in Salina Cruz, a city southeast of Oaxaca city, the state capital, and one person died in San Jose Chiltepec, north of the capital, Gov. Gabino Cue said.

Gabriel Lopez Estudillo, 82, and his daughter, Sandra Luz Lopez Luca, 34, died when a mudslide buried their house in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region.

A woman died when she was swept away early Sunday by a river in San Jose Chiltepec, a city in the Papaloapan Basin region near the border with Veracruz state.

Emergency management officials plan to survey families affected by the rains to determine their needs once the clean-up is completed, Cue said. Read More

5.2 Magnitude Earthquake NORTHWEST OF THE KURIL ISLANDS 18th July 2011

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake has struck Northwest of the Kuril Islands at a depth of 499.1 km ( 310.1 miles), the quake hit at 18:15:25 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 308 km (192 miles) Northwest of Severo-Kamchatskiy, Kuril Islands
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at this time.

4.4 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTHERN SUMATRA, INDONESIA - 18th July 2011

A magnitude 4.4 earthquake has struck Southern Sumatra, Indonesia at a depth of 40.7 km ( 25.3 miles), the quake hit at 16:07:27 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 153 km (95 miles) South of Bengkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at this time.

5.2 Magnitude Earthquake KERMADEC ISLANDS REGION - 18th July 2011

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake has struck Kermadec Islands Region at a depth of 3.2 km ( 2.0 miles), the quake hit at 16:03:46 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 177 km (109 miles) East of Raoul Island, Kermadec Islands
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at this time.

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake Negros, Philippines - 18th July 2011

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck Negros, Philippines at a depth of 41 km ( 25.5 miles), the quake hit at 15:25:14 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 125 km (77 miles) WNW of Dumaguete, Negros, philippines
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at this time.

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake TAIWAN REGION 18th July 2011

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck Taiwan Region of 13 km ( 8.1 miles), the quake hit at 14:48:53 UTC Monday 18th July 2011.
The epicenter was 86 km (53 miles) ESE of Hualien, Taiwan
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at this time.

Northern Ontario battles 92 wildfires as more loom: Canada

Almost 100 forest fires are burning in northwestern Ontario, with smoke affecting many communities — and more than 30 new blazes expected over coming days.

The Ministry of Natural Resources says there are 92 active fires burning in the remote northwestern region. Thirteen of those fires began Sunday.

Waterbombers, helicopters and ground crews are battling the flames.

More than 2,000 staff will be helped by another 500 reinforcements from B.C.

Many northwestern communities are dealing with smoke issues and are planning for evacuations with federal and provincial authorities.

At least four fires are also burning in northeastern Ontario — one near Timmins and three near Cochrane.

Smoke from the province is spreading as far as Newfoundland and Labrador and into New Brunswick. CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe says the wind is expected to shift periodically over the next few days, which could push smoke further south into Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Ont. and Kenora, Ont. (more)

"Life after capitalism"

In 1995, I published a book called The World After Communism. Today, I wonder whether there will be a world after capitalism.

That question is not prompted by the worst economic slump since the 1930s. Capitalism has always had crises, and will go on having them. Rather, it comes from the feeling that Western civilization is increasingly unsatisfying, saddled with a system of incentives that are essential for accumulating wealth, but that undermine our capacity to enjoy it. Capitalism may be close to exhausting its potential to create a better life – at least in the world’s rich countries.

By "better", I mean better ethically, not materially. Material gains may continue, though evidence shows that they no longer make people happier. My discontent is with the quality of a civilization in which the production and consumption of unnecessary goods has become most people’s main occupation.

This is not to denigrate capitalism. It was, and is, a superb system for overcoming scarcity. By organising production efficiently, and directing it to the pursuit of welfare rather than power, it has lifted a large part of the world out of poverty.

Yet what happens to such a system when scarcity has been turned to plenty? Does it just go on producing more of the same, stimulating jaded appetites with new gadgets, thrills, and excitements? How much longer can this continue? Do we spend the next century wallowing in triviality?

For most of the last century, the alternative to capitalism was socialism. But socialism, in its classical form, failed – as it had to. Public production is inferior to private production for any number of reasons, not least because it destroys choice and variety. And, since the collapse of communism, there has been no coherent alternative to capitalism. Beyond capitalism, it seems, stretches a vista of…capitalism.

There have always been huge moral questions about capitalism, which could be put to one side because capitalism was so successful at generating wealth. Now, when we already have all the wealth we need, we are right to wonder whether the costs of capitalism are worth incurring. (read more)

Japan plans to ban Fukushima beef -- Wait, they're just getting around to that *now*?

Japan's government is set to suspend all cattle shipments from Fukushima as concerns over radiation-tainted beef escalate.

Senior Vice Health Minister Kohei Otsuka said beef from surrounding areas may also be affected.

It comes after 136 cows were found to have consumed feed affected by radioactive caesium.

This is the latest health scare linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant damaged by the March earthquake.

"The most likely outcome is that we will ban beef shipments," said Goshi Hosono, the cabinet minister responsible for the nuclear cleanup.

"We have to ensure food safety."

Increasing numbers of cows have been found to have consumed rice straw containing high levels of radioactive caesium.

The straw was harvested from rice paddies in Fukushima prefecture after the devastating earthquake and tsunami knocked out critical cooling systems at the local nuclear plant leading to a meltdown.

More than four months on, radioactive material continues to escape from the facility.

There have been no fatalities as a result of the crisis at Fukushima. However, more than 15,500 people died in the twin natural disaster and more than 5,000 are still missing. (more)

The Great Global Debt Depression: It's All Greek To Me

In late June of 2011, the Greek government passed another round of austerity measures, ostensibly aimed at getting Greece “back on track” to economic progress, but in reality, implementing a systematic program of ‘social genocide’ in the name of servicing an endless and illegitimate debt to foreign banks. Right on cue, protests and riots broke out in Athens against the draconian measures, and the state moved in to do what states do best: oppress the people with riot police, tear gas and bashing batons, leaving roughly 300 people injured.

Is Greece simply a case of a country full of lazy people who spent beyond their means and are now paying for their own decadence? Or, is there something much larger at stake – and at play – here? Greece is, in fact, a microcosm of the global economy: mired in excessive debt, economically ruined, increasingly politically repressive and socially explosive. This report takes a look at the case of the Greek debt crisis specifically, and places it within a wider global context. The conclusion is clear: what happens in Greece will happen here.

This report examines the Greek crisis, as well as the larger global economic crisis, including the origins of the housing bubble, the bailouts, the banks, and the major actors and institutions which will come to dominate the stage over the next decade in what will play out as ‘The Great Global Debt Depression.’ (more)

What's the Next Chapter in the Economic Saga?

The past several years in the economy and investment markets have been extraordinary. We have had the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Banks, brokerage firms and AIG went bust, or almost failed before the great bailout. The venerable firm of Lehman Bros. actually failed, while others were merged and/or propped up by massive politician-backed infusions of cash. The predictions were dire, and the politicians flinched and bailed out the financial industry, not to mention General Motors and Chrysler.

The Federal Reserve moved to make money widely available at a nearly 0 percent interest rate. When that was not enough, they bought hundreds of billions of dollars of Treasury debt as the federal government ballooned its expenditures in the face of falling tax receipts. The sharp expansion of credit fired up the stock and commodity markets, but it did little to spur everyday economic activity.

When it seemed that commodity prices would skyrocket, the government moved to quash speculation by raising margin requirements for silver futures and unleaded gasoline futures, among others. The government then moved to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in conjunction with 30 more million barrels from the strategic petroleum reserves of other countries. Commodity speculators were getting pummeled by official actions designed to offset the effects of QE I and QE II. Amid all this activity, the dollar has slipped against stronger foreign currencies and gold has relentlessly climbed to new all-time highs. (more)

Structural reforms needed to avoid economic disaster: Pakistan

The economy of the Pakistan is going down by the passage of every day which calls for urgent and decisive actions by the government, the Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) said on Sunday
Incompetent leadership and policies without logical or meaningful connection have made the country’s economy weak while preserving credibility has become a big challenge for the government, it said.

Doubts, uncertainty, panic and pain have become part of the life for commoners as well as business community, Dr. Murtaza Mughal, PEW president said in a statement here.
Loss of confidence is a very serious issue taken lightly by the politicians while the experience shows that it is impossible for a country to regain the confidence of the market once lost.

To avoid such an outcome, the leaders must act boldly and swiftly through parliament to boost anaemic growth rate, he added.

The government urgently needs to send a clear message to convince international community and investors that government is now serious to introduce radical structural reforms.

He said that unpopular reforms will take time to produce results but will restore the market’s confidence which is dwindling due to impression that rulers are willing to risk everything to prolong rule and protect personal wealth. (more)