Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How the Media Lies to you: The feeds they don't want you to see (Must-see documentary)

2011 Gulf of Mexico 'Dead Zone' Could Be Biggest Ever

Researchers from Texas A&M University have returned from a trip to examine the scope and size of this year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and have measured it currently to be about 3,300 square miles, or roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, but some researchers anticipate it becoming much larger.

Oceanography professor Steve DiMarco, one of the country's leading authorities on the dead zone, says the team of researchers journeyed more than 1,400 miles throughout the Gulf over a five-day period, the first ever focusing on the month of June.

DiMarco says the size of the dead zone off coastal Louisiana has been routinely monitored for about 25 years. Previous research has also shown that nitrogen levels in the Gulf related to human activities have tripled over the past 50 years. During the past five years, the dead zone has averaged about 5,800 square miles and has been predicted to exceed 9,400 square miles this year, which would make it one of the largest ever recorded, according to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Hypoxia occurs when oxygen levels in seawater drop to dangerously low levels, and severe hypoxia can potentially result in fish kills and harm marine life, thereby creating a "dead zone" of life in that particular area. (more)

Whitebark pine tree faces extinction threat, agency says

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined Monday that whitebark pine, a tree found atop mountains across the American West, faces an “imminent” risk of extinction because of factors including climate change.

The decision is significant because it marks the first time the federal government has identified climate change as one of the driving factors for why a broad-ranging tree species could disappear. The Canadian government has already declared whitebark pine to be endangered throughout its entire range; a recent study found that 80 percent of whitebark pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem are dead or dying.

The Natural Resources Defense Council asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to place the tree on the endangered species list. In its determination, the agency said that it found a listing was “warranted but precluded,” meaning the pine deserved federal protection but the government could not afford it.

The whitebark pine will remain a candidate under the Endangered Species Act and will come under review annually.

An invasive disease, white pine blister rust, along with insects such as mountain pine beetle, has infiltrated the historically colder altitudes where whitebark pines thrive. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Amy Nicholas said these factors, along with fire patterns and global warming more broadly, are undermining the tree’s viability.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the whitebark pine could disappear within two to three generations — from 120 to 180 years from now. (more)

Meat Eater's Guide ranks foods by environmental, health effects

Lamb, beef and cheese generate the most greenhouse gases of 20 popular meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group. The Meat Eater's Guide, released by the Washington-based environmental research firm, used a cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessment to determine each food's rank, including the amount of fertilizer used to grow animal feed, as well as data on each food's processing, transportation and disposal.

"There's been a lot of information out there about all the various impacts of meat production and consumption," said EWG senior analyst Kari Hamerschlag. "We wanted to consolidate and highlight the most important things consumers need to know to make better choices."

The guide considers the effects of meat, fish, dairy and vegetable consumption on the environment and the climate, as well as human health and animal welfare. Ruminant livestock, such as sheep and cows, "release substantial amounts of methane," a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the guide. In the U.S., 149 million acres of cropland, 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer are used just to grow livestock feed; U.S. livestock generate around 500 million tons of manure annually, which contributes to groundwater and air pollution, the guide said.

Citing data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, the guide said 20% of uneaten meat in the U.S. ends up in landfills, though percentages of thrown-away meat vary by type: 40% of fresh and frozen fish were tossed, 31% of turkey, 25% of pork, 16% of beef and 12% of chicken. (more)

Study: Changes to ocean expected to damage shellfish around world

Massive global greenhouse gas pollution is changing the chemistry of the world's oceans so much that scientists now predict it could severely damage shellfish populations and the nations that depend on the harvests if significant action isn't taken.

A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts shows that ocean acidification is becoming a very serious problem. The study was published in July online in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

"What the study found was that in the next 10 to 50 years many countries are going to see impacts, particularly countries that are heavily reliant on clams and oysters and mussels, and will not be able to adapt by shifting to other foods or aquaculture methods," said Jackie Savitz, senior scientist and chief strategist for the international ocean conservation and advocacy organization Oceana.

Ocean acidification, or the changing chemical make-up of seawater, has occurred since the industrial revolution as ocean waters absorbed too much carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of human industrial activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels.

The Woods Hole study found that many marine animals like mollusks and corals that build hard shells and skeletons are most at risk from this. (more)

Pennsylvania wind turbines deadly to bats, costly to farmers

Suzanne B. McLaren, the collection manager in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's section of mammals, extends the wing of an approximately 3-inch specimen of a Seminole bat, rare in Pennsylvania, which was reportedly killed in the vicinity of a wind turbine.

The butterfly effect suggests the flapping of a tiny insect's wings in Africa can lead to a tornado in Kansas.

Call this the bat effect: A bat killed by a wind turbine in Somerset can lead to higher tomato prices at the Wichita farmers market.

Bats are something of a one-species stimulus program for farmers, every year gobbling up millions of bugs that could ruin a harvest. But the same biology that allows the winged creatures to sweep the night sky for fine dining also has made them susceptible to one of Pennsylvania's fastest-growing energy tools.

The 420 wind turbines now in use across Pennsylvania killed more than 10,000 bats last year -- mostly in the late summer months, according to the state Game Commission. That's an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and the Nature Conservancy predicts as many as 2,900 turbines will be set up across the state by 2030.

This is a bad time to be a bat.

It may seem like a good thing to those who fear the flying mammals, but the wind farm mortality rate is an acute example of how harnessing natural energy can lead to disruptions in the circle of life -- and the cycle of business. This chain of events mixes biology and economics: Bat populations go down, bug populations go up and farmers are left with the bill for more pesticide and crops (which accounts for those pricey tomatoes in Kansas). (more)

Weed Wars: Medical marijuana store gets Discovery reality show

Discovery Channel is set to announce a potentially controversial new series: A docu-soap reality show set in the country’s largest medical marijuana distributorship and starring a pot reform activist. This fall, the network will unveil Weed Wars, where cameras follow the day-to-day dealings of a California ganja store.

The show follows Steve DeAngelo, the owner of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, which serves 80,000 clients. According to the network, DeAngelo strives to provide patients with the highest-quality product and uses his business to promote the national regulation and taxation of cannabis.

“Weed Wars fearlessly pulls back the curtain on a once illegal and still controversial world,” said Nancy Daniels, executive vp at Discovery Channel. “From the inner workings of the business to Steve’s distinctive leadership style, Weed Wars is a fascinating glimpse into this highly unique setting. Like Gold Rush or Deadliest Catch, these are guys pursuing their own version of the American Dream.” (more)

Analysis: Is Britain more corrupt than it thinks?

Britons love to lecture the world about integrity and the rule of law, but the News of the World phone hacking scandal has laid bare a web of collusion between money, power, media and the police.

Far from the innocent, upright democracy of its self-image, Britain is showing a seamy side that anti-corruption campaigners say is getting worse and may be politically explosive as society becomes more unequal due to the financial and economic crises.

Behind a facade of probity, London offers a haven for oligarchs and despots, a place where foreign media magnates have bought access to and influence over the government.

The scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's media empire has already destroyed a newspaper, cost two top police officers their jobs, seen the arrest of powerful media figures and embarrassed the prime minister and political elite.

But it points to a bigger problem in British society -- overly cozy relationships among elites that are ethically dangerous, even when they do not involve outright criminality.

Britain says it has been bolstering its legal and regulatory system. Just this month a new law on bribery tightening rules for UK firms operating abroad entered force.

But some of the world's leading transparency campaigners say that the hacking scandal exemplifies unhealthy links between power and money. (more)

Euro meltdown: Nicolas Sarkozy to fly into Berlin for crisis talks with Angela Merkel

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will fly into Berlin today for a summit with Angela Merkel aimed at forging a common stance on the Greek rescue package as the eurozone lurches closer to collapse.

Chancellor Merkel telephoned the French president on Tuesday night after she said that Thursday's summit was unlikely to deliver the 'silver bullet' necessary to fix the debt engulfing weak countries that use the euro

Mrs Merkel, who is increasingly agitated at Germany being called upon to be the main bailout partner for countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal, is seen by her countrymen as increasingly weak and without direction.

At the weekend Europe's former strongman Helmut Kohl, who as chancellor worked harder than any other for the European ideal and common currency, allegedly said of his former protege: 'She's destroying my Europe'.

'No CDU government leader has been cooler towards Brussels than Angela Merkel,' said Der Spiegel magazine. (more)

Thieves take $20K of copper wire as metal thefts soar

Thieves made off with more than $20,000 worth of copper wire from two far southwest suburban businesses sometime between Monday afternoon and early Tuesday.

The theft happened sometime between 4:30 p.m. on Monday and 12:50 a.m. on Tuesday at 10501 Joliet Rd. in the village of Lisbon, according to a report from the Kendall County Sheriff’s office.

Employees of Macklin Inc. of Rochelle and Lafarge Aggregates, of Morris, reported to sheriff’s police that more than $20,000 of copper wire from their equipment was taken.

Sheriff’s police have no suspects and the theft remains under investigation Wednesday. (more)

Ex-Astronaut Story Musgrave: ETs Exist, They're Just Not Visiting Earth

When former astronaut Story Musgrave addresses an expected huge throng of UFO believers in California next week, he'll delight the crowd when he tells them he believes we're not alone in the universe.

But then he's going to tell members of the Mutual UFO Network -- the largest UFO research organization in the world -- just what they don't want to hear: Earth has probably not been visited by extraterrestrials.

And that's bound to disappoint many of the paying crowd at the 42nd annual MUFON Symposium in Irvine, Calif. The gathering will feature nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman, former Air Force intelligence officer George Filer and other prominent UFO researchers.

"I'm going to tell them that, for me, and my interpretation of everything that's come my way, I cannot arrive at the idea that we have been visited -- either in the past or now," Musgrave told The Huffington Post. (more)

Johnny Connor charged for molesting 10 year old niece in Reno, Nevada

A family friend has been arrested for allegedly molesting a 10-year-old girl while living with the victim's uncle.

A family friend, 50-year-old Johnny Connor, is suspected of performing a lewd act that could be anything from groping, touching, or fondling a little girl, while she was visiting her uncle's home. The suspect was living with the uncle at the time of the alleged incident, police say.

According to Reno police, officers responded to the 500 Block of Brinkby in Reno to investigate a possible sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl. The girl told a family member of the incident.

Upon further investigation, detectives assigned to the Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit were called out. After interviewing everyone involved, detectives arrested Conner for Lewdness with a Minor Under 14 Years of Age.

His bail was set at $10,000. (more)

Lee Lewis, tricks out hearse, fills it with fake weapons, now arrested with felony

Lee Lewis, the owner of the tricked-out hearse loaded with an arsenal of fake weapons and abandoned in Miami Gardens, was slapped late Monday with an additional felony charge. The count: a rarely used state charge of possessing a hoax destructive device, a second-degree felony, for the fake rocket launcher found by police in the back of the hearse.

Lewis, 28, abandoned the hearse underneath a Palmetto Expressway overpass on July 8 after a Miami Gardens police officer spied what appeared to be an arsenal of weapons and the rocket launcher inside the vehicle. Miami-Dade’s bomb squad was called to the scene and cleared the hearse for impounding, but not before traffic was snarled for hours at the height of Friday rush hour.

Police captured Lewis later, arresting him on charges of illegally possessing ammunition as a convicted felon, having methadone and drug paraphernalia with intent to use, along with driving on a suspended license and unlawfully altering a license. (more)

Malawi riots erupt in Lilongwe and Mzuzu

Riots have broken out in cities in Malawi as opposition groups protest against President Bingu wa Mutharika's government.

At least one person has died in the northern city of Mzuzu and protesters are burning barricades and looting property in the capital.

The authorities have banned live broadcasts of the riots.

The trouble started after a court ruled on Tuesday the protests, called against the high cost of living, were illegal.

'Running battles'

Northern Region Police spokesperson Norah Chimwala told the BBC that one person had died in the unrest in Mzuzu, some 300km (185 miles) north of the capital, Lilongwe.

But she could not confirm if he had been killed by police.

A nurse at Mzuzu Central Hospital told the Associated Press news agency medical staff were treating people with gunshot wounds.

"We have more than 10 people in the hospital right now, some are in a serious condition," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There have also been reports that the property of a government minister has been attacked by demonstrators in the city. (more)

Man shoots at neighbor's dog in Prince William County



A Prince William county man openly admits he shot at a neighborhood dog in front of other neighbors. Some of those neighbors say they support the man’s actions.

The 59-year-old man says he did it to protect neighborhood children and some kittens. He admits firing the gun in the 4600 block of Whittaker Place in Woodbridge but he says he intentionally missed the dog.


“This dog had been attacking animals and I was afraid it was going to attack kids,” Paul Ovellette said.

Ovellette is a self-described animal lover who regularly feeds feral cats. He says Tiny the pit bull killed one cat. When it went for three kittens he grabbed his shotgun.

“Then it came at me, that is when I fired and it went off,” he said.

“I just heard the gunshot and then I looked out and saw he was pointing the gun at the dog and the kid and I called the cops,” said neighbor Jessica Clarke.

Clarke does not approve of shooting a gun in a common area. Still, she says she understands why Ollevette took aim. She says the teenager who owns the pitbull “always has the dog off the leash so it's not safe.” (more)

Rich countries endangering global economic recovery

The global economic crisis which originated in the sub-prime debacle in the United States, and has been characterised by stagnation or anemic economic growth in Europe and Japan, remains in contrast to the economies of Asia and Latin America which continue to have steady and impressive growth.

China's spectacular growth of the last 20 years has continued unabated by the recession in the Western world, while most developing countries have experienced a slow-down in growth due to the adverse impact of the recession in the rich, developed countries but have not succumbed to an economic collapse.

For us in Jamaica, two important lessons can be drawn from those developments.

First, the centre of gravity of the global economy has shifted from the West to the East with the new global growth dynamic centred in China. The fact that the economic relations of Jamaica and the Caribbean remain concentrated on the US, Europe, Canada and Caricom is one of the causes of the economic recession in the region.

The implication is the urgent need to rebalance external economic relations to increase contact with Asia, in particular China and India, while not abandoning traditional economic partnerships.

Second, the deep and prolonged economic recession in the rich countries has been the principal cause of the global economic crisis. This is a direct result of poor short term regulation and prudential oversight of their financial markets compounding unattended long term structural and institutional deterioration. There was complacency in policy-making typified by an attitude of smugness in economic management.

The economic policy approach of the rich, developed countries is endangering global economic recovery and is retarding economic growth in the developing countries in several ways. (more)

Italy is next to Greece? Nothing is New

Europe is now burning. FIRE is the combination of the initials of the three words - Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. The cradle of the large-scale finance and real estate accident is the United States, but the fire broke out in Europe. Greece is nearly entering the funeral parlor. And next is Italy.

If the god of stock investment is Warren Buffett, the legend of bond investment is Bill Gross of Pacific Investment Management (PIMCO). In an investment report worked out by Bill Gross last February, there is an interest chart, called the "ring of fire," in which investment should be banned. Spain and Italy are in the ring.

Although the U.S., Britian, France, and Japan are also included in the ring of fire, they are not burning to death as they have machines printing key currency or quasi-key currency.

No country collapses because of the financial crisis

Now, the world is facing the crisis after the crisis. Following the financial crisis, the crisis of state bankruptcy is approaching from Europe. In addition, there is a concern over possible bankruptcy of Japan and the U.S. owing to enormous amount of fiscal deficit.

If Greece goes bankrupt, a war seems to break out in the whole world. Viewing the cases of state bankruptcies in the past, however, it is not so desperate. It is because a currency financing system that can increase debts unlimitedly by printing money freely. Not only the U.S. but also Europe can print money unlimtedly.

Countries with a money printing machine can print money to boost the ailing economy, but those without such machine can repay debts through painful retrenchment, a hike in interest rate and asset sales. Accordingly, Greece and Italy are in a serious condition, but the U.S., Britian, France and Japan are relatively carefree.

Financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe are pretty much in the same boat considering their intricate relationships. As a result, they always want to relieve each other. For instance, Britain buys U.S. bonds even if it goes bankrupt, and the U.S. supports European financial institutions. (more)

Is China facing an American future?

At first glance, that may sound like a crazy question. The two giants of the global economy appear to be heading in opposite directions. China is the world's up-and-coming superpower, propelled forward by stratospheric growth, advancing industry, a goal-oriented political system and a supposedly superior form of economic management, “state capitalism.” On the other side of the Pacific, the U.S. looks like a bumbling behemoth, its competitiveness on the wane, its political system paralyzed and its future direction uncertain. What could these two economies possibly have in common?

More than you think. Very rapidly, China is beginning to encounter the same economic pressures as the U.S. Some are simply the natural outgrowth of China's supercharged development. Others are being brought about by policy errors – similar, in fact, to those made by the West before the 2008 financial crisis. All of these new pressures are serious and, if not handled properly, could alter the course of China's economic progress.

First of all, China, like the U.S., is facing a challenge from competitors with lower wages. As my colleague Bill Powell recently pointed out, the era of cheap labor in China is over. Wages are growing about 12% a year (in real terms). As a result, China is losing its competitiveness in labor costs to other emerging economies. That puts at risk the low-end, labor-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing (apparel, shoes, electronics) that has created countless jobs and jumpstarted China's rapid growth. Just like the U.S. has lost factories to lower-wage economies like China, China is already seeing neighbors like Vietnam eat into its dominance in these types of industries. (more)

Intrigue, secret talks grip Capitol Hill: Will America default? What's the plan?

Partisan tensions could hardly be worse in the House, but on Friday afternoon Speaker John Boehner walked into Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol suite for a cordial session with his Democratic counterpart.

The two leaders used the meeting - called at Pelosi’s request - to size each other up, and no offers were made, sources said. But Boehner knows that any debt limit deal will need Democratic votes in the end, and Pelosi knows that some of her Democrats want to sign onto a bipartisan deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
The civil back channel meeting last week stands in stark contrast to what Boehner and Pelosi were telling their rank-and-file on Tuesday in order to fire them up and strengthen their own positions.

Boehner, in a closed-door GOP meeting, implored the Republicans to back the “Cut, Cap and Balance” legislation, believing it would weaken Pelosi’s hand in upcoming negotiations with Preasident Barack Obama. In a separate Capitol conference room a few hours later, Pelosi told her Democratic leadership colleagues that Boehner was in trouble and can’t pass a debt deal without Democrats.

The Boehner-Pelosi chess game is one of several high stakes gambits playing out in a Capitol gripped with political intrigue and secret maneuvering as the country lurches toward a debt crisis. (more)

Greek Bonds Collapse As ECB’s Nowotny Announces Bank Will Compromise, Agree To “Temporary” Greek Default?

Wonder why the Greek 2 Year bond just plunged, sending its yield to a laughable all time high 39.09% (a 312 bps move today alone)? Wonder no more.

According to the ECB’s Ewald Novotny the central bank has folded to German demands, and will now allow a “temporary” Greek default. Of course, what happens next will be a complete freeze in capital markets (see the chart below which shows borrowings on the ECB’s Main Refinancing Operation while itis still available) but who cares: the central planners think they have it all under control.

From Bloomberg:

European Central Bank council member Ewald Nowotny suggested the bank may compromise and allow a temporary Greek default as officials scramble to fix a sovereign debt crisis that’s spreading to Italy and Spain before a leaders’ summit in two days.

As Spanish financing costs surged at a 4.45 billion euro ($6.31 billion) treasury bill auction today, policy makers are trying to ease a split that’s pushed interest rates on Spanish and Italian 10-year debt above 6 percent for the first time since the euro debuted 12 years ago.

The ECB has until now argued that any Greek default could spark a new financial crisis, derailing a German push to make investors help foot the bill for a second bailout of the country.

“This has to be studied in a very serious way,” he told CNBC in an interview broadcast today. “There are some proposals that deal with a very short-lived selective default situation that will not have major negative consequences.” (more)

6.2 Magnitude Earthquake SOLOMON ISLANDS - 20th July 2011

LinkA magnitude 6.2 earthquake has struck Solomon Islands at a depth of 54.5 km ( 33.9 miles), the quake hit at 22:05:02 UTC Wednesday 20th July 2011.
The epicenter was 28 km (17 miles) ENE of Kira Kira, San Cristobal, Solomon Islands
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at the time

Heat 'dome' traps much of US in pressure cooker: People dying, farms drying up, but don't worry -- it's normal weather, right?

For millions of people enduring this week's extreme heat and humidity, it feels like they're living in a pressure cooker. And in a sense, they are.

Much of the United States is trapped under a heat "dome" caused by a huge area of high pressure that's compressing hot, moist air beneath it, leading to miserable temperatures in the mid-90s to low 100s and heat-index levels well above 100 degrees.

"It's hot no matter what you're doing or where you are," said Tim Prader, a 50-year-old construction worker who was taking a break Tuesday at a job site in St. Louis. Although his huge Caterpillar excavator has air conditioning, he couldn't entirely escape. "When you're done for the day, you're ready to eat, drink and hit the couch."

The oppressive conditions extend from the northern Plains states to Texas and from Nebraska to the Ohio Valley. And they're expanding eastward.

When a high pressure system develops in the upper atmosphere, the air below it sinks and compresses because there's more weight on top, causing temperatures in the lower atmosphere to heat up, said Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md.

The dome of high pressure also pushes the jet stream and its drier, cooler air, farther north — it's now well into Canada — while hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico circulates clockwise around the dome, traveling farther inland than normal. (more)

US Postal Service: Down to just three delivery days a week due to financial crisis?



Falling mail volume and soaring red ink may soon doom Saturday mail delivery and prompt three-day-a-week delivery within 15 years, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warns.

Donahoe's forecast is based on a projected $8.3 billion loss this year as the drift from paper to electronic communication hammers the Postal Service. "On Sept. 30," he told the USA TODAY editorial board Tuesday, "I won't be able to pay my bills."

Chief among them: a $5.5 billion payment due Sept. 30 to cover future retirees' health benefits.

Mail carriers have been making rounds six days a week since the 19th century. After postmasters started talking about cutting back, Congress mandated the six-day delivery in 1983. (more)

Los Angeles To Seize Dogs For Chasing People, and Possibly Euthanize Them... No, Really.



The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to approve an ordinance giving animal control officers the right to declare a dog “vicious,” a designation that can potentially lead to the animal being euthanized.

The new measure changes the definition of what actually makes a dog dangerous, and does not require a severe injury to a person who is attacked by a dog.

“There doesn’t necessarily have to be a bite,” said director of animal control Marcia Mayeda. “But if a dog’s charging at you down the street and you jump on top of a car to get out of the way, that’s a potentially dangerous dog.” (more)

More dangerous than the stupidity of our law makers?

Hamad, the biggest name in the desert: Arab sheikh carves two-miles-long name in sand until it's visible from SPACE

Every child has written their names on the beach at some point.

But whereas most people's 'sandwriting' is washed away, one super-rich Arab sheikh has ensured that his doodles will last a little longer.

Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Ahyan, 63, has scrawled his name in sand on an island he owns with letters so big they can be seen from space.

The word 'HAMAD' measures 1,000 metres high and is a staggering two miles long from the 'H' to the 'D' on the Al Futaisi island.

And rather than allow the writing to be washed away by the ocean, the letters actually form waterways that absorb the encroaching tide. The ruler's name is even visible on Google's map service. (more)

Ron Paul: "We Will Default Because The Debt Is Unsustainable"

"When a country is indebted to the degree that we’re indebted, the country always defaults. We will default because the debt is unsustainable," Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said on the House floor today.

"If we don’t understand this, this default will not be because we don't send out the checks. We will send out the checks. It will be defaulted on because people will get their money back, or they will get their Social Security checks and it won't buy anything." (more)

Law enforcement to begin iPhone iris scans amid privacy concerns

Dozens of police departments nationwide are gearing up to use a tech company's already controversial iris- and facial-scanning device that slides over an iPhone and helps identify a person or track criminal suspects.

The so-called "biometric" technology, which seems to take a page from TV shows like "MI-5" or "CSI," could improve speed and accuracy in some routine police work in the field. However, its use has set off alarms with some who are concerned about possible civil liberties and privacy issues.

The smartphone-based scanner, named Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, is made by BI2 Technologies in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and can be deployed by officers out on the beat or back at the station.

An iris scan, which detects unique patterns in a person's eyes, can reduce to seconds the time it takes to identify a suspect in custody. This technique also is significantly more accurate than results from other fingerprinting technology long in use by police, BI2 says.

When attached to an iPhone, MORIS can photograph a person's face and run the image through software that hunts for a match in a BI2-managed database of U.S. criminal records. Each unit costs about $3,000. (more)

King's Torah splits Israel's religious and secular Jews

Recent protests in Israel highlight the differences between the country's religious and secular Jewish communities.

Hundreds of right-wing Jews have taken part in demonstrations outside Israel's Supreme Court over the brief detention of two prominent rabbis in the last few weeks.

There were clashes with police on horseback on the nearby Jerusalem streets and several arrests were made.

Rabbis Dov Lior and Yacob Yousef had endorsed a highly controversial book, the King's Torah - written by two lesser-known settler rabbis. It justifies killing non-Jews, including those not involved in violence, under certain circumstances.

The fifth chapter, entitled "Murder of non-Jews in a time of war" has been widely quoted in the Israeli media. The summary states that "you can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save the lives of Jews".

At one point it suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat.

Israeli police investigating allegations of incitement had asked the rabbis to be voluntarily questioned, but took them into custody when they refused.

Both men have strong support among ideological Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, but the wider religious community also took up their cause.

The heated reaction to their arrests has highlighted tensions between religious and civil authority in Israel and sparked a debate over freedom of expression. (more)

Ontario forest fire evacuees could total 7,000: Canada

Ontario forest fires may force as many as 7,000 First Nations people from their homes as Canadian Forces hurry to get people out of their remote communities before the flames arrive.

"There are worries that the planes won't get to them before the fires do, and the fires are now within a few kilometres of some First Nations," CBC reporter Jody Porter said from Thunder Bay.

Planes are taking people about 100 at a time from the communities, which have no road access.

About 115 forest fires are burning in northwestern Ontario, with more than 2,500 firefighters and 100 aircraft attempting to get them under control.

So far, about 1,500 people have been flown to communities hundreds of kilometres to the south, with people sent to Wawa, Sioux Lookout, Kapuskasing, Matachewan, Greenstone and Thunder Bay.

Timmins and Sudbury have also agreed to take in evacuees. (more)

Hurricane Dora intensifies along Mexican coast

Hurricane Dora grew stronger offshore on Wednesday as it brought rain to the Mexican coast.

The fourth hurricane of the eastern Pacific season was forecast to move parallel to the shoreline for several days.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was centred about 360 kilometres south-southwest of Acapulco and was moving west-northwest at 30 km/h with top sustained winds near 130 km/h.

Mexican authorities issued a tropical storm watch from Lazaro Cardenas to Cabo Corrientes, meaning tropical storm conditions were possible within 36 hours.

The storm's proximity to the coast prompted heavy rain warnings in the Pacific coast states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Officials also warned of high waves in Oaxaca and Chiapas.

In Guerrero, the government was preparing nearly 900 shelters in flood-prone areas along the coast, which includes the resort city of Acapulco. Boaters were warned to take precautions. (more)

Hubble spies fourth moon at Pluto

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have identified another moon around the dwarf planet Pluto.

It becomes the fourth object known to be circling the distant world after the long-recognised Charon and recently observed Nix and Hydra satellites.

Scientists are temporarily calling the new moon P4 and estimate its diameter to be 13 to 34 km (of 8 to 21 miles).

Pluto, controversially demoted from full planet status in 2006, will be the target of a big space mission in 2015.

Nasa's New Horizons probe is due to fly past the icy world and should get a good look at the moons, also.

"This is a fantastic discovery," said New Horizons' principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Now that we know there's another moon in the Pluto system, we can plan close-up observations of it during our flyby."

P4 sits between the orbits of Nix and Hydra, which Hubble identified in 2005. The space telescope did not discover Charon - that was done by the US Naval Observatory in 1978 - but it was the first astronomical instrument to resolve it as a separate body from Pluto.

For comparison, Pluto itself is a little over 2,300km across, Charon about 1,200km in diameter, and Nix and Hydra in the range of 30 to 115km across.

Hubble first saw P4 with its new Wide Field Camera 3 on 28 June. Follow-up observations this month confirmed its existence. (more)

Somalia famine has killed tens of thousands

Parts of southern Somalia are suffering from famine, a UN official said Wednesday, and tens of thousands of Somalis have already died in the worst hunger emergency in a generation.

The Horn of Africa is suffering a devastating drought compounded by war, neglect and spiraling prices. Some areas in the region have not had such a low rainfall in 60 years, aid group Oxfam said.

The UN needs $300 million in the next two months, said Mark Bowden, the UN's top official in charge of humanitarian aid in Somalia. The last time conditions were this bad was in 1992, when hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death. That famine prompted intervention by an international peacekeeping force, but it eventually pulled out after two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in 1993.

The southern Somali regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions are suffering from famine, Bowden said. Across East Africa, more than 11.3 million people need aid, the World Food Program said.

"Somalia is facing its worst food security crisis in the last 20 years," Bowden said. "This desperate situation requires urgent action to save lives." (more)

Iranian media: Iran downs U.S. 'spy drone'

Iran has brought down a U.S. "spy drone" flying near its Fordo nuclear enrichment plant in Qom province, state-run media reported Wednesday.

The date of the incident has not been disclosed, and three U.S. officials said there was no indication or information that a U.S. drone was downed.

State-run Press TV reported the development, citing a Tuesday story from another website -- javanonline.ir.

Ali Aqazadeh Dafsari, an Iranian lawmaker, said air defense units of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down the drone, Press TV reported, citing javanonline.ir

Dafsari, who is a member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said that the craft was on a mission to identify the plant's location and collect information about the facility for the CIA.

The development emerged as the Iranian government announced on Tuesday that it was installing a new generation of centrifuges in its nuclear facilities. The French Foreign Ministry called the development "a new wave of provocation" that flouts United Nations resolutions. (more)

Crazy Regional Taxes and Otis Rolley's $1-per-bullet Tax Proposal -- Punishing good people and rewarding criminals, by Pensaring

New Crop Circles at Stanton St Bernard 11th July & Honey Street 4th July 2011

UK: Healthy lifestyles must be forced upon citizens through legislation, Peers say

Plans to get people to adopt healthier lifestyles will not work unless the government is more prepared to use legislation, peers believe.

The House of Lords science and technology committee said ministers seemed to be mistaken in their use of what is known as the nudge theory.

Nudging people is about getting them to change their behaviour without necessarily banning activities.

But the group said that did not mean legislation should not be used at all.

Both the prime minister and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley are known to be admirers of the nudge theory.

It formed a key part of the government's public health strategy which was set out at the end of last year.

A unit has also been established in the Cabinet Office to push ahead with policies. Pilots to get people to quit smoking and increase organ donor registration have already been arranged. (more)

Rais Bhuiyan forgives Mark Stroman for shooting him in face with shotgun, campaigns against his execution: Ultimate lesson in forgiveness

In the nine years Mark Stroman has been on death row in Texas, he says he has watched 208 people walk past him on the way to be executed.

This week it is his turn.

But fighting to save his life is the man he shot in the face and blinded in one eye.

In the days following 11 September, 2001, Stroman attacked three people, killing two of them.

He was targeting anyone he considered an "Arab", calling it revenge for 9/11.

"What Mark Stroman did was a hate crime, and hate crimes come from ignorance," said Rais Bhuiyan, 37, the only man to survive the shooting.

"His execution will not eradicate hate crimes from this world, we will just simply lose another human life." (more)

Eurozone crisis: What would a break-up look like?

Nearly everything that eurozone leaders have done in response to the euro crisis has been done in the name of preventing contagion.

But guess what. It's already here. Because (nearly) everything those leaders have done, after large amounts of dithering, has ended up making the situation worse.

In the past 24 hours we have seen: Spanish and Italian bond yields head over 6%; the value of shares in three of Britain's leading banks fall by 6-7% yesterday, as a result of European stress tests which they passed; and the gold price hit an all-time record of $1600 per ounce. (British bank shares have since gone back up again).

Phew. It makes you wonder where we'd be now, if Europe's leaders had NOT been so focussed on limiting contagion.

The events of the past week have taken the eurozone crisis into (yet) another new phase - and ratcheted up the pressure on eurozone leaders as they prepare for their special summit on Thursday in Brussels.

There is now much talk about an "end game" for the euro, with serious commentators now suggesting that the break up of the single currency is a realistic possibility.

But how, exactly, would the euro break up? Until now, that is where the conversation stopped - because even if we could see the case for countries leaving the euro, it was tricky to see how they would get from here to there.

Not any more. Now we can see very clearly how it would happen, thanks to a highly illuminating disagreement between the German government and the European Central Bank (ECB). (more)

Only Germany can save EMU as contagion turns systemic

"We are heading towards fiscal union or break-up," said David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC. "Talk is no longer enough as the fire threatens to leap over the firebreak into Spain and Italy.

"What the market is worried about is Germany's long-term committment to the euro project. If we see unreserved and absolute backing from the political establishment of Germany, that will be a soothing balm."

Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed in little hurry on Tuesday to convey such a message. There will be no "spectacular step" at the Justus Lipsius building on Thursday; just a "controlled process of gradual steps and measures", she said with unflappable calm. Given the simmering wrath from top to bottom of German society, it may be impossible for her to do much more.

Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank's president, has made her task that much harder by telling the eurosceptic Bild Zeitung that "nothing would destroy the incentives for a solid budget policy more quickly and more permanently than joint liability for national debts. European and especially German taxpayers would have to answer for the entire state debt of Greece. That would be a step toward a transfer union."

Days earlier he shot down proposals for issuance of eurobonds or use of Europe's rescue fund to buy Spanish and Italian bonds on the open market, crucial steps to prevent Italy and Spain being drawn into the maelstrom. "It has a high cost, limited use, and dangerous secondary effects," he said, departing radically from the script of the European Central Bank. (more)

Moment leopard mauled ranger caught on camera: Civilization and Nature in head-on collision?

Eurozone debt crisis could prove 'very costly' for the world, warns IMF

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged eurozone leaders to take immediate action over the region's debt crisis, warning it could prove "very costly" for the world.

Europe's policymakers must press on with deeper economic integration to "stay the course", the global lender said ahead of Thursday's crunch summit of eurozone leaders.

"To put the crisis behind, we need more Europe, not less. And we need it now," said Antonio Borges, director of the IMF's European department, as it released its assessment of the turmoil.

On Tuesday night, diplomats in Brussels were warning of "bedlam" unless a deal is "more or less" sealed on Thursday.

The crisis around Greek debt now poses "serious risks" that it will infect the region's core powerhouse economies, such as Greece and France, even if officials pursue a strategy aimed at avoiding a default by Athens, the IMF said.

The fears about weaker member states' finances have already sent their borrowing costs sky-high, necessitating bail-outs for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. (more)

5.4 Magnitude Earthquake RYUKYU ISLANDS, JAPAN - 20th July 2011

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake has struck Ryukyu Islands, Japan at a depth of 51 km ( 31.7 miles), the quake hit at 19:18:14 UTC Wednesday 20th July 2011.
The epicenter was 132 km (82 miles) from Naha, Okinawa, Japan
No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at the time

Rebecca Leighton Held over Hospital Sabotage Deaths - 20th July 2011

A nurse held on suspicion of murdering patients at a hospital in Stockport has been named as Rebecca Leighton.
The 27-year-old was arrested at her home in Heaviley, Stockport, at 6am.

Crime scene investigators are at the scene of the suspect's flat about a mile from Stepping Hill Hospital where saline containers had been contaminated with insulin.

It comes amid intense police activity at the hospital where staff had been ordered to work in pairs since the discovery.

All drugs are being double-checked and security guards have been monitoring access to medicines.

Detectives had indicated their investigations were focused on the hospital itself following the discovery that several patients had abnormally low blood sugar levels.

An investigation was launched and insulin was found in a batch of 36 saline ampoules in a storeroom close to ward A1 of the hospital.

Detectives believe the insulin was deliberately injected into the saline containers which were used in drips by at least two wards. Read More

Forest fire grows to 3,000 acres, California - 20th July 2011

The Lion Fire burning in the Golden Trout Wilderness of Sequoia National Forest has grown to approximately 3,000 acres.

A plume of smoke could be seen east of Porterville again Tuesday afternoon.

As the fire grew over the past few days smoke settled into the Kern River Drainage at night, along Highway 395, and into the San Joaquin Valley. Forest officials have met with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and plan to work with them as they monitor the smoke impacts from the fire. Coordination with the Kern Valley and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Districts are also ongoing.

Smokey conditions are likely to last over the next few months though the impacts will vary depending upon what the current weather conditions are and how many acres have burned recently.

The Lion Fire is following Region 5 Leadership Intent as stated in a March 2011 Forest Service report. “Forests are highly susceptible to severe wildfire, which fragments forests, emits carbon, increases erosion rates and sedimentation, negatively affects water quality and delivery, and damages old-growth forest habitats that sustain important components of the Region’s biodiversity. Dense middle-aged forests are also more susceptible to drought stress, large-scale insect outbreaks and disease epidemics.” However, by managing this natural fire under desirable conditions, the risk of severe fires is reduced.

Evidence indicates that fire has not occurred in the area of the Lion Fire for the last 90 years. Read More

Crews battling 8-square-mile wildfire in Wyoming - 20th July 2011

A federal team has taken over management of a wildfire burning more than 8 square miles in northeast Wyoming.

The Whoop Up fire is burning on federal land 10 miles south of Newcastle and has prompted the evacuation of a 14-home subdivision and two homes in South Dakota. Crews have contained about 10
percent of the fire. No homes have burned, but a small shed, horse trailer and a utility trailer have been destroyed.

Crews are also battling with eight smaller, lightning-sparked fires in the area that range in size from less than an acre to 40 acres.

Fire managers say the fire started Sunday, possibly by lightning. It's burning in steep terrain and has been fueled by hot, dry weather.

Several hundred firefighters are on the scene. Source

5.4 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTH OF PANAMA - 20th July 2011

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake has struck South of Panama at a depth of 17.6 km ( 10.9 miles), the quake hit at 15:51:30 UTC Wednesday 20th July 2011.
The epicenter was 150 km (93 miles) South of David, Panama

No Tsunami warning issued and no damage or injuries reported at the time

China to U.S.: Get your debt under control

The Chinese government, the top international investor in U.S. Treasuries, urged the U.S. government to get its debt under control or its credibility will suffer.

"We hope the U.S. government will take responsible policies and measures to boost global financial market confidence and respect and protect the interests and investors," said the Chinese government's State Administration of Foreign Exchange in a statement on its website.

The Chinese statement referred to U.S. debt as "the reflection of the credibility of the U.S. government" and an important investment tool.

The Chinese government also said it "noticed the opinion expressed by S&P and other rating companies regarding the credibility rating of the U.S. sovereign debt," offering an unpleasant reminder of a recent credit rating action.

In April, Standard & Poor's said the United States was at risk of having the triple-A rating on its debt lowered within two years if Washington can't agree on bringing down the national deficit. The agency lowered the outlook on America's long-term credit rating to "negative" from "stable."

In Washington on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Senators called the Gang of Six put forward a plan to slash the nation's deficit by about $3.7 trillion over ten years. The plan has received praise from other senators and President Obama. (more)

EU summit on Greece debt: High stakes, few options

European officials are scrambling to resolve the debt crisis in Greece amid signs the contagion is spreading, but a comprehensive solution remains elusive ahead of a crucial summit on Thursday.

The leaders of the 17 euro zone member nations are set to meet in Brussels. The goal is to hammer out the terms of a second bailout for Greece and discuss ways to prevent the crisis from infecting larger economies in the monetary union.

The stakes are high. Nervous investors in the bond market have driven borrowing costs to record highs for some of the more vulnerable EU economies, such as Italy and Spain.

But there is still disagreement over key aspects of the rescue plan for Greece and uncertainty over how to handle the broader debt crisis.

"I don't expect a game changer on Thursday," said Wolfango Piccoli, a director at the Eurasia Group in London. He said policymakers will likely announce some "muddle through" initiatives but stop short of a long-term fix for Greece. (more)

Killing of infants on the rise in Pakistan



At a morgue in Pakistan's largest city, five linen pouches -- each the size of a loaf of bread -- line the shelf of a walk-in freezer.

Wrapped inside each small sack is the corpse of an infant.

The babies are victims of what one relief agency calls Pakistan's worst unfolding tragedy -- the killing and dumping of newborns.

"Sometimes they hang them and sometimes they kill by the knife, and sometimes we find bodies which have been burned," said Anwar Kazmi, a manager at Edhi Foundation, Pakistan's largest privately run social service and relief agency.

Records at Edhi Foundation show more than 1,200 newborns were killed and dumped in Pakistan last year, an increase of about 200 from the previous year.

Families view many of these children as illegitimate in a culture that condemns those born outside of marriage.

Statistics show roughly nine out of 10 are baby girls, which families may consider too costly to keep in a country where women frequently are not allowed to work. (more)

U.N. declares famine in Somalia; makes urgent appeal to save lives

The United Nations declared a famine Wednesday in parts of southern Somalia as the east African nation suffers the worst drought in half a century.

Thousands of Somalis have fled in search of food and water, trekking for days in scorching temperatures in desperate attempts to reach refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.

In calling it a famine, the United Nations draws global attention to a crisis that has been escalating for the past few months. It made an urgent appeal for donations.

"If we don't act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months, due to poor harvests and infectious disease outbreaks," said Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. "We still do not have all the resources for food, clean water, shelter and health services to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Somalis in desperate need."

He said nearly half of the people in Somali -- 3.7 million of them -- are now in crisis and roughly $300 million is needed in the next two months for intervention. Aid workers call it the worst food crisis since a famine in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s that killed about 1 million people. (more)

Internet spells end of the school report

Tim Kelsey, No 10's director of transparency, said that schools and doctors should use the web to cut down paperwork and reduce their costs.

Mr Kelsey said: "We don’t want to have schools spending money on printing school reports nor do we want to have doctors sending out referral letters. That can be done online.”

He compared the shift to the move to online banking, saying the “sleight of hand” by the banks meant customers were “happy to be using the web because they had more control while also doing the banks’ clerical work for them”.

Speaking to think tank Demos, Mr Kelsey said that making more information available online was crucial to the Government’s open data strategy. He said that in future all companies doing work for public money could be forced to make their data public as well. “Transparency should follow the money. Wherever public money is being spent, there should be openness”.

The Government is to launch a new consultation on openness within the next few weeks. Mr Kelsey added that “there was a debate to be had” on whether advice given to ministers should be made public. (more)

Libyan rebels pushed back from Brega (Although the news yesterday said it was pretty much theirs -- see the pattern?)

Libyan government forces in trucks disguised with rebel flags have shelled opposition positions near the strategic eastern oil town of Brega, killing 13 rebel fighters and wounding dozens more, officials said.

Rebel forces have been pushing to seize the front-line town which is home to an oil refinery and terminal, for nearly a week, but they say minefields planted by Gaddafi's forces have slowed the advance.

They took positions 10km east of the oil port, working to clear the mines so they can move forward.

"Maybe within three or four days we will solve this problem of mines and we will be in Brega," said rebel spokesman Ahmed Bani.

Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught reporting from the area says rebels thought their position was betrayed by spies and traitors within their camp but they were certain those disloyal to the cause would be rooted out.

The rebels are fighting in a residential area on the town's eastern side and control about one-third of the town, another rebel spokesman said.

A doctor at the hospital in the nearby city of Ajdabiya said a lot of severely injured fighters were taken there on Tuesday, most of them with head and chest injuries caused by gunshots and explosions.

"The numbers of causalities exceeded the numbers of beds available," said Hiba Shasha.

Another doctor at the same hospital said eight rebels were killed and dozens wounded on Tuesday, raising the total to at least 34 rebels killed in five days of fighting. (more)

'Death squads' on streets of Homs, Syria

Syrian troops and armed groups described by one resident as "death squads" have laid siege to the city of Homs since Monday night, sources said.

Syrian rights activist Rami Abdulrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the city had been the scene of intense battles since security forces stepped up a crackdown on Monday night.

Homs has been a focal point of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad since the military stormed its districts two months ago to crush anti-government protests.

"Thirteen civilians were killed yesterday and today in several parts of Homs when the army opened fire as it carried out an operation in the city," he said.

Abdulrahman said the fighting in Homs erupted after three regime supporters kidnapped last week were killed and their dismembered bodies were returned to their relatives.

"These clashes are a dangerous development that undermines the revolution and serves the interests of its enemies who want it to turn into a civil war," he said.

Al Jazeera cannot independently verify events in Syria because of restrictions on reporting.

Updating the Reuters news agency by phone on Tuesday, a Homs resident said, "There are troops and armoured vehicles in every neighbourhood. The irregular forces with them are death squads.

"They have been firing indiscriminately since dawn with rifles and machine guns. No one can leave their homes." (more)

'20 Uighurs killed' in China clash in Xinjiang

Twenty protesters from China's minority Uighur community were killed in a clash with police in the ethnically tense northwestern region of Xinjiang, a Uighur exile group has said.

State media quoted an official in the region calling Monday's clash a "terrorist" attack and said four people including a police officer were killed when a crowd set upon a police station in the remote city of Hotan.

But the Germany-based exile group, World Uyghur Congress, disputed the official account of Monday's clash.

It said on Tuesday that 14 Uighurswere beaten to death and six shot dead when police opened fire on a peaceful protest, leading to fighting between the two sides. It said 70 others were arrested.

The two accounts could not be independently verified.

Beijing, wary of instability and the threat to the Communist party's grip on power, often blames what it calls violent separatist groups in Xinjiang for attacks on police or other government targets, saying they work with al Qaeda or Central Asian fighters to bring about an independent state called East Turkestan.

"It is certain that it was a terrorist attack," said Hou Hanmin, chief of the regional information office.

"But as for which organisation is behind this, we are still investigating. The number of people killed and casualties will be announced soon."

Many Uighurs - a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to the region - chafe under rule from Beijing and restrictions on their language, culture and religion. They make up less than half of Xinjiang's population after decades of immigration by the majority Han from other parts of China. (more)

Will the US default? What would happen if it did? Al Jazeera investigates...



Republicans and Democrats are still debating a deal to lift the US debt ceiling in order to avoid defaulting on its payments. Congress must raise the $14.3 trillion limit on US borrowing by August 2 or the government will run out of money to pay its bills.

The US government reached its debt limit in May, and since then the treasury department has used special measures to allow the government to keep paying its bills.

But unless the limit is raised by August 2, the treasury says growing spending and debt service commitments will force a default, which would have disastrous ripple effects throughout the global financial system.

But, with time running out to reach a deal, both Democrats and Republicans have refused to budge from their positions. Republicans want spending cuts to balance the budget, which will affect Obama's social security programmes, while Democrats insist on taxing wealthy Americans.

So, just how far apart are they and what will it mean if the world's biggest economy defaults on its debts? (more)

Eurozone: Feeling the stress



Fears are growing that Italy could become the latest victim of the Eurozone's debt crisis. Worries over the euro currency are growing and plans for a second Greek bailout remain deadlocked.

Also the European Banking Authority has conducted stress tests on several banks across Europe, to see how they can handle difficult economic scenarios.

So what is the stress test and how important are they to the Eurozone's economy?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Sony Kapoor, the managing director of Re-Define, a think-tank that advises policy makers on economic and financial sector policy; Patrick Garofalo, the economic policy editor for ThinkProgress.org at The Centre for American Progress; and Hank Calenti, the head of bank credit research at Societe Generale. (source)

East Africa's dust bowl: Starvation, thirst, and death for humans and animals alike



The people out here are tough, and so are their animals. But there is a limit to how much any human can take, and people like Alfon Abdulahi Mohamed have reached it.

We met Alfon as we drove towards what the aid agencies have called the "ground zero" of East Africa's devastating drought-hit areas.

For mile after dusty mile, the land was not just parched but burned out. All shades of brown and yellow sand, crisp grey thorn bushes, and pools of deep red dust billowed up in great waves, as we ploughed through the dirt road like a ship in a storm.

On our way, we passed an abandoned borehole. We found nothing but the bleached bones of livestock. We stopped at the village to ask why. Alfon stepped forward and told us that her own camel was in the bush nearby, too weak to walk.

This stoic old woman with eight children to feed, took us through the scrub to the slowly dying animal. It had collapsed in the feeble shade of another thorn-bush, moaning softly when Alfon stooped to scratch its neck.

For all her crusty exterior, Alfon almost broke down when she explained how the female camel, who she called “Dup Muthow, had given her and her children milk for years.

But Dup hadn’t had a decent drink for months. The camel looked as though it would be lucky to survive the night. (more)

Indian farmers in Odisha state protest massive steel plant that could displace 22,000 people

The eastern state of Odisha in India is pitting small farmers against international business interests in a battle that threatens the Indian government's idea of development.

"POSCO go back!" is a common chant among the hundreds of residents from Jagatsingpur district who have been standing guard at the village borders since June 2, to prevent the forcible acquisition of their lands for a steel plant, the country’s largest, that South-Korea based Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) wants to set up. Twenty police battalions have been stationed a few kilometers away, awaiting the state government’s instructions.

At $12bn, POSCO, partially funded by Warren Buffett, Citibank and JP Morgan Chase, is slated to be the largest Foreign Direct Investment ever to be made in India, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The Odisha government claims the mega-project will wipe out poverty from the state. But in six years, the government has not been able to finish acquiring land for the plant.

On July 16, 10 platoons of police marched into Nuagaon village with the district authorities to restart the process of land acquisition. Over 300 village women tried to stop them from felling trees in the forest. The police attacked with batons, injuring eight people, before they were driven out by the villagers.

Odisha has a wealth of mineral resources, and in order to attract investments, the government has made concessions for corporations in the form of tax-free Special Economic Zones and mineral-ore at low prices. But across the state, from Niyamgiri where the Dongria tribals are fighting UK-based Vedanta's bauxite mining project, to Kalinganagar where opposition to Tata's proposed steel plant has resulted in the killing of 19 villagers since January 2006, these large projects are being met with resistance from some of the people they purport to benefit. (more)

Pakistani spies 'operating in Britain'

Pakistani spies have been operating a front organisation in London to exert political pressure on the government, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Details of the organisation emerged as two alleged spies were charged in the United States of failing to disclose their affiliation with the Pakistani government.

They are accused of secretly promoting Pakistani interests in the long-running conflict between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan over the disputed border region of Kashmir, using millions of dollars of covert funding.

Their arrest came as relations between the US and Pakistan continue to deteriorate in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a US citizen from Fairfax, Virginia, and Zaheer Ahmad, 63, a US citizen who has been living in Pakistan, were charged with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign power in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

According to an affidavit filed in the US, Fai serves as the director of the Kashmiri American Council, a non-governmental organisation in Washington that was founded in 1990. (more)