Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat From Midwest to New York Not Taking Weekend Off

A heat wave that spread from the Midwest to the Northeast tormented millions of people with blasts of 100-degree temperatures and bog-like humidity as blackouts struck neighborhoods and deaths were blamed on the hot weather.

There was little hope that Saturday would bring much relief until the evening, with the National Weather Service warning of excessive heat in several states, including parts of Oklahoma, Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It predicted "oppressive heat" with temperatures at least in the 90s.

On Friday, the mercury in Newark, N.J., reached 108, the highest temperature ever recorded there. Airports near Washington and Baltimore hit 105. Philadelphia reached 104, Boston 103, Portland, Maine, and Concord, N.H., 101 and Providence, R.I., 100. New York City hit 104 degrees, just 2 short of its all-time high, and with the oppressive humidity, it felt like 113.

In Baltimore, a homeless Dale Brown said he buys a $3.50 day pass to ride the commuter rail system to stay cool -- and sober.

"I'm surprised more homeless people don't do that," he said. "That kills a lot of the day. One more day successful without drinking."

An old prison in Cranston, R.I., had to bring in portable air conditioners, fans and cold water for the 100 inmates on a cellblock with a broken AC. It had been out of commission for a month because it was so old a part had to be custom-made to fix it; the part is due Monday. (more)

Constantino Monterrosas Gamez: Sets wife on fire while driving down highway, forcing her to jump out of moving vehicle

A woman jumped from a pickup truck traveling at high speed on a Southern California freeway after the driver, her husband, splashed her with gasoline and set her ablaze, authorities said Friday.

The 23-year-old woman, whose name has been withheld, has serious injuries from the fall from the pickup and remains hospitalized at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley, California Highway Patrol Officer Sylvia said. The woman was expected to recover.

Constantino Monterrosas Gamez, 39, of Santa Ana was charged Tuesday with three felonies, including attempted murder with an allegation of domestic violence causing great bodily injury, false imprisonment and making criminal threats, district attorney's office spokesman John Hall said Friday.

Gamez remains jailed with bail set at $1 million pending arraignment July 28. There's no record that he has an attorney.

Gamez was driving a Chevrolet S-10 pickup on July 15 at speeds up to 70 mph southbound on Interstate 15 in Corona when the couple began arguing, the CHP said in a news release.

Gamez was behind the wheel when he threw gasoline on the woman and used a cigarette lighter set her on fire, the CHP said.

The woman then jumped from the moving pickup and fell onto the roadway. She wasn't struck by any vehicles. (more)

"Saboteurs" derail Syrian train, driver killed: officials

A train carrying 400 passengers derailed on Saturday and its driver was killed when "saboteur groups" dismantled a section of a northern railway, Syrian officials said.

The incident occurred near the central city of Homs, which has witnessed a military crackdown on demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad.

Homs governor Hassan Abdelal said the train was carrying troops and civilians and that "destiny" helped to prevent further casualties.

"The saboteurs came by motorcycles. The train derailed near a high voltage power line and the driver was burned to death. The saboteurs are bent on increasing operations and they must be confronted," Abdelaal told Syria's state television.

State television showed images of a burning and overturned train and a dismantled section of the track.

Syrian authorities have expelled most independent journalists from the country, making it difficult to verify witness accounts of events and official statements. (more)

Kashmir paralysed by rape protest: India

A general strike paralysed India`s Muslim-majority Kashmir valley on Saturday in a second day of protest against the alleged rape of a woman by two soldiers in the revolt-hit region.

The strike shut most shops, schools and offices in Srinagar and other major towns of the scenic Muslim-majority area and came after protesters on Friday torched a government vehicle and clashed with police.

The 25-year-old married woman from the southern district of Kulgam alleged she was abducted and raped by two armed men wearing Indian army uniforms on Tuesday.

Kashmiri separatists who called the one-day strike demanded an independent probe by human rights groups or the United Nations.

"It (the alleged rape) has once again exposed the real face of forces and substantiated that they are using rape as weapon of war here," said hardline separatist Syed Ali Geelani. (more)

Damascus residents staying home, fearful of police: Syria

Damascus residents troubled by intensified crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in the Syrian capital are now staying at home, hoarding money and bracing for violence.

“Nobody is shopping anymore or going to restaurants. Even the clubs are empty,” said a resident of the once-lively Old City, who gave her name as Nour. Residents told Reuters by telephone they were worried that the capital could slide into disorder, as in the central cities of Homs and Hama where protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic rule have been met with military crackdowns.

A Syrian journalist said the economy was stagnating, adding: “The price of vegetables, tea, sugar and cooking oil is rising.” The Hamidiyeh Souk, usually bustling with Syrians buying silks and tourists eating ice cream topped with pine nuts, is quiet. “We’ve cut our prices,” said Old City shopkeeper Yasser, 32. “But nobody is shopping and the tourists have all left.”

Until last Friday, Damascus had seen few of the anti-Assad demonstrations that have swept Syria since March, with only a few protests that were quickly dispersed by security forces.

But a week ago, thousands of Damascenes frustrated by the slow pace of reforms promised by Assad took to the streets. Security forces responded harshly, killing at least 23 people. That shifted the mood in the capital, where daily life had gone on as if untouched by four months of upheaval elsewhere. (more)

Gunmen kill five in Naushki, Pakistan: police

Two gunmen opened fired on labourers building a mosque in Pakistan’s restive southwest on Sunday killing five people, police said.

The shooting took place in Naushki district, 180 kilometres west of Quetta. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“Two unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on the five labourers from Punjab province constructing a mosque in the village of Kisankuri and then fled,” local police official Munir Mengal told AFP.

He said that four labourers died at the scene while the fifth succumbed to his wounds in hospital.

A local intelligence official confirmed the incident and casualties. (source)

Dominican Republic cholera death toll climbs to 87, with 13,000 cases reported

he Dominican Republic's death toll in the cholera epidemic that spread from Haiti has risen to 87 out of more than 13,000 suspected cases, health authorities said on Friday.

According to the health ministry, the death toll had risen by 16 since July 8 to 87, and there have been 773 new cases in the past week, for a total of 13,200 since the beginning of the epidemic, which spread to the country from Haiti in November 2010.

In a report released yesterday but dated June 2011, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said cholera could become endemic if the authorities fail to address the water and sanitation issues affecting certain neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic. However, the entity said the risk of cholera in visitors to the country should be considered low. (more)

Somalia famine will expand as militants vow to block aid: UN official

Famine in Somalia will soon expand to more areas as insecurity in the Horn of Africa country has prevented aid from reaching more than 2 million Somalis in need, the head of the World Food Program said Saturday.

The UN fears tens of thousands of people already have died in the famine, which has forced Somalis to walk for days in hopes of reaching refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Mothers have been forced to leave behind their weak children to die during the long treks.

WFP executive director Josette Sheeran visited Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp where tens of thousands of hungry Somalis have fled in recent weeks. Ms. Sheeran met with hungry mothers and assured them the WFP would make it a priority to get nutrition to their kids. The aid agency, however, can't reach 60 per cent of the 3.7 million Somalis in need because of the actions of the militants in Somalia, she said. (more)

God, not Internet, holds key to Malawi protests

Unlike the Internet-based popular protests that have swept North Africa and the Middle East, the biggest threat to embattled Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika may be from Christian churches.

With two-thirds of the impoverished southern African nation's 13 million people living in villages and only now having basic mobile phones, let alone Internet-enabled ones, the power of technology to mobilise mass opposition is limited.

However, in the former British colony where more than 80 percent of the population is Christian, the words of the church carry enormous weight -- and the death of 18 anti-government protesters in clashes with police this week has spurred the institution into action.

In a statement, the head of the Catholic church, Bishop Joseph Zuza, lamented the loss of life and called on Mutharika to "listen attentively and honestly to the cry of Malawians." (more)

China's spectacular real estate bubble is about to go pop

So you thought that UK housing was unaffordable. Try Beijing and Shanghai, where as can be seen from the graphic below, prices are off the scale relative to income, the commonly used yardstick for measuring affordability. OK, so these are the boom cities of the Chinese economic miracle, but even on a nationwide basis, affordability is no lower than in the UK.

Little noticed amid the furore of the euro crisis, HSBC’S preliminary survey of China’s factories, published this week, indicated manufacturing activity in the world’s second-biggest economy actually declined in July from the month before, the first such contraction in a year. The HSBC purchasing managers index for China has been falling for months now, indicating a protracted fall off in growth as the Chinese authorities act to rein in rampant inflation.

House prices look like being a major victim of this slowdown. Up to a point, this is deliberate policy for China. With the example of the Western property bubble, which ended very badly indeed, serving as a salutary reminder of the dangers of unchecked real estate prices, the Chinese authorities have taken a number of steps to cool the country’s overheated housing market. And it is working; residential property prices have risen on average by “only” 7pc over the last year, and transaction volumes are lower.

But here’s the problem. Residential and commercial property development have been such a big component of growth in recent years that anything that damages the property market risks upsetting the entire apple cart. Nobody can forecast with any certainty when the crash will come, but come it will. You cannot cram that much development into such a short space of time without there eventually being a correction. (more)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: We're pushing for nuclear weapons

Iran's president wants to shed the nation's secrecy and forge ahead openly with developing nuclear weapons but is opposed by the clerical leadership, which is worried about international reaction to such a move, says an intelligence assessment shared with The Associated Press.

That view, from a nation with traditionally reliable intelligence from the region, cannot be confirmed and contrasts with assessments by other countries that view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as relatively moderate on the nuclear issue compared to the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Attempts to interpret Iran's goals are important because as it expands uranium enrichment, it is moving closer to being able to make a nuclear weapon by the day, even as it asserts that it is not interested in such arms and its programs are geared only to making reactor fuel.

A U.S. official cited one assessment he has seen suggesting Ahmadinejad may be more "moderate" — more open to talks with the international community on resolving nuclear concerns than Khamenei. He asked for anonymity because his information was privileged.

But a blunt comment by Ahmadinejad last month raises questions. While repeating that Iran does not want nuclear arms, he openly reinforced its ability to make them, telling Iranian state TV that "if we want to make a bomb, we are not afraid of anybody." (more)

FAA faces partial shutdown over Washington money wrangling -- Tens of thousands of workers face immediate furlough

The Federal Aviation Administration faced a partial shutdown Saturday morning as Congress adjourned Friday without approving a routine stop-gap funding measure amid partisan acrimony.

More than 4,000 FAA workers, 1,000 of them in the Washington region, and tens of thousands of airport construction workers under FAA contract faced immediate furlough. The nation’s air travel system will not be affected, with air traffic controllers remaining on the job and airline operations continuing as normal.

The funding extension would have been the 21st since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007. But House Republicans added provisions to their extension bill that the Senate would not accept.

“I’m very disappointed that Congress adjourned today without passing a clean extension of the FAA bill,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

Officials said lawmakers would take up the funding issue again Monday. But in the final hours before they headed home Friday, the warring members of Congress accused one another of senseless, inexcusable, astounding behavior, of playing politics and of engaging in doublespeak.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) said he included the provision to which Democrats in the House and Senate objected out of frustration over the pace of negotiations to reach agreement on long-term FAA funding plans passed by the House and Senate this year.

It cut federal subsidies for air service to several small airports in rural areas.

“In light of the nation’s pending financial disaster and soaring deficits, they couldn’t find a way to cut even a few million dollars by accepting this minor request to reduce outlandish subsidies,” Mica said. (more)

Horn of Africa drought seen from space

Drought in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti is pushing tens of thousands of people from their homes as millions face food insecurity in a crisis visible from space. ESA’s SMOS satellite shows that the region’s soil is too dry to grow crops.

Somalis, who already face war in their country, have been fleeing to neighbouring countries in search of refuge. In Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, for example, over 1000 people – mostly children – arrive daily, severely dehydrated and malnourished.

While international aid agencies call this the ‘worst drought in decades,’ space technology has mapped the crisis over a shorter time period.

ESA's SMOS soil moisture and ocean salinity satellite shows that Somalia’s soil appears dry during the 2011 main rainy season, particularly in the southern agricultural region.

Somalia has an arid climate in the northeast and central regions, while the northwest and south receive at least reasonable amounts of rain in a normal year.

Although the country’s proximity to the equator means there is not much seasonal variation in climate, the April to June rains are important for agriculture. (more)

The Link Between Peak Oil and Peak Debt

The economy is closely linked with the physical resources that underly it. Most economists assume debt can rise endlessly, just as they assume GDP can rise endlessly. But if there really is a limit that prevents oil supply from rising endlessly, it seems to me that there is also a corresponding limit that prevents debt from rising endlessly.

As I analyze the situation, it seems to me that here is really a two-way link between peak oil and peak debt:

1. Peak oil tends to cause peak debt. Some will argue with me about this, because they believe it is possible to decouple economic growth from energy growth, and in particular oil growth. As far as I am concerned, though, this decoupling is simply an unproven hypothesis–the normal connection is that a flattening or decline in energy supply causes a slowdown or actual decline in economic growth, and this slowdown causes a shift from an increase in the amount of debt, to a decrease in the amount of debt, as it did for US non-governmental loans in 2009 and 2010. (more)

Credit agencies warn GOP of 'death spiral'

House Republicans were cautioned Thursday in a closed door meeting with credit rating agency officials that a “death spiral” in the bond market was one of the possible outcomes in the event of default.

One official warned of a worst-case scenario in which a default on the nation’s credit could result in a rapid drop in bond values, sparking chaos in the markets — a dramatic warning as Washington worked on a possible deal on deficit reduction and an increase in the debt limit.

Members who attended the meeting later countered that the tone of the discussion was not nearly as apocalyptic as the phrase initially made it sound. According to sources inside the room, the “death spiral” term was also used in reference to the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in September 2008 as a historical example. (more)

As Number Of Foreclosed Homes Grows, So Does Mold

As huge numbers of foreclosed homes continue to work their way through the real estate pipeline, another problem is blossoming — mold.

In most homes, as residents go in and out and the seasons change, natural ventilation sucks moisture up to the attic and out through the roof. It's called the "stack effect." And in many parts of the country, it's driven by air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.

But no one is going in or out of most foreclosed homes — regardless of climate — and the effects can be devastating.

In some states, it's estimated that more than half of foreclosed homes have mold and mildew issues. Realtors across the country say they're seeing the problem in everything from bungalows to mansions. (more)

Irish Book Explores Exploitation of Africa’s Reserves

The impact of famine on the people of Africa has been brought to our attention once again in recent weeks. The continent, however, also boasts seven of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies over the past decade.

This dramatic growth has, unfortunately, been paid for by the sale of Africa's rich mineral resources, and not necessarily for the best price. A new book entitled 'The New Scramble for Africa' by Dr Pádraig Carmody, which was launched this month by Dr Mary Robinson in Trinity College Dublin (TCD), highlights this and other facts relating to the race to secure Africa's natural resources at the lowest possible price.

Dr Carmody, a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the School of Natural Sciences at TCD, explores the growing exploitation of African resources by Chinese and western agents. The Epoch Times spoke to the author to find out about the dynamics of the scramble.

One of the most obvious things that Dr Carmody noticed while researching his book over the past decade was the rapid economic growth of certain countries in Africa.

“This is a big change from the 1980s and early 1990s, when you had negative economic growth per head in a lot of African countries,” said Dr Carmody. (more)

Corporatism or Survival on Earth? -- We need to start making the choice, before it's made for us

Globalized commerce and finance have taken over the planet and the majority of nations are above all anxious to keep up the pace with the rest of the frightened sycophants to the Empire, anxious not to fall behind when and where the big profits are being raked in off the roulette tables. Mesdames, messieurs, faites vos jeux! Tomorrow we’ll be dead. But today, let us not be left out of the big game!

The vicious and self-destructive cult that we call Corporatism has so completely taken over the running of the world that the entire financial systems of nations have been derailed. Nations, poor or rich, are no longer allowed to govern their own people, to follow their own paths in terms of economic policies – taxation, education and welfare spending being the most critical in any national budget, for the general good of the people.

Keeping up the appearance of firmness, limiting social spending, standing strong and judgmental against an increasing number of immigrants (Untermenschen – they will just increase the burden on our already overtaxed welfare budget – so say the politicians), all these carefully staged and highly visible stands are ones that please the Corpocrats.

A gradual depletion of budgets for education and for social spending in general is taking place at a fast speed, while military and national security budgets have increased by over 100% in the United States since the tragic event of 9/11 – that fabulous windfall for the arms and security industries. Europe, as far as military spending goes, is following in the path of the Master. (more)

The world's biggest problem? Too many people

Think back on what you talked about with friends and family at your last gathering. The latest game of your favorite team? "American Idol"? An addictive hobby? The new movie blockbuster? In a serious moment, maybe job prospects, Afghanistan, the economic mess? We live in an information-drenched environment, one in which sports and favorite programs are just a click away. And the ease with which we can do this allows us to focus on mostly comforting subjects that divert our attention from increasingly real, long-term problems.

Notice that we didn't mention climate change above, or the exploding population/consumption levels that are triggering it — the two major factors threatening humanity's future. Sure, if you're not too far from the Western wildfires or Midwestern floodplains, the conversation might have turned to the crazy weather that is finally forcing some media to actually talk about climate change in the context of daily events.

But population? Get out. Way too inconvenient a truth. Take National Public Radio, for example. Of NPR's sparse record of population pieces, just one or two actually address unsustainable population growth. But as the political right whittles away at family planning clinics across the nation, the latest NPR series, "The Baby Project," devotes a plethora of articles to pregnancy, with the most serious subjects the problems some women have conceiving and birthing. If there is even a hint of too many babies, it is well hidden. This, even though a 2009 NPR story on U.S. pregnancies reported that half — yes, half — of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended. That's a lot of unintended consumers adding to our future climate change. (more)

The Peak Oil Crisis: Reality On Hold

As much of America bakes in some of the highest temperatures ever recorded and while Washington argues interminably over taxes, budget cuts and debt caps, one is struck by the unreality of it all. When the House of Representatives votes to preserve the incandescent light bulb for a while as a symbol of personal freedom, it is as if we have entered a wonderland where black is white, up is down and as a nation we have lost touch with reality.

Our media, the cornerstone of our democracy, clearly has failed to communicate something of great import to us. Perhaps it is the information overload of the electronic age. There is so much news that the big picture is lost in mountains of trivia - there are only so many minutes in day. Another possibility is that there is so much bad news out there, that nobody really wants to hear or think about it. Denial is overwhelming us.

At last count there were at least a dozen mega dangers looming on the horizon all of which have the potential to change the nature of global civilization in profound ways. Yet the body politic seems to take little or no notice and concerns itself largely with issues that will soon be swept away by change. These dangers range from the depletion of our fossil fuel and mineral resources, to shrinking food and water supplies, to rising oceans, to political upheavals.

Someday either the atmosphere will get so hot and food will run so short, or the gasoline will become so expensive, that every last sensate being will have absorbed the message that our civilizations and lifestyles are changing whether we like it or not. Not even the most demagogic politician's claims that things can be put back the way they were will be believed. This day is clearly some years and more likely a decade or so away. (more)

Begging for his life: Chilling image of terrified teenager pleading for mercy from 'neo-Nazi' killer standing astride bodies

Norway's Prime Minister said 'a youth paradise turned into hell' when a gunman dressed as a police officer killed at least 85 people at a summer camp on an island outside Oslo after blowing up a further seven in the capital.

The death toll rose this afternoon after a further body was found on the island.

It has emerged that the man at the centre of the attack is also a member of a Swedish Nazi forum which encourages attacks on government buildings.

The revelations were revealed by Swedish newspaper Expo who claim Anders Breivik is part of 'Nordisk' which has 22,000 members and focuses on political terrorism.

The 32-year-old who has been identified as the suspect by Norwegian media is also said to have anti-Muslim viewed.

Police are searching the blond, blue-eyed man's flat in Oslo and are still searching the surrounding waters, where people fled the attack.

It has also just been revealed that there is a new bomb alert in the capital and police have reportedly sealed off an area called Solli Plass, an area close to the royal palace.

A spokesman for local police has said that police are continuing to search the area surrounding Utoeya island and said that many of the people who tried to escape by swimming to shore are unaccounted for. (more)

Israel PM guards tell women reporters to remove bras, then pass the clothing around for show

Foreign journalists on Friday spoke of their distress after being asked to remove their bras for a security check before being allowed into the offices of Israel's prime minister.

The three women were told by security personnel to undress and take off their bras for x-ray in two separate incidents at the Jerusalem offices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.

All three complied with the request, despite the distress it caused, in an incident denounced by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) as "unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive."

Each of the women was taken behind a curtain in the lobby of the entrance hall and patted down before being told to undress, then their bras were passed out in full view of male and female colleagues and security personnel, to be put through an x-ray machine.

Their personal effects were also emptied out in public view and put through the machine.

"The Foreign Press Association strongly condemns the continued harassment of journalists attending media events at the prime minister?s office," a statement from the Tel-Aviv based group said.

"This type of treatment is unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive."

Sara Hussein, who works for Agence France-Presse (AFP), described the incident as utterly humiliating. (more)

TSA worker Paul Yashou stole watches, debit card from LAX bags, officials say

A Transportation Security Administration officer has been indicted on five charges in the theft of four watches and a pre-paid debit card from luggage at Los Angeles International Airport, officials announced Friday.

A federal grand jury indicted Paul Yashou, 38, of Torrance, on two felony and three misdemeanor theft counts Friday afternoon.

Yashou is alleged to have stolen the items from luggage going through security at LAX’s Terminal 1, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said. According to the indictment, one of the watches was valued at about $15,000, another at $5,000 and two at $1,000. The pre-paid debit card was valued at $1,000.

Authorities arrested Yashou on June 23 at his home after an investigation revealed the $15,000 watch had been sold to a jewelry store that had tried to sell the item on EBay. The owner of the watch noticed it was listed on the website, prompting the investigation. (more)

People deprived of the internet feel 'upset and lonely' and find going offline as hard as quitting smoking or drinking

The majority of people feel upset and lonely when they are deprived of access to the internet, according to consumer research.

A new study has revealed that 53 per cent feel upset when denied access and 40 per cent feel lonely if they are unable to go online.

The research found that people experience these feelings even if denied online access for a short time.

The study was carried out by consumer research firm Intersperience, who surveyed over 1,000 people.

Participants were quizzed on their attitudes to the use of the internet, smart phones, and other devices, and were even asked to go 24 hours without any access to internet technology.

Giving up all technology allowing web access was described by some participants as similar to quitting drinking or smoking. (more)

Shock poll: Obama 41%, Ron Paul 37%

Congressman Ron Paul may be a long shot to win the Republican presidential nomination, but he runs competitively with President Obama right now.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows Paul picking up 37% of the vote, while the president earns 41%. The Texas congressman joins Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry as candidates within hailing distance of the president at this time.

Rudy Giuliani is another potential candidate who is considered a long shot for the nomination but is competitive with the president. The former mayor of New York City trails Obama by five, 44% to 39%.

But the real story in the numbers is that the president continues to earn between 41% and 49% of the vote no matter which Republican is mentioned as a potential opponent. This suggests that the race remains a referendum on the incumbent more than anything else. (more)

Return of Mass Layoffs a Grim Sign for U.S. Workers



Putting pressure on an already lousy job market, the mass layoff is making a comeback. In the past week, Cisco, Lockheed Martin and Borders announced a combined 23,000 in job cuts. (See: Another Retailer Bites the Dust: Borders Doomed by Amazon Deal, Davidowitz Says)

Those announcements follow 41,432 in planned cuts in June, up 11.6% from May and 5.3% vs. a year earlier, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Meanwhile, state and local governments have cut 142,000 jobs this year, The WSJ reports, and Wall Street is braced for another round of cutbacks. This week, Goldman Sachs announced plans to let go 1000 fixed-income traders.

If these trends continue, we may soon be talking about losses in the monthly employment data -- not just disappointing growth, says Howard Davidowitz, CEO of Davidowitz & Associates

"Everything in business is confidence," Davidowitz says. "You lose confidence and businesses can't deal with that [and] who could have confidence with what's going on in Washington?" (more)

Eurozone debt fears hit business and consumer confidence

A collapse in business and consumer confidence across the eurozone brought a dramatic slowdown in July, with business surveys indicating that the region almost stopped growing.

Worries about the sovereign debt crisis and fears of a downturn in world trade undermined economic activity, which until recently was rising steadily, driven by strong German exports.

The Markit Flash Eurozone PMI (purchasing managers' index) sank to 51.4 this month from 53.7 in June, its lowest level since September 2009 and falling far short of expectations for 53.0. It has been above the 50 mark that divides growth from contraction for nearly two years.

The manufacturing PMI fell to 50.4 from 52.0 in June, its lowest reading since September 2009 and missing consensus expectations in a Reuters poll for 51.5.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, which compiled the surveys, said: "The eurozone recovery lost almost all of its momentum in July, recording the weakest growth since August 2009 when the recovery first began.

"Excluding the financial crisis, the July survey was the most downbeat since the Iraq war in 2003, and consistent with a flat trend in quarterly gross domestic product." (more)

Greece defaults, eurozone approves new bailout

Greece is the first eurozone member to default. However, leaders of the 17 members of the zone accepted that the controlled failure was the only option left to prevent the collapse of their currency and lead to another global financial crisis.

With the default, the leaders agreed to extend on Thursday another $229 billion (EUR 159 billion) bailout package from Europe, the International Monetary Fund and the private sector. It will be Athens’ second bailout after the $158 billion (EUR 110 billion) bailout extended to Greece in May.

The fresh funds are expected to reduce Greece’s debt by a quarter. Private lenders will also contribute $71.49 billion (EUR 49.6 billion) to the package in the next three years, which includes an $18.1 billion (EUR 12.6 billion) debt buy-back program.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who disclosed the eurozone agreement, said the deal would stop the debt contagion from spreading and commits to improve the zone’s crisis management. Rompuy said the eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, was given unprecedented powers of intervention and fundraising.

Under the agreement, Greece will be given different options to extend its repayment terms and reduce the amount of payment, allows the private sector to voluntarily participate in these options and also doubles the period of repayment terms for the Irish Republic and Portugal. (more)

Debt talks between Obama, House Speaker Boehner collapse



House Speaker John Boehner walked away from debt talks with President Barack Obama's administration Friday, raising the stakes in the country's ongoing effort to stave off national default.

"In the end, we couldn't connect. Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country," Boehner wrote in a letter to his fellow Republicans.

The House speaker said that "a deal was never reached, and was never really close."

"For these reasons, I have decided to end discussions with the White House and begin conversations with the leaders of the Senate in an effort to find a path forward," he wrote.

Speaking to reporters soon after news of Boehner's decision broke, a visibly frustrated Obama said that he has told the Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to come to the White House on Saturday morning to "explain to me how we are going to avoid default" on the nation's debt. Boehner told reporters at a news conference later he would attend that meeting. (more)

Seagulls move to the big city in Japan: Is civilization's encroachment becoming too much?

From time immemorial, black-tailed gulls have looked for two things in their nesting colonies: rockiness and inaccessibility.

Ornithologists wanting to study the birds' breeding habits had to brave windswept coastal rocks and islands off the coast of northern Japan.

Now, an innovative colony has appeared just off Tokyo's Yamanote railway line and appears to be thriving in the urban jungle.

Hiroyoshi Higuchi, a professor of ecology at the University of Tokyo, said he confirmed in June that black-tailed gull chicks were being raised on the roof of a building in Ueno in Tokyo's Taito Ward.

He said he would monitor carefully as to how the birds' fertility will affect the urban ecosystem.

"We do not know where the feeding area is, but the number of birds should certainly grow once a breeding ground is established," said Higuchi. "They could prey on such water birds as grebes, spot-billed ducks and little terns as well as sparrow eggs and chicks." (more)

Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated by gunmen on motorbikes - 23rd July 2011

A scientist has been assassinated in the Iranian capital, Tehran, the country's official new agency said.

The IRNA report gave no other details, but the hardline news website javanonline.ir said the man was a nuclear scientist and was targeted by attackers on a motorcycle.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered in recent years in attacks Iran has blamed on the U.S. and Israel.

The semi-official Mehr news agency identified the victim as a professor of physics and said he was assassinated in front of his house in Bani Hashem street in Tehran.

The scientist's wife was injured in the attack and rushed to hospital for treatment, Mehr reported, quoting a police official.

Despite UN and other sanctions, Iran has steadily moved ahead with its uranium enrichment work, the central aspect of its nuclear programme and the process that is of deepest concern to the West because it can be used both to produce reactor fuel and material for nuclear warheads.

Iran insists it is only after reactor fuel, but the UN's nuclear watchdog agency has accused Iran of stalling its investigation into the work for years.

In November, a pair of back-to-back bomb attacks in different parts of the capital killed one nuclear scientist and wounded another. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the US and Israel.

In those attacks, assailants on motorcycles attached magnetised bombs to the cars of two scientists as they drove to work. They detonated seconds later.

The man who survived that attack, Fereidoun Abbasi, is on a list of figures suspected of links to secret nuclear activities in a 2007 UN sanctions resolution, which put a travel ban and asset freeze on those listed.

At least two other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years. Read More

25 whales die after mass stranding in Scotland - 23rd July 2011

Rescuers in Scotland say they have guided 44 pilot whales stranded in an estuary back to sea, but 25 other whales from the pod did not survive the incident and died.

Many of the animals died overnight after the pod of whales became stranded at the Kyle of Durness in Scotland's far north at low tide on Friday.

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue said many of the whales had been left on their sides, on top of each other or upside down so they were breathing in sand.

A team of rescuers refloated some of the whales using inflatable pontoons as the water returned.

It said Saturday that post-mortem examinations would be carried out to determine what caused the stranding and the deaths. Source

Young sperm whale dies off Montauk coast - 23rd July 2011

An injured, young sperm whale that beached in Montauk on early Saturday along a rocky strip east of Ditch Plains Beach has died, authorities said.

Kimberly Durham, Rescue Program Director for the Riverhead Foundation, confirmed the whale died in front of the Montauk Shores Condominiums at around 2 p.m.

Durham and other rescuers had been monitoring the whale's respiration through his blowhole, she said. At 2 p.m. the whale's respiration had become less shalow, she said.

The Foundation is now working with town officials and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a disposal plan. Durham would like to be able to perform a necropsy on the beach if authorities can move the whale from the rocks and onto a sandier part of the area. The groups are working on the details because transport will require special equipment.

"We would like to secure the animal and do an examination," Durham said. "Because something happened to this animal, and for me, I want to know.

Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which arrived just after 11 a.m., decided rescue procedures would be too risky, especially given the animal's rapidly diminishing health.

"I have to rule there is a strong likelihood that people might get hurt," Durham, said. "This is a worst-case scenario because you have a young animal, this is the end stage."

Eyewitnesses noticed the whale at dawn, and East Hampton Marine Patrol arrived on the scene shortly after then. Several children tried to comfort the animal, pouring buckets of water over the whale during low tide, eyewitnesses said. Read More

SEVERE WEATHER ALERT FOR VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA - 23rd July 2011

SAT JUL 23 2011 ...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR NORTH CENTRAL CITY OF VIRGINIA BEACH COUNTY UNTIL 415 PM EDT... AT 356 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING QUARTER SIZE HAIL...AND DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THIS STORM WAS LOCATED NEAR BAYSIDE...MOVING EAST AT 5 MPH. THE SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WILL BE NEAR... CAPE HENRY AROUND 415 PM EDT. OTHER LOCATIONS IMPACTED BY THE SEVERE THUNDERSTORM INCLUDE NORTH VIRGINIA BEACH. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS... SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCE DAMAGING WIND IN EXCESS OF 60 MILES PER HOUR...DESTRUCTIVE HAIL...DEADLY LIGHTNING...AND VERY HEAVY RAIN. FOR YOUR PROTECTION MOVE TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS. HEAVY RAINS FLOOD ROADS QUICKLY SO DO NOT DRIVE INTO AREAS WHERE WATER COVERS THE ROAD. PLEASE SEND YOUR REPORTS OF HAIL AND OR WIND DAMAGE...INCLUDING TREES OR LARGE LIMBS DOWNED...BY CALLING NOAA'S NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AT...1...800...7 3 7...8 6 2 4 IN WAKEFIELD. LAT...LON 3687 7598 3688 7616 3694 7617 3692 7608 3694 7604 3694 7600 TIME...MOT...LOC 1957Z 267DEG 5KT 3690 7611 WIND...HAIL 60MPH 1.00IN Source

Lightning Strike Causes Bullet Train Crash: 32 Dead - 23rd July 2011

A Chinese bullet train lost power after being struck by lightning Saturday and was hit from behind by another train, knocking two of its carriages off a bridge in eastern China, killing at least 32 people, state media reported.

The official Xinhua News Agency said four cars on the second train also derailed, but it did not say how serious that was.

The first train was traveling from the Zhejiang provincial capital of Hangzhou when the accident occurred in Wenzhou city at about 8:30 p.m. (1230 GMT), Xinhua said.

One carriage from the first train fell about 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) from an elevated section of track, Xinhua said. Pictures on the Internet showed one badly damaged car lying on its side by the bridge and the second car leaning against the bridge after landing on its end..

Xinhua quoted an unidentified witness as saying "rescuers have dragged many passengers out of the coach that fell on the ground."

Xinhua earlier has reported that at least 89 people were injured in the collision. The news agency did not give a new figure for the number of injured after reporting that the death toll had been raised to 32.

The trains involved are "D'' trains, the first generation bullet train with an average speed of about 95 miles (150 kilometers) per hour and not as fast as the new Beijing-Shanghai line. Read More

Fish kill reported on Naples Beach this morning - 23rd July 2011

More than 100 dead fish washed up on Naples Beach this morning, with more reported in the water still alive but dying, city officials say.

"We probably picked up 100 so far in the Third Avenue South area," said Roger Jacobsen, the Naples harbor master. Many more are near the shore, alive, but slowly dying, he said.

"It's every species in the world, snook, sheepshead," Jacobsen said. "They're all in a pile swimming around. And one dies and floats to the top.''

The fish kill appears contained to the beach and shoreline between Third Avenue South and Seventh Avenue South, he said.

Monday, fish were swimming in rust-colored between Doctors Pass, and Wiggins Pass, with many dead fish washing on shore.

The leading theory about the cause of Monday’s weirdness is that marine life came ashore to escape a so-called dead zone, a bloom of algae offshore that has sucked the oxygen out of the water. Instead of finding breathing room, though, the stampede to the beach got trapped when the bloom followed it ashore.

It was too early to determine what caused today's fish kill on Naples Beach. Source

Hundreds Of Fish Dead At Muskogee Pond, Oklahoma - 22nd July 2011

Low oxygen levels at an Oklahoma water body are said to be responsible for another large fish kill.

This time, it's happening at a large pond in Muskogee. The pond, located on the west end of Honor Heights Park, was littered with the carcasses of hundreds of fish.

According to the Muskogee Phoenix, Parks Superintendent Rick Ewing says most of the dead fish were shad and that bass, catfish and perch were apparently spared, since they tend to stay in deeper, cooler water.

To battle the lower oxygen levels, park employees were using a water line to put fresh water into the pond from a nearby fire hydrant.

It's the second big fish kill in Oklahoma in less than a week. Earlier this week, hundreds of dead fish turned up along Keystone Lake. Source