Friday, July 29, 2011

Obama on U.S. debt crisis: 'We are almost out of time.'



President Barack Obama urged Senate Democrats and Republicans to take the lead in the congressional debt ceiling talks Friday -- one day after House GOP leaders temporarily pulled their plan back from consideration due to a lack of support.

The House plan "has no chance of becoming law," Obama said at the White House. "The time for putting party first is over. The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now. ... It's important for everybody to step up and show the leadership that the American people expect."

"This is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart," the president insisted. But "we are almost out of time."

Obama -- sleepless in recent nights due to the crisis, according to a senior administration official -- urged Americans to contact their members of Congress "to keep the pressure on Washington." (more)

Personal info of 35 mil. people stolen in S.Korea

The personal data of about 35 million Internet users in South Korea was stolen from popular websites in a cyber attack. The theft is believed to have originated in China.

South Korea's Communications Commission said on Thursday that hackers attacked the Nate portal and the Cyworld blogging site.

South Korean police are investigating the crime.

The data stolen includes user names, addresses, mobile phone numbers, and email addresses.

The South Korean government has set up an office to give advice to the victims.

The Communications Commission, the country's communications regulator, is urging vigilance as the stolen information could be used in telephone scams, which are increasingly rampant in South Korea. It also warns that victims might receive large amounts of spam. (source)

UK: Ministry of Defence to cut 7,000 jobs in an already dangerous world

The Ministry of Defence is to axe a further 7,000 civilian jobs as the department attempts to bring its budget under control, the Guardian said on Friday.

The paper reported that a letter signed by the department's permanent secretary, Ursula Brennan, would be sent to all staff explaining that cuts were necessary.

Last week Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, outlined proposals to cut a further 7,000 military jobs from the army between 2015 and 2020.

Cutbacks are politically sensitive at a time when Britain is stretched by military commitments in Afghanistan and Libya.

In March, the government said it would make about 11,000 members of the armed forces redundant as it cuts defence spending under measures designed to help rein in the record budget deficit.

The latest decision to cut jobs has infuriated union leaders and defence officials who said they were not consulted, the Guardian said. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said he was unable to comment on the report. (more)

UK Consumer confidence drops back towards 2-year low

Consumer sentiment fell back in July towards the two-year low seen earlier this year, a survey showed on Friday, fuelling concerns that cash-strapped consumers will continue to cut back spending and hamper the fragile economic recovery.

The Gfk NOP consumer confidence index dropped five points to -30, almost matching the two-year low of -31 hit in April, as the one-off boost from the festivities and the extra holiday for the royal wedding faded.

Economists had only expected a dip to -27.

"What will concern the government most is that the biggest drop of nine points was in people's expectations of the performance of the economy over the next 12 months," said Nick Moon, managing director of GfK NOP social research.

"When combined with people's pessimistic expectations for their own finances over the next year, retailers can expect tough conditions to persist for a while yet -- threatening an already fragile recovery." (more)

Screening has little impact on breast cancer deaths: study

Falling breast cancer death rates have little to do with breast screening but are down to better treatment and health systems, scientists said on Friday, in a study likely to fuel a long-running row over the merits of mammograms.

Researchers analysed data from three pairs of countries in Europe and found that although breast cancer screening programmes had been introduced 10 to 15 years earlier in some areas than in others, declines in death rates were similar.

The findings suggest that "improvements in treatment and in the efficiency of healthcare systems may be more plausible explanations" for falling deaths rates from breast cancer, they wrote in a study in the British Medical Journal.

World Health Organisation (WHO) data show that deaths from breast cancer are decreasing in the United States, Australia, and most Nordic and western European countries but breast screening is a hot topic among experts who disagree about whether nationwide mammogram programmes do more harm than good.

The fear among some is that over-diagnosis -- when screening picks up tumours that would never have presented a problem -- may mean many women are undergoing unnecessary radical treatment, suffering the physical and psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis that would otherwise not have come up.

But sweeping changes in U.S. guidelines two years ago that scaled back recommendations on breast screening caused an uproar among patient and doctors groups who said they put women at risk. That was swiftly followed by two conflicting European studies which further fuelled the row.

The first, by Danish scientists, found that breast cancer screening programmes of the type run by health services in Europe, the United States and other rich nations do nothing to reduce death rates from the disease, while the second, by a British team, found "substantial and significant reduction in breast cancer deaths" due to screening. (more)

Fort Hood Suspect Mentions al Qaeda Cleric Believed to Have Inspired Previous Attack, Official Says



A U.S. serviceman is in custody after he allegedly admitted he was planning an attack on his fellow servicemen at the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, the same base where 13 people were killed in a 2009 terror attack.

U.S. officials told ABC News an AWOL soldier, identified by the FBI as a Private First Class Naser Jason Abdo, was arrested Wednesday after making a purchase at Guns Galore in Killeen, Texas, the same ammunition store where Maj. Nidal Hasan purchased the weapons he allegedly used to gun down 13 people and wound 32 others on Nov. 5, 2009. According to one senior official, Abdo has also mentioned the name of high profile al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki -- the same man investigators said inspired the previous Fort Hood attack along with other potentially deadly terror plots in the U.S. -- though no direct link between Abdo and Awlaki has been found.

Abdo, 21, allegedly told law enforcement he wanted to "get even" and was targeting Ft. Hood because of the previous attack there, according to law enforcement documents obtained by ABC News. The documents say he did not plan to attack the base itself, but instead planned to plant two bombs at a nearby restaurant popular with Ft. Hood personnel.

He hoped to detonate both at the target location before using a pistol to shoot survivors, according to the documents. Abdo had gone AWOL over the July 4 weekend from Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky over 800 miles away. (more)

3 ways Obama could bypass Congress and potentially stave off financial disaster

Very soon, Congress will raise the debt ceiling. If it does not, it would be the greatest unforced error in American history, a self-inflicted wound that is as disastrous as it was avoidable.

Suppose, however, that the tea party gets its way, and the debt ceiling is not increased. What are President Barack Obama's options?

We are having a debt-ceiling crisis because Congress has given the president contradictory commands; it has ordered the president to spend money, and it has forbidden him to borrow enough money to obey its orders.

Are there other ways for the president to raise money besides borrowing?

Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there's a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time.

Ironically, there's no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds. (more)

More strikes 'inevitable' over extra pension payments

Unions reacted furiously to government proposals to raise the level of pension contributions for public sector workers, accusing ministers of “playground” tactics.

David Cameron was warned that talks to resolve the issue were in jeopardy and strikes in the autumn were inevitable.

The Daily Telegraph disclosed the extra pension contributions workers in the NHS, education and Civil Service would have to pay from next April. The Treasury confirmed the figures, adding there was no alternative to the plan.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said his plans meant 750,000 workers earning less than £15,000 would pay no extra. But unions expressed anger that anyone earning more than that faced increases.

Those earning £50,000 will have to pay £768 a year extra, those on a salary of more than £100,000 faced bills of £3,400 more a year.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, accused ministers of “crude and naive tactics” more akin to a “playground game” than serious negotiations. He said: “It is totally unhelpful to the progress of these talks to release their bargaining position as though it is set in stone.” (more)

Kosovo peacekeepers "can use force if attacked" -- doesn't sound too peaceful, does it?

American and French peacekeepers were told to fire their weapons in defence if attacked at border posts on Kosovo's northern boundary with Serbia, a day after the crossings were set ablaze by Serbs armed with firebombs, a Nato spokesman said.

There have been days of mounting tension between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs after Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci ordered special police units to take over two disputed border posts that were previously manned by Serb members of the police under EU supervision.

One Kosovo policeman died in the operation.

"We are in command of those places," Nato spokesman Captain Hans Wichter said. "If we are threatened, we have the right to use weapons." (more)

UK Officials make tens of thousands of web visits on taxpayers' time and money

Civil servants are making tens of thousands of visits to betting, shopping and ‘role play’ websites while at work, official figures reveal today.

Freedom of information laws have forced the release of a list of the top 1,000 websites visited by thousands of Whitehall officials over a five-month period.

It shows ‘cyberslacking’ staff have spent their time monitoring live cricket scores, checking lottery results, booking holidays and even planning belly dancing lessons while being paid by the taxpayer.

Even a website dedicated to ranking MPs in order of attractiveness – sexymp.co.uk – appears on the list, with 21,477 hits making it the 463rd most popular website accessed.

Perhaps the most bizarre inclusion is preseed.co.uk, a site which sells ‘intimate moisturiser’. It ranks 625th having been accessed 13,295 times.

Another unusual entry is bearsfaction.org.uk, which received 27,634 visits, making it the 385th most popular site.

It is run by the Lorien Trust, Britain’s largest ‘live action role play system’, which invites users to ‘leave reality behind’ and ‘walk amongst goblins, elves and dwarves’. (more)

African Union forces battle rebels in drought-hit Mogadishu

mali government forces and African Union troops battled insurgents on Thursday in heavy fighting in the capital Mogadishu in efforts to secure aid routes for drought victims.

At least 27 civilians were injured in the fighting, medics said.

The clashes come just a day after the UN World Food Programme began an airlift of emergency relief into the war-torn capital, to bring supplies for thousands at risk of starvation from an extreme drought in the Horn of Africa.

"Our troops have dealt with specific security threats in a short tactical offensive operation," the spokesman for the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) Paddy Ankunda said in a statement.

The assault aimed to "ensure that aid agencies can continue to operate and get vital supplies to internally displaced persons," he added.

Three positions in the city had been captured in a "limited and pinpoint offensive" Ankunda said.

Fighting erupted near the city's key Bakara market and Suqbacad areas, with both sides exchanging heavy machinegun and artillery fire.

Witnesses told AFP that the AU troops and tanks crossed a road that has acted as a frontline in their war with the hardline Shebab insurgents, and moved into the Suqbacad area. (more)

Cyprus cabinet quits as fiscal woes deepen

The Cypriot cabinet resigned on Thursday to try to damp down public fury over a fatal munitions blast that destroyed the island’s largest power plant and compounded its economic woes, possibly forcing an EU bailout.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said it would not necessarily need the help, but even before the energy crisis caused by the July 11 blast, borrowing costs had risen steadily because of Cyprus’s exposure to Greek debt.

“Until now, Cyprus has managed to satisfy its financing needs until the end of the year. So don’t take it as a given that Cyprus will be admitted into a support mechanism,” Stefanou told reporters.

Thousands of Cypriots have protested over the blast, blaming state incompetence for allowing the seized munitions to be stored near the power station in scorching heat.

Facing probably the biggest challenge of his political career, President Demetris Christofias, elected for a five year term in 2008, has also been under pressure from coalition partners DIKO to create a broad-based unity government to tackle the crisis.

When he did not immediately heed the call last week, DIKO on Wednesday asked its two ministers to resign. Christofias responded by asking all of the ministers to quit.

“The president of the republic briefed ministers of his intention to proceed with a broad reshuffle of the government and asked they place their resignations at his disposal,” Stefanou said.

Christofias wields executive power, and his own resignation is seen as very unlikely. (more)

Do Indian women need the right to dress like a tart?

The last time anyone asked an Indian woman what was on her mind, I don’t think she said she was dying to dress like a slut without attracting a single male glance.

So when women turn out dressed like slags, Jezebels, floozies, tarts, tramps and strumpets on the streets of New Delhi on Sunday to assert their right to dress any way they like without inviting male sexual attention, I fear it may be a smallish gathering, just a handful of the educated elite who’ve heard about SlutWalking and how it was provoked by a Toronto police officer’s remark that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Since the first protests in Canada, SlutWalks have gathered pace. When it’s New Delhi’s turn, I expect the participating women to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. But let them dare claim there’s anything remotely serious about their antic.

In a country where 10 million babies have been killed in the womb because they were girls, where women are burned for dowry, murdered in honour killings, face domestic violence so frequent it’s as common as a power cut, where Dalit women fear sexual humiliation by upper caste men and where young girls are forced into prostitution, who needs the right to dress like a slut? And while we’re listing women’s sorrows, a recent global survey by TrustLaw found India to be the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women. (more)

Following the Trail of Missing Migrants

"We were in prison for three days in Mexico," Amarilis Rodríguez from Guatemala says between sobs. "When we crossed the border at Piedras Negras, in Tamaulipas, into the United States, we were chased by the 'migra' (border patrol agents). They caught me, but my brother escaped and I haven't heard from him since."

Juan Neftalí Rodríguez, Amarilis's 23-year-old brother, went missing on Aug. 18, 2010 during his attempt to make it into the southwest U.S. state of Texas with hopes of a better life. His two children, ages one and seven, and his mother and siblings are anxiously hoping for news of him.

To search for her son Juanito and protest the danger and abuses faced by hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants as they journey northwards through Mexico on their way to the U.S. border, Manuela Bran set out Monday for Mexico along with more than 100 other relatives of missing migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, in the "Step by Step Towards Peace Caravan".

"We have hopes that someone is holding him," says Rodríguez, who saw her mother off Sunday in the Guatemalan capital. "They told us to be careful because in the bush there were many men who could catch us and take us away." (more)

Low Tide Reveals Rare Dinosaur Fossil

A team from the University of Alaska Museum of the North has succeeded in excavating the fossil of a rare, ancient marine reptile from rock that's usually covered by the tide.

Eugene Primaky, working for the USDA Forest Service Heritage Program out of Petersburg, spotted what he thought might be the bones of a fish or a branch while looking over an intertidal outcropping near Kake in Southeast Alaska in May. He gave it a kick. It didn't move.

Photos were sent to the museum's earth sciences curator, Patrick Druckenmiller, who quickly determined that it was the back end of a little-known sea-going reptile from the age of the dinosaurs called a thalattosaur, Greek for "sea lizard."

The fossil was found in a formation estimated to be 220 million years old. "Based on the age of the rocks and what I could see in the picture, I was 99 percent sure that's what it was," Druckenmiller said.

Druckenmiller and a colleague, Kevin May, traveled to the site in mid-June to collect the specimen. The site was exposed only during extreme low tides at certain times of year. The team faced a two-day window in which they had just four hours each day to remove the fossil. The next chance to do so wouldn't come until October.

Rock saws were used to hack into the layers surrounding the fossil. The workers managed to complete the excavation just five minutes before the site went underwater on the first day. But Druckenmiller spotted yet more bone penetrating the rock. A larger section was removed on the second day in hopes that it would contain the rest of the skeleton. (more)

Planet Earth Is Getting Fatter

Like many of its inhabitants, the Earth is getting thicker around the middle -- that's what a new study out this week says. The increased bulge is due to the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The Earth was never perfectly round to begin with, due to its spin. Just as an ice skater's skirt flutters up and away from her skates during her pirouette, water on Earth is more concentrated at the equator than at the poles.

As recently as 22,000 years ago, several miles of ice covered much of the northern hemisphere. Since the downward pressure of land-based ice has reduced as the ice melted, the land underneath has "rebounded" causing the Earth to become more spherical, said Steve Nerem, an aerospace engineer at the University of Colorado at Boulder and coauthor of a new analysis of the Earth's bulge.

"It's a bit like a sponge, and it takes a while to come back to its original shape," Nerem said. (more)

Larry Flynt says he's offered Casey Anthony $500,000 to pose in Hustler

If Larry Flynt has his way, Casey Anthony could reintroduce herself -- nude -- to America on the pages of Hustler magazine, and make well over $500,000 in the process.

The pornography magnate told HLN's "Nancy Grace" show on Thursday night that talks are ongoing that could land Anthony on the pages of his magazine, weeks after a Florida jury acquitted her of murder in her 2-year-old daughter Caylee's death.

Anthony's camp dismissed the report as "nonsense."

But Flynt insisted he was serious about the offer, which he said would include $500,000 up front plus 10% of all profits. He said any payment that the Orlando woman might receive for interviews with media outlets would be "chicken feed" compared to what she'd receive by appearing in Hustler.

"If they want to get their hands on big money, they've got to go through me," Flynt said. (more)

Would Your Child Pass a Social Media Background Check?

Yes. You read that right. A social media background check is now possible thanks to a recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. That ought to provide us parents with further reinforcement that it's incredibly important to teach our children how to "safely and responsibly network online."

The FTC ruling authorizes companies to provide reports on an individual's online actions by reviewing up to seven years worth of publicly available records. These records include everything from what your child might say and post on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to Craigslist ads and personal blog posts.

Sure, companies could take a peek at someone's online actions before this ruling, but they were mostly limited to what they found on Google or searched on Facebook or MySpace. This ruling gives organizations information on you (or your child) from seven years back. So whatever your now-15-year-old child is posting online could affect what college they get into or what job they get, which is all the more reason for you to be involved in what and where they post online. (more)

Help scientists decipher 'lost' gospel

Scientists are recruiting thousands of armchair archaeologists to help them decipher a "lost" gospel and other fragments of texts from ancient Egypt.

The Ancient Lives project draws upon the same type of people power that drives citizen-science projects such as Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Foldit and EteRNA. In all these cases, legions of human eyes and brains can do a better job of sifting through massive databases than supercomputers. For this particular project, however, the monster database that needs to be tamed does not consist of sky-survey data or molecular combinations — rather, they're ink letters, scrawled in Greek on centuries-old bits of papyrus.

Oxford University launched Ancient Lives just a couple of days ago, but project leader Chris Lintott told me that more than 400,000 papyrus images have already been served up as of today. "It's been a crazy few days," he said in an email. (more)

"Tiny House": Tiny self-sustaining house has everything you need

How much space do you really need to live? No more than 128 square feet – about the same footprint as the trailers lawn care companies use to haul their gear, according to a team of college students and recent alumni keyed into the sustainability movement.

The team is putting the finishing touches on their tiny house which, in fact, was built on a trailer and is completely self-sustainable. It generates all the water and electricity its dweller needs, a first, they say, for this class of miniature housing.

"You can go anywhere you want and do anything," Kaycee Overcash, a recent graduate from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who is the co-project manager for the Tiny House project, explained to me.

A 1,120-watt array of solar panels mounted on the roof coupled with a battery bank generates enough electricity to power a small refrigerator, lights and a laptop, the team says. A rainwater collection system fills up a pillow stored beneath the home, providing 8.4 gallons of water per day, year round.

That water and electricity, though, aren't used to flush the toilet. The house has a composting toilet outfitted with peat moss and a ventilation system that is slotted into the shower, which is actually where the entire bathroom is contained.

"It is a little bigger than a normal toilet because of the area it needs to decompose, but you sit on it like any other toilet," Overcash said. "You take a tray out once a week and it is dirt. You put it in your garden." (more)

New ultra-powerful Russian space telescope goes into orbit

A new ultra-powerful Russian space telescope has been launched into orbit by a rocket that blasted off from Kazakhstan on the 18th of July.

The 3.8 tonne RadioAstron uses a 10 metre antenna to send back high-resolution images to a series of ground-based stations.

Russian scientists say the pictures are of much better quality than those of the Hubble space telescope. Nikolai Kardashev is the head of the Astro-Space Center at the Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Hubble allows us to see very remote objects, but the angle resolution and details are not very high. Now we’ll be able to receive images a hundred times better in quality than those from Hubble”

It will study sources of radio waves from stellar phenomena such as pulsars, quasars, black holes and neutron stars.

A 10 metre antenna is smaller than many earth-based telescope aerials, but when its signals are combined with those on the ground, the result is effectively the biggest radio telescope in space.

RadioAstron has been decades in the making but the project was perpetually postponed and had been shelved at the end of the Soviet era in 1991. Scientists now hope it will help to unlock more secrets of the universe. (more)

1600 year-old ship found in Turkey

Workers on Istanbul’s new metro system, the Marmoray project, have unearthed a more ancient form of transport.

They have discovered an intact wreck of a ship, complete with its cargo, believed to be from the fifth century.

Archaeologists say it is very rare to find such a shipwreck that old with its timber frame and load intact.

They say many of the pots and pans on board the ship are broken, but some will be joined back together and analysed to determine what they carried.

Many seeds such as olives, walnuts, apricots and almonds have been found almost perfectly preserved after 1600 years under water and silt.

So far 35 ships have been found in the sunken Byzantine port, leading experts to call it the most important marine archaeological site in the world. (more)

Lasting Flood Impacts in Louisiana

Busting Posse Comitatus: Military Cops Arrest Civilians in Florida City

In Homestead, Florida, Posse Comitatus is dead. The Air Force now responds to civilian crime in the small city, population around 30,000.

“Here at Homestead Air Reserve Base we have the Crime Stop hotline that allows anyone either on base or off the installation to anonymously report a crime,” explains the Homestead Air Reserve Base website. “If you know of a crime that has been committed, if you see a crime in progress, or if you see a suspicious person, vehicle, or situation that makes you feel a crime may be occurring, call the Security Forces Crime Stop Hotline…”

On July 15, military police – known as Security Forces patrolmen – detained a criminal suspect at a Circle K in until Miami-Dade police arrived.

“Crime prevention is everyone’s responsibility, the better informed we are the safer we can make the installation and the surrounding community,” said t. Juan Lemus, Security Forces Police Services Chief.

Crime prevention off military bases is the responsibility of civilian police, not the military. In 1878, following Reconstruction, the Posse Comitatus Act was passed. It limited the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement. The statute prohibits Army and Air Force personnel and units of the National Guard under federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress.

Infowars.com has reported numerous violations of Posse Comitatus since September 11, 2001.

In 2009, the National Guard provided “security” in Kingman, Arizona. The Coast Guard, under the Department of Homeland Security, is now exempt from the Act. (more)

Senate Democrats block Boehner debt ceiling plan after House approval -- "We're headed for disaster"



House Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling and slash government spending narrowly passed his chamber on Friday and then was blocked by Senate Democrats, setting up a weekend of negotiations to seek a deal that would avoid a potential federal default next week.

The Senate vote was 59-41 to table the measure, which effectively kills it unless Democrats decide to bring it up again.

Earlier, Boehner's proposal was approved by the House in a sharply polarized 218-210 vote that was delayed by a day while the speaker rounded up support from wary tea party conservatives. No Democrats supported the measure, and 22 of the 240 members of the Republican majority also opposed it.

Even though it was blocked in the Senate, the Boehner plan now is the Republican negotiating position for hammering out a deal with congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to avert a possible government default next week.

owever, no face-to-face talks were scheduled, with Democrats accusing Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of refusing to negotiate and McConnell in turn seeking a chance for his caucus to reject a proposal offered by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid as a vehicle for compromise.

Democratic and Republican sources familiar with the situation told CNN that McConnell insists the White House be present in further negotiations toward a debt ceiling deal.

In a continuation of the political theater that has characterized the negotiations so far, the House scheduled a vote on the Reid plan for Saturday -- before the Senate will even begin considering it -- as what appeared to be payback for the rejection by Senate Democrats of the Boehner proposal. (more)

TSA readying new behavior detection plan for airport checkpoints

he federal government is planning to introduce new behavior detection techniques at airport checkpoints as soon as next month, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said Thursday.

TSA already has "behavior detection officers" at 161 airports nationwide looking for travelers exhibiting physiological or psychological signs that a traveler might be a terrorist. However, Pistole said TSA is preparing to move to an approach that employs more conversation with travelers—a method that has been employed with great success in Israel.

"I'm very much interested in expanding the behavior detection program, upgrading it if you will, in a way that allows us to….have more interaction with a passsenger just from a discussion which may be able to expedite the physical screening aspects," Pistole said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. "So, we’ve looked at what works around the world, some outstanding examples and we are planning to do some new things in the near future here."

Pistole declined to elaborate on the enhanced behavior detection program but said it would "probably" be announced in August. During an on-stage interview with CNN's Jeanne Meserve, Pistole acknowledged that the Israeli techniques have been carefully examined.

"There's a lot—under that Israeli model—a lot that is done that is obviously very effective," he said. However, critics have said the Israeli program is too time consuming to use consistently at U.S. airports and may involve a degree of religious and racial profiling that would draw controversy in the U.S. (more)

Record Number of U.S. Troops Killed by Iranian Weapons -- When Will The Shoe Drop?

U.S. military commanders in Iraq say Iranian-made weaponry is killing American troops there at an unprecedented pace, posing new dangers to the remaining forces and highlighting Tehran’s intensifying push to gain influence over post-U.S. Iraq.

June was the deadliest month in more than two years for U.S. troops, with 14 killed. In May, the U.S. death toll was two. In April, it was 11. Senior U.S. commanders say the three primary Iranian-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah, the Promise Day Brigade, and Asaib al Haq, and their rockets were behind 12 of the deaths in June.

A detailed U.S. military breakdown of June’s casualties illustrates the growing threat posed by Iranian munitions.

Military officials said six of the 14 dead troops were killed by so-called “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs, a sophisticated roadside bomb capable of piercing through even the best-protected U.S. vehicles. Five other troops were killed earlier in the month when a barrage of rockets slammed into their base in Baghdad. It was the largest single-day U.S. loss of life since April 2009, when a truck bomb killed five soldiers. The remaining three troops killed in June died after a rocket known as an “improvised rocket-assisted mortar,” or IRAM, landed in a remote U.S. outpost in southern Iraq.

U.S. officials say the EFPs, rockets, and IRAMs all come from neighboring Iran. Tehran denies providing the weaponry to Shia militias operating in Iraq.

“We’re seeing a sharp increase in the amount of munitions coming across the border, some manufactured as recently as 2010,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said in an interview. “These are highly lethal weapons, and their sheer volume is a major concern.” (more)

Report: Darioush Rezaei, shot Iranian said to be nuke expert

A man shot dead on a Tehran street by motorcycle-riding gunmen last weekend was a scientist involved in suspected Iranian attempts to make nuclear weapons and not a student as officially claimed, a foreign government official and a former UN nuclear inspector said Thursday.

The man was shot Saturday by a pair of gunmen firing from motorcycles in an attack similar to other recent assassinations of nuclear scientists that Iran blames on the United States and Israel.

Iran's State-run media initially identified him as Darioush Rezaei, a physics professor and expert in neutron transport, but backtracked within hours, with officials subsequently naming him as Darioush Rezaeinejad, an electronics student.

An official, from a member nation of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, verified that the victim was named Rezaeinejad, but said he participated in developing high-voltage switches, a key component in setting off the explosions needed to trigger a nuclear warhead. An abstract seen by the AP and co-authored by Rezaeinejad appears to back that claim. (more)

CME Group calls tax situation in Chicago 'untenable;' says it may exit state

CME Group Inc. is evaluating whether to move some operations to other states from Chicago to reduce its taxes, but it has not decided on an exact timeline, CEO Craig Donohue said Thursday.

"Our tax situation is untenable," Donohue told Reuters, noting that CME is taxed more heavily than any of its global competitors. The company is talking with at least three states -- Texas, Florida and Tennessee -- about relocating some of its business to take advantage of lower tax rates there, Donohue said.

CME has been based in Chicago since the founding of its oldest market, the Chicago Board of Trade, in 1848.

CME has no specific time frame for moving, Donohue said, and does not plan to shut its Chicago-based trading floor. But he said the possibility of moving other operations is real.

"I don't think CME group is different from other companies" that relocate to more "hospitable" business environments, he said. (more)

Chicago council declares curfew for "tweens", and $500 fine for violators -- Will they ask to see our papers next?

Parents who let their kids under 12 stay out past 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends will pay a heavy price beginning Sept. 18, under a City Council crackdown launched Thursday at the urging of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

“I grew up with a curfew,” Emanuel said earlier this week. “When the lights on the street went on, you took your tail and made it home and in the house. And that’s what I believe is the right policy for the safety and security of our kids.

“It doesn’t mean that, because you have, kids are gonna be safe. But it means that we’re aligning good parenting and the laws of the city to make sure that our children are gonna be safe.”

McCarthy said he gets daily briefings on every shooting in the city. When young people are involved, the first question is about curfew.

“As soon as a 15-year-old is shot at 12 o’clock at night, I turn right to Ernie Brown, who is deputy superintendent of patrol, and I say, `I want to know what the curfew numbers are in this location in this district?’ “ McCarthy said.

Informed that the number of curfew citations issued by Chicago Police have been dropping steadily in recent years, McCarthy said, “I have to get tough on my commanders to make sure that they’re doing curfew so we don’t have young people getting shot late at night.”

Two years ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley turned back the curfew clock by 30 minutes--to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends for Chicago’s 730,000 kids under the age of 17. The curfew is currently the same for younger kids. (more)

African-American Middle Class Eroding As Unemployment Rate Soars

The unemployment situation across America is bad, no doubt. But for African-Americans in some cities, this is not the great recession. It’s the Great Depression.

Take Charlotte, N.C., for example. It is a jewel of the “new South.” The largest financial center outside of New York City, it's the showcase for next year’s Democratic National Convention. It was a land of hope and opportunity for many blacks with a four-year college degree or higher.

According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, in Charlotte, N.C., the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 19.2 percent. If you add in people who have given up looking for jobs, that number exceeds 20 percent, which, according to economists Algernon Austin and William Darity, has effectively mired blacks in a depression.

“You’re looking at a community that is economically depressed in my opinion,” Austin said. “And we need action that will address that scale of joblessness.”

Vanessa Parker worked hard to get ahead. She was an administrative assistant at IBM in Charlotte. She went to night school to better herself, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance. Parker and her husband saved up enough money to move from a bad neighborhood to a quiet, middle-class street. But instead of moving up in the company, IBM moved out. Now she works at a big-box store for minimum wage.

“It’s very frustrating and it makes you wonder why are you doing it,” she told me. “Because it seems like the more that you try to get ahead, seems like you’re falling back.” (more)

Don't steal the hotel towels... they're electronically tagged with traceable microchips

The days of hotel guests helping themselves to towels and robes when they check out could be a thing of the past as high tech gets in to the linen.

One company has come up with a way of adding miniature tags in the expensive materials which were costing hotel managements a fortune to constantly replace.

It has long been assumed, wrongly in most cases, that the smart towelling robes and plush fluffy towels were fair game for guests looking to save some cash at home.

But now beware - they may come with an electronic leash as more and more hotels are turning to new radio frequency chips to keep track of their inventory.

The RFID technology - which stands for radio frequency identification and requires an installed chip that can be read by an electronic reader - has been used by various industries for several years to organise product storage and tally shipments.

Now hotels are using the tech to monitor the whereabouts of bathrobes, bed sheets, duvet covers, bathmats, pool towels and banquet linens. (more)

House panel approves broadened Internet snooping bill

nternet providers would be forced to keep logs of their customers' activities for one year--in case police want to review them in the future--under legislation that a U.S. House of Representatives committee approved today.

The 19 to 10 vote represents a victory for conservative Republicans, who made data retention their first major technology initiative after last fall's elections, and the Justice Department officials who have quietly lobbied for the sweeping new requirements, a development first reported by CNET.

A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses, some committee members suggested. By a 7-16 vote, the panel rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored.

It represents "a data bank of every digital act by every American" that would "let us find out where every single American visited Web sites," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who led Democratic opposition to the bill. (more)

US Military Recruiters pressed to reach out to gays once ban is lifted

An underground gay group in the military wants recruiters to reach out to the gay community in the same way they target blacks, Hispanics and women.

The Pentagon’s ban on openly gays members is due to be lifted Sept. 20, meaning avowed gay people can sign up, those in the ranks can come out of the closet and the military will no longer discharge personnel because of sexual preference.

What is unclear is the number of post-ban policies that might be adopted to meet the demands of gays and ease integration of different sexual identities.

The group OutServe, which claims more than 4,000 gay and lesbian military members worldwide, plans a “coming-out party,” of sorts, in Las Vegas in October.

The group has invited Defense Department officials to attend an OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Conference and expects hundreds of military personnel to attend.

J.D. Smith, an active-duty Air Force officer who founded OutServe, said the military should think of gays when recruiting. “J.D. Smith” is an alias he uses because the ban is still in effect.

“Absolutely, we endorse the DoD advertising recruiting for the gay community, just as they would any other community,” he said in an email exchange with The Washington Times. “The DoD regularly attends public events to recruit, and we believe they should be at Pride events next year around the country to let the gay community know the opportunities to serve their nation.

“The DoD doesn’t need to do a campaign to let the public know they accept gays; they should do it so gays know of the opportunity now open to them.” (more)

Extremists flocking to Facebook for recruits

When the English Defense League sprang to life two years ago, it had fewer than 50 members - a rough-and-tumble bunch of mostly white guys shouting from a street corner about what they viewed as uncontrolled Muslim immigration.

Now, the far-right group mentioned by confessed Norway gunman Anders Behring Breivik as an inspiration says its ranks have swollen to more than 10,000 people, a spectacular rise its leaders attribute to the immense global power of Facebook and other social networking sites.

"I knew that social networking sites were the way to go," EDL leader Stephen Lennon told The Associated Press. "But to say that we inspired this lunatic to do what he did is wrong. We've never once told our supporters its alright to go out and be violent."

A Facebook page under Breivik's name was taken down shortly after the attacks last week. A Twitter account under his name had only one Tweet, on July 17, loosely citing English philosopher John Stuart Mill: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests." (more)

Cuba bout to drill for offshore oil with “second-tier parts” because of trade embargo; U.S. beaches endangered

Sometime over the next three months, if all goes according to plan, Cuban workers on a Chinese-built, Spanish-owned rig will start drilling for oil in the mile-deep waters just off the north coast of Cuba, 70 miles from the Florida Keys.

If the drill hits a major oil deposit—and all geologic signs indicate it will—the discovery will unleash a cascade of developments with profound political, environmental, and economic consequences.

The Cuban government has long wanted to extract the rich reserves of oil and natural gas believed to lie off its shores. Estimates for oil range from 5 billion to 20 billion barrels, while the estimate for natural gas is 8.6 billion cubic feet. Unlocking that oil could jump-start a nascent Cuban offshore-oil industry—and free the island nation from its energy and political dependence on Venezuela, from which it imports 60 percent of its oil today. A newfound independence from its socialist neighbor and its mercurial president, Hugo Chavez—coming at a time when the Cuban leadership is facing change with the eventual demise of Fidel Castro—is an appealing prospect to the United States.

But the potential of a closer relationship with Cuba comes with a terrifying specter: An oil blowout in Cuban waters could reprise the nightmare that was last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and send crude spewing to the beaches of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. And the likelihood for such a disaster is very real, say oil industry experts, thanks in part to Washington’s 49-year-old embargo on Cuba. (more)

Parched Texas welcomes tropical storm Don, wants more

Emergency managers along the Gulf Coast typically don't welcome severe weather, but with more than 90 percent of Texas in extreme or exceptional drought, there's barely concealed excitement for Tropical Storm Don's arrival.

The couple inches of rain Don was expected to bring won't be enough to break the state's crushing drought, but any rain is welcome and many Texans are hoping it's just the beginning.

"We're looking forward to the rain," Nueces County Emergency Management Coordinator Danielle Hale said. "We welcome that rain actually."

Don was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a tropical storm, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Texas coast from Matagorda Bay south to the mouth of the Rio Grande, but there were no plans to order evacuations along coastal areas, said Hale, whose county sits on the north side of Don's path.

Primitive beach camping would be restricted in county parks, but camping for recreational vehicles on the other side of the sand dunes should remain open, Hale said. County beaches would not be closed except where Mother Nature closed them, she said.

However, Padre Island National Seashore, south of Corpus Christi, closed its beaches and camping areas Thursday until the storm passes. The park's recorded weather report Thursday closed with: "at least we're going to get some rain. Hey, wonderful!" (more)

New Metrobus cameras lead to 20 firings, 222 suspensions as drivers caught running red lights, talking on cell phones

Drivers nailed for talking on cell phones, running red lights

Metro has fired 20 bus drivers in the past five months after new cameras filmed them using cell phones while behind the wheel.

The Metrobus cameras have caught bus drivers misbehaving 1,173 times in that period, prompting 222 suspensions for various infractions as well as the 20 firings.

Aimed at the driver's seat, the cameras are intended to help train Metro's bus operators how to better navigate the region's traffic-filled streets. But they also are catching drivers speeding, driving without seat belts and chatting on forbidden cell phones. The most common violation has been running red lights.

The $3 million addition of the cameras in the fall has even caused the agency to take the blame more often for bus crashes. Previously about 35 percent of all Metrobus accidents were deemed "preventable," the agency's way of saying the driver was at least partly to blame for the crash, Metro Assistant General Manager of Bus Service Jack Requa said. Since the cameras were added, the rate has crept up to 40 percent because the agency is seeing things it couldn't before. Metro says drivers could have prevented 351 of the 883 crashes that occurred March through June. (more)


Thieves Steal At Least 113 Bronze Vases From Newhall Cemetery



Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives are investigating the theft of more than 100 bronze vases from gravesites at a local cemetery.

According to authorities, at least 113 bronze flower vases, which were attached to headstones, have been stolen in July at Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary in Newhall. In the first reported theft, 100 vases were stolen on July 18. The second theft occurred on July 25 where between 13 and 15 vases were taken.

The vases have retail value of $125 each or more, bringing the total theft to at least $14, 125.

The thefts were the latest in a series of valuable metal thefts in the Santa Clarita Valley. In June, authorities say thieves stole a brass train whistle from the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society’s steam locomotive at William S. Hart Park. In addition, more than a dozen reports have been filed at the local Sheriff’s Station in the last few weeks by car owners reporting catalytic converters stolen from their vehicles.

Anyone with information regarding any of the thefts is urges to call Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detects at (661) 255-1121. (more)

Rash Of Copper Wire Thefts Plague Vallejo Schools; Start Of School Year May Be Threatened



Copper theft is nothing new in the Bay Area. But thieves have been particularly busy in Vallejo, where several schools were stripped of the valuable metal in recent weeks.

The problem has become so bad, it may impact the return to school for some students.

At Franklin Middle School, Vallejo Assistant Superintendent Mel Jordan believes three to five thieves sliced through heavy duty bolts and metal brackets to get to copper wire. He said the wire was live and the thieves knew how to take it despite the electrocution risk. (more)

Thieves swipe uniform, vehicle from city firehouse

District firefighters have been deployed to street corners to help protect high-crime neighborhoods.

They may need to begin patrolling their firehouses.

Early Tuesday morning, Engine 33 firefighters returned from a call to their firehouse at 101 Atlantic St. SE to find it ransacked, with a BMW automobile, a firefighter's uniform and other valuables stolen. Thieves had forced their way into the station, trashed the watch desk, and stole a range of gear and personal property.

Also missing were keys, wallets and a camera, according to the police report. The ripped-off BMW was the personal car of a firefighter.

D.C. fire spokesman Pete Piringer said the break-in occurred while the firefighters were battling a blaze at 1720 Savannah St. SE, and not while they were out deterring crime. He said the department will continue to stand watch on the city's most dangerous intersections.

"I would like to think that we've made the neighborhoods better from our efforts," Piringer said. "It's been pretty well received in most communities."

Since May, the city has deployed D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel and trucks to high-crime spots to deter criminals. The firefighters have been posted at 14 of the most dangerous areas at night. The spots were chosen by the Metropolitan Police Department. (more)

ICE Raids University of Northern Virginia Offices

Dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided offices at the University of Northern Virginia's Annandale campus Thursday.

The University of Northern Virginia is an unaccredited, for-profit private university that calls itself the most popular American university for students from India. Thousands of students are registered at three locations in northern Virginia.

Agents have removed boxes of documents from a building on Little River Turnpike where the university leases two suites.

The university temporarily can't accept any foreign students, reads a notice posted on the door of the offices. UNVA students must leave the country immediately if they are unable “to continue to attend classes and maintain their active status in a manner required by federal government regulations,” the notice reads.

“Today, officials from ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) served University of Northern Virginia officials with a Notice of Intent to Withdraw (NOIW) UNVA’s authorization to admit foreign students,” read a statement released by ICE spokeswoman Cori W. Bassett. (more)

Debt Deal or no debt deal, pain is coming to America

f warring politicians in Washington are somehow able to join hands in a rousing verse of debt-ceiling kumbaya, Pennsylvanians might be tempted to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But experts say that even if the government can strike a deal to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt before the money runs out Tuesday, no one should feel too comfortable. Deal or no deal, pain is coming.

"No matter what, we're looking at severely reduced spending on the federal level," said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. "There's no way that can't affect all of us in some way."


For now, it's unclear who has reason to be most worried, but experts say it's difficult to envision federal spending cuts of more than $1 trillion that don't reduce subsidies to education and programs for senior citizens and low-income people.

Competing plans by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid each claim to cut federal spending by roughly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

It is most certainly a case of pick your poison, experts say, but most say an actual default would be more damaging. Because the federal government spends more money than it takes in, it borrows money to meet all of its spending obligations. In the past, when its credit limit was reached, Congress simply approved a higher limit, allowing the government to keep borrowing and enabling it to keep paying its debts.

But after 74 consecutive routine debt limit increases since 1962, Congress this year said no more credit increases until spending is reduced. The debt capacity runs out Tuesday and analysts fear that when that happens, the government AAA credit rating will be downgraded. (more)

Study: Richer Countries Have Higher Depression

We've all heard money can't buy you love. It looks like money can't buy happiness, either.

New research unveiled this week in the journal BMC Medicine reveals that not only does money not create happiness, it may in fact do the opposite.

Using a diagnostic test from the World Health Organization (WHO), an international team of researchers polled 90,000 people from 18 countries and across income levels and found surprising results.

In the countries considered high-income, an average of 15 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime. In the remaining eight low-to-middle income countries, the number was much lower – only 11 percent admitted depression, reported the Los Angeles Times .

The countries with the highest rates of depression were the United States, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand – all with rates upwards of 18 percent. The lowest were Mexico, India, South Africa and China, with levels dipping below 12 percent in some places, according to the study.

“On one level, it seems counterintuitive that people in high-income countries should experience more stress than those in low- to middle-income countries. However, it has been suggested that depression is to some extent an illness of affluence," the authors wrote in the study. (more)

Equities Are Hit With Panic Selling, What Does It Mean?

It was an exciting trading session Wednesday to say the least… With all the uncertainty floating around it is causing the stock market to be more volatile than normal. It seems like every other day there is some big headline news causing either strong buying of stocks or strong selling to take place. It’s this type of price action which spooks the average investor causing them to panic out of positions at key support areas just before a continued move higher.

I like to focus on the market when I see extreme buying or selling taking place. During times of extreme buying or selling in equities, investors are reacting on emotions rather than logic and that’s when I benefit from everyone rushing to the door trying to get rid of their positions at any price they can get.

Let’s take a look at what the market is telling us right now…

In this chart you can see my custom green indicator at the bottom. I use this to measure fear in the market. When this indicator is trading above 5 I know the masses are unloading stocks as quick as they can in pure fear that a market collapse is about to take place. But the biggest thing I learned trading over the past 12 years is that when everyone is doing something its best to skip the trade or start looking for technical setups which will get you in against the masses because the move is generally almost over. (more)

"Barbarians at the Gate Restructuring the World"

Being the world reserve currency is something that obviously Congress does not comprehend. About two-thirds of central bank reserves are in US treasury paper. What is going on in Washington right now demonstrates the total lack of comprehension of what is the role of the dollar (i.e. the flight to Swiss & gold). This also illustrates my point that the world cannot afford the dollar to be the reserve currency anymore because we are plagued by internal political conflict with no real hope in sight. This is no way to lead the world. At Princeton Economics, being multinational corporate advisor, we got called into so many disasters it was becoming second hat. (more)

Don't start wars you don't know how to end *coughlibyairaqafghanistanyemensomaliacough*

The Saudis and Iranians don’t agree on much, but they do share a deep dislike for Muammer Gaddafi. In fact, outside of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, there really is no one in the international community who does. That is why it was so easy to build international support for a Nato bid to push him from power.

The trouble is that, unless it gets exceptionally lucky, Nato is unlikely to either force Col Gaddafi from his stronghold or cut a politically saleable deal with him anytime soon. Meanwhile, the opposition are making little progress, a fact now worsened by the death of their military leader, Abdel Fattah Younis, who defected from Col Gaddafi in February. The most likely outcome remains a country in pieces, with substantial volumes of crude oil offline for at least the new few months. (more)

New Fall Looks For The Dollar: The Debt Ceiling Collection

After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) abruptly withdrew from the debt talks with the White House last Friday, the latest development is the dueling proposals from the Republican leader in the House and Democratic leader of the Senate to hopefully get the federal $14.3-trillion debt ceiling lifted.

Nevertheless, Lawmakers remain at odds over how to avoid a debt default. With a fast approaching Aug. 2 deadline, the impasse saga at Washington only serves to sharpen the image of an unprecedented U.S. sovereign default into HD 3D.

Investors' fear and worries over the potentially devastating default have tanked the equities and commodities, while gold hit a record of almost $1,620/oz. Rather than the conventional risk-off trade--"sell commodities, buy the dollar"-- investors threshed the dollar, but still have faith in the U.S Treasury. The U.S. dollar has lost 7% year-to-date, while Treasury has not seen as much pressure, considering the debt fiasco (See Charts Below) Typically, when investors sell the dollar, it pressures the U.S. bond market as well. (more)

Pregnancy stroke surge in the US -- sign of our stressful times?

The numbers of US women having a stroke during pregnancy has surged, according to doctors.

The incidents increased from 4,085 in 1994-5 to 6,293 in 2006-7, the journal Stroke suggests.

It is thought other risk factors such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes may be to blame.

The Stroke Association said it was concerned by the sharp increase. Pregnancy is a known - if small - risk factor for stroke.

This study compared data from more than 1,000 hospitals in 1994-5 with 2006-7.

During pregnancy itself, the proportion of women having a stroke increased by 47%, going from 0.15 to 0.22 strokes per 1000 deliveries.

In the 12 weeks after birth there was an increase from 0.12 to 0.22 strokes per 1000 deliveries, an 83% increase.

Dr Elena Kuklina, lead researcher from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said: "I am surprised at the magnitude of the increase, which is substantial. Our results indicate an urgent need to take a closer look." (more)

US economy: GDP growth much weaker than thought

S economic growth is much weaker than first thought, government figures show.

The economy grew at an annualised rate of 1.3% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said. Economists had forecast growth of 1.8%.

And in a surprise move, first-quarter growth was revised down sharply from 1.9% to 0.4%.

There is also much uncertainty at the moment as to how the current row about the US debt crisis will affect its economic recovery.

If Congress does not raise the debt limit by 2 August the US government could face funding shortfalls that it cannot meet by extra borrowing.

President Obama is due to make a statement about the debt crisis shortly.

US markets opened lower, with the Dow Jones, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all falling 1% in early trade.

European markets, which were already in negative territory, saw further falls after the figures were released. (more)

4.0 Magnitude Earthquake GREECE - 29th July 2011

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake has struck Greece at a depth of 10 km, the quake hit at 19:52:26 UTC Friday 29th July 2011.
The epicenter was 7 km (5 miles) North of Patrai, Greece
No damage or injuries reported at this time

Greece has been hit by several shallow quakes today 29th July 2011

3.6 Magnitude - 00:26:53 - Depth 10 km
2.6 Magnitude - 09:08:09 - Depth 10 km
2.2 Magnitude - 09:56:07 - Depth 105 km
2.2 Magnitude - 12:24:47 - Depth 5 km
3.1 Magnitude - 15:09:32 - Depth 10 km
3.8 Magnitude - 19:12:07 - Depth 10 km
3.0 Magnitude - 19:27:21 - Depth 2 km
3.1 Magnitude - 19:50:43 - Depth 10 km
2.0 Magnitude - 20:14:30 - Depth 10 km

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 29th July 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan of 42.4 km ( 26.3 miles), the quake hit at 18:27:49 UTC Friday 29th July 2011.
The epicenter was 101 km (62 miles) ESE of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Gigantic Crack Opens Up In Mexico - 13th July 2011

The crack appeared on 13 July in Santa Maria Huejoculco in Chalco, State Mexico, land has now reached 500 meters long and authorities have not taken preventive measures, warned James Espinoza Hilario, responsible for Social planning on the Sierra Nevada project of the Autonomous Metropolitan University.

In addition, after survey work was detected in Santa Maria Huejoculco yet another gap of about four km which reached La Candelaria Tlapala, in the community of Miraflores, in Chalco, explained Professor Martín Espinosa.

These failures are part of a family of cracks that exist in the region and threaten to spread across the entire east area of the Valley of Mexico.

This event began back 2009 in a small area of this region but since it has grown and is eating up everything around it . Source

Can Debt Crisis Deal Be Reached? - 29th July 2011

Barack Obama says there are "plenty of ways" out of America's debt ceiling crisis - but the politicians in Washington are having trouble locating one.

The US president says he is confident a deal will be struck over the weekend to raise the amount America can legally borrow and avert an unprecedented default.

But Republicans and Democrats appear to be in gridlock in trying to tie spending cuts to the deal to raise the ceiling.

The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has spent three days trying to round up enough of its own members to support a plan already doomed to defeat in the Senate.

It has become deeply embarrassing for Speaker John Boehner and has raised questions about his future.

He has struggled to win over conservative Republicans, many of them elected with Tea Party support, who believe cuts need to be much greater.

Democrats controlling the Senate have only just started talking about their own plan, a reticence that has also attracted criticism.

As Mr Obama said, the Republicans and Democrats are "not miles apart" over how much they believe needs to be cut from America’s spending, the sticking point is whether to raise the debt ceiling in two steps or one.

But the American people are increasingly angry at how long this is taking and the possible consequences for them of the damage being done to America’s financial reputation. Read More

Apple holding more cash than USA

Apple now has more cash to spend than the United States government.

Latest figures from the US Treasury Department show that the country has an operating cash balance of $73.7bn (£45.3bn).

Apple's most recent financial results put its reserves at $76.4bn (£46.9bn).

The US House of Representatives is due to vote on a bill to raise the country's debt ceiling, allowing it to borrow more money to cover spending commitments.

If it fails to reach an agreement, the federal government is likely to hit its $14.3 trillion (£8.7tn) dollar limit.

The United States is currently spending around $200bn (£122bn) more than it collects in revenue every month.

Apple, on the other hand, is making money hand over fist, according to its financial results.

In the three months ending 25 June, net income was 125% higher than a year earlier at $7.31bn (£4.6bn). (more)