Saturday, July 30, 2011

Replica of Wright brothers 1910 plane crashes in Ohio, killing 2

A replica of a 1910 aircraft built by flight pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright crashed Saturday in a field near Springfield, Ohio, killing the two men aboard, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported.

The aircraft was reported downed shortly before 11 a.m., the agency said in a statement. It had taken off from Springfield Beckley Municipal Airport.

Police identified the dead men as Don Gum, 73, of Beaver Creek, Ohio, and Mitchell Cary, 65, of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation, according to the highway patrol. It's looking into the incident along with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane, owned by Wright "B" Flyer Inc. of Dayton, Ohio -- a volunteer nonprofit group -- was a copy of a Wright Model B aircraft produced seven years after the brothers' celebrated first powered flight.

It began test flights in June and performed well, according to a press release on the organization's website. (more)

"Very Large, Astounding" Crop Circle 29th July 2011 at West Woodhay Down, Wiltshire, UK

Growing number of children 'don't know their own name' when starting school

A growing number of children are entering the education system with such poor communication skills that they do not even know their own name, teachers have warned.

Parents are failing to teach their children how to speak because they spend too much time on the internet and watching television, experts claim.

The problem is most acute in deprived areas, where researchers found half of youngsters have communication difficulties when starting school.

In the worst cases, many children are unaware they even have a name at the age of four. Toddlers should be familiar with their own name by the age of two, teachers say.

Jean Gross, the government's communication champion for children, said she discovered the problem while speaking to head teachers in Hull and London.

“They told me that they had seen a number of cases of children arriving for their first day at school who did not know their name or that they even had a name.

“It was very upsetting to realise that children had reached the age of four without that difficulty being picked up.

“We do have a problem. Anecdotally, it’s getting worse from what head teachers say.” (more)

Hundreds of preteen children treated for eating disorders: UK

Almost 600 children below the age of 13 have been treated in hospital for eating disorders in the past three years, new figures have revealed.

The statistics include 197 children between the ages of five and nine - with cases within this age group almost doubling over the period.

Experts blamed the trend on a "pernicious" celebrity culture which glorified size zero figures, leaving increasing numbers of young girls struggling to cope with their growing bodies.

The figures, from 35 NHS hospitals in England, show more than 2,100 children were treated for eating disorders before they reached their sixteenth birthday.

They include 98 children aged between five and seven at the time of treatment and 99 aged eight or nine. Almost 400 were between the ages of 10 and 12, while more than 1,500 were aged 13 to 15.

Even these statistics, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to be an underestimate. (more)

UK households squeezed harder than US or Europe

UK households are suffering a tighter squeeze on disposable incomes than either the US or the rest of Europe, due largely to the weakness of sterling.

According to research by Haver Analytics, real disposable income is shrinking at a rate of about 3pc in the UK, but is contracting by just 0.5pc in the eurozone and continues to rise by 2pc in the US. The main squeeze on households has come from rising prices for food and energy, uniform across the world, but the weak pound has exacerbated the problem in the UK.

Peter Spencer, professor of economics and finance at the University of York, said: "It is the devaluation of the pound that has added to pressures on households. All other things being equal, we would still be paying more for imports than they [the US and Europe] would."

The pound has fallen by about 20pc against a basket of currencies since 2007, increasing the cost of imports. As the UK is a net importer, the squeeze on households has been more marked than the benefits of more competitive exports enjoyed by manufacturers. Households are now forecast to suffer a second successive year of sliding real disposable incomes, after enduring the biggest fall in spending power in 34 years.

Some economists believe that the Bank of England should raise rates to strengthen the pound and reduce imported inflation. However, the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee is this week expected to leave rates at 0.5pc for the 29th month running.

Official statistics last week showed that the recovery has yet to take hold, with the country only able to grow by 0.2pc in the three months to June. (more)

Anxiety in Afghanistan over troops pay if U.S. defaults

It is unclear if the United States will be able to pay troops on time in the event of a debt default, the top U.S. military officer told troops in Afghanistan on Saturday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pentagon officials were working hard to plan for a potential default but cautioned that the circumstances were extraordinary.

"So I honestly can't answer that question," he told troops at Kandahar air base in southern Afghanistan, as several expressed anxiety over budget wrangling in Washington.

Potentially suspending pay to U.S. forces waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is an extremely sensitive subject in the United States and Mullen acknowledged that many troops lived paycheck to paycheck.

"So if paychecks were to stop, it would have a devastating impact," Mullen said, answering questions from troops.

"I'd like to give you a better answer than that right now, I just honestly don't know," he said. (more)

Assailants open fire on Egypt gas pipeline to Israel

Egypt's gas pipeline to Israel was attacked Saturday, as witnesses said they heard heavy gunfire at the gas station that was destroyed in an attack earlier this month.

Witnesses said the station had not been repaired since the blast earlier in July.

The gunfire spread panic among people in the area.

This is the third attack on the pipeline this month and the fifth since the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in February.

No group claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Egypt has been trying to renegotiate gas prices with Israel and Jordan after President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February, amid charges of corruption stemming from selling gas to Israel at below market prices, among other things. Israel says it pays market rates.

Six former Egyptian officials, including former petroleum minister Sameh Fahmi, were charged in April with harming the public interest and corruption related to the deal.

Egyptian officials have been trying to amend the deal since Mubarak was forced out.

Following an ealier attack on July 4, a security source said that men in a small truck who were armed with machineguns had forced guards at the station to flee, then planted explosive charges.

Attacks on the pipeline earlier this year on April 27 and on February 5 forced its closure for several weeks. (more)

4 killed, 16 injured in explosion as rival construction crews rumble in China's North West Longnan City

Four people were killed and 16 others injured during a fight between two groups of workers after one faction detonated explosives in northwestern Gansu Province on Friday.

The blast occurred at around 2:30 p.m. near a railway tunnel at a construction site in the Wudu District of the city of Longnan. Workers from the Wuguan highway construction crew, a section of the Lanzhou-Haikou highway, got into a fight with workers from the Lanzhou-Chongqing railway construction team over a parking dispute.

Workers from latter team then detonated explosives to seek revenge, according to a statement from the local government.

The four victims were all from the Wuguan highway construction team. Two of them were killed at the scene, one died on route to the hospital, another died in the hospital, and 16 remain hospitalized. (more)

South Yemen clashes kill 14; 15 die in friendly fire

Two Yemeni army colonels, five soldiers and seven Islamist militants died overnight in fighting in southern Yemen, while artillery and air raids killed 15 pro-government tribesmen by mistake, local and tribal officials said on Saturday.

The clashes flared outside Zinjibar, center of the province of Abyan where militants have seized several areas, a local official told Reuters. The region abuts an international shipping lane where 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

A colonel and five soldiers were killed in an ambush and seven militants died in clashes that followed. Another colonel was killed in a separate shootout, the local official said.

A tribal official said the army and air force targeted the tribesmen after mistaking them for militants as they approached Zinjibar in another location late on Friday, killing 15 of them.

The militants' increasing threat to army control in south Yemen is kindling fear in the West and neighboring Saudi Arabia that al Qaeda's Yemen wing is taking advantage of political turmoil and six months of anti-government protests. (more)

"We will not withdraw and will not give up our weapons to Al-Qaeda - Commander of Yemen's 25th Mechanized Brigade

In his first media interview, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali, commander of Yemen’s 25th Mechanized Brigade spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat from the heart of the Yemeni forces siege of the city of Zanjibar, the capital of Abyan Governorae, which has become an Al Qaeda stronghold. Brigadier General Al-Sawmali spoke about the 25h Mechanized Brigade’s lone mission to eradicate Al Qaeda from Abyan, particularly after Yemeni military units that were previously stationed in the region withdrew, allowing Al Qaeda to gain its foothold here. Al-Sawmali played down claims that the security apparatus purposefully withdrew from the region and allowed Al Qaeda to gain a foothold there as part of a plot to strengthen Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s grip on power. The Yemeni General insisted that the 25h Mechanized Brigade would not withdraw from Abyan, even in the face of defeat and death. (more)

Japan’s Food-Chain Threat Multiplies as Fukushima Radiation Spreads

Radiation fallout from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant poses a growing threat to Japan’s food chain as unsafe levels of cesium found in beef on supermarket shelves were also detected in more vegetables and the ocean.

More than 2,600 cattle have been contaminated, Kyodo News reported July 23, after the Miyagi local government said 1,183 cattle at 58 farms were fed hay containing radioactive cesium before being shipped to meat markets.

Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano has said officials didn’t foresee that farmers might ship contaminated hay to cattle ranchers. That highlights the government’s inability to think ahead and to act, said Mariko Sano, secretary general for Shufuren, a housewives organization in Tokyo.

“The government is so slow to move,” Sano said. “They’ve done little to ensure food safety.”

Aeon Co., Japan’s biggest supermarket chain, said today 4,108 kilograms (9,056 pounds) of beef suspected of being contaminated was inadvertantly put on sale at 174 stores across Japan. Supermarkets started testing beef after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government found radioactive cesium in slaughtered cattle this month. (more)

N. Korea warns of new nuclear arms race ahead of US talks

North Korea said Wednesday, ahead of landmark talks with the United States, that a US missile defense shield will set off a new nuclear arms race.

The new diplomatic attack on the United States came as the US government said it wanted to see signs in talks due to start on Thursday in New York that North Korea is "serious about moving forward."

But the North's UN envoy said the United States was aiming through its proposed missile defense shield to gain "absolute nuclear superiority and global hegemony over the other nuclear power rivals."

The ambassador, Sin Son Ho, said the shield showed the United States has no "moral justifications" to lecture other countries about proliferation.

"In this current changing world, one can easily understand that this dangerous move will eventually spark a new nuclear arms race," Sin said of the shield which the United States wants to build over eastern Europe. Washington says the shield is aimed at preventing attacks by rogue states such as Iran.

"This shows that the world's largest nuclear weapon state has lost its legal or moral justifications to talk of proliferation issues before international society, on whatever ground," the envoy added. (more)

Arctic vulnerable to worst-case oil spills

As more of the Arctic Ocean becomes open for shipping, the United States isn't prepared for potential disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, top U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. State Department officials told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp said that when the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurred in spring 2010, the Coast Guard was able to deploy manpower and resources from its numerous bases in the Gulf of Mexico to assist in cleanup and recovery efforts.

In the Arctic, the Coast Guard has limited resources and infrastructure, he told a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

If a similar spill occurred in the arctic, "We would have nothing," Papp said. "We'd be starting from ground zero." (more)

U.S. targets Central European cybergangs

Organized Central European cybercrime gangs are a security threat to the United States and have been targeted in a new U.S. strategy released this week.

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime Monday at the White House, warning that international criminals have "taken advantage of our increasingly interconnected world to expand their illicit enterprises."

Targeting cybercrime is high on the strategy list because, the document says, it "undermines worldwide confidence in the international financial system.

"Through cybercrime, transnational criminal organizations pose a significant threat to financial and trust systems -- banking, stock markets, e-currency and value and credit card services on which the world economy depends."

Obama said cybercriminals are receiving protection in their home countries.

"These networks also threaten U.S. interests by forging alliances with corrupt elements of national governments and using the power and influence of those elements to further their criminal activities," he said, adding, that in some cases, national governments "exploit these relationships to further their interests to the detriment of the United States."

Some estimates indicate that online frauds perpetrated by Central European cybercrime networks have defrauded U.S. citizens or entities of approximately $1 billion in a single year, the report said. (more)

What the USDA Doesn't Want You to Know About Antibiotics and Factory Farms

Here is a document the USDA doesn't want you to see. It's what the agency calls a "technical review"—nothing more than a USDA-contracted researcher's simple, blunt summary of recent academic findings on the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms. The topic is a serious one. A single antibiotic-resistant pathogen, MRSA—just one of many now circulating among Americans—now claims more lives each year than AIDS.

Back in June, the USDA put the review up on its National Agricultural Library website. Soon after, a Dow Jones story quoted a USDA official who declared it to be based on "reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals." She added that the report should not be seen as a "representation of the official position of USDA." That's fair enough—the review was designed to sum up the state of science on antibiotic resistance and factory farms, not the USDA's position on the matter.

But around the same time, the agency added an odd disclaimer to the top of the document: "This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture." And last Friday, the document (original link) vanished without comment from the agency's website. The only way to see the document now is through the above-linked cached version supplied to me by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

What gives? Why is the USDA suppressing a review that assembles research from "reputed, scientific, peer-reviewed, and scholarly journals"? (more)

EPA targets air pollution from gas drilling boom

Faced with a natural gas drilling boom that has sullied the air in some parts of the country, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed for the first time to control air pollution at oil and gas wells, particularly those drilled using a method called hydraulic fracturing.

The proposal, issued to meet a court deadline, addresses air pollution problems reported in places such as Wyoming, Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado, where new drilling techniques have led to a rush to obtain natural gas that was once considered inaccessible. More than 25,000 wells are being drilled each year by "fracking," a process by which sand, water and chemicals are injected underground to fracture rock so gas can come out.

The proposed regulations are designed to eliminate most releases of smog- and soot-forming pollutants from those wells. New controls on storage tanks, transmission pipelines and other equipment , at both oil and gas drilling sites on land , would reduce by a quarter amounts of cancer-causing air pollution and methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, but also one of the most powerful contributors to global warming.

The rules, according to the EPA, actually would save energy companies about $30 million a year because the companies could sell the gas they are forced to collect.

EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said the steps announced Thursday will help ensure "responsible production" of domestic energy. The agency is also in the process of studying whether hydraulic fracturing is polluting water, research that also could lead to more regulations on the practice. (more)

Sea Shepherd could be forced to sell Steve Irwin in bluefin dispute

The Sea Shepherd director has been convicted in absentia in Norway, spent 80 days in a Dutch prison, and has had the Japanese, Icelandic and Danish navies trying to arrest him for trying to defend whales, seals and fish. But now the animal rights and environmental activist Paul Watson faces the ignominy of having the flagship of his fleet, the Steve Irwin, sold by Scotland unless he raises nearly £1m in the next two weeks.

Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace and the director of the Sea Shepherd conservation society based in California, was about to leave Lerwick in the Shetland isles en route for the Faroes last week when Maltese company Fish and Fish lodged a complaint against him in the Scottish courts over alleged damage sustained when Sea Shepherd freed hundreds of bluefin tuna from the company's nets in a a clash off the coast of Libya last year. The Steve Irwin was impounded by the court on 15 July and now the man described by the Japanese as a pirate has just days left to post a bond for £860,000.

In a statement last week, Watson said that if the group fails to post the bond, "the Steve Irwin will be held indefinitely and possibly sold. This would not only be a financial hardship but more importantly, it could prevent us from reaching the Faroe Islands to protect pilot whales and threaten our ability to defend whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary from the Japanese whaling fleet this December."

"Fish and Fish are claiming damages for the bluefin tuna we rescued from their nets in June 2010, fish that we believe were illegally caught after the season has closed, without an inspector onboard, or any paperwork documenting the legality of their catch". (more)

The Plastic Bag Wars: World consumes 1 million plastic shopping bags every minute - and the industry is fighting hard to keep it that way

American shoppers use an estimated 102 billion plastic shopping bags each year — more than 500 per consumer. Named by Guinness World Records as "the most ubiquitous consumer item in the world," the ultrathin bags have become a leading source of pollution worldwide. They litter the world's beaches, clog city sewers, contribute to floods in developing countries and fuel a massive flow of plastic waste that is killing wildlife from sea turtles to camels. "The plastic bag has come to represent the collective sins of the age of plastic," says Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.

Many countries have instituted tough new rules to curb the use of plastic bags. Some, like China, have issued outright bans. Others, including many European nations, have imposed stiff fees to pay for the mess created by all the plastic trash. "There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," the United Nations Environment Programme recently declared. But in the United States, the plastics industry has launched a concerted campaign to derail and defeat anti-bag measures nationwide. The effort includes well-placed political donations, intensive lobbying at both the state and national levels, and a pervasive PR campaign designed to shift the focus away from plastic bags to the supposed threat of canvas and paper bags — including misleading claims that reusable bags "could" contain bacteria and unsafe levels of lead. (more)

Climate Change Forcing Buried Toxics Back Into Atmosphere, Scientists Say

During the industrial boom of the mid-twentieth century thousands of man-made chemicals were created to make chemical processes and products stronger and more durable.

The substances became useful in pest control and crop production, but it wasn't long before they also proved deadly, causing cancers, birth defects and other health problems.

Known as persistent organic pollutants (or POPs), this group of the world's most toxic compounds takes decades to degrade as they circulate through Earth's oceans and the atmosphere, gradually accumulating in the fatty tissues of humans and wildlife.

Once the connection between POPs and toxicity was scientifically proven, wealthy governments sprang into action to reduce the risks, eventually restricting or banning the use of 12 pollutants, including DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), at the 2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs.

Climatic forces were also helping to limit the chemicals' global reach.

In places like the Arctic, cold temperatures trapped POPs in snow, soil and oceans capped by sea ice, as the long-lived pollutants circled through the region. Between the POPs settling into the Arctic and other sinks — and the international campaign to regulate the chemicals — atmospheric levels of POPs steadily declined during the past decade. (more)

Coal ash taints groundwater: nspector General report finds nine of TVA's plant sites have contamination

A new report says groundwater contamination from coal ash has been found at Gallatin and eight of the nine other Tennessee Valley Authority fossil power plant sites where testing is being done.

Levels of toxic substances found at the Gallatin plant site in Sumner County and at the Cumberland site, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, are high enough that they could create a health hazard, the report says. Beryllium, cadmium and nickel levels are above drinking water standards at Gallatin, as are arsenic, selenium and vanadium at Cumberland.

One major surprise also showed up in the review by TVA’s Office of Inspector General: For more than a decade, the TVA had been finding substances in groundwater at its Allen coal-fired plant in Memphis that indicated toxic metals could be leaking from a coal ash pond there. (more)

Are baby boomers to blame for debt crisis?

Baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- have been described as "the pig in the python" and the "sandwich generation."

They lived well, grew up in relative abundance and, some say, expected their Social Security, health care and government support to be there as they grew old.

Now, as the future of the country's economy is up in the air, is this group of 80 million aging Americans -- many of whom are sprinting toward retirement age -- the ones to blame for the nation's shaky economic system?

The answer is not so simple.

Baby boomers grew up during relative prosperity, from the economic boom of the post-World War II '50s to the "Me" generation of the '60s through the lucrative uptick in the Reagan '80s. And then there were the budget surpluses they enjoyed during the Clinton '90s.

As a result, many were able to buy second homes, take out loans at low interest rates, buy cheap gas and pump money back into the economy.

Life was good, many say, until September 2008.

In the last days of the Bush administration, the economy went belly-up, forcing Washington to bail out Wall Street in order to prevent another Great Depression. (more)

Keiser Report: Ghettofication of America

Chavez turns 57 ...vowing to stay in power until 2031

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sang, danced and said he intends to stay in power for two more decades as he celebrated his 57th birthday looking ahead to months of cancer treatment.

Chavez rallied a crowd of cheering supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace on Thursday, waving a large Venezuelan flag and briefly wrapping himself in it. He said he expects to lose his hair soon as a result of chemotherapy and that a long process of treatment lies ahead.

"This is going to be various months all of this year, but I'm going to continue in charge of my government functions," Chavez said.

He mixed serious statements about his upcoming treatment with the ecstatic rallying cries of a leader already in pre-campaign mode ahead of the 2012 election. (more)

Honduras recovers 7.3 tons more cocaine from sub

Honduras authorities say they have recovered 7.3 tons (6.6 metric tons) of cocaine from a semi-submersible craft seized off the country's Caribbean coast.

Presidential guard chief Col. Rene Osorio says officials had earlier recovered 2.7 tons (2.5 metric tons). They have been unloading the drugs since Wednesday.

The submarine-like fiberglass craft is floating about 15 meters (50 feet) under the surface because the crew tried to sink it.

A U.S. Coast Guard patrol detected the vessel Wednesday off the coast of the sparsely populated province of Gracias a Dios, near the Nicaraguan border. Five crew members were detained.

So far authorities in Honduras have seized 13.8 tons (12.6 metric tons) of cocaine totaling some $500 million. (source)

Prospect Park poachers busted: Vagrants that was trapping and eating ducks, squirrels and pigeons

Cops have busted a group of oddball poachers in Prospect Park — a band of vagrants that was trapping and eating ducks, squirrels and pigeons.

Parks officers wrote four tickets — two for killing wildlife and two for illegal fishing — totaling $2,100 in fines during a two-day period last week.

The city would not immediately release details of the incidents, which occurred on July 17 and 18 — just days after park-goers told rangers about a “Beverly Hillbillies”-like scene on the southeast side of the lake, near the ice skating rink.

“This is a dodgy group,” said park-goer Peter Colon, who spotted one of the men catching a pigeon while his friend started a fire. “They are the most threatening people in the park.” (more)

Royston, Hertfordshire: The town where EVERY car is tracked by police cameras

A sleepy Home Counties market town has become the first in Britain to have every car passing through it tracked by police cameras.

Royston, in Hertfordshire, has had a set of police cameras installed on every road leading in and out of it, recording the numberplate of every vehicle that passes them.

The automatic number-plate recognition system will check the plates against a variety of databases, studying them for links to crimes, and insurance and tax records, and alerting police accordingly.

There were just seven incidents of vehicle crime in the town last month, and residents believe the unmarked cameras are an invasion of their privacy.

The system, due to be switched on in the next few days, also allows police to compile 'hotlists' of vehicles that they are interested in and which will be flagged up when the ANPR system

Details of the cars movements will stay on police records for two years, or five if the car is connected to a crime, the Guardian reported. (more)

Park service to thin out Yosemite's growing crowds -- of trees (thousands to be cut down)

Reporting from Yosemite National Park -- National parks tend to be a tree hugger's paradise. Layers of federal laws, strict park service rules and even the disapproving scowls from some visitors prohibit so much as driving a nail into a tree, much less cutting one down.

But it's getting a bit crowded in Yosemite, where more than a hundred years of prompt firefighting have allowed towering pines and cedars to clog the park's meadows and valleys. These days, you can barely see the granite for the trees.

That's about to change. Yosemite National Park officials say thousands of trees will be felled to preserve the iconic views of the park's waterfalls and the craggy faces of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Chain saws will be fired up in the fall, said Supt. Don Neubacher, aimed mainly at ponderosa pines and incense cedars. Rare or ecologically sensitive trees such as California black oaks, sugar pines and white bark pines will be spared. None of the park's thousand-year-old sequoias will be cut, nor will any trees more than 130 years old.

In public meetings and in person, park officials and rangers have been making the case that their tree-cutting plan is biologically sound and aims to improve visitor enjoyment of the park's natural features. To that end, much of the thinning will be done along the park's roads and turnouts, where carloads of tourists pile out to snap pictures of Bridalveil or Yosemite falls.

Still, the public has let park officials know that there is something unseemly about the image of lumberjacks hewing mighty trees in the country's oldest national park. (more)

US debt drama enters theatre of absurd

You go to the cinema or the theatre to see the stars perform. What happened on Thursday in the US House of Representatives was that hardly any of them turned up, the real drama was all offstage and the play never got to the final act. No wonder the national audience wants its money back.

Rarely has Washington’s theatre of the absurd been seen in such sharp relief as in the “debate” over Speaker John Boehner’s bill to cut spending enough to raise the debt ceiling for a few miserly months. Amid sound and fury signifying little and with the mercury over 100 degrees, the bill eventually passed yesterday afternoon after a balanced budget amendment was added to entice Tea Party supporters, 22 of whom still voted against. But it was quickly knocked back in the Senate. Posturing in Washington, sometimes known as the “optics”, is now a minor art form.

It wasn’t even a debate in the widely understood meaning of the word. The chamber was practically empty throughout, apart from the army of clerks, the poor bearded backbencher assigned to wield the Speaker’s gavel and the handfuls of congressmen from both parties designated to address the debt-ceiling issue because they serve on certain committees. (more)

Moody's: Neither debt plan protects America's AAA rating

The "limited magnitude" of both debt plans put forward by congressional leaders would not put the nation's AAA credit rating back on solid footing, Moody's Investors Service announced Friday.

"Reductions of the magnitude now being proposed, if adopted, would likely lead Moody's to adopt a negative outlook on the AAA rating," the credit rating agency said in a new report. "The chances of a significant improvement in the long-term credit profile of the government coming from deficit reductions of the magnitude proposed in either plan are not high."

It added that "prolonged debt ceiling deliberations" have increased the odds of a downgrade, but that the firm is still confident policymakers will avoid a default.

"It remains our expectation that the government will continue with timely debt service," the firm said.
It also clarified that as far as it is concerned, the nation will only default if it misses an interest or principal payment on U.S. debt, not if it misses payments on other obligations like federal employee salaries or Social Security benefits.

The report also gives credence to a claim popular among Republicans: that the government has enough cash to avoid a default even past the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department.

"If the debt limit is not raised before August 2, we believe that the Treasury would give priority to debt service payments and could thus postpone a potential debt default for a number of days," it said. "Revenues would be more than adequate for some period of time to meet those payments, although other outlays would be severely reduced as a result." (more)

Washington DC records broken on hottest day in a decade

The hottest day in the D.C. region in 10 years broke heat records at all three area airports.

The heat index reached 107 degrees Friday, mirroring the dangerous heat levels the Washington, D.C. region saw earlier this month.

According to the ABC 7 Weather Team, the record high of 104 was only two degrees shy of the highest temperature ever in Washington.

A heat advisory is in effect until 9 p.m. Friday, with heat index values to hover between 105 and 110 degrees.

By 4 p.m., all three area airports has broken records.

Reagan National Airport hit a high of 102 around 1 p.m., breaking a record set in 1993. Dulles International Airport hit 98, also breaking a 1993 record.

The high at BWI airport at 4 p.m. was 100 degrees, breaking a record that stood since 1954.

A Hyperthermia Alert has been issued in the District. Residents can call the District's Hyperthermia hotline at 202-399-709 for a ride to a cooling center.

In addition, the D.C. Department of Public Recreation has has extended pool hours for the remainder of Friday.

A Code Red air quality alert is in effect. Outdoor strenuous activity should be limited. (more)

Illegal immigrants returning to Mexico to persue "American Dream" (Because America's economy is so bad) -- Mexico's unemployment is 25% that of US's

There are fewer undocumented immigrants in California – and the Sacramento region – because many are now finding the American dream south of the border.

"It's now easier to buy homes on credit, find a job and access higher education in Mexico," Sacramento's Mexican consul general, Carlos González Gutiérrez, said Wednesday. "We have become a middle-class country."

Mexico's unemployment rate is now 4.9 percent, compared with 9.4 percent joblessness in the United States.

An estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants have left California since 2008, though the remaining 2.6 million still make up 7 percent of the population and 9 percent of the labor force, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Among metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, Sacramento County ranks among the lowest, with an unauthorized population of 4.6 percent of its 1.4 million residents in 2008, according to Laura Hill, a demographer with the PPIC.

The Sacramento region, suffering from 12.3 percent unemployment and the construction bust, may have triggered a large exodus of undocumented immigrants, González Gutiérrez said.

The best-paid jobs for undocumented migrants are in the building industry, "and because of the severe crisis in the construction business here, their first response has been to move into the service industry," González Gutiérrez said. "But that has its limits. Then, they move to other areas in the U.S. to find better jobs – or back to Mexico." (more)

Scientology book author reveals church's inner workings: "It operates as a business"

Scientology operates more as a business than as a church, relying on techniques perfected by car salesmen to attract new members and celebrities to its rolls.

That's just one of the takeaways from Janet Reitman's controversial book about the world's most controversial and secretive religion. "Inside Scientology" chronicles L. Ron Hubbard's creation of Scientology six decades ago and traces its development into the faith of choice for movie stars such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

In an interview with TheWrap, Reitman, a Rolling Stone contributing editor, addressed blackmail rumors and talked about why Kabbalah may represent a bigger threat to it than any "South Park" parody. (more)

Computer to Marry Texas Couple of Miguel Hanson and Diana Wesley

You could call it "My Big Fat Computer Geek Wedding."

After a Houston couple couldn't get a friend to serve as the minister at their wedding, they decided to create their own.

When Miguel Hanson and his fiancee, Diana Wesley, get married on Saturday, a computer will conduct the ceremony. Well, technically, a computer program Hanson wrote will serve as the minister.

During the wedding, to be held in the Houston home of Hanson's parents, the couple will stand before a 30-inch monitor in the backyard. In a robotic voice, the computer will greet the guests, say how the couple met and go through the ceremony. (more)

Officer Derek Colling: Beats up Mitchell Crooks for videotaping him, now in trouble



A Las Vegas police officer under investigation for the videotaped beating of a man in March violated several Metropolitan Police Department policies, an internal investigation found.

Mitchell Crooks' complaint about officer Derek Colling's excessive force was sustained, Deputy Chief Gary Schofield said Friday.

The specific policy violations will not be released until the case is finalized.

Crooks, 36, received a letter from the Internal Affairs Bureau notifying him of the findings earlier this week.

He said he was pleasantly surprised.

"It seems like they're saying he was guilty, which is what I've been saying," Crooks said. "I really hope he gets fired."

Colling has been on paid suspension since April 1.

Multiple supervisors in Colling's chain of command will review the internal affairs report and decide his punishment, if any, Schofield said.

That review could take several weeks.

If Colling's supervisors recommend his firing, he will go before a pre-termination board for a final appeal. The harshest punishment short of firing is a 40-hour unpaid suspension.

Crooks' lawyer, David Otto, intends to sue Colling and the Police Department.

Otto wrote a letter in April to Sheriff Douglas Gillespie demanding $500,000 to cover Crooks' medical care, pain and suffering. The Police Department has not paid anything, he said. (more)

Boston Scientific to lay off 1,200-plus (and rehire them in China)

Boston Scientific Corp. said yesterday that it plans to eliminate 1,200 to 1,400 jobs worldwide during the next 2 ½ years to free money for new investments, the Natick medical device maker’s second major round of cuts since last year.

The company would not say how many jobs will be lost in Massachusetts, where fewer than 2,000 of its 25,000 employees are based. In February 2010, Boston Scientific said it would pare 1,300 jobs worldwide, but similarly did not say where.

Yesterday’s move, a day after Boston Scientific disclosed it was investing $150 million and hiring 1,000 people in China, raised fears that the company will gradually shift more work to foreign sites with less government oversight and lower costs than the United States.

“I’ve asked for information on where they are cutting jobs,’’ said state Senator James B. Eldridge, an Acton Democrat. He has proposed so-called clawback legislation that would allow the state to recover money from businesses that receive tax breaks here - including Boston Scientific - and then reduce their workforces.

“My sense is, sadly, that like many other American companies, they are shedding jobs in Massachusetts and adding jobs overseas,’’ Eldridge said. “And this is a company making greater profits, so it’s even more outrageous.’’ (more)

Mackisha B Johnson and Christopher M Jones arrested after leaving TEN children in sweltering car for two hours... while they go to a bar - 30th July

Two mothers and a friend allegedly left ten children in a sweltering car for two hours while they drank in a bar.

Witnesses told police they saw the car parked outside Alibi Lounge in Springfield, Missouri, at around 1.10pm last Thursday.

The children inside were seen turning the car and air conditioning on to keep cool.

Mother of six of the children Mackisha B Johnson, 25, and Christopher M Jones, 38, were both arrested

Another suspect, Shacona Johnson, 30, mother of four of the children, left before police got there.

Police noted the temperature outside the car was 99 degrees with a heat index of 101 degrees that day.

None of the children, who ranged in age from seven months to 11, were hurt and were taken into custody of children services.

All three suspects have been charged with second degree child endangerment and, if convicted, face up to a year in prison, plus a $1,000 fine. Read More

Iraq is MORE dangerous now than a year ago after resurgence in violence by Shi'ite militias - 30th July 2011

Iraq is more dangerous than it was just a year ago, after a surge in bombings, assassinations and violence by Shi'ite militias, according to a report released today.

In his quarterly review to Congress, a top government adviser accused the U.S. military of glossing over the issue, just months before soldiers are due to leave the country. Font size

The findings come during a 'summer of uncertainty' in Baghdad over whether American forces will stay past a year-end withdrawal deadline and continue military aid for the unstable nation.

The review follows the bloodiest month for the U.S. military in two years, after 15 soldiers died in June.

U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr, who wrote the report, concluded by saying: 'Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work.' Read More

Samuel McCaugel Third Briton DIE after plunging from hotel balcony while on holiday in just ONE WEEK - 30th July 2011

A British man who fell from a third-floor holiday apartment in Ibiza has died of his injuries.

Samuel McCaugel, 23, was rushed in a critical condition to the holiday island's main Can Misses hospital yesterday morning, but died shortly after arrival.

The tragedy happened at about 7.45am on Friday at an apartment block in the popular resort of San Antonio.

The paramilitary Civil Guard are investigating how he came to fall.

Mr McCaugel's death came just six days after fellow Briton Jodie Taylor, 25, was killed when she fell from her third floor hotel balcony in the same resort, on the island's west coast. Read More

6.4 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 30th July 2011

A magnitude 6.4 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan with a depth of 43.5 km ( 27 miles), the quake hit at 18:53:52 UTC Saturday 30th July 2011.
The epicenter was 18 km (11 miles) ESE of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

5.4 Magnitude Earthquake GUAM REGION - 30th July 2011

A magnitude 5.4 earthquake has struck the Guam Region with a depth of 128.8 km ( 76.9 miles), the quake hit at 17:48:52 UTC Saturday 30th July 2011.
The epicenter was 183 km (114 miles) WSW from Hagatna, Guam
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

27 Rifles Stolen from California Military Base - 30th July 2011

Read Contribution;

More than two dozen assault rifles have been stolen from a Southern California military base, and investigators sought the public's help as they looked to arrest suspects and recover the weapons, federal officials said Friday.

Twenty-six AK-74 assault rifles and one Dragunov sniper rifle were stolen from a supply warehouse at Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County on July 15, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says in a statement.

Some arrests have been made and one rifle has been recovered, but the agency is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to further arrests, the statement said.

"Community participation is necessary to improve the likelihood that ATF and our law enforcement partners will track down the firearms as well as the criminals who have sought to destabilize our community through illegal activity," ATF Special Agent in Charge John A. Torres said in the statement.

ATF spokesman Special Agent Christian Hoffman could not say when reached by phone how many were arrested, whether they were military or civilian or what motive they may have had.

He referred those questions to military officials, who made the arrests. Phone and email messages left late Friday for a spokesman from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command, which is investigating the theft along with the ATF and the FBI, were not immediately returned.

Hoffman also could not say why word of the theft did not become public for two weeks, but said his agency decided to issue a news release because of the potential danger the loose weapons posed.

"We determined that there was a public safety issue with the guns getting out on the street," he said. Source

Gold hits all-time high as beacon of safety amid US debt-ceiling crisis

JITTERY investors pushed gold to a record as it stood as a beacon of safety amid a US crisis accelerating to financial disaster.

GDP growth figures in the world's largest economy that were weaker than expected also fuelled the push to a price-record.

Washington politicians have just four days left to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a government debt default. Yet the White House and Republican Party leaders remain split on how to cut spending and increase the national borrowing limit.

Gold prices jumped to an intraday record $US1637.50 an ounce as investors reached for what is widely considered the ultimate safe haven. Gold tends to retain its value more than other assets at times of elevated anxiety and is more resilient to market shocks.

"After seven days of stockmarket losses and doubt, investors were buying gold as a general hedge against further declines," said George Gero, vice-president with RBC Capital Markets Global Futures. (more)

How Europe will feel the pinch if the US defaults

The world markets are still hoping for a last-minute deal to save the day, but the fronts on the US Capitol seem entrenched. So what happens now? Will the world economy collapse if the US defaults on August 2?

Republicans and Democrats in the United States are stuck in bitter negotiations over raising the US debt above its current $14.3-trillion (10-trillion-euro) ceiling. At the moment, the two sides are simply muddling through from one day to the next. As soon as a deal seems to be within reach, it retreats to the horizon. Votes on possible solutions in the House of Representatives constantly get postponed.

If there is no deal by next Tuesday, August 2, the US may no longer be able to pay its bills - no salaries for public sector workers, no pensions, and no servicing of debts. It's a disaster that no-one can bear thinking about.

"It would certainly be political and economic suicide," says Ulrich Kater, chief economist at the German DekaBank. He believes President Barack Obama would struggle to get a second term in office in next year's election, even though polls suggest more of the electorate blame the Republicans for the impasse.

Politics aside, the economic consequences of the row could be catastrophic. If the US were to be downgraded by the credit ratings agencies, the shock would go well beyond the US borders and affect the entire world financial system. (more)

Making Sense of the Global Financial Crisis

For many, the global financial crisis and the meltdown in value of money and wealth, the increasing shortage of funds in government treasuries, banks and corporate coffers, the bailouts of Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece, with the possibility of the United States defaulting on its treasury bonds interest rate payments over one trillion dollars to China alone, is nothing short of mystery.

Nigel Farage, UK’s firebrand independent politician with a seat in the European Parliament has been calling for the death of the euro zone, claiming that it is a menace to the global financial system. Peter Schiff, CEO and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital has been predicting the coming financial and economic collapse as far back as 2006 and 2007. Most dismissed his arguments as baseless and him as a chronic pessimist, although he had all the numbers right.

And on BBC, in order to make people understand what the crisis was all about, they introduced the Clarke and Dawes comedy show where one asked question and the other answered:

Q. How much does Greece owe ? 367 billion
Q. To whom? Other European countries.
Q. How much does Ireland owe? 865 billion
Q. And to whom? Other European countries
Q. How much do Spain and Italy owe? One trillion each
Q, To whom? Mainly France Britain and Germany.
Q. How will they pay all this money back? Other European countries will bail them out.
Q. From where will other European countries get the money to bail them out? How can one country that is broke bail out the other country is that broke hoping that a country which is broke can pay all this money back...did you include Portugal?” (more)

Strong yen hits exporters hard but benefits consumers: Japan

The high value of the yen, which has been pushed higher over the past weeks as the European Union and the United States try to stave off full-blown financial disasters, is hitting Japan's exporters hard.

The U.S. greenback recently fell to 77 yen -- a serious drop from the around 80 yen it cost to buy a dollar on July 1 -- putting the squeeze on Japan's core export-oriented businesses already reeling from the effects of March 11's Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The Japanese auto industry, for example, is still trying to rebuild damage to its supply chain, and recover from a decline in output and sluggish sales caused by the disaster. The yen's ongoing appreciation is another major blow to the industry, as it will bump up the sticker prices of Japanese cars in foreign markets, harming sales, and slice into profits due to exchange rate fluctuations.

"Both the long-term and the sudden appreciation of the yen is not at the kind of level individual companies can overcome on their own," Joji Tagawa, corporate vice president of Nissan Motor Co., said July 27 during the release of the automaker's latest earnings report. (more)

"Economy too fragile for Tea Party games"

The Republican Party and their Tea Party zealots are taking this country to financial disaster. They are not students of history; they write and rewrite the facts of history to suit themselves. We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The lesson of the Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt years: To come out of the Great Depression, the nation needed massive infusions of government stimulus, i.e., the New Deal, to help allay the terrible consequences of the 1930s. Now our national debt ceiling, which has been raised over 70 times since 1962, is being held hostage by the intransigence of the Republican and Tea Party House members. This is tantamount to treason, given the very high stakes being shaken to their core. Most economic experts forecast a worsening recession if the national debt is to go into default.

Let's not mince words: real unemployment and partial employment is at 20 percent already. Default will mean that this country will no longer be in recession; it will be another depression. The Republicans and Tea Party are hellbent on sabotaging this country all in the name of making Barack Obama a one-term president. President Obama should take the authority given in the 14th Amendment to protect the nation's debt and protect the American people. Let the courts look into the constitutionality questions afterward. We cannot afford any longer to allow the Republican Tea Party to take this nation to an economic cliff. (more)

"The Democrats' Big Tax Lie"

You’ve probably heard this line dozens of times in the seemingly endless debate over deficits and taxation, and chances are you’ll hear it many times more during the campaign of 2012, regardless of the final resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis.

Don’t be fooled.

Neither of the dueling plans currently on the table (one from Speaker of the House John Boehner, the other from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) contain tax increases of any sort, but President Obama remains firmly committed to raising the rates on top earners when the latest extension of the Bush tax cuts expires at the end of next year.

The Democratic line about “the lowest rate in 50 years” effectively reinforces two important liberal themes: first, that the rich don’t pay their fair share to support the operations of government, and second, that hiking rates on undertaxed wealthy people offers a painless, eminently fair way to increase revenue and reduce the deficit.

The trouble with this rhetorical approach is that it relies on an obvious and embarrassing falsehood: far from paying the “lowest rate in 50 years,” top earners actually paid at the current rate or significantly lower for most of the time in the last quarter century.

Today, the most economically productive American couples pay a top rate of 35 percent on every dollar they earn above $379,150. In 1988-90, following Ronald Reagan’s triumphal second-term tax reform, big incomes paid at the highest rate of 28 percent—a big difference from today’s burden. In 1991-92, following the politically costly tax increases of President George H. W. Bush, taxes on the highest incomes went up to 31 percent—still considerably lower than today. In 1993, Bill Clinton pushed tax hikes through a heavily Democratic Congress (with a margin of just one vote in the House), and for the next nine years the top marginal rate soared to 39.6 percent. The second president Bush, welcomed to office with a significant budget surplus, sought to lower rates across the board, and since 2003 Americans in the most fortunate tax bracket have paid at the 35 percent level—slightly lower than under President Clinton, but notably higher than Reagan’s preferred rate. (more)

Rescued fox reared with pet dog in Beverley

A fox, rescued as a cub in east Yorkshire, thinks it is a dog after being brought up with a Jack Russell.

Tod, the fox, and Eva, the dog, go for walks together around Beverley.

Phil and Georgina Walker hand-reared Tod after his mother died. (Watch BBC video here)

California police arrest 100 over marijuana growing in Mendocino National Forest

Police in northern California have uprooted 460,000 plants and made more than 100 arrests in a major operation against illegal marijuana cultivation.

Authorities said they had seized 1,500 pounds (680kg) of processed marijuana, 27 guns and 11 vehicles over two weeks in Mendocino National Forest.

The 900,000-acre site is part of an area known as the Emerald Triangle for its high number of marijuana plots.

The raids are part of a wider campaign to remove marijuana from public land.

Marijuana for medicinal use is legal in California if you have a permit to grow it or a doctor's note to buy it.

But Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said there was no sign that any of the gardens raided were being used to grow medical marijuana.

In the past, Mexican drug cartels have been blamed for the cultivation large quantities of marijuana in California, though no details were given about those arrested over the past two weeks.

But US Attorney Melinda Haag told the Associated Press that 25 people were already facing federal charges.

"The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers," she said. (more)

U.S. debt vote highlights bitter divide: "Time for compromise is now"

The stage appears set for behind-the-scenes negotiating in Washington this weekend as congressional leaders try to reach a deal to raise the U.S. government's debt ceiling.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved emergency legislation Friday night to avoid an unprecedented government default, but Senate Democrats scuttled it less than two hours later in the hopes they can win enough support for their party's own measure.

Politicians in both parties have said they are determined to avoid a default, yet there was little evidence of progress on a compromise during a long day of intense political manoeuvring.

The Democrats have a new version of their bill ready to go to the Senate at the stroke of midnight Saturday. It could be voted on in the early hours of Sunday, but there's nothing to guarantee it will pass.

Only three days remain before the government reaches its debt limit of $14.3 trillion.

If no deal is reached by Tuesday and the government defaults on its loans, the U.S. would be left unable to pay many of its bills and economists warn that would lead to turmoil on the global financial markets. (more)

East Africa famine devastating, Oda says: Canada

Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda says she was struck by the devastation wreaked by famine during her visit to East Africa last weekend, where she saw the damaged feet of people who had walked from Somalia to a refugee camp in Kenya and how quiet the children were after their journey.

She heard the stories of mothers forced to leave a child behind so they could take the rest of the children across the desert to find food.

"The people who make it to the refugee camps, these are the strong ones. We suspect there are millions that have died within Somalia," Oda told Rosemary Barton in a compelling interview on CBC's Power & Politics.

"We're not able to get in there to double-check, but there are many who have not been able to leave their villages. There are also so many we are hearing about who are dying on the way to the refugee camp. We have mothers who are having to leave the weakest child behind, even though they still may be alive, but knowing that for the sake of her other children she's got to continue her journey, and so she has to make that difficult choice." (more)

Vietnam shoe plant fire kills 17

At least 17 people have been killed in a fire at a shoe factory in northern Vietnam, police and local media say.

Some 21 other people were injured in the blaze at the plant in the port city of Hai Phong, reports say.

Local media quoted a survivor, Bui Thi Them, as saying sparks from a welding machine had ignited the roof of the building.

Burning material fell from the roof, blocking the exit, Mr Them said, trapping the victims inside.

"The fireball blocked the factory's main entrance and there is no exit on the back," Mr Them told the Thanh Nien newspaper, AFP news agency reported.

"Many people in the middle of the factory which was engulfed with fire and smoke could not escape and were burned to death."

Ten of those killed were women, the Associated Press new agency said.

Thanh Nien was quoted as saying six people, including the factory owner, her husband and a welder, have been detained over the incident. (more)

Gamer Chris Staniforth's death blamed on DVT: Are modern sedentary lifestyles killing us?

A man whose son died after playing video games for long periods is campaigning for greater awareness of the risk posed by their excessive use.

Chris Staniforth, 20, who would play his console for up to 12 hours, died in May from deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

His father David believes the condition may have been triggered by long gaming sessions.

DVT can form during long periods of immobility and can kill if the clots travel to the lungs.

Computer records showed his son would sometimes play online on his Xbox for periods up to 12 hours.

The coroner said a clot formed in Chris' left calf before moving to his lungs.

Once there, it caused a fatal blockage, known as a pulmonary embolism.

Mr Staniforth said: "After my research I saw there was no difference to Chris sitting at a desk on his Xbox and someone on a long-haul flight.

"Sitting still is literally the danger zone. Chris loved to play and would stay up all night.

"Millions of people worldwide are playing these games for hours, and there is a risk." (more)