Monday, August 1, 2011

Tropical Storm Emily forms in the Caribbean

Tropical Storm Emily formed in the Caribbean Monday, prompting area governments to issue warnings and watches, the National Hurricane Center said.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the islands of Guadeloupe, Desirade, Les Saintes and Marie Galante, meaning that tropical storm conditions were expected within 36 hours.

Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and Antigua were under a tropical storm watch. Storm conditions were possible in those areas within 48 hours.

Tropical Storm Emily was located some 105 miles west of Dominica Monday night, according to the hurricane center. It was heading west at 17 miles per hour, packing winds of about 40 miles per hour, with higher gusts. Tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 70 miles.

The center of the storm is expected to move across the northeastern Caribbean Sea Monday night and approach the island of Hispaniola Tuesday night and Wednesday. A long-term forecast from the National Hurricane Center showed the storm could threaten Florida by the weekend.

"This one is pretty vigorous, so we're watching it," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the Miami-based center, before the storm formed. (more)

Clashes erupt at West Bank refugee camp

Clashes erupted overnight at a West Bank refugee camp, authorities said Monday.

Official accounts of the fighting at the Kalandia refugee camp differed.

The Palestinian Authority said two Palestinians were killed when Israeli soldiers opened fire. The Israeli military said officials had received a report of two Palestinians injured during the violence, adding that officials were investigating.

Hospital officials in Ramallah told CNN that two men were killed and one was injured in the clashes.

Officials said the violence started during an arrest operation at the camp.

Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Cairo Arafat said people at the refugee camp tried to stop soldiers from making the arrest.

An Israeli military spokesman said "massive" disorder erupted during the arrest operation. Five soldiers were injured by rocks thrown at them, the spokesman said. (source)

In pictures: the eruptions of Mount Etna in Sicily, Europe's tallest active volcano

Mount Etna volcano on the island of Sicily, southern Italy, started erupting again at the weekend, sending flames and sparks shooting 250 metres into the air, and flows of lava down its slopes. Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and in the last few decades eruptions have been very frequent and lava flows have often threatened the villages surrounding the crater. (view more photos here)

Islamic militants launch Ramadan offensive in famine-stricken Somalia

The Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab launched a Ramadan offensive Monday amid spreading famine in Somalia, the African Union said.

Heavy fighting was reported in the Wardhiigley district in northeast Mogadishu, according to African Union officials. Mortars and gunfire could be heard near the African Union base on Monday.

Troops killed two apparent suicide bombers dressed in Somali uniforms before they were able to detonate bombs strapped to their bodies, African Union officials said. During a gunfight, two African Union soldiers were killed.

"In the midst of a famine seizing Somalia, the extremists are choosing to focus on killing, not saving life," said Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, the spokesman for African Union forces. "The extremists are using desperate measures to achieve their ends through their willingness to use brutal violence during the holy month of Ramadan."

Al-Shabaab has launched Ramadan offensives against Somali and African Union forces every year since the organization sent troops to Mogadishu in 2007, according to the African Union. Ramadan began Monday.

The African Union said Al-Shabaab appeared to be massing fighters in the city and preparing for additional attacks. (more)

NATO airstrike kills four Afghan police officers: Who will stand up to NATO?

A NATO airstrike targeted a police station in a remote district of Afghanistan's Nuristan province early Monday morning, killing at least four police officers and wounding eight others, officials said.

A provincial council head said the strike in Wama district was based on bad intelligence, but added that a NATO helicopter landed nearby and detained 12 police officers.

"This action will create distance among the government and people," Enaitullah Mazhabyar told CNN. "The people will not let their sons work as policemen anymore."

NATO is aware of the incident and is currently conducting an investigation to determine if the strike was a friendly-fire incident, said International Security Assistance Force spokesman Capt. Pietro D'Angelo.

In a separate incident, one ISAF service member died Monday following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan, NATO reported.

Monday marks the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. (source)

Security forces disperse protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square: Revolution over, or just beginning?

Egyptian security forces moved into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, dispersing the protesters gathered there and beating those who did not leave voluntarily, according to a witness with activists in the square.

"They went in and they just kind of threatened people," said Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation. He said most people left peacefully, and while police beat those who did not, they did not use tear gas or water cannon on the protesters as they have in the past. The security forces tore down tents, he said.

Army and police moved into the square and removed all protesters and tents, said Said Salem, spokesman for one of Egypt's "popular committees" -- groups formed by citizens in the wake of the revolution. Traffic was flowing through the square afterward, he said. Eyewitnesses reported that security forces beat and arrested several protesters and what sounded like gun shots could be heard.

Throngs of pro-democracy activists have been camped out on the square, which served as ground zero for demonstrations that eventually forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down in February after three decades in power.

Protesters returned July 8, frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of change. They are demanding speedy trials of police officers accused of killing protesters during the demonstrations that topped Mubarak; the end of military tribunals; the abolition of the emergency law; and economic reforms such as the establishment of a minimum wage. (more)

Indian man has hysterectomy after doctors find uterus

An Indian farmer and father of two had a hysterectomy after doctors discovered a "full female reproductive system" in his lower abdomen.

The Indian man, identified as Ryalu, was admitted to a hospital near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, after complaining of severe stomach pains.

Doctors suspected a normal hernia, but when they carried out an exploratory operation they were shocked to discover it had been caused by a female uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, a cervix and underdeveloped vaginal tissue.

Dr Pramod Kumar Shrivastava, a surgeon at the Chhindwara district hospital said the patient had external male organs, was fit from working in the fields, and lived a normal life.

"Usually the contents of the Hernia Sac are abdomen organs like large intestines and small intestines but when we operated on the patient we were surprised to find female reproductive organs. We have removed the organs through a hysterectomy and repaired the hernia.

"The sac contained quite developed uterus, both the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix and a tissue which is undeveloped but apparently looks like vaginal tissue," he explained. (more)

NJ Transit Bus Idles for 5 Hours With Dead Driver Thomas Truex: No one notices, no one cares

Officials are trying to determine why an NJ Transit bus with a dead driver inside idled for nearly five hours at the Port Authority terminal in New York.

Thomas Truex was found slumped in a passenger seat around 3 p.m., hours after he dropped off his last commuters Thursday morning.

When Truex didn't return the bus to the Meadowlands garage as planned, NJ Transit officials called his wife, but she hadn't seen him.

At about the same time, the bus was spotted at the Port Authority, parked near a curb where drivers routinely stop for a bathroom or coffee break.

The fact that he was in a passenger seat made it less likely that security would have noticed him, officials said.

"It would not have looked out of the ordinary," said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman told The Record newspaper.

Coleman said officials probably need to take a look at coordination to make sure anything out of the ordinary is checked out.

Truex had been a driver for 26 years.

His death is not considered suspicious. (source)

Thieves Galore: Car Tires And Rims Stolen From Commuters' Cars In Prince William County

Prince William County police say several commuters have returned to their cars this month to find that the tires and rims have been stolen from their vehicles.

The most recent thefts were discovered at a commuter parking lot in Dumfries Thursday night.

Police say one car had been stripped of all tires, while one tire was missing from a second car. Another tire had been removed, but not taken.



Earlier this month, at least eight tires and four rims were taken from two cars at the Virginia Railway Express garage in Woodbridge.

Police have beefed up patrols at commuter lots. A VRE spokesman says police are doing a good job maintaining a presence but unfortunately can't be there all the time. (source)

Joe Biden collects rent from Secret Service: $2,200 a month for cottage use (Jerk)

The U.S. Secret Service does more than protect Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — the agency also pays him rent.

Since April, Mr. Biden has collected more than $13,000 from the agency charged with protecting him and his family for use of a rental cottage adjacent to the waterfront home he owns in a Wilmington, Del., suburb.

Mr. Biden, listed not as vice president in federal purchasing documents but as a "vendor," is eligible for up to $66,000 by the time the government contract expires in the fall of 2013, the records show.

Officials say the arrangement came about when a previous tenant moved out of the cottage and the Secret Service moved in.

Edwin M. Donovan, special agent in charge at the Secret Service's Office of Government and Public Affairs in Washington, said the agency pays $2,200 in rent per-month, the same amount a previous tenant had paid before moving out.

He said the close location provides a level of security for the Biden family the agency might not have had otherwise. Asked if the Secret Service typically pays rent to the people it protects, he said, "It's a rental property so we pay rent there."

Taxpayer watchdogs say the Secret Service should do everything it can to protect Mr. Biden, but they wonder whether he should be collecting rent from the agency while it's doing its job. (more)

Most Israeli municipalities declare general strike in solidarity with housing protests

Most municipal authorities have declared a one-day strike scheduled for Monday, in sympathy with popular protests spreading throughout Israel.

Municipalities will not be giving services to government offices or holding public office hours today, streets will not be cleaned and garbage will not be collected.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu redoubled efforts to douse growing protests spreading throughout the country Sunday, even as he faced a setback in the resignation of Finance Ministry Director General Haim Shani.

Shani reportedly quit over the lack of organization in proffering solutions to the crisis, and over the work of Netanyahu and his direct superior, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Discussion began of a replacement for Shani, with Moshe Terry, the former chairman of the Israel Securities Authority, seen as likely to take over the treasury.

Netanyahu called an informal meeting of the committee on economic concentration yesterday to discuss solution for the protests, but no decisions were made.

Netanyahu urged its members to make recommendations by the end of the month, and showed the press a presentation of the issues on the agenda. (more)

July heat in Washington was unprecedented -- Weather records falling everywhere

Relentless and punishing, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C., weather record-keeping. The July temperature averaged 84.5 degrees at Reagan National Airport — Washington’s official weather station — more than a degree above July 2010 and July 1993, which previously held the mark for hottest month.

July’s heat piled onto a torrent of recent hot-weather records and attained all sorts of unenviable hot-weather milestones.

The high temperature was at least 90 on 25 occasions, the most on record. When the July 29 temperature hit 104 degrees, it was the highest reading since 105 on August 17, 1997, and it tied for the fifth-hottest in the books. On July 22, the heat index — a measure of the combined heat and humidity — reached 121 degrees, the highest level since 122 on July 16, 1980.

Amazingly, the month also had eight record days for warm low temperatures, including seven when the temperature failed to fall below 80 degrees. Four of those days came consecutively (from July 21 to 24), the longest such stretch on record by two days.

Twice (July 23 and 24) the District tied for its warmest all-time low temperature of 84 degrees.

And the heat was off the charts at other weather stations in the region.

On July 22, Dulles International Airport soared to 105, its hottest temperature since records began in 1963. That same day, Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport sizzled to 106, the second-hottest temperature in Baltimore’s weather records, which began in 1871. Also on the 22nd: The water temperature at Little Falls on the Potomac River surged to a bath water-like 96 degrees, higher than any reading since measurements began in 1988.

The heat milestones reached in July add to numerous stunning warm weather records during the past 18 months.

In 2010 and 2011, the District has experienced its warmest spring, two of the top three hottest Junes, the hottest June day, the hottest two Julys, the hottest summer, the earliest 100-degree reading in a day, the longest stretch of temperatures above 80 degrees, the longest uninterrupted stretch above 100, and the hottest days so early and late in the season. (more)

2 men suing woman they saved: They blame her for fiery crash that led to their injuries

When David Kelley saw the bumper — headlights and all — lying in the roadway, it clicked that something was wrong.

The gray smoke rolling up from the highway embankment cemented his worry.

His buddy, Mark Kinkaid, was driving and saw the same things. Kinkaid slammed on the brakes, stopped his truck along Rt.  23 in Marion County, and the two men jumped out.

They hopped a barbed-wire fence, knocked down trees and brush, half ran and half slid down the steep highway embankment, and rushed the flaming Hummer.

Kelley said in an interview last week that he still remembers the woman’s screams: “  ‘Help me! Help me! Help me!’ Over and over and over, that’s all I could hear.”

Kinkaid and Kelley didn’t know who was inside, but they knew they had to get to her. They fought their way into the vehicle, wrenched a door open and pulled Theresa Tanner out, saving her from certain death.

That was on March 11, 2009, and now both men are suing Tanner, saying that the crash was her fault and that they both suffered permanent and disabling injuries in rescuing her. (more)

Rep. Conyers to Obama: "We've Had It", Calls for Protests at the White House

At a press conference held by the House "Out of Poverty Caucus", Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) lambasted President Obama over the debt ceiling deal and called for people to march on the White House in protest.

Said Conyers:

We’ve got to educate the American people at the same time we educate the President of the United States. The Republicans, Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that. My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this. (source)

Europe’s last taboos: Is a federal state in the works?

You can always trust the Americans, Winston Churchill said, because in the end they will do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities. For the last 18 months, this has been Europe’s method for confronting its sovereign debt crisis as well: it has taken the necessary decisions, but always as a last resort.

Once again, on July 21, the euro zone’s leaders proclaimed that what was previously unthinkable was, in fact, necessary. They gave up the pretense that Greece is solvent; admitted that excessive interest rates could only make the problem worse; agreed to extend more and longer-term loans; called for private lenders to bear some of the burden; guaranteed that even if Greek government bonds are rated in selected default, Greek banks would not be cut off from access to liquidity; recognized the need to support economic growth; and agreed to broaden the scope of the European Financial Stability Facility, making it a more flexible tool for intervention.

For Germany, France, the European Central Bank and other players, these about-faces have a cost in terms of reputation, political capital and legal leeway. July’s decisions were sufficiently wide-ranging for everyone to be able to claim success. But the players will have to explain why red lines were crossed. All, no doubt, will claim that this is the last time. (more)

A hapless European Union has lost its direction

There are many economic challenges around the world today. The US teeters on the brink of default, deleveraging continues across the west, cracks are appearing in China’s fixed asset investment boom, Japan remains stuck in the deflationary doldrums, while inflation is picking up in emerging markets. None of these problems, however, is as intractable as those facing the eurozone.

It is common to view Europe’s woes in terms of a crisis of public finances. Greece, after all, owes a lot of money to its European neighbours. The markets have also started to question Italy’s sovereign debt, which is currently around 120 per cent of GDP. Yet rising credit spreads among the periphery of Europe are a symptom of deeper troubles within the monetary union.

After all, other nations have proven capable of sustaining larger public debts. Britain’s ratio of government debt to GDP exceeded 250 per cent after the Napoleonic Wars. More recently, Japan’s large domestic savings have supported a public debt that now exceeds 200 per cent of GDP.

By contrast, Europe’s stricken periphery is characterised by low savings. The savings rate in Greece and Portugal in recent years has been insufficient to sustain economic growth let alone finance their fiscal deficits. Italy’s savings rate appears to be in structural decline as its population ages. Spain and Ireland have a better record on this front, but they frittered away a great deal of their savings on their housing bubbles. Countries which save too little and invest poorly are likely to experience weak economic growth. (more)

Europe: On the brink of an abyss

From the US to Europe to Japan there is a panic in the echelons of power. The strategists of capitalism are frantically trying to avert a US default, collapse of the Euro and bankruptcy of Japan. The dangers are real and grave. The most serious newspaper of finance capital, The Financial Times, wrote the following on July 15, 2011:

“A week ago last Thursday, global equity markets were sitting pretty secure in the expectation of good US employment figures and some breathing space in the European sovereign debt saga. Now, that confidence has disappeared. In its place, investors see contagion gripping the eurozone, renewed weakness in the American economy and the looming possibility that the issuer of the world’s reserve currency will default in little more than two weeks. It is hardly the backdrop to the holiday season that policymakers wanted.”

A temporary accord may be reached between the Republicans and the White House to avert an immediate default but the fundamental crisis will remain. The next default situation will come back with a vengeance. The root of all this ferment is the impasse of capitalism on a world scale due to the contradiction between the nation state and private ownership of the means of production.

The raising of interest rates by the European Union (EU) in a slump is a short-term desperate attempt to save the euro. Increases in public spending in these deficit-ridden economies will not solve the problem but further aggravate the crisis. This is reflected in the nervousness of investors in the world’s stock exchanges. They are desperately worried about the default of Greece. Greece will still have a debt of 160 percent of GDP even after the new bailout. It is mainly the German and the French banks that are the most exposed to a Greek default. Greece cannot pay off its debt even if it carries out the draconian austerity measures demanded of it. If Greece goes down, or rather when Greece goes down, it will drag down Germany and other European economies with it. After all, these economies are inextricably linked. And if the euro goes down, there will not be enough money to bail out Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. After all the Italian economy is six times the size of the Greek economy. There is no way that Italy could be bailed out even with all the present reserves in Europe. (more)

US economy needs to rid itself of debt addiction

A country where a plutocracy is firmly in control. A country that has racked up whopping trade and budget deficits over the past quarter century. A country where the tax system is biased towards the rich and spending is lavished on the military rather than the poor. This country – where the politics are dysfunctional and the economy a train wreck – is not some tinpot Latin American dictatorship circa 1980 but the United States in 2011.

If the US were any other country it would be seeking help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is considered a blessing that the dollar's role as the global reserve currency of choice means that Washington does not have to suffer this indignity, but in reality the blessing has turned out to be a curse. The security blanket provided by the dollar has allowed Americans to believe that if they close their eyes all their problems will go away.

Policymakers have fostered this belief. They have assumed that the normal rules of economics do not apply to the US and have always looked for the easy way out of any problem. Under Alan Greenspan, an excess of private-sector debt and speculation created the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. When the bubble burst, Greenspan's response was to create an even bigger bubble, this time in the housing market.

At the same time, George W Bush took what had been a solid fiscal position inherited from Bill Clinton and trashed it. Two expensive wars and tax cuts for the well off meant that by the time the subprime mortgage crisis broke the US was saturated in private-sector debt and the public sector balance sheet was in poor shape. (more)

US debt crisis: Capitol Hill strikes deal - but at what cost?

America could soon lose its much-coveted triple-A credit rating, possibly by the end of this week, as politicians in Washington race to clinch a deal to solve the debt crisis in what is likely to be a volatile week for global financial markets.

On Monday morning the dollar rose against the yen and Swiss franc as hopes grew that a deal could be reached to raise the $14.3tn ceiling on borrowing to enable US public workers to be paid, and the country to keep functioning. In early trading the New Zealand dollar was just shy of a 30-year high, while the Australian dollar also edged up.

But while there was some relief that an outright US default on debt payments might now be avoided, there was lingering concern that congressmen might not fall behind the $3tn of cuts needed in return for a $3tn rise in the debt ceiling before Tuesday's deadline – when the White House has warned the money runs out.

Anxiety was apparent on both sides of the Atlantic about the implications of the crisis in the US, where data on Friday showing the US economy has stagnated further heightened tensions in the market.

Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Treasury minister, told the BBC there would be "some pretty damaging consequences" if the crisis was not resolved. "Of course, it would depend exactly how things unfolded, and I stress I don't expect that to happen. I think, in the end, politicians on Capitol Hill can see that the implications of … the precipice they're looking over, if you like … is one that they want to step back from.

"But it is something that'd have a big effect on the global financial system, and, in a global economy where the US is one of our major trading partners, that could have really big implications for the UK." (more)

Don’t raise the debt ceiling, says Gary Johnson: Pain today beats economic collapse tomorrow

Gary Johnson is an unusual politician. Contrarian but constructive, Johnson hopes to move the Republican Party in the direction of being a socially “tolerant” party that emphasizes limited government above all else.

In a lengthy interview with The Daily Caller, Johnson, a popular New Mexico governor from 1995 to 2003, described a range of policy positions that he brings to the Republican presidential primary.

New Hampshire, the early primary state with a large pool of independent and libertarian votes, is where Johnson hopes to break through. He cites the Granite State as the place where candidates can make it onto the national stage overnight.

Johnson’s unique political stances have attracted interest from national figures ranging from gay rights advocate Lt. Dan Choi — with whom he was scheduled to speak on Friday — and pot-smoking country music legend Willie Nelson.

An advocate of fiscal conservatism, Johnson said that he opposes raising the debt ceiling. Many Americans would be hurt immediately by the decision, he said, but it’s far preferable to a future economic calamity caused by the over-printing of money. (more)

Debt Ceiling Deal? So What: In World’s Eyes, Much Damage Is Already Done

With the deal reached Sunday night, the United States has a good chance of escaping the debt limit showdown with its credit rating intact.

The United States government may not be so lucky with its reputation.

Even before negotiations went down to the wire on Sunday night, the bitterness, division and dysfunction that resounded around the world in recent weeks as the United States veered toward default did more than just fuel a perception that Washington is approaching Japan-like levels of political gridlock. Among foreign leaders and in global markets, the political histrionics have eroded America’s already diminishing aura as the world’s economic haven and the sole country with the power to lead the rest of the world out of financial crisis and recession.

It has chipped away at the global authority of President Obama, who was celebrated abroad when he came to office as a man who would end an era of American unilateralism. Now the topic of discussion in other capitals is whether the Age of Obama is giving way to an Age of Austerity, one that will inevitably reduce America’s influence internationally.

Mr. Obama has all but acknowledged as much in recent weeks, as he paired his decision to withdraw the “surge” troops from Afghanistan by next September with a repeat of his declaration that “it is time to focus on nation building here at home.” His decision to commit few new American financial resources to supporting the Arab Spring and his insistence that NATO allies must bear the brunt of operations in Libya were deliberate reminders that times have changed, and that America can no longer afford either new Marshall Plans or new wars.

But the brush with default has added a new dimension.

It has left America’s creditors and allies alike wondering what had changed in American politics that a significant part of the country’s political elite was suddenly willing to risk the nation’s reputation as the safest place for the rest of the world to invest. (more)

From Spending to Cuts, While the US Economy Stalls

The nation’s political leaders agreed on Sunday to spend and invest less money in the American economy, a step that economists said risks the reversal of a faltering recovery, in the hope of improving the nation’s long-term prosperity.

The emerging outlines of a deal to cut spending by at least $2.4 trillion over 10 years, with a multibillion-dollar down payment later this year, would complete an about-face in the federal government’s role from outsize spending in the immediate aftermath of the recession to outsize cuts in the future.

Last week brought the disconcerting news that the economy grew no faster than the population during the first six months of the year, in part because of spending cuts by state and local governments. Now the federal government is cutting, too.

“Unemployment will be higher than it would have been otherwise,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, said Sunday on ABC. “Growth will be lower than it would be otherwise. And inequality will be worse than it would be otherwise.”

He added, “We have a very weak economy, so withdrawing more spending at this stage will make it even weaker.”

The agreement would end months of single-minded debate about the federal debt that has diverted Washington’s attention from broader economic questions, and indeed threatened the health of financial markets as investors watched and wondered whether the United States might really decide, quite voluntarily, to leave some bills unpaid. (more)

Palestinian Authority Unrest as Financial Crisis Continues

After paying workers just half their normal salaries for the month of June, the Palestinian Authority is hoping to avert a threatened general strike by paying full salaries for July. However, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned that “the payment of full salaries will significantly reduce the ability fo the PA to meet other needs during the next month.”

The Government Workers Union in the PA in Judea and Samaria had threatened an open-ended strike if salaries were not paid.

In what may be a sign of growing unrest, union head Bassam Zakarna accused PA leaders of fabricating a financial crisis to avoid their responsibilities. “This financial crisis is made up... the treasury has enough money to pay full salaries,” he told the PA-based Maan news.

Fayyad's caretaker government has faced allegations of corruption and fiscal mismanagement, and several government ministers are suspected of having stolen millions of dollars from state coffers. Corruption allegations were revealed shortly after workers learned that they would be receiving just 50% of their usual monthly salary. (more)

Arab Regimes Fear Ramadan will Be Month of Violence

Arab governments in the Middle East are preparing for increased tensions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which may reignite the smoldering flames of uprisings that swept the region this year.

"Throughout history, Ramadan has been the month of revolutions and victory," Abdullah al-Amadi, director of the Qatar-based Islamonline website, explained to AFP. "I think it will inspire the youths of the Arab Spring to complete their struggles against injustice and tyranny."

Amadi said the Arab struggle could peak in the final ten days of Ramadan, believed to be the holiest of the month.

Authorities in Syria fear that the "Taraweeh" nightly Ramadan prayers will transform every day into a Friday, the Muslim holy day which is also the customary day for violence and mayhem.

AFP quoted a Facebook group called The Syrian Revolution 2011, which it called "a driving force of the protest movement," as writing: "The regime is afraid of Ramadan and the Taraweeh prayers," amid calls by Syrian activists for protests every night until dawn. (more)

Cameroon bread makers switch away from flour as prices soar

Faced with increases in the price of flour on the global market, a group of Cameroonian farmers proposes to make bread with cassava root flour.

The Citizen’s Association for the Preservation of Public Interest (ACDIC), made up of farmers, proposes to incorporate 10 percent of cassava flour - in addition to imported whole wheat flour - in bread production.

According to the association, if 10 percent of flour used to produce bread is cassava flour, the bread will become heavy and will not break into crusts. The association also proposes to incorporate 30 percent of potato flour - which is a bit sweet - into production of pastries. This could help reduce costs of sugar used in cakes. (more)

South Korea's consumer prices jump 4.7 percent in July

South Korea's consumer prices jumped at a faster pace in July, raising concerns that inflationary pressure is building up despite the government's anti-inflation efforts, a report showed Monday.

According to the report by Statistics Korea, the country's consumer price index rose 4.7 percent last month from a year earlier, quickening from the previous month's 4.4 percent gain.

The figure represents the seventh straight month that consumer prices have grown over the government's renewed annual inflation target of 4 percent for this year.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile oil and food costs, also jumped 3.8 percent from a year earlier, the largest gain in 26 months. It was also up from 3.7 percent tallied for June, the report showed.

"Prices of fresh foods rose significantly due to heavy rains last month, with costs of pork, processed goods and many other items increasing from a year earlier," Yang Dong-hee, head of the agency's price statistics division, told Yonhap News Agency.

The government recently revised upward its annual inflation target for this year from 3 percent to 4 percent.

The renewed target, however, seems to be getting tougher to achieve as there are few signs of inflationary pressure letting up any time soon with many other factors poised to drive up prices.

Heavy rainfall that devastated some of the nation's farm lands last month could continue to disrupt the supply of farm goods, possibly driving up prices of vegetables and fruits.

The report showed that the nation's fresh food price index jumped 9 percent last month from a year earlier, the highest in four months. (more)

Korean won’s steep rise feared to hurt exporters

The Korean government is set to face an uphill battle in keeping the Korean won from appreciating at a rapid clip as the U.S. debt crisis is sending ripples throughout financial markets across the world.

“The local currency could gain to the 1,000 won level against the greenback by the end of the year,” said Huh In, an international finance analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. “There is even a possibility that the Korean currency will likely rise even higher.”

Fears that the U.S. government might fail to avert a default by Tuesday’s deadline are putting downward pressure on the dollar, the world’s reserve currency. This is a development that will likely boost the value of the Korean won in coming months, which in turn will make Korean goods more expensive overseas for a country heavily dependent on exports for economic growth.

The Korean won ended at 1,054.5 won to the U.S. dollar on Friday, up about 8 percent this year, a sharp rise that outpaces other currencies. It was April 28, 2008 when the local currency last remained below the 1,000 won level, at 999.6 won.

Local exporters, particularly small manufacturers, are bracing for a rough period as the latest views from major research firms point to an inevitable appreciation that could quickly translate into a sharp cut in sales overseas. (more)

Dysfunctional America, America the angry. How did it happen?

People around the world who have admired the United States for its economic vigor, its inventiveness, its open society, its great universities, its leadership in world affairs and even its popular culture are now, in many cases, wondering how it all went wrong.

Is the political paralysis in Washington over raising the national debt limit a consequence of a nation in decline, or is decline a result of dysfunctional politics?

Undoubtedly, a combination of the two.

As an American who has lived most of his adult life abroad, I have difficulty in recognizing in the America of today the country in which I grew up. It is an angry country, seemingly unhappy with itself.

The changes that have taken place, transforming a confident and often generous behemoth into a country riven by internal conflict and ideological extremism, have not come about by chance.

The causes are complex but one feature that stands out is the transformation that has taken place in the Republican Party.

Democrats and Republicans always have had a different vision of the kind of country they want America to be. But for a considerable period after World War II, they debated and fought out their differences in a civilized manner and with a degree of mutual respect. (more)

Forgetting lessons of the Holocaust: European, Israeli and Jewish right-wing extremists court one another

Jews rather than Muslims would have been the focus of Anders Behring Breivik’s hatred had he lived seven decades ago.

Mr. Breivik’s choices would have been easier than. The young Norwegian with the good Aryan looks would have probably joined Adolf Hitler’s SS, the elite units who played a key role in attempting to exterminate the Jews.

In an ironic twist of history, the very people Mr. Breivik’s ideological ancestors sought to eradicate are the ones who in his and those that share his views stand on the front line of civilization’s battle against Islam’s creeping annexation of Europe.

And in an equally ironic twist, some members of the very Israeli and Jewish groups Mr. Breivik and other representatives of Europe’s extreme right wing see as their potential allies believe there is virtue in an association with racist and often latently anti-Semitic groups who support Israel on the basis of questionable political and Christian beliefs.

Mr. Breivick identifies in his manifesto four Israeli political parties as potential allies, including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. (more)

Israel warns of ‘anarchy’ if Netanyahu government meets all reform demands

Israel’s government hit back on Sunday at protests against the rising cost of living, saying some reforms being demanded might lead to economic crises like those besetting parts of Europe and the United States.

The warnings followed marches by some 100,000 demonstrators, the resignation of a top treasury official and questions from leading commentators over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to ride out a revolt by the middle class.

“We see the talk about the debt crisis in Europe. We are even hearing talk of a possible default in the United States,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said. “My supreme duty is to ensure we do not reach this situation in the State of Israel.”

He rejected calls for the authorities to curb industry leaders who are often accused of artificially inflating the price of consumer goods through cartels tolerated by Mr. Netanyahu and his predecessors.

“We will not part with our principles. We will not create anarchy here,” Mr. Steinitz told reporters. “We will attend to (market) concentration but we will not turn the rich and the business people and the investors and the industrialists into the enemies of the people, because they are part of a healthy economy.” (more)

US to talk nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia: Mideast nuclear arms race to begin?

The United States plans talks with Saudi Arabia on civilian nuclear cooperation, people familiar with the plans said, in a step that has already set off fierce criticism on Capitol Hill.

With the United States hoping to head off an arms race in response to Iran’s nuclear program, officials from President Barack Obama’s administration plan to head to Riyadh in the coming week for nuclear talks, the sources said.

A congressional aide, who requested anonymity as the trip has not been publicly announced, said the visit would be a “preliminary” step to “discuss the possibility of moving forward on a nuclear cooperation agreement.”

A senior lawmaker from the rival Republican Party strongly criticized the visit, pointing to concerns about Saudi financing for Islamic extremists.

“I am astonished that the administration is even considering a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Saudi Arabia is an unstable country in an unstable region, with senior officials openly proclaiming that the country may pursue a nuclear weapons capability,” she said in a statement Friday.

“Its ties to terrorists and terror financing alone should rule it out as a candidate for US nuclear cooperation,” she said. (more)

Saudi economic power might be more fragile than it looks

Saudi Arabia’s economic power is more fragile that it looks. High energy inefficiency and public sector spending are two trends which, left unchecked, will start eating into the kingdom’s petrodollar reserves within a decade. But while the Saudi government doesn’t have its head stuck in the sand, it isn’t clear that it is doing enough to tackle the country’s foreseeable financial problems.

The surprising sums have been laid out by Jadwa Investment, a firm founded by Saudi royalty. Based on past spending patterns, and assuming no significant ramp up in oil production which accounts for 85 percent of government revenues, it reckons the country’s net foreign reserves would shrink by around 45 percent - to around $267 billion by the end of 2021 and to $100 billion in 2024.

How does it happen? The kingdom’s own energy consumption is forecast to grow at an annual rate between 8-10 percent for the next decade. That means less of the black stuff will be available to export at international prices. Saudi consumers and businesses pay as little as three percent of the global price. And they and use 11 times more oil than the Chinese to generate the same amount of GDP, according to 2009 numbers.

Government spending, meanwhile, is forecast by Jadwa to grow at an average annual rate of seven percent for the next 20 years. That’s half the rate of the previous decade. But spending on infrastructure and other projects to create a knowledge-based economy and renewable energy sources makes up roughly just 30 percent of the total. The rest is current spending, the largest part of which being public payrolls. Public sector wages rise too fast, and are already higher on average than those of the private sector. (more)

The Politics of Oil: The road from oil well to gas tank is twisted

Politics have long skewed oil supply lines, but this year’s confluence of events have bent the route from the well to the gas tank so far out of shape that West African oil is going to a refiner in Taiwan to make diesel for Brazilian truckers.

It is politics that have sent Siberian oil on its way to Peru in a hitherto unchartered trade route, and made it profitable for Belgian chocolatiers to run vans with Indian-processed Colombian oil.

Markets are stretching to re-allocate supplies in the wake of four major events this year: Libya’s civil war, rising Saudi output, the release of emergency oil stockpiles coordinated by the International Energy Agency and a payments dispute between India and Iran.

“Geopolitical events have triggered crazy distortions of oil flows at a global level,” said Tony Nunan, a risk manager with Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Corp., who joined the company in 1987.

“The IEA release caused a secondary tsunami of unintended crude flows. In my career, I haven’t seen anything like this.” (more)

Want cash to pay for your Internet obsession? Sell your children

The obsession and addiction in playing online games via international networks led a Chinese couple to selling their three children for less than $10,000. They used that sum to cover the costs of using computers in an Internet café.

The couple said they wanted to fulfill their desire to participate in different electronic games, many of which require money.

The local police in Beijing arrested the couple, Lin Li and Li Guan, on charges of selling their three children, pointing out that “the couple had met for the first time at an Internet cafe in 2007, and both were under the age of 21 years, when their love and obsession with online games joined them together.” (source)

The West's debt crises: Getting worse and worse and worse...

AS THE August 2nd deadline for a resolution of America’s debt-ceiling row approaches, other news is being drowned out. America’s debt debacle provokes rubber-necking fascination but the euro crisis is still the bigger threat to financial stability.

The chances (admittedly diminishing with time) are that America will get its house in order and avoid default; and that a ratings downgrade will happen but not threaten the pre-eminence of Treasuries as the world’s safe asset of choice. In contrast, the euro area’s crisis is already in full swing and policymakers, as this week’s issue of The Economist makes plain, have not found a way to stop it.

The chart alongside shows movements in bond spreads over German Bunds since the July 21st summit in Brussels for the five euro-area economies most in the limelight (setting tiny Cyprus to one side). The three economies to have been bailed out already—Greece, Ireland and Portugal—have seen spreads drop on the promise of lower interest rates and longer debt maturities.

But the spreads for Italy and Spain, both far bigger economies, continued to go up this week. Spain’s sovereign-debt rating was put on negative review by Moody’s this morning. Adding to the uncertainty, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the prime minister, today announced an early election, to take place in November. (more)

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake WESTERN XIZANG (TIBET), CHINA - 1st August 2011

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck Western Xizang, China at a depth of 13.6 km ( 8.5 miles), the quake hit at 19:40:53 UTC Monday 1st August 2011.
The epicenter was 364 km (226 miles) ENE of Lumaringbo, Xizang (Tibet), China
No damage or injuries reported at this time

Blue-green algae observed on most beaches in Helsinki, Finland - 1st Aug 2011

Environment Centre, poisonous blue-green algae is present on most public beaches in Helsinki. The amounts of blue-green algae have mostly remained small, while in some places the occurences of algae have been abundant.

Occasionally, plenty of blue-green algae has been detected in Lauttasaari Kasinoranta, Mustikkamaa, Tuorinniemi, Kallahdenniemi, and Kallahden kainalo beaches.
At the same time, very few algae observations have been made at the beaches along the Vantaa River.
As a result of the long spell of hot weather we have enjoyed once again this summer, small amounts of blue-green algae can be detected on all seaside beaches.

Information of the water quality, algae situation, and water temperature at beaches is on display at beaches and on the Environment Centre’s website (in Finnish).
Despite a small amount of algae in the water, swimming is generally safe.
The water samples collected from the Vantaa River and the west of Helsinki were hygienically of high quality. Source

5.6 Magnitude Earthquake FOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA - 1st August 2011

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake has struck Fox Island, Aleutian Island, Alaska at a depth of 39 km ( 24.2 miles), the quake hit at 18:20:05 UTC Monday 1st August 2011.
The epicenter was 205 km (127 miles) ESE from Atka, Alaska
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Intense heat will remain over parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas until Aug. 15

Reader Contribution;

Get ready for more hot weather this month. Meteorologists are saying that August is expected to pick up where July left off.

The most intense heat will remain over parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas until Aug. 15.

In addition, the heat wave may cover most of the South.

High temperatures in cities across the U.S. have already broken or tied more than 2,000 weather records.

Eighteen states from South Dakota to Texas to Louisiana have issued heat advisories and warnings.

Texas is experiencing its worst drought ever recorded. Texans continue to hope that the hurricane season will bring some rain and relief their way.

The National Weather Service has forecast a high of 106 degrees for Dallas on Monday and temperatures are expected to remain high all week. Read More

Welsh take more antidepressants than the rest of the UK

DOCTORS in Wales last year gave out more prescriptions for depression than there are people in the nation, according to startling new figures.

Experts fear the current economic climate may be tipping people into a spiral of depression, while mental health campaigners have warned of the dangers of GP over-prescribing.

A total of 3.5 million prescriptions were issued in Wales in 2010, in a population of three million people.

By contrast in Scotland in the same year, 4.3 million prescriptions were issued among a population of 5.2 million. In England the most recent figures for 2009 there were 39.1 million prescriptions compared to a 52.5 million population.

As well as having a higher level of prescriptions relative to population, Wales has also experienced the biggest increase in prescriptions in the UK, up nearly 70% in eight years, compared to 61% in England and 43% in Scotland.

Charlotte Jones, deputy chair of the General Practitioners Committee Wales of the British Medical Association, and a GP in Swansea, said: “I suspect it’s down to an ongoing lack of alternatives like psychological therapies and also possibly a reflection of a difficult time people are facing economically.

“All this is combined to more mental health problems and sometimes the only recourse is to antidepressants.

“More people are coming in with anxiety, depression, stress and there are lots of factors contributing to that, jobs, worries about financing their home, worries about long-term prospects.” (more)

Italy, Spain Worries Complicate Greece Aid

Investor concerns over Italy and Spain are complicating efforts to deliver Greece its next chunk of rescue aid, underscoring the increasing difficulty Europe faces in reining its more than year-old credit crisis.

Greece is due to receive the next installment of its original, €110 billion ($158 billion) bailout in September. But Italy and Spain, both of which committed to extend bilateral loans to Greece with other euro-zone countries, have seen their own borrowing costs rise recently.

Living up to that commitment could put further pressure on Italian and Spanish bonds, just as officials in Madrid and Rome have been scrambling to reassure markets. Euro-zone finance officials are now considering allowing Italy and Spain to opt out of the payment, according to people familiar with the matter.

"We're trying to get around this obstacle by getting the EFSF to finance the next tranche," one official said, referring to the European Union's rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility. "The only problem is this is on very short notice."

If the rescue fund isn't ready to lend to Greece, Italy and Spain might be called on to make loans directly, potentially exacerbating tensions in the Spanish and Italian sovereign-debt markets.

Greece, the first euro-zone country to receive a bailout, was given direct loans from its partners because the EFSF, which has a lending capacity of €440 billion, hadn't been set up. (more)

Debt drags down the West

A government’s credibility is founded on its commitment to honour its debts. As a result of the dramas of the past few weeks, that crucial commodity is eroding in the West. The struggles in Europe to keep Greece in the euro zone and the brinkmanship in America over the debt ceiling have presented investors with an unattractive choice: Should you buy the currency that may default, or the one that could disintegrate?

In the early days of the economic crisis, the West’s leaders did a reasonable job of cleaning up a mess that was only partly of their making. Now, the politicians have become the problem. In both America and Europe, they are exhibiting the sort of behaviour that could turn a downturn into stagnation. The West’s leaders are not willing to make tough choices, and everybody — the markets, the leaders of the emerging world, the banks, even the voters — knows it. It is a mark of how low expectations have sunk that the euro zone’s half-rescue of Greece on July 21 was greeted with relief. Even if the current crises abate or are averted, the real danger persists: that the West’s political system cannot make the difficult decisions needed to recover from a crisis and prosper in the years ahead.

The world has seen this before. Two decades ago, Japan’s economic bubble popped. Since then, its leaders have procrastinated and postured. The years of political paralysis have done Japan more harm than the economic excesses of the 1980s. Its economy has barely grown, and its regional influence has withered. As a proportion of gross domestic product, its gross public debt is the highest in the world, twice America’s and nearly twice Italy’s. If something similar were to happen to its fellow democracies in Europe and America, the consequences would be far larger. No wonder China’s autocrats, flush with cash and an (only partly deserved) reputation for getting things done, feel as if the future is on their side. (more)

Mexican police: Drug gang leader Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez says he ordered 1,500 killings

A suspected leader of the Juarez drug cartel told authorities he had ordered the deaths of about 1,500 people, a Mexican federal police official said Sunday.

Federal police detailed accusations against Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, known as "El Diego," a day after authorities announced his capture. He was one of the country's most wanted criminals, with officials offering a reward of 15 million pesos ($1.3 million) for his arrest.

Collaboration with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration led to Acosta's detention, said Eduardo Pequeno, head of the Mexican federal police anti-drug unit.

Acosta is accused of being a leader of the drug gang known as La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez cartel, Mexican authorities have said.

Pequeno told reporters that Acosta "said he ordered the killings of about 1,500 people, mostly in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua's capital."

An investigation points to Acosta as the mastermind behind the March 2010 killing of three people connected with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, Pequeno said.

More recently, Acosta ordered operatives to hang banners with threatening messages directed at the DEA and other U.S. authorities, Pequeno said. (more)

Islamic separatists blamed for attacks in northwest China

Weekend violence in northwest China left at least 14 people dead and more than 40 injured as authorities searched for additional suspects in a pair of attacks, a government official said Monday.

Local officials blamed the violence on an Islamic separatist group.

An explosion in the city of Kashi in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Sunday killed six people, said Hou Hanmin, a regional government spokesman. The blast also injured 15 people, including three police, Hou said.

Kashi -- as the city is called in Chinese -- is also known as Kashgar in the Uyghur language.

On Saturday, a knifing spree in the same city started when two men stabbed a truck driver, took control of the vehicle and drove into pedestrians, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The men then hopped out of the truck and attacked bystanders before locals subdued them.

Eight people died in Saturday's violence, Hou said. One suspect was killed in the fighting, and another was apprehended.

Twenty-seven people were wounded in Saturday's stabbings.

Authorities believe several suspects were behind the attacks. All of the suspects are Uyghurs, Hou said. Arrest warrants have been issued for two suspects. (more)

Why do extremists like Breivik turn to violence?

Any large-scale massacre, especially of young people, generates shock and horror. How could this be possible? The temptation is to dismiss it as the act of someone who is insane. Attributing mass murder to mental disorder is convenient, because further explanation is not necessary. We nod in superficial understanding, mourn the victims and go on with our lives.

But mass murder committed in the name of any political or religious ideology; whether Christianity, the proletariat, the Aryan race, Islam, freedom, the "indigenous European race," or any abstract notion becomes a political act and cannot be easily reduced to the perpetrator's psychological condition.

Terrorism emerges out of a political subculture. This raises questions about the relationship between a subculture of extremism and violence in its name.

Mainstream Muslims protest that terrorists like Mohammed Atta or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who claim to kill in the name of Islam, should not be viewed as true Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace. Many Westerners do blame this form of terrorism on Islam and claim that we are in an epic clash of civilization, opposing the medievalism of Islam and Western enlightenment.

Mainstream Christians have rejected Anders Breivik, the suspect in the recent killings in Norway, as un-Christian because Christianity is a religion of peace, even though Breivik advertises himself as a Knight Templar, defending European Christendom. Indeed, in his manifesto, Breivik often quotes from American neoconservative sources. (more)