Friday, August 5, 2011

US: Unprecedented Credit Rating Downgrade from AAA to AA+... Fear Grips Already Shaky World Economy

Credit rating agency Standard and Poor's has downgraded the United States' credit rating for the first time in the history of the ratings.

The country's top AAA rating - which it has held since 1917 - now stands one notch lower, at AA+.

Standard and Poor's (S&P) said it made the move because the deficit reduction plan passed by Congress on Tuesday did not go far enough to stabilise the debt situation in the US.

To add to the US' woes, the agency has also issued a negative outlook, meaning there is a chance it will lower the rating further within the next two years.

The downgrade could have several consequences for normal Americans.

If buyers are scared away from US debt, the interest rate paid on US bonds, notes and bills have to rise to attract buyers.

This in turn could trickle down to mortgage holders and those wanting to take out loans on big-ticket items like cars. (more)

US Downgrade Leaves Markets Facing Turmoil: "This downgrade could be catastrophic"

Global financial markets could face further turmoil in the wake of the US credit rating downgrade.

Credit ratings agency Standard and Poor's said early on Saturday morning they had downgraded the country from its top AAA rating to AA+.

The loss of the rating could reignite panic on the markets as traders worry that the world's biggest economy may be leading the way back into recession.

Markets around the globe suffered huge falls this week, but the US Dow Jones ended higher on Friday after better-than-expected jobs growth figures.

In London, the FTSE 100 index of leading UK shares closed the day at 5246.99, down 146 points or 2.71%.

More than £148bn has been wiped off the FTSE's value since trading opened on Monday - a plunge of 568.2 points or 10.15% - caused by the eurozone debt crisis and fears the economy is stalling. (more)

Euro zone policymakers fail to extinguish market fire

European policymakers tried to turn a more powerful fire hose on the euro zone debt crisis on Thursday but financial markets were unimpressed with their response.

The European Central Bank resumed buying government bonds after a four-month break and announced new longer-term funding for liquidity-starved banks. But after a brief hiccup, Italian and Spanish bond yields continued their inexorable climb towards danger levels.

The executive European Commission urged holidaying euro zone leaders to consider swiftly boosting the size of their financial rescue fund, but was promptly rebuffed by the Germans and Dutch.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said the central bank's controversial programme of buying government paper in an effort to stabilise markets, inactive since March, was ongoing.

"You will see what we do," he told a news conference.

Traders saw the ECB enter the market as Trichet spoke but an EU monetary source said purchases were limited to Irish and Portuguese bonds and there were no plans to buy bonds of other nations.

Spanish and Italian 10-year bond yields, which had fallen in anticipation of ECB action, rose again in volatile trading and safe haven German Bund futures jumped. (more)

Civilian Toll Is Mounting in Assault on Syrian City of Hama

Syrian human rights activists said Thursday that Syrian government forces had killed more than 100 people in the rebellious city of Hama in the first 24 hours since seizing control of its central square with armored columns and snipers.

The new toll, which the activists calculated based on reports from people in Hama using satellite phones, doubled the rough count of civilian dead there to more than 200 since the military’s tanks began shelling the city over the weekend.

The military’s assault on Hama, a linchpin of the five-month-old uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, represents one of the fiercest efforts yet to crush the protesters and is a signal of Mr. Assad’s defiance in the face of growing international condemnation. Activists say the overall death toll from the crackdown since March is more than 1,700.

With foreign journalists barred from the country and the government silent about most aspects of the rebellion, activists have been the main source of information about the government crackdown and civilian casualties.

Telephone lines, cellphone and Internet service and electricity and water were cut off two days ago in Hama and have not been restored. Satellite connections offered perhaps the only route left to get information out. Activists said they feared that the near total media blackout on the city would allow the military to pursue an unrestrained assault.

Their fear was deepened by the painful legacy of the government’s actions in Hama in 1982, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, then the president, crushed an uprising out of the international spotlight, leaving at least 10,000 people dead and parts of the city in ruins. (more)

Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau: Outrage over shocking images of the 10-YEAR-OLD model who has graced the pages of Vogue

She reclines among leopard print pillows, her rouged lips pouting at the camera. But shockingly the model in these highly sexualised pictures is only 10 years old.

The provocative images of Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau, who is tipped as the next big thing on the fashion scene, are causing a storm of controversy with campaigners furious that a child so young should be displaying the sexual allure of someone twice her age.

Thylane has appeared in numerous campaigns and her image is all over the internet. To date she has an impressive portfolio - the French girl has graced the cover of Vogue Enfants and posed for high-end editorials. (more)

Rudolf Alexandrov: Chestnut Hill College professor yelled, walked out of his class, then ran over a railing killing himself in front of students, wife

A professor at Chestnut Hill College dove over a second-floor railing inside a building on campus during his class, killing him, police say.

Rudolf Alexandrov, 71, an adjunct professor teaching mathematics at the private four-year school, walked out of his class Wednesday afternoon, returned briefly, yelled some words and then ran to a railing overlooking the veranda, reports the Daily News.

Campus security was summoned and Alexandrov dove over the railing and hit the marble floor, some 20 to 30-feet below.

Alexandrov jumped in front of his students and his 56-year-old wife Olga Alexandrov. She also works as an adjunct professor at the college, reports the Daily News.

Philadelphia police called it a suicide. (more)

Man Who Jumped White House Fence Speaks Out: "Desperate cry for help, I need a job to feed six children"



The man who jumped a White House fence Tuesday night talked to us Wednesday after a court appearance.

James Dirk Crudup told 9NEWS the move was a cry for help because he can't find a job in this economy. Crudup says he jumped the fence with partial hopes of being shot by police because he has six kids with two women and felt like a deadbeat dad.

"Any real man would want to provide for their children and in today's economy it is so hard that especially when you have labors you can not make those achievements and the ridicule that I received and feel, you can't imagine," said Crudup.

He is living with a friend and looking for a job. He says he is a handyman and went to a technical school to learn about electrical work. He also got a real estate license. (more)

Average US income has dropped $3500 from 3 years ago: Average income at its lowest level since 1997

President Barack Obama and many Democrats are talking about raising taxes on the wealthy, and new data released this week by the Internal Revenue Service reveals new details about the number of Americans who fit that bill.

People and households earning $1 million or more annually made up just 0.1 percent, or just over 235,000, of the 140 million tax returns filed in 2009, and just 8,274 returns were filed by people making $10 million or more.

Though the tax rate for Americans earning a gross adjusted income of $1 million or more averaged 24.4 percent, up from 23.1 percent in 2008, that’s still lower than the 28.5 percent rate they paid in 2002 when President George W. Bush was in office.

And, the data shows, the 235,413 taxpayers who reported earning seven digits or more in 2009 took in a total of $726.9 billion — yet 1,470 paid not a penny of income taxes. In 2007, 959 Americans earning $1 million or more paid no income taxes.

The returns filed in 2009 reflect income from 2008, the deepest depths of the recession and financial crisis, and, under that backdrop, incomes fell sharply.

The vast majority of tax return filers – more than 97 percent – reported incomes of less than $200,000. The average income was $54,283, a drop of more than $3,500, or 6 percent, from 2008. That put the average income at its lowest level since 1997. (more)

US Food stamp use rises to record 45.8 million

Nearly 15% of the U.S. population relied on food stamps in May, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The number of Americans using the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- more commonly referred to as food stamps -- shot to an all-time high of 45.8 million in May, the USDA reported. That's up 12% from a year ago, and 34% higher than two years ago.

The program provides monthly benefits to low-income individuals and families, which they can use at stores that accept SNAP benefits.

To qualify for food stamps, an individual's income can't exceed $1,174 a month or $14,088 a year -- an amount that is 130% of the national poverty level.

The average food stamp benefit was $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household in May.

The highest concentration of food stamp users were in California, Florida, New York and Texas -- where more than 3 million residents in each state received food stamps in May. (more)

U.S. credit rating downgraded for the first time in history: S&P strips prized AAA status to AA+

The Standard & Poor's rating agency announced Friday that it has downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+ from its top rank of AAA.

"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," the agency said about the move, which was announced after the markets had closed.

Rating agencies -- S&P, Moody's and Fitch -- analyze risk and give debt a grade that is supposed to reflect the borrower's ability to repay its loans.

The safest bets are stamped AAA. That's where U.S. debt has stood for years. Moody's first assigned the United States a AAA rating in 1917.

Fitch and Moody's, the other two main credit ratings agencies, maintained the AAA rating for the United States after this week's debt deal, though Moody's lowered its outlook on U.S. debt to "negative." (more)

Mark Faber on Markets Crashing: Brace for a Global 'Reboot' and a War

Markets could rebound after Thursday's global market sell-off, but investors should see any bounce as a selling opportunity, as the world economy rolls towards total collapse, Mark Faber, editor and publisher of the Boom, Doom and Gloom Report, told CNBC Friday.

A mooted third round of quantitative easing [cnbc explains] (QE3) in the U.S. and more money printing elsewhere is merely deferring a crisis that will be bigger and could end in war, Faber said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average [.DJIA 11492.44 108.76 (+0.96%) ] suffered its worst losses in three years Thursday, shedding more than 500 points.

"My view is that the market has experienced everywhere huge technical damage," Faber said. "As of today, all markets are extremely oversold, so a rebound is going to happen (Friday) or on Monday, but the damage technically is so great that the rebound, no matter whether QE3 happens right here, it's unlikely to lift markets above the May 2 high of the (S&P 500)[.SPX 1207.03 6.96 (+0.58%) ] at 1370."

Faber thinks that by the end of the fall, the S&P 500 will have slid to around 1150, and investors will be hoping that further round of monetary easing will stabilize markets. (more)

Fannie Mae seeks $5.1 billion more from taxpayers

Mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae said it would ask for an additional $5.1 billion from taxpayers as a weaker housing market causes continued losses on loans made prior to 2009.

The largest U.S. residential mortgage funds provider on Friday also reported a second-quarter net loss attributable to common shareholders of $5.2 billion, or 90 cents per share.

It forecast continued weakness ahead, with high unemployment and foreclosures expected to put more downward pressure on home prices.

Fannie Mae paid back $2.3 billion in dividends to taxpayers in the second quarter, reducing its net capital draw to $2.8 billion. Since the firm was seized by the U.S. Treasury in 2008, it has needed about $104 billion in government capital injections, although it has paid back about $14.7 billion in dividends.

Fannie Mae said its second-quarter loss "reflects the continued weakness in the housing and mortgage markets, which remain under pressure from high levels of unemployment, underemployment and the prolonged decline in home prices since their peak in the third quarter of 2006."

It said expenses related to mortgage modifications to keep struggling borrowers in their homes also contributed to its loss. (more)

TSA Confiscates Pregnant Woman's Insulin, Ice Packs

A Denver couple has filed a formal complaint with the Transportation Security Administration after a pregnant woman's insulin and ice packs were confiscated by screeners at Denver International Airport.

The couple has traveled around the world with her medical supplies, including insulin and syringes, and have never encountered any troubles before, they said.

"It made me feel upset and made me feel somewhat helpless," said Aaron Nieman.

Nieman's wife was traveling alone to a baby shower in Phoenix when she was questioned by a TSA agent as she went through security around 4 p.m. Thursday.

"He's like, 'Well, you're a risk.' I'm like, 'Excuse me?' And he's like, 'This is a risk ... I can't tell you why again. But this is at risk for explosives,'” Nieman's wife said. She asked 7NEWS not to use her name for fear of retaliation for speaking out.

"I got a bottle of nail polish. I got hair spray bottles. I got needles that are syringes. But yet I can't take through my actual insulin?” she asked.

The mother-to-be said she brought the appropriate doctor's note and the medication was labeled correctly, so she's perplexed as to why her insulin would be confiscated this time.

She said she was able to get half a vial through security, apparently unnoticed by TSA agents.

"It was at the bottom of my lunch box because they didn't search it all the way through. They just took out every thing on top,” she said. (more)

Virginia Beach ponders approving homeless 'tent city' -- Is this the future of America?

City staff are exploring authorizing a "tent city," a move that would make the Beach the first community in the state to sanction a homeless encampment - if the City Council approves the idea.

Mayor Will Sessoms, however, said he doesn't support it.

"I just don't see it happening," Sessoms said. "I could not recommend it because I do not want to encourage homelessness. I want to work to keep people from being homeless."

Andrew Friedman, director of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Preservation Department, said officials are looking into how such an encampment would be operated, including issues involving policing, sanitation and the duration of its existence.

Any camp would have to meet city requirements for campgrounds and health and safety, Friedman said. Any proposal would ultimately go before the City Council for land use approval.

There are at least a dozen known encampments around the city and they keep popping up. Anyone can wind up out there in the current economy, said William Duncan, a local advocate for the homeless.

City staff members think an authorized encampment could make it easier for the city to keep tabs on the homeless and provide services to them. (more)

Pentagon’s Lightning Gun Sold for Scraps on eBay

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the Pentagon sank tens of millions of dollars into remote-controlled lightning guns that it hoped would fry insurgent bombs before they killed any more troops. Now, disassembled parts from the one-time wonder-weapons are being sold on eBay. At least one buyer snatched up the gear, hoping to use it in his latest art project for Burning Man.

All of which would make for a funny little story, if that buyer didn’t discover that the multimillion dollar “Joint Improvised Explosive Device Neutralizers,” or JINs, were kluged together from third-rate commercial electronics, and controlled by open Wi-Fi signals. In other words, the Pentagon didn’t just overpay for a flawed weapon. On the off-chance the JIN ever worked, the insurgents could control it, too.

“This is the hack of all hacks,” says Cody Oliver, a freelance technologist in San Francisco. “And this is what they were selling to the government? Holy sh**.” (more)

John Kerry: Media Has "Responsibility" To "Not Give Equal Time" To Tea Party (On the contrary, John...)

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday that the media has the responsibility to not give equal time or credence to the Tea Party's views:

SEN. JOHN KERRY: "And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it's exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual."

"It doesn't deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do. And the problem is everything is put into this tit-for-tat equal battle and America is losing any sense of what's real, of who's accountable, of who is not accountable, of who's real, who isn't, who's serious, who isn't?" (more)

Dario Castillo, Ramon Zuniga: Border patrol agents 'forced drug smugglers to eat marijuana' and flee nearly naked into desert

Two Border Patrol agents were indicted on Thursday on charges of forcing accused drug smugglers to eat marijuana and flee barefoot and nearly naked into the chilly Arizona desert.

Dario Castillo, 23, and Ramon Zuniga, 29, were charged with five civil rights violations by a federal grand jury in Tucson stemming from the November 2008 incident in Arizona, prosecutors said.

Castillo is also charged with witness tampering.

A border patrol spokesman said Castillo and Zuniga had been placed on administrative leave but declined further comment.

The indictment charges that on the night in question, the two border patrol agents apprehended four men on suspicion of taking part in a marijuana smuggling operation from Mexico.

They forced the suspects to eat the drug and strip off their outer clothes, socks and shoes, which were set on fire, the indictment said.

The men were then told to flee into the desert night, where temperatures were about 40 degrees, it added.

Prosecutors said the actions deprived the four men of their civil rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The two agents face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the civil rights charges.

Castillo could receive up to 20 years in prison on the tampering count. (more)

Dolores Grissom: Elderly Woman Dies From Heat After A/C Stolen



A 79-year-old Oak Cliff woman succumbs to the North Texas heat and dies in her home just two days after reporting to police that her central air conditioner had been stolen.

Dolores Grissom’s home sits on a corner with the air conditioning unit is completely exposed; only protected by a cage with a lock.

On July 14 Grissom reported that her $2,500 unit was stolen. On July 16 she was found dead. Just this week the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office completed their report that stated Grissom’s death was heat-related.

Grissom, who was buried last week, lived with her son and unfortunately this wasn’t the first time the home had been burglarized. On at least two other occasions, in previous years, the air condition was also the target of thieves. (more)

Bronze Dog Statue Stolen From Marin Humane Society



Skippy the dog was an ambassador for the Marin Humane Society. Just weeks after his death, a bronze statue donated in Skippy’s honor has gone missing.

Before his death on July 17th, the Jack Russell terrier worked as a therapy dog for the humane society. Tom and Marianne O’Connell donated the statue to honor Skippy’s work.

According to the humane society, the statue was stolen from the society’s dog park in Novato last weekend.

“We’re not sure, there are some theories,” said Carrie Harrington of the humane society. “The statue was made out of bronze, so there are some theories that perhaps somebody was looking to make some money off of it.” (more)

Kelley Feeley, 40, robs little girl of bike... at gunpoint

A 40-year-old New Hampshire woman has been charged with robbing a 14-year-old girl at gunpoint in a dispute over a bicycle.

Officers say the teenager was riding a friend’s bike on Ash Street in Manchester, NH.

At one point, the friend’s neighbor, 40-year-old Kelley Feeley came out of her apartment and accused the girl of stealing the bike from her daughter.

Witnesses told police that Feeley demanded she be allowed to inspect bicycle.

When the girl denied that she stole the bike and refused to hand it over, police say Feeley pulled a gun, pointed it at the girl’s neck, and took the bike.

Officers later seized the disputed bicycle from Feeley’s apartment along with several guns.

Feeley is charged with robbery. (source)

Renton police investigating cartoons mocking cops, city workers: "Breaks the law"

Police say a series of cartoons mocking officers and other city workers are criminal, and the people who posted them online are guilty of cyberstalking.

One member of the police department has already been demoted, but investigators are looking for additional parties that may be involved after another string of cartoons recently surfaced.

The cartoons, which first appeared on YouTube earlier this year, poke fun at an unnamed law enforcement agency. But Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich says his officers, as well as several Renton city employees, are the target.

"The purpose of these videos was to embarrass, torment and harass specific members of the police department and other city employees," he said.

Some of the animation parody real situations that have occurred in the department, Milosevich said, but other events referenced in the cartoons never took place.

"There was an investigation some time ago; however, what was in the videos was a gross exaggeration of what the investigation was all about," he said.

Lost world: Scenes from North Korea's closed society

In Pyongyang, jittery government minders keep a vice-like control over the few journalists who make it inside and discourage them from meeting or photographing its citizens. So the true picture of life in North Korea's capital is in the telling, snatched details of ordinary life.

The empty, multi-lane highway from the city's main airport, traffic cops standing in roads almost devoid of cars; commuters riding in rickety but serviceable underground trains, the unsmiling portraits of the nation's father-and-son dictatorship hanging over each carriage doorway.

These images come from David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, who has been given unprecedented access to the isolated Stalinist state as part of the agency's efforts to expand its coverage there. The pictures are among the most candid ever published in Western newspapers. (click here to see photos)

Milwaukee State Fair: Mob of unruly black youths beat whites, in what's becoming a disturbing trend across US

Witnesses tell Newsradio 620 WTMJ and TODAY'S TMJ4 of a mob of young people attacking innocent fair-goers at the end of the opening night of State Fair, with some callers claiming a racially-charged scene.

Milwaukee Police confirmed there were assaults outside the fair.

Witnesses' accounts claim everything from dozens to hundreds of young black people beating white people as they left State Fair Thursday night.

Authorities have not given official estimates of the number of people involved in the attacks.

"It looked like they were just going after white guys, white people," said Norb Roffers of Wind Lake in an interview with Newsradio 620 WTMJ. He left the State Fair Entrance near the corner of South 84th Street and West Schlinger Avenue in West Allis.

"They were attacking everybody for no reason whatsoever."

"It was 100% racial," claimed Eric, an Iraq war veteran from St. Francis who says young people beat on his car.

"I had a black couple on my right side, and these black kids were running in between all the cars, and they were pounding on my doors and trying to open up doors on my car, and they didn't do one thing to this black couple that was in this car next to us. They just kept walking right past their car. They were looking in everybody's windshield as they were running by, seeing who was white and who was black. Guarantee it." (more)

Khamis Gadhafi dead: NATO airstrike kills another of Gadhafi's sons

Libya's rebels said Friday they have reports that Moammar Gadhafi's youngest son, who commands one of the regime's strongest military brigades, was killed in a NATO airstrike in the western town of Zlitan.

NATO said in a statement that it was aware of the reports that Khamis Gadhafi had been killed, but it did not confirm his death. It said alliance strikes on Thursday night hit an ammunition depot and military police facility in Zlitan, which is the main front of fighting between rebels and Gadhafi's troops, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.

Mohammed al-Rajali, a spokesman for the rebel leadership in the eastern stronghold of Benghazi said there were unconfirmed reports Khamis was among 32 troops killed when NATO hit a government operations center early Friday.

"We want to capture all of these criminals and try them and bring them to justice but if killing them this way will stop the bloodshed I think it is another option," al-Rajali told The Associated Press.

Libyan government officials could also not be reached for comment.

The death of the 27-year-old Khamis Gadhafi would be a significant blow to the regime's efforts to fight off the rebels. He commands the 32nd Brigade, also known simply as the Khamis Brigade, one of the best trained and equipped units in the Libyan military. (more)

Caught On Tape: Gunmen Open Fire On SEPTA Bus in Philadelphia



It’s like something out of the movies. But, in this case the guns are real and the victims are SEPTA passengers in the wrong place at the wrong time, although remarkably no one was hit.

In court, authorities show the video of two men opening fire on a SEPTA route 47 bus at 7th and Cecil B. Moore in North Philadelphia in June. Four people are held for trial.

The prosecution alleges defendant Penny Chapman triggered the shooting. A man on the bus threatened to call DHS on her for spanking her child. After their argument, she allegedly made a phone call and the armed men were waiting for the bus. They helped get her off the bus, then Chapman allegedly pointed out the man she wanted shot. She said ‘shoot him’ and they opened fire. And it was all caught on tape by seven SEPTA cameras. (more)

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. to charge fees to deposit cash: "Stark new phase of the long-running global financial crisis"

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. on Thursday took the extraordinary step of telling large clients it will charge them to hold cash.

The unusual move means some U.S. depositors will have to pay to keep big chunks of money in a bank, marking a stark new phase of the long-running global financial crisis.

The shift is also emblematic of the strains plaguing the U.S. economy. Fearful corporations and investors have been socking away cash in their bank accounts rather than put it into even the safest investments.

The giant bank, which specializes in handling funds for financial institutions and corporations, will begin assessing a fee next week on customers that have been flooding the bank with dollars, Bank of New York told clients in a note reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. (more)

World economy, Stock market collapse: "The whole ground is rocking"

Thursday, August 4 was a black day on world stock exchanges. In New York, Dow Jones fell by 4.3 percent and Nasdaq closed at minus 5.3 percent "and all gains that have occurred since year-end were deleted to zero" (E24.se, August 5). "It was an outright massacre", said John Richard, head of strategy at RBS Global Banking & Markets, to the Wall Street Journal about yesterday's event.

Also European stock markets fell during Thursday, the main British stock index plummeted by 3.2 percent while the German Dax index fell by 3.5 percent. The collapse continued on Friday in Asia. When the Japanese stock markets closed, Tokyo Stock Exchange's Nikkei 225 index fell by 3.7 percent and Hong Kong Stock Exchange by 4.6 percent.

The collapse in the stock markets reflects clouds piling up in the global economy's sky. Firstly, the U.S. economy stagnates and the huge cuts that are following the Democrats and Republicans deal to raise the debt ceiling threaten to strangle an already weak recovery.

"What was unthinkable six months ago, the U.S. running the risk of falling into recession in 2012, is a thought that more and more now consider. It is this insight that makes the entire ground swing ", BusinessWeek wrote on 5 August.

Secondly, the debt crisis is deepening. The EU tops had hoped that the crisis settlement in July - new loans to Greece, reduced interest rates on emergency loans and longer maturities, and some debt relief for Greece - would give respite. But the measures have not calmed the financial markets. (more)

Japanese Yen is heading for a currency collapse

The Japanese yen is now being chosen as a safe haven. But the currency is about as safe as standing under a cliff in the way of a landslide in the pouring rain.

Japan is on the verge of a financial collapse, which is far more dire than the budget deficit problems in Europe or the US.

The accumulated debt of Japan is now at 924tn yen ($11.3tn; £7tn). Even if 10tn yen is repaid every year, it will still take 92 years to pay off the debt.

Ideally the government would be limiting its spending in an effort to cut its debts.

But that is not going to happen, especially given the devastation caused by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami and expenditure is about to balloon once again.

The government says its intends to spend as much as 92tn yen this year, with a large chunk of that going on rebuilding.

If it keeps this level of spending going, then there is no way it will pay off the national debt even in 200 or 300 years. (more)

Is politics pushing us into another recession?

The new slash and burn paradigm of American politics is going to be costly for the U.S. economy, and time is running out to put an end to the madness. The recent drama of our nation’s debt/deficit “crisis” is a prime example of politics pushing our economy to the brink of economic disaster.

The manufactured “crisis” is mired in many economic misconceptions fueled by the political posturing of our elected officials. While we expected rivalry among Republicans, tea party Republicans, and Democrats leading up to the presidential election, it’s doubtful that any of us were prepared to see an all-out war that could drive the U.S. into deeper recession.

The recession that we are struggling to come out of today is too fragile to withstand another blow created by the intransigence of politicians. Unfortunately, the bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama is just one more quick fix. While the legislation does help us avoid default today, it does not adhere to sound economic principles that will help sustain our country’s economy tomorrow.

To follow such principles, politicians need to understand the economic repercussions of “spending cuts” and “taxing the rich” and stop simply using them as buzzwords to rally support within their parties for or against a misguided plan.

The economy is comprised of what we privately spend, what government spends, what businesses spend and what we sell to foreigners minus what we buy from foreigners. If any of these four participants in the market spends less, the economy shrinks. (more)

Ethiopia 'using aid as weapon of oppression'

A joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression.

Posing as tourists the team of journalists travelled to the southern region of Ethiopia.

There they found villages where whole communities are starving, having allegedly been denied basic food, seed and fertiliser for failing to support Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The investigation has also gathered evidence of mass detentions, the widespread use of torture and extra-judicial killings by Ethiopian government forces.

Yet Western donors including Britain - which is the third largest donor to Ethiopia - stand accused of turning a blind eye by continuing to provide aid money despite being warned about the abuses.

The aid in question is long-term development aid, not the emergency aid provided in response to the current drought in Ethiopia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa. (more)

Police: North Korean hackers targeted South Korean game sites

South Korean police arrested five men Thursday for allegedly collaborating with North Korean computer experts to hack into online game systems to generate millions of dollars in illicit gains.

Their investigation, which was conducted with the country's National Intelligence Service, exposed an elaborate operation in which South Koreans invited North Korean computer hackers to China to create programs that automatically play popular online games and accumulate virtual items that were later sold for cash on the Internet.

The police believe these programs, known as auto-programs, were developed by hacking into South Korean online game companies to work out how to write them to cheat their operations, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

South Korea has experienced a wave of cyber attacks on government, business and military websites over the past two years. Seoul has fingered North Korea for the attacks, a claim Pyongyang denies. There is rising concern about Internet security in the South as experts point to the vulnerabilities of one of the most wired countries in the world.

Police say their investigation into the gaming scheme points to the possibility of North Korea using online gaming as another tool to penetrate South Korea's computing systems. (more)

The West's horrible fiscal choice: Severe tightening of fiscal policy last tried in the 1930s... wonderful

The US, Britain, and Europe are together embarking on a sudden and severe tightening of fiscal policy, in unison, before economic recovery has reached safe take-off speed. The experiment was last tried in the 1930s.

The theoretical model behind the austerity push – known as an "expansionary fiscal contraction" – is based on the work of German theorists, and more recently on studies by Harvard professor Alberto Alesina and a group of brave scholars willing to defy the canonical doctrine of post-war Keynesian economics.

The Alesina view has been embraced by the European Central Bank and the budget cutters of the Eurogroup, but has enraged America's professoriat and set off a heated argument across the world.

Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said there is now a one-third chance of a full-blown recession next year in the US. Nobel leaureate Paul Krugman said obscurantists had run amok. "What we're witnessing here is a catastrophe on multiple levels. We are doing a terrible thing. We are repeating all the mistakes of the 1930s, doing our best shot at recreating the Great Depression," he said.

Fear that a synchronized squeeze in half the global economy may go horribly wrong has seeped into market psychology, explaining why the $2.4 trillion (£1.5 trillion) debt deal agreed in Washington has failed to spark a relief rally. Wall Street is a step ahead, bracing for cuts in an economy that has already slipped to stall speed.

Angst over faltering recovery explains why Italian and Spanish bonds have suddenly buckled. The European Commission said the spike in Latin spreads is "clearly unwarranted" given that Rome and Madrid are sticking to their austerity plans, but this misses the point. (more)

Debt Disease Spreading Through Europe

Little over a fortnight ago, leaders claimed they had found the recipe to cure Europe's ills.

Serving up a second bailout for Greece worth £96bn was supposed to calm the turmoil afflicting the eurozone.

But it failed to satisfy markets hungry for real evidence that the politicians have what it takes to prop up the continent's ailing economies.

Far from being contained in the comparatively small economies of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, the debt disease is now infecting Italy and Spain.

Fears they will not be able to meet their obligations have spooked investors and sent borrowing costs up.

This is the scenario earlier bailouts were designed to avoid.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is publicly bullish about his country's prospects. (more)

Monkeys learn to cover their eyes when they want to be left alone (Has anyone else noticed increased human behavior in animals?)

Monkeys at Colchester Zoo have invented a unique do not disturb sign that has amazed experts.

The mandrills - the largest member of the monkey family - put their hands over their eyes when they want to be left alone.

Its a gesture thats never been seen before, and experts believe its evidence of social culture among animals. They believe one of the mandrills made up the gesture and passed it on to her pals something thats common in humans but almost unheard of in animals.

No other monkeys use the gesture, says Mark E. Laidre, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, who reports on the mandrills in the Scientific American magazine. Its not to block the sun, and their eyes remain open.

1n 1999, zookeepers saw a young female mandrill, Milly, make the gesture, but it was only when Laidre visited in 2007 that anyone realised itys significance

Hed been observing mandrills in Africa, Europe and North America for more than five years.

"I saw this behaviour in the first few hours," he said. "I'd never seen this before; I knew it was very interesting. By covering their eyes with their hands, individuals possibly conveyed to others that they wanted to be left alone, and this message may have been respected as a 'do not disturb' sign."

He found that mandrills who covered their eyes gesture were generally left alone not approached or touched - by their peers.

It is believed the signal was first used by Milly and she has passed it on. (more)

Mars may have flowing saltwater, study says

Scientists have found new evidence for possible saltwater flows on Mars. The discovery was announced at a NASA news conference Thursday.

Alfred McEwen, lead author of the Science journal study showing these observations, and his team have been observing Mars using the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. His team has identified features on some slopes of the planet that appear to fade in the winter and come back in the spring.

These flows occur near the Mars equator in its southern hemisphere, where temperatures would be suitable for liquid water. Since Mars is about 50 million miles farther from the sun than Earth, temperatures rarely break the freezing mark. At the equator, summer highs can reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 20 Celsius). But in the middle latitudes, where the observations disclosed Thursday were taken, temperatures range from about 32 degrees F at summer noon to overnight lows of -75 F (-60 C).

The water is expected to be briny because previous study of the planet has shown that its surface is salty, so any water that flows in the subsurface is going to be salty.

Seven such sites on the planet have been confirmed, with 20 more possible, McEwen said. (more)

'Cloud Seeding' China deals with drought byGetting the Army to Fire Missiles at Clouds - 5th Aug 2011

Officials in China concerned by a recent drought in parts of the country are firing rockets towards clouds in a bid to spur artificial rainfall.

Workers with the Meteorological Authority in Qingzhen city, southern China, have been armed with rockets which contain chemicals that spur precipitation.

The workers have fired the rockets skywards in an attempt to bring wet relief to the drought-ravaged region near Guizhou province.

Guizhou, along with Hunan province, has faced droughts this summer due to lack of rainfall.

The process of trying to stimulate rain - known as cloud seeding - is not uncommon worldwide and has been done before in China's particularly arid regions.

Is it thought that China used cloud seeding before the 2008 Olympics to rid the air of pollution, but this has been disputed. Read More

German Tourist killed by lightning strike in Grand Canyon national park - 5th Aug 2011

A German tourist has died after collapsing following a lightning strike at Grand Canyon National Park.

Park rangers said emergency medical responders performed CPR but couldn't revive the 64-year-old woman, who was part of a visiting tour group.

Authorities say five other people in the group were treated for minor injuries after lightning hit the ground nearby, but apparently didn't hit anyone.

The tour group was on the canyon's South Rim when the bolt of electricity struck at about 1.45pm yesterday.

Authorities have not released the woman's name.

Park rangers said it was unclear whether she suffered a heart attack.

Although weather at the Grand Canyon is generally the same as that found in American deserts, localised thunder storms are known to occur, which often catch visitors by surprise.

They are fuelled by the extreme temperatures found in the Canyon, which can often climb above 38C.

During the winter, meanwhile, the mercury plummets. Temperatures of -17C have been recorded, along with moderately heavy snowfalls. Read More

The most lawless town in Mexico... where ENTIRE police force has quit - 5th Aug 2011

An entire 20-man police force has resigned in a northern Mexican town following a series of attacks that killed the police chief and five officers over the last three months.

The officers' desertion on Thursday left the 13,000 people of Ascension without local police services, Chihuahua state chief prosecutor Carlos Manuel Salas said.

The mass walk-out appeared to be in protest to a Tuesday attack by gunmen that killed three of the town's officers, Mr Salas said.

State and federal police have moved in to take over police work.

But it wasn't the first deadly attack on the police department this year.

In mid-May, police chief Manuel Martinez, who had been in office just seven months, was gunned down with two other officers on a nearby highway.

The three had been kidnapped a day before police found their bodies blasted with bullets in the back seat of a car.

The town's police force was relatively new when the bloody attacks on the officers.

The previous force had been accused by angry residents of helping drug gangs and had been forced to leave.

Furious residents had led authorities to replace the entire force last September after the mob killings of two teenagers who had allegedly kidnapped a girl from a seafood restaurant. Read More

Chained up with the dog: The Chinese boy kept as slave by uncle - 5th Aug 2011

This 12-year-old Chinese boy has been chained up by his uncle for the past two years.

It’s claimed that this is for his own safety because he’s mentally handicapped – but most people will find these images truly shocking.

Cai Changqing, from Erlongshan village in Harbin, north-east China's Heilongjiang Province, is shackled each day to a shabby shelter outside his uncle's home.

The uncle, Cai Quan comments: ‘The kid can't speak at all. Originally his parents thought he would speak late, but later they found he is mentally handicapped.’

According to Quan he has to chain his nephew up because, otherwise, he runs away.

In 2009 Changqing ran out into the road in the city and was severely injured after being run over by a van.

Quan was left to care for Changqing after the boy's mother died and his father was left paralysed from an accident. Read More

Texas warns of rolling blackouts amid power shortages after air conditioners go on overdrive as state endures 39 days of 100F-plus heat - 5th Aug 2011

Electricity officials in heatwave-hit Texas have warned of impending rolling blackouts from power shortages as the U.S. state struggles to cope with the relentless scorching temperatures.

Texans have turned to air conditioners in huge numbers in a bid to beat one of the hottest summers on record in America's second most populous state.

But bosses for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) say the soaring power demand in the face of the brutal heatwave has left the state one power plant shut-down away from rolling blackouts.

Temperatures in Texas are currently topping 100F (37.8C) and have been soaring for well over a month.

Record highs have also been recorded this week in nearby states Oklahoma and Arkansas as the relentless heatwave spreads across southern America.

In Forth Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas, the mercury hit 115F on Wednesday.

ERCOT, which runs the power grid for most of Texas, cut power to some large industrial users after electricity demand hit three consecutive records this week alone.

The grid operator now faces rolling blackouts similar to those which hit Texas during a bitter cold snap in February. Read More

Graves of plantation slaves revealed by Texas drought as reservoir dries up - 5th Aug 2011

One of the worst droughts in Texas history has unearthed a chilling discovery, a graveyard for freed slaves..

While the heat may be taking a toll on crops, livestock and people's livelihoods, it has helped archaeologists to reveal a small piece of American history.

Two graves have been uncovered that are believed to have been buried for more than a century.

'This grave was actually uncovered by erosion from the water,' Sgt. Hank Bailey of the Navarro County Sheriff's Office.

'It was several feet deep years and years ago.'

Cemeteries were marked and moved before the Richland Chambers Reservoir in Navarro County, Texas, was filled in the 1980s, but this small cemetery without tombstones went unnoticed.

Human remains were initially discovered in 2009 by boaters when the water level was low, but the water rose quickly and archaeologists and historians have been waiting ever since for the reservoir to reveal the cemetery again. Read More

'Bloodcurdling screams' heard as college professor leaps to his death in front of class - and wife - 5th Aug 2011

A Philadelphia college was rattled Wednesday by the suicide of a math professor who leapt to his death as his wife and horrified class looked on.

Adjunct professor Rudolf Alexandrov was about to start his class at Chestnut Hill College when he suddenly became agitated and walked out.

Mr Alexandrov, 71, then returned to the classroom in St Joseph's Hall and shouted before running to a second-floor ledge in the hall's rotunda.

A police source said two witnesses tried to talk Mr Alexandrov out of jumping, but 'unfortunately, he followed through', falling about 20 to 30 feet to his death.

A witness told the Philadelphia Inquirer: 'It was the most horrifying thing ever. I heard bloodcurdling screams.'

Mr Alexandrov’s wife Olga, 56, who also works at the college as an adjunct professor, witnessed the fall - as well as his students.

Lt Robert Zaffino of Northwest Detectives said the professor 'had a history of depression.'

He said Mr Alexandrov 'had been having suicidal thoughts and mentioned harming himself in the past.'

Officers were called to the Mr Alexandrov’s home last week after he went missing, but he was found wandering the neighbourhood a short time later.

In a statement, the college expressed its sympathy. Read More

Terrifying moment gunmen opened fire on packed bus - because a passenger dared to complain about mother spanking her child - 5th Aug 2011

As he rode the bus late one afternoon, Lefenus Pickett suddenly realised he could not stand by any longer.

A mother was spanking her child for running in the aisles so the 37-year-old intervened and told her: ‘That’s child abuse’.

Soon he would regret trying to be the Good Samaritan.

The woman, Penny Chapman, 20, is said to have made a call on her cell phone and minutes later two thugs began firing at the bus with an assault rifle and a handgun.

In terrifying CCTV video from inside the vehicle, passengers dive for cover and run for the front before the driver hit the gas and sped off.

Chapman was arrested and is now facing trial along with three men prosecutors say helped her during the terrifying incident in Philadelphia. Read More


Horatio Chapple, 17, Named as the British Teenager Killed by a Hungry Polar Bear in Norway - 5th Aug 2011

A polar bear clawed through a tent and mauled to death a British teenager and left four others seriously injured in a horrific attack in Norway today.

The starving animal killed Horatio Chapple, 17, as he slept among a group of 13 young explorers on the Norwegian island of Svalbard on a dream wildlife trip.

Fours others suffered serious injuries while grappling with the creature. They were trip leaders Michael Reid and Andrew Ruck, both in their late 20s, as well as two teenagers- Patrick Flinders, 16, and Scott Smith.

The injured youngsters were part of a group of around 80 wildlife enthusiasts aged between 16 and 25 from the British Schools Exploring Society. Read More

Second night of Israeli strikes on Gaza after rocket fire -- War coming?

Israel has carried out a second night of air strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians say one of the targets was a training facility for the military wing of Hamas, and smuggling tunnels along the Egypt border were hit.

Medical sources say five people were injured in the attacks.

The Israeli strikes took place hours after Palestinian militants fired rockets at an Israeli town situated 30km from the Gaza-Israel border.

Recent weeks have seen an increase in mortar and rocket fire from Gaza after months of relative calm.

Israeli army sources say that since Wednesday Grad rockets were fired near the towns of Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon and Lachish. They landed in open areas and no-one was hurt.

However on Monday, an Israeli Bedouin woman was lightly wounded by shrapnel when a rocket fired from Gaza exploded near Ashkelon.

The last major escalation of violence in and around Gaza followed an incident in April when an Israeli school bus was hit by a missile fired from the Palestinian territory. An Israeli teenager later died from his injuries.

Israel responded to that attack with a series of air strikes that killed at least 19 Palestinians. It was the deadliest violence since Israel's 22-day devastating assault on Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009.

Since then the resumption of an uneasy and informal truce has kept attacks by both sides to a minimum. (more)

'Snail Mail' project promotes art of letters... that someone else writes for you... (so how does this in any way help?)

Call it technology in reverse: Thousands of people are lining up online to have messages they could send in an instant delivered far more slowly.

And according to the creator of Snail Mail My Email, a monthlong volunteer project, that's the point.

"We move in such a fast-paced world that, sometimes, that world can feel kind of cold and impersonal," said Ivan Cash, a San Francisco designer and art director who birthed the project. "I'm very much a part of that fast-paced world ... but I think it's good for people to have that balance."

The concept is simple. Since July 15 (and until August 15), anyone interested has been able to e-mail a letter to the project's volunteers. They turn around and hand-write the letter -- complete with extras like a doodle, flower petal or lipstick kiss if desired -- and mail it to the recipient.

Cash, who recently returned to San Francisco after a stint working in Amsterdam, said he'd been an avid letter-writer in college and the few years after. He said there's something about the process of pulling out a pen and paper and crafting a message with your own hand that makes it more personal and well thought-out.

But eventually, he said, he began defaulting to e-mail and Facebook messages like a lot of people.

"Snail Mail My Email" was born as a way of getting back in touch with the joys of putting pen to paper, he said.

"This isn't a project that's out to make money or be a forever solution," he said. "This is just a jumpstart to help raise awareness."

Apparently, more people were interested than Cash guessed.

In the project's first two weeks, 2,300 letters were sent out. (more)

As Syria seethes, protesters chant 'God is With Us'



Violence raged across the Syrian city of Hama as anti-government protesters in other cities took to the streets on Friday against the embattled regime.

Hama endured steady shelling and bombing Friday morning as the government's military offensive continued in full swing said a resident, whose name is not being released for safety reasons. The man said casualties occurred.

Elsewhere, opposition members said thousands kicked off marches across the country after Muslim prayers, as they have every Friday for weeks, demanding political reforms or the fall of the regime and railing against the violent security crackdown directed at peaceful protesters.

The theme of protests nationwide Friday was "God is With Us." Security forces opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside a mosque in Homs, injuring 20 people, seven critically. They also fired at protesters in Irbeen, in Damascus province, and wounded three people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said.

More than 2,000 people, mostly protesters, have died since anti-government demonstrations erupted nearly five months ago, the observatory said. Activists blame the deaths of demonstrators on security forces, but the Syrian government has consistently attributed the violence to "armed groups." (more)

Rains, flooding a threat in Haiti as Emily disintegrates



Heavy rain and potential flooding threatened hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in temporary quarters early Friday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily made a final stand across the central Caribbean.

Even as the storm dissipated, the National Hurricane Center said the system could still dump 6 to12 inches of rain on the island of Hispaniola -- home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- with isolated amounts up to 20 inches.

Winds that had once whipped Haiti with 65 mph gusts diminished to 10mph-20 mph overnight.

Meanwhile, in the Haitian capital, nearly 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers were on emergency standby. The streets in Port-au-Prince were emptier than normal Thursday, after the government declared the day a holiday in advance of the storm.

About 100 people were relocated into shelters in the southeast of Haiti, where the worst of the storm had been expected, Emmanuelle Schneider, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Thursday.

Only eight families had been evacuated in Port-au-Prince, she said, and others living in tents and tarps don't want to leave their temporary homes.

The agency has more than 10,000 tents and tarpaulins in case the storm wrecks the temporary shelters, she said. (more)

Leaders seek to quell financial anxiety gripping globe

Financial anxiety gripped the globe Friday, as stock markets worldwide saw steep declines amid worries of a widening debt crisis in Europe and a stalling economic recovery in the United States.

Stock market values declined in Asia and Europe Friday, a day after Wall Street had its worst day since the 2008 financial crisis.

In a glimpse of good news, however, the U.S. economy added 117,000 jobs in July, the federal government reported Friday. That addition -- more than economists expected -- lowered the unemployment rate slightly to 9.1%, but it was not enough to shake off deep economic anxiety stretching from Asia to Latin America.

The stock slide started Friday in Asia, prompting leaders to try to contain the damage. The South Korean Finance Ministry held an emergency meeting. Japanese authorities sought to reassure nervous investors, while China's foreign minister expressed confidence in the ability of other world economies to weather the storm.

In Europe, leaders sought to dampen investors' fears that debt crises hobbling the economies of Greece, Portugal and Ireland could take a toll on larger economies in countries such as Italy and Spain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy planned to interrupt their vacations to confer by phone about the growing economic unease, a German government spokesman said. Sarkozy will speak separately to Spanish leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, French newspaper Le Monde reported. (more)

Global markets destabilized by 'toxic' cocktail

Turbulence and uncertainty dominated the global financial markets on Friday as a lack of investor and trader confidence continued to drive share values downward.

The global equity sell-off and subsequent stock market fall -- the worst since the 2008 financial crisis -- was caused by a "toxic" cocktail of global economic factors and a lack of decisive political leadership, say leading economists.

Global markets relieved by positive U.S. jobs report

With Italy and Spain hanging in the balance and the U.S. economy feeling the jitters, politicians need to take prompt action to calm volatile markets, analysts added.

Douglas McWilliams, Chief Executive of the London-based Center for Economics and Business Research, laid a fair portion of the blame on political leaders.

"Europe has given the impression that a little deal was done (regarding Euro debt crisis) but not very much else and they promised to go back and look at the issue after their summer holidays. This did not create a great image, especially among U.S. investors." (more)

Retreating Gadhafi forces leave behind deadly mines -- Another story that will haunt Africans for years to come?



The front lines of Libya's grinding war weave through the western mountains and around Zlitan, the last city east of Tripoli still under the grip of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

In many places that Gadhafi's forces have fled, they've left behind deadly fields of mines -- tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them, say the rebels.

Not only do they pose a danger for civilians but they also have slowed the advance of the rebels in their march toward Tripoli.

Here in Qawalish, a town 60 miles southwest of Tripoli where fierce fighting has taken place in recent weeks, the war looks like this: Men in no protective gear sift through a public park to fight an enemy that can kill instantly and indiscriminately. Here, the enemy is Gadhafi's landmines.

Milad al Saidy and his fellow "sappers," as those who work with mines are known, are armed only with simple metal probes and a couple of metal detectors. A burned-out shell of a car sits as evidence of what the mines can do.

So far, they say, about 2,500 mines have been discovered, all left by fleeing pro-Gadhafi forces. (more)

Blazing temperatures scorch much of southern U.S.

Another day, another assault on the air conditioning systems of America.

A spell of suffocating heat will grip much of the South again Friday. Heat advisories are in place for parts of 14 states. People from New Mexico to North Carolina will feel the extreme heat, according to the National Weather Service.

The developments come as several cities in Texas closed in on records for the most consecutive days of 100-degree heat.

On Thursday, Dallas marked its 34th straight day of temperatures above 100 degrees. That city has been getting a lot of attention for its hellish heat, but some smaller Texas cities have had it worse. Thursday was Waco's 35th straight day topping 100 degrees, and it marked Tyler's 38th. The record for both Dallas and Waco is 42 straight days over three digits, set in 1980.

In some places, the heat is having deadly consequences. (more)

Major Iranian oil pipeline explodes

One of the longest oil pipelines in Iran exploded Friday and burned for 10 hours before firefighters were able to extinguish it, Iranian media reported.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the blast in the western town of Qale Naar, Iran's state-run Press TV reported.

Hundreds of firefighters responded at the scene, working through the day to contain the blaze.

"The production of oil in the southern oil fields is still continuing at full capacity and the output of the oil wells is transferred to other pipelines," said Hormoz Ghalavand, executive director of the National Iranian South Oil Company.

Ghalavand said on the national oil company's website that 40 thousand barrels per day pass through the pipeline.

Flames leaped as high as 40 meters (131 feet) and the fire covered an area of 300 square meters (3,229 square feet). (more)

China relaxes birth restrictions in northwest after mudslide

China has relaxed its strict birth-control restrictions for families that lost children in a mudslide that killed hundreds in the northwest last year, state media reported Friday.

Women in the Zhouqu area who underwent procedures to prevent further pregnancies such as having their fallopian tubes tied can now have a free reverse operation, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Liang Jianjun, head of Zhouqu's family planning bureau, said women from 27 families have had such operations.

"Some of these women are pregnant now," he is quoted as saying by Xinhua.

China enforces a strict family-planning policy that limits most families in urban areas to only one child, although those in the countryside and certain ethnic areas are allowed more.

In Zhouqu, rural families can have two children, while those in five Tibetan-dominated towns and villages can have three, Xinhua reported.

The easing of government restrictions means families who lost children in the mudslide can now have more to fill the "quotas," a government official told the news service.

The mudslide in August last year left more than 1,700 people dead or missing in Zhouqu County, in northwestern Gansu province, Xinhua said.

Thousands of homes collapsed or were damaged in the disaster, which followed weeks of heavy rains and flooding. (more)

Japan radiation causes possible rice contamination

Map of irradiated Japanese farmland planned: But will it be truthful?

The government is planning to draw up a map showing concentrations of radioactive substances in farmlands and conduct a study on contaminated debris.

The measures are to be implemented before the end of the year, with ministries and agencies strengthening cooperation to deal with radiation contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, officials said Tuesday.

But they didn't say how the government will use findings from the study to decontaminate areas near the stricken plant.

According to measures compiled Tuesday, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will analyze farmland at about 500 sites mainly in Fukushima Prefecture and draw up a radioactive material concentration map by the end of this month.

The Environment Ministry meanwhile is to check radioactive contaminated debris in the no-go zone near the plant.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will install about 250 devices across Japan to monitor radioactive substances. Currently, there is just one of these devices installed in each of the 47 prefectures. (more)

US Marines intense firefight in Afghanistan, ambushed during news report -- But we're "winning" right? (Buried last month, but not forgotten)

Japan: Al Jazeera speaks to Richard Tante about radiation leaks

"Comet ELENIN, Earthquakes, And YOU" -- Fact or fiction?

Nov 9, 2011 the earth will supposedly cross the threshold of the debris tail of ELENIN on the same plain (assuming ELENIN is a real object that would be catastrophic).

This is a cool interactive NASA chart displaying the comets trajectory through the solar system:

http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=c%2F2010+X1&orb=1

ELENIN, according to some researchers stands for Extinction Level Event Notable Impact November — also encoded into the name is Elevin Nine (Nov. 9), and LEONID (a meteor shower that peaks in November).

So is NASA worried? Not on the surface. They did release this internal video for their employees concerning emergency preparedness, though:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zyKopmPV0PQ#at=69

This also ties in with the massive gearing up of underground bases recently built, specifically under the new Denver International Airport.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gxlZCdyed4&feature=related

This incoming object appears to be massive. The strange thing is that only a select few sources worldwide have seen the object a few of which we traced back to DARPA directly.

Big seems to be the appropriate word for we now have the first actual astronomical calculations that puts the coma (the part they can see is 50,000 miles in diameter) Yes a big rock! (more)