Saturday, August 6, 2011

9 bodies found near schools in 2 Mexican states

The dismembered bodies of four young men were dumped near a high school and five young men were found dead near a middle school in two separate incidents in northern Mexico, officials said Saturday.

The severed body parts of four men were stuffed into black garbage bags and dumped about 200 feet (60 meters) from a school in Sinaloa state, said state prosecutor's office spokesman Martin Gastelum. The men were ages 20 to 25, he said.

The men had been abducted Tuesday by masked assailants in the city of Navolato, Gastelum said.

The five other bodies were found near a middle school outside the northern industrial city of Monterrey, a Nuevo Leon state prosecution official said. They were in the same age range as the bodies discovered in Sinaloa and they all had been shot in the head, said the official, who agreed to confirm the incident only if he was not quoted by name

There was no sign the incidents were related and schools are currently closed for summer vacation. But youths are increasingly caught up in fighting among rival drug cartels in both Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon. (more)

Saudi stock market first to plunge on S&P downgrade of US debt: Will other markets begin plunging come Monday?

Saudi Arabia's stock market dropped 5.46pc on Saturday as it became the first exchange to react to the historic US credit downgrade.

The Tadawul All-Shares Index closed down 350.43 points 6,073.44 as all shares tumbled following a tumultous week for global markets which was capped by Standard & Poor's cutting the US credit rating over its $14.3 trillion deficit and debt.

"The S&P rating and problems in Europe... have scared investors," said financial analyst Abdulwahab Abu Dahesh.

The Saudi market was the first to react globally to the S&P statement late on Friday, with the start of the trading week in Saudi Arabia, while all other markets remained shut for the weekend.

Analysts expect markets in Asia and Europe to follow the Tadawul lower on Monday.

"Saudi shares have reacted to two events: sharp drops on Thursday in markets, especially oil, and the S&P cut of the US rating," economist Mohammed al-Omran told Al-Arabiya news channel. (more)

Libya: Italy demands investigation into whether Nato warship ignored refugees

Italy and Nato were embroiled in a row over accusations that an alliance warship failed to come to the rescue of a boatload of desperate refugees fleeing the fighting in Libya.

The Italian government demanded that Nato investigate reports that the unnamed warship, which is in the Mediterranean to support military action against the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, did not respond to an SOS after the boat's engine broke down.

The rickety vessel eventually made it to Lampedusa, an Italian island which lies off the coast of North Africa, where the 370 exhausted survivors said they had been at sea for six days and that up to 100 people, including women and children, had died from hunger and thirst.

Their bodies were tossed overboard, the refugees said.

Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, requested a formal investigation into the incident and instructed Italy's ambassador to Nato to ask the alliance to regard the rescue of civilians fleeing Libya as part of their remit.

It was not clear which country the warship belonged to. (more)

$2.5 Trillion wiped off of world stockmarkets in just days... and Monday's debt downgrade repercussions haven't even reached us yet

The FTSE 100 slumped to its worst week since the depths of the financial crisis as fears of a new global recession wiped more than $2.5tn (£1.5tn) from the value of stock markets around the world.

The blue-chip index of Britain’s leading companies ended another volatile trading day down 146.15 points, or 2.7pc, at 5,246.99 – a 9.8pc tumble on the week. Across the Atlantic, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were poised for their steepest weekly declines in three years.

After heavy selling at the open in London, the FTSE and Wall Street rallied briefly after the latest US employment report for July showed the economy created 117,000 jobs, beating the 85,000 forecast by economists.

The turmoil of the previous four days had only intensified investors’ focus on a jobs report that was always likely to be the most important economic release of the week. “In the context of a normal recovery, it’s not a strong number,” said Eric Stein, a fund manager at Eaton Vance in Boston. “But in the context of the fear that’s been permeating the market it’s not a terrible number.”

A barrage of weak data from the US consumer, as well as America’s services and manufacturing sector, had raised the strongest fears in two years that the world’s biggest economy could slide back into recession. President Barack Obama said in Washington that the jobs number was a promising sign but more was needed to “create a self-sustaining cycle”. In London, George Osborne, the Chancellor, and Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, spoke yesterday and will keep monitoring the state of financial markets.

But on another roller-coaster day on trading floors, the fear that has had the whip hand all week resurfaced by early afternoon as investors drilled into the jobs report. The unemployment rate fell back to 9.1pc from 9.2pc in June largely because 193,000 people gave up looking for work; the average working week was unchanged at 34.3 hours; and the number of long-term unemployed didn’t budge from 6.2m. (more)

The U.S. is downgraded. Now what?

Standard and Poor’s announced tonight that it downgraded the U.S. debt from AAA to AA+. Commentators are split as to whether this would have major negative consequences for both the U.S. and world economy, or whether it would be basically meaningless. Here’s the case for each position.

Why It Might Matter: If the U.S. debt gets downgraded, many other debt instruments will likely get downgraded as well. When Moody’s put U.S. debt on review for downgrade during the debt ceiling standoff, if also put on notice 7,000 other bonds, worth a total of $130 billion, that rely directly on revenue from federal government payments, such as certain kinds of municipal bonds. Bonds that are indirectly dependent on the federal government, such as those issued by hospitals that receive Medicare payments, or defense firms reliant on Pentagon contracts, could get downgraded as well. In addition, many everyday interest rates - such as those for mortgages, car loans, and credit cards - are pegged to US Treasuries, meaning that if a downgrade forces up interest rates on US debt (which is likely, but will depend on how the markets react) interest rates for those will shoot up as well. This would raise the cost of borrowing across the system, depressing the economy.

It would also lead to widespread uncertainty. As Ezra wrote the debt ceiling standoff threatened to force a downgrade, “The cornerstone of the global financial economy is the idea that Treasuries are risk-free.” A downgrade would mean Treasuries are no longer risk-free, and thus shake up the whole system. The last time AAA debt lost its luster in such a dramatic fashion was 2008, when AAA-rated subprime securities were discovered not to be sound. The result was the current financial crisis. (more)

Japan Detains Two China Ship Captains, May Rekindle Tensions

Japan’s coast guard said it arrested two Chinese sea captains for operating in an exclusive economic zone on the coast of Ishikawa prefecture without permission.

The coast guard is now inspecting the shipping vessels, the authority said today in a faxed statement to Bloomberg News, without giving further details.

China’s ships have flared up tensions with both Japan and the Philippines over the last year. Today’s arrests come a year after the detention of a Chinese fishing trawler in the East China Sea erupted into a political standoff between the two nations, triggering a change in Japan’s defense strategy.

China claims most of the South China Sea and says any attempt to drill or fish in the waters is a violation of its sovereignty. Chinese vessels in May sliced cables of a survey ship doing work for Vietnam, the second such incident in a month. In March, Chinese ships chased away a vessel working for U.K.- based Forum Energy Plc off the Philippines.

The Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a speech today that China’s South China Sea claims “potentially threaten freedom of navigation.” (more)

Students and police face off in Chile’s capital

Making good on a vow taken by Mayor Pablo Zalaquett and Interior MInister Rodrigo Hinzpeter, Chile’s Carabinero police came out in full force throughout downtown Santiago on Thursday, preventing all protesters from accessing the city’s principle avenue, Alameda.

By Tuesday evening, well over 500 had been arrested and over a dozen police officers were reported injured at education protests in Santiago and nationwide. “We’ve already had trouble with some police officers,” Alex, 19, told The Santiago Times on Thursday morning.

Like many other teenagers out that morning, Alex was making his way through the tree-lined Parque Forestal headed to Plaza Italia, hoping to rendezvous with hundreds of other high school students.

As part of a student movement that has closed down or occupied hundreds of public schools in recent months demanding substantial reforms to Chile’s education system, Alex planned to depart from Plaza Italia to march alongside fellow demonstrators on Alameda.
Far from having an obstacle-free path, the students were greeted by police officers dressed in riot gear blocking off access to one of Santiago’s main public squares.

Although Thursday’s beefed-up police presence has become common during the many public demonstrations of late, the show of force displayed by the Carabineros on Thursday was notably more aggressive in limiting access to public spaces. Not a corner was spared as police dispersed crowds using tear gas and soon thereafter, water cannons.

Police managed, for all intents and purposes, to prevent any kind of assembly of students from taking place in Plaza Italia. But the uniformed officers also drew criticism from protesters and bystanders, some of whom still remember a time when aggressive techniques such as those used on Thursday were commonplace. (more)

S&P's and Moody's face Italian police raids under suspicions of fraud

The Italian offices of Moody's and Standard & Poor's have been raided by local authorities over allegations that the ratings agencies were involved in "anomalous" movements in domestic share prices.

Documents were taken from the Milan offices of the two agencies by Italian prosectuors as part of an investigation aimed at "verifying whether these agencies respect regulations as they carry out their work," according to Carlo Maria Capistro, the head of the prosecutors office in the southern Italian town of Trani which is heading the action.

The raids come at a time of rising tensions between ratings agencies and eurozone governments.

The agencies are blamed by some for exacerbating the region's sovereign debt crisis by downgrading many of the indebted countries.

Moody's and S&P dimissed the investigation and said it was without foundation.

"S&P considers the allegations being investigated are without any merit. We will vigorously defend our actions, our reputation and that of our analysts," said the agency. (more)

NDRRMC, major Philippine website hacked, defaced

Several lines under the message contained names while a line of text hinted at a need "For More Security."

There was no initial sign the attacker was Philippine-based, or allied with AntiSec, the hacktivist group that vowed to attack government and corporate sites.

The defaced site was still online as of 6 a.m. Sunday.

It was the first attack on a major Philippine government website since late July, when hacker group PrivateX attacked the websites of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI).

PrivateX had claimed responsibility for the attacks on the OVP and PNRI. In the PNRI attack, it even claimed support for President Benigno Aquino III and his State of the Nation Address at the time. (more)

Incredible UFO sightings over Turkey: Hoax? Real? Why hasn't this been on mainstream news?

America's secret war in 120 countries

Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission. Now, say that 70 times and you're done ... for the day. Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the United States military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world's countries. This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

After a US Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden's chest and another in his head while storming his compound in Pakistan, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight. It was atypical. While it's well known that US Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it's increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that US Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the George W Bush presidency. By the end of this year, US Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that number will likely reach 120. "We do a lot of traveling - a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq," he said recently. This global presence - in about 60% of the world's nations and far larger than previously acknowledged - provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world. (more)

Researcher follows RSA hacking trail to China

Malware used in the attack against RSA Security earlier this year was controlled from China, a well-known botnet researcher said Wednesday.

Joe Stewart, director of malware research for Dell SecureWorks, traced the command-and-control (C&C) servers used to oversee the RSA attack to networks in Beijing and Shanghai.

"This gives us the where, but not the who," said Stewart when asked whether his work had come up with clues about the attack's architects.

In mid-March, RSA confirmed that it had been targeted by hackers who had breached its network defenses and stole proprietary information. Although RSA has never detailed what was stolen, it has admitted that information related to the company's SecurID two-factor authentication products was part of the haul. (more)

Italy is 'bound to default', says CEBR

Italy will likely default but Spain could scrape through, a leading think tank has warned, as the eurozone debt crisis continued its threat to claim its next two victims.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said it had modelled good and bad scenarios for the two countries and Italy could not support its debt even if rates fall back unless the eurozone's third-largest economy sharply increases growth.

"Realistically, Italy is bound to default, but Spain may just get away without having to do so," said the London-based consultancy.

Even though Italy has managed to run tight budgets - and plans to eliminate its deficit by 2014 - with its massive debt it won't be able to escape if it can't boost its growth rate, it said.

It calculated Italy's debt would rise from 128pc of annual output to 150pc by 2017 if bond yields stay above the current 6pc and growth remains stagnant.

The country's economy grew by just 0.1pc in the first quarter of the year. (more)

Extreme Drought Spreads Throughout America

Dont Blink: Is Financial Armageddon Almost Here?

An absolute necessity for QE3, an absolute impossibility of QE3: The Federal Reserve faces a serious dilemma

As noted previously, with the Quantitative Easing 2, against a background of growing distrust vis-à-vis the Dollar and the US economy, the Fed has become virtually the only buyer of US Treasury Bonds. Officially it is already buying 70% of new issues. The use of “undercover agents”, via the City of London and offshore financial centres, more than likely brings this share above 90%. But the actual share of Treasury Bonds purchased by the Fed is not so important in itself because, according to LEAP/E2020 (1), it's been purchasing the majority of new US debt issues for years through its “primary dealers” and the numerous exotic channels offered by the financial world. What is important with the announcement of Quantitative Easing Policy since 2009 is the “unveiling” of a previously hidden reality... because it could be hidden.

Confidence in the US economy allowed the Fed to carry out “its little deals” with reality while no one cared or even (for most operators) imagined that such practices had been the norm for many years. The economy being, in the main, a matter of collective psychology, the importance now is that most players know that there is no one other than the Fed to purchase US Treasury Bonds.

The Japanese disaster greatly enhances this awareness because it will be impossible to convince anyone that Japan will continue buying US debt at a time when it must marshal all its financial resources to save the country. Therefore, the Fed arrives at the end of the “road to nowhere” otherwise to a financial disaster (2). In fact, in three months, when QE2 officially ends, it must both lie and tell the truth on the same subject: claim that QE2 has worked, that the U.S. economy has relaunched and that it therefore no longer needs to buy US Treasury Bonds, and simultaneously continue to buy 90% of these same Treasury Bonds since it is the only buyer in the market. (more)

G20 deputies to hold crisis call Saturday: Is a huge financial crisis looming?

Deputy finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economic powers will hold a conference call on Saturday to discuss the crises in Europe and the United States, a Brazilian finance ministry official said.

The official told Reuters the call was scheduled for 2230 GMT.

"It will be an exchange of information and opinions," the official said by e-mail without providing further details.

Investors are eager to see signs of a coordinated policy response among major economies, which might prevent the crises from spreading or getting worse.

Deputies routinely prepare the ground ahead of meetings by top officials. A European source said G7 finance ministers and central bankers from the largest developed economies would confer by telephone later on Saturday or on Sunday.

Fears of a global recession have increased in the wake of this week's sell-off in financial markets and Standard & Poor's decision to cut the U.S. long-term credit rating for the first time. (more)

US opens ways for Shell drilling in Arctic Ocean

US officials have granted Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell conditional approval to begin drilling exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean from next year, in a move swiftly slammed by conservationists as "inexcusable."

The US Interior Department has opened the doors to Shell's proposal for four shallow water exploration wells in Alaska?s Beaufort Sea to start in July 2012, said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in a statement Thursday.

Final approval requires Shell to obtain permits from other US agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.

"We base our decisions regarding energy exploration and development in the Arctic on the best scientific information available," said BOEMRE's director Michael Bromwich.

The agency would closely review the oil giant's activities to ensure they are conducted in a "safe and environmentally responsible manner," he said.

Shell welcomed the news, saying it added to the company's "cautious optimism that we will be drilling our Alaska leases this time next year."

Environmentalists, pointing to the vastly complicated task of drilling in the harsh Arctic environment and effectively cleaning up any spills in such conditions, slammed the decision as "dangerous and disappointing," saying it puts the remote region, its wildlife and native communities at risk. (more)

Climate change and earthquakes: It’s complicated

In the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami last March, I started seeing a lot of headlines like this:

"Does climate change mean more tsunamis?"

"Did climate change cause the Japanese earthquake?"

In those stories, environmentalists and climate science deniers went head-to-head, with one side pointing out yet another unintended consequence of fossil fuel consumption, and the other side pointing and laughing at what it saw as patently ridiculous fear-mongering. Missing: The nuance. And you know how much I love the nuance.

This is a story that contains a whole lot of yesbut. Yes, it really does make sense that climate change could trigger earthquakes. But it's very, very unlikely that that effect is responsible for any of the monster quakes we've experienced recently. And behind that apparent contradiction lies some really, really interesting science.

Let's start with a quick overview of why scientists think climate change and earthquakes are connected.

On the surface, this does sound pretty insane. Climate change is about the greenhouse effect increasing the global average temperature. The impacts of climate change tend to be things that are linked, somehow, to weather and climate—droughts, storms, changing habitats, melting ice caps. Earthquakes, on the other hand, are about landmasses bumping up against one another. That's plate tectonics, not El Nino. But the basic theory actually does make a lot of sense. And it's really just a logical extrapolation of some well-established natural phenomena. (more)

Was pollution responsible for mass stranding of pilot whales?

Scientists are probing whether pollution may have caused 70 pilot whales to strand in north west Scotland last month. The whales may have been poisoned by years of toxic waste.

Experts have now asked the UK government for £20,000 to carry out the first such major diagnostic tests on a super pod in Scotland - which could show the legacy of decades of pouring toxic chemicals into the sea.

No such link between strandings and pollution has ever been proved before - but scientists say they are now finding killer whales with toxic readings "hundreds" of times over the limit.

There are growing fears that Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB's) - which are now banned - are so prevalent in the marine environment that over a period of time they have entered the food chain widely.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now being asked for £20,000 of the £50,000 of toxicology tests that the Scottish Agriculture College-led investigation into the recent stranding in Sutherland wants to probe.

The Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme is continuing to investigate the cause of what is believed to have been Scotland's largest ever stranding of pilot whales, in the Kyle of Durness on July 22. Some 25 of the 70 whales are believed to have died. (more)

The too-smart-for-its-own-good energy grid

In the last few years, electrical utilities have begun equipping their customers’ homes with new meters that have Internet connections and increased computational capacity. One envisioned application of these “smart meters” is to give customers real-time information about fluctuations in the price of electricity, which might encourage them to defer some energy-intensive tasks until supply is high or demand is low. Less of the energy produced from erratic renewable sources such as wind and solar would thus be wasted, and utilities would less frequently fire up backup generators, which are not only more expensive to operate but tend to be more polluting, too.

Recent work by researchers in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, however, shows that this policy could backfire. If too many people set appliances to turn on, or devices to recharge, when the price of electricity crosses the same threshold, it could cause a huge spike in demand; in the worst case, that could bring down the power grid. Fortunately, in a paper presented at the last IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, the researchers also show that some relatively simple types of price controls could prevent huge swings in demand. But that stability would come at the cost of some of the efficiencies that real-time pricing is intended to provide.

Today, customers receive monthly electrical bills that indicate the cost of electricity as a three- to six-month average. In fact, however, the price that power producers charge utilities fluctuates every five minutes or so, according to market conditions. The electrical system is thus what control theorists call an open loop: Price varies according to demand, but demand doesn’t vary according to price. Smart meters could close that loop, drastically changing the dynamics of the system. (more)

New Process Could Make Canadian Oil Cheaper, Cleaner -- In Other News, I've Become the Easter Bunny

New technology for extracting oil from oil sands could more than double the amount of oil that can be extracted from these abundant deposits. It could also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the process by up to 85 percent. The technology was developed by N-Solv, an Alberta-based consortium that recently received $10 million from the Canadian government to develop the technology.

Canada's oil sands are a huge resource. They contain enough oil to supply the U.S. for decades. But they are made up of a tarry substance called bitumen, which requires large amounts of energy to extract from the ground and prepare for transport to a refinery. This fact has raised concerns about the impact of oil sands on climate change. The concerns have been heightened by plans to build a new pipeline for transporting crude oil from the sands to refineries in the United States.

Most oil sands production currently involves digging up oily sand deposits near the surface and processing the sludgy material with heat and chemicals to free the oil and reduce its viscosity so it can flow through a pipeline. But 80 percent of oil sands are too deep for this approach. Getting at the deeper oil requires treating the bitumen underground so it can be pumped out through an oil well. The most common technique in new projects involves injecting the bitumen with steam underground. But producing the steam means burning natural gas, which emits carbon dioxide. And the oil that's pumped out is still too thick to flow through a pipeline, so it has to be partially refined, which emits still more greenhouse gases. (more)

Britain: Record breaking spring due to warm weather

Britain had a record-breaking spring this year with swallows arriving, trees opening and insects emerging earlier than usual.

The Woodland Trust survey of 40,000 volunteers found that the traditional signs of spring were on average 17 days earlier because of the hot weather in April.

The orange-tipped butterfly was spotted almost a month early on 13th April, the earliest sighting since records began in 1891. The horse chestnut, dog rose and purple lilac also broke records for coming into leaf early.

Most of the species only have records going back to 2001,

The survey recorded the earliest leafing this century for 11 out of 13 tree species including beech, certain types of oak and ash.

Swallows, turtle doves and willow warblers were also spotted earlier than they have ever been seen since 2000. (more)

NATO bombs camel weapons caravan, killing hundreds of camels

A Libyan rebel commander said Saturday that his forces have unconfirmed reports that NATO struck and destroyed a caravan of camels carrying weapons from neighboring Chad.

Abdullah Aitha, who commands rebels fighting in the southeastern Kufra region, said the caravan was made up of hundreds of camels and carried heavy caliber machine guns, mortars and ammunition.

He said the air strike came on Friday evening in a desert 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Chad border while the caravan was headed for the city of Sebha, 400 miles (650 kilometers) south of the capital Tripoli. Sebha is a key Gadhafi stronghold deep in the country's southwestern deserts where much of the Libyan leader's loyal troops hail from.

"The camels are totally burned and the weapons are all destroyed," he told The Associated Press.

NATO could not be immediately reached for comment. (more)

US Postal Service warns it could default

The US Postal Service warned on Friday that it could default on payments it owes the federal government, just days after the US government itself narrowly averted a default.

The government's mail service said it lost $3.1 billion in the period from April to June, blaming "the anemic state of the economy" and the growing popularity of electronic communications over old-fashioned letters.

As a result of its mounting losses, the US Postal Service said it would not be able to make a legally required $5.5 billion payment in September to a health-benefits trust fund.

"Absent substantial legislative change, the Postal Service will be forced to default on payments to the federal government," it said in a statement.

Dating back to 1775, the US Postal Service was once a crucial branch of the federal government, but in recent years it has come under increasing fire from critics who consider it bureaucratic and inefficient.

In July, it unveiled plans to identify nearly 3,700 under-used post offices around the United States for possible closure. The Post Office has been hemorrhaging billions of dollars in recent years. (more)

33 Chilean miners rescued a year ago still work in mines and live in poverty today

They have an exhibit at the Smithsonian and a line of toys depicting their epic rescue. But most of the 33 men whose saga in a collapsed mine captivated the world a year ago face a new crisis today: poverty.

The miners became celebrities of sorts as soon as the details of their underground ordeal began to trickle out. The men were greeted by a burst of fanfare when they emerged after 69 days, and many expected their lives would improve with their newfound fame.

But back home in the mining town of Copiapo, most of the men have been unable to find a new way to earn a living, forcing them back into a life underground. They still live in their old rickety houses, where the cold desert nights and scorching days have compounded mental and physical health problems stemming from the accident.

And while Chileans mostly seem to ignore them these days, some of the miners have been publicly criticized for speaking engagements while simultaneously suing the government that rescued them, on allegations that it allowed a dangerous mine to operate. Although their trips have been all-expenses paid, few of the men say they have made money off their appearances. (more)

North Texas Churches Target of Thieves

You’ve heard recent reports about a woman who died from the heat just days after her central air conditioning unit was stolen. But homeowners aren’t the only target for these crooks, churches are being hit hard as well.

Members of the Chisolm Baptist Church in Rockwall came to church on Sunday in flip-flops and shorts after 10 of the church’s air conditioners were stolen. Police say it’s a common crime among thieves, because the high-dollar value of the copper in the A/C units.

But Pastor Rocky Weatherford is hurt that his sanctuary would be a victim of this crime. He says he can’t imagine anybody stooping so low to steal from a church saying it’s not how he was raised.

Other churches around North Texas have been targeted as well, which costs money and discomfort for those faithful enough to show up and brave the heat. (more)

Russia uses dirty tricks despite U.S. ‘reset’

In the past four years, Russia’s intelligence services have stepped up a campaign of intimidation and dirty tricks against U.S. officials and diplomats in Russia and the countries that used to form the Soviet Union.

U.S. diplomats and officials have found their homes broken into and vandalized, or altered in ways as trivial as bathroom use; faced anonymous or veiled threats; and in some cases found themselves set up in compromising photos or videos that are later leaked to the local press and presented as a sex scandal.

“The point was to show that ‘we can get to you where you sleep,’ ” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Washington Times. “It’s a psychological kind of attack.”

Despite a stated policy from President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of warm U.S.-Russian ties, the campaign of intelligence intimidation - or what the CIA calls “direct action” - has persisted throughout what both sides have called a “reset” in the relations.

They have become worse in just the past year, some U.S. officials said. Also, their targets are broadening to include human rights workers and nongovernmental organizations as well as embassy staff.

The most brazen example of this kind of intimidation was the Sept. 22 bombing attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia. A National Intelligence Council assessment sent to Congress last week confirmed that the bombing was ordered by Maj. Yevgeny Borisov of Russian military intelligence, said four U.S. officials who have read the report. (more)

China tells US "good old days" of borrowing are over

China bluntly criticised the United States on Saturday one day after the superpower's credit rating was downgraded, saying the "good old days" of borrowing were over.

Standard & Poor's cut the U.S. long-term credit rating from top-tier AAA by a notch to AA-plus on Friday over concerns about the nation's budget deficits and climbing debt burden.

China -- the United States' biggest creditor -- said Washington only had itself to blame for its plight and called for a new stable global reserve currency.

"The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone," China's official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

After a week which saw $2.5 trillion wiped off global markets, the move deepened investors' concerns of an impending recession in the United States and over the euro zone crisis.

Finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations will confer by telephone later on Saturday or on Sunday, a senior European diplomatic source said.

The source said the credit rating downgrade had added a global dimension on top of the euro zone debt issue, raising the need for international coordination. (more)

Oakridge, Oregon so broke that it's asking citizens for a private loan

Oakridge is facing a serious cash shortage after its bank statement showed the City had $420,000 less than planned, prompting a city planning commissioner to solicit private loans from citizens.

George Custer began seeking “investors” soon after the City acknowledged it would be laying off eight city employees, about one quarter of the staff, to fill the budget gap, saying it was a win-win for the City and the citizens.

Custer is a volunteer planning commissioner for the City of Oakridge and claims he was not working on behalf of the City. Instead, he was soliciting loans for the City as a “concerned citizen.”

Both the city administrator and the mayor knew about the plan and considered it an option to keep the City from defaulting on its payments and going into bankruptcy.

“That was a plan B in case other things didn’t work” said Donald Hampton, City of Oakridge mayor.

Custer says that half a dozen citizens have agreed to give the City a loan if a loan from the bank does not materialize, but the list of citizens will remain anonymous for now. (more)

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood holds 1st open vote: New leaders in waiting?

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, the country's largest political group, has held its first open internal election since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Until the longtime leader's fall, the Islamist group had been banned from public politics and its members and finances targeted by a constant security crackdown.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan says more than 100 members of the group's policy making body are electing three new members. He says Saturday's vote is proof Egypt "has changed."

The policymaking body hadn't been able to convene in full since 1995 in fear of mass arrests.

Despite the crackdown in the past, the group was able to field candidates in parliamentary elections as independents and proved to be the most organized political force during Mubarak's 30-year rule. (source)

Mexico town of Ascension’s entire police force quits after attack

An entire 20-man police force resigned in a northern Mexican town after a series of attacks that killed the police chief and five officers over the last three months, state officials said Thursday.

The officers’ resignation Thursday left the 13,000 people of Ascension without local police services, Chihuahua state chief prosecutor Carlos Manuel Salas said. State and federal police have moved in to take over police work, he said.

The mass resignation appeared to be connected to a Tuesday attack by gunmen that killed three of the town’s officers, Salas said.

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 riddled with bullets in the back seat of a sedan.

The town’s police force was relatively new.

Angry 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. People claimed police officers were aiding drug gangs. (more)

Pelosi’s Energy Savings Program Evaporates

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi's four-year effort to "Green the Capitol" is officially no-more, having been dumped into an existing energy-savings program on the Hill in a move that Republicans say will save more money, eliminate redundancy and promote collaboration.

In response, some Democrats are crying foul, saying the move reflects the low priority that energy savings is for Republicans.

The House Chief Administrative Office announced Thursday that the Architect of the Capitol's Office will take over the functions of the program that expanded House recycling and led to thousands of energy-efficient light bulbs being installed on the Hill.

"Saving energy saves money and consolidating our sustainability programs helps save taxpayer dollars by improving efficiencies and allows us to make smart and sound investments throughout the Capitol complex," Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said in a statement. (more)

"Emancipation Proclamation Redux"

I feel like Lincoln freed everyone but me… the American working class Joe, the small business owner and operator, the hands that built this country.

Planning should be my foundation, my legs, keeping my work agile enough to move forward. Integrity should be my bedrock, my shoulders, always keeping my head focused on what’s important and right. But what do the (s)elected elite do for the working class? – They put quicksand called regulation under my feet and then they let a monster called taxation sit on my shoulders. It’s hard to get one foot in front of the other when I’m buried up to my neck in bureaucratic manure and I’m drowning from the neck up in IRS urine (and let’s hope its only urine).

The whole system called regulation (arbitrary, unnatural law) was NOT setup to promote and safeguard honest and fair business transactions. It was instead setup to prevent competition against the establishment. To realize this, examine who benefits and who loses. (more)

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake TARAPACA, CHILE - 6th August 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck Tarapaca, Chile at a depth of 98.8 km ( 61.5 miles), the quake hit at 18:08:00 UTC Saturday 6th August 2011.
The epicenter was 131 km (82 miles) East of Iquique, Chile
No damage or injuries reported at this time

4.9 Magnitude Earthquake OFF THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 6th August 2011

A magnitude 4.9 earthquake has struck off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 33.1 km ( 20.6 miles), the quake hit at 17:58:34 UTC Saturday 6th August 2011.
The epicenter was 228 km (142 miles) East of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake UNIMAK ISLAND REGION, ALASKA - 6th August 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck Unimak Island Region, Alaska at a depth of 29.3 km ( 18.2 miles), the quake hit at 18:05:15 UTC Saturday 6th August 2011.
The epicenter was 103 km (64 miles) South of False Pass, Alaska
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Typhoon Muifa: China evacuates thousands from coast as storm nears

Chinese authorities have evacuated more than 200,000 people from its east coast as the region braces for its most powerful typhoon in years.

More than 7,000 fishing vessels have been called to harbour, with Typhoon Muifa's winds reaching 162km/h (100mph) and generating 36ft (11m) waves at sea.

At least 140 flights have been cancelled and rail services disrupted.

State meteorologists say the storm may intensify as it nears coastal Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, near Shanghai.

China's National Marine Environmental Forecasting Centre has upgraded its warning to a red alert - the highest possible - for shipping in the East China sea.

Muifa is likely to skim the coast as it heads north, says the Central Meteorological Administration.

It has already battered the Philippines - where it caused flooding - Taiwan and Japan's southern island of Okinawa, which was hit by blackouts. (more)

China scolds U.S. 'addiction to debts' following downgrade: Chinese words get harsher by the day

China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, demanded Saturday that America tighten its belt and confront its "addiction to debts" in the wake of Standard & Poor's decision to downgrade the U.S. credit rating.

China currently owns $1.2 trillion of U.S. Treasury debt, the largest stake of any central bank. The commentary carried by the state-run Xinhua News Agency was Beijing's first official response to the S&P decision.

"The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone," Xinhua said.

It said the rating cut would be followed by more "devastating credit rating cuts" and global financial turbulence if the U.S. fails to learn to "live within its means."

"China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets," it said.

Xinhua said the U.S. must slash its "gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs" and accept international supervision over U.S. dollar issues. (more)

4 Old Cartoons Explain The World

1. The Bankers/Wall Street own the False Left Right Paradigm:

No Change In Jobs Report Equals Bad News

The latest jobs report changes nothing. We had no engine of economic growth when we all woke up on Friday morning, and we still don't have one. We have no operative plan to fix what ails us. We are in a bad place and sliding toward a worse one.

The Republicans are banking on continuing economic disaster as their pathway back to the White House, sabotaging any and all efforts to address the decline. The Obama administration is so beaten up and despondent that it has apparently convinced itself that the Oval Office confers no authority to address the unraveling of American middle class opportunity. A modest nudge downward in the unemployment rate, from 9.2 percent to 9.1 percent, changes this narrative not one bit.

Indeed, it stands as testament to the dismay that has characterized thinking about the economy in recent weeks that a jobs report that presents little change in any key area managed to register as good news on Friday, sending investors into paroxysms of buying.

Before the Labor Department released its snapshot of the job market, the rest of the week had been unsettling to say the least. A slew of lousy data -- a pullback on the factory floor, still-elevated new claims for unemployment benefits, and a fresh decline in consumer spending -- had combined to bring a chorus of worrying about a double-dip recession. (In many cases, the worriers are the same people who were talking about vigorous recovery back in early 2010.) (more)

Killer plant 'eats' great tit at Somerset nursery -- Only second ever time this has been documented

A plant has killed and "eaten" a great tit at a garden nursery in Somerset.

Nurseryman Nigel Hewitt-Cooper, from West Pennard, was inspecting his tropical garden when he discovered one of his pitcher plants had trapped the bird.

He said he was "absolutely staggered" to find it had caught the creature.

It is believed to be only the second time such a carnivorous plant has been documented eating a bird anywhere in the world.

"I've got a friend who's studied these particular plants extensively in the wild and he's never found evidence of any of them having caught birds," said Mr Hewitt-Cooper.

"The other documented time was in Germany a few years ago and that was in cultivation, not in the wild." (more)

How Washington's politicians downgraded America

The downgrading of America is a humiliation for a nation constantly fretting about its potential decline. It reinforces a very common belief here, that the squabbling politicians in Washington are to blame for many of the country's ills.

It was indeed a major theme of candidate Obama that "business as usual" couldn't continue and, by an effort of will, America had to come together.

The decision by Standard & Poor's to push America into the second division, when it comes to trustworthiness about paying its bills, puts the USA below the UK, Germany, France, Singapore, Finland and 14 other countries.

The reason it gives is what all America has been saying: Washington doesn't work. The S&P report says: "The political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed."

A clumsy sentence, yet it encapsulates the frustration of many Americans. They don't think too much of the plan they did eventually come up with at the last minute.

"Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the structural issues required to effectively address the rising US public debt burden in a manner consistent with a 'AAA' rating and with 'AAA' rated".

They warn America's debt will continue to balloon and they have little hope of the politicians fixing it. (more)

Update: NATO copter crash kills 38 in Afghanistan

A NATO helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan has killed 31 U.S. troops and seven Afghan soldiers, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says.

The death toll would surpass the worst single day loss of life for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 — the June 28, 2005 downing of a U.S. military helicopter in eastern Kunar province.

In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot down while on a mission to rescue four SEALs under attack by the Taliban. Three of the SEALs being rescued were also killed and the fourth wounded.

Karzai expressed his condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement released by his office.

Obama mourned the deaths of the troops, saying in a statement that the crash serves as a reminder of the "extraordinary sacrifices" being made by the U.S. troops and their families. He said he also mourned "the Afghans who died alongside our troops." (more)

Would you try the Doughnut Cheeseburger? (Healthy food is so yesterday...)

Like deep-fried butter, cheeseburger in a bag and chocolate-covered bacon before it, the latest artery-clogging menu item to hit the Canadian National exhibition already has people talking!

The Doughnut Burger made its debut at the Calgary Stampede, where brave revellers downed the sweet and salty snack, despite its high calorie count.

Now the hefty bacon cheeseburger with two maple-glazed doughnuts for buns will be featured at the CNE in Toronto.

The heart-stopping treat packs a walloping 1,500 calories and is sure to draw at least a few curious consumers.

Would you try the doughnut cheeseburger? What's the most outrageous food you've ever tried? (more)

Obama administration official: S&P move 'a facts-be-damned decision' (We and the world completely disagree)



A senior Obama administration official is calling Standard & Poor's move to downgrade U.S. credit "a facts-be-damned decision," saying the rating agency admitted to an error that inflated U.S. deficits by $2 trillion.

U.S. Treasury officials received S&P's analysis Friday afternoon and alerted the agency to the error, said the administration official, who was not authorized to speak for attribution.

The agency acknowledged the mistake, but said it was sticking with its decision to lower the U.S. rating from a top score of AAA to AA+.

"This is a facts-be-damned decision," the official said. "Their analysis was way off, but they wouldn't budge."

Other sources familiar with the S&P matter called the move political and said the decision was rushed out too quickly.

The White House is now in wait-and-see mode -- hoping the decision and the S&P analysis face outside scrutiny, the official said. (more)

Gusty Typhoon Muifa set to hit China

Typhoon Muifa is set to bring gusty winds and rainfall to coastal areas of China late Saturday or on Sunday, after drenching the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

The typhoon -- the ninth to hit China this year -- is headed for Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The storm is expected to be east of the city of Shanghai, a major business and banking center, within the next 12 to 24 hours, CNN meteorologists say.

However, the typhoon will be weaker and less organized than it was previously.

Weak winds near the typhoon's center will be around 130-140 kph (81-87 mph), according to their forecast, but in Shanghai probably more like 60 to 80 kph (37-50 mph). Rain and gusty winds will reach the city, but the typhoon is not expected to make landfall there.

Eastern coastal areas can expect high winds over the next three days, Xinhua says, and parts of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Hebei and Liaoning provinces will be hit by torrential rain.

Muifa left Okinawa with almost a meter of rain.

Meanwhile, scorching heat is expected to linger in southern regions of China over the next three days, Xinhua reported. (more)

The European Central Bank throws Italy and Spain to the wolves

The European Central Bank has abandoned Italy and Spain to their tortured fate.

Its refusal to act in the face of an existential threat to monetary union has set off violent tremors across the global financial system, raising the risk that the crisis will spiral out of control.

Bank shares crashed in Madrid and Milan, with Intesa Sanpaolo down 10pc and Italy's MIB index reduced to its knees with a one-day fall of 5.2pc. Share trading was suspended at a string of bourses across Europe.

Yields on 10-day US debt fell to zero in a replay of panic flight to safety seen during the onset of the Lehman-AIG crisis three years ago.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the ECB's president, said the bank had purchased eurozone bonds for the first time since March but this token gesture was confined to Ireland and Portugal, countries that have already been rescued.

Professor Willem Buiter, Citigroup's chief economist, said the apparent ECB action was pointless. "The warped logic of intervening in two countries that don't need it is as strange as it gets." (more)

Starving Somalis shot dead as riots break out over food supplies

Somali government soldiers shot dead seven civilians as a riot broke out at a refugee camp in the capital Mogadishu.

Witnesses claimed the chaos erupted when the soldiers tried to steal some of the 290 tonnes of food rations being handed out to famine victims.

Several refugees then joined in the scramble for food, prompting some of the soldiers to open fire, witnesses said.

"It was carnage. They ruthlessly shot everyone," said Abdi Awale Nor, who has been living at the camp.

Muse Sheikh Ali, another of those waiting for his rations, claimed that seven people were "killed on the spot".

"Then soldiers took the food and people fled from the camp," he alleged. (more)

Japan marks the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

Buddhist monks offer prayers for victims of the world's first atomic bombing in 1945 during World War Two in front of the A-bomb Dome at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. (view entire photo gallery here)

Living to see 100 is just luck, not lifestyle -- So much for all the "fads"

Taking regular exercise, drinking only in moderation and watching what you eat makes no difference to one's chances of reaching 100, research has found.

Those who are lucky enough to qualify for a telegram from the Queen have simply been dealt a good genetic hand at birth, the study indicates.

Academics studied almost 500 people between 95 and 109 and compared them with over 3,000 others born during the same period.

They found those who lived extremely long lives ate just as badly, drank and smoked just as much, took just as little exercise and were just as likely to be overweight as their long-gone friends.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who interviewed 477 very long lived Ashkenazi Jews.

Prof Nir Barzilai, director of the college's Institute of Ageing Research, said previous studies of this group had identified certain genes which protected them from the effects of a normal Western lifestyle. (more)

Crop Circles Quest for Truth: Theatrical Feature Film

The Mysterious Death of Osama bin Laden: Creating Evidence Where There Is None

The New Yorker has published a story planted on Nicholas Schmidle by unidentified sources who claim to be familiar with the alleged operation that murdered Osama bin Laden.

There is no useful information in the story. Its purpose seems simply to explain away or cover up holes in the original story, principally why did the Seals murder an unarmed, unresisting Osama bin Laden whose capture would have resulted in a goldmine of terrorist information and whose show trial would have rescued the government’s crumbling 9/11 story?

The gullible Schmidle tells us: “‘There was never any question of detaining or capturing him–it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,’ the special-operations officer told me.” In other words, the SEALs murdered bin Laden, because the US government did not want detainees, not because trigger-happy stupid SEALs destroyed a font of terrorist information.

Why did the SEALS dump bin Laden’s body in the ocean instead of producing the evidence to a skeptical world?

No real explanation, just that SEALS had done the same thing to other victims. Schmidle writes: “All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea–a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth.” But before they did so, the US checked with an unidentified Saudi intelligence operative, who allegedly replied, “Your plan sounds like a good one.” (more)

Jupiter losing its coloured bands: Normal? Evidence of Solar System change?

Michio Kaku claims crop circles made with lasers & microwave ovens -- More absurdity from the "scientific community"

Israel's biggest anti-government protests ignored by media

2-pence-a-mile electric motoring... if only there was somewhere to charge it

It promises super-cheap motoring at less than 2p a mile.

But as Jeremy Clarkson and the chaps from BBC TV’s Top Gear have shown with electric cars – if only you could find somewhere in town to charge it up.

Yesterday the full results of a national Government-backed 12-month trial involving 40 experimental all-electric BMW Minis were published.

Between them, the drivers made 33,345 journeys, clocking up 258,105 miles in total.

They revealed that the average daily commute of 138 ‘guinea pig’ drivers using the plug-in charge from the mains Mini Es was 29.7 miles.

But while ‘virtually all re-charging was carried out at home’, more than 8 out of 10 of those taking part said it was ‘essential’ to have a network of public charging points. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. (more)