Monday, August 8, 2011

London riots: Before-and-after images


Asian markets tumble after share sell-off in the US

Nikkei Index

Asian markets have been hammered amid fears that the US is heading for a recession and after Wall Street posted the biggest losses since late 2008.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 4.8%, South Korea's Kospi lost 7.3%, and Australia's ASX shed 4.7%.

Earlier in the US, the Dow Jones stock index dropped 5.6%, despite US President Barack Obama trying to reassure investors.

A US recession would hurt Asia's export-led economies.

"You can't control it," Peter Esho, chief market analyst at City Index, told the BBC.

"You have the onset of fear in the market. There are a lot of things that don't make sense." (more)


Coming Crisis Alert -- Riots spreading throughout UK -- August 8, 2011

WARNING AREA AND DURATION:

ALERT LIFTED (August 11, 2011) -- but heightened vigilance still recommended.

ALERT EXTENDED: A number deaths last night including 3 Asian men who were killed during the riot while protecting their property, as well as the English Defense League now participating in defense marches in British cities, raises the specter of the riots transforming into a racial confrontation. The situation in London is reportedly calmer, although violence is still transpiring in many other areas of England. This alert will be extended until August 11, 2011, midnight EST.

ALERT EXTENDED:
Due to a breakdown in the UK's ability to police its streets and ensure the safety of its citizens, as well as worsening events, this alert will be extended until August 10, 2011, midnight EST.

United Kingdom, with focus on London, until August 9, 2011, midnight EST.

EVENT INFORMATION:

Update - August 10, 2011
London is reportedly calmer, although violence continues to take place in many other areas of England. An unidentifiable elderly man is in critical medical condition after being attacked by rioters while attempting to fight a fire. 3 Asian men have also been killed in a hit-and-run incident while attempting to defend their property.

Update - August 9, 2011
Riots have begun to spread throughout towns and cities in England. A weapon has been discharged at an officer in Birmingham in the first incident of guns being used against policing forces.

Update - August 9, 2011
Riots have now erupted in Manchester, West Midlands and West Bromwich. Warnings have been issued to stay away from the city centers.

Update - August 9, 2011

Rioters now setting fire to buildings while people still in them. BBC reports that some families "barely escaped" their flats and homes.

Update - August 8, 2011
"Friends and family" being called in by affected citizens to battle rioters in order to protect homes and businesses throughout troubled areas due to "total lack of police assistance".

Update - August 8, 2011
Riots have spread to Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.

Update -- August 8, 2011
The London Mayor, British Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have cut short their holidays to return to the UK to tackle the crisis. Children as young as 10 years old have been reported looting and carrying alcohol down the streets.

August 8, 2011
Riots have erupted throughout various parts of London, and are now spreading throughout suburbs and other major cities of the United Kingdom, with reports coming in of riots erupting in Birmingham and Liverpool. Writing into the BBC, entrapped citizens in London are "preparing to defend their homes and shops" from armed roving gangs pillaging and setting on fire neighbourhoods, major buildings and police stations. This alert was issued in tandem with UK Government-issued warnings for citizens to stay inside their homes as the situation worsens, and out of concern for the safety of our UK readers.

EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS:

1) Gunfire has been reported in several incidents, including a weapon being reported as having been discharged at a police officer in Birmingham. Stay clear of city centers and inside your homes if you are in areas of rioting. Do not attempt to put out fires or safeguard property by yourself.

2) If you are in an area of rioting, stay inside your homes. Do not confront rioters, especially if they are armed. Prepare an emergency exit from your home should fire erupt.

3) Please ensure that you are contact with your children and know their whereabouts. It has been recommended by the British Government that they return home immediately if they are not already there.

4) Please stay tuned to your television or radio for government instructions. Do not venture outside if unnecessary until unrest subsides.

London rioters hurl bottles, concrete at CNN reporter -- Police stand idly by, seem powerless

London riots: Violence spreads in the capital and beyond -- Reports of rioting now in Birmingham and Liverpool



Riots have spread to new areas of London while looting erupted in the cities of Birmingham and Liverpool as Britain's worst violence in decades extended into the third night.

Shops and cars were set ablaze across London late on Monday and early on Tuesday as authorities struggled to contain the unrest in the capital city which will host next summer's Olympic Games.

Looting by groups of hooded youths spread to Ealing in west London and Camden in the north. Television pictures showed groups of men running through the streets and smashing shop windows.

They also set fire to buildings in Croydon, a south London suburb, and Clapham, where they looted shops and cash machines and set fire to at least one shop.

The violence, which began in the northern Tottenham district on Saturday, also spread to Peckham and Lewisham. In Peckam, flames leapt into the air from a torched building, while rubble was strewn across the street. People walked in and out of shops looting.

Police with riot shields responded by charging them as they tried to seal off an area around Hackney Central station in the east of the city. Dozens of officers have now been deployed to the streets of Hackney.

But in a sign that the unrest had spilled outside of the capital, attackers smashed shops and looted property in the central England city of Birmingham.

West Midlands Police confirmed they had made 87 arrests as youths ran amok in Birmingham centre overnight, smashing shop windows and looting merchandise. The force also said that a police station was on fire. (more)

Nikkei, Japan's stock market, plunges nearly 400 points, following other world markets into the abyss

DETAILS FORTHCOMING.

Are We Heading For A Second Global Financial Crisis?

How far are we from #gfc2? For those not aware, #gfc2 is the Twitter hashtag used for "global financial crisis 2". And the question I ask is a real one.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog wondering whether July 2011 felt like July 1914. And then along came a Greek deal, and now a US debt deal, and you might presume I had been prematurely melodramatic.

I wish that were true; I very much doubt it is.

Just to put this in context, the Guardian has reported that:

"Stock markets took fright on Wednesday as fears grew over the health of the global economy and the ongoing European debt crisis.

There was heavy selling in London when trading began, sending the blue-chip FTSE 100 index falling by 91 points, or 1.6%, to 5626. There were also heavy losses across Europe, The French CAC and German DAX indices were down 1.6% and 1.1% respectively.

The European markets took their cue from Tuesday's 2.2% fall in the US Dow Jones index. Overnight, the Japanese Nikkei fell 2.1%, its biggest daily loss since the rout that followed Japan's March earthquake." (more)

Texas drought will harm wildlife habitat for years

In a muddy pile of sand where a pond once flowed in the Texas Panhandle, dead fish, their flesh already decayed and feasted on by maggots, lie with their mouths open. Nearby, deer munch on the equivalent of vegetative junk food and wild turkeys nibble on red harvester ants - certainly not their first choice for lunch.

As the state struggles with the worst one-year drought in its history, entire ecosystems, from the smallest insects to the largest predators, are struggling for survival. The foundations of their habitats - rivers, springs, creeks, streams and lakes - have turned into dry sand, wet mud, trickling springs or, in the best case, large puddles.

"It has a compound effect on a multitude of species and organisms and habitat types because of the way that it's chained and linked together," said Jeff Bonner, a wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Since January, Texas has only gotten about 6 inches of rain, compared to a norm of about 13 inches, making it the most severe one-year drought on record. Last week, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said the La Nina weather pattern blamed for the lack of rain might be back soon, and if that happens, the dry spell would almost certainly extend into 2012. (more)

Israel: Protest draws 300,000 in largest show of force yet

More than 200,000 protest in Tel Aviv, 20,000 in Jerusalem demanding social justice; speakers deny that movement has become politicized; Netanyahu to appoint team of ministers to negotiate protesters’ demands.


The nationwide social justice movement protest reached new heights on Saturday night, as an estimated 300,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country.

Tel Aviv was again the center of the protests, with more than 200,000 people taking part in a rally along the length of Rehov Kaplan in the center of the city, in one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the state.

The nationwide protests were significantly larger than last Saturday’s that brought between 150,000 and 200,000 Israelis into the streets, surprising skeptics who doubted that the protests could increase in size for a third week running.

The protests followed the Knesset vote on Wednesday to approve the National Housing Committees Law, which places the authority for approving building projects in the hands of regional committees. Activists had called for the bill’s cancellation as a precondition to open dialogue with the government.

Following the vote, some organizers predicted that Saturday’s protests would be the biggest yet, due to a feeling that the government wasn’t listening to their demands. (more)

Gulf states recall envoys as Syria further isolated

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their Damascus envoys as Sunni Islam's top body on Monday urged an end to the crisis in Syria, increasing the regional isolation of President Bashar al-Assad.

Hours after the Saudi envoy's recall, rights activists said security forces shot dead a mother and her two children in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where 42 people were reported killed in an army assault on Sunday.

The recalls by Riyadh, the Arab world's Sunni Muslim heavyweight, and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait and Bahrain marked a major escalation of pressure on Assad.

His regime's repression of a pro-democracy uprising has left at least 2,059 people dead, including almost 400 members of the security forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Saudi Arabia announces the recall of its ambassador for consultations," King Abdullah said in a statement after Syrian security forces killed more than 50 people on Sunday.

He urged Damascus to "stop the killing machine and the bloodshed ... before it is too late." (more)


London riots: world reacts to city's 'hungry mutiny'

The riots in London have made headlines around the world - here's a round-up of the coverage from our international correspondents.

Pictures and descriptions of the disturbances feature prominently in the Australian media, reports Bonnie Malkin, with Sydney's tabloid Daily Telegraph newspaper running the picture of a burning double-decker bus on page two.

The paper says: "We can be thankful that Sydney is not on such an edge that anarchy is but a protest away. As events in London demonstrate, not every major city enjoys our cohesive qualities."

An opinion piece posted on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation's website asked: "Where were the statesmen as London burned?:"

It continued: "London burned and meanwhile prime minister David Cameron fiddled with the foil on a bottle of pinot grigio in Tuscany; deputy prime minister Nick Clegg quietly recovered at home from his getaway in sunny France; and chancellor of the exchequer George Osbourne remained ensconced at a hotel somewhere in Beverly Hills.

"Britain's already shaky confidence in its leaders, several of whom have spent the summer trying to wriggle free of their association with the hacking scandal, will be further disturbed by the determination of the nation's powerbrokers to cling to the sun bed." (more)

S. Korea, US to practise destroying N. Korea weapons

US and South Korean troops will practise destroying North Korean weapons of mass destruction during an annual joint exercise this month to improve their combat-readiness, a report said Sunday.

The allies will form a combined unit called the Joint Task Force for Elimination (JTF-E) when they begin a 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise on August 16, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Ulchi Freedom Guardian is an annual computer-assisted simulation command-post exercise.

Some 350 troops from the US Army's 20th Support Command and South Korean soldiers will simulate the detection and destruction of North Korean atomic bombs, missiles and chemical weapons, Yonhap said.

"In contingencies, the JTF-E will be tasked with identifying North Korean facilities suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction and destroying them," a South Korean government source was quoted as saying. (more)

Allies struggling to complete Libya mission: experts

Strong resistance by Moamer Kadhafi's forces and conflicting impulses to topple the Libyan ruler and hit a political settlement are stumping France's and its allies' efforts to end the conflict, experts say.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has denied France is getting sucked into an endless war but admitted "we probably underestimated the resistance that would be put up by Kadhafi's forces," in televised comments on Thursday.

"We cannot speak of getting bogged down," he insisted. "We are five months into our operations... no one talked about a lightning war."

The Western coalition behind the bombings of Kadhafi's military assets, coordinated by NATO and mostly waged by France and Britain, launched its campaign under a UN mandate to protect civilians from a violent crackdown.

The allies soon added calls for Kadhafi to quit power.

"The international community wants Kadhafi to go," said Jean-Yves Moisseron of the IRD research institute. "But with the current distribution of forces and control of the territory, there can be no political solution without Kadhafi," he added.

"There is therefore no way out. They are bogged down for some time and it is not certain that Kadhafi will leave because the international community and France in particular does not have the means for a long war." (more)

About face: France says unable to confirm Kadhafi son's death -- is Khamis still alilve?

France, a driving force in the NATO operation in Libya, on Friday said it could not confirm reports that Moamer Kadhafi's youngest son and feared commander Khamis had been killed in an air strike.

"We don't have information to corroborate this report," foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said after a Libyan rebel spokesman said NATO had hit an operations centre in the town of Zliten killing 32, including Khamis.

Rebel military spokesman Mohammed Zawawi cited spies operating among Kadhafi's ranks and intercepted radio chatter as sources.

But there was no independent verification of Khamis's death, which has been rumoured a number of times during Libya's five month-long civil war.

If confirmed Khamis's death would be a huge blow to both the regime's military and the morale of Kadhafi's inner circle.

The 28-year-old Khamis trained at a Russian military academy and commands the eponymous and much-feared Khamis Brigade -- one of the Libyan regime's toughest fighting units.

Fages said that "what NATO is doing is applying a Security Council resolution." (more)

Time for US to take responsibility: Chinese state media (Uh-oh)

Democrats and Republicans in Washington need to stop blaming each other over the unprecedented US credit rating downgrade and find solutions, China's official Xinhua news agency said early on Monday.

The demand came in a lengthy and harshly worded commentary, the latest in a series in China's state media.

"Disappointingly, instead of reflecting on themselves and sitting down to fix problems in a cooperated way, the Democrats and Republicans... are questioning the creditability of the downgrade ruling and blaming each other for the ever-first shame of slipping out top-credit rating club," it said.

China -- which sat on the world's biggest foreign exchange reserves of around $3.20 trillion as of the end of June -- is the largest foreign holder of US Treasuries.

The Chinese government has yet to comment publicly on the downgrade.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's docked the United States from a sterling AAA to a AA+ rating Friday, largely because of the failure of bitterly divided US leaders to reach a consensus on containing the country's spiraling debt.

Washington has been split over how to reduce its more than $14 trillion debt without further hobbling the sluggish economic recovery, and even the limited debt deal came after a bruising partisan battle.

Standard & Poor's warned Sunday that there was a one in three chance of a further US credit downgrade, as lawmakers traded blame for the failure to rein in the country's massive debt.

"During the angry finger-pointing, the US politicians seemed to have forgotten Wall Street's severest losses in almost three years last week," the Xinhua commentary said. (more)

Not Made in USA: Even 2012 Campaign T-Shirts Get Outsourced

Newt Gingrich had an awkward moment last week when an ABC News producer presented him with one of his campaign t-shirt’s, which was made in El Salvador.

This is very embarrassing, of course, since Gingrich, like all 2012 candidates, claims he wants to create American jobs. Buying a campaign shirt from elsewhere simply reeks of hypocrisy.

Asked to explain the apparel, Gingrich was clearly perturbed and attempted to distance himself, the head of his campaign, from the gaffe. “I’ll have to ask the folks who ordered this. I don’t order it and I don’t do it,” he said.

Team Gingrich later said the foreign-made shirts were a mistake, and that particular line will be discontinued.

Their curiosity piqued by the Gingrich revelation, ABC News staffers ordered more shirts from declared candidates.

Five — Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and President Obama — passed the politically symbolic ‘Made in America’ test. Three other White House hopefuls — Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Ron Paul — failed. (more)

Belarus, S. Ossetia cool on joining Russia: Is the USSR trying to reform?

Belarus and South Ossetia have reacted cautiously after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested he would like to see them join the Russia Federation.

Putin, speaking to a youth forum Russia's Monday, indicated he held out hope that Belarus, South Ossetia and Russia could join a common state.

"It is possible, very desirable and fully depends on the Belarusian people's will," ITAR-Tass reported Putin as saying.

The prime minister added that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko deserved praise for "consistently moving along the path toward integration with Russia."

While Belarus and Russia in the late 1990s signed a treaty calling for the creation of a "Union State of Belarus and Russia" -- an entity that was to have a common currency -- the idea stalled and the two countries remain separate.

The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on Putin's statements Tuesday.

"The foreign ministry does not consider it necessary to comment on the statement," ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told the BelaPAN news agency. "I just would like to note that the Russian prime minister underlined that the matter depends 100 percent on the will of the Belarusian people." (more)

Taiwan 'should boost defences against China spies' (Should the rest of us, as well?)

President Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan should strengthen its defences against Chinese espionage, following a string of spy scandals showing that intelligence gathering continues despite warming ties.

Taiwan needs to "actively prevent" any leak of secrets to China and must counter infiltration attempts by beefing up its counter-intelligence, Ma said in a statement issued by the National Security Bureau.

He made the comments at an intelligence meeting on Thursday aimed at tackling security issues resulting from expanding cross-Strait exchanges, the statement said.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since Ma came to power three years ago on a Beijing-friendly platform but security concerns linger.

The two sides have spied on each other ever since they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war. Beijing still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary. (more)

Japanese inventor develops flying sphere drone

A Japanese defence researcher has invented a spherical observation drone that can fly down narrow alleys, hover on the spot, take off vertically and bounce along the ground.

About the size of a beachball and jet black, the remote-controlled Spherical Air Vehicle resembles a tiny Death Star from the Star Wars movies but has a more benign purpose -- to transmit live images from a video camera.

It is powered by a propeller protected by a spherical shield with large openings for airflow, meaning a knock into a wall or a tumble to the ground will not damage it.

Research to improve the device is continuing, but its designer says that in the future it could be used as a formidable pursuit vehicle that can travel above traffic or spy on a target through a window.

Its inventor in pacifist Japan hopes it could also help with non-aggressive operations, such as search and rescue in disaster zones, where it could fly through buildings and even up and down stairways.

"This is the world's first spherical air vehicle," said its developer, Fumiyuki Sato, a research engineer at the Defence Ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute in Tokyo. (more)

USDA Hides Damning Report Of Antibiotic Abuse on Factory Farms

We've covered before the horrible consequences of constantly given factory farm animals antibiotics so they don't get sick in the sickening conditions we make them live. And recently the USDA commissioned a report reviewing the current research on antibiotics, antibiotic resistant infections and farm animals. The report was pretty damning of current industry practices, as Tom Philpott summarizes over at Mother Jones.

Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is that the document has since disappeared from the USDA website, apparently after the findings upset industry, and the report's author seems to have been prevented from talking to media.

Have no fear, there's a cached version: A Focus on Antimicrobial Resistance.

I have to agree with Philpott's assessment of USDA's actions:

Government regulators know that serious trouble is brewing from antibiotic abuse on factory farms and seem incapable of acting to stop it. Dharmarha's heresies are not the first time a government-associated person has bluntly held forth on the topic. In 2009, Josh Sharfstein, then deputy commissioner of the FDA, delivered damning testimony before the US House of Representatives. He opined that routine use of antibiotics on farm animals should be severely restricted--banned outright for non-medical uses like growth promotion and used only "under the supervision of a veterinarian" to treat sicknesses. (source)

The new normal: billion-dollar natural disasters

The National Climatic Data Center's (NCDC) latest "Billion Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters" report finds the U.S. has racked up more mega-expensive natural disasters in 2011 than ever before. So far we've suffered more than five times the huge disasters typical at this time of year. Already damage costs have reached nearly $32 billion. Compare that to the first half of the average year -- prior to the onset of "big" hurricane season -- between 1980 and 2010, where disaster costs typically run $6 billion.

Billion-dollar-plus natural disasters between 1980 and 2010, using a GNP inflation index.

All told, the U.S. has suffered 99 weather-related disasters over the past 31 years, where overall damages and economic costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. The normalized losses (that is, the numbers adjusted for the GNP inflation index) add up to more than $725 billion for those 99 disasters. (more)

Joan R. Ginther: 'Lucky' woman who won lottery four times outed as Stanford University statistics PhD

She was called the luckiest woman in the world.

But now that luck is being called into question by some who think that winning the lottery four times is more than just a coincidental spell of good fortune.

Joan R. Ginther, 63, from Texas, won multiple million dollar payouts each time.

First, she won $5.4 million, then a decade later, she won $2 million, then two years later $3 million and finally, in the spring of 2008, she hit a $10 million jackpot.

The odds of this has been calculated at one in eighteen septillion and luck like this could only come once every quadrillion years.

Harper's reporter Nathanial Rich recently wrote an article about Ms Ginther, which questioned the validity of this 'luck' with which she attributes her multiple lottery wins to.

First, he points out, Ms Ginther is a former math professor with a PhD from Stanford University specialising in statistics.

A professor at the Institute for the Study of Gambling & Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, told Mr Rich: 'When something this unlikely happens in a casino, you arrest ‘em first and ask questions later.' (more)

S&P Downgrades Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Others -- Will US States be next?

Standard & Poor's downgraded the ratings of government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Monday, citing their reliance on U.S. government.

Both Fannie and Freddie were lowered to AA+ from triple-A. The Federal Home Loan Banks were also cut to AA-plus.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans worth more than $5 trillion. As part of a nationalized system, they account for nearly all new mortgage loans. Their downgrade might force anyone looking to buy a home to pay higher mortgage rates.

The downgrade came amid a number of other ratings actions that are rippling from S&P's decision late Friday to cut the credit rating of the United States one notch from triple-A to AA+.

S&P also cut ratings for several of the main arteries of the US financial system—the Depository Trust Co., National Securities Clearing Corp., Fixed Income Clearing Corp. and the Options Clearing Corp.—were cut one notch to AA-plus.

These institutions, previously rated AAA by S&P, clear and process trades and are crucial to the daily workings of the U.S. financial markets. (more)

30,000 college students kicked out of food aid program in Michigan

Michigan has removed about 30,000 college students from its food stamp program — close to double the initial estimate — saving about $75 million a year, says Human Services Director Maura Corrigan.

Federal rules don't allow most college students to collect food stamps, but Michigan had created its own rules that made nearly all students eligible, said Brian Rooney, Corrigan's deputy director. As a result, the number of Michigan college students on this form of welfare made the state a national leader. For example, Michigan had 10 times the number of students on food stamps as either Illinois or California, Rooney said.

Cutting off the students is part of what Corrigan says is an effort to change the culture of the state's welfare department and slash tens of millions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse.

"Maybe (students) could go get a part-time job — that's what I did," said Corrigan, a former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who attended Detroit's Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

"We want to encourage people to be self-sufficient, not to be dependent on the government," she said in an interview with The Detroit News. (more)


Gas prices up despite use of reserves: US

More than a month after the Obama administration said it would tap the country’s emergency oil reserve to try to combat supply disruptions in the Middle East, gas prices at the pump actually have risen 10 cents.

President Obama had hoped the move, coming at the onset of the summer driving season, would temper the loss of supplies due to the ongoing civil war in Libya. Working with international allies, the U.S. said on June 23 that it would release 30 million barrels of oil over 30 days, while other countries with strategic reserves agreed to release another 30 million, in staggered sales during July.

And prices at the pump did dip, at first, from a nationwide average of $3.61 down to $3.55, according to AAA. But by last week, they had rebounded and the price per gallon stood a dime higher than when the administration first made its decision.

“Although it helped initially to pull down prices it was probably too little,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said, pointing out that the nation consumes as much as 20 million barrels of oil a day. “This is just a drop in the bucket.” (more)

Ann Marie Kane jailed for allegedly biting son

A Lakeland mother has been arrested for child abuse after family members said she bit her son.

Police investigated 26-year-old Ann Marie Kane after Department of Children and Families officials reported three adult-sized bite marks on her son.

According to an arrest report, Kane admitted biting the boy in the past because he was biting his siblings.

DCF has investigated Kane several times in the past. They removed the children from her care during the most recent investigation.

She was being held in the Polk County Jail on Saturday. (more)

Soo Bok Choi: Buddhist monk kept housekeeper "slave" in New York

A housekeeper has accused a Korean Buddhist monk and his family of forcing her to work as a slave in their Queens home.

According to the New York Times, the lawsuit alleges the family kept the woman a prisoner in their Queens home for 12 years under threat of death.

The woman says the family allowed her outside occasionally but used threats to keep her from reporting them.

"She was threatened with reputational harm, physical harm and death," the lawsuit said.

The suit was filed by Oak-Jin Oh last week in Manhattan federal court.

It names Soo Bok Choi, a Buddhist monk, two of his brothers, his son and daughter, a niece and the representative of the estate of his mother, who died in 2009.

The suit says Oh was introduced to the family in 1998 by a South Korea employment agency. She agreed to work for about $1,200 a month.

The suit says she never had a day off in 12 years, and often worked 14-hour days or longer.

She escaped with the help of a family friend, a lawyer told the Times. (more)

Gold hits record over $1,715/oz as risk assets slip

Gold vaulted above $1,700 an ounce for the first time on Monday after pledges by the G7 and the European Central Bank to quell the turbulence in the financial markets did nothing to put investors at ease.

Traders said the ECB had made good on its promise to tackle the euro zone debt crisis by widening its bond-buying program to include paper from Spain and Italy but the move was not enough to allay deep concerns.

Friday's downgrade to the quality of U.S. sovereign debt by ratings agency Standard & Poor's had been widely anticipated, but its longer-term impact on anything from mortgage rates to the economy was unclear.

Spot gold was set for a second consecutive daily trading rally, up 2 percent from Friday at $1,696.56 an ounce by 9:42 a.m. EDT, having hit a record $1,715.01 earlier and having traded at all-time highs in sterling and euros.

"We are so much more reliant now on what our macroeconomists are telling us. They had a view that we wouldn't be moving back into recession and that growth would accelerate into next year, but events are changing quite quickly," said Deutsche Bank analyst Michael Lewis.

"The main beneficiary will continue to be gold," he added. (more)

Mexican Smugglers Nearly Interrupt California Surf Contest

Three Mexican nationals attempted to illegally land their boat on California's Huntington Beach Sunday -- about a mile away from where crowds were forming to watch a professional surfing contest.

Lifeguards spotted the small fishing boat at around 8:30 a.m., but when the men realized they had been spotted, they turned back to sea and were seen throwing a package overboard, The Orange County Register reported.

A number of people were on the beach at the time, for the U.S. Open of Surfing.

It is believed the men in the boat were smuggling drugs across the border from Mexico.

All three were arrested and taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents on suspicion of smuggling and attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. (more)


Dollar to Be 'Discarded' by World: China Rating Agency

The man who leads one of China’s top rating agencies says the greenback’s status as the world’s reserve currency is set to wane as the world’s most powerful policy makers convene to examine the implication of S&P’s decision to strip the United States of its triple “A” rating.

In comments emailed to CNBC, Guan Jianzhong, chairman of Dagong Global Credit Rating, said the currency is “gradually discarded by the world,” and the “process will be irreversible.”

Dagong made headlines last week when it became the first rating agency to cut its U.S. credit rating from “A+” to “A” after policymakers in Washington failed to act in a timely manner to lift its debt celing.

However, the announcement failed to register in the markets as investors have yet to decide whether to take the Beijing-based company seriously.

“It has been around for quite a while, but I do not know of anyone assigning risk assessment to thir portfolio according to Dagong,” said Steen Jakobsen, chief economist at Saxo Bank. “However, clearly the rating industry could do with some competition and deviance from firm beliefs.” (more)

America’s Economy Might Double Dip

On July 29, America’s government statisticians revised GDP statistics for the past few years. They showed not only that the recession was deeper than what was apparent at the time; they also showed that subsequent growth was not as high as pre-recession levels. Output has grown by only 1.6 percent over the last year. This is well below what leading economists consider to be the underlying growth rate. This means that the US has under-utilised resources and is not operating efficiently. The lagging unemployment level is the evidence for this. Past records indicate that this pace of growth is almost always followed by a recession.

Economists already fear a double dip recession. The causes for a double dip recession vary but generally involve a slowdown in demand, unemployment and spending cutbacks. Temporary shocks like soaring oil prices and logistical difficulties posed by the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis have intensified America’s problems. This year annualized growth has been as low as eight percent. Consumer spending fell in June; consumer confidence slumped in July, as did manufacturers’ orders indicating that the temporary shocks may have had a more lasting effect.

The spending cuts the US economy has seen will not help the situation. Austerity measures in an already weak economy are likely to send it into recession and forecasts predict the US will undergo a 2 percent fiscal contraction next year. Critics argue that the current spending plan is detrimental to the economy.They argue that more medium to long term structural changes and infrastructure development would have continued to support the economy in the immediate term and provided a more solid, longer term payoff. Instead Congress’ decision to cut spending in the immediate term has not only failed to support the US economy, it has also failed to support it in the future with its inability to determine cuts which would significantly reduce America’s debt over the next decade or so. (source)

Dow plunges 634 points: Markets suffer global slump after U.S. downgrade



U.S. and European markets closed sharply down Monday as investors responded to the unprecedented downgrade of U.S. debt on Friday and concerns around the ongoing eurozone crisis.

The Dow Jones industrial average plummeted more than 630 points, or 5.5%, and was pushed below 11,000 for the first time since November. The S&P 500 fell 6.6% and Nasdaq Composite was down around 6.9%.

European markets closed significantly down, with the FTSE 100 dropping by 3.39%, France's CAC index settling 4.7% lower and Germany's DAX dropping 5%.

The move from Standard & Poor's to downgrade the U.S. from AAA to AA-plus triggered heavy criticism from President Barack Obama's administration amid fears it could contribute to another recession.

Standard & Poor's John Chambers told CNN the downgrade was based on the political polarization in the U.S., following debate over raising the borrowing ceiling, and the country's high levels of debt.

Moody's, another major ratings agency, affirmed its rating of the U.S. debt at Aaa on August 2. It has said a ratings downgrade is possible before 2013 if fiscal discipline is weakened or by a significant deterioration in economic outlook. (more)

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake OFF THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 8th August 2011


A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 10 km ( 6.2 miles), the quake hit at 19:46:54 UTC Monday 8th August 2011.
The epicenter was 120 km East of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Twitter: 'Looter' posts photo of himself and his booty online as police say website was used to co-ordinate riots - 8th Aug 2011

Rule number one about pulling off a successful heist is that you don't tell anyone - and you definitely don't post a picture of yourself online with all the stolen goods.

Unfortunately, this rule was lost on one hapless opportunist, who posted a picture of himself on Facebook with various items - suggesting that he stole them from vandalised stores during the week's rioting.

It was one of the more astounding posts that police claim encouraged violence and theft across the capital over the weekend and early this morning.

Police also say sites such as Twitter - as well as BlackBerry handsets - were used to co-ordinate attacks on police and tell potential rioters where to find violence hotspots.

BlackBerry handsets, owned by more than a third of British teenagers, allow users to send one-to-many messages to their network of contacts, connected by BlackBerry Messenger PIN codes.

Unlike conventional texts or calls, as well as Twitter or Facebook, many BlackBerry messages are untraceable by the authorities.

Hundreds of people on Twitter posted pictures of a burning police car and evidence of looting, with many showing their approval of the violence and vandalism and encouraging others to join in.

Police say that many of the tweets have pictures of the violence in a show of bravado, and have now warned that identified Twitter users could face arrest for inciting violence. Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake HINDU KUSH REGION, AFGHANISTAN - 8th August 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck near the Hindu Kush Region, Afghanistan at a depth of 104 km, the quake hit at 17:53:26 UTC Monday 8th August 2011.
The epicenter was 45 km Southwest of Khorung
No damage or injuries reported at this time

Mountainous provinces in northern Vietnam warned of anthrax outbreak - 8th Aug 2011

The Vietnam Administration of Preventive Medicine on Sunday warned the northern mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Ha Giang of anthrax outbreaks in humans, the Sai Gon Tiep Thi newspaper reported.

The administration said anthrax cases have been reported in the provinces since June, with Lai Chau having the highest number at 12, including one death.

It blamed local people’s unhygienic eating habits for the transmission of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which passes anthrax from animals to humans.

In Dien Bien Province, the first anthrax case was reported after an ethnic minority resident slaughtered two buffaloes that had died from diseases, and invited other villagers to eat. The unidentified resident also sold the meat of nine sick buffaloes.

Provincial authorities have sent health officers to affected areas to raise public awareness of anthrax and measures to prevent the disease.

Information on home remedies is also being provided to ethnic minority communities in the province.

Anthrax commonly infects wild and domesticated herbivorous mammals that ingest or inhale the spores while grazing.

Diseased animals can spread anthrax to humans, either by direct contact (e.g., inoculation of infected blood to broken skin) or by consumption of a diseased animal's flesh.

Anthrax can enter the human body through the intestines (ingestion), lungs (inhalation), or skin (cutaneous) and causes distinct clinical symptoms based on its site of entry.

Symptoms include cold, fever, boil-like skin lesions and severe diarrhea. Source

Exploding meteor wakes Pacific island nation - 8th Aug 2011

An exploding meteor was believed to be responsible for a huge bang that reverberated around the Pacific island nation of Niue last week, according to police.

Niue police chief Mark Chenery said the loud bang on Wednesday night woke the island's 1,200 residents and he initially thought a boat had exploded in the harbour.

Chenery said there was widespread speculation about the cause of the noise but the Carter observatory in New Zealand had told him it was likely to be a meteor exploding 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) high in the atmosphere.

"There was a large (noise), a huge clap of thunder but it was its normal starry night outside," he told Radio New Zealand.

"People have described seeing a white light, like a flare, shooting across the sky. Niue is 64 kilometres around and it was heard in Lakepa in the northwest down to Avasele in the southeast, so it was certainly heard island-wide."

Chenery said there were no reports of damage. Source

More Violence In London And Now Birmingham - 8th Aug 2011

Sporadic violence has broken out in several parts of London as shops are looted and police are attacked in a third day of civil disorder - and there is also unrest in Birmingham.

The latest disturbances in the capital were centred around Hackney in east London, and Lewisham and Peckham in the south.

In Hackney, shops were attacked, and there were skirmishes as youths threw objects including chairs and pieces of wood at officers in riot gear.

Cars and bins were set alight, and contents from the bins were used as missiles by the offenders.

At one point, several people broke into the back of a stationary lorry.

They pulled its contents out onto the road, and some hurled it at police, while others used it to smash windows of a parked bus.

Pictures from Sky's helicopter showed a police line, running at youths trying to disperse them from the main shopping area. Read More

Are Girl Scout cookies worth $15 billion? - 8th Aug 2011

Reader Contribution;

There's gold in every Girl Scout Cookies box.

Actually, it's graphene -- a single-atom-thick sheet of the same material in pencil lead -- that can be made from just about any carbon source, including food, insects and waste.

And, valued at $250 for a two-inch square, a group of graduates from Rice University in Houston, Texas, estimate that a box of traditional Girl Scout shortbread cookies could turn a $15 billion profit.

Their study was published in the scientific journal ACS Nano.

The researchers invited a group of Girl Scouts to see how cookies can be transformed into graphene, known for its strength and conductivity. They tested a range of materials including chocolate, grass, polystyrene plastic, a cockroach leg and even dog feces to prove that graphene can be made from everyday materials.

In every case, they were able to make high-quality graphene via carbon deposition on copper foil using a furnace flowing with argon and hydrogen gas and turned up to 1050 degrees Celsius.

The students say that one box of Girl Scout cookies can yield enough graphene to cover three football fields. Source

Home-made surveillance craft can launch airborne cyber attacks - 8th Aug 2011

A home-made drone capable of launching airborne cyber attacks and hijacking mobile phone calls has been developed by two computer security experts.

The Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform - or Wasp - was constructed from a former U.S. Army target drone.

Richard Perkins and Mike Tassey customised the aircraft so it can find and track internet hotspots and mobile phones.

It can identify unsecured online gateways and then exploit these to launch cyber attacks on computer systems.

The craft can also capture GMS mobile PIN numbers that can then be used to pay for outgoing calls, allow hackers to eavesdrop on conversations and even impersonate mobile phone towers. Read More


Planets can survive a star's supernova by 'being flung out to roam the galaxy' - 8th Aug 2011

Planets can be ejected when a star dies during a supernova and be left to roam the galaxy, according to a new study.

Experts led by astronomer Dimitri Veras at the University of Cambridge found planets can survive the blast when a star dies.

Depending on the size of the star, the effect of the supernova will change a planet's orbit and fling it out into space where it will float, permanently unattached to any star.

The theory is one explanation for the clutches of 'free' planets discovered so far and could mean many clusters exist across the Milky Way, according to National Geographic.

In rare cases, the planets that survive the blast can also remain tied to the remains of the star and find new orbits around what is left behind.

Supernova is the word given to describe a star exploding, during which its luminosity dramatically increases and most of its mass is blown away at high speed.

Researchers came up with a new theory based on what is known in physics as the 'two-body problem', which means two interacting bodies such as a planet and star. Read More

Large Shark Discovered Discarded In The Woods in Milton, New Hampshire - 6th Aug 2011

"(I've seen) garbage here and there but nothing like this that's for sure," said Lloyd Ilis, whose brother discovered a shark in the woods of Milton.

“He happened to smell something that didn't smell right, like a dead animal or something, and he came across it Thursday night," said Ilis.The shark was found discarded here on some private property just off of Rural Tenerriffe Road, not far from busy Route 125 and the Spaulding Turnpike.

“I can only think that either someone didn't have a license, because you have to have a license to fish the ocean, and was going to bring it home and someone said, ‘Hey dude, you need a license or something like that.’ Panicking, they probably said, ‘Well, I guess we've got to get rid of the evidence,'" said Ilis. Read More

U.S. is 'always' AAA, Obama says as markets tumble - 8th Aug 2011

The Toronto Stock Exchange lost several hundred points Monday, as fellow markets around the world were hammered and investors fretted about debt issues on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

By midday, the S&P/TSX composite index was down nearly 300 points, following a net loss of nearly 800 points the week before. The TSX Venture Exchange tumbled as well, losing nearly 109 points. The Canadian dollar fell more than a cent to 100.97 cents US, just above par.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average also took a beating Monday, losing 2.5 per cent in trading as of noon, while the S&P index dropped 3.2 per cent and the Nasdaq composite index fell 3.3 per cent. Amid the volatility in the markets, U.S. President Barack Obama held a hastily arranged news conference to try to allay investors' fears.

"There will always be economic factors that we can't control: earthquakes, spikes in oil prices, slowdowns in other parts other world," Obama said. "But how we respond to those tests, that's entirely up to us. Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America, and no matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a AAA country." Read More

LONDON RIOTS DAY THREE: London on lockdown as police face gangs armed with petrol bombs and poles on third night of riots - 8th Aug 2011

Violence erupted in broad daylight this afternoon as rioters surrounded police vans, looted lorries and targeted shops in a series of attacks across London.

Scores of police raced to Hackney as a mob of hooded youths began hurling missiles at the officers. There was also sporadic violence in nearby Dalston where shops and businesses were attacked and youths clashed with police and set fire to cars outside Lewisham Town Hall.

In Peckham Rye shops have been attacked, including Clarks and Primark, and a bus has been set on fire. Transport for London said buses were not running through Peckham and Lewisham whilst the unrest continued.

Other areas of London were braced for violence with workers barricading their shops in Stratford and Islington and barriers were erected outside Westfield Shopping Centre. Kilburn High Street has also been closed off and police were on the streets in Harlesden.

On Twitter, users posted that the violence was rapidly brimming out of control with one person tweeting he had seen 'at least 30 riot vans and three helicopters' in Hackney. Youths were seen setting fire to cars, rubbish bins, and were also spotted setting off fireworks in the direction of police.

Commenters said the thugs had lootedLadbrokes and JD Sports shop and other eye-witnesses suggested that the police were trying to prevent rioters from trashing Hackney’s Town Hall. Meanwhile, a man was seen on a tube train dressed in black and carrying a copper rod as he headed into the riots. Read More

39,000 children dead in Somali famine: U.S. warns thousands more Somalis could die in famine

A U.S. aid official warned Monday that hundreds of thousands of Somalis could die as famine spreads, amid a visit to Kenyan refugee camps by the wife of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

Jill Biden on Monday visited the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, where tens of thousands of Somali famine refugees have arrived in recent weeks.

Biden's trip is the highest-profile U.S. visit to drought-stricken East Africa since the numbers of refugees began dramatically increasing in June. Biden said the aim of her visit was to raise awareness and convince donors to give more.

"What I'm asking is for Americans to reach out and help because the situation is dire," said Biden, who met with two Somali mothers and their eight children during her visit to the camp. "There is hope if people start to pay attention to this."

FAQ: What defines a famine?

More than 29,000 children under the age of five have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates. (more)


London riots: Looting and violence continues

Police have condemned a wave of "copycat criminal activity" across London in a second night of looting and disorder following riots in Tottenham.

More than 100 people have been arrested as officers were attacked, police vehicles damaged and shops looted.

Disorder spread to Enfield, Walthamstow and Waltham Forest in north London and to Brixton in the south of the city.

Home Secretary Teresa May has cut short her holiday to return to the UK following the disorder.

Some 35 officers have been injured over the two nights of rioting.

Three officers were hurt when a vehicle hit them as they tried to make an arrest in Waltham Forest, east London.

Clashes broke out in Enfield, north London, on Sunday evening where shop windows were smashed and a police car damaged.

There have been reports of a gang of up to 200 youths looting shops and charging police in Coldharbour Lane and the High Street in Brixton, south London. (more)

CIA eyed Trudeau, Canadian economy: Allies or "frenemies"?

The CIA secretly painted Pierre Trudeau as a politician torn between being a leader of the Third World and a genuine player with global industrialized nations, declassified records show.

The January 1982 assessment of the Liberal prime minister's ambitions is among several detailed, and until now virtually unknown, analyses of the Canadian economy by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, The Canadian Press obtained more than a dozen CIA reports that explore various aspects of Canadian commerce, industry and technology during the Cold War era.

The assessments reveal a keen interest in Canadian affairs on the part of an agency better known for waging a covert war against East Bloc spies in the decades leading up to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

CIA analysts pored over almost every available map of Canada, scrutinized Canadian mineral production, pondered Japanese interest in Alberta's tar sands, catalogued shipping trends and kept an eye on Canadian dealings with the Communist world. (more)

Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster sparks solar energy race: But is it too little, too late?