Monday, September 19, 2011

S&P downgrades Italy on weak economic outlook

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services cut Italy's sovereign credit rating late Monday, saying the nation's weakening economic growth and political uncertainty have dented its financial stability.

S&P now rates Italy's credit at A, down from A+, and kept its outlook on the country as negative, the agency said in a report issued Monday.

"The downgrade reflects our view of Italy's weakening economic growth prospects," S&P said. "Italy's fragile governing coalition and policy differences within parliament will likely continue to limit the government's ability to respond decisively to the challenging domestic and external macroeconomic environment."

S&P downwardly revised its estimates for Italy's GDP growth to an annual average of 0.7% between 2011 and 2014 -- a far cry from its previous projection of 1.3%.

"More subdued external demand, government austerity measures, and upward pressure on funding costs in both the public and private sectors will, in our opinion, likely result in weaker growth for the Italian economy," S&P said.

This slower pace of growth will in turn make the government's fiscal austerity goals more difficult to achieve, the agency said.

And if the country's plans for revenue reform aren't completed, or if political gridlock delays responses to the country's current financial challenges, Italy could accumulate even more debt and warrant another rating slash, S&P warned. more

Magnitude 5.8 - GUATEMALA - 2011 September 19 18:34:00 UTC

Magnitude5.8
Date-Time
Location14.332°N, 90.142°W
Depth39.4 km (24.5 miles)
RegionGUATEMALA
Distances53 km (32 miles) SE of GUATEMALA, Guatemala
69 km (42 miles) E of Escuintla, Guatemala
74 km (45 miles) WNW of Santa Ana, El Salvador
1114 km (692 miles) ESE of MEXICO CITY, D.F., Mexico
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 18.5 km (11.5 miles); depth +/- 9.5 km (5.9 miles)
ParametersNST=226, Nph=228, Dmin=303.9 km, Rmss=1.21 sec, Gp=122°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=5
Source
  • Magnitude: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
    Location: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Event IDusc0005wx9

Magnitude 5.8 - FOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA

Magnitude5.8
Date-Time
Location52.041°N, 171.858°W
Depth34.7 km (21.6 miles)
RegionFOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA
Distances65 km (40 miles) SW of Amukta Island, Alaska
104 km (64 miles) SW of Yunaska Island, Alaska
1678 km (1042 miles) WSW of Anchorage, Alaska
2430 km (1509 miles) W of WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory, Canada
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 12.7 km (7.9 miles); depth +/- 6 km (3.7 miles)
ParametersNST=498, Nph=510, Dmin=161.4 km, Rmss=0.91 sec, Gp= 54°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=7
Source
  • Magnitude: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
    Location: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Event IDusc0005wrc

Magnitude 5.4 - FOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA


Magnitude5.4
Date-Time
Location53.366°N, 169.985°W
Depth154.5 km (96.0 miles)
RegionFOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA
Distances89 km (55 miles) WNW of Nikolski, Alaska
93 km (57 miles) NNE of Yunaska Island, Alaska
1484 km (922 miles) WSW of Anchorage, Alaska
2240 km (1391 miles) W of WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory, Canada
Location Uncertaintyhorizontal +/- 16.4 km (10.2 miles); depth +/- 8.4 km (5.2 miles)
ParametersNST=391, Nph=419, Dmin=87.9 km, Rmss=1.11 sec, Gp=101°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=9
Source
  • Magnitude: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
    Location: USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
Event IDusc0005wqq

Yemeni rooftop snipers fire at random at anti-regime protesters



Yemeni troops killed at least 27 civilians on Monday, many shot by snipers on rooftops, as tens of thousands of anti-regime protesters thronged central Sanaa.

The surge in violence came as President Ali Abdullah Saleh held crises talks with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh.

Witnesses said snipers were deployed on rooftops around Change Square, the epicentre of anti-regime protests in the Yemeni capital, shooting dead passers-by, including at least one child.

"Help me, oh my God look at this slaughter!" the father of a boy who died from a gunshot wound to the head told Reuters.

"We were just in the car on Hayel Street (near the fighting). I stepped out to get some food and left my two boys in the car and I heard the older one scream. The little one was shot straight through the head."

Government troops have also begun shelling areas held by soldiers who have defected from the regime and are supporting the protesters.

On Sunday, 26 protesters against Mr Saleh's autocratic 33-year rule were killed in what has been the bloodiest period of violence in months, leaving a further 942 people wounded by gunfire.

The meeting between Mr Saleh and King Abdullah was the first since the president went to Saudi Arabia for treatment after being wounded in an attack on his Sanaa compound in June. more

Turkey Predicts Alliance With Egypt as Regional Anchors

A newly assertive Turkey offered on Sunday a vision of a starkly realigned Middle East, where the country’s former allies in Syria and Israel fall into deeper isolation, and a burgeoning alliance with Egypt underpins a new order in a region roiled by revolt and revolution.

The portrait was described by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey in an hourlong interview before he was to leave for the United Nations, where a contentious debate was expected this week over a Palestinian bid for recognition as a state. Viewed by many as the architect of a foreign policy that has made Turkey one of the most relevant players in the Muslim world, Mr. Davutoglu pointed to that issue and others to describe a region in the midst of a transformation. Turkey, he said, was “right at the center of everything.”

He declared that Israel was solely responsible for the near collapse in relations with Turkey, once an ally, and he accused Syria’s president of lying to him after Turkish officials offered the government there a “last chance” to salvage power by halting its brutal crackdown on dissent.

Strikingly, he predicted a partnership between Turkey and Egypt, two of the region’s militarily strongest and most populous and influential countries, which he said could create a new axis of power at a time when American influence in the Middle East seems to be diminishing.

“This is what we want,” Mr. Davutoglu said.

“This will not be an axis against any other country — not Israel, not Iran, not any other country, but this will be an axis of democracy, real democracy,” he added. “That will be an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan.” more

Desperation: Father and daughter burned in alleged electrical theft

A father and his teenage daughter were in critical condition after receiving severe burns during an alleged attempt to steal electricity from high-voltage power lines in Inglewood, a police official said Saturday.

L.A. County Fire officials and police responding to an explosion at a power transformer late Friday found the 52-year-old man and his 17-year-old daughter with extensive electric burns, Inglewood Police Lt. Neal Cochran said.

The man had used tools to tap into a live wire, resulting in a chain reaction and causing the transformer to explode, Cochran said. The father and daughter, whose names were not released, were taken to a nearby hospital pending an eventual transfer to a burn unit, he said.

Power lines connected to the transformer, near Hawthorne Boulevard and 101st Street, were temporarily shut off because of the explosion, according to Cochran. The incident occurred around 11:40 p.m. Friday.

A theft investigation was underway, Cochran said. source

The future of Greece rests on a phone call: Make-or-break' conversation between finance minister, EU and IMF will determine default or not

Europe's debt crisis has intensified after Greece's embattled government said the country's financial future would rest on a make-or-break conference call with EU and IMF officials on Monday.

Signalling that the 20-month saga had reached crunch point, Athens' finance minister prepared the austerity-weary nation for further belt-tightening, saying the time had come for "decisive" action to avoid a Greek default.

"There is great volatility in the markets," Evangelos Venizelos said after emerging from crisis cabinet talks. "If we want to avoid default, to stabilise the situation, to remain in the eurozone ... we must take big strategic decisions.

"Measures must be specified," he added, referring to reforms outlined in a contentious budget plan passed in July. "After tomorrow's talks with the troika [of representatives from the EU, ECB and IMF] we will spell out the measures."

With the threat of bankruptcy looming, Greece was told in no uncertain terms over the weekend that a critical ¤8bn rescue loan would not be released next month unless it proved that it had bitten the bullet with reforms. more

Robert Young and Mark Rubinson 'take dead friend Jeffrey Jarrett to bar' (and spend all his money)

Two US men face charges in Denver for allegedly driving around with the body of a friend after discovering him dead.

The pair bought drinks, dinner and took $400 (£253) from Jeffrey Jarrett's bank, visiting a strip club before reporting his death, police said.

Robert Young, 43, and Mark Rubinson, 25, are charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and abuse of a corpse.

Jarrett was pronounced dead at home in Denver after the 28 August incident.

The cause of death is not currently known, with police saying the results of toxicology tests may not be available for several weeks.
'Bizarre and unfortunate'

Mr Young discovered Jarrett's body on 27 August 2011 when he arrived at his friend's home after being offered the chance to stay there for a while, according to a statement of probable cause released by Denver police.

Instead of calling the police, though, he went to the restaurant where Mr Rubinson worked.

The two men, both friends with Jarrett, put his body in the back seat of Mr Rubinson's car and took it to Teddy T's and Sam's No 3 - both bars in Denver - before taking the body back to Jarrett's home.

They continued to Viva Burrito, a Mexican restaurant, and Shotgun Willie's, a strip club in nearby Glendale.

At Shotgun Willie's they also withdrew $400 from Jarrett's account, although court documents do not make clear whether either of the men knew Jarrett's PIN number. more

China solar panel factory shut after protests over pollution kills large numbers of fish

A solar panel factory in eastern China has been shut down after protests by local residents over pollution fears.

Some 500 villagers staged a three-day protest following the death of large numbers of fish in a local river.

Some demonstrators broke into the plant in Zhejiang province, destroying offices and overturning company cars before being dispersed by riot police.

Tests on water samples showed high levels of fluoride, which can be toxic in high doses, officials said.

The BBC's Juliana Liu in Shanghai says the Chinese villagers see the plant's closure as a victory.

They accuse Jinko Solar, a Chinese company making solar panels for sale overseas, of dumping hazardous chemicals into the water supply, our correspondent says.

"We feel that it is socially responsible to close the factory first and to take corrective measures," company spokesman Thomas Jing told the BBC.

He said there had been accidental discharge into the surrounding area during a rainstorm at the end of August.

He said chemicals used at the factory had been stored in an open area rather than a warehouse, and that the covering had been ripped off during the unexpectedly harsh weather. more

Yemen unrest: Further deaths in Sanaa clashes; up to 20 now dead

At least 20 people have been killed by security forces in Yemen, doctors say, continuing a bloody crackdown on protesters that started on Sunday.

Snipers in Sanaa fired from rooftops at a protester camp, killing bystanders including a child, witnesses said.

Government forces have also begun shelling areas held by soldiers loyal to the protesters.

The opposition has promised to carry on its campaign to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

For months, thousands of people have been waging a campaign to depose Mr Saleh, who is currently in Saudi Arabia recovering from a bomb attack in June.

The opposition believes the government is deliberately orchestrating the violence to derail any chance of agreement.

But a Yemeni minister strongly denied reports that the authorities had attacked genuine demonstrators, telling the BBC government forces were being attacked by militants sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

The US and EU nations were among members of the UN Human Rights Council who used a meeting in Geneva on Monday to urge Yemen's government to stop using force against peaceful protesters.

Meanwhile, as the violence intensified, envoys from the UN and the Gulf Co-operation Council arrived in Yemen, in a new attempt to negotiate a handover of power from Mr Saleh. more

Greece needs more cuts not higher taxes, says IMF as country faces default

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has told Greece it needs better tax collection and deeper spending cuts, not higher taxes, to avert its crisis.

The warning comes as Greece prepares for further funding talks with the IMF, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission.

It is trying to persuade them to release the next 8bn-euro (£7bn, $11bn) instalment of its EU-IMF loan.

Greece needs this money by next month to avoid defaulting on its debt.

The loan comes with the condition that Greece dramatically reduce its deficit, something that it plans to do by cutting the size of the state sector through redundancies, pay cuts and privatisations.

The IMF representative for Greece, Bob Traa, who is in Athens, said this was of crucial importance: "The public sector is very large. Another central element in our view must be to reduce public sector spending.

"This will inevitably require the closure of inefficient state entities as well as reductions in the excessively large public sector workforce and generous public sector wages, which in some cases are above those of the equivalent private sector workers." more

Practice aircraft bomb found in Winnipeg home: Canada

Winnipeg police are looking into how a possibly explosive practice aircraft bomb ended up in a St. Boniface home.

The Winnipeg Police Service's bomb unit was called in on Saturday afternoon, after family members found the device while cleaning the residence's attic around 2 p.m. CT, according to police.

Const. Jason Michalyshen said the bomb, which was a 46-centimetre cylindrical device, was safely removed from the home where it was found.

There is no indication to date on why the bomb was there or whether it is dangerous. Police continue to investigate.

It's the third time in a month that police in Manitoba have had to deal with a potentially explosive object.

Earlier this month, a Winnipeg police station was shut down for almost two hours after somebody brought in an item that officers deemed to be dangerous.

The man who brought the device to the Lyle Street station had thought he was doing police a favour. Police later said the object was deactivated.

The RCMP detachment in Portage la Prairie, Man., was evacuated last month after a farmer walked in with a hand grenade he said he found while tilling soil on his property. more

Tempers flare over prayer in schools: Canada

A rally held to recognize the Toronto District School Board for allowing rights and freedoms turned into a shouting match Saturday between religious groups.

About 200 people squared off outside the Toronto District School Board's head office, concerned about Muslim prayer in the city's public schools.

Groups including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy and the Christian Heritage Group, are upset that a middle school in the city's north end has provided Muslim students cafeteria space for a weekly prayer service, saying the board showed favouritism to Islam.

Chris Andrewsen who organized what was supposed to be a day of appreciation for the TDSB, said they should be allowed to express their beliefs.

"If we are religious people then we should be allowed to express that. It's not an imposition on other people," Andrewsen said.

But some opponents say allowing students to pray on school property goes against the school board's policy that schools should be a place of study free from cultural or religious influence. While others say the right should be left open to all groups. more

Fareed Zakaria: Only China can save Europe



The European crisis that you've been reading about in the paper is worth watching carefully. In fact, it has now morphed into something much bigger than a European crisis - it could batter the entire global economy, which is pretty fragile anyway.

You've read a lot about Greece, but the problem in Europe is Italy. Greece is a nano-state; it makes up about 2% of the European Union's gross domestic product. Italy, on the other hand, is one of the seven largest economies in the world. Its debts are greater than those of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece combined. It has long been governed in an almost cartoonishly bad manner. Italy is too big to fail but might also be too big to bail. Even Germany might not be able to credibly bail it out along with all the other troubled countries. So what can be done?

I don't think the leading proposals will work - creating Eurobonds or giving Brussels broader power to tax. They're simply not going to happen. Governments oppose it and people oppose it. And anyway, creating a tighter European Union will take ten years. Markets needs reassurance now.

So I have a proposal: We need a big bazooka. Facing a similar crisis in 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson talked about the need for a sum of money large enough to scare markets into submission. A bazooka. But the problem is this: All of the EU combined doesn't have one big enough. So who has the kind of money Italy needs?

Take a guess? They have $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. Yup, China. In fact, today, 10 trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves are sitting around across the globe. That is the only pile of money large enough from which a bazooka could be fashioned. more

Indonesia: Kids as young as 2-years-old smoking

Priest pens spiritual survival guide for recession

Sooner or later, it happens to each of us, Richard Rohr says.

“There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand,” the Franciscan priest said.

Maybe you’ve been laid off from a job you held for years. Perhaps you’ve experienced a nasty divorce. Or maybe the crisis is more subtle: You suddenly realized that you’ll never have the life you dreamed of living.

Any life-changing moment can knock a person down. But it can also open doors if, as Rohr puts it, a person learns how to “fall upward.”

Rohr, a 68-year-old Roman Catholic author and internationally known speaker, says older Americans face a problem: Religious leaders aren’t paying much attention to them.

Much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families. Rohr calls it a “goal-oriented” spirituality. more

Nomadic Kenyans suffering from drought, famine

World Relief, a Christian evangelical aid organization, is collaborating with Kenyan churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stem the tide of acute malnutrition across the northern region of Kenya called Turkana.

Famine today "is rarely mentioned anymore," said Don Golden, a senior vice president for World Relief based out of Baltimore. It is a word reserved strictly for Somalia, he said.

But famine, like a plague, spreads, and, "In reality it's a very large food security crisis involving a number of countries and millions at risk," said Golden, referring to the crisis situation in vast regions of east Africa.

"We have the means to stop famine," he said. "The only reason it is happening now is because of al-Shabab-controlled territory in Somalia."

According to Golden, refugees fleeing the al-Shabab-dominated famine areas of Somalia are exacerbating the situation in Turkana, a region already poor in resources. "The old saying is that droughts are natural disasters and famine is manmade," he said.

"Nearly one-quarter of the children in Turkana are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition," Golden said. more

Growing pains hit mental health in China

When an ax-wielding man attacked people on the street in Henan Province on Wednesday, the terse media reports created headlines and public panic. Wang Hongbin, 30, killed six people, including two children, and is said to be mentally ill.

Is this yet another sign of a worsening mental illness in China?

We recall last year's alarming stories of five major attacks in Chinese schools, leaving 17 people, including 15 pupils, dead.

In March, a local resident in Fujian stabbed students, killing eight and injuring five. The suspected attacker, a former community doctor, was suffering from mental illness, the Xinhua report said.

In May, Wu Huanming, 48, stabbed students in a private kindergarten in Shanxi province, killing nine people, including seven pupils. According to Xinhua, local police said Wu slumped into depression after suffering several illnesses.

Following those grisly attacks, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged that government authorities will beef up security in schools and will address the social issues related to the attacks.

These incidents have triggered heated discussions in the Chinese media whether mental illness should be considered mitigating factors in criminal trials.

They have also put the spotlight on the state of mental health in China.

Are things are getting worse? more

The Soviet Collapse vs. an EU Collapse

At the same time that Russia is marking the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West is beginning to talk seriously about the possibility of the collapse of the European Union. As with the Soviet collapse, the more politicians try to save the EU, the less viable it becomes.

The EU is threatened with disintegration by the very institution that was supposed to unify and strengthen the continent — a common European currency.

Back in the early 2000s, many economists, including myself, argued that trying to integrate countries with different economies and nationalities into a single financial system would not lead to greater unity but to increased conflict.

We also argued that the euro would cause inflation in less developed southern EU countries to spread like a plague to their more developed northern neighbors, and that financial policies aimed at austerity and maintaining a stable exchange rate for the euro would strangle the economies of Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Unfortunately, these predictions have proven true. The unified financial system has led to a reallocation of capital in favor of Germany, the most powerful European economy, while the countries with the weakest economies suffered constant financial shortfalls and were forced to borrow increasingly larger sums, pushing them to the brink of bankruptcy. Many had hoped that integration would improve the performance of less-developed European countries, but this didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, countries with weaker economies were tempted to use whatever political leverage they had to improve their status within the EU. This was an important factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union and could have a similar impact on the EU. more

Dramatic increase in solar activity/flares over the last 15 months? Could this be behind Earth's strange behavior?

Russia, NKorea to hold joint military exercises: general

Russia and North Korea will stage their first joint military exercises next year after agreeing to expand their ties during Kim Jong-Il's visit to Russia last month, a general said on Tuesday.

The decision to stage the unprecedented search and rescue naval operations was reached during a late August visit to Pyongyang by Russia's Eastern Military District commander Igor Muginov, Interfax reported.

"The idea is to hold the joint rescue manoeuvres next year," Muginov said in reference to a Japanese press report suggesting that the exercises could begin later this year.

Muginov's visit to Pyongyang for talks with one of the Stalinist state's top army commanders came less than a week after Kim held rare talks in Siberia with President Dmitry Medvedev that focused on trade and economic assistance.

North Korea rarely stages joint manoeuvres with other nations and Russia's involvement will be watched closely by the United States and South Korea, which conduct regular war games in the region.

The Russia general didn't say how many ships will take part in the drills or disclose exactly when the exercises might begin. source

Kezia Fitzgerald: A woman and her toddler fight dual cancers -- Does the increase in cancer rates mean our world is becoming disastrously toxic?

Kezia Fitzgerald and her 15-month-old daughter are both blondes with bright blue eyes. They both giggle easily and share a love of peaches.

The mom and daughter have more in common than Fitzgerald would like. Five months after Fitzgerald received a cancer diagnosis, so did her little girl, Saoirse.

Their cancers, albeit different types, had spread throughout their bodies.

"It's frustrating. It's unfair," said Fitzgerald, 28, who lives in Danvers, Massachusetts. "At the same time, there's nothing you can do to change it. The only thing you can do is heal and treat yourself."

This isn't the first time cancer has struck two members of a family at the same time. Fathers and sons have dealt with dual prostate cancer diagnoses, and mothers and daughters have fought breast cancer side-by-side.

But rarely do a young mom and her 1-year-old share the experience of losing their hair and getting chemotherapy together.

The difference is that Fitzgerald will remember everything, and her daughter will remember nothing at all. more

Defiant ambassador says "change" is under way in Syria



While the United Nations says more than 2,500 people have died in Syria at the hands of the regime, President Bashar al-Assad's point man in the United States says the figure is false and the result of a conspiracy aimed at Damascus.

"These are blatant lies," Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, told CNN's Hala Gorani in an exclusive interview Friday. "This is the problem we are facing today in Syria -- a massive campaign of disinformation and lies."

Since the uprising against the Assad regime began in March, few Western media outlets have been granted permission to report from inside Syria. Those who receive visas find independent reporting difficult, as they operate under tight restrictions and are allowed little freedom of movement.

CNN was granted permission to travel to Syria in June, but with minimal travel outside the watch of government minders.

Over the last six months, most of the world has borne witness to the posting of videos on YouTube and other social media websites purportedly showing the Syrian army fiercely putting down pro-democracy protests. Human Rights Watch has interviewed numerous witnesses who offer consistent accounts of security forces using lethal force against protesters and bystanders -- in most cases without any advance warning. more

London's riots of 'opportunity'

When Nana Clarke first heard about the protests in front of the Tottenham Metropolitan Police Service station, she walked down to join the crowd assembling several blocks from her home.

Like several hundred others that August 6th evening, Clarke was angry over the shooting death of Mark Duggan following a police stop earlier that week. Many in the Tottenham neighborhood, including Clarke, believe Scotland Yard was covering up his death.

"The police here do not care about us, our neighborhood, or our young people," Clarke says. "We are angry, still are angry, that a father was killed and we've gotten no answers."

And on the night of the Tottenham riots, that anger turned the crowd into a hostile mob, Clarke says. Soon there were clashes with the police, and fires were being set. more

Skirts banned by UK schools

A string of British schools are banning skirts after helplessly watching the trend of "hemline creep" when girls roll up skirts at the waist to show more of their legs. Rising hemlines among girls in their mid-to-late teens have long been a headache for schools. Now, it seems, girls who are leaving homes with perfectly decent skirt lengths manage to transform their uniform into micro-miniskirts by the time they get to school.

Some are so short the headmaster of Tewksbury school in Gloucestershire said they are "almost like belts". Apparently, they have become a bit of a distraction for both boys and male teachers.

Robert Kelly, the rector of Berwickshire High School in Scotland, said short skirts could cause "inappropriate thoughts" among boys. And Hilary Winter, headmaster of Piggott School in Wargrave, Surrey, described short skirts as a "difficult distraction for members of staff".

In the town of Ipswich alone three schools have removed skirts from their approved uniform list. David Hutton, headmaster of Northgate High in the English town, said, "Unfortunately, despite contacting specific parents, sending some girls home to change, requiring others to wear a school-owned skirt for the day and repeatedly asking others to unroll their skirts at the waist, we still had some girls coming to school in inappropriate skirts."

"I have therefore introduced a trousers-only policy, which will enable my staff to focus their time and effort on providing pupils with the best education possible." more

Under attack: America's middle class and the jobs crisis

America's strong and vibrant middle class didn't just happen. It was built brick by brick in the decades after World War II by hard work and workers' strength in numbers that came from the unions that represented them. Unions made sure that as our nation's wealth and productivity grew, so too did the income and benefits of the people who worked hard to create that wealth. For decades, our nation's prosperity was widely shared-wages increased and more employers provided their workers with health insurance, pensions, and paid time off. The middle class was also built by government policies that invested in infrastructure and basic science, built up and expanded social insurance and safety net programs, and supported homeownership and made a college education accessible to a new generation.

But our nation's middle class is now threatened. Median income has stagnated. There's been a dramatic shift in costs for health coverage from employers to employees as well as a rapid decline in the number of employers who even offer health insurance. Rising out-of-pocket costs mean that a family illness can lead to substantial expenses and medical debt. And as employers replace traditional pensions with 401(k)-type plans - again shifting costs and risks to employees - middle-class workers can no longer count on a secure retirement. And though this unraveling of the social contract predated the Great Recession, the economic crisis has hastened its demise. more

California may send thousands of female prisoners home

Thousands of women inmates from California prisons could soon be released to be reunited with their families under a program the state began implementing on Monday.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said offenders whose crimes were nonviolent, nonserious and not sexual, with less than two years remaining on their sentences, are eligible for the Alternative Custody Program, which was signed into law in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Approximately two-thirds of CDCR’s female inmates are mothers whose children are either with relatives or are in foster care,” CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said in a press release. “ACP is a step in breaking the intergenerational cycle of incarceration, as family involvement is one of the biggest indicators of an inmate’s rehabilitation.”

About 45% of the state's 10,000 female inmates may be eligible for the program, the CDCR said. It may be made available to male inmates in the future, the department said. more

James Webb Space Telescope Saved?

Finally, some good news for the Hubble space telescope's successor: a Senate subcommittee has approved a science appropriations bill today providing funds to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for the next fiscal year.

"The bill provides funds to enable a 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope," the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations subcommittee press release states.

"The Webb Telescope creates 2,000 jobs and will lead to the kind of innovation and discovery that have made America great," said Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski on her Senate website. "It will inspire America's next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new ideas that lead to new products and new jobs."

Mikulski is an outspoken supporter for the continuation of the JWST despite an earlier move by a Republican-dominated House subcommittee to scrap the JWST. The House subcommittee raised serious concerns about NASA mismanagement of the multi-billion dollar project and ballooning costs. more

4.0 Magnitude Earthquake FUKUSHIMA, NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake has struck near Fukushima, off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 40 km (24.8 miles), the quake hit at 19:37 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.

Time (JST)
Lat.
Long.
Depth Mag. Region
05:37 JST 20 Sep 11
37.6N 141.8E 40 km 4.0
Fukushima
Ken - Oki

No reports of Damage or Injuries at this time.

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake GUATEMALA - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck Guatemala at a depth of 40.9 km (25.4 miles), the quake hit at 20:30:04 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.
The epicenter was 60 km (37 miles) ESE of Escuintla, Guatemala
No reports of Damage or Injuries reported at this time.

Violence stokes fears of civil war in Yemen - 19th Sept 2011

A violent crackdown by Yemeni authorities has left dozens dead at protests, witnesses and medical officials said Monday.

Bloody violence raged Monday in the capital, Sanaa, triggering a new wave of international pressure on Yemen. The United States and the United Nations called for an end to the violence.

An official with the human rights group Amnesty International said Yemen is on a "knife edge" and the situation could spiral into a civil war.

Officials from the United Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council were in Sanaa, hoping to help organize a peaceful transfer of power.

Thirty-one people were killed Monday in clashes in Yemen, 28 in Sanaa, and three in Taiz, according to medical officials.

On Sunday, at least 26 protesters were killed and more than 550 were wounded -- hundreds of them by gunshots -- when security forces fired live bullets and tear gas at a massive demonstration in the city, a medic said. The death toll was expected to rise because some were in critical condition, witnesses said.

"The situation is getting very tense," said a resident of downtown Sanaa who asked not to be named for safety reasons. "We can hear gunshots, explosions, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) constantly." Read More

3 earthquakes rock Guatemala within 90 Minutes, 1 confirmed dead - 19th Sept 2011

Three earthquakes shook a major part of Guatemala in less than 90 minutes on Monday afternoon, killing at least one person, authorities said.

The largest quake, a 5.8 magnitude, hit at 12:34pm, with two of 4.8 magnitude hitting before and after. All were centered in the same area about 30 miles (51 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Guatemala City.

Firefighters confirmed that the temblors, which shook most of the country, caused a landslide on the highway to El Salvador near the epicenter of Cuilapa Santa Rosa that trapped at least one car and killed one person.

Local media also reported that a wall fell on several houses, trapping a family. It was not clear if there were more casualties.

Public buildings were evacuated in the area and school classes canceled, authorities said.

The first quake struck at a depth of 38 miles (61 kilometers), the second at 25 miles (39 kilometers) and the third at 23 miles (37 kilometers.)

The first 4.8-magnitude temblor hit just after noon local time and the third of the same magnitude hit at about 1:20pm. Source

Rare tornado, storms cause havoc in Italy killing FOUR - 19th Sept 2011

Violent storms across Italy that led to four deaths over the weekend caused damage and disruption on air, port and city transport systems on Monday, officials said.

Six underground subway stations in the capital Rome that were closed due to flooding overnight disrupting the morning rush hour reopened in the early afternoon. Buses took travellers between stops.

Palermo airport on the island of Sicily was forced to close for 40 minutes after a tornado whipped a Falcon 2000 aircraft off the runway, throwing it against police and emergency vehicles.

The storm also ripped free the 'Suprema' ferry from its moorings at Palermo port, causing a small boat nearby to sink before running into an English destroyer, the Monmouth, which was undamaged.

Train traffic was disrupted in the Naples region causing delays and regional train cancellations.

In the town of Canepina, north of Rome, more than a third of the central square caved in after it was undermined by water.

In northern Italy, snow and falling trees closed five mountain passes.

On Sunday, two hikers were found dead in a landslide, while a 72-year-old German tourist died after falling into a ravine and a man in his 40s from Milan was struck by lightning.

After several days of unseasonally high temperatures, weather conditions took a turn for the worse in the north of the country on Saturday gradually moving south on Sunday. Source

Dow Jones down and protesters arrested amid fears of Greek debt default - 19th Sept 2011

U.S. stocks fell sharply today as escalating fears about the possibility of Greek default and concern about the U.S. deficit plan prompted investors to surrender some of last week's gains.

Energy and financial stocks were the day's biggest laggards, while several protesters were arrest during a march in New York's finanical district.

The S&P energy sector index .GSPE was off nearly three per cent as oil prices slid. The financial sector index .GSPF lost 3.4 per cent following a steep decline in European banks on worries euro zone leaders won't be able to prevent debt-stricken Greece from sliding into default.

International lenders told Greece today it must shrink its public sector and improve tax collection to avoid default within weeks as investors spooked by political setbacks in Europe dumped risky euro zone assets. Read More

Missile and submarine secrets 'may have been stolen' in cyber attack on Japanese defence firm - 19th Sept 2011

Some of Japan’s most sensitive defence secrets have been targeted by hackers, who have gained access to up to 80 computers of its biggest defence contractor - in what appeared to be a coordinated attack.

Contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said today its submarine, missile and nuclear plant component factories had been targeted, according to a report.

Some information could have been stolen in the first known cyber attack on Japan’s defence industry, the company confessed today.

‘We've found out that some system information such as IP addresses have been leaked and that's creepy enough,’ said a Mitsubishi Heavy spokesman.

‘We can't rule out small possibilities of further information leakage but so far crucial data about our products or technologies have been kept safe,’ he said, adding the company first noticed the cyberattack on August 11. Read More

A greener Greenland? Times Atlas 'error' overstates global warming - 19th Sept 2011

The latest edition of the Times Atlas of the World, which claims to be the world’s ‘most authoritative’, exaggerates the extent that ice has retreated on Greenland, according to scientists.

A press release for the £150 book, published by HarperCollins, claimed that cartographers had to turn 15 per cent of the world’s largest island ‘green and ice free’ as a result of global warming over the past 12 years.

However, experts at the Scott Polar Research Institute, which counts among its staff renowned glaciologist Professor Julian Dowdeswell, dispute the Atlas’s accuracy and claim that the 15 per cent figure is simply wrong.

In a letter to The Times, a group of scientists from the Institute, which is part of the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Recent satellite images of Greenland make it clear that there are in fact still numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands.

‘We do not know why this error has occurred, but it is regrettable that the claimed drastic reduction in the extent of ice in Greenland has created headline news around the world.

‘There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature. Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake GUATEMALA - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck Guatemala at a depth of 36.9 km (22.9 miles), the quake hit at 19:17:54 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.
The epicenter was 12 km (7 miles) East of Cuilapa, Santa Rosa, Guatemala
No reports of Damage or Injuries reported at this time.

Indian Earthquake Death toll Rises to 74 as rain, slides hamper rescue - 19th Sept 2011

Rescuers battled heavy rains and cleared dozens of landslides while making their way to Sikkim, the ground zero of Sunday evening's 6.8 magnitude earthquake that has so far claimed 74 lives across three countries - India, Nepal and China (Tibet).

According to late-night reports, at least 58 people were killed and hundreds injured in Sikkim, Bengal and Bihar, in addition to nine deaths in Nepal and seven in Tibet. The toll is likely to rise, say rescuers. In Sikkim, the toll had reached 41. The maximum casualties have been in Rangpo, Dikchu, Singtam and Chungthang in north Sikkim. Ten persons have died in Bengal and seven in Bihar.

TOI reached some of the worst-affected areas, following rescue convoys as they battled impossible odds. Every now and then progress was halted by massive landslides. Virtually nothing is left intact on the 100-km Gangtok-Chungthang road. NH-31A, the highway to Gangtok, was cleared by late afternoon. Roads and bridges between Meeli and Namchi in south Sikkim and Rawangla in west Sikkim have been severely damaged. Tourists have been warned not to venture beyond Gangtok. Read More

5.8 Magnitude Earthquake GUATEMALA - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake has struck Guatemala at a depth of 39.4 km (24.5 miles), the quake hit at 18:34:00 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.
The epicenter was 19 km (12 miles) ENE of Cuilapa, Santa Rosa, Guatemala
No reports of Damage or Injuries reported at this time.

4.0 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 50 km (31 miles), the quake hit at 17:39 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.

Time (JST)
Lat.
Long.
Depth Mag. Region
03:39 JST 20 Sep 11
36.5N 141.1E 50 km 4.0
Ibaraki
Ken - Oki

No reports of Damage or Injuries at this time.

Nearly 50 Reportedly Killed in Two Days of Violent Clashes in Yemen - 19th Sept 2011

Thousands of protesters armed with sticks and backed by armed military defectors overran a base of the elite Presidential Guards in Yemen's capital as fighting erupted across much of Sanaa on Monday. The death toll for the worst violence in months rose to nearly 50 in two days of clashes.

The protesters, joined by soldiers from the rebel 1st Armored Division, stormed the base without firing a single shot and seized a large number of firearms, according to witnesses and security officials. The anti-government force used sandbags to erect barricades as they advanced, providing their allied troops with the shelter they needed in case they took fire from inside the base. Republican Guards' troops did not fire at the protesters and eventually fled, leaving their weapons behind.

Violence has flared anew in Yemen in frustration after President Ali Abdullah Saleh dashed hopes raised by the U.S. last week that he was about to relinquish power after 33 years of autocratic rule.

At least 23 were killed on Monday and 26 on Sunday, almost all of them protesters. Dozens have been wounded. Read More

Radioactive water leak detected at UK's Sizewell A nuclear plant - 19th Sept 2011

Magnox has informed UK regulators that water was found leaking from a cracked flow meter in the active effluent treatment plant at the Sizewell A nuclear power plant earlier this month, a document obtained by Platts shows.

Magnox, which is owned by EnergySolutions, is the management and operations contractor responsible for 10 nuclear sites in the UK, including Sizewell A in Suffolk.

Tim Watkins, site director of Sizewell A, last week wrote to members of the Sizewell Stakeholder Group -- set up to manage the flow of information about the nuclear site -- to inform them of the incident.

Sizewell A stopped generating electricity in 2006 after 40 years of operations and is in the process of defuelling. Immediately to the north of Sizewell A is Britain's newest nuclear power station, Sizewell B, which is operated by British Energy.

In his letter, Watkins said that, "While carrying out routine inspections in the early hours of Saturday, September 3, an operative noted unexpected plant indications and upon investigation, discovered water escaping from a cracked flow meter in the site's active effluent treatment plant (AETP)."

"The meter forms part of a section of the system which returns treated water to the used fuel storage pond and as such the activity in the liquid was very low. The plant was shut down before the loss initiated our early warning alarms," he said.

"Our physical safety defenses performed exactly as expected. All the treated water except a small amount which remained on the floor in the AETP was captured by the system and there was no impact on personnel or the environment," he said.

A "far more significant event" in the AETP, in January 2007, led to a complete review and overhaul of the plant's design and safety systems, he said.

"I want to reassure you that this event does not provide any indication that improvements we made then are ineffective now," he said. Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake GUATEMALA - 19th Sept 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck Guatemala at a depth of 61 km (37.9 miles), the quake hit at 18:00:01 UTC Monday 19th September 2011.
The epicenter was 17 km (10 miles) Northeast of Cuilapa, Santa Rosa, Guatemala
No reports of Damage or Injuries reported at this time.

Japan feared evacuation of 30 million in nuclear crisis, ex-PM says - 19th Sept 2011

After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami off Japan damaged the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactor, the Japanese government was presented with a scenario which would have required the evacuation of half of Tokyo and the entire width of the main island of Honshu, former Prime Minister Naota Kan says in an interview with Kyodo News.

The evacuation zone would have covered all areas within 200 to 250 kilometers (125 to 155 miles) of the nuclear reactor, meaning about 30 million people in Tokyo and its surrounding areas would have needed to be moved, according to the Kyodo report in The Japan Times.

Kan said he feared such an evacuation would have resulted in chaos, according to the report.

"I wasn't sure whether Japan could continue to function as a state," he is quoted as saying.

Kan also said Japan was not prepared for the disaster resulting from the 9.0-magnitude quake.

"We had never foreseen a situation in which a quake, tsunami and a nuclear plant accident would all happen at the same time," he is quoted as saying.

Kan resigned in August after widespread criticism of how his government handled the aftermath of the quake. His approval rating plummeted.

As of early September, more than 75,000 residents who live within 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of the crippled nuclear plant were still unable to return to their homes because of high radiation levels. Source

US National debt: The five-minute primer

A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers will be hunkering down this fall, negotiating ways to reduce deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

With the country's fiscal future coming under the microscope -- and the spin that is sure to surround the so-called congressional super committee on debt -- here is what you should keep in mind.

How much debt does the U.S. have today? About $14.6 trillion.

Nearly $10 trillion of the national debt is held by the public: individual bondholders, big investors such as mutual funds or universities, and foreign governments such as China, the United Kingdom and Brazil. The rest represents money owed to government trust funds -- primarily Social Security.

Is $14.6 trillion too much to handle? The real problem is not that the country owes $14.6 trillion today. It's that the number could grow to $23 trillion by 2021 and keep rising thereafter.

In short, if nothing is done to change its trajectory, the debt is on track to grow faster than the economy indefinitely. more

More than 6,000 struck with dengue fever in Pakistan

Dengue fever has killed 25 people and affected more than 6,000 over the past two months in Lahore, Pakistan, a health department spokesman said Monday.

In total, 6,400 cases of dengue fever have been documented, said Ikhlaq Ahmed, spokesman for the health department of Punjab province. Of those, 6,000 are in Lahore, a city of more than 6 million people known as Pakistan's cultural capital.

The 25 who died are all from Lahore, in eastern Pakistan. An average of 300 new cases of the virus-based disease, spread by mosquitoes, are being reported in the city daily.

"We prefer to stay at home rather than going shopping," because of the threat of disease, said Zainab Khan, a 25-year-old professional from Lahore.

Asim Hussain, who works in an office in Lahore, said, "I may lose my job," since he hasn't gone to work because of the outbreak.

All the schools in Lahore have been closed by the provincial government, Ahmed said.

The outbreak has created panic in the city, he said, as thousands of people crowd hospitals for testing. The city's poshest areas are among the hardest hit, he said. source

Pakistan flooding death toll rises to 347

he number of people killed in flooding in Pakistan has risen to at least 347 in the past six weeks, the country's national disaster authority said Monday.

Half a million people are living in refugee camps, the agency said.

At least 638 people have been injured by the flooding, which has affected 7.5 million people since August 10, the disaster authority said.

Pakistan's prime minister canceled plans to address the United Nations this week so that he could "personally supervise the ongoing rescue and relief efforts for flood-affected areas," his office said Friday.

Yusuf Raza Gilani was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly, but Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will go in his place, the prime minister's office said.

The southeastern Sindh province looked almost tranquil, with water standing anywhere from ankle-high to past the knees in otherwise empty land. But days before, the land wasn't empty.

Thousands of homes were swept away or destroyed by the flooding, which has affected an area nearly half the size of the U.S. state of Delaware. more

World's Eeriest Abandoned Places

Staten Island’s Tugboat Graveyard has long intrigued—even frightened—local residents, including NYC-based photographer Chris Barreto, who grew up just a few miles away. “It took me years to build up the nerve to go,” he admits. “The immense size of the shipyard is unfathomable—row after row of ships, just waiting their turn to sink into the murky waters. The stench of rotting wood and oil is almost unbearable. It’s not a welcoming place.”

Barreto is just one of the many artists, photographers, travelers, and writers inspired by the act of human abandonment. “When any man-made structure is deserted and void of people, it leaves behind an unsettling energy,” he says.

But it’s that very energy that has made these creepy places a sort of dark-side passport stamp, complete with bragging rights. So young creatives have made a hobby out of photographing derelict and discarded buildings and uploading the images to sites like Abandoned-places.com and Weburbanist.com, along with Flickr’s numerous user groups, like Abandoned Motels, Abandoned Sweden, and Best of Abandoned. The most popular group, simply called Abandoned, has 20,000-plus members and remains a go-to source for those looking to find new terrain. more

10 Signs the U.S. is Becoming a Third World Country

The United States by every measure is hanging on by a thread to its First World status. Saddled by debt, engaged in wars on multiple fronts with a rising police state at home, declining economic productivity, and wild currency fluctuations all threaten America’s future.

The general designations of the ranking system for world status date back to the 1950s, and have included countries at various stages of economic development. Since the Cold War, the definition has come to be synonymous with repressive countries where a wealthy class of ruling elites segment society into the haves and have-nots, many times capitalizing on the conditions that follow an economic crisis or war.

While much of the world is still mired in poverty, the reduced cost of innovative tools such as computing and connectivity ironically puts traditional Third World countries at the forefront of a new lean-and-mean economy that is based on ideas of empowerment for the disenfranchised. For better or worse, the world is leveling due to Globalism. However, America and other over-leveraged countries face this re-balancing of the globe at a time when they have dwindling resources. We can speculate about who and what is to blame for America’s fantastic fall, but for the purposes of this article we shall focus on the obvious signs that the United States is beginning to resemble a Third World country. more

As currency wars intensify, Eurozone and US debt problems deepen, Gold is setting up for its next move to the upside

As currency wars intensify, Eurozone and US debt problems deepen, Gold is setting up for its next move to the upside.

Greece didn't default over the weekend, but it is quickly running out of cash with officials from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank returning to the country Wednesday to determine if Greece will qualify for its next bailout tranche after failing to meet deficit reduction targets.

The probability of a Greek default in the next five years has soared to 98% as Prime Minister George Papandreou fails to reassure international investors that his country can survive the Eurozone debt crisis. The nation’s government now expects the economy to shrink more than 5% this year, which is considerably more than the 3.8% forecast by the European Commission.

The risk of contagion beyond Greece pushed sovereign credit-default swap prices to record highs across the Eurozone. European bank debt risk also rose to the highest ever amid speculation French lenders will be downgraded because of their holdings of Greek bonds.

The contagion impact of a default will be severe and Italy, Spain and Portugal will become the next victims of this crisis. And, that will impact negatively on the entire European banking sector. No wonder credit-default swaps on Portugal, Italy and France surged to records. more

Egypt's media crackdown: What happened to the democratic movement?

Fake Volcano Can Solve Climate Problems, Scientists Say

here will be an unexpected sight high in the skies over the British county of Norfolk next month: a huge balloon attached to the ground by a giant hosepipe.

It isn't obvious, but it is the first small step in an experiment which aims to re-create the cooling effect of erupting volcanoes on the earth's atmosphere.

Scientists and engineers from the universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford are behind the three-year, 1.6 million pound ($2.5 million) project called Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE).

The scheme will assess the feasibility of so-called solar radiation management (SRM) by mimicking volcanoes when they erupt. Eruptions can both warm and cool the Earth's climateFix, depending on how sunlight interacts with volcanic material.

SRM works on the assumption that some eruptions expel particles into the upper atmosphere, bouncing some of the sun's energy back into space and thereby cooling the earth. more

Canada: Trade war looms over new Buy American threat in U.S.

A trade war with the United States loomed Wednesday after the Harper government vowed to fight the latest move by Washington to exclude Canadian companies from bidding on billions of dollars worth of economic stimulus projects.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast acknowledged that the rebirth of the Buy American threat caught Ottawa completely off guard.

“I was very surprised and certainly disappointed that the Obama administration has returned to that kind of a trade barrier initiative,” he told CBC-TV.

In the opening salvo of another bilateral trade dispute, Fast slammed U.S. President Barack Obama for including Buy American provisions in the $447-billion (U.S.) jobs bill announced last week.

“History has shown protectionist measures stall growth and kill jobs,” Fast declared in a statement. He said Canadian officials in the U.S. capital have been ordered immediately to raise concerns about the jobs legislation. more

Interests in Asia outweigh those in Europe: US

In a shift, Americans increasingly view Asia, not Europe, as the region where the most important U.S. national interests lie, a poll released Wednesday reported.

But a plurality of respondents in nine of 12 European Union countries surveyed said that the United States remained more important than Asia. The exceptions were France, Spain and Sweden.

The annual survey was conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a nonpartisan policy institution that promotes trans-Atlantic cooperation, and the Compagnia di San Paolo, a research center in Turin, Italy. The Swedish Foreign Ministry was among its sponsors.

The findings on U.S. attitudes toward Asia and Europe mark a transformation from a similar poll conducted by the same groups in 2004. In this year's survey just over half of Americans saw Asia as more important for American interests than Europe. In the earlier survey, a strong majority of U.S. respondents answered the opposite.

The change may reflect a generational shift in the United States. More than six in 10 of Americans under age 45 view Asia as more important than Europe, compared with fewer than half among those age 45 and up. more

Russia could write off N.Korea's $11 billion debt as countries grow closer: report

Russia will most likely write off North Korea's Soviet-era 11 billion-dollar-debt to clear the way for closer economic cooperation, Izvestia newspaper said on Wednesday.

Moscow and Pyongyang discussed closer energy cooperation and the outstanding debt when North Korea's secretive leader Kim Jong-Il travelled to eastern Siberia for rare talks with President Dmitry Medvedev last month.

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said at the time the first step involved Pyongyang acknowledging that it owes the money to Russia as the successor of the Soviet Union, followed by agreement on the mechanism for the payback.

Citing a source close the finance ministry, Izvestia said however that the finance ministry was ready to write off the North Korean debt without any preconditions because the isolated Stalinist state was hardly able to pay and the unsettled debt was standing in the way of the two countries' closer economic cooperation.

The newspaper said the Russians offered North Korea a scheme under which 90 percent of the debt would be written off, while another 10 percent would be used to implement joint projects in North Korea. more