Saturday, October 8, 2011

Only bottled water to drink in rain-starved swath of South Pacific as sea levels rise

Crops are wilting, schools have shut their bathrooms and government officials are bathing in lagoons because of a severe shortage of fresh water in a swath of the South Pacific.

The island groups of Tuvalu and Tokelau have declared emergencies, relying on bottled water and seeking more desalination machines. Parts of Samoa are starting to ration water.

Supplies are precariously low after a severe lack of rain in a region where underground reserves have been fouled by saltwater from rising seas that scientists have linked to climate change.

While nobody has gone thirsty yet, officials worry about the logistics of supplying everyone with enough water to survive and the potential health problems that might arise. And exactly how the islands will cope in the long term remains a question mark.

“We are praying that things will change,” Samoan-based official Jovilisi Suveinakama said.

Six months of low rainfall have dried out the islands. Climate scientists say it’s part of a cyclical Pacific weather pattern known as La Nina — and they predict the coming months will bring no relief, with the pattern expected to continue.

Rising sea levels are exacerbating the problem, as salt water seeps into underground supplies of fresh water that are drawn to the surface through wells.

On the three main atolls that make up isolated Tokelau, the 1,400 residents ran out of fresh water altogether last week and are relying on a seven-day supply of bottled water that was sent Saturday from Samoa, Suveinakama said. more

Giant Alien Snails Attack Miami, Though They're Not in Much of a Rush

Floridians have grown accustomed to invasions of exotic creatures, like the Burmese pythons slithering throughout the Everglades. But residents here are especially grossed out by the latest arrivals: giant African land snails that grow as long as eight inches, chew through plants, plaster and stucco, and sometimes carry a parasite that can infect humans with a nonlethal strain of meningitis.

The gastropods are among the most dangerous in the world, agriculture officials say. They each have male and female reproductive organs and can lay 1,200 eggs a year, allowing them to proliferate rapidly. Thousands of them have infested at least five separate neighborhoods in the Miami area.

Homeowners who discover the creatures in their yards often find them disgusting. The snails' engorged bodies extend far from their shells, and they eat so ravenously that they leave trails of excrement on walls and the ground.

They eat stucco, chew through plants and can even carry meningitis. Destructive giant African snails are taking over Miami, one neighborhood at a time. WSJ's Arian Campo-Flores reports.

"I'm traumatized," said Liliam Hernandez last week, as she and her husband recounted how they had discovered a five-inch specimen behind their house a while earlier. She said she was so distraught at the sight of the slimy mollusk that she got a migraine and had to lie down. more

US government breaks the ice in Arctic drilling dispute: Gives go ahead for 500 drill sites

THE US government has decided to uphold the sale of nearly 500 leases to drill for oil in Arctic waters near Alaska, in response to a successful lawsuit by environmentalists and native Alaskan organisations that had thrown the contracts into jeopardy.

The move on Monday by the Interior Department was celebrated by Shell and other companies that snapped up some of the 487 leases to drill in the Chukchi Sea during a government auction in 2008. Shell hopes to launch exploratory drilling in the Chukchi next northern summer.

The decision was criticised by conservationists, who blasted the Obama administration for bypassing calls for more scientific research on the region's marine life and better studies of how to clean up oil spills in remote icy waters.
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''The Obama administration's decision to affirm Chukchi Lease Sale 193 in America's Arctic Ocean is a clear case of politics trumping science,'' 15 environmental groups and a native Alaskan village said in a joint statement.

Dan Ritzman, a director of Alaska programs for the Sierra Club, said: ''Shell and other companies should not be allowed to move forward with risky, dangerous plans to drill in this pristine area. There remain huge knowledge gaps in scientific understanding about life in the Arctic waters and the potential impacts of drilling.'' more

Weeds Are Vital to the Existence of Farmland Species, Study Finds

Weeds, which are widely deemed as a nuisance plant, are vital to the existence of many farmland species according to a new University of Hull study published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Since many weeds produce flowers and seed, they are an integral part of our ecosystem and together with other crop and non-crop seeds found on farms, they provide food for over 330 species of insects, birds and animals.

Scientists at the Universities of Hull and Bristol examined the distribution of berries and soil-surface seeds collected over an entire year. They built up the first picture of its kind showing which farmland habitats are the most important seed producers and how the seed resources change in different seasons.

Whilst considerable research has linked agricultural intensification with dramatic declines of seed-feeding birds, surprisingly little is known about the wider importance of seeds for other farmland animals, especially insects. Moreover, understanding the dynamics of farmland seed food resources for species of conservation concern is of considerable research interest. more

Big catches mask dwindling numbers of sea bass

As reliably as masses of sea bass gather off the Southern California coast each summer, boatloads of anglers arrive to reel them in.

But their bountiful catches are an illusion, scientists say.

The populations of kelp bass and barred sand bass, two of the most popular — and easy to catch — saltwater fishes in Southern California, have plummeted 90% since 1980, according to a study led by a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Overfishing and warmer ocean temperatures are blamed for the stunning decline.

But sport-fishing boats have been able to keep their catch rates high in part because they have consistently targeted bustling offshore spawning grounds, masking the dwindling numbers with an "illusion of plenty," the study concluded.

"The problem is when fish are aggregating in these huge masses, fishermen can still catch a lot each trip. So everything looks fine, but in reality the true population is declining," said lead author Brad Erisman, a postdoctoral marine biology researcher at Scripps. more

Shell oil paid Nigerian military to put down protests, court documents show

Shell has never denied that its oil operations have polluted large areas of the Niger Delta – land and air. But it had resisted charges of complicity in human rights abuses.

Court documents now reveal that in the 1990s Shell routinely worked with Nigeria's military and mobile police to suppress resistance to its oil activities, often from activists in Ogoniland, in the delta region.

Confidential memos, faxes, witness statements and other documents, released in 2009, show the company regularly paid the military to stop the peaceful protest movement against the pollution, even helping to plan raids on villages suspected of opposing the company.

According to Ogoni activists, several thousand people were killed in the 1990s and many more fled that wave of terror that took place in the 1990s.

In 2009, in a New York federal court, that evidence never saw light during the trial. Shell had been accused of collaborating with the state in the execution in 1995 of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Ogoni tribe. Instead, Shell paid $15.5m (£9.6m) to the eight families in settlement.

Among the documents was a 1994 letter from Shell agreeing to pay a unit of the Nigerian army to retrieve a truck, an action that left one Ogoni man dead and two wounded. Shell said it was making the payment "as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition in future assignments". more

Earth is having a bad acid trip, study finds

Earth may be overdosing on acid - not the "turn on, tune in, drop out" kind, but the "kill fish, kill coral, kill crops" kind. And it's shaping up to be a very bad trip.

The problem isn't just acid rain or ocean acidification, either: pH levels are plummeting all over the planet, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Virginia. The origin of all this acidity, the researchers report, is humanity's growing use of natural resources such as coal, metal ores and nitrogen.

Scientists have long known that certain chemicals can acidify soil and water when released en masse into the environment; sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain, for example, while carbon dioxide is widely blamed for causing ocean acidification.

In their new study, though, the USGS and UVA researchers report that a worldwide acid wash is now being fueled by a variety of human activities, namely "the mining and burning of coal, the mining and smelting of metal ores, and the use of nitrogen fertilizer." This is dramatically reducing pH levels not just in soil and seawater, they report, but also in streams, rivers, lakes and even the air.

Each of these activities contributes to rising acidity in its own way, the study's authors explain. Much of the CO2 emissions from coal burning are absorbed by ocean water, for instance, producing carbonic acid that wreaks havoc with marine food webs. SO2 from both coal burning and metal smelting leads to acid rain, which in turn acidifies soil and freshwater and can directly kill plants. Drainage from coal mines also boosts acidity in soil, freshwater and groundwater, while nitrogen added to farmland can reduce soil pH over time, limiting its ability to sustain crops. more

With Deaths of Forests, a Loss of Key Climate Protectors

The trees spanning many of the mountainsides of western Montana glow an earthy red, like a broadleaf forest at the beginning of autumn.

But these trees are not supposed to turn red. They are evergreens, falling victim to beetles that used to be controlled in part by bitterly cold winters. As the climate warms, scientists say, that control is no longer happening.

Across millions of acres, the pines of the northern and central Rockies are dying, just one among many types of forests that are showing signs of distress these days.

From the mountainous Southwest deep into Texas, wildfires raced across parched landscapes this summer, burning millions more acres. In Colorado, at least 15 percent of that state’s spectacular aspen forests have gone into decline because of a lack of water.

The devastation extends worldwide. The great euphorbia trees of southern Africa are succumbing to heat and water stress. So are the Atlas cedars of northern Algeria. Fires fed by hot, dry weather are killing enormous stretches of Siberian forest. Eucalyptus trees are succumbing on a large scale to a heat blast in Australia, and the Amazon recently suffered two “once a century” droughts just five years apart, killing many large trees.

Experts are scrambling to understand the situation, and to predict how serious it may become.

Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer. For, while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand. more

Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf

Two ice shelves that existed before Canada was settled by Europeans diminished significantly this summer, one nearly disappearing altogether, Canadian scientists say in new research.

The loss is important as a marker of global warming, returning the Canadian Arctic to conditions that date back thousands of years, scientists say. Floating icebergs that have broken free as a result pose a risk to offshore oil facilities and potentially to shipping lanes. The breaking apart of the ice shelves also reduces the environment that supports microbial life and changes the look of Canada's coastline.

Luke Copland is an associate professor in the geography department at the University of Ottawa who co-authored the research. He said the Serson Ice Shelf shrank from 79.15 square miles (205 square kilometers) to two remnant sections three years ago, and was further diminished this past summer.

Copland said the shelf went from a 16-square-mile (42-square-kilometer) floating glacier tongue to 9.65 square miles (25 square kilometers), and the second section from 13.51 square miles (35 square kilometers) to 2 square miles (7 square kilometers), off Ellesmere Island's northern coastline.

This past summer, Ward Hunt Ice Shelf's central area disintegrated into drifting ice masses, leaving two separate ice shelves measuring 87.65 and 28.75 square miles (227 and 74 square kilometers) respectively, reduced from 131.7 square miles (340 square kilometers) the previous year. more

Too Hot for Chocolate? Climate Change Could Decimate the $9 Billion Cocoa Industry, Study Finds

Half of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the West African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. But in the coming decades, climate change could severely limit production in the region — disrupting local farmers and squeezing global chocolate supply.

A new report out from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture finds that between 2030 and 2050, land area suitable for cocoa production will fall dramatically. While rising temperatures and changing rainfall pattern may shift cocoa production to land currently not suitable, the net impact to this $9 billion-per-year industry could be severe.

The news release makes clear that climate change is already having an impact on cocoa crops:

“Many of these farmers use their cocoa trees like ATM machines,” said CIAT’s Dr. Peter Laderach, the report’s lead author. “They pick some pods and sell them to quickly raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life.

“Already we’re seeing the effects of rising temperatures on cocoa crops currently produced in marginal areas, and with climate change these areas are certain to spread. At a time when global demand for chocolate is rising fast, particularly in China, there is already upward pressure on prices. It’s not inconceivable that this, combined with the impact of climate change, could cause chocolate prices to increase sharply.”

The report predicts that the ideal cocoa growing areas will shift to higher altitudes, to compensate for the higher temperatures. “The problem is that much of West Africa is relatively flat and there is no ‘uphill’. This is a major cause of the potentially drastic decreases in cocoa suitability in the region,” continued Laderach.

In Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa represents 7.5% of GDP; in Ghana, it makes up 3.4% of GDP. more

Dengue fever infects over 12,000 in Pakistan

Already cursed by floods and suicide bombings, Pakistan now faces a new menace from an unprecedented outbreak of the deadly tropical disease dengue fever.

In less than a month, 126 people have died and more than 12,000 have been diagnosed with the virus, which has spread rapidly among both rich and poor in Pakistan's cultural capital Lahore.

Dengue affects between 50 and 100 million people in the tropics and subtropics each year, resulting in fever, muscle and joint ache.

But it can also be fatal, developing into haemorrhagic fever and shock syndrome, which is characterised by bleeding and a loss of blood pressure.

Caused by four strains of virus spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, there is no vaccine -- which is why prevention methods focus on mosquito control.

Pakistani authorities in Lahore have blamed the crisis on prolonged monsoon rains and unusually high seasonal temperatures.

But furious locals say the outbreak is yet another example of government inefficiency, citing a failure to take preventive measures to kill off the mosquitos and lengthy power cuts.

Saad Azeem, 45, is a police officer who should be out spraying the streets with insecticide, but he is laid up at home suffering from the fever and mourning the death of his elderly father. more

Are Pesticide Residues In Compost Damaging Plants?

Imprelis Imperils?

Since 1999, gardeners have experienced serious problems with herbicides that do not readily break down in compost. Residential lawn trimmings, hay and straw, municipal green waste, and cow and horse manure are all common compost ingredients that have become vectors for delivering unwanted chemicals, causing plant damage in home gardens. The offending active ingredients—the part of an herbicide that actually kills weeds—include clopyralid, aninopyralid, and the newest, aminocyclopyrachlor. This last is now attracting attention as the active ingredient in DuPont’s brand-named Imprelis.

“These herbicides are all in the pyridine family,” says Matthew Ryan, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania State University agroecologist. “They are classified as having a plant growth regulator, which means they kill plants by altering plant hormone levels. Because plants have different hormones than animals—for example, animals don’t produce auxin and plants don’t produce testosterone—they are generally considered safe for [ingestion by] livestock.” more

World's leading climate sceptic sees his funding melt away fast

The world's most high-profile climate change sceptic is set to have his funding scrapped.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and bête noire of climate change activists around the world, has been told that the incoming Danish government will cut off his £1m a year funding.

Mr Lomborg, whose 2001 book suggested the planet should adapt to global warming rather than wasting resources trying to prevent it, has made his name by accusing scientists and others of exaggerating the extent and effects of climate change.

He was once compared to Adolf Hitler by the head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri. He also appears to have few friends in power after Helle Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark's first woman Prime Minister after a slim victory for her centre-left coalition in this month's election.

Ida Auken, who is widely tipped as the next Environment Minister in the new administration, told The Independent that Mr Lomborg could no longer expect government funding for his Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

"The reason he received funding in the first place was ideological," said Ms Auken, environment spokesman for SF, the junior partner in the incoming coalition. "We believe that it is wrong to give funding to specific ideological researchers." more

TransCanada Pipeline Foes See U.S. Bias in E-Mails

A State Department official provided Fourth of July party invitations, subtle coaching and cheerleading, and inside information about Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meetings to a Washington lobbyist for a Canadian company seeking permission from the department to build a pipeline that would carry crude from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

E-mails released Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the environmental group Friends of the Earth paint a picture of a sometimes warm and collaborative relationship between the lobbyist for the pipeline company, Trans-Canada, and officials in the State Department, the agency responsible for evaluating and approving the billion-dollar project.

The exchanges provide a rare glimpse into how Washington works and the access familiarity can bring. The 200 pages are the second batch of documents and e-mails released so far.

They also offer insight into the company’s strategy, not revealed publicly before. TransCanada lobbyists exchanged e-mails with State Department officials in July about their intention to drop their request to operate the Keystone XL pipeline at higher pressures than normally allowed in the United States to win political support, but then suggested they would reapply for the exception once the project had been cleared.

“You see officials who see it as their business not to be an oversight agency but as a facilitator of TransCanada’s plans,” said Damon Moglen, the director of the climate and energy project for Friends of the Earth. While the e-mails refer to multiple meetings between TransCanada officials and assistant secretaries of state, he said, such access was denied to environmentalists seeking input, who had only one group meeting at that level. more

Amanda Knox: Guilty or innocent, five reasons why



Complex and conflicting evidence was presented at Amanda Knox’s year-long trial in 2009 and at her appeal over the last 10 months.

FIVE REASONS KNOX IS GUILTY

1) The confession.

Knox confessed that she was in the house on the night of the murder and that she heard Miss Kercher scream, identifying a Congolese bar owner, Patrick Lumumba, as the assailant. She told the court during the trial that the confession was made under duress but then repeated the entire account in a five page memorandum the next morning.

2) The false accusation.

The prosecution said the fact that Knox falsely accused Lumumba of being the killer was a sign of her own guilt and an attempt to throw them off her trail. He was arrested in a dawn raid by armed police and spent two weeks in jail. It was only by chance that a Swiss businessman read about the case and came forward to say he had been talking to Lumumba in his bar on the night of the murder — offering him a rock-solid alibi. Lumumba says Knox nearly ruined his life and is suing her for defamation. more

Bay of Plenty oil spill sparks health warning: New Zealand

A public health warning has been issued for Bay of Plenty residents not to eat seafood from waters around the stricken cargo ship that's been leaking oil off the Tauranga coast.

Medical Officer of Health Jim Miller says no shellfish or fin fish should be eaten from waters with visible oil contamination.

He's highlighted Motiti Island as an area that should be avoided for the collection of shellfish and warned against consuming any seafood with an off, or petrol-like, smell.

Although there is no evidence of the oil spill reaching the coastline, conditions are continually changing, he said, and the health advisory will remain in place until further notice.

Meanwhile oil recovery teams are on the water ahead of an operation to begin mopping up the 20 tonnes of oil that has leaked the Rena.

Prime Minister John Key was expected to fly into the city today to see the situation for himself as fears of major environmental disaster mount.

A team 10 Australian personnel arrived yesterday to join the operation.

National on scene commander Rob Service said most of them had worked during the Montara oil spill response in the Timor Sea in 2009.

The Awanuia fuel tanker arrived from Auckland this morning to help offload the 2000 tonnes of oil threatening to spill into the Bay of Plenty. more

‘USA might face a potentially violent revolution’



Fury over corporate power in the US is spreading from New York across the country. Thousands have joined the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement, angered by the economic slump that may lead to a revolution in the country.

­Robert David Steele, political analyst and former intelligence officer, told RT the US right now is much more desperate than people realize.

“We have 22 per cent unemployment and on our way to 30 per cent. We are 16 per cent below the poverty line and on our way to 30 per cent. There is no question in my mind that this is going to be a very dark winter in the United States,” he stated. “Unless the government restores its own integrity and starts paying attention to the public interest rather than to the special interests, I believe that we will have a form of revolution, initially non-violent, but with the potential to become violent,” he added.

Despite the fact that “Occupy Wall Street” protesters have raised everything from lack of jobs to global warming, there is a common cause uniting the activists, Steele believes.

“These are not stupid people. They are very smart and they understand that at root this is about corruption in government and corruption on Wall Street,” he explained. “And until you have electoral reform, you cannot restore the integrity of US government. So there is a common cause, but it is voiced in many different ways,” he maintained.

The protest started out peacefully, but now it is the third week and more than 700 people have been arrested on Brooklyn Bridge. And according to Steele, the NYC police have on the one hand been very well-managed and on the other hand have gotten out of control at lower levels.

“My personal hope is that the general non-violent strike will be used to force the issue of electoral reform,” he concluded. more

London 'being turned into apartheid-era Johannesburg', says head

Children are being taught in “ghettos” as inner-city schools are increasingly divided along racial lines, a leading headmaster has warned.

David Levin said parts of London were starting to resemble apartheid-era South Africa, with black and white pupils being separated at a young age.

He insisted that Britain was becoming a “silo society” as many young people never leave their own housing estate or mix with children from different racial and religious backgrounds.

The comments come amid continuing alarm over segregation in inner-city communities.

Entrenched segregation in the education system was seen as one of the fundamental causes of the race riots that rocked parts of northern England a decade ago.

A recent report found that schools in Oldham – one of the worst flashpoints – are still largely split along racial lines. more

Gypsy flag to fly above town promenade at Aberystwyth, approved by councillors: UK

The town prides itself on the 52 flagpoles which grace its seafront, all flying European or other national flags.

Town councillors have now provoked a row by agreeing to include the Romany Gypsy flag.

Supporters of the move say they want to mark the area's "long tradition of gypsies".

But opponents say they'll either have to remove a national flag to make room for it - or put up an extra pole.

Aled Davies, who represents Aberystwyth on the town council and is a member of Ceredigion County Council, said: "I was wondering why they supported it, as those flags are supposed to be for small nations, and the gypsies don't have a nation as such. more

Michelle Obama’s taxpayer-funded spending is an embarrassment for the White House

Although ignored by most of America’s liberal-dominated media, several online US news sites are reporting that Michelle Obama’s grand tour of southern Africa earlier this year cost American taxpayers nearly half a million dollars – and that's just for the flights. This follows in the wake of claims this August from sources inside the White House itself that the First Lady may have spent “$10 million of taxpayers’ money on vacations alone in the past year.” Without all the figures available, it is impossible to establish the total cost to the public purse of Michelle Obama’s 42 days of holiday during that period, which included her trip to Spain last year (though not the Obamas' recent sojourn in Martha’s Vineyard).

But we do now know for sure that her visit to Africa in June, with a sizeable entourage in tow, cost taxpayers at the very minimum $424,142 in transportation costs, according to figures obtained by Washington-based watchdog Judicial Watch. As the 'Washington Whispers' blog at US News and World Report noted:

First lady Michelle Obama's family trip to South Africa and Botswana in June cost taxpayers well over $424,000, according to new accounting based on Air Force manifests obtained by Judicial Watch, a taxpayer watchdog group.

The use of Air Force aircraft alone for the June 21-27 trip cost $424,142, said the group, and that doesn't include the food, lodging, and ground transportation for the 21 family and staff members. more

Euro Crisis 'Could Become a Global Conflagration' (Der Spiegel Interview)

SPIEGEL: Many US economists now say that Europe's currency crisis could destroy the US economy. Do you agree?

Goolsbee: It is a very serious threat. Though since US banks underwent extensive stress tests in 2009, markets have a good idea of what the capital positions are of the financial institutions here. Also, central banks would step in to try to prevent financial contagion.

SPIEGEL: But that doesn't protect the US economy from renewed difficulties.

Goolsbee: Certainly people in Washington are very concerned about what is going on in Europe. If the crisis there devolved into banks failing and a run on financial institutions, we saw in 2008 that such a situation could be highly contagious and lead to runs on all sorts of financial institutions worldwide. Also, it seems pretty likely that Europe is going to have a significant economic slowdown from dealing with these issues. If such a large segment of the world economy slows down that much, exports from the United States are going to go down. There would be negative ramifications in America -- which is still trying to recover from the last crisis -- but also globally.

SPIEGEL: Is Chancellor Angela Merkel up to the task of managing the crisis?

Goolsbee: Her leadership at this moment is very important for managing the crisis that is looming in Europe.

SPIEGEL: President Barack Obama speaks with Merkel often on the phone. What exactly does he expect from Merkel?

Goolsbee: I don't speak for President Obama. But I don't think Europe will be able to get out of this without committing to the equivalent of a full stress test, where they make clear what the positions are of the banks, and committing to the recapitalization of the banks. There is a feeling among investors that continental European banks never did that in the earlier crisis. And now, with those institutions holding sovereign debt in Europe, these sovereign debt problems are going to further degrade their capital and could very well lead to bank runs. Chancellor Merkel, and other European leaders, will in the end have to recapitalize banks. more

European Banks Show Signs of Ill Health

For months, financial experts have been warning that Europe needs to act quickly to shore up banks on the Continent due to their heavy exposure to Greek debt. This week, there are increasing signs that their dire prognostications may be correct.

Deutsche Bank on Tuesday said in a statement that the company's earnings targets for 2011 were no longer realistic and that third quarter results were well behind expectations. CEO Josef Ackermann, who is set to vacate his current post next May, had hoped to earn a record pre-tax profit of €10 billion ($13.27 billion) this year. But the bank was forced to write down €250 million in Greek debt in the third quarter after similar write downs of €155 million in the second.

In addition, share prices for stock in the Franco-Belgian bank Dexia plunged on Tuesday, the most recent symptom of its significant holdings of Greek debt. The stock dropped by as much as 38 percent on Tuesday as officials in Belgium and France struggled to come up with a plan to prevent it from collapsing altogether.

The news also led to a general fall in European bank share prices which dragged down European and global markets on Tuesday.

The problems at Dexia, and the profit warning from Deutsche Bank, come as a result of a private sector agreement to contribute to efforts to bail out Greece. As part of the new, €109 billion Greek bailout fund tentatively agreed to in July, private sector creditors agreed to a 21 percent debt discount. Dexia this year has already written down €338 million to cover that pledge. more

German economics minister calls for permanent euro bankruptcy plan

German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler is to push for a plan for the orderly bankruptcy of highly leveraged eurozone countries, according to a letter obtained by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper.

The key points of the plan are to be incorporated into a draft treaty on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) - the permanent eurozone financial aid program which is supposed to succeed the temporary European Financial Stability Facility.

According to the FAZ report, Rösler, who leads the Free Democrats, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition, said countries no longer able to bear their debts should be made to enter into a predetermined default procedure and possibly face restrictions on their sovereign rights.

This would involve the given country's temporary loss of sovereignty over its debt, and acceptance of the possibility of capital losses to both debtors and creditors.

"Financial aid from the ESM should only be available if the creditors do their part," the plan stated, according to the FAZ.

The procedure must be overseen by an independent body that would be responsible for organizing and handling negotiations between debtors and creditors. Rösler said a so-called "European Monetary Fund," which would act as successor to the ESM, could assume this role. more

'The Finale of the Greek Drama Is Drawing Closer'

The good news is that Greece will remain solvent until mid-November, despite the decision reached on Monday evening by euro-zone finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg to delay payment of the next tranche from the €110 bailout fund put together in 2010. That, at least, is what Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Tuesday. Athens, he said, would have "no problem" meeting its domestic and international obligations.

The bad news, though, is that such reassurances are no longer enough to calm jittery markets. European stock markets plunged for the second day in a row on Tuesday amid growing concerns that avoiding insolvency may no longer be possible for Greece. Many see the delayed payment as yet more evidence that Athens has not fulfilled its austerity pledges made when the bailout package was assembled.

Furthermore, Greece revealed on Sunday that it's 2011 budget deficit would be a significantly larger proportion of its gross domestic product than it had promised in exchange for a second bailout, worth €109 billion, tentatively agreed to in July. Compounding the problem, on Monday new information also showed that the Greek economy would likely shrink further in 2012, instead of registering the slight growth officials had been hoping for.

Athens had originally insisted that funding would begin drying up by mid-October without the pending €8 billion payment tranche. That payment depends on the result of a report currently being assembled by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, the so-called "troika." more

Dissidents face persecution beyond Syrian borders

Their names are Rabee, Shevan, Naima, Georgette and Salem. All are Syrian dissidents who chose to leave their native country in order to live freely. Seeking safety, they’ve arrived in Paris, London, Toronto, and New York over the past several months, settling in places where they can express their solidarity with the anti-Assad movement that’s been gripping Syria.

But they have not been left alone, as hoped. All have been victims of attacks organized by Syrian diplomats abroad, according to an Amnesty International report published Monday.

“For five months we had been demonstrating at the Place du Chatelet [a public square in Paris] without any problem,” 35-year-old Rabee testified in the Amnesty report. “But then during a peaceful protest there on August 26, at about 6:30 pm, a group of five or six men and four women, carrying pro-Bashar [al-Assad, President of Syria] flags, arrived and attacked us.

"Three of us were hurt, including a young woman, Georgette….[The police said] that two of the aggressors have diplomatic passports and therefore no action can be done towards those two.”

The French Foreign Ministry has denied the allegation about the two attackers with diplomatic passports, who are thought to be linked to President Assad’s family. France also on Tuesday warned Syria against committing any act of violence or intimidation against Syrian dissidents in France. more

Russia introduces chemical castration for pedophiles



The Russian parliament has approved a law on pedophilia in a first reading. From now on people found guilty of sex crimes against children under the age of 14 will face chemical castration, while repeat offenders face a life sentence.

­According to the new law, the decision on a convict’s obligatory chemical castration will be made through a forensic psychiatrist's report requested by the court, which may ultimately turn to other medical measures, MP Dmitry Vyatkin explained to Itar-TASS.

“It would be unwise to limit the medical measures to just castration, as in some cases it may not help,” Vyatkin said.

At the same time, some of the convicts may ask for voluntary chemical castration, even if the victim was over 14. This may help them get parole if they are already serving a sentence, or a more lenient sentence if they are still being tried. However, in the latter case the final decision will be up to the court.

The law also banned suspended and deferred sentences for those found guilty of sex crimes against a child under the age of 14. And from now on they can ask for parole only after serving at least 80 per cent of their sentence.

The new law comes amid increased concerns over sexual transgressions against minors in Russian society.

A staggering 1,300 Russian children suffered from sexual crime involving violence in 2008 and another 5,233 from non-violent sexual crimes, according to Anton Belyakov, an MP for the loyalist A Just Russia party. Belyakov was among those calling for more severe punishments for pedophiles, as some 97% repeat their offenses after being released. more

Bus drivers want to keep the NYPD off their vehicles (Police trying to use buses, for free, to ship prisoners from "Occupy Wall Street" protests)

Bus drivers in New York City have been telling the NYPD that they don’t have to give free rides to jail for Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, despite what the Police Department seems to think. Now they are taking the issue to court.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 brought the matter to the New York State Supreme Court on Monday, where they asked for an injunction to keep the NYPD from forcing city bus drivers into giving protesters lifts to the big house. During Saturday’s mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge, bus drivers in New York City say that police officers commandeered their vehicles and insisted they move the 700 detainees to jail to be processed.

TWU spokesman Jim Gannon issued a statement on Monday to the media in which he revealed that in at least one incident over the weekend, passengers were ejected from a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus and told to wait for another so that police could make room for detainees.

John Samuelsen, president of Local 100, added at the conference that the Department’s actions over the weekend were over-the-top.

"The government may only compel a citizen to assist in law enforcement when there is imminent danger. There was no imminent danger here, and therefore the Operator's Fourth Amendment rights were violated,” said Samuelsen. “Just the opposite, the protesters this weekend appeared to be marching peacefully as is their right. Mayor Bloomberg is elevating the tension on Wall Street by these actions, when he should be calmly embracing New Yorkers' rights to free speech." more

Combat too heavy in Libya to end NATO campaign: US

US defence secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that NATO air raids in Libya will continue as long as there is heavy ground combat between rebels and diehard supporters of ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

"As long as there is fighting that continues in Libya, I suspect that the NATO mission will continue," Panetta told reporters during a visit to Cairo.

When asked how long NATO's air campaign would last, he said: "I think fighting has to end."

The Pentagon chief said he could not predict when the air campaign would be concluded but expected to have a better sense after discussions in Brussels this week with fellow NATO defence ministers.

Allied air strikes began in March when Gaddafi's soldiers had rebels on the back foot, and helped tipped the balance in favour of the rebels who overran the capital Tripoli in August.

The poorly trained but now battle-hardened rebels have surrounded Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte, east of Tripoli, and Bani Walid southeast of the capital, with limited success so far in dislodging former regime fighters.

NATO planes struck targets in Sirte on Sunday, but Gaddafi loyalists were still in the fight, raining rockets and rocket-propelled grenades down on rebel positions the following day.

"Obviously there continues to be fighting by Sirte, by other areas" and "we still don't know where Gaddafi is," Panetta said. more

Tracking factory slaves across Asia



Penang, Malaysia - We traveled to Cambodia planning to tell the story of an escape from modern-day slave labor but what we found were tales of more women trapped in debt-bondage in Malaysia.

In Cambodia, we found the women who had escaped, but we also learned about dozens of other workers stuck in similar circumstances, unable to get home unless they paid off their "debt" to a recruitment agency.

One mother, who we can't name because of her fear of retribution, explained how she had already sold her small landholding to free one daughter from this terrible situation.

She was now desperate to free her youngest daughter, age 22, who we've called Chanary to protect her identity.

We approached the agency, which had recruited both Chanary and the other women, and after initially inviting us into their compound for an interview, we suddenly found we'd been locked in. I was genuinely worried for our safety.

The owner, Ung Rithy, has powerful contacts with the police and government.

By the time Ung Rithy arrived we'd managed to persuade her staff to unlock the gates and we were waiting out on the street.

But Ung Rithy immediately ordered her staff to grab our equipment. She lunged for our camera and a tussle ensued. We managed to break free with our video and left. Rithy later offered an interview, then changed her mind, referring us to the Ministry of Labor. It was clear the company didn't appreciate the spotlight being shone on the business. more

Bernanke Warns Recovery 'Close to Faltering'

Europe has a debt crisis. America has a jobs crisis. Corporate profits could be in trouble. World financial markets are in turmoil. And no one seems prepared to ride to the rescue.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bluntly warned Congress on Tuesday of what most of America has sensed for some time: The economic recovery, such as it is, "is close to faltering."

The central bank chief spoke on a day when the stock market spent most of the trading hours in bear market territory — down 20 percent from its most recent highs in April. A late-day rally helped the market finish higher.

Bernanke's exchange with lawmakers seemed to capture the growing belief that no one is prepared to help the global economy in any meaningful way anytime soon. Speaking in unusually frank terms, he also captured the nation's sour economic mood.

The Fed chief was asked about protests around Wall Street, which went on for an 18th day as demonstrators railed against corporate greed and expressed frustration over the economy.

Bernanke replied: "I think people are quite unhappy with the state of the economy and what's happening. They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess. And they're dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can't blame them." more

Ancient Aliens S03E10 Aliens and Evil Places

Ikea explosions, Two Arrested in Poland - 8th Oct 2011

Police in Poland have arrested two men in connection with explosions at Ikea stores in several European countries, they said Saturday.

The two men, both age 39, are accused of trying to force Ikea to pay a ransom of 6 million euros (U.S. $8 million).

They were arrested after a joint operation involving several hundred officers from Poland's Central Investigation Bureau and investigators from other countries, police said in a statement.

There were eight explosions of increasing strength between May and early September, at large stores in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and the Czech Republic, police said.

Initially the explosions were treated as individual cases in the countries where they occurred, but police now believe the plot was orchestrated from Poland, the statement said. The suspects made use of technology and traveled large distances to try to avoid detection in Poland, it added.

The men have been accused of racketeering and extortion offenses, as well as endangering people's lives. Read More

Kurdish opposition leader slain in Syria, activists say - 8th Oct 2011

A prominent Kurdish opposition leader was shot dead Friday in a brazen assault that came as protesters across the country demonstrated for his fledgling anti-regime movement, activists said.

Mashaal Tammo, spokesman for the Kurdish Future Party and a member of the newly formed Syria National Council, was killed in a private residence in the northeastern city of Qamishli, one of the cities where protesters gathered Friday. At least eight other people died in the Damascus suburbs and other locations during demonstrations, activists said.

"The violence continues unabated," Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, said on Friday.

Tammo's death was reported by three groups -- the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Avaaz, an international activist organization. Tammo's son and another activist, Zahida Rashkilo, were injured. Avaaz said Tammo was meeting with activists at the time.

Avaaz said the attackers were members of the Shabiha, the pro-government militia.

"The Kurdish people are very angry as a result," an activist told Avaaz. Read More

99%: "Where is my Bailout?"

Despair and resignation in Greece as more pain looms - 8th Oct 2011

The slogans on the street are about storming the barricades, but when you talk to Greeks about the financial crisis that has brought their country to its knees, their anger quickly gives way to resignation and despair.

With news on Monday that the recession will last at least a fourth year -- and the government promising ever tougher reforms that will bring even more hardship -- labor unions have vowed to call Greeks out into the streets.

They will turn out in their thousands, but despite escalating rhetoric and the prospect of unrest, Greeks express little hope that their public expressions of outrage can change their fate.

"What can you do? Throw stones? Throw oranges? Even if you spat on the politicians all day long it would accomplish nothing," said Amalia Dougia, a 45-year-old single mother, resting wearily on a bench in downtown Athens, where she was waiting to see a lawyer to find a way out of debt. Read More

FBI rolls out nationwide face recognition system - 8th Oct 2011

A nationwide face recognition service is to be activated in some U.S. states by the FBI which will allow local police to identify suspects.

The program, part of a $1 billion overhaul of the FBI's existing fingerprint database, will begin by mid-January and will allow police to pinpoint wanted criminals more quickly and accurately,

Other biometric markers such as iris scans and voice recordings will also be implemented into the revamped database, it has been reported.

Bureau officials told Nextgov that the new face recognition feature could help provide the 'missing link' for police for unsolved cases.

Nick Megna, from the FBI's criminal justice information services division, said: '[Law enforcement authorities] have a photo of a person and for whatever reason they just don't know who it is [but they know] this is clearly the missing link to our case.' Read More

State Senator let off with a $268 Fine for Causing a crash that Killed a pregnant Brianna 'Brie' Gomez - 8th Oct 2011

A Colorado state senator who caused a fatal car crash that killed a pregnant woman escaped with only some minor traffic citations and a $268 fine.

Suzanne Williams, 65, caused the accident when she started driving on the wrong side of the highway and ended up crashing into a car and killing Brianna 'Brie' Gomez, 30, who was pregnant with her third child.

The accident happened in Channing, Texas on the day after Christmas last year when Mrs Williams was driving with her grown son Todd Williams, 41, and her two grandchildren, Tyler, 7, and Tristan, 3.

The Williams family was driving north from Dallas to Vail, Colorado, when Ms. Williams drove into the southbound lane for an unknown reason.

Mrs Williams' vehicle then crashed into the car of Eric and Brie Gomez, high school sweethearts and parents of two who were travelling with their children.

Mrs Gomez, a child therapist and counsellor, was airlifted to a nearby hospital and doctors performed an emergency C-section to save her baby, Curran. Mrs Gomez died shortly after the baby was delivered.

Also injured in the crash were all three passengers in Ms Williams' car. Read More

Juan Jose Padilla a Matador cheats death at festival after bull's horn blinds him in one eye and paralyses half his face - 8th Oct 2011

A Spanish matador has been blinded in his left eye and paralysed down that side of his face after he was horrifically gored during a bullfight.

The bull's horn pierced Juan Jose Padilla's jaw and emerged through his left eye socket during the grizzly incident at the northeastern city of Zaragoza's Fiestas Del Pilar event yesterday.

With blood gushing from his head, he was helped out of the ring screaming 'I can't see, I can't see'.

He then underwent a life-saving five-hour operation to repair severe damage to his eye, bone, muscle and skin, said Spain's taurine press.

The bull, called Marques and from the Ana Romero ranch, quickly took its revenge after Padilla slipped and fell in the sand after the placing of the banderillas (barbed sticks). Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 8th Oct 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 69.3 km (43.1 miles), the quake hit at 16:08:47 UTC Saturday 8th October 2011.
The epicenter was 49 km ( 30 miles) ENE of Tokyo, Japan
No reports of Damage or Injuries r
eported at this time.

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake FIJI REGION - 8th Oct 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck the Fiji Region at a depth of 591.4 km (367.5 miles), the quake hit at 15:08:33 UTC Saturday 8th October 2011.
The epicenter was 262 km ( 162 miles) Southeast of Lambasa, Vanua Levu, Fiji
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No reports of Damage or Injuries r
eported at this time.

Danish police evacuate hundreds after warehouse explosion - 8th Oct 2011

DANISH POLICE HAVE evacuated hundreds of people after a warehouse went on fire following a number of explosions in a village near Kolding.

According to police spokesman, Klaus Arboe, the cause of the explosions is unknown but the building that caught fire appeared to contain powerful fireworks.

Local media in Store Andst, a village near Kolding, about 125 miles west of Copenhagen, have reported that one person has died in the incident but this has yet to be confirmed by authorities.

According to local website JV.DK, the explosions occurred at a former civil defence building. It also reports that there are still four people missing following the blast.

Emergency services say thick clouds of smoke continue to billow from the site. Source

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Attacked Police, NYPD Commissioner Says

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to spread across the country, the protesters in the place where it all started, New York City, are being blamed for the recent clashes with police, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

"What they did is they counted. They actually had a countdown - 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 - they grouped together, they joined arms and they charged the police. They attacked the police. They wanted to get into Wall Street, they wanted to occupy Wall Street," Kelly told reporters.

New YorK City Demonstrations: 28 Arrested Wednesday

On Wednesday, police arrested 28 people, mostly for disorderly conduct. At least one arrest was for assaulting a police officer and, police said, one protestor knocked an officer off his scooter, CBS New York reported.

The commissioner said if the Occupy Wall Street protestors target the police, authorities will respond with "force."

"They're going to be met with force when they do that - this is just common sense," Kelly said. "These people wanted to have confrontation with the police for whatever reason. Somehow, I guess it works to their purposes."

Kelly also told reporters that the protests, thus far, have cost the city about $2 million in overtime for officers assigned to cover the demonstrations.

Despite the skirmishes, Kelly maintained that as long as the protestors were peaceful, and followed the rules, there would be no problems. more

Computer Virus Hits U.S. Drone Fleet

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones.

The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.

“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech. That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command. more

More than 100 charged in massive NYC theft ring

Bank tellers, restaurant workers and other service employees in New York lifted credit card data from residents and foreign tourists as part of an identity theft ring that stretched to China, Europe and the Middle East and victimized thousands, authorities said Friday.

In total, 111 people were charged and 86 are in custody; the others are still being sought. Five separate criminal enterprises operating out of Queens were dismantled. They were hit with hundreds of charges, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, calling it the largest fraud case he’d ever seen in his two decades in office.

“These weren’t holdups at gunpoint, but the impact on victims was the same,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. “They were robbed.”

The enterprise had been operating since at least 2010 and included at least one bank and restaurants, mostly in Queens. more

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTHERN PERU - 8th Oct 2011

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck Southern Peru at a depth of 205.6 km (127.8 miles), the quake hit at 12:29:30 UTC Saturday 8th October 2011.
The epicenter was 44 km ( 27 miles) West from Juliaca, Peru
No reports of Damage or Injuries r
eported at this time.

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake FOX ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA - 8th Oct 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck the Fox Islands, Aleutian Islands, Alaska at a depth of 56.7 km (35.2 miles), the quake hit at 10:44:36 UTC Saturday 8th October 2011.
The epicenter was 70 km ( 43 miles) Southwest of Amukta Island, Alaska
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No reports of Damage or Injuries r
eported at this time.

6.0 Magnitude Earthquake TONGA - 8th Oct 2011

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake has struck Tonga at a depth of 19.6 km (12.2 miles), the quake hit at 08:53:14 UTC Saturday 8th October 2011.
The epicenter was 216 km ( 134 miles) ENE of Nuku'Alofa, Tonga
No Tsunami Waning Issued - No reports of Damage or Injuries r
eported at this time.

Listeria Outbreak Death Toll Rises to 21 - 8th Oct 2011

Federal health authorities say a nationwide outbreak of listeria in Colorado cantaloupes is now responsible for 21 deaths and the number may continue to grow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported new deaths in Indiana and New York. The CDC also confirmed a death in Wyoming that state officials reported last week. CDC said 109 people have been sickened in the outbreak -- including the 21 dead -- in 23 states from California to the East Coast.

The agency previously reported five deaths in Colorado, five in New Mexico, two in Texas, two in Kansas and one each in Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. CDC said it is also aware of one miscarriage associated with the outbreak.

The death toll in the cantaloupe outbreak is now tied with a 1998 outbreak of listeria in hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp. That outbreak was also linked to 21 deaths. The deadliest outbreak in the United States before that is believed to have been listeria in Mexican-style soft cheese in 1985, which was linked to 52 deaths.

CDC officials have said the symptoms of listeria can take up to two months to show up and that they expect more illnesses through October. Read More

'Minor' radioactive leak at Dounreay nuclear plant, Scotland - 7th Oct 2011

Radioactive material has leaked at the site of the former Dounreay nuclear power station in Caithness, it has been confirmed.

Radioactive liquid effluent is understood to have leaked inside a treatment facility.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said the leak was minor and did not get outside the plant.

Sepa has launched an investigation. Dounreay is currently undergoing a £2.6bn decommissioning process.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) said that nobody was put at risk by the incident.

Dounreay was constructed in the 1950s as an experimental nuclear power complex, but has not generated electricity since 1994.

Radioactive liquid effluent occurs when a reactor and its equipment are cleaned. Read More

More than 1,900 birds dead from avian botulism near Stillwater, Nevada - 7th Oct 2011

Nearly 2,000 ducks and other birds are dead from avian botulism in one of Nevada’s more significant outbreaks of the disease.

Mallards, green-wing teals, redhead ducks and other birds including American avocets and white-faced ibis began dying at a private lake about 20 miles southwest of Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge on Aug. 30.

The number of bacteria-killed birds has been on a steady rise ever since and could make 2011 one of the 10 worst years for botulism outbreaks since state records started in 1949.

“It’s starting to get a bit out of control,” said Russell Woolstenhulme, a migratory game bird specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

The die-off is occurring at Six Man Club, a private hunting lake near Carson Lake south of Fallon. On Wednesday, crews working by air boat fished 398 dead birds out of the water and on Thursday, another 344, Woolstenhulme said. As of Friday, 1,942 birds have died. Read More