Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank you for your help, America!

We'd like to thank our American readers for providing the most help yesterday in regards to the big flashing banner up top. We greatly appreciate the fact they took 5 seconds out of their day to fulfill our request up top and contribute back to the site. It helps a great deal.

-- Matt & Lynsey

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 12th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 117.5 km (73 miles), the quake hit at 02:34:22 UTC Monday 12th December 2011.
The epicenter was 19 km (12 miles) ESE of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

5.1 Magnitude Earthquake BOUGAINVILLE REGION, PAPUA NEW GUINEA - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake has struck the Bougainville Region, Papua New Guinea at a depth of 85.2 km (52.9 miles), the quake hit at 21:56:02 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 78 km (48 miles) South of Arawa, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake BANDA SEA, INDONESIA - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck the Banda Sea, Indonesia at a depth of 145.2 km (90.2 miles), the quake hit at 20:18:17 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 235 km (146 miles) NNW of Saumlaki, Kepulauan Tanimbar, Indonesia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Italian gipsy camp burned down by vigilantes after false rape claim - 11th Dec 2011

A vigilante mob burned down a gipsy camp after an Italian teenager allegedly claimed she had been raped by two Romany men – only to confess later that she had invented the entire story.

The 16-year-old reportedly made up the account to conceal the fact that she had lost her virginity to her Italian boyfriend, but the lie unleashed a chain of events that she could not have foreseen.

She went to the police near her home on the outskirts of Turin late last week to report that she had been raped.

Police officers conducted interviews with dozens of people in the area to try to find witnesses to the supposed attack, and the news of the assault quickly spread.

Up to 500 people staged a peaceful protest march on Saturday in the suburb of Le Vallette but a mob of around 50 peeled off from the rally and headed to a nearby gipsy camp.

As the Romany inhabitants fled, the vigilantes set fire to around 20 makeshift shelters and huts, creating a huge blaze. They threw stones and beat up at least one gipsy man. Read More

Syria behind attack on French troops in Lebanon - 11th Dec 2011

French foreign minister says he believes roadside bomb which injured 5 French UNIFIL peacekeepers in southern Lebanon carried out by Hezbollah at Syria's urging.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Sunday Paris believed Syria was behind attacks on its troops in Lebanon earlier this week.

A roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon on Friday, in the third attack this year on United Nations forces deployed near the frontier with Israel.

"We have strong reason to believe these attacks came from there (Syria)," Juppe said on RFI radio. "We think it's most probable, but I don't have proof." Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 31.8 km (19.8 miles), the quake hit at 19:51:11 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 41 km (25 miles) ESE of Mito, Honshu, Japan
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Defectors Fight Syrian Troops in South - 11th Dec 2011

Army defectors in southern Syria battled loyalist forces backed by tanks in a major armed confrontation Sunday near the Jordanian border, as up to 18 people were killed in nationwide violence.

Residents and activists said government troops from Syria's 12th Armored Brigade stormed the southern town of Busra al-Harir overnight. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three military vehicles were burned in the clashes. The group said similar battles took place Sunday in several other parts of the south.

Reuters quoted local residents as saying defectors had been hiding in the area and attacking military supply lines, provoking the government assault. The Observatory said separate clashes between government troops and deserters in the northwestern town of Kfar Takharim saw two civilians killed and two troop transport vehicles set ablaze.

The activist group said eight people were killed across Syria Sunday, while the opposition Local Coordination Committee put the death toll at 18. It was impossible to independently verify either count.

Meanwhile, several regions across Syria observed the opposition's call for a general strike Sunday, the first working day of the week. Read More

'18 killed' in fresh Syria clashes, say opposition - 11th Dec 2011

At least 18 people are reported to have died in clashes in Syria as opposition activists called a general strike.

11 of the deaths were in the cities of Homs and Hama, the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) said.

Two people also died in clashes between troops and deserters in the northern Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Authorities in Idlib confronted members of "an armed terrorist group", said Syrian state news agency SANA.

The UN estimates more than 4,000 people have died in the nine-month uprising, including 307 children.

Syria severely restricts access to foreign media so reports of unrest cannot be verified.

The LCC said the casualties it had recorded on Sunday included two children. Read More

D-FOX: Please contact us if you can read this.

To D-fox: if you're reading this, please contact us at thecomingcrisis@gmail.com. It's important -- we believe.

US firearms sales hit all-time high on Black Friday

US firearms sales reached a record 129,166 during last week's Black Friday that kicked off the holiday shopping season, a 32 percent increase from the previous all-time high, officials said.

The FBI confirmed the jump from the last peak of 97,848 weapons sold during Black Friday of 2008, telling AFP that "we do not have an explanation for the increase."

The figures, first reported by USA Today, are based on the number of background check requests for prospective buyers sent by gun dealers to the FBI.

Part of the increase was attributed to a growing number of first-time buyers who are purchasing firearms for protection, while more women are engaging in sport shooting and hunting.

"There also is a burgeoning awakening of the American public that they do have a constitutional right to own guns," National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman Larry Keane told the newspaper.

He said 25 percent of the purchases are usually made by first-time buyers, including many women.

But Dennis Henigan, acting president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said "there may be no real significance at all" to the Black Friday surge.

"It's possible that gun companies are just catching on to creating a Black Friday frenzy for themselves," he said. more

New videogames give civil uprising tips

The Arab Spring uprisings and Occupy-style US protests have inspired a new genre of serious videogames designed to help activists develop strategy -- all in the safety of cyberspace.

Games like "People Power (The Game of Civil Resistance)" allow would-be protest leaders to build and test their plans for peacefully opposing the police or the government without actually hitting the streets.

The game, which promises "an opportunity to join a community of others who want to learn about civil resistance and nonviolent strategies," was created by York Zimmerman Inc, along with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

"We certainly did not aim at a mass audience," said Steve York, "People Power" executive producer. "I suppose it's not for everyone, certainly not casual players wanting to be entertained.

"Still, I think it will be interesting and fun for people who enjoy strategy games, even people who like chess," York added from the documentary production company's Washington headquarters.

"And for our primary audience, activists engaged in real-world conflicts for freedom or rights, it would be unhelpful to make a game which is too simple or too easy," he said.

"People Power" is a followup to a game launched in 2006, "A Force More Powerful," when the group realized there there was a need to help activists learn non-violent strategies. more

Abrupt permafrost thaw increases climate threat

As the Arctic warms, greenhouse gases will be released from thawing permafrost faster and at significantly higher levels than previous estimates, according to survey results from 41 international scientists published in the Nov. 30 issue of the journal Nature.

Permafrost thaw will release approximately the same amount of carbon as deforestation, say the authors, but the effect on climate will be 2.5 times bigger because emissions include methane, which has a greater effect on warming than carbon dioxide.

The survey, led by University of Florida researcher Edward Schuur and University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Benjamin Abbott, asked climate experts what percentage of the surface permafrost is likely to thaw, how much carbon will be released and how much of that carbon will be methane. The authors estimate that the amount of carbon released by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than reported in recent modeling studies, which used a similar warming scenario.

"The larger estimate is due to the inclusion of processes missing from current models and new estimates of the amount of organic carbon stored deep in frozen soils," Abbott said. "There's more organic carbon in northern soils than there is in all living things combined; it's kind of mind boggling."

Northern soils hold around 1,700 billion gigatons of organic carbon, around four times more than all the carbon ever emitted by modern human activity and twice as much as is now in the atmosphere, according to the latest estimate. When permafrost thaws, organic material in the soil decomposes and releases gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. more

The FBI Announces Gangs Have Infiltrated Every Branch Of The Military (Buried but not forgotten)

The FBI has released a new gang assessment announcing that there are 1.4 million gang members in the US, a 40 percent increase since 2009, and that many of these members are getting inside the military (via Stars and Stripes).

The report says the military has seen members from 53 gangs and 100 regions in the U.S. enlist in every branch of the armed forces. Members of every major street gang, some prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) have been reported on both U.S. and international military installations.

From the report:

Through transfers and deployments, military-affiliated gang members expand their culture and operations to new regions nationwide and worldwide, undermining security and law enforcement efforts to combat crime. Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of their distinctive weapons and combat training skills and their ability to transfer these skills to fellow gang members.

The report notes that while gang members have been reported in every branch of service, they are concentrated in the U.S. Army, Army Reserves, and the Army National Guard. more

WikiLeaks: Syria aimed chemical weapons at Israel after strike on nuclear facilities -- Is history repeating itself, this time more dangerously?

Syria placed long-range missiles equipped with chemical warheads on high alert after an attack on a Syrian nuclear plant in 2007, WikiLeaks documents obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth indicate.

In March 2008, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmet met with then Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives John Boehner and several US congressmen. Olmert addressed Operation Cast Lead which was in the final planning states and said that Israel had plans to cause considerable damage to Hamas in Gaza. He then added that the government was considering when and how to act.

Asked whether Israel intends to eliminate Hamas, Olmert replied that the government will not tolerate the continued rocket fire and would act in a manner which would cause "great pain" to Hamas. He noted that Israel may not destroy Hamas but that it could hurt it enough to force the group to consider its actions.

Olmert also praised Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and said he was a decent person, who unlike Arafat truly seeks peace. He nevertheless expressed dissatisfaction over talks between Hamas and Fatah.

When confronted with a question on the attack on the Syrian nuclear plant in Deir ez Zor, the former prime minister said he never publically addressed the matter but noted the fact that gas tanks belonging to Israeli planes were found near the Syrian-Turkish border. more

Korea's DMZ: Road trip to the world's most heavily armed border Read more: DMZ: Road trip to the world's most heavily armed border

As the tour bus moves from central Seoul to the city outskirts, the seamless transition from one of the world's biggest and most vibrant cities to the world's most heavily armed border is as surreal as it is functional, with roadside bus stops soon giving way to security fence and military watchtowers.

“Many South Koreans don't think so much about the North”, opines So Yeon (real name withheld for security reasons), a North Korean defector in her mid-thirties currently working for the Seoul-based Panmunjom Travel Center.

Every morning So Yeon addresses a busload of tourists about her life in and escape from North Korea , while en route to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the two-kilometer-wide buffer running the length of the 250-kilometer land border between North and South Korea.

 more

Pepper spray nation: With most of the UC board of regents being in the 1%, student demonstrators should expect more police brutality

The viral video of Lt John Pike casually pepper-spraying a line of peacefully seated student protesters has deep resonance for the Civil Rights generation. It's impossible to escape comparisons to Bull Connor ordering the use of fire hoses on the black youth of Birmingham on May 3, 1963. Pike sprays the students' faces as if they were cockroaches, many have said. The youth of Birmingham were sprayed with such force that some were knocked over like paper dolls. But it was segregation that was about to fall. The UC Davis students face a much more formidable foe, not least because it is harder to define. But their sacrificial courage holds the promise of helping to change that.

The details may differ between Davis and Cairo, but the underlying struggle is fundamentally the same: It is not just youth against age, freedom against repression, innocence against cynicism, hope against fear, dreams against nightmares - it is all that and more. But it is also something historically much more specific. It is the neo-liberal promise against its own grim reality, represented in the street battles in and around Tahrir Square, as well as the pepper-spraying of docile students at UC Davis.

How does it come about that this is the example that America sets for the world? How does a purported liberal democracy become a police state? The drama at Davis provides two paths towards answering that question.

First is the bizarre bifurcation of America's First Amendment freedoms, with one virtually unlimited form for 1%, who really don't need any protection, and another, carefully constricted form for the 99%, who really do need it. For the 1%, "money is speech", an absurd proposition that effectively transforms democracy into plutocracy. But for the 99%, actual speech, along with the closely-linked right of assembly, is subject to all sorts of restrictions as to "time, place and manner". Tents may cost money, but that doesn't make them speech. Don't be ridiculous. We're not talking about the kind of money that the 1% has. more

Dynamic 2011 events to shape world for years to come

From the Arab Spring to a global economic crisis to the killing of Osama bin Laden, 2011 has been defined by historic and dynamic events that will shape the world in the years ahead.

A revolt across the Middle East and North Africa began with the self-immolation of a struggling merchant in Tunisia and spread across the region. Egyptian protesters toppled the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, and rebels in Libya battled against supporters of long-time strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Gadhafi was eventually killed in October after months on the run from rebel forces and NATO bombardments.

The significance of the Arab Spring is indisputable, but was it the biggest story of the year?

The earth shook off the coast of Japan in March, triggering one of the worst tsunamis in years, destroying nearly everything in its path and sending millions fleeing for high ground.

Beyond the utter calamity from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, Japan found itself dealing with the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was knocked offline, resulting in a meltdown of three reactors, with radiation leaking into the air and contaminated water spilling into the sea.

The long-term effects from the stricken plant remain unknown. more

Manila's little people seek their own community after facing exclusion

Crowded, gritty, and poor, Metro Manila can be a tough place to live for just about anyone; but when you stand three feet 10 inches the odds are seriously stacked against you.

"I come from the provinces so there was no work," says 35-year-old Alejandro Doron, looking at his hands. "Farm work, using the heavy equipment, was just too hard for me."

Arriving in Manila as a 21-year-old, Alejandro - a dwarf or unano as they are called in the Philippines - tried his hand at several jobs, among them working as a show wrestler in a Manila bar.

"That was okay but it could be quite hard," he says. "It was just a show, and just on Thursdays, but sometimes you could still get hurt and you were always slipping over in the oil."

Now safely ensconced in Manila's "Hobbit House" - a dwarf-themed blues bar in Manila's scruffy Ermita district - he is part of a group of dwarves who plan to build their own community for about 30 of the city's "little people" - the preferred term for people with dwarfism. more

China elderly facing HIV/AIDS crisis

When an old widower from the central Chinese city of Wuhan went into hospital last summer because of a persistent high fever, he was diagnosed with the AIDS virus -- and made national news.

The man, in his late 70s, had frequently hired prostitutes after his wife died, and doctors believe he contracted the HIV virus -- which can eventually develop into full-blown AIDS -- through unprotected sex, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

With the population rapidly aging, more than 10% of China's 1.3 billion people are now over the age of 60, census figures show. Improving living standards mean many Chinese are living and remaining sexually active for longer.

But now the threat of HIV/AIDS looms large over a segment of Chinese society not previously known for a high prevalence of cases: senior citizens. more

Euro doomed from start, says Jacques Delors

The euro project was flawed from the start and the current generation of European leaders has failed to address its fundamental problems, Jacques Delors, the architect of the single currency, declares today.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Jacques Delors, the former president of the European Commission, claims that errors made when the euro was created had effectively doomed the single currency to the current debt crisis. He also accuses today’s leaders of doing “too little, too late,” to support the single currency.

The 86-year-old Frenchman’s intervention comes the day after France and Germany took another step towards the creation of a full “fiscal union” within the European Union and David Cameron insisted that Britain must remain a major player in Europe. Mr Delors, who led the commission from 1985 to 1995, played a central role in the process that led to the creation of the euro in 1999. In his first British newspaper interview for almost a decade, he says that the debt crisis reflects a threat to Europe’s global role and even basic Western democratic values.

Mr Delors claims that the current crisis stems from “a fault in execution” by the political leaders who oversaw the euro in its early days. Leaders chose to turn a blind eye to the fundamental weaknesses and imbalances of member states’ economies, he says.

“The finance ministers did not want to see anything disagreeable which they would be forced to deal with,” he says.

The euro came into existence without strong central powers to stop members running up unsustainable debts, an omission that led to the current crisis. Now that the excessive borrowing of countries such as Greece and Italy has brought the eurozone to the brink of disaster, Mr Delors insists that all European countries must share the blame for the crisis. “Everyone must examine their consciences,” he says. more

"Germany is the ultimate victim of Euro" *Coughs*

Enough is enough. Please stop defaming Germany out there in the blogosphere.

The Germans are not engaged in a mercantilist conspiracy to subjugate and milk southern Europe. They are not conducting “warfare by other means”, or heaven forbid, trying to establish a Fourth Reich.

The German people entered monetary union for honourable motives, believing they were acting as good Europeans. It is excruciating for them to see those Athens banners in Syntagma Square showing Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing the Swastika, or read that sign “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

They gave up the D-Mark reluctantly under French and Italian pressure, as the price for acquiescence in Reunification.

They entered EMU at an overvalued rate after the Reunification bubble, leaving them in semi-slump for half a decade. They slowly clawed back competitiveness the hard way, by squeezing wages and driving up productivity.

It is entirely understandable that they now think Club Med can and should do the same. (They are profoundly wrong, of course, because Germany was able to lower relative wages during a) a global boom, b) against other EMU states that were inflating c) and with benchmark borrowing cost that stayed low even during the dog days. None of these factors apply to Italy or Spain now. But this is hard to explain this to the man or woman on the Berlin tram.)

If EMU now puts Germany in mercantilist ascendancy – an untenable position politically – it is by accident. They make good products (and for that reason they should have a strong currency that rises to reflect the fact). The euro is the cause of all the trouble, not German ambitions or motives. Germany is now hated in Europe more than at any time since World War Two because it allowed itself to roped into this ruinous currency experiment, and for no other reason whatsoever. more

Younger people will be £43,000 worse off in retirement by delaying their pension by a year (although, who can afford a pension these days?)

While most attention focused on this week's disclosure that everyone born after 1960 will have to work one year longer before receiving their state pension, an apparently technical statement sneaked out on the eve of the Autumn Statement will hit millions of young and poor people much harder.

They are the groups most likely not to have any company or occupational retirement scheme if they work in the private sector. The poor are most likely to be excluded because of their lowly place in corporate hierarchies and, in any case, many struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month – let alone a working lifetime.

Young people often lack company pensions because they have more immediate concerns – such as paying off student debts – or they work for small or start-up companies that regard retirement planning for junior employees as none of their business.

More than seven million workers without any retirement savings were told three years ago that they would gain a legal right to have one from 2014 onwards. Better still, employers would have to contribute at least 3pc of payroll toward the new National Employment Savings Trust (Nest).

Now, three years before the deadline to deliver on that promise, the Government has decided to delay implementation by one year. That may not sound like much but the power of compound interest means the cash effect will be substantial. more

Initiative would let illegal immigrants work in California legally

Nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants could live and work openly in California with little or no fear of deportation under an initiative unveiled Friday by a state legislator and others.

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, a Democrat, is helping spearhead the measure, called the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act.

The proposal was filed Friday with the state Attorney General's Office, marking a first step toward a drive to collect the 504,760 voter signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Fuentes called the measure a "moderate, common-sense approach" necessitated by the federal government's inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"I hope this shows Washington, D.C., that if they fail to act, California will take the lead on this critical issue," Fuentes said in a written statement.

Supporters say the initiative could generate up to $325 million in new tax revenue from undocumented workers that could assist education, public safety and other state programs.

Regardless whether Californians would support such a measure, implementation would depend upon the federal government agreeing not to prosecute participants.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, blasted the proposal as an attempt to sidestep immigration law. He predicted that it wouldn't have a "snowball's chance in hell" of winning voter approval.

"There's a proper process for coming to this country," Donnelly said. "Why don't you respect that?" more

U.S. lawmakers push for better treatment of illegal immigrants... in Mexico

Already unhappy with the Obama administration’s handling of illegal immigrants in the U.S., liberal lawmakers on Friday asked the government to go even further and make American aid to Mexico based on that country treating immigrants better.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led a letter signed by more than 30 lawmakers, including Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard L. Berman, that accused Mexican authorities of everything from kidnapping and robbery to extortion of migrants crossing Mexico on their way to the U.S.

In the letter the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to put pressure on Mexico to clean things up.

“The current levels of abuse against migrants in transit in Mexico represent a humanitarian crisis that has been recognized by international human rights organizations across the globe,” they wrote, adding that because of its location and ties, the U.S. has “a clear interest and responsibility” to push Mexico.

Mexico has regularly fought for better treatment of its citizens who live illegally in the U.S., but reports have exposed rough treatment by Mexican authorities of Central American migrants who cross Mexico on their way to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

In addition, illegal immigrants are preyed upon by smugglers and sometimes fellow migrants themselves. more

Parents Can Rent Toys At New Website for Christmas -- Good idea, or ridiculous?



When you are a kid on Christmas morning, it’s all about volume. But when you are a parent, cruising the aisles of the toy-store in December, it’s about trying to balance a happy holiday with a reasonable budget.

Paul Reinsmith of Boston has found a great way to have plenty of toys under the tree, and all year, without breaking the bank.

Paul and his wife Pam discovered what they call the ‘Netflix’ of toys.

It’s called Toygaroo, a website that lets parents rent toys for a fraction of what they would cost to buy. more

Canada May Miss $6.7 Billion Carbon Offset Bill by Exiting Kyoto Protocol

Canada, the country furthest from meeting its commitment to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, may save as much as $6.7 billion by exiting the global climate change agreement and not paying for offset credits.

The country’s greenhouse-gas emissions are almost a third higher than 1990 levels, and it has a 6 percent CO2 reduction target for the end of 2012. If it couldn’t meet its goal, Canada would have to buy carbon credits, under the rules of the legally binding treaty.

Canada, which has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, would be the first of 191 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol to annul its emission-reduction obligations. While Environment Minister Peter Kent declined to confirm Nov. 28 that Canada is preparing to pull out of Kyoto, which may ease the burden for oil-sands producers and coal-burning utilities, he said the government wouldn’t make further commitments to it.

“Canada is the only country in the world saying it won’t honor Kyoto,” said Keith Stewart, an energy and climate policy analyst for Greenpeace in Toronto. Under a previous Liberal government, Canada was one of the first countries to sign Kyoto in 1998. The current Conservative government made a non-binding commitment at 2009 United Nations talks in Copenhagen to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, in line with a pledge by the U.S., its biggest trading partner. more

"Taxpayer Funded Internet Soap Opera..."

"Israel Snubs Jewish Americans... but still wants their money"

Young, broke and homeless: the British property scandal

As a new Channel 4 documentary reveals the shocking extent of Britain's homelessness crisis, an innovative charity could provide a solution. Anna Tyzack reports

Shivering in his sleeping bag on a park bench in central London, student Leon Rossi felt helpless. It was December – supposedly the season of goodwill – yet he had been turned away from every hostel in King’s Cross. He was 26 and in good health, which put him at the bottom of the priority list for getting a bed.

“It was frightening and unbelievably lonely,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep at night. All I could think about was how to survive.”

Seven years on Leon, who features in forthcoming Channel 4 documentary The Great British Property Scandal, now has a spacious, one-bedroom flat in Finsbury Park. It’s rented to him by Real Lettings, a social enterprise that takes on abandoned or empty properties and lets them out to vulnerable people who are ineligible for social housing.

“I feel like a human being again,” Leon says. “I don’t have to watch my back the whole time.”

Like countless other young men and women who end up sleeping rough, Leon had been living a normal existence before he lost his home. He wasn’t a drug user or a criminal. He was studying English at college. He had a part-time job and a social life. more

Global house prices hit by credit crunch and eurozone crisis but the rich are OK (like usual)

House prices could soon start to fall around the world as a result of the credit crunch and eurozone crisis, one of the biggest global estate agents has hinted.

Knight Frank, which operates in 43 countries, across six continents and claims to have sold property worth US $817bn or £498bn last year, can scarcely be accused of talking the market up. It reckons the average house price edged higher by only 1.5pc last year – little more than the margin for error across such a large sample.

The Knight Frank Global House Price Index includes fast-growing emerging markets where double digit increases were widespread until recently, but even these constituents showed more sluggish growth in the third quarter of this year.

As a result, the index remained flat for the last three months. Residential analyst Kate Everett-Allen said: “Looking forward, house prices are likely to show little improvement in the final quarter of 2011, given that much of the unravelling of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis took place post-September and has yet to be reflected in the index results.”

More than half the 51 countries covered by the index – which is based on government or central bank statistics – showed falling house prices during the last quarter. Hong Kong topped the global property table, with house prices 19pc higher than a year ago. The only other countries to deliver double digit gains over the same period were Estonia (14pc); India (14pc) and Taiwan (13pc). Mainland China lagged in sixth place with growth of less than 9pc with fears of house prices falling by 20pc next year. more

Can the 'badly designed' euro fail?

Sir Mervyn King’s words today are chilling. The eurozone crisis is “extraordinarily serious and threatening” the Governor of the Bank of England said, and the UK’s central bank was drawing up contingency plans in case the zone breaks up.

This is the icing on the cake that has seen more and more politicians and commentators postulate the unthinkable: a breakup of the zone and the currency. The Economist starts this week’s lead article “even as the eurozone hurtles towards a crash.”

For some weeks now I have believed that such an event was nigh on impossible - surely, I reasoned, politicians would do what is necessary. The Economist says the “consequences are so catastrophic that no sensible policy maker could stand by and let it happen." With such ringing words I think it is worth distinguishing exactly what we are talking about.

I do not believe that the euro, as a currency, will disappear. Three hundred million people use it in their every day life. If the euro were to vanish, then we really are talking about turning the lights out and saying goodnight.

As for the eurozone, it’s a different matter. The eurozone probably won’t survive in its current form of 17 countries. The moment George Papandreou – when he was Greek prime minister – announced that his ill-fated referendum would be a “yes or no to the euro” a rubicon was crossed. The referendum didn’t happen but the incident left behind the concept that membership was no longer irrevocable – contrary to what the EU Treaty says. A country could say “we’re off.” more

Homeless In America: The "Hard Times" Generation

Beijing's Underground City to fend off Nuclear Attacks: 30km long, with shops, living spaces, and accesses to every home

For more than 20 years, Beijing’s Underground City, a bomb shelter just beneath the ancient capital’s downtown area, has been virtually forgotten by local citizens, despite being well-known amongst foreigners since it officially opened in 2000.

The Underground City has also been called the Underground Great Wall, since they had the same purpose: military defense.

This complex is a relic of the Sino-Soviet border conflict in 1969 over Zhenbao Island in northeast China’s Heilongjiang River, a time when chairman Mao Zedong ordered the construction of subterranean bomb shelters in case of nuclear attack.

The tunnels, built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens and even school children, wind for over 30 kilometers and cover an area of 85 square kilometers eight to eighteen meters under the surface. It includes around a thousand anti-air raid structures.

To supply construction materials for the complex, centuries-old city walls and towers that once circled ancient Beijing were destroyed. The old city gates of Xizhimen, Fuchengmen, Chongwenmen and others remain in name only – only two embrasured watchtowers from Zhengyangmen and Deshengmen survived.

In the event of attack, the plan was to house forty percent of the capital’s population underground and for the remainder to move to neighboring hills, and it is said that every residence once had a secret trapdoor nearby leading to the tunnels. more

Can Prayer Heal the Sick? 85% of polled physicians say 'yes'

It's an appealing and comforting thought. Friends, family and even total strangers pray for you when you're seriously ill. When you recover, you may be grateful for those prayers. But did they contribute to your recovery? How would you know? Is it a question even worth asking?

Does prayer work?

Praying on another person's behalf to improve their health is called "intercessory prayer." And, believe it or not, researchers have attempted to scientifically study its effects on health and recovery from disease. The results are intriguing:

A 1988 study found that when patients in the hospital with heart disease had prayers said for them, they had less breathing trouble and required less antibiotic therapy than otherwise similar patients for whom prayers were not said.

A study published in 1998 suggested that prayer improved the health of AIDS patients. Although those receiving prayers had no change in an important measure of immune function over the six months of the study, they did have fewer serious illnesses, fewer doctor visits and better mood than those who were not prayed for.

In 1999, patients in a Missouri intensive care unit recovered faster after prayers were said for them compared with those who did not have prayers said. This study was unique due to its size—nearly 1,000 patients—and neither the patients nor their doctors knew which patients had prayers said for them.

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine supported intercessory prayer for women who were infertile. In that study, women for whom others prayed became pregnant twice as often as those who were not the recipients of prayer.

Skeptics criticize these studies, suggesting that the study designs were flawed or that something other than prayer could explain the findings. more

Seven Charged Over DR Congo Election Demo in London - 11th Dec 2011

Seven out of 139 people arrested at a demonstration in central London over the
elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been charged with various offences.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said three people had been charged with obstructing
the highway, three with breaching the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act
(SOCPA), which introduced restrictions on protests near the Palace of Westminster, and one with assault on police.

Some 116 people remain in custody at police stations across the capital.

A number of other people have been been cautioned or bailed in connection with the trouble.

Most of the arrests took place last night after a group broke away from the main protest and began to damage property including cars and shops as well as threatening members of the public, Scotland Yard said.

The demonstration of around 400 people had started in Whitehall at around midday after agreement with police for a static protest.

Later in the afternoon, demonstrators moved from the agreed location and blocked Whitehall, a yard spokesman said. Read More

Thousands of homes without power on coldest day of winter - 11th Dec 2011

Tens of thousands of people were left without power during the coldest night of the winter so far as engineers struggled to fix damage caused by storms earlier in the week.

Engineers worked through the night to restore power after hurricane force winds cut off the electricity supplies to 105,000 homes across Scotland.

On Saturday morning more than 10,000 properties were still without power as fresh snow fell in many parts of the country.

Scottish Hydro said that 105,000 of its customers were left without power following high winds on Thursday, but that engineers had managed to reduce that number to 29,000 by Friday night.

Properties in Tayside and central Scotland were worst hit.

On Saturday morning 6,400 homes were still without power in Argyll, while another 1,250 homes in the Highlands and 424 in the Western Isles were still to be reconnected. Read More

4.0 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR EAST COAST OF KAMCHATKA, RUSSIA - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake has struck near the East Coast of Kamchatka, Russia at a depth of 130 km (80.6 miles), the quake hit at 16:54:29 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 146 km (90.5 miles) East of Milkovo, Russia
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.1 Magnitude Earthquake NORTHERN IRAN - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.1 earthquake has struck Northern Iran at a depth of 8 km (5 miles), the quake hit at 15:21:27 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 11 km (6.8 miles) Northeast of Azad Shahr
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Like it or not, the euro is doomed

As European leaders unveil their latest plan to solve the debt crisis, economists and market experts aren't convinced they'll actually be successful.

At least one group says there are one too many obstacles and chances are, the currency union will break up, triggering an end of the euro as we know it.

"Three years after the first 'once in a generation' financial crisis, we may now be entering the end game for a euro of 17 countries," said Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, a London-based non-political organization comprising 43,000 business leaders worldwide, but primarily in the United Kingdom.

Incidentally, the U.K. was also the one country that staunchly opposed the latest deal, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying, "What is on offer isn't in Britain's interests."

Early Friday, European leaders, including 17 members of the eurozone, which share the embattled single currency, reached a deal for a new intergovernmental treaty to deepen the integration of national budgets.

With the exception of the U.K., it appears the plan also has the backing of the majority of the European Union. more

Moscow protesters want 'free elections, not revolution'



Among the tens of thousands of people happily enduring the freezing temperatures in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square is Alexey, an international lawyer. He tells me he's never protested before.

"I'm not a political person," says Alexey, who asked his full name not be used. "I'm just a simple Russian citizen."

Alexey says the day after Russia's parliamentary elections he asked his friends and colleagues who they voted for. Not one said United Russia. "It was some kind of astonishment for me to understand how a party for whom nobody voted could win the elections," he says.

It was enough to inspire Alexey to protest. His story is not unique. Police estimate 25,000 people gathered in Moscow; protest organizers told the crowd they thought some 80,000 gathered.

There are many in the crowd who until recently chose apathy over politics. But the elections on December 4 changed them. The protesters are demanding an annulment of the election results - which saw Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party win 238 seats - and a new vote. more

Syrian opposition: Bloodbath by government could be imminent in Homs

The Syrian government has warned protesters in the city of Homs that it has a 72-hour deadline to stop demonstrations, hand in weapons and surrender defecting military members -- or face bombardment, Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamdo of the opposition Free Syrian Army said Saturday.

The deadline would come Monday night.

The Syrian National Council, the country's leading opposition movement, had warned earlier of a potential bloodbath at the hands of the Syrian regime in Homs.

And Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "killer," implicitly comparing him to Libya's ousted ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

"The world decided -- including the Arab world -- to intervene when a leader is beginning to kill his own citizens," Peres told CNN in an interview. "It happened in Libya; it's happening in Yemen; it's happening by the Arab League, for the first time in their experience. They decided to put pressure on an Arab state because the leader is killing his people."

Across the country, reports of deaths mount almost every day. more

Study links sexual content on TV to teen pregnancy

Sexual content on television is strongly associated with teen pregnancy, a new study from the RAND Corporation shows.

Researchers at the nonprofit organization found that adolescents with a high level of exposure to television shows with sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone as those who saw fewer programs of this kind over a period of three years. It is the first study to demonstrate this association, RAND said.

A central message from the study is that there needs to be more dialogue about sex in the media, particularly among parents and their children, said Anita Chandra, the study's lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

"We know that parents are busy, but sitting down and watching shows together with their teen, talking about the character portrayals, talking about what they just witnessed, and really using it as a teachable moment is really, I think, a good recommendation from this research," Chandra said.

To measure exposure, the researchers used a method developed by another research group evaluating 23 shows for sexual content. Then, they asked teenagers how frequently they watched each of those shows, and developed a score based on exposure to the shows.

"We know that if a child is watching more than an hour of TV a day, we know there's a sexual scene in [the] content every 10 minutes, then they're getting a fair amount of sexual content," Chandra said. more

Lava's advance slows as it nears ocean, Hawaii - 9th Dec 2011

The lava flow from the latest eruption of Puu Oo crater has stalled, for now, on its way to the ocean and bypassed the home of Jack Thompson, the only remaining resident in the Royal Gardens subdivision near Kalapana.

Since reaching the coastal plain about 1.5 miles from the ocean on Tuesday, lava has been inching forward down the northern flank of Puu Oo crater, said Janet Babb, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory spokeswoman.

She said it is hard to predict when the flow will reach the ocean.

A pilot told scientists at the observatory that the lava hasn’t advanced much since Thursday, although lava continues to flow into the tube system feeding the flow and is active in the Royal Gardens subdivision.

The lava is moving over old lava flows and is not a threat to any structures, officials said.

The Kilauea volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983. Source

Motorists trapped in flooded Gothenburg, Sweden - 10th Dec 2011

Emergency services are cautioning motorists in Gothenburg in western Sweden to take care as a recent wave of winter weather has left a number of roads in the city's road flooded.

Due to the flooding, accessibility is heavily restricted in Sweden's second biggest city and barriers have been put up in several locations in a collaborative effort between police, rescue services and the transportation administration.

A number of cars were stuck on flooded streets in Gothenburg on Friday night.

One woman received life threatening injuries when her car sank on a flooded street in the Gamlestaden part of the city.

She was discovered by a police squad as she tried to exit her car on the blocked off street.

"Cars have gotten stuck in the water in several locations when the drivers have tried to get around the barriers," Lars Gunnar Gustafsson at the Västra Götaland police told news agency TT.

"But most of them have made it out without injuries." Read More

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake GANSU-QINGHAI BORDER REGION, CHINA - 11th Dec 2011

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck the Gansu-Qinghai Border Region, China at a depth of 20.9 km (13 miles), the quake hit at 12:38:58 UTC Sunday 11th December 2011.
The epicenter was 341 km (212 miles) North of Golmud, Qinghai, China
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Explosions at Pasadena Refining under investigation, Texas - 10th Dec 2011

Two explosions were reported at the Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc. plant before 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The plant is located at the 100 block of Traffic Circle at REd Bluff.

According to a plant spokesperson, the fire was located in the coker unit.

Vance Mitchell, public information officer for the Pasadena Police Department, said a shelter-in-place was issued for area residents.

An alert went out to the residents in the areas north of Southmore Avenue.

Mitchell said the shelter-in-place lasted approximately 45 minutes.

One worker was transported by ambulance to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. All other workers were accounted for.

The Pasadena Volunteer Fire Department did respond to the scene along with the Houston Fire Department and emergency personnel from numerous area chemical plants.

A cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but is investigating it as a structure fire. Source