Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Banks gorge on ECB loans, market cheer short-lived

Banks gobbled up nearly 490 billion euros in three-year cut-price loans from the European Central Bank on Wednesday, easing immediate fears of a credit crunch but leaving unresolved how much will flow to needy euro zone economies.

Following a string of failed attempts by euro zone leaders to thwart market attacks on the bloc's weaker members, hopes of crisis relief before the year-end had been pinned on a massive uptake of the ECB's ultra-long and ultra-cheap loans.

The near half a trillion euro take-up of ECB funds represented the most the bank has ever pumped into the financial system and exceeded almost all forecasts. A total of 523 banks borrowed with demand way above the 310 billion euros expected by traders polled by Reuters,

"The take-up was massive ... much higher than the expected 300 billion euros. Liquidity on the banking system has now increased considerably," said Annalisa Piazza at Newedge Strategy. Read More

US asks scientific journals to censor bird flu studies

US requests scientific journals publish redacted versions of studies on a version of bird flu that could spread to humans.

The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon.

The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets - typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans.

The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health.

The request was a first for the expert panel, formed after a series of anthrax attacks on US targets in 2001. It advises the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies about "dual use" research that could serve public health but also be a potential bioterror threat.

"NSABB has never before recommended to restrict communications on research that NSABB has reviewed that has potential dual use implications," Dr Amy Patterson, director of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Biotechnology Activities, said in a statement. Read More

Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons

A decade of billions in spending in the name of homeland security has armed local police departments with military-style equipment and a new commando mentality. But has it gone too far? Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting report.

Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota’s largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there’s not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.

But that hasn’t stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.” Read More

Mexico Mayan region launches apocalypse countdown

Seize the day.

Only 52 weeks and a day are left before Dec. 21, 2012, when some believe the Maya predicted the end of the world.

Unlike enthusiasts of other doomsday theories who suggest putting together survival kits, southeastern Mexico, the heart of Maya territory, plans a yearlong celebration.

Mexico's tourism agency expects to draw 52 million visitors by next year only to the regions of Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche. All of Mexico usually lures about 22 million foreigners in a year.

It's selling the date, the Winter Solstice in the coming year, as a time of renewal. Many archeologists argue that the 2012 reference on a 1,300-year-old stone tablet only marks the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar.

"The world will not end. It is an era," said Yeanet Zaldo, a tourism spokeswoman for the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun. "For us, it is a message of hope."

Cities and towns in the Mayan region on Wednesday will start the yearlong countdown. In Chiapas the town of Tapachula on the Guatemalan border will start a countdown on an 8-foot digital clock in the main park exactly a year before the mysterious date.

In the nearby archaeological site of Izapa, Maya priests will burn incense, chant and offer prayers. Read More

North Korea's military to share power with Kim's heir



North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.

The source added that the military, which is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal, has pledged allegiance to the untested Kim Jong-un, who takes over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since it was founded after World War Two.

The source declined to be identified but has correctly predicted events in the past, telling Reuters about the North's first nuclear test in 2006 before it took place.

The comments are the first signal that North Korea is following a course that many analysts have anticipated -- it will be governed by a group of people for the first time since it was founded in 1948. Read More

China beefing up military presence in Indian Ocean

Little by little China is forming military links in Africa and in the Indian Ocean in order, experts say, to protect Beijing's economic interests in the region.

In the past three weeks Beijing has committed to supporting Ugandan forces operating in Somalia and to helping the Seychelles fight piracy.

"It is very clear that the Chinese leaders recognize that military force will play a bigger role to safeguard China's overseas interests," Jonathan Holslag, of the Brussels Institute of Chinese Contemporary Studies told AFP.

"There is a willingness, and even a consensus, in China, that this process will take place."

The Indian Ocean is strategic, Holslag said, noting that 85 percent of China's oil imports and 60 percent of its exports are routed via the Gulf of Aden.

Beijing does not so far have any military base in the region: its military presence consists of three vessels in the Gulf of Aden to fight Somali pirates.

But the deployment of those ships in 2009, the first of its kind for the Chinese navy, was already highly symbolic.

For the moment, cooperation between China and the islands of the Indian Ocean is still limited to "low profile military-to-military exchanges, but it is getting broader and more structured," Holslag told AFP.

"The mere fact that China has a multi-year naval presence in the Gulf of Aden has great symbolic and diplomatic significance," said Frans-Paul van der Putten, senior research fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. Read More

Official: Israel unprepared for wartime

The Israeli government's watchdog agency says the country is short on bomb shelters and is ill-prepared to protect its citizens in case of war.

The state comptroller's annual report, published in part on Tuesday, says Israel has not learned the lessons from the 2006 Lebanon war, when dozens of Israeli civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets.

The report blames official bodies, including the military and the Interior Ministry, for "serious lapses" in wartime readiness. It says some government bodies are shirking their responsibilities and not investing needed funds in preparedness plans.

The report says there are not enough bomb shelters in schools and public places, leaving hundreds of thousands of Israelis unprotected in case of attack. Source

US to reduce troop levels on Mexico border

The United States will cut the number of national guard troops patrolling the border with Mexico as it steps up other surveillance on the porous southern border, officials said Tuesday.

The effort reflects "a new strategic approach," that includes "a number of new multi-purpose aerial assets equipped with the latest surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," according to a statement from the department of homeland security and Defense.

Homeland Security will have additional civilian personnel on the border enabling the Defense Department "to reduce the number of national guard troops at the southwest border while enhancing border security," the statement said.

President Barack Obama's administration had deployed around 1,200 troops, having been pressed by governors of border states who fear an influx of crime and a spillover of drug-related violence from Mexico.

But the statement said security would be boosted by more air surveillance, leaving fewer personnel on the ground.

The change in strategy will begin in January, with aircraft in place by March 1, the statement said. Read More

IBM Predicts Mind-Reading Machines

ARMONK, N.Y. - Century-old technology colossus IBM on Monday depicted a near future in which machines read minds and recognize who they are dealing with.

The " IBM 5 in 5 " predictions were based on societal trends and research which the New York State-based company expected to begin bearing fruit by the year 2017.

"From Houdini to Skywalker to X-Men, mind reading has merely been wishful thinking for science fiction fans for decades, but their wish may soon come true," IBM said in its annual assessment of innovations on the horizon.

"IBM scientists are among those researching how to link your brain to your devices, such as a computer or a smartphone," it continued.

IBM gave the examples of ringing someone up just by thinking it, or willing a cursor to move on a computer screen.

Biological makeup will become the key to personal identity, with retina scans of recognition of faces or voices used to confirm who people are rather than typing in passwords, the company forecast.

"Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye," IBM said.

"Or by doing the same, you can check your account balance on your mobile phone or tablet," it continued.

Technology will also be able to produce electric power from any types of movement from walking or bicycle riding to water flowing through pipes of homes, IBM predicted. Read More

Unsolved Mysteries: Ghost Lights



Interestingly, this exact same phenomenon has appeared recently over Pennsylvania and Lake Erie. What could they be?

Wukan Village: Supplies Tight Amid Standoff

Former Uighur Surgeon Discloses Live Organ Harvesting in China

Incestuous man fathered daughter's sons Acquitted of Rape Charges

A court has convicted a 69-year-old man of incest, coercion and bodily harm against his daughter, with whom he fathered three children.

The daughter stayed silent for more than 30 years because she feared for her life after her father - whom she described as violent - said he would kill her if she spoke out.

German news agency dapd reported that the state court in the southern German city of Nuremberg sentenced the man, identified only as Adolf B, to two years and eight months in jail.

"Prosecutors had sought a 14-year sentence and convictions on 497 counts of alleged rape over 34 years, beginning when the daughter was 12," The Guardian reported.

"However, the presiding judge, Heydn Gunther, said there was insufficient evidence of violence to sustain the rape charges, and too many contradictions in the testimony of the daughter."

The court acquitted the man of rape charges, ruling that the sexual acts were consensual. Read More

China Real Estate Prices Fall in November, Trend to Continue?

South Korea Intelligence chief casts doubts over time, place of Kim death

The head of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Tuesday expressed cautious doubts over the time and location of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's death, parliamentary officials said, raising questions over whether the communist North tried to beautify Kim's death.

North Korea previously said Kim died early Saturday while on a train in motion during a field guidance tour.

Attending a special session of the National Assembly Intelligence Committee, NIS chief Won Sei-hoon said a special train used by the late North Korean leader was spotted stationary at Pyongyang's train station at the time of his death announced by the North, according to the parliamentary officials.

"There were no signs the train ever moved," he was quoted as telling the parliamentary committee.

The time and place of Kim's death may be very sensitive to North Korea's remaining leadership, which is apparently trying to ensure successful succession of power to Kim's youngest son Jong-un on the late leader's legacy.

The North's Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday that North Korean people, "young and old, men and women, are calling Kim Jong-il, who gave tireless field guidance, making total dedication day and night to the happiness of the people."

The NIS chief pointed out that there had been no public appearances made by the late Kim since Friday. Read More

Cancer alert for 50,000 British women with breast implants

Up to 50,000 British women have been advised to consider having cheap breast implants removed after evidence in France showed they could lead to cancer.

French medical authorities are expected this week to order 30,000 women who received faulty breast implants in France to have them removed.

The women are potentially at risk of developing cancer after receiving cheap implants using industrial silicone gel normally destined for the electronics industry instead of the more expensive medical silicone.

It is thought that as many as 50,000 British women may have them.

Official health advice on the subject in Britain remains unchanged, with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency saying there was no firm evidence linking the implants to cancer.

"The MHRA’s current advice to women with breast implants continues to be that women who are concerned about their breasts or think that their implants may have ruptured should seek clinical advice from their implanting surgeon," a spokeswoman said. Read More

Six in ten dementia sufferers not diagnosed

Six out of ten people with dementia are undiagnosed, it has been found, as MPs launch an investigation into how to pick up missed patients.

The majority of people with the condition have not been diagnosed meaning they are missing out on vital support and treatment, MPs said.

Despite improvements in understanding of dementia, diagnosis rates have only increased by two per cent to reach 43 per cent in the last year.

Now the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia is launching an inquiry into how to improve diagnosis rates.

GPs do not feel equipped to make a diagnosis of dementia and few people understand the differences between normal signs of ageing and signs of dementia.

Dementia affects 750,000 people in Britain and is set to hit one million by 2021 and 1.7m by 2050. Read More

Experts Say China's Economy Looks Grim for 2012


Will North Korea become China's newest province?

NORTH KOREA as we know it is over. Whether it comes apart in the next few weeks or over several months, the regime will not be able to hold together after the untimely death of its leader, Kim Jong-il. How America responds — and, perhaps even more important, how America responds to how China responds — will determine whether the region moves toward greater stability or falls into conflict.

Mr. Kim’s death could not have come at a worse time for North Korea. Economically broken, starving and politically isolated, this dark kingdom was in the midst of preparations to hand power over to his not-yet-30-year-old son, the untested Kim Jong-un. The “great successor,” as he has been dubbed by the state media, is surrounded by elders who are no less sick than his father and a military that chafed at his promotion to four-star general last year without having served a day in the army. Such a system simply cannot hold.

The transition comes at a time when the United States has been trying to get nuclear negotiations back on track. Those efforts have now been replaced by a scramble for plans to control loose nuclear weapons, should the regime collapse. Read More

Birthday of a Nation: The US Confederacy celebrates its 1st Anniversary in a look back at history

On Dec. 24, 1861, the Charleston, S.C. Courier gave an impassioned account of the first anniversary of secession, as it was celebrated in the true birthplace of the Confederacy. “The Confederate and State Flags floated over the Custom House, the Old Exchange – which connects Charleston of this day with the Charleston of Colonial history, and with the names and services of LAURENS, GADSDEN, PINCKNEY, and their compeers of 1776.”

As the Courier’s coverage made clear, the fledgling entity known as the Confederate States of America connected its present and future to a glorious Revolutionary past – the same past that the Union celebrated every July 4. The Confederacy, as its partisans would continue to do long past the years of the Civil War itself, sought justification and spiritual solace in the heroes of the founding (and later the Confederate) generation, a wrinkle in any attempt to understand the Confederacy’s worldview.

Like Lincoln himself, we have often treated the C.S.A. as an uncomfortable chapter in the national story, to the point that we try to excise it from that story altogether. In order to truly worship at the national shrine, only certain occasions befit the United States, that entity abandoned by half the nation for a little over four years. Our days of national remembrance underscore a particularly Lincolnian understanding of the Civil War. The Confederacy is treated as a rebellion in the 16th president’s wonderful and decidedly modern political logic; if we believe the Confederacy is still part of the Union, then it is so. Lincoln persistently maintained to the public (past and since) that the Confederacy never really left. Read More