Monday, February 6, 2012

What is the GCC up to in Syria?

So the Arab League has a new draft United Nations Security Council resolution to "solve" the Syrian saga.

World public opinion may be fooled into believing this is an altruistic Arab solution to an Arab problem. Not really.

First of all this is a draft resolution of NATOGCC - that symbiosis between selected North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and selected petromonarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council. By now, after their "success" in blasting regime change into Libya, NATOGCC should be well known as the axis between the European poodles of the Pentagon and the six monarchies that compose the GCC, also known as Gulf Counter-revolution Club.

This draft UN resolution goes one step beyond a so-called Arab League transition plan laid out over a week ago. Now the spin is of a "political roadmap" that essentially means President Bashar al-Assad voluntarily stepping out, his vice president installed in power for a transition, the formation of a national unity government, and free and fair elections with international supervision.

According to the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, "The president will delegate his first vice president the full power to work with the national unity government to enable it to perform its task in the transitional period."

Sounds very civilized - except that it masquerades the real agenda of UN-imposed regime change. A quick look at the draft resolution also reveals a two-week deadline for Assad to get out of Dodge; if not, expect hell, "in consultation" with the Arab League. Read More

European Politicians in Denial as Greece Unravels

Europe's politicians are losing touch with reality. Greece is broke, and yet Brussels wants to send the country billions in new loans, to which there is growing opposition within the coalition government in Berlin. Rescue efforts are hopelessly bogged down by bickering over who will ultimately step up.

Martial music booms from the loudspeakers as warlike images gallop across monitors. A short euro crisis film montage shows police officers being posted in front of the parliament building in Athens and the jostling of frantic reporters, then US investor George Soros uses grim words in an appeal to rescue the euro zone. "The alternative is just too terrible to contemplate," he says.

Speaking in a panel that follows the short film, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has a gloomy expression. It is last Friday when the global business elite were at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the "Future of the Euro Zone." It becomes quickly apparent that Schäuble would have preferred a different opening than the dark film for this event. The negotiations with Athens' private creditors are going well, he says, and he points out that he is "quite optimistic" Greece can be rescued. Read More

Google faces lawsuit for illegal data collection

The monopolistic web giant faces a number of lawsuits from companies in the U.S. and abroad concerning privacy and anti-trust violations.

Google recently admitted to illegally collecting data in the U.S. and Europe since 2006 while compiling its street photo archive.

We will speak with two antitrust attorneys about why the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is now actively investigating the company’s business practices and what that means for you.

We will also discuss the history of legal hurdles the company is faced. Today we are joined by Garry Reback, Counsel in the Litigation Practice Group of Carr & Ferrell, he specializes in intellectual property and trade regulation litigation and counseling. He is known for spearheading the efforts that led to the federal lawsuit against Microsoft in the late 1990s. Read More

Freddie Mac Bets Against American Homeowners

Freddie Mac, the taxpayer-owned mortgage giant, has placed multibillion-dollar bets that pay off if homeowners stay trapped in expensive mortgages with interest rates well above current rates.

Freddie began increasing these bets dramatically in late 2010, the same time that the company was making it harder for homeowners to get out of such high-interest mortgages.

No evidence has emerged that these decisions were coordinated. The company is a key gatekeeper for home loans but says its traders are “walled off” from the officials who have restricted homeowners from taking advantage of historically low interest rates by imposing higher fees and new rules.

Freddie’s charter calls for the company to make home loans more accessible. Its chief executive, Charles Haldeman Jr., recently told Congress that his company is “helping financially strapped families reduce their mortgage costs through refinancing their mortgages.”

But the trades, uncovered for the first time in an investigation by ProPublica and NPR, give Freddie a powerful incentive to do the opposite, highlighting a conflict of interest at the heart of the company. Read More

Five Japan committees keep no disaster records

Five government teams dealing with Japan's tsunami and nuclear catastrophes kept no detailed records, an official said Friday, adding to a growing picture of chaos in Tokyo's disaster response.

Earlier this week the government said the nuclear disaster task force that ordered tens of thousands of evacuations had no written record of its decision-making process -- an essential component of disaster management.

Now the government has admitted having no minutes from a further four emergency committees, an admission likely to worsen the view of Tokyo's response to the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The five emergency bodies include the main disaster headquarters and the disaster victims assistance team, as well as the nuclear disaster task force, which was headed by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and included all of his ministers. Read More

Israel proposed 'impossible' borders: Palestinians

Israel laid out a vision for an "impossible" border during exploratory talks with the Palestinians in Amman this month, a Palestinian official told AFP on Sunday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israeli officials presented principles for their policy on future borders during the final round of the discussions organised by Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet.

They presented a vision that would closely follow the line of Israel's controversial security barrier and leave all of Jerusalem inside Israel, he said.

"They said to us, Jerusalem is out of the question. Large numbers of settlers will stay in the West Bank. They were talking about impossible borders," the official said.

"They didn't specifically mention the wall, but the details can be interpreted as them using the wall for the border," he added. Read More

Solar-Storm-Fueled Auroras Make for Awesome Backyard Photography

The sun is waking up. After several quiet years, it bombarded the Earth with two consecutive solar storms this week, which generated many nights of spectacular auroras seen from backyards around the Northern Hemisphere.

A relatively powerful flare burst from the sun’s surface on Jan. 19, throwing off charged particles that reached our planet on Jan. 22. But this was nothing compared to the enormous flare that erupted the next day. The biggest solar flare in six years, this impressive event propelled a gigantic, fast-moving storm that reached Earth on Jan. 24.

The Earth’s magnetic field directs the torrent of charged particles from these storms toward the poles. Interactions with the atmosphere produce the wavering lines of beautiful color known as auroras, or Northern Lights. Read More

Pentagon Confused by Its Own ‘Subs vs. Terrorists’ Plan

The Pentagon has a dream that it won’t give up: blasting any target on the planet with a submarine’s missile. Nothing seems to stop it, not even years of protest that the project could accidentally spark a nuclear war. But now, the Pentagon swears, it’s figured out how to launch the missiles without triggering any inadvertent Armageddon, and is pushing the concept in its new budget.

One problem: No one at the Pentagon can seem to agree on what the latest iteration of this so-called “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” concept really is.

Here’s the basic problem with the plan. A ballistic missile fired with a conventional warhead flies in the same trajectory as a ballistic missile fired with a nuclear warhead. Seeing any such missile in the air could prompt a panic in Moscow, Beijing or another nuclear-armed capitol. So while Washington thinks it’s striking a terrorist training camp or an enemy weapons silo, it might prompt someone else to let loose the world’s most dangerous weapons. Read More

For Newt, ‘World War III’ Is Just the Beginning

Newt Gingrich doesn’t just want to lay waste to his political enemies and a large part of the news media. The former House speaker and presidential hopeful wants to bomb a significant part of the planet, too.

Gingrich is on the record favoring American military intervention from North Korea to Lebanon. He recently threatened cyberwar with China and Russia. And on Monday, he called for an all-out assault to topple the Castro regime in Cuba. With such a wide range of targets, no wonder Gingrich has consistently said that the U.S. is in the middle of “World War III.” His plans for overthrowing the Iranian government? Just the beginning. In fact, if President Gingrich encounters any little green men while building his moon base (!), they had better pray to their astral maker for mercy.

In a July 2006 interview, Gingrich lamented President Bush’s alleged reluctance to “connect the dots” between what a Seattle Times reporter summarized as “bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon.”

That same month, citing the same litany of conflicts, Gingrich said on Meet The Press, “I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you’ve been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you’d have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.” Read More

Metals found in water at coal plants

Elevated levels of metals have been found in groundwater near ash basins at all 14 N.C. coal-fired power plants, state regulators say after intensified monitoring.

Coal ash holds metals that can be toxic in high doses. But the elements most widely detected at the power plants, iron and manganese, also occur naturally and aren't considered health risks.

State regulators now have to figure out which is affecting the wells.

Ash became an environmental lightning rod after a massive spill in East Tennessee in 2008. Utilities produce millions of tons of it a year, storing ash mixed with water in ponds or in landfills.

As the Environmental Protection Agency mulled the first federal ash-handling rules, which are still on hold, utilities and state agencies began looking for local problems. Read More

4.9 Magnitude Earthquake NEGROS - CEBU REGION, PHILIPPINES - 7th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.9 earthquake has struck the Negros - Cebu Region, Philippines at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), the quake hit at 04:05:38 UTC Tuesday 7th February 2012
The epicenter was 48 km (29 miles) SSE of Bacolod, Negros, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

Has Petroleum Production Peaked, Ending the Era of Easy Oil?

A new analysis concludes that easily extracted oil peaked in 2005, suggesting that dirtier fossil fuels will be burned and energy prices will rise.

Despite major oil finds off Brazil's coast, new fields in North Dakota and ongoing increases in the conversion of tar sands to oil in Canada, fresh supplies of petroleum are only just enough to offset the production decline from older fields. At best, the world is now living off an oil plateau—roughly 75 million barrels of oil produced each and every day—since at least 2005, according to a new comment published in Nature on January 26. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) That is a year earlier than estimated by the International Energy Agency—an energy cartel for oil consuming nations.

To support our modern lifestyles—from cars to plastics—the world has used more than one trillion barrels of oil to date. Another trillion lie underground, waiting to be tapped. But given the locations of the remaining oil, getting the next trillion is likely to cost a lot more than the previous trillion. The "supply of cheap oil has plateaued," argues chemist David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford and former chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government. "The global economy is severely knocked by oil prices of $100 per barrel or more, creating economic downturn and preventing economic recovery." Read More

Flooding rated as worst climate change threat facing UK

Defra report lists 700 impacts, including flood risk for 3.6 million people, water shortages, soil erosion and wildlife disruption.

Flooding is the greatest threat to the UK posed by climate change, with up to 3.6 million people at risk by the middle of the century, according to a report published on Thursday by the environment department.

The first comprehensive climate change risk assessment for the UK identifies hundreds of ways rising global temperatures will have an impact if no action is taken. They include the financial damage caused by flooding, which would increase to £2bn-£10bn a year by 2080, more deaths in heatwaves, and large-scale water shortages by mid-century.

Unusually for such documents, it also highlighted ways in which the country could benefit from milder winters and drier summers, such as fewer cold-related deaths, better wheat crops and a more attractive climate for tourists. Read More

With Prevalence of Nanomaterials Rising, Panel Urges Review of Risks

Tiny substances called nanomaterials have moved into the marketplace over the last decade, in products as varied as cosmetics, clothing and paint. But not enough is known about their potential health and environmental risks, which should be studied further, an exhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifpert panel of the National Academy of Sciences said on Wednesday.

Nanoscale forms of substances like silver, carbon, zinc and aluminum have many useful properties. Nano zinc oxide sunscreen goes on smoothly, for example, and nano carbon is lighter and stronger than its everyday or “bulk” form. But researchers say these products and others can also be ingested, inhaled or possibly absorbed through the skin. And they can seep into the environment during manufacturing or disposal.

Nanomaterials are engineered on the scale of a billionth of a meter, perhaps one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair, or less. Not enough is known about the effects, if any, that nanomaterials have on human health and the environment, according to a report issued by the academy’s expert panel. The report says that “critical gaps” in understanding have been identified but “have not been addressed with needed research.” Read More

Military Masks Could ‘Give Injured Soldiers Their Faces Back’

This is how the military might treat burned faces in 2017: A mask, worn for several months, that’s layered with sensors, actuators and a regenerative elixir — including stem cells — to regrow missing facial tissue.

An estimated 85 percent of recent wartime injuries caused damage to the extremities or face. Already, the Pentagon’s made swift progress in using regenerative medicine to more effectively heal those wounds. They’re building fresh muscle tissue out of pig cells, repairing damaged flesh with spray-on skin and even fusing broken bones with an injectable compound.

Biomask could be the next of those breakthroughs, if it pans out. It’s the result of a collaboration between engineers at UT Arlington, regenerative medicine specialists at Northwestern University, and experts from the Brooke Army Medical Center and the Army Institute of Surgical Research.

Right now, the mask is in early stages of development. But Eileen Moss, a research scientist at UT Arlington and the project’s leader, tells Danger Room that the team’s already got a good sense of how it’ll look and work. Most importantly, she says, the mask would “give soldiers back the face they had before the injury.” Read More

4.3 Magnitude Earthquake OFFSHORE CHIAPAS, MEXICO - 7th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.3 earthquake has struck offshore Chiapas, Mexico at a depth of 72.9 km (45.3 miles), the quake hit at 02:45:48 UTC Tuesday 7th February 2012
The epicenter was 103 km (64 miles) West of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake PERU-ECUADOR BORDER REGION - 7th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck the Peru-Ecuador Border Region at a depth of 54.1 km (33.6 miles), the quake hit at 02:18:26 UTC Tuesday 7th February 2012
The epicenter was 199 km (123 miles) ESE of Cuenca, Ecuador
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake SULAWESI, INDONESIA - 7th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck Sulawesi, Indonesia at a depth of 30 km (18.6 miles), the quake hit at 00:33:40 UTC Tuesday 7th February 2012
The epicenter was 101 km (62 miles) ENE of Kendari, Sulawesi, Indonesia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake NEGROS - CEBU REGION, PHILIPPINES - 6th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck the Negros - Cebu Region, Philippines at a depth of 14.9 km (9.3 miles), the quake hit at 23:47:15 UTC Monday 6th February 2012
The epicenter was 67 km (41 miles) SSE of Bacolod, Negros, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake NEGROS - CEBU REGION, PHILIPPINES - 6th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck the Negros - Cebu Region, Philippines at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), the quake hit at 22:35:13 UTC Monday 6th February 2012
The epicenter was 58 km (36 miles) WNW of Tagbilaran, Bohol, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake POTOSI, BOLIVIA - 6th Feb 2012

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck Potosi, Bolivia at a depth of 172.7 km (107.3 miles), the quake hit at 13:49:24 UTC Monday 6th February 2012
The epicenter was 133 km (82 miles) WSW of Tupiza, Bolivia
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

China defends Syria veto, doubts West's intentions

China defended its rejection of a U.N. resolution pressing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to abandon power, with a top state newspaper saying Western intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq exposed the risks of forced regime change.

China said its blocking, along with Russia, of the U.N. resolution which would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit, did not amount to supporting the Syrian leader. Activists accused his forces of bombarding part of the city of Homs before the U.N. vote in the worst bloodshed of the 11-month uprising.

"On the issue of Syria, China is not playing favorites and nor is it deliberately opposing anyone, but rather is upholding an objective and fair stance and a responsible position," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing.

Western powers that initiated the U.N. Security Council vote on their draft resolution were culpable for not going far enough in seeking compromise, said Liu.

"Our goal is for the Syrian people to escape violence, conflict and flames of war, and not to make the problem even more complicated," he said.

"Unfortunately, the countries that proposed the resolution forced a vote despite the serious differences among various sides, and this approach was not conducive to the unity and authority of Security Council and is not conducive to the appropriate resolution of the problem. Therefore, China voted against the draft resolution," Liu added. Read More