Monday, August 31, 2009
Federal Reserve and Treasury officials are scrambling to prevent the commercial-real-estate sector from delivering a roundhouse punch to the U.S. economy just as it struggles to get up off the mat. Their efforts could be undermined by a surge in foreclosures of commercial property carrying mortgages that were packaged and sold by Wall Street as bonds... Now the $700 billion of commercial-mortgage-backed securities outstanding are being tested for the first time by a massive downturn, and the outcome so far hasn't been pretty.
The CMBS sector is suffering two kinds of pain, which, according to credit rater Realpoint LLC, sent its delinquency rate to 3.14% in July, more than six times the level a year earlier. One is simply the result of bad underwriting. In the era of looser credit, Wall Street's CMBS machine lent owners money on the assumption that occupancy and rents of their office buildings, hotels, stores or other commercial property.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Adm. Mike Mullen would not say whether the fight would require more than the 68,000 troops the administration has committed, but expressed concern about falling public support for the war which President Obama has called one of "necessity."
"This is the war we're in," Mullen said matter-of-factly, when asked about public perception of a conflict entering its ninth year.The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the situation needs to be reversed in the next 12 to 18 months."I think it is serious and it is deteriorating," Mullen said. "And I've said that over the last couple of years, that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated."
He said the Taliban have gotten "much tougher" over the past couple years, and that the focus of the mission at this point is to provide security for the Afghan people.Mullen insisted that the mission would not float in a state of "endless drift," and said the president's strategy was only beginning to be implemented.
"I recognize that we've been there over eight years," he said. "But this is the first time we've really resourced a strategy on both the civilian and military sides. So in certain ways, we're starting anew." The Obama administration is awaiting an assessment about the situation from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. That report is expected in about two weeks and will lead to decisions about whether more troops are necessary. Mullen said McChrystal hasn't yet asked for additional troops.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
An earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck remote Qinghai Province in northwest China at 9:52 a.m. Friday, the China Earthquake Administration said, but no casualties have been reported. A total of 128 aftershocks had been registered by 11 a.m. near the epicenter in the Da Qaidam (also known as Dachaidan) district in the Mongolian-Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Haixi, with the strongest measuring 5.3 magnitudes that struck at 10:14, according to the Qinghai Provincial Seismological Network.
WHO Warns of Severe Form of H1N1 Virus
Doctors are reporting a severe form of H1N1 that goes straight to the lungs, causing severe illness in otherwise healthy young people and requiring expensive hospital treatment, the World Health Organization said Friday. Some countries are reporting that as many as 15 percent of patients hospitalized with the new H1N1 pandemic virus need intensive care, further straining already overburdened healthcare systems, WHO said in an update on the pandemic.
At least 8 minor earthquakes shake parts of Okla.
At least eight minor earthquakes have been recorded in central and southern Oklahoma in a single day. The latest was a 2.3 magnitude quake recorded at 11:15 p.m. Thursday, about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. Before that, a 3.7 magnitude earthquake was recorded at 9:09 p.m. in the Oklahoma City suburb of Jones. The National Earthquake Information Center recorded all eight earthquakes.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Last week the H1N1 virus was found in turkeys on farms in Chile. The UN now says poultry farms elsewhere in the world could also become infected.
Scientists are worried that the virus could theoretically mix with more dangerous strains. It has previously spread from humans to pigs.
However, swine flu remains no more severe than seasonal flu.
Safe to eat
Chilean authorities first reported the incident last week. Two poultry farms are affected near the seaport of Valparaiso.
Juan Lubroth, interim chief veterinary officer of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said: "Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue. They do not pose a threat to the food chain."
Chilean authorities have established a temporary quarantine and have decided to allow the infected birds to recover rather than culling them.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Four years later, they’ve moved to a bigger place — still a bar — to hold their weekly meet-and-greets. Membership is up to almost 500, Darwin Day is in the planning stages and bumper stickers are on sale.
“There is no God, but ice-cream is great,” reads one. “What schools need is a moment of science,” reads another.
Atheist groups are growing all over the United States, challenging stereotypes and confronting what they consider a big backslide in the separation of church and state.
They are chatting online, picking up trash along “adopted” highways, and advertising on buses and billboards. In South Florida, they recently picketed a prayer meeting in a public safety building paid for with tax dollars.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” said Bob Senatore, a retired teacher and one of the early members of the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists, or FLASH. “The attitude is, ‘If we don’t do something about it now, we’ll be living under a theocracy.’”
Polls show non-believers are on the rise in the United States, even in places like Florida, where, as Senatore sees it, “There’s a church on every corner and a fish on every car.”
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
"Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port (Massachusetts)," the Kennedy family said in a statement early on Wednesday.
One of the most influential and longest-serving senators in U.S. history -- a liberal standard-bearer who was also known as a consummate congressional dealmaker -- Kennedy had been battling brain cancer, which was diagnosed in May 2008.
His death marked the twilight of a political dynasty and dealt a blow to Democrats as they seek to answer President Barack Obama's call for an overhaul of the healthcare system.
Kennedy was a longtime advocate of healthcare reform, a signature issue of Obama's presidency. Obama said on Wednesday he was heartbroken to hear of the death of Kennedy, a crucial supporter of his presidential candidacy.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Pace High School in Santa Rosa County, Florida. The ACLU claimed some teachers and administrators were endorsing religion, but the school chose to give in to the ACLU's demands rather than fight them in court.
According to the settlement, all school employees are banned from engaging in prayer or religious activities before, during, or after school hours. Now two school officials are facing criminal charges for offering meal-time prayers at an appreciation dinner for adults who had helped with a school field house project. Principal Frank Lay and athletic director Robert Freeman are scheduled to go on trial next month on criminal contempt charges. If convicted, both are subject to fines and imprisonment.
Matt Staver is founder of Liberty Counsel, which will argue the court order prohibiting prayer at school-related events violated Lay's and Freeman's constitutional rights.
"In this particular case, Principal Frank Lay asked the athletic director to have a prayer for the meal at an honorary luncheon in celebration for some of the athletic achievements. And then in [another] situation, the clerical worker at an event where some employees of the school were present asked her husband, who is not an employee of the school, to have a blessing over a meal," he explains. "Because of those two events, these individuals now face criminal contempt."
Staver believes that the accusers in this case are students who recently graduated. If that is the case, he says the case is moot. However, Staver adds it is outrageous to punish a school official with potential jail time for simply praying.
Monday, August 24, 2009
The shrinking of the Euphrates, a river so crucial to the birth of civilization that the Book of Revelation prophesied its drying up as a sign of the end times, has decimated farms along its banks, has left fishermen impoverished and has depleted riverside towns as farmers flee to the cities looking for work.
The poor suffer more acutely, but all strata of society are feeling the effects: sheiks, diplomats and even members of Parliament who retreat to their farms after weeks in Baghdad.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal to change that passed with 68 percent approval.
At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.
The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.
Some critics of the proposal have predicted its passage could cause individual congregations to split off from the ELCA, as has been the case with other Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church.
The debate over the so-called "ministry recommendations" got under way first thing Friday, and delegate Al Quie, a former Republican governor of Minnesota, proposed an alternative: "Practicing homosexual persons are excluded from rostered leadership in this church."
The proposal, which would have left the church's policy more or less unchanged, failed. Conservatives had lost an important vote Wednesday night when the convention's 1,045 delegates approved by a two-thirds supermajority a "social statement on human sexuality" that said the ELCA could accommodate diverging views on homosexuality.
Friday, August 21, 2009
"I feel sick. I feel depressed and outraged. I mean, I am just heartbroken," said Susan Cohen, whose daughter Theodora, a 20-year-old Syracuse University music student, was killed in the bombing.
Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, 57, sick with advanced prostate cancer, was released on compassionate grounds and sent home to Libya to die, Scottish authorities said. Megrahi, who prosecutors said was a Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted in 2001 of placing a bomb on the Boeing 747.
Libya has formally accepted responsibility for the bombing and has compensated the families, although longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi denied any culpability in the attack.
Cohen and others said international politics had trumped justice as U.S. and British relations with Gadhafi have thawed over the years.
"I feared they would do this," she said. "Now that they've made friends with Gadhafi ... the Western countries want to give him everything that he wants, appease him. He wanted Megrahi, they are rushing Megrahi out; they aren't even giving this a day. And the tiny little shred of justice we had is gone."
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The National Hurricane Center said people in the Leeward Islands should monitor Bill's progress, though the core of the storm was expected to pass well to the northeast of the islands late Wednesday and early Thursday.
"The wind sheer is light and the waters are warm," Todd Kimberlain, a forecaster at the center, said Tuesday. "Those are two essential ingredients not just for the formation, but also the maintenance, of hurricanes."
Early Wednesday, Bill was centered about 460 miles east of the Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest near 16 mph.
The most significant threat could be to Bermuda, which the storm could pass in three or four days, Kimberlain said. But it also could move directly between Bermuda and the eastern coast of the U.S. without making landfall.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The US computer giant collaborated with California Institute of Technology researchers to develop a way to design microchips that mimic how chains of DNA molecules fold, allowing for processors far smaller and denser than any seen today.
"This is a way to assemble an electronics device of the future," said Bill Hinsberg, manager of the lithography group at IBM's Almaden Research Center in California, on Monday.
"It offers a potential way to construct nano-scale devices. The industry has always gone in the direction of making things smaller, because that opens the realm of possibilities."
A tenet of the chip industry is Moore's Law, a history-backed belief that the number of transistors that can be placed on a computer circuit doubles every two years, enabling smaller but increasingly powerful computing devices.
Lithography is a common method of making computer chips that have shrunk to contain technology measuring a mere 22 nanometers. The "DNA origami" method can allow for chip features as slight as 6 nanometers, according to IBM.
"At some point, it gets more difficult to get smaller," Barnett said. "We've pursued DNA origami as a way to assemble an electronic device of the future."
Monday, August 17, 2009
At least 20 people have been killed by a bomb at a police station in Russia's southern republic of Ingushetia.
The suspected suicide attack in Nazran, Ingushetia's main city, injured more than 60 people, including children.
The republic borders Chechnya and has seen a spate of shootings, bombings and other attacks on police and government.
The Ingush leader blamed militants, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sacked Ingushetia's interior minister, saying the attack had been preventable.
"The police must protect the people and the police must also be able to defend themselves," Mr Medvedev said.
Monday's bomb attack was described as the deadliest strike in months in Ingushetia.
The explosion gutted the building as police lined up for a shift change.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Fire crews fanned out Friday across a parched California where wind-whipped wildfires have forced hundreds of people to flee their homes and led to an emergency declaration in Santa Cruz County.
Tropical Storm Warning Issued for Florida
A tropical storm warning was issued Sunday for parts of Florida as a newly formed depression swirled about 90 miles off the coast. The warning was issued for areas east of the Alabama state line to the Suwanee River. The warning means tropical storm conditions are likely within the next 24 hours.
Tropical Storm Ana forms in Atlantic
Tropical Storm Ana, the first named weather event of the Atlantic hurricane season, has formed in the ocean and could reach the Leeward Islands by Monday, US government forecasters warned early on Saturday. "A tropical storm watch may be required for portions of the Leeward Islands later today," the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
Taiwan seeks foreign aid after typhoon
aiwan leaders, already under fire over the response to a typhoon that likely killed hundreds, have accepted foreign aid after refusing the offers. Trying to repair its image after Typhoon Morakot caused widespread landslides in southern Taiwan, the government on Friday asked major world donors for equipment, a foreign ministry official said. Aid offers were initially refused on Tuesday.
Friday, August 14, 2009
"No pictures, put the camera down," he yells. My companion and I, on a tour of how people in this city are using urban farms to grow their own food, speed off.
In this recession-racked town, the lack of food is a serious problem. It's a theme that comes up again and again in conversations in Detroit. There isn't a single major non-discount chain supermarket in the city, forcing residents to buy food from corner stores or discount chains. Often less healthy, less varied, or more expensive food.
As the area's economy worsens --unemployment was over 16% in July -- food stamp applications and pantry visits have surged.
Full story here
On Thursday morning, four or five National Guard Humvees will travel from Augusta to Paris with vials of fake serum. The National Guardsmen will take on the roles of panicked citizens and military police and practice what they would do, such as using tear gas, in the case of a riot.
"This is just a component of moving the stuff from point A to B," said Oxford County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott Parker. The plan will be put into place only if needed, he said.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Iran says Wednesday's proposal, revealed to The Associated Press by diplomats and confirmed by a senior Iranian envoy, is not linked to veiled threats by Israel of an attack as a last resort if the international community fails to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear activities.
Instead, all of the diplomats said the Iranian initiative seeks support for a generally worded document prohibiting all armed attacks against nuclear installations anywhere, when 150 nations convene for the September general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"We are not worried about Israel," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief envoy to the IAEA. "Nobody dares to do anything against Iran."
He said an Iranian resolution will seek a worldwide ban on such attacks as "a matter of principle."
"I think this is an urgent concern for all of the international community," he said. "All member states will support the idea."
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
In North America, the best time to watch will be between midnight to 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12, but late Tuesday night and also Wednesday night could prove fruitful, weather permitting.
The Perseids are always reliable, and sometimes rather spectacular. The only things that puts a damper on the August show are bad weather or bright moonlight. Unfortunately this week, as the Perseids reach their peak Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the moon will be high in the sky, outshining the fainter meteors.
Still, skywatchers around the globe will have a good chance of spotting the brighter meteors. Some already are enjoying the show.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The unrelated quakes struck in the early hours, shutting down bullet train services in the affected region of Japan and provoking a landslide with the nation already braced for more damage from Typhoon Etau.
At least 43 people were injured, mostly by falling objects, with two in a serious condition, said a Shizuoka prefecture official. A nuclear power plant went into automatic shutdown but no incidents were registered.
In an address on Japanese public broadcaster NHK, Shizuoka governor Heita Kawakatsu urged the public to "remain level-headed and gather correct information we provide through TV programmes."
The Japanese tremor registered a strong 6.4 while the quake off the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean was a huge 7.6, according to the US Geological Survey.
Panic-stricken islanders fled their homes, fearing a repeat of the enormous Asian tsunami that devastated the Andamans in 2004 and killed around 220,000 people in the region as a whole.
Monday, August 10, 2009
No you aren’t reading a passage from George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, this is Britain in 2009, a country which already has more surveillance cameras watching its population than the whole of Europe put together.
Now the government is embarking on a scheme called “Family Intervention Projects” which will literally create a nanny state on steroids, with social services goons and private security guards given the authority to make regular “home checks” to ensure parents are raising their children correctly.
Telescreens will also be installed so government spies can keep an eye on whether parents are mistreating kids and whether the kids are fulfilling their obligations under a pre-signed contract.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Rescuers on rubber dinghies, wearing life jackets and crash helmets, helped stranded villagers in hard-hit areas of China, while officials elsewhere cycled through floodwaters to deliver food to residents trapped in their homes.
Only rooftops and the highest tree branches were visible above the murky brown water that engulfed part of China's southern Cangnan county. Homes were destroyed and at least one child died after a house collapsed on him in heavy rain in Zhejiang province.
In southern Taiwan, a six-story hotel toppled into a rain-swollen river whose rushing waters had knocked out its foundations.
Typhoon Morakot made landfall in China's Fujian province Sunday, carrying heavy rains and winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour, the China Meteorological Administration said.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
"The White House is in bit of a conundrum because of this privacy statute that prohibits the White House from collecting data and storing it on people who disagree with it," Judge Andrew Napolitano, a FOX News analyst, said Friday.
"There's also a statute that requires the White House to retain all communications that it receives. It can't try to rewrite history by pretending it didn't receive anything," he said.
"If the White House deletes anything, it violates one statute. If the White House collects data on the free speech, it violates another statute."
Napolitano was referring to the Privacy Act of 1974, which was passed after the Nixon administration used federal agencies to illegally investigate individuals for political purposes. Enacted after Richard Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal, the statute generally prohibits any federal agency from maintaining records on individuals exercising their right to free speech.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Whether its flesh-eating necrotising fasciitis or equine morbillivirus, in which the sufferer essentially drowns in fluid leaking from the lungs, infections - be they bacterial or viral - capture the imagination in a way that more workaday conditions such as cancer and heart disease cannot.
And indeed our battle to outwit the bacteria which have caused death and decimation down the centuries has revealed just what a formidable foe they can be.
They have been around some three billion years longer than we have, and are adept at changing and adapting to their circumstances.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Higher oil prices brought on by a rapid increase in demand and a stagnation, or even decline, in supply could blow any recovery off course, said Dr Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the respected International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which is charged with the task of assessing future energy supplies by OECD countries.
* Jeremy Leggett: Another crunch is coming – but will the world act?
In an interview with The Independent, Dr Birol said that the public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilisation depends is running out far faster than previously predicted and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.
But the first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, has found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now running at nearly twice the pace as calculated just two years ago. On top of this, there is a problem of chronic under-investment by oil-producing countries, a feature that is set to result in an "oil crunch" within the next five years which will jeopardise any hope of a recovery from the present global economic recession, he said.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center said the 6.9-magnitude quake struck at 12:59 p.m. (1:59 EDT, 17:59 GMT) and was centered 76 miles (122 kilometers) north-northeast of Santa Isabel in Baja California and 331 miles (533 kilometers) southeast of the border city of Tijuana.
It was the strongest of four quakes of 5.0-magnitude or greater that struck the area over a 45-minute period late Monday morning.
Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Alex Rangel said a high-rise near downtown shook violently enough that workers evacuated, but there were no reports of injuries or damage. The quake was centered about 460 miles (740 kilometers) from Phoenix.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Gorillas have been found, for the first time, to be a source of HIV.
Previous research had shown the HIV-1 strain, the main source of human infections, with 33m cases worldwide, originated from a virus in chimpanzees.
But researchers have now discovered an HIV infection in a Cameroonian woman which is clearly linked to a gorilla strain, Nature Medicine reports.
A researcher told the BBC that, though it was a new type of HIV, current drugs might still help combat its effects.
HIV originated from a similar virus in chimpanzees called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV).
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Chinese authorities say the man who died was a 32-year-old herdsman from a sparsely populated area mostly inhabited by Tibetans.
Most of the other 11 people infected with the disease are relatives of the dead man.
The local government has not yet said when the man died but it has sealed off the town where the outbreak occurred.
It says there are enough supplies to feed the 10,000 or so people who live in the town of Ziketan, near Xinghai in Qinghai province, during the quarantine period.
Pneumonic plague is a virulent form of the disease that attacks the lungs. It can spread from person to person, or from animals to people.
Initial symptoms include fever, headache and shortness of breath.
To reduce the chances of death, anyone infected needs to receive treatment within 24 hours of the first symptoms.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
The number of people going hungry every day has hit a historic high of 1 billion, or more precisely 1.02 billion, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Millions of people who were on the brink of hunger have now been thrown into this category by the global economic crisis that resulted in lower incomes and job losses.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, about an additional 100 million people are in chronic hunger and poverty this year compared to last year.
And while the number of people with urgent food needs has increased, aid agencies are reporting lower donations and budget cuts.
WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said Wednesday the agency is facing “dangerous and unprecedented” funding shortfalls this year.
“Our budget for this year of assessed and approved needs is $6.7 billion and we expect from our projections and working with government to come in at $3.7 billion,” Sheeran said at a press briefing ahead of meetings at the White House.
Sheeran said the agency is working to cut $3 billion from its program by reducing rations and programs throughout the world.
Its goal is to feed 108 million people in 74 countries this year.
In addition to budget cuts, aid groups are also struggling with the impact of high food prices.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports food prices are higher today than a year ago in more than 80 percent of developing countries.