Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hurricane Ophelia grows to Category 3 as it approaches US East Coast

Ophelia strengthened Friday into a Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 115 mph as it barreled northward across the Atlantic at nearly 12 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

The system had appeared to be weakening several days ago, only to regroup and intensify.

At 2 p.m. ET, Ophelia's center was about 580 miles south of Bermuda, the Miami-based center said.

Some strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, according to the hurricane center. The extended forecast map shows Ophelia passing east of Bermuda, where a tropical storm watch is in effect.

Hurricane-force winds extended about 30 miles from the storm's eye, center said. Tropical storm-force winds, which are winds between 39 mph and 73 mph, have been recorded 175 miles away.

It should begin to turn north-northeastward late Saturday, the hurricane center said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Philippe was churning farther east in the Atlantic, with its eye some 1,850 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands.

"Some strengthening is possible today ... but weakening is likely to begin late Saturday or Sunday," the hurricane center said. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. more

Forecast says US double-dip recession is imminent

The U.S. economy is staring down another recession, according to a forecast from the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

"It's either just begun, or it's right in front of us," said Lakshman Achuthan, the managing director of ECRI. "But at this point that's a detail. The critical news is there's no turning back. We are going to have a new recession."

The ECRI produces widely-followed leading indicators which predict when the economy is moving between recession and expansion. Achuthan said all those indicators are now pointing to a new economic downturn in the immediate future.

His recession call puts him ahead of most other forecasters. A CNNMoney survey of economists this week pointed to a one-in-three chance of a new recession in the next six months. The most bearish predictions put the odds at 50-50.

Achuthan said it is still possible that the recession will be mild this time, lasting less than a year with relatively limited job losses. But he said if there are shocks to the system, such as another financial meltdown due to the European sovereign debt crisis, it could become a very serious and deep recession.

His call comes the day after the government's final report on second quarter gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic health, showed weak growth of only 1.3% in the three months ending in June. Achuthan said he's confident that the recession either began in the third quarter, which ends today, or will begin in the fourth quarter.

The average American is already more bearish than most economists. A CNN/ORC International poll shows 90% of those polled believe current economic conditions are poor. more

NEIN, NEIN, NEIN, and the death of EU Fiscal Union

Judging by the commentary, there has been a colossal misunderstanding around the world of what has just has happened in Germany. The significance of yesterday’s vote by the Bundestag to make the EU’s €440bn rescue fund (EFSF) more flexible is not that the outcome was a "Yes".

This assent was a foregone conclusion, given the backing of the opposition Social Democrats and Greens. In any case, the vote merely ratifies the EU deal reached more than two months ago – itself too little, too late, rendered largely worthless by very fast-moving events.

The significance is entirely the opposite. The furious debate over the erosion of German fiscal sovereignty and democracy – as well as the escalating costs of the EU rescue machinery – has made it absolutely clear that the Bundestag will not prop up the ruins of monetary union for much longer.

Horst Seehofer, the leader of Bavaria’s Social Christians, said his party would go "this far, and no further".

There can be no question of beefing up the EFSF to €2 trillion or any other sum, whether by leverage or other forms of structured trickery. "The financial markets are beginning to ask whether Germans can afford all this help. We must not risk the creditworthiness of the German state," he said.

The best-read story in today’s Handelsblatt is the mounting rebellion against the EFSF in the Bundesrat, the German senate representing the interests of the regions. While this chamber does not have the power to block budget deals, it has begun to express deep alarm about the drift of events.

Marcel Huber, Bavaria’s Staatskanzleichef, gave an explicit warning that the Free State of Bavaria will not take one step further towards an EMU fiscal union or debt pool.

“A collectivisation of debts will under no circumstances be accepted. We oppose credit lines for the EFSF or leveraging through the ECB. Our message is simple and clear.”

Since the existing EFSF is too small to make any material difference to the EMU debt crisis, this means that nothing has in fact been resolved. We are where we started, almost entirely reliant on the ECB to play the role of lender-of-last resort.

Can it realistically play this role after the double resignation of Axel Weber at the Bundesbank and Jurgen Stark at the ECB itself over bond purchases? Can it defy Europe’s paymaster state for long? You decide.

World is heading for 'Great Stagnation', says Goldman

There is a growing risk that the global economy will move from the 'Great Recession' into the 'Great Stagnation', according to economists at Goldman Sachs.

Stagnations typically mean long periods of sluggish growth of about 0.5pc, low inflation, rising and sticky unemployment, stagnant house prices, and lower returns on shares, they said.

There is a 40pc chance of the current situation developing into a period of stagnation among developed economies, Goldman calculated.

"Trends in Europe and the US are so far still following growth paths that would be typical of stagnations," they said in a note.

"Given those risks, whether these countries manage to avoid a ‘Great Stagnation’ by a pick-up in the recovery is likely to depend on policy being able to restore confidence and putting in place reforms that can decisively jolt growth".

Looking at 150 years of macroeconomic history, they found that the probability of stagnation is much higher after financial crises.

UK has become a nation of zombie companies

When it comes to supporting UK manufacturing, the Coalition government's record has so far proved almost as disappointing as the last one's.

First there was the decision to favour Siemens over the all British alternative for the Thameslink trains contract; now comes the devastating news of 3,000 job cuts in aerospace engineering at BAE Systems, the defence contractor.

The UK economy is meant to be rebalancing away from debt-fuelled consumption to tradeable goods and exports – a formula for recovery which virtually all economists and politicians agree is the only way to go. But most of the news seems to be a grim mix of continued manufacturing decline.

True enough, immediately after the Great Contraction, industrial production appeared to recover quite swiftly. With the pound once more trading at levels low enough to give British factories a competitive edge, there was starry-eyed talk of a British manufacturing renaissance.

It proved premature. In fact, the upturn was no greater than anywhere else, and in recent months it seems to have stalled entirely. In any case, industrial output remains well below pre-crisis levels. Exports have shown some progress, but their growth has been outstripped by imports, so the trade gap remains as wide as ever.

More than three years after the recession began, the hoped for rebalancing has failed to take hold and shows few signs of ever doing so. Why is this, can anything be done about it and why has sterling's near 25pc depreciation failed to have any meaningful impact?

'The X Factor could cause mental problems’

The X Factor is 'playing fast and loose with people's minds', according to the distinguished mental health campaigner Marjorie Wallace.

It is Britain’s most popular television programme, but The X Factor has been accused of risking mental illness among some of its contestants by Marjorie Wallace.

The chief executive of Sane, the mental health charity, says the talent show created by Simon Cowell is “playing fast and loose with people’s minds”.

She tells Mandrake: “It is like 'conditioning experiments’ that took place in the Sixties on animals to see what combination of reward and punishment would drive them crazy. These reality programmes are in some ways repeating these outlawed experiments and this isn’t psychological research, it is entertainment.”

Wallace, a sometime companion of the Earl of Snowdon, is aware of the example of Ceri Rees, a tone-deaf widow, who was rejected four times in six years on The X Factor. Rees, 54, was subjected to several minutes of humiliation after her latest audition.

“Producers need to take responsibility for the potential consequences,” says Wallace. “Things known to precipitate mental illness are feelings of failure to meet expectations of ourselves and others, and social rejection. It can be a trigger to potentially depressive illnesses. The public has a role to play and is slowly realising that it also demeans the spectator.”

Passengers use bottled water to get overheated train started due to UK heatwave

Passengers donated bottles of drinking water to get their train working again after it broke down because of the heatwave.

The National Express East Anglia train ground to a halt under the baking midday sun outside Ipswich, in Suffolk, after coolant levels dropped causing the engine to cut out.

Bemused passengers sitting in the stuffy carriages heard a desperate plea over the tannoy from the driver for bottled water as temperatures soared over 21 degrees (70f).

One passenger reported the message as: ''Has anyone got any bottles of water we can use to get the train going again?''

The water was collected and fed into the coolant before the train restarted to finish the journey at around 12.30pm on Tuesday.

Peter Meades of National Express East Anglia praised the train crew and passengers for saving the journey.

He said: ''We're very grateful to passengers on the train who willingly came forward to assist the train crew in offering bottles of water which enabled the driver to restore the coolant levels, following a fault that occurred with the engine of the train.''

When the train returned to Ipswich there was found to be a leak in a pipe which was fixed by a technician to return the train to normal service.

The balmy conditions are set to continue into the weekend, which is likely to see many sun-seekers heading to parks, rivers and coastal areas.

However, Plymouth City Council has announced that its gritting lorries will be on standby for snow from this Saturday.

Royal Navy sackings 'will lose aircraft carriers skills forever'

One of the Royal Navy's most senior officers has expressed serious concerns over the loss of skilled aircraft carrier crew following redundancies.

The officer, who plays a key role in maintaining the Fleet, has also told colleagues that there are substantial doubts over whether the Navy will have enough sailors to man its ships after it will lose one in seven sailors in defence cuts.

The lack of adequately training personnel could delay the carrier coming into service by another three or four years, the Navy commander has said.

Another officer has told The Telegraph that the loss of carrier deck handling skills could prove "disastrous" with fatal accidents caused by inexperienced ratings.

His warning came on the day that the Ministry of Defence announced 1,020 sailors have been sacked, including 350 compulsory redundancies, with dozens coming from warships that have fought in the Libya campaign.

With a total of 5,000 officers and ratings going over the next three years there are substantial fears that there will not be enough sailors to man the 42 surface ships left in the Fleet.

UN salaries have "risen dramatically"

The Obama administration told the United Nations that too few of its 10,307 workers are being cut and average salaries, currently $119,000 a year, have risen “dramatically.”

The U.S. ambassador for UN management and reform, Joseph M. Torsella, said today that the proposed $5.2 billion UN budget for the next two years would scrap only 44 jobs, a 0.4 percent reduction. After an “onslaught” of add-ons, the 2012-13 budget would rise more than 2 percent to $5.5 billion, he said.

“That is not a break from ‘business as usual’ but a continuation of it,” Torsella said in a speech in New York to the UN’s administrative and budgetary committee. “How does management intend to bring these numbers and costs back in line?”

The Obama administration, he said, “calls for a comprehensive, department-by-department, line-by-line review of this budget” and a new process to approve UN funding.

“It is our obligation to our taxpayers to do more with less in Washington and here at the UN,” he said.

Torsella’s attack on UN salaries and workforce size follows legislation introduced by U.S. House Republicans on Aug. 30 that, if passed into law, would have the U.S. withhold a percentage of its contributions until at least 80 percent of the UN budget is voluntary.

Cellphone carriers retain customer data for up to 7 years

A leaked document from the Justice Department intended for law enforcement officials describes the length of time major cellphone companies retain sensitive customer data, including text message details and content.

Wired magazine reported that T-Mobile keeps a list of users’ text message recipients for up to five years and AT&T for up to seven years, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) document dated August 2010.

Wired lists the retention periods of other carriers’ data, such as who keeps call detail records the longest (AT&T: up to seven years) and post-paid bill copies the longest (AT&T and Sprint: up to seven years).

Verizon Wireless is the only carrier that keeps text contents, although for three to five days.

The document, entitled “Retention Periods of Major Cellular Service Providers,” was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon Wireless spokesman, said in an email to ABC News that the company would not comment on the details in the report.

Concern grows over militant activity in Libya

As the dust settles after six months of fighting in Libya, U.S. officials are stepping up efforts to identify Islamic militants who might pose a threat in a post-Gaddafi power vacuum.

U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence agencies have recently produced classified papers examining the strength, role and activities of militant activists and factions in post-Gaddafi Libya, four U.S. officials said. Some assessments examine the backgrounds of anti-Gaddafi leaders with militant pedigrees, and explore whether these individuals, some of whom have publicly renounced Islamic militancy, will stand by their pledges against extremism.

During the half-year campaign by rebels to drive Muammar Gaddafi from power, U.S. and NATO officials downplayed fears that al Qaeda or other militants would infiltrate anti-Gaddafi forces or take advantage of disorder to establish footholds in Libya.

Since then, however, the assessment of top experts inside the U.S. government has sharpened.

"It's of concern that terrorists are going to take advantage of instability" in post-Gaddafi Libya, said a U.S. official who monitors the issue closely.

"There is a potential problem," said another U.S. official, who said both the U.S. government and Libya's National Transitional Council were watching closely. Experts around the U.S. intelligence community "are paying attention to this," a third U.S. official said.

Hu Zhicheng: US scientist trapped in China

In the year-plus since he was released from jail, scientist Hu Zhicheng has been free, free to drive from his Shanghai apartment to his office two hours away, free to get acupuncture treatment for chronic back pain, free except to leave China and rejoin his family in America.

Twice Hu went to airports to board flights out of China only to be turned back by border control officers. A China-born U.S. citizen and award-winning inventor of emission control systems for autos, Hu has written to the police who investigated him for infringing commercial secrets and met with the prosecutors who dropped the charges for lack of evidence. Yet he has not been allowed to leave - nor told why.

"My priority is to go home and be with my family," said Hu, slight, soft-spoken and reserved. "I know how much they have suffered."

Writ large, Hu's case shows the pitfalls that Chinese who study and work in the West face when they return to apply their entrepreneurial zeal to the booming China market. Trade disputes that would be civil suits in the West become criminal cases in China. Chinese companies often cultivate influence with local officials and thus may rally law enforcement and a malleable legal system to their side when deals go awry.

In Hu's case, he and his wife believe that the company which accused him of secrets theft persuaded authorities to keep the travel ban in place. In China, sometimes punishment goes on even when the law says stop.

Criminals stole customer card data from millions from Betfair just months before float

Cyber-criminals stole the payment card details of almost 2.3m Betfair customers only months before the betting exchange's controversial £1.39bn float.

The company was forced to inform the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Australian Federal Police and German law enforcement authorities, as well as international regulators and Royal Bank of Scotland – the lender responsible for accepting credit and debit card payments made via Betfair.

However, the betting exchange did not inform its 3m-plus registered customers. Neither did it provide any details of the crime in the prospectus for last October's £13-a-share listing, raising questions over the adequacy of its disclosures.

Betfair, which was brought to market by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital and Numis Securities, referred only to "a limited number of security breaches in the past" in the "risk factors" part of the prospectus. It added they had "not had a significant effect on Betfair's reputation, operations, financial performance and prospects".

The statement tells nothing of the attack by criminals on March 14, 2010, which was not discovered by Betfair until a server crashed at its Malta data centre on May 20.

It subsequently emerged that between March 28 and April 9, criminals believed to be from Cambodia stole what a company report to regulators described as a "significant volume" of sensitive data.

SpaceX says 'reusable rocket' could help colonize Mars

The US company SpaceX is working on the first-ever reusable rocket to launch to space and back, with the goal of one day helping humans colonize Mars, founder Elon Musk said Thursday.

The vehicle would be a reusable version of the Falcon 9 rocket which SpaceX used to propel its Dragon space capsule to low Earth-orbit on a test mission last year. Its first cargo trip to the International Space Station is set for January.

Being able to reuse the rocket would save tens of millions of dollars and would bring the notion of making trips to visit or even live on other planets, namely Mars, closer to reality, Musk told reporters at the National Press Club.

"A fully and rapidly reusable system is fully required for life to become multi-planetary, for us to establish life on Mars," Musk said. "If planes were not reusable, very few people would fly."

Currently, a Falcon rocket costs between 50-60 million dollars to build and launch, with fuel and oxygen costs making up just 200,000 dollars. Then, it is lost forever as it burns up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

If engineers could reuse a rocket, that would bring the capital cost of a launch way down and "allow for about a 100 fold reduction in launch costs," he said.

Musk, an Internet entrepreneur who founded PayPal and has used his billions in earnings to start the electric car company Tesla Motors and SpaceX, said others have tried and failed to figure out how to craft a reusable launch system.

"In the last 12 months I have come to the conclusion that it can be solved," he said.

"We are going to try to do it. We have a design that on paper, doing the calculations, doing the simulations, it does work."

Could cyber attackers cut off the power grid? U.S. says new 'connected' equipment is at risk - and 'there have been intrusions' - 30th Sept 2011

Utilities such as water supplies and the power grid face a rising number of cyber break-ins by attackers using sophisticated attacks.

Acting DHS Deputy Undersecretary Greg Schaffer said that industries are increasingly vulnerable to hackers and foreign agents due to 'connected' equipment - and 'there have been intrusions.'

Earlier this month, security researchers demonstrated that it was even possible to remotely 'open' jail cell doors if they were controlled using 'programmable logic controllers' - common automated controls.

'We are connecting equipment that has never been connected before to global networks,' Schaffer said. Hackers and perhaps foreign governments 'are knocking on the doors of these systems - there have been intrusions.'

According to the DHS, Control System Security Program cyber experts responded to 116 requests for assistance in 2010, and 342 so far this year. In response, the US government are building 'cyber defense' labs. Read More

'Beautiful views and habor... in need of bit of biohazard work': Government to sell $80m animal disease island to clear debts - 30th Sept 2011

The U.S. government is auctioning off land in a bid to raise much-needed capital, with the nation's economy in a critical state with an entire island that once housed an Animal research centre for sale.

With the United State's deficit is in the region of $1.4 trillion, proposals have been drawn up by White House officials, exploring the idea of selling various government properties in a bid to raise funds.

Government officials have intimated that up to $22 billion can be generated from the sale of various unused properties, buildings and land with Plum Island in Suffolk County is one of the most notable candidates.

The island off the coast of Long Island is 3 miles long and has a current value between $50-80 million.

It was once home to Plum Island Animal Disease Centre where various studies where carried out, into the prevention of contamination in the nation's food supply. Read More

Kim Jong-II spends £120,000 on food for his dogs, as six million North Koreans starve - 30th Sept 2011

While his nation starves, North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il has been spending £120,000 a year on his dogs, it has been revealed.

The allegations were made in a report presented to the country's parliament leaked by a South Korean MP.

Nearly six million North Koreans - a quarter of the population - live in extreme poverty due to food shortages in the country.

A third of children under five are reported to suffer from malnutrition.

MP Yoon Sang Hyun said the dictator's regime had purchased around 600 bottles of fine French wine that were consumed at parties for senior party and military officials last year.

He said the dictator had also imported several dozen Russian horses, and bought ten US jet skis for his son and heir Kim Jong Eun.

Most of the luxury goods had been purchased through China - the North's sole major ally, and Russia, he said.

If found to be true, the dictator's actions will have breached United Nations Security Council sanctions banning the export of luxury items to the communist state

The sanctions were imposed after the North's missile and nuclear tests.

Mr San Hyun, a member of the ruling conservative Grand National Party in South Korea said: 'The luxury life for Kim Jong-il's family goes on regardless of the worsening suffering of North Koreans amid the third-generation succession.' Source

Judge blasts EU rules which mean Romanian conman jailed for cash machine scam will be free to remain in Britain when he is released - 30th Sept 2011

A judge today blasted EU laws which will allow a Romanian con man who came to Britain solely to carry out a cash machine scam to stay in the country after being released from jail.

Judge Graham Cottle was told Ion Matei is free to return to the UK after he is released from prison -despite being a convicted criminal.

Con man Matei used mousetrap paper to line cash machines so when people tried to withdraw money, their notes became stuck and did not emerge.

People walked away thinking the machine was broken and the 34-year-old married Romanian would then remove the paper and pulled out the dispensed notes which were stuck to it.

Judge Cottle questioned lawyers whether there was any way of preventing Matei from coming back to Britain when he is released from the 12 month jail sentence he imposed.

The judge was told that under EU law Matei would be free to stay or return to Britain.

Judge Cottle told him: 'Your sole purpose to come to these shores was to commit crime. Read More

FTSE 100 suffers worst quarter of trading in nine years as £212bn is wiped off Britain's top companies - 30th Sept 2011

London's stock market suffered its worst quarter of trading for nearly a decade as more than £212 billion was wiped off its value since July 1.

Fresh fears of another worldwide recession saw the FTSE 100 fall to 5128.5 today almost 1,000 points lower than its peak three months ago.

Today's drop means London's blue chip shares have fallen 13.7% in the third quarter of 2011 - its worst performance since 2002 when the dot-com boom ended.

World markets have been hugely volatile in recent weeks as investors panicked that the U.S. and eurozone would be unable to keep up with payments on their huge debts and would lead the world back into recession.

Today's falls were caused after a monthly survey by banking giant HSBC showed that China's manufacturing remained stagnant in September due to sluggish demand both at home and abroad. Read More

Typhoon Quiel to hit land in the Philippines Saturday - 30th Sept 2011

JUST AFTER typhoon Pedring battered Luzon this week, another typhoon, Quiel (international name: Nalgae) entered Philippine territories Friday afternoon, the state weather bureau said.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (Pagasa) said Quiel intensified and is expected to make landfall in Cagayan and Isabela on Saturday morning, instead of Saturday afternoon as earlier predicted.

In a weather bulletin, Pagasa said Quiel is expected to be at 40 kilometers (km) east of Laoag City or 90 km northwest of Tuguegarao City on Saturday afternoon and at 570 km West of Laoag City by Sunday afternoon.

The typhoon, with maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of up to 170 kph, is expected to enhance southwest monsoon and will bring scattered to widespread rains over Southern Luzon and Western Visayas.

Storm signal no. 3 (expect winds of 101-185 kph) was hoisted in Cagayan and Isabela on Friday. The provinces of Northern Aurora, Quirino, Ifugao, Mt. Province, Kalinga, Apayao, Calayan and Babuyan Group of Islands was placed under storm signal no. 2 (expect winds of 61-100 kph). Signal no. 1 (expect winds of 45-60 kph) was hoisted in the rest of Aurora, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Benguet, La Union, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and Abra.

Pagasa warned those in low lying and mountainous areas under storm warning signals against possible flashfloods and landslides. Likewise, "those living in coastal areas are alerted against big waves or storm surges generated by this tropical cyclone," it added.

The weather disturbance is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) on Sunday afternoon. Read More

HEV68: 'New' Virus Catches CDC's Eye -- More vaccines?

It’s not a new virus, but doctors need to keep an eye out for one that’s not usually on the radar screen, federal health officials said on Thursday. It’s called human enterovirus 68, or HEV68, and it can cause an unusually severe type of cold that can even kill in some cases.

The virus has been around for decades, but for some reason it’s been causing clusters of serious illness over the past three years, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Three people, two in the Philippines and one in Japan, died from an HEV68 outbreak during 2008-2010, CDC and other scientists report in this week’s newsletter on illness and death. There were also several clusters of the virus outbreak in the United States that sent batches of patients to the hospital, including in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.

“HEV68 is not new, but clusters involving large numbers of people with this virus are a recent phenomenon. This may be due in part to improved respiratory diagnostics; however, long-term surveillance at some sites showed that HEV68 was an unusual cause of respiratory illness in other years,” according to the CDC report.

“First isolated in California in 1962 from four children with bronchiolitis and pneumonia, HEV68 has been reported rarely since that time and the full spectrum of illness that it can cause is unknown.”

Doctors need to be aware of the virus, the CDC said, and report any clusters of unexplained respiratory illness. Telltale symptoms may include sudden wheezing and worsening of asthma, CDC said.

Fitch, S&P downgrade New Zealand's credit rating

New Zealand's credit rating has been downgraded by two of the three major ratings agencies amid increased global concern over high debt burdens in developed nations.

Fitch and Standard & Poor's on Friday downgraded New Zealand from an AA+ rating to AA.

In the past, New Zealand has enjoyed strong sovereign credit ratings due to relatively low levels of government borrowing that offset worries about the country's high private debt. But the ratings agencies have become less sanguine after an earthquake and weak economic growth strained the government's finances.

The agencies are taking a harder line on any form of debt in the wake of the global financial crisis. Countries such as Ireland, which was forced to bail out banks after the global recession, have demonstrated how private debt can easily become a problem for the government.

The downgrade weighed on the New Zealand dollar. It was trading late Friday at $0.7639, down from $0.77 the previous day. It was worth as much as $0.88 two months ago.

In its review, Fitch said New Zealand's high level of external debt is "an outlier" among comparable developed nations, a situation which is likely to continue given that the current account deficit is projected to increase. A current account deficit typically shows that a country is spending more than it earns and relying on borrowing to make up the gap.

Standard & Poor's cited increased spending by the government following February's earthquake that killed 181 people and devastated the center of Christchurch, New Zealand's second biggest city.

According to S&P, negative factors include the country's high levels of household and agricultural debt, its reliance on commodities for income, and an aging population.

Jessica Chrichlow was holding 11-month-old baby son when blasted by shot gun

A teenager holding her 11-month-old son was injured when she came under fire from a shotgun as she chatted to two friends in west London.

Jessica Chrichlow, 18, was taken to hospital with the two others, aged 17 and 19, after the attack in John Fearon Walk, near Queen's Park, on Thursday.

Det Ch Insp Mick Foote said the baby was unhurt but the teenagers were struck by shotgun pellets.

The gunman joined three other men and all four fled on bicycles, he said.

No arrests have been made over the attack.

London Ambulance Service said the 18-year-old woman, who was hit in the chin and neck, was taken to hospital as a priority while the two others made their own way there.

The injuries to the three victims are not life-threatening, police said. The 17-year-old has been discharged from hospital but the other two victims remain in the central London hospital.

Mr Foote said the victims were in a back garden talking to a group of boys when the gunman opened fire.

He said: "It appears a man on his own has gone towards the crowd and let off one single shot from a shotgun.

Smart cities get their own operating system

Cities could soon be looking after their citizens all by themselves thanks to an operating system designed for the metropolis.

The Urban OS works just like a PC operating system but keeps buildings, traffic and services running smoothly.

The software takes in data from sensors dotted around the city to keep an eye on what is happening.

In the event of a fire the Urban OS might manage traffic lights so fire trucks can reach the blaze swiftly.

The idea is for the Urban OS to gather data from sensors buried in buildings and many other places to keep an eye on what is happening in an urban area.

The sensors monitor everything from large scale events such as traffic flows across the entire city down to more local phenomena such as temperature sensors inside individual rooms.

The OS completely bypasses humans to manage communication between sensors and devices such as traffic lights, air conditioning or water pumps that influence the quality of city life.

Channelling all the data coming from these sensors and services into a over-arching control system had lots of benefits, said Steve Lewis, head of Living PlanIT- the company behind Urban OS.

Tevatron atom smasher shuts after more than 25 years due to funding cuts

One of the world's most powerful "atom smashers", at the leading edge of scientific discovery for a quarter of a century, is about to shut down.

The Tevatron facility near Chicago will fire its last particle beams on Friday after federal funding ran out.

Housed in a 6km-long circular tunnel under the Illinois prairie, the Tevatron leaves behind a rich scientific legacy.

This includes finding nature's heaviest elementary particle: the top quark.

Since 1985, engineers have been accelerating bunches of proton and antiproton particles around the Tevatron's main ring at close to the speed of light, then smashing them together in a bid to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

But the Tevatron has been superseded by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - located on the French-Swiss border - which is capable of getting to much higher energies than the US machine.

Shortly after 1400 local time on Friday, the Tevatron's designer Dr Helen Edwards will push a button in the control room that diverts the last beam of particles into a solid metal block, closing the book on an era in American big physics.

Prehistoric cave etchings 'created by three-year-olds'

Prehistoric etchings found in a cave in France are the work of children as young as three, according to research.

The so-called finger flutings were discovered at the Cave of a Hundred Mammoths in Rouffignac, alongside cave art dating back some 13,000 years.

Cambridge University researchers recently developed a method identifying the gender and age of the artists.

It is thought the most prolific was a girl aged five. The artists ran their hands down the cave's soft surfaces.

"Flutings made by children appear in every chamber throughout the caves," said archaeologist Jess Cooney, who has pioneered the research in conjunction with Dr Leslie Van Gelder of Walden University in the US.

"We have found marks by children aged between three and seven years old - and we have been able to identify four individual children by matching up their marks.

"The most prolific of the children who made flutings was aged around five - and we are almost certain the child in question was a girl."

Japan tsunami: 10 million yen donation found in Tokyo toilet

An anonymous donor in Japan has left 10m yen ($131,000; £83,000) to charity by dumping it in a public toilet.

The money was found with a letter saying it should be donated to victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.

The neatly wrapped bills were found in a plastic shopping bag in a toilet for disabled people in the city hall of Sakado in the Tokyo suburbs.

The note read: "I am all alone and have no use for the money."

The City Hall said it would hand the money to the Red Cross if it was not reclaimed within three months.

City officials said the anonymous donor had slipped in and out unnoticed.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says the earthquake and tsunami that devastated north-eastern coastal areas in March has brought out striking examples of generosity and honesty.

'Flying carpet' of conductive plastic takes flight

A miniature magic carpet made of plastic has taken flight in a laboratory at Princeton University.

The 10cm (4in) sheet of smart transparency is driven by "ripple power"; waves of electrical current driving thin pockets of air from front to rear underneath.

The prototype, described in Applied Physics Letters, moves at speeds of about a centimetre per second.

Improvements to the design could raise that to as much as a metre per second.

The device's creator, graduate student Noah Jafferis, says he was inspired by a mathematical paper he read shortly after starting his PhD studies at Princeton.

He abandoned what would have been a fashionable project printing electronic circuits with nano-inks for one that seemed to have more in common with 1001 Nights than 21st-Century engineering.

Prof James Sturm, who leads Mr Jafferis' research group, conceded that at times the project seemed foolhardy.

"What was difficult was controlling the precise behaviour of the sheet as it deformed at high frequencies," he told the BBC.

"Without the ability to predict the exact way it would flex, we couldn't feed in the right electrical currents to get the propulsion to work properly."

U.S. consumers spend more, bring home less: Incomes down for first time in 22 months

U.S. consumers spent slightly more last month but earned less for the first time in nearly two years. The new data on spending and incomes suggest Americans tapped their savings to cope with steep gas prices and a weaker economy.

The Commerce Department said Friday that consumer spending rose 0.2 per cent in August after a revised 0.7 per cent increase in July.

Incomes fell 0.1 per cent. That's the poorest showing since a similar 0.1 per cent drop in October 2009.
Savings rate drops

Americans saved less money. The savings rate fell to its lowest level since late 2009.

A decline in income growth could slow the economy, if it causes households to cut back on spending. Consumer spending accounts for 70 per cent of economic activity.

The economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.9 per cent in the first six months of the year, the slowest growth since the recession officially ended more than two years ago.

Mini-Noah's Ark Japan's answer to next tsunami

A small Japanese company has developed a modern, miniature version of Noah's Ark in case Japan is hit by another massive earthquake and tsunami: a floating capsule that looks like a huge tennis ball.

Japan's Cosmo Power says its "Noah" shelter is made of enhanced fibreglass that can save users from disasters like the one on March 11 that devasted Japan's northern coast, leaving nearly 20,000 people dead or missing.

Company president Shoji Tanaka says the capsule can hold four adults, and that it has survived many crash tests. It has a small lookout window and breathing holes on top. It also can be used as a toy house for children.

The company completed the capsule earlier this month and already has 600 orders, including two delivered.

U.S. mulls Canadian border fence

The United States is looking at building fences along the border with Canada to help keep out terrorists and other criminals, according to a draft report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency

The report proposes the use of "fencing and other barriers" on the 49th parallel to manage "trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control."

But a spokesperson for U.S Customs and Border Protection said the government is not considering the fence option "at this time" and instead is looking at the environmental effects of putting more manpower, technology and infrastructure along the border.

Japan eases evacuation zone around Fukushima plant (Say what!?)

Japan lifted some evacuation advisories around the tsunami-devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant Friday to reassure tens of thousands of residents, who fled the worst atomic crisis since Chornobyl, that it is safe to return home.

A 20-kilometre no-go zone remains in place around the nuclear plant, which was badly damaged by the March 11 tsunami that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing across Japan's northeast coast.

But officials said the advisories for five municipalities that are 20 to 30 kilometres away were lifted because the plant had been restored to a relatively stable condition and radiation levels were within safety standards.

Dozens killed in violence across Syria, opposition group says

At least 49 people have been killed across several cities in western Syria during the past two days of fighting between pro- and anti-government forces, an opposition group said Thursday.

Most of the deaths have occurred in the city of Rastan, where at least 27 people were killed amid heavy shelling, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria -- a network of opposition activists who organize and document anti-government demonstrations.

Twelve others were killed in the western city of Homs, the group reported.

The Syrian army has been fighting units that had defected from the military, said the LCC and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition group.

Many people have been critically wounded in Rastan, and it is difficult to get them first aid, the Syrian Observatory said.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, says it is engaged in a campaign against terrorists.

David J. Lavau, stranded in accident, survives for six days on leaves, water

A man stranded after his car plunged down a steep embankment in the Angeles National Forest survived for six days by eating leaves and drinking water from a creek, authorities said Friday.

David J. Lavau, 67, of Lake Hughes, California, was found in a ravine a week after losing control of his car on a rural road and plunging 500 feet down an embankment into heavy brush, according to a report by the California Highway Patrol.

Lavau, who is partially disabled, told authorities that he spent the first night in his car.

"The next morning, he exited his vehicle and observed another vehicle adjacent to his own with a deceased male driver behind the wheel," the report said. "The deceased appeared to have been there for some time."

Authorities say they have not identified the dead driver.

The case began to unfold on September 23, when Lavau failed to return home.

Lavau's family began searching for him when he failed to return home, driving the route and stopping at all the curves in the road from Castaic to his home in Lake Hughes.

While Lavau's family searched for him, he "remained at the bottom of the hill surviving on leaves and water from a nearby creek," the report said.