Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan still 'racing against the clock' to prevent nuclear meltdown at Fukushima

The head of the UN’s nuclear safety body said Japan was still “racing against the clock” to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima power plant after he arrived in the country for a first-hand briefing on the crisis.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the situation remained “very grave” as workers continued their desperate attempts to spray water onto overheating fuel rods.

Engineers are now considering a “Chernobyl solution” involving encasing the damaged reactors at the plant in concrete, leaving the radioactive rods permanently entombed on the site.

For the second successive day, the IAEA said there had been “no significant worsening” of the situation at Fukushima.

Meanwhile the humanitarian crisis facing survivors of the tsunami continued to deteriorate, with freezing temperatures and food shortages putting lives in peril.

Increasing numbers of people are being forced to scavenge for food in the debris of their homes. (read more)

Libya: Col Gaddafi told to leave now or face the bombers -- UK special forces "in place"

Col Muammar Gaddafi was on Friday night warned that he must surrender large swathes of Libya or face military action from Britain, France and other Western countries this weekend.

British warplanes were poised to participate in bombing raids against tanks and other targets after David Cameron and Barack Obama issued an ultimatum to the Libyan leader.

The Prime Minister said that Britain would not tolerate Libya "festering" on Europe's borders, alluding to fears that Col Gaddafi may support terrorist attacks in this country.

In a statement on Friday night, the US president warned Col Gaddafi that he must withdraw troops from towns previously held by rebels, including Misurata and Zawiyah. The regime should also stop its advance on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi immediately, he said, and basic services including water and electricity should be returned to the areas.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said that the "final result" of international action against Libya must be Col Gaddafi's departure from power.

World leaders hope that by protecting rebel areas and civilians, Libyans will force the peaceful removal of the dictator and prevent massacres. (read more)

Earthquake-prone San Francisco has never seismically tested its subway tunnels

Internal documents show two of the oldest Muni tunnels are riven with cracks, leaks and corrosion, but a spokesman said the transit agency has never seismically inspected them — even following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Download the full report below.

While San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials say other inspections found the 82-year-old Sunset Tunnel and the 94-year-old Twin Peaks Tunnel “in good serviceable condition,” outside engineers question the wisdom of failing to inspect them for earthquake safety, particularly considering the defects that have been found.

A 2009 maintenance inspection of the 1917-built Twin Peaks Tunnel — which carries passengers on the K, L and M light-rail lines between Market Street and the West Portal station — documented defects with “the potential to affect train services if left unattended.”

Corroded steel beams surrounded by loose pieces of concrete held up the tunnel at its eastern end. A retaining wall was rotting. Further down the tunnel, corroded concrete beams and slabs were so deteriorated that inspectors said they “may be compromised.” And at the tunnel’s western end, the ceiling contained “extensive cracks,” one three-quarters of an inch wide and 10 feet long.

Major cracks also were found in the 1928-built Sunset Tunnel, which carries N-Judah light-rail riders between Duboce Street and Cole Valley. “One major concern is the longitudinal cracks beneath the tunnel roof closer to the west end,” a 2009 visual inspection found. It recommended repair as “the first order of business.”

Yet despite this urgency, no repairs have been made. SFMTA officials outlined the scope of work this week, saying the agency plans to invest about $1 million to fix the worst of the problems by January 2013. The remaining defects will be repaired after that, SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said, although the $6 million needed has yet to be obtained.

Asked if the tunnels’ vulnerability to earthquakes had ever been studied, Rose said no. (read more)

Obama: The Weakest President in US History?

INEFFECTUAL, invisible, unable to honour pledges and now blamed for letting Gaddafi off the hook. Why Obama’s gone from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Er, maybe we shouldn’t’...

Let us cast our minds back to those remarkable days in November 2008 when the son of a Kenyan goatherd was elected to the White House. It was a bright new dawn – even brighter than the coming of the Kennedys and their new Camelot. JFK may be considered as being from an ethnic and religious minority – Irish and Catholic – but he was still very rich and very white. Barack Obama, by contrast, was a true breakthrough president. The world would change because obviously America had changed.

Obama’s campaign slogan was mesmerisingly simple and brimming with self-belief: “Yes we can.” His presidency, however, is turning out to be more about “no we won’t.” Even more worryingly, it seems to be very much about: “Maybe we can… do what, exactly?“ The world feels like a dangerous place when leaders are seen to lack certitude but the only thing President Obama seems decisive about is his indecision. What should the US do about Libya? What should the US do about the Middle East in general? What about the country’s crippling debts? What is the US going to do about Afghanistan, about Iran?

What is President Obama doing about anything? The most alarming answer – your guess is as good as mine – is also, frankly, the most accurate one. What the President is not doing is being clear, resolute and pro-active, which is surely a big part of his job description. This is what he has to say about the popular uprising in Libya: “Gaddafi must go.” At least, that was his position on March 3.

Since then, other countries – most notably Britain and France – have been calling for some kind of intervention. Even the Arab League, a notoriously conservative organisation, has declared support for sanctions. But from the White House has come only the blah-blah of bland statements filled with meaningless expression sand vague phrases. Of decisive action and leadership – even of clearly defined opinion – there is precious little sign. (read more)

New York Federal Reserve confirms intervention in currency markets

The New York Federal Reserve Bank confirmed that it intervened in currency markets on Friday for the first time in more than a decade.

The disclosure came a day after the Group of Seven major industrialized nations pledged in a statement to join in a coordinated effort to weaken the Japanese yen. The yen has surged in the last week to post-war record levels following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

A spokesman at the New York Fed, which operates as the agent of the U.S. Treasury in currency operations, confirmed that it had intervened. The last time the U.S. government intervened in currency markets was the fall of 2000 when it sold dollars and bought euros to bolster the fledgling European currency.

The spokesman refused to provide any details on the amounts of the intervention or what currencies were involved. (read more)

Sitting silent in their classroom, the 30 children whose parents have not come to collect them after tsunami swept away their town

Even amid the carnage and despair of Japan's tsunami victims, the plight of the 30 children at Kama Elementary School is heartbreaking.

They sit quietly in the corner of a third-floor classroom where they have waited each day since the tsunami swept into the town of Ishinomaki for their parents to collect them. So far, no one has come and few at the school now believe they will.

Teachers think that some of the boys and girls, aged between eight and 12, know their fathers and mothers are among the missing and will never again turn up at the gates of the school on the eastern outskirts of the town, but they are saying nothing.

nstead, they wait patiently reading books or playing card games watched over by relatives and teachers, who prevent anyone from speaking to them.

Officials fear that even the sound of the door sliding back might raise false hope that a parent has come to collect them. Their silence is in marked contrast to other children playing in the corridors of the four-storey building, whose parents survived due to a complete fluke.

Sports teacher Masami Hoshi said: 'The tsunami came just when the parents of the middle age group were starting to arrive to collect their children so we managed to get them inside and to safety.

'The younger ones had left with their parents a little earlier. The ones who went to homes behind the school probably survived, the ones who went the other way probably didn't.' (read more)

Is the world food supply threatened by Japan nuclear radiation?

Fallout from the current meltdown occurring at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was hit by the 9.0+ mega earthquake and tsunami last Friday, could contaminate the world's food supply with toxic radiation, say experts. If the plant's radioactive particles get caught in the jet stream and travel the world over, they will end up contaminating crops and grazing fields.

"The explosions could expose the population to longer-term radiation, which can raise the risk of cancer. These are thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukemia. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable," said Lam Ching-wan, a chemical pathologist at the University of Hong Kong. "For some individuals even a small amount of radiation can raise the risk of cancer. The higher the radiation, the higher the risk of cancer."

According to experts, there are many ways in which radioactive particles can travel. They can bind to rain droplets and fall with the rain, or they can just travel in the wind and be inhaled by animals and humans. Either way, radioactive particles eventually end up embedding in soil and water where they contaminate the environment, wildlife, crops, and drinking water. Even cows grazing on radioactive grass will produce dangerous milk unsuitable for consumption.

As of this writing, officials have declared that the situation in Japan is currently a Level Six on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The scale ranges from Level One, which represents little danger, to Level Seven, which represents a large release of radioactive material where widespread environmental and health effects are to be expected. (read more)

UK Housing market 'stuck in a rut' says CML

UK mortgage lending remained at low levels in February as the housing market remained "stuck in a rut", lenders have said.

Gross mortgage lending during the month was £9.5bn, almost identical to January's low level, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said.

The lenders' group said 2011 would be "challenging" for the housing market.

A shortage of homes caused rents to rise for tenants, a separate survey indicated.

Rents rose by 0.2% in February to £684 a month, following a dip in the cost to tenants in January, the research from LSL Property Services found. (read more)

Canada: 8,000 Vancouver buildings vulnerable to quakes

A Vancouver city councillor says it's time to find out specifically which buildings in the city would survive an earthquake, following a decades-old report that suggests thousands of buildings wouldn't.

"If you're a tenant in a building or a condo owner, you should be able to find out if that building is built to good seismic standards," Coun. Susan Anton told CBC News on Thursday.

Vancouver's building code now has the toughest seismic provisions in Canada, but the new standards apply only to buildings constructed in the last 10 years.

Prior to that, the city contracted engineers at Delcan Corp. in the 1990s to find out how many buildings were prone to serious damage and posed a danger to occupants in the event of a big earthquake.

The study concluded there were 8,000 buildings — including city hall — that were at risk of "catastrophic damage," most of them built before 1975.

Those buildings housed more than 158,000 people.

City staff reported to council following the report that the vulnerable buildings presented an "unacceptable level of risk," and compared to quake-prone cities in California, Vancouver had a "very high exposure level both in terms of life safety and property damage." (read more)

Yemen forces 'open fire on protesters' -- 33 dead

At least 33 anti-government protesters have been shot dead by Yemeni forces in Sanaa, doctors have told the BBC.

They said 145 were wounded when government forces opened fire on a group of protesters gathered near the university, following Friday prayers.

Armed men in plain clothes took aim from positions on top of nearby buildings in Taghyeer Square.

A month of violence has shaken Yemen, with protesters demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

The BBC understands he is to address the country shortly on television.

Reuters reports that tens of thousands of protesters were also gathered in cities across the country - from the southern port of Aden to Hodeida, in the west.

"Most of the wounds were to the head, neck and chest," one doctor told AFP about Friday's shooting. (read more)

Japan earthquake: country on brink of massive blackouts

Millions of Japanese people are bracing themselves for massive blackouts as the country’s power system struggles to cope amid the nuclear crisis.

Banri Kaieda, Japan’s trade minister issued a plea to factories and shops to drastically cut their electricity use warning that the capital Tokyo was facing a major power failure.

Parts of the city, known for its distinctive riot of neon lights, descended into virtual darkness last night as offices, shops, electric billboards, street lamps and even traffic lights were switched off to save energy.

Train services have been slashed after the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) – the operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station – asked rail firms to cut back despite the exodus from the area around the plant.

Thousands of cash machines across the capital were knocked out for several hours yesterday after citizens overloaded system attempting to withdraw money. Meanwhile Japanese government officials saw passport applications more than double.

Reliant on nuclear power for around a third of its energy needs, Japan was forced to shut down one in five of its nuclear power plants in the wake of the disaster. (read more)

Inside classified Hill briefing, administration spells out war plan for Libya

Several administration officials held a classified briefing for all senators on Thursday afternoon in the bowels of the Capitol building, leaving lawmakers convinced President Barack Obama is ready to attack Libya but wondering if it isn't too late to help the rebels there.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns led the briefing and was accompanied by Alan Pino, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, Gen. John Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues, Nate Tuchrello, National Intelligence Manager for Near East, Rear Adm. Michael Rogers, Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rear Admiral Kurt Tidd, Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several senators emerged from the briefing convinced that the administration was intent on beginning military action against the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi within the next few days and that such action would include both a no-fly zone as well as a "no-drive zone" to prevent Qaddafi from crushing the rebel forces, especially those now concentrated in Benghazi.

"It looks like we have Arab countries ready to participate in a no-fly and no-drive endeavor," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after the briefing.

Asked what he learned from the briefing, Graham said, "I learned that it's not too late, that the opposition forces are under siege but they are holding, and that with a timely intervention, a no-fly zone and no-drive zone, we can turn this thing around."

Asked exactly what the first wave of attacks would look like, Graham said, "We ground his aircraft and some tanks start getting blown up that are headed toward the opposition forces."

As for when the attacks would start, he said "We're talking days, not weeks, and I'm hoping hours, not days," adding that he was told the U.N. Security Council resolution would be crafted to give the international community the authority to be "outcome determinant" and "do whatever's necessary." (read more)

Thousands in Iran march in support of Arab revolts

Thousands of Iranians marched on Friday in Tehran in support of the revolts rocking Bahrain, Libya and Yemen, state television reported.

Chants backing the protests of majority Shiites in Bahrain, who are challenging the Sunni dynasty's 200-year-old grip on power, dominated the demonstration which unfolded in the capital after Muslim Friday prayers

"The Saudis are committing crimes and the US supports them," and "Death to America" chanted protesters.

"Death to Israel," cried others.

Slogans in support of the rebellion in Libya and protests in Yemen also rang out.

Tehran on Wednesday withdrew its ambassador from Manama "in protest at the mass killing of the people of Bahrain by its government."

Iran has also criticised the dispatch of Gulf troops to Bahrain to help confront the pro-democracy protests which have wracked the kingdom's capital Manama almost daily since mid-February.

Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, hardline cleric and head of the powerful Guardians Council, condemned the dispatch of Saudi troops to Bahrain after pronouncing Friday prayers.

"It is painful that when the authorities were about to be beaten, it called for help and asked Saudi Arabia to send in reinforcements. It is against international law."

He also called on Libyan rebels to pursue their struggle.

"You must not accept humiliation. One must fight. Die or succeed, there is no other choice," he said adding that Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi was "shell-shocked." (read more)

Worldwide financial ramifications of Japan quake: Quake-Related Shortage Idles GM Plant

General Motors Co. says it suspended production at its Shreveport, La., plant for the week of March 21 because of a parts shortage stemming from last week’s earthquake in Japan. Damage to parts suppliers and transportation networks in Japan have brought that country’s auto industry to a halt.

GM, which builds Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks at the plant, says it currently has enough of the vehicles to meet consumer demand. But the Shreveport production stoppage could be one of many to come across the industry in the U.S. and elsewhere as car companies inevitably run short of certain components made in Japan.

GM declined to reveal which part or parts are in short supply, citing competitive reasons. The car maker said all its other plants in North America continue to run normally and it plans to resume building vehicles at Shreveport as soon as possible. (Source)

Some Flight Attendants Express Concern Flying Into Japan

As the uncertainty about Japan's nuclear power plant continues, the largest flight attendants union says some of their members' families are pressuring them to avoid flying to Japan.

United Airlines has allowed flight attendants to opt out of flying into Japan, according to Christopher Clark, a spokesman for CWA, the largest flight attendants union. But, he said, Japan continues to be a popular route for flight attendants he said.

"We have not had any issues being able to staff our flights — we don’t have anything to say. No issues staffing flights," a spokesperson for United Airlines said.

"Yes, we have concerns about Japan. We are doing everything we can to help ensure safety and health of our flight attendants," said Corey Caldwell, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants on 21 U.S. carries, three of which fly to Japan. “We’re concerned about radiation, and we’re working closely with government agencies, making sure we have most up to date info."

Caldwell said there are 500 flight attendants based out of Narita.

"We have been focused on their safety and helping them arrange alternative transportation and housing, as well as helping them care for their families," she said. (read more)

On heels of faltering Japanese nuclear power plant, currency meltdown also coming

The situation in Japan is getting worse, not better. There are shortages in food, fuel and warm dry shelter. To make matters exponentially worse, nuclear power plants there continue to burn out of control and emit high levels of radiation. Japan is a stark reminder of how fast a modern technologically advanced society can be brought to its knees by an unforeseen calamity. On the other side of the Pacific, the devastating pictures from that island nation are taking the attention away from our own, much more predictable, calamity coming from a tsunami of debt.

As the U.S. and other world governments continue to print money to keep the banks and system solvent, a ball of debt is growing. It is on course to swamp the system. In his latest report, Martin Armstrong, former Chairman of Princeton Economics and an expert in the study of economic cycles, said events happening in places like Japan or the Middle East are not the main issue the world is facing.

Armstrong was just released from prison after an 11 year stay. He pled guilty to a conspiracy in 2000, but spent most of his time in jail for contempt of court. Armstrong’s tale is a highly unusual criminal and civil case involving a very brilliant econimic scholar. (Click here to read more on this story from Bloomberg.) Armstrong has written many articles from prison. His latest comments were the last from his incarceration.

Armstrong said, “This is coming at a time when governments are broke. We have state and local governments in a debt crisis and that meltdown is very real!!!!!!! Government is collapsing. That is the issue.” Armstrong says because of all the money created to bail out failing banks, gold is gaining in price. “This is not just inflation. We are on the verge of a currency meltdown this time,” said Armstrong. (read more)

G-7 agrees on concerted forex intervention to prevent yen's rise -- but will it be enough?

Financial chiefs from the Group of Seven advanced economies said Friday they agreed to conduct a concerted currency intervention to curb the recent sharp rise of the yen against the U.S. dollar.

Authorities of the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Central Bank ''will join with Japan, on March 18, 2011, in concerted intervention in exchange markets,'' the G-7 finance ministers and central bank heads said in a statement released after their phone talks to discuss the economic impact of the massive earthquake in Japan on March 11.

''As we have long stated, excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates have adverse implications for economic and financial stability,'' the joint statement said.

The coordinated intervention by the G-7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- came for the first time since September 2010, when they sold the yen to purchase euros. (Source)

US military creates fake online personas: created 500 fake personas on social networks in order to secretly influence online debate in its favour

The US military awarded a contract for software to create 500 fake personas on social networks in order to secretly influence online debate in its favour, it has been reported.

The $2.76m contract was won by Ntrepid, a Californian firm, and called for an "online persona management service" that would enable 50 military spies to manage 10 fake identities each.

The personas should be "replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent", a US Central Command (Centcom) tender document said.

It added: "Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries.

"Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms."

The project would be based at MacDill Air Force base in Florida, The Guardian reported. The contract was first revealed by The Raw Story, a US news website. (read more)

Because they don't take enough from you already: Bank Tests $5 ATM Fee

Bank customers could face $5 ATM fees. In Illinois, JPMorgan Chase is testing $5 fees for non-customers, in Texas, it's $4. If the trial runs make enough money, the fees could be rolled out nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reports.

HSBC has already hiked rates, charging all non-customers $3 for using the banks' machines. TD Bank, and PNC Bank are now charging their own customers $2 for using out-of-network ATMs, unless they sign up for accounts with monthly fees as high as $25, the paper reports.

Faced with losing billions of dollars in revenue once new regulations limiting debit card and overdraft charges kick in as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, banks are looking for new ways to make money. The same scramble led Chase to consider a $50 spending limit for debit cards.

Banks are increasingly charging both for using their ATMs if you're not a customer, and using another banks machines if you are. Banks made $7.1 billion from ATM fees last year, the WSJ reports, $3 billion from charging their own customers for using out-of-network ATMs.

"It's easy to compare debit cards by looking at the monthly fee, so banks are going to try to minimize the monthly fees and load you with fees in different ways -- and ATM fees are going to become one of the most popular ways to do that," Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of told CNNMoney.

Banks justify charging you to get hold of your own money with claims that ATM networks are expensive to build and maintain. But, the WSJ reports, most of the 425,000 ATMs in the U.S. are not owned by banks, they're owned by the companies who place terminals in delis, bars and casinos. (Source)

Could global warming be causing recent earthquakes?

Severe earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and now Japan have experts around the world asking whether the world's tectonic plates are becoming more active — and what could be causing it.

Some scientists theorize that the sudden melting of glaciers due to man-made climate change is lightening the load on the Earth's surface, allowing its mantle to rebound upwards and causing plates to become unstuck.

These scientists point to the historical increase in volcanic and earthquake activity that occurred about 12,000 years ago when the glaciers that covered most of Canada in an ice sheet several kilometres thick suddenly melted.

The result was that most of Canada's crust lifted — and is still rising.

Scientists have discovered that the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet over the last 10 years already is lifting the southeastern part of that island several millimetres every year.

The surface of the Earth is elastic. A heavy load such as a glacier will cause it to sink, pushing aside the liquid rock underneath. (read more)


BRITS desperate to escape Japan were last night told: “Pay £600 if you want out.” The UK Government is sending planes to Japan to rescue holidaymakers and expats.

About 17,000 are trapped as radiation pours out of the Fukushima reactor crippled by the devastating tsunami.

But while some were guaranteed a free passage, others were told to pay up.

Brits had to prove they were “directly affected” by the quake or had lost relatives to qualify for a free trip.

Foreign Office chiefs said those who were not personally caught up in the crisis would have to pay.

A spokesman said: “We continue to advise against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and north-eastern Japan.

“The UK Government is chartering flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong to supplement commercially available options for those wishing to leave Japan.”

It came as brave nuke workers, dubbed the Fukushima 50, risked their lives to prevent a Chernobyl-style apocalypse. Read More

Nissan scanning vehicles for radioactive material

Nissan has started scanning vehicles made in Japan for traces of radioactive material, a company official said Friday.

"Looking ahead, we will continue to implement all appropriate measures to reassure the public that all products from our company remain within globally accepted safety standards and until we are confident that any risk of contamination is completely removed," said Simon Sproule, corporate vice president of marketing for Nissan Motor Company.

Sproule said the monitoring began this week. (read more)

Gaddafi forces shell west Libya's Misrata, 25 dead

Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi bombarded the rebel-held city of Misrata on Friday with tanks and heavy artillery, killing at least 25 people, residents said.

"Gaddafi's forces are bombing the city with artillery shells and tanks. We now have 25 people dead at the hospital, including several little girls," Dr Khaled Abou Selha told Reuters by satellite phone.

"They are even bombing ambulances. I saw one little girl with half of her head blown off," he said, crying.

The doctor and another resident, Mohamed, said the city was still being heavily shelled despite a rebel claim that the attack had been defeated and the announcement at around 1230 GMT by the foreign minister of a ceasefire.

"There are 20 tanks in the city, they are killing everybody because they want to recapture the city by this evening," Mohamed said. The sound of heavy artillery could be heard in the background.

A rebel fighter had earlier said the insurgents had beaten back the attack, despite the heavy weapons used by Gaddafi's forces and the fact that the city of 300,000, the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya, has been under siege for days.

In Tripoli, Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said Libya had decided to halt all military operations in the country to protect civilians and comply with a United Nations resolution passed overnight. (read more)

Far reaching Japan fears: Worried Californians Purchase Gas Masks, Chemical Suits

The owner of a military supply company in Maine says he’s been inundated with orders from people in California buying gas masks and chemical suits.

Maine Military Supply owner Frank Spizuoco says hundreds of gas masks are going out the door. He says people are also ordering related gear, including chemical suits, jackets, gloves, pants and boots.

He says the spike in sales started over the weekend. Officials in Japan are struggling to contain a nuclear power plant damaged by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

Spizuoco says people are afraid of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant making its way to the United States.

He tells the Bangor Daily News it reminds him of the frenzy after 9/11. He calls it “pretty crazy.” (Source)

Canada will help enforce Libya no-fly zone: Prime Minister Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday Canada is deploying the military to enforce the United Nations no-fly zone over Libya.

Harper's announcement comes aftter the UN Security Council authorized the use of "all necessary measures" to stop attacks on Libyan civilians on Thursday. Those measures include strikes by sea and air.

The prime minister said in a brief statement Friday that the situation in Libya "remains intolerable" and that "urgent action" needs to be taken to support the UN resolution.

Harper said he spoke to the leaders of the opposition to inform them of the government's decision and that Parliament will be consulted when it resumes sitting next week. He also said the approval of Parliament will be requested if troops are to be deployed in the region for longer than three months. (read more)

Japan's death toll climbs to nearly 7,000

Japan documented more deaths Friday as Prime Minister Naoto Kan sought to reassure a nation reeling from disaster, saying that he is committed to taking firm control of a "grave" situation.

Japanese paused at the one-week mark following the monster earthquake and ensuing tsunami as the death toll continued its steady climb to 6,911, the National Police Agency reported. Another 10,316 people are missing.

Kan said the disaster has been a "great test for all of the people of Japan," but he was confident of the resolve of his people.

Amid a raised crisis level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from a 4 to 5 -- putting it on par with the 1979 incident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island -- Kan told his compatriots to bury their pessimism. (read more)

Japan risks credit crunch as yen thunders: Japan is in imminent danger of a credit-crunch with global implications

Japan is in imminent danger of a credit-crunch with global implications unless the authorities stabilise Tokyo's stockmarket and take overwhelming action to stop the yen exploding to record levels.

Akito Fukanaga from RBS warned of a "financial shock" as banks and insurers comes under strain, and investors focus on the nexus of structured products linked to the yen.

"Preventive measures on the financial front are urgently needed. Sentiment has declined severely and there are concerns over capital erosion at financial institutions. Lower stock prices and yen appreciation are on the verge of triggering a credit crunch," he said.

The yen's violent move late Wednesday to a record ¥76 against the dollar - smashing historic lines of resistance - has gone far beyond levels that automatically set off secondary effects through derivative contracts.

The Topix index has regained some ground after crashing to 782 but is still at levels that leave Japan's top three banks barely above water on $1 trillion of equity holdings. The risk is that they will curtail lending as a precaution.

The Bank of Japan has already injected ¥15 trillion (£117bn) in liquidity and pledge to boost quantitative easing to ¥40 if necessary, but even this may not be enough. (read more)

Big Brother gets nosier: Pentagon buys social networking 'spy software'

The $2.7 million (£1.7 million) programme developed by San Diego firm Ntrepid allows one military user to create multiple personas on the internet and engage in extended online conversations and communications with suspects.

According to military procurement documents seen by the Washington Times, the software will "enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

"Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world," the documents stated.

A spokesman for the US Central Command region, which includes the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that psychological warfare scheme was operating only on overseas social media sites.

"We do not target US audiences, and we do not conduct these activities on sites owned by U.S. companies," he said.

Interventions would not be conducted in English, but languages such as Arabic, Urdu and Pashto. (read more)

US: House Republicans Vote That Earth Is Not Warming -- and may possibly be flat

Congress has finally acted on global warming—by denying it exists. It’s in the grand lawmaking tradition of the Indiana state legislature’s 1897 attempt to redefine the value of pi.

The Republican-led House of Representatives is currently working on the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions to mitigate climate change.

In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, California Democrat Henry Waxman had proposed an amendment calling on Congress to at least acknowledge that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” just as abundant scientific evidence confirms.

But on Tuesday, March 15, all the committee’s Republicans voted down that amendment, as well as two others acknowledging the threat of climate change to public well-being. Rep. Ed Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts, had this to say:

“I rise in opposition to a bill that repeals the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. However, I won’t rise physically, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating.” — John Rennie (Source)

Gang Of Feral Cats 'The Size Of Dogs' Terrorizes Australian Neighborhood of Moorooka

A gang of feral cats "the size of dogs" has been terrorizing a neighborhood in the Australian city of Brisbane for more than a year, the City South News reported Thursday.

Residents in the suburb of Moorooka say they have been scratched, bitten, hissed at and intimidated several times by the feral felines.

Marlene Jans was taking her five-month-old fox terrier for a walk last Monday when two of the huge cats attacked.

"I was crossing the road, it was dark and I couldn't see them," Jans said. "Then, bam! One came at my dog, one came at me. One was biting my leg. I went for my dog because she was screaming.

"I had to kick them away. I was really scared and I was dripping blood."

Her wound later became infected and she is now terrified to venture out at night.

The local council said it is taking steps to have the cats rounded up. (read more)

Authencity of Obama's citizenship again question: Trump expresses doubt about Obama’s birthplace

Donald Trump aligned himself with "birther" conspiracy theorists during an interview with ABC "Good Morning America" host Ashleigh Banfield, saying he has "a little doubt" about President Obama's birthplace.

"Everybody that gives even any hint of being a birther ... they label them as an idiot," the real-estate magnate said of people disputing Obama's citizenship in spite of his birth in Hawaii. "Let me tell you, I'm a very smart guy--I was a really good student at the best school in the country."

Trump then explained the source of his doubts:

The reason I have a little doubt--just a little--is because he grew up and nobody knew him...If I ever got the nomination-- if I ever decide to run-- you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten-- they'll remember me. Nobody ever comes forward. Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. It's very strange. The whole thing is very strange. (read more)

Mount Baekdu volcano to erupt soon? North Korea proposes talks with South over recent geologic warnings

North Korea on Thursday proposed holding talks with South Korea on possible volcanic activities at its landmark mountain, Seoul's Unification Ministry said, amid reports of a looming eruption there that could affect the entire peninsula.

Mount Paekdu, North Korea's highest mountain on the border with China, last erupted in 1903, but experts have warned that it may have an active core, citing topographical signs and satellite images. Recent earthquakes in China have deepened concerns over an eruption, with some Chinese experts setting the date as early as 2014.

In the letter addressed to the South's national weather agency, the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), North Korea said the two sides should discuss conducting joint research, on-site surveys and symposiums on the possible volcano at Mount Paekdu, the ministry said.

In response, the South Korean government will "review (the proposal) based on an understanding that there is a need for South-North cooperation" on the issue, an official said.

The proposal from the North's earthquake bureau comes as the communist regime has been making repeated calls for talks with the South, a move that many officials here believe is a typical strategy to win aid for its impoverished people after sharply raising tensions on the peninsula. (read more)

Is The United States Broke?

Writing casually on this blog, I've said more than once that the United States is broke. As with all other issues, the question of whether we are broke has now become political. Upon opening the opinion pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday, I was greeted by two columns on the subject of our bankruptcy. Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador who is now an associate editor with the newspaper, gave his view that The U.S. Can't Fix Libya. The other column was a reprint of Washington Post writer E.J. Dionne's What If We're Not Broke?

Just for the record, here are the dictionary synonyms for the adjective broke, which means "bankrupt" or "lacking funds"—

bankrupt, beggared, bust, cleaned out, destitute, dirt poor, flat broke, impoverished, in Chapter 11, in debt, indebted, indigent, insolvent, needy, penniless, penurious, poor, ruined, stone broke, strapped, tapped out

The situation in Libya is heartbreaking. The crazy Colonel has regained the initiative, the rebels are in retreat. Yet, Dan Simpson's approach to the intervention problem is simple. He has no political axe to grind. Why can't we fix Libya? (read more)

Military strikes on Libya within hours: France

Military action to protect civilians from Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces will come within "hours" and France will participate in the strikes, government spokesman Francois Baroin said Friday.

The strikes will come "rapidly... within a few hours," he told RTL radio after the UN Security Council on Thursday cleared the way for air strikes by approving "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

Shortly after Baroin spoke, Sarkozy met with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, as well as Defence Minister Gerard Longuet and army chief of staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud.

Baroin said the military action "is not an occupation of Libyan territory" but sought to "protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Kadhafi regime."

Baroin declined to say "when, how, on which targets, in what form," the strikes would come.

"The French who were at the vanguard of this call (for intervention) will naturally be part of the military intervention," he said. (read more)

Japan's nuclear nightmare: Plant chief breaks down in tears as government finally admits radiation leak is serious enough to kill - 18th Mar 2011

The boss of the company behind the devastated Japanese nuclear reactor today broke down in tears - as his country finally acknowledged the radiation spewing from the over-heating reactors and fuel rods was enough to kill some citizens

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted that the disaster was a level 5, which is classified as a crisis causing 'several radiation deaths' by the UN International Atomic Energy.

Officials said the rating was raised after they realised the full extent of the radiation leaking from the plant. They also said that 3 per cent of the fuel in three of the reactors at the Fukushima plant had been severely damaged, suggesting those reactor cores have partially melted down.

After Tokyo Electric Power Company Managing Director Akio Komiri cried as he left a conference to brief journalists on the situation at Fukushima, a senior Japanese minister also admitted that the country was overwhelmed by the scale of the tsunami and nuclear crisis.

He said officials should have admitted earlier how serious the radiation leaks were. Read More

Radiation data from Japanese disaster starts to filter out - 17th Mar 2011

Confidential data held by nuclear test ban organization emerging as key to monitoring Fukushima radiation.

international agency set up to detect nuclear tests, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), is transmitting detailed data on the spectrum of radionuclides and their levels in the air in and around Japan and the Asia-Pacific region to its member states each day, but that the CTBTO could not release these data to the public because it lacked a mandate to do so.

Now, at least one CTBTO member state, Austria, intends to make some of the data public in the form of summary reports and forecasts of global radiation spread.

Nature has also learned that initial CTBTO data suggest that a large meltdown at the Fukushima power plant has not yet occurred, although that assessment may change as more data flow in during the coming days. Lars-Erik De Geer, research director of the Swedish Defence Research Institute in Stockholm, which has access to the CTBTO data and uses it to provide the foreign ministry and other Swedish government departments with analyses, says that the data show high amounts of volatile radioactive isotopes, such as iodine and caesium, as well the noble gas xenon. But so far, the data show no high levels of the less volatile elements such as zirconium and barium that would signal that a large meltdown had taken place Read More

Libya declares immediate ceasefire... but Gaddafi forces keep on bombing - 18th Mar 2011

Libya today continued to blast rebel fighters with a brutal bombardment from land and sea despite the regime claiming it had called a cease fire.

In a day of rapid developments after the UN agreed to launch air strikes, foreign minister Moussa Koussa said all fighting had stopped.

However, rebels claimed there was still shelling in the towns of Ajdabiya and Misrata, the last rebel-held city in the western half of the country. Bombing left as many as 25 people in Misrata dead.

Even as Koussa spoke, David Cameron was on his feet in the Commons to confirm that RAF fighter jets had received orders to go to the Middle East.

The Prime Minister confirmed preparations to deploy RAF Tornado and Typhoon fighters were well underway.

The aircraft will join an international task force in the region in the next hours with air strikes expected imminently. Read More

As Japan strives to cool reactors, UN warns situation 'very serious'

Emergency workers frantic to regain control of Japan's dangerously overheated nuclear complex turned to increasingly elaborate methods Thursday to cool nuclear fuel rods at risk of spraying out more radiation.

They tried with police water cannons, heavy-duty firetrucks and military helicopters dropping bucket after enormous bucket of water onto the stricken system.

By nightfall, it wasn't clear if anything had worked, and the United Nations nuclear agency warned the situation was “very serious.”

U.S. and Japanese officials gave differing assessments of what was happening at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 220 kilometres north of Tokyo. The top U.S. nuclear regulatory official warned of possible high emissions of radiation while the U.S. ambassador urged Americans within 80 kilometres of the plant on the tsunami-savaged northeastern coast to leave the area or at least remain indoors. (read more)

Libya to impose immediate cease-fire after U.N. resolution - 18th Mar 2011

Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa tells reporters that Libya will impose an immediate ceasefire and will abide by the U.N. Security Council resolution.

He says Libya is stopping all military operations against rebel forces.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, he says Libya will "try to deal positively" to the resolution, which calls for a no-fly zone and a ceasefire.

He says the U.N.-imposed no-fly zone will affect civilian flights as well as military and will thus "increase the suffering of Libyan people and will have negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people." Source

British fighter jets are on their way to Libya, Cameron tells Commons hours after UN resolution - 18th Mar 2011

RAF Tornado and Typhoon fighters will today head to the Mediterranean to join international operations to protect the Libyan people from Colonel Muammer Gaddafi's forces, David Cameron said.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons that preparations to deploy the aircraft were already under way and they would begin moving out to air bases in the region 'in the coming hours'.

The move follows last night's resolution by the United Nations Security Council authorising 'all measures necessary' short of sending in ground troops to protect the Libyan population.

'The Defence Secretary and I have now instructed the Chief of the Defence Staff to work urgently with our allies to put in place the appropriate military measures to enforce the resolution - including a no-fly zone,' Mr Cameron said.

Exposed: Nuclear fuel rods inside wrecked reactor as experts predict radioactive plume will reach Britain in two weeks - 18th Mar 2011

These pictures show overheating fuel rods exposed to the elements through a huge hole in the wall of a reactor building at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant.

Radiation is streaming into the atmosphere from the used uranium rods at reactor number four, after a 45-ft deep storage pool designed to keep them stable boiled dry in a fire.

And some of the radioactive material could reach Britain within a fortnight, according to experts. Read More

Muammar Gaddafi: Hell awaits anyone who attacks Libya - 18th Mar 2011

Muammar Gaddafi threatened to turn into "hell" the lives of anyone who attacks Libya in line with a UN Security Council resolution passed overnight.

His remarks came in an interview with Portuguese state television, a tape of which AFP has obtained a copy, just hours before the Security Council voted late yesterday to permit "all necessary measures" to establish the no-fly zone, protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on his military.

"If the world goes crazy, so will we," the defiant strongman said. "We will respond. We will turn their lives into hell.

"What is this racism, this hatred?" he asked. "What is this madness?" Source

Brit Tornados To Enforce Libya No-Fly Zone - 18th Mar 2011

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that British Tornado and Typhoon aircraft are being deployed immediately to help enforce a United Nations no-fly zone over Libya.

"At Cabinet this morning we agreed that UK forces will play their part," Mr Cameron told a packed House of Commons.

"Britain will deploy Tornado and Typhoon aircraft and in the coming hours they will be moved to air bases where they can take action."

The announcement came after Libya closed its air space to all traffic in a move seen to thwart the UN imposition of the no-fly zone. Read More

Japan weighs need to bury nuclear plant - 18th Mar 2011

2006 Chernobyl - They may of buried it, but did it stop the radiation leak?

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese engineers conceded on Friday that burying a crippled nuclear plant in sand and concrete may be a last resort to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986.

But they still hoped to solve the crisis by fixing a power cable to at least two reactors to restart water pumps needed to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods. Workers also sprayed water on the No.3 reactor, the most critical of the plant's six.

It was the first time the facility operator had acknowledged burying the sprawling complex was possible, a sign that piecemeal actions such as dumping water from military helicopters or scrambling to restart cooling pumps may not work.

"It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete. But our priority right now is to try and cool them down first," an official from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, told a news conference. Read More

Remember that Cuba called it -- Fidel Castro: US ready to order Libya INVASION - 22nd FEB 2011

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro says the US has no interest in seeing peace in Libya but is solely concerned with the country's oil reserves.

Mr Castro, in a column published in state media, said it was too early to evaluate what was happening in Libya.

But, he said, it was clear the US would not hesitate to order Nato to invade.

Mr Castro led Cuba for almost 50 years after the 1959 communist revolution before officially handing over to his brother Raul in 2008.

In his latest "Reflections", Fidel Castro outlines the importance of oil and what he argues is the long-standing aim of the US to control supplies.

"What is for me absolutely evident is that the government of the United States is not worried at all about peace in Libya," he writes. Read More

Fukushima raises nuclear accident level from 4 to 5 – Accident With Wider Consequences - 18th Mar 2011

TOKYO (Dow Jones)--The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Friday it raised the accident scale level of the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex to 5, similar to the level of the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

The agency attributed the decision to raise the level from 4 to "serious damage" to fuel at the plant's reactors. Source

For you that are not familiar with the 1979 accident see full details here >>>

Libya Shuts Air Space Ahead Of No-Fly Action - 18th Mar 2011

Libya has closed its air space to all traffic in a move seen to thwart the United Nation's imposition of a no-fly zone over the country. The closure of Libyan air space was announced by Europe's air navigation organisation, Eurocontrol.

The news comes amid reports of Libyan forces bombing the western town of Misratah.

Saif Gaddafi, the son of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, also said "anti-terror" forces will be sent into Benghazi to disarm rebel forces in the eastern Libyan city.

Meanwhile military action to implement the no-fly zone will commence within "hours" according to French government spokesman Francois Baroin.

Baroin said the goal of the military action would be to "protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Gaddafi regime."

Saif Gaddafi said his family was "not afraid" but warned foreign air strikes would kill civilians. Read More

Dark days in ghost town of Tokyo: The deserted streets of a once vibrant capital now crippled by power cuts - 18th Mar 2011

It is one of the great cities of the world, home to 13million and as advanced as any metropolis on the planet.

Now Tokyo, usually so full of life by day and night, has the aura of death about it.

Its lights have been cut, supermarket shelves are empty, there are queues for everything and aftershocks come every day.

You could find a few die-hard Brits and other expatriates who wouldn't leave their beers on the counter in the party-time district of Roppongi for any threatening radioactive cloud, but mostly Tokyo has become eerily quiet. Nobody wants to venture out and the streets are deserted.

Everyone, it seems, shares the opinion that something very bad is happening at the Fukushima nuclear power plant 148 miles away, and nobody wants to risk breathing the air. Read More

Courage of the Fukushima fifty: This is suicide, admit workers trying to avert a catastrophe - 18th Mar 2011

Nuclear workers accept their fate 'like a death sentence'
  • Fears for their health as one expert says it is 'perhaps a suicide mission'
  • Radiation levels rise in Japan as crisis continues
  • Power will be connected to knocked-out coolant pumping system 'within hours'
  • Radioactive steam still billows from reactors and fuel storage pools after helicopter missions
  • Police water cannons move in to spray overheating fuel rods
  • Radioactive plume to hit U.S. west coast tomorrow
  • 17,000 British nationals could be evacuated as last-ditch efforts are made to stop nuclear catastrophe
  • Foreign Office provides free-of-charge rescue flights from Tokyo
  • FO's new 'worst case scenario' says radiation in capital could harm humans
  • Poignant messages sent home by the workers trying to prevent full-scale nuclear catastrophe at Japan's stricken nuclear plant reveal that they know they are on a suicide mission.

    One of the 'Fukushima Fifty' said they were stoically accepting their fate 'like a death sentence'.

    Another, having absorbed a near-lethal dose of radiation, told his wife: 'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.' Read More

    Barack Obama pleads for calm as UN warns radiation 'plume' from Japan quake could hit U.S. today before eventually reaching Europe - 18th Mar 2011

    UN predicts nuclear plume could hit U.S. by Friday
    • Experts warn that particles will drift across Atlantic for Europe
    • Obama finally falls in line with the rest of the world and starts evacuating American citizens from Japan
    • French minister: 'Let's not beat about the bush, they've essentially lost control'
    • Cooling pool for spent fuel rods has 'boiled dry at reactor number four'
    • Japanese have 48 hours to avoid 'another Chernobyl'
    • Terrified Americans panic-buy gas masks, anti-radiation pills and even pet shelters
    • Experts warn that crisis is 'approaching point of no return' as officials run out of options
    Barack Obama has appealed for calm today after a UN agency predicted that a nuclear plume from Japan is set to hit the U.S. West Coast by tomorrow.

    The President said no dangerous levels of radiation are expected to reach the U.S. as Japan runs out of time to prevent what officials are calling 'another Chernobyl'.

    He spoke as officials in Dallas denied reports that radiation had been detected on passengers landing there from Japan, and Chicago refused to confirm claims passengers tested positive for radiation at O'Hare airport.

    And last night there were also fears that particles from the cloud could cross the Atlantic and eventually reach Europe. Read More

    'We have been betrayed': Mayor of town near stricken Japanese nuclear plant claims his people have been 'abandoned' - 18th Mar 2011

    The voice on the phone was calm and dignified, as befitted a proud Japanese mayor, yet this somehow made his fury more forceful.

    Hours after the tsunami struck, Katsunobu Sakurai told me, he had sought advice from the government on whether to evacuate the 71,000 people in his city, which is just 12 miles downwind of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

    At first ministerial officials simply ignored his calls. When he did manage to speak to them, they assured him there was no cause for concern; a message he accepted and dutifully relayed.

    He had toed the line because that is what Japan's civic leaders invariably do. But yesterday, far too late, the mayor of Minamisoma finally realised that he had been deceived, at best, and perhaps even lied to.

    'Of course I am angry,' he told me through an interpreter yesterday. 'I was ignored and then badly misled, and as a result the people were abandoned here to die.

    'But I was the one who told them it was safe to stay, and now I have decided that I must be the last person to leave this city. I have been in my office since last Friday, and I won't go until the last person has left safely.'

    For a city mayor to voice such sentiments at a time when his countrymen are being urged to stand together in the face of Armageddon is tantamount to mutiny. Read More

    Sitting silent in their classroom, the 30 children whose parents have not come to collect them after tsunami swept away their town - 18th Mar 2011

    Reporters not allowed to speak to children to guard against false hope
  • Ishinomaki confirms the huge number of its citizens missing
  • North Eastern port town was hit by 20ft tsunami
  • Fears that overall death toll has been terribly underestimated
  • Even amid the carnage and despair of Japan's tsunami victims, the plight of the 30 children at Kama Elementary School is heartbreaking.

    They sit quietly in the corner of a third-floor classroom where they have waited each day since the tsunami swept into the town of Ishinomaki for their parents to collect them. So far, no one has come and few at the school now believe they will.

    Teachers think that some of the boys and girls, aged between eight and 12, know their fathers and mothers are among the missing and will never again turn up at the gates of the school on the eastern outskirts of the town, but they are saying nothing.

    Instead, they wait patiently reading books or playing card games watched over by relatives and teachers, who prevent anyone from speaking to them.

    Officials fear that even the sound of the door sliding back might raise false hope that a parent has come to collect them. Their silence is in marked contrast to other children playing in the corridors of the four-storey building, whose parents survived due to a complete fluke.

    Sports teacher Masami Hoshi said: 'The tsunami came just when the parents of the middle age group were starting to arrive to collect their children so we managed to get them inside and to safety.

    'The younger ones had left with their parents a little earlier. The ones who went to homes behind the school probably survived, the ones who went the other way probably didn't.' Read More