Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Libyan television presenter makes a bizarre vow to Muammar Gaddafi, promising to sacrifice his "last drop of blood" for Gaddafi

A Libyan television presenter makes a bizarre vow to Muammar Gaddafi, promising to sacrifice his "last drop of blood" for the leader while holding a Kalashnikov.

Appearing on channel Al Libiya, the unnamed newsreader pledged to defend his country and "superior" leader and to "defy" the Libyan rebels.

He said: "In the name of all mighty God I pledge to you my dear leader that I will sacrifice my last breath, my last bullet, my last drop of blood, last baby and child for you.

"Nobody can touch you. We will not allow them to harm you and you are too superior to them and more dignified than them.

"This is my message to the traitors wherever they are and I defy them."

Both state-run Libyan television stations have been showing pictures of Gaddafi during military parades, and giving various victory speeches.

They have also shown pictures of Gaddafi supporters waving the Green flag of National Unity as well as Libyan troops taking control of some parts of the country. (read more)

Japan: the 'nuclear refugees' who may never go home

Nick Allen reports on the hundreds of people made homeless by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It is close to midnight in a cavernous Tokyo sports centre and two little girls sit on a traditional tatami mat quietly playing backgammon unable to sleep.

Hinata Sahara, aged eight, and her seven-year-old sister Rikato, are a long way from their home in Fukushima and they have no idea when – or even if – they can ever go back.

They are part of Japan's latest problem, a wave of "nuclear refugees" who have fled as far as they can from the man-made disaster unfolding to the north.

Many hundreds of them, travelling haphazardly by car, bus, train, and foot, have now reached the Japanese capital, 140 miles from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi complex.

Whether they can return depends on the half-life of various radioactive isotopes, and people's confidence in what the government tells them, which is sorely lacking. (read more)

6 dead in new clashes in southern Syria city of Daraa

New violence in a restive southern Syrian city killed as many as six people Wednesday, making it the deadliest single day since anti-government protests inspired by uprisings across the Arab world reached this country last week, an activist said.

The activist told The Associated Press that six people died in Daraa when security forces launched an attack near the al-Omari Mosque, where anti-government demonstrators have taken shelter. He said a paramedic was among the dead. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Syria's state-run TV reported that four people died when "an armed gang" attacked an ambulance in Daraa. The dead included a doctor, a paramedic, a driver and a policeman, the TV said.

It showed footage of guns, AK47s, hand grenades and other ammunition as well as stashes of Syrian money which it said was seized from inside al-Omari mosque. (read more)

Der Spiegel: 'Gadhafi Is Facing a Coalition of the Unwilling'

NATO is split over whether it should take over command of the coalition military operation against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. German commentators warn that the alliance could be playing into the despot's hands with its dithering.

he coalition military operation against Moammar Gadhafi has made good progress toward its goals of destroying the Libyan dictator's air defenses and establishing a no-fly zone over the country. But that, it seems, was the easy part. Far more difficult are the questions of who should now lead the mission and what the operation's ultimate objectives should be.

The US government, wary of getting stuck in another war in a Muslim country, would like to hand control of the mission over to NATO, but the alliance is divided. At a meeting on Monday, NATO ambassadors failed to agree on whether the alliance should take control of the mission. NATO involvement would require approval by all 28 members.

France has opposed handing control to NATO because of Arab skepticism about the alliance, which is perceived as being dominated by the US. Paris would prefer the current coalition of France, Britain and the US to keep political control of the mission, with operational support from NATO, according to sources quoted by Reuters. Turkey, an alliance member which sees itself as a bridge to the Muslim world, is opposing NATO control of the operation. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the United Nations should be in charge of an entirely humanitarian operation in Libya.

Britain and Italy want the alliance to be in charge of the operation, however. Rome has threatened to restrict access to its air bases, which are crucial to the mission, if NATO does not take over control. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that Britain or France could also take control of the mission, but some NATO officials doubt if either country could handle the operation by itself, according to Reuters. (read more)

Damage to Japan's economy may be worse than thought

Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis could deliver a bigger blow to that nation’s economy and U.S. manufacturers than originally estimated, some economists say, due to extended disruptions to Japan’s power grid and factory supply chains.

No. 1 automaker Toyota said it would halt operations at all its U.S. car-assembly plants through Saturday because of continued delays in part shipments from Japan.

Adobe Systems, the top maker of graphic-design software, said second-quarter profits will fall short of estimates. Japan is Adobe’s second-largest market after the U.S.

Some large U.S. electronics makers likely will shut down due to the temporary loss of components from Japanese suppliers, says Paul Martyn, vice president of consulting firm BravoSolution. Unlike steel or auto parts, electronics are tightly linked, and makers can’t easily shift to new suppliers, he says.

IHS Global Insight expects this week to raise its estimate of the disaster’s toll on Japan’s economy. Simona Mocuta, who heads IHS’ Asia Pacific group, says the firm’s estimate of the decline in Japan’s economic output this year could widen to 0.5% from 0.2% because of rolling blackouts that could extend into summer.

Japan’s growth could hit a low of 0.4% in the second quarter, based on the median forecast of nine economists in a Bloomberg News survey. But Julian Jessop of Capital Economics predicts Japan’s economy will shrink by 2% in the first quarter and 4% in the second.

“We suspect the consensus is giving far too little weight to the blow to confidence and activity from the nuclear crisis,” he says. (read more)

Kiev zoo a 'concentration camp for animals'

An Indian elephant called Boy, the pride of the Kiev Zoo, collapsed and died in his enclosure. Around the same time, Maya the camel succumbed to a digestive illness and Theo the zebra died after crashing into a metal fence.

And there's more, much more.

The animals just keep on dying at the Kiev Zoo, a place one activist has likened to a concentration camp for those with fur and feathers. Animal welfare groups say dozens if not hundreds of animals have died at the zoo in recent years due to malnutrition, a lack of medical care and mistreatment — and some suspect that corruption is at the heart of the problem.

Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group, is among the organizations calling for the 100-year-old zoo to be closed and its animals sent elsewhere in Europe.

"The Kiev Zoo will never attain any basic standards, it's so far removed from any zoo in Europe," said John Ruane of Naturewatch. "The conditions have been absolutely horrendous and no matter how many more directors were appointed the situation still remained the same."

New managers appointed in October said that nearly half of the zoo's animals either died or mysteriously disappeared over two years under their predecessors, and a government audit found that thousands of dollars were misspent as animals were illegally sold and funds earmarked for their food and care disappeared. (read more)

Egypt's banned graphic novel to be published in English -- whispers of a new, open society?

An Egyptian cartoonist who was arrested and had his graphic novel banned under Hosni Mubarak's regime is to be published in English.

Magdy El Shafee wrote the graphic novel "Metro" in 2008. It was banned in his home country and El Shafee was convicted of offending public decency after a lengthy trial.

A translation of "Metro" will be published across the English-speaking world next year. It has also been published in Italian, and some Arabic copies are available in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

After the revolution that ousted Mubarak, El Shafee is hoping his novel will once again be available in Egypt.

"I'm sorry that my novel is available in other countries but not available to my own people," he said.

El Shafee has appealed to the new Ministry of Culture, but says that because his book was banned by court order, the courts will have to be consulted.

He said: "I'm waiting to hear if the Minister of Culture will allow it to be published again. They will have to consult with the courts. I'm hoping there may be some kind of apology." (read more)

Jerusalem blast leaves dozens injured

A loud explosion shook a busy street in Jerusalem on Wednesday, wounding nearly 30 people, authorities said.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in the first serious bombing in Jerusalem in four years, but several people were critically injured, authorities said.

Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the "cowardly terrorist attack" in which "innocent people were hurt."

The blast took place in "a very crowded area" with "a lot of civilians and two buses," said Yonatan Yagadovsky, a spokesman for Israel's emergency services.

"Three to four are in critical condition. The rest of the casualties are moderately to lightly injured," he said. The injuries came from both the force of the blast itself and from flying shrapnel, he said.

The wounded included two pregnant women, he said.

The terror attack comes after an unusually intense period of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians. At least 10 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday, including four militants and two children who died in an Israeli strike that appears to have missed its target.

Police found a medium-sized explosive device attached to a phone booth near the site of a blast. It was close to Jerusalem's central bus station, Israeli medical services said. (read more)

Egyptian stock market opens, plunges

The Egyptian stock market plunged 5% in the opening minute Wednesday, triggering circuit breakers as the exchange opened for the first time in nearly two months.

The sell-off was expected. Traders had predicted a "bloodbath."

"For sure, the main index will drop 5% in the first minute," said Ahmed Samir of Hurreya Brokerage ahead of the trading day, pointing to the red sales orders dominating his computer screen. "Then the stock market will close." The circuit breaker stops trading for 30 minutes.

Outside the stock market, the orderly palm-lined street was mostly empty, with the exception of soldiers and armored personnel carriers. Security has been increased since some protesters demanded on Tuesday that the exchange not reopen.

Mohamed Abdel Salam, who is the chairman of Ministry for Clearing and Settlement, will serve as chairman of the exchange for 6 months, a government statement said this week.

He said this century old building has housed the Egyptian stock market since 1903. Never in the history of Egypt or the world, however, has he seen a stock market closed for such a long period. (read more)

Where is the fight against Gadhafi going?

he international coalition is continuing to launch airstrikes against targets in Libya -- but now speculation is growing about what is likely to follow the U.N.-backed bombardment.

The air campaign was launched to protect civilians from the brutal clampdown by Moammar Gadhafi's military against a rebellion in the east of the country based in the city of Benghazi.

The pressure on Gadhafi's 42-year reign is such that questions are being asked about whether he can survive. Some fear Libya could be drawn into a long and bloody civil war in the power vacuum caused by the regime's demise.

Gadhafi will "fight on and on" with potentially devastating consequences for Libya, according to Fawaz Gerges, Professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. (read more)

War footing: Israel braces for flare-up as Gazan rockets hit

Palestinian rockets struck two cities deep in Israel on Wednesday, wounding a resident and prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to threaten lengthy "exchanges of blows" with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Gaza faction and occasional Hamas ally, claimed responsibility for the attacks on Beersheba and Ashdod.

They followed Israeli air strikes and shelling in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that killed four Palestinian civilians, including three children playing football, and five militants, medical officials said.

Netanyahu, who voiced regret for Tuesday's civilian deaths and said Israel sought no escalation, took a tougher tone after some members of his cabinet mooted a wider offensive on Gaza.

Israel's three-week war in the impoverished coastal enclave in 2009 killed about 1,400 Palestinians, drawing heavy international censure. Hamas had mostly held fire since.

"No country would be prepared to absorb protracted missile fire on its cities and civilians, and of course the State of Israel is not prepared to," Netanyahu said in parliament.

"It could be that this matter will entail exchanges of blows, and it may take a certain period of time, but we are very determined to strike at the terrorist elements and deny them the means of attacking our citizens," he said, according to a transcript issued by his office. (read more)

Portugal tip of iceberg as Euro leaders tackle debt woes

With crisis-hit Portugal on the verge of government collapse and a cry for financial help, European leaders face an uphill task at a summit meant to seal defences against a year-long debt crisis.

Leaders from the 27 European Union states lock horns Thursday and Friday in Brussels, amid divisions over military action in Libya and nuclear safety after Japan's quake and tsunami severely damaged a reactor.

Once again, though, the euro debt crisis is set to consume most of their energies -- as a deadline for a definitive response to financial headaches collides with a fresh run on money markets over Portugal's descent towards snap polls.

A bailout demand from Lisbon, like Ireland or Greece beforehand, would come at the worst possible time.

A credit rating downgrade drove the interest Portugal must pay on new borrowings over eight percent on Tuesday. Nine billion euros ($12.9 billion) of debt must be repaid by June 15.

Portugal's parliament was set Wednesday to reject Prime Minister Jose Socrates' latest austerity plan, aimed at squeezing its public deficit to 4.6 percent of GDP this year.

The Socialist leader has said he will resign in that event.

Belgian police expect some 20,000 anti-austerity protesters to snarl up EU HQ from early Thursday.

A Portugal bailout would need to come from a notional 440-billion emergency fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, but diplomats told AFP that Finland is "not in a position" to strengthen the fund before April 17 elections. (read more)

Germany set to abandon nuclear power for good

Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

The world's fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions."

Berlin's decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none. (read more)

H1N1 outbreak in Venezuelan state, official says

An outbreak of the H1N1 virus, known commonly as the swine flu, has hit the Venezuelan Andean state of Merida, the country's health minister said, the state-run AVN news agency reported.

More than 100 cases of H1N1 have been recorded in Venezuela as of Tuesday, Eugenia Sader said.

In Merida alone there are 56 cases which have tested positive for the virus, and special precautions have been put in place in that state, AVN reported.

Classes in Merida have been canceled for five days, and a ban has been placed on events at night clubs and other closed-in venues, the agency reported. (read more)

Cartoon explaining Japanese nuclear crisis -- gross, but enlightening

A Japanese animation created to help the artist explain the nuclear crisis to his child becomes an online sensation.

Amid the devastation of an earthquake and tsunami, how does a parent explain a nuclear crisis to a child? Frustrated by media reports about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japanese artist Hachiya Kazuhiko invented the character of a sick child, named "Nuclear Boy".

Mr Hachiya explained that he created the animation in the search for simplicity, "My wife and child felt anxious that they could not understand news of the nuclear accident. I had to try to explain without technical terms. Similarly, many people didn't understand the media reports."

Once the original cartoon was uploaded, Ryo Shibata then added the English translation.

With more than one million hits on YouTube to date, the four and a half minute video compares the nuclear crisis to the bodily functions of a sickly boy.

The animation goes on to explain that other boys have been sick, including "Three-Mile-Island Boy" in the United States and "Chernobyl Boy" in the Ukraine. (read more)

Federal Reserve official: 'we've done a bit too much' Quantitative Easing (printing money)

The Federal Reserve has "done a bit too much" quantitative easing amid signs "of speculative excess" in the the US, according to a senior official at the central bank.

Richard Fisher, who heads the Dallas branch of the Fed, said that the world's biggest economy is no longer in need of further stimulus and the real question is when to begin tightening monetary policy. To embark on a third round of quantitative easing (QE) would "only prolong the injustice inflicted" on savers through inflation, Mr Fisher said.

The Fed started a second, $600bn (367bn pounds) round of QE in November in an effort to ward off the threat of deflation and ignite a recovery that has made little dent in unemployment. The move sparked criticism outside the US that it would fuel inflation, while domestic opponents argued it threatened to debase the dollar.

Mr Fisher, who become a voting member of the Fed's rate-setting committee this year, said in a speech in Frankfurt that "there's lots of liquidity sloshing around the US financial system. We are seeing signs of all the intoxication that typically takes place when we have the ambrosia of cheap and readily available capital." (read more)

Photos: Japan begins the clear-up and buries victims of the earthquake and tsunami

UK households face biggest income fall since 1970s as inflation bites

Britons are suffering their biggest drop in living standards for 30 years, according to a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The average household's "real" income – what is coming in after inflation is taken into account – will have fallen by 1.6pc over the three years to the end of 2011, the influential think-tank said ahead of Wednesday's Budget.

In contrast, over the previous half a century, real incomes rose an average 1.6pc a year, or 5pc every three-year period.

The study flags up the fragility of the UK's economy as it struggles out of the deepest recession since the 1930s.

The current decline marks the first drop in the average household's income over any three year period since the early 1990s, and represents the most dramatic fall seen since the start of the 1980s, the report said.

The squeeze signals a loss for the average household of £360 a year, said the IFS, a hit totalling £1,080 over the three-year period. (read more)

Embassies closing, moving south of Tokyo, Japan reports

Embassies from more than two dozen countries have either closed down or moved operations to cities south of Tokyo since the March 11 earthquake and the resulting nuclear crisis in northern Japan, the country's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

"There are 25 embassies which either temporary shut down or moved its function outside of Tokyo," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hidenori Sobashima told CNN. Seven of those 25 have moved to cities such as Osaka, Hiroshima and Kobe, Sobashima said.

Those closing or moving included embassies from five European countries, including Germany and Switzerland; 14 African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana; and four from Latin America. (read more)

Bottled water scarce after Japan's tap water shown unsafe for infants

Despite being urged not to hoard bottled water, residents of Japan's capital on Wednesday snapped it up in droves after testing showed radioactive material in tap water at levels unsafe for infants.

The city's water agency said the spike was likely caused by problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, located 240 kilometers (150 miles) away. Earlier Wednesday, Tokyo government officials advised residents not to give tap water to infants or use it in formula after tests at a purification plant detected high levels of radioactive iodine.

Grocery store owner Seiji Sasaki said he noted a sudden increase of customers. He had 40 cases of water in his store, but they were gone quickly.

Meanwhile, officials evacuated some workers at the Fukushima plant Wednesday afternoon as a black plume of smoke billowed above one of the reactors, plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The cause of the smoke was unclear.

The team of seven workers were planning to inspect gauges and instrumentation at reactor No. 3, but were unable to determine conditions in the control room before evacuating, officials with Tokyo Electric and Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said. (read more)

Al Qaida commander backs Libyan rebels in message -- Is Gaddafi telling the truth after all?

Abu Yahya al-Libi urges anti-Gaddafi forces not to retreat; reports of mutiny among Gaddafi forces slowing attack on rebel-held Misrata.

A senior member of al Qaida urged Libyan rebels to continue their fight against Muammar Gaddafi and warned of the consequences of defeat, in a videotaped message posted on Jihadi websites, the Qatar-based Gulf News reported on Sunday.

The message from Libya native, Abu Yahya al-Libi, marked the first time a top ranked al Qaida commander had commented on the uprising in Libya. Gaddafi has repeatedly blamed al Qaida for inciting the unrest against him.

“The Libyan people have suffered at the hands of Gaddafi for more than 40 years ... He used the Libyans as a testing ground for his violent, rambling and disgusting thoughts,” Abu Yahya stated.

He warned that "Retreating will mean decades of harsher oppression and greater injustices than what you have endured.”

Abu Yahya also accused the West, and the US in particular, of having supported oppresive Arab regimes at the expense of the people. (read more)

Libya: Navy running short of Tomahawk missiles

The Navy could run out of Tomahawk missiles after a fifth of the Navy stockpile has been used against Libya, sources disclosed yesterday.

Defence insiders say as many as 12 of the weapons have been fired from the hunter–killer submarine Triumph in the past four days.

If this is correct, the Navy will have used up to 20 per cent of its 64 Tomahawks in the opening salvos of the war, leading to fears that it is "burning through" its armoury.

The situation could become an embarrassment for the Government if the submarine were the only vessel within range of a number of targets but could not fulfil the mission.

The submarines are stealthy and can loiter offshore unseen before going to depth to fire the Tomahawks.

The Block Four variant of the missile can travel more than 850 miles, can be retargeted in flight and can loiter above a target for more than two hours. (read more)

UK: Violence warning as unions plan mass march

Trade unions said on Tuesday their march this weekend will be the country's biggest protest for years, but police fear splinter groups will attempt to repeat last December's street violence.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said more than 100,000 people are expected at the march on Saturday to protest at deep government spending cuts and tax rises.

Brendan Barber, TUC's general secretary, said he expected it to be the largest demonstration since up to a million people took to the streets on the capital in 2003 to oppose the planned invasion of Iraq.

"I suspect this will be the biggest since then," Barber told reporters. "There'll be a lot of people coming from every part of the country. It's going to be a very big event."

The protest will also be the largest seen in London since a demonstration in December by students angry at a proposed rise in university tuition fees erupted into the worst rioting seen in the capital for decades. (read more)

A global energy war looms

Here’s an alarming chart to ponder (click to enlarge). HSBC has calculated what would happen to energy consumption by 2050 given plausible forecasts for economic growth and assuming no constraint on resources, or that humans carry on using energy in the “taken for granted” way they do at the moment.

As you can see, demand in China, India and other emerging markets soars, but there is also quite considerable growth from advanced economies too. The big picture is that with an additional one billion cars on the road, demand for oil would grow 110pc to more than 190 million barrels per day. Total demand for energy would rise by a similar order of magnitude, doubling the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to more than three and a half times the amount climate change scientists think would keep temperatures at safe levels.

It scarcely needs saying that regardless of the environmental consequences, energy industries would struggle to cope, and more likely would find it impossible. We may or may not already be perilously close to peak oil – or maximum productive capacity – but nobody believes the industry could produce double what it does at the moment, however clever it becomes in tapping previously uncommercial or inaccessible reserves. (read more)

UK: Health Bill amounts to 'abolition' of NHS, academic warns

Controversial Government reforms will spell the end of the NHS as it stands, academics warn, as the Health Secretary was forced to reassure MPs that hospitals and doctors would not face accusations of running cartels.

A new paper claims the Health and Social Care Bill will create a free market for private companies in which the NHS becomes an American-style system rather than providing treatment.

Even GPs could profit from the new system by rationing services, it is claimed.

Amid widespread fears that doctors and hospitals could be accused of anti-competitive practices if they deny business to private healthcare firms, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, agreed to set out the limits of economic regulation under the reforms.

It comes as opposition grows to the Government’s unprecedented reorganisation of the NHS, which will abolish two tiers of management and hand control of buying hospital treatment to new GP-led organisations.

The powerful doctors’ lobby, the British Medical Association, has called on ministers to withdraw the bill while backbench opponents now include a Tory MP and former GP, Sarah Wollaston, who has said key parts of the reforms are “doomed to fail” and risk changing the NHS “beyond recognition”.

In the latest attack, Prof Allyson Pollock, from the Barts and The London School of Medicine, and David Price, senior research fellow at its Centre for Health Sciences, write in a paper published on that the legislation “amounts to the abolition of the English NHS as a universal, comprehensive, publicly accountable, tax funded service, free at the point of delivery”. (read more)

'Arab spring' could topple Robert Mugabe, revolution could ripple throughout Africa

William Hague has warned that autocratic leaders including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe could be shaken and even toppled by a wave of popular uprisings rippling out from north Africa.

The Foreign Secretary said that recent revolts against authoritarian leaders in countries including Libya and Egypt will have a greater historic significance than the 9/11 attacks on the US or the recent financial crisis.

Mr Hague stopped short of threatening military intervention against other dictators, but warned that they will inevitably face “judgment” for oppressing their people and suppressing democracy.

In a speech to business leaders in London, Mr Hague said that the examples being set in north Africa and the Middle East will ultimately transform the relationship between governments and their populations.

“We are only in the early stages of what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East. It is already set to overtake the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11 as the most important development of the early 21st century,” he said.

"Inspiring scenes of people taking the future of their countries into their own hands will ignite greater demands for good governance and political reform elsewhere in the world, including in Asia and in Africa." (read more)

UK: Inflation Soars To Over Double Target Rate

The rate of inflation has hit the highest level for more than two years as the price of fuel, food and clothing continues to rise.

Newly-released figures show the CPI rate of inflation soared to a higher-than-expected 4.4% last month, from an already high 4% in January.

Meanwhile, the RPI measure of inflation, which includes mortgage payments, rose to 5.5% from 5.1% in January - its highest level for 20 years.

The CPI figure, which is the highest rate since October 2008, is now well more than double the Bank of England's 2% target.

It will throw further weight behind the argument for raising interest rates from an historic low of 0.5%. (read more)

New reader contributed photos of the Mecondo Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- is another tragedy unfolding?

Reader reports picture taken recently off of Grand Isle, Lousiana.

Reader reports that spill resembles BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill plume.

Reader adds: This is yesterday's goop after sitting in the fridge all night. Oh yeah, it also smells like diesel and doesn't rinse off the spoon.

Deadly bus stop bomb blast hits jerusalem - 23rd Mar 2011

A bomb exploded at a crowded bus stop Wednesday in central Jerusalem, killing one and wounding at least 38 people in what Israeli police are calling a "terrorist" attack.

Israel's national emergency service tells the Jerusalem Post that no one died in the attack.

Jerusalem police tell Fox News they are looking for a suspect. Authorities do not believe it was suicide bombing.

Meir Hagid, one of the bus drivers, said he heard a loud explosion as he drove by the site, located near the main entrance to Jerusalem and its central bus station.

"I heard the explosion in the bus stop," he said. He halted his vehicle and people got off. He said nobody in his bus was hurt.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Israeli police blamed Palestinian militants. The attack comes as tensions have been escalating between the two sides. In recent days, Hamas and other armed groups in the neighboring Gaza Strip have been firing rockets and mortars into Israel, prompting Israeli reprisals. Read More

Gaza Strip war escalates- Images - 23rd Mar 2011

Palestinians carry the body of a youth in Al-Shifa hospital after Israeli tank fire struck a home. An Israeli tank fire struck a home in the Gaza Strip, killing four Palestinians, including three youths, and injuring three other people. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. In recent days Israel has stepped up retaliatory strikes on Gaza following a barrage of rocket fire from the enclave, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group. Photo: Reuters Source

First pictures emerge of the Fukushima Fifty as they battle radiation poisoning to save Japan's stricken nuclear power plant - 23rd Mar 2011

The darkness is broken only by the flashing torchlight of the heroes who stayed behind.

These first images of inside the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant reveal the terrifying conditions under which the brave men work to save their nation from full nuclear meltdown.

The Fukushima Fifty - an anonymous band of lower and mid-level managers - have battled around the clock to cool overheating reactors and spent fuel rods since the disaster on March 11.

Despite sweltering heat from the damaged reactors, they must work in protective bodysuits to protect their skin from the poisonous radioactive particles that fill the air around them.

But as more radiation seeps into the atmosphere minute by minute, they know this job will be their last. Read More

‘Minor’ incident causes automatic shut down of Slovene nuclear power plant - 23rd Mar 2011

ZAGREB, CROATIA—Slovenian officials say a nuclear plant has shut down automatically because of a minor incident.

Ida Novak Jerela, a spokeswoman for the plant in Krsko, some 30 kilometres west of Zagreb, said Wednesday the system switched off at 09:30 GMT after power lines from the plant to the Croatian capital stopped transmission.

She says “there is zero risk” of radiation and the plant will resume its work “when the cause of the cut in the power line is established.” Source

British Commander: Gaddafi's air force 'defeated'

The commander of British aircraft operating over Libya has said that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's air force "no longer exists as a fighting force".

Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell said the allies could now operate "with near impunity" over the skies of Libya.

He said they were now applying unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces.

He was speaking during a visit to RAF aircrew based at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy.

"We are watching over the innocent people of Libya and ensuring that we protect them from attack" he said.

"We have the Libyan ground forces under constant observation and we attack them whenever they threaten civilians or attack population centres."

His comments come as Western leaders debate who leads the intervention, with the US keen to hand over to Nato.

Western aircraft have flown more than 300 sorties over Libya in recent days and more than 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired. (read more)

Featured Editorial: Who is telling the TRUTH in Libya? - 23rd Mar 2011

We are all aware of the stories coming from two sides out of Libya: Gaddafi supporters say that the militia has killed civilians, while the UN informs us it was the Gaddafi forces doing the senseless murdering. Of course, we can go back and forth like this all night, but the outcome will still remain the same: neither side seems to show any concrete proof.

Who are these rebels, these "militia"? What do we know about them? We have seen them carrying missile launchers, rifles, riding in tanks and even flying a jet, yet we're also told that they are untrained protestors. Which is it? Why are there so may conflicting stories regarding this so-called rag tag group of freedom seeking citizens?

And what about Gaddafi's forces? Is their job not to protect the country? It seems only commonsense that a nation's army would fight back if someone stood in the street with a missile launcher, but speculation seems to have replaced commonsense in the Mediterranean. This debacle resembles a civil war rather than like the protests that took place in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, but don't tell those pushing the buttons that launch the tomahawks.

Fact: we have two sides in a civil war, and between them we have civilians. Fact: Each side blames the other for casualties among innocents. Question begged: who is right, and who is telling the truth?

We all know what a UN "No Fly Zone" means. We have seen them before in the past, and we have seen the thousands of casualties that are the result of unchecked use of aerial military power, but this time they tell us it's "humanitarian reasons" fueling this international cause. This seems a reasonable explanation upon first glance, that is, until one notices the many strange events surrounding this saga.

We know this subject is continually touched upon, but if humanitarianism is so important to America, Europe and the UN, why have thousands of innocents been allowed to be slaughtered day in and day out by their governments around the world for years without anything being done? Although when the Libya unrest started and started to spiral into a civil war, it took mere weeks for the west to commence bombing a country from so many different angles that humanitarianism could not just be questioned, but tossed out the window entirely due to the innocent civilians being put at risk.

We want to know the answer to the following question: has the UN completed a fact finding mission of any sort to determine if there is any proof to support either side and to determine the truth and reasoning behind why the western world is embroiled in another country's civil war?

Today, March 22, 2001, a US fighter went down and crashed onto Libyan soil. Gaddafi blames rebels for shooting down this plane, and the rebels blame Gaddafi for the same act; the US says it was mere engine failure. What hasn't been reported as loudly, however, was that villagers have accused the Americans of strafing, via the downed jet fighter's wingman, 6 of their people who came to welcome the downed American pilots, including a small boy who reportedly may need his leg amputated. Are these villagers also lying, or did the US tell us a fib by later releasing a statement that the pilot did not in fact shoot at the villagers? Why the constant flow of propaganda and half-truths? What's going on?

By this point it's clear to anyone how quickly the Libyan story can be turned around by those with an agenda. If the villagers lied about the American pilot strafing them, could the rebels also be lying? Do we pick and choose the news from the "liberated" Libyan east that we want to believe? Maybe we should follow the example of the abstaining countries countries who prefer not to get involved until all facts become available.

Also of interest is March 22, 2011, interview conducted by Lisa Holland of Sky news with Libyan Government Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. Here is the full transcript, which we've painstakingly hand-transcribed for all our wonderful readers, of the entire interview so that people can see the strange brush of propaganda with which the media is painting this issue:

MOUSSA: Many civilians were killed last night. We are still awaiting for the official figures, because many of the targets last night were civilian and (quasi?) military places. Like ports and harbors used by fisher men and civilian employees with army as well, west and east of Tripoli.

So basically, what is happening now is the British government is killing more civilians to protect civilians and this for us is really bizarre. We have asked time and again for the British government and the international community to come on-ground and observe that we are not killing anyone, send fact-finding missions that will cost very little money and very easy effort, and instead they are sending us rockets and bombs without investigating anything on the ground. No court of law, no judge anywhere in the world would accept this. Why is it that instead of checking facts they are rocketing us every night?

Your spokesmen for the Ministry of Defense is saying that we killed many people in Zawiyah. How does he know this? Where is the proof?

LISA: OK, well first of all in terms of Zawiyah, we saw with our own eyes, sky news team on the ground unarmed civilians being killed. We saw children injured in the hospital, so there is the evidence for that, so Moussa you give us the evidence about where the civilians are being killed as a result of the air strike.

MOUSSA: OK, basically we need to establish this is armed militia fighting against the government. We are saying that these civilians were killed by the armed militias. Why are you believing the armed militias when they are saying that we are killing the civilians? We need judges--

[at this point Lisa does not allow Moussa to finish, and interrupts him]

LISA: Children are not armed militias. We are referring to Zawiyah here. Children are not armed Militias.

MOUSSA: No, no, no. Lisa, what I’m saying is these civilians were killed by the armed militias, not by us, because these armed militias are fighting street to street, house to house, mosque to mosque. The reason that these civilians were killed is that these armed militias occupied the centre of Zawiyah with tanks and anti aircraft machinery and rifles, so the ones -- the criminals -- are the armed militias who occupied our cities.

LISA: Well, as far as Zawiyah is concerned, we saw with our own cameras a crowd of civilians running who where not armed militias, but let's for one moment put Zawiyah aside lets talk about the airstrikes last night. Where is your evidence that civilians have been killed as a result of these bombing missions by this coalition of countries who are launching this military intervention?

MOUSSA: We have a list that we are going to give you later of the victims of the first night. People are very wary about revealing the names of their kids and daughters and have a right to their privacy, but we have convinced many people. We have their full names and you can contact them--

[Lisa once again interrupts Moussa and doesn't allow him to complete his answer]

LISA: How many people are we talking here, just to be clear? What is the scale?

MOUSSA: The first night 48 people, civilians were killed. The 2nd and 3rd night we don’t have the official figures yet. Once we have them, we give them to you, but Lisa our logic is very powerful.

How can you say anything? How can you judge us without observers on the ground? You are accusing us of committing crimes against humanity and as a result you are bombarding us. Where is the proof? The evidence is forced upon you, not on us. Come to the ground. I, as a government spokesperson and you were there for 3 weeks. Now, I have been asking for fact finding missions that would cost a few thousand dollar, and instead every rocket that falls upon us cost 1 million dollar. The first night cost a quarter of a billion dollars! Why don’t you spend money on fact finding mission and observers who will prove who killed who and who is killing the civilians?

We are saying we can not kill our children, our sons of Libya, because the Libyan army is composed of Libyan children of Libyan tribes. How could Libyan tribes kill Libyan tribes? We cant do that even if we wanted to, so come to the ground and this is a call. Lisa, please allow me to say this to the British government and the good British people: I lived in London for 15 years. I know every street in London. I know how decent the British people are. Come to Libya. NGO activist, intellectuals, politicians, opposition government: come to the ground here; don’t come to us in the cover of night and attack our civilians. Come to the ground check the facts, meet the people and then decide.

LISA: The problem is, Doctor Moussa, that sounds very rational and reasonable, but Colonel Gaddafi just a few nights ago, on the night the UN voted on its resolution, was saying there would be no mercy, no compassion. That’s the line that was picked up by President Obama in the United States. Do you not understand why the international community feels it needs to get involved?

[Moussa interrupts Lisa]

MOUSSA: Lisa, you are a professional journalist. You know what sound bites do to the truth--

[Lisa interrupts Moussa once again]

LISA: Are you disputing Colonel Gaddafi said there will be no mercy to the people of Benghazi?

[Moussa interrupts Lisa in turn]

MOUSSA: No, no, no. He didn’t say that. He said for those who held up arms and are part of Al-Qaeda will have no mercy. He said our kids, our children, our people of Benghazi are hostages--

[Again, Lisa does not allow Moussa to finish answering her question]

LISA: He said that they will go house to house. That would be a terrifying experience if you lived in Benghazi.

MOUSSA: He said the Libyan people -- you see how you change? -- he said the Libyan people. The tribes should go house to house to cleanse the country of these people. He did not say, "I" will go house to house or the army would go house to house. He said all Libyan people go house to house and cleanse your cities, but you know what sound bites do to the truth.

Colonel Gaddafi said it once, time and time again, we need dialogue. No one picked up on this. He said we need tribal intervention. No one picked up on this. He said we need fact finding missions. No one picked up on this. The soundbite of him encouraging people to cleanse their cities, and they make the statement of terror and threats, while the terror of threat is coming in the night in the sky on top of the heads of Libyan children and families. Why is so easy for the British government to use spokespersons to send rockets on us and very difficult to send politicians, observers and judges? What we are asking for is very reasonable in every court of law. You can't accuse us of crimes, condemn us, sentence us and punish us without investigating us. This is wrong in any court of law. We did not say no to people coming to Libya, so where is our mistake? You show me our mistake. You tell me.

LISA: Doctor Moussa, just briefly -- Colonel Gaddafi has been very conspicuous in his absence over recent days. There has been no big grand standing speeches like we got used to over recent weeks. Where is he? And does he believe he is a personal target?

MOUSSA: The fact that many people, many governments around the world choose to ignore is that the colonel is loved by millions. He is protected by tribes everywhere in Libya--

[Lisa once again interrupts Moussa as he attempts to answer her question]

LISA: The question is not whether he is loved. The question is where is he and does he believe he is a target.

MOUSSA: We believe Libya is a target and the leader is the historical figure. He is the figure of Libya and he needs to be targeted in order for Libya to robbed of its oil, to be robbed of its wealth and for Libya to be destroyed. He is the guarantee for now for Libya to remain one and strong and united--

[Lisa yet again interrupts Moussa as he attempts to answer her question]

LISA: Where is he? Why haven’t we seen him?

MOUSSA: No, he is here. He is here. He is leading the fight. He talks to us. We know where he is. He makes a speech almost every day to us through the Libyan TV, but as I said the main point is that in this fight Libyans are united and you will see this in the coming days. Many governments are relying on the Libyans rebelling against the government and their leader. This has not happened and will not happen. What people will need to know is we want to change Libya. We want to have to improve our political system but we know we cant do it through the Iraqi way because it didn’t work in Iraq, through the Somali way -- it didn’t work in Somalia, Afghan way -- didn’t work in Afghan way.

We want to do it peacefully, gradually change step by step. In Europe you took hundreds of years to change. Why should we change overnight? We need to do it under the leadership of Gaddafi because he is the guarantee not to have a civil war and kill many people.

-- Matt & Lynsey