Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scotland independence vote could contain 'financial autonomy' option -- is Britain about to rip apart?

Alex Salmond is prepared to compromise on the Scottish independence referendum by including an extra question on giving Holyrood much greater financial freedom while remaining part of the UK.

The Scottish first minister said on Sunday he would talk to other parties about offering the voters a second choice known as "fiscal autonomy" within the UK, rather than a straight yes or no vote on Scotland moving to complete independence.

Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show, Salmond indicated he would work with opposition parties and other interest groups on the alternative question. "I'm very open to discussion and dialogue. Just because we got a majority in the Scottish parliament doesn't mean we've got a monopoly of wisdom," he said. "I will listen to what people have to say. I don't just listen to the SNP."

His offer came as a deep split emerged in the Tory party after senior Conservatives, including the Scotland Office minister David Mundell, said Salmond should be forced into staging a snap referendum rather than dragging out the debate for another four years. Mundell was joined by Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish party, and Lord Forsyth, who was Scottish secretary in the previous Conservative government, in questioning a promise by David Cameron this weekend that the UK government would not interfere in Salmond's referendum plans.

Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, said Westminster could get involved if an early referendum was rejected by the Scottish parliament. "Westminster obviously has a direct interest in this matter and could always get involved. I think it is perfectly legitimate for a referendum to be brought on," he said.

But Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary in the UK cabinet and Mundell's boss at the Scotland Office, immediately ruled out any prospect of the coalition government calling a snap referendum. Cameron told Salmond on Friday night that Westminster would not interfere with the Scottish parliament or raise legal or constitutional barriers to the plebiscite. Moore said: "As a UK government we will not be putting obstacles in the way of any referendum." (read more)

Britain's Wealthiest Get Richer... And Richer

Britain's super-rich have bucked the economic downturn and increased their collective wealth by 18% in the past year.

The 1,000 best-off people in the country are now worth £395.8bn, according to the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List.

The number of billionaires in the UK now stands at 73 - up from 53 last year and almost matching the record of 75 reached before the recession when the collective wealth of the top 1,000 was £413bn.

Among the new billionaire entries are Douglas and Dame Mary Perkins, aged 68 and 67, the founders of Specsavers, and their family, who are worth £1.15bn.

The 42% increase in their wealth from last year, when the couple's fortune stood at £810m, makes Dame Mary Britain's first self-made woman billionaire.

There are now 108 women among the 1,000 richest - the first time the proportion has surpassed 10%. (read more)

Is Pakistan America's next target? -- Eric Margolis weighs in

Americans are raging at “ally” Pakistan over the discovery of Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad, smack under the nose of the military. Furious US government officials and legislators accuse Pakistan of duplicity, treachery, betrayal.
In a recent WikiLeak, a US diplomat actually branded Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, “a terrorist organization.”
Pakistan is truly on the hot seat. The Zardari government and Pakistan’s military face charges they were either incompetent or duplicitous over bin Laden. Take your pick.
The Americans dancing with joy in the streets at the news of bin Laden’s assassination seem unaware their almost decade-long jihad against him cost a staggering $1,283 trillion and left the US stuck in 2.5 wars.
Bin Laden’s vow in the 1990’s to bankrupt the US has been partly achieved. His goal: overthrow the Muslim world’s western-backed dictatorships and drive the US from the region.
Washington’s triumph was quickly undermined by its false claims over the rubout of the unarmed bin Laden, and by dumping his body in the sea, Mafia-style.
It’s hard to believe Pakistan didn’t know the world’s most wanted man was living in quiet retirement a short stroll from its military academy. CIA certainly did.
The failure of Pakistan’s air defenses to detect low-flying US helicopters in the hilly terrain raised two key questions: did Pakistan’s military give the US a green light to go after bin Laden?
More important, could the US or India stage a similar lightening air assault to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? Though dispersed, it looks vulnerable after last week’s daring US raid. (read more)

Photos: May Gulf of Mexico animal deaths, destroyed beach burial (Reader contributed)

Fannie Mae seeks $8.5 billion from taxpayers after new massive losses

Mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae on Friday said it would ask for an additional $8.5 billion from taxpayers as it continues to suffer losses on loans made prior to 2009.

The largest U.S. residential mortgage funds provider reported a net loss attributable to common shareholders of $8.7 billion, or $1.52 per diluted share, in the first quarter.

Including the latest request, the firm has taken about $100 billion from the U.S. government since it was seized in 2008, though it has also paid about $12.4 billion to taxpayers in interest.

Loans made in the past two years have been more profitable than loans made during the housing boom in preceding years.

"As we move forward, we are building a strong new book of business that now accounts for 45 percent of the company's overall single-family guaranty book of business," said Michael Williams, the firm's president and chief executive officer.

Sibling firm Freddie Mac said on Wednesday it lost just under a billion dollars in the first three months of the year, though the second-largest provider of mortgage funds did not request any new money from the government.

The two firms together have asked for about $164 billion, though their net payments have been reduced to about $140 billion as a result of the interest payments, including the latest request. (read more)

River flooding begins to "wrap arms" around Memphis

Memphis area residents were warned on Saturday that the Mississippi River was gradually starting to "wrap its arms" around the city and rise to record levels as flooding moves south.

"It's a pretty day here, and people get a false sense of security," said Steve Shular, public affairs officer for the Shelby County Office of Preparedness. "The mighty Mississippi is starting to wrap its arms around us here in Memphis."

Nearly 3,000 properties are expected to be threatened. Rising water flooded 25 mobile homes in north Memphis Saturday morning. There were 367 people in shelters in Shelby County Saturday.

"Our community is facing what could be a large-scale disaster," said Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr., in a statement.

Water has covered Riverside Drive and is creeping up Beale Street, although below the level of businesses and residences. Most of downtown Memphis is on a bluff, so landmarks like historic Sun Studio, where music legends Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash got their starts, were not seeing flooding. Tour guide Jake Fly said people north and south of the city are "really feeling it." (read more)

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Bin Laden vows no US security in final tape - 7th May2011

DUBAI (AFP) – Osama bin Laden warned in the final tape he recorded before being killed by American commandos there will be no US security without Palestine security, an Islamist website reported Sunday.

In an audio message addressed to US President Barack Obama, he said: "America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine. It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity."

"Accordingly, and with the will of God, our attacks will continue against you as long as your support for Israel continues," he warned..

Al-Qaeda on Friday confirmed the death of bin Laden but warned that those rejoicing his killing would have their "blood mixed with tears." Source

Boy, 12, killed to 'punish parents' as gunfire and shelling in Syria continues against protesters - 8th May 2011

A 12-year-old boy has been killed in a Syrian city today as gunfire and shelling erupted in the central Syrian city of Homs.

Over the last seven weeks, the city has become a flashpoint in the widespread uprising against President Bashar Assad's dictatorship.

It is not clear which side of the struggle killed the boy, but Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: 'It appears to be designed to punish his parents.'

He said that water, electricity and most forms of communications to the coastal city of Banias had been cut since troops in tanks and armoured vehicles rolled in and sealed the city off on Saturday.

Banias has been another protest hotbed where more than 200 people have been arrested including a 10-year-old boy.

One activist, who declined to be named out of fear of reprisal, said the death toll in the city had risen to six.

The national uprising has posed the most serious challenge to the 40-year rule of the Assads.

Bashar, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has launched a violent campaign against protesting Syrians aimed at crushing the revolt despite international condemnation.

The uprising started in mid-March following the arrest of teenagers who had written anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa.

Protests spread quickly across the nation of 23million people, inspired by uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Banias has a large power station and is one of the country's two oil refineries and is the main point of export for Syrian oil. Read More

Prince Harry Targeted by Muslim Militants: Outrage after Extremists Post Chilling Online Hate Video - 8th May 2011

An extremist group is believed to be targeting Prince Harry after a propaganda hate video has come to light following the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

The 26-year-old, third in line to the throne, is the subject of a three-minute video posted last week by an organisation calling itself Muslims Against Crusades.

It is believed that Harry is being targeted to avenge the death of the Al Qaeda leader, who was shot by American commandos last Sunday, as six years ago he dressed as a Nazi and has served the British Army in Afghanistan.

The video, entitled 'Harry the Nazi', shows the young royal - who was best man to his elder brother William just over a week ago - serving for the British Army against Taliban forces in 2007 and 2008, saying that 'all my wishes have come true'.

It begins with the Muslims Against Crusades sign looming large and imposing, and then sounds of soldiers marching are accompanied by Arabic voices.

Originally posted on the group's jihadist website, the video continues to show snippets of Prince Harry talking to the media while in action in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

It also shows the royal - who spent 10 weeks in Afghanistan and joked that he is a 'bullet magnet' - using derogatory Asian terms 'Paki' and 'Raghead' in videos taken while he was in the Middle East, and exposed by the News of the World. Read More

Obama: Bin Laden had support in Pakistan, but we don't know who - 8th May 2011

In his first public comments on Pakistan since the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama says the al Qaeda leader must have had "some sort of support network" in that country, but he doesn't know whether it included government officials.

"We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of (Pakistan's) government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate," Obama told CBS' 60 Minutes.

Face The Nation broadcast the clip Sunday morning from the 60 Minutes interview that airs tonight on CBS; the interview was conducted Wednesday.

Obama also said: "It's going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site."

Some lawmakers have called for reduced aid to Pakistan in light of the fact that bin Laden lived there for years in apparent security.

Others have urged caution, warning that Pakistan's government -- and its nuclear weapons -- could fall into the hands of Islamic radicals. Read More

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Former Pakistani Intel Chief Hamid Gul On CNN: Bin Ladin Died Years Ago

Davide Attenborough: This heaving planet -- overpopulation and food shortages threaten humanity's existence

Half a century ago, the WWF was formed to help save endangered animals. Today, it’s human beings who are increasingly at risk, through overpopulation and food scarcity. Can we bring our birth rate under control and avert potential catastrophe?

Fifty years ago, on 29 April 1961, a group of far-sighted people in this country got together to warn the world of an impending disaster. Among them were a distinguished scientist, Sir Julian Huxley; a bird-loving painter, Peter Scott; an advertising executive, Guy Mountford; a powerful and astonishingly effective civil servant, Max Nicholson - and several others.

They were all, in addition to their individual professions, dedicated naturalists, fascinated by the natural world not just in this country but internationally. And they noticed what few others had done - that all over the world, charismatic animals that were once numerous were beginning to disappear.

The Arabian oryx, which once had been widespread all over the Arabian Peninsula, had been reduced to a few hundred. In Spain, there were only about 90 imperial eagles left. The Californian condor was down to about 60. In Hawaii, a goose that once lived in flocks on the lava fields around the great volcanoes had been reduced to 50. And the strange rhinoceros that lived in the dwindling forests of Java - to about 40. These were the most extreme examples. Wherever naturalists looked they found species of animals whose populations were falling rapidly. This planet was in danger of
losing a significant number of its inhabitants, both animals and plants.

Something had to be done. And that group determined to do it. They would need scientific advice to discover the causes of these impending disasters and to devise ways of slowing them and, they hoped, of stopping them. They would have to raise awareness and understanding of people everywhere; and, like all such ­enterprises, they would need money to enable them to take practical action.

They set about raising all three. Since the problem was an international one, they based themselves not in Britain but in the heart of Europe, in Switzerland. They called the orga­nisation that they created the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). (read more)

Printing greenbacks threatens global inflation

WORLD commodity prices have major implications for the Australian economy in ways not adequately recognised in university textbooks, most of which have been written by American authors, including Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board.

These texts pay little attention to international commodity prices, with the exception of oil prices, or to the phenomenon of world inflation, presumably because they are perceived to be of low order importance to the US economy. Yet understanding why international commodity prices have risen steeply, a harbinger of future world inflationary pressures, is of critical importance to most other economies.

Like New Zealand, Australia's exports are concentrated in commodities to an extent unparalleled in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development economies.

Though this specialisation is appropriate from an international trade theory perspective, reflecting the pursuit of the economy's comparative advantage in natural resources, it exposes the economy to external price fluctuations, which have been extraordinary in recent years. (read more)

America is fat and dying, and here's why: Heart Attack grill and its ilk is now a "lifestyle" choice

Pentagon's Africom versus China's Investment Web: The great war for Africa's natural resources begins -- how long before PLA troops arrive?

From energy wars to water wars, the 21st century will be determined by a fierce battle for the world's remaining natural resources. The chessboard is global. The stakes are tremendous. Most battles will be invisible. All will be crucial.

In resource-rich Africa, a complex subplot of the New Great Game in Eurasia is already in effect. It's all about three major intertwined developments:

1) The coming of age of the African Union (AU) in the early 2000s.

2) China's investment offencive in Africa throughout the 2000s.

3) The onset of the Pentagon's African Command (Africom) in 2007.

Beijing clearly sees that the Anglo-French-American bombing of Libya – apart from its myriad geopolitical implications – has risked billions of dollars in Chinese investments, not to mention forcing the (smooth) evacuation of more than 35,000 Chinese working across the country.

And crucially, depending on the outcome – as in renegotiated energy contracts by a pliable, pro-Western government – it may also seriously jeopardise Chinese oil imports (3 per cent of total Chinese imports in 2010).

No wonder the China Military, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) newspaper, as well as sectors in academia, are now openly arguing that China needs to drop Deng Xiaoping's "low-profile" policy and bet on a sprawling armed forces to defend its strategic interests worldwide (these assets already total over $1.2 trillion).

Now compare it with a close examination of Africom's strategy, which reveals as the proverbial hidden agenda the energy angle and a determined push to isolate China from northern Africa.

One report titled "China's New Security Strategy in Africa" actually betrays the Pentagon's fear of the PLA eventually sending troops to Africa to protect Chinese interests.

It won't happen in Libya. It's not about to happen in Sudan. But further on down the road, all bets are off. (read more)

Vatican Inc. -- The secretive world of the Vatican's bank

Earlier this month, the Vatican, the sovereign papal state at the heart of Rome, introduced new rules to clean up its financial system.

At the heart of that system is the Vatican's own bank, the Institute of Religious Works (IOR).

Until now the IOR has operated with few of the regulations that govern the activities of banks in the wider world, with sometimes disturbing results.

In the 1980s it became involved in an infamous fraud scandal the Banco Ambrosiano affair which made global headlines when its chief, Roberrto Calvi, was found hanging from a bridge in London, a murder that has never been solved.

More recently Italian state prosecutors have been investigating allegations of money laundering at the IOR, freezing some accounts, seizing funds and putting its president under formal scrutiny. (read more)

State TV: At least 10 killed, 186 wounded in clashes at Cairo church - 8th May 2011

gypt's prime minister called for an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday, a day after officials reported at least 10 people were killed and 186 in sectarian clashes outside a Cairo church.

Officials said the violence began over rumors that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being held at the church against her will.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf postponed a trip to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the church attack, according to EgyNews, Egypt's official news agency. Egyptian state TV said 10 people died and 186 were wounded in the violence Saturday.

Tensions between Egypt's Muslim majority and its Coptic Christian minority have been on the rise in recent months, with a number of violent clashes reported between the two groups.

During clashes on Saturday, witnesses said an armed group of Muslims marched on Saint Mena Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt.

Witnesses said Muslims and Christians exchanged gunfire, sending people running for cover.

"With my own eyes I saw three people killed and dozens injured," said Mina Adel, a Christian resident. "There's no security here. There's a big problem. People attacked us, and we have to protect ourselves."

There were conflicting reports about who attacked the church.

Some witnesses said the group was made up of Muslim fundamentalists, known as Salafists. Others, including Interior Ministry spokesman Alla Mahmoud, said it was angry Muslims from a nearby mosque. Read More

Hundreds of dangerous prisoners released early - even if they are likely to kill - 8th May 2011

Hundreds of high-risk prisoners, including one assessed as being likely to kill his original victim, have been released into the community as soon as they have served half their sentence, the probation union has warned.

Many offenders in Britain were recalled to custody within days of their release because of the clear risk they posed to victims, The Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff (Napo) said.

The union added that a change to the law six years ago means the Parole Board has no say over their release and prisoners are released automatically at the half-way point of their sentence, giving criminals no incentive for rehabilitation or reform.

Harry Fletcher, Napo's assistant general secretary, said: 'It is scandalous that hundreds of prisoners are being released from custody automatically when they have completed half their sentence despite assessments that they are of high risk of harm to the public.

'There is evidence that this is putting the public at risk. The majority are recalled to custody because of threats to victims. There is clearly a need for the law to change.'

Napo called for a discretionary system to be brought in for all prisoners serving two years or more so they would only be released if they no longer posed a significant risk.

It comes after the union's members found a series of cases where high-risk offenders were automatically being released.

One 40-year-old stalker, in the Thames Valley area, was released after serving half of his three-and-a-half year sentence, but was arrested within 48 hours after carrying out extensive internet searches and turning up at his victim's property.

He is behind bars serving the rest of his sentence, but assessments suggest he is very high risk and is likely to kill his victim.

Another man, who was serving two years for domestic abuse in the Thames Valley area, wrote letters saying he would go looking for his victim on his release.

Officials had no choice but to release the 34-year-old after a year but he was re-arrested the same day after going to the area where his victim had previously lived. She had been moved to a safe house. Read More

While Bahrain demolishes mosques, U.S. stays silent - 8th May 2011

In the ancient Bahraini village of Aali, where some graves date to 2000 B.C., the Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque had stood for more than 400 years - one of the handsomest Shiite Muslim mosques in this small island nation in the Persian Gulf.

Today, only bulldozer tracks remain.

In Nwaidrat, where anti-government protests began Feb. 14, the Mo'men mosque had long been a center for the town's Shiite population - photos show it as a handsome, square building neatly painted in ochre, with white and green trim, and a short portico in dark gray forming the main entrance.

Today, only the portico remains.

"When I was a child, I used to go and pray with my grandfather," said a 52-year-old local resident, who asked to be called only "Abu Hadi." "The area used to be totally green, with tiers of sweet water wells.

"Why did they destroy this mosque?" Abu Hadi wailed. "Muslims have prayed there for decades."

In Shiite villages across this island kingdom of 1.2 million, the Sunni Muslim government has bulldozed dozens of mosques as part of a crackdown on Shiite dissidents, an assault on human rights that is breathtaking in its expansiveness.

Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shiites, fired 1,000 Shiite professionals and canceled their pensions, detained students and teachers who took part in the protests, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper.

Nothing, however, has struck harder at the fabric of this nation, where Shiites outnumber Sunnis nearly 4 to 1, than the destruction of Shiite worship centers.

The Obama administration has said nothing in public about the destruction.

Bahrain - and its patron, Saudi Arabia - are longtime U.S. allies, and Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Read More

16 Killed including 6 Security Officers in Iraq Ministry clash - 8th May 2011

Detainees at an Iraqi detention facility tried to overpower their guards during a prison break that left 16 people dead, including six police officers, officials said.

The violent clash at the Ministry of Interior's Baghdad compound raises questions about how a group of detainees at what is supposed to be one of the most secure facilities in the country managed to launch such a fierce attack.

The detainees were being moved between buildings at the sprawling ministry compound in eastern Baghdad when some of the detainees, who were not believed to be shackled, tried to overpower the police and take away their weapons, said a ministry official at the scene.

He said about 20 to 25 prisoners were being moved when the incident broke out. They managed to seize weapons from some of the guards and open fire.

In the ensuing fight, which lasted for three to four hours, six police and ten detainees were killed. An additional eight police officers and six detainees were wounded.

Police and hospital officials confirmed the casualties. Read More

Sarah Carter's likely cause of death - insecticide - 8th May 2011

When 23-year-old Sarah Carter died in Chiang Mai in Thailand, it was initially thought her death was a terrible case of food poisoning.

That was until six other tourists died in the city, including three in the same hotel.

Most had very similar symptoms, including myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart.

Thai authorities have maintained the deaths were coincidence, but tonight, 60 Minutes has credible evidence that Sarah Carter died due to insecticide poisoning.

60 Minutes travelled to Chiang Mai and took samples from the bedroom Sarah stayed in at the Downtown Inn, while posing as a hotel guest interested in renting a room.

When she got there the entire fifth floor, the floor where Sarah and her friends stayed, was being pulled apart and cleaned.

It is understood health authorities were due to visit the hotel the next day.

Before leaving for Chiang Mai, 60 Minutes spoke to a New Zealand scientist who suspected insecticide poisoning.

Thai police were also thinking along the same lines and according to an inspector in the local force had raided the company in charge of eradicating insects at the hotel.

We managed to glean from an inspector, the police had raided the company in charge of eradicating insects at the hotel.

Chiang Mai’s Head of Public Health Dr Surasing was also investigating this theory.

“I’m not the specialist,” he said. “But it’s possible that they mixed together the wrong chemicals.”

But Dr Surasing was not able to mention the chemicals that were used in the hotel or the company contracted to use them.

The idea that some Thai hotels could be using unsafe chemicals first came to light two years ago when American Jill St Onge and Norwegian Julie Bergheim died at a Thai resort after they began violently vomiting.

American investigators suspected chemical poisoning but the Thai authorities lost all the samples.

However, 60 Minutes’ samples were being looked after carefully and were taken back to New Zealand for testing by an independent laboratory. Read More

Shut down being considered for Fukushima No. 2 - 8th May 2011

Loss of public confidence in nuclear energy may lead to decommissioning of sister plant.

The govenrment is thinking of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant in deference to those who have taken the brunt of the ongoing nuclear crisis, a government source said Saturday.

Fukushima No. 2, which is situated on the Pacific coast about 10 km south of its crippled sister facility, Fukushima No. 1, successfully completed a cold shutdown after being hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, which temporarily disabled its cooling systems.

Because plant manager Tokyo Electric Power Co. faced a severe power shortage in the Kanto region after the disaster, attention is focusing on whether the utility will attempt to restart the four-reactor No. 2 power station.

While the final decision rests with the utility, the government has decided to take full account of the feelings of local Fukushima residents, who were forced to evacuate en masse as radiation began leaking from the No. 1 complex, the source said.

The decision on whether to restart the No. 2 plant will be put off until the No. 1 power plant is stabilized, according to the source. Tepco said last month it would take at least six to nine months to stabilize the damaged No. 1 complex.

Discussions on the matter could eventually evolve into the possibility of decommissioning No. 2's reactors or keeping them "suspended" for an extended period of time, given the deep loss of public trust in nuclear energy since the disaster at the No. 1 plant. Read More

1 dead, 626 families evacuated in Eastern Visayas, Philippines - 8th May 2011

At least one person drowned while more than 626 families were evacuated in Eastern Visayas due to rains and floods brought by tropical storm "Bebeng" (Aure).

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council also said some 1,207 people were stranded in Bicol as ports suspended operations Saturday. In its 1 a.m. Sunday report, the NDRRMC said Luis Dingcol, 47, died due to drowning. Dingcol was from Canlanpay village in Carigara town in Leyte.

Also, the NDRRMC said floodwaters as high as two meters affected several areas in Leyte, including:
  • Ormoc City, where 626 families were evacuated to barangay halls, school buildings, residential homes and chapels;
  • Catarman, Northern Samar, which was isolated due to flooding; and
  • Lope de Vega, Northern Samar, where an undetermined number of families were brought to the municipal hall.
A landslide Saturday morning prompted the evacuation of six families from Purok Rosal in District 29 in Ormoc City to the Alta Vista village hall.

Roads in Barangays Canligues and Concepcion in Paranas town and Parina and Macabetas villages in Jiabong town were not passable due to the flood.

The south road from Calbayog to Catarman was also impassable.

Preemptive evacuation in Albay

In Albay, at least 13,392 households or 63,964 people in 152 villages in coastal areas; families living in houses made of light materials were evacuated.

Also evacuated were 7,546 families or 34,533 people in 69 villages living near the lahar zone of Legazpi City, Daraga, Camalig, Sto. Domingo and Guinobatan.

Local authorities also monitored Mount Mayon's permanent danger zones (PDZs) on the effects of continuous rains that may trigger flash floods and landslides. Read More

Albert Einstein was right, say scientists, 100 years on - 7th May 2011

The theory of general relativity is as relevant to us today as it was when it was formulated, as a discovery about space-time reveals.

After working for half a century and spending £500m, scientists last week revealed that they have detected strange fluctuations in Earth's orbit. Space-time is bent and then twisted round our planet as it rotates, announced researchers with Nasa's Gravity Probe B project.

The effect is tiny but crucial, they added – and was predicted almost 100 years ago by Albert Einstein in his great theory of gravity, general relativity. According to Einstein, an apple falls to the ground not because it feels the force of Earth's gravity but because the apple is responding to the curvature of space-time near the Earth's surface caused by the planet's huge mass. In the same way, the Sun bends space in a manner that allows Earth to revolve around it.

Crucially, the theory raised a host of other predictions that scientists have been confirming for the past century. The findings of Gravity Probe B are the latest in a long list of these many vindications of Einstein's genius and reveal how his great theory touches our lives in unexpected ways.

"We have completed this landmark experiment of testing Einstein's universe," said project leader Francis Everitt, of Stanford University. "And Einstein survives."

Everitt began work on Gravity Probe B in 1962 and has worked on nothing else since, although he had many close shaves, with the satellite being cancelled and then revived on seven occasions before it was eventually launched in 2004. Then, after the probe reached orbit, spurious electrical signals were found to be distorting data that it had sent back. It took five years' study before scientists found how to extract clean data from it.

Results of the analyses of this data were revealed last week. They showed that Earth does indeed bend space-time. It was also found that, as our planet rotates, it drags space-time with it – a phenomenon known as frame-dragging. The effect is like spinning a spoon in a cup of tea, causing the liquid to start swirling round inside the cup. Read More

Norway's controversial 'cushy prison' experiment - could it catch on in the UK? - 8th May 2011

Image: An inmate convicted of murder sunbathes outside the wooden cottage where he lives at Bastoy Prison, Norway's only island prison.

Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reo ffending rate in Europe? Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts - but achieves everything we could wish for.

On a clear, bright morning in the tranquil, coastal town of Horten, just south of Oslo, a small ferry slides punctually into harbour. I am to take a short boat ride to the sunlit, green island of Bastoy shimmering on the horizon less than two miles away. It is a curious place. There are no secluded holiday homes or elegant hotels with moorings for passing yachts. The 120 people who live there never visit the mainland, but then why would they?

They spend their days happily winding around the network of paths that snake through the pine forests, or swimming and fishing along the five miles of pebble beaches, or playing on the tennis courts and football pitch; and recuperating later on sunbeds and in a sauna, a cinema room, a band rehearsal room and expansive library.

Their commune has handsomely furnished bungalows with cable TV. The residents eat together in an attractively spacious canteen thoughtfully decorated with Norwegian art. The centrepiece is a striking 10ft long model of a Norwegian merchant ship.

If it sounds like an oddball Scandinavian social experiment, you'd be right. Bastoy is home to Norway's only island prison. I am here to scrutinise its hugely controversial approach to crime and punishment, and to do so with some knowledge; the last time I set foot in a prison was as a foolish 23-year-old man.

After my law degree, with a young man's lust for adventure, I ended up in a notoriously harsh prison in Nepal. Through crass stupidity I tried unlawfully to bring gold into the country. I wasn't in for long but the experience terrified me, which was all I needed to get my life in order. That, to me, is the purpose of a prison. Bastoy is the polar opposite.

On board the ferry I am greeted by a shaven-headed prison guard, Sigurd Fredericke, who is my guide and protector for the day.

'Don't worry,' he grins, shaking my hand with a reassuringly vice-like grip.

'Bastoy is not like any other prison you know.'

He pauses, looking furtively around the boat.

'You see that man there,' he whispers, pointing discreetly at one of the three uniformed ferry workers, 'he's one of our inmates - a murderer.'

As we chug ever nearer, and the outline of an old church steeple rises above a backdrop of pristine pines, it becomes clear that Sigurd is absolutely right. Slowly, the idyllic sight of what appears to be a quaint Norwegian village reveals itself, complete with cosy cottages, dirt roads and even horses and carts.

The first person we see on the island, on a wooden verandah outside a modern bungalow, is a man in swimming trunks stretched out on a sun lounger. Nils is 36. He was given a 16-year sentence for shooting dead a fellow amphetamine smuggler over an unpaid debt. Now he's relaxing between his shifts as a ferry worker. Read More

Joyland: New Images of an Abandoned Theme Park Reveal Desolation in America's Heartland - 8th May 2011

At first glance, these desolate images look like they're from the aftermath of a warzone, or a ghost town left behind from the Chernobyl disaster.

But in fact these pictures were taken in the heartland of America - at Wichita's Joyland, an amusement park with the most inappropriate name you can imagine.

In its heyday, thousands of families from across Kansas would flock to the park to scream and yell on the wooden rollercoaster and listen to Louie the clown play on his Wurlitzer organ.

But now the loudspeakers stand silent and corroded, the bright yellow big wheel is faded and rusting and the dodgems sit mournfully with no-one to ride them.

Fascinating new images reveal the ghostly desolation of the abandoned amusement park, which opened in 1949 and ran continuously until it was closed in 2003 because of financial problems.

It re-opened briefly in 2006, but since then it has been left to rust away. Numerous attempts to revive it have failed because of a lack of interest, as families turn away from the funfair tradition. Read More

No Joy from Mike Petty on Vimeo.

I saw BBC news crew move one firebrand so he'd have bearded zealots behind him: IAN BIRRELL reports on the troubling aftermath of Bin Laden's assassin

It was a scene familiar from coffee bars around the world. A student in designer clothes tapping away on his laptop while Pink Floyd’s Money blared out from a stereo and customers ordered iced Americanos and cinnamon cakes.

The affable 21-year-old updating his Facebook page was Abdul Wahhab Qureshi. He was born in France, spoke perfect English and was finishing his studies in Abbottabad. Like many others his age, he dreamed of travelling the world after finishing his studies.

Abdul cheerfully told me how he had lain awake five nights earlier and heard the thump of American helicopters as they swooped on the world’s most wanted man. So what did he think about the death of Osama Bin Laden.

‘Oh, I don’t believe he is dead,’ he said. ‘If someone was shot in that house, it was not him. You cannot trust the Americans, they have changed their story so many times already.’

Abdul is not alone in his disbelief. A survey found two-thirds of people in Pakistan share his refusal to accept Bin Laden’s death, despite confirmation by Al Qaeda. Even the country’s most revered lawyer told me ‘the ghost of Osama has survived his execution’ given the lack of concrete evidence, storing up problems for the future.

Such profound scepticism, shared by sophisticated students and lawyers as well as farmers, sums up the baffling nature of this beguiling and near-broken country. It is a place that in the past decade has become a byword for terror and has been called the most dangerous country on earth. It is neither of these things. Not yet.

But even its stoutest defenders say it teeters on the brink of collapse. And the unanswered questions over the execution of the man who became an icon of terror has opened a new chapter in its epic saga of death, destruction and decay. It is a saga in which we have a big stake, since its problems are so entwined with our own involvement in Afghanistan and the future of the global jihadist terror movement.

Pakistan has also become the world’s fifth-biggest nuclear power – bigger than Britain or France – making its instability all the more alarming. Read More

"There were barely 200 of them, while foreign reporters milled around looking for incendiary quotes. I watched as a BBC news crew carefully repositioned one young firebrand to have bearded zealots behind him to ensure the usual images of Pakistan were presented to the world.

Cut out of the picture were two teenagers laughing and nudging each other at their friend’s antics for the camera.

There have been more than 5,000 military deaths over the past decade, while a constant stream of suicide bombs, executions and assassinations slaughtered more than 30,000 others. This is more than ten times the number killed in 9/11."

Guatemala: Alert Raised to Yellow in Two Areas for Volcanic Activity - 7th May 2011

Guatemala - Guatemalan departments of Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu were declared this Friday in yellow alert due to the increased activity of the volcano Santiaguito .

According to the National Institute for Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology of Guatemala (Insivumeh), the increase is manifested in the number of explosions per hour.

Such explosions generate weak and moderate echoes, that could be heard 10 kilometers away, and constant avalanches of rocks in the southwestern and eastern sides of the volcano.

The Insivumeh uninterruptedly monitors the volcano and advises the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to take precautions with air traffic in a radius of 15 kilometers due to the ash emissions. Source

Rivers continue to rise in Otago region, New Zealand - 7th May 2011

The Otago Regional Council is closely monitoring river levels after heavy rain in all parts of the region.

Rainfall in the Manuherikia, Pomahaka, Taieri, Kakanui and Shag catchments has caused the rivers to rise quickly.

Acting flood manager Paul Hannah said the good news is the rain has stopped.

He said at this stage the rivers are not expected to break their banks but the Pomahaka River is causing concern.

Hannah said duck shooters and recreational users should take care.

People are also being advised to be mindful of the conditions, and watch for rising water.

Severe weather in the South Island overnight has already flooded several homes in Dunedin.

The Fire Service has pumped out the basements of several homes in the Macandrew Bay area this morning.

Police said the heavy rain has also caused slips.

Sergeant Lindsey Turner said the slips are just out of Queenstown on State Highway 6, and towards Portobello near Dunedin Harbour.

She said surface flooding on roads has also been an issue.

MetService said another brief burst of heavy rain is predicted for the ranges of northwest Nelson and about Mt Taranaki, as a weakening low crosses central New Zealand. Source

Inflation fears resurface on rising clothes prices: UK

Fresh evidence that inflation pressures are still building in the economy has emerged as clothing and textile prices rose at their fastest rate since records began, causing UK producer prices to fall by less than expected in April.

Clothing and textile prices rose by 4.6pc as core producer price inflation – which strips out volatile food and energy prices – soared to its highest level since September last year, at 3.4pc.

The pound rebounded from recent falls against the dollar on expectations that the Bank of England will have to address inflation by raising rates as soon as it considers the economy sufficiently resilient.

The cost of goods at factory gates rose by 0.8pc in April, the Office for National Statistics said, above expectations of 0.7pc. However, the 0.6pc month-on-month increase in core output prices was double the consensus forecast – indicating that rising costs are spreading across the economy.

"With much of this increase stemming from clothing, it indicates that retailers will face difficult pricing decisions as they balance higher costs with weak consumer spending," Andrew Grantham at HSBC said.

Input prices have risen 17.6pc on an annual basis, the ONS found, and output prices just 5.3pc – a small decline from the upwardly revised 5.6pc in March but still above forecasts. The sharp rise in input prices was a reflection of higher oil prices. (read more)