Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Somalia's famine reaches into Mogadishu, U.N. says By the CNN Wire Staff

Three more regions of Somalia have now been struck by famine, including the capital, Mogadishu, the United Nations announced Wednesday.

Mogadishu, the Afgooye corridor and the Shabelle regions west of the capital are the latest that "have slipped into famine," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Wednesday afternoon. The declaration "reflects the massive influx of people into the city in the last two months," he said.

"This latest information also confirms the seriousness of the problem facing internally displaced people in Mogadishu, who require our immediate and concerted response," he said.

The United Nations issued a famine declaration for two districts of southern Somalia in June. The entire Horn of Africa region is facing an extensive drought that has left more than 12 million in need of assistance.

Relief efforts in Somalia have been hindered by the ongoing battle between Islamist rebels and Somalia's transitional government, which holds little sway beyond Mogadishu. The rate of malnutrition in Somalia's rebel-held south is the highest in the world, approaching half the population, U.N. officials report. (more)

Japan's government moves to intervene in the yen

For the third time in a year, Japan's government has intervened in the yen, its unit of currency, according to Japan's finance minister.

"While Japan is dealing with the reconstruction of the tsunami zone, if the surging of the yen continues, it could negatively affect Japan's economy and financial stability," Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters. "Therefore, Japan has intervened in the currency market. We will continue to watch the movement of the currency market closely."

Minutes after the announcement, the Nikkei stock index shot up 100 points and the yen weakened against the dollar.

The Bank of Japan responded to the move in a press release, saying that it "strongly expects that the action taken by the Ministry of Finance in the foreign exchange market will contribute to stable price formation in the market."

Japan's economy, still struggling after the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, has been hit hard by the falling U.S. dollar. Uncertainty by global markets over the U.S. debt deal caused the dollar to plummet versus the Japanese yen, a currency seen as a safe haven by investors. (more)

2000 now dead at hands of Syrian Security Forces, UN grow angry

Members of the U.N. Security Council have put together a compromise draft statement on the crisis in Syria, various Western diplomats told CNN Wednesday.

The breakthrough comes amid talks that began Monday in New York to address the crisis, and it would address what a White House spokesman is calling a "grotesque and appalling" situation.

It is occurring as security forces brazenly advance into what residents there say is the heart of restive city of Hama, a center of discontent and bastion of anti-government protest where violent tensions have persisted for days.

The western Syrian city has had large outpourings of anti-government sentiments in Friday demonstrations, and it has symbolic resonance as the site of the 1982 bloody crackdown by the Alawite-dominated government against a Muslim Brotherhood uprising.

The Security Council draft, which would be in the form of a "presidential statement," has been sent to the capitals of all 15 of the nations represented on the Security Council.

One of the key elements not in the document is a call for an investigation into the violence engulfing the country now. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by security forces against peaceful protesters, according to an activist group. (more)

Joe Biden compares the Tea Party to terrorists. Is this the most crass and nasty US presidency in decades?

Earlier today Politico broke the astonishing story of Joe Biden supporting the charge by Democrat Congressman Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania that Tea Party Republicans had “acted like terrorists” over the debt issue. According to Politico’s report, based on eyewitness accounts:

Vice President Joe Biden joined House Democrats in lashing tea party Republicans Monday, accusing them of having “acted like terrorists” in the fight over raising the nation’s debt limit. Biden was agreeing with a line of argument made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) at a two-hour, closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.

“We have negotiated with terrorists,” an angry Doyle said, according to sources in the room. “This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”

Biden, driven by his Democratic allies’ misgivings about the debt-limit deal, responded: “They have acted like terrorists,” according to several sources in the room.

There is something deeply sad and disconcerting when the vice president decides to compare opposition legislators in Congress with terrorists simply because he disagrees with their views and principles. This is the kind of ugly, threatening rhetoric that has no place at the heart of the US presidency. About a third of the country are favourable towards the Tea Party, according to Gallup – i.e. tens of millions of Biden’s fellow Americans. Does he label them terrorists too? (more)

Market turmoil a 'deep concern', says EU

Spain and Italy's soaring borrowing costs are of "deep concern", EC president Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday, fuelling speculation that policy makers may be forced to take drastic action to quell the escalating turmoil.

Emergency talks were held across the eurozone as the yields on Italian and Spanish bonds eased after teetering dangerously close to 14-year highs.

In an effort to calm markets, Mr Barroso said the developments were "clearly unwarranted on the basis of economic and budgetary fundamentals [...] and the steps that they are taking to reinforce those fundamentals."

Yields on Italian ten-year government bonds soared to new euro-era highs of 6.23pc on Wednesday morning, before easing to 6.04pc.

The panic also sent Britain’s benchmark index to a five month low. The FTSE 100 index fell as much as 1.8pc in early deals to 5619.91, its lowest since March 16, before easing to a 1.2pc loss by lunchtime.

US stocks edged slightly lower, after the growth for the country's services sector unexpectedly fell in July to its lowest level since February 2010. The Dow Jones industrial average slid down 0.8pc to 11,779.28 following the news. (more)

Baby Thought to Be Dead Cries Before Burial

Brazilian police say a newborn girl was saved from being buried alive when she started crying at a funeral home where she had been taken after doctors declared her dead.

A police statement says that the 14-year-old mother was seven months pregnant when she gave birth on Tuesday at the Santa Casa de Misericordia hospital in the city of Araxa.

Police say the hospital reported that the baby died moments after being born. The body was sent to a funeral home and as the undertaker was preparing it for burial, the girl started crying.

The baby was rushed back to the hospital and placed in an intensive care unit.

The hospital confirms the incident but gives no details. Neither police nor the hospital released names of the mother or child. (source)

Stock markets fall further as US services data disappoints

Global stock markets fell after a report showed that the pace of growth in the US services sector expanded at its slowest pace in 17 months, stoking fears that the world's largest economy could slip back into recession.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its services index fell to 52.7 last month from 53.3 in June, the lowest level since February 2010.

New orders, an indication of future business, increased, but at its slowest pace since August 2009.

The US services sector employs almost 90pc of the country's workforce, and while the data is not as grim as Monday's equivalent survey into the manufacturing sector, it provided further evidence of an economic slowdown two years after the country emerged from recession.

"This week has been all about bad economic data coming out of the US," Joshua Raymond, market strategist at City Index, told Bloomberg.

Stock markets, already down on the back of continuing eurozone woes, fell further. (more)

Britain's biggest ever cocaine haul found: 1.2 tonne haul with street value of £300 million

The largest shipment of cocaine ever seized in Britain has been uncovered in a yacht in Southampton docks, it was revealed today.

The 1.2 tonne haul has a street value of £300 million.

Officers believed that on the streets it would be cut with chemicals meaning it would become about 8 tonnes, enough to service one third of the entire UK cocaine market which is estimated at 25 tonnes per year.

The drugs seizure led to six members of an international crime gang being arrested in the Netherlands.

The load was discovered on a £1 million luxury yacht, the Louise. The yacht had been shipped to Southampton on a freight carrier from the British Virgin Islands in June and Dutch drug smugglers then planned to sail it to the Netherlands.

But it was tracked to Southampton and once docked, officers from the UK Border Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) together with Dutch police, searched the boat.

It was six days before they found the drugs, carefully hidden deep inside the boat.

When the men came to collect the yacht officers told them that it had been damaged in transit and could not be sailed to the Netherlands. The men then attempted to sue the British authorities for £750,000.

Yesterday six Dutch men, including a 60-year-old father and his three sons, were arrested in the Netherlands. A seventh arrest is expected.

Officers said that while the drugs were not initially bound for Britain, its was “undoubtedly” the case that large quantities would have been brought here for sale. (more)

Twenty Sudanese soldiers died due to heavy storm in El Geneina

Twenty Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers died and another 30 were injured yesterday in El Geneina, West Darfur, when two buildings where they were staying in collapsed as a result of heavy rain storms.

Following the tragedy, UNAMID assisted by providing a crane and other lifting equipment for debris clearance. UNAMID Head of Office in El Geneina and Sector West Commander visited the area of the incident and presented the Mission’s condolences to the SAF 15th Division Commander. (source)

'Thriller' cat takes internet by storm -- Are animals about to rise up and overthrow their human overlords who kill, abuse and poison them?

The footage, posted on YouTube on Sunday, has garnered over 1.8m views in the short time it has been online.

Simply entitled Cat gone, the video, which originated from a user in Russia, shows a ginger feline relaxing on a carpet, its attention on an object behind the lens.

From its prone position the cat suddenly snaps startled onto its back legs before creeping off camera in a manner many viewers found reminiscent of Michael Jackson's dance routine in his music video for hit 1980s pop song Thriller. (more)

Europe on Brink of 'Major Financial Collapse': Guggenheim CIO

Europe is a "train wreck" and on the "brink of a major financial crisis," Scott Minerd, CIO of the fixed-income firm Guggenheim Partners, told CNBC Tuesday.

"The way Europe is operating right now, it's what I called recently 'cognitive dissonance,'" Minerd said, or "basically doing the same thing thinking they're going to get a different outcome."

"They keep throwing more and more liquidity at it thinking it's going to get better and it's not," he added. Europe fails to recognize that it has a "structural problem, not a liquidity problem."

People will "flee the euro" unless they find a way to bifurcate the euro in some way where strong countries are in the euro only and the weak countries are out, Minerd explained, adding, "To be honest with you, I don't see the mechanism to do that."

"As the capital is flooding out of Europe, which we're starting to see now, the first place it's going to go is to the safe havens—[U.S.] Treasurys, which [the market] perceives to be safe, and it'll chase gold," he added. (more)

China Joins Russia in Blasting U.S. Borrowing After Debt Ceiling Agreement

China, the largest foreign investor in U.S. government securities, joined Russia in criticizing American policy makers for failing to ensure borrowing is reined in after a stopgap deal to raise the nation’s debt limit.

People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said China’s central bank will monitor U.S. efforts to tackle its debt, and state-run Xinhua News Agency blasted what it called the “madcap” brinksmanship of American lawmakers. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said two days ago that the U.S. is in a way “leeching on the world economy.”

The comments reflect concern that the U.S. may lose its AAA sovereign rating after President Barack Obama and Congress put off decisions on spending cuts and tax increases to assure enactment of a boost in borrowing authority. China and Russia, holding a total $1.28 trillion of Treasuries, have lost nothing so far in the wake of a rally in the securities this year.

“It’s probably frustration more than anything else for China,” said Brian Jackson, a senior strategist at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. While the nation has concerns, “they realize there’s not a lot of options for them out there and so they need to keep buying Treasuries.”

China held $1.16 trillion of Treasuries as of May, U.S. Treasury Department data show. The nation has accumulated the holdings as a by-product of holding down the value of its currency, a policy U.S. officials have said gives China an unfair advantage in trade. (more)

US debt crisis is only postponed based on politics

The Congressional melodrama is over, for now, and in Washington they are tallying up winners and losers, in the insiders' calculus of electoral opportunism.

The rest of the world, meanwhile, can only shake its head in dismay that matters so crucial to the global economy must be decided through such a slipshod process.

Despite the last-minute agreement on a debt-control plan, the AAA credit rating of the United States of America may still be reduced. This raises some serious questions about the role and influence of the rating agencies, and their apparent blindness to the enormous assets which can be put against the debts on Uncle Sam's balance sheet.

No matter what the rating agencies think, however, it is clear that the pact agreed upon in Washington at almost the last minute of this synthetic "crisis" owed more to political expediency than to fiscal rectitude or long-term planning. President Barack Obama wanted a deal that would endure past the 2012 presidential election date, now just 15 months away; Republicans in Congress wanted, for their own electoral purposes, to prevent even the slightest tax increase.

Both sides got their way, by agreeing to a convoluted deal which pretends to tie the government's hands for a decade. We say "pretends" because what Congress has done, Congress can undo. In the last 25 years two comparable efforts to impose medium-term spending controls were trampled underfoot as short-term priorities arose.

Even if this pact should actually take effect, it is at best a partial solution to a problem which demands a convincing resolution. Before the showdown, the conventional wisdom was that $4 trillion (Dh14.7 trillion) in cuts would be needed just to start the federal government back towards balance-sheet respectability; this deal provides a maximum of $2.4 trillion. Even that figure represents not spending cuts, but merely reductions in planned spending increases over time. (more)

James Moss, Who Threw Naked 9-Year-Old Son in Oven as Punishment, Faces Sentencing

Prosecutors say they will ask for the maximum sentence allowed by law for a New York City man who admitted throwing his son naked in the oven as punishment.

James Moss of Staten Island is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

The Staten Island district attorney's office says Moss punished his 9-year-old son Christopher last year because he thought he stole $20 from his wallet.

Prosecutors say he beat him with a spatula, put his hands over two hot oven burners and then shoved him into an oven for several minutes.

"I'm going to burn you alive," Moss reportedly yelled, according to court papers.

He did not turn on the oven. The boy's hands were burned when his father held them over the burners.

Moss has pleaded guilty to all seven counts of the indictment against him, including two counts of second-degree assault.

Moss' lawyer tells the Staten Island Advance the boy and his mother are expected to speak on his client's behalf. (more)

Nebraska mine find to challenge China’s dominance of vital rare minerals -- but what about the environmental impact?

Elk Creek, Neb. (population 112), may not be so tiny much longer. Reports suggest that the southeastern Nebraska hamlet may be sitting on the world’s largest untapped deposit of “rare earth” minerals, which have proved to be indispensable to a slew of high-tech and military applications such as laser pointers, stadium lighting, electric car batteries and sophisticated missile-guidance systems.

Canada-based Quantum Rare Earths Developments Corp. last week received preliminary results from test drilling in the area, showing “significant” proportions of “rare earth” minerals and niobium.

The only people more excited than Quantum? The residents of Elk Creek, where nearly one in seven people live under the poverty line, but whose economy has been booming ever since the company showed up late last year to start laying the groundwork for a possible mining bonanza.

“It’s been a very, very positive experience for our community,” said state Sen. Lavon Heidemann, an Elk Creek farmer. “When Quantum came in here, they put money in the local community. And any time you have money flowing in a small town, that’s a positive.”

The potential mining operation, the first in the U.S. in a decade, could have an international impact as well. U.S. officials and lawmakers in Congress have been eager to break the near monopoly on global production of the 17 rare-earth elements in China, which has shown its willingness to use its power in the market for political ends.

Quantum acquired a circular piece of land - a bit more than 4 miles in diameter - near Elk Creek late last year. The land, which the U.S. Geological Survey projects may have one of the world’s largest deposits of niobium and rare earths, has since been poked, prodded and drilled to determine whether it held any niobium, which has never been mined in the U.S., or rare earths, which the U.S. has not mined in almost 10 years. (more)

Hamburg rejects Facebook facial recognition (Hear, hear!)

The Hamburg data protection authority on Tuesday ruled that Facebook’s facial recognition feature, which attempts to identify people in photos uploaded to the site, violates German privacy laws.

Johannes Caspar, the head of the authority, said Facebook should not be collecting users’ biometric data – such as their face shape and the distance between their eyes – without getting their explicit consent. He has demanded that the social networking site change or disable the feature. All data collected so far should be deleted.

Mr Caspar has given Facebook two weeks to respond. If the company is unable to make changes, Mr Caspar said the Hamburg authority would consider bringing legal action against it. The German courts can impose fines of up to €300,000 ($426,397) for privacy breaches.

The Hamburg ruling could encourage data protection authorities across Europe to act. The Irish, UK and Berlin privacy officials are also looking into Facebook’s facial recognition feature, as is the Article 29 Working Party, a group of officials that advises the EU on privacy policy.

“The problem is not with the facial recognition itself, but the data that is stored in the background to allow the system to recognise a face,” Mr Caspar told the Financial Times. “Facebook needs to design a new kind of system to get consent from people before their data is stored.” (more)

Craig Brown facing prison time for... feeding birds in backyard (after neighbours reported him)

A Bloomington man is facing possible jail time, accused of breaking a city ordinance that prohibits residents from feeding wild animals.

In Bloomington, it is legal to use bird feeders — as long as they are 5 feet off the ground. Neighbors and the charges allege that Craig Brown was throwing feed onto the ground, which is illegal.

For years, Brown said he tried to make his backyard a haven for birds.

Now, birds rarely visit Brown’s backyard. Months ago, Brown removed all his bird feeders after he said those feeders landed him in trouble with the law.

“I am nervous,” said Brown. “They have the right to send me to jail.”

A video taken by a neighbor in December showed the Bloomington City Attorney just how popular Brown’s yard was for animals. In the video, dozens of birds are seen eating from the ground.

Neighbors said the food didn’t just bring birds, it also brought rodents, which then chewed on their property.

“You have an impact on your neighbors. Your backyard and what you do in it can damage the livability of neighbors’ house,” said Sandra Johnson, the Bloomington City Attorney.

Brown claimed his bird feeding fell in line with the city ordinance.

“I was still putting the feed in feeders. I was doing it legally, but I was getting these ducks in here. What do I do?” said Brown. (more)

Greece in panic as it faces change of Homeric proportions: First bank runs begin in Europe

In one of the biggest banks in the centre of Athens a clerk is explaining how his savers have been thronging to pull out their cash.

Wary of giving his name, he glances around the marble-floored, wood-panelled foyer before pulling out a slim A4-sized folder. It is about the size of a small safety-deposit box – and those, ever since the financial crisis hit Greece 18 months ago, have become the most sought-after financial products in the country. Worried about whether the banks will stay in business, Greeks have been taking their life savings out of accounts and sticking them in metal slits in basement vaults.

The boxes are so popular that the bank has doubled the rent on them in the past year – and still every day between five and 10 customers request one. This bank ran out of spares months ago. The clerk leans over: "I've been working in a bank for 31 years, and I've never seen a panic like this."

Official figures back him up. In May alone, almost €5bn (£4.4bn) was pulled out of Greek deposits, as part of what analysts describe as a "silent bank run". This version is also disorderly and jittery, just not as obvious. Customers do not form long queues outside branches, they simply squirrel out as much as they can. Some of that money will have been used to pay debts or supplement incomes, of course, but bankers put the sheer volume of withdrawals down to a general fear about the outlook for Greece, one that runs all the way from the humble rainy-day saver to the really big money. (more)

Debt deal doesn't dispel downgrade fear for US

Investors fear the United States may be headed for a credit ratings downgrade even if the Senate approves a $2.1 trillion package of spending cuts later on Tuesday.

Though the bill removes the threat of imminent default by raising the national debt limit enough to last until 2013, its cuts are only about half the $4 trillion in savings that ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's have said would be enough to confirm the country's triple-A rating with a stable outlook.

Adding a sense of immediacy to downgrade anxieties, S&P said in mid-July there was a 50-50 chance it would cut U.S. ratings in the next three months if lawmakers failed to craft a meaningful plan to cut the nation's deficit.

S&P could downgrade U.S. ratings soon after the bill is signed by President Barack Obama, given that the agency will have all the information it needs to make a decision.

Such a move would likely cause both U.S. Treasury and stock prices to fall.

"A lot of people are very concerned about the potential for a downgrade," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC in New York. (more)

Free cell phones are now a civil right... for those on welfare

Pennsylvanians on public assistance now have a new 'civil right' -- free cell phones. Meanwhile, the rest of us get to pay higher cell bills as a result.

Recently, a federal government program called the Universal Service Fund came to the Keystone State and some residents are thrilled because it means they can enjoy 250 minutes a month and a handset for free, just because they don't have the money to pay for it. Through Assurance Wireless and SafeLink from Tracfone Wireless these folks get to reach out and touch someone while the cost of their service is paid for by everyone else. You see, the telecommunications companies are funding the Universal Service Fund to the tune of $4 billion a year because the feds said they have to and in order to recoup their money, the companies turn around and hike their fees to paying customers. But those of use paying for the free service for the poor, should be happy about this infuriating situation, says Gary Carter, manager of national partnerships for Assurance, because "the program is about peace of mind." Free cell service means "one less bill that someone has to pay, so they can pay their rent or for day is a right to have peace of mind," Cater explained.

Well, the telecommunications companies don't seem to love providing this 'right' to poor folks because they are trying to renegotiate the deal with the FCC. The telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T want more paying customers, but their desire to reform their deal with the feds dovetails nicely with the political ideology of the current FCC chairman Julian Genachowski, who like all Obama administration flunkies sees 'rights' where others see 'priviledges'. Just listen to how the agency put the question of providing broadband and cell service to those in rural and poor communities. "The goal of reform is to provide everyone with affordable voice and broadband," the agency said. (more)

Japan Disaster Sparks Demand for Air-Conditioned Clothes

As far as summer fashion goes, clothes with built-in electric fans leave a little something to be desired.

But Hiroshi Ichigaya has managed to turn his breezy invention into the must-have item of the summer, thanks to sweltering temperatures and a power shortage stemming from the triple disasters that hit Japan in March. The founder of Kuchofuku, or "air-conditioned clothing" in Japanese, says sales for his clothes have increased 10-fold. Phones at his office haven't stopped ringing.

"People ask me, why would I want to wear a jacket when it's so hot," Ichigaya, a former Sony engineer, said. "I tell them, because it's cooler than being naked."

Kuchofuku jackets come equipped with a pair of battery-operated fans on the sides, which draw air in. Ichigaya says the constant breeze running inside the jacket helps evaporate all the sweat and creates a personal cooling system in the process. The goal is not to lower temperatures outside the body but expand the body's comfort zone, and eliminate the need for energy-consuming air conditioners, Ichigaya said.

Case in point: at Kuchofuku headquarters in Toda, outside of Tokyo, a thermometer shows the room temperature clocking in at a stuffy 88 degrees, with 59 percent humidity. Yet workers sit at their desks wearing Kuchofuku jackets without a bead of sweat in sight, the hum from the fans echoing in the background. (more)

UK Rate rise would cost families £500 a year, economists warn

Raising interest rates would leave millions teetering on the brink of financial disaster, leading economists warn today.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research says a rise from 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent would leave the typical familiy with an extra £516 a year to find for its mortgage repayments.

In total, such a move would cost households a staggering £3billion next year alone. An increase to 1.5 per cent would cost them £6billion.

Any rise would put a dangerous dent in disposable incomes after two years of decline, warned NIESR economist Simon Kirby. ‘Household incomes continue to fall in real terms and remain vulnerable to a modest interest rate rise,’ he said.

‘Wage growth has failed to keep up with an elevated rate of inflation and tax increases.’

In what would be a major blow to the Government, NIESR also says that Chancellor George Osborne is on course to fail to meet his deficit reduction targets. (more)

US congress reluctantly agrees budget deal no one is happy with -- Is the US running out of time?

The US yesterday stepped back from the brink of financial disaster as a bitterly contested deal to raise the debt ceiling was passed by the US congress, enabling Barack Obama, the US president, to sign it into law before a midnight deadline.

Senators approved the deal by a comfortable 74-26 margin after the bill had also passed the House of Representatives late on Monday. A few minutes after the Senate vote, Mr Obama appeared before the cameras at the White House.

He said: "It was a long and contentious debate and I want to thank the American people for keeping up the pressure on their elected officials to put partisanship aside and find a compromise."

Mr Obama also took the opportunity to look ahead at the urgent issues facing the American economy and said that creating jobs and economic growth would not just be about cutting spending. Politicians, he said, need to find a "balanced approach" to budget negotiations.

"We can't balance the budget on the back of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession."

The bill will raise the US debt ceiling by US$900 billion over the next few months, accompanied by a similar amount in spending cuts to be spread over the next decade. That will be followed by another $1.5 trillion of savings early next year, pending agreement by a bi-partisan commission that will investigate further measures to cut the deficit, including spending cuts and revenue-raising measures.

A trigger mechanism of an automatic US$1.3 trillion increase in the debt ceiling accompanied by a package of spending cuts of a similar amount, primarily to defence, will kick in if the commission cannot come reach agreement later this year. (more)

European Bond market developments are "deep concern", says Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has described the bond markets' treatment of Italy and Spain as "a cause of deep concern".

Yields on Spanish and Italian bonds have hit euro-era records this week.

Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti has held talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of the eurozone countries' finance ministers group.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is due to address parliament on the economy on Wednesday.

"Developments in the sovereign bond markets of Italy and Spain are a cause of deep concern," Mr Barroso said.

"These developments are clearly unwarranted on the basis of economic and budgetary fundamentals in these two member states and the steps that they are taking to reinforce those fundamentals."

Yields on Spanish and Italian 10-year bonds hit their highest levels since the launch of the euro on Tuesday, meaning that it would cost both countries' governments more to borrow money if they wanted to. (more)

Typhoon Kabayan fuels monsoon in the Philippines

A typhoon some 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) from the Philippine capital is supercharging summer monsoon rains, which have flooded parts of Manila and could trigger flash floods and landslides across other parts of the country, forecasters said Wednesday.

The Philippine government said Typhoon Kabayan was expected to enhance the monsoon over the entire island of Luzon, where Manila is located, according to the country's National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council.

The storm system has maximum winds of 165 kph (102 mph) and gusts over 200 kph (124 mph), the council reported. It is forecast to be about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south-southwest of Okinawa, Japan, on Friday morning.

A forecast map shows Kabayan near China's northeast coast late Saturday.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said that the western part of Luzon will experience monsoon rains on Wednesday, which could cause flash floods and landslides. The typhoon was reported to be some 1,055 kilometers (655 miles) east-northeast of Basco, Batanes, Philippines, Wednesday morning. (more)

10 arrested in Niger coup attempt, president says -- Another African nation set to unravel?

The president of Niger announced that 10 people have been arrested in connection with an attempted coup last month, the first time the nation has confirmed the failed plot.

An additional suspect is on the run, President Mahamadou Issoufou said Tuesday night in a message broadcast on state media.

The coup attempt overnight July 12 is under investigation.

"The law will be applied in all its severity to those (who), without any objective reason, have decided to put an end to the choice of the people," he said.

Mahamadou won elections in March, ending a military transition that followed a February 2010 coup that led to the ouster of Mamadou Tandja.

His election was a major step toward democracy for the west African nation, which has had repeated coups since its independence.

The president confirmed the coup in a statement he delivered the night before the nation celebrated the 51st anniversary of its independence. (more)

S. Korea proposes to send flood aid to North (Is propping up a country that continually attacks you the solution?)

South Korea has proposed sending aid to North Korea to assist with damages caused by torrential rain that hit the peninsula last week, the South's Ministry of Unification said.

Seoul has proposed to send 5 billion won ($4.7 million) worth of medical and essential goods from the Korean Red Cross via the east and west roads that connect the two countries across the demilitarized zone, the ministry said.

The ministry said the decision was based on helping North Koreans who are suffering from flood damages.

The move is widely seen as a conciliatory gesture from Seoul.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained since the sinking of a South Korean warship Cheonan 16 months ago and the shelling of South Korea's Yeongpyong Island in November. (more)

Fears of far-right rise in crisis-hit Greece

They descended by the hundreds — black-shirted, bat-wielding youths chasing down dark-skinned immigrants through the streets of Athens and beating them senseless in an unprecedented show of force by Greece's far-right extremists.

In Greece, alarm is rising that the twin crises of financial meltdown and soaring illegal immigration are creating the conditions for a right-wing rise — and the Norway massacre on Monday drove authorities to beef up security.

The move comes amid spiraling social unrest that has unleashed waves of rioting and vigilante thuggery on the streets of Athens. The U.N.'s refugee agency warns that some Athens neighborhoods have become zones where "fascist groups have established an odd lawless regime."

Greek police on Monday said they have increased security checks at Muslim prayer houses and other immigrant sites in response to the Norway shooting rampage that claimed 77 lives.

"There has been an increase in monitoring at these sites since the events occurred in Norway," said police spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis. (more)

BMW doubles quarterly profit with China in driving seat -- It's clear now where the wealth is going

BMW, the world's largest luxury car maker, has reported a record second-quarter profit after a boom in the Chinese market saw sales reach an all-time high.

The German manufacturer generated the highest profit margin of the top three luxury car makers, outshining Audi and Mercedes-Benz with a €2.7bn (£2.4bn) pre-tax profit in the three months to June, compared to €1.3bn in the same period last year.

BMW reported an 83pc jump in second quarter operating profits, while its revenues rose to €17.9bn, up 17pc from €15.3bn in 2010.

The company's combined results for the first half showed a sustained boom in the automobile sector, with pre-tax profits from January to June soaring to €3.9bn, more than triple the €1.2bn recorded in the same period last year.

BNW said the stellar results were underpinned by high demand for the revamped 5 Series saloon car in the wealthy Chinese market, as well as the popularity of the new X3 sport-utility vehicle.

To date, deliveries of the 5 Series have jumped 80pc and demand for the X3 has more than doubled, fueling an 18pc rise in BMW's first-half deliveries. (more)

"The Great Year" -- Is our Sun part of a binary solar system? Fact or fiction?



"The Big Bang Never Happened" -- Has science become the most dogmatic religion of all? (Must-see doc)


*Bathroom break*

5.2 Magnitude Earthquake NORTHERN SUMATRA, INDONESIA - 3rd August 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck Northern Sumatra, Indonesia at a depth of 80.1 km ( 49.8 miles), the quake hit at 20:02:18 UTC Wednesday 3rd August 2011.
The epicenter was 76 km (48 miles) Northwest from Sibolga, Sumatra, Indonesia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Jason Owen the Lodger who allowed Baby P to die could be released from jail this week - 3rd Aug 2011

One of the trio jailed over tragic north London child Baby P's death could walk free from prison this week.

Jason Owen, 39, is serving a six-year sentence for causing or allowing the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly exactly four years ago.

He is expected to be eligible for release at the end of this week, halfway through his jail term, taking into account the 289 days he spent in custody on remand before he was sentenced.

The Sun reported that the former lodger who was living with the child's mother Tracey Connelly and her boyfriends Steven Barker will be freed on Friday.

The newspaper also reported that Owen could receive state-funded plastic surgery in an attempt to conceal his identity and protect him from attacks from outraged members of the public.

Owen, from Bromley, Kent, was a lodger at the home of his brother Steven Barker in Tottenham, where Peter died on August 3, 2007.

In May 2009, an Old Bailey judge gave Owen an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection with a minimum term of three years for his part in the boy's death. Read More

Family escapes minutes before car turns into fireball on the M42 - 3rd Aug 2011

A group of holidaymakers were forced to make a dramatic escape just before their car burst into a fireball in the middle of a busy motorway.

The family abandoned their Renault Scenic in the middle lane of the M42 after smoke started pouring from the bonnet as they sat stuck in a traffic jam.

But just minutes after they dashed to the side of the road, the car was ripped apart by an explosion.

No one was hurt in the blast which happened shortly after 7.40am on the southbound carriageway between junctions 1 and 2 near Blackwell, Worcestershire, on Saturday.

Fire crews tackled the blaze which closed two lanes of the motorway for nine hours causing chaos for holidaymakers.

Sales manager Alan Proudfoot, 53, snapped the astonishing moment the car exploded sending a fireball shooting 100ft into the air. Read More

Ben Woollacott, son of boating boss from fifth-generation riverboat family is killed after falling from ferry and under propeller - 3rd Aug 2011

The 19-year-old son of a Thames cruise boss was killed today when he fell from a ferry and under its propeller.

Ben Woollacott, of Kent, died in the horrific accident after falling from the Woolwich Ferry, while mooring ropes were being untied.

A London Coastguard spokesman said they were called at 6.10am in response to a man overboard radio alert.

Paramedics treated the crewman when he was pulled from the Thames, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ben's father was said to be distraught. A friend said: 'It's such a tragic loss.

'They are a very well-respected family on the river.

'Ben was following in his father's footsteps and he was a very enthusiastic young boy. It's a tragic loss to the whole community on the river.'

Woollacott, who came from five generations of Thames boatmen, was learning the family trade on board the Ernest Bevin ferry when he fell into the river.

His father is Stephen Woolacott, owner of Cruise London, which runs riverboats that travel along the Thames for sight-seeing and corporate events. Read More

Earth used to have TWO moons... but one was destroyed in a giant collision - 3rd Aug 2011

Earth may once have had two moons - the one that shines at night today and a smaller companion, according to a new theory.

A slow-motion collision between the two is believed to have created the mountainous highlands on the moon's far side, as debris from the second, smaller moon piled up.

The side of the moon facing the Earth and the side facing away have strikingly different topographies. While the near side is relatively low and flat, the far side is high and mountainous with a much thicker crust.

Scientists have proposed different theories to explain this lack of symmetry. One leading idea is that gravitational tidal forces reshaped the moon's crust and made it lopsided.

But the new theory builds on the 'giant impact' model that explains the moon's creation.

Many experts believe a Mars-sized object collided with the Earth early in the solar system's history, ejecting debris that was later drawn together by gravity to form the moon. Read More

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake KERMADEC ISLANDS REGION - 3rd August 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck the Kermadec Islands Region at a depth of 52.3 km ( 32.5 miles), the quake hit at 19:23:15 UTC Wednesday 3rd August 2011.
The epicenter was 115 km (72 miles) ESE from Raoul Island, Kermadec Islands
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

'Super VIP' Child Porn Ring Busted - 3rd Aug 2011

US officials have broken an international child porn ring that elevated members to 'Super VIP' when they uploaded images considered to be the most depraved.

Authorities said 72 bulletin board members of Dreamboard have been charged with participating in the online international network engaged in sexual abuse of children that stretched from North America to Europe, Asia and Africa.

Twenty of the charged individuals remain at large and are known only by their online identities.

US Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Operation Delego investigated more than 500 people around the world since the probe was first launched in December 2009.

According to documents released in the probe, members traded tens of thousands of graphic images and videos of adults molesting pre-teen children.

At a press conference at the US Justice Department, the attorney general called the criminal activity a nightmare for the children.

"Dreamboard was a self-described global community of paedophiles dedicated to the relentless victimisation and exploitation of children 12 and under," Assistant Attorney General Breuer added. Read More

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU - 3rd August 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck near the East coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 4.8 km ( 3 miles), the quake hit at 16:32:27 UTC Wednesday 3rd August 2011.
The epicenter was 40 km (24 miles) ENE of Iwaki, Honshu, Japan
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No damage or injuries reported at this time

Hitachi considers halting TV production in Japan as country's economy spirals further

Japan-based Hitachi is known by global customers for making TVs. But on Wednesday, the company said it is considering ending its television production operations in Japan.

"We are considering ending production operations in Gifu, Japan, but a concrete decision has not been made yet," said Hitachi spokesman Atsushi Konno.

The Gifu plant in central Japan is the last Hitachi TV factory in the country. Ending the production of televisions there would continue the company's cost-cutting strategy of outsourcing primary television production outside of Europe and Japan, Konno said.

Hitachi has been increasingly outsourcing the building of televisions to countries like Taiwan, using Japanese workers to instead build components for the sets. Hitachi then buys back the assembled televisions.

The Gifu plant current employs 250 people, and none would lose their jobs, Konno said. The employees would shift to building a core component for the outsourced TVs.

Japan's exporters have been under increasing pressure from the downward spiral of the U.S. dollar and the surging Japanese yen. A strong yen potentially means millions of dollars in lost profits when the money is repatriated in Japan.

Jesper Koll, JP Morgan's head of Japanese equity research, estimates that corporate Japan overall has lost about 5% in profits in just the last six weeks as the U.S. dollar has fallen on uncertainty over the debt deal in Washington.

With every 1 yen move up against the U.S. dollar, Toyota estimates it loses about $385 million. In the last month, the yen has surged four times that amount, eating out more than a billion dollars out of Toyota's books. (more)

US Job growth stalls, layoffs surge: Is a depression imminent? (Are we already in one?)

The jobs recovery slowed for a third month in a row, according to two reports out Wednesday.

Private sector employers added 114,000 workers in July, marking a decrease from the 145,000 jobs added in June, payroll processing firm ADP reported.

That number beat economists' forecasts for 100,000 additional jobs, but it is also taken with a grain of salt by some economists, since ADP's figures have differed wildly from government data this year. In June, ADP's initial numbers topped the government figures by 100,000.

Meanwhile, a separate report showed more firms are opting to downsize, rather than add to their payrolls.

The number of planned job cuts surged to a 16-month high in July -- rising 60% in July to 66,414 from June's 41,432, according to outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The Challenger report characterized it as a "sudden and unexpected burst" in downsizing. (more)

World stocks fall amid dim U.S. economy prospects

World stocks fell Wednesday as relief the U.S. averted a debt default gave way to increasing pessimism over prospects for the world's biggest economy.

Oil extended losses, trading near $93 a barrel amid expectations slower U.S. economic growth will crimp demand for crude.

In Europe, London's FTSE fell 0.9 percent to 5,664.98 in early trading. France's CAC-40 declined 0.4 percent to 3,507.55, while Germany's DAX advanced fell 0.5 per cent to 6,763.54.

U.S. stocks were set for a higher opening after Tuesday's sharp decline with Dow futures trading 0.6 percent higher at 11,871.

Broader S&P 500 futures were up 0.7 per cent to 1,256.

Sentiment was glum in Asia, where markets dropped after weak economic reports and poor earnings from several big companies, including high-end retailer Coach Inc., sent Wall Street sharply lower Tuesday.

U.S. consumers cut spending in June for the first time in nearly two years, while incomes rose by the smallest amount since September. That news followed a weak manufacturing survey the day before. (more)

Somalia famine 'spiralling out of control'

The United Nations and international aid agencies are warning that the famine in Somalia will grow in size and severity unless the world community responds with more aid.

Oxfam said Tuesday that Somalia famine crisis is "spiraling out of control" and that donations are failing to keep pace with the level of need.

The UN's humanitarian aid office warned that unless it sees a massive increase in donations, the famine will spread to five or six more regions inside Somalia. Currently two regions of Somalia are classified as famine zones.

The United Nations said tens of thousands of people have already died in Somalia from malnutrition and more than 12 million in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti urgently need food.

The federal government said it will match donations made by Canadian citizens between July 6 and Sept. 16. (more)

Do we nee sto begin stocking up for future world disasters?

Anyone who thinks we can just walk away from a crisis like the famine in Africa because these things are too overwhelming and commonplace should think again. Put bluntly, natural disasters have the world by the throat and the grip is tightening.

What do I mean? Well, the number and cost of disasters worldwide is soaring. This year 235 natural disasters caused around $82 billion damage, double the tab of only two years ago and part of $1 trillion in devastation over this decade.

With changing weather patterns and more people living in fragile areas, roughly 250 million people are currently affected by natural disasters — droughts, floods, earthquakes — every year and that number could rise to 375 million annually by 2015, some studies predict.

So, cries for help are not going to conveniently go away. In fact, they are going to get much louder, more insistent.

Unless, perhaps, we launch a global effort to make us better prepared for these sorts of catastrophic emergencies.

I know there's a lot of despair out there that insists "We've tried everything but the same places are always being hit." (more)

Native ladybugs lose ground to foreign species: Canada

North America is gradually losing its native ladybugs.

Three once-common domestic species are becoming rare as foreign breeds introduced decades ago — which have different habitats and diets — take over.

Twenty years ago you could find thousands of ladybugs in gardens and near ponds and rivers. Now it's difficult to find any in those environments.

Cornell University entomologist John Losey said he and his research team find plenty of insects amid the weeds and grass of fields in Ithaca, N.Y., but just not any of the once-plentiful ladybugs species such as the nine-spot.

"The nine-spot ladybug is declining to the point where we haven't seen it for almost 10 years," Losey said. "It used to be one of the most common ladybugs, all the way from Texas to Canada."

Another species in decline is the two-spotted ladybug, a carnivorous beetle used to fight infestations of pest insects. A third breed, the transverse ladybug, used to cover the continent but hasn't had a confirmed sighting in Ontario since the 1980s, though it can still be found in the West. (more)

Syria unrest: Tanks 'advance' on besieged city of Hama

Government tanks in Syria have reportedly advanced deep into the besieged central city of Hama to put down opposition protests.

Residents who spoke to Reuters said tanks had reached Orontes Square in the city centre, focus of mass rallies against President Bashar al-Assad.

The reported advance followed a new bombardment of the city of 800,000.

The UN Security Council is split over how to respond to the bloodshed, which the UN secretary general has condemned.

Human rights groups say at least 140 people have been killed in the Syrian unrest since Sunday, mainly in Hama, adding to a civilian death toll believed to be more than 1,600 since March.

Protesters were inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Assad has promised reforms, but blames the violence on "armed criminal gangs" backed by unspecified foreign powers.

Access to events in Syria has been severely restricted for international journalists and it is rarely possible to verify accounts by witnesses and opposition activists. (more)

Governments, IOC and UN hit by massive cyber attack

IT security firm McAfee claims to have uncovered one of the largest ever series of cyber attacks.

It lists 72 different organisations that were targeted over five years, including the International Olympic Committee, the UN and security firms.

McAfee will not say who it thinks is responsible, but there is speculation that China may be behind the attacks.

Beijing has always denied any state involvement in cyber-attacks, calling such accusations "groundless".

Speaking to BBC News, McAfee's chief European technology officer, Raj Samani, said the attacks were still going on.

"This is a whole different level to the Night Dragon attacks that occurred earlier this year. Those were attacks on a specific sector. This one is very, very broad."

Dubbed Operation Shady RAT - after the remote access tool that security experts and hackers use to remotely access computer networks - the five-year investigation examined information from a number of different organisations which thought they may have been hit. (more)

Internet Explorer story about low IQs was bogus

A story which suggested that users of Internet Explorer have a lower IQ than people who chose other browsers appears to have been an elaborate hoax.

A number of media organisations, including the BBC, reported on the research, put out by Canadian firm ApTiquant.

It later emerged that the company's website was only recently set up and staff images were copied from a legitimate business in Paris.

It is unclear who was behind the stunt.

The story was reported by many high profile organisations including CNN, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and Forbes.

Questions about the authenticity of the story were raised by readers of the BBC website who established that the company which put out the research - ApTiquant - appeared to have only set up its website in the past month.

Thumbnail images of the firm's staff on the website also matched those on the site of French research company Central Test, although many of the names had been changed.

The BBC contacted Central Test who confirmed that they had been made aware of the copy but had no knowledge of ApTiquant or its activities. (more)

Yet another example of poor journalism, and another reason why we must all always use our brains and verify what we see, and ask questions about what we know.

Somali PM: Famine situation is "very dire"

Eurozone Rattled As Borrowing Rates Soar: Serious danger for Spain and Italy ahead

There is a serious new threat to the eurozone after Italy and Spain's borrowing rates hit their highest level since the single currency was established.

It comes amid fears that a global economic slowdown will hit their chances of avoiding Europe's debt crisis.

Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti has called an emergency meeting in Rome to assess the situation.

And he is expected to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the chairman of the Eurogroup meetings of eurozone nations, on Wednesday.

The increasingly bleak situation has led to Spain's prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero delaying his holiday to monitor developments.

The yield for the Spanish 10-year bond rose to 6.45%, the highest since the euro was created and near levels seen in Greece, Ireland and Portugal before they asked for rescue loans.

Italy's bond yield jumped to 6.18% - above where it was before July 21, when the EU announced its latest debt crisis plan, including a second Greek bailout, to calm market jitters. (more)

China credit agency to lower US debt rating

Japan Fukushima: Update (The ending is Just Unbelievable...)

Elenin, "Nibiru", "Melancholia" and "Another Earth" -- Simultaneous appearances connected? Just coincidence? (Anyone else movie buffs?)

Poundland to expand into eurozone under 'Dealz' brand as European economies falter

Bargain chain Poundland is to expand into the eurozone after today announcing plans for a number of new stores, starting in debt-ridden Ireland.

The new venture will shun the "Euroland" label - thus avoiding the impact of price volatility in the region - and will instead be called Dealz.

There are plans for six stores in Ireland before March in a roll out set to create 180 jobs and €2m (£1.7 million) in investment.

Poundland chief executive Jim McCarthy said there was "an appetite from Irish consumers for a discount retailer".

The company has expanded in the UK from 263 stores to 347 over the last year as more middle-class customers turn to the chain in the tough climate.

Its 3,000-strong list of products ranges from Kodak batteries and 1.5kg packs of sugar through to reading glasses, tents and Christmas lights - all for £1. (more)

Dieting forces brain to eat itself, scientists claim

Dieters struggle to lose weight because a lack of nutrition forces their brain cells to eat themselves, making the feeling of hunger even stronger, scientists claim.

Like other parts of the body, brain cells begin to eat themselves as a last-ditch source of energy to ward off starvation, a study found.

The body responds by producing fatty acids, which turn up the hunger signal in the brain and increase our impulse to eat.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York said the findings could lead to new scientifically proven weight loss treatments.

Tests on mice found that stopping the brain cells from eating themselves – a process known as autophagy – prevented levels of hunger from rising in response to starvation.

The chemical change in their brains caused the mice to become lighter and slimmer after a period of fasting, the researchers reported in the journal Cell Metabolism. (more)

Argentina developing nuclear-powered submarine: Trouble brewing over the Falklands?

Argentina has announced it is developing a nuclear-powered submarine, leading to fresh warnings that Britain would face an "insurmountable" task if the country invaded the Falkland Islands again.

Arturo Puricelli, the country's defence minister, said the project was requested by President Cristina Kirchner and said her presidency would be "recalled by history as the beginning of a great time for Argentina."

He indicated that a submarine already previously under construction would be the first to be put into operation with nuclear propulsion and suggested that others would follow.

The announcement comes at a time of heightened tension over the sovereignty of the Falklands, which British forces won back in a 10-week war in 1982 following an Argentine invasion.

Nuclear-powered submarines are considered vastly superior to conventional, typically diesel-electric models, because they can operate at high speed for long durations and do not need to surface frequently.

As such, they are considered excellent "stealth" options to project power and act as a deterrent to potential adversaries. (more)

Saudi Arabia takes step to build world's tallest tower

Saudi Arabia is set to start work on building the world's tallest skyscraper in a bid to outdo Gulf neighbour Dubai, which inaugurated its own record-breaking skyscraper less than two years ago.

he Saudis awarded a more than $1 billion contract for a spire that will soar two-thirds of a mile high, to be named the Kingdom Tower. It will have a Four Seasons hotel, serviced apartments, luxury condominiums and offices, encompassing, in all, about 5.4 million square feet.

The plans make Saudi Arabia a front-runner in the race between the oil-rich Gulf nations for glitzy, architectural trophies that dot their desert territories with glimmering skyscrapers and elaborate, man-made islands. The projects are seen as status symbols to show off economic success.

Kingdom Holding Co., the investment firm headed by billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said it signed a 4.2 billion riyal ($1.2 billion) deal with the Saudi Binladen Group to build Kingdom Tower on the outskirts of the Red Sea city of Jiddah.

"The decision of the partners to build the world's tallest building further demonstrates their belief in investing in this nation," said Talal Al Maiman, a board member of KHC and the Jeddah Economic Co, a KHC-affiliate that signed the deal with the Binladen Group.

"We intend Kingdom Tower to become both an economic engine and a proud symbol of the Kingdom's economic and cultural stature in the world community," said Mr Al Maiman. "We envision Kingdom Tower as a new iconic marker of Jeddah's historic importance as the traditional gateway to the holy city of Mecca." (more)

"Becquerels" and Japan's changing "safety" standards for radiation in food and water (Scary, must watch)

Japan Fukushima: Facing Continued Nuclear Difficulties

Crop circles 'created using GPS, lasers and microwaves' (according to theorizing scientists)

Crop circles are now made using lasers, microwaves and GPS technology to create ever larger and more elaborate patterns, scientist claims as days of using planks and rope long gone.

Crop circles have confounded farmers and scientists alike since they were first recorded in the 17th century, and now physicist Professor Richard Taylor says the phenomenon is growing alongside advances in technology.

The complexity of modern patterns, which can involve up to 2,000 individual and elaborately arranged shapes, suggest that clandestine groups of hoaxers must use sophisticated methods to complete their projects in a single night.

GPS systems enables the artists to cover vast spaces with absolute precision, while microwaves can be used to flatten large numbers of stalks at great speeds, it was claimed.

An analysis of evidence in the Physics World journal reported that researchers had used magnetrons – tubes which use electricity and magnetism to generate intense heat – to mimic the physical changes in flattened stalks in some circles, which are linked to radiation.

Prof Taylor, director of the Materials Science Institute at the University of Oregon, said the findings suggest that crop circle artists may be using magnetrons, found in microwave ovens, or similar technology to complete their detailed patterns in the space of a few hours. (more)

First images of Vesta Asteroid released

The first close-up pictures of the massive asteroid Vesta reveal a northern hemisphere littered with craters including a trio nicknamed "Snowman" and a smoother southern half, researchers have reported.

Running along the asteroid's equator are deep grooves a surprise to scientists who did not expect to see such features.

"We're seeing quite a varied surface," said chief scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles. The images were taken by Nasa's Dawn spacecraft, which began orbiting the 330-mile (530-kilometer)-wide rocky body last month and beaming back incredible surface details that the team is only beginning to pore over. It's the first time that Vesta has been viewed up close. Until now, it has only been photographed from afar.

Since entering orbit, Dawn has taken more than 500 pictures, while refining its path and inching ever closer to the surface to get a better view. The probe will officially start collecting science data next week once it is 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) from the surface. It will get as close as 110 miles (177 kilometers) while it orbits Vesta for a year.

Vesta's southern section is dominated by a giant crater, the result of a collision eons ago that's believed to have pelted Earth with numerous meteorites, or broken off pieces of asteroids. (more)

Is Technology Destroying the Physical Record of Mankind's Existence, History, and Information?

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk Wants Humans to Be a Multi-Planet Species

Space may be the final frontier, but Mars should be the next one.

At a spaceflight propulsion conference held by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics on Tuesday, Elon Musk -- the billionaire founder of PayPal and the man behind leading private spaceflight company SpaceX -- spoke about just how to get humanity there.

"Are we on the path to becoming a multi-planet species or not?" Musk asked the crowd at the event. "If we're not, it's really not that exciting after all."

The challenge to getting to Mars is transporting significant tons of cargo and people, Musk noted, a task that will require what he described as a rapidly and fully reusable rocket.

"There's a reason no one has invented a fully reusable rocket before," Musk explained. "It's super-damn hard."

Still, the inventor has a plan for interplanetary travel, and a name for it: Falcon.

Musk described several of the recent advances made by his company's Falcon 9 rockets, which were tested successfully for the first time June 4, 2010. The rocket is designed to generate 3.8 million pounds (1,700 metric tons) of thrust -- making it easily capable of carrying satellites, cargo, and even humans to other planets, he said.

"It's got potential as a generalized science delivery platform for other planets in the solar system," Musk noted. (more)