Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Market crash 'could hit within weeks', warn bankers

A more severe crash than the one triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers could be on the way, according to alarm signals in the credit markets.

Insurance on the debt of several major European banks has now hit historic levels, higher even than those recorded during financial crisis caused by the US financial group's implosion nearly three years ago.

Credit default swaps on the bonds of Royal Bank of Scotland, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Intesa Sanpaolo, among others, flashed warning signals on Wednesday. Credit default swaps (CDS) on RBS were trading at 343.54 basis points, meaning the annual cost to insure £10m of the state-backed lender's bonds against default is now £343,540.

The cost of insuring RBS bonds is now higher than before the taxpayer was forced to step in and rescue the bank in October 2008, and shows the recent dramatic downturn in sentiment among credit investors towards banks.

"The problem is a shortage of liquidity – that is what is causing the problems with the banks. It feels exactly as it felt in 2008," said one senior London-based bank executive.

"I think we are heading for a market shock in September or October that will match anything we have ever seen before," said a senior credit banker at a major European bank. more

Palestinians say China will back statehood bid

China has said it will vote in favour of Palestinian statehood when the matter is presented to the UN Security Council next month, the official Palestinian news agency said on Friday.

A message to that effect from Chinese President Hu Jintao was delivered to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday, WAFA said.

Hu said China has "always supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state" on all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians are to formally submit their request for membership to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on September 20 when world leaders begin gathering in New York for the 66th session of the General Assembly.

The decision comes after direct peace talks with Israel ran aground late last year in an intractable dispute over Jewish settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

Israel is implacably opposed to such a move, saying negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict and establish a Palestinian state in a position backed by Washington. more

UK Households sink under a sea of debt

All eyes will be on Marks & Spencer for its fourth-quarter trading update on Wednesday for a glimpse of what's happening at one of the coal faces of the UK economy.

Long gone are the days when M&S was thought of as a bellwether for the British high street, but the company is still far and away the UK's largest clothes retailer, and a significant foods chain to boot. What the chief executive Marc Bolland has to say ought to be a reasonably reliable snap shot of what's been happening to household consumption in the round since the turn of the year.

A combination of careful news management and the blood curdling screams of other retailers has already prepared the ground for a dire set of numbers. Compared with the same period last year, sales will be well down. That's partly because of the inclusion of fewer Christmas trading days than the year before, but the underlying picture scarcely looks much better. Consumption is being badly squeezed as the full force of rising inflation and the Government's austerity measures exact their punishment on disposable incomes; the high street is hurting again. more

Kazakhstan reels from impact of nuclear tests, 20 years on

The 79-year-old Yevdokia Matushkina struggles to remember. Her memories often fail her.

Except one.

Sitting in her tiny room at a home for the elderly in the eastern Kazakh city of Semey, Matushkina remembers the days when the loud blasts of nuclear tests several hundred kilometres away frightened everyone.

A total of 456 nuclear tests were conducted at the test site over 42 years until Kazakhstan shut down the facility 20 years ago on August 29, 1991, making it the first country to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons.

"I was working in a medical institute, teaching chemistry. Almost every day, announcements on the radio at noon would say: 'Now there is going to be a test of nuclear weapons.' Everything would shake. The windows in my classroom were shattered by the shockwave from one of the blasts," Matushkina said.

On August 29, 1949 at 7 am, the first Soviet nuclear bomb -- named First Lightning -- exploded in the steppe of eastern Kazakhstan, throwing up a huge mushroom cloud and dumping vast amounts of radioactive materials on the 1.5 million people living in the nuclear impact zone, which is the size of Belgium. more

US, Israel concerned about Syrian weapons: report

The United States and Israel are monitoring Syria's suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, fearing that terror groups could take advantage of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad to obtain chemical agents and long-range missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

Citing unnamed officials from both countries, the newspaper said US intelligence services believe Syria's nonconventional weapons programs include significant stockpiles of mustard gas, VX and Sarin gas and the missile and artillery systems to deliver them.

United Nations investigators also recently concluded that Damascus had been secretly constructing a nuclear reactor with North Korean help before Israeli jets destroyed the site in late 2007, the report said. more

U.K. defense supply chain threatened

The supply chain for British forces in Afghanistan is at risk of failure because information technology equipment that manages it is inadequate, a Parliament committee has warned.

If the system broke down, troops in the field could be plagued by shortages of critical supplies within a month, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said.

The British Forces Broadcasting Service said the report pointed out that the risk of warehouse system failure was "extremely" high, so much so that the Ministry of Defense Logistics Board rated it as being in a critical condition.

"If these systems fail, then the result could be shortages at the front line within as little as 30 days," the report said.

The Ministry of Defense has spent more than $123 million to upgrade part of the IT system but a larger upgrade project won't be completed until 2014.

The committee expressed concern that funding for the program -- about $1.3 billion --could be endangered by defense spending cuts as the government struggles with the country's economic problems. more

Ben Bernanke realised printing yet more money would look desperate

Why didn't Ben Bernanke signal a third round of quantitative easing on Friday at the long-anticipated Jackson Hole summit?

After all, at the same event last year, the US Federal Reserve chairman made it pretty explicit another funny money missile would be launched.

After Bernanke's 2010 late-summer missive, and the resulting release of yet more "virtual money", equities surged on Western markets, the price of all "risk assets" rising by a third over the subsequent six months. By the time QE2 ended two months ago, the Fed had "expanded its balance sheet" by an astonishing $2,300bn since mid-2009.

During last year's Jackson Hole summit, Bernanke made it clear the biggest economy on earth would be fed another economic sugar rush. The Fed, he signalled, was "prepared to provide additional monetary accommodation through unconventional measures".

Friday's speech, though, spent almost no time discussing such measures. There was a cursory mention that the Fed remains "willing to act to promote a stronger economy" but only "as appropriate" and only "in a context of price stability". The overall impression was that America's central bank is now rather reluctant to reboot the virtual printing press, certainly compared with last year.

Why is this? The stated aim of QE is to bolster economic confidence and promote growth. Well, the US economy now looks far weaker than last summer. Just before Bernanke's 2010 speech, figures showed the American economy expanded an annualised 1.6pc during the second quarter. Last week's effort was presaged by much worse news – the second quarter of 2011 saw US annualised growth of just 1pc. more

BP can be sued for punitive Gulf spill damages: Gee whiz, thanks for the permission!

Thousands of fishermen and business owners in a multi-billion-dollar legal battle with BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have won the right to sue for punitive damages, in a fresh defeat for the oil major.

More than 100,000 individuals, companies and authorities have filed cases claiming they suffered economic loss as a result of the leak last year. A judge, Carl Barbier, is considering 500 cases, many of them class actions, against BP and its main co-defendants, including Transocean, the rig owner.

In a key ruling, Judge Barbier has now said that the plaintiffs are allowed to make their cases under maritime law for punitive damages. BP and the other companies had argued that a different law prevented complainants pursuing them in this way.

Punitive damages go beyond pure compensation for economic loss – they are penalties intended to punish an offender and deter repeat conduct. However, extreme negligence would have to be proven, which is strongly denied by BP and the other defendants.

Under the same ruling, the judge dismissed all claims brought under state law, saying they must be covered by maritime law. And in a victory for Anadarko and Mitsui, who were minority owners of the well which leaked 4m barrels of oil, the judge dismissed “general maritime negligence” claims against them.

In another development, hundreds of boat owners from the 3,000 hired by BP last year under a flagship scheme to clean up the Gulf Coast are likely to enter mediation over claims alleging they were left out of pocket . The “Vessels of Opportunity” (VOO) programme was set up with the dual purpose of providing employment for fishermen who had lost their income during the spill and helping to clean up the Gulf. more

Libya-UK trade may resume 'week after next’: That was quick!

British trade with Libya could resume at pre-war levels as early as next week, with both BP and Royal Dutch Shell hoping to renew contracts with the rebel-led National Transitional Council (NTC) “as soon as possible”.

Business groups, including UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Libyan British Business Council, have been in contact with the NTC and say they are monitoring the situation closely to determine when they can reopen trade links with the country.

Before fighting broke out against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, the UK had business worth around £1.5bn with Libya, predominantly in the oil industry.

In 2010, British exports to Libya were worth £377m, with imports peaking at £1.29bn. But after months of fighting in the north African nation, doubts had been raised about the future of bilateral trade between the two countries.

Lord Trefgarne, chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, which counts Barclays Capital and HSBC among its members, said trade between Libya and the UK had “stopped dead in its tracks”, but he insisted it would begin again “as soon as it is practicable”.

“We are in touch with NTC members and we would hope to be following up as soon as circumstances are right,” he said. “But first there needs to be a ceasefire, and of course Gaddafi has to be found and an interim government put in place. Looking forward, I am optimistic, but not for this week – maybe the week after.” more

Photo Gallery of Hurricane Irene: Americans evacuate their homes as state of emergency is declared

New York has declared a state of emergency as hundreds of thousands of Americans were told to evacuate their homes in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. Governor Andrew Cuomo gave the order which allows him to give state resources to cities preparing for the hurricane’s impact. Above, an image taken from onboard the International Space Station. The image, captured with a 38 mm lens, reveals the eye of the storm at centre of the frame. View the entire photo gallery here

Time to quit the gold party? Gold's value drops $170 in just two days

A fall of $170 in two days has made investors nervous. Does it mark the end of the bull run or a buying opportunity?

Gold's thunderous bull run came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday, raising questions about whether the precious metal is really the safe haven that investors believe it to be.

The price of gold had been rising sharply the amid global economic uncertainty triggered by the debt crises in Europe and America. Bullion reached a new high of $1,886.50 (£1,139) in London on Tuesday. But better-than-expected economic data and some profit taking saw $170 wiped off its value in a little over 48 hours. By the close of play on Friday, gold had recovered to $1,788.

So what's next for the price of the metal? Is the sharp correction a sign that its allure is fading? Or is the price fall an opportunity for investors who have stayed on the sidelines to join in the fun?

Despite the correction in the second half of the week, many observers say the price is likely to continue to rise over the coming months if the markets remain uncertain. Catherine Raw of BlackRock, the fund manager, said: "In the US and Europe the leadership has come under question in dealing with the spiralling debt crisis, meaning the market is unable to predict the direction of policy, particularly with respect to the financial system.

"This has the effect of increasing people's risk perception, which is not helped by the events in the Middle East and north Africa, highlighting the lack of stability globally." more

Warming of the Mediterranean Sea hampers the resistance of corals and mollusks to ocean acidification

Some calcifiers (mussels, gastropods and corals) protect their shell or skeleton from the corrosive effects of increasing ocean acidification. They can therefore resist some of the damaging effects of increasing ocean acidity generated by the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere through human activities. This resistance is diminished when organisms are exposed to extended period of elevated temperature (28.5°C). This is a result of an international study (1), co-led by Jean-Pierre Gattuso, research scientist at Laboratoire d’ocĂ©anographie de Villefranche (CNRS/UPMC), published in the journal Nature Climate Change. These results suggest that the ongoing and future warming of the Mediterranean combined with the rise of its acidity will increase the frequency of mass-mortality events.

The oceans absorb about one fourth of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released by the use of fossil fuel and changes in land use. This amounts to 1 million tons CO2 every hour and leads to large changes in the chemistry of seawater, including an increase in its acidity. This acidification threatens calcifying organisms, those that build shells and skeletons, such as mollusks and corals. more

Dying World: Time to Start Work on a Panic Button?

For two decades, the world’s governments have failed to meet their own commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas. As frustration builds among scientists, some of them have begun to argue for research on a potential last-ditch option in case global warming starts to get out of control. It is called geoengineering — or directly manipulating the Earth’s climate.

The idea sounds like science fiction, but it is not.

My colleague Cornelia Dean outlined the possibilities in this piece last year. As she reported, several methods might be used to cool the planet, though with potentially large unintended consequences. Perhaps the single most prominent idea is to scatter sulfur compounds into the upper atmosphere, mimicking volcanic eruptions and causing some of the sun’s light to bounce back to space. Other ideas include designing machines to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground or in the deep ocean.

Most scientists who support this kind of research are emphatically not advocating that geoengineering schemes be undertaken now, and most of them hope society will never reach that point. But they do want a research program to quantify the potential risks and benefits, so that future political leaders will have some scientific basis if they ever have to make decisions on the issue. more

Yemen navy foils suicide attack as chaos continues

Yemen's navy has foiled a suicide bomb attack on one of its warships off the coast of the Al-Qaeda stronghold of Abyan province in the south, the defence ministry said on its Internet site on Sunday.

"A small high-speed boat tried to approach one of our warships on Saturday at around 21:00 hours local time (1800 GMT)" off Abyan, navy chief Rear Admiral Ruiss Abdullah Mujawar was quoted as saying on the site.

The vessel continued on its course despite warning shots being fired, and "naval forces then fired at the craft, which sank along with its occupants," he said.

The defence ministry said the small boat had been filled with explosives, but gave no information on those thought to have been behind the failed attack.

Abyan is a bastion of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose militants have seized several villages since they occupied the provincial capital of Zinjibar at the end of May.

The most infamous Al-Qaeda sea-borne suicide attack in Yemen was on October 12, 2000 and targeted the warship USS Cole in Aden, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 38. more

PBS: "Top Secret America" Sneak Peak -- The underground world you have no idea exists

Worry more about Irene's water than storm's wind

Forget the wind and fury. Hurricane Irene's most worrisome weapon is water.

There's just way too much of it: storm surge pushing seawater ashore and heavy rainfall causing flooding. That's not unusual with hurricanes, but with Irene there are a couple of added factors that are making meteorologists nervous.

This massive, slow-moving hurricane is forecast to soak an already drenched Northeast and may come ashore at a time when tides are unusually high, making storm surge even worse — 4 to 11 feet with waves on top, forecasters say.

"Water is the No. 1 killer," retired National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Friday afternoon. "That's going to cause the greatest loss of life." more

Thom Hartmann on Nuclear Power: "We Almost Lost Nebraska"

Breakaway Georgian region elects new president (Remember that war?)

The vice president of Abkhazia, Alexander Ankvab, won the presidential race in the breakaway Georgian region on Saturday, a victory that is likely to keep the territory in Russia's sphere of influence.

Friday's polls, which Tbilisi says were illegitimate, were called after President Sergei Bagapsh died in May.

According to the Central Election Commission, Ankvab won 54.86 percent of the votes. The runners-up were Prime Minister Sergei Shamba and former KGB agent Raul Khadzhimba, the most vociferous critics of Abkhazia's growing dependence on Russia.

Analysts had expected Ankvab, a former Soviet apparatchik and Moscow businessman, to win the election in the region of 200,000 on the Black sea coast.

Moscow recognised the statehood of Abkhazia and another Georgian rebel territory, South Ossetia, after a brief war in August 2008, when Russian forces thwarted Tbilisi's military attack on South Ossetia and pushed deep into Georgia. more

Convoy of senior Libyans crossed into Algeria -- Was Gaddafi among them?

A convoy of six armored vehicles that could be carrying senior Libyan officials, maybe even fugitive leader Moammar Gaddafi, crossed from Libya into Algeria on Friday, Egypt's official news agency reported quoting a Libyan rebel source.

The report said six armored Mercedes had Friday morning entered Ghadames, quoting a Libyan military council source in the town on the border with Algeria.

The source was quoted as saying the column had been escorted by pro-government troops until it entered Algeria.

An Algerian border official, meanwhile, said the reported crossing was unlikely as no such sighting had been reported by local residents. source

Inside Gaddafi's torture chamber: The bloodstained cells inside a former primary school used to brutalise his enemies (Real? Propaganda?)

The secret door in the corner of the nondescript office swung open and I was ushered through.

The walls were hung with pictures of Tripoli’s beautiful old city because the former primary school was serving as the headquarters of the historic buildings society.

But behind this innocuous facade lay scenes of horror. For this was where Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police kept watch on the traders and residents of the city centre – and beat them if they stepped out of line.

Ibrahim Rapti, a former professional footballer, led me through neat offices filled with files.

He told me of their shock as they discovered the intelligence centre, then learned that friends and neighbours had been acting as spies for the repressive regime. ‘We had no idea with some of them,’ he said.

I asked where they were now.

‘They have run away. Or disappeared.’ more

Survival instinct steers Myanmar generals towards reform: Another China in the making?

Rare overtures by Myanmar’s reclusive, authoritarian rulers towards liberalisation and reform suggest change could be afoot in the isolated nation.

The sudden stream of conciliatory gestures by Myanmar’s new civilian government has raised questions about the motives of the generals who only five months ago controlled one of the world’s most secretive, corrupt and oppressive regimes.

Diplomats, political analysts and many Burmese interviewed inside Myanmar say the retired generals brought back to power after a controversial election last year now appear to realize some moves towards reform could be the key to their survival.

Last week, President Thein Sein held an official meeting with and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winning democracy advocate who was detained for 15 years until released from house arrest last year. more

AP-GfK Poll: 87% in US disapprove of Congress

Americans are plenty angry at Congress in the aftermath of the debt crisis and Republicans could pay the greatest price, a new Associated Press-GfK poll suggests.

The poll finds the tea party has lost support, Republican House Speaker John Boehner is increasingly unpopular and people are warming to the idea of not just cutting spending but also raising taxes — anathema to the GOP — just as both parties prepare for another struggle with deficit reduction.

To be sure, there is plenty of discontent to go around. The poll finds more people are down on their own member of Congress, not just the institution, an unusual finding in surveys and one bound to make incumbents particularly nervous. In interviews, some people said the debt standoff itself, which caused a crisis of confidence to ripple through world markets, made them wonder whether lawmakers are able to govern at all.

"I guess I long for the day back in the '70s and '80s when we could disagree but we could get a compromise worked out," said Republican Scott MacGregor, 45, a Windsor, Conn., police detective. "I don't think there's any compromise anymore." more

An AAA rating for the US isn't likely soon, may be cut to AA within two years: S&P

Standard & Poor's said it was an "oversimplification" to blame its stripping the US of the top AAA sovereign rating for recent market volatility, adding that many investors agreed with its action. Markets were also responding to a weaker global growth outlook, David Beers, global head of sovereign and international public finance ratings at S&P , told reporters in Singapore today.

The company is untroubled by dissenting views on its decision, he said in response to questions. His comments follow criticisms by investors including Warren Buffett, the world's most successful investor, who said that the US should be "quadruple-A " and the decision doesn't reflect any inability of the US to pay its debts.

The market value of global stocks plunged by $2.5 trillion on the first trading day after S&P on Aug. 5 cut the US by one level to AA+, citing the political failure to reduce record deficits. "It's at the very least an oversimplification to say that all this is happening because of S&P's change of opinion," Beers said. Amid evidence of slowing world economy, "markets digesting all these news have concluded that the near-, perhaps medium-term, outlook for global growth has become less certain. This was all happening before the downgrade and has continued after some of the noise around the downgrade," Beers said. more

Tropical Storm Jose forms near Bermuda

Tropical Storm Jose formed near Bermuda on Sunday, becoming the 10th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, U.S. forecasters said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jose was 75 miles southwest of Bermuda and moving northward over the central Atlantic Ocean. It posed no threat to the U.S. coast or to energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm was packing top sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and little change in strength was expected over the next 24 hours, the hurricane center said.

It said tropical storm conditions were expected on Bermuda, where Jose could dump up to 3 inches of rain. But the storm was forecast to lose strength on Monday before dissipating as it takes a projected north-northeast track further out to sea.

Jose formed near the British territory as Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, closed in on New York City after churning its way up the U.S. East Coast from North Carolina, where it made landfall on Saturday.

Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm on Sunday morning as it pelted the New York region with driving winds and rain.

Weather watchers were also keeping an eye on Sunday on a cluster of showers and thunderstorms associated with a tropical wave a few hundred miles (km) south-southwest of the Cape Verde islands off West Africa. more

Dozens Killed In Bomb Attack On Baghdad Mosque

A suicide bomber has killed 28 people and wounded 37 others at a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad, according to reports.

The attack on the Um al-Qura mosque in the Al-Jamiaah district happened at 9.40pm during prayers.

The blue-domed building is the largest Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

Officials said Khalid al-Fahdawia, a leading member of the Iraqi parliament, was among the dead.

The bomber blew himself up as worshippers were praying during a special service in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ends on Tuesday.

Observers say the attack again demonstrates the need to boost security measures to protect Iraqis as US forces prepare to leave the country.

The attack was similar to one in 2006 on a Shiite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra that sparked widespread sectarian violence and brought Iraq to the brink of civil war. more

Lower Manhattan flooded as the eye of Irene bears down on New York - but heart of city escapes hurricane's devastating wrath - 28th Aug 2011

Manhattan appears to have escaped the worst of Hurricane Irene, with deserted city streets already drying off from amounts of rain and wind far less extreme than expected.

After hundreds of thousands fled in anxious anticipation this weekend, Irene arrived last night as more of a heavy thunder storm than a devastating hurricane.

In the city, projected winds of 75mph hit at closer to 40mph and while streets in lower Manhattan briefly flooded, the water has already receded.

As rain swept the streets this morning, Manhattan was turned into a ghost town. By mid-morning, the city itself was, however, largely unaffected by the huge problems faced elsewhere.

About 200,000 New Yorkers have been left without power, but they are mainly residents on Staten Island, Queens and the outer suburbs. Read More

Libya rebels say won't extradite Lockerbie bomber - 28th Aug 2011

Libya will not extradite Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing, a minister in Libya's rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) said on Sunday.

"We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West," Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli. The NTC is the de facto government of Libya's rebel movement.

"Al-Megrahi has already been judged once and he will not be judged again ... We do not hand over Libyan citizens. (Muammar) Gaddafi does."

Megrahi, who had been diagnosed with cancer, served eight years in a Scottish prison for orchestrating the bombing of the Pan Am passenger plane which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 killing 270 people. He was released in 2009 on compassionate grounds after doctors gave him only months to live.

Megrahi's release angered politicians in the United States -- where many of the victims of the bombing came from. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron later said the decision by Scotland's justice minister was a mistake. Read More

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New Jersey governor Christie expects storm damage in billions

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Sunday that he expects damages from Hurricane Irene to run into the billions of dollars along the state's Atlantic coast and from inland river flooding.

"I've got to imagine that the damage estimates are going to be in the billions of dollars, if not in the tens of billions of dollars," Christie said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

He said state damage assessments along the coast would begin Sunday afternoon but that inland damage may not become obvious until river flooding subsides as late as Tuesday. source

New York economy takes huge hit from Hurricane Irene as city stands deserted on one of year's biggest tourist weekends

New York is deserted today on what should be one of its busiest weekends for tourism of the year, as businesses count the cost of a four-day city shutdown after Hurricane Irene forced people indoors.

But it might have been worse for New York City, as a direct hit by the damage-wreaking hurricane could have cost it up to $35billion in damage and increased the chance of a double-dip recession.

A hurricane hitting at around 100mph would have flooded the subway system and acres of pricey real estate on Manhattan and other boroughs - as well as costing the city half of its annual budget.

The city would have required state and federal assistance and recession fears would have been heightened from a damage response cost of around one per cent of the total U.S. output.

One possible scenario was that the hurricane came ashore 50 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island, which would have caused around $10billion in damage, reported the New York Times.

If an even stronger storm with speeds of at least 111mph was to have directly hit Manhattan it could have caused $100billion damage, according to estimates. more

Joe Biden Golfed in Hours Preceding Hurricane

Delaware was pounded by Hurricane Irene on Saturday night, but Vice President Biden got in one last round of golf in his home state before the heavy stuff started coming down, Fox News has learned.

Biden played golf at a Wilmington-area course on Saturday morning, according to two sources familiar with his schedule.

Asked directly whether Biden played golf on Saturday, Biden's office would not comment to Fox News.

Biden's official schedule released Friday showed him spending down time at home in Wilmington after a 10-day official trip to Asia.

Later on Saturday with gusts of wind measuring up to 58 mph in one part of the state, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell ordered "driving restrictions" statewide, according to Delaware Online.

While driving a golf ball may not have been restricted, Markell decided to ban non-emergency driving of vehicles starting at 6 p.m. ET in Sussex County, along the coast. The same restrictions applied at 8 p.m. in Kent County and 10 p.m. in New Castle County.

Around the time that Biden was reported to be playing golf, President Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington for a high-level briefing on preparations for the storm that is slamming the East Coast of the nation. more

England Riots 2011: Rioters Show no Remorse for Their Actions, Society Break Down or Lame Excuse?

It is becoming abundantly clear that the rioters that took hold of the streets of Birmingham, London and Manchester two weeks ago show little remorse for their criminal behaviour.

The actions of the rioters across England have destroyed people's livelihoods, their homes and the confidence of the communities that could no doubt see businesses leave the areas affected. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the longer term effects of the riots will be falling house prices in the areas that were the focus of media attention as well as some areas becoming abandoned. Can anyone really blame shop keepers for not wanting to open new businesses in any of the areas affected across London and England?

It is clear that the rioters have shown no care for what they have done to the communities they live in. On Thursday, the BBC's Newsnight programme spoke to some of the rioters that were involved in the disturbances in Salford and Manchester and their responses were clear. They take no responsibility for their actions and they took whatever they could get. more

US military spending: On the Edge with Max Keiser

"Why Democracies Will Always Go Bankrupt"

When I was growing up, finance was mother’s milk to me, especially as I was a bit of a math geek. But for my formal education, I was trained—rather rigorously, and in spite of my laziness—as a philosopher and a historian. This odd combination is why I have such a jaundiced view of economics: I don’t find economics particularly intimidating, or even particularly challenging—it’s just finance’s snooty but poor (and slightly daft) older cousin. History’s surprisingly ignorant and blinkered accountant. Philosophy and Math’s lightly retarded, Puritanically rigid, and altogether rather embarrassing spawn.

Now, it’s all good and fine for me to rant about how useless economics is—but these aren’t empty complaints on my part: I can point to a single, specific, monumental failing of economics—a failure in the discipline which pretty much proves my point:

The United States is going bankrupt—and economics cannot explain why.

In fact, a surprisingly large number of economists choose to ignore the problem of America’s looming bankruptcy altogether; or claim there is something called a “structural deficit” (a highfalutin way of pretending that it cannot be fixed, and therefore doesn’t need fixing); or else—as is the case of the fools backing Modern Monetary Theory—they make the claim that all deficits are just debts the government owes itself, so therefore the American government cannot go broke, so therefore—and let’s ring out the QED—the fiscal over-indebtedness is actually not a problem because it doesn’t even actually exist!

They really do claim that. And no, they are not high. more

Economic growth stalls amidst debt crisis, austerity

A new batch of economic figures released this week confirms a renewed economic downturn, amidst an intensified assault on jobs and living conditions internationally.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the gross domestic product of its member countries grew by only 0.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, dropping from 0.3 percent in the first quarter.

Growth has slowed for four consecutive quarters, hitting the lowest level in two years.

The OECD’s 34 members include the UK, Russia, Japan, Canada, the United States and most countries in the Eurozone. Most of the member nations separately announced their growth figures earlier this month. German economic growth all but collapsed, expanding only 0.1 percent in the second quarter, compared to 1.3 percent in the first.

The Japanese economy shrank 0.3 percent, after contracting .9 percent in the first quarter. The French economy stopped growing completely, after an expansion of 0.9 percent. The United Kingdom grew just 0.2 percent, after expanding 0.5 percent in the first quarter.

Three years after the financial crash of 2008, none of the problems that have plunged the world economy into a recession, resulting in the destruction of millions of jobs, have been resolved. The bailout of the financial system has transferred the bad assets of the banks onto government balance sheets, and the ruling class is responding through brutal austerity measures and intensified exploitation. more

UN Warns of Plight of Millions of Stateless People in the World

The United Nations has warned that about 12-million people across the world have no citizenship of any country and consequently suffer from a denial of basic human rights.

The problem is growing worse because children of stateless parents are themselves stateless.

The UN said the problem is most acute in South East Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Without citizenship or permanent resident papers, stateless people are vulnerable to a large number of problems – for example, they’re often restricted from owning property, getting legally married or opening up a bank account. In worse cases, the stateless can be detained indefinitely since they cannot prove who they are or where they come from.

Prominent stateless people include the Rohingya people of Burma. An ethnic Muslim minority, thousands of Rohingya have fled brutality and oppression in Burma for neighboring Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh seeks to deport them back to Burma. more

Rise of strict Islam exposes tensions in Malaysia: Faith or police state?

Muslim women without headscarves are a common sight on the streets of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

But engaging them in a discussion about the hijab is difficult.

Norhayati Kaprawi is a Malaysian activist whose recent documentary Aku Siapa (Who Am I) deals with the issue of how women in Malaysia should dress. She found some women unwilling to show their faces in her film - not on religious grounds, but because they feared reprisals.

This is a damning reflection on Malaysia's Muslim society, says Ms Norhayati.

"It's full of fear. If you don't follow the mainstream you will be lynched."

According to the activist, the pressure to wear the hijab grew after the Iranian revolution in 1979, and it is now the most visible sign of Malaysia's rising Islamic fundamentalism.

Muslims account for over half the population of 28 million people and are mainly ethnic Malays. Malaysia often prides itself on being a moderate Muslim nation, which allows other religions freedom of worship.

And while there are no laws forcing women to wear the hijab, Ms Norhayati says many Muslims feel compelled. more

Subterranean Amazon river 'is not a river'

A subterranean river said to be flowing beneath the Amazon region of Brazil is not a river in the conventional sense, even if its existence is confirmed.

The "river" has been widely reported, after a study on it was presented to a Brazilian science meeting last week.

But the researchers involved told BBC News that water was moving through porous rock at speeds measured in cm, or inches, per year - not flowing.

Another Brazilian expert said the groundwater was known to be very salty.

Valiya Hamza and Elizabeth Tavares Pimentel, from the Brazilian National Observatory, deduced the existence of the "river" by using temperature data from boreholes across the Amazon region.

The holes were dug by the Brazilian oil company Petrobras in the search for new oil and gas fields, and Petrobras has since released its data to the scientific community.

Chinese writers demand more book translations

More Chinese books need to be translated and more thought-provoking ideas need to be used in novels to elevate China's literary standing in the world, some of the country's top writers said Friday.

Speaking to promote China's top literary award — the Mao Dun Literature Prize — the authors said modern Chinese literature stil does not attract many Western readers despite the country's global economic presence.

"Chinese people's knowledge of Western authors still far outweighs Westerners' knowledge of Chinese authors," said Liu Xinglong, author of the winning book, "Heavenly Mission," about the perseverance of teachers in poverty-stricken rural areas of China.

"Any Chinese home with a bookshelf is likely to have translations of English books, whereas, this would not be the case of Chinese books in homes in the West," Liu said. more

Indian anti-graft activist Anna Hazare breaks fast after parliament backing

An Indian anti-corruption activist ended his hunger strike Sunday, a day after parliament resolved to accept his demands to tackle chronic corruption in the country.

Anna Hazare, 74, has been fasting since August 16 to press for the creation of a powerful anti-corruption institution called the Lokpal.

He ended his hunger strike by sipping what appeared to be fruit juice from a steel tumbler.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday wrote a letter to Hazare, relaying parliament's resolution on the 12th day of his hunger strike.

After receiving the letter, the activist described the legislature resolve as a "people's victory." more

Typhoon reaches Taiwan after killing 7 in Philippines

Typhoon Nanmadol reached the southern coast of Taiwan early Sunday, according to the Central Weather Bureau there, after killing at least seven people in the Philippines.

The slow-moving storm is projected to head directly over Taiwan before turning toward mainland China.

Nanmadol, known locally as Mina, triggered a landslide in northern Philippines on Saturday, killing at least two children, authorities said.

The landslide buried the victims in Pangasinan province, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The victims, a 6-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, were buried under mud for about two hours, the disaster council said.

Five other people were killed in different incidents, 10 people were injured, and six remain missing, the council said in a statement.

It made landfall in Cagayan province in the northern part of Luzon late Saturday morning.

More than 100,000 people across 11 provinces have been affected, and many were without electricity, the disaster council said. more

Why Oscar Pistorius deserves to run in the 2012 London Olympic Games

A man born without functioning legs ran the 400 meters in 45.07 seconds on July 19, 2011, the fastest time recorded by an amputee. The ripple effects of this historic achievement may initiate a paradigm shift in how we view our bodies.

That's because any time under 45.25 seconds is good enough to earn a spot in the London Olympics next summer, and the July race qualified 24-year-old Oscar Pistorius to represent the South African track team in the World Championships in Athletics starting Sunday with the 400 meter heats in Daegu, South Korea.

Pistorius will need to run one more time under 45.25 seconds in the first half of 2012 before finally earning his spot in the Olympics, and at this point most observers believe he will make it.

The Olympics was a dream painfully deferred in 2008 when Pistorius missed his qualifying time for Beijing by 0.7 seconds after finally winning out in a drawn-out battle of physiology experts. The International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field sports, ultimately agreed to overturn its own 2007 decision disqualifying Pistorius and his prosthetic legs.

The IAAF's 2007 statement that prosthetic legs would sully the "purity" of sport was based on flawed research by the German Sport University Cologne that found Pistorius needed less energy to run than did athletes on normal legs. But the German testing failed to take into account such basics of sprinting physiology as the importance of anaerobic metabolism. The bulk of the energy used in a 400 meters is burned without the aid of oxygen, says Hugh Herr, an MIT scientist who helped school the IAAF. more

Kids 'Caught Stealing While Mum Looks On' -- And we wonder why our society gets worse and worse

Two children, aged four and six, have been filmed apparently shoplifting while being encouraged by their mother.

CCTV footage appears to show the girl jumping onto a fridge in Muskars newsagent on Dale Street, Liverpool, and moving small cans of an energy drink to get at a larger one.

Her mother was apparently at the door of the shop, guiding her.

The pictures also seem to show the boy helping himself to cereal bars before the pair ran out of the shop.

Shopkeeper Sammi Mohammed said: "I fear for the future of these kids.

"If they are shoplifting at four and six, what do you expect they are going to be like in the future?"

He said he was shocked when he saw the children.

"Parents should be setting a good example to their children," Mr Mohammed added. source

When will we ever learn the lessons of hurricanes?

As I write this, Hurricane Irene is on its way up the U.S. East Coast and, if the storm follows the current path projections, one thing is certain. Many buildings are soon to be destroyed -- perhaps numbering in the hundreds - and thousands more will be damaged.

Dozens of artificial beaches -- nourished beaches that cost millions of dollars per mile -- will be narrowed and some will disappear altogether including possibly some that are a few months old like the new beach at Nags Head, North Carolina.

Beachfront roads, like segments of Highway 12 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, are likely to be wiped out. Sea walls will be damaged or destroyed along the East Coast from north Florida up and lots of sand and debris will cover the streets of larger coastal towns such as Virginia Beach.

A number of small communities along estuarine shorelines of the Carolinas are sure to be flooded. If Irene continues up the coast to New Jersey and even New England the damage will be even more impressive.

Unfortunately some people will die. State emergency officials on the North Carolina Outer Banks efficiently evacuate tourists, but local, year round people often stay. The refrain is that "we've been through this before." This however, may not be the case with this storm, as large and slow moving as it is. more

Virginia quake a wake-up call for Eastern U.S.

The East Coast of the United States was shaken up by a moderate earthquake on Tuesday that was felt from Maine to Florida, Virginia to Illinois. On TV we saw people run out of buildings, thinking it might be a terrorist attack. Social media was buzzing with comments and testimonies.

Although seismologists, historians and emergency managers have recognized the potential for an earthquake along the East Coast for years, most people were caught by surprise and so responded inappropriately. The ground doesn't shake as much in the East as it does in California, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. But because of the great concentration of population and infrastructure in the East, it's an area of immense risk.

Since earthquakes are infrequent in this region, most people don't know earthquake preparedness measures. Instead of running out of buildings, they should have dropped, covered and held on. Earthquakes are natural phenomena that become disasters when we don't prepare adequately -- or are not educated in proper measures.

The 2004 tsunami is an example of a rare event catching people unprepared, with catastrophic results. In December of that year, more than 230,000 lives were lost in countries around the Indian Ocean. Residents and tourists were taken by surprise -- they were not warned, nor did they recognize the natural signs. more

UK Royal Mail misses targets in half of UK postcodes

Up to a fifth of first class letters arrived late in parts of Britain over the three months to June, with half of UK postcodes missing their delivery targets as a result of Royal Mail cost-cutting.

The postal service said yesterday that almost 20 per cent of first class letters were delivered late in Guildford, Surrey, over the period. Kingston upon Thames and Stoke-on-Trent also saw severe disruption to their delivery services.

The organisation blamed its bad performance on “teething problems” relating to its cost-cutting drive, which has involved postmen having to learn new delivery routes and the closure of some sorting offices. It also said that a small volcanic ash cloud in Iceland in May impacted mail that had to travel by air.

Royal Mail missed its delivery targets for first class post in half of all UK postcodes over the three months to June, its poorest spring performance since 2004.

The postal service aims to deliver first class post the next working day, including Saturdays. However it said that it missed its target of delivering 91.5 per cent of first class post on time in 59 of the UK’s 118 postcode areas between March 21 and June 5. This is double the number of postcodes that it failed to deliver on time to last year.

Consumer groups said that Royal Mail needs to urgently improve its performance and that the performance was “disappointing”. more

Scientists seek a savior as a deadly fungal pandemic explodes through vulnerable bat colonies

When Donald McAlpine and his colleagues broke through a snow barricade at the entrance to a cave in New Brunswick this March, bat carcasses covered the floor. The biologists had been conducting winter surveys throughout the Canadian province for two years, monitoring the health of hibernating bats. As of early winter, all appeared healthy. But now hosts of corpses lay shrouded in a pale fungus.

Dreaded white-nose syndrome — a virulent fungal infection — had clearly arrived.

McAlpine’s team, from the New Brunswick Museum in St. John, estimated that 1,200 of the cave’s 6,000 bats were dead. Within a month after the discovery, the body count mushroomed to more than 5,000 among this, the province’s largest known collection of hibernating bats.

The researchers immediately alerted the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre, which sent out word asking scientists and the public throughout eastern Canada to watch for bats that were dead or acting unusual, such as flying during the day. Hugh Broders of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, also found dead bats this spring, sending them to the health center’s office on Prince Edward Island. There, a pathologist confirmed that white-nose syndrome had officially reached Nova Scotia as well. more

State Department review to find pipeline impact ‘limited,’ sources say: How can that be true?

The State Department will remove a major roadblock to construction of a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas when it releases its final environmental assessment of the project as soon as Friday, according to sources briefed on the process.

The move is critical because it will affirm the agency’s earlier finding that the project will have “limited adverse environmental impacts” during construction and operation, according to sources familiar with the assessment who asked not to be identified because the decision has not been made public.

The department will have to conduct one more assessment — of whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the “national interest” — before making a final permit decision by the end of the year.

The proposed TransCanada pipeline, which could transport as much as 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada’s “tar sands” or “oil sands” fields in Alberta has strained President Obama’s relationship with his environmental base and become a proxy for the broader climate debate. Protesters from across the country have gathered daily in front of the White House since Saturday, resulting in 275 arrests so far.

Oil sands contain a viscous oil called bitumen in formations of sand, clay and water, and to extract it, companies expend more energy and water than they do to tap other crude deposits. Unlike conventional oil drilling, exploiting these resources is more like strip mining and requires tearing up large stretches of forests in northern Canada.

Canada’s environmental ministry issued a reportlast month predicting that tar sands production will double in the next decade, causing greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector to increase by a third between 2005 and 2020. more

Arctic sea routes open as ice melts

Two major Arctic shipping routes have opened as summer sea ice melts, European satellites have found.

Data recorded by the European Space Agency's (Esa) Envisat shows both Canada's Northwest Passage and Russia's Northern Sea Route open simultaneously.

This summer's melt could break the 2007 record for the smallest area of sea ice since the satellite era began in 1979.

Shipping companies are already eyeing the benefits these routes may bring if they remain open regularly.

The two lanes have been used by a number of small craft several times in recent years.

But the Northern Sea Route has been free enough of ice this month for a succession of tankers carrying natural gas condensate from the northern port of Murmansk to sail along the Siberian coast en route for Thailand.

"They're often open at the same time in the sense that with some ingenuity you can get through them," observed Peter Wadhams, an Arctic ice expert from the University of Cambridge. more

Humanity knows less than 15 percent of the world's species

Scientists have named, cataloged, and described less than 2 million species in the past two and a half centuries, yet, according to an new innovative analysis, we are no-where near even a basic understanding of the diversity of life on this small blue planet. The study in PLoS Biology, which is likely to be controversial, predicts that there are 8.7 million species in the world, though the number could be as low as 7.4 or as high as 10 million. The research implies that about 86 percent of the world's species have still yet to be described.

The question of how many species exist has intrigued scientists for centuries and the answer, coupled with research by others into species' distribution and abundance, is particularly important now because a host of human activities and influences are accelerating the rate of extinctions," said lead author Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University said in a press release.

Estimates for life on Earth have varied widely, jumping from 3 million in total to 100 million, but the authors of the paper argue theirs is the most certain estimate to date.

"We discovered that, using numbers from the higher taxonomic groups, we can predict the number of species. The approach accurately predicted the number of species in several well-studied groups such as mammals, fishes and birds, providing confidence in the method," says co-author Dr. Sina Adl at Dalhousie University.

The team came up with the estimate by analyzes the 1.2 species listed in the Catalogue of Life and the World Register of Marine Species. more

Mosquito batch tests positive for West Nile: McHenry County

McHenry County Department of Health officials have confirmed that the West Nile virus is in the area.

A trap of mosquitoes in Woodstock tested positive for the virus, the health department said in a news release.

The last positive test for West Nile virus in McHenry County was last year.

The health department has tested 103 mosquito pools this year, but previously none had tested positive, the department said.

Twelve other counties in the state have reported positive mosquito batches and birds for West Nile.

There have been two human cases of West Nile, as well.

Illness from West Nile virus usually is mild and includes fever, headache and body aches, but serious illnesses, such as encephalitis and meningitis, and death, are possible.

People 50 and older have the highest risk of severe disease. more