Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Monday, August 29, 2011

Syrian forces 'kill six' in crackdown: Activists say many others wounded in fresh offensive amid reports of 'widespread defections' by Syrian forces

Syrian security forces have killed at least six people and wounded dozens in raids across the country, as tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into various flashpoint areas, according to human rights groups.

A child was among five people killed when troops and security forces opened fire during search operations in the Sarmin district of the northwest province of Idlib, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] said on Monday.

A sixth person was killed when security forces raided his home at dawn in the town of Qara outside Damascus during an arrest operation, the Syria-based Local Coordination Committees reported.

"There are many wounded because of the indiscriminate shooting in the streets," Rami Abdulrahman, the head of SOHR, said.

He said some 40 people, whose names were on a "wanted list", were detained.

Syrian forces have killed a former officer who played a key role in coordinating defections from the military, according to opposition activists.

There have been consistent reports of some units refusing to fire on protesters, but the crackdown has continued. more

China miners rescued after week-long ordeal (that goes unreported and uncared for)

Chinese rescuers have pulled 22 coal miners from their flooded pit after being trapped underground for a week.

State television showed the men being brought slowly to the surface on Tuesday with all apparently in good condition.

Hopes for the miners revived on Sunday after noises were detected through a 280m pipe that was drilled to allow fresh air into the illegal mine near the north-eastern city of Qitaihe.

The mine had been ordered shut in 2007 but was reopened without permission on August 16, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the provincial bureau of occupational safety.

Twenty-six miners were trapped on August 23 when workers broke through into an adjacent flooded pit.

Xinhua said three miners were rescued on Saturday and one body has been recovered.

China's mines are notoriously deadly, although safety improvements have cut annual fatalities by about one-third from a high of 6,995 in 2002. source

Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's newest leader, says he has just the style to handle a mess (Where mess equals nuclear, quake, tsunami, financial and societal)

Yoshihiko Noda, whose election Monday to lead Japan’s ruling party means he will become prime minister, campaigned for the job by comparing himself to the loach, an unattractive, bottom-feeding fish.

“My looks are not great,” Noda said, noting that few fall in love with a loach-faced leader. “If elected, I wouldn’t have a great support rate.”

But the pairing of a ruddy prime minister and Japan’s unbecoming political mess now seems fitting.

Noda, a fiscal hawk, called on Japan to take the uncomfortable but necessary steps that political infighting and meek leadership have long prevented. For Noda, 54, that means raising the consumption tax, reforming antiquated industries, and possibly joining with a rival party in a grand coalition.

Japan’s recent history of revolving-door leadership has led to a national skepticism that any of this can be done; none of Noda’s five predecessors lasted longer than 15 months in office. And none managed to shape policies to help Japan as its population ages, social security spending soars and the economy slides.

“But a loach has its own qualities,” Noda said. more

Drug war sparks exodus of affluent Mexicans

For years, national security experts have warned that Mexico’s drug violence could send a wave of refugees fleeing to the United States. Now, the refugees are arriving — and they are driving BMWs and snapping up half-million-dollar homes.

Tens of thousands of well-off Mexicans have moved north of the border in a quiet exodus over the past few years, according to local officials, border experts and demographers. Unlike the much larger population of illegal immigrants, they are being warmly welcomed.

“It goes counter to the conventional wisdom about the Mexican presence in the United States,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said. The influx “is positive, it is entrepreneurial . . . and one of the keys to a very successful growing city like San Antonio.”

Castro estimates that Mexicans own at least 50,000 of the approximately 500,000 homes and apartments in his city of 1.3 million, which has a vibrant Hispanic culture. Many are in gated communities that have sprung up in the city’s sun-baked northern hills. One neighborhood built around a country club has so many residents from the Mexican city of Monterrey that it has been dubbed “Sonterrey.”

“I’ve never seen so many Maseratis and Porsches in my neighborhood,” said Carl Bohn, a businessman who lives in what is formally called Sonterra, a tranquil development of homes with red-tiled roofs, palm trees, colonnaded entrances and backyard pools.

Affluent Mexicans have long visited the United States for business and shopping. What’s different now is that they are coming to stay, fleeing cartel wars that have left more than 37,000 Mexicans dead in four years, according to U.S. and Mexican officials and analysts. The number of investment visas granted to Mexicans has risen sharply over the past five years.

“It’s a very substantial flow; I would say probably the largest since the 1920s, the last great period of upheaval in Mexico,” said Henry Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio who served in President Clinton’s Cabinet. “We have whole areas of San Antonio that are being transformed.” more

Syrian unrest raises fears about chemical arsenal

In 2008, a secret State Department cable warned of a growing chemical weapons threat from a Middle Eastern country whose autocratic leader had a long history of stirring up trouble in the region. The leader, noted for his “support for terrorist organizations,” was attempting to buy technology from other countries to upgrade an already fearsome stockpile of deadly poisons, the department warned.

The Middle Eastern state with the dangerous chemicals was not Libya, whose modest stockpile was thrust into the spotlight last week because of fighting there. It was Syria, another violence-torn Arab state whose advanced weapons are drawing new concern as the country drifts toward an uncertain future.

A sudden collapse of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could mean a breakdown in controls over the country’s weapons, U.S. officials and weapons experts said in interviews. But while Libya’s chemical arsenal consists of unwieldy canisters filled mostly with mustard gas, the World War I-era blistering agent, Syria possesses some of the deadliest chemicals ever to be weaponized, dispersed in thousands of artillery shells and warheads that are easy to transport. more

Leader of Puerto Rico Senate says lawmaker Roberto Arango resigns days after explicit photos published

A Puerto Rico lawmaker has resigned following reports that explicit photos of him surfaced on an iPhone application for gays and bisexuals, the head of the U.S. territory’s Senate announced Sunday.

Sen. Roberto Arango, a Republican who represents the capital of San Juan for the island’s governing party, presented his letter of resignation after a weekend meeting, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said.

Schatz did not release the lawmaker’s letter, but said the circumstances that led to the resignation “are very lamentable.”

Local news media published photos from the application showing a man’s nude upper body with a cell phone obscuring his face. Another photo showed a rear view of a nude man on his hands and knees. Another showed a fuzzy image of a face that seemed to match Arango’s. more

Mataf expansion to accommodate 130,000 pilgrims in Mecca

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah was given a presentation on the new project to expand the mataf (the circumambulation areas around the Holy Kaaba).

The project, which will be completed in three years, will enable 130,000 pilgrims to perform tawaf (circumambulation) at a time.

Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari presented the project to the king during a reception at Al-Safa Palace in Makkah on Sunday in presence of Bakri Assas, president Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, and a team of engineers who designed the project.

Also on Sunday, King Abdullah received the annual report of King Abdul Aziz National Dialogue Center and emphasized the importance of dialogue. "It is the best means to achieve unity and cohesion among members of the Saudi society," the king said.

King Abdullah said the dialogue should be conducted following its rules and principles. "Differences will be there. It's the nature of human beings. If we conduct any dialogue without following its principles it would lead to chaos and confusion," the king pointed out.

He expressed his confidence in the unity of Saudi people. "Our country is strong because of the faith of its people in the Almighty, the national unity and the strong bond between its people," he said. more

Israel defense official: It would take more than one strike to halt Iran's nuclear program

Israel would not be able to halt Iran's reported quest for atomic weapons with a single strike, a senior Israeli defense official said on Sunday.

Israel and the West suspect Iran is trying to use its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons, a charge denied by Tehran which says it wants to generate electricity.

Both Israel and the United States have hinted they might consider taking military action as a last resort to stop Iran getting the bomb.

The defense official, who in line with Israeli army guidelines declined to be identified, mentioned Iran during a review of the security situation in the Middle East in a briefing to foreign reporters.

"We're not talking about Iraq or Syria where one strike would derail a program," the official said, referring to Israel's 1981 air strike that destroyed Iraq's atomic reactor and the bombing in 2007 of a Syrian site which the U.N. atomic agency said was very likely a nuclear reactor.

"With Iran it's a different project. There is no one silver bullet you can hit and that's over," the official said.

Israeli leaders have urged the United States and other Western countries to present Tehran with a credible military threat to back up economic sanctions already in place.

The official said the United States stood a better chance of forcing Iran to change its mind over its nuclear program than Israel. more

The Irene hangover begins: New Yorkers wake up to a hellish commute and an estimated $45bn bill after 'one of most expensive hurricanes in US history

She was expected to wreak havoc on Manhattan, wrecking homes, flooding cars and toppling trees as she roared across the city.

But while Hurricane Irene did not strike New York with the ferocity many expected, the city has been dealt a major blow nonetheless - the huge cost of a weekend of anxious preparation away from work.

New Yorkers woke up this morning to a hellish commute and the prospect of picking up the pieces after a weekend off which has cost the economy an estimated $45billion.

Although Manhattan escaped the worst as hundreds of thousands fled what turned out to be more of a heavy thunder storm than a devastating hurricane, at least 32 people have been killed by Irene.

As well as taking lives, Irene will also have dealt the U.S. economy a huge blow.

University of Maryland professor Peter Morici said up to $45billion of damage has been caused on the East Coast, factoring in physical damage and the loss of two days of economic activity.

Financial markets were expected to open as normal this morning, albeit with reduced volume. New York subways and air travel at major airports slowly started to resume service but there were expected to be delays and overcrowding and commuter rail services feeding the city from the north and from New Jersey were out indefinitely. more

Food-hit Somalia falls deeper into abyss

Somalia, a nation that has endured two decades of civil war, has fallen deeper into an abyss. This time the culprit is famine. The Islamist militia al-Shabab has prevented international aid from reaching the most needy and in some areas has prohibited people from fleeing. Still, tens of thousands of Somalis are on the move.

Their crops have dried up. Their farm animals are dead. Many Somalis have given up hope of remaining in their homeland. So they walk - a slow trudge, really - for days and days. Some have spent a month on the road. Along the way they rest under leafless trees.

The journey preys on the young and elderly. Some are carried with dignity by family and friends and carefully placed in desolate graves in white desert sands. Others are discarded on the sides of roads as vultures hover overhead. Life is still precarious for the survivors who manage to cross the border into Kenya or Ethiopia. Refugee camps are swollen with the hungry and the sick. International aid agencies are having trouble raising funds to assist Somalis. In a world consumed by other natural disasters and war, donor fatigue has set in, especially in a place whose name has become a synonym for anarchy. more

Ron Paul: Bernanke Is Out of Options to Save Economy

Chairman Ben Bernanke is not calling for another fix to the economy by the Federal Reserve because he's already used up all the quivers in the Fed's bow, Rep. Ron Paul said Sunday.

Paul is a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and supports the U.S. returning to the gold standard to protect its currency and force a balanced budget. He has been highly critical of the Federal Reserve and its chairman over plans for "quantitative easing," a two-part program which flooded the market with dollars in an attempt to make money more available for borrowing and lending.

Paul argued that Bernanke's plan to buy bank assets and drop more than $2 trillion into the economy did not yield the results the chairman hoped, a conclusion that Paul says Bernanke implicitly acknowledged during a speech last week in which he offered no new bailout programs from the Fed.

"He really hasn't pulled back. Symbolically, he has and he is not having another QE3," Paul said. "But he has maintained a (view) to keep interest rates low until 2013. You can't keep interest rates low without monetizing debt because if somebody else doesn't buy it, he has to buy it. So he's continuously quantitatively easing."

Paul said that artificially holding down interest rates was instrumental in the housing bubble that burst in 2007 and sparked the economic meltdown from which the U.S. economy is still trying to recover.

He said if government -- and its central bank -- stopped trying to bail out its friends, then the economy would soon return to normal. more

Ex-N.Y. TSA Agent Minnetta Walker Admits to Aiding Accused Drug Dealer

A former federal security officer has admitted helping a man accused of running a drug ring evade security and smuggle money through the Buffalo Niagara Airport.

Minnetta Walker was arrested in March. She admitted Friday in federal court helping the man get around airport security scanners, The Buffalo News reported.

Walker, 43, had been suspended from her job as a behavioral detection officer for the Transportation Safety Administration.

Also charged was the man accused of running the drug operation, Derek Frank. According to police, the 30-year-old Frank regularly flew from Buffalo to Arizona to buy marijuana, which was mailed back to Buffalo and sold.

He has pleaded not guilty in federal court.

Walker also admitted Friday to warning two of Frank's associates that agents were tailing them.

As a behavioral detection officer, Walker was trained to observe and analyze human behavior and had unrestricted access to the airport and its security stations. Sometimes, she'd direct travelers she appeared to know, including Frank, away from security lines where body image scanners or pat-downs might detect large sums of cash, and escort them to their gates so they wouldn't be pulled aside for random inspections, authorities said. She'd also alert travelers to the presence of undercover law enforcement officers, authorities said.

Investigators stumbled upon her behavior while monitoring the movements and cellphone calls of suspected drug dealers beginning about a year ago, according to court documents. more

Abortion is about money as well as morals

Forget the moral rights and wrongs. Forget, too, talk of a woman’s right vs a baby’s right. Britons should see abortion as a consumer issue. Then they ‘ll cheer Nadine Dorries MP for ending the monopoly enjoyed by some abortion providers. For years the Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire has campaigned to provide women seeking abortion with independent counselling; finally, the government has agreed.

About time, too. Until now, organisations that provide terminations were allowed to counsel women who sought advice before their abortion. These organisations are sometimes called “abortion charities”, because they offer women abortions free of charge through the NHS. But despite their “charity” status these are private providers who get £60 million a year from the Department of Health for their services. Given their vested interest in the procedure, you can imagine the advice they were giving the woman seeking counsel: go for it, girl. Or rather, get rid of it, girl.

Had this been the situation in any other section of the market, consumer groups would have been up in arms long ago. Imagine Big Pharma informing the public that their anti-malaria vaccine was the only one that worked. “Which?” and other consumer lobby groups would be waving placards and launching protests against the abuse of clients. more

"God save us from books with soundtracks"

The last bastion of silence in Britain has been breached. As today’s Telegraph reports, publishers are now producing the first “enhanced e-books”, where soundtracks are provided along with the text. The first one, The Adventures of the Speckled Band, a Sherlock Holmes story, came out last week, complete with driving rain, thunderclaps and blood-curdling screams.

Perhaps the most powerful advantage a book has over any other medium is in sparking and expanding the imagination. When you read, you fill in the gaps – your own internal soundtrack, how things look, how the emotions feel. Soundtracks are that much more prescriptive and precise, with little room left for your brain to improvise. Your own inner version of a scream may be that much more blood-curdling than the one laid down in the sound studio.

Eventually, if enough effects are added to a book, it stops being a book. Throw in a soundtrack and it becomes a radio play; add images on top, and it’s a film.

Booktrack, the people behind this venture, suggest that soundtracks improve literacy and something they call reader retention. Underlying that suggestion is the idea that books are essentially dull things that need to be given all sorts of bells and whistles to catch the attention of the ADHD generation.

Well, if people don’t want to read books, that’s their prerogative. But there’s no reason on earth why books should have to prostitute themselves as something shiny, gaudy and ultra-relevant, in order to please people who don’t like reading them in the first place. more

Ai Weiwei speaks of 'constant nightmare' in first article since detention by Chinese authorities

China’s maverick artist Ai Weiwei has spoken out directly for the time about his 81-day incarceration at the hands of China’s secret police, likening his experience to a Kafkaesque nightmare.

In an emotional article for the US magazine Newsweek, Ai, an outspoken critic of China’s government whose Sunflower Seeds filled the Tate Modern last year, gives a moving and lyrical account of his state of mind during his detention.

“You’re in total isolation. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There’s no way to even question it,” he wrote of the experience of being detained.

“You’re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It’s very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs,” he wrote.

Since being released in June, Ai has been living in his Beijing studio subject to tight controls, including being unable to leave the city without permission or give interviews to the media about his experiences.

Officially Ai, who was never charged, was investigated for tax avoidance. But accounts of his detention that emerged earlier this month suggested he had been arrested as a result of his championing of civil rights causes. more

Martin Green: "Give patients 'choice' over when they die"

Terminally ill patients who want to commit suicide should be able to receive medical help to die, a government adviser on care for the elderly has said.

Martin Green, a dementia expert for the Department of Health, said patients who were too frail to take their own lives were being denied “choice” and “autonomy” because assisted suicide is illegal in the UK.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he urged ministers to review the law and suggested that a referendum or a free vote in Parliament should be called to settle policy on the issue.

“If you’re going to give people ‘choice’, it should extend to whether or not they want to die,” he said. “If people have got the capacity to make an informed choice then it is my view that they should be allowed to make the informed choice.”

His remarks were welcomed by campaigners for a change in the law but will fuel concerns among disability charities and Christian groups who fear that legalising assisted suicide would put elderly and disabled people under pressure to end their lives.

Mr Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents nursing and care home groups, is one of the country’s leading experts on support for the elderly and has advised ministers on a number of key dementia policies. more

Perfect Storm of Hype: Politicians, the media and the Hurricane Irene apocalypse that never was

For the television reporter, clad in his red cagoule emblazoned with the CNN logo, it was a dramatic on-air moment, broadcasting live from Long Island, New York during a hurricane that also threatened Manhattan.

“We are in, right, now…the right eye wall, no doubt about that…there you see the surf,” he said breathlessly. “That tells a story right there.”

Stumbling and apparently buffeted by ferocious gusts, he took shelter next to a building. “This is our protection from the wind,” he explained. “It’s been truly remarkable to watch the power of the ocean here.”

The surf may have told a story but so too did the sight behind the reporter of people chatting and ambling along the sea front and just goofing around. There was a man in a t-shirt, a woman waving her arms and then walking backwards. Then someone on a bicycle glided past.

Across the screen, the “Breaking News: Irene Batters Long Island” caption was replaced by stern advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): “Stay inside, stay safe.”

The images summed up Hurricane Irene – the media and the United States federal government trying to live up to their own doom-laden warnings and predictions while a sizeable number of ordinary Americans just carried on as normal and even made gentle fun of all the fuss. more

Al Gore: Global warming skeptics are this generation’s racists

One day climate change skeptics will be seen in the same negative light as racists, or so says former Vice President Al Gore.

In an interview with former advertising executive and Climate Reality Project collaborator Alex Bogusky broadcast on UStream on Friday, Gore explained that in order for climate change alarmists to succeed, they must “win the conversation” against those who deny there is a crisis.

“I remember, again going back to my early years in the South, when the Civil Rights revolution was unfolding, there were two things that really made an impression on me,” Gore said. “My generation watched Bull Connor turning the hose on civil rights demonstrators and we went, ‘Whoa! How gross and evil is that?’ My generation asked old people, ‘Explain to me again why it is okay to discriminate against people because their skin color is different?’ And when they couldn’t really answer that question with integrity, the change really started.”

The former vice president recalled how society succeeded in marginalizing racists and said climate change skeptics must be defeated in the same manner. more

Copper Thieves Leave I-95 In Palm Beach County In The Dark

Copper wire thieves have left a 33 mile stretch of I-95 in Palm Beach County in the dark.

More than 175,000 feet of copper wiring needed for the overhead lighting has been stolen from 18 sites in the last four to six months. Last week, West Palm Beach police last week urged motorists to call them or the Florida Highway Patrol if they see vehicle stopped near light poles.

The problem is not limited to Palm Beach County. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has set up a website where law enforcement authorities in the United States and Canada can report thefts. The information is relayed to recycling plants within 100 miles of the incident. more

Heat-strapped Texas expects another power record

The Texas power grid operator said electric usage this week could break the all-time peak seen earlier this month and urged consumers to reduce power use to avoid rolling outages.

A brutal heatwave now entering its fifth week has strained the state's power generating supply and pushed power prices to record levels.

Extreme heat covering the state led to record weekend power use Saturday and Sunday as Texans cranked up air conditioners to cope with triple-digit temperatures and drought.

Houston, the state's biggest metropolitan area, hit 109 Fahrenheit Saturday and is forecast to see a high of 102 Monday. Dallas hit 106 on Saturday and is projected to hit 105 Monday.

That heat led ERCOT to set back-to-back weekend power use records as demand soared above 65,100 megawatts on Saturday afternoon, then hit 65,159 MW on Sunday, according to initial data posted on the ERCOT website.

That's very high demand for a typical weekday when schools and offices are open. more

We're all terror suspects now

I'm sitting in the expansive spaces of Renzo Piano's four-storey airport outside Osaka, sipping an Awake tea from Starbucks and waiting for my bus home. I've chosen to live in Japan for the past 20 years, and I know its rites as I know the way I need tea when feeling displaced, or to head for a righthand window seat as soon as I enter a bus. A small, round-faced Japanese man in his early 30s, accompanied by a tall and somewhat cadaverous man of the same age, approaches me.

"Excuse me," says the small, friendly seeming one; they look like newborn salarymen in their not-quite-perfect suits. "May I see your passport?"

When I look up, surprised, he flashes me a badge showing that he's a plainclothes police officer. Dazed after crossing 16 time zones (from California), I hand him my British passport.

"What are you doing in Japan?"

"I'm writing about it." I pull out my business card with the red embossed logo of Time magazine.

"Time magazine?" says the smiling cop, strangely impressed. "He works for Time magazine," he explains to his lanky and impassive partner. "Very famous magazine," he assures me. "High prestige!"

Then he asks for my address and phone number and where I plan to be for the next 89 days. "If there is some unfortunate incident," he explains, "some terrorist attack" (he's sotto voce now), "then we will know you did it." more

Disney factory faces probe into sweatshop suicide claims

Disney's best-selling Cars toys are being made in a factory in China that uses child labour and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law, according to an investigation.

One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses. Others cited worries over poisonous chemicals. Disney has now launched its own investigation.

It is claimed some of the 6,000 employees have to work an extra 120 hours every month to meet demand from western shops for the latest toys.

The factory, called Sturdy Products, makes toys for the giant Mattel company, which last month announced quarterly profits of £48m on the back of strong sales of Barbie dolls and Cars 2 toys. Sturdy Products, in the city of Shenzhen, also makes toys for US superstore chain Walmart. Among the brands produced are the Thomas the Tank Engine range, Matchbox cars, Cars, Toy Story, Barbie and Fisher Price products, Scrabble and the Hot Wheels sets.

The undercover investigation was carried out with the help of human rights group Sacom (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour), which helped to expose abuses in Apple's Foxconn plant in China this year.

Workers were interviewed away from the factory, and an investigator then spent a month working inside it to gather more information. He found evidence of the use of child labour and illegal working hours, along with concerns over the use of poisonous chemicals. more

David Schwartz seeking millions: Student's lawsuit says Webster University dumped him for "lacking empathy"

A former Webster University student who was studying to be a family counselor says in a lawsuit that he was dismissed from a master's degree program after it was determined that he lacked empathy.

The suit, which claims up to $1 million in losses and seeks at least $2 million in punitive damages, alleges the school dismissed him quickly rather than help him improve his empathy to complete the field work required for graduating.

The lawsuit was filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court last week.

Webster University declined to comment.

The student, David Schwartz, 44, of University City, had received all A's and only one C in his course work, according to a school transcript. But he was dismissed from the program on March 14 after he received a "no credit" for failing to successfully complete the practicum, in which he was to apply his class work to a real-world counseling setting.

Schwartz alleges in his lawsuit that he was deemed a poor performer after he wrote an anonymous letter to the dean criticizing a professor's teaching methods and noting the romantic relationship between that professor and an administrator.

Schwartz said in an interview that he had received favorable reviews on his performance until a Feb. 24 meeting with Dr. Stacy Henning, the director of counselor education at the university, who told him he needed to improve. more

Larry Powell: School superintendent gives up $800k in pay to save money

Some people give back to their community. Then there's Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell, who's really giving back. As in $800,000 — what would have been his compensation for the next three years.

Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns.

"How much do we need to keep accumulating?" asks Powell, 63. "There's no reason for me to keep stockpiling money."

Powell's generosity is more than just a gesture in a region with some of the nation's highest rates of unemployment. As he prepares for retirement, he wants to ensure that his pet projects survive California budget cuts. And the man who started his career as a high school civics teacher, who has made anti-bullying his mission, hopes his act of generosity will help restore faith in the government he once taught students to respect. more

Illionois sex offenders paid to baby-sit

Cornelius Osborne may not seem like baby-sitting material.

He was convicted of raping two women. A succession of felonies, from robbery to failing to register as a sex offender, repeatedly sent him to prison, state records show.

But over more than two years, the state paid Osborne nearly $5,000 to baby-sit two children, before his latest conviction — for dealing drugs — put him back behind bars.

Osborne, of Chicago, wasn't the only sex offender paid by taxpayers to baby-sit, according to a Tribune investigation that found cases of convicted rapists, molesters and other violent felons given access to children over the past decade. The money comes from a $750 million-a-year program that subsidizes child care for more than 150,000 impoverished Illinois families.

The state Department of Human Services poorly vetted baby sitters for years — and when a 2009 law forced better checks, it took nearly 18 months to start them, the newspaper's investigation of the Child Care Assistance Program found.

Also, despite the reforms, the Tribune found that even now the state lacks safeguards to weed out baby sitters who watch children while living in the homes of sex offenders and other felons deemed too dangerous. Based on those findings, the state is vowing further reforms. more

U.N. agency warns of possible bird flu resurgence

The United Nations warned of a possible major resurgence of bird flu and said a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus was spreading in Asia and elsewhere.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday urged increased surveillance and preparation for a potential outbreak of the virus, which it says has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them.

The virus was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006 after mass poultry culling, but since 2008 it has been expanding geographically in both poultry and wild birds, partly due to migration patterns, the FAO said.

"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flare-up of H5N1 this fall and winter," the FAO's chief veterinary officer, Juan Lubroth, said in a statement.

He said the appearance of a variant strain of the virus in China and Vietnam was a concern, because it appeared to be able to sidestep the defenses of existing vaccines.

The circulation of the virus in Vietnam also poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan, FAO said.

The latest human death occurred earlier this month in Cambodia, which has registered eight cases of human infection this year, all of them fatal, the agency added. more

Tripoli psychiatric hospital overwhelmed by war fallout

Tripoli's sole psychiatric hospital, already unable to cope under Kadhafi, struggled Sunday with a flood of new cases brought on by the revolution's battles, as well as a lack of drugs, staff and space.

"The situation has been bad for many years, but since two months it has become very bad," a doctor at the hospital told AFP, asking not to be named.

"We urgently need drugs, especially sedatives."

The sprawling decrepit complex looks more like a military barracks than a hospital and has been unchanged for 40 years.

Patients are held behind creaking metal-barred doors, asking to light cigarettes but forbidden from holding matches.

The hospital covers all of western Libya: a population of around three million people spread out over millions of square miles (kilometres).

"We've seen relapses, people who have been in remission for 10 years have come back" because of the war, said the doctor.

"We've also seen plenty of new cases, maybe 15 a day since the start of the revolution: post-traumatic stress (PTSD), acute stress disorder, psychosis." more

The dazzling Pac-Man Nebula powered by an open cluster of stars - 29th Aug 2011

This incredible cosmic image shows a nebula with an open cluster of stars inside it.

Described by Nasa as 'a busy workshop of star formation', NGC 281 is better known as the Pac-Man Nebula due to its distinctive shape.

It is powered by IC 1590, the open star cluster at its very centre.

These young stars, which generate the nebula's glow, have only formed in the last few million years.

The red shapes in this composite image are sculpted columns and dense dust globules seen in silhouette and eroded by strong, energetic winds and radiation from the hot cluster stars.

The brightest member of IC 1590 is actually a multiple-star system shining light that helps ionise the nebula's gas, causing the red glow visible throughout. Read More

Fast food shop destroyed in 2am explosion as bank holiday revellers make 'lucky escape' - 29th Aug 2011

Police have arrested six people after an explosion ripped through a kebab shop, destroying it.

Passers-by were 'incredibly lucky' to have not been hit by flying debris from the blast which rocked the building in Leicester at about 2am this morning (Monday), emergency services said.

A search and rescue dog was used to check for casualties but it is not believed anyone was in the shop at the time of the explosion.

Police launched a criminal investigation after confirming the cause of the explosion was suspicious.

Two men and four women have been arrested in connection with the incident and are being quizzed by detectives. Read More

5.6 Magnitude Earthquake VANUATU - 29th August 2011

A magnitude 5.6 earthquake has struck Vanuatu at a depth of 204.2 km (126.9 miles), the quake hit at 18:57:39 UTC Monday 29th August 2011.
The epicenter was 127 km ( 79 miles) Southeast of Santo (Luganville), Vanuatu
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

South Korean media highlight Noda's (Japan's New Prime Minister) 'far-right, militaristic view' - 29th Aug 2011

Major South Korean news outlets, commenting on the expected elevation of Japan's Yoshihiko Noda to prime minister this week, expressed concern Monday about Noda's "far-right and militaristic view of history."

Noda is "with a high possibility to visit (Tokyo's) Yasukuni Shrine as he holds a view of far-right, militaristic history (such as) Japan's A-class war criminals are not war criminals," Chosun Ilbo said in a dispatch from Tokyo.

The newspaper noted prime ministers and ministers under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan have not visited Yasukuni Shrine officially on Japan surrender day.

"Japan will unavoidably have diplomatic disputes with South Korea and China when Noda visits Yasukuni Shrine," which honors 14 convicted class-A war criminals along with the nation's war dead, the daily said.

South Korea and China see the shrine, which is mainly dedicated to soldiers who died during Japan's wars dating to the second half of the 1860s, as a symbol of Japanese militarism and have been highly critical of visits there by Cabinet members in the past.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet members avoided visiting the shrine on Aug. 15, the 66th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. Read More

Rebels to seek return of Gaddafi family from Algeria - 29th Aug 2011

Libya's de facto government considers Algeria's sheltering of members of fallen strongman Muammar Gaddafi's family an act of aggression and will seek their extradition, a National Transitional Council spokesman said on Monday.

"We have promised to provide a just trial to all those criminals and therefore we consider this an act of aggression," spokesman Mahmoud Shamman told Reuters.

"We are warning anybody not to shelter Gaddafi and his sons. We are going after them in any place to find them and arrest them," he said. Source

Khamis Gaddafi Killed in Air Strike According to Rebel Commanders - 29th Aug 2011

Rebel commanders say Khamis Gaddafi, one of Colonel Gaddafi's most feared sons, has been killed in an air strike 60km south of Tripoli.

He is said to have been in an armoured Toyota Land Cruiser when it was reportedly blasted off the road by a missile apparently from a Nato Apache helicopter.

Sky's chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, who is at the scene, said a man claiming to be Khamis' bodyguard confirmed that he had died in the vehicle.

The explosion incinerated the 4x4 and was so intense it set nearby trees on fire, Ramsay reports.

Claims about the death of Khamis - leader of the notorious Khamis Brigade - come as the Algerian foreign minister said the dictator's wife and three of his other children had now escaped to that country.

The rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), which is in the process of forming an administration to run the country, has said such sheltering of Col Gaddafi's family members was an "act of aggression". Read More

Eight children hospitalized after Knife attack at Shanghai day care, China - 29th Aug 2011

A day care worker in Shanghai attacked eight children with a knife Monday, sending five boys and three girls to the hospital with cuts on their necks and faces, Chinese state media reported.

The reports did not name the woman, but they said she was 30 years old and had worked at the kindergarten for the children of migrant workers for about three years and was under arrest.

All of the children are between 3 and 4 years old, state-media reported. Source

Adult children sue parent for "bad mothering" -- including giving a birthday card they didn't like

Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills, Ill., home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for "bad mothering" that alleges damages caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.

The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then 7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, "haggling" over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.

Last week, at which point the court record stood about a foot tall, an Illinois appeals court dismissed the case, finding that none of the mother’s conduct was "extreme or outrageous." To rule in favor of her children, the court found, "could potentially open the floodgates to subject family childrearing to ... excessive judicial scrutiny and interference."

In 2009, the children, represented by three attorneys including their father, Steven A. Miner, sued their mother, Kimberly Garrity. Steven II, now 23, and his sister Kathryn, now 20, sought more than $50,000 for "emotional distress."

Miner and Garrity were married for a decade before she filed for divorce in 1995, records show.

Among the exhibits filed in the case is a birthday card Garrity sent her son, who in his lawsuit sought damages because the card was "inappropriate" and failed to include cash or a check. He also alleged she failed to send a card for years or, while he was in college, care packages. more

Three years after Lehman, a new debt crisis looms

The F word is back. Back in the financial markets, back in the conclaves of central bank governors, back among the manufacturers and the high-street retailers. The four-letter word is fear.

Back in the spring, few imagined that we would be approaching the third anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers on 15 September with such a sense of unease. The belief in early 2011 was that economic recovery was now well enough embedded for central banks to start raising interest rates and for finance ministries to crack on with the job of reducing budget deficits.

Although pockets of optimism remain, the mood today is different. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has said the US central bank will discuss possible ways to stimulate growth when it meets next month. The Bank of England appears to be heading in a similar direction. There is anxiety at the International Monetary Fund that blanket austerity will tip fragile western economies back into recession. Concerns are once again being expressed about the health of the banks, about America's national debt and, above all, about whether the eurozone can survive its current crisis intact.

Standard Chartered and HSBC were the two UK-based banks to emerge relatively unscathed from the first financial crisis, partly because their global reach allowed them to benefit from the rapid recovery in Asia. This, though, is how the chief economists at the two banks see things.

"America is drowning in debt, Europe is imploding as problems in the euro area intensify, while, in contrast, Asia's economy is cooling, as growth rates moderate from a strong to a solid pace," says Gerard Lyons at Standard Chartered. Putting the possibility of a recession in the US as high as one in three and of an eventual euro crisis as high as one in two, Lyons adds: "It should be little surprise that there is increased uncertainty and heightened risk aversion across financial markets." more

More Bankers Feel the Sharp Edge of Recession: 60,000 Axed

Unless you are a multi-millionarie or even billionaire, you will be damaged by the coming economic collapse. I think those that thought they were Rich are quickly finding out they are not so...Charles

Article Begins...

Taking the cuts announced by ABN into account, the total number of banking sector job losses announced in recent months now exceeds 60,000 or roughly 5pc of the industry headcount.
ABN said 1,500 jobs would be cut through redundancies and a further 850 through natural attrition, costing the bank €200m (£176m) in restructuring costs, according to its financial results for the first half of the year published today.
Earlier this week, UBS confirmed speculation that it was to cut several thousand jobs, announcing the layoff of 3,500 staff, or which about 300 are expected to come from the bank’s London office.
All of Britain’s major banks, with the exception of Standard Chartered, have already cut or are cutting thousands of staff. Barclays has already cut 1,400 staff this year and plans to cut as many as 3,000 more jobs within the next 18 months. more

Jobs, ISM reports may spark more recession talk

Last month’s 117,000 expansion in nonfarm payrolls wasn’t even strong enough to meet population growth — and the August report may even be worse.

Economists polled by MarketWatch are expecting the Labor Department on Friday to report just 46,000 jobs outside of the farm sector created during the month.

If the consensus is anywhere near being correct, it would extend to four months a run of paltry job creation. And it’s this backdrop that is prompting President Barack Obama to deliver a major speech on Sept. 5 that in part will outline new initiatives to revive the flagging labor market.

The debt-ceiling negotiations and ensuing downgrade of the U.S Triple-A credit rating may have taken its toll, not just on sentiment but actual hiring.

“We worry that firms may have been slow to hire workers during the negotiations, particularly those that do business with government,” said Peter D’Antonio, an analyst at Citi.

David Resler, chief economist of Nomura, isn’t expecting any jobs growth at all, as he cut his estimate of jobs creation to negative 5,000, from a previous forecast of 100,000 growth. more

Between haves, have-nots, an ever greater gulf in Massachusetts: state's poorest make less than in 1979, new study finds, while upper incomes climb

Economic inequality has grown across Massachusetts, but no one has to tell Mindy Shoestock that.

Laid off several years ago from a $12-an-hour job as a housekeeping supervisor at a ski lodge, she took a job at a local McDonald’s, where she earns just $9 a hour. Cable TV and a phone are luxuries she simply cannot afford; some months she runs out of money to buy food for her two children.

“I feel like I’m going backwards,’’ Shoestock said, hot and tired after a recent shift. “Sometimes I feel like I work just to work.’’

Shoestock, 29, is part of a forgotten economy. While family incomes across Massachusetts have generally risen over the past three decades, the state’s poorest residents have fallen behind. And nowhere have they fallen farther than here in Western Massachusetts, where families in the bottom fifth of the income scale have seen inflation-adjusted earnings drop below 1979 levels, according to a new study by University of Massachusetts economists.

The study paints a stark picture of two commonwealths, in which the gap between rich and poor, east and west is growing. For example, the inflation-adjusted median income of affluent families in Greater Boston has grown 54 percent since 1979, to $230,000 from $150,000 a year, largely due to high-paying technology jobs. more

Where is the help for economic disaster area of North Adams?

I WONDER whether President Obama, vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, read last Sunday’s front-page story about conditions in North Adams (“Between haves, have-nots, an ever greater gulf’’). How would he react to the difficulties that single mother Mindy Shoestock has in feeding her two sons and paying monthly bills while earning $9 an hour as a shift manager at McDonald’s?

In North Adams the official unemployment rate in June was 9.7 percent. So what did the state do? It closed the local unemployment office. People in North Adams and throughout the country are facing an economic and social disaster.

When tornadoes hit Western Massachusetts in June, President Obama quickly called it a disaster area, eligible for federal funds. Republican Senator Scott Brown praised the Department of Labor for making $3 million available to create temporary jobs for storm clean-up and repair.

I guess the government will help if people are harmed by disasters that are “natural,’’ and result from no fault of their own.

Well, it’s no fault of Shoestock’s that a huge corporation such as McDonald’s pays her only $9 an hour. And the people of North Adams are not to blame for the banking collapse and this “Great Recession.’’ So, why not provide federal emergency aid to those facing social and economic disasters? source

Motorcyclist's neck cut by fishing line that someone might have stretched across road

Police are investigating after a male motorcyclist's neck was slashed when he rode into a thin wire on an east-end street Sunday afternoon.

The motorcyclist was on his way to work when his neck caught a line of wire apparently strung across Warden Avenue near St. Clair Avenue East.

Affan Rizva, a friend of the victim, said the man was able to stop and solicit assistance after the incident.

"He was bleeding everywhere so he pulled over and he called a few people for help," Rizva told CTV Toronto.

Emergency crews rushed the man to hospital where he was treated for a serious laceration and significant blood loss. Police said he is now in stable condition, but is having a difficult time speaking.

Initial reports suggested that the wire was a piece of fishing line that may have been strung across the intersection intentionally. more

Futuristic 'airships' to be built for North Canada

A British manufacturer will build a fleet of airships for Yellowknife’s Discovery Air to supply remote communities and enterprises in the North, the two companies say.

The futuristic giant blimps from Hybrid Air Vehicles will cost $40 million each, Discovery Air Innovations, a Quebec-based subsidiary of Discovery Air, announced after signing its agreement with HAV.

The aircraft use a mix of non-flammable helium and air power to fly and can land on almost any surface, HAV says on its website

They'll be able to carry up to 50 tonnes of cargo to mining camps and remote communities, HAV says.

Stuart Russell, the vice-president of a Yellowknife mining logistics company, suggests northern transportation is a challenge just waiting for solutions. more

Turkish airstrike campaign 'killed 160 Kurdish rebels'

Turkish jets bombed Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq in a series of air strikes last week which killed up to 160 rebels, Turkish officials say.

There has been an increase in attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on Turkey's army this summer, casting doubt on the chances of peace talks.

The Turkish military has said that it would monitor rebel activity in the region and continue strikes until the rebels were "rendered ineffective".

Artillery fire supported the strikes.

The strikes follow a deadly attack by the separatists in mid-August that killed nine Turkish troops and injured 14 in the district of Cukurca, in Hakkari province close to the border.

"Turkish air forces jets efficiently hit the targets of the separatist terror organization in Zap and Gara regions between August 25-28 in 21 sorties," a statement on the army's website is quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

Heavy artillery fire was directed at 38 targets "in coordination with the air operation", it said. more

Palestinian wounds seven Israelis in Tel Aviv attack

A Palestinian man has wounded seven Israelis near a Tel Aviv nightclub, ramming a car into a checkpoint and stabbing five people, police say.

The man drove a stolen taxi into the checkpoint, injuring two guards. He stabbed two other guards, two passers-by, and the taxi driver.

Attacks by Palestinians in Israeli cities have been rare in recent years.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions after attackers killed eight Israelis near Eilat earlier this month.

Israel blames Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, who crossed from Egypt's Sinai peninsula, for the series of attacks near the Red Sea resort on 18 August.

More than two dozen people died in the week of hostilities that followed, including leaders of Palestinian militant groups killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attacker in Tel Aviv was a Palestinian in his 20s from the city of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank. more

Bird flu fear as mutant strain hits China and Vietnam

Avian flu shows signs of a resurgence, while a mutant strain - able to sidestep vaccines - could be spreading in Asia, the United Nations has warned.

The variant appeared in Vietnam and China and its risk to humans cannot be predicted, veterinary officials said.

Virus circulation in Vietnam threatens Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, where eight people have died after becoming infected this year, they warned.

The World Health Organization says bird flu has killed 331 people since 2003.

It has also killed or provoked the culling of more than 400m domestic poultry worldwide and caused an estimated $20bn (£12.2bn) of economic damage. more

Trichet wants swift implementation of Greek measures as debt crisis deepens

European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet has called for swift action to help Greece.

He urged eurozone governments to rapidly implement the 21 July agreement, which allows for a second bailout.

His comments to the European Parliament's economic affairs committee echo those of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Swift implementation may be unlikely as legislators are just returning to work.

"The full and timely implementation of the July 21 agreement between heads of state or government is of essence," he said.

The latest problem for the implementation of the second bailout is that the government of Finland wants collateral for its fresh loans to Greece.

Talks were held between Finnish and German officials on Monday to find a compromise position, with both sides voicing optimism that the timetable could be met.

The EU approved a 109bn euro ($158bn; £96bn) package of aid for Greece in July as well as 50bn euros from private sector bondholders, who are being asked to agree to roll over some of their existing bonds. more

Rebels give Gadhafi loyalists ultimatum: Surrender or be "liberated"

Rebel fighters gave loyalists in Moammar Gadhafi's hometown a Monday deadline to disarm or face "liberation," an opposition spokesman said.

Thousands of rebels gathered Sunday on the outskirts of the fallen dictator's birthplace of Sirte, even as one of Gadhafi's sons offered to negotiate an end to the months-long war.

Gadhafi's forces have been ordered to disarm and allow rebel fighters to enter the city, said Ahmed Bani, a National Transitional Council military spokesman.

The ultimatum follows days of fighting and reports of negotiations between rebels and loyalists to surrender the city, east of Tripoli.

As rebel fighters moved to quash the last pockets of resistance, its government worked to move its political base from Benghazi in the east to Tripoli, the capital of the Gadhafi government.

France says its embassy in Tripoli was reopened Monday, and Britain says its personnel were preparing for a diplomatic presence there.

While the rebels work to consolidate their power, evidence emerged Sunday of atrocities allegedly committed by Gadhafi's regime in its waning days of power with the discovery of a warehouse full of charred bodies. more

Group urges Japan to delay school near crippled nuclear plant (Why does this have to be "urged"?)

An environmental group on Monday urged the incoming Japanese prime minister to delay the start of school near a nuclear plant crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami six months ago.

Fukushima city schools are scheduled to reopen Thursday.

The March 11 disaster triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, as cores overheated and spewed radioactive material into surrounding areas.

Greenpeace said the government's decontamination plan is lacking, adding that its team found average radiation doses remained high in areas decontaminated by the government.

Areas where local communities had conducted further cleanups contained decreased radiation levels, the group said in a statement.

"No parent should have to choose between radiation exposure and education for their child," said Kazue Suzuki, Greenpeace Japan nuclear campaigner. more

Eight children hospitalized after attack at Shanghai day care

A day care worker in Shanghai attacked eight children with a knife Monday, sending five boys and three girls to the hospital with cuts on their necks and faces, Chinese state media reported.

The reports did not name the woman, but they said she was 30 years old and had worked at the kindergarten for the children of migrant workers for about three years and was under arrest.

All of the children are between 3 and 4 years old, state-media reported. more

'Mine-golia': Across the steppes, new wealth emerges -- what will become of the environment, society?

On Oyu Tolgoi -- "Turquoise Hill" -- the biggest business venture in Mongolia is taking shape.

The copper resources aren't new to locals -- after all, for thousands of years locals dug out copper to melt down into things like arrowheads, CNN's Stan Grant reports.

But the massive Gobi Desert copper and gold mine -- a joint venture with foreign mining conglomerates Ivanhoe and Rio Tinto -- is expected to account for one-third of the nation's total economic output by 2020 and boost the average earnings of Mongolia by 60%.

The numbers are staggering. The development phase runs to nearly $5 billion. The mine is projected to produce to 450,000 tons of copper and more than 300,000 ounces of gold. Developers claim there's enough here to mine for the next 50 years or more.

Yet it's placing stress on an ancient nomadic way of life. more

If the Arab Spring Turns Ugly: Sectarian Violence and Civil War?

(click picture to enlarge)

THE Arab Spring is a hopeful chapter in Middle Eastern politics, but the region’s history points to darker outcomes. There are no recent examples of extended power-sharing or peaceful transitions to democracy in the Arab world. When dictatorships crack, budding democracies are more than likely to be greeted by violence and paralysis. Sectarian divisions — the bane of many Middle Eastern societies — will then emerge, as competing groups settle old scores and vie for power.

Syria today stands at the edge of such an upheaval. The brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is opening a dangerous fissure between the Alawite minority, which rules the country, and the majority Sunni population. After Mr. Assad’s butchery in the largely Sunni city of Hama on July 31, on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni group, accused the regime of conducting “a war of sectarian cleansing.” It is now clear that Mr. Assad’s strategy is to divide the opposition by stoking sectarian conflict.

Sunni extremists have reacted by attacking Alawite families and businesses, especially in towns near the Iraq border. The potential for a broader clash between Alawites and Sunnis is clear, and it would probably not be confined to Syria. Instead, it would carry a risk of setting off a regional dynamic that could overwhelm the hopeful narrative of the Arab Spring itself, replacing it with a much aggravated power struggle along sectarian lines.

That is because throughout the Middle East there is a strong undercurrent of simmering sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites, of whom the Alawites are a subset. Shiites and Sunnis live cheek by jowl in the long arc that stretches from Lebanon to Pakistan, and the region’s two main power brokers, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, are already jousting for power. more

China Moves Tibet Hardliner Zhang Qingli to Heavily Catholic Province: More persecution ahead?

The hardline Chinese official removed last week as Communist Party chief of restive Tibet has been made head of the province in the centre of contention over China's Catholics, giving him an influential role in another sensitive religious issue.

Zhang Qingli, who gained a reputation as an unyielding Communist Party secretary of heavily Buddhist Tibet, has been appointed party secretary of Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing, the Xinhua news agency reported late on Sunday.

Hebei, with a population of 70 million, is home to roughly a quarter of China's 8-12 million Roman Catholics.

Zhang, 60, was known for his tough stance against Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, a man reviled by China as a separatist. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk denies advocating either violence or Tibetan independence.

Zhang was in charge of Tibet in 2008 when protests in the regional capital Lhasa gave way to deadly riots that rippled across other ethnic Tibetan areas. After the protests, he rained insults on the Dalai Lama, calling him a "jackal in Buddhist monk's robes."

Zhang's new post will give him an influential role in China's relationship with the Vatican, which is in dispute with Beijing over control of church affairs, especially appointing bishops. more

China cleans up: Beijing tearing down schools for migrant children (for "developments")

The U.S. Military's Plan for London-Like Riots: "CONPLAN 3501 and 3502 will suppress the insurrection"

With British Prime Minister David Cameron authorizing the use of rubber bullets and water canons in wake of the turbulent London riots spreading through Britain, questions have been raised about how authorities in the U.S. would respond to a similar domestic disturbance threatening the nation's stability. According to National Journal's White House correspondent Marc Ambinder the U.S. already has a game plan in place. "If what happened in London ever happened in the US, the military has plans -- CONPLAN 3501 and 3502 -- to suppress the 'insurrection,' he tweeted. The mysterious reference to a numbered military plan generated a flurry of interest on Twitter as NPR host Michele Norris shot back:"I want to know more about the military's plan to suppress any potential 'insurrection.'-- CONPLAN 3501 and 3502????"

Interestingly, the CONPLAN (which stands for an "operation plan in concept format" at the Pentagon) Ambinder referenced is a popular subject among conspiracy theorists and critics of martial law. According to the public policy organization, CONPLAN 3502 is the U.S. military's plan for assisting state and local authorities in the event of a riot or major civil disturbance: "Tasks performed by military forces may include joint patrolling with law enforcement officers; securing key buildings, memorials, intersections and bridges; and acting as a quick reaction force."

It derives its constitutional backing from Article I, Section 8 stating that "Congress shall have power... to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions" and is rumored to have been activated during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, during the 1999 Seattle WTO riots and during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. But, according to Nate Jones at the National Security Archive, "because historic Garden Plot activity was classified and current activity likely remains so, it is difficult to discern exactly how many times Garden Plot was evoked." What jarred Jones upon looking at internal military documents, were the "indicators of potential violence," which were especially racially oriented: more