As Jobs Vanish, Food Stamp Use Is at Record Pace

Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.

But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 – to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.

The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps was higher after a recession in the 1990s, but actual numbers are expected to be higher this year.

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Subprime crisis hits governments

THE SUBPRIME mortgage crisis that pushed homeowners into foreclosure and forced the Federal Reserve to bail out investment banker Bear Stearns has also sent state and local governments across the country scrambling to refinance municipal bonds before they are hit with exorbitant interest rates.At the center of the storm are long-term variable-interest bonds known as “auction-rate securities.” Unlike traditional fixed-rate bonds, the interest rates on these securities are reset every 7, 28 or 35 days through an auction process.

Historically, the rate paid has been less than on traditional bonds, making the national $160-billion auction-rate market a reliable source of cheap financing.

But that market has collapsed in the past two months, sending interest rates climbing. As a result, California, Richmond, the Bay Area Toll Authority, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Sacramento County are among countless government agencies forced to restructure their bond debts.

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Iran’s Wheat Fungus: Coincidence or Biological Warfare?

 Global Research reports:

A dangerous new fungus with the ability to destroy entire wheat fields has been detected in Iran, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today.

The wheat stem rust, whose spores are carried by wind across continents, was previously found in East Africa and Yemen and has moved to Iran, which said that laboratory tests have confirmed its presence in some localities in Broujerd and Hamedan in the country’s west.

Up to 80 per cent of all Asian and African wheat varieties are susceptible to the fungus, and major wheat-producing nations to Iran’s east – such as Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – should be on high alert, FAO warned.

“The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk,” said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

He urged the control of the rust’s spread to lower the risk to countries already impacted by high food prices.

Iran has said that it will bolster its research capacity to tackle the new fungus and develop wheat varieties that are rust-resistant.

Called Ug99, the disease first surfaced in Uganda and subsequently spread to Kenya and Ethiopia, with both countries experiencing serious crop yield losses due to a serious rust epidemic last year. Also in 2007, FAO confirmed that a more virulent strain was found in Yemen.

Sure, maybe it was carried by the wind — and maybe the fungus was introduced by man. Not so much a conspiracy theory when history is taken into account. For instance, back in 1977, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the CIA dispatched “anti-Castro terrorists” to introduce “African swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971…. Six weeks later an outbreak of the disease forced the slaughter of 500,000 pigs to prevent a nationwide animal epidemic.” It was so scary that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization labeled the outbreak the “most alarming event” of 1971.

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Israel’s Defense Minister authorizes nationwide emergency drill

Barak authorizes nationwide emergency drill

Defense establishment, government and cabinet all to participate in exercise simulating crisis situation as part of upcoming national emergency drill to be held in April. Drill part of implementation of lessons from Second Lebanon War.

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25 Environmental Threats of the Future

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Forget genetically modified crops, the great environmental concerns of the future should be nanomaterials, manmade viruses and biomimetic robots.

So say researchers, policymakers and environmental campaigners, who have identified 25 potential future threats to the environment in the UK, which they say researchers should focus on.

In addition to well-publicised risks such as toxic nanomaterials, the acidification of the ocean and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the list includes some more outlandish possibilities. These include:

” Biomimetic robots that could become new invasive species.

” Experiments involving climate engineering, for instance ocean ‘fertilisation’ and deploying solar shields

” Increased demand for the biomass needed to make biofuel.

” Disruption to marine ecosystems caused by offshore power generation.

” Experiments to control invasive species using genetically engineered viruses.

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Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More

More fighting in Iraq. Somalia in chaos. People in this country can’t afford their mortgages and in some places now they can’t even afford rice.None of this nor the rest of the grimness on the front page today will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will spell the end of the Earth – and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely – though they have done some checking just to make sure.

The world’s physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Syria says ready in case of US military action

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Sunday that Damascus was prepared for all scenarios in its worsening relationship with Washington, including the use of US military force.

“A prudent person must make all his calculations, especially when we have to deal with an administration which knows how to strike but does not know how to withdraw,” Muallem told reporters at the end of an Arab summit in Damascus.

He was referring to Iraq where almost 160,000 American troops are stationed five years after invading the country to overthrow president Saddam Hussein. More than 4,000 US soldiers have died since.

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem chairs a meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in Damascus on March 27. (AFP/File/Louai Beshara)

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Mobile phones ‘more dangerous than smoking’

Brain expert warns of huge rise in tumours and calls on industry to take immediate steps to reduce radiation.Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take “immediate steps” to reduce exposure to their radiation.

The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks.

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Young people are at particular risk from exposure to radiation

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Pentagon Plans Expansion of US Special Forces

Since the start of the Global War on Terrorism, the Pentagon has taken steps to expand the role of the United States Special Operations Command and its forces. In response, the Command has transformed its headquarters to coordinate counterterrorism activities, while the Defense Department has increased funding and the number of special operations forces positions.

Although Pentagon plans to significantly increase the number of special operations forces personnel, the Special Operations Command has not yet fully determined all of the personnel requirements needed to meet its expanded mission.

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High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest

HANOI – Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export.The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.

Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days – meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs – drove prices on the world market even higher this week.

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Laser plane could destroy tanks from 10 miles

The United States Defence Department has developed a prototype of an aircraft armed with a laser gun that could destroy tanks 10 miles away.

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The laser weapon, shown mounted on a modified Lockheed aircraft

The weapon is capable of destroying targets up to 15km (10m) away, according to Defense Update online magazine.

The ten-centimetre-wide beam will heat targets almost instantly to thousands of degrees and will slice through metal even at maximum range. It is intended both for battlefield use and for missile defense.

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The weapon can also be fitted on a 747 aircraft to shoot down missiles

It is anticipated the beam will be adjustable, allowing the gunner to choose between, for example, targeting a vehicle’s fuel tank to destroy it utterly, or slice through a tyre to bring it to a halt without injuring the driver.

The laser will be housed in a rotating turret attached to the underside of the aircraft and will be aimed independently of the plane. Early tests have focused on testing the rotation of the laser housing.

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The laser is housed in a rotating glass turret, seen here on the front of the aircraft

So far the laser itself has not been tested in flight, but first trials are expected during 2008.

Tests on a laser for destroying vehicles will be carried out on the prototype based on the C-130 “Hercules” transport aircraft. A separate version of the missile will be trialled on a Boeing 747.

By Tom Chivers
Last Updated: 1:13am GMT 29/03/2008

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Big Traders Dive Into Dark Pools

The alternative trading systems are luring big institutional customers by offering greater privacy and lower costs. Their growth could affect big exchanges.It’s not easy being a big player in the stock market. Trading huge quantities of stock on traditional exchanges has become ever more challenging, costly, and potentially disruptive. And if other players see your moves, they can disrupt your trades. That’s led to the emergence in recent years of alternative trading systems known as dark pools. And their growth could have significant implications for big stock exchanges-and individual investors.

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A ‘hospital’ that’s run entirely by robots!

Washington: The new 5 million dollars medical and surgical simulation training centre located at the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center in East Baltimor, which opened in March, has some very unique new staff members – robots.

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The ‘sim’ centre contains two fully operational ORs, two intensive care units (ICUs), high-fidelity computerized mannequins that mimic physiologic and behavioural response to procedures, and 12 examination rooms where students practice routine exams on actors posing as patients with particular complaints and symptoms.

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Katrina Victims May Have to Repay Money

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Imagine that your home was reduced to mold-covered wood framing by Hurricane Katrina.

Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government-provided trailer that gives off formaldehyde fumes you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector announces that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

Thousands of Katrina victims may be in that situation.

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Nasdaq Gives High Rollers A Market Free Of Regulation

Nasdaq is set to launch tomorrow what its executives are calling one of the most significant developments on Wall Street in decades — a private stock market for super-wealthy investors.Minimum requirement for traders: $100 million in assets.

Any private firm can list on Nasdaq’s new platform, which is called the Portal Market, and raise money by selling stock to an elite group of shareholders. These companies would remain private and not have to make public their financial statements or submit to federal regulation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accountability law.

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U.S. spy agency seeks data on power grid

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) — The agency that manages data from U.S. spy satellites is exploring ways to map the nation’s entire electric grid as part of efforts to protect infrastructure.

(It’s all about controlling the infrastructure in the coming events, nothing else. – The Infinite Unknown)

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