Feb 28

Jamie Dimon, chairman of JP Morgan Chase, has warned American investors should be more worried about the risk of default of the state of California than of Greece’s current debt woes.

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce California’s $20bn deficit Photo: BLOOMBERG

Mr Dimon told investors at the Wall Street bank’s annual meeting that “there could be contagion” if a state the size of California, the biggest of the United States, had problems making debt repayments. “Greece itself would not be an issue for this company, nor would any other country,” said Mr Dimon. “We don’t really foresee the European Union coming apart.” The senior banker said that JP Morgan Chase and other US rivals are largely immune from the European debt crisis, as the risks have largely been hedged.

California however poses more of a risk, given the state’s $20bn (£13.1bn) budget deficit, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce.

Earlier this week, the state’s legislature passed bills that will cut the deficit by $2.8bn through budget cuts and other measures. However the former Hollywood film star turned politician is looking for $8.9bn of cuts over the next 16 months, and is also hoping for as much as $7bn of handouts from the federal government.

Earlier this week, John Chiang, the state’s controller, said that if a workable plan to reduce the deficit and increase cash levels is not reached soon, he will have to return to issuing IOU’s, forcing state workers to take additional unpaid leave and potentially freezing spending. Continue reading »

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Feb 28

Related article: US Senate votes to extend Patriot Act


Barack Obama
President Barack Obama turns to leave after speaking to the media about the recent earthquake in Chile outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. Obama called the earthquake “devastating,”and said the U.S. has resources in position to deploy should Chile ask for help.
(AP)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions in the nation’s main counterterrorism law, the Patriot Act.

Provisions in the measure would have expired on Sunday without Obama’s signature Saturday.

The act, which was adopted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, expands the government’s ability to monitor Americans in the name of national security.

Three sections of the Patriot Act that stay in force will:

- Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.

- Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.

– Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Obama’s signature comes after the House voted 315 to 97 Thursday to extend the measure. Continue reading »

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Feb 28

us_senate


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Depending on extended unemployment benefits to see you through the Great Recession?

You’d better not: The Senate failed to push back the Feb. 28 deadline to apply for this safety net.

Starting Monday, the jobless will no longer be able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.

These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Because the Senate did not act, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

Continue reading »

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Feb 28

The president would have the power to safeguard essential federal and private Web resources under draft Senate cybersecurity legislation.

According to an aide familiar with the proposal, the bill includes a mandate for federal agencies to prepare emergency response plans in the event of a massive, nationwide cyberattack.

The president would then have the ability to initiate those network contingency plans to ensure key federal or private services did not go offline during a cyberattack of unprecedented scope, the aide said.

Ultimately, the legislation is chiefly the brainchild of Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, respectively. Both lawmakers have long clamored for a federal cybersecurity bill, charging that current measures — including the legislation passed by the House last year — are too piecemeal to protect the country’s Web infrastructure. Continue reading »

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Feb 27

A milder earthquake hit Japan:

- Japan Earthquake: Tsunami Warnings Downgraded After 7.0 Quake Off Japan Coast (Huffington Post)


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Rescuers searched for victims and survivors after an apartment complex collapsed in Concepcion.

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A woman sat in front a quake-damaged house in Talca, Chile. Residents were also jolted by at least 20 aftershocks measuring over 5.0 on the magnitude scale, with one topping 6.9.

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A photo of Santiago, Chile after the quake. Uploaded by Twitter user @Gonzalezcarcey.

UPDATE: 8:25 a.m. — 1,000 times more powerful than the Haiti earthquake– From the New York Times:

Phone lines were down in Concepcion as of 7:30 a.m. and no reports were coming out of that area. The quake in Chile was 1,000 times more powerful than the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that caused widespread damage in Haiti on Jan 12, killing at least 230,000, earthquake experts reported on CNN International.

UPDATE: 8:00 a.m. — 78 and rising – AP now reports that the death toll is at 78 and rising. Officials have no information yet on number of injured.

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“Calm after #terremoto. Impressive to see Divine Church Providence without cupola.” Photo uploaded to Twitpic by Twitter user @HMartinez.

UPDATE: 6:43 a.m. — 47 dead – Reuters now reports that 47 people have died in the quake.

President Michele Bachelet has declared a “state of catastrophe,” according to the Associated Press:

SANTIAGO, Chile – A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, collapsing buildings, killing at least 16 people and downing phone lines. President Michele Bachelet declared a “state of catastrophe” in central Chile and said the death toll was rising.Tsunami warnings were issued over a wide area, including South America, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Russia and many Pacific islands.

“We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks,” Bachelet said, appealing from an emergency response center for Chileans to remain calm. “Despite this, the system is
functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately.”

Bachelet said early reports were that 16 people had been killed, and “without a doubt, with an earthquake of this magnitude, there will be more deaths.”

In the 2 1/2 hours following the 90-second quake, the U.S. Geological Survey reported 11 aftershocks, of which five measured 6.0 or above.

She urged people to avoid traveling in the dark, since traffic lights are down, to avoid causing more fatalities.

The quake hit 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles (35 kilometers) at 3:34 a.m. (0634 GMT; 1:34 a.m. EST), the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The epicenter was just 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live along the Bio Bio river, and 60 miles from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.

In Santiago, the capital, modern buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but many older ones were heavily damaged, including the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church, whose bell tower collapsed. An apartment building’s two-level parking lot also flattened onto the ground floor, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms and horns rang incessantly. A bridge just outside the capital also collapsed, and at least one car flipped upside down.

In the coastal city of Vina del Mar, the earthquake struck just as people were leaving a disco, Julio Alvarez told Radio Cooperativa in Santiago. “It was very bad, people were screaming, some people were running, others appeared paralyzed. I was one of them.”

Bachelet said she was declaring a “state of catastrophe” in 3 central regions of the country, and that while emergency responders were waiting for first light to get details, it was evident that damage was extensive.

UPDATE: 5:56 a.m. — 17 dead – At least 17 people have died in Chile’s earthquake, according to radio reports from Santiago. Reuters:

Local radio said 17 people were killed and President Michelle Bachelet confirmed six deaths, saying more were possible. Telephone and power lines were down, making a quick damage assessment difficult in the early morning darkness.”Never in my life have I experienced a quake like this, it’s like the end of the world,” one man told local television from the city of Temuco, where the quake damaged buildings and forced staff to evacuate the regional hospital.

UPDATE: 4:49 a.m. — Live broadcast – A USTREAM webcast of CNN’s live coverage of the Chile earthquake: Continue reading »

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Feb 27

With the dramatic emergence of intra-EU bickering between various “banana-eating countries” and “tax cheats”, it is easy to lose sight of the forest for the banana trees. While it is subjective to say who owes whom what, one thing that is very objective, is whose money is critical to sustaining the European Union.

And here there is no doubt: without Germany, the EU would not exist. The country, which receives €78 billion from the EU annually, pays out more than double that, or €164 billion, for a net impact of (€1,045) per capita.

Surely the Germans would be just as happy to see this money retained by their economy instead of going to assorted hangers-on. And speaking of the latter, one of the biggest recipients, with a net benefit of €2,284 per person, is Greece, which pays just €15 billion a year to the EU but receives nearly triple, or €40 billion.

We wonder just how Greece will plug that particular hole should the EU dissolve after the recent escalation in rhetoric threatens to royally piss off the Germans.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

without-germany-the-eu-would-not-exist

Graphic via FSTeurope.com Continue reading »

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Feb 27

IMF’s Strauss-Kahn suggests IMF may one day provide global reserve asset

dominique-strauss-kahn
Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, suggested Friday the organization might one day be called on to provide countries with a global reserve currency that would serve as an alternative to the U.S. dollar.

“That day has not yet come, but I think it is intellectually healthy to explore these kinds of ideas now,” he said in a speech on the future mandate of the 186-nation Washington-based lending organization.

Strauss-Kahn said such an asset could be similar to but distinctly different from the IMF’s special drawing rights, or SDRs, the accounting unit that countries use to hold funds within the IMF. It is based on a basket of major currencies. Continue reading »

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Feb 27

KABUL — A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan — often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport — as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money’s origin.

The cash, estimated to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. So long as departing cash is declared at the airport here, its transfer is legal.

But at a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan.

“All this money magically appears from nowhere,” said a U.S. official who monitors Afghanistan’s growing role as a hub for cash transfers to Dubai, which has six flights a day to and from Kabul.

Meanwhile, the United States is stepping up efforts to stop money flow in the other direction — into Afghanistan and Pakistan in support of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Senior Treasury Department officials visited Kabul this month to discuss the cash flows and other issues relating to this country’s infant, often chaotic financial sector. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

fannie-mae
Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington, D.C
.

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) says the Obama administration is using an accounting “gimmick” in its budget by not including the debt owed by mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“The accounting gimmicks that are used today would make an Enron and WorldCom accountant blush,” Hensarling told reporters. “The American people know that under the policies of this administration-under the policies of this Congress-we are drowning in a sea of red ink.”

Hensarling, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, joined a group of House Republicans Tuesday in announcing the introduction of a bill that would require President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget to include the liabilities of Fannie and Freddie in the national debt calculation.

The two companies are defined as government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) whose portfolios include trillions of dollars in American mortgages, many of which are now “under water.” The federal government took control of the mortgage giants in 2008, as they neared financial collapse.

Billions of taxpayer dollars ($61 billion for Fannie Mae and $51 billion for Freddie Mac) has been spent so far to keep the GSEs solvent. Just this week, Freddie Mac reported a $7.8 billion loss in the final three months of 2009, but said it will not require another taxpayer infusion at this time.

Hensarling on Tuesday suggested that the administration is under-reporting the nation’s debt by failing to account for the potential liability incurred if Fannie and Freddie go deeper into the red.

The potential liabilities incurred by Fannie and Freddie, Hensarling said, would amount to “the mother of all bailouts.”

freddie-mac
Headquarters of the federally chartered mortgage giant, Freddie Mac, in McLean, Va.

“When the final chapter is written on the history of our financial debacle, it will show that the cause was the government policies that cajoled, incented (sic) and mandated financial institutions to lend money to people to buy homes that, ultimately, they could not afford,” Hensarling said. “At the epicenter of those federal policies was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and before all the dust settles in the final accounting, they will prove to be the mother of all bailouts.”

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, estimated that the unfunded liabilities of Fannie and Freddie could exceed $5 trillion.

Under Republican’s proposed bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget would have to treat the GSEs’ estimated liabilities as part of the federal debt, and those liabilities along with the rest of the debt would have to remain under the debt ceiling.

Congress recently voted to raise the debt ceiling above $14 trillion dollars for the first time to accommodate other spending. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

ben-bernanke
Elite puppet Fed chairman Ben Bernanke

From yesterday’s exchange between Ron Paul and Ben Bernanke:

Ron Paul: …a lot of cash was passed through – and a lot of people suppose it was passed through the Federal Reserve – when there was a provisional government [in Iraq] after the 2003 invasion. That money was not appropriated by the Congress as required by law…

Ben Bernanke: Congressman, these specific allegations you’ve made are absolutely bizarre, and I have no knowledge of anything remotely like what you just described.

Let’s ask Rep. Henry Waxman (July 2009)

Henry Waxman: In a 13 month period from May 2003 to June 2004, the Federal Reserve sent nearly $12 billion in cash, mainly in $100 bills from the United States to Iraq. To do that, the Federal Reserve Bank in New York had to pack 281 million individual bills … onto wooden pallets to be shipped to Iraq. The cash weighed more than 363 tons and was loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to be flown into Baghdad…

Bizarre? Yes, I think something very bizarre is going on. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

Surveillance guide gets Cryptome site into hot water.

microsoft
The sign at a main entrance to the Microsoft corporate campus. The Redmond Microsoft campus today includes more than 750,000 m² (approx. 8 million square feet) and over 30,000 employees.

The noted government whistleblowing website Cryptome has been taken down after Microsoft saw red over its publication of a top-secret Internet surveillance guide normally shown only to law enforcement agencies.

The 22-page Global Criminal Compliance Handbook contains a reasonably detailed rundown on the information gathered by Microsoft from its various Windows Live operations, including Hotmail, Messenger, MSN Groups, and even the gaming platform, Xbox Live. The guide explains the information that is retained by Microsoft from customer activities, for how long it is saved, and how it can be accessed by police and security services in accordance with US legal requirements.

After discovering the document on the site, Microsoft is reported to have demanded its removal, citing the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), a request that was rejected by Cryptome editor and founder, John Young. Microsoft then persuaded domain hoster Network Solutions to pull the site, which remains offline as of the morning of 25 February (GMT).

Microsoft botnet take down will not stop spam, says researchers

Was Microsoft well advised to come down so heavily on a site that has come to be seen in civil liberties circles as an important bulwark against government secrecy? Continue reading »

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Feb 26

See also: – Financier Jim Rogers denies saying pound will collapse (Market Watch):

“I did not know about this press release. I didn’t say those things,” Rogers told MarketWatch.com in a phone interview from Singapore Friday.

“I am on record as saying the U.K. has serious problems over the next few years and the pound sterling has serious problems over the next few years as well,” Rogers said in the interview. “I would say the same about a lot of currencies. All paper money is suspect these days.”

Rogers said he has no position in the pound, long or short, and that he holds no U.K. assets.

He said he is long the euro, however.

“I think the euro probably will survive this bout with the Greeks,” Rogers said.


vince-stanzione
Vince Stanzione

Actually, Jim Rogers didn’t say that the pound will collapse in the very near future…

It was all made up by Vince Stanzione whose company put out the following press release as what appears to have been a publicity stunt:

FT Alphaville (Pic & Quotes):

Pound Could Collapse Within Weeks, Predicts Billionaire Financier Jim Rogers

February 25, 2010 – Press Dispensary – The UK Pound is on the brink of a collapse which will herald a downturn worse than 2008/9, it could well happen within weeks and the British government is powerless to prevent it. And this in turn will foreshadow a global economic winter that could come before the end of 2010 and make the last two years seem like a mild spring day.

Rogers found the claim ‘outrageous’ and rushed to correct misunderstandings with the media. Meanwhile, the culprit, Vince Stanzione, says it was a mix up and that his company’s press release wasn’t meant to be sent out.

Regardless, it was great exposure for his ‘Trading Day Seminar’ either way… and a ray of attention for this self-described renaissance man:

. . . a self-made multi-millionaire based in Europe. Beginning aged 16 at NatWest Foreign Exchange in London, he quickly made his mark and then left to form his own company, since when he has been involved in mobile communications, premium rate telephony, interactive gaming, publishing and television and financial trading. He currently lives most of the year between Spain and Monaco and trades his own funds, mainly in currencies and commodities. He also teaches a small number of students and produced the best-selling course on Financial Spread Betting. Vince Stanzione is the author of ‘How to Stop Existing & Start Living’ and ‘Making Money From Financial Spread Trading’, is the Spread Betting Expert for Growth Company Investor and writes monthly columns for The City Magazine, Canary Wharf and Vicinitee Magazine.

Jason Bourne lives.

Vincent Fernando | Feb. 26, 2010, 9:01 AM

Source: The Business Insider

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Feb 26

I don’t think that the US has five to seven years left before it will experience the greatest financial collapse in history.


The US is heading for a debt-driven “financial meltdown” within five to seven years, according to Judd Gregg, the outgoing Republican senator for New Hampshire.

In a robust and at times testy video interview for the Financial Times’s View from DC series, Mr Gregg also complimented China for showing rising alarm about the US’s mounting levels of public debt.

“We have had China say that they are looking for other places to put their reserves and that is probably a smart decision on their part,” said Mr Gregg, who will not seek re-election in November. “So the warning signs are pretty clear and the path is unsustainable and, at this point, unless we take different actions, unavoidable.”

Related article: China to Purchase 191.3 Tons of IMF’s Gold

But the senator, who was the most high-profile Repub­lican invited by Barack Obama, the president, to join his administration last year, an offer Mr Gregg accepted and then turned down, said he doubted that the two parties would get together to tackle it.

Last month 16 Republicans and 37 Democrats voted to establish a fiscal commission – seven votes short of what was needed to prevent a filibuster.

Mr Gregg also played down prospects for the non-statutory fiscal commission that Mr Obama set up by executive order last week. “It was just an edict that came from a Democratic president,” he said, adding, that “it’s the only game in town right now”.

Mr Gregg also disputed non-partisan economic studies that showed last year’s $787bn (€585bn, £520bn) stimulus cushioned the impact of the recession. “The facts are wrong,” he said. “I can understand how a Keynesian would make that argument. I find them absurd on their face.” Continue reading »

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Feb 26

American troops will remain in Haiti for the foreseeable future to help the quake-ravaged country get back on its feet, the US ambassador to the Caribbean nation told AFP Thursday.

“There are about 6,500 soldiers in Haiti at the moment. There were some 20,000 for the emergency effort launched in the wake of January 12,” ambassador Kenneth Merten said.

“What is planned for the moment is more and more staff from USAID on the ground and fewer and fewer troops. Gradually, they’ll leave. In my opinion, we will need some American troops to stay here for the foreseeable future.”

But he dismissed any notion that Haiti would be put under some kind of foreign governorship, an idea mooted by French lawmaker Jacques Myard in the days after the January 12, 7.0-magnitude quake hit.

“I don’t see any reason for the country to be put under governorship. We have been working for a long time, since the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, for a democratic nation in Haiti.” Continue reading »

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Feb 26

President Obama will meet with 22 high-ranking lawmakers on Thursday to discuss health care reform and how to accomplish it.

But if newly released information about lobbying in 2009 is any indication, the private sector and its interests may already be secured.

For every member of Congress, there were eight lobbyists working to influence health care reform last year, according to research by The Center for Public Integrity.

That’s about 4,525 total lobbyists from 1,750 companies that include 207 hospitals, 105 insurance companies and 85 manufacturing companies.

The biggest group by far were the trade and advocacy organizations, which accounted for a whopping 745 companies lobbying for their own vision of health care in the US.

One of the most powerful political groups in the capital, the AARP deployed no less than 58 lobbyists to fight for their cause. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

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A pedestrian enters the UBS headquarters on Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich (Bloomberg)

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — A Swiss court ordered tax officials to drop two more cases involving UBS AG account holders, adding urgency to the government’s effort to find a political solution that will preserve a data-sharing agreement with the U.S.

The Federal Administrative Court, in a decision published today, told Switzerland’s tax authority to comply with an earlier ruling that blocked it from sending the U.S. information on 26 UBS customers. The court in Bern said Switzerland may only lift bank secrecy rules when there is evidence of tax fraud.

The ruling increases pressure on the Swiss to find a way to salvage the agreement to hand over data on as many as 4,450 UBS account holders as part of a U.S. crackdown on tax evasion. Ministers said this week they will ask the parliament to approve the U.S. settlement to get around the court rulings. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

SOFIA (Reuters) – There were some embarrassed faces at Bulgaria’s tax office on Thursday after an investigation found more than 400 tax inspectors had failed to pay their traffic fines.

Oddly Enough

The Balkan nation has launched a crackdown on civil servants who don’t pay what they owe, as part of plans to stamp out rampant fraud and raise revenues during the recession, the national revenue agency said.

Those tax officials caught will have money deducted from their February salaries to pay the fines.

More than 50,000 civil servants also face being checked for unpaid taxes and fines in March, a sign of the pressure Sofia is under at home and abroad to demonstrate results in its fight against graft and crime.

In July the European Union is due assess the government’s record and failure to show progress could threaten access to more EU aid after in 2008 Brussels froze millions in aid over fraud. Continue reading »

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Feb 26

enviropigs

The Canadian government is on the verge of approving the introduction of extremely bizarre genetically modified pigs into the Canadian food supply.

These new mouse/pig hybrids have been dubbed “enviropigs” and are being touted as being much better for the environment.  This new “breed” of Yorkshire pigs was created by scientists in Ontario at the University of Guelph, who spliced in genes from mice to decrease the amount of phosphorus produced in the pigs’ excrement.

So soon millions of Canadians will be eating meat from mouse/pig hybrid creatures and most of them will not even realize it.  It is expected that approval for this new “brand” of pigs will be sought in the United States as well.

But this is hardly the first time that scientists have mixed two kinds of animals together in an attempt to create creatures that will be beneficial for humanity.

The truth is that scientists around the world are now creating bizarre hybrid “animals” on a regular basis.  Over the past couple of decades the field of genetic modification has made extraordinary advances, and now researchers and scientists seem very eager to exploit these new technologies.

So what kind of weird, mysterious creatures have scientists been creating?

Well, what would you think of a cat that glows in the dark?

They really exist.

A genetically modified cat named Mr. Green Genes was the very first fluorescent cat created in the United States.  Under an ultraviolet light, Mr. Green Genes puts off a very strange bright green glow.

So perhaps in the future not only can your cat cuddle up to you and keep you warm – it could also serve as a night light.

But U.S. researchers were not even the first ones to do this to cats.  A team of scientists in South Korea had previously created a cat that glows red under ultraviolet light.

Now why in the world would scientists do this kind of a thing?

Well, because they can.

But scientists have created creatures that are even more bizarre than fluorescent cats.

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One Canadian company is actually producing spider goats.

Yes, it is true.  A Canadian company known as Nexia has created goats that are genetically modified to be part spider.

The reason for this bizarre genetic modification is to get goats that will produce spider silk protein in their milk.  This spider silk protein is then collected, purified and spun into incredibly strong fibers.

Reportedly, the fibers that are produced are more durable than Kevlar, more flexible than nylon, and stronger than steel.

This substance has industrial and military applications that are apparently extremely valuable.

But when you tell most people that spider goats exist they will just laugh at you.

If that is the response that you get when you tell someone about spider goats, just show them the following video.

The YouTube video posted below contains a television news report that discusses how these spider goats are created and what this company is doing with the spider silk that these spider goats are producing….

So does all of this tampering with the environment disturb you?

After all, at least scientists are not creating human/animal hybrid creatures, right?

Wrong. Continue reading »

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Feb 25


Added: 24. Februar 2010

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Feb 25

More than 500 AK47 rifles had been removed from the bunker by Blackwater staff without permission.

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Private American security guards working for the US military in Afghanistan removed hundreds of handguns and automatic weapons from stores intended for the exclusive use of the Afghan police and used them on drunken shooting rampages that killed two Afghan civilians and injured at least two more.

The guards included a former US Marine with a criminal record of assault and battery and a former soldier discharged from the US Army after testing positive for cocaine, Congress heard yesterday.

Justin Cannon, Christopher Drotleff and a guard using the name “Eric Cartman” from the cartoon South Park were employees of a subsidiary of the Blackwater Worldwide group, implicated in a litany of extrajudicial shootings since 2003 in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cannon and Drotleff have been charged with killing two Afghans and injuring a third in an incident last May when they opened fire on a car carrying four civilians in Kabul, while under the influence of alcohol. The men, who were hired to train Afghan soldiers, had no permission from US authorities to carry guns. Continue reading »

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Feb 25

banks-bet-greece-defaults-on-debt-they-helped-hide
The police in Greece pushed back against demonstrators on Wednesday as unions staged a one-day general strike to protest austerity measures by the government to reduce its deficit. (AFP)

Bets by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.

Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.

These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house – you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.

Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.

A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety – and the whole thing starts over again.

Continue reading »

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Feb 25

Democrats retreat from adding new privacy protections to the law

(AP) WASHINGTON – Democrats have retreated from adding new privacy protections to the primary U.S counterterrorism law, stymied by Senate Republicans who argued the changes would weaken terror investigations.

The proposed protections were cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Dashing the hopes of liberals, the Senate Wednesday night instead passed — by voice vote without debate — a one-year extension of key parts of the USA Patriot Act that would have expired on Sunday.

Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.

The House was prepared to approve the extension Thursday, dropping even more extensive privacy protections approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

The Democratic retreat is a political victory for Republicans, who gained new ammunition for their election theme that they can better protect America. The outcome is a major disappointment for Democrats and their liberal allies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, who believe the Patriot Act fails to protect Americans’ privacy and gives the government too much authority to spy on Americans and seize their property. Continue reading »

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Feb 25

Gold bars

China has confirmed the intention to purchase 191.3 tons of gold from the International Monetary Fund at an open auction, Finmarket news agency said.

World central banks started to increase their gold reserves after prices on gold began to climb in 2001. The IMF sells gold within the scope of a program to diversify sources of income and achieve an increase in lending.

The IMF announced an intention to sell 403.3 tons of gold in accordance with the adequate decision made by the board of directors of the fund in September of 2009. India, Mauritius and Sri Lanka purchased about 212 tons of the amount at the end of 2009. India purchased most – 200 tons. Continue reading »

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Feb 25

So you are tracked down, when using your cell phone, …

… and you’re greatly increase your chances of developing cancer:

- WHO landmark study: Long-term use of mobile phones ‘may be linked to cancer’


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We’d like to think of ourselves as dynamic, unpredictable individuals, but according to new research, that’s not the case at all. In a study published in last week’s Science, researchers looked at customer location data culled from cellular service providers. By looking at how customers moved around, the authors of the study found that it may be possible to predict human movement patterns and location up to 93 percent of the time. These findings may be useful in multiple fields, including city planning, mobile communication resource management, and anticipating the spread of viruses.

It’s not currently possible to know exactly where everyone is all the time, but cell phones can provide a pretty good approximation. Cell phone companies store records of customers’ locations based on when the customers’ phones connect to towers during calls. Researchers realized that taking this data and paring it down to users who place calls more frequently might allow them to see if they could develop any measure of how predictable human movements and locations are. The users they worked with placed calls an average of once every two hours, connecting to towers that cover an area of about two square miles.

The authors analyzed various aspects of the information related to the calls, as well as information that could be aggregated over multiple calls: number of distinct locations, historical probability that the location had been visited in the past, time spent at each tower, the order in which customers usually visited towers, and so on. With these numbers, the authors could create measures of the entropy of the customers’ trajectories. To control for uncertainty, they also looked at instances where a customer was not in communication with the grid and effectively invisible to them, and removed those that had frequent extended periods of invisibility.

Most customers seemed to stick to the same small area, a radius of six miles or less, but there were a few callers that regularly traveled areas of a radius of hundreds of miles. It would seem that the cell phone users who traveled the least would be the most predictable in their movements, but the authors found this to be untrue. All users were roughly equally predictable, regardless of the size of their typical traveled region. Everyone seemed to have a set area that they rarely left, and that area was always traveled in a very regular way-even the jet-setters appear to rarely deviate from their travel patterns.

Customers that stuck to the same six-mile radius had predictability rates of 97 to 93 percent, and this fell off as the typical area of travel grew. But the predictability eventually stabilized, and remained at 93 percent even as the radius of travel rose to thousands of miles. Regardless of how widely they traveled, the researchers could adequately predict their locations, down to the specific tower, 93 percent of the time. Continue reading »

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Feb 24
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An oil spill has reached Italy’s River Po after the suspected sabotage of a former refinery led to large amounts of oil pouring into a tributary.

The spill began early on Tuesday when someone broke into the plant near Monza, now an oil depot, and opened the taps, Italian news reports said.

They said an estimated 600,000 litres (158,500 gallons) of petrol and oil were released in to the River Lambro.

Efforts to prevent the spill reaching the Po failed.

Continue reading »

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Feb 24

Tax credit can’t halt decline to 309,000 annual pace in January

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Sales of new U.S. homes plunged 11.2% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000, the lowest rate on record dating back to 1963, the Commerce Department estimated Wednesday.

The third-straight drop in sales on a month-to-month basis was unexpected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch forecast sales to rise slightly, to a pace of 355,000, with buyers taking advantage of a new federal tax credit. Read our complete economic calendar and consensus forecast.

“The housing market remains very, very distressed,” wrote Dan Greenhaus, chief economist for Miller Tabak & Co.

“There may have been some weather-related issues playing havoc with the sales data but clearly, these results are extremely unnerving,” wrote Jennifer Lee, an economist for BMO Capital Markets. “There is nothing positive to glean from this report.” Continue reading »

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Feb 24
Barcelona protest
People in Barcelona protest against government plans to increase the retirement age

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Spain last night in the biggest test of the country’s Socialist Government, which is under pressure.

With a general strike threatened in the summer, the two biggest Spanish unions staged protests in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante.

The Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), are planning to stage 57 protests in other parts of the country until next week.

Unions are angry about the Government’s proposed pensions reforms which would extend the legal retirement age from 65 to 67.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister who recently came under pressure from financial markets to introduce measures to bring the country out of recession, now finds himself threatened by his political allies in the unions.

The protests are the first time that Mr Zapatero has faced street unrest since he came to power in 2004. Leading members of the Prime Minister’s party took part in the protests, a sign that his popularity is dwindling. Continue reading »

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Feb 24

State says blood specimens were sent for research that will help identify missing persons.

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Lawyer Jim Harrington has sued over lack of consent in DNA policy and may sue over database.

An Austin lawyer threatened to pursue a new federal lawsuit Monday after learning that some newborn blood samples in Texas went to the U.S. military for potential use in a database for law enforcement purposes.

The Department of State Health Services never mentioned the database to Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who settled a lawsuit in December with the state over the indefinite storage of newborn blood without parental consent, or to the American-Statesman, which first reported on the little-known blood storage practice last spring. Harrington said he thought another suit was likely unless the health department destroys the information obtained from the blood samples or obtains consent.

“This is the worst case of bad faith I have dealt with as a lawyer,” he said Monday. Continue reading »

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Feb 24

US diplomats add a moat to their expenses at $1bn London embassy

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A model of the US Embassy in Battersea, complete with moat 30m wide and rolling parkland

The United States has unveiled plans for its new $1 billion high-security embassy in London – the most expensive it has ever built.

The proposals were met with relief from both the present embassy’s Mayfair neighbours and the residents and developers of the Battersea wasteland where the vast crystalline cube, surrounded by a moat, will be built.

The decision to abandon the former site in Grosvenor Square by 2016 came after a prolonged battle with residents angered by the security measures demanded after the September 11 attacks. More than a hundred residents took out a full-page advertisement in The Times to oppose tighter measures that they said would leave the area more vulnerable to attack.

The new embassy, on a former industrial site behind Battersea power station known for its gay clubs, will be designed by Kieran Timberlake, the Philadelphia architect.

A moat 30 metres (100ft) wide and rolling parkland will separate the building from the main road, protecting it from would-be bombers and removing the need for the blast barriers that so dismayed the people of Mayfair.

The State Department sought to play down the cost of security measures, noting the expense of London building work. But the price puts the London embassy above the US’s most fortified missions, including the Baghdad embassy, which cost $600 million (£390 million) but required a further $100 million of work on air conditioning, and the Islamabad embassy, still under construction, which has cost more than $850 million.

It also does not include the 17.5 per cent VAT demanded by the Treasury on all buildings in Britain and which the US has refused to pay. Continue reading »

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Feb 24

- Nationwide Strike Paralyzes Greece (Wall Street Journal)

- Germany parries Greek broadside over Nazi occupation (Reuters)


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Clashes broke out between police and protesters on the streets of Greece

Police in Greece have clashed with protesters striking over austerity measures designed to save the economy.

Greek police fired tear gas at a group of some 50 protesters on the edges of the rally, reports said.

It is the second general strike in two weeks and coincides with growing anger at the EU’s response to the crisis.

The action is set to be the biggest since Greece’s socialist government introduced cuts to bring the country’s debt and deficit under control.

Greece has closed airspace to all flights, trains and ferries are standing idle, and archaeological sites have been shut.

The country currently has a spiralling public deficit of 12.7%, more than four times higher than eurozone rules allow.

The government has pledged to cut this to 8.7% this year, and also reduce the 300bn-euro ($419bn; £259bn) national debt, by freezing public sector salaries, raising the average retirement age to 63 by 2015, and increasing taxes on petrol, alcohol and tobacco.

It also wants to crack down on tax avoidance. Greece’s black economy is estimated at 30% of official gross domestic product. Continue reading »

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