Sunday, October 30, 2011

World population hits 7 billion on Oct. 31, or thereabouts



It took only a dozen years for humanity to add another billion people to the planet, reaching the milestone of 7 billion Monday — give or take a few months.

Demographers at the United Nations Population Division set Oct. 31, 2011, as the "symbolic" date for hitting 7 billion, while acknowledging that it's impossible to know for sure the specific time or day. Using slightly different calculations, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 7-billion threshold will not be reached until March.

Under any methodology, demographers agree that humanity remains on a steep growth curve, which is likely to keep climbing through the rest of this century. The U.N.'s best estimate is that population will march past 9.3 billion by 2050 and exceed 10.1 billion by the end of the century. It could be far more, if birthrates do not continue to drop as they have in the last half-century.

Nearly all the projected growth this century is expected to occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, while the combined populations in Europe, North America and other wealthy industrialized nations will remain relatively flat. Some countries, such as Germany, Russia and Japan, are poised to edge downward, their loss made up mostly by ongoing growth in the United States, which is bolstered by waves of immigrants.

The buildup to Monday's milestone has briefly turned up the flame on long-simmering debates about growth on a finite planet: Whether a growing population or growing consumption remains the biggest environmental challenge, how best to help lift a billion people out of poverty and misery, whether governments should provide contraception for those who cannot afford it.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Some Tunisians Concerned About Ruling Islamist Party's Aims


After winning a little more than 40 percent of the seats in Tunisia's new Constituent Assembly, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party is in talks with secular rivals about forming a coalition government. Despite Ennahda's inclusive rhetoric, some fear it may roll back Tunisia's secular, pro-western policies. Protests erupted against Ennahda on Friday.

At political rallies, elegant, articulate -- and bareheaded -- Souad Abderrahim presents the softer face of Ennahda. The Islamist party's victory in Tunisian elections gives her a seat in the new Constituent Assembly.

This is the first time the 47-year-old pharmacist and mother of two has entered politics.

At her spacious home in the Tunis suburb of Manouba, Abderrahim explains why.

She says she joined Ennahda to counter false perceptions that it was rigid and backward.

Islamist Leaders Say Party is Moderate


Home team holds upper hand in Game 7



The St. Louis Cardinals host the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series tonight. It's the first Game 7 played since 2002, when the Anaheim Angels beat Barry Bonds' San Francisco Giants.

The Series has gone seven games 17 times since 1962, with the visiting team winning the decisive game on seven occasions. But what's more telling -- the home team has won the last eight Game 7's.

Here's a look back at the most recent Game 7's:

1985: Royals 11, Cardinals 0

  • The Cardinals never recovered from a blown call in the ninth inning of Game 6 when, with St. Louis leading 1-0, umpire Don Denkinger ruled the Royals' Jorge Orta was safe at first on an infield grounder. That led to a pair of runs in the inning and a Royals victory. In the deciding game, Denkinger was behind the plate and the Cardinals suffered an epic meltdown. Ace John Tudor didn't make it out of the third inning and Joaquin Andujar was ejected after clashing with Denkinger over his strike zone. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen quietly tossed a five-hit shutout for the Royals.

1986: Mets 8, Red Sox 5

  • After one of the all-time great Game 6s when Mookie Wilson's dribbler got by Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner to bring home the winning run, the Mets capped their improbable comeback with another late rally. Down 3-0 in the sixth, Keith Hernandez stroked a two-run single and Gary Carter followed with an RBI groundout to tie the game. Ray Knight broke the tie an inning later with a home run and Darryl Strawberry added another homer in the eighth as the Mets won their second World Series title.

1987: Twins 4, Cardinals 2


Monday, October 24, 2011

Apple's 'Celebrating Steve' event video now streaming online

 Apple Inc. celebrated Steve Jobs' life in a companywide but private event Wednesday, and now video of the tribute is streaming online on Apple's website.

The video, which runs about 80 minutes in length, starts off with Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking of Steve Jobs' life and introducing Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs' wife, to a crowd of thousands of Apple employees in an outdoor ceremony at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino.

Huge banners hung from Apple's buildings featuring photos of Jobs throughout his life.

Cook, in his remarks to the crowd, shared quotes from Jobs, including one in which the leader said, "My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business. Great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people."


Erratic bullpens will help determine what is now best-of-three Series


ARLINGTON, Texas -- At the conclusion of the first inning on Sunday night, in which Rangers starter Derek Holland retired the Cardinals' side in order, including a strikeout of scorching hot Allen Craig and a groundout from history-making Albert Pujols, Texas reliever Mike Adams turned toward bullpen-mate Scott Feldman and offered a prediction.

"We might get 'Complete Game Derek' tonight," Adams said.

"We might get 'Shutout Derek,'" Feldman replied.

Neither was exactly right -- Holland threw 8 1/3 shutout innings before closer Neftali Feliz got the final two outs as the Rangers won 4-0 to even the World Series at two games apiece -- but the prevailing sentiment rang home.

Perhaps no group benefited more from Holland's brilliant outing than the Rangers' relief corps. It was the first time this postseason that a Texas starter had even completed seven innings, much less more than eight, and meant that the mostly-excellent but heavily-taxed bullpen would -- aside from Feliz, who threw 17 pitches and was coming off two days of rest -- be given a much-needed extra day off.

"Tonight we got a great start," Adams said. "It helped the bullpen tremendously. I think we'll be a little bit reloaded tomorrow and ready to go."

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German officials: Bailout fund will top $1.4 trillion

BERLIN – The eurozone bailout fund will increase from 440 billion euros, or $600 billion, to more than 1 trillion euros — $1.39 trillion — in efforts to contain the debt turmoil that threatens to rip apart the 17-nation alliance, according to German lawmakers briefed Monday by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Eurozone governments hope a beefed-up European Financial Stability Fund, or EFSF, will be able to protect countries such as Italy and Spain from being engulfed in the debt crisis.

To do that, however, it needs to be bigger or see its lending powers magnified.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats, and Greens leaders Cem Oezdemir and Juergen Trittin said the chancellor informed them that the EFSF's lending powers will be boosted significantly.


Apple's winning strategy: Lower prices


In the past, Apple had always been seen as a company selling niche, high-quality products at high prices. In recent years, however, it's captured business by keeping costs more competitive.

The company's lower price strategy applies not just to itsiPhone and iPad products, but also to the MacBook Air--all have been able to meet or beat the prices offered by some of its rivals, according to an analysis in yesterday's New York Times. But Apple also keeps its own internal costs down by locking in prices on huge amounts of hardware components through multi-year deals with manufacturers.

Looking at the iPhone 4S, Apple sells the entry level 16 gigabyte model for $199. That price comes in lower than some of the popular Android handsets, such as Motorola's Droid Bionic ($299 through Verizon Wireless), though as CNET's review points out, the cost drops to $199 if you shell out $50 for a data plan.

The Times also noted that the Samsung Galaxy S II sells through T-Mobile for $230, though it's available through AT&T for $199, while the HTC Amaze 4G costs $260 through T-Mobile, but it can also be had from such retailers at Amazon for $199.


Libyan leader orders probe into Qaddafi's death


TRIPOLI, Libya - Libya's interim leader said Monday he has ordered an investigation into Muammar Qaddafi's death in response to strong international pressure to determine how the ousted leader was killed by a bullet to the head shortly after he was captured alive.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil told a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi that the Transitional National Council has formed a committee to investigate Thursday's killing amid conflicting reports of how the dictator who ruled Libya for 42 years died. Government officials have said initial findings suggest Qaddafi was killed in the crossfire as his supporters clashed with revolutionary forces seizing control of his hometown of Sirte.


srael, Egypt reach swap deal to release suspected Israeli spy Ilan Grapel



Israel and Egypt reached a prisoner exchange deal that would secure the release of suspected Israeli spy Ilan Grapel, the Prime Minister's Office said on Monday. The cabinet is set to meet on Tuesday to give the deal a final seal of approval.

rapel was first charged with espionage, but the charges were later changed to incitement, insurrection, and damaging a public building during the uprising that took place in Egypt earlier this year.

Ilan Grapel, who holds both Israeli and American citizenships, has been held in Egypt since June 12.

The U.S. has been especially active in trying to secure Grapel's release during the last two months. Although U.S. officials had exerted heavy pressure on Egypt, they were unable to secure his release.

In a statement published by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, Israel and Egypt reached a deal to release the suspected spy, saying that Grapel is to be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, including three minors.

The PM's office added that the deal was reached as a result of U.S. mediation, and that none of the prisoners to be released were convicted of security offences.

The proposed deal comes after Egypt brokered an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement to swap Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.


Administration Proposes Changes to Mortgage Refinancing Program


WASHINGTON — The federal government said on Monday that it would overhaul a program that lets homeowners refinance mortgage loans at lower interest rates to address problems that have limited participation to less than a million borrowers, far below the lofty estimates when the program started in 2009.

The White House described the changes as part of a broader plan to boost the economy through measures that do not require legislative action, reflecting a pragmatic recognition that Congress is deadlocked on economic issues, and a political effort to blame Republicans for the standoff.

"We have far too many Americans who have paid their bills and done everything right on their mortgages and yet they're still stuck with interest rates of 6 or 7 percent," said Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The existing program, he said, "has not reached the scale that we had hoped and the scale that it needs to reach."

The broader refinancing program, which will still take months to implement, will let people qualify for new loans no matter how far the value of their homes have declined, and without regard to their financial situations so long as they have made at least six consecutive monthly mortgage payments. The plan also will reduce the fees that borrowers must pay, for example by dispensing with the need for an appraisal in many cases and by automatically transferring mortgage insurance to the new loan.

The plan also seeks to encourage banks and mortgage companies to participate by eliminating their legal responsibility for problems with the original loan, a significant financial benefit in many cases.


Republicans Go Big With New Tax Structures, But Status Quo Could Stifle Simplicity


With a sputtering economy and new poll showing Americans increasingly skeptical about the American dream, "going big" on new tax policies to fix the federal government has captured the public's imagination, if not the enthusiasm of tax analysts.

But whether it's the national sales tax proposed by Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain as part of his 9-9-9 plan, or a new proposal on a flat tax to be offered by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the challenge is determining whether the ideas are more than just new but actually doable

Read more:

WikiLeaks suspends release of secrets to seek cash


LONDON (AP) – WikiLeaks — the online anti-secrecy organization whose spectacular leaks of classified data shook Washington and other world capitals and exposed the inner workings of international diplomacy — may be weeks away from collapse, the group's leader warned Monday.

Although its attention-grabbing disclosures spread outrage and embarrassment across military and diplomatic circles, WikiLeaks' inability to shake the restrictions imposed by American financial companies may prove its undoing.

"If WikiLeaks does not find a way to remove this blockade we will simply not be able to continue by the turn of the new year," founder Julian Assange told journalists at London's Frontline Club. "If we don't knock down the blockade we simply will not be able to continue."

WikiLeaks, launched as an online repository for confidential information, shot to notoriety with the April 2010 disclosure of footage of two Reuters journalists killed by a U.S. military strike in Baghdad.

The Pentagon had claimed that the journalists were likely "intermixed among the insurgents," but the helicopter footage, which captured U.S. airmen firing on prone figures and joking about "dead bastards," unsettled many across the world.


Syria and US withdraw ambassadors


The US has withdrawn it's ambassador from Syria over fears for his safety in the face of what officials said was a growing campaign of incitement against him being orchestrated by the regime.

The Syrian government quickly ordered home its envoy to the United States, raising the diplomatic stakes.

US officials said there had been credible threats against Robert Ford's life and accused the Syrian government of failing in its international obligations to protect him. Ford, who is back in Washington after leaving Damascus at the weekend, angered the Syrian government by aligning himself with Arab Spring protesters.

Defying a travel ban on diplomats travelling outside Damascus, he has regularly spoken to leaders of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Unconventional by American diplomatic standards in his outspokeness, he communicated directly with the protesters through Twitter and Facebook.

The tit-for-tat withdrawals add to tensions between Damascus and Washington, which has called on Assad to stop using violence against peaceful protesters and step down from power.

The state department stressed that Ford's return home did not amount to a formal breakdown in relations and that Ford's deputy, Haynes Mahoney, would remain in Damascus to carry out Ford's duties.

Mark Toner, the state department spokesman, accused Syria of incitement. "Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria. At this point, we can't say when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground," Toner said.


Faint Hope for Survivors Trapped in Rubble as Earthquake Death Toll Rises in Turkey


Rescuers frantically searched for survivors amid mounds of concrete, twisted steel and construction debris Monday, a day after a 7.2-magnitude quake leveled buildings and killed at least 279 people in eastern Turkey.

The search for survivors had continued through the night, with some successes, but officials acknowledged they were powerless to prevent a steep rise in the death toll after Sunday afternoon's earthquake -- the biggest to rock the country in more than a decade.

The prime minister's emergency agency, AFAD, said at least 279 people had been confirmed dead and a further 1,300 were injured across the region. Thousands more were left homeless amid bitter winter temperatures.

The quake damaged at least 2,262 buildings, with Van city and the Ercis district the worst affected, AFAD said.

Over 3,000 rescue personnel were assisting the region's search and rescue efforts with the help of medical teams, search dogs and military aircraft to shuttle supplies to the affected regions. But widespread power outages were hampering their response.

Dozens of people were still trapped in the rubble, while dozens more were placed in body bags or covered by blankets and laid down in rows so people could search for their missing relatives.

"It's my grandson's wife. She was stuck underneath rubble," Mehmet Emin Umac told the Associated Press.

Grieving families cried outside the Ercis mosque.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Texas Tech University Lab Explosion Raises Nationwide Concerns


A Texas Tech University graduate student lost three fingers and suffered severe burns and eye damage in a lab explosion last year, and USA Today reports lab students nationwide are susceptible to similar accidents.

USA Today, referencing a report by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), says there have been accidents similar to the Jan. 7, 2010 Texas Tech explosion at 120 school labs in the past decade.

"The report serves as a cautionary tale for universities across the country," CSB's Daniel Horowitz told USA Today.

USA Today pulled the following incidents from the CSB's report:

- UCLA graduate student Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died of burns she suffered in a 2008 chemical fire.

- Four University of Missouri students were injured in a 2010 hydrogen explosion.

- Two University of Maryland students were burned last month in an acid fire.

Preston Brown, the Texas Tech student whose accident was examined in the CSB report, was attempting to produce 100 times more of an explosive compound than the informal lab limit. The research was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, USA Today reports.

According to the report, "the Department of Homeland Security's $3.6 million project to study explosives detection at 12 universities came with no safety strings attached. Homeland Security shut down project labs for up to 10 months following the incident, and now requires safety procedures."


Utter carelessness behind Darjeeling bridge collapse

Thirty year old Mingma Lama cannot come to terms with reality. The past few hours has snatched her elder brother- the only earning member of her family and her niece, a brilliant student. Sobbing uncontrollably she stated "Only we know what we are going through. I had repeatedly asked my brnot to go but he did not pay any heed. It is owing to utter carelessness that so many people lost their lives."

A crowd trying to cross over a suspension bridge in Bijanbari, 38 km away from Darjeeling town, resulting in its metal cable anchor being uprooted owing to the load and the entire bridge collapsing. The official death toll stands at 32 mainly women and children along with 130 injured.

The crowd had gathered to hear Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) Chief Bimal Gurung's address along with an entertainment programme.

"Why did they organise such a programme in the wilderness? They could have easily done it inside Bijanbari town. Everyone knew that crowds would swell and the frail bridge would not support such crowd. When the bridge was in such condition why hadn't the administration done proper maintenance or declared the bridge unsafe? Why had they allowed so many people to cross over all at once" questioned Lama.


Multiple Sclerosis Drug Trials Show Lemtrada Helps Prevent Relapse


Sanofi's multiple sclerosis drug Lemtrada helped 78 percent of patients stay relapse-free for two years, the French drug company announced at a conference Saturday.

In the study from Sanofi's Genzyme division, just 59 percent of patients given Rebif, an older drug from Merck, saw the same results. Sanofi presented the data at the 5th Joint Triennial Congress of the European and Americas Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS/ACTRIMS) in Cambridge, Mass.

"CARE-MS I confirms that, in a head-to-head comparison with Rebif, disease activity is significantly reduced in patients with early relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis treated with alemtuzumab (Lemtrada), over the first two years of observation," said Prof. Alastair Compston, chair of the drug steering committee and head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, U.K.


Indian Army chopper enters Pak airspace, crew in 'military custody'


ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistani military on Sunday forced an Indian Army helicopter to land in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and took four personnel on board into " military custody" after the chopper allegedly violated the country's airspace in the Kargil sector.

Pakistan's chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said the Indian personnel were in "military custody" and being questioned about the incident.

"We are trying to establish contacts (with the Indian Army leadership) though the two DGMOs (Director-General of Military Operations) have not spoken so far," Abbas said.

Asked how the Pakistan Army intended to resolve the issue, he said: "I will not speculate on this matter. Whatever comes out of the investigation and inquiry (will decide the way forward)."

In New Delhi, Indian army sources said bad weather could be a reason behind the Cheetah helicopter's entry into PoK.

Earlier, a statement issued by Abbas said: "An Indian helicopter was forced to land once it violated Pakistani airspace at 1300 hours today in Olding sector near Skardu. Four persons, including three pilots, have been taken into custody."


Mitt Romney reaches out to voters but often lacks the common touch


SIOUX CITY, Iowa — The opportunity was teed up perfectly.

Midway through Mitt Romney's town hall meeting here Thursday, a young man contrasted the former Massachusetts governor with the other Republican presidential candidates, who he said focus on "the vitriol, the hyperbole."

"We have a candidate who once thought the greatest problem plaguing the nation's schools was the movie 'Aladdin,' " the voter said. "We have another candidate, who the only thing he has to offer is a $9.99 pizza deal — I mean tax plan — and we have a candidate whose only claim to fame was that he shot a coyote as governor."

Would Romney, he wanted to know, "finally give the people of Iowa an alternative to that?"

This was Romney's moment to make the case that he is the substantive one, the electable one, to tell Republican voters that Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry may be the candidates they love but that Mitt Romney is the president they need. And that that is why they should love him, too.


'Wonder fish' turns into environmental piranha: The Battle Against Asian Carp


CHICAGO — The Asian carp infesting the major rivers of America didn't sneak into the country in the ballast of ocean freighters, as so many invasive species have. They didn't slowly invade through freighter locks and into the Great Lakes, as the sea lamprey did.

Decades ago, federal and state officials purposefully imported carp, which they believed were "the wonder fish."

The carp were imported because officials were eager to find a safer way than chemicals to control weeds, algae, sewage and parasites. Grass carp eat as much as three times their body weight in weeds each day, replacing the toxic chemicals commonly used for weed control.

But during the past four decades, not only have the Asian carp escaped into the wild, they also have expanded their reign to rivers and lakes across America -- as state and federal officials have stood idly by.

The next decade is a crucial time in the battle against the Asian carp. There is ample evidence that the fish could devastate the Great Lakes, and they might eventually dominate all the major rivers and lakes of North America.

The question now is whether government agencies will act quickly to protect the Great Lakes, or fail to head off the carp again and allow history to repeat itself.

'Wonder fish' comes to America

The four species of Asian carp that are now the scourge of Middle America -- silver, bighead, grass and black carp -- were first brought to the United States in the 1960s.

It started with grass carp, a fish that gobbles vegetation and could clean up America's weed-choked ponds and lakes.

To federal officials, the most important carp were the silver and bighead. They feasted on algae and sewage and satisfied a movement in the 1970s to use a chemical-free method to battle pollution. Bighead and silver carp would consume polluted organic material.

To U.S. and state wildlife officials, the Asian carp experiment was worth the risk. The fish were so effective at their jobs that Arkansas raised and released 380,000 of them in public waters and private fish farms.


Autopsy: Libya's Gadhafi killed by shot to head

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — An autopsy confirmed that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi died from a gunshot to the head, the country's chief pathologist said Sunday, just hours before Libya's new leaders were to declare liberation and a formal end to an eight-month civil war to topple the longtime ruler's regime.

The declaration starts the clock on a transition to democracy that is fraught with uncertainty and could take up to two years.

However, international concern about the circumstances of Gadhafi's death and indecision over what to do with his remains overshadowed what was to be a joyful day. Gadhafi's body has been on public display in a commercial freezer in a shopping center in the port city of Misrata, which suffered from a bloody siege by regime forces during the spring.

The 69-year-old was captured wounded, but alive Thursday in his hometown of Sirte as it became the last city to fall to revolutionary forces. Bloody images of Gadhafi being taunted and beaten by his captors have raised questions about whether he was killed in crossfire as suggested by government officials or deliberately executed.

An autopsy completed Sunday in Misrata showed that Gadhafi was killed by a shot to the head, said Libya's chief pathologist, Dr. Othman al-Zintani. He would not disclose further details or elaborate on Gadhafi's final moments, saying he would first deliver a full report to the attorney general.

Most Libyans weren't concerned about the circumstances of the hated leader's death, but rather were relieved the country's ruler of 42 years was gone, clearing the way for a new beginning.

"If he (Gadhafi) was taken to court, this would create more chaos, and would encourage his supporters," said Salah Zlitni, 31, who owns a pizza parlor in downtown Tripoli. "Now it's over."

Libya's interim leaders are to formally declare later Sunday that the country has been liberated. The ceremony is to take place in the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolution's birthplace.

The long-awaited declaration starts the clock on Libya's transition to democracy. The transitional leadership has said it would declare a new interim government within a month of liberation and elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months, to be followed by votes for a parliament and president within a year.

The uprising against the Gadhafi regime erupted in February, as part of anti-government revolts spreading across the Middle East. Neighboring Tunisia, which set off the so-called Arab Spring with mass protests nearly a year ago, has taken the biggest step on the path to democracy, voting for a new assembly Sunday in its first truly free elections. Egypt, which has struggled with continued unrest, is next with parliamentary elections slated for November.

Defensive difference: Matt Holliday's big arm

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Back in the fourth inning when the bats began to explode and the game was still in doubt, St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday threw a perfect rope to catcher Yadier Molina to nail Mike Napoli, who was tagging on Ian Kinsler's fly out down the left-field line.

The inning-ending double play ended a wild inning in which the Cardinals scored four times in the top half and then limited the Texas Rangers to three runs in the bottom half. It proved the closest the Rangers would get in the 16-7 Game 3 loss that put the Cards up 2-1.

The set-up: After falling behind 5-0 in the top of the fourth, Texas bounced back and cut St. Louis' lead to 5-3 in the bottom of the inning and was looking for more with Napoli on third, Yorvit Torrealba on first and 30-30-man Kinsler coming up with one out. On Torrealba's line single to right field, Napoli rounded third and got the stop sign -- and it appeared wisely -- from third-base coach Dave Anderson.

"I'm on second base, I'm not the fastest guy in the world," Napoli said. "Trying to keep a rally going and thought that was the right player. Kinsler was coming up. The guy can drive the ball out of the park."


Powerful 7.2 earthquake collapses around 45 buildings in eastern Turkey; reports of deaths

ANKARA, Turkey — A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey Sunday, collapsing about 45 buildings according to the deputy prime minister.

Only one death was immediately confirmed, but scientists estimated that up to 1,000 people could have been killed.

he worst damage was caused to the town of Ercis, in the mountainous eastern province of Van, close to the Iranian border. The city of Van also suffered substantial damage.

"Around 10 buildings have collapsed in the city of Van and around 25 or 30 have collapsed in Ercis, including a dormitory," Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said.

Atalay said authorities had no information yet on remote villages, adding that the governor was now touring the region by helicopter to assess damage. The quake's epicenter was in the village of Tabanli.

Authorities did not provide a casualty figure but the Kandilli observatory, Turkey's main seismography center, said the quake was capable of killing many more people.

"We are estimating a death toll between 500 and 1,000," Mustafa Erdik, head of the Kandilli observatory, told a televised news conference. His estimate was based on the structure of the housing in the area and the strength of the quake.

The Turkish Red Crescent said its rescuers pulled several injured people out of the collapsed dormitory in Ercis, which sits on a geological fault line.

In Van, a bustling city with many apartment buildings, at least 50 people were treated in the courtyard of the state hospital, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

"There are so many dead. Several buildings have collapsed. There is too much destruction," Zulfikar Arapoglu, the mayor of Ercis, told NTV television. "We need urgent aid. We need medics."

Serious damage and casualties were also reported in the district of Celebibag, near Ercis.

"There are many people under the rubble," Veysel Keser, mayor of Celebibag, told NTV. "People are in agony, we can hear their screams for help. We need urgent help."

"It's a great disaster," he said. "Many buildings have collapsed, student dormitories, hotels and gas stations have collapsed."

Some houses also collapsed in the province of Bitlis, where at least one person, an 8-year-old girl was killed, authorities said. The quake also toppled the minarets of two mosques in the nearby province of Mus, reports said.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Assad forms committee to change Syria's constitution

President Bashar al-Assad formed a committee on Saturday to draft a new constitution within four months, the official news agency said, following a series of new laws that gave Syrians more freedom on paper after months of popular unrest.

Under pressure from street protests demanding the end to 41 years of Assad family rule, the president has lifted a state of emergency and promised "multi-party" parliamentary elections by February. But he has also deployed tanks and troops across the country to crush persistent demonstrations, casting doubt on the credibility of his reform gestures, pro-democracy activists say.

"President Assad issued today decree number 33 which stipulates forming a committee to prepare for a draft constitution," the state news agency SANA said.

The constitution, which was changed by Assad's late father, President Hafez al-Assad, in the 1970s, discourages any political pluralism by stipulating that the ruling Baath Party is "leader of the state and society."

The Syrian opposition has called for the clause to be scrapped, along with another that says the president can only be nominated by his Baath Party as well as numerous laws passed in the last 50 years which they say allow Assad and his security apparatus to practice repression and corruption with impunity.

The Baath banned opposition when it took power in a 1963 coup. The party organization has lost power and status in the last decade to Assad family members, some selected cohorts and the secret police, a bloc now underpinning the power structure.




Presidential hopeful Cain ups fundraising total

(Reuters) - Businessman Herman Cain, rising in national polls, raised $2.8 million in the third quarter to finance his run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, far shy of his main rivals but an increase over his earlier fundraising efforts, his campaign said on Saturday.

Cain, a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza who has never held elective office, raised an additional $2 million after the reporting period ended on September 30, his campaign said. His campaign also reported $1.33 million cash on hand and no debt.

He entered the race as a long-shot but has picked up momentum in recent weeks, winning the September 24 Florida straw poll -- a test of strength of the Republican candidates -- and gaining news media coverage for his tax reform proposals.

Cain placed first in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll among Republican candidates and second in a Reuters Ipsos poll this week.

His fundraising totals in the third quarter were far behind Texas Governor Rick Perry's $17 million and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's $14 million.

Cain had raised $2 million in the second quarter, among the lowest of the major Republican presidential aspirants.

"Mr. Cain's message is spreading and attracting supporters all across the country," Mark Block, Chief Operating Officer for Friends of Herman Cain Inc., said in a statement.

Cain's signature "9-9-9" tax proposal would create a flat 9 percent income, corporate and national sales tax rate.

His supporters, including Republicans aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement, support the plan for its commitment to lower taxes. Critics say the plan would benefit wealthy taxpayers at the expense of middle- and lower-income Americans.

In another development, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman's campaign reported having about $327,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, raising questions about his long-term viability in his long-shot run for the Republican nomination.




Yemen: U.S. strike kills al Qaeda media chief


SANAA, Yemen - American drone strikes in southern Yemen have killed nine al Qaeda-linked militants, including the media chief for the group's Yemeni branch and the son of a prominent U.S.-born cleric slain in a similar attack last month, government officials and tribal elders said Saturday.

In the capital, meanwhile, forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on protesters, killing at least nine and wounding scores, according to medical officials and witnesses. In a northern district of Sanaa, fighting between Saleh's forces and anti-regime tribesmen and renegade troops killed four supporters of a tribal leader and two civilians. At least 13 people also were wounded, including six civilians.

The airstrikes late Friday in the southeastern province of Shabwa pointed to Washington's growing use of drones to target al Qaeda militants in Yemen. The missile attacks appear to be part of a determined effort to stamp out the threat from the group, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which U.S. officials have said is the terror network's most active and most dangerous branch.

The Yemeni Defense Ministry identified the slain media chief as Egyptian-born Ibrahim al-Bana. Tribal elders in the area also said the dead included Abdul-Rahman al-Awlaki, the 21-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim preacher and savvy Internet operator who became a powerful al Qaeda recruiting tool in the West. He, along with another propagandist, Pakistani-American Samir Khan, were killed in a Sept. 30 U.S. drone attack.

Yemen's al Qaeda branch has claimed responsibility for dispatching the would-be suicide bomber who failed to blow up a Detroit-bound flight in December 2009 with explosives sewn into his underwear.

Al-Bana is described by a Yemeni official who spoke to Reuters as one of the most dangerous militants in Yemen.




iPhone 4S: My First Night

n 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, I lined up, like thousands of others, in the wee hours of the morning to purchase an Apple iPhone. Each year's story is somewhat similar: Get up early, go to Apple store, wait in line for hours, buy phone, go home.

In 2007, the iPhone went on sale at 6PM local time. I was home with the new device by 7:30. I had waited in line for several hours before the Apple store opened. I would say that there were no more than about 50 people clamoring for the device that year on launch day. With the first iPhone, the phone was purchased in the store, and then taken home to be activated via iTunes on your PC. I didn't have any problems activating my first iPhone, but some people did.

In 2008, the iPhone went on sale at 8AM local time. This was the year AT&T had terrible, terrible activation problems. iPhones were being activated in the stores for the first few hours devices were for sale, but eventually, Apple stores gave up and sent people home with unactivated phones. Once I got home--at 1PM--I spent about three more hours trying to activate the phone. Others had it far worse than me, waiting all weekend to get their iPhones activated. That year kind of sucked.

[ What can Apple's new OS do for you? See 9 Apple iOS 5 Features That Matter. ]

In 2009, the process was much improved. I got in line around 6:30AM at my local mall, and, since I didn't really have a good spot in line, I didn't walk out with the iPhone 3GS until about 11:15. I would have waited less had I gotten up earlier, I suppose. Activating was not a problem.

In 2010, Apple allowed people to preorder their iPhones for in-store pickup. They also let people select launch day delivery. I opted for the former. I was in line by 5AM, but I was standing at least 100 people from the front door. For the first several hours, I worried.



What US manhunt for LRA leaders reveals about Obama's war strategy

As 100 US Special Operations Forces begin deploying to Africa to help local troops pursue the brutal leader of a murderous rebel group, a clearer picture is emerging of America's preferred warfare strategy in a time of fiscal restraint: fewer troops, more drones, and the aggressive targeting of enemy leaders by special operations forces.

In a letter sent to Congress on Friday, President Obama made clear that the specific goal of US forces is to help in "the removal from the battlefield" of Joseph Kony and other senior leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that has killed thousands of civilians, routinely raped women, and abducted hundreds of children.

This hunting of Mr. Kony and his cronies will involve US intelligence support, according to senior defense officials, probably in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, such as the Predator.

US troops will deploy to Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the new nation of South Sudan.

Pentagon officials emphasize that US special operators will not fight – unless they are forced to defend themselves.

"We stress that these US troops will be working to advise and assist regional efforts, not acting independently," says a senior defense official.




Libyan forces search Tripoli for Gadhafi loyalists

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) – Libyan fighters fanned out in Tripoli neighborhoods Saturday to search for armed supporters of fugitive leader Moammar Gadhafi a day after a major gunbattle rocked the capital for the first time in two months.

Dozens of men combed apartment buildings for suspects and weapons in the Abu Salim neighborhood, which is home to the prison of the same name that became notorious for the abuse and killing of Gadhafi opponents. A day earlier, a gunbattle broke out in the area when a group tried to raise the green flag that symbolizes the ousted regime.

Revealing serious divisions within the revolutionary ranks, Saturday's sweep of Abu Salim was mainly being conducted by a breakaway militia that refuses to answer to the main Tripoli military council.

It is one of many factions that have refused to put themselves under the umbrella of official revolutionary authorities, raising fears of vigilante justice as the North African nation faces continued fighting by loyalists of the fugitive leader.

One anti-Gadhafi fighter stomped a green flag as others searched vehicles. Another showed off a box found stuffed with bullets he said was found in a second-floor apartment in one of the residential buildings.

Abdullah Naker, the head of the so-called revolutionary council, called on all anti-Gadhafi forces to join them in the search and warned his men will fight anybody who gets in their way.

"All of Tripoli will be searched and we will reorganize our checkpoints and our guards in public and private institutions inside of Tripoli and outside of Tripoli," he told reporters.

He said eight wanted men and 12 other suspects had been arrested. He also alleged that teachers have been telling students that Gadhafi will return and said teams had been sent to stop the practice.

"We gave the military council a chance to prove themselves and they failed and we will not leave things to chance," he said.




Friday, October 14, 2011

New York Police Arrest 14 Wall Street Protesters in Lower Manhattan Clash

New York police said they arrested 14 anti-Wall Street protesters in
lower Manhattan following a decision earlier today to postpone the
closure of Zuccotti Park, the site of demonstrations against the
financial industry.

Protesters arrested included those who stood or sat down in the
street, New York City Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said in
an e-mail. Others taken into custody included individuals who
allegedly overturned trash baskets or hurled bottles, Browne said. At
least one demonstrator was detained after he allegedly knocked over a
police scooter.

The arrests took place in the vicinity of Broadway and Exchange Place,
in lower Manhattan. They came after a decision earlier today to keep
Zuccotti Park, near Liberty Street and Broadway, open rather than
close it for cleaning.

The postponement averted a confrontation there between demonstrators,
who had gathered in greater numbers overnight, and police who
threatened to remove tents and sleeping bags.

As protesters filed out of the park and marched on lower Manhattan
streets, across the Brooklyn Bridge more than 30 police cruisers and
50 officers gathered near the federal courthouse at the span's eastern

A march Oct. 1 onto the bridge by protesters resulted in hundreds of
arrests. Protesters arrested in the march sued New York City, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for allegedly
violating their constitutional rights.


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Monday, October 10, 2011

Giant eye to glimpse a new galaxy every three minutes

The Chajnantor plateau, 5000 metres above sea level in the Chilean Andes, is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. The thin air makes breathing difficult, there is no water in sight and fierce winds often force the temperature down to 20C below freezing.

But it's on this desolate, Mars-like terrain that the world's most expensive and sophisticated observatory has just stirred into life.

The Atacama Large Millimetre/Sub-millimetre Array (ALMA) will open astronomers' eyes to the half of the universe that has, until now, been hidden to modern telescopes. It can already peer through the distant clouds of dust and debris in which the earliest stars, galaxies and planets were made and, when fully operational in 2013, it will find a previously unseen galaxy every three minutes.
''When a star forms, it forms in these cold, dusty gas clouds,'' said John Richer of the University of Cambridge and a project scientist for ALMA. ''The moment it's formed it's shrouded in this dusty material, out of which only half of the light from a typical star escapes. Many other stars are formed in very dense clouds and their light is completely absorbed by the dust in these clouds.''

These soot-like clouds of dust, which are also the birthplace of planets like Earth, obscure stars from modern optical and infrared equipment, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. While the dust hides the stars, it also gets heated by the starlight to a few degrees above absolute zero (-273C). The dust then emits radiation of its own at sub-millimetre wavelengths, which can be detected on Earth by ALMA.

Sub-millimetre light waves are 1000 times shorter than the light we see with our eyes. Detecting these means astronomers will be able to build a more complete picture of the universe. ''If you combine the optical images with the [ALMA] images you reveal all the star-forming activity, you're not missing half of the picture,'' says Richer.

Astronomers picked the Andean site because it has year-round clear skies and is one of the driest places on Earth. Sub-millimetre radiation is absorbed by water and there has been no rain in parts of the Atacama desert for hundreds of years. An advantage of being so high up is that ALMA will be able to capture images as sharp as anything of which Hubble is capable. Shifts of astronomers control the dishes from a more hospitable base at more than 1000 metres below the Chajnantor plateau.



Which came first: The galaxy or the black hole?

The relationship between a galaxy and its black hole is as mystifying as any of those found among families on Earth.

Scientists don't even know which came first — galaxies or their black holes, those regions of space so dense with matter that even photons of light fall prey to their gravitational jaws.

Scrambling the cosmic conundrum anew is a discovery of small dwarf galaxies with giant black holes, a finding that upends currently held theories of galaxy formation.

Previous studies showed that as a galaxy grows and evolves, its black hole seems to grow and evolve too, at least for the big clusters.

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers now find that some small galaxies in the distant universe have disproportionately sized black holes.