Apr 16

Detroit snow breaks records, topples power lines, creates flooding risk


A spring storm shattered seasonal snowfall records in Detroit and Flint, as melting snow and rising rivers from heavy rain threatened homes Tuesday.  The snow came after a weather roller coaster Monday, with rivers overflowing their banks and hundreds of thousands of people losing power. Mid-70s temperatures in some parts of the state tumbled below freezing by Tuesday morning. By the time the snow ended Tuesday morning, 3.1 inches had fallen at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, pushing the seasonal total to 94.8 inches, and making it the snowiest winter on record, the weather service said.

That exceeded the previous Detroit seasonal record of 93.6 inches from the winter of 1880-1881.  The state’s largest utilities said crews are working to finish restoring power to about 35,000 homes and businesses without service following storms packing high winds that began on Saturday. Cleanup also continues from those storms, including at damaged schools in Kent County and the village of Byron. In Flint, 1.3 inches fell as of Tuesday morning, pushing the seasonal total to 83.9 inches. That exceeded the previous Flint seasonal record of 82.9 inches from the winter of 1974-1975. ”Most people alive today have never experienced this,” said Brian Tilley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in suburban Detroit. ”It’s probably the best way to sum it up, without getting carried away with superlatives.” Flood warnings are in effect along rivers in a wide swath of the Lower Peninsula. The Muskegon River in western Michigan was 3.3 feet over its banks at Evart in Osceola County on Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said, and earlier it was 2.8 feet over flood stage near Croton Dam in Newaygo County’s Croton Township.

Water at Croton Dam, about 35 miles north of Grand Rapids, was expected to remain high through next week, the weather service said. Newaygo County’s emergency services director on Monday told some downstream to evacuate. The Muskegon River caused flooding in the Newaygo County community of Grant. Flooding also was reported along the Pere Marquette, Chippewa, Tittabawassee and White rivers. And forecasters are asking people to keep an eye out for rising water levels in the Escanaba River in the Upper Peninsula. Newaygo, Mecosta, Midland, Osceola and Wexford counties have declared local state of emergencies, which enable them to execute operations plans, and administrate local aid and assistance, the state said.  Detroit-based DTE Energy Co. said about 28,000 of its 150,000 affected electricity customers were offline Tuesday morning, including 15,000 in Oakland County, 5,000 in Wayne County and 2,000 in Macomb County. Crews from Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin are assisting. Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp. says 7,000 of its more than 149,000 affected Consumers Energy customers were without service Tuesday morning. Outages include about 1,950 in Montcalm County, about 800 in Newaygo County and about 770 in Muskegon County. ”Mother Nature has provided a challenging combination of rains, high winds and even snow since Saturday night,” Mary Palkovich, Consumers Energy’s vice president of energy delivery, said in statement. “However, we’re confident that we soon will be finished restoring power to the communities we serve.” More

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Apr 16

FBI Visiting Gun Shops to Investigate “People Talking About Big Government”

FBI counter terrorism agents are visiting gun shops in South Carolina to investigate “suspicious purchases” made by people who talk about “big government,” according to a new report. Author Brandon Turbeville says he was approached by an individual who works in a Columbia, South Carolina gun shop to relate the story of how an FBI agent entered the store on Monday, showed his credentials, before proceeding to ask a series of stunning questions. Telling the gun store worker he was tasked with visiting all the firearms outlets in the local area to check on “suspicious purchases” for counter terrorism purposes, the agent then began discussing what in actual fact were “completely normal transactions,” such as, “paying with cash, purchasing long guns, and other similarly innocuous behavior.” The FBI agent then reportedly made a shocking remark that almost seems too chilling to believe. “If you see some Middle Eastern guy come in, you don’t have to be so worried about that. What we’re really looking for are people talking about being sovereign such as sovereign citizens or people talking about big government,” the agent reportedly stated.

Before the agent left the store, he handed the employee a flyer which lists paying with cash, buying in bulk, along with other seemingly innocuous behavior as suspicious activity. While there’s little chance of verifying the story since the FBI would almost certainly deny the claim, the notion of FBI agents charactering innocuous activity as a potential indication of terrorism is firmly established in the federal agency’s own literature and training procedures. The FBI has also repeatedly labeled those who identify as “sovereign citizens” to be domestic terrorists. In 2012, we reported on how the FBI’s Communities Against Terrorism (CAT) program was instructing businesses that banal activities conducted by millions of Americans on a daily basis were potential indications of terrorist activity. Flyers for the program being handed out to businesses such as Internet cafes even listed paying for a cup of coffee with cash as a suspicious activity. More

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Apr 16

Rouhani says Iran sanctions will unravel in months

President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday international sanctions on Iran would unravel in months following negotiations with world powers on its nuclear program, the official IRNA news agency reported. Some international sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program have been eased temporarily after a deal was reached last year with world powers, but Washington has said the lifting of sanctions can only happen “in total” after a comprehensive deal is reached. ”With your support, this government has taken the first steps towards the lifting of the brutal sanctions … We will witness the sanctions shattering in the coming months,” Rouhani told a crowd during a tour of Sistan-Baluchestan, a restive underdeveloped province bordering Pakistan. ”Today we already see the sanctions unraveling,” he said, according to IRNA, referring to the modest easing of sanctions in return for concessions made by Rouhani’s government in nuclear talks with world powers. World powers want Iran to curb its nuclear activity, which Western nations fear is aimed at giving Tehran the capability to make a nuclear weapon. Iran denies that, saying its nuclear program is only for power generation and civilian uses. The sanctions have bitten deeply. In late 2012, Iran’s economy was losing billions of dollars per month as sanctions slashed oil sales. Its currency plunged, inflation jumped and the economy went into recession. In an interim deal with Iran reached in November, U.S. and E.U. negotiators agreed to lift sanctions on sectors such as petrochemicals and precious metals for six months, with broader sanctions relief if Iran agrees to permanent curbs on its nuclear program.

The president blamed both the sanctions and “tactless policies” by the previous hardline administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the economic hardship faced by his nation. ”Due to the brutal sanctions and unwise administration, our country has faced myriad problems in the past years… but we will break down the inhuman sanctions,” Rouhani said. ”We will prove to the world through these negotiations that what has been said about Iran is a lie. Iran has never pursued nuclear weapons and never will.” Negotiators from Iran and the so-called P5+1 – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – met in Vienna last week to start drafting a long-term agreement on settling their decade-old nuclear dispute by a July 20 deadline. Western powers, along with Russia and China, want to prevent tensions in the Middle East from boiling over into a wider war or triggering a regional nuclear arms race. Iran exported oil at levels higher than allowed under the sanctions for a fourth straight month in February, ship loading data seen by Reuters showed, raising the risk of a crackdown if Washington feels economic pressure is being relaxed too quickly. Iran’s main clients are mostly in Asia. More

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Apr 16

Jordan air force strikes cars near Syria

Syrian man carrying the body of a child killed by an airstrike in Aleppo
Jordan’s army says the country’s air force has attacked cars that were at the kingdom’s border with neighboring Syria. An army statement says the attack happened Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT). The statement says the camouflaged vehicles were driving in a rugged area near the border and ignored demands to stop from security forces. The statement says Jordanian warplanes fired warning shots at the vehicles. The statement says the vehicles didn’t stop and were then destroyed in airstrikes. The statement did not say how many vehicles were destroyed, nor did it offer casualty figures. Yahoo News

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Apr 16

DEATH TOLL IN EBOLA OUTBREAK RISES TO 121


DAKAR, Senegal
(AP) — An outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has been linked to the deaths of more than 120 people, according to the latest World Health Organization count. There is no vaccine and no cure for the deadly virus, and its appearance in West Africa, far from its usual sites in Central and East Africa, has caused some panic. Health workers are trying to contain its spread, tracking down anyone with whom the sick have had contact. Mali announced Tuesday that samples from all its suspected cases had tested negative for the disease. Malian Health Minister Ousmane Kone said that the country had sent out 10 samples for testing at labs in the United States and Senegal, and all were declared negative for Ebola. There are no other known suspected cases in the country.  As of Monday, the U.N. health agency said it had recorded a total of 200 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola, the majority of which are in Guinea. That figure includes some of the Mali cases that the government now says are negative. The organization said the deaths of 121 people in Guinea and Liberia have been linked to the disease. Officials have said the current outbreak could last months. Associated Press

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Apr 16

Obama Administration in Talks for Detroit Bailout.

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-PRAYER
The Obama administration and state officials are in discussions on a deal that would free up an additional $100 million to soften the blow to Detroit pensioners, two people familiar with the talks told the Free Press late Tuesday. The two sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose the information, confirmed that there have been talks about the federal government supporting a move by the state to give Detroit $100 million in federal money for blight remediation. That, in turn, would free up $100 million of the more than $500 million that emergency manager Kevyn Orr planned to spend for blight removal over the next 10 years. Orr could then use that money to reduce pension cuts.  The federal funds would come from the Hardest Hit Fund, a $7.6-billion Obama administration effort established in 2010 to help the 18 states most hurt by the housing downturn. Michigan received $498.6 million to operate homeowner assistance programs, including those offering mortgage subsidies, home loan rescues, mortgage modifications and principal debt reductions.

But as of last summer, only a portion — about $2 billion nationwide and about $94 million in Michigan — had been spent. It was at that time that the U.S. Treasury allowed the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to use up to $100 million in unspent funds on demolitions in five cities, with the bulk going to Detroit. The $100 million that’s now the focus of negotiations is separate from the $100 million that was set aside for blight removal in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Pontiac, the sources said. But the talks are fraught with political ramifications for both President Barack Obama and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Obama, not keen to set a precedent of the federal government sending money to cities or states with deep pension debts, has publicly said there’s no support for a bailout of bankrupt Detroit. But Obama also has been under pressure from unions not to let retirees suffer in Detroit, a city that votes heavily Democratic. More

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Apr 16

China Growth hits 24 Year Low


China’s economic growth slowed further in the latest quarter but appeared strong enough to satisfy Chinese leaders who are trying to put the country on a more sustainable path without politically dangerous job losses.  The world’s second-largest economy grew 7.4 percent from a year earlier in the January-March quarter, down from the previous quarter’s 7.7 percent, government data showed Wednesday. It matched a mini-slump in late 2012 for the weakest growth since the 2008-09 global crisis. Beijing is trying to guide China’s economy toward growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment following the past decade’s explosive expansion. The top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, last week ruled out new stimulus and said leaders will focus on “sustainable and healthy development.” ”Chinese growth held up better than expected last quarter and there are signs that downwards pressure on growth has eased somewhat,” said analyst Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report. Retail sales and factory output were weaker than in the previous quarter but improved in March. On a quarter-to-quarter basis, economic growth from January to March slowed to 1.4 percent from the previous period’s 1.8 percent. The data reflect official efforts to shift emphasis from investment-intensive industry to services such as restaurants and retailing that generate more jobs.

Credit growth slowed in March and the expansion of China’s overall money supply rose at its slowest rate since 1997. Housing sales in the first quarter declined 5.7 percent from a year earlier. ”The continued slowdown in money and credit growth is likely to keep exerting relentless downward pressure on China’s economic growth,” said Societe Generale economist Wei Yao in a report. “Without re-acceleration of debt growth, the economy is unlikely to stabilize for another quarter at least.”  Stock markets in Asia and Europe were mostly higher, shrugging off the Chinese figures because growth didn’t slow as much as forecast by analysts. The latest economic growth is below the official annual target of 7.5 percent announced last month. But Chinese leaders appear willing to miss that target so long as the economy creates enough jobs to avoid potential unrest. In a sign of concern about employment, they launched a mini-stimulus in March of higher spending on building railways and low-cost housing. More

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Apr 16

GET READY TO PAY FOR THINGS WITH YOUR VEINS


Fingerprint scanners like those on the latest iPhones could soon give way to another biometric identifier: The geometry of the veins in your hands. Hackers in the Chaos Computer Club last year fooled the Apple TouchID, which unlocks the iPhone 5S when presented with a familiar finger, by creating a copy of fingerprint residue. Fingerprints, the hackers wrote in a blog post, are a terrible way to secure your information: You leave them everywhere when you touch things, and it’s (relatively) easy to create fakes that fool the current scanner technology. But if you’re still looking to replace passwords with biometric scans, there’s still hope. We now have an increasing number of scanners that identify you by the pattern of veins in your hand instead. Vein geometry is just as unique as irises and fingerprints. The serpentine network of your vascular system is determined by many factors, including random influences in the womb. The result is a chaotic, singular print. Even twins have different vein structure in their hands. Vein patterns don’t change much as you age, so a scan of your palm can serve as biometric identification for the rest of your life.

Fujitsu has already produced a standalone palm-vein scanner as well as integrated one into its laptops. Computer World reported last month that the Japanese company might soon use them to unlock cellphones as well. Vein scanners could be used to unlock everything from your phone to your front door, but the technology may get its first mainstream use for fast-and-easy point of sale payments. US company Biyo (which debuted at 2012′s Consumer Electronics Show as PulseWallet) is the first to provide payment terminals that connect a palm scan to a credit card. And now a number of stores and eateries at Lund University in Sweden offer Quixter, a vein pattern payment system developed by student Fredrik Leifland. With 1,600 users, Leifland considers his system to be the first truly functional one of its kind. You can see it in action here. NextGov

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Apr 16

Plant disease could wipe out World Supply of Bananas

bananas, gone, dying, world, disease, plant, fruit, yellow, supply, united nations
Experts said the global crop of bananas, worth £3billion a year, was at risk of “massive destruction” as the fungal disease spreads from Asia to Africa and the ­Middle East. It could lead to reduced stocks in UK supermarkets or a rise in prices if the crisis worsens. More than 100 million tons of bananas are traded a year, with about five million consumed in Britain. They are the most-bought product in UK supermarkets. On average, Britons eat 22lb (10kg) of the energy-rich, nutritious fruit every year, equivalent to about 100 bananas per person. But a strain of Panama disease know as TR4 is now threatening production and export of the fourth-most important food crop for the world’s poorest countries. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that as yet there is no cure for TR4. Crucially, the disease particularly affects the Cavendish variety of banana which accounts for nearly half the world’s ­crop.

The disease affects the banana tree but not the fruit itself. Experts say the only solution is to cut down the trees, dig trenches to prevent its spread and impose strict quarantine measures. Panama disease can remain active for decades. In the 1950s, a strain wiped out plantations in Central and South America. Concern is now focused on Latin America, including the world’s main producer Ecuador. The region has so far been unaffected this time, but the FAO warned there was now a “potential” risk. Gert Kema, director of the banana research programme at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said: “I think it’s sheer luck. ”It’s not a question of whether it will arrive but when. ”There’s no prevention.” He said the availability of bananas in Europe and the US had not yet been hit by the disease because their main suppliers were in Latin America. But this would change if the ­disease spread to these major ­producers. Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at the FAO, said: “Countries need to act now if we are to avoid the worst-case scenario, which is massive destruction of much of the world’s banana crop.” Express

 

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Apr 16

parasitic diarrhea-causing amoeba kills human cells ‘like a piranha’

Entamoeba histolytica parasites ingesting bites of intestinal cells in a mouse intestine, captured using live two-photon microscopy. Tissue was from a mouse expressing membrane-targeted green fluorescent protein (green) and amoebae were coloured blue.
Researchers have found a  parasitic amoeba that kills human cells in a unique way – by nibbling them. Entamoeba histolytica causes a potentially fatal diarrhea common in the developing world, infecting up to a third of children in some areas. The team were stunned to discover it kills by taking small bites of the cell until it dies – and then losing all interest in eating the remaining corpse.

Entamoeba histolytica causes a potentially fatal diarrhea common in the developing world. Approximately a third of all infants are infected within their first year of life in the Bangladeshi slum where the U.Va. researchers have been working.  The amoebae colonize the colon and begin their nasty work, which can produce diarrhea, inflammation of the colon, bowel diseases – or even no symptoms at all. Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine discovered the previously unknown way to kill human cells – which they say is exactly how a piranha might attack its prey.

Entamoeba histolytica parasites ingesting bites of human Jurkat T cells, captured using live confocal video microscopy. The cell membranes of the human cells were pre-labeled with DiD (pink) and the amoebae were pre-labeled with cell tracker green (green).Until now, researchers had assumed that the amoeba, Entamoeba histolytica, killed and then engulfed and consumed human cells.  But the team found the amoeba takes small bites of the cell until the cell dies – and then the amoeba loses all interest in eating the corpse. ’This is the first demonstration that nibbling can serve as a way to kill other cells,’ Katherine Ralston, who led the research, said.  ’The findings suggest that amoebae might invade and destroy host intestinal tissue by nibbling alive the cells that line the gut. Intriguingly, there are hints that organisms can also nibble.  ’Perhaps this process is more common than we realize, and it is taken to the extreme in the case of the amoebae, which use nibbling to kill.’ Approximately a third of all infants are infected with the bug their first year of life in the Bangladeshi slum where the researchers have been working.  The amoebae colonize the colon and begin their nasty work, which can produce diarrhea, inflammation of the colon, bowel diseases – or even no symptoms at all. Rather than poisoning human cells, as has been previously thought, the amoebae appear to nip at the cellular membrane, as a goldfish might nip at another goldfish.  Eventually, the amoeba consumes enough of the membrane – the cell’s casing – that the membrane becomes unstable and the cell dies.  The amoeba then detaches itself from its dinner and moves on to another, still-living meal. More

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