The U.S. targeted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal banker and other close associates with sanctions Thursday, and warned Moscow it would go after key sectors of the economy if it escalates the crisis in Ukraine. President Obama signed a new executive order giving the U.S. the power to sanction Russian companies in the financial services, energy, metals and mining, defense and engineering industries.  ”If there is escalation, these key sectors will be in play for sanctions,” a senior U.S. administration official said. Moscow retaliated by barring nine U.S. lawmakers, including Senator John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner, from entering Russia. The new U.S. order was prompted by concerns in Washington that Russia is trying to exert pressure on Ukraine by military, political and economic means, the official said. MORE

An experimental scramjet-powered, ultrahigh speed strike vehicle is emerging as the Pentagon’s main choice for a new long-range, rapid attack weapon, a senior Pentagon official says. Alan R. Shaffer, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for research and engineering, told a defense industry conference that prototypes and recent tests proved concepts for hypersonic arms, and several systems are part of a high-priority effort by Pentagon weapons developers, despite the era of sharply-diminished defense spending.  Hypersonic vehicles can deliver nuclear or conventional payloads in precision strikes against increasingly hard-to-penetrate air defenses of countries like ChinaRussia and Iran, he said. “We, the U.S., do not want to be the second country to understand how to have controlled scramjet hypersonics,” Mr. Shaffer told the Precision Strike Association’s annual review on Tuesday. The comments come 2 1/2 months after China’s surprise Jan. 9 test of a new hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed the Wu-14. That ultrahigh speed maneuvering vehicle test represents a major challenge for current U.S. missile defenses, which are designed to counter non-maneuvering ballistic missile threats. MORE

Worst-Case Scenario, Fed Sees $501 Billion in Losses at Nation’s Biggest Banks

If the economic worst happens—the worst being defined as a deep recession in the United States, steep declines in home prices, and recessions in the euro area as well as Japan—30 major banks in the U.S. would lose a total of $501 billion dollars over nine quarters, according to the latest round of stress testing from the Federal Reserve. That’s compared with $355 billion in the slightly-less-scary “adverse” scenario laid out by the Fed. The central bank noted, as usual, that the “severely adverse” and slightly-less-scary “adverse” scenarios it tests are “not forecasts, but rather hypothetical scenarios designed to assess the strength of banking organizations and their resilience to an adverse economic environment.” The Fed released its actual economic forecasts on Wednesday, and sees moderate growth on the horizon. This is the fourth year the Fed has done stress tests on the country’s biggest financial institutions. It looked at 30 institutions this year, up from 18 in previous years. Just one, the Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorp, wouldn’t meet the Fed’s minimum standards for capital in a worst-case scenario. MORE

Young Student’s ‘My Hero Is Jesus’ Assignment Rejected by Teacher, Mom Claims


A parent is accusing a North Carolina public school of impeding her child’s First Amendment rights by purportedly preventing the 8-year-old from writing about Jesus. Heather Watts told WECT-TV that her daughter Ryleigh, a second-grade student at Cerro Gordo Elementary School in Cerro Gordo, N.C., submitted an assignment that described Jesus as her hero, but that her teacher rejected it. Watts said the educator asked Ryleigh if she could write about something different — and the frustrated mother dubbed the treatment of the situation a threat to her daughter’s free-speech rights. “I think she should have freedom to write about what she wants to write about,” the mother told the outlet. “If she wants to write about Jesus, she should write about Jesus.” MORE

RUMORS OF WAR: Israel Budgets Billions for Plan to Attack Iran

Despite what is characterized as substantive progress in talks between Iran, the United States, and the European Union on Iran’s nuclear program, the state of Israel has announced it is allocating in excess of 10 billion shekels for war preparations.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz cites three members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, who say between 10 and 12 billion shekels, or between $2.89 and $3.47 billion, has been set aside for the attack on Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the Israeli military to prepare for the attack, the newspaper reported on Wednesday. Some members of the Knesset question whether the allocation has to do with progress between Iran and six Western nations and an agreement reached last November. The IDF said it had “received a clear directive from government officials from the political echelon – meaning Netanyahu and Ya’alon – to continue readying for a possible independent strike by Israel on the Iranian nuclear sites, regardless of the talks now happening between Iran and the West,” according to the three Knesset members. Rhetoric from the Netanyahu government has escalated as talks on the Iranian program near a final accord. During the AIPAC conference in the United States earlier this month, Netanyahu said Israel is prepared to strike Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. “My friends, I believe that letting Iran enrich uranium would open up the floodgates,” he said. “That must not happen. And we will make sure it does not happen.” MORE

Verge of War, Meanwhile Planning begins for another Obama vacation

Like the annual return of pinkletinks and crocuses, inns and hotels around the Island are getting familiar calls this week from White House officials planning a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard for President Obama and his family.  Three reliable sources, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to release information, told The Times that Mr. Obama will return to the Island in August. Two sources said the vacation is scheduled on or about August 9, a week earlier than the first family visited in previous years. MORE

Westboro church founder Fred Phelps Dead at 84

Fred Phelps — the founding pastor of a Kansas church known for its virulently anti-gay protests at public events, including military funerals — has died, the church said Thursday. The 84-year-old died of natural causes at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, according to church spokesman Steve Drain. Phelps founded Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1955 and molded it in his fire-and-brimstone image. Many members of the small congregation are related to Phelps through blood or marriage. In a statement Thursday, the church chided the “world-wide media” for “gleefully anticipating the death.”  ”God forbid, if every little soul at the Westboro Baptist Church were to die at this instant, or to turn from serving the true and living God, it would not change one thing about the judgments of God that await this deeply corrupted nation and world.” According to Westboro, the church has picketed more than 53,000 events, ranging from Lady Gaga concerts to funerals for slain U.S. soldiers. Typically, a dozen or so church members — including small children — will brandish signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” MORE

Russia lawmakers vote to annex Crimea; U.S. steps up sanctions

Russia’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a treaty Thursday to annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine, prompting tougher sanctions from the United States. After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had presented the treaty and urged lawmakers to accept the region as a part of the Russian Federation, the document was approved on a vote of 443 to 1. Russia’s Federation Council upper house will hold a similar vote Friday, completing ratification of a treaty that was signed by President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. Speaking “on behalf” of Putin, Lavrov had told the State Duma that folding Crimea into Russia was needed to protect ethnic Russians there. ”I am certain that passing the document will become a turning point in the destiny of multi-ethnic nations of Crimea and Russia, who are related with close ties of the historical unity,” Lavrov said. MORE

90 lieutenant colonels, 131 colonels selected for early retirement

Ninety lieutenant colonels and 131 colonels were selected for early retirement by the Selective Early Retirement Board that met Dec. 9, according to data provided to Air force Times on Wednesday by the Air Force Personnel Center. The officers were notified of their selection Jan. 23 and are assigned a July 1 retirement date. This SERB is one of several force management programs the cash-strapped Air Force is using this fiscal year to try to get down to authorized end-strength levels. MORE

Facing drought, California farmers rally against regulations limiting water supplies

Thousands of farmers in drought-stricken California are rallying this week in opposition to regulations that have frozen water supplies across the state. “It’s devastating, it’s like I’ll have to sell something. I’ll have to sell half to maintain the other half,” Alfalfa farmer Michael Erskine said. Erskine said the drought, combined with cuts to water deliveries, have slashed his bottom line by more than 50 percent. At issue is a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that upheld federal guidelines limiting water deliveries from the northern part of the state to the southern part of the state — to protect an endangered fish called the Delta smelt. The ruling went against a lower-court ruling that overturned the 2008 guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmentalists fought to preserve those guidelines, but farmers say they’re preventing vital water supplies from reaching the areas that need it most. MORE

Postal Service bailout? USPS billions in the red as lawmakers push reform

It might feel like first-class postage is going up every few weeks, but the U.S. Postal Service nevertheless is in need of a bailout.  Frank Todisco, chief actuary for the Government Accountability Office, told a House committee last week that the agency had $100 billion in debt and unfunded health benefit liabilities at the end of the last fiscal year.  At this stage, even the Postal Service admits it needs help.  ”Despite our efforts and our hard work, we cannot return the organization to profitability or secure our long term financial outlook without the passage of comprehensive reform legislation,” Jeffrey Williamson, United States Postal Service executive vice president, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently.  Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has ideas for how to fix it, and says part of that is convincing members of his own party that six-days-per-week mail delivery doesn’t make sense. MORE

US expected to raise interest rates in 2015

America is not expected to raise interest rates until next year, after US Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen said the central bank would stop using unemployment as a target to determine rate increases and set out a potential timetable for the change. The Fed has spent the past two years telling markets it will increase interest rates only once unemployment falls below 6.5pc, but on Wednesday it abandoned that target and offered a much more nuanced form of “forward guidance”. In its first press conference with Ms Yellen as chairman, the Federal Open Market Committee instead promised to “assess progress…towards its objectives of maximum employment and 2pc inflation”. It also pledged to continue to slow its bond-buying programme, saying it would cut it by $10bn to $55bn a month from April. However, the biggest news came as the Fed said it is likely to keep interest rates unchanged for a “considerable time” after it winds up its bond-buying scheme altogether. Mrs Yellen later clarified this period as around “six months”. MORE

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said even the biased mainstream media cannot justify the ultimate gift that President Barack Obama gave to authoritarian regimes and dictators around the world when he relinquished America’s control of the Internet last Friday.  Palin said that this “is nothing more than a gift to authoritarian regimes who seek to stifle the freedom the internet gives to voices around the world fighting for basic human rights. No amount of Obama/liberal media spin can justify this.” ”Evidently relinquishing America’s control of the internet via our Icann control of domain names was what Obama meant when he led his adoring followers in those strange, kind of creepy chants of “Yes-We-Can.” Palin wrote in a Facebook post. “Surrendering our control of the internet is a colossal foreign policy error with long term negative repercussions for freedom.”  Palin linked to an article by Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak that explained why this is “the worst thing Obama has done in foreign policy by far.” Breitbart

2nd fireball shoots over Maritimes in 24 hours


Two fireballs shot through the sky over the Maritimes roughly 24 hours apart in an event that astronomy experts call a “cosmic coincidence.” Witnesses in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick report seeing a fireball shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday morning. A mysterious bright light also shot over the Maritimes early Tuesday morning, with some residents in eastern Quebec also seeing a bright light around the same time. It’s the third time this month that fireballs were reported in the East Coast. Astronomy professor Rob Thacker of Saint Mary’s University says it was merely a coincidence that the two fireballs blazed across the horizon almost exactly 24 hours apart, but that’s where the comparisons end. MORE

Icelandic volcano Hekla is starting to ‘bulge’ with magma amid fears major eruption could happen within days

Hekla volcano, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, is on the verge of a major eruption that could impact air travel, experts have warned. A University of Iceland geoscientist believes a ‘bulge’ on the northern sign of the volcano is caused by huge deposits of magma rising. In 2010 the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano hampered air travel due to the ash and gas it has spewed into the atmosphere, and there are fears another eruption could cause the same issues. Researchers say there is now more magma than in 2000, the last time the Hekla volcano erupted. University of Iceland geophysicist Pll Einarsson said in a report published in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblai on Monday that according to GPS monitoring of the expanding surface, there is now more magma underneath Hekla than before the volcano’s last eruption in 2000, . Hekla volcano ‘could erupt soon,’ Einarsson said. MORE

RISE OF THE NWO – The way to save Western civilization from collapse is communism

If the United States wants to avoid falling like the Roman Empire, it must avoid “overconsumption” and distribute resources equally, according to a study funded by NASA. “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” reads the NASA-funded report published in the Ecological Economics journal. “Two important features seem to appear across societies that have collapsed,” the study adds. “The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity and the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses.” The NASA study uses a Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) formula “to provide a general framework that allows carrying out ‘thought experiments’ for the phenomenon of collapse and to test changes that would avoid it.” In other words, the model only takes into account general characteristics of fallen civilizations, and not the specifics. What did the study find? That collapse is hard to avoid in unequal societies as “[e]lites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.” MORE

RUMORS OF WAR: PLA orders discussion of combat readiness

The People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department has ordered the army and armed police across the nation to discuss combat readiness and effectiveness, the army’s media outlet PLA Daily reported on Tuesday. The PLA Daily said the across-the-board discussions are aimed at instilling the concept of combat readiness, adding that the discussion will be the army’s prime political task this year. The PLA General Political Department has required military officers to learn about modern military technology and IT systems and to analyze what it takes to win a modern war. The discussions will entail weeding out military practices that run counter to the “combat-readiness standard” and studying the Communist Party of China Central Military Commission chairman Xi Jinping’s remarks on national defense and army building, according to the PLA Daily. MORE

SIGNS IN THE SUN – Scientists say destructive solar blasts narrowly missed Earth in 2012.

Fierce solar blasts that could have badly damaged electrical grids and disabled satellites in space narrowly missed Earth in 2012, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday. The bursts would have wreaked havoc on the Earth’s magnetic field, matching the severity of the 1859 Carrington event, the largest solar magnetic storm ever reported on the planet. That blast knocked out the telegraph system across the United States, according to University of California, Berkeley research physicist Janet Luhmann. ”Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous,” Luhmann said in a statement. A 2013 study estimated that a solar storm like the Carrington Event could take a $2.6 trillion bite out of the current global economy. Massive bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields, shot into space on July 23, 2012, would have been aimed directly at Earth if they had happened nine days earlier, Luhmann said. MORE

DAYS OF LOT – Two Dozen Chicago High Schools To Offer Free Condoms

 Rahm Emanuel defended a plan to make free condoms available at 24 high schools starting next school year, expanding an effort to reduce teen pregnancy and prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases among youths. “I want everybody to understand that doesn’t mean you’re absolved either as a parent or an adult to talk to an adolescent about responsible behavior, respecting who you’re with, and doing what’s right not what’s convenient,” the mayor said.  WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the Chicago Public Schools already have condoms available at two high schools, and will work with the Chicago Department of Public Health to identify two dozen schools to get condoms in the fall. Chicago’s teen pregnancy rate is double that in New York City. The expanded condom distribution program will be funded by a five-year, $20 million federal grant. The mayor said he supports the program, but said it would not replace parental guidance. “That doesn’t absolve a parent from talking to their child about responsible behavior and respect,” he said. The mayor said the condom distribution program simply acknowledges reality in an effort to curb teen pregnancy rates and incidents of sexually-transmitted diseases. CBS Chicago

CBS reporter from Arizona reveals that President Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, receives questions from the press in advance of his daily press briefing. In fact, she says, the reporters often receive the answers in advance of the briefing, too. According to the reporter, Jay Carney told her this yesterday at the White House:  ”It was a very busy day. We started here shortly after 8 o’clock with a coffee with press secretary Jay Carney inside his office in the West Wing,” says the reporter. ”And this was the off-the-record so we were able to ask him all about some of the preparation that he does on a regular basis for talking to the press in his daily press briefings. He showed us a very long list of items that he has to be well versed on every single day. ”And then he also mentioned that a lot of times, unless it’s something breaking, the questions that the reporters actually ask — the correspondents — they are provided to him in advance. So then he knows what he’s going to be answering and sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them, because of course it helps when they’re producing their reports for later on. So that was very interesting.” MORE


‘Is It Preposterous’ to Think a Black Hole Caused Flight 370 to Go Missing?

CNN’s Don Lemon has been entertaining all sorts of theories about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, including the chance something “supernatural” happened, but on Wednesday night, he actually asked panelists about the possibility a black hole was involved. Lemon brought this up along with other “conspiracy theories” people have been floating on Twitter, including people noting the eerie parallels to Lost and The Twilight Zone, and wondered, “is it preposterous” to consider a black hole as a possibility? Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said, “A small black hole would suck in our entire universe, so we know it’s not that.” Here’s another theory I’ll just throw out there: what about the plane entered a wormhole into another dimension? I don’t know if that’s how the science works, though. Watch the video below, via CNN: MORE

GOG N MAGOG WATCH: Russia warns West it may change its stance on Iran

U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine spilled over into nuclear talks with Iran Wednesday, with Moscow’s chief envoy at the negotiations warning that his country may take “retaliatory measures” that could hurt attempts to persuade Tehran to cut back on programs that could make atomic arms. The statement, by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, appeared to be the most serious threat of reprisal by Moscow for Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Russia is key to attempts to coax Iran into significant long-term curbs of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from U.N. and other sanctions. Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms but is seeking a deal that will result in full sanctions relief. The Russian threat, hours after the latest negotiating round ended, appeared to catch Washington off guard. Days ahead of the meeting, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki had said she expects Russia to “remain an active partner” in the talks. During the two-day talks, Western officials involved described Russia’s participation as constructive and unchanged by the Ukraine tensions. MORE

Ukraine to hold joint military exercises with U.S. and Britain after announcing troop withdrawal from Crimea

Ukraine asked Britain for military support last night amid growing fears that Russia is set to launch a fresh land grab in Eastern Europe. The embattled nation’s security chief Andriy Parubiy called for joint military exercises with the United States and Britain to deter Russia from seizing the rest of Eastern Ukraine. He said Ukraine will hold manoeuvres with the two Western nations following the annexation of Crimea. The Ministry of Defence said Britain ‘routinely’ holds military exercises with Ukraine. Planning is going ahead for one exercise – codenamed Rapid Trident 14 – to be held near Lviv, close to the Polish border in western Ukraine, in July. An MoD insider said: ‘This is nothing to do with the current situation in Ukraine and it is not an exercise in, “Right, let’s go and practice battering the Russians”.’ The news of the joint exercises emerged as Ukraine announced it was drawing up plans to withdraw its soldiers and their families from Crimea following the storming of its naval bases by pro-Russian froces. Mr Parubiy said he wanted to move them ‘quickly and effciently’ to mainland Ukraine. Immediately after the Sevastopol base was seized heavily-armed men wearing unmarked uniforms began guarding it. Alexsandr Vitko, commander of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet, later strode in to cheers from the crowd. MORE

DEVELOPING: Objects could be Malaysia Airlines debris; weather hampers search

Two objects spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean may be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian authorities said Thursday, fueling cautious hopes of a breakthrough in an international search of unprecedented scale. A Royal Australian Air Force search plane dispatched to the remote spot was unable to find either object amid rain, clouds and limited visibility Thursday afternoon, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Twitter. Three more planes, a merchant ship and an Australian naval ship were on their way to the scene, officials said. Authorities cautioned the objects could be something else — shipping containers that fell off a vessel, for instance. But they said they represent the best lead so far in the search for the missing airliner, which vanished 13 days ago with 239 passengers and crew aboard. MORE

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Australia says possible objects in Indian Ocean

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that authorities have spotted two objects in the Indian Ocean that are possibly related to the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The reports say the objects were found in the southern Indian Ocean and a Royal Australian Air Force plane is attempting closer inspection. Australian search teams have been at the forefront of search efforts in the remote southern Indian Ocean. CNN

Will this be the year when the Fed’s quantitative easing program finally ends?  For a long time, many analysts were proclaiming that the Fed would never taper.  But then it started happening.  Then a lot of them started talking about how “the untaper” was right around the corner.  That hasn’t happened either.  It looks like that under Janet Yellen the Fed is quite determined to bring the quantitative easing program to a close by the end of this year.  Up until now, the financial markets have been slow to react because there has been a belief that the Fed would reverse course on tapering the moment that the U.S. economy started to slow down again.  But even though the U.S. middle class is in horrible shape, and even though there are lots of signs that we are heading into another recession, the Fed has continued tapering. MORE

Mysterious booms worry Osceola, Polk residents

OSCEOLA COUNTY —  It’s the bump in the night that has Osceola County residents asking each other “Did you hear that?” We’ve gotten email after email, not to mention Facebook posts, from people who say they’re hearing a boom around the same time every night. Not even the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office has an answer. “It was like a ‘BOOM!’ Then, the windows kinda shook,” said Kissimmee resident Daryl Mercado. “A loud BOOM sound…like they throwed a bomb,” explained young AJ. His mother, Lori Chezem, said, “Loud booms. It reminds me of when the space shuttle used to come in — the Sonic Boom.” Kids and adults alike are talking about it. But what exactly is it? Chezem is in St. Cloud and was one of the people who emailed us about these mysterious booms. We’re also hearing from people in Kissimmee and even as far away as Haines City in Polk County. Whatever it is, Valencia College student Daryl Mercado’s story lines up with everything else we’ve been hearing. These booms start around 10 p.m. and they sound like thunder. Mercado said he’s heard them over the past three weeks. He was studying the second time it happened, but he grabbed his flashlight to see what it was. “I don’t hear anything,” Mercado said. “I don’t hear any sirens. I don’t hear any other booms, just silence. I kind of just scratched my head and went back inside.” Mercado isn’t the only one puzzled by this. We reached out to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, but a spokesperson said they don’t have any answers either. “We took several calls and we are investigating,” said spokesperson Twis Lizasuain. So as their investigation continues, Daryl Mercado will continue to patrol his community, while neighbors try to go about life as normal. This is a mystery we will continue to follow and keep you updated. News 13

PROPHECY ALERT: River Zin Returning to the Desert in Israel After Years of Drought


Isaiah 51:3 – The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

A truly remarkable and rare occurrence was captured on camera overseas as rainfall sent water gushing down a river for the first time in years. The river Zin, which drains into the Dead Sea, is about 75 miles long and runs through the Negev Desert, in southern Israel. While it’s referred to as a river, usually only the dry bed of the Zin can be seen. Also called the Nahal Zin, the river rarely holds any water due to the arid desert conditions. But that changed last week, and the transformation was captured in a video uploaded to YouTube on March 14. Heavy rainfall on mountains miles away caused water to run down and fill the riverbed. After years of viewing a dusty and dry creek, villagers gathered at the river’s edge to see the water pour down.  For those who live in the desert, the flood was a welcome event — reason to cheer and celebrate! A lone dog even joined in to witness the flood, although it quickly scampered away as the water surged closer to the ledge where the curious crowd had congregated. While it is rare for the river to be filled with water, it is even more rare for the flooding to be captured on camera. The audience that gathered and the sudden waterfall created by the flood adds to the power of the clip. The person who uploaded the video described the river’s re-emergence in Hebrew as an “unforgettable experience” and “amazing.” YouTube user Melanie Ross commented, “What a beautiful sight. Awesome.” Another user added, “You can feel the new life that flows with this.” Yahoo News


John Kerry to Russia: You Lost the Cold War, Get Over it

]Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words today for Vladimir Putin, saying he is surprised and disappointed in a speech the Russian president gave about the country’s right to take over Crimea from Ukraine. ”It really just didn’t jibe with reality or with what’s happening on the ground,” Kerry said, speaking to a group of university students at the State Department. “The president may have his version of history, but I believe that he and Russia, for what they have done, are on the wrong side of history.” Kerry refused to give any details about what the United States will do if Russia goes further toward annexing the Crimean peninsula but said such an act would be as “egregious as any step that I can think of that could be taken by a country in today’s world, particularly by a country like Russia where so much is at stake.” He suggested that the United States didn’t believe the Kremlin would move beyond Crimea given Putin’s speech today, which focused on the historical ties Russia and the Ukraine have. Kerry acknowledged those ties but said they were no excuse for the invasion. ”Russia has an enormous historical connection to Ukraine,” Kerry said. “We know this, but that doesn’t legitimize just taking what you want because you want it or because you’re angry about the end of the Cold War or the end of the Soviet Union.” Yahoo News


Kerry angered by Israeli minister’s sharp criticism

In a rare move, Secretary of State John Kerry protested Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about strong criticism of US foreign policy by his outspoken defense minister. In a telephone call, Kerry told Netanyahu the comments made by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon were inconsistent with strong ties between Israel and the United States, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. ”Clearly his comments were not constructive,” Psaki told reporters, after Yaalon accused the US administration of showing weakness around the world, particularly on its policy with Iran and Ukraine. ”Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and protested to him his concerns about these comments,” she said, adding that the United States has an “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security. MORE


PROPHECY WATCH: Israeli airstrikes escalate tensions with Syria

Israeli warplanes unleashed a series of airstrikes on Syrian military posts early Wednesday, killing one soldier and wounding seven in one of the most serious clashes between the countries in the past four decades. The airstrikes came in retaliation for a roadside bombing a day earlier in the Golan Heights that wounded four Israeli soldiers on patrol along the tense frontier with Syria. The overnight raids marked a sharp escalation of activity for Israel, which largely has stayed on the sidelines during Syrian President Bashar Assad’s battle against rebels trying to topple him. It is unclear which of the many groups fighting in Syria may have planted Tuesday’s bomb. But Israel has said it holds Assad responsible for any attacks emanating from his country, and accused his forces of allowing the attack to take place. ”Our policy is clear. We hurt those who hurt us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Assad would “regret his actions” if attacks continue. MORE

No sign of MH370 explosion, head of global monitoring body says

Twelve days after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, one of the world’s most sophisticated monitoring networks has not detected any indication that the plane exploded in mid-air or crashed. The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates an acutely sensitive global verification system to detect nuclear explosions and also picks up other major explosions, earthquakes, tsunamis and more, said Wednesday afternoon that it had registered no high-altitude blast or crash into the sea that could account for the disappearance of the airliner. Speaking to The Times of Israel during a visit to Jerusalem for talks aimed at encouraging Israel to ratify the test ban treaty, Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said the CTBTO had also made all of its data available to its users around the world, for them to “cross-cut” with their own data, and that this too had produced no indications that the plane blew up in mid-air or crashed. MORE

TEPCO Halts Toxic Water Treatment System at Fukushima Power Plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co said Wednesday it had suspended a radioactive water treatment system at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant due to deteriorating performance. The operator found Tuesday that one of the three lines in the cleanup system did not eliminate radioactive material sufficiently. Tokyo Electric halted all three lines called the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS), but it did not detect any defects in the other two, said Akitsuka Kobayashi, a company spokesman. The operator has been investigating the problem since Tuesday, Kobayashi said. The system is regarded as a key facility to deal with the massive amounts of radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as the operator continues to inject water into three of its six reactors to keep them cool. MORE

Netanyahu Orders Israel Army To Prepare For Possible Military Strike Against Iran In 2014

Back in 2013 it was Syria where the world was gearing for imminent military action after a relentless series of false flag provocations by the United States (intent on securing a Qatar gas pipeline to Europe) which in the last minute was deftly diffused by Vladimir Putin. In 2014, it was the Ukraine’s turn, and after a prolonged campaign orchestrated by Victoria Nuland and the US State Department (again) which succeeded in the now traditional violent coup (see Egypt and Libya), once again saw Putin victorious, after yesterday’s annexation of the all important Crimean peninsula, achieved without the firing of one shot. So now that Putin has succeeded in trouncing the US twice in a row, it is time to poke some old, well-known geopolitical wounds, such as Iran. And who better to do it than Israel, where as Haaretz reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.” MORE


As the world focuses on the imminent Russian annexation of Ukraine’s predominantly ethnic-Russian-populated Crimean Peninsula, Moscow has flexed its military muscle with jet fighter and helicopter flights over Georgia, a country with which Russia went to war in 2008.  The outcome of the five-day war resulted in Georgia’s two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia ultimately being annexed by Russia and declared by Moscow to be independent countries. The two provinces still have a major concentration of Russian troops, tanks and ground-to air missiles. Moscow’s show of force over Georgia is to deflate any notion it still has of joining the West’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO has had an eastward policy that Russian President Vladimir Putin finds particularly threatening to Moscow’s sphere of influence. Informed sources say the flyovers also were meant to display displeasure with Georgia’s recent position on events in Ukraine. On March 6, the Georgian parliament condemned Russia’s effort to annex the Crimean Peninsula. MORE

Ex-Israeli Air Security Chief Yeffet: Iran May Be Behind Jet Mystery

Iranian intelligence officials may be behind the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 earlier this month, former El Al Airlines security chief Isaac Yeffet says. ”We have bad experiences with the Iranians, unfortunately…. I would not be surprised… if one of the intelligence bodies, group of Iranians, were involved,” Yeffet told “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV. ”They will land [the aircraft] in place that nobody will know. It will take years, if not more, to find what’s happened with this aircraft.” Yeffet, who is also a former member of the Israeli Secret Service, believes the two passengers traveling with stolen passports may be a key part of the mystery, despite authorities discounting their culpability. ”With them [was] an Iranian man [who] said [he] was a businessman but this Iranian went to purchase three tickets for the three of them and paid cash,” he said. ”Who pays cash money, in the last 20 years, to purchase three tickets… For us, it’s immediately a suspicious sign. MORE

Iran’s uranium enrichment will go on: Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran will move ahead with its uranium enrichment for its nuclear energy program whose peaceful nature has been proven to the world. “The world has admitted that Iran is, and will be, among the countries which have nuclear technology, including enrichment, and there is no doubt about this for anyone,” Rouhani said during a Wednesday cabinet meeting in Tehran. Rouhani noted that Iran enriches uranium to the level that would meet the country’s needs and that Tehran was ready to be more transparent about the process to allay any concerns. ”We do not want to make anybody worried… today we are negotiating for a final agreement which is reachable within six months,” he added. Rouhani’s remarks came after 83 US senators sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, urging him to reject Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear energy program. ”We believe that Iran has no inherent right to enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the letter said. Iran and the P5+1 group of countries wrapped up their latest round of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear energy program in Vienna on Wednesday, with both sides describing the negotiations as useful and constructive. Iran and six powers – Russia, China, France, Britain, the US and Germany – reached a deal on November 24, 2013 in the Swiss city to set the stage for the settlement of the dispute over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program. MORE


Masked Forces Storm Ukrainian Navy HQ, Raise Russian Flag and Detain Commander

Masked Russian-speaking troops on Wednesday seized control of Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea after it was stormed by militiamen. Pro-Moscow Crimean authorities also detained the Ukrainian navy commander and reportedly blocked the defense minister and another government official from traveling to the peninsula in what they said was a bid to defuse tensions. Ukraine’s military, which is heavily outnumbered in Crimea, has come under increased pressure since the region was nominally incorporated into Russia on Tuesday. The several hundred militiamen who captured the base in Sevastopol met no resistance. Sevastopol is also the home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and tens of thousands of Russian-led troops are now patrolling Crimea. It came a day after a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militia left two dead. The Russian-speaking troops, who arrived on the base after the storming, wore helmets, flak jackets and uniforms with no identifying insignia. By afternoon, they were in full control of the naval headquarters, a set of three-story boxy white concrete buildings with blue trim. It was not immediately clear how many, if any, Ukrainian servicemen remained on the base. MORE

WAR DRUMS: Ukraine making plans to pull troops from Crimea

Ukraine’s government said Wednesday it has begun drawing up plans to pull its troops from Crimea, where Russia is steadily taking formal control as its armed forces seize military installations across the disputed peninsula. In a warning to Moscow, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden declared the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies, which include neighbors to Russia. Standing side by side with a pair of Baltic leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, Biden said the U.S. was “absolutely committed” to defending its allies, adding that President Barack Obama plans to seek concrete commitments from NATO members to ensure the alliance can safeguard its collective security. ”Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior,” Biden said, after meeting in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins. MORE

The Hempstead school board won’t renew the contract of a principal who instructed her students not to speak Spanish, in a rapidly-evolving district where more than half of the students, like many Texas schools, are now Hispanic. Hempstead Middle School Principal Amy Lacey was placed on paid administrative leave in December after reportedly announcing, via intercom, that students were not to speak Spanish on the school’s campus. The Hispanic population of the rural area, roughly 50 miles northwest of Houston, is growing quickly, and Latino advocates say that it’s important to allow Spanish in public schools. ”When you start banning aspects of ethnicity or cultural identity,” says Augustin Pinedo, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens Region 18, “it sends the message that the child is not wanted: ‘We don’t want your color. We don’t want your kind.’ They then tend to drop out early.” MORE

Banker, 28, kills himself in ELEVENTH finance suicide this year

An investment banker has been found dead in an apparent suicide in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Kenneth Bellando’s death is the latest in a spate of suicides by finance professionals both around the globe and in New York. He was found dead in a neighboring backyard after jumping off his six-story building at around 10.20pm on Wednesday March 12.  Police investigators told MailOnline that the case is still technically under investigation but there was no immediate suspicion of foul play and he was dead on arrival.  Bellando, 28, worked at Levy Capital Partners and was previously an investment bank analyst at JP Morgan and Paragon Capital Partners. He was raised in Long Island before attending and graduating from Georgetown University in D.C. He returned to New York after graduation and launched his career in finance. Kenneth was not the only one in the family to work in the business world. MORE

Secretive Treaty Will Open Door to One-World Government

Obama’s final negotiations on the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty are almost complete. He will be sending this treaty to Congress very soon and is asking the House and Senate to grant him Fast Track Authority. If this happens, World Net Daily says it is all but certain that Congress will “rubber-stamp” the treaty that is designed to ship millions of good American jobs overseas to countries like Viet Nam or Mexico. Read more about how the TPP will destroy employment in the US here. Under Fast Track authority, no amendments will be allowed and it will not have to pass the 67-vote threshold in the Senate. This will allow Obama to ram this treaty through the House and Senate as quickly as possible before anyone in Congress even has the chance to read the full draft. Obama has been drafting the TPP in secret with 11 other nations, including Mexico, Canada, Peru, Malaysia and Viet Nam. MORE

Nigel Farage: Ukip would strip Christian weddings of legal status

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has said that the traditional Christian wedding ceremony should be stripped of its legal status. Mr Farage suggested that couples who want to wed in church should have to undertake two ceremonies, one recognised by the state and one a religious ceremony. He also said he would not abolish same-sex marriage, despite having campaigned forcefully against the bill before it came into law. His call for French-style reforms of the marriage system came after similar proposals Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat justice minister. In an interview with PinkNews Mr Farage urged gay, lesbian and trangender people to join his party. MORE

WAR DRUMS: US-Russia confrontation could drift to Mideast

As Russia moves steadily toward annexing Crimea — and the United States and Western countries respond with sanctions and other steps — the risk of an extended global confrontation is growing. Although any confrontation between the West and Russia would likely differ significantly from the Cold War because of today’s massive economic imbalance between the two sides, it may also look like the Cold War in some respects. Among these may be a struggle for influence in the Middle East with unpredictable results.  With 1.3% economic growth last year — without a major geopolitical crisis or Western sanctions — Russia’s financial resources will be strained and its options limited. Still, the Central Bank has nearly half a trillion dollars in reserves, which could help Moscow to manage an economic slump for some time, possibly two or three years at current energy price levels (oil and gas revenues make up about 50% of Russia’s federal budget revenue, with oil providing the vast majority of this).  If Western-Russian tensions escalate, the Russian government’s immediate priorities will be to inject state funding into the economy in order to sustain political support and to find additional revenue. The new money will be especially important; a Russian newspaper’s analysis puts the costs of annexing Crimea at $20 billion over the next three years. MORE

Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy apparently laments getting the fast-food chain involved in the debate over marriage equality, but he isn’t taking back his anti-gay comments. Cathy spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the homophobic remark that landed him and the business in hot water nearly two years ago. “Every leader goes through different phases of maturity, growth and development and it helps by (recognizing) the mistakes that you make,” Cathy told the AJC. “And you learn from those mistakes. If not, you’re just a fool. I’m thankful that I lived through it and I learned a lot from it.” In July 2012, Cathy made headlines when he said “guilty as charged” in response to a question about whether the company was in “support of the traditional family.” The quip led to boycotts of the restaurant chain by equality supporters. He may be ready to move on from the debacle, but his views on same-sex marriage have not changed. MORE

DAYS OF LOT – Tennessee Governor Appeals Same-Sex Marriage Order

Tennessee’s governor is asking a federal judge to put her ruling requiring the state to recognize the marriages of three same-sex couples on hold while a higher court weighs in on the case. Gov. Bill Haslam and state Attorney General Robert Cooper on Tuesday filed a motion saying overturning the law without an appeals court reviewing the case “frustrates the will of the people of Tennessee.” Haslam and Cooper say leaving the status quo in place pending an appeals court decision would not harm the three couples who sued for recognition. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger on Friday ordered the state to recognize the unions of the couples, who were married in other states. Trauger made clear that her order is temporary and applies only to the three couples. MORE

Government Agency: If 9 Substations Are Destroyed, The Power Grid Could Be Down For 18 Months

What would you do if the Internet or the power grid went down for over a year?  Our key infrastructure, including the Internet and the power grid, is far more vulnerable than most people would dare to imagine.  These days, most people simply take for granted that the lights will always be on and that the Internet will always function properly.  But what if all that changed someday in the blink of an eye?  According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, all it would take to plunge the entire nation into darkness for more than a year would be to knock out a transformer manufacturer and just 9 of our 55,000 electrical substations on a really hot summer day.  The reality of the matter is that our power grid is in desperate need of updating, and there is very little or no physical security at most of these substations.  If terrorists, or saboteurs, or special operations forces wanted to take down our power grid, it would not be very difficult.  And as you will read about later in this article, the Internet is extremely vulnerable as well. MORE

Small-Scale Attack on U.S. Power Grid Could Cause Nationwide Blackout – Attackers could bring down the entire power grid of the United States in just a few moves, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.  The report, citing an unreleased federal study, says a blackout could last more than a year. The United States is divided into three major power networks: Texas, the western half of the U.S. and the eastern half. Coordinated attacks in those three grids, pictured above, would knock out power to nine of the nation’s 55,000 electric substations. That would be enough to achieve a nationwide blackout. The substations take in electricity from power plants and send it out to homes and businesses. The map below shows the flow of power out of those plants. Shepard Smith spoke to former New York Homeland Security Director Mike Balboni about the frightening report. He said the information and threat has always been out there, but a recent sniper attack at a California power station last April revealed the vulnerability of the network. MORE

Deleted files on pilot’s home flight simulator raise suspicions.

Investigators are trying to restore files deleted last month from the home flight simulator of the pilot aboard the missing Malaysian plane to see if they shed any light on the disappearance, Malaysia’s defense minister said Wednesday.  Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is considered innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing, and that members of his family are cooperating in the investigation. Files containing records of simulations carried out on the program were deleted Feb. 3, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said. It was not immediately clear whether investigators thought that deleting the files was unusual. They will want to check those files for any signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went. MORE


DAYS OF LOT – Police Dismantle Huge International Child Porn Ring

Officials in the US have dismantled a huge international ring sharing indecent images of children – one of the largest such operations ever uncovered, American authorities say. They say that 14 men running a secret, members-only website have been arrested. About 250 children – mostly boys from the US – appeared on the site. The website had more than 27,000 subscribers, many of whom have been charged in individual cases. ”Never before in the history of this agency have we identified and located this many minor victims in the course of a single child exploitation investigation,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale told Reuters news agency. Ice worked with Homeland Security officials and other agencies to break up the ring, which ran a website to share videos of boys enticed from social networks into providing sexually explicit material – sometimes by men posing as women. Ages of the children ranged in age from three to 17 years, officials said, and came from 39 US states. Twenty-three of the 251 victims were identified in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Belgium. MORE

U.S. orders Syria to close its embassy in Washington

The Obama administration marked the third anniversary of the start of Syria’s civil war Tuesday by ordering Damascus to close its embassy in Washington and expelling its diplomats, though it did not break diplomatic relations with President Bashar Assad’s government. The order was issued “in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people” and because Syria has halted consular services, Daniel Rubinstein, the new U.S. special envoy for Syria, said in a statement. “We have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States,” he said. The State Department notified Syria that it must immediately suspend operations at its embassy in Washington, and at its honorary consulates in Houston and Troy, Mich. Syrian diplomats at those posts who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents must depart the United States. MORE

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: New York asteroid eclipse will be visible to millions

The people of New York City may be used to feeling at the centre of the world – and this week their city is at the nucleus of the latest asteroid hunt. New Yorkers don’t need to panic: the 72-kilometre-wide asteroid Erigone isn’t going to smash into the city. Instead, it is scheduled to eclipse Regulus – the brightest star in the constellation Leo – as seen from the Big Apple, plus a large part of upstate New York and parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Ontario and Bermuda (see map, below).

Distant Erigone orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. If its predicted path is correct (seeadditional image, above right), the star will completely vanish for up to 14 seconds at about 0200 local time on 20 March. And the occultation should be visible to the naked eye, even through the bright lights of Manhattan. Asteroid occultations are a common astronomy tool, though such events are usually only seen with a telescope and from dark corners of the globe. The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) is exploiting the fact that this one is potentially visible to millions of NYC citizens. Its vice president for planetary occultation services, Brad Timerson, gave us the scoop on what this week’s crossing will do for science, the possibility of seeing an asteroid “moon” and a peek into the life of an occultation timer. MORE

Iceland’s Hekla Volcano Could Blow Soon, Claims Scientist

Hekla volcano, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, could be close to erupting, a University of Iceland geoscientist claims. The most prominent sign of an impending eruption is bulging ground on the northern side of the volcano. This surface swelling indicates magma (molten rock) is rising under the volcano, pushing up the ground as it fills fractures and pipes beneath Hekla. According to GPS monitoring of the expanding surface, there is now more magma underneath Hekla than before the volcano’s last eruption in 2000, University of Iceland geophysicist Páll Einarsson said in a report published in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið yesterday (March 17). Hekla volcano “could erupt soon,” Einarsson said.  Geoscientists in Iceland keep a close eye on Hekla, because the volcano blows its top with very little notice. During Hekla’s last eruption, in 2000, it took just 79 minutes from the first warning earthquake until the volcano exploded, Einarsson said. But Monday’s alert is just the latest in a string of warnings based on Hekla’s bulging ground. Volcano watchers have anticipated a new eruption at Hekla since 2006, when tiny earthquakes and surface swelling first hinted that new magma had appeared. Media reports warned of similar surface swelling at Hekla in 2011 and 2013, without a subsequent eruption. Hekla volcano has blasted more than 20 times in the last 1,200 years, blanketing southern Iceland with thick layers of ash and lava. Some of the eruptions are short and small, while others continue for months, pumping enough ash into the atmosphere to chill temporarily the northern latitudes. The last eruption at Hekla started on Feb. 26, 2000, and lasted for nearly two weeks. NBC News

Second Radiation Release indicated at New Mexico site

CARLSBAD, New Mexico-  New air sampling data from southeastern New Mexico’s troubled nuclear waste dump indicates there has been another small radiation release. Department of Energy officials say a monitoring station picked up elevated radiation readings around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad on March 11. That’s nearly a month after a Valentine’s Day leak contaminated 17 workers and shut the only repository for toxic waste from the nation’s nuclear bomb-building program. Engineers say they believe the contamination is from previous deposits on the inner surface of exhaust ductwork. Officials say occasional low-level releases are anticipated, but they should be well within safe limits. The plant has been shuttered since early February. Shipments were halted after a truck hauling salt through the repository’s tunnels caught fire. Nine days later, the plant’s alarms were triggered by the radiation release. The New Zealand Herald

Minnesota restaurant hosts Nazi-themed dinner

Dressed in SS uniforms and surrounded by Nazi flags, members of a World War II reenactment group attended a Third Reich-themed Christmas dinner last December at a Minneapolis restaurant, City Pages reported. The organization has held the event for 16 years running, the last six of which were at the Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit restaurant, a participant at the event said. “All of the German [reenactment] groups in Minnesota have a Christmas party because we don’t typically have events going on in the winter,” Jon Boorom, a member of the WWII Historical Re-enactment Society Inc said. “It’s just like any club that has a party. Because they dress up like Germans from World War II, it’s cool to go to a German restaurant, eat German food, and drink German beer.” Boorom maintained the event was like “a Star Trek convention but for WWII enthusiasts” and was unrelated to any neo-Nazi activity or political affiliation. The society does extensive background checks on members to ensure they have no racist or anti-Semitic views, he said. MORE

Possible MH370 sighting as Maldives residents report ‘low-flying jumbo’

 As an Australian-led search for a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet swings into action in the southern Indian Ocean, reports have emerged of a possible sighting of MH370 thousands of kilometres away in the Maldives. Residents on the island nation, in the Indian Ocean about 700 kilometres south-west of Sri Lanka, have reported seeing a ‘‘low-flying jumbo jet’’ on the morning that the missing plane with 239 people on board vanished from civilian radar and lost contact with ground controllers. The large plane was reported to be white with red stripes, which is consistent with the Malaysia Airlines fleet, and was said to have made an incredibly loud noise as it flew over the the island of Kuda Huvadhoo at about 6.15am on March 8, according Maldives newspaper Haveeru Daily.  ”I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before,’’ one unnamed witness told the newspaper.‘‘We’ve seen seaplanes, but I’m sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly… It’s not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too.” MORE

Facebook’s Facial Recognition Tech Nearing ‘Human-Level Performance’

Facebook says that its facial recognition software is nearly as good as a human being at detecting and recognizing other people’s faces, the social media site announced. Facebook says that after training it’s facial software on “the largest facial dataset to-date,” which includes some “four million facial images belonging to more than 4,000 identities.” The recognition program can now accurately detect and identify human faces with 97.25 percent accuracy. This is just a fraction shy of human abilities. Facebook’s facial detection software “involves more than 120 million parameters” and is about 25 percent more accurate than the current generation of facial detection software. The Washington Free Beacon

China and New Zealand Begin Direct Currency Trading

 China on Wednesday allowed its currency to be directly traded with the New Zealand dollar in another step toward allowing greater international use of the yuan. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced the start of trading during a trip to China. Previously, a company that needed to trade New Zealand dollars for Chinese yuan in China had to use a third currency, typically the U.S. dollar. New Zealand allows open trading of its currency. China has strict capital controls which allow it to control the value of the yuan, an important economic and political tool in a developing country where tens of millions of jobs are tied to exporting. China’s government is gradually expanding opportunities for the yuan to be used outside its borders for trade and investment. It has previously allowed only five currencies to be directly traded with the yuan: the U.S. dollar, the Japanese yen, the Australian dollar, the Russian ruble and the Malaysian ringgit. China is New Zealand’s largest export market. New Zealand in 2008 became the first developed nation to sign a free trade agreement with China. Key said the move will make it easier for New Zealanders to do business in China and will stimulate trade and investment. ABC News

 The United States is considering sending troops for war games in the Baltic states bordering Russia, Vice-President Joe Biden said on Tuesday in an effort to reassure NATO allies alarmed at the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine. Moscow’s dispatch of troops to Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its unilateral declaration that the area is now part of Russia have left NATO member states in eastern Europe worried that they could be next in line. In the Polish capital on the first leg of a two-day trip to the region, Mr Biden condemned Russia’s actions in Crimea as a land grab, and said NATO’s commitment to protect any of its members from attack was unwavering. He also said the United States would work on reducing the dependence of eastern European states on imported Russian fuel, a relationship that, US officials say, the Kremlin uses as a tool of political influence. MORE


Russian troops and unarmed men stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday and raised the Russian flag in a tense but peaceful takeover that signals Moscow’s intent to neutralize any armed opposition. Russian soldiers, and so-called “self-defense” units of mainly unarmed volunteers who are supporting them across the Black Sea peninsula, moved in early in the morning and quickly took control. Shortly after the incident, Ukraine’s acting Defence Minister Ihor Tenyukh said in Kiev that the country’s forces would not withdraw from Crimea even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make it part of Russia. But an hour later, Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothing, began walking out of the headquarters. Interfax Ukraine news agency said the commander of the Ukrainian navy, Admiral Serhiy Haiduk, was among those who left and was driven away by officers of Russia’s FSB intelligence service. The report could not be independently confirmed. MORE


Israel strikes Syrian army targets in response to attack on IDF jeep

Israel’s air force attacked on Wednesday morning Syrian army targets in response to an attack on an IDF jeep on Tuesday in the Golan Heights. The IDF targeted military and security targets on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights that it said enabled the attack on the jeep on Tuesday that wounded four soldiers. The targets included a military headquarters, artillery batteries and a training base of the Syrian army the IDF said. An IDF patrol traveling on the Golan Heights near the Syrian border came under attack yesterday, when an explosive device was detonated near the soldiers’ jeep. The soldiers had stopped their jeep and were outside of the vehicle when the explosive went off. The soldiers belonged to the IDF’s Paratroopers Battalion 202 and one of the three who sustained light-to-moderate wounds was the deputy commander of the battalion. Additionally, another soldier was seriously wounded in the incident. On Tuesday, the IDF stated that Israel told the Syrian government through the UN peacekeeping force in the area that Jerusalem views the attack on the jeep as a grave violation. MORE

52% Think U.S. Economy Unfair to Those Willing to Work Hard

Most voters continue to think the economy is unfair to those who are willing to work hard. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44% of Likely U.S. Voters say the U.S. economy is at least somewhat fair to people who are willing to work hard, up six points from October. Fifty-two percent (52%), though, do not think the economy is fair to those willing to work hard, although that’s down from October’s high of 58%. This includes 14% who think the economy is Very Fair to hard workers and 17% who don’t think it’s Not At All Fair to them. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook. The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on March 16-17, 2014 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology. MORE

Continual Pentagon Threats Coming From Within

An independent review triggered by the Washington Navy Yard killings last year says threats to Defense Department personnel and facilities increasingly are coming from within. It says the department must rethink its outdated security theory that suggests defending the perimeters can keep threats away. Instead, it says that terrorism, espionage and even physical threats are coming from trusted insiders. The report recommends cutting the number of workers who hold security clearances, conducting better and routinely updated background checks, and setting up a system to evaluate and handle employees who may pose a threat. MORE


Now that the predominantly ethnic-Russian residents of the Crimean Peninsula have voted to be annexed to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pushed the effort after the overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, may be looking to take the rest of Ukraine because of its geo-strategic importance, according to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.  According to the official count, 95 percent of those who voted in the referendum on the Crimean Peninsula chose to rejoin Russia. Washington regards the referendum as illegal. Europeans are torn, especially those in the southeast who rely on natural gas that flows from Russia through Ukraine. There are concerns that Ukraine’s troubles are similar to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. As a justification for a takeover of all Ukraine, Putin may cite the close ties between the ultra-nationalist Chechens and the Muslim Tatar minority in the Crimean Peninsula. Regional specialists, however, believe that while this strategy may work in the short term for Putin, using the Chechen card could create greater problems in the long run for the Russian leader. MORE

Route change programmed before signoff, source says

New information from the Thai government bolsters the belief that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took a sharp westward turn after communication was lost. And it looks like that turn was no accident. A law enforcement official told CNN Tuesday that the aircraft’s first turn to the west was almost certainly programmed by somebody in the cockpit. The official, who has been briefed on the investigation, said the programmed change in direction was entered at least 12 minutes before the plane’s co-pilot signed off to air traffic controllers, telling them, “All right, good night.” Analysts on CNN’s “AC360″ offered different interpretations of what that could mean — with some experts cautioning the change in direction could have been part of an alternate flight plan programmed in advance in case of emergencyand others warning it could show something more nefarious was afoot. MORE

A Tennessee woman allegedly crashed a car into a church and stabbed her husband in the chest before  police apprehended her Sunday night. Stephanie Hamman, 23, reportedly drove her vehicle through the front doors of Providence Church and after her husband Steven Hamman went to the church to check on her, she attacked him. Hamman said he found his wife laying in front of the church altar before she told him “the devil is in me” and stabbed him in the chest with a large kitchen knife, WFSA-TV reported. When police found Stephanie Hamman 20 minutes later at a local hospital, she reportedly told them that she was mad at her husband for “worshiping the NASCAR race at Bristol,” though it is unclear if this was the reason behind her alleged actions. MORE

Joel Osteen’s church theft opens can of worms: Jaws drop as folks do the math

Whether you love or hate him, Joel Osteen recently reported the theft of $600,000 from the safe in his church, but the theft wasn’t the only information of interest revealed. After finding out that this large chunk of money was from just one weekend of Osteen’s collected church donations, jaws dropped around the nation. According to News Max on March 18, it didn’t take long for folks on the outside to do the math. Based on Osteen’s reported amount of money in this theft, it appears his Lakewood Church takes in $32 million a year. Calculator keys were punched around the nation taking the $600,000 for Olsteen’s weekend donation collection and timing this by the 52 weeks in a year. Many consider this a conservative estimate of donations this church receives, as March is just an average month with no holidays for the church. The spirit of giving around the holidays has to net this church more than the average week. Then there’s Easter and other holidays. MORE

Russian ships, bombers in Latin America worry US officials

A number of US lawmakers and Pentagon officials have raised concerns over Russia’s plans for sending navy ships and long-range bombers to Latin America for the first time in years. According to The Hill, Moscow is planning bases in countries in the region like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s national security team met last week to discuss strengthening military ties with the region. “They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) told a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.” Gen. James Kelly, commander of US Southern Command, also said such plans by Moscow to increase its military presence in Latin America have not been seen in more than 30 years. “It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” said Kelly at the Senate hearing. “We will be losing the ability to influence developments in a region that is very important to us,” warned Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at RAND, a think tank formed to offer research and analysis to the US military. MORE

Middle School Assignment: Second Amendment Requires Gun Registration

A workbook handed out to seventh grade students in Springfield, Ill., states that all Americans must register their firearms in order to have a Second Amendment right.  Provided to the Illinois Gun Owners Rights Facebook page by a local parent, the required reading makes several blatantly false statements regarding the right to gun ownership. “This amendment states that people have the right to certain weapons, providing that they register them and they have not been in prison,” the workbook states. Along with an open ended statement regarding the right to “certain weapons,”  the assignment also excludes mention that Americans have the right to “keep” and bear arms. The parent, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the assignment to Story leak and detailed their child’s initial reaction. “My son was given a workbook at school that is a compilation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When they covered the 2nd Amendment, he saw that they were stating that only ‘certain guns’ could be owned and that they had to be ‘registered,’ which he knew was false,” the parent said. “He bought this to my attention as he felt it was wrong to teach these things that aren’t true. I’m extremely proud of my son for his actions.” “Me and my children are active gun enthusiasts and supporters of the 2nd amendment. I have discussed the 2nd amendment with them several times and explained what it meant and its importance to our country.” MORE

Nearly one million Obamacare ‘enrollees’ have never paid any premiums

It won’t be long before the March 31 Obamacare enrollment deadline arrives, and the latest data still show that very few people have signed up for the scheme. In fact, according to recent figures put out by the Obama administration, there have only been about 4.2 million total enrollments logged in healthcare exchanges across the country, and of these only 3.3 million enrollees have actually paid their premiums.
As of March 1, less than half of the sitting government’s projected 7 million Obamacare enrollments have actually materialized, and fewer still have followed through with actually paying for their Obama insurance. Based on data collected from the Obamacare marketplaces in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, less than 80 percent of Obamacare enrollees have thus far paid their insurance premiums, with no system in place to actually track these payments. According to the UK’s Daily Mail, fewer than 1 million Americans signed up for Obamacare during the month of February, despite aggressive marketing campaigns that aired via television, radio and social media. Even a recent publicity stunt on the internet mini-show Funny or Die, where Obama hounded the public to sign up for Obamacare, failed to push enrollment numbers toward the administration’s goal. MORE

S&P 500 Declines After Record; Bonds Rise, Dollar Slips

U.S. stocks fell after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed to a record, while Treasuries gained and the dollar weakened. Russian stocks slid after the country completed its annexation of Crimea. The S&P 500 fell 0.3 percent to 1,865.53 at 2:32 p.m. in New York, after reaching an all-time high. The yield on 10-year Treasuries fell for the first time in three days, losing three basis points to 2.75 percent. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index gained 0.4 percent as Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index (HSCEI) climbed 2.4 percent after entering a bear market yesterday. Moscow’s Micex Index lost 1 percent. The dollar weakened 0.1 percent against the euro. Copper and oil advanced. U.S. stock trading may be subject to unexpected swings today because of quadruple witching, when futures and options contracts on indexes and individual stocks expire. The S&P 500 has advanced 1.3 percent this week as better-than-estimated economic data has overshadowed concern that benchmark interest rates may rise in the middle of next year. The European Union extended the list of prominent Russians subject to sanctions for their part in the annexation of Crimea, while ratings companies cut the nation’s outlook.MORE

Nationwide Home Sales Collapse: There Is No Recovery and This Chart Proves It

Now may be the best time to buy a home. At least that’s what the majority of real estate agents in America will tell you if you ask them how the housing market is doing. They’ll cite various statistics and give you a “feel” for the market from their personal experiences to convince you this is the case. But if you’re paying attention, then it should be clear that there is, in fact, no recovery in the housing sector. And any gains we may have seen over the last few years are nothing short of a Federal Reserve fueled mirage, much like the stock market. The following chart from Bank of America is indicative of some serious fundamental problems, not just with the housing market, but the broader economy as a whole. MORE

A Wisconsin-based atheist organization has demanded that that Governor Scott Walker remove a posting on the social media website Twitter that is religious in nature. The Freedom From Religion Foundation stated Tuesday that they took exception to Walker’s official account, including a tweet posted Sunday that simply read, “Philippians 4:13.” As rendered by the New King James Version, Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Based in Madison, FFRF sent a letter to the Wisconsin governor on Tuesday arguing that the tweet was a “misuse of gubernatorial and state of Wisconsin imprimatur.” Signed by FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, the letter expressed “dismay” over the tweet, which was also posted on Facebook. MORE


Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have been busy in California this month seizing inventories, computers and customer lists for the manufacturer and distributors of an unusual piece of plastic that the ATF says is a gun. To understand what this is all about, first you need to know some basic facts about building guns. First, Americans have been legally manufacturing personal-use firearms in their basements, garages and backyard shops since the nation was founded. Only since 1968 have commercial manufacturers been required to be licensed, but anyone wishing to build a gun for their own personal use is free to do so under federal law. Next is the issue of what exactly constitutes a firearm. If I sell you a plain block of steel, aluminum or plastic, that is not a gun, and there are no requirements for any sort of government paperwork, even if you plan to carve that block into a firearm. Likewise, if I do some machining on the block before I sell it to you – taking care of some processes that might be particularly difficult or require special tools – but I don’t do all of the necessary machine work – this unfinished piece of material is still not considered more than just a piece of metal – a paperweight – and still, no government paperwork, license or tracking is required. MORE

DAYS OF LOT – Ethiopia Proposes to Make Gay Sex a Non-Pardonable Offence

Lawmakers in Ethiopia are expected to pass into law a bill that would make same-sex acts a non-pardonable offense. Other anti-gay actions and measures in Ethiopia are inducing a climate of fear and panic among the country’s LGBT community. Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers endorsed the bill last week with parliament expected, according to local activists, to vote it into law as early as next week. The bill aims to curb the president’s power to pardon prisoners who committed certain “crimes,” including those imprisoned for homosexuality acts. Other offenses included in the list are corruption, human-trafficking, smuggling, rape and terrorism. Ethiopia’s Minister of State Getachew Bedane urged a quick vote. 26 year-old Bereket, an Ethiopian gay rights blogger commented on the move: “The decision to include homosexuality in this bill is simply pure ignorance on the part of the government. ”The rest of the world is decriminalizing homosexuality not because it wants to or it is the fashionable thing to do, but because it is now being realized that sexual orientation is a basic human right too. ”It’s deeply troubling to see Ethiopia opting out of this global consciousness.” MORE

“This show is church for people who don’t like church,” Our Lady J told HuffPost Gay Voices last week when we spoke about her “Gospel For the Godless.” The acclaimed singer-songwriter and classically trained pianist will bring the regularly sold-out show, which she has toured around the world, to New York City’s Joe’s Pub on Sunday, March 23.  ”I call it ‘Gospel For the Godless’ because I take the medium of gospel music and I take away the dogma and write my own gospel,” she added. Our Lady J has been writing her own gospel for years. Aside from penning and performing her own music, she is a much sought after pianist and has collaborated with Sia, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Antony of Antony and the Johnsons and Scissor Sisters, among others. As a classical pianist, she has worked with American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Los Angeles Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and the Mark Morris Dance Group. She’s also made headlines with her buddy Daniel Radcliffe and most recently guest starred on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” We caught up with Our Lady J to chat about her music, her dedication to beauty as a guiding principal, life in the music industry as a transgender musician and more. MORE

Obama ladies touch down in China amid taxpayer uproar

The Obama ladies are in the house — the house of China, that is. First lady Michelle Obama, her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother touched down Thursday in China for what’s being touted as a weeklong feel-good tourist event, amid increasing murmurs back home about U.S. taxpayers having to foot the bill.  Mrs. Obama is supposed to use her visit for soft diplomacy only, and shy from the more controversial topics that plague U.S.-China relations, namely human rights and economics. No reporters accompanied the family on the trip. “The nature of her visit is really quite different,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters ahead of the trip. “What the first lady really brings is the power of her own story, the power of American values.” The White House also announced that Mrs. Obama wouldn’t field any questions from journalists she encountered in Beijing, which rankled some members of the press and the private sector, given her trip — complete with an entourage of about 70 — was still being paid for with tax dollars. MORE

Navy database tracks civilians’ parking tickets, fender-benders, raising fears of domestic spying

A parking ticket, traffic citation or involvement in a minor fender-bender are enough to get a person’s name and other personal information logged into a massive, obscure federal database run by the U.S. military. The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred.  LinX is a national information-sharing hub for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It is run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, raising concerns among some military law experts that putting such detailed data about ordinary citizens in the hands of military officials crosses the line that generally prohibits the armed forces from conducting civilian law enforcement operations. Those fears are heightened by recent disclosures of the National Security Agencyspying on Americans, and the CIA allegedly spying on Congress, they say. Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, called LinX “domestic spying.” MORE

Search for Malaysian plane will be ‘long haul,’ transport minister says

Another day. Still nothing. Australian authorities said Friday they had called off their search for the day for two mystery objects that may or may not be parts of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Military surveillance planes, a commercial jet and two merchant ships combing the area failed to find any trace of the objects, which were spotted Sunday by a satellite in the treacherous waters of the southern Indian Ocean. The spot is more than 1,400 miles from the west coast of Australia. Flight 370 vanished 14 days ago with 239 people aboard. The announcement Thursday by Australian officials that they had spotted something raised hopes of a breakthrough in a frustrating search that has yielded few clues about what might have happened to the plane after it stopped communicating with the ground, appeared to veer wildly off course then dropped out of sight for good. MORE

Scientists Reconstruct Faces From DNA Samples

Sometime in the future, technicians will go over the scene of the crime. They’ll uncover some DNA evidence and take it to the lab. And when the cops need to get a picture of the suspect, they won’t have to ask eyewitnesses to give descriptions to a sketch artist – they’ll just ask the technicians to get a mugshot from the DNA. That, at least, is the potential of new research being published today in PLOS Genetics. In that paper, a team of scientists describe how they were able to produce crude 3D models of faces extrapolated from a person’s DNA. “We show that facial variation with regard to sex, ancestry, and genes can be systematically studied with our methods, allowing us to lay the foundation for predictive modeling of faces,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Such predictive modeling could be forensically useful; for example, DNA left at crime scenes could be tested and faces predicted in order to help to narrow the pool of potential suspects.” MORE

Hackers build drone that steals tons of sensitive smartphone data

Hackers in London have invented a drone capable of stealing data, including passwords and location, straight from your smartphone. Codenamed “Snoopy,” the drone is deployed above busy city streets and searches out target phones with WiFi settings switched on, taking advantage of a common smartphone feature to continuously search for networks that a user has already approved and accessed. “Their phone will very noisily be shouting out the name of every network its ever connected to,” Snoopy developer Glenn Wilkinson said in a CNN report. “They’ll be shouting out, ‘Starbucks, are you there?… McDonald’s Free Wi-Fi, are you there?” Snoopy’s onboard software then pretends to be one of those approved networks, and connects to multiple unsuspecting devices at one time, masquerading as different networks. Once connected to the quadcopter, Snoopy intercepts every transmission a phone sends and receives. After isolating a phone’s individual media access control address, Snoopy can see and record a trove of sensitive information including usernames, passwords, location data, or even saved credit card information in frequently accessed websites or accounts. MORE

Transgender Defense: ‘Donna’ Says ‘Doug’ Is the Spokane Serial Killer

A transgender woman accused of being a serial killer is blaming the 1990 murders of three prostitutes in Washington State on Douglas Perry, the person she identified as before her transition. Donna Perry, 62, told police in 2012 in an affidavit filed in Spokane Superior Court that she had gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, and when a person transitions from male to female, “there’s a great downturn in violence.” She also told police that she intentionally had the operation, which she underwent in 2000, “as a permanent way to control violence.” Perry is being held on $1 million bond in a Spokane County jail and declined to make a court appearance on murder charges this week, according to ABC affiliate KTLY, which first reported the story. In a case that has been cold for more than two decades, the affidavit filed Jan. 14 says Perry was linked through DNA evidence to the killings of Yolanda Sapp, Kathleen Brisbois and Nickie Lowe, whom police say were prostitutes. Police allege that Perry shot the women and left their naked bodies on the banks of the Spokane River. She was arrested earlier this year and served jail time for federal weapons charges. Police say they matched Perry’s fingerprints to the crime scenes, according to the affidavit. MORE


Ukraine food squeeze threatens to trigger war and new Arab Spring

A surge in the price of wheat and the rising cost of food have raised the risk of conflicts spreading globally and the possible reawaken of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East. This is the latest warning on the impact that rising commodity prices arising from instability in Ukraine could have on security and the global economy from leading British academic Aled Jones, director of Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute. “The threat for the coming year is that, should global crop production be impacted by severe weather, as we have seen increasingly in recent years, the impact of the crisis in Ukraine could result in a major supply demand imbalance in global food trade,” said Mr Jones. “This would trigger major volatility in the price of food. If this happened, already fragile countries could further destabilise.” Russia’s annexation of Crimea and dispute with Ukraine has pushed wheat prices 13pc higher this month amid fears that supplies of key agricultural commodities from Europe’s bread basket could be disrupted. MORE

Unidentified illness with symptoms similar to Ebola virus has killed 23 in Guinea

A MYSTEROUS illness has killed at least 23 people in southern Guinea in six weeks, but the disease has yet to be positively identified, the health ministry announced Thursday. “A feverish sickness whose first symptoms were observed on February 9 has claimed at least 23 lives, including that of the director of the Macenta district hospital and three staff, out of a total of 36 cases,” said Sakoba Keita, the doctor in charge of the ministry’s preventive wing. “The administrative district of Gueckedou is the worst affected, with 13 deaths for 19 cases,” Dr Keita added, noting that “the illness is characterised by fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and bleeding in the cases of some patients.” Medical experts have been sent to the district to try to identify the highly contagious disease, whose symptoms are similar to those caused by Lassa fever, yellow fever and Ebola. About 30 test samples have been sent to France for analysis, with results expected “within 48 hours”, the doctor said, adding that further samples are due to be examined at the Pasteur Institute in the Senegalese capital Dakar. MORE

Russia faces more sanctions, G8 suspended, Angela Merkel says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Union will impose more sanctions on Russia following its decision to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and will suspend all G8 meetings until the political situation changes. Merkel told the country’s Parliament on Thursday ahead of an EU summit in Brussels that the bloc would expand a freeze of bank accounts and travel bans of people that have been linked to the crisis. Earlier this week, the EU and the United States slapped sanctions on certain individuals that were involved in what they say was the unlawful referendum in Crimea over joining Russia. MORE

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is circulating a letter on Capitol Hill calling once again for a ban on semi-automatic rifles and asking for President Barack Obama to keep his State of the Union promise to make 2014 a “year of action.” Citing the Gun Control Act of 1968, Feinstein states, “In recent years… importers of firearms have taken advantage of ATF’s interpretation of the ‘sporting purposes’ test to evade the import ban.” The phrase contained in The Gun Control Act of 1968 Feinstein is referencing prohibits the importation of firearms that are not “generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.”  She claims that in recent years firearms importers have taken advantage of ATF’s interpretation of “sporting purposes” to circumvent the ban. Although Feinstein recognizes that the firearms are designed for civilian use and never manufactured or used by any standing army, she maintained that “many semiautomatic firearms on the market today do not have a military origin but are modeled closely after military firearms.” MORE

WAR DRUMS: Russian troop movements raise concern of Ukraine invasion

The buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border is large and getting larger, and it is raising serious concerns that Russia could invade Ukraine proper. Right now, there are as many as 20,000 Russian troops, complete with tanks and artillery, positioned just to the east of Ukraine. But other units deeper inside Russia appear to be on the move and could soon double the number of troops at the border. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Moscow to ask Russia’s defense minister directly about the troop movements. MORE

Iran is building a nonworking mock-up of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that US officials say may be intended to be blown up for propaganda value. Intelligence analysts studying satellite photos of Iranian military installations first noticed the vessel rising from the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, last summer. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, as well as the USS Nimitz’s No. 68 neatly painted in white near the bow. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck. The Iranian mock-up, which US officials described as more like a barge than a warship, has no nuclear propulsion system and is only about two-thirds the length of a typical 1,100-foot-long Navy (335 metre) carrier. Intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is capable of building an actual aircraft carrier. “Based on our observations, this is not a functioning aircraft carrier; it’s a large barge built to look like an aircraft carrier,” said Commander Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf from Iran. “We’re not sure what Iran hopes to gain by building this. If it is a big propaganda piece, to what end?” MORE

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced its plan to install several thousand audio and video recorders on its commuter trains Wednesday, reportedly in response to federal safety recommendations. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, several derailments last year have prompted the need for vast surveillance on a majority of the city’s trains.  “We will be systematically implementing recommendations put forward by the NTSB and other regulators to ensure the best practices are adhered to throughout the MTA family,” MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said. Transportation officials claim the surveillance technology will be focused on conductors and their staff to ensure proper safety guidelines are followed. MORE


Gangs target Colombian children

Projects in Nigeria aim to take youth off streets


































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