Daily Archives: September 1, 2010

US accused of slack flight security following ‘terrorist dry run’

Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi, left, and Hezem al Murisi, were taken off a United Airlines flight in the Netherlands  Photo: ABC

Two Yemenis suspected of making a “dry run” for a planned terrorist attack were able to fly from Chicago to Amsterdam, despite airport staff finding in their luggage a mobile phone taped to a bottle and other suspicious items.

Telegraph | Aug 31, 2010

By Martin Banks in Brussels and Alex Spillius in Washington

Dutch prosecutors are currently interrogating the two men, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al-Soofi and Hezam al-Murisi, who were taken off a United Airlines flight from Chicago at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Monday morning.

They had aroused suspicions by changing planes in Chicago, while their luggage was sent on another route, via Washington Dulles airport, towards their final destination, the Yemeni capital Sana’a. A checked bag belonging to Mr al-Soofi was found to contain a phone taped to a medicine bottle, three other mobile phones taped together, watches taped together, and box cutters and three knives. He was also carrying $7,000 (£4,500) in cash.

The bag was cleared twice, at Birmingham, Alabama, where his journey started, and then again at Washington.

It was only taken off the plane in Washington when it was discovered that Mr al-Soofi was not on the flight.

One security official told ABC News the two men had been allowed to continue to their destination for “investigative purposes”.

The incident raised further questions about the efficiency of airline security, coming after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was on a terrorist watch list, was allowed to board a flight in Amsterdam for Detroit on Christmas Day, and tried to light explosives hidden in his underpants while on board.

Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Greens MEP, said the latest incident gave “cause for real concern”.

“My question is: how on earth were these two men allowed to travel separately from their luggage as, apparently, happened? That seems to break the number one rule of air travel.”

Despite raising suspicions, a US official said the items in Mr al-Soofi’s bag were not intrinsically dangerous and that the two men were not carrying any banned objects.

The White House promised a “vigorous investigation” into the incident, but said neither man was on any terrorist watch-list. The Department of Homeland Security however urged people against “jumping to any conclusions”.

A Dutch prosecution spokesman said a judge would decide whether the suspects should be released or kept in custody.

Gaddafi: Europe will ‘turn black’ unless EU pays Libya €5 billion a year

Muammar Gaddafi returns to Tripoli after his controversial visit to Italy  Photo: EPA

Col Muammar Gaddafi has warned that Europe runs the risk of turning “black” unless the EU pays Libya at least €5 billion (£4.1 billion) a year to block the arrival of illegal immigrants from Africa.

Telegraph | Aug 31, 2010

By Nick Squires in Rome

His remarks, made during a controversial three day visit to Italy, were condemned as “unacceptable blackmail” by Italian MPs, who likened the demand to the protection money that mafia gangs demand from businesses.

Speaking at a ceremony in Rome while standing next to Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, Col Gaddafi, 67, said that unless his request for money was met, Europe would otherwise become “another Africa” as a result of the “advance of millions of immigrants”.

“Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European and even black as there are millions who want to come in,” he said.

“We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions”.

Tens of thousands of desperate African refugees and economic migrants have reached Italian soil by boat from the North African coast, although the influx has been stemmed by the Libyan navy in the last year under an accord with the Berlusconi government.

An MP from the opposition Italy of Values party, Silvana Mura, accused the Libyan leader of holding Europe to ransom, demanding mafia-style protection money in return for a promise to safeguard the continent from unchecked immigration.

Another opposition MP, Luigi de Magistris, accused the Libyan regime of keeping tens of thousands of African migrants in “concentration camps” in the desert.

Mother Nature’s microbes taking care of Gulf oil spill

Microscopic image shows oil being degraded by microbes that break it up into smaller globulets. Photo: Hoi-Ying Holman group

Newly classified species consumes half of oil in days

USA Today | Aug 31, 2010

Nature’s microbes take care of oil spill


Researchers have discovered a previously unclassified species of microbe that appears to be happily gorging away on the long plume of oil left by the BP drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s turning the toxic mixture into nontoxic microbes about twice as fast as had been expected, scientists reported in the journal Science.

This could mean that nature is able to clean up oil spills on its own more quickly than had been realized, at least in the Gulf.

The microbes are related to known cold temperature gamma-proteobacteria, said Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and lead author on the paper. The research was funded through the Energy Biosciences Institute in Berkeley, Calif., a collaboration between the University of California-Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and BP, which supported it with a 10-year, $500 million grant beginning in 2007. The funds are entirely unrestricted, Hazen said.

The group also found that the microbes don’t appear to be using up all the oxygen in the water as they eat and grow. The fear had been that large microbe blooms might deplete water oxygen levels, leading to dead zones that could impact ecosystems and fisheries.

When the bacteria encounter oil in the water, they consume half of it in 1.2 to 6.1 days. That’s compared with an average of seven at the Exxon Valdez site, Hazen said. Other components degrade more slowly and take longer.

The researchers sent two ships into the Gulf on May 25 and have been collecting samples there ever since, Hazen said. Using DNA microarrays, they were able to quickly scan for up to 50,000 different species of bacteria and other single-celled organisms. In the oil plume, 95 percent of the bacteria are this particular oil-eating type. Outside the plume, they make up only 5 percent of the bacteria, he said.

The researchers speculate that the oil is biodegrading quickly for several reasons. First, Gulf light crude is more biodegradable than other types of oil because it has more volatile components. Also, the use of dispersant might have accelerated biodegradation because the bacteria could more easily get at smaller oil particles.

The findings about the oil plume fit well with a paper released in Science by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They found a 21-mile plume of oil at 3,600 feet deep. “These are very important findings, particularly from a societal impact point of view,” said Richard Camilli, lead author.

The Woods Hole group didn’t find evidence of oil-eating microbes, but they weren’t looking for them, Camilli said. “My group was using robots to try to find out if a plume was down there and then try to characterize its shape, extent and chemical composition. Terry (Hazen) was characterizing the microbes.”

UK Endured Coldest August in 17 years

Last month was the coldest August for 17 years, recording the chilliest average temperatures since 1993 without a single “hot day”, figures show.

Telegraph | Sep 1, 2010

By Nick Collins

Heavy rain across much of the country and thick cloud in the south east made for a disappointing end to the summer holiday.

The month also saw the coldest temperature recorded in August for 23 years, with mercury falling to 12.8C in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Last week a number of nights were “notably” cold and by the end of the month there had not been a single day on which temperatures topped 27C, forecasters said.

Weather consultant Philip Eden said average temperatures this August had been at their lowest since 1993.

He added: ”This is more a reflection of the warmth of recent Augusts rather than anything exceptional.

”During the last 100 years, 30 Augusts were cooler, 63 were warmer, and seven had the same overall mean temperature.”

Conditions were notably bad towards the latter part of the month when there was widespread wet weather in the southern regions.

Data showed rainfall in England and Wales was almost one and a half times the average amount, at 106.2mm.

In the last 100 years, only 22 Augusts have been wetter.

In Weybourne, Norfolk, temperatures soared to a high of 26.70C, but temperatures failed to reach the levels of July when the 30C heat in some areas prompted health alerts.

Figures showed England and Wales enjoyed 148 hours of sunshine this month – 25 per cent less than the average.

Scotland saw 142 hours of sunshine, meeting its average, and Northern Ireland had better weather than usual, with 192 hours of sunshine.

Portland Oregon shivered through coldest summer in 17 years

You already knew this: Summer was coldest in 17 years

Brrrr! All three ‘summer’ months had below-normal temps

portlandtribune.com | Sep 1, 2010

Summer’s over, right?

You mean we actually had a summer?

We did, but according to meteorologists, it was the coldest Portland-area summer in 17 years.

“This was also the first summer since summer of 1976 that all three summer months (June, July and August) recorded back-to-back below normal average monthly temperatures,” said Steve Pierce, vice president of the Oregon chapter of the American Meteorological Society. “In fact, Portland has now been below average for five back-to-back months, beginning in April and continuing through August. Either way you slice it, it was a chilly summer by Portland standards.”

Some of Pierce’s highlights (or low-lights) from the summer months:

• It was the 10th coldest June on record at the Portland International Airport.

• It was the wettest June ever recorded (1941-2010). More than 4.25 inches of rain fell.

• It also took longer this year to finally reach 80 degrees for the first time, which was done on June 11. The old record was June 9.

Last summer was the warmest on record, Pierce said, in contrast to this year, when low clouds, a dipping jet stream and marine air kept temperatures well below normal and provided a roller coaster of hot and cold days.

Putin Threatens Pro-Democracy Crackdown

myfoxdfw.com | Aug 30, 2010

(NewsCore) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatened Monday to launch a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations as he gave fresh hints that he planned to return to the Kremlin as President in 2012.

Putin said that opposition protesters deserved to be beaten by police for holding banned street protests. Russia’s authorities routinely refuse permission for liberal critics of the Kremlin to hold demonstrations then brand them illegal to justify police intervention.

“If you get [permission], you go and march. If you don’t, you don’t have the right. Go without permission and you will be hit on the head with batons. That’s all there is to it,” the former KGB hardman said in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper.

He issued the warning as opposition activists prepared to take to the streets Tuesday as part of their Strategy 31. Protesters gather on the 31st day of the month to uphold Article 31 of Russia’s Constitution, which guarantees the right to free assembly.

Police arrested more than 100 people, including the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, at last month’s rally.

Putin nominated Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him in 2008 after eight years as President because he could not run for a third successive term. Speculation is rife, however, that he intends to replace his protege.

Putin, 57, said that the 2012 election for a new six-year term “interests me like … I wanted to say like everyone, but in fact more than everyone else.”

He added: “The most important thing is that these problems of 2012 don’t derail us from the path of stable development.”

Told he had already been in power a long time, Putin said: “I only have two choices: either to watch from the bank how the waters are flowing away and how something collapses or is lost — or to get involved. I prefer to be involved.”

Putin also accused the West of tricking Moscow after the Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War, and cast doubt on the “reset” in relations with the United States under U.S. President Barack Obama.

“At time of the withdrawal … the NATO Secretary-General promised the USSR it could be confident that NATO would not expand over its current boundaries. And where is it? I asked them about this. They have nothing to say. They deceived us in the rudest way,” he said.

Putin said that he “really wants to believe” in improved relations with the U.S., but pointed to what he called a “long-term rearming of Georgia” as a potential flashpoint. Russia and Georgia fought a war in 2008 over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

He also attacked Obama’s plan for a revised missile defense system in Eastern Europe, asking: “Where is this ‘reset’? We don’t see it yet in this area.”

N.Y. lawmakers hatch plan to require salmonella vaccinations

news.yahoo.com | Aug 31, 2010

Two New York lawmakers want farmers to vaccinate their chickens against salmonella, The Associated Press reported.

Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh announced their proposal in response to the nationwide recall of more than half a billion eggs linked to nearly 1,500 cases of salmonella poisoning. “The massive outbreaks of food-borne illness in recent months leave no doubt that our food safety system is failing us, threatening everyone’s well-being and sometimes costing people’s lives,” Kavanagh said.

Since May, there has been a four-fold increase in the number of cases of salmonella infections, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reported. Preliminary investigations by state and federal officials suggest that contaminated eggs are the likely sources of many of these infections.

In Britain, the Lion Quality Code of Practice was launched in 1998 after the country experienced a similar salmonella outbreak. Eggs are now marked with a lion stamp to show that they meet numerous safety standards, including hen vaccination against salmonella, passport certification tracking all movement and hygiene controls for breeding flocks and hatcheries. Since enacting these guidelines, the U.K. has successfully reduced the number of salmonella cases by 96 percent.

“Looking back, that scare was probably the best thing for the industry because we sorted out the problem, and we now have very high standards and there are no consumer concerns about safety,” Amanda Cryer, spokeswoman for the British Egg Information Service, said.

While there is no plan to require vaccinations at all U.S. farms, the Food and Drug Administration is going to inspect all 600 of the country’s largest egg producers before the end of next year. Most of these producers have gone largely uninspected for decades. The FDA also intends to improve the training given to inspectors.

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