Monday, August 24, 2009
* Fires a test for conservative government
* Foreign help arrives but flights suspended
(Updates with fire receding, fire-fighting planes suspended)
By Renee Maltezou and Dina Kyriakidou
ATHENS, Aug 23 (Reuters) - A huge wildfire fanned by strong winds cut a swathe of destruction near Athens on Sunday, burning houses, razing large patches of forest and sending thousands fleeing their homes, authorities said.
Efforts to fight the blaze from the air were suspended as night fell and the fire raged unchecked for a third day, testing state resources and the conservative government, which is facing the threat of an early election by March.
"The constant shift in the wind's direction is rekindling the flames," said fire brigade spokesman Giannis Kapakis. "We must all remain calm through this night."
Authorities said the fire had retreated from Athens suburbs and was burning mainly forest land, but winds remained strong and the danger for a flare-up was constant.
"It will be a difficult night because everyone is exhausted," said Leonidas Kouris, governor of the eastern Attica region where a state of emergency was declared on Saturday. "We will keep fighting for another day," he told Greek TV.
Earlier on Sunday, local authorities used loudspeakers to urge the 20,000 residents of affluent Athens suburb Aghios Stefanos to leave as the flames approached.
Many people abandoned communities around Athens overnight and some frantically tried to stop the flames reaching houses with garden hoses and tree branches.
"We are facing a great ordeal," said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who took a helicopter tour of the afflicted area. "The fire department is making a superhuman effort."
The handling of the fire, the biggest since Greece's worst wildfires in living memory killed 65 people over 10 days in 2007, will be crucial for his political fate.
His government is clinging to a one-seat majority and the socialist opposition, ahead in opinion polls, has made clear it will use a March parliamentary vote, when a new president will be chosen, to force a snap election.
"Nobody has learned anything from the big fires of 2007," far-right LAOS party leader George Karatzaferis told reporters. "It is a huge disaster and coordination was not the best."
STATE OF EMERGENCY
In eastern Attica the flames seared about 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) of forest, farm fields and olive groves.
"A significant part of forest has been lost," WWF Greece conservation director Constantinos Liarikos told Reuters. "This fire will surely affect the Athens region's microclimate."
Help from Greece's European Union allies has started to arrive. Two Italian aircraft joined fire fighting efforts and more were expected from France and Cyprus.
The Greek weather service warned that winds hindering fire fighting efforts were not expected to abate before Monday night. Police and witnesses said scores of homes were heavily damaged.
The fire broke out late on Friday in the village of Grammatiko about 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the Greek capital and quickly spread to neighbouring villages. A children's hospital and a home for the elderly were evacuated.
Twelve aircraft, eight helicopters, 136 fire engines and about 644 fire fighters battled the blaze, fire officials said. Some 500 soldiers were also dispatched to the fires.
Summer fires are frequent in Greece, often caused by high temperatures and winds, drought or arson. In the last three days, more than 200 fires have broken out, some on the islands of Zakynthos, Evia and Skyros, and in the central Viotia area.
Hundreds of fires across southern Europe in July destroyed thousands of hectares of forest and gutted dozens of homes.
SAN FRANCISCO -- After Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced a Democrat in 2003 to become California's governor, fellow Republicans were hopeful the former movie hero's popularity would help arrest a long decline here.
But six years later, Republican voter registration continues to fall, and now many in the party are pegging their hopes on two former corporate chief executives: Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.
Ms. Whitman, former president and CEO of San Jose-based online-auction company eBay Inc., in February threw her hat into the ring for the 2010 race to succeed Mr. Schwarzenegger when his second and final term as governor ends in January 2011.
Ms. Fiorina, former chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., this month registered a campaign committee called "Carly for California" for a potential 2010 challenge against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The star power of both CEOs is likely to give them some momentum. An August Daily Kos poll gave the 53-year-old Ms. Whitman 24% support among California Republicans ahead of the June 8 primary, topping support for her two main challengers, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell.
A July poll by Rasmussen Reports showed Ms. Boxer with a slim lead of 45% among likely voters to 41% for the 54-year-old Ms. Fiorina in a hypothetical match-up. Ms. Boxer cited that slim lead in a fund-raising letter she sent to potential donors July 29. "We've got our work cut out for us," Ms. Boxer said in the letter.
If one or both Republican women are elected, party officials say, the victory could help rescue the California GOP from a steady slide since its heyday in the 1980s, when Republican Gov. George Deukmejian served two terms and a former governor, Ronald Reagan, was in the White House.
California's Republican-party registration fell to 31.4% of voters in 2008 from 38.6% in 1988, amid a rise in independent voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank in San Francisco. Democratic registration also has fallen, but to 44.4% from 50.4% over the same period, according to the institute.
"The California Republican Party is smaller, less influential than it used to be," says Ray McNally, a GOP consultant in Sacramento. "But it has the potential to regain its past glory, and it all comes down to which candidates we field for office."
Political observers say the business-leader credentials of both Ms. Whitman and Ms. Fiorina could be a big draw at a time when California is facing a monumental economic crisis.
The state had to issue IOUs this summer before lawmakers agreed to a deal to close a $24 billion budget shortfall, and has been running in the red almost chronically for the past two years. With California's unemployment rate running at 11.9% as of July -- among the highest in the country -- economic issues are likely to take front and center in the state next year.
"The bottom line for the voters is the economy and jobs," says Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Mr. Schwarzenegger for both his gubernatorial terms. "Our goal is to make that the No. 1 issue for the candidates just as it is for the voters."
The emphasis on economic issues could help offset both women's weaknesses in another area: Both are considered moderate on social issues, in a state party that has long been dominated by conservatives. Both are pro-choice on abortion.
Democrats, meanwhile, insist both are still too conservative for California. "At the end of the day, they're still garden-variety Republicans that are to the right of where Californians are on fiscal issues, the environment, and choice," says Steven Maviglio, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento.
One obstacle the party faces in California, as elsewhere, is that demographic trends, such as increased immigration, tend to favor Democrats. In the governor's race, political strategists say, a woman's presence on the general-election ballot could signal an inclusive image for Republicans. So far, state Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom are leading polls among Democratic candidates for governor.
"Republicans face a few different demographic challenges nationally, and running one or two high-profile female candidates in California helps address at least some of that problem," says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and former head of communications for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.
Some Democratic strategists dismiss the gender advantage, saying both women were also members of a class reviled by many Americans: CEOs. And they say Ms. Fiorina brings considerable baggage: She was pushed out as H-P's chief in 2005, following her tumultuous rein at the Palo Alto computer giant that began in 1999. Ms. Fiorina also was sidelined as a surrogate for last year's GOP campaign after saying neither Mr. McCain nor former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin could run a major corporation.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Fiorina said the former H-P chief gets criticism, as well as praise, because she is decisive. "She is strong, she is outspoken, and it comes from who she is," said the spokeswoman, Beth Miller, who added that Ms. Fiorina has received hundreds of emails from supporters around the country urging her to take on Ms. Boxer.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Whitman said she is focused on issues that Californians care most about now, including jobs and the economy. "She is a candidate who can provide the strong leadership Californians are looking for on these issues," said the spokeswoman, Sarah Pompei.
Some Republican officials privately say Ms. Fiorina would likely defeat her only announced rival for the primary, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, despite his popularity among conservatives. The reason, they say, is that Ms. Fiorina, with her greater name recognition, would likely be in a position to raise far more money to take on Ms. Boxer.
Mr. DeVore issued a statement after Ms. Fiorina announced her exploratory run dismissing her as unclear on issues and "an inviting target" for the Democratic senator.
"Whoever our candidates are," says Mike Villines, former Republican leader in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly, "the key for Republicans in the state is definitely focused on winning."
By JIM CARLTON
WASHINGTON (AP) - Guaranty Bank became the second-largest U.S. bank to fail this year after the Texas lender was shut down by regulators and most of its operations sold at a loss of billions of dollars for the U.S. government to a major Spanish bank.
The transaction approved by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. marked the first time a foreign bank has bought a failed U.S. bank.
The bank failure, the 10th largest in U.S. history, is expected to cost the deposit insurance fund an estimated $3 billion.
The FDIC seized Austin-based Guaranty Bank, with about $13 billion in assets and $12 billion in deposits, and on Friday sold all of its deposits and $12 billion of its assets to BBVA Compass, the U.S. division of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain's second-largest bank. In addition, the FDIC agreed to share losses with BBVA on about $11 billion of Guaranty Bank's loans and other assets.
Guaranty Bank, with 162 branches in Texas and California, saw its investments in real estate lending and mortgage-backed securities bought from other banks sour and had been teetering near collapse for weeks. Its parent, Guaranty Financial Group Inc. (GFG), reaffirmed Monday in a regulatory filing that the company was critically short of capital and didn't believe it could stay in business.
In April, the federal Office of Thrift Supervision said the company had engaged in "unsafe and unsound" banking practices and ordered it to raise fresh capital, find a buyer or face a takeover by the government.
Guaranty's failure, along with those of three small banks in Georgia and Alabama Friday, brought to 81 the number of U.S. bank failures this year amid rising loan defaults spurred by tumbling home prices and spiking unemployment. That is the highest number in a year since 1992 at the height of the savings and loan crisis; it compares with 25 last year and three in 2007.
Last week the FDIC seized Colonial Bank, a big lender in real estate development, and sold its $20 billion in deposits, 346 branches in five states and about $22 billion of its assets to BB&T Corp. It was the biggest bank failure so far this year, and the sixth-largest in U.S. history.
Birmingham, Ala.-based BBVA Compass, with 600 branches from Florida to California, said its acquisition of Guaranty creates the 15th-largest commercial bank in the U.S., with about $49 billion in deposits. "This compelling transaction makes excellent strategic sense and represents an exciting growth opportunity for BBVA Compass as we continue to build the leading banking franchise in the high-growth Sunbelt region," Jose Maria Garcia Meyer, chairman of BBVA Compass, said in a statement.
Like Spain's biggest bank, Banco Santander, BBVA has managed to skirt the turmoil that swept the industry worldwide by staying away from toxic assets such as mortgage-backed securities.
Instead, BBVA and other big Spanish lenders stuck to their nuts-and-bolts business of lending to consumers and businesses, relying on it for the bulk of their revenue, Nuria Alvarez, an analyst with Madrid-based brokerage firm Renta 4, said earlier this week.
With its strong presence in the American South through BBVA Compass, the bank had made no secret that it was open to expanding.
"It is no surprise. BBVA had never ruled out buying assets or banks, so long as attractive opportunities arose," Alvarez said. The deal is especially attractive because it enables BBVA to expand in Texas, she said.
The financial crisis is giving Spanish banks "the opportunity to make acquisitions and keep expanding their international presence at much more affordable prices than they would have if this crisis had not emerged," Alvarez said.
The FDIC also announced Friday the closures of Internet-based ebank, located in Atlanta, with $143 million in assets and $130 million in deposits; First Coweta, based in Newnan, Ga., with $167 million in assets and $155 million in deposits; and CapitalSouth Bank, based in Birmingham, Ala., with $617 million in assets and $546 million in deposits.
Stearns Bank, based in St. Cloud, Minn., agreed to buy the assets and deposits of ebank. United Bank, based in Zebulon, Ga., is assuming the deposits and $155 million of the assets of First Coweta; the FDIC will retain the rest for eventual sale. IberiaBank, based in Lafayette, La., is assuming the deposits and $589 million of the assets of CapitalSouth Bank.
Those failures are expected to cost the insurance fund an estimated $63 million for ebank, $48 million for First Coweta and $151 million for CapitalSouth Bank.By MARCY GORDON
消防人員疲於奔命，緊急疏散參加夏令營的孩童，以及協助年邁災民撤離鎮，同時極力滅火，軍隊也奉命加入滅火行動，以防山火燒到雅典附近長滿松樹的彭代利科山（M o u ntPenteli）。
森林廣場（Sim Lim Square）是新加坡最大的電器與電腦中心。
一 位在德國一家著名高科技公司工作的華人學者21日給中國媒體記者發來郵件稱，憲法保衛局的兩名官員幾天前到公司給高層經理們講安全問題，重點提到防範中國 來的學者、學生。這份報告上寫道，「日益密切的德中科技、經濟交流所導致的專業人士的往來，有助於中國情報機關蒐集德國經濟和科技情報的努力」。
農委會統計，其中「農產損失」44億503萬元，包含農作物損失43億9876萬元，農作物被害面積7萬4749公頃，損害程度27%，換算無收穫面積2 萬59公頃；受損作物以香蕉倒伏最為嚴重，被害面積達6147公頃，次為木瓜、番石榴、二期水稻、竹筍、蘭花、番荔枝（釋迦）、葉菜類水傷等。另養蜂損失 627萬元。
- Money and bank credit.
- Fractional reserve banking.
- Debt (public and private) and money supply.
- Historical struggle between government-issued money and private bank-issued credit.
- Cost-benefit analysis for monetary reform in your world of the present.
The MSM may be starting to pay attention. I just got off the phone with CBS News radio, who will be covering this story imminently.
Cannabis chemicals may help fight prostate cancer
via Reuters News Wire
Chemicals in cannabis have been found to stop prostate cancer cells from growing in the laboratory, suggesting that cannabis-based medicines could one day help fight the disease, scientists said Wednesday.
After working initially with human cancer cell lines, Ines Diaz-Laviada and colleagues from the University of Alcala in Madrid also tested one compound on mice and discovered it produced a significant reduction in tumor growth.
Their research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, underlines the growing interest in the medical use of active chemicals called cannabinoids, which are found in marijuana.
Experts, however, stressed that the research was still exploratory and many more years of testing would be needed to work out how to apply the findings to the treatment of cancer in humans.
“This is interesting research which opens a new avenue to explore potential drug targets but it is at a very early stage,” said Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal.
“It absolutely isn’t the case that men might be able to fight prostate cancer by smoking cannabis,” she added.
Well, well, well, leave it to the MSM to misrepresent the facts and miss the real story. First, the chemicals assessed in this study, R(+)-Methanandamide and JWH-015, are neither “cannabinoids” nor are they “chemicals in cannabis.” Rather, they are synthetic, selective CB2 receptor agonists. In short, they are chemicals created in a lab to mimic certain elements in marijuana, and to bind to specifically to those cannabinoid receptors that are not located in the brain. After all, we can’t possibly have the terminally ill feeling ‘better’, now can we?
Second, US federal researchers have known for some 35 years that the naturally occurring chemicals in cannabis — not just synthesized agonists — can halt the proliferation of multiple types of cancer, including including brain cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, and pancreatic cancer. We even know how.
Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents
via Nature Reviews Cancer (2003)
Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated, and do not produce the generalized toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. … Cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth in laboratory animals. They do so by modulating key cell-signaling pathways, thereby inducing direct growth arrest and death of tumor cells, as well as by inhibiting tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. Cannabinoids are selective anti-tumor compounds, as they can kill tumor cells without affecting their non-transformed counterparts.
Of course, the real question — conveniently ignored by Reuters and the rest of the MSM — is this: Why, after three decades and dozens of preclinical trials documenting cannabis’ potent anti-cancer abilities, are “many more years of testing” necessary? Last I checked, humans die en masse from cancer, not rats! Yet for some 35 years scientists have been content to replicate these cancer-killer findings in animals and in petri dishes, all the while warning, “It absolutely isn’t the case that men might be able to fight prostate cancer by smoking cannabis.”
Well why the hell not? Not only can cannabis alleviate cancer patients’ nausea and pain, elevate their mood, and increase their appetite, but also — as dozens of preclinical trials over the past three decades consistently demonstrate — marijuana may help to alleviate the very disease that’s ravaging their bodies. Of course, rather than put this theory to the test, investigators for more than three decades have been willing to let people with a terminal illness die while they piddle around with their petri dishes. And to date, not one reporter from the mainstream media has ever had the guts to ask them why.
In fact, the Baltic Dry Index has dropped another 3.1% Wednesday on top of horrible losses in the last few weeks. Couple that with Japan’s latest trade data which shows the China is now Japan’s largest trade partner. Furthermore Japan stated that exports to the US dropped by 43% to $40.5B which is a stunning drop since most have declared the recession is over.
The latest report from Japan also said the following:
Outlook for 2009
Looking at the whole of 2009, Japan-China trade will likely record its first decline in 11 years (since 1998), pushed by the downward trend that began in November 2008. This fall, however, will not be as severe as seen in the first half of 2009, with the global economy forecast to rebound in the second half of the year.
1) Since a rapid recovery in consumption in Japan, the US, Europe and other developed economies is unlikely, China’s exports of finished products is expected to continue its downward trend, leading to a continued decline in Japan’s exports of high-value added parts and materials to China.
2) A temporary increase in exports of pumps and other machinery is expected, due to increased infrastructure spending in line with the Chinese government’s 4-trillion-yuan stimulus package (its effect on total exports, however, is expected to be limited).
3) In the second half of 2009, China’s consumer market is expected to expand, along with a recovery in domestic production. This will have a positive effect on Japan’s exports of parts and materials, although to a limited extent, as the majority of goods for domestic consumption are low value-added items.
1) Under the current state of the Japanese economy, which is not expected to achieve a quick recovery in 2009, Japanese domestic demand will likely remain stagnant. Therefore, Japanese imports from China, which consist mainly of consumer goods, are expected to fall again this year.
2) Due to weak growth in personal incomes, Japanese consumers will turn more towards inexpensive clothing and food items from China—but this will have limited impact on a value basis.
3) Japanese imports of low-priced parts and materials from China (used in finished goods production in Japan) are likely to decrease again in 2009, as an early recovery in both internal and external demand is thought unlikely.
There is nothing in that segment of the report that is positive. In fact it looks a lot like the data we are getting here in the US. As reported yesterday the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are way down which is reflected in the data that Japan just put out. Simply put, there is no demand either domestically or internationally with one exception, China.
As I have stated before, you cannot have a jobless, earning-less, revenue-less and, now, demand-less recovery. Yes, we will see a good 3Q09 GDP report, but it certainly will not be 4.5% like the market is pricing in and it will more than likely not last until 4Q09. This is a global problem that has yet to be fixed and programs like cash for clunkers or cash for whatever will not work long-term.
The problem is now unemployment and, frankly, has been unemployment for a long time now. If people do not have jobs they will not buy things. If people do not buy things that means the supply of products will be in surplus for some time and earnings will be much lower. Unemployment is also the problem behind the housing crisis and housing is still a major threat to the banking system.
We can bury things by getting rid of mark-to-market and telling ourselves that ongoing unemployment claims means that people are finding work, they are not, but hoping things are better does not fix the problem. As of right now we need to let it play out in order to prevent prolonging the recession, possibly making it worse, and by hiding the very problems that got us here makes it entirely likely that the same problem will come back worse than before.