Firefighters battled wildfires on Friday in Portugal where they have claimed five lives and tamed another major blaze in northern Spain, officials said.
In Portugal, some 1,400 firefighters backed by Spanish and French aircraft were battling a series of fires that have ravaged thousands of hectares of forest in the north and centre of the country.
Locals helped fight Portugal’s main fire in the central Caramulo mountain range, tipping buckets of water or beating it with branches. Others stood by amazed, holding rags over their mouths to shield them from the smoke.
“I’ve never seen such a fierce fire. Everything is covered in soot. It is going to be difficult to continue living here,” said Maria Sousa, 66, a local resident.
Locals shout as they try to extinguish a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013. Five Portuguese mountain villages were evacuated overnight as forest fires intensified in the country’s north and centre, officials said today. As many as 1,400 firefighters were dispatched Thursday to tackle the blaze in the mountains and another raging further north in the national park of Alvao, where 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of pine forest have already been destroyed, according to the local mayor. PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters works at the site of a wildfire O Rosal near Pontevedra, on August 29, 2013. Spain is prone to forest fires in summer because of soaring temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation. Last year wildfires destroyed some 150,000 hectares of land in Spain from January to July, after one of the driest winters on record. PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
Flames and smoke rise into the air as a firefighters works at the site of a wildfire in Lousame, near A Coruna, on August 29, 2013. Spain is prone to forest fires in summer because of soaring temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation. Last year wildfires destroyed some 150,000 hectares of land in Spain from January to July, after one of the driest winters on record. PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images
Midwest hot, dry spell brings back drought worries
DAVID PITT August 29, 2013
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A growing season that began unusually wet and cold in the Midwest is finishing hot and dry, renewing worries of drought and its impact on crops.
Temperatures soared to records in recent days in parts of the region, reaching nearly 100 degrees in some areas. The heat wave struck many farm states — from the Dakotas to Wisconsin, down through Missouri — that have seen too little rain this growing season.
“It’s about the worst case scenario we could have with these high temperatures and the lack of water with soil moisture declining,” said Roger Elmore, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University.
A wet, cool spring delayed planting and slowed crop growth — but it also replenished soil moisture in many crop producing states, causing some of last year’s widespread drought to retreat. The rain stopped in July in many of those states, however, and as the soil dried out, the heat set in and stressed corn and soybean crops.
The southeast Iowa city of Burlington, which is surrounded by corn fields, had its wettest spring on record at 19.23 inches of precipitation, nearly 8 inches above normal. Yet it’s now on track to have its driest summer on record, with only 3.86 inches so far, 8.41 inches below normal.
Wayne Humphries farms about 1,000 acres about 45 miles north of Burlington at Columbus Junction. He grows corn and soybeans and raises hogs.
File – In this Aug. 27, 2013, file photo an ear of corn hangs on a withered stalk in Farmingdale, Il …
He said he delayed planting by about 30 days because of wet fields and now is watching the lower leaves of cornstalks turn brown from lack of moisture. He hasn’t seen a measurable rain for 30 days.
Soybean plants are suffering too as seeds are developing in the pods.
“I have solace in the fact that we did everything we could and we did it to the best of our ability and now whatever happens, happens,” he said. “It’s sort of a philosophical moment.”
Expanding U.S. Drought, Excessive Heat Hurt Iowa Corn, Soy Crops
By Jeff Wilson – Aug 29, 2013 7:12 PM CT
High heat and little rain during the past week led to an unusual, quick expansion of drought conditions in Iowa and Illinois, damaging crops in the biggest U.S. corn- and soybean-growing states.
About 25 percent of Iowa had a moderate drought on Aug. 27, up from 7.9 percent a week earlier, while Illinois jumped to 20 percent from none, the U.S. Drought Monitor said yesterday in a report. Parts of Iowa received less than 25 percent of normal rain during the past 60 days, and much of Illinois got less than half of normal since June 30, data from the High Plains Regional Climate Center show.
After a wet May and June delayed planting, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its soybean-crop forecast by 4.8 percent on Aug. 12 and reduced its corn estimate for a third straight month. July was the 20th coldest in 119 years in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, National Weather Service data show. Soybean futures are up 17 percent from an 18-month low on Aug. 7 on forecasts for dry weather, and corn rose 7.5 percent from a 35-month low on Aug. 13.
“The heat and drought are speeding crop development and reducing yield potential daily,” Roger Elmore, an agronomist at Iowa State University in Ames, said in a telephone interview. “We are skipping over critical stages of development that probably can’t recover even if temperatures cool and a little rain falls.”
While the crops need hot weather to develop, temperatures that approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) from Nebraska to Indiana in the past five days can cut corn yields at least 3 percent a day while reducing the number of seeds and seed weight in soybeans, Elmore said.
Cool weather during the first 19 days of August masked the stress that the dry spell was causing to crops over most of the Midwest, Planalytics Inc. said in a report yesterday. The epicenter of the crop damage is in Iowa, based on the vegetative growth index that the forecaster constructs biweekly from satellite images.
Large earthquake hits remote Alaska waters, no tsunami seen
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE | Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:58pm EDT
(Reuters) – A large 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck early on Friday in waters 57 miles off the remote Alaska island of Adak, a former U.S. Navy station that is now a commercial fishing and maritime-service center, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
There were no initial reports of damage, and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami watch, warning or advisory in effect.
“At this point, we’ve seen no ocean-surface disturbance,” said Bill Knight, a scientist at the tsunami warning center in Palmer, Alaska. While no tsunami was expected, he said scientists were still monitoring the area for any earthquake-induced waves.
The earthquake, which struck at 8:25 a.m. Alaska Daylight Time, was strongly felt in Adak, about 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage, said City Manager Layton Lockett.
“It was kind of hard to miss,” Lockett said. “The strangest thing about this one was its length in time. I think people actually had time to get out of bed to see what was going on.”
A magnitude 7 earthquake is likely to produce shaking that lasts 20 to 30 seconds, although it could last longer depending on local tectonics, Knight said.
I was driving the main road through town to meet a friend for dinner on a warm summer evening when I noticed what I thought was a large rock on the white line of the road in the opposite lane. I quickly realized that it was not a rock, but a kitten sitting right on the edge of the road. I looked at oncoming traffic and saw two tanker trucks coming in the opposite lane where the kitten was. My heart sank and I pulled over to at least take the little body off of the road and bury it. I carry gloves in my car just in case I may need them to help animals. The trucks sped by and to my amazement the kitten was still alive and had stepped back to the guardrails. I did a U turn and parked my car several yards away so as not to scare him/her away. As I approached, the kitten attempted to run into the brush so I took a dive over the guard rails and caught it! He was only about 6 – 8 weeks old and his little eyes were matted tightly shut. I put him in my car and proceeded to remove the matting from his eyes not knowing what I would find underneath. His eyes were bright and sparkly and he began to explore the car. I called my friend and said I would be late for dinner then took the kitten home and called my vet. He spent the night quarantined in a crate and after a good report form the vet, became a member of the family with three other cats and a dog. I returned the next day to search for siblings, but found none. His name is Machiko, Japanese for “fortunate one”. I call him Mac and feel I am the fortunate one to be blessed with his love and presence in my life.
Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency, in Hong Kong, June 9, 2013.
The Guardian/AP Photo
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents providing the most detail yet about how the vast U.S. intelligence community uses its nearly $53 billion so-called “black budget,” according to a report by The Washington Post.
Today the Post published several stories and statistics based on the U.S. intelligence agencies’ 2013 Congressional Budget Justification, a classified document that breaks down how much money goes to which agency and, to a certain extent, what those agencies do with the funds. The newspaper reported Snowden was the source of the document. Prior to the leak, only the total budget was public knowledge.
Though the newspaper published graphs and pie charts tracking the spending of each of the intelligence community’s 16 agencies, it said withheld “some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods.”
According to the Post, the budget document reveals that the CIA receives the most funding of any intelligence agency with a proposed $14.7 billion for 2013 — $11.5 billion on data collection expenses, $1.8 billion on management, facilities and support, $1.1 billion on data analysis and $387.3 million on data processing and exploitation.
Next up is the National Security Agency, for whom Snowden worked as a contractor, which spends almost as much on management, facilities and support — $5.2 billion — as it does on collecting, processing and analyzing data — $5.6 billion.
Together the documents reportedly reveal NSA and CIA have launched aggressive “offensive cyber operations” to steal information from foreign computer networks or disrupt enemy systems.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses those funds or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
Huh. I wonder how long the Post has been holding onto this? In any case, here’s the basic breakdown of the $52 billion we’re spending this year:
Unsurprisingly, the CIA, NSA, and reconnaissance satellites collectively account for nearly 80 percent of our total civilian-ish intelligence spending. Another $23 billion goes to “intelligence programs that more directly support the U.S. military.” That’s a total of $75 billion. Adjusted for inflation, Gellman and Miller say this exceeds our peak spending during the Cold War. Here are a few of their main takeaways:
An American F-16 Fighting Falcon warplane, flying in Jordan during 2007. Photograph: Wolfram M Stumpf/AFP/Getty Images
The Syrian air force is considering using kamikaze pilots against attacks by western forces, a Syrian army officer operating air defences near Damascus has claimed in an interview with the Guardian.
The officer said 13 pilots had signed a pledge this week saying they would form “a crew of suicide martyrs to foil the US warplanes”.
The Assad loyalist, in his 30s and serving with the Syrian army’s air defence section 10 miles from the capital, said: “If the US and British armies launch a single rocket we will launch three or four, and if their warplanes raid our skies they will face hell fire.
“If we are unable to shoot down their warplanes with artillery, we have military pilots who are ready to attack these foreign warplanes by their own warplanes and blow them up in the air.”
The Guardian has been unable to verify the information. The officer has been in contact with the paper on several occasions over the last 12 months during which time he provided reliable information about battles between the troops of Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups. He has declined to provide accounts of events where he has not served.
He claimed: “We have more than 8,000 suicide martyrs within the Syrian army, ready to carry out martyrdom operations at any moment to stop the Americans and the British. I myself am ready to blow myself up against US aircraft carriers to stop them attacking Syria and its people.”
Speaking about the chemical attack last week on the outskirts of Damascus, he denied the involvement of government forces and said news of the gassing had come as a shock.
Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez delivers a speech during a visit to Sweida city, south of Damascus, in Syria, on Sept. 4, 2009.
“Syria needs full support against these criminals,” wrote Venezuelan lawmaker Adel el-Zabayar in a letter to his country’s National Assembly this week. He was requesting indefinite leave from office in order to fight alongside the Syrian army, having arrived in the country two weeks ago to visit his ill mother. With the upcoming threat of military attack by the US, he has decided to stick around and fight. “Without doubt, I’ll have a weapon,” he told TIME by telephone early on Friday morning local time from a site he said was around 50 miles south of Damascus near the city of Sweida. “I’m on the battlefield now.” Zabayar has no formal weapons training and is currently carrying out more administrative tasks on the battlefield, he says, alongside government fighters.
The 49-year-old congressman, who is of Syrian descent though was born in Venezuela’s central city of Ciudad Bolívar, seems to have put himself in the firing line in accordance with his own government’s long-standing policy of friendship with the world’s pariahs. Former President Hugo Chávez, always keen to be a thorn in the side of Washington, made a point of overt friendliness with leaders despised by the West: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He supplied diesel fuel to Syrian authorities as the unrest escalated into a full-blown civil war last year. Echoing the doctrine that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” Zabayar, a member of Chávez’s socialist party, insisted that he was “not fighting alongside the Syrian government. I’m fighting against the government of the United States.”
Zabayar expresses no remorse about the violence and casualties of the war in Syria—which has claimed more than 100,000 lives so far—and blames the US for inciting hostilities as well as engineering the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that has pushed Washington toward launching missile strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “This is a war fabricated by countries outside. All of this was planned… The opposition launched a chemical attack in order to accuse the Syrian government of doing it.”
Zabayar appears to see Syria through rose-tinted glasses. “Despite this great international campaign against Syria, I can assure you that the Syrian people are very tranquil and getting on with life as normal,” he says. “There is total confidence in the Syrian army and government. Assad is going to survive.”
The congressman harped on the hypocrisy of US foreign policy. “They’ve used chemical weapons themselves in Vietnam and other places,” he says. “There is no sincerity in the fight against terrorism on the part of the US. Al-Qaeda is good for the US in Syria but bad in other countries,” he says, referring to the presence of extremist militias amid the Syrian opposition. He gestures to the American experience in Iraq following its 2003 invasion: “They know how to start a war in Syria but don’t know how to end it.”
If the shadow of Tony Blair — the former Prime Minister who led the U.K. into the Iraq war — influenced proceedings Thursday in the British parliament, the ghost of Chávez still presides over Venezuela’s current foreign policy. Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro, has spent the week decrying American plans for intervention in Syria, after his government said it thwarted an assassination plot against him. “The plan is to eliminate me as they attack Syria,” he said speaking on state television. “Enough already of these imperial wars of conquest,” he added on Twitter. “The conscience of the world must wake up and stop this war!”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defence system to bolster its security as the West weighed military strikes on neighbouring Syria.
But he echoed President Shimon Peres in insisting that Israel is not involved in Syria’s civil war but will respond with all its might if attacked.
“We have decided to deploy Iron Dome and other interceptors,” Netanyahu said, in a statement released by his office, ahead of holding security talks at the defence ministry.
“We are not involved in the war in Syria. But I repeat: if anyone tries to harm Israeli citizens, Tsahal (the Israeli army) will respond with force,” Netanyahu said in other remarks broadcast by Israeli television.
His comments come as Britain and the United States laid out their case for punitive strikes on Syria over an alleged chemical attack last week that rights groups say killed hundreds.
Earlier Peres said Israel will hit back if its security is at stake.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on A …
“Israel was not, and is not, involved in the Syrian fighting but if anyone tries to harm us we will respond with all our might,” Peres was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
“Israel has a strong army, modern and powerful, and a more advanced defence system than ever before,” he added.
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said his forces were “ready for all scenarios,” but added: “I hope we will not have to send them into action.”
Peres said the situation in Syria, where a civil war that erupted in March 2011 has killed more than 100,000 people, “is not a local incident but a crime against humanity.”
Israeli media and officials sought to calm the public on Thursday, as queues for gas masks lengthened.
There are fears that it the United States and its allies launch military strikes on Syria, forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could retaliate against Israel, Washington’s key ally in the region.
Israelis queue to collect gas mask kits at a distribution center in the coastal city of Haifa on Aug …
“Keep calm and carry on” was the title of a front-page analysis in the Jerusalem Post, echoing a slogan designed by the British government in World War II.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video released following a meeting with defense officials Thursday. (photo credit: YouTube screen capture)
Israeli authorities went out of their way on Thursday to calm fears of a regional war, even as military sources said they anticipated US-led intervention in Syria early next week..
“There is no need to change our routine at this time,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a YouTube video released Thursday (Hebrew link) of him speaking at the start of a meeting with defense officials at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Israel is prepared,” he said.
Responding to reports of heightened IDF mobilization, including the deployment of additional missile-defense batteries to the north, Netanyahu suggested the steps were taken as a precaution.
“Despite the low probability that Israel will become involved in what is happening in Syria, we decided to deploy the Iron Dome batteries and other interception systems,” he said.
Netanyahu, who was meeting with security chiefs in Tel Aviv late into Thursday, added: “We are not involved in the civil war in Syria, but let me reiterate, if someone tries to harm Israel’s citizens, the IDF will respond with immense power.”
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz made similar comments Thursday night, telling Israelis they could go about their daily lives as usual, and that the army was “ready for any scenario.”
An Iron Dome battery outside Haifa (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Some reports also surfaced Thursday that the IDF had frozen all leave for units deployed in the north, though other sources said there had only been a reduction in weekend leaves.
Foxy entered my life unexpectedly on the first night of 2006, a brutally cold and snowy night in New Hampshire. I opened the door to let the dog out and found a scrawny, partially frozen calico kitten clinging to the outer screen of the storm door. She weighed 2 1/2 pounds, the knobs of her spine were easy to see and her pelvic bones jutted up like the fins of a ’57 Chevy.
I began feeding her immediately, barely able to snatch my fingers away in time while offering her leftover Christmas turkey. When I brought her to the vet, he prepared me as best he could by telling me that she might not make it. There was a danger that she would go into organ failure. What he didn’t count on was this small cat’s will to survive. She gobbled up five cans of cat food a day and at night, she would snuggle up to me for body heat. Eventually she lost part of an ear to frostbite.
When my husband returned home from Iraq, he was somewhat dismayed to discover that while the dog was happy to see him again, there was this fluffy, fat cat that stood between us, growling, hissing and refusing to let him enter the house. She’s mellowed a bit over the last seven years, extending her loyalty to my spouse (after the prerequisite amount of blood had been shed on his part), reveling in the desert climes of Arizona (she doesn’t miss snow at all)…but sometimes I will catch a look from her that seems to say, “I won’t ever forget that night and how you saved me.”
I may have opened my home and heart to her…but Foxy taught me about bravery, how to accept help with gratitude and reward it with loyalty. She proved that there are times when the only thing that stands between life and death is the will to survive. I’ve loved many animals…but she’s the first one I’ve ever admired and aspired to emulate. I hope she is with me for many, many more years.
Demonstrators banging on pots in support of farmers at the entrance of La Calera near Bogotá. Photograph: Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters
Colombia‘s largest cities were braced on Thursday for marches by students and labour unions in support of a growing nationwide strike by miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers and potato farmers protesting against everything from high fuel prices to free trade agreements that farmers say have them on the brink of bankruptcy.
The protests began on 19 August, with demonstrators joining striking miners,to block some of the country’s main highways using tree branches, rocks and burning tyres. At least one protester and one policeman have died in the demonstrations, dozens have been injured and more than 150 have been arrested.
The protests spread to the cities where residents banged pots in solidarity with the farmers after president Juan Manuel Santos, in a failed effort to downplay the importance of the strikes, said the “supposed national farmers’ strike does not exist”.
Forced to apologise for the statement, he sent out high-level officials to begin negotiating separately with the different sectors. “We recognise that the farmers’ protests respond to real needs and problems. We are listening to them and offering solutions,” Santos said on Wednesday night.
At least 20 people were injured and some stores damaged here on Thursday in clashes between riot police and demonstrators gathering at central Bolivar Square to show support for striking farmers.
Local media reported that as many as 30,000 people, including more than 20,000 university students, began the protest three days ago at the square to support a nationwide farmers strike. The clashes broke out as several groups of young demonstrators attacked the police.
At least 20 people, including protesters as well as policemen, were injured as the police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons, local media said.
In a related development, supporters of the farmers also clashed with riot police trying to remove roadblocks and waterworks pipes placed by demonstrators on the South Highway to Bogota.
Thursday’s call for further protests was immediately followed by an interior ministry warning that live ammunition will be used on protesters who attack public institutions
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi demonstrate in Maadi on the outskirts of Cairo, August 23, 2013 (AFP/File, Gianluigi Guercia)
AFP – Supporters of Egypt’s deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi vowed more rallies and called for marches on Friday despite a harsh police crackdown on their movement.
Thursday’s call for further protests, as police continue rounding up Islamists, was immediately followed by an interior ministry warning that live ammunition will be used on protesters who attack public institutions.
“We welcome any calls for calm, but we will continue protesting in a peaceful manner,” Salah Gomaa, a member of the Anti-Coup Alliance led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, told a news conference.
The Islamist coalition has held almost daily rallies following a deadly police operation on August 14 to disperse their two protest camps in Cairo.
Egypt Islamists rally, but numbers less than hoped for
Haitham El-Tabei 9 hours ago
Several thousand Egyptians protested in Cairo Friday in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, far fewer than had been hoped for by harried Islamists, who had called for mass rallies.
In the capital’s Nasr City district, thousands marched holding pictures of those killed in days of violent clashes with police this month during a security crackdown on the Islamists.
The Islamists held smaller rallies elsewhere, some descending into clashes with anti-Morsi protesters that left two people dead in the canal city of Port Said and the Nile Delta town of Zagazig, medics said.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, the main group organising protests, has lost its ability to bring people out in large numbers because of sweeping arrests that have netted its top leaders among at least 2,000 Islamists since August 14.
That day, police broke up two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo. More than 1,000 people died in clashes during that operation and ensuing violence around the country.
In another Cairo neighbourhood Friday, police fired tear gas to disperse several dozen protesters, an AFP correspondent said.
In Nasr City, the marches also raised yellow posters showing a black hand with four fingers raised, their symbol for the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp dispersed on August 14.
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