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Saturday, 2 May 2015

One quarter of U.S. renters spend half of their income on housing, utilities; approximately 42 million households


© Reuters

For more than one in four renters in the US, housing and utility costs take up at least half of their family's income, according to a new analysis of Census data. That number is up 26 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007.

Rising rents and stagnant wages are pushing more Americans into rental agreements, according to an analysis by Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing advocate. More than 36 percent of Americans rent housing as compared to 31 percent before the recession began.

The analysis found:

- 11.25 million families pay at least half of income for rent;

- 6.4 million families headed by women pay at least half of income for rent;

- Low income families paying at least 50% on rent spend about 40% less on food than those with affordable rents.

The states most impacted by rising rents and stagnant wages are Florida, New Jersey, California and New York. In these states, 30 percent of renters are using at least half their income on rental housing and utilities.

The situation is nearly as dire across the nation. In Ohio, Alabama, Maine, Tennessee, Montana, and South Carolina, about 25 percent of renters dedicate half their income to rent and utilities. In fact, at least 20 percent of renters in every state, excepting Alaska, South Dakota, and Wyoming, face similar situations, according to the nonprofit's analysis of 2013 Census figures.

When more than a quarter of the nation's approximate 42 million household renters are forced to spend at least half their family income on shelter, tough decisions have to be made at the grocery store or concerning healthcare needs, Enterprise Community Partners' vice president Angela Bond said.

"The lack of rental homes is pervasive and affects working families, seniors and children across America. No community - be it urban, suburban or rural - is immune," she said in announcing the nonprofit's Make Room campaign to highlight the issue.

About 9 million children and 1.8 million senior households are affected by this crisis, the organization reported.

The dilemma facing renters is directly tied to decades of stagnant pay, the analysis said. Average hourly wages have gone up only 2.1 percent in the last year, according to the US Labor Department. Rental prices have risen 3.7 percent in that time, real estate forecaster Zillow reported last week, according to AP.

Meanwhile, low-income renters are facing a housing shortage, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, of about 7.1 million apartments.

The US Commerce Department says apartment complexes are being built at a pace of about 321,000 units per year.

A recent poll of 1,000 US adults found that 37 percent had credit card debt that is equal or greater than their emergency savings, signaling that many Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster.

It's not just lower income Americans who are in precarious positions. A third of higher income Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck -- even when they earn $75,000 a year -- due to a lack of prioritizing for retirement, according to a recent survey.

Rare earthquake strikes Michigan; 4.2 magnitude



No injuries or damages were reported today after a magnitude 4.2 earthquake rattled Michigan and surrounding states shortly after noon today.

John Bellini, a geophysist at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center in Goldon, Colo., said the earthquake's epicenter was roughly five miles south of Galesburg, or nine miles southeast of Kalamazoo in central Michigan.

He said the earthquake at 12:23 p.m. could be felt widely across lower portions of the state and into northern Indiana, northwestern Ohio, eastern Illinois, southeastern Wisconsin, and western Ontario.

Gov. Rick Snyder's office said there were no immediate reports of damages or injuries.

Bellini said Michigan has had only one other earthquake of this magnitude, a 4.6 earthquake that shook the state in August 1947. Its epicenter was close to Saturday's - about 30 miles to the southeast.

He said earthquakes of this magnitude are capable of causing minor damages, such as knocking items from shelves, cracking plaster or windows, or damaging brickwork or chimneys on older buildings.

He called today's earthquake "quite uncommon. Michigan doesn't get a lot of large earthquakes."

Since 1973, the state has had only two other recorded earthquakes - one in the western reaches of the Upper Peninsula, the other in central Michigan. He said dates for those quakes were not available.

He said he would not be surprised if Michigan has no aftershocks, or a few small ones that would not be felt.

Earthquakes tend to cause major damage beginning at a magnitude of 5.

"It is rare for Michigan to experience earthquakes," Snyder said in a statement, "but as we were reminded today, it does happen."

Snyder's office said Michigan State Police continues to monitor the situation.

Social media is buzzing with reports of the earthquake. Michigan residents reported feeling the earth shake in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Troy.

Residents report that they felt it last for a few seconds. Some say their house shook; others said it startled their pets. We've compiled some tweets of their accounts below.

DId you feel it, as well? Any other details you can share? Submit them in the comments.

5.7 magnitude earthquake hits Japan's Hachijo-jima island



A 5.7-magnitude earthquake has struck 168 km from Japan's Hachijo-jima island, USGS said, adding that the depth of the quake stood at 10 km.

USGS initially placed the magnitude of the quake at 6.1 but later dropped it to 5.7.

Hachijo-jima, a volcanic Japanese island in the Philippine Sea, has a population of about 8,000 people.

The quake occurred 456 km from the country's capital, Tokyo, which is home to some 13 million inhabitants.It also struck 359km from the towns of Shimoda, home to 23,000 residents, and Tateyama, which has 28,000 people.

In April, southwestern Japan's Miyakojima and Yaeyama areas were placed on high alert with tsunami warnings after a 6.8-magnitude underwater earthquake struck off Taiwan's coast. Waves as high as one meter were expected to hit southwestern territories.


Bulusan volcano in Philippines explodes, ejecting steam and ash


© errolgatumbato.wordpress.com

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), in its 1:30 p.m. advisory Friday, disclosed that Bulusan Volcano (12.7667°N, 124.0500°E) situated in Sorsogon Province, produced a steam and ash explosion which lasted for 5 minutes based on seismic records.

The volcanic activity was recorded at 8:09 a.m., although it may not have been observed visually due to thick rain clouds covering the summit.

"At around 10:30 a.m., when the crater became visible, strong to moderate, dirty white steaming was observed, reaching 200 meters high and drifting west-northwest coming from the northwest vent of the volcano," Phivolcs said.

Only five (5) volcanic earthquakes were detected during the past week by the Bulusan seismic network, but after the steam and ash explosion, the network recorded approximately 40 volcanic earthquakes.

Alert Level 0 status currently prevails over Bulusan Volcano, Phivolcs added.

However, local government units and the public are reminded that entry to the 4-kilometer radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) remains strictly prohibited due to the possibility of sudden and hazardous steam-driven or phreatic eruptions.

Civil aviation authorities must also advise pilots to avoid flying close to the volcano's summit as ejecta from any sudden phreatic eruption can be hazardous to aircraft.

"Furthermore, people living within valleys and along river/stream channels should be vigilant against sediment-laden stream flows and lahars in the event of heavy and prolonged rainfall," Phivolcs underscored.

"Life is such a simple thing and cruel": The President of Russia talks about his parents in the war, his brother, and all the amazing coincidences

Russian Pioneer

In nine days all of Russia will celebrate, and further immortalize an historic victory for a homeland, and for the world. Whether or not any foreign leaders attend Victory Day celebrations in Red Square on May 9th, a great people have reason for unshakable pride. So too, it may come to pass that the leader of this dynamic nation will one day be remembered alongside the fallen heroes of Stalingrad and Leningrad.

Here's a view of Vladimir Putin I'll bet not many out there know of or understand.

We were scanning the news today when my partner Mihaela discovered a story about Vladimir Putin, and a column he wrote for the magazine Russian Pioneer (or in Russian). The article's title, translated for feeling reads, "Life Is Such a Simple Thing and Cruel", and it reflects not only Vladimir Putin's personal take on the Great Patriotic War, but interestingly, Russia's as well. In the piece Putin candidly discussed the coincidences that have informed his life. He goes on to confirm all the stories I and other writers have spoken of at times, of his family, his home, and the Nazi siege of Leningrad that took so many hundreds of thousands. Most striking though, is that the now celebrated leader is still confused that his parents never wanted to hate the enemy. In this resides perhaps the best quality of Russians, some miraculous capacity for forgiveness. And Putin speaks of it all reverently, in an almost childlike way, from a position of a "fly on the wall" listening to dark conversations of grownups. The effect is mesmerizing actually. Observing Putin from the standpoint of being his father's son, rather than 's most influential person, is riveting.

It is not an easy essay to translate and deliver to you quickly, as our translation team is tied up with 50 other stories. So I solicited the help of our rocket scientist programmer, Aleksander Shatskih (Александр Шацких) to assist in conveying the feeling behind Mr. Putin's column. What's significant about the piece, other than the fact Russia's president has a column somewhere out there, is the harmony that Russia's leader feels in being Russian. Reading him speak of his mother, father, and brother with such clarity of recollection calls up sentiments I've expressed before.


Imagery from Vladimir Putin’s original story about Leningrad

The Great War, the Siege of Leningrad, and Vladimir Putin's inextricable ties to the people and events of that time tell more about the man than a million biographies. He relates his father's part in the war, and later validation of the stories he was told. One in particular, of the senior Putin's narrow escape from Nazi patrols. Later in the monologue Putin relates a still more miraculous happenstance, when his father recalls a reunion with a comrade who saved his life during the war. The story Russia's leading citizen tells is rich with bridled emotion, controlled yet telling the truth of a city and its citizens left for dead, surrounded and nearly destroyed by an ultimately frustrated enemy. Just how disparaged the Nazis were is revealed by this recollection from Putin's father speaking about the blockade of Leningrad:

"We ended up breaking through the blockade in another place, but there was bitter fighting around where we were, nonetheless. Bullets and shells flew relentlessly everywhere; the Germans realized a break was possible. So at Nevsky, they tried to level the spot to the ground. There's no telling how much metal still lies beneath each square meter of ground there."

A friend informs me today, that not only is Nevsky still inundated with tons of bullet and shell fragments, but that human bone constitutes the soil along the streets there. For the reader unaware of what happened at Leningrad, suffice it to say that no American or British leader experienced such trials in that war. Nazi Germany had crushed everything in it's path, passing by what is now St. Petersburg to forage further East, killing anything that stood in the way. Somehow, miraculously the relentless pounding of German bombs and shelling killed fewer than the starvation and pestilence Russians suffered there.

As for Putin's magazine article, his recollection of his the brother he never saw is the most touching memory or feeling. Vladimir's father, having been wounded, secreted his hospital rations to his starving wife and three year old child Viktor. The younger Putin, Vladimir's older brother, he fell ill with diphtheria and died. The cruelty of his death was exacerbated by the fact that his parents did not even know where he was buried. Vladimir Putin recollects how some kind souls later researched and reported the actual burial place of the Russian president's kin. If my recollection is correct, Putin said the grave is in Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery.


Putin’s father related a story of his comrade saving him - image from the original piece

At length a reader of Vladimir Putin's revelations can easily detect the man's desire to be heard, and for whoever reads his story in Russian to understand the events of those dark days. I think we can all identify somehow with a quest for truth and understanding when we see one. If I might venture my own translation here:

"So you see, all my parents talked about of that war rang true. Not one word was invented. Not one single day has been moved. And as for my brother, and about the neighbors, even the story about the German commander who was a group comrade, all were proven true sometime after the fact."

I find it somehow tragic that no other writers found this Putin article. Maybe journalists today just aren't paid enough. Or, perhaps their editors will not pay for a story about the real Vladimir Putin? I can only suppose about all that. What's tragic is not that Vladimir Putin is not better understood, but that the honorable and courageous people he leads today are not. In the end Russia sacrificed the most so the Allies could be victorious, but no one sees this who does not want to. Even amid all the undue criticism though, the intelligent humanity of Russia is visible, in her president. I leave you with another fragment, as he speaks of his departed mother:

"There was not a family where someone was not killed, and of course, grief, trouble, tragedy struck all. That they had no hatred for the enemy, that's what I find amazing. I cannot to this day, frankly, understand their goodness. My mother, she was so very gentle, so kind.... And she told me, 'Why should we hate those soldiers? They are simple people too, and we also killed them in the war.' It's utterly amazing. We were brought up with Soviet books, and movies... And there was hate. But in my mother this somehow did not exist. Her words I'll always remember: 'What can we do? They are just as hardworking as we are. They were just driven to the front to fight.'"

It's time the world's people understand who is driving us to the front today. As for Russia and Putin, the "front" is in the same place as always. It's called home.

Spectacular sun halo captured over Wirral, UK

These stunning photos show a spectacular sun halo forming in the skies over Wirral.

Haloes - rings that form around the sun or moon - are created by light being reflected by ice crystals formed in high cirrus clouds.

While they can be an indicator of rain, as the ice crystals often indicate an approaching frontal system, it is thought this halo was formed as a result of unusually cold overnight temperatures.

The photos were taken in Bromborough by Kirsty Bakstad outside her home this morning.

She told the ECHO: "It was about 11am, we were just pulling up outside our home in Bromborough when my husband Will, who had his sunglasses on, spotted it.

"He told me to look through the sunglasses, and there was this huge ring around the sun.

"I took a few pictures with my phone through the sunglasses, then a few directly.

"I had to Google it to find out what it was.

"I love taking weather pictures, usually red sunsets or funny-shaped clouds, but I've never seen anything like this before."

A Met Office spokesman said: "It was very cold overnight on Merseyside, around 1.8 degrees, so it's likely that ice crystals could have formed in high cirrus clouds. It doesn't necessarily mean it's going to rain, though rain is forecast anyway for the area later on on Saturday.

"Haloes can be quite common, you see them around the moon quite a lot in this country in the north because of the colder temperatures overnight, but in the winter you can see them in the daytime more often."

According to the Met Office website, haloes can vary is size depending on the structure of the ice crystals reflecting the light.

They can be either white, or faintly coloured, depending on the angle the light rays strike the crystals.

The majority of ice crystals are hexagonal, or six-sided, and the most common angle light is refracted through them is about 22 degrees.

Small haloes produced at 9 degrees and larger ones at 46 degrees are relatively common, and in some cases only part of a halo forms.

New trick could help overcome procrastination

© Thinkstock
"I got so much procrastinating done today!"

Researchers from the University of Southern California say that they've come up with a sure-fire way for people to overcome procrastination and get to work on accomplishing their goals.

The trick, they explain in the journal Psychological Science, is to change the way that you think about the future. Future goals have to feel as though they're important now.

"The simplified message that we learned in these studies is if the future doesn't feel imminent, then, even if it's important, people won't start working on their goals," said Oyserman, who was assisted on the research by co-author Neil Lewis Jr. of the University of Michigan.

In a series of experiments, the duo presented study participants with different scenarios and found that those individuals looked at the future as something that was far more imminent when they evaluated goals and deadlines in terms of days rather than months or years.

Events appear closer when viewed in days

Oysterman and Lewis recruited 162 men and women and asked them to imagine that they were preparing for future events, such as a wedding or a presentation at work, and were randomly told to think of the event in days, months, or years. The authors found that participants viewing the event in terms of days said that it would occur an average of 29.6 days sooner.

A second set of studies investigated if this sense of time altered a person's plans to begin saving money for the long-term. The authors recruited more than 1,100 participants, asking them when they planned to begin saving for college or retirement. In one case, they were either told college would start in 18 years or 6,570 days, while in the second, they were told retirement would start either 30-40 years or 10,950-14,600 days in the future.

Oysterman and Lewis found that participants planned to start saving four times sooner when they viewed the upcoming event in terms of days instead of years, and follow-up studies revealed that while participants believed that long-term saving was important, those assigned to count down to college or retirement in days instead of years felt more connected to their future selves.

The researchers believe that this technique could be used by people to motive themselves to accomplish goals. "So when I think in a more granular way - when I use days rather than years - it makes me feel like the future is closer," they explained. "If you see it as 'today' rather than on your calendar for sometime in the future, you're not going to put it off."

Man trampled to death by elephant in Nilgiris, India


Elephant kicking up some dust.

K. Balan (47) of Bokkapuram was killed by an elephant late on Thursday, when he along with a few other people were collecting firewood in the nearby forest of The Nilgiris North division.

The group was chased by the elephant.

While the rest managed to flee to safety, Balan went missing. On Friday, Balan's body was found at Nelson estate near Bokkapuram. On behalf of the State Government,

Forest Department officials gave away the first instalment solatium of Rs. 25,000 to his family.

The body was sent to Gudalur Government Hospital for post-mortem examination.

Hypocrisy: Starbucks feel-good 'Ethos' water sourced from exceptional drought region

© Bocman1973/Shutterstock


Since 2005, celebrities including Matt Damon and Cameron Diaz have lent their well-hydrated faces to marketing campaigns supporting Starbucks' feel-good Ethos Water mission, which has raised an estimated $12.3 million to help people in developing countries have access to clean water. The company has attempted to "raise awareness" about our globe's water crisis by donating a small portion of proceeds from sales (5 cents from $1.95 water bottles) to water charity projects and hygiene education programs, particularly those aimed at helping children.

Seems there's something in the water, though. s did some Internet irrigation and discovered that Ethos's world-saving bottled-water plant is located in Merced and sources its H2O just up north in Baxter, both California towns the United States Drought Monitor has deemed to be in "exceptional drought."

Just how exceptional? Merced residents aren't just restricted from watering their lawns (here's looking at you, Beverly Hills). An April plan from the State Water Resources Control Board mandated that the town must reduce its water use by 35 percent, according to The Fresno Bee, in an attempt to assuage the state's ongoing epic drought.

Merced natives have been increasingly expressing their disdain for the water bottling plant, owned and operated by the grocery store chain Safeway, that had been sourcing and sending out groundwater from the region for sales, reports the Merced Sun-Star. This plant bottles its own water, in addition to producing Ethos. But it's unclear how much water the company has been slurping down because the city holds that as classified information.

The Ethos water itself is sourced about two hours north of Merced, from private springs located in Baxter, California. A Starbucks spokesperson was careful to note that the private springs weren't being "used for municipal water for any communities," in an interview with Mother Jones. No word on how much of Ethos Water's overall output is bottled in California, as there is a Pennsylvania plant where the company produces bottles for east coast sales. Starbucks did not immediately return a request for comment.

The news should hit harder than a sip of a quadruple-shot Venti moccachino. But Ethos isn't the only bottled-water company facing mounting accountability for digging up groundwater in California's most arid regions. As Newsweek reported in mid-April, Nestle's gargantuan bottling operation has been extracting and selling millions of gallons of water from some of California's most barren regions—27 years after their water permit expired.

Tapping into any groundwater at this point in the state's water emergency is troubling, especially because water companies located in California usually aren't required to pay for groundwater usage. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, an annual notice of groundwater usage must be filed only if it exceeds 25-acre feet—enough water to fill over 12 Olympic swimming pools' worth without needing a permit.

Advocates insist that if bottled water companies continue sourcing water from these parched regions, it will significantly impact farms and communities. It looks as though Starbucks is re-focusing Ethos' ethos following the report, though: a company spokesperson said in an interview with Newsweek that the company is "now looking at alternative sourcing solutions for Ethos Water outside of the state [of California]."

They have not announced where exactly they're looking for those alternatives, but perhaps Ethos took a cue from state native Joan Didion, who wrote in her 1979 essay "Holy Water" that "the apparent ease of California life is an illusion, and those who believe the illusion is real live here in only the most temporary way."

What's happening with the water in Oregon's Lost Lake?

The 'Lost Lake' off Oregon's Highway 20 has a deep, dark secret.

Most of the year, it looks like any other lake; peaceful and still.

But come winter, and a mysterious hole begins draining it of all its water, leaving a barren landscape that has baffled scientists for centuries.

Jude McHugh, spokeswoman with the Willamette National Forest, told the Bulletin, that the hole has been there as long as anyone can remember.

There appears to be a relatively simple explanation to how the water is being lost.

Geologists claim the area's volcanic landscape is to blame for the lake's rapid drainage.

They believe a lava tube beneath the lake formed when flowing lava hardened near the surface and flowed downwards.

As the eruption cooled, the hardened pipes emptied, leaving behind tubes in the form of vast tunnels.

Similar lava tube drain holes have been found at Fish Lake, only a few miles from Lost Lake near the junction of U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway, according to the Bulletin.

But what has stumped researchers is where exactly all this water goes.

McHugh claims it may seep into the porous subsurface underground, refilling the aquifer that feeds springs on of the Cascades. However, this has never been confirmed.

Now and again, locals will find strange objects in the lake, such as car parts, engines and other types of debris.

McHugh believes these are attempts to try and 'plug the leak', but warns this may simply lead to flooding of the local area.

'If anyone was ever successful at plugging it, which we're not sure they could do, it would just result in the lake flooding, and the road. It's an important part of how the road was designed,' she said.

New generation of nonstick and waterproof chemicals replacing Teflon are just as toxic

The replacement chemicals are persistent in the environment and body and widely used in many consumer products, including outdoor clothing and food packaging.

Ten years ago, DuPont was forced to phase out a key chemical in making Teflon, after revelations that for nearly 45 years the company covered up evidence of its health hazards, including cancer and birth defects. But a new EWG investigation finds that the chemicals pushed by DuPont and other companies to replace the Teflon chemical and similar perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs - already in wide use in food wrappers and outdoor clothing - may not be much - if at all - safer.

EWG analysts examine in detail the poisoned legacy of DuPont and the toxic truth about the Teflon chemical, known as C8 or PFOA, and the secrecy surrounding the safety of replacement chemicals.

Click here to read the full report:

The truth about this family of chemicals emerged only after DuPont was hit with lawsuits for poisoning drinking water for tens of thousands of people in West Virginia and Ohio. DuPont paid a record $16.5 million fine for hiding the alarming truth that C8/PFOA chemicals were linked to cancer and birth defects. DuPont promised to phase the chemical out by the end of this year but the company continues to hide behind confidentiality and trade secrets to keep the public in the dark.

"We are deeply troubled that families have no way of knowing if they are being exposed to these chemicals in their own homes," said Bill Walker, EWG consultant and co-author of the report. "DuPont continues to hide the truth about the health concerns of these new replacement chemicals."

The replacement chemicals are persistent in the environment and body and widely used in many consumer products, including outdoor clothing and food packaging.

EWG has released a new consumer guide today to help people who want to avoid the new nonstick chemicals, found on waterproof jackets, running shoes, microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes.

According to the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, PFCs contaminate the blood of virtually every American alive today. They are found in animals in the most remote corners of the world, and lab tests have found that they are even passed to babies still in the womb.

"We can't shop our way out of this problem," said Dave Andrews Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG and coauthor of the report. "PFCs are used too often and too widely in many consumer products. They have been associated with host of health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol and obesity."

More than 200 scientists from around the world have signed a consensus statement, released today, that sounds the alarm about the dangers of the new PFCs and that urges consumers to avoid them. The peer-reviewed science journal has published the study which can be found here.

One reason DuPont has gotten away with its egregious behavior is the nation's outdated and badly broken chemical safety law, which has failed to regulate the chemical industry. Congress is considering several competing bills that would update the 1976 law, but only one proposal — the Boxer-Markey bill — would take the major step of ensuring Americans are protected from toxic chemicals like C8 and companies like DuPont.

"PFCs are a poster child for real reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act," said Renee Sharp, EWG's director of research. "Under the nation's broken chemical law, these and other dangerous chemicals are allowed on the market without proof of safety. Congress has an opportunity to act now to safeguard the public from dangerous chemicals."

Congress must learn from the tragedy of C8 and pass an effective chemical safety law that protects public health, not the chemical industry's profits. In its new report, EWG lays out its recommendations to Congress to protect Americans from the hazards of PFCs and all other dangerous chemicals.

In the meantime, EWG suggests the following for consumers who want to avoid the new generation of PFCs:

  • Find products that haven't been pre-treated and skip optional stain treatment on new carpets and furniture. Many of these coatings are made with PFCs.
  • Cut back on fast food and greasy carryout food. These foods often come in PFC-treated wrappers.
  • Do your research, especially when buying outdoor gear, and choose clothing that doesn't carry Gore-Tex or Teflon tags.
  • Be wary of all fabrics labeled stain- or water-repellent, even when they don't carry a recognizable brand tag.
  • Avoid non-stick pans and kitchen utensils. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron instead.
  • Pop popcorn the old-fashioned way - on the stovetop. Microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFCs on the inside.
  • Choose personal care products without "PTFE" or "fluoro" ingredients. Use EWG's Skin Deep to find safer choices. Avoid using Oral-B Glide floss, which is made by Gore-Tex.

Why we should pay attention to the electricity rationing in Venezuela

© bbc.co.uk

Denial might be a river in Venezuela.

For the past year, the government has been trying to sugar coat the economic demise of the country, and they're continuing the propaganda with the new electricity rationing program that they've instituted. If you think it's because of the socialist government's financial collapse, you're being ridiculous. It's because they care about climate change. Vice President Jorge Arreaza said so.

This is, of course, linked to global warming and the excessive industrialization of capitalism, which never stops, nor has ever stopped, for the effects that it can have on the climate, on society and on Mother Earth.

Of course it is. Only silly paranoid conspiracy theorists would say otherwise.

In case you've forgotten, there's also no food shortage and there's plenty of freedom, too.

The government of Venezuela passed laws disallowing the storage of food because it's just silly to do that. The rationing of the food available in the country, using a fingerprint registry is just there to keep people in line with the law. And even though store shelves were virtually bare of basic necessities like toilet paper, laundry soap, and food in January, with long lines of people waiting for the few items available, it must just be where those folks were shopping.

Repeat after me: THERE ARE NO SHORTAGES.

Now, back to electricity. A report on Breitbart.com said:

The Venezuelan government will begin rationing electrical supplies this week in response to high demand triggered by heat. Public employees will only have to work six hours a day until further notice, and police units will be sent to inspect private businesses to ensure they only use their allotted amounts. Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza blamed the measures on climate change.

Minister of Energy Jesse Chacón added that the limited hours on public sector jobs would not apply to necessary arms of the government, such as education, health, security, and garbage collection. Private industries are obligated to use 10% less energy across the board until further notice, without any exceptions mentioned in the original announcement. The new regulation permits government inspection of businesses specifically to monitor energy use, though the government has not specified what punishments await a business that defies the call.

See? I told you. They just love the planet. That's all.

Here's why we need to pay attention to the rationing in Venezuela.

Now, if you're reading this and thinking that what happens in Venezuela is of no concern to you, I beg you to reconsider. No, the economic situation in a South American socialist country won't directly cause the US economy to collapse. What it does is provide a modern day glimpse into what an economic collapse really looks like, much like the collapse of Greece was a cautionary tale. These are both direct case studies of what happens to the middle class during an economic collapse.

These mandated power rations, the limited amounts of food, the government-funded snitches, the tracking, and most of all, the propaganda, are all what await us in an economic collapse situation. While the Venezuelan government will be facing no limits on their use of electrical power, the people will only be allowed allotted amounts.

Do you think it can't happen here? Consider the forced rationing of water amidst the drought in California. Rationing that only applies to regular folks, not wealthy people or massive corporations.

It's obvious that the state really is in the midst of an epic drought. But conservation mandates are not applied equally, much like the electricity rationing in Venezuela.

Golf courses for the rich and famous remain lush and green, while wells across the state run dry. Ordinary people aren't allowed to have lawns or to even have vegetable gardens, and newspapers are calling upon "good Samaritans" to snitch if they feel someone is wasting water. There's even an app for that, and Smart Meters are in place to target wasters (Unless they happen to be wealthy corporations, of course. They have different rules and snitching on them will do no good.)

One small community, Outingdale, just received word that strict rationing is now in effect. Residents will be allowed only 50 gallons per day, per person, and no outside watering of any kind will be permitted. This is not good news for folks who rely on their vegetable gardens for food. Meanwhile, the Nestle corporation is busy pumping out the state's remaining water, bottling it, and selling it back to people for an enormous profit.

Anyway, back to electricity.

I'm reminded of the series, The Hunger Games, in which residents of the outlying districts are only allowed power when the Capitol deems they should have it, such as when they want to air propaganda "entertainment" to keep people in line. In the movie, citizens of the Districts were relegated to cooking over open fires and lighting their rooms with candles. No one had transportation or power. They were not allowed to hunt to supplement their meager food allotments and in the heroine's District, they were not allowed to use the coal the area was rich with. Uniformed "peacekeepers" patrolled the districts to ensure that the rules were strictly adhered to and that the excruciating poverty was the standard for all residents.

With the widespread installation of mandatory Smart Meters, how difficult would it be to forcibly ration our electricity here?

They can already remotely turn off appliances they deem are using too much energy. At the press of a few keys on a central computer, our electricity usage could be monitored to make sure we stay within the designated limits, strictly slotted to only certain hours of the day, or even cut off entirely if we exceed our rations. It may not even be direct rationing that cuts us off, as it is in Venezuela. As prices of electricity keep climbing, how extreme is it to think that one of these days, electricity might only be for rich people?

However it goes down you can be sure that no one in the government will admit to mismanagement or a desire to enhance control and dependency. It will be couched in warm, fuzzy terms of saving the planet from carbon emissions, much like the propaganda coming out of Venezuela. It's easy for us to see it when it happens to them, but many people here are so deeply entrenched in cognitive dissonance that they'll swallow the green pill with a smile, moving into their Agenda 21 microhomes and martyring themselves for the good of Team Green.

Self-reliance means survival.

So, what can we do to maintain our independence should our access to affordable necessities be rationed out like they are in Venezuela? Here are 15 ways to increase your self-reliance so that you are less affected if rationing comes to America.

  1. Reduce your dependence on the power grid with rain barrels, gray water systems, line drying, and solar lighting.
  2. Eat simple food you prepare from scratch.
  3. Produce as much of your own food as possible.
  4. Learn to make pantry basics like vinegar, sourdough, and cultured dairy products.
  5. Learn to preserve your harvests to see you through the lean days of winter.
  6. Find other ways to stay warm. This can be difficult if you rent but it can still be done. Consider making modifications to allow for the use of portable wood heaters, look into different types of camping heat. Make your plans and purchase your supplies well before you need them. Learn how to safely store fuel for these secondary devices. Invest in battery operated carbon monoxide monitors (and extra batteries). Get sleeping bags with a warmth rating for low temperatures, consider a small tent where you and family members can sleep in your living room to pool body heat, and stock up on cold weather clothing like hats, fingerless gloves, long underwear and heavy sweaters. Find ways to insulate and separate one main living area off from the rest of the house by closing doors, hanging curtains in doorways, etc. Obviously this isn't the lifestyle we hope for, but it pays to be ready.
  7. Learn to forage.
  8. Use "old-fashioned" alternatives for disposable things like diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene supplies, paper towels, and the like.
  9. Learn to make cleaning supplies and soaps, especially from accessible supplies (like vinegar, ash, and foraged natural ingredients).
  10. Look for the thrifty answer using things you have on hand, instead of purchasing a solution to every problem.
  11. Fix things that are broken instead of replacing them.
  12. Watch the prices of your utilities. As the prices begin to rise, more and more people will be unable to pay their bills and eventually their power will be shut off. (Much like the running water in Detroit.) Check your bill each month and as prices increase, use less power.
  13. Learn about natural remedies from accessible sources.
  14. Learn to protect your family and property.
  15. Prep, prep and then prep some more. The end of the American way of life is upon us. Stock up on beans, bullets, and band-aids. If you're new to the idea of prepping, check out some sites like Ready Nutrition, Backdoor Survival, The Survival Mom, SHTFplan, Underground Medic, and Graywolf Survival. The clock is ticking.
It's only by reducing your need for the things sold in stores and your reliance on services provided by corporations that you can exempt yourself from the chaos, dependency, and desperation that will erupt when an economic collapse situation occurs here.

Thank you to KY Mom for the tip!

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Ghostly doctor caught on camera in abandoned hospital

Jamie-Leigh Brown was left stunned after a photo she took at the spooky St Thomas's Hospital in Stockport appeared to show the ghostly figure of a doctor

A woman exploring a derelict hospital was left stunned after a photo she took in the spooky building appeared to show the ghostly figure of a doctor.

Jamie-Leigh Brown, 21, was walking the abandoned corridors of St Thomas's Hospital in Stockport - which closed down in 2004 - when she took the chilling picture.

She did not check the photo at the time as she and her and friends were too concerned with the footsteps they were hearing above them - despite the hospital having no usable staircases.

The group became spooked and fled the building after only a few minutes and it was not until later that Ms Brown discovered the haunting figure lurking in the background of the shot.

She told The Sun: 'It freaked me out. It's standing in a lift shaft. It's really creepy to think my friend was just heading towards the area where the ghost was.

'We'd only gone into the workhouse for a laugh and to look around. We kept hearing noises above us like shuffling and footsteps but hadn't actually seen anything.'

St Thomas's, formerly known as Shaw Heath Hospital, closed down more than a decade ago after treating thousands of psychiatric patients over the years.

The derelict building was once a Victorian workhouse known as The Grubber and three years ago it featured in an episode of paranormal investigation show Most Haunted.

Other sightings of ghoulish figures have been made at the site, including a 'radiant woman dressed as a nurse or a nun' according to paranormaldatabase.com - a website that lists reports of ghosts.

The ghost is not clear in the image but it looks like a person wearing a medical gown and mask

The original workhouse is thought to have been built in the 1841 to accommodate up to 690 inmates.

In 1894, the British Medical Journal set up a 'commission' to investigate conditions in provincial workhouses and their infirmaries.

On their visit to Stockport, the commission found that due to a trade depression, inmates in the workhouse were 'packed like sardines in a tin'.

The management of the hospital appeared to be 'completely without plan or method' and the female wards were 'comfortless and barnlike'. Many wards were so crowded as to present a serious danger in the case of fire.

A new infirmary was built in response in 1905 - and the workhouse later became the Shaw Heath Hospital, before becoming St Thomas's.

Since its 2004 closure, the site has now been acquired by Stockport College as part of their campus expansion.

The main workhouse building and some other blocks are planned to be retained and refurbished.

It is estimated around 25,000 people passed through the building's doors when it was brutal Victorian workhouse.

Tornadoes ruin houses and destroy crops in North Cotabato

A farmworker checks the banana plants devastated by a twister in Barangay Manongol, Kidapawan City.

Tornadoes have ravaged houses and croplands for weeks in some parts of North Cotabato, a province already experiencing a dry spell for months. The latest of seven twisters to hit the province this month alone was reported Monday night in Barangay Manongol city. At least 5,000 banana plants were damaged, but no human casualty was reported.

It was the third to occur in the city this month, officials said. On Monday last week, a tornado damaged some P2 million worth of fruiting banana plants in Barangay Paco. Another damaged 27 houses in Barangay Magatos in Kabacan town, according to Mayor Herlo Guzman.

Banana trees were felled by the tornado, 29 April 2015, North Cotabato.

In M'lang town a tornado tore apart 15 houses and 11 school buildings in two villages on April 12. Hundreds of banana plants were felled when a second twister came, according to Mayor Joselito Piñol. In Alamada town another twister damaged 30 houses during the second week of April, according to the municipality's disaster response office.

In Davao del Sur province governor Claude Bautista announced the declaration of a state of calamity as he urged his allies to forget politics for the moment and concentrate on efforts to help farmers suffering from the effects of the dry spell.

Marivic Hubac, Bautista's executive assistant, said about 7,000 hectares of cropland had already been damaged in the province and in the newly created province of Davao Occidental, citing initial field reports from the agriculture office. The ruined fields included about 500 ha of rice, 2,000 ha of corn, 500 ha of banana, and 3,000 ha of coconuts, Hubac said in a text message.

Group of 'The Elders' meet in Moscow


© The President’s Press Office
Vladimir Putin greets The Elders at his home outside Moscow.

This week Russian President Vladimir Putin met with members of a group of former heads of state and key international organizations to discuss Ukraine and other world crisis. The group, known as The Elders, joined Mr. Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow to conclude their three day trip to Russia's capital.

Founded in 2007 by former South African President Nelson Mandela, The Elders use their influence and peace settlement experience to assist in critical situations such as the one affecting Ukraine today. Comprised of 12 members, and headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, The Elders help to resolve the world's most serious and complicated problems.

Russia's president welcomed the group to his home with this brief statement:

"Colleagues, friends, Let me wish you a warm welcome to Moscow. I know that Moscow is not the only place where you meet with current state leaders. I must say that there is a need for the active position you take in international affairs, especially now, when we are all witnesses to the complicated situation our world is in at present. Sadly, the world has not become any simpler since it was when you were active in political life. I am not trying to say that this is your legacy, but simply that our world really is complex and diverse and has very many conflict situations. I will not list all these conflicts now. In any case, it would be a great pleasure and also useful for me to hear your views on a number of key issues. This is so for me, and for my colleagues, Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, who I am sure you all know well, and my aide, Mr Ushakov. Welcome!"

Apart from meetings with President Putin, the Elders held in-depth discussions with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and with various heads of leading Moscow-based think tanks. Of the success of these meetings, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General said:

"We are pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss Russia's role in international affairs with the President. To be successful in defusing conflicts and building trust, high-level dialogue and effective action are essential."

The Elders who participated in this latest mission to Moscow were: Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish President; Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General; Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian Foreign Minister; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian Prime Minister; Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President; and Ernesto Zedillo, former Mexican President.

Finally, since this was the first visit by The Elders to Moscow, the delegation wanted to hear their Russian counterparts on how the government views the current geopolitical climate around the world. Of course Russia's view on Ukraine was acutely important, according to the group's spokespersons. Of particular note was the prospect for implementation of the so-called Minsk II agreement, which The Elders urged should be urgently implemented.

Strange exoplanet orbiting small cool star challenges planetary formation theories

Artist's impression of HATS-6

The Australian discovery of a strange exoplanet orbiting a small cool star 500 light years away is challenging ideas about how planets form.

"We have found a small star, with a giant planet the size of Jupiter, orbiting very closely," said researcher George Zhou from the Research School of Astrophysics and Astronomy.

"It must have formed further out and migrated in, but our theories can't explain how this happened."

In the past two decades more than 1,800 extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) have been discovered outside our solar system orbiting around other stars.

The host star of the latest exoplanet, HATS-6, is classed as an M-dwarf, which is one of the most numerous types of stars in galaxy. Although they are common, M-dwarf stars are not well understood. Because they are cool they are also dim, making them difficult to study.

HATS-6 emits only one twentieth of the light of our sun. The giveaway that the faint star had a planet circling it was a dip in its brightness caused as the planet passed in front of the star, observed by small robotic telescopes including telescopes at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory.

To confirm the signal was a planet and not a blip in the system, Dr Bayliss called in help from one of the world's largest telescopes, the Magellan Telescope in Chile, and an amateur astronomer, T G Tan, who operates from his backyard in Perth.

"T G Tan has been really helpful on our projects. He was able to catch the transit of the planet from Perth, after it had set over our horizon," Mr Zhou said.

© Daniel Bayliss
George Zhou at the Hawaiian Mauna Kea observatory.

Subsequent observations from the Chilean telescope, and spectra taken from the ANU 2.3 metre telescope at Siding Spring, confirmed the planet had an orbit of just one-tenth that of mercury, and orbits its star every 3.3 days.

"The planet has a similar mass to Saturn, but its radius is similar to Jupiter, so it's quite a puffed up planet. Because its host star is so cool it's not heating the planet up so much, it's very different from the planets we have observed so far," Mr Zhou said.

"The atmosphere of this planet will be an interesting target for future study."

The research is published in the .