It may be summertime "down under," but instead of sunshine and warm breezes, Australia has been hit with severe weather conditions, including unseasonable flooding and even a snowstorm, the BBC is reporting.
Dozens of residents were evacuated from their homes in the remote town of Carnarvon, some 900 kilometers north of Perth, after a staggering 30 centimeters of rain caused what the Telegraph has called the region's worst flooding in 50 years, damaging crops and cattle stations. Meanwhile, residents in east coast states New South Wales and Victoria experienced a rare "White Christmas"-style start to their holiday week, after a cold spell left up to 10 centimeters of snow covering many of the area's ski resorts, which are usually snow-free this time of year.
"It's white, everything is white," Michelle Lovius, the general manager of the Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel at Charlotte Pass told the AFP. "First thing this morning everything was just very still, very peaceful and every single thing was just blanketed in a thick cover of white."
Exclusive: The Dept. of Homeland Security Uncovered a Plot to Attack Hotels and Restaurants Over a Single Weekend
By By Armen Keteyian
(CBS) In this exclusive story, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the latest terror attack to America involves the possible use of poisons - simultaneous attacks targeting hotels and restaurants at many locations over a single weekend.
A key Intelligence source has confirmed the threat as "credible." Department of Homeland Security officials, along with members of the Department of Agriculture and the FDA, have briefed a small group of corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries about it.
"We operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts are in this country," said Dec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Dec. 6, 2010.
The plot uncovered earlier this year is said to involve the use of two poisons - ricin and cyanide - slipped into salad bars and buffets.
Of particular concern: The plotters are believed to be tied to the same terror group that attempted to blow up cargo planes over the east coast in October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In online propaganda al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has praised the cargo attack, part of what it called "Operation Hemorrhage."
The propaganda says in part, "...attacking the enemy with smaller but more frequent operations" to "add a heavy economic burden to an already faltering economy."
Manuals and videos on jihadist websites explain how to easy it is to make both poisons.
"Initially it would look very much like food poisoning," said St. John's University professor of pharmaceutical sciences Dr. Susan Ford.
She showed how little of each poison could be fatal by putting a small amount of poison in cups.
Armen Keteyian: Are these dosages enough to really harm someone or kill someone?
Susan Ford: Yes, these are 250 milligrams and that is the fatal dose.
Keteyian: So just that much sodium cyanide is enough to kill me?
Ford: Yes, it is.
That leads to a difficult debate: The need to inform the public without alarming it.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, "A threat you might feel is sufficiently specific and credible to tell the people who are professionally involved might not be specific or credible enough to tell the general public."
Chertoff says it's important to let public health officials know that what looks like food poisoning could be a terrorist attack.
On Monday Dept. of Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said, "We are not going to comment on reports of specific terrorist planning. However, the counterterrorism and homeland security communities have engaged in extensive efforts for many years to guard against all types of terrorist attacks, including unconventional attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. Indeed, Al-Qa'ida has publicly stated its intention to try to carry out unconventional attacks for well over a decade, and AQAP propaganda in the past year has made similar reference.
"Finally, we get reports about the different kinds of attacks terrorists would like to carry out that frequently are beyond their assessed capability."
The fact remains the government and hospitality industries are on alert.
It's not every lifetime that you get a chance to celebrate a solstice with a total eclipse of the moon.
Weather permitting, a lunar eclipse will be visible from 1:33 to 5:01 a.m. ET Tuesday, with the total eclipse starting at about 2:41 a.m., according
to NASA. The eclipse happens to be on the day of a solstice (first day of winter for the Northern Hemisphere; first day of summer for the Southern Hemisphere). The last time a lunar eclipse happened on a solstice was 372 years ago, in 1638, the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Geoff Chester told NASA.
Why is this significant, besides being so rare that it hasn't happened since Galileo was living out his days under house arrest? For eclipse watchers, it means "that the moon will appear very high in the night sky, as the solstice marks the time when Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun," according to NASA.
Scientists aren't the only ones interested in the confluence. To astrologers, Tuesday morning's package – the Northern Hemisphere's darkest day of the year, a full moon and a total lunar eclipse - is a doozie.
Florida astrologer Brian Hill says each event has a significant effect on people. A lunar eclipse alone, he says, disrupts vibrations from the moon, letting people’s intuition work more freely and allowing them “to receive information that the logical left brain normally doesn't get."
A full moon, the culmination of a cycle, portends endings, and a winter solstice gets people feeling an energy of withdrawal, in the manner that allows animals know it’s time to hibernate, he says. With Mercury also in retrograde, now is the time for reflection and introspection, he says.
"The four big planetary phenomenon at the same time tell us to slow down and see what’s going on," Hill said Monday. "Everything is saying, 'Slow down, we're moving way too fast, and really take a look at what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we want to do.' "
Another Florida astrologer, Bob Mulligan, told the News-Press of Fort Myers he also sees the solstice/eclipse confluence as a big deal: "With solstices, we traditionally mark the beginning of seasons as turning points. Full moons are times of great stress on the planet. A lunar eclipse is a full moon on steroids; symbolically, it’s a time of letting go of something from the past."
So, Mulligan told the News-Press, 2011 "will be a breath of relief, the death of one way of doing things and the very beginning of something brand new."
A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth lines up between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun’s rays and casting its shadow on the moon, NASA says, and eclipse watchers will be in for a colorful treat.
As the moon moves into Earth’s shadow, it appears to change color, turning from gray to orange to deep red. The new color stems from indirect sunlight that passes through Earth’s atmosphere and casts a glow on the moon, according to NASA. No special equipment is needed for viewing, unlike solar eclipses.
The Ursid meteor shower might also be in view Tuesday morning, thanks to the blocking of the moonlight, Space.com reported.
The eclipse will be visible from North America, Greenland and Iceland. Western Europe will see the beginning stages before moonset, while western Asia will get the later stages after moonrise. To find out the best viewing times outside of the Eastern Time Zone, check out NASA's page on the December 21 lunar eclipse.
Those who'd like to watch the eclipse indoors can check out NASA's live video web feed. Through that same link, you can access a live chat with Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer Mitzi Adams from midnight to 5 a.m. ET.
If you miss this lunar eclipse, you'll get your next shot at seeing one in the continental United States on April 15, 2014. But you have quite a while to wait for the next lunar eclipse on a solstice – that won't happen for another 84 years, Chester said.
Julian Assange speaks to journalists outside Diss train station in Norfolk on Saturday / AFP Source: AFP
Assange attacks former friends and US
Says rape accusers motivated by revenge
Claims to have material to destroy bank boss
Police feared he would be assassinated
JULIAN Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, today launched a wide ranging series of attacks on both his enemies and allies as he defended his public and private conduct.
In his first UK newspaper interview since releasing hundreds of secret diplomatic cables last month, Mr Assange told The Timeshe predicts the US will face reprisals if it attempts to extradite him on conspiracy charges.
He insisted that the women behind the claims were motivated by revenge.
Mr Assange said he had enough material ready to destroy the bosses of one of the world’s biggest banks.
Speaking from the English mansion where he is confined on bail, the 39-year-old Australian said that the decision to publish incriminating police files about him was "disgusting". The Guardian had previously used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.
Mr Assange is understood to be particularly angry with a senior reporter at the paper and former friend for "selectively publishing" incriminating sections of the police report, although The Guardian made clear that the WikiLeaks founder was given several days to respond.
Mr Assange claimed the newspaper received leaked documents from Swedish authorities or "other intelligence agencies" intent on jeopardising his defence.
"The leak was clearly designed to undermine my bail application," he said. "Someone in authority clearly intended to keep Julian in prison."
He denied allegations of sexual assault and said that the allegations by two Swedish women he met in August "came from nowhere".
Mr Assange was arrested and held in Wandsworth prison after Swedish authorities issued an extradition request. He was released on bail last week on a surety of £275,000 ($US427,872).
He said that he still had not seen the full extent of the allegations against him, although he accepted that his Swedish lawyer had been handed many of the details.
When asked if he was promiscuous, he replied: "I’m not promiscuous. I just really like women."
Mr Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks was holding a vast amount of material about a bank which it intends to release early next year.
Shares in Bank of America recently fell after speculation spread that it was the target.
"We don’t want the bank to suffer unless it’s called for," Mr Assange said. "But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations."
US officials are reportedly searching for ways to extradite him on espionage charges. Vice President Joe Biden recently called the WikiLeaks founder a "high-tech terrorist".
Mr Assange said that he believed that the US situation would "turn around absolutely" as a groundswell of favourable opinion grew in America.
"The people in power are organised and were able to respond quickly," he said. "But numerically they are not that strong and our support in the general population is tremendous."
Mr Assange's interview follows revelations that police feared he would be assassinated on the front steps of London's High Court.
He revealed earlier he was told to keep a statement celebrating his freedom brief due a perceived threat on his life.
The police concerns emerged as Mr Assange revealed further details about his prison stay - including that he was housed alongside paedophiles and found support among prison guards.
"It was just two nerds comparing notes," the spokesman said. "Keep the speculation in check."
But when those nerds happened to be the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg – recently named person of the year by Time Magazine – and Robin Li – the head of Baidu, the biggest search engine in China – there was no way a quiet business lunch was going to remain quiet.
Moments after Zuckerberg and Li were seen strolling through the canteen in Baidu's Beijing headquarters today, an employee posted a blurred mobile-phone photograph of them on his microblog.
The image spread quickly, first via Chinese social networking sites, then on to the English side of the internet, prompting speculation that the two IT players may be planning to cross the divide.
Zuckerberg has made no secret of his desire to expand in China, where Facebook has been blocked by the government censors' Great Firewall since 2008. On a recent global map of Facebook users, China appeared as a black spot, though it has a bigger internet population than any country on Earth.
Zuckerberg's current holiday is his first known trip behind the Great Firewall. But he has started taking Mandarin lessons, and recently asked Facebook members for tips on places to visit with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan.
"How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?" he asked then. "Our theory is that if we can show that we as a western company can succeed in a place where no other country has, then we can start to figure out the right partnerships we would need to succeed in China on our terms."
Zuckerberg appears to have found common ground with Li, an internet entrepreneur who has completed a postgraduate course in the US.
Since then, he has shrugged off Google and Yahoo, as well as criticism about a supposedly weak stance on censorship and copyright piracy, to make Baidu the dominant force in the Chinese search engine market. In an earlier interview with the Guardian, Li said Baidu would one day become an international rival to Microsoft and Google.
Since the two men were introduced, at Palo Alto in autumn 2009, they have met twice before today, and are said to have hit it off.
Kaiser Kuo, Baidu's director of international communications, said he was not privy to the details of their latest discussion. "As far as I know, this was two nerds comparing notes," he said.
Any talks are likely to be exploratory. Given the furore over censorship that followed Google's decision to curtail its Chinese search engine earlier this year, it is unlikely Facebook and Baidu would like to draw further attention to the issue.
China already has two social networks that are Facebook imitators: Kaixin, with 80 million users, and Renren, with 150 million. These lack the economic clout and global reach of Zuckerberg's company but they do have the advantages of language and cultural awareness, as well as the protection of the Great Firewall.
To tackle them and other big Chinese platforms, such as QQ, Facebook would probably have to move inside the firewall and accept greater censorship.
"If Facebook wanted to enter China, it would not have to change its function, because netizens here are used to copycats already, but it must, like other international internet companies, obey Chinese laws and regulations," said Hu Yong, a professor at Beijing University's School of Journalism and Communication.