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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

   Call it the tale of two hearings.  

   Missouri Senate and House committees each held hearings Wednesday on the state's Medicaid program.  Each focused on different perspectives.  

   At the House hearing in St. Louis, most testified in favor of expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.  But at the Senate hearing in Jefferson City, the stress was on the need to overhaul the system first -- by finding ways to reduce costs and improve care.  

   The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Missouri's 8.5-billion dollar Medicaid program currently serves 875-thousand low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.  Expansion would add about 260-thousand low-income, working people.

   CAIRO (AP) — Egypt faced a new phase of uncertainty on Thursday after the bloodiest day since its Arab Spring began.

   The Egyptian Health Ministry says the death toll in clashes between police and supporters of the country's ousted president has risen to more than 400.

    The clashes began when police moved to clear two sit-in camps in Cairo by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, ousted in a military coup on July 3. 

   Wednesday's raids touched off day-long street violence that prompted the military-backed interim leaders to impose a state of emergency and curfew, and drew widespread condemnation from the Muslim world and the West, including the United States.

   Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as Egypt's interim vice president in protest — a blow to the new leadership's credibility with the pro-reform movement.

   Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a televised address to the nation that it was a "difficult day" and that he regretted the bloodshed but offered no apologies for moving against the supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, saying they were given ample warnings to leave and he had tried foreign mediation efforts.

   The leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called it a "massacre." Several of them were detained as police swept through the two sit-in sites, scores of other Islamists were taken into custody, and the future of the once-banned movement was uncertain.

   Backed by helicopters, police fired tear gas and used armored bulldozers to plow into the barricades at the two protest camps in different sections of Cairo where the Morsi supporters had been camped since before he was ousted by the military July 3.

   The smaller camp — near Cairo University in Giza — was cleared of protesters relatively quickly, but it took about 12 hours for police to take control of the main sit-in site near the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City that has served as the epicenter of the pro-Morsi campaign and had drawn chanting throngs of men, women and children only days earlier.

   After the police moved on the camps, street battles broke out in Cairo and other cities across Egypt. Government buildings and police stations were attacked, roads were blocked, and Christian churches were torched, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said.

   At one point, protesters trapped a police Humvee on an overpass near the Nasr City camp and pushed it off, according to images posted on social networking sites that showed an injured policeman on the ground below, near a pool of blood and the overturned vehicle.

   The Health Ministry said 235 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 injured, while Ibrahim said 43 policemen died in the violence. The death toll was expected to rise.

   Three journalists were among the dead: Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News; Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the Gulf News, a state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates; and Ahmed Abdel Gawad, who wrote for Egypt's state-run newspaper Al Akhbar. Deane and Elaziz were shot to death, their employers said, while the Egyptian Press Syndicate, a journalists' union, said it had no information on how Gawad was killed.

   For much of the afternoon, thousands of Morsi supporters chanting "God is great!" tried to join those besieged by the security forces inside the Nasr City camp. They were driven away when police fired tear gas.

   Smoke clogged the sky above Cairo and fires smoldered on the streets, which were lined with charred poles and tarps after several tents were burned.

   The Great Pyramids just west of Cairo were closed to visitors for the day together with the Egyptian Museum in the heart of the city. The central bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos.

   "Egypt has never witnessed such genocide," Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref told The Associated Press from the larger of the two protest camps before it was cleared.

   The pro-Morsi Anti-Coup Alliance alleged security forces used live ammunition, but the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said its forces only used tear gas and that they came under fire from the camp.

   Security officials said train services between northern and southern Egypt were suspended to prevent Morsi supporters from traveling to Cairo. Clashes erupted on two roads in the capital's upscale Mohandiseen district when Morsi supporters opened fire on passing cars and pedestrians. Police used tear gas to chase them away.

   The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

   The government declared a monthlong nationwide state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew on Cairo, Alexandria on the Mediterranean and 12 other provinces where violence broke out following the simultaneous raids.

   It also ordered the armed forces to support the police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. Egypt was under emergency law for most of Mubarak's 29 years in power.

   Despite the curfew, sporadic clashes continued in Cairo through the evening.

   In the city of Assiut, south of Cairo, a police station was hit by two mortar shells Wednesday night fired by suspected Morsi supporters, according to officers there who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

   Anger over Morsi's ouster already has led to an increase in Islamic militant violence in the northern half of the Sinai Peninsula that borders Israel and Gaza, and many fear growing anger over the crackdown and deaths of civilians could be exploited by extremists.

   The turmoil was the latest chapter in a bitter standoff between Morsi's supporters and the interim leadership that took over the Arab world's most populous country. The military ousted Morsi after millions of Egyptians massed in the streets at the end of June to call for him to step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.

   Several senior leaders of the Brotherhood who were wanted by police were detained after the camps were stormed, according to security officials and state television. Among those seized were Brotherhood leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, and hard-line cleric Safwat Hegazy — all wanted by prosecutors to answer allegations of inciting violence and conspiring to kill anti-Morsi protesters.

   Morsi himself has been held at an undisclosed location. Other Brotherhood leaders have been charged with inciting violence or conspiring in the killing of protesters.

   A security official said 200 protesters were arrested at both camps. Several men could be seen walking with their hands up as they were led away by black-clad police.

   The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm claimed that more than 500 protesters were killed and some 9,000 wounded in the two camps, but those figures could not be confirmed and nothing in the video from AP or local TV networks suggested such a high death toll.

   The Brotherhood has spent most of the 85 years since its creation as an outlawed group or enduring crackdowns by successive governments. The latest developments could provide authorities with the grounds to once again declare it an illegal group and consign it to the political wilderness.

   In his televised address, el-Beblawi said the government could not indefinitely tolerate a challenge to authority that the 6-week-old protests represented.

   "We want to see a civilian state in Egypt, not a military state and not a religious state," he said.

   But the resignation of ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency and a figure widely respected by Western governments, was the first crack to emerge in the government as a result of the violence.

   ElBaradei had made it clear in recent weeks that he was against the use of force to end the protests. At least 250 people have died in previous clashes since the coup that ousted Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president.

   On Wednesday, his letter of resignation to interim President Adly Mansour carried an ominous message to a nation already torn by more than two years of turmoil.

   "It has become difficult for me to continue to take responsibility for decisions I disapprove of, and I fear their consequences," he said in the letter that was emailed to The Associated Press. "I cannot take responsibility before God, my conscience and country for a single drop of blood, especially because I know it was possible to spare it.

   The National Salvation front, the main opposition grouping that he headed during Morsi's year in office, said it regretted his departure and complained that it was not consulted beforehand. Tamarod, the youth group behind the mass anti-Morsi protests that preceded the coup, said ElBaradei was dodging his responsibility at a time when his services were needed.

   Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the powerful head of Al-Azhar mosque, Sunni Islam's main seat of learning, also sought to distance himself from the violence. He said in a statement he had no prior knowledge of the action.

   U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the violence had dealt a "serious blow" to Egypt's political reconciliation efforts, and gave a stern warning to Egypt's leaders.

   "This is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians," said Kerry, who spoke by phone with the foreign minister. "The path toward violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster and suffering."

   U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all Egyptians to focus on reconciliation, while European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said dialogue should be encouraged through "peaceful protest, protecting all citizens and enabling full political participation."

Google Maps Camera-toting teams map Fla. beaches

Thursday, 15 August 2013 01:46 Published in National News

   PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Gregg Matthews fancies himself a lumbering Star Wars character of sorts as he treks along a popular Florida beach. He wears stout hiking sandals on the squishy sand and uses ski poles for balance as he shoulders a 40-pound backpack, a blue-orb with 15 cameras extending over his head.

   "It attracts a lot of attention," Matthews laughed about all of his gear, while trodding along Panama City Beach.

   Matthews and his trekking partner, Chris Officer, are contracted through Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, to gather images for Google Maps. All told, they have already walked more than 200 miles of Florida beachfront, each logging up to 7.5 miles a day with the camera orb. Each camera on the orb takes a shot every 2.5 seconds as they walk.

   Their quest: to create panoramic views to place online of every Florida beach — similar to the internet giant's Street View — which has taken photos of everything from ordinary homes and businesses to world-famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building.

   Visit Florida has partnered with Google in the effort to map all 825 miles of Florida's beaches. And for good reason: tourism is Florida's top industry, accounting for 91.4 million visitors last year and $71.8 billion in spending that employed more than 1 million in the state.

   The project began in late July when Matthews and Officer began walking from the Alabama-Florida border. After mapping Florida Panhandle beaches, they will hopscotch over to Florida's Atlantic coast and move south. Eventually, another camera team will take over, curling past Miami's South Beach and other hotspots aiming to finish the project sometime in November.

   Google has a similar project with mappers trekking the trails of the Grand Canyon. But the Florida project is the first large-scale beach mapping project.

   The mapping teams were contracted through Visit Florida. Agency spokeswoman Kathy Torian said the project is entirely funded with public money and Visit Florida budgeted $126,000 for a private contractor to oversee the production of images to be sent to Google.

   The mappers are paid a straight fee of $27 per mile, but no expenses, she said, with the walkers covering all of their own transportation and accommodations. The only money Google will pay is $1,000 at the end to buy images from the state, she said.

   For Matthews, $27 a mile is worth it. And he's even shed 15 pounds in the first three weeks alone.

   "It is enough to cover expenses but mostly it is fun and probably cheaper than a gym for me," Matthews told inquisitive sunbathers as he passed them on his Panama City Beach walk.

   The project could be a boon for beach towns around Florida in their competition to draw tourists from other states and countries.

   Susan Estler, vice president of marketing for the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Google's beach view will let potential visitors see the clear turquoise waters and gleaming white sand — an enticement to any and all to check out the scene in person.

   "Certainly Panama City Beach is known for its beautiful beaches and having that available with Google is just the perfect way of presenting the beach," she said.

   But Matthews said it is the people who will never set foot on a Florida beach that he thinks about the most when he is out walking.

   "I enjoyed most the desolate stretches of unpopulated islands where literally all I heard for hours was waves and birds," he said. "This is a way to bring those experiences to people who for whatever reason — health, money, whatever — will never be able to get here."

   Matthews and Officer have seen dolphins frolicking, sea turtles, sting rays, even alligators. On a remote bird-sanctuary beach, a shore bird even dive-bombed the Google cameras.

   Already, the duo has trekked past thousands of vacationers splashing in warm Gulf waters or relaxing on powdery white beaches in such destinations as Pensacola, Destin and Panama City. "I've had a couple of people offer me a beer. Unfortunately, I don't take it because I'm kind of in the middle of a workout," Officer said.

   The men trade off carrying the camera pack — usually, one will take the morning shift and the other the afternoon. Their heft includes a battery pack that provides up to six hours of power for the cameras.

   Pictures, once taken, are uploaded to camera hard drives. When the photos are eventually posted — probably next spring — online viewers will be able to see panoramic images from any spot the teams walked.

   "It is pretty ground breaking. It is really cool to know that our work is going to contribute to people being able to see different beaches all over the world," Officer said.

   The two will finish mapping the Panhandle soon and then map about 100 miles along the east coast until they hand off duties to another two-person team.

   For Matthews, the toughest part of the job has been the blisters on his feet. He began by walking barefoot, but switched to hiking sandals and neoprene socks after the blisters set in. Officer has walked barefoot the entire time.

   Using the special socks and converted ski poles to balance the load, Matthews stays fairly comfortable during his daily five-to-seven-mile beach walks.

   Though both are tanned — not burned — they wear hats and protective gear against the blistering sun.

   "You look hot in all that," a young girl splashing in the surf told Matthews as he walked past on Panama City Beach.

   "Yes, that's why I get in the water a lot. It helps," he responded.

   The finished beach maps will include views of some small barrier islands, accessible only by boat, and glimpses of breathtaking mansions tucked away on exclusive stretches of beach. But the maps will not include some sections of military-owned beaches in the Panhandle that authorities restricted because of security concerns.

   Matthews said he has heard other concerns from beach-goers worried about having their bikini-clad bodies captured on the beach views on Google maps — Street View once caught a Miami woman standing naked in her front yard.

   But Matthews said any faces will be too blurry to recognize.

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