Monday, May 7, 2012

SOLAR WATCH: The Sun Comes Alive - Monster 100,000 km Wide Sunspot 1476 Produces 11 C-Class Flares, and Sunspot Combo 1470-1471 Produces M1.9 Flare!

One of the largest sunspot groups in years rotated over the sun's northeastern limb this weekend. With at least four dark cores larger than the Earth, Sunspot 1476 sprawls more than 100,000 km from end to end.

Analysis of Solar Active Regions and Activity from May 06/21:00 UTC to May 07/21:00 UTC: Solar activity has been at moderate levels for the past 24 hours. Even though Region 1476 (N10E48) is the largest, 810 Millionths, and most magnetically complex, Fkc/beta-gamma; today’s only M-class event came from the sunspot cluster Region 1470 (S15W57) and Region 1471 (S19W50). This sunspot complex produced an M1/1n x-ray event on May 07, 2012 at 14:31 UTC. Multiple discrete radio frequency bursts were associated with this event, as well as a 240 sfu Tenflare lasting 12 minutes and a Type IV radio sweep.

Type IV emissions occur in association with major eruptions on the sun and are typically associated with strong coronal mass ejections and solar radiation storms.
These characteristics, as well as COR2 imagery from the STEREO A spacecraft suggest an Earth directed CME. Initial analysis suggests only a weak disturbance of the Earths magnetic field. Earlier in the day, May 07, 2012 at 04:00 UTC, another CME was observed in STEREO A imagery but after analysis, it was determined to not have an Earth-directed component.

Region 1476 
continues to grow in size and magnetic complexity as it rotates further onto the solar disk. Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be at low to moderate levels for the next three days (08 – 10 May). Geophysical Activity Summary May 06/21:00 UTC to May 07/21:00 UTC: The geomagnetic field has been at quiet levels for the past 24 hours. Geophysical Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be at quiet to unsettled levels on day one (08 May) as a solar sector boundary crossing is expected, as well as possible effects from a weak CME, observed leaving the solar disk on 05 May. Quiet to unsettled with a chance for active levels are expected on day two (09 May), as a coronal hole high-speed stream (CH HSS) moves into a geoeffective position. Quiet to active levels with a chance for minor storm levels are expected on day three (10 May) as effect from the CH HSS continue with the possible arrival of today’s CME.
- NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center.

SUNSPOT 1476 Sunspot 1476 has produced at least 11 C-Class flares since the last M-Class event on Sunday evening. The largest of these was a C7.9 flare at 11:05 UTC Monday morning. This large and active region currently has a Beta-Gamma magnetic configuration and may produce additional M-Class flares in the days ahead. 

ALERT: Type IV Radio Emission Begin Time: 2012 May 07 1409 UTC Description: Type IV emissions occur in association with major eruptions on the sun and are typically associated with strong coronal mass ejections and solar radiation storms.
1470-1471 PRODUCES LDE Sunspot combo 1470-1471 just produced a long duration M1.9 flare on Monday morning. This event peaked at 14:31 UTC and triggered a 10cm Radio Burst (TenFlare) lasting 12 minutes and measuring 240 sfu. Sometimes a long duration event (LDE) will produce a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).  - Solar Ham.
WATCH: Close-up of M1.9 solar flare.

WORLD WAR III: Countdown to Armageddon - United States and South Korea Launches Major Joint Air Exercise "Max Thunder" to Deter North Korea Provocations!

South Korea and the U.S. on May 7 launched a major joint air exercise to deter North Korean provocations amid high cross-border tensions, officials said. 

The annual drill, called "Max Thunder," will run through May 18 and this year involves about 60 planes, including jet fighters, KC-135 refueling aircraft and Airborne Warning and Control System surveillance planes, the South's air force said in a statement.  The allies will display their readiness and joint air firepower in war situations, it said, adding U.S. and South Korean pilots would train for "precision strikes on the origin of provocations by the enemy."

"This year's drill is the biggest of its kind since Max Thunder began in 2008," an air force spokesman told AFP.  Pyongyang habitually fiercely denounces annual joint exercises by U.S. and South Korean troops but has not physically responded to them. Seoul and Washington say they are merely defensive in nature.  The North has threatened "sacred war" against the South in retaliation for perceived insults during Pyongyang's commemoration in April of the centenary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.  Last week, the North's new leader Kim Jong-Un inspected an air force unit, the latest in a series of military visits since he took over after his father died last December.  South Korean and U.S. officials have pledged a tough response to any provocations by the North. Some 28,500 U.S. troops are based in the South. - Defense News.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: ICE AGE NOW - Bering Sea Choking Extensively and Unusually With Record Ice Cover, Bucking the Downward Trend?!

Arctic sea ice has persistently dwindled over the last three decades, yet sea ice set record highs in waters around Alaska this past winter.  Ice in the Bering Sea not only covered more area than usual, it also stuck around longer, bucking the downward trend in sea ice cover observed since 1979, when satellite records for the region began.

On April 11, sea ice still covered the Bering Sea.
The Arctic as a whole had below-average sea ice cover during the 2011 to 2012 winter season. At its maximum, reached in mid-March, sea ice covered 5.88 million square miles (15.24 million square kilometers), the ninth lowest in the satellite record.  Yet Alaskan waters were choked with ice.  Sea ice cover in the Bering Sea was well above normal for much of the season, and reached a record-high extent in March 2012. In addition, ice surrounded the Pribilof Islands, tiny volcanic islands in the middle of the Bering Sea, for a record number of days this winter.

On May 3, ice had surrounded St. Paul Island for 103 days, up from the record of 100 days, set in 2010. The record ice numbers were fueled by two main factors: low temperatures and strong winds from the north. Persistent winds pushed ice from the Arctic Ocean down toward the Bering Strait, which acted as a temporary dam, trapping the sea ice in a bottleneck. The sea ice continued to pile up, and the icy barrier eventually collapsed, allowing the trapped ice to surge southward into the Bering Sea. Alaska's mainland spent this last winter in the grip of bone-chilling low temperatures and record-high snowfalls, the result of cyclical climate conditions that kept much of the lower 48 states at record high temperatures, while plunging Alaska into a deep freeze that helped keep the ice frozen. - Our Amazing Planet.

WORLD WAR III: The Countdown to Armageddon - Netanyahu Holding Elections to Clear Way For Strike on Iran Before U.S. November Elections!

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling early elections so that he and his government will be free to deal with Iran’s nuclear program this September-October, one of Israel’s best-informed political commentators said on Friday night.  Netanyahu is set on Sunday to announce that he is dissolving parliament and calling elections for September 4 — a year ahead of schedule. In the weeks immediately after that vote, said well-connected commentator Amnon Abramovich on the top-rated Channel 2 news, Netanyahu will head a transition government at home and have no need to worry about voter sentiment, and he knows that President Barack Obama will be paralyzed by the US presidential campaign. 

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US President Barack Obama at the
United Nations headquarters in New York on September 21, 2011.
Netanyahu has shocked the nation in the past few days by indicating that he will be calling elections a year ahead of their scheduled date in October 2013, leaving analysts baffled as to his reasoning. Speculation has focused on differences among the various coalition parties over legislation on national service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, and over elements of the national budget.  But Abramovich said that the dramatic decision to bring the elections forward relates to Iran. After the September elections, which all polls show Netanyahu winning easily, he will head a transition government for several weeks while a new coalition is formed. During that period, Netanyahu “will not be beholden to the voters,” and will be free to take decisions on Iran that many Israelis might not support, Abramovich said.  Furthermore, he will still have his trusted Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, at his side. Barak is seen as unlikely to fare well in the elections, and may not even retain his Knesset seat, but would retain the defense portfolio until a new coalition is formed.  And finally, said Abramovich, the September-October period would see Obama, who has publicly urged more patience in allowing diplomacy and sanctions to have their impact on Iran, in the final stages of the presidential election campaign, with a consequent reduced capacity to try to pressure Israel into holding off military intervention.  Obama, “on the eve of elections, won’t dare criticize Israel,” said Abramovich. From Netanyahu’s point of view, “the conditions would be fantastic.”  He noted that a transition government is prevented by law from taking dramatic policy decisions — except in critical circumstances, and drew attention to comments from Barak in a newspaper interview Friday in this regard.  “The political-security system will make decisions as needed, even under challenging circumstances,” said Barak about the impact of elections. “We must separate the issue of Iran from the subject of elections.”  Barak also said of the Iranian nuclear drive: “The moment of truth is approaching.” 

Netanyahu has been repeatedly drawing parallels in recent weeks between the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel and the Holocaust, has said sanctions are not working, and warned that he will not allow Israel to have to live in the shadow of “annihilation.”  He has also indicated that a decision on military intervention in Iran will have to be taken within months.  Barak, for his part, has stated repeatedly that confronting Iran before it achieves a nuclear weapons capability, however complex, will be far less challenging a prospect than confronting a nuclear Iran.  In the interview Friday with the Israel Hayom daily, Barak recalled a speech given in 2003 by the then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, said Barak, spoke of Israel as being “so small and vulnerable that it is a ‘one-bomb’ nation.  “If one bomb were dropped on it, this nation would not return to its former glory,” Barak quoted Rafsanjani as saying. “After the exchange of blows, Rafsanjani said, Islam would remain and Israel would not remain as it was. He also noted that there need not be any clear markers on the bomb as to where it came from. It could be transported in a shipping container that arrives at some port and simply explodes.”  Added Barak: “I do not delude myself. The moment of truth is approaching. We have to decide what to do about this if the sanctions and diplomacy fail…  “Some say let’s trust the world… I say that in the end we can deal with Iran now or deal with a nuclear Iran that poses a far greater danger… If it obtains a nuclear weapon, it will be very hard to bring it down. Now they are trying to seek immunity for their nuclear program. If they achieve military nuclear capability, for arms, or a threshold in which they can assemble a bomb within 60 days, they will acquire another form of immunity – for the regime.”  Barak recalled Israel being caught off guard in 1973, when it was attacked in the Yom Kippur War and sustained heavy losses. “What happened in 1973? The entire cabinet was blinded and we were forced to pay the price on the battlefield.”  The defense minister also used the interview to castigate several ex-intelligence chiefs and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who have criticized what they argue is the government’s misguided handling of the Iranian threat, and who have warned that the Netanyahu-Barak duo may be leading Israel into a regional war with dire potential consequences.  Said Barak: “You can trust me when I say this: In the history of the state, there has never been such as orderly decision-making process.” - Times of Israel.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mexico City Distributes Volcano Masks - As Protection From Ash Spewed by the Popocatepetl Volcano!

Mexico City's government has started distributing 483,000 masks to residents who might need protection from the ash being spewed by the Popocatepetl volcano

Popocatepetl volcano spews clouds of ash and steam high into the air.
The Federal District's Public Safety Secretariat activated its strategic plan on Saturday, distributing the masks and starting a series of "talks on the preventive measures that should be taken" by the eight million people living in the capital's boroughs.  A total of 222 teams from the secretariat went to the boroughs of Iztapalapa, Milpa Alta, Tlahuac, Xochimilco, Tlalpan, Venustiano Carranza and Iztacalco, all located on the east side of Mexico City, on Saturday.

The teams were deployed "to distribute the masks and create a culture of prevention and health protection via information talks", the secretariat said.  The teams focused on children and the elderly because they are the groups most likely to suffer from "lung diseases or chronic-degenerative" illnesses if exposed to ash, the secretariat said.  "The network of 32 hospitals and more than 220 health centres in Mexico City is ready to treat patients who inhale volcanic ash," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard's administration said.  The Popocatepetl volcano, which rises 5452 metres above sea level, is located about 64km from Mexico City. - MSN NZ.

GREAT DELUGE: Widespread Flooding and Geological Upheaval Across Asia - 27 Dead and Hundreds Missing in Afghanistan; 60 Houses Destroyed in Thailand; 13 Dead and Many Missing in Nepal; 3 Deaths and Over 5,000 Houses Damaged in India; and 250 Families Inundated in Indonesia!

Here are several of the latest reports of widespread flooding wrecking havoc throughout Asia.

Flash floods kill at least 27 at a wedding in Afghanistan, hundreds are still missing. 
At least 27 people were killed and hundreds more were believed missing after flash floods swept through northern Afghanistan's Sar e Pol province.  Most of the dead were attending a wedding party in the province's Sancharak district when floodwaters engulfed the area at around 8pm local time, the head of the provincial Natural Disaster Response Department, Sayed Fazullah Sadaat, said.  Homes and farmland were destroyed in the flood, and many animals drowned. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.  The road to the area was blocked, hindering the rescue effort.  Sadaat called on aid agencies to help provide assistance for the victims as soon as possible.  "Two helicopters of the national army have been dispatched to help rescue the people who might be alive or trapped under mud," he said.  Sadat said five more people were killed in three areas of the province due to the floods.  Earlier Abdul Farid Faranji, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told DPA rescue teams found 27 bodies from the wedding. The bride was the only one they found alive.  Faranji said as many as 300 people were missing.  "Around 45 residential houses were destroyed in Dehmarda village where floods hit the wedding ceremony. Also more than a hundred other houses were destroyed in Gosfandi district," the director told DPA.  Around 50 people died in floods in Afghanistan as the winter snows thawed in recent weeks. - News Australia.
A tropical storm has battered Prachuap Khiri Khan and Ratchaburi provinces, damaging several houses and buildings in the two provinces in Thailand.
The storm hit Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province on Wednesday evening, battering it with strong winds for over an hour. Over 60 houses have been damaged, power lines blown down and there was a blackout in several villages. The Hua Hin authorities have inspected the damage and given necessities to the residents.  Meanwhile, in Ratchaburi, more than 10 houses have been damaged by the storm; most of them are in ruins. Authorities have to cut off electricity as big tree limbs fell over electrical wires; but after removing the limbs, they have switched the power back on.  In Petchburi Province, a temple pavilion under construction tumbled down injuring three monks. - Pattaya Mail.
Cyclonic storms accompanied by lightning continue to create havoc in Tripura in India, killing three more people Wednesday, taking the death toll to 15, an official said here Thursday.
"Sunil Chandra Das, a farmer from the Lankamura area near Agartala and Rana Ram Reang from Ampi in southern Tripura died after lightning struck them late Wednesday. Reang's wife Malini Jamatia was also critically injured in the lightning," said an official of the relief department.  Another middle-aged woman was killed in northern Tripura as the inclement weather conditions continue in the state.  With this, at least 15 people have died during this seasonal Nor'wester striking the state in the middle of April.  The annual recurring squalls accompanied by rains, thunder storms, lightning and hail storms have razed more than 5,000 houses and disrupted power supply and telecommunication across the northeastern state.  "Border Security Force troopers, civil defence workers and district officials are busy providing relief. Efforts are on to restore communication lines and power supplies," the official said.  According to the official, over 60 people, injured during the storm in the past few days, are still being treated in state government hospitals, while two critically injured people have been shifted to a Kolkata hospital for treatment.  According to government estimates, the loss of property and standing crops is to the tune of around Rs.100 crore.  The government has sanctioned Rs.1,000 to Rs.10,000 as immediate relief assistance to each affected family.  The meteorological department in Agartala Thursday forecast spell of rains and cyclonic storms in the next 48 hours. - ZEE News.
Meanwhile, dozens of people are still missing in Nepal after a mountain river burst its banks near Mount Annapurna, in the west of the country, causing flash flooding.
A search operation for the 43 missing people was under way, but there was little chance of finding any of them alive. Three Ukrainian tourists trekking in the area are among the missing. At least 13 people died when the floods surged down the Seti river on Saturday.The floods damaged a suspension bridge used by the residents of Kharapani village. Eight people have been rescued from the surge of water. The area is popular with tourists. "We have a list of another 43 people who have gone missing. Their chances of survival are almost zero." Earth-moving equipment had reached the worst-affected area in an effort to find any bodies buried in the mud. Fast-flowing floodwaters from the swollen Seti smashed into two buildings and a number of shacks in the village of Kharapani, in Kaski district. The moment the surge hit: "There was nothing unusual. People were enjoying picnics, some were relaxing in the hot spring pools by the river and others working. Out of nowhere came this swelling dark murky water with debris, sweeping away many people." "We haven't seen such a flash flood in years. I saw floods 60 years ago but it was not as severe as now. This time they say everything across the river has been swept away." The floodwaters also swept into Pokhara, Nepal's second biggest city, where several people were swept away along with their houses and livestock. May is the end of the trekking season, but before the monsoon. The floods are thought to have been caused by waters of the Seti building near its source, high above the snowline, during days of rain and then suddenly bursting free - BBC.
Flood inundated 250 families in Cilandaktimur, Indonesia.
The rain that pours Jakarta since Monday (5/7) this morning has caused some areas inundated. The puddle has reached up to 70 centimeters height inundate at least 250 families on Jl Kenanga RT 009/03, Cilandaktimur, Pasarminggu, South Jakarta.  The puddle started since 4.30 AM due to Krukut River overflowed, as well as disturbing the activity of citizens.  “The water in Krukut River raised and overflowed with the height up to adult’s knee,” said RT 009/03 Chief, Jayadi, Monday (5/7).  Fortunately, the citizens have prepared the anticipation to prevent flood disaster. “The rain has going on since morning so the citizens have saved their items to higher and safer place,” he told.  Jayadi admitted that there is no post to help the citizens until now. “The water level has showed alert-3, yet the rescue teams of Ratu Prabu and Elnusa as well as sub-district will be deployed if the water level shows alert-2 with 90 centimeters height. The important thing is we always keep communication with them,” he stated.  Cirrus, one of citizen who is a chicken noodles seller expressed the puddle is indeed often engulfing his residence. That is why, he has saved all items since last night. “This is common so we don’t need to evacuate. But, we’ll evacuate if the water level reaches adult’s waist,” he explained. - Berita Jakarta.

WORLD WAR III: Countdown to Armageddon - Iran Readies Secret Salt Desert Bunkers For Clandestine Nuclear Facilities?!

When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Yukiya Amano declared Friday, May 4, that “Parchin (the suspected site of nuclear-related explosion tests) is the priority and we start with that,” he may have missed the boat. As he spoke, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was possible that Iran was already putting in place the infrastructure for building a nuclear bomb in 60 days.

Iran's Parchin military facility.
In this regard, debkafile’s military sources disclose that Iran had by the end of 2009 early 2012 completed the construction of a new chain of underground facilities deep inside the Dasht e-Kavir (Great Salt Desert) - all linked together by huge tunnels.  Nevertheless, Tehran keeps on putting off nuclear watchdog inspections at Parchin for three reasons:  1. To carry on squeezing concessions from the US in private talks between the Obama administration and Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as from the Six Powers at their formal negotiations. Iran has won permission to enriching uranium up to 5 percent purity and is after approval for the 20 percent which is close to weapon grade. 2.  The Iranians can’t be sure they have scrubbed out every last trace of the nuclear explosives and detonators tested at the Parchin military base – even after clearing away the evidence and relocating the facility in the salt desert wastelands.    Asked to define the activities he wanted inspected in Parchin, Amano said: “We do not have people there so we cannot tell what these activities are.”  According to debkafile’s intelligence sources, while the IAEA may want hard physical evidence collected by its inspectors, US and Israeli intelligence have long possessed solid information on the illicit activities in Parchin collected by the nuclear-sensitive instruments carried by their military satellites. 3.  To guarantee that the IAEA inspection at Parchin will be the last and there will no further demands for visits to any more suspect sites.

Tehran cannot tell exactly what data on additional facilities has reached US or Israeli intelligence and at what moment they may pull their discoveries out of their sleeves with fresh demands. Iran is therefore bargaining for a line to be drawn at Parchin to close any future road for good so that it can carry on nuclear work at the new Great Salt Desert locations safe from discovery. debkafile’s Iranian sources report that American negotiators in their private exchanges have thrown out hints about limiting IAEA inspections. But Tehran is holding out for a more solid commitment from the US and Europe to halt all demands for IAEA visits and for the Six Powers to veto inspections at any new nuclear locations Israel may expose.  This was what Ali Asqar Soltaniyeh, Iranian ambassador to the IAEA Vienna headquarters, was driving at when he stipulated Friday that that  talks with the six powers must be limited to negotiations on “a modality and framework to resolve outstanding issues and remove ambiguities.” To arrest the perilous slide toward letting Iran off the hook, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his National Security Advisers Yaacov Amidror to the capitals of four of the six powers, Moscow, Berlin, London and Paris last week. His mission was to persuade their governments not to allow international inspections to stop at Parchin but to keep Iran’s nuclear activities under tight supervision. Netanyahu has used his own contacts in Washington for warnings of what was afoot.  This week, the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces passed a resolution requiring the Pentagon Missile Defense Agency to have an operational plan ready by 2015 for posting a missile shield on America’s east coast to protect New York, Washington and Boston against Iranian missile attack. $100 million was earmarked for this purpose.

Our Washington sources note that this step opened the way for a drive by the Obama administration to have any deal the Six Powers may reach with Iran cover Iran’s clandestine underground Salt Desert nuclear locations. One of the biggest, our sources disclose, is managed by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, manufacturers of the ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. US intelligence discovered in November 2010 that North Korea had transferred to Iran 19 nuclear-capable BM-25 ballistic missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers. On April 13, a dozen Shahid Hemmat missile experts attended the test fire of the North Korean long-range, three-stage Unha-2 missile. That test failed but the North Koreans and Iranians are pressing on together with work to extend the range of those missiles to America. However, like the Netanyahu government, Washington is under constant assault by vocal lobbies opposed to a preemptive attack on Iran. They open fire on any suggestion that such an attack is on the cards, and pounced on the congressional resolution as a scheme for torpedoing US-Iranian diplomacy.   Israeli leaders battling Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon therefore find themselves fighting to keep their military option from being snatched off the table by antagonists at home. Tehran is cannily exploiting the diplomatic track to get rid of international inspections after Parchin and so gain the freedom to proceed with building a nuclear arsenal in the Salt Desert far from the world’s sight.     The Israeli ex-security chiefs and former politicians are focusing on preventing an Israeli attack to pre-empt a nuclear Iran. They know exactly what is at stake but are so eager to topple Netanyahu and Barak that they are more than ready to pay the price of letting Iran get away with acquiring a nuclear bomb. - DEBKA.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake Has Ruined 50 Villages in Western Iran - Injuring 18 and Affecting 3,518 Persons!

A 5.5-magnitude earthquake, which shook large parts of Iran's Western provinces of Ilam and Kermanshah on Thursday, has ruined 50 villages, a senior Relief and Rescue official announced on Friday.

Speaking to FNA, Acting Deputy of the Iranian Red Crescent Society's Relief and Rescue Organization Ahmad Reza Shajiyee said that the strong earthquake has damaged 50 villages 30 to 80 percent in the quake-hit areas mostly in Abdanan, Sarabagh and Khonk-gah in Ilam province.  The earthquake has affected 3518 and injured 18 people in the region.  The Seismological center of Ilam province affiliated to the Geophysics Institute of Tehran University registered the quake at 14:39 hours local time (1009 GMT).  The epicenter of the quake was located in an area 47.6 degrees in longitude and 32.7 degrees in latitude. 

Iran sits astride several major faults in the earth's crust, and is prone to frequent earthquakes, many of which have been devastating.  The worst in recent times hit Bam in southeastern Kerman province in December 2003, killing 31,000 people - about a quarter of its population - and destroying the city's ancient mud-built citadel.  The deadliest quake in the country was in June 1990 and measured 7.7 on the Richter scale. About 37,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 injured in the northwestern provinces of Gilan and Zanjan. It devastated 27 towns and about 1,870 villages.  Tehran alone sits on two major fault lines, and the capital's 14 million residents fear a major quake. - FARS News.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC CONTAGION: The Eurozone Crisis - Anti-Austeritiy Backlash Sends Euro Currency and Shares Sliding; Deepening Doubts About the European Single Currency!

An anti-austerity backlash by voters in Greece and France shook the eurozone on Monday, sending the euro currency and shares sliding on deepening doubts about the ability of Athens to survive in the single currency area.  Greece, where Europe’s sovereign debt crisis began in 2009, plunged into turmoil after a general election boosted far-left and far-right splinter groups, stripping mainstream parties that back a painful EU/IMF bailout of their parliamentary majority. 

That raised questions over whether the country could avert bankruptcy and stay in the euro as Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party which won the biggest share of the vote, tried to cobble together a government.  Samaras, who has three days to try to form a coalition, called for a national unity government to keep Greece in the eurozone but renegotiate the bailout program.  However, European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said: “Full and timely implementation of the program is of the essence in order to meet the targets and (reach) sustainability of the Greek debt.  The shock Greek result overshadowed France’s presidential election, in which Socialist Francois Hollande, who wants to change Europe’s German-driven focus on austerity and focus on restoring growth, ousted conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had openly supported Sarkozy, her partner in euro zone crisis management, pledged to welcome Hollande “with open arms” and work with him to maintain strong Franco-German cooperation at the heart of Europe.  But she also made clear there could be no renegotiation of a fiscal discipline treaty. Hollande has said France will not ratify it unless it is augmented with growth-promoting measures. “We in Germany are of the opinion, and so am I personally, that the fiscal pact is not negotiable. It has been negotiated and has been signed by 25 countries,” Merkel told a news conference.  “We are in the middle of a debate to which France, of course, under its new president will bring its own emphasis. But we are talking about two sides of the same coin – progress is only achievable via solid finances plus growth,” she added.  The Greek and French votes unsettled investors, undermining confidence in Europe’s plans to cut spending and tackle the debt crisis, given the scale of public opposition. 

“NIGHTMARE OF UNGOVERNABILITY”  The euro fell to a three-month low below US$1.30 in Asia before recovering trade at around $1.3050 at 1400 GMT. European stocks fell in early trading and spooked investors sold Spanish and Italian bonds to scurry into the safe haven of German Bunds.  French debt was spared from the selloff, in a sign that markets are more relaxed about the moderate Hollande. The yield on French 10-year bonds fell to its lowest in seven months.  In Greece, Sunday’s election threatened to produce what daily Ta Nea called a “Nightmare of ungovernability.” Among the parties that stormed into parliament were the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn, which won 6.97% and 21 seats. The hardline Left Coalition, opposed to the austerity program, overtook the former ruling PASOK Socialist party in second place. Between them, New Democracy and PASOK won 149 of the 300 seats, two short of an overall majority.  Greece had appeared to have averted a disorderly default and euro exit in December when a government led by former central banker Lucas Papademos, and supported by the three main parties, agreed on a second international bailout under which private bondholders accepted sharp write-downs on their holdings.  But the four straight years of recession, wage and pension cuts and still rising mass unemployment drove angry Greeks to the political extremes.  Greece consistently missed targets under its first program, agreed in April 2010, which led to the restructuring of its private-sector debt under the second package.  Officials say any further backsliding now will not be tolerated, especially with the International Monetary Fund a reluctant partner in the second program.  Three Greek finance ministry officials told Reuters the country might run out of cash by end-June if it does not have a government in place to negotiate the next tranche of EU/IMF aid and projected state revenues fall short.  Eurozone leaders have so far done everything to avoid a Greek default and departure from the euro, which Merkel has said would be a catastrophe.

Officials are worried by the precedent it could set for other troubled south European countries.  But public support for further bailouts is wearing thin in the eurozone’s triple-A rated lenders Germany, the Netherlands and Finland, raising doubts about their willingness to go on supporting a recalcitrant Greece.  Some European diplomats and economists have been predicting the possibility of Greece leaving the euro area for months.  In a research paper published on February 6, Willem Buiter, the chief economist at Citi, raised his estimate of the likelihood of Greece dropping out of the currency zone to 50% over the next 18 months, from 25-30% previously. While the prospect once raised fears of a major systemic threat to the single currency area, concern has eased since a March debt swap substantially reduced private creditors’ Greek exposure and euro zone governments and the IMF put in place increased financial firewalls to shield other countries.  But the reputational damage to the European Union and its currency, and the contagion risk, could be severe.  Zsolt Darvas, an expert economist on the eurozone crisis at Brussels think-tank Bruegel said he saw a one-in-three chance of an unstable government being created in Greece.  “Such a government may stop servicing the country’s debt, including that (owed to) EU states. That would likely end the Greek membership of the eurozone,” Darvas told Reuters.  “That would be horrible for Greece, with bank runs as well as massive personal and corporate defaults. The question then would be who could be next. How would the situation be resolved in Portugal and Ireland?” - Financial Post.

CLONING: Genetic Engineering and Manipulation - Scientists Replicate Natural Cloning In World First, With Human Implications!

Scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences have discovered the secret to natural cloning, a revelation that could have future implications for replicating human organs.  In an April breakthrough, researchers at the academy's Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics are the first to successfully replicate a natural cloning process by fish vertebrates under laboratory conditions.  "Understanding the nature of asexual reproduction at the cellular and whole organism level could allow for the production of vitally important human organs for transplantation," said Lukáš Choleva, one of the researchers involved.

Spiny Loach cloned themselves in a laboratory environment.
Breakthrough by team from Prague has human implications.
Cloning has been common in nature for millennia, with some animal species able to self-clone, meaning females can create exact copies of themselves without fertilization by males. There are about 80 varieties of vertebrates able to produce identical descendents or clones of themselves in the wild. This phenomenon is hardly news to scientists, but none had previously been able to repeat the process in a controlled environment.  "We are the first ones who have actually managed to procreate the clones in laboratories in exactly the same way it happens in the wild," said Karel Janko, another member of the research team.  The team managed to reproduce the natural cloning of a small fish species called the Spiny Loach, which is native to Europe, including in Czech rivers. The fish engage in asexual reproduction even though males and females spawn among each other.

The cloning process is triggered as a result of the male gametes penetrating female eggs, regardless of whether fertilization takes place.  "Identical daughters are the descendents," Choleva said. "The females virtually abuse their males for their own multiplication."  For some 12 years, Choleva and other scientists traveled Europe collecting different Spiny Loach species. They then recreated natural conditions in a laboratory setting.  The research team was able to reproduce clones through a process of interspecies breeding.  "What is really amazing about these different fish species is their tendency to reproduce among each other despite the fact that their evolutionary links are as far from each other as humans and chimpanzees would be," Janko said.  The scientists will further examine the individual processes in asexual reproduction, which they say could eventually lead to insights into how human organs could be naturally reproduced for transplants.  The process successfully completed by the Czechs scientists, which replicates natural cloning, differs from the famed 1996 experiment by Scottish researchers who famously cloned a sheep, which they named Dolly.  Dolly was cloned in a test tube by genetic manipulation with a cell taken from an adult sheep. She died six years later of a common lung disease.  - The Prague Post.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Moderate 5.5 Magnitude Quake Jolts Northwest Azerbaijan - Injuring 15 and Seriously Damaging Several Houses!

A moderate earthquake shook northwestern Azerbaijan on late Monday morning, injuring more than a dozen people and seriously damaging a number of houses, officials said.

Shaking was also felt in neighboring Russia and Georgia.  The 5.5-magnitude earthquake at 9:40 a.m. local time (0440 GMT) was centered about 17.5 kilometers (10.8 miles) south of Zaqatala, the capital of Zaqatala Rayon along the Tala River. It struck about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the Republican Seismic Survey Center of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.  The United States Geological Survey (USGS), which measured the strength of the earthquake at 5.6 on the body wave magnitude (Mb) scale, estimated some 450,000 people near the epicenter may have felt moderate to strong shaking. Another 6.6 million people may have felt weak to light shaking. 

Officials at the country's Ministry of Emergency Situations said around 20 residential buildings near the epicenter were 'seriously damaged' as a result of the earthquake, which also damaged a number of other buildings and partly destroyed the sports hall of a school. At least 15 people were believed to be injured, but none of them were serious or required hospitalization.  Residents on the other side of the border in Russia and Georgia also reported feeling the earthquake, but there were no reports of damage or casualties from those regions.  Azerbaijan sometimes experiences very small earthquakes, but they rarely exceed magnitude 5.0. Monday's earthquake was the strongest to hit the Asian country since at least late 2008. The deadliest earthquake to ever hit Azerbaijan happened in November 1667 when a powerful 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Şamaxı, devastating entire districts and killing an estimated 80,000 people. - Channel 6 News.