Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FIRE IN THE SKY: Celestial Armageddon - NASA Tells U.S. Congress To Pay Now For Asteroid Defense Or Pray Later?!

March 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Congress got the word from NASA on Tuesday about its options for dealing with the threats posed by asteroids and comets: Lawmakers can either provide adequate funding for detecting and characterizing near-Earth objects, and diverting them if necessary — or they can pray.

Threats from space are generally the stuff of science-fiction movies such as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," but members of the House Science Committee took a hard look at the realities during Tuesday's hearing, which came in response to the Feb. 15 meteor explosion over Russia as well as a close encounter that same day with a much bigger asteroid known as 2012 DA14.

Artwork by Don Davis shows a meteor streaking across the skies over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
More of Davis' work is available at his website, DonaldEDavis.com.

The lawmakers didn't always like what they heard. The committee's chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told the panelists more than once that the progress report they delivered was "not reassuring." But representatives from both parties were receptive to the idea of putting more resources into the effort to counter cosmic threats.

White House science adviser John Holdren noted that the funding devoted annually to cataloging potentially threatening asteroids has risen from $5 million to more than $20 million over the past couple of years.

But even at that level, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden estimated that it would take until 2030 to catalog 90 percent of the near-Earth objects between 140 meters and 1 kilometer in width, as mandated by Congress.

"Maybe we can help you out with the budget. Don't know," Smith replied. He said "we need to find ways to prioritize NASA's projects."

Holdren said the single most useful project would be to put an infrared-sensing telescope in a Venus-like orbit, like the Sentinel Space Telescope being developed by the nonprofit B612 Foundation. The telescope could look for asteroids that currently can't be spotted from the ground because they spend much of their time within Earth's orbit, where they're lost in the sun's glare. The 55-foot-wide (17-meter-wide) rock that blew up without warning over Chelyabinsk in Russia last month was just such an asteroid.

"It came from a direction where our [existing] telescopes could not look," Holdren said. "We cannot look in the sun."

Holdren estimated the cost of an asteroid-hunting space telescope at $500 million to $750 million, and said it could reduce the congressionally mandated survey time to six to eight years. Following through on the Obama administration's plan to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 would cost about $2 billion a year, Holdren said.

The automatic spending cuts known as sequestration will affect NASA's asteroid-hunting effort as well as the plans for human exploration, Bolden warned.

"The president has a plan. But that plan is incremental," Bolden said, referring to the Obama administration's budget proposal. "And if we want to save the planet, because I think that’s what we’re talking about, then we have to get together ... and decide how we’re going to execute that plan."

The idea of enlisting other countries as well as amateur astronomers to "crowdsource" the hunt for threatening asteroids struck a responsive chord with lawmakers. But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., reminded Bolden that China couldn't be on the list of partners due to a congressional ban.

Congressional teach-in
The hearing served as a teach-in for some of the panel members. At one point, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, asked whether the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope could be retrofitted to look for asteroids. "No, sir," Bolden replied.

At another point, Gen. William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, had to explain to lawmakers that the space-based surveillance system used for monitoring missile launches on Earth could not watch out for rocks coming in from deep space.

Holdren and Bolden provided a status report on the asteroid search, reporting that about 95 percent of the near-Earth objects larger than a kilometer are being tracked. However, only about 10 percent of the 13,000 to 20,000 asteroids bigger than 140 meters have been detected. If an asteroid of that size were to strike land, it "could devastate the better part of a continent," Holdren said.

Looking on the bright side, Holdren added that such asteroids are thought to hit Earth only every 20,000 years or so.

Bolden said less than 1 percent of the space rocks in the 30- to 100-meter range have been found. Such asteroids may not be continent-killers, but they are bigger and more potentially destructive than last month's Chelyabinsk meteor.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked how much advance warning would be required to deflect a threatening asteroid, and were repeatedly told that it would take years. Shelton said that if time was limited, "probably nuclear energy is what we're talking about."

But even a nuclear-armed mission to blast an asteroid, Bruce Willis-style, would require lots of lead time. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., asked Bolden about the strategy for dealing with an Earth-threatening asteroid that was discovered with three weeks' warning.

"If it's coming in three weeks ... pray," Bolden said. "The reason I can't do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off." - NBC News.

WATCH: NASA says it needs more money to protect the planet from asteroids. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Dwarf Galaxies Seen Orbiting The Andromeda Galaxy Baffle Scientists - "Like Some Pre-Existing Structure Has Been Sucked In"?!

March 19, 2013 - SPACE - A fascinating discovery about dwarf galaxies orbiting the Andromeda galaxy suggests that conventional ideas regarding the formation of galaxies like our own Milky Way are missing something fundamental.

A string of 13 dwarf galaxies in orbit around the massive galaxy Andromeda are spread across a flat plane more than one million light years wide and only 30,000 light years thick, moving in synchronicity with one another, according to University of Victoria astronomer Julio Navarro, one of the co-authors of an article on the phenomenon in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

The dwarfs are spread across a distance so vast that they have yet to complete a single orbit. The behavior of Andromeda's dwarfs is so extreme from the usual chaotic orbits of galaxies around each other that the the researchers believe they have revealed a huge hole in science’s understanding of galaxy formation. Computer models show that the dwarf galaxies should orbit independently, almost randomly. But the structure of the synchronous galaxies orbiting Andromeda is much more like a mature solar system.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, an international team of astronomers described the discovery that almost half of the 30 dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda do so in an enormous plane more than a million light years in diameter, but only 30,000 light years thick.

The findings defied scientists’ expectation—based on two decades of computer modeling—that satellite galaxies would orbit in independent, seemingly random patterns. Instead, many of these dwarf galaxies seem to share a common orbit, an observation that currently has no explanation.

“It’s a very unusual, unexpected configuration,” says UVic astrophysicist Dr. Julio Navarro, a co-author of the paper. “It’s so unexpected that we don’t know yet what it’s telling us. The fact that it is there at all is pointing us toward something profound.

Somehow, they have a plane-like structure similar to a solar system, but with a completely different origin and we don’t know what that origin is,” Navarro said. Understanding how and why the dwarf galaxies form the ring around Andromeda is expected to offer new information on the formation of all galaxies.

Twelve of the 13 dwarf galaxies — they range in size from 10 million to 100 million stars — are on one side of the orbital plane, as if they are held by a string being swung from Andromeda.

“This looks like they are all moving together and they all know where to go, like some pre-existing structure has been sucked in by Andromeda,” Navarro said.

The paper is based on data collected for a project led by UVic professor Alan McConnachie of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Saanich. - Daily Galaxy.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To The Total Collapse Of The White Supremacy Paradigm - Cyprus Plans To Seize Cash From 'Rich' With Savings Of $25,867.73 Or More In Bank; Trading Suspended In Cyprus Amid Bailout Woes; Europe’s Leaders Run Out Of Credit In Cyprus; S&P Warns Of Socially Explosive Situation In Euro-Zone; Russian Company Offers To Bailout Cyprus In Exchange For The Gas Exploration Rights; Russia Sends Warship To Mediterranean, Is A Naval Base In Cyprus Coming Next?!

March 19, 2013 - EUROPE - Cyprus's parliament overwhelmingly rejected a proposed levy on savings in banks as a condition for a European bailout on Tuesday, throwing international efforts to rescue the latest casualty of the euro zone debt crisis into disarray.  The vote in the tiny legislature was a stunning setback for the 17-nation bloc; lawmakers in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy have all accepted unpopular austerity measures over the last three years to secure European aid.  With hundreds of demonstrators facing riot police outside parliament and chanting "They're drinking our blood", the ruling party abstained and 36 other lawmakers voted unanimously to reject the bill, bringing the Mediterranean island, one of the smallest European states, to the brink of financial meltdown. 

Protesters shout slogans during an anti-bailout rally outside the parliament in Nicosia March 19, 2013.
REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Cyprus To Seize Cash From 'Rich' With Savings Of $25,867.73 Or More In Bank.
EU countries said before the vote that they would withhold 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) in bailout loans unless depositors in Cyprus, including small savers, shared the cost of the rescue; the European Central Bank had threatened to end emergency lending assistance for teetering Cypriot banks, which were hard hit by the financial crisis in neighboring Greece.  The demonstrators were unbowed: "This is a great decision for Cyprus," said Andreas Miltiadou, a 65-year-old pensioner among the crowd. "The voice of the people was heard."  The ECB said it "took note" of the vote and remained "committed to provide liquidity as needed within the existing rules".  Newly elected President Nicos Anastasiades earlier told reporters he expected parliament to reject the tax on bank deposits - "because they feel and they think that it is unjust and it's against the interests of Cyprus at large".  He was due to meet party leaders at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Wednesday to explore a way forward.  Europe's demand at the weekend that Cyprus break with previous EU practice and impose a levy on bank accounts sparked outrage among Cypriots, who emptied bank cash machines, and unsettled financial markets.  Combined with Anastasiades' refusal to accept a levy of more than 10 percent on deposits above 100,000 euros, that meant taxing smaller accounts too, which savers had thought were protected by state guarantees.  An important issue in negotiations has been the high level of deposits held in the island's banks by non-EU citizens and companies, notably from Russia, where Cyprus has established itself as a major provider of offshore financial services.  Cypriot Finance Minister Michael Sarris flew to Moscow on Tuesday to seek Russian financial assistance. He denied by text message to Reuters reports that he had resigned, which had rattled markets' nerves as lawmakers were poised to vote.

Stunned by the backlash, euro zone finance ministers urged Nicosia on Monday to avoid taxing accounts below 100,000 euros, and instead increase the levy on big accounts, which have always been unprotected by the state deposit guarantee. The European Union and International Monetary Fund are demanding Cyprus raise 5.8 billion euros from bank depositors to secure its bailout, needed to rescue its financial sector. A revised draft bill would have exempted savings under 20,000 euros from a 6.75 percent levy on deposits of less than 100,000 euros, leaving a shortfall. But that was not enough to sway lawmakers, even in the ruling party, to accept the tax. "You can't take a 10,000-metre jump without a parachute. And that's what they're asking of us," said George Perdikis of the Greens Party. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said the euro zone could not lend Cyprus any more, since the country's debt would become unmanageable for its 1.1 million people. "Above 10 billion euros we are entering into a size of debt that is not sustainable," Moscovici told reporters in Paris. International market reaction has been muted so far but that might change. "In the very short term, this will be a small victory for the more rational observers who had looked at this move as, frankly, outrageous. But it leaves Pandora's Box wide open," Mike Moran, senior currency strategist at Standard Chartered in New York, said of the plan to make bank depositors contribute. While Brussels has emphasized that the measure was a one-off for a country that accounts for just 0.2 percent of European output, fears have grown that savers in other, larger European countries might be spurred to withdraw funds. Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the group of euro zone finance ministers, said there would be no need to impose a levy in any of the 16 other euro countries. Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Anshu Jain said in Frankfurt: "We see near-term contagion risk as limited. This is unlikely to be a model for other European Union states."

People wait to make transactions at an ATM outside a closed branch of Laiki Bank in Nicosia March 19, 2013.
REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis


Anastasiades has continued to resist raising the levy on big deposits - many held by rich Russians - fearing for the island's business model and reputation as an offshore financial haven. He asked the EU for more aid during a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday. Some Cypriots hope they could instead get aid from Russia, which has bailed out Cyprus in the past. Many Russians keep their money in Cyprus and operate businesses from there. Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said Anastasiades might also speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the deposit levy "unfair, unprofessional and dangerous". Russian authorities have denied that the Kremlin might offer more money, possibly in return for a future stake in Cyprus's large but as yet undeveloped offshore gas reserves, which have raised the island's strategic importance. An influx of Russian money and influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union has led some Brussels officials to complain privately that Cyprus acts at times as a "Trojan donkey" for Moscow inside the European Union since it joined in 2004. Stunned Cypriots emptied cash machines over the weekend and banks are to remain shut on Tuesday and Wednesday to avoid a bank run. The island's stock exchange also suspended trading for another two days. ($1 = 0.7760 euros) - Reuters.

Trading Suspended In Cyprus Amid Bailout Woes.
Trading on the Cyprus Stock Exchange has been suspended Tuesday and Wednesday and will reopen again on Thursday, to avoid any potential risks to the financial system amid discussions of bailout conditions for the country, the exchange said. Cypriot banks are scheduled to remain closed until Thursday, amid worries that a controversial bank-deposit tax will create a run on the country's banks. The Cyprus Stock Exchange said in a statement that the decision to suspend trading was taken in the view of "the current very serious developments in the Cyprus economy due to recent decisions of the Eurogroup which affect the banking sector in Cyprus and the economy in general which affects banks whose securities are listed on the Stock Exchange." - Market Watch.

Europe’s Leaders Run Out Of Credit In Cyprus.
European leaders must surely know that they are taking a big risk with Cyprus. The danger is obvious. Now that everybody with money in Cypriot banks is being forced to take a hit, nervous depositors elsewhere in Europe might notice that a dangerous precedent has been set. Rather than run even a small risk of an unwanted financial “haircut” in the future, the customers of Greek, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian banks might choose to get their money out now. If that starts to happen, the euro crisis will be back on again – with a vengeance. The people behind the Cyprus plan hope that the risks of contagion are small. They reckon that the Spanish banks are on the mend, and that Greece too has pulled back from the brink. There is no reason for depositors to draw lessons from the peculiar case of Cyprus, whose banks are stuffed with Russian money.

Maybe so. And yet EU leaders have got these kinds of calculations badly wrong before. At a summit in Deauville in September 2010, they announced that the holders of sovereign bonds in bailed-out countries would lose some of their money. The result was a severe worsening of the euro crisis, as investors began to demand much higher rates to lend to risky-seeming countries, such as Italy or Spain. So why – after all the painstaking efforts to put euro-humpty back together again – have European leaders taken such a gamble in Cyprus? The answer is that they too are out of credit – political credit. This credit shortfall takes different forms in northern and southern Europe. For leaders of nations such as Germany, the Netherlands and Finland, there was a sense that their voters and parliaments just would not approve another bailout – unless heavy penalties were attached. Cyprus is a small place, and so the amounts of money needed to shore the country up are relatively small – “just” €17bn. The problem is that Cyprus is also a particularly clear-cut example of the fundamental deficit in trust between northern and southern Europeans. Ever since the crisis began, the German media has been full of stories of southern corruption. German voters have been encouraged to believe that their hard-earned money is going to shore up fundamentally rotten countries. - FT.

WATCH: Farage - EU wants to steal money from Cypriots bank accounts.

Russian Company Offers To Bailout Cyprus In Exchange For Gas Exploration Rights.
The Russian energy company Gazprom is offering to bailout Cyprus in exchange for gas exploration rights, according to media reports. "Russian energy giant Gazprom has offered the Republic of Cyprus a plan in which the company will undertake the restructuring of the country’s banks in exchange for exploration rights for natural gas in Cyprus’’ exclusive economic zone, local media reported," reports GreeceReporter.com.
"Gazprom is," the site notes, "the largest extractor of natural gas in the world and the largest Russian company." Cyprus does not appear to be interested in the offer, however:
The proposal states that Gazprom will fund the restructuring of the country’s crippled financial institutions in exchange for substantial control over the country’s gas resources while Cyprus won’t need to take the harsh bailout package offered by the EU. EU offered a 10 billion euros rescue package to Cyprus with the condition of raising 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) by taking a piece of every bank account in Cyprus. The originally proposed levies on deposits are 9.9 percent for acounts exceeding 100,000 euros and 6.7 percent on anything below that. Cypriot President Nicos Anstasiades is not willing to discuss the Russian’s offer according toNewsit who cited an anonymous source close to the President. “The president is not going to discuss this plan because he wants a solution that will come from the EU,” said the anonymous source.
- Weekly Standard.

Russia Sends Warship To Mediterranean, Is A Naval Base In Cyprus Coming Next?

That Russia has previously threatened, and followed through with, sending ships to the Mediterranean is nothing new. In the past, every such episode was related to the protection of what Putin considered vital geopolitical interests in the region: whether defending the Syrian port of Tartus, various crude and natural gas pipelines in the region threatened by NATO expansion in Turkey, or offsetting heightened US presence around Gaza and Israel (and of course Iran). Which is why with the legacy conflicts in the region dormant, and the only news of any relevance being the European intervention in Cyprus against Russian oligarch interests, it is surprising we learn today that the Russian Navy will dispatch a permanent fleet of five or six combat ships to the Mediterranean Sea, with frigates and cruisers making up the core of the fleet.
How far into the Mediterranean one wonders? It wouldn’t be too difficult to put two and two together and assume that with Cyprus just a few hundreds kilometers away from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Israel, Russia may have not only a new geopolitical target, namely the now pseudo-insolvent Russian protectorate of Cyprus, but a perfect alibi to be in the region as well, and more importantly, have a Plan B to the Syrian port of Tartus which is Russia’s only naval base in the region. How soon until we read that Russia is willing to invest even more unguaranteed loans into the Cypriot financial system…. in exchange for one tiny little naval and/or military base? - Zero Hedge.

S&P Warns Of Socially Explosive Situation In Euro-Zone.
Standard and Poor's sees a high risk that Spain, Italy, Portugal and France will not be able to carry through necessary reforms as the unemployed become less willing to put up with austerity, S&P's Germany head Torsten Hinrichs told a newspaper. "The high unemployment in Spain, Italy and France is socially explosive," Hinrichs was quoted as saying in Monday's Neue Osnabrcker Zeitung. "There has to be a social consensus for saving measures. High unemployment ... does not help." Hinrichs said the people of Spain and Portugal had already proven they were willing to bear with austerity measures, but "this cannot continue forever". In Italy, there was the further danger that "a new government may not be strong enough for the still necessary reforms to strengthen growth," he said. Hinrichs said S&P still rated Germany as a triple A with stable outlook and did not see any reason for concern: "It is one of the few AAA and stable countries that we still have in Europe". The weak profitability of the banking sector due to the profusion of banks was the only problem in Germany, he said, although he saw positive changes in the sector in terms of equity capital and refinancing. - CNBC.

WORLD WAR III: Countdown To Armageddon - Syria Crosses The "Red Line" With Chemical Attacks In Aleppo; Israel To Ask Obama To Use Air Strikes On Syria; Iran Launches Destroyer Missile Guided War Ship On Caspian Sea; U.S. B52 Nuclear Bomber Patrols Send Stern Warning To North Korea; North Korean Video Shows Imagined Attack On Washington; China Admit Ship Radar Lock On Japanese Destroyer!

March 19, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - The Syrian government accused rebels of firing a chemical weapon for the first time on Tuesday in the north of the country, killing at least 25 people in the war-torn Aleppo province. Rebels quickly denied the report and accused regime forces of firing a chemical weapon on a long-range missile.  Neither of the accusations could immediately be verified, and a chemical weapons expert in the U.K. told CBSNews.com there was very little evidence to suggest any actual chemical weapons had been deployed. A U.S. official, speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, also said there was no evidence of a chemical attack. Also expressing doubts was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which reported no independent information of chemical weapons use. 

An image from Syrian state television shows a man being treated in an Aleppo province hospital after an alleged chemical weapons attack, March 19, 2013. / Syrian State TV.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the administration had no evidence to suggest the rebels had used chemical weapons, but added: "We are looking carefully at the information as it comes in... This is an issue that has been made very clear by the president to be of great concern to us."  The Syrian state news agency SANA said "terrorists" had fired a rocket "containing chemical materials" into the area around the village of Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo. The regime regularly uses the term terrorists to refer to rebels fighting to overthrow authoritarian President Bashar Assad.  Russia, one of the Syrian regime's few remaining allies, joined the Assad regime in accusing the rebels of carrying out a chemical attack, calling it an "extremely dangerous" development in the crisis. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said rebels had detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent early Tuesday in Aleppo province, without giving further details. The claim was nearly identical to the reports by Syria's state media. "The rocket which was launched from Kafr Da'el in Neirab is a grave escalation," Syrian information minister Omran al-Zubi said in a televised statement. "The terrorists used a weapon that is banned in accordance with international law."  "The states which are arming, financing and housing the terrorists should be questioned about this crime," added al-Zubi. Syrian officials said at least 25 people, most of them civilians, were killed and dozens more wounded.  A photographer for the Reuters news agency said he had witnessed people come into hospitals with breathing problems after the attack.  "I saw mostly women and children," the Reuters photographer, who was not identified, told his editors. He said after visiting the University of Aleppo hospital and the al-Rajaa hospital -- both in state-controlled parts of Aleppo -- that victims "said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine."

Residents and medics transport a wounded Syrian army soldier to hospital Tuesday after heavy fighting in Aleppo province during which both rebels and government forces said a chemical weapon was used.

An activist in the area said rebels had recently seized much of the village of Khan al-Assal, including a facility that housed a military academy.  The opposition Syrian Media Center said 20 people had died from "asphyxia and poisoning after a SCUD missile fired from Damascus struck" Khan al-Assal.  Chemical weapons expert and chief operating officer of SecureBio, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told CBSNews.com that based on video he had seen of victims in Aleppo hospitals, the symptoms were "not really those that are identified with nerve agents or mustard gas, which are the ones most likely to be used" inside Syria.  Bretton-Gordon noted that none of the people in the hospitals treating the attack victims were wearing protective clothing. If a chemical agent had been dispersed, he said, anybody coming into contact with the victims would also be affected; "doctors treating them would be overcome."  As for the reports of a chlorine smell near the scene of the attack, Bretton-Gordon said conventional high explosives can also produce an odor which might be mistaken for chlorine, and that weapons using the common household chemical haven't been widely used since World War I. He noted that mustard gas -- which Syria is known to have stockpiled -- can produce a chlorine-like odor, but there was no indication from the images he had seen that the devastating chemical agent had been used in Aleppo on Tuesday.  A militant with the rebel Free Syrian Army told CBS News via telephone Tuesday morning that the government's claim of a chemical attack had made him nervous that the government itself might be poised to use its banned weapons.  Bretton-Gordon, whose company has closely followed developments concerning the Syrian government's chemical weapons stockpiles, said the claims of a chemical weapon attack on Tuesday struck him as little more than "another bit of propaganda," but he couldn't say whether it was government propaganda or opposition propaganda.  There have been long-standing concerns that Syria's chemical weapons would be used by one side or the other in the 2-year-old civil war.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently that the longer the war goes on, the greater the danger of its institutions collapsing and extremists getting their hands on the Arab country's vast chemical weapons arsenal.  The reported attack was in an area just east of the city of Aleppo that had seen fierce fighting for weeks before rebels took over a sprawling government complex there last month. The facility included several military posts and a police academy that Assad's forces have turned into a military base that regularly fires shells at nearby villages. - CBS News.

WATCH: Red Line - Obama Warns Syria Against Using Chemical Weapons.

 Israel To Ask Obama To Use Air Strikes On Syria.
Obama's visit to Israel will cover security in the Middle East,
but he doesn't have a 'peace plan in his pocket' say officials.
Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

Israel will use President Obama's visit on Wednesday to try to persuade the US to carry out air strikes on Syria if there is evidence that Syrian missiles are to be handed over to Hezbollah in Lebanon, or at least to give full support to Israeli military action to prevent the transfer.  On this week's trip to Israel and the West Bank, Obama will also come under Israeli pressure to lower the US threshold for military action against Iran, while the US president will try for an Israeli commitment to a peace process with the Palestinians. Neither side is likely to be successful, leaving Syria as the most promising arena for agreement.  The Obama administration has made clear that it would intervene militarily only to stop the Assad regime using its chemical or biological weapons or transferring them to extremist groups. Israeli officials say they feel they have been left alone to deal with the spread of Syria's arsenal of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.  Israeli warplanes destroyed a Syrian convoy at the end of January which Israeli officials say was taking Russian-made ground-to-air missiles to Hezbollah. Binyamin Netanyahu's government has made clear that it would strike again in similar circumstances. A senior official said: "Maybe it would be better if Israel doesn't do it, but who is going to deal with it?  "These missiles are not just a problem for Israel," the official added. "They include [anti-ship] missiles, and who has the biggest navy in the Mediterranean?" – a reference to the US. Israeli military and government officials concede that it is unlikely that they will be able to persuade Washington to take military action in Syria unless chemical weapons are involved. - Guardian.

Warmonger Henry Kissinger Sees Little Hope for Mideast Peace.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says there is little chance of any breakthrough in stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as President Barack Obama visits Israel next week on his first trip there since taking office.  “I’m not optimistic” about reviving peace talks, in large part because of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties in the region that aren’t inclined to support a “just outcome” with Israel, Kissinger said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg TV’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff.”  Kissinger said he doesn’t have a rosy view of the so-called Arab Spring that has been widely portrayed as popular uprisings with democratic aspirations. Most revolutions, he said, consist of “many groups hostile to the existing government, but not necessarily for the same reason.”  He cited the Syrian civil war as one conflict that has been widely misunderstood. “It’s not a fight of democracy against a dictator,” he said. “It’s a fight of various ethnic groups for preeminence.” - Bloomberg.

Iran Launches Destroyer Missile Guided War Ship On Caspian Sea.
A Noor missile is fired from Iran's first domestically made
destroyer, Jamaran, during a war game by the Iranian army
near Jask port in southern Iran
(Reuters/ISNA/Ruhollah Vahdati)
Iran launched a missile-guided Destroyer ship Sunday, its first-ever "heavy military" vessel to hit the Caspian Sea, according to government-run TV.   President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad commemorated the launch of the 1,400-ton destroyer Jamaran-2 in the coastal city of Anzali, roughly 150 miles northwest of Tehran, The Christian Science Monitor reported. "The destroyer is there to meet those who want to jeopardize the security of surrounding nations," Ahmadinejad told a crowd, state media reported, according to The Christian Post.  Iran's bold launch could easily stroke tensions in the region. The waters of the Caspian Sea are a constantly disputed territory among countries such as Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, nations which all border the inland sea.  Iran will put its new destroyer through a battery of final tests and then the Jamaran-2 will officially join the rest of the country's navy in a couple of months, state TV reported. About 94 yards long, with steady cruise speed of 30 knots, the Jamaran-2 is armed with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, as well as an arsenal of anti-aircraft weapons, and "sophisticated radar radar and communications terminals," said the government's report. Iran built an earlier iteration of the Jamaran ship in the Persian Gulf in 2010.  Iran has steadily been attempting to create a self-sustained military since 1992, reportedly building its own fighter jets, as well as tanks, missiles, "light" submarines and also torpedoes, according to The Monitor. President Ahmadinejad seems to be engaged in his country's arms race as a matter of saber rattling with The West; feeling the need to prove just how dangerous Iran is, in a similar fashion to North Korea's military posturing. He said at the Jamaran-2 launch that the West will finally understand that the nation's ability to build nuclear weapons can't be stopped because they have obviously "learned from Iran's technical expertise." - Latinos Post.

U.S. B52 Nuclear Bomber Patrols Send Stern Warning To North Korea.

B-52s participating in the ongoing South Korea-U.S. joint military drills are meant to demonstrate a strong alliance capability in the face of North Korean threats, the Pentagon said Monday.  "This mission highlights the extended deterrence and conventional capabilities of the B-52 Stratofortress while participating in exercises such as Foal Eagle," Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.  Foal Eagle, an annual joint exercise, began on March 1 for a two-month run. South Korea and the U.S. are staging another joint military drill, Key Resolve.  On his trip to Seoul, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated that strategic bombers are joining the exercise. It is unusual for a senior U.S. official to make public specific equipment taking part in such military training.  On March 8, Little said, a B-52 bomber from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam conducted a training flight over South Korea.  "This flight demonstrated one of the many alliance capabilities available for the defense of the Republic of Korea," he added, using South Korea's formal name.  The B-52, used by the Air Force since the 1950s, is a long-range heavy bomber that can carry nuclear or precision-guided conventional ordnance. 

The B-52s participating in the exercises in Korea are part of the U.S. Pacific Command's Continuous Bomber Presence in the Pacific.  "These CBP missions are routine and reiterate the U.S. commitment to the security of our allies and partners," said Little.  Despite challenges with fiscal constraints, training opportunities remain important to ensure the U.S. and South Korean forces are battle-ready and trained to employ airpower to deter aggression and defeat any attack against the alliance, Little said.  The U.S. military is confronted with massive spending cuts in efforts to reduce federal budget deficits. The stark reality puts Pentagon officials in a desperate search for priorities and cost-effective operations.  As part of the move, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed senior staff to conduct a review of strategic choices, force posture, investments and institutional management, according to Little.  "This Strategic Choices and Management Review will define the major decisions that must be made in the decade ahead to preserve and adapt our defense strategy, our force, and our institutions under a range of future budgetary scenarios," he said.  In Seoul, Carter met with several top South Korean officials, including Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and senior presidential security adviser Kim Jang-soo, Little said. They discussed North Korea's weapons of mass destruction programs, U.S. military presence on the peninsula and alliance commitments, he said.  But he erroneously said Carter met with Kim Byung-kwan, the nominee to be defense minister. Kim has not been confirmed by the National Assembly amid controversy over his qualifications. - Korea Herald.

North Korean Video Shows Imagined Attack On Washington.
A new North Korean propaganda video shows images of what appears to be an imagined missile attack on U.S. government buildings in Washington, including the White House and the Capitol.  The roughly 4-minute video was posted Monday on the YouTube channel of the North Korean government website Uriminzokkiri.  It carries a montage of clips of different weapons, including artillery guns firing and large missiles on display at military parades.  Just before the three-minute mark, it cuts to footage of the White House in an electronic sight's crosshairs, and then a simulated explosion of the Capitol's dome.  At the same time, the voice narrating the video says, "The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb." Analysts say that North Korea is still years away from being able to target nuclear missiles at the United States. But the video's release comes amid spiking tensions between Pyongyang and Washington after the U.N. Security Council voted to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea following its latest nuclear test last month.  In a slew of angry rhetoric in response to the U.N. vote, North Korea has threatened to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the United States and South Korea and said it was nullifying the armistice agreement that stopped the Korean War in 1953.  Although U.S. officials say they don't believe North Korea is in a position to strike the United States at the moment, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced plans to deploy additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast as part of efforts to enhance the nation's ability to defend itself from attack.  This isn't the first time a North Korean propaganda video has evoked the prospect of an attack on the United States.  A video posted on YouTube last month, before the North carried out its most recent underground nuclear test, depicted a city resembling New York with its skyscrapers on fire. - CNN.

WATCH: North Korean propaganda video shows the US Capitol being hit by a nuclear missile and the White House targeted by long-range missiles.

WATCH: The White House is attacked in the trailer for the movie "Olympus Has Fallen".

Chinese Military Officials Admit Ship Radar Lock On Japanese Destroyer.
 A Chinese marine surveillance ship (back L) pictured
alongside a Japan Coast Guard vessel on Feb 4. AFP
Senior Chinese military officials have admitted for the first time that a frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer during the two nations’ spat over disputed islands.  In one of the more serious incidents in an escalating row over ownership of the islands in the East China Sea, Tokyo said the Chinese vessel effectively had a Japanese ship in its sights earlier this year, Kyodo News agency reported Monday..  Beijing has consistently denied the allegation and accused Tokyo of hyping the “China threat” in a bid to manipulate world public opinion against its giant neighbor.  But Kyodo News cited unnamed “senior Chinese military officials” saying the weapons targeting had taken place.  The officials, including “flag officers”—those at the rank of admiral—told Kyodo it was an “emergency decision”, not a planned action, and was taken by the commander of the frigate, the report said.  The Tokyo-datelined report said the comments were made “recently”, but gave no specifics.  The radar incident marked the first time the two nations’ navies have locked horns in the increasingly bitter spat over the Tokyo-controlled Senkakus, which China claims as the Diaoyus.  The Chinese officials said that on Jan 30 the frigate and the Japanese destroyer were three kilometers apart in international waters some 110 to 130 kilometers north of the outcrops, the report said.  The commander of the frigate directed his vessel’s weapons-targeting radar, based on the Chinese military’s rules of engagement, without seeking instructions from the fleet command or navy headquarters, Kyodo cited the Chinese officers as saying. It was not known if the commander had been reprimanded.  Tokyo has also charged a Chinese frigate locked its radar on a Japanese helicopter in the middle of January.  China has denied the accusations, and Beijing’s defense ministry said on Monday that the truth was “very clear”.  “The Japanese allegation of Chinese navy vessels targeting warships and airplanes of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces with fire-control radar does not fit the facts,” it said in a statement faxed to AFP.  “The Japanese side speculates from time to time on this issue, discredits the Chinese military and misleads the international community with ulterior motives,” it added. - Japan Today.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For March 19, 2013 - Updates On El Hierro, Etna, Kliuchevskoi, Batu Tara, Tangkubanparahu, White Island, Popocatépetl, Santa María, Santiaguito, Pacaya, Telica, San Cristobal, Masaya, San Miguel, Machin, Nevado del Ruiz, Reventador And Tungurahua!

March 19, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Map of recent earthquakes at El Hierro (IGN).

El Hierro (Canary Islands):  So far, there have been more than 80 quakes greater than magnitude 2 and 4 quakes above magnitude 3 today. A clear trend of westward migration is visible, possibly corresponding to magma moving horizontally into new areas. At the moment, the seismic swarm has considerably decreased in energy. Whether this is a pause or already a sign of an end is impossible to say. IF a magmatic intrusion is the cause (there is no proof for this, after all), a plausible scenario could be the build-up of energy while pathways are temporarily blocked. Then, some larger quakes should be expected along with re-appearance of tremor when magma starts moving again... The seismic crisis continues with little changes. A westward lateral migration of epicenters is visible, assumed to correspond to magma movements underground. Depths remain mostly at 15-18 km, with perhaps a slight upwards trend towards shallower areas, but this is not very significant if any. - Volcanic tremor waxes and wanes but remains continuous.

Etna with the fresh black lava flows below the New SE crater this morning seen from Valle del Bove.

Etna (Sicily, Italy): Beautiful snow-clad Etna remains restless. While the wait is on for a new SE crater paroxysm (which is likely to occur anywhere between days or few weeks from now), a few pronounced tremor spikes show up on the tremor graph. These probably correspond to strombolian activity from one of the summit craters, likely the Voragine.

Kliuchevskoi (Kamchatka): After some time with no new indications of continuing activity, KVERT lowered the alert status to green. The volcano has been showing low seismicity during the past weeks, after a phase of strombolian activity late 2012-earlier this year had ended.

Batu Tara (Sunda Islands, Indonesia): Explosions that send ash plumes large enough to be detected on satellite are increasingly frequent. Another eruption today was spotted on Meteosat with an estimated ash plume height of 8,000 ft (2.4 km).

Tangkubanparahu (West Java): The alert level was back to normal (1 out of 4) yesterday. VSI reports that the recent monitoring have shown a significant decrease in seismicity since 9 March and no significant variations in ground deformation. Various other measurements undertaken by volcanologists (gas analysis, temperature measurements) also showed trends towards normal behavior. (Source: activolcans.info / VSI)

Current seismic signal from White Island (GeoNet).

White Island (New Zealand): Internal unrest in the form of continuous volcanic tremor has further risen and numerous earthquakes have appeared as well during the past hours. A possibility is that some phreatic activity is taking place near the surface, but we cannot verify this at the moment. So far no eruption reports or new statements from GNS about this activity have become available.

Steaming Popocatépetl seen from the south today.

Popocatépetl (Central Mexico): Compared to yesterday, when some explosions were large enough to eject incandescent bombs to 200 m above the crater, accompanied by eruption tremor of moderate intensity, activity has been lower today. Steaming has decreased although the numbers of small volcanic quakes remains high.

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): A phase of increased ash emissions or a relatively large seems to have taken place at Santiaguito today (INSIVUMEH will likely report about this in tomorrow's report). VAAC Washington alerts about an ash plume at 16,000 ft (about 5 km) altitude drifting east from the volcano. If the altitude is right, the eruption column reached 2.5 km in height above the dome, more than twice as much as during the larger "normal" explosions regularly observed.

Pacaya (Guatemala): Since last night, Pacaya volcano has been showing small strombolian activity, INSIVUMEH reports. The activity is from Mackenney crater and consists in weak explosions that throw incandescent bombs to up to 15 m above the crater. According to INSIVUMEH, based on past similar activity cycles, a likely evolution of the volcano's behavior might be a gradual increase of this activity and the effusion of a new lava flow.

Telica (Nicaragua): The seismic swarm continued until this morning, then waned a bit, but has now resumed with increased apparent strength (perhaps because quakes are now nearer to the surface). In contrast to Telica, the other 2 Nicaraguan volcanoes San Cristobal and Masaya continue to be quiet.

Yesterday's seismic recording from San Miguel (VSM station, SNET).

San Miguel (El Salvador): The volcano has been relatively quiet recently. Only few volcanic quakes, weak tremor and (probably) rockfall signals show up now and then.

Machin (Colombia): Seismic unrest continues, but there is no surface activity. A swarm of low-frequency volcanic quakes during the night 17-18 March, Machin volcano has been quiet again today.

Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia): A phase of increased seismic activity with volcanic quakes and rockfalls occurred today. SO2 emission from the volcano remains high.

Steaming Reventador volcano (IGPN webcam).

Reventador (Ecuador): A rare clear view from the webcam shows a strong degassing plume today. Seismic activity has been moderate.

Tungurahua (Ecuador): The volcano continued to remain relatively quiet with only small explosions and much reduced seismic activity.

Complete Earthquake list (worldwide) for March 19, 2013.

Photo of the Day:

Lava fountain from the southern fissure vent at Tolbachik volcano. (Photo: Alexander Lobashevsky)

Volcano Discovery.

BIG BROTHER NOW: Google Glass, Orwellian Surveillance With Fluffier Branding - New Technology Will Make Us All Agents For Google!

March 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - In the online world – for now, at least – it’s the advertisers that make the world go round. If you’re Google, they represent more than 90% of your revenue and without them you would cease to exist. So how do you reconcile the fact that there is a finite amount of data to be gathered online with the need to expand your data collection to keep ahead of your competitors?

There are two main routes. Firstly, try as hard as is legally possible to monopolise the data streams you already have, and hope regulators fine you less than the profit it generated. Secondly, you need to get up from behind the computer and hit the streets.

Model wearing a Google Glass.

Google Glass is the first major salvo in an arms race that is going to see increasingly intrusive efforts made to join up our real lives with the digital businesses we have become accustomed to handing over huge amounts of personal data to.

The principles that underpin everyday consumer interactions – choice, informed consent, control – are at risk in a way that cannot be healthy. Our ability to walk away from a service depends on having a choice in the first place and knowing what data is collected and how it is used before we sign up.

Imagine if Google or Facebook decided to install their own CCTV cameras everywhere, gathering data about our movements, recording our lives and joining up every camera in the land in one giant control room. It’s Orwellian surveillance with fluffier branding. And this isn’t just video surveillance – Glass uses audio recording too. For added impact, if you’re not content with Google analysing the data, the person can share it to social media as they see fit too.

Google's Sergey Brin wearing Gogle Glass on the New York Subway.

Yet that is the reality of Google Glass. Everything you see, Google sees. You don’t own the data, you don’t control the data and you definitely don’t know what happens to the data. Put another way – what would you say if instead of it being Google Glass, it was Government Glass? A revolutionary way of improving public services, some may say. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think it’d have much success.

More importantly, who gave you permission to collect data on the person sitting opposite you on the Tube? How about collecting information on your children’s friends? There is a gaping hole in the middle of the Google Glass world and it is one where privacy is not only seen as an annoying restriction on Google’s profit, but as something that simply does not even come into the equation. Google has empowered you to ignore the privacy of other people. Bravo.

It’s already led to reactions in the US. ‘Stop the Cyborgs’ might sound like the rallying cry of the next Terminator film, but this is the start of a campaign to ensure places of work, cafes, bars and public spaces are no-go areas for Google Glass. They’ve already produced stickers to put up informing people that they should take off their Glass.

They argue, rightly, that this is more than just a question of privacy. There’s a real issue about how much decision making is devolved to the display we see, in exactly the same way as the difference between appearing on page one or page two of Google’s search can spell the difference between commercial success and failure for small businesses. We trust what we see, it’s convenient and we don’t question the motives of a search engine in providing us with information.

The reality is very different. In abandoning critical thought and decision making, allowing ourselves to be guided by a melee of search results, social media and advertisements we do risk losing a part of what it is to be human. You can see the marketing already - Glass is all-knowing. The issue is that to be all-knowing, it needs you to help it be all-seeing.

Sergey Brin showing off Google Glass augmented reality spectacles Photo: AP

If choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without, then Google Glass goes to the heart of what it is to live in a digital world and what it is to exercise choice about your privacy. The danger is that we lose our privacy and Google gains the power. The reality is that as profit-making strategies go, there’s nothing better. - Telegraph.

FUK-U-SHIMA: Monumental Crisis Developing In Japan - Crucial System Fails At Japan's Quake-Damaged Nuclear Plant; TEPCO Still Can't Fix R1, R3 And R4; As A Nankai Trough Mega-Quake Is Predicted To Cause More Damage Than The 2011 Disaster!

March 19, 2013 - JAPAN - A Japanese government panel is estimating that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Nankai Trough region will do damage worth $2.2 billion, a figure that is much higher than the $177 million from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Scientists are predicting that the earthquake is due “in the not-too-distant future”, based on historical rough calculations.

Nankai Trough Quake Predicted To Cause More Damage Than 2011 Disaster.
These figures do not include the possible nuclear fallout from an earthquake of that magnitude. The panel also predicts the number of evacuees to reach 9.5 million a week after it hits and that 40 out of the country’s 47 prefectures will suffer damage to their infrastructure. 27.1 million will suffer power outages, while 34.4 million will be without water.

In an earlier report released in August, the panel said around 323,000 could die from an earthquake with its epicenter in the Nankai Trough, also a big number compared to the 19,000 who died or were reported missing in the 2011 disasters.

But if all houses and key buildings are already quake-resistant by the time the earthquake will occur, the damage can be cut to almost half at $836 million. That is why the government’s priority would be to come up with basic policy measures by the end of the month against future earthquakes.

The Nankai trough runs from the gulf of Suruga, Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, to the sea of Hyuga, off Miyazaki Prefecture in the southwestern Japan region of Kyushu. Historically, this area experiences 8.0 magnitude earthquakes once every 100 to 150 years, with the last one occurring last 1946, where around 1,330 people perished. - Japan Daily Press.

Crucial System Fails At Japan's Quake-Damaged Nuclear Plant.
In this Dec. 29, 2012 file photo, the Unit 1 reactor building, left, and Unit 2 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant can be seen. (Itsuo Inouye/Pool/Associated Press)
Workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are trying to fix a crucial part of the plant that stopped working today.

The system that cools hundreds of spent fuel rods that are stored at the facility has stopped working, which could have dangerous consequences, CBC News producer Craig Dale has learned.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company confirmed that it had a partial power failure Monday evening and then discovered the problem with an electricity supply unit.

Currently the cooling systems in reactors one, three and four are not operational and representatives from TEPCO are unsure how to fix them.

However TEPCO says it should have a solution within a few days and that the fuel rods stored in the pools will remain safe for at least four days without fresh cooling water

The disabled plant was seriously damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, which destroyed the plant's power and cooling systems.

Three reactor cores melted and fuel storage pools overheated because of this. The plant is now using makeshift systems. - CBC.

TEPCO Still Can't Fix R1, R3 & R4 SFP Power Outage.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. still remained unable as of Tuesday morning to resume the spent fuel cooling system at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the system's suspension on Monday due to a power failure.  TEPCO is continuing its probe into the cause of the outage affecting the cooling system for the spent fuel pools of the No. 1, 3 and 4 reactors.  According to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the outage may have stemmed from the power distribution board or cables attached to it.

Residents of Fukushima Prefecture expressed anxiety about an outage hit the disaster-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Monday.  Masahide Matsumoto, mayor of Katsurao village where all of its residents have been forced to evacuate after the March 2011 nuclear disaster, said that the incident came at a sensitive time as evacuation zones are scheduled to be reclassified Friday and some residents are allowed to make day trips to their homes.  "We will be in trouble unless Tokyo Electric Power Co. properly investigates the cause (of the outage) and restores power," Matsumoto said, citing concerns for increased worries among villagers. - Kyodo News.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Tracking Developments At The Giant Louisiana Sinkhole - Parish Officials Estimate That The Sinkhole Has Grown Now To 10 Acres And Shallow Tremors Continue, As Governor Jindal To Visit The Bayou Corne Area Today!

March 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Texas Brine officials told legislators Monday that Assumption Parish residents will start receiving phone calls this week to begin a buyout process.  “The first step is to make contact,” said Bruce Martin, vice president of operations for Texas Brine.  The assurances came during a public hearing at the State Capitol on the now nearly 10-acre sinkhole. Members of the Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment met jointly with the Senate committees on natural resources and environmental quality.  Martin told legislators that an appraisal firm will start making phone calls this week to residents who expressed an interest in selling their homes.  Legislators pressed Texas Brine for details on who will be making the phone calls and what kind of offers will be made.  State Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said residents need to feel that they are getting a fair value. 

Photo provided by the Assumption Parish Police Jury -- The slough-in, or edge collapse, is shown in this image marked in red. The red line in the photo attached depicts the area is swampland that sloughed in when the "burp" in the sinkhole happened early Sunday morning.
Nearly one acre of swamp on the western edge of the sinkhole fell, or sloughed, early Sunday when the slurry hole had one of its periodic burps, parish officials said in a blog post.  The edge collapse happened in swamps just west of a pipeline corridor that at one time formed part of the once-smaller sinkhole’s far western edge.  The sinkhole developed Aug. 3 and led to a standing mandatory evacuation of 150 residences in the area. Some residents heeded the order; others chose to stay.  The sinkhole is south of La. 70 South on property controlled by Texas Brine Co. LLC of Houston and is believed to have been caused by a sidewall collapse at more than 5,000 feet deep. The collapse released oil and gas.  The company has paid $4 million in housing subsidies to residents displaced by the sinkhole.  Gov. Bobby Jindal met with Texas Brine officials last week in Baton Rouge. The governor emerged from the meeting with the announcement that the company would hire a third-party appraiser to assess the value of residents’ homes.  Jindal, who has not visited the site, is supposed to do so sometime this week.  Complicating the buyout process is the fact that some residents filed lawsuits over the sinkhole. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich recently met with residents about the possibility of another lawsuit on behalf of Bayou Corne property owners.  Troy Charpentier, an attorney for Texas Brine, said residents with representation will be spoken to through their attorneys.  State Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Maringouin, wanted to know if the buyout will cover just property or a complete settlement of related claims.  Charpentier said a settlement of all claims is contemplated. 

“We’ll attempt to reach some resolution of their claim as a whole,” he said.  Charpentier gave a timeline of how the buyout process will proceed.  First, property owners will receive a phone call from an appraisal firm to schedule a time for their property to be examined. Property visits will start next week. Buyout offers will begin within 30 days.  State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Geismer, asked if the appraisal will exclude the damage to property values caused by the sinkhole.  Charpentier said the appraisals will be done as if it were the day before the sinkhole was discovered.  St. Germain asked Texas Brine to consider turning back the calendar even further. She said there were problems with tremors and bubbles leading up to the sinkhole’s discovery. She suggested a date of May 30, 2012.  “Look a little further back,” she urged.  The collapse of earth, which parish officials estimated as 0.95 acres, brings the sinkhole’s lake-like surface to nearly 10 acres. The burp and slough-in followed a period of increased seismic activity last week deep under the sinkhole and near the failed cavern that has since subsided, parish officials said.  The burp was recorded shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday, surfacing oily hydrocarbons and debris from the 140-foot-deep sinkhole, parish officials said.  Shallow tremors continue currently, state Office of Conservation experts said, probably from the sinkhole’s sides falling in and water moving in the sinkhole and below it, parish officials reported.  Conservation officials, Texas Brine officials and experts have said the sinkhole is gradually finding a stable size and shape as the damaged salt dome cavern fills with rock flowing in from outside the cavern.  Advocate writer David Mitchell contributed to this report. - The Advocate.

Latest seismographs from Bayou Corne:

See more seismographs HERE.

Jindal Visits Assumption Sinkhole Tuesday.
Gov. Jindal Arrives in Bayou Corne at 1:50pm.
Gov. Bobby Jindal will visit with Assumption Parish leaders and residents in the Bayou Corne area at 2 p.m. Tuesday about the 10-acre sinkhole there, his office said. Jindal will also fly-over the sinkhole in the swamps between Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou that has forced the evacuation of residents for more than seven months, the Governor’s Office said. The visit will be at the Bayou Corne command post, 1481 La. 70 South, Belle Rose, and will follow an 11:50 a.m. address to the South Central Industrial Association in Houma about his plan to eliminate income taxes, the Governor’s Office said in a news release. Jindal will speak with the media after talking with residents, the news release says. Jindal has drawn fire in recent months for not taking a more up front role in the sinkhole response and for not visiting with affected families. But in recent weeks, Jindal has defended his behind-the-scenes role in the response and met with parish and Texas Brine Co. LLC officials about the emergency response and buyouts for residents who want them. Scientists think a Texas Brine salt dome cavern failed and caused the sinkhole and other impacts. - The Advocate.

WATCH: Gov. Jindal - Press Conference.

EXTREME WEATHER: Winter Storm Ukko Hammers The American Southeast With Hail, Tornadoes, Thunderstorms And Damaging Winds - 264 Reports Of Severe Weather Across Seven States!

March 19, 2013 -  UNITED STATES - Winter Storm Ukko's severe side brought severe weather into the southern states, including intense thunderstorms that produced huge hailstones throughout the southern United States.  The map below shows tornado reports (in red) and high wind/wind damage reports (blue arrows). 

Two tornadoes have been confirmed so far:
  • Near McEwen, Tenn.:  "High-end" EF1 with maximum winds estimated at 105 mph was on the ground for 10.6 miles starting at 7:40 a.m. CDT.  Outbuildings and one home were damaged.  One mobile home was destroyed.
  • Southeast of Murfreesboro, Tenn.:  EF0 with maximum estimated winds of 85 mph was on the ground for 3.8 miles crossing Interstate 24.  Outbuildings were damaged. 
Damage to the Silver Creek Mini Mart shows the effects of a storm in Silver Creek, Ga., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Rome News-Tribune, Brittany Hannah)

Lightning strikes behind a bridge that crosses a pond on the Alabama Shakespeare Festival grounds in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Johnny Lucas looks for the pocketbook of his girlfriend Stacy McRae, who was inside at the time of the storm, at Silver Creek Mini Mart in Silver Creek, Ga., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Rome News-Tribune, Brittany Hannah)
In all, there were 264 reports of severe weather Monday and Monday night across seven states from southeast Arkansas and northeast Louisiana to South Carolina.  For the entire month of March prior to Monday, there had been a total of 165 severe reports, including just a single tornado.

In Mississippi, authorities reported two people were hit on the head by large hail as the enormous storm front crossed the region Monday. Fire official Tim Shanks said baseball-sized hail smashed windows in several vehicles in Clinton, where the two people were hit. He had no immediate word on their condition.

Hail to the size of softballs was reported around Jackson, Mississippi, and emergency officials in the state say there were reports of homes damaged in at least five Mississippi counties. Cars could be seen driving along the interstate with broken windows and cracked windshields.

Andrew Stamps and his wife Valorie prepare to cover their shattered rear window of her 2009 Toyota Avalon on Monday, March 18, 2013, following a hailstorm that hit communities throughout central Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Golfball-sized hail litters the ground near Andrew Stamps and his wife Valorie as they cover the shattered rear window of her 2009 Toyota Avalon in Pearl, Miss., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A front-end loader pushes the branches of a large oak tree that was blown down, blocking Montgomery Ave. across from city hall in downtown Sheffield, Alabama, Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Times Daily, Matt McKean)

In Georgia, Hartsfield-Jackson airport officials issued a groundstop as severe storms barreled into the nation's busiest international airline hub. Fulton County Emergency officials cited several reports of golf ball sized hail at the airport. Delta Flight 2133 was rerouted back to Charlotte, N.C., due to unsafe weather conditions in Atlanta.

Georgia Power officials said 73,000 customers were without power Monday night, and of that number, 31,000 were in northwest Georgia.

Lightning steaks across the sky behind the Young Meadows Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

David McCullars, wife Kay and son David Jr. survey the damage to their RV shed destroyed by high winds on Ridgetop Lane in Clay, Ala., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Joe Songer)

A house is damaged after a large tree fell across it during a brief, severe thunderstorm in Center Point, Ala., Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/AL.com, Mark Almond)

Jacksonville State University workers and volunteers help clean up debris from the parking lot of Campus Inn Apartments on the JSU campus in Jacksonville, Alabama Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Trent Penny-The Anniston Star)

In Alabama, winds were clocked at 80 mph in some areas. Eight people in the Gadsden area and five others in the county were hospitalized Monday night. A roof was ripped from a school in Collinsville, about 15 miles southwest of Fort Payne. More than 200,000 customers in Alabama were without power due to the storms.

Etowah County, Ala. officials said a person had to be removed from a house in Rainbow City after a tree fell onto it. Nearly two dozen trees had toppled onto Alabama Highway 77.

In Tennessee, heavy rain helped firefighters contain a wildfire that burned nearly 60 rental cabins in a resort area outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. - The Weather Channel.

WATCH: iWitness - Large Hail in Mississippi.

WATCH: Tracking Winter Storm Ukko.