Tuesday, February 18, 2014

THIRD SINO-JAPANESE WAR: Precursors To An Imminent China-Japan Military Conflict - Japan Prepares For War With China By Seriously Bolstering Its Defense, While Secretly Developing Nuclear Weapons; As Evidence Show Chinese And Japanese Economies Are Delinking?!

February 18, 2014 - CHINA/JAPAN - Japan is now considering future weapon transfers to other Asian countries as it builds alliances for a potential war with China.

Japan Prepares For War With China

Earlier today in Okinawa, Japanese officials met with representatives from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to expand technological and defensive cooperation between the countries.

Although Japan and ASEAN discussed joint cooperation in response to natural disasters and anti-terrorism, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Minister of Defense revealed that the true intent of the meeting was to bolster defense against China’s “unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force.”

As part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to “deepen and enhance cooperation” with ASEAN, a ministry official told Kyodo News that Japan is currently looking to ease its policy on arms exports, a clear indication that the island nation is taking the threat of war with China seriously.

“China appears to be at the forefront of Abe’s defense vision, bolstering the case for Japan to strengthen ties with ASEAN,” the newspaper reported.

ASEAN consists of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Bruei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Soldiers of the Japan Ground Self-Defense
Force training in Oct. 2008.
In December, a former Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations, Sha Zukang, said that the current territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands could lead to World War III.

“If China started a war with Japan, it would be much larger than both the Sino-Japanese War and World War II,” he said to the China Times.

The dispute flared up in November when the Chinese government announced it would enforce air traffic restrictions inside a self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone which includes most of the East China Sea.

The controversial Chinese ADIZ not only overlaps the ADIZs of Japan and South Korea but also includes the Senkaku Islands, the aforementioned territory in dispute between China and Japan.

Amid these rising tensions, Japan is revising sections of its constitution which limits its military activities.

Additionally, Japan is reportedly ramping up nuclear weapons capabilities as reported earlier by Paul Joseph Watson.

China, on the other hand, plans to build four aircraft carriers in the next several years, including at least one that is nuclear powered.

The Chinese military also recently developed a more advanced ballistic missile which is capable of striking anywhere in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Want China Times.

The United States is already involved in the territory dispute and a group of defense analysts warned lawmakers in December that the U.S. should also plan for war with China.

“Chinese leaders are ambitious and they are moving toward great power status,” Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Hudson Institute, said according to DoD Buzz. “The U.S. is not taking this possibility as seriously as it should.” - Info Wars.

Japan Secretly Developing Nuclear Weapons
Image: Japan Maritime Self-Defense
Force sailors (Wikimedia Commons).
Asia Weekly, a Hong Kong-based news outlet, is reporting that Japan is secretly developing a nuclear weapons program in response to increasing hostilities with China over the East China Sea dispute.

According to the report, paraphrased by the Want China Times, “With the capability to build at least 2,000 nuclear warheads, Japan has recently demanded the United States return 300 kilograms of plutonium. A Japanese military analyst told Yazhou Zhoukan that Washington has paid close attention to the potential development of nuclear weapons in Japan.”

Asia Weekly, known as Yazhou Zhoukan, is a popular Chinese-language platform with a 20 year publishing history.

The article notes that Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Toshiba all possess expertise in the area of nuclear energy and along with 200 other small companies could all be called upon to kickstart a nuclear weapons program. Japan already has over 40 tonnes of plutonium in its possession.

Influential voices like Major General Yoshiaki Yano of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force are also calling on Tokyo to adjust its nuclear policy.

The story arrives hot on the heels of reports that China is extremely concerned about Japan’s initial resistance at handing back weapons-grade plutonium to the United States which was bought back in the 1960′s for research purposes but has the potential to be turned into 50 nuclear bombs.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that within the next six years Japan would revise its pacifist constitution, which limits its military activities to self-defense.

Tensions over China’s declaration of an air defense zone over the disputed Senkaku Islands have continued to simmer, with three Chinese ships sailing through the region on Monday in another show of aggression.

A deluge of aggressive rhetoric has emerged out of official Communist Party organs in recent months directed against the United States, including discussion about China’s ability to attack U.S. military bases in the Western Pacific, as well as a lengthy editorial which appeared in Chinese state media explaining how the Chinese military’s current reformation process was part of a move by President Xi Jinping to prepare the People’s Liberation Army for war.

Last month, Chinese state media reported that Beijing’s new hypersonic missile vehicle is primarily designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. Last year, China reportedly sunk a mock U.S. aircraft carrier utilizing the DF-21D anti-ship missile, dubbed the “carrier killer,” during a wargame which took place in the Gobi Desert. - Info Wars.

The Chinese And Japanese Economies Are Delinking: Prelude To Conflict?
Japan issued 79,000 group tourist visas to Mainland Chinese last month.  That’s on top of more than 30,000 individual visas.  The total was ten times the number issued in January 2013.

Are cashed-up Chinese the answer to the region’s worsening geopolitical tensions? Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post thinks they just might be. Yesterday, the paper issued an editorial entitled “Increase in Tourism Can Help Heal Sino-Japan Rift.”

That seems like a stretch, but East Asia could use any good news these days. China is unnerving the region as it tries, among other things, to seize neighboring territory and incorporate surrounding seas. In late November, Beijing declared its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which infringes on accepted notions of freedom of navigation and seeks to control the airspace of Japan and South Korea. Moreover, China issued rules, effective the first of this year, purporting to exercise sovereignty over international water in the South China Sea. And to top that off, Chinese General Liu Yazhou at the beginning of the year publicly urged his country to engage in armed conflict to grab territory from neighbors.

No wonder the region’s leaders are beginning to talk as if war is just around the corner. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while responding to a question in Davos in January, likened the present relationship between his country and China to that of England and Germany a hundred years ago. Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month made a pointed reference to 1938. And today is beginning to look like 1937, when war in fact erupted in Asia. Secretary of State John Kerry is now touring the region, hoping to restrain China and reassure allies and friends, but so far his mission does not look like a success.

Observers used to say that deep-seated disagreements in the region did not matter, that there could be “cold politics and hot economics.” Today, analysts are not so sure. Jitters are now accompanying—and undoubtedly contributing to—a delinking of Asia’s two largest economies, China’s and Japan’s.

In 2013, trade volume between China and Japan dropped 5.1% from the year before. That followed a 3.9% fall in 2012. To put these figures into context, China’s total trade was up 6.2% in 2012 and 7.6% last year while Japan’s volume increased 1.0% in 2012 but was down 7.8% in 2013.

Japanese sources attributed the drop in China-Japan trade to “the lingering effects of the Senkaku Islands territorial row”—Japan administers those barren outcroppings as its own while Beijing claims them as well—and a Chinese consumer boycott of Japanese goods. Chinese state media agrees that trade has been adversely affected by geopolitical disagreements and blames Shinzo Abe. Anti-Japan riots in Chinese cities, discriminatory official treatment of Japanese multinationals, and detention of Japanese businessmen in China have not helped.

Not surprisingly, investment between China and Japan has also taken a hit. Japanese direct investment in China dropped 4.3% last year even though overall foreign direct investment in China increased 5.3%. At the same time, China’s direct investment in Japan fell 23.5% at a time when its overall outbound investment jumped 16.8%.

The poor numbers for 2013 contrast with strong investment flows in 2012 and are largely the result of deteriorating relations. Said Song Zhiyong of China’s Commerce Ministry, “The Chinese government attached great importance to the islands dispute and Chinese companies are concerned about the pressure and operational risks before investing in Japan.”

Song’s explanation for the falloff in Chinese investment in Japan is probably correct. The reason for the decline in Japanese investment in China is surely a bit more complex. Undoubtedly, rising Chinese wages—well in excess of productivity—have persuaded Japan’s labor-intensive businesses to invest in Southeast Asia instead.

That said, however, non-business risk is now a big factor. “Political tension was the major reason for the slide in Japan’s investment in China last year,” said Yao Haitian of the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Yao predicts relations between the two countries will get worse this year.

So far, Yao’s prediction looks spot on. In addition to everything else, CNOOC Ltd., a Chinese state-run company, is on the verge of accelerating drilling in the East China Sea for gas with the development of seven new fields. Some of those fields are close to deposits claimed by Japan, and this will almost certainly exacerbate a decade-old maritime dispute between the two nations.

General factors will also tend to accelerate delinkage. Beijing is still trying to undermine the business prospects of multinationals with its discriminatory price investigations, and Chinese officials will probably intensify their attempts to use economic leverage to obtain geopolitical goals, thereby aggravating the situation. Stricter Chinese enforcement of labor and environmental laws will also have an effect on investment decisions made back in Japan. Perhaps most important, a quickly slowing economy makes China far less attractive, especially in relation to nearby markets.

For China-Japan trade and investment to increase this year, these long-term trends would have to reverse right away. That’s not likely. Of course, the increase in Chinese tourism in Japan helps alleviate matters, but in the scheme of things it is not that big a factor. As a practical matter, 2011 looks like it was the high-water mark of Chinese-Japanese economic integration.

Why does the weakening of economic linkages matter? As Samuel Huntington noted in his landmark The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, “high levels of economic interdependence” can be “war-inducing” instead of “peace-inducing” if “states do not expect high levels of interdependence to continue.”

As the famous political scientist suggested, it is the trend of interaction—and not the level—that matters. When economies are pulling apart, nations perceive they have less interest in others’ success. History, unfortunately, tells us what can then happen. - Forbes.

PROTESTS & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Violent Clashes Continue In Bangkok - Four Dead In Thailand Protests, PM Faces Corruption Charges! [PHOTOS+VIDEO]

February 18, 2014 - THAILAND - The Thai police’s attempt to dismantle protest camps in Bangkok has ended in violent clashes, four deaths, and over 60 people injured. Simultaneously, an anti-corruption body filed charges against the Prime Minister, which may prompt impeachment.

Thai policemen aim their weapons towards anti-government protesters during clashes near Government
House in Bangkok February 18, 2014.(Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha )

The violent stand-off between protesters and police in Bangkok was sparked on Tuesday by an operation called the "Peace for Bangkok Mission", during which 15,000 officers tried to clear protest sites around government offices in the capital.

Erawan Medical Center, which monitors city hospitals, said, according to AP, that three civilians and a police officer died, and 64 others were injured in the clashes, including a journalist working for Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.

Earlier in the day, the police managed to clear a protest site peacefully near the Energy Ministry, having detained 144 protesters. Violence erupted when security officers made an attempt to do the same near the prime minister's offices.

Shots were fired by both protesters and police, according to witnesses. Law enforcers were eventually obliged to beat a retreat from the protest camp.

Television footage and photos show clouds of tear gas above the site of the clashes. Police have denied it teargased protesters.

 "I can guarantee that tear gas was not used by security forces. The forces did not take tear gas with them," National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters. "Protesters are the ones who threw tear gas at the security forces."

According to Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, unidentified armed forces within the protest camp fired a military grade M-79 grenade launcher.

Policemen charge against anti-government protesters at one of their barricades near the Government
House in Bangkok February 18, 2014. (Reuters / Damir Sagolj)

“This contradicts the pledges from [PDRC chief] Suthep [Thaugsuban] and other protest leaders that resistance to the government will be peaceful and unarmed,” he said, as cited by Time. “Each time there was major confrontation, we see armed groups that operate in tandem with protesters.”

Tuesday's casualties bring to 15 the number of those killed in the sporadic Thai clashes, which were sparked when protests demanding Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s resignation started three months ago.

Anti-government protesters have accused Yingluck of being the proxy of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, an exiled tycoon and the country’s former prime minister ousted after a 2006 coup. Both sister and brother have been blamed for subverting democracy, with populist policies that buy them the support of poorer rural voters.

 One such policy is the rice subsidy scheme introduced in 2011, according to which the government agreed to pay farmers higher than the market price for their grain.

On Tuesday, Thailand’s Anti-Corruption Commission filed charges against the PM for mishandling the subsidies program.

An anti-government protester pushes a line of policemen during clashes near the Government
House in Bangkok February18, 2014.(Reuters / Damir Sagolj)

Thai police officers react after an explosion during clashes with anti-government protesters near Government
House in Bangkok February 18, 2014.(Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha )

“Although she knew that many people had warned about corruption in the scheme, she still continued with it. That shows her intention to cause losses to the government, so we have unanimously agreed to charge her,” Vicha Mahakhun, a member of the commission, said in a statement, cited by Reuters.

Yingluck has been summoned to face the charges on February 27. The Commission has the power to submit the case to the Senate for possible impeachment. If that happens, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a Senate trial.

 Farmers have not seen any government payments for their rice for months. The banks have been reluctant to participate in the subsidy program, which has caused growing numbers of depositors to withdraw their money.

 WATCH:  Thai police and protesters exchange gunfire.

Thailand's Government Savings Bank (GSB) announced on Tuesday it was calling back a 5 billion baht ($154.94 million) loan made to a state farm bank. On Monday it said it would not to extend any further loans in support of the rice subsidies program.

Prime Minister Shinawatra lashed out at the banks for their stance.

"It is such a shame that Thai farmers' dreams of having a better quality of life have been victimized by these political games," Yingluck said, as cited by the Wall Street Journal. "I'd like to apologize to all farmers who have been held hostage by this situation."

Despite Yingluck’s promise to pay the banks back every baht lent to them, her statements failed to reassure the banks’ customers, who carried on withdrawing their deposits. - RT.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse - Following A Wave Of Banker Suicides, 3 Former Barclays Bankers Now Charged In LIBOR Scandal!

February 18, 2014 - GLOBAL ECONOMY - Three former Barclays bank employees have now been charged with “conspiracy to defraud” in the continuing LIBOR scandal, bringing the total to 13 people charged in America and the U.K. It has been reported that three ex-ICAP brokers are next on the list for helping traders manipulate interest rates.

Three former Barclays bankers have been charged “in connection with the manipulation of Libor” interest rates, the Serious Fraud Office said.
The SFO alleges the three – Peter Charles Johnson, Jonathan James Mathew and Stylianos Contogoulas – "conspired to defraud between 1 June 2005 and 31 August 2007".
They will appear at Westminster Magistrates court at a date to be confirmed. (source)
LIBOR is an interbank benchmark used to set the interest rates on trillions in loans all over the world.

The investigation into LIBOR’s deliberate manipulation began in 2008, and it has come to light that traders at various banks all over the world have benefited financially from turning in false interest rate reports since.

Thus far, Barclays and other mega banks including JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland have been forced to pay billions in regard to rigging interest rates.

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that authorities in the United States, United Kingdom and EU are currently investigating a group of traders from various banks for manipulating Euribor, the euro interbank interest rate, as well.

The news comes on the heels of a rash of banker suicides.

January, 2014
Tim Dickenson, a U.K.-based communications director at Swiss Re AG, died sometime in last month, however the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown.

January 26, 2014
William Broeksmit, 58-year-old retired Deutsche Bank senior manager with close ties to co-chief exec. Anshu Jain, was found hanging dead at his home in London. It was reported as an apparent suicide. Police quickly declared that Broeksmit’s death was not suspicious.

January. 27, 2014
51 year old Tata Motors managing director Karl Slym, was found dead on the fourth floor of the Shangri-La hotel in Bangkok on January 27th.

January 28, 2014
Two days later Gabriel Magee, 39, reportedly leapt to his death from the 33rd story of JP Morgan’s European headquarters in London sometime around 8 a.m. Magee was the bank’s VP in CIB Technology. His death was also quickly ruled “non-suspicious”. There was no indication Magee was going to kill himself at all. In fact, Magee’s girlfriend had received an email from him the night before saying he was finishing up work and would be home soon.

The London Coroner’s Office is set to hold a formal inquest into Magee’s death, but not until May 15th.

January 29, 2014
Chief Economist at Russell Investments, 50-year-old Mike Dueker, was reported missing on Jan. 29. He was found dead off the side of a highway leading to Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington. A Pierce County detective said he may have jumped over a four-foot fence and fallen some 40-to-50 feet down an embankment in another apparent suicide. Although the detective maintained Dueker was having trouble at work, a Russell spokeswoman said Dueker was in good standing.

Dueker, a prior assistant VP and research economist for the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, had worked at Russell for five years, during which time he developed a business-cycle index that forecast economic performance.

February 3, 2014
Ryan Crane, a 37-year-old JP Morgan trading exec., was found dead in his Stamford, Connecticut home. He was an executive director, a rank above vice president, in the bank’s Americas Program Trading group. Cause of death is awaiting determination via toxicology report.

February 4, 2014
57-year-old Richard Talley, former investment banker at Drexel Burnham Lambert and founder of Centennial, Colorado-based American Title Services, was found dead in his garage with eight nail gun wounds to his torso and head. They were reportedly “self-inflicted”. His company was under investigation at the time of his death.

February 17, 2014
Li Junjie, 33-year-old banker in Hong Kong jumped from the JP Morgan HQ in Hong Kong this week.

Just last month, JP Morgan Chase, America’s biggest bank, admitted wrongdoing and was fined $461 million for willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act in relation to Bernie Madoff’s multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. “When JPMorgan suspected Mr. Madoff’s fraud, it focused on its own investment exposure and saved itself approximately $250 million. If it had given the same attention to its anti-money laundering responsibilities, it could have saved itself $2 billion, and potentially saved thousands of other fraud victims untold misery and loss,” stated Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery.

JP Morgan also owns over 60% of the total notional of all US gold derivatives ($108.2 billion).

While all these instances could be entirely unrelated in any way, others are wondering if the heat intensifying in the LIBOR scandal, the hint at other major interest rate scandals, and the rash of recent banker suicides is suggesting a bigger global financial implosion to come. - Activist Post. [Edited for clarity]

PROTESTS & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Kiev On Fire - 7 Policemen Among 18 Killed In Ukraine Riots As Kiev City Center Burns! [PHOTOS+VIDEOS]

February 18, 2014 - KIEV, UKRAINE - At least 18 people have been killed in Kiev as the Ukrainian capital plunges back into chaos. Rioters have attacked police, seized buildings, torched vehicles, and burned tires. Seven policemen are among the dead, all of whom died from gunshot wounds.

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili)

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili)

At least 11 protesters died in the riots, according to local officials. “As of 11 pm local time 221 people have sought medical attention, 114 of them were hospitalized. There were 11 fatalities,” Ukraine’s Health Ministry said in a statement.

Kiev’s hospitals are unable to handle the large amount of injured people coming in from the streets, TSN reported. There is a waiting list for operation rooms. People are being carried in with various types of injuries. There have been reports of two amputations, punched out eyes, and injured extremities.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has also reported that 135 law enforcers have been taken to hospitals, and 35 are in critical condition.

WATCH:  RT's coverage of the riots in Kiev.

Another group of around 1,000 rioters attempted to storm a district police headquarters building in Kiev, using an explosive device in the process. The rioters seized two trolley buses to block the streets and a truck to ram police cordons. They also smashed an ambulance and broke into several offices in central Kiev.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Ukrainian government and opposition to show restraint and resume “sincere dialogue,” RIA Novosti quoted Ban's spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, as saying. "The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about reports received today regarding the resumption of violence and loss of life," he said.

  An emergency meeting has been scheduled for 11:00 p.m. local time between President Viktor Yanukovich and the nation's three opposition leaders to find a solution to the escalating violence, according to the Kiev Post.

Meanwhile, presidential adviser Hanna Herman told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that talks between the government and the opposition are only possible when peace is restored. “Negotiations only happen when the force methods of fighting are stopped, when the opposition takes armed people off the streets and when calm is renewed in the country,” Herman said.

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich had a telephone conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden, LB.ua cited sources as saying. It is not yet known what was discussed between the two leaders. Earlier, US and EU ambassadors were unable to reach Yanukovich.

 As the situation in Kiev intensifies, violence has been spreading to the west of the country. Hundreds of young rioters in the western city of Lvov have seized the regional administration building and are storming the Lvov Central Internal Affairs Directorate, Interfax reported.

Around 300 rioters have also surrounded the local administration building and police department in the western city of Ternopol, Unian reported. Protesters threw bricks at the police department windows and demanded that officers evacuate the building. As policemen began making their way out through the back exit, rioters continued to throw rocks and chased them down the street. There are reports that three smoke bombs and grenades were used.

 Meanwhile, the southern Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea has urged President Viktor Yanukovich to come up with “decisive action and emergency measures” to end riots and restore constitutional order.

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili)

Kiev, February 18, 2014. (Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili)

“The peaceful Crimea is extremely concerned with the latest surge of violence in central Kiev. The carnage on the capital’s streets proves that the opposition has taken manifold concessions on part of the government for a show of its weakness, and has used the amnesty law as a break before a new attempt of a forceful power grab,” Crimea’s Supreme Council said in a Tuesday statement.

According to the statement, the general mobilization – called by “extremist” groups like the Right Sector and the Svoboda Party – is nothing but the start of a civil war in Ukraine. - RT.

THE AGE OF OBAMA & CHILDHOOD'S END: Precursors To The End Of The U.S. Corporation And The Collapse Of The FAILED White Supremacy Paradigm - The United States Of Decline, America Unravels At An Increasingly Dizzying Pace!

"So far have they [the United States] strayed into wickedness in those [future] times that their destruction has been sealed by my [father]. Their great cities will burn, their crops and cattle will suffer disease and death, their children will perish from diseases never seen upon this Earth, and I reveal to you the greatest [mystery] of all as I have been allowed to see that their [the United States] destruction will come about through the vengeful hands of one of our very own sons." - Kenyan Prophet, Johanwa Owalo, the founder of Kenya’s Nomiya Luo Church, 1912.

"The U.S. Corporation, one of the fundamental tools of the White Supremacy Paradigm has not worked and will never work for the majority of Americans or the people across the globe. Behind its military and economy dominance lies a trail awash with the blood of billions, who have suffered from its immoral foreign policies and asymmetrical wars, carried out on the behest of the Vatican and European overlords. It's inevitable collapse must not only be welcomed, it should be accelerated." - Andre Heath, Editor.

February 18, 2014 -
UNITED STATES - America is unraveling at a stunning speed and to a staggering degree. This decline is breathtaking, and the prognosis is dim.

For starters, Obama now rules by decree. Reportedly for the 27th time, he has changed the rules of Obamacare singlehandedly, with neither congressional approval nor even ceremonial resolutions to limit his actions. Obama needs no such frivolities.

“That’s the good thing about being president,” Obama joked on February 10. “I can do whatever I want.” In an especially bitter irony, Obama uttered these despicable words while guiding French president Fran├žois Hollande through Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson — a key architect of America’s foundation of limited government.

That very day, Obama decreed that the Obamacare mandate for employers with 50 to 99 workers would be postponed until 2016 (beyond an earlier extension to 2015), well past the November 2014 midterm elections. This eases the pressure on Democrats, whose campaigns would suffer if voters saw their company health plans canceled due to Obamacare’s unnecessary, expensive, mandatory benefits — e.g. maternity coverage for men.

So, by fiat, Obama has postponed the employer mandate. When Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) effectively tried to do this through legislation last fall, Democrats virtually lassoed and branded him.

Also by decree last week, Obama decided unilaterally to soften political-asylum rules. Refugees and other immigrants who provide terrorists “limited material support” now can come to America. So what if someone merely clothed and fed Mohamed Atta or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? After all, garments and meals don’t blow up. Welcome to America, Mustafa!

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is working hard to revoke the asylum of and deport the Romeikes. This evangelical-Christian family was granted refuge in America to escape prosecution for homeschooling their children, which German law forbids.

So, Obama believes, those who are only somewhat helpful to deadly, anti-U.S. terrorists may become Americans, while religiously oppressed homeschoolers who face prison should get the hell out.

The transparent electoral motive that fuels so many of Obama’s executive orders seems unprecedented. The tone is also brand new. Obama’s predecessors have signed executive orders and, more or less, left it at that. But Obama pounds his chest as he does so. As he told Congress at last month’s State of the Union address: “America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

While appalled Republicans sat on their hands, Democrats stood up and shouted like equatorial, rubber-stamp parliamentarians: “Hooray! We are irrelevant!”


Meanwhile, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Marc Thiessen wrote in the February 10 Washington Post, new Congressional Budget Office figures show that Obamacare will reduce U.S. incomes by $70 billion annually between 2017 and 2024. The CBO also estimated that by 2021, Obamacare’s disincentives to hire and incentives not to work would slash labor hours by the equivalent of 2.3 million jobs.

Rather than dispute these figures, key Democrats embraced them.

“We want people to have the freedom to be a writer, to be a photographer, to make music, to paint,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She added that “people would no longer be job-locked by their [health] policies, but have the freedom to follow their passion.”

So, rather than expand economic growth and jobs, Democrats applaud as Americans stop working — to do watercolors, draft poetry, and take naps — while exhausted taxpayers foot the bill.

Clearly unafraid of Obama, Iranian warships for the first time are steaming toward America’s Atlantic maritime borders. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps navy commander Ali Fadayi said, “The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk with 5,000 crews and forces in combat against Iran and how they should find its hulk in the depths of the sea.” Tehran last week also aired fantasy videos of drones blasting a U.S. warship and bombing Tel Aviv. This is how Iran behaves while it negotiates with U.S. diplomats over “peaceful” uranium enrichment?

Nearby, embattled Syrians flee the city of Homs while they and their United Nations protectors dodge incoming mortar shells. This sorry spectacle has exposed Obama’s Syrian policy as a miserable flop. So does the fact that Syrian president Bashar Assad has handed over only 4 percent of the chemical weapons that his deal last September with Obama and Vladimir Putin was supposed to neutralize. According to GOP senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Secretary of State John Kerry privately conceded to them that Obama’s approach in Syria has failed.

America liberated Afghanistan from a regime that hosted al-Qaeda, banned kites and recorded music, and built a bridge to the seventh century. And what thanks does the U.S. get? Over American objections, Afghan president Hamid Karzai last week released 65 Taliban warriors from Bagram prison, where they were being held on suspicion of killing American troops, murdering Afghan civilians, deploying roadside bombs, and otherwise perpetrating mayhem. When U.S. officials complained that these killers could return to the fight — as have other Taliban thugs, once freed — Karzai exploded: “If the Afghan judicial authorities decide to release a prisoner, it is of no concern to the U.S. I hope that the U.S. will stop harassing Afghanistan’s procedures and judicial authority, and I hope the U.S. will now begin to respect Afghan sovereignty.”

For these and many other reasons, Democrats are fleeing Obama.

“I don’t care to have him campaign for me,” said Senator Mark Begich (D., Alaska).

A reelection ad for Representative Joe Garcia (D., Fla.) boasts that “he voted to let you keep your existing health plan, and he took the White House to task for the disastrous healthcare website.”

“He [Obama] is hurting the Democratic brand right now,” veteran Democratic campaign strategist Joe Trippi told Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly on February 12. “The Obamacare snafus, his approval rating is declining, and his credibility problems all drag the Democratic brand down.”

Rather than resist an increasingly weak — yet ever more assertive — Obama, GOP congressional leaders hand him whatever he wants. Thus, House speaker John Boehner and Senate GOP chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pushed through a $1.012 trillion budget with, at best, minuscule and illusory spending cuts. A $956 billion farm bill includes $3 million to promote Christmas trees (who on Earth would buy them without federal assistance?), $100 million for maple-syrup market research, and $170 million for catfish protectionism. Boehner and McConnell sent Obama this gift-wrapped monstrosity, which was $56 billion higher than Obamacare’s original price tag. And in exchange, Obama gave them . . . zippo!

On February 12, Boehner and McConnell helped send Obama a measure to suspend the debt limit until March 15, 2015. (The debt ceiling was not raised from $17.2 trillion to a higher level; it simply was removed. The gas pedal remains in Obama’s Little Red Cor-debt, but the brakes are gone.) This passed the GOP House with Boehner and only 27 Republicans voting yes. The other 194 votes were from Democrats. When McConnell surrendered on cloture, 11 other Republican senators helped Democrats advance their dirty work. The debt ceiling is now a debt sunroof.

And what did Washington’s top two Republicans get for giving Obama 13 months to shop till America drops? Nothing! No repeal of Obamacare’s $47 billion bailout of health insurers. No approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. No termination of the cure-killing medical-device tax. No votes on these matters, which would have forced Democrats to choose. This could have helped Republican candidates in November.

Steely resolve could stymie the unpopular and untrustworthy Obama. Sadly, Boehner, McConnell, and other GOP leaders are as firm as foil.

Happy Valentine’s Day! The Senate Conservatives Fund has broken up with House Speaker John Boehner.

“Republicans are giving up because they know that winning is impossible when their leaders are determined to lose,” the Senate Conservatives Fund stated. “These leaders have telegraphed weakness to the Democrats and sabotaged conservative efforts so many times that Republicans now have no leverage.” The group concluded: “John Boehner must be replaced as Speaker of the House. . . . Unless we install a new leader who will actually go on offense, Democrats will never fear us and we will never have any leverage.”

Also, Earth’s sole superpower is sagging where it should be No. 1. America has slouched to No. 12 on the 2014 Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom.

“Now considered only a ‘mostly free’ economy, the U.S. has earned the dubious distinction of having recorded one of the longest sustained declines in economic freedom, second only to Argentina, of any country in the [20-year] history of the Index,” the report states. “The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years.”

Regarding graft, America has stayed stable in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Unfortunately, and as recently as 2013, the U.S. has remained Earth’s 19th most honest country.

Thanks, in part, to Team Obama’s surveillance of journalists from Fox News Channel and the Associated Press, America tumbled 13 spots down Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The U.S. dropped this year from No. 33 to No. 46. Hence, 45 nations now have freer journalists than does America. RWB calls America “satisfactory” rather than the top-rated “good.” As the report states: “Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will also be the year of the Associated Press scandal, which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledged that it had seized the news agency’s phone records.”

America is a total mess.

The Land of the Free is governed by an out-of-control egomaniac, neither bolstered by managerial competence nor hindered by the legislature’s institutional prerogatives. In the Home of the Brave, half of Congress cheers Obama’s unconstitutional behavior, while the other half grumbles and then meekly carpet-bombs his path with white flags.

The American people have been betrayed — both by Obama and the Democrats, whose lust for control intensifies daily, and by Republican leaders in Washington, whose cowardice and defeatism have turned their guts and spines into tapioca.

America, as Paul Simon sings, is slip-slidin’ away. And the worst part hasn’t happened yet. - National Review.

"Us living as we do upside-down And the new word to have is revolution People don't even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel Because God's whole card has been thoroughly piqued And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey The youngsters who were programmed To continue fucking up woke up one night Digging Paul Revere and Nat Turner as the good guys America stripped for bed and we had not all yet closed our eyes The signs of truth were tattooed across our often entered vagina We learned to our amazement, the untold tale of scandal Two long centuries buried in the musty vault Hosed down daily with a gagging perfume America was a bastard The illegitimate daughter of the mother country Whose legs were then spread around the world And a rapist known as freedom, free-DOOM Democracy, liberty, and justice were revolutionary code names That preceded, the bubblin' bubblin' bubblin' bubblin' bubblin' In the mother country's crotch What does Webster say about soul? "All I want is a good home and a wife And a children, and some food to feed them every night" After all is said and done, build a new route to China if they'll have you WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA? WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA? WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA? WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA?" - Kanye West Featuring Gil Scott-Heron, "Who Will Survive In America."

SOLAR WATCH: Sun Erupts With A Most Massive Magnetic Filament - Partial Earth-Directed Coronal Mass Ejection; Type II Radio Outburst Detected!

February 18, 2014 - SUN - On February 17th at approximately 04:50 UT, a magnetic filament erupted from the sun's western limb. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this high-resolution image of the blast:

A majority of the plasma appears to be directed to the south and east, however there does appear to be a weaker Earth-directed component. Because of its location on the sun's western limb, the eruption did not send the CME toward Earth. However, there was an effect on our planet: Shortwave radio loudspeakers roared with static, an event called a Type II radio burst.

WATCH:  Filament Eruption - February 17, 2014.

Here's how it works: The explosion sent shock waves rippling through the sun's atmosphere. Those shock waves, in turn, triggered plasma instabilities in the solar corona that emit strong radio emissions. The static-y "roar" of the explosion was picked up by solar observatories and ham radio stations across the dayside of our planet. Based on the sweep of radio frequencies from 20 MHz to 500 MHz, analysts estimate a shock velocity of 776 km/s or 1.7 million mph. That may sound fast, but it is typical for this type of eruption.

The WSA-Enlil Solar Wind Prediction model released by NOAA/SPW.

The WSA-Enlil Solar Wind Prediction model released by NOAA/SPWC has been updated to include the asymmetric full halo CME observed Monday night following the southern hemisphere filament eruption. An impact to our geomagnetic field is expected very early on February 21st UTC time. An increase in geomagnetic activity will be possible at high latitudes.

Below is an updated look at the visible solar disk on Tuesday. Solar activity is currently at low levels. The largest X-Ray event during the past 24 hours was a minor C4.7 flare around sunspot 1976 at 01:33 UTC. Sunspot 1974, previously an active flare threat, is now rotating onto the west limb and will soon be out of direct Earth view. In the southeast quadrant, new sunspots 1981, 1982 and 1983 each appear to be in a growth phase as they continue to rotate into a more direct Earth view.

Earth-facing sunspot AR1977 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares.
Credit: SDO/HMI

All other visible regions are stable this morning. A potential new active region will begin to rotate into view off the northeast limb within the next 24 hours. There will continue to be a chance for an isolated M-Class event. 

SOURCES: Space Weather | Solar Ham.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse - Investment Banker Jumps To Death From JP Morgan's Headquarters In Hong Kong As The Strange Case Of Banking Suicides Continue!

February 18, 2014 - HONG KONG - An investment banker on Tuesday jumped to his death from the roof of Chater House in Central, where Wall Street bank JP Morgan has its Asia headquarters, several witnesses told the South China Morning Post.

The man stands on the roof of Chater House in Central as police try to talk him down. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Witnesses said the man initially went to the roof of Chater House, a 30-floor building in the heart of Hong Kong’s central business district – and later jumped. The incident happened between 2pm and 3pm, one witness said.

Several policemen were seen on the roof but apparently failed to convince the man not to jump, one of the witnesses said. Police later confirmed to the Post that a 33-year-old man – surnamed Li – was found in a dangerous position on the roof of Chater House on Connaught Road Central at 2.08pm local time. Li threw himself off the building before the city’s emergency crew arrived.

The man landed on the four-lane western-bound carriageway outside the building. A police spokeswoman said Li was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital, where he was declared dead at 2.31pm. Police are investigating the case.

According to several JP Morgan employees, the man was a junior-level investment banker who played a supporting role on various projects.

A Hong Kong-based JP Morgan spokeswoman said the bank was aware of the incident but it could not confirm at this stage whether the deceased was an employee of the bank. The bank is working with other parties including the police and the property manager of Chater House to follow up on the case, she added.

“There were lots of police, ambulance cars and even some firefighters at the scene, right in front of Chater House,” said one witness, a security guard at Jardine House, an office building opposite Chater House in Central.

Police warn pedestrians near Chater House in Central. Photo: SCMP Pictures

“Connaught Road Central was blocked for nearly two hours in the afternoon,” he added.

Another witness working for a financial firm in Jardine House said he and his colleagues were having coffee at a nearby Starbucks when the suicide happened. They heard a heavy sound suddenly from the ground and later realised it was a man who jumped to his death.

“We thought it might have been a car tyre [exploding]. It’s sad to know it is a suicide case,” he said.

The incident apparently had some internal impact on JP Morgan’s business activities in Hong Kong – at least one business meeting was cancelled immediately after the suicide happened. 

Medics rush to the scene.  Photo: SCMP Pictures

According to one manager working for a British bank in Hong Kong, his team were originally scheduled for a meeting with JP Morgan at 3pm but it was suddenly cancelled without explanation.

JP Morgan takes up 10 floors, from the 20th to 29th, of Chater House, one of the financial district’s landmark high-rises. It is the main regional head office location for the bank, which also houses its staff in Hong Kong in several other buildings across the city. Chater House also carries the logo of JP Morgan on the top corner of the building. - SCMP.

ICE AGE NOW: Second Snow Storm In One Week In Japan - Death Toll Rises To 23; Thousands Stranded!

February 18, 2014 - JAPAN - Snow-choked roads cut off thousands on Tuesday as parts of Japan struggled to dig out from its second storm in a week, with the death toll rising to at least 23.

A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force excavator removes snow covering a bridge at Hinohara village, west of Tokyo,
in this handout picture taken and released on February 17, 2014 by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
Credit: Reuters/the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force/Handout via Reuters

Train services were suspended in some areas after the Valentine's Day storm dumped more than a meter of snow in parts of central Japan and blanketed the capital with record snow for the second weekend in a row, snarling airline traffic and slowing production at some Japanese automakers.

The freak storm dumped more than 1.1 meters of snow in Yamanashi prefecture in central Japan, the most in more than a century of record-keeping, and lesser amounts across a wide swathe of the eastern and northeastern parts of the nation. Tokyo was hit by 27 cm (10.6 inches).

By Tuesday, least 23 people had died, including some killed in traffic accidents or by being caught under snow that fell from roofs. Several died in cars stuck in the snow, apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning as they ran their car engines to keep warm.

Temperatures below average for much of Japan.

At the peak of the storm, thousands of households lost power and hundreds of flights were canceled. Train services were disrupted and highways closed, with some of the nation's main arteries jammed with cars, some for days.

Toyota Motor Corp resumed operations at three plants in central Japan on Tuesday after suspending them a day earlier due to disruption in the supply of parts, but the outlook was unclear for another Toyota plant. Other carmakers suffered similar disruptions.

In neighboring South Korea, ten people attending a party for new university students were killed on Monday in southern Gyeongju when a building at a mountain resort collapsed under the weight of snow. - Reuters.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Heavy Snow Cause Massive Building Collapse In South Korea - At Least 10 Killed; Hundreds Injured! [PHOTOS + VIDEO]

February 18, 2014 - SOUTH KOREA - A roof collapsed at a resort retreat for college freshmen in South Korea Monday, killing 10 people and injuring more than 100, South Korea's National Emergency Management Association said.

Rescue workers search for survivors after a building collapsed in Gyeongju, South Korea, on Monday, February 17.

Two of those hurt suffered heavy injuries but their lives are not in danger, officials said.

For hours, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that people were trapped as rescuers rushed to the resort building in the southern city of Gyeongju.

Emergency officials said Tuesday that they believed everyone had been accounted for, but wouldn't know for sure until the building is dismantled.

Fire officials told Yonhap they had struggled to reach the mountainous area where the resort is located because it was snowing Monday night.

A woman trapped in the rubble waits to be rescued. More than 560 first-year college students were in the building for a welcoming party, reported South Korea's semiofficial Yonhap news agency.

Though the cause of the collapse wasn't immediately determined,
authorities said heavy snow was on the building's roof.

Rescue workers carry a victim from the collapsed building.

Rescue efforts are under way to find dozens of people who are still trapped.

More than 560 first-year college students were in the building for a freshmen welcoming party when the collapse happened at 9:11 p.m. Monday, Yonhap reported.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed "deep condolences" to the victims families.

"My heart is aching and it is very sad," she said in a statement, calling for "a thorough investigation" into the cause of a the collapse

WATCH: Deaths, dozens trapped in ceiling collapse in South Korea.

Authorities said heavy snow was on the building's roof, but the cause of the collapse wasn't immediately determined, according to Yonhap.

The students attend Busan University of Foreign Affairs, about 80 kilometers south of where the party took place, Yonhap reported.

Gyeongju is about 300 kilometers south of the country's capital, Seoul. - CNN.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: "This Is Bizarre" - Mysterious Cluster of Severe Birth Defects Haunts Health Experts In Washington State?!

February 18, 2014 - WASHINGTON STATE, UNITED STATES - A mysterious cluster of severe birth defects in rural Washington state is confounding health experts, who say they can find no cause, even as reports of new cases continue to climb.

James Cheng / for NBC News

Federal and state officials won’t say how many women in a three-county area near Yakima, Wash., have had babies with anencephaly, a heart-breaking condition in which they’re born missing parts of the brain or skull. And they admit they haven't interviewed any of the women in question, or told the mothers there's a potentially widespread problem.

But as of January 2013, officials with the Washington state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had counted nearly two dozen cases in three years, a rate four times the national average.

Since then, one local genetic counselor, Susie Ball of the Central Washington Genetics Program at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, says she has reported “eight or nine” additional cases of anencephaly and spina bifida, another birth defect in which the neural tube, which forms the brain and spine, fails to close properly.

“It does strike me as a lot,” says Ball.

And at least one Yakima mother whose baby is part of the cluster says no one told her there was a problem at all.

“I had no idea,” said Andrea Jackman, 30, whose blue-eyed daughter, Olivia, was born in September with the most severe form of spina bifida. “I honestly was really surprised that nobody had said anything. If my doctor hadn’t wanted us to see the geneticist, I wouldn’t have known.”

Andrea Jackman comforts her 4-month-old daughter, Olivia, after her MRI scan at Seattle Children's Hospital.
James Cheng / for NBC News

There’s no secret, state and CDC officials said, and they noted that small clusters of birth defects often turn out to be nothing more than sad coincidence.

The agencies released a report last summer detailing an investigation of 27 women with pregnancies that resulted in neural tube defects in Yakima, Franklin and Benton counties between 2010 and 2013. That included 23 cases of anencephaly, a rate of 8.4 per 10,000 live births, far higher than the national rate of 2.1 cases per 10,000. There were three cases of spina bifida and one with encephalocele, a sac-like protrusion of the brain through the front or back of the skull.

They publicly posted the results of the investigation in press releases and on state and federal websites. Those were picked up in news stories, including one in the local newspaper, the Yakima Herald-Republic. "State says no cause found for birth defect in Yakima County," the July headline read.

But it's not clear whether affected women saw those stories, and there was no effort to reach out to individual families, said Mandy Stahre, the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer based in Washington state, who led the inquiry. “There were very few of us that could spend time doing this investigation,” Stahre said. “I’m not sure the women knew they were part of a cluster.”

Health officials originally were alerted to the problem by a nurse, Sara Barron, 58, who was in charge of infection control and quality assurance at Prosser Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed medical center in the farm town set on the Yakima River. A 30-year nursing veteran, she’d seen perhaps one or two devastating cases of anencephaly in her wide-ranging career.

“And now I was sitting at Prosser, with 30 deliveries a month and there’s two cases in a six-month period,” Barron said. “Then, I was talking to another doctor about it and she has a third one coming. My teeth dropped. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’”

At a regional medical meeting, there were more anecdotal reports. So Barron notified state health officials, who started looking into the problem.

“This is bizarre,” Barron said. “This is a very, very small area.”

Four-month-old Olivia Jackman of Ellensberg, Wash., waits for her MRI exam at Seattle Children's Hospital
in Seattle, WA. Olivia has spina bifida. James Cheng / for NBC News

Investigators pored over medical records of the 27 area women with affected pregnancies and 108 matched controls who received care at the same 13 prenatal clinics, Stahre said. They examined where the women worked, what diseases they had, whether they smoked or drank alcohol, what kind of medications they took and other factors. They looked at where they lived and whether they got their water from a public source or a private well. They looked at race and whether the problem was more pronounced in the area's migrant farm workers or in other residents.

In the end, there was nothing — “no common exposures, conditions or causes,” state officials said — to explain the spike.

“No statistically significant differences were identified between cases and controls, and a clear cause of the elevated prevalence of anencephaly was not determined,” the CDC wrote.

The results were disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, said Jim Kucik, a health scientist with the CDC’s Birth Defects Surveillance Team who reviewed the results. There’s not usually one single factor that causes such birth defects and it can take an examination of a much larger population to find when something’s wrong.

“This cluster is fairly small in size. It makes it challenging to find that smoking gun,” he said.

A group of birth defects can appear to be related, when it’s actually just coincidence, Kucik added. “I think that there is a lot of frustration when dealing with these type of cluster investigations because they end up without a lot of answers,” he added.

Adding to the problem is that investigations take time and personnel. Stahre and her crew relied only on medical records for their study because there weren’t resources for a full “boots-on-the-ground” effort, Kucik explained.

“We certainly don’t shrug off any indication of high rates of birth defects,” he said.

But that doesn’t help Andrea Jackman, who was an assistant manager at a Yakima Blockbuster Video store when she discovered she was pregnant — and then that the baby had spina bifida.

“The doctor who did the ultrasound said she’d be in a wheelchair the rest of her life. He pretty much told us she’d be a vegetable,” said Jackman, who now lives with Olivia at the home of her aunt and uncle in Ellensburg, Wash.

The news was devastating, and Jackman initially considered ending the pregnancy.

“Then I decided that it wasn’t my decision to make,” she said. “If she wasn’t going to live, it wasn’t going to be my decision.”

Dr. Joffre Olaya, a neurosurgeon at Seattle Children's Hospital, has been monitoring the care of Olivia Jackman. Her mother, Andrea Jackman, says the baby is doing better than anyone expected.  James Cheng / for NBC News

That choice was a good one, she said, cradling a smiling Olivia as they waited for a medical appointment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The tiny girl has survived surgery to close the gap on her back and endured multiple MRI procedures to measure the fluid inside her brain. So far, she hasn’t needed a shunt to drain fluid, and she’s meeting all typical developmental milestones.

“It was scary at first, but every time they see her, she gets better and better,” Jackman said.

Olivia's defect isn't as severe as some, but she's still considered part of the cluster of neural tube defects in the region. Jackman said that if she’d known that other area women had babies with similar birth defects, she would at least have been aware that the issue existed.

That concern is shared by experts in neural tube defects, who say health officials should look harder — and spread the word about what what they find.

“Any time you see a geographic cluster of a pretty severe birth defect, it does make you wonder if there is a common exposure contributing,” said Allison Ashley-Koch, a professor at the Duke University Medical Center for Human Genetics, whose focus is anencephaly. “If there were resources, it really would be wonderful to go back to the families to conduct more intensive interviews regarding common environmental exposures."

That's been true in high-profile clusters, including one in Texas in April 1991, in which three babies with anencephaly were born in a Brownsville hospital within 36 hours. It sparked years of surveillance and research that found that the problem could be traced in part to the lack of folic acid in the diets of the mostly Hispanic women who lived on the Texas-Mexico border. Obesity and diabetes appeared to be factors, as did exposure to fumonisins, or grain molds.

Research has shown that there are potential links between anencephaly and exposure to molds and to pesticides, Ashley-Koch said. Central Washington is a prime agricultural area that produces crops from apples and cherries to potatoes and wheat, which may require pesticides that contain nitrates.

“They may have eaten the same type of produce from a particular grower or farmer, which essentially put all those folks at risk,” she said.

A Texas A&M University Health Science Center study published last year found that mothers of babies with spina bifida were twice as likely to ingest at least 5 milligrams of nitrate daily from drinking water than control mothers of babies without major birth defects.

The study, led by Jean Brender, associate dean of research at the School of Rural Public Health, found that nitrate levels in drinking water varied widely according to the source, with average levels of 0.33 miligrams per liter in bottled water, 5.0 milligrams per liter in public water supplies and 17.5 milligrams per liter in private wells.

“I have a daughter in her childbearing years,” Brender said. “If she were on a private well, I would tell her to have her well-water tested or drink bottled water.”

Ashley-Koch, the Duke professor, acknowledged that CDC and state officials faced a tough task. It's difficult tracing back through previous pregnancies and trying to find a common cause for birth defects, particularly when not all of defects are the same. Still, she suggested that the investigation may have been a “cursory approach.”

“Without actually conducting interviews, it’s pretty difficult to discern what potential exposures may or may not have occurred,” she said.

Sara Barron, the nurse who discovered the problem, thinks that health officials could — and should — do more.

“I definitely believe something is going on,” she said. “There was something. Maybe it just hit once and blew through, God willing. If there are still cases going on, we need to know.”

CDC and state officials refused to tell NBC News how many new cases they’d received in 2013, saying they plan a full report later this spring. Stahre had previously said they’d received “a few more cases” after the original investigation.

Susie Ball, the genetic counselor who has reported additional cases, said she's "not convinced — yet" that there's a problem in the area and that it may take more time to tell. She wouldn't want to scare people, she said. Still, she said the situation should be more widely publicized to let local women of child-bearing age know the risk — and to help them take action to prevent birth defects.

“Make sure that everyone who could become pregnant knows they should be taking folic acid,” Ball said, referring to the B vitamin that can help prevent spina bifida. “Look at this unexplained spike here in the valley. Take your folic acid.”

It’s the lack of information that still haunts Andrea Jackman, who said she lived near a pesticide-laden apple orchard and drank well water in the couple years before her surprise pregnancy.

“There’s got to be something. I mean, something causes it,” she said. “Every mother wants their child to be perfect. If you could find a way to stop this from happening, why wouldn’t you want to do that? Why would you not want to tell people?” - NBC News.

ICE AGE NOW: Whiteout - Fast-Moving Snow Storm Moves Across U.S. Northeast; Creates Near-Zero Visibility Conditions In Chicago; Excessive Flight Delays And Cancellation; Power Outages Reported! [PHOTOS+MAPS]

February 18, 2014 - UNITED STATES -  After blasting the Midwest and Great Lakes on Monday and Monday night, a storm will bring heavy snow to parts of the Northeast on Tuesday.

Delays are likely during the morning commute along the I-95 corridor from Philadelphia to New York City as snow accumulates on the roads. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled or delayed across the Northeast.

"Even though the storm is forecast to move quickly, it will bring a moderate amount of snow or wintry mix to many communities in the Northeast," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, "In most cases, the storm will last six hours or less, but a few locations can receive just as many inches of snow."

During the afternoon hours on Monday, Chicago, was slammed with blinding snow and snowfall rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour. Chicago received 5 inches of snow from the storm, raising their seasonal total to 67.9 inches. For the city, this season now ranks as the fifth snowiest on record.

An onslaught of winter storms has buried much of the Northeast over the past few weeks. While this upcoming storm is not expected to be an historic event, it can snarl travel, resulting in more flight delays in a winter already full of them.

This table appears courtesy of the National Weather Service Eastern Region Headquarters.

"The storm has had a history of thunder and lightning with the snow, sleet and freezing rain in Illinois and part of Indiana, which is the sign of a vigorous system and the potential for brief bursts of snow farther to the east into Tuesday," Sosnowski said.

The Northeast will feel the impacts of the storm on Tuesday. Shovels and plows will be needed again in many areas. Some locations from Pennsylvania to New England could experience snowfall rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour for a brief time.

Interstates 76, 80, 81, 90, 95 and 99 will turn slick for a time on Tuesday.

Flight delays and cancellations are anticipated for many major hubs, including Philadelphia, Boston and the three major airports around New York City.

The snow could once again force administrators to delay or cancel school, adding to the growing list of school cancellations this winter.

Excessive flight delays listed for Des Moines, Minneapolis/St. Paul, O'Hare and Lambert-St. Louis.
More than 12,000 power outages reported by Ameren Illinois alone. LIVE UPDATES

The risk of roofs collapsing will increase with each snowfall event, where not enough prior melting has reduced the amount of snow. For example, as of Monday morning, Feb. 17, 2014, much of Pennsylvania has between 1 and 2 feet of snow on the ground and on roofs.

"In some cases, upcoming melting can add to the risk of roof failure in the short term," Sosnowski said, "Lingering snow can block the drainage system on flat roofs, leading to uneven weight distribution when melting occurs or when rain falls into the snow."

Most gable roofs can sustain a significant amount of snow and allow the water to settle toward the edges.

However, a buildup of ice in the gutters can force water beneath the shingles along the edges.

Traffic camera in Cleveland, Ohio shows I-71 at I-90/I-490 is partially snow covered.

Near-zero visibility in Chicago, as heavy snow creates whiteout conditions in the area.
(Photo/David Jakubiak)

Ice builds up on a window in Monticello, Ill. (Photo/Gigi Swanson)

Slippery sidewalks will remain a concern as the snow falls, and with cold nights and milder days in the wake of the snow, icy patches will develop. The new snow can hide patches of ice beneath.

For those in search of warmth, a brief break from the snow and cold is in store for the middle and end of the week.

A storm developing over the Central states late in the week may bring severe weather and flooding problems to some communities. - AccuWeather.