Thursday, March 20, 2014

ICE AGE NOW: Happy Spring - More Cold and Snow In The Offing For U.S. Midwest, East Next Week!

March 20, 2014 - UNITED STATES - Despite the change in seasons, more cold air and potential snow are in the offing next week for parts of the Midwest and East.

The recurring cold weather is likely to persist into the first part of April and will cause difficulties for collegiate and high school baseball games, soccer, golf, lacrosse, track and field and other outdoor sporting activities.

Cold air is again building up over the Arctic and is forecast to push southeastward across the Canada Prairies late this week. The new surge of cold air will enter the Upper Midwest early this weekend and is projected to reach the interior South and East Coast by early next week.

A second push of cold air will push southeastward during the middle part of next week.

According to Long Range Weather Expert Mark Paquette, "It is almost unthinkable, but it appears that a flow of air straight from the Arctic will develop again."

Temperatures may struggle to reach 32 F on one or more days from parts of the central Plains to the Midwest and Northeast. Highs may be in the 20s F over the northern tier states from Montana to Maine.

At their peak, temperature departures may be 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below average in some cases.

In between the two pushes of cold air, an area of disturbed weather along an advancing front could slowly organize into a significant storm system Tuesday into Wednesday.

"It is too early to say for sure if everything will come together to make a large snowstorm and exactly where that will be," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "But, if you go by pattern repetition this winter, the odds favor a significant snowfall for part of Atlantic Seaboard during the middle of next week."

At this early stage snow could fall anywhere from North Carolina to Maine with the storm. Details will follow.

There will be other factors to consider along with the track and strength of the storm, such as the extent that snow melts as it falls due to the March sun effect during the daylight hours.

"While Major League Baseball may catch a break from the cold for opening day games in Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York City, Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati on March 31, the overall chilly weather pattern is likely to persist through the first week of April," Paquette said.

Recall that last season similar cold and snowy weather early on forced multiple games to be postponed. The New York Mets had back-to-back games snowed out on April 14 and 15, 2013, one in Minnesota and the other in Denver.

Given the expected weather pattern for the start of this year's regular season, there is a chance of snow for a couple early-season games.

The pattern for the end of March into the first few days of April 2014 will not be as cold, relatively speaking, compared to the past couple of months. However, the weather may only be warm for couple of days here and there from the northern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast.

The back-and-forth pattern may not break up until the second week of April, when temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast will swing to near to above normal during the majority of the time.

- AccuWeather.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: United States Heading For A Total Financial Collapse, Systemic Failure And Apocalyptic Demise - Federal Reserve Stress Test Sees $501 BILLION In Losses At Biggest Banks; Numerous Warnings Of A Black-Swan Crisis With A 99.9% Risk Of A 2014 Financial Crash; And British Think Tank Predicts Financial Catastrophe For United States!

March 20, 2014 - GLOBAL ECONOMY -  If the economic worst happens—the worst being defined as a deep recession in the United States, steep declines in home prices, and recessions in the euro area as well as Japan—30 major banks in the U.S. would lose a total of $501 billion dollars over nine quarters, according to the latest round of stress testing from the Federal Reserve.


That's compared with $355 billion in the slightly-less-scary "adverse" scenario laid out by the Fed. The central bank noted, as usual, that the "severely adverse" and slightly-less-scary "adverse" scenarios it tests are "not forecasts, but rather hypothetical scenarios designed to assess the strength of banking organizations and their resilience to an adverse economic environment." The Fed released its actual economic forecasts on Wednesday, and sees moderate growth on the horizon.

This is the fourth year the Fed has done stress tests on the country's biggest financial institutions. It looked at 30 institutions this year, up from 18 in previous years. Just one, the Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorp, wouldn't meet the Fed's minimum standards for capital in a worst-case scenario.

"The largest banking institutions in the United States are collectively better positioned to continue to lend to households and businesses and to meet their financial commitments in an extremely severe economic downturn than they were five years ago," the Fed said in a statement. - National Journal.

WATCH:  Charlie McGrath: Facing Apocalyptic Demise - An American Tragedy.

Warnings Of A Black-Swan Crisis With A 99.9% Risk Of A 2014 Financial Crash

Global risks are accelerating. This is our fourth major poll update of industry leaders: A critical review of their warnings from early last year when we first predicted a 87% risk of a crash: Bernanke’s Fed saw an “unsustainable bubble” … Gross: “credit supernova” … Gundlach: “kaboom ahead” … Ellis: “Don’t own bonds” … Shilling: “shocker” … Roubini: “Prepare for perfect storm” … Shiller: “Irrational exuberance is back” … Schiff: “Doubling down” on “doomsday” prediction … InvestmentNews’ warning 90,000 advisers: “tick, tick … boom!”

A few weeks later the crash risk was up to 98%. Then a dramatic preholiday uptick in investor sentiment. America’s collective unconscious tired of negativity after a Halloween headline: “Economic guillotine dead ahead.” A week later, 2014 became the “Year of the Boom.” Bank of America’s chief strategist screamed: “Bet on the bulls now.” The Great Gatsby spirit was celebrating the holidays: “Even old grumpy Dr. Doom, celeb economist Nouriel Roubini, began humming a happy tune all over television: “A global recovery is going to occur, get into equities.”

What really happened? Fed politics. Short-term, Larry Summers withdrew as a candidate for the Fed chairman’s job. Dark cloud lifted as Janet Yellen become the pick. Wall Street cheered, Bernanke’s easy-money printing presses would not screw up their year-end bonuses. Plus Main Street was mentally exhausted, tired of the bad news, relentless political drama. We needed a holiday break.

By Thanksgiving, “irrational exuberance” was accelerating in full holiday tilt: Headline: “Shiller’s hot P/Es will power a roaring bull till 2017,” and 2014 got branded the “Katy Perry market!” A week later, a Thanksgiving headline added: “10 reasons to be a bull in 2014.”

But long term? What’s really ahead for America in 2014? Warning, something bigger is hiding in the deep shadows of our collective brain. At a recent lunch with an old friend, one of the world’s more successful commodities traders, he confirmed that “something” was dead ahead. But not just another brief statistical shift in sentiment. Not a medium-term volatility shift. America, the world, are in a historic transition, a paradigm shift, a mysterious upheaval that few will grasp till it moves further along.

Dark road dead ahead: Yellen, Gross, GOP, off-center, all tested
More losses? How bad? Worse than 2000 and 2008? Yes. Wall Street, Main Street, Washington, the global economy, will all be knocked off-center. Traders are focusing on St. Patrick’s Day for guidance, below S&P 1,850, Dow 16,400, with a downturn accelerating after a macroeconomic news event in mid-April. For Wall Street’s short-term thinkers, all easy to dismiss, they make money on the action, up or down.

But this trader’s track-record says listen. His predictions fit our polls. The underlying reason is simple: Yellen’s policy is to keep printing cheap money. Remember last summer: Bernanke still in power? Wall Street feared Summers would hurt bonuses. Gross screamed, “QE must end.” Yet market kept rising. Pimco lost. Gross was off-center. His partner Mohamed El Erian left. Gross’s confusion was just one of many signs of a fundamentally flawed monetary policy dating back to Greenspan and Reaganomics

What’s ahead is even bigger: A black swan. Unpredictable. A macroeconomic catastrophe in China, Russia? Something politically dramatic, like the fall of the Berlin Wall? Oil wars? What do you see? Dismiss? Comment: Will 2014 continue the bull? Correction? Bear? The “big one” predicted for last year? Finally coming? Our poll resembles the one we reported on from 2004 to 2008, summarized shortly before the collapse.

To help you, here are highlights we reported over the last year. Read, comment, what do you see ahead? A critical mass of macroeconomic triggers that could accelerate a downturn, recession, something we’ll deny, never hear, till too late:

Gary Shilling: 42% decline in S&P … and global recession

“With a global recession depressing corporate revenues, unsustainable profit margins and currency translation losses spawned by a robust dollar.” In early January Shilling saw “S&P 500 operating earnings … a quarter below Wall Street consensus. Throw in a bear market P/E low of 10 and the S&P 500 Index drops to 800, a 42% decline.”

Bill Gross: Credit supernova dead ahead
In February, Gross warned of a “credit supernova.” Pimco has $2 trillion at risk if the Fed’s cheap money explodes, brings down the economy. Worse, “investment banking, which only a decade ago promoted small-business development … now is dominated by leveraged speculation and the Ponzi finance.”

Nouriel Roubini: Global collapse, prepare for perfect storm
Roubini on Slate: “Sooner or later, another ugly fight” over debt, and markets get “spooked.” Any one trend “would be enough to stall the global economy, tip it into recession.”

InvestmentNews: Bond crash coming, “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
InvestmentNews March front page was so overwhelming, you could hear sirens flashing, warning in huge bold type: “Tick, tick … boom!” Their readers, 90,000 advisers, trust INews forecasts. Warning: Millions of investors have “no idea what’s about to happen.”

Gary Shilling: Grand shocker will trigger new crash
Long-time Forbes columnist again warned of a “grand disconnect” driving “stocks around the world while the zeal for yield, amidst low interest rates … suggests an expanding bubble.” Shilling saw a black swan, a grand “shocker” coming.

David Stockman: Get out of market now and hide in cash
“Stop the Fed from micromanaging the economy,” said Stockman in March: “No more cheap money, debt buybacks, investing in private companies.” Restore “Fed’s original mission: to provide liquidity in times of crisis … get out of the markets, hide out in cash.”

Charlie Ellis: Advice to long-term investors, don’t own bonds
Back in April the author of the classic “Winning the Loser’s Game: Timeless Strategies for Successful Investing” said: “The best piece of advice I could give long-term investors today is don’t own bonds. And if you do own them … move out of them.”

Jeffrey Gundlach: Bond guru sees ‘Kaboom’ ahead’
“Kaboom ahead,” said Bloomberg about Doubleline Capital’s CEO. Real damage yet to come, an “ominous third phase” whose impact will “far exceed the damage of 2008.”He’s buying hard assets, “sitting on cash” waiting to scoop up deals at “fire-sale” prices.

Gary Shilling: Expands on 9 signs global GDP will fall near zero
Shilling predicted “another eight years of slow growth of about 2% in real GDP per year.” Plus nine megatrends slowing global growth to near zero over the next generation.

Bill Gross: Warning, the 30-year bond bull market ended on April 29
Bonds started dropping in late 2012. Gross made it official here, the 30-year bull market was dead . His Pimco firm had capitalized on the run, build a $2 trillion portfolio. Losing.

Societe Generale strategist: ‘Bubble with no name’ near popping

In April bank strategist Kit Juckes warns we’re all trapped in the fourth megabubble fueled by the Fed since the rise of conservative economics, the “Bubble With No Name Yet.” And “it’s close to popping, like the Asian, dot-com and credit crashes.”

Peter Schiff: Doubles down on his doomsday prediction
Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff, author of “The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy,” is “not backing away from doomsday predictions” wrote MarketWatch’s Greg Robb. A week earlier Schiff warned: “I am 100% confident the crisis that we’re going to will be much worse than the one we had in 2008.” Yes, 100%.

Federal Reserve Board: Unsustainable bubble in stocks, bonds
Fed’s Advisory Council’s May meeting: Members expressed “strong concerns over the Fed’s low-interest-rate policies and its bond-purchase program, which they say could trigger unmanageable inflation and an ‘unsustainable bubble’.”

Terry Burnham: Lizard brains, denial, devastating decline
In July, former hedge fund manager and author of “Mean Markets and Lizard Brains” predicted: We’ll see “Dow 5,000 before we see Dow 20,000.”

Robert Shiller: Bubbles forever, irrational exuberance is back
Millions of investors were searching for the elusive “new, new normal,” something better than today’s heart-pounding uncertainties. In July Shiller’s “Bubbles Forever” warned that  “irrational exuberance” was back in America. - Wealthy Debates.

Collapse And Systemic Failure At All Levels Coming To U.S. - Dmitry Orlov
Dmitry Orlov is a Russian blogger who writes about the parallel between the U.S and the USSR.  Orlov lived through the financial collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, and he thinks the U.S. is on the same trajectory.  Orlov contends, “The trajectory is defined by this sort of incompetent militarism where more and more money results in bigger and bigger military fiascos around the world and less and less of actual foreign policy that can be pursued or articulated.  There are massive levels of corruption.  The amount of money that is being stolen by the U.S. Government and its various appropriations processes is now in the trillions of dollars a year.  Runaway debt, the United States now has a level of debt that is un-repayable.  All we’re waiting for is interest rates to go across the magic threshold of 3% and the entire budget of the country explodes.  There are also all types of other tendencies that point in the direction of collapse and systemic failure at all levels.” 

So, how close are we to collapse or system failure?  Orlov contends, “I am pretty sure that anyone who makes a prediction when the collapse will happen is wrong.  Nobody can say when it will happen.  It’s the same as saying a bridge that is structurally deficient; you don’t know when a truck is going to fall through into the river below. . . . You can be chronically sick for a long time, and then one day, you go into a coma or your heart stops.  You cannot predict what day that will happen.  Orlov does say, “The United States right now, from my point of view and the point of view from observers from around the world, is on suicide watch.  It’s a country that is going to self-destruct at some point in the near future.”  

On the Ukraine crisis, Orlov thinks, “The Crimea referendum was the first legal way to find out what the people wanted to do.  The turnout was remarkable, and they voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia, to become part of Russia once again.  The interesting thing here is it was not just the Russians that voted to join Russia but the Ukrainians in Crimea, which makes a sizable part of the population voted to join Russia. . . Ukraine is composed of sort of a no man’s land in the West and then Russian territories in the East. . . .  If that trend holds, you are basically left with this insolvent nugget of nothingness, and it will be up to the international community to decide what to do with these people.  They are right now marching around Kiev with baseball bats and going into government offices and beating up members of local government and installing their own members.  They are basically running amok.  They don’t even have the support of the Ukrainian military at this point.  So, it will be a mop-up operation against these neo-fascists that are running amok.”  Orlov goes on to say, “In Washington, in the Obama Administration and in the Kerry State Department, we have absolutely breathtaking levels of incompetence. 

These people really don’t know what they’re doing and are dangerous at any speed; and everywhere else, we have this follow the incompetent leader thing taking place, and it’s really, really frightening because the incompetents are leading the world to a really dangerous place.” 
Orlov goes on to say, “What are these people doing trash talking the Russians? What would these people do without Russia? How would they get out of earth’s orbit and visit the international space station? Who would negotiate international deals with Syria and Iran because all they can do is blunder and lose face.” Russia doesn’t need the United States for anything. The United States is the most dispensable country on earth.”

On possible war between Ukraine and Russia, Orlov contends, “They are not going to fight because the Ukraine military is part of the Russian military. There really isn’t any opposition. The Ukrainian military will decide what to do in a few days, and then they will inform the Russians, and after that, maybe they will inform their own government. Maybe they will just go into the government offices and just round them up. Last I heard, 60% of Ukrainian military accepted Russian passports already. The remaining parts are being shipped out to the mainland. That is happening peacefully. So, there isn’t going to be any fight. The really important point is the Ukrainian military all over Ukraine does not support the government in Kiev. They are withholding support, and what they really want is to join the Russian military. . . . The best thing Russia can do is sit back and relax and let this work out. I don’t think the government in Kiev has any legs.” - USAWatchDog.

WATCH:  Orlov on U.S. financial collapse and the Ukraine crisis.

British Think Tank Predicts Financial Catastrophe For United States
Entitled "The Government Debt Iceberg," the latest report from The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London was meant primarily for British eyes, but there's enough in there to concern Americans worried about how the United States will make good on its promises. Researched and written by Jagadeesh Gokhale, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the report claims that the problem facing both the U.K. and the United States is the same: making promises without making provisions to fulfill them.

If a private business made a promise to a customer to be fulfilled over time, it would book that promise as a liability and make present plans to fulfill it. Not so the government. Gokhale says that governments use “backward-looking” financials — measuring only what has already been spent in the past — with little if any regard for, and certainly no strategy to pay for, promises made to be fulfilled in the future.

At present the U.S. government owes debtors, both private and public, foreign and domestic, more than $17 trillion, an amount about equal to the entire output of the American economy in one year. Put another way, it owes more than four times the total revenues taken in by that government in one year.

But, according to Gokhale, this greatly underestimates the real unfunded liabilities of the government, by a factor of seven. Taking into account future promises, the government’s debt is closer to $120 trillion.

Gokhale put the problem into perspective:

Western governments have developed unfunded social insurance programmes where retiree benefits are paid for from the taxes of the working-age population.

That means that an ageing population leads to rising expenditures that cannot be covered without increasing taxes on the young.

Politicians have known about population ageing for around 50 years but [have] ignored the problems it will create.

The solutions are going to be painful. He estimates that if the federal government were all of a sudden to come to its senses and begin to do real-world accounting for the promises politicians have made over the past decades, income taxes would have to double. Conversely, in order to balance the books, those promises would need to be cut in half.

Philip Booth, IEA’s program director, wrote: "We have never been in a situation like this before. It’s quite possible that we will not find our way through without serious social breakdown and/or mass emigration of the most mobile and productive people."

Gokhale offers unlikely solutions. Countries can try to inflate their way out of those promises, reducing the future value of them to recipients. But, he says, "This is unlikely. Future pay-as-you-go social insurance obligations are generally price index-linked … and health care involves the provision of a set of services [that cost more over time]."

Nor is it likely that the economy can grow its way out of the burden. Economies already weakened by the Great Recession and heavily laden with regulatory demands and mandates and rules just won’t be robust enough to generate sufficient additional tax revenues to pay the elderly. The impasse is predictable and probably unsurmountable. Writes Gokhale:

In the United States, for example, entitlement programme beneficiaries who paid payroll taxes while working feel a strong moral and legal entitlement to retirement, survivor, health and other benefits….
They possess growing political clout to maintain those benefits as promised.

With little chance for higher taxes to pass muster with current workers, and no chance for significant cuts in benefits likely to be acceptable to retirees, what about the iceberg that Gokhale uses as a title for his report? When will the ship of state hit it? What then?

All good questions, none of which Gokhale answers. He thinks the first step is to force the government accounting office to begin issuing realistic projections about the true state of affairs about those unfunded liabilities.

An insight into answers to some of those questions was offered by the change of heart and mind that has occurred over the last 15 years by one economic commentator of the current scene: Dr. Gary North. Back in 2000, North wrote a review of Gray Dawn, written by Peter G. Peterson, then chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. In his book Peterson explored the coming wave of Baby Boomers, which was likely to overwhelm the government with claims for benefits paid for during their working years. Peterson used the same analogy — an iceberg — that Gokhale used to describe what was coming nearly 15 years ago:

The major economies of the world are on a collision course toward a huge, as-yet-unseen iceberg: global aging.

Increased longevity is a blessing but it carries with it costs and questions few countries wish to deal with.
This looming demographic challenge may become the transcendent issue of the twenty-first century.

In his review of Gray Dawn, North said:

The Federal Reserve System will create the money, thereby creating mass inflation, or else Congress will move up the retirement age, year by year, stiffing the geezers.

The government-guaranteed retirement myth will end….

I’m age 58. That’s me.

Today North has changed his tune. In noting the report from IEA, North said it was just one more report signifying nothing, that ignorance and diffidence by politicians and reticence on the part of taxpayers to do anything substantial about the problem will continue into the foreseeable future. North referred to his conversation with Peterson back in 2000:

When Pete Peterson wrote Gray Dawn in 1999, he talked about this attitude. He was then the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. He could get in to see any major politician on earth. He said that every national leader he had spoken with over the previous decade was aware of the actuarial reality that faced his or her nation. Without exception, all of them refused to go public with this information.

With little incentive to change, nothing will. Bondholders are happy to hold U.S. treasury securities, despite receiving precious little to offset the risk of bankruptcy. Credit rating agencies are happy to continue giving those securities high ratings for their low risk of default. Taxpayers grumble about paying taxes and have little interest in seeing them rise in order to “balance the books.” Geezers are adamant in their claims to “their” benefits, despite many of them knowing that their contributions in past years were long spent elsewhere by the government. Administration after administration continues to offer expanded welfare programs with little thought about how to pay for them. Inflation numbers remain muted. Life goes on.

As North put it, reflecting his change in attitude towards the problem over the last 15 years:

The IEA is simply publishing an updated version of a report it could have published in 1980, but with different numbers. Nothing will change….

The IEA in five years can issue another report with new — larger — numbers.

This is precisely the attitude that will assure that nothing will be done before the ship of state hits the iceberg. We must realize that, despite the fact that national finances are already in desperate shape, we are only in the beginning stages of the retirement trend of the Baby Boomers, and they will continue to retire en masse for nearly 20 more years. Instead, politicians need to be replaced with statesmen who do see the future calamity coming and begin to change course accordingly. - The New American.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Terror As Three Women Swallowed By Waist-Deep Mud In Kent, United Kingdom - In Separate Incidents!

March 20, 2014 - UNITED KINGDOM - Three woman have been rescued from a terrifying mud slide in Kent, UK, in separate incidents.

A dramatic scene unfolded at a popular coastal walk in Kent. Source: Snapper Media

Julie-Anne White was walking with two small dogs on the coast near Herne Bay when she got sucked into the thick, slimy dirt.

As the mud rose around her, she desperately tried to drag herself out — before emergency services came to the rescue.

A lifeboat was used to prise her from the waist-deep slush, so the emergency workers didn’t sink in themselves.

About 90 minutes later, two more women, who remain unidentified, got stuck in the same spot after trying to save their beloved German Shepherd dog.

Firefighters and Maritime and Coastguard Agency worked to free the women, with no injuries have been reported.

Emergency services were called to assist a woman who became trapped in a mud slide while out walking her dogs. Source: Snapper Media

A life boat was sent to save the woman, so the workers didn’t sink themselves. Source: Snapper Media

It was a terrifying experience for the woman trapped in the dirt, as it started to dry. Source: Snapper Media

Not long after, the authorities were back to rescue another two walkers. Source: Snapper Media

All women were saved without injury. Source: Snapper Media

And their dogs were also saved. Source: Snapper Media

- News Australia.

DELUGE: Sheets Of Rain - Torrential Rainfall Kills 32 In South Africa; Thousands Displaced; Heaviest Rainfall In Over A Decade!

March 20, 2014 - SOUTH AFRICA - Floods caused by torrential rains have killed at least 32 people and displaced thousands of others in South Africa.

Three men clean up a lodge after the building was gutted by flooding following a dam burst
caused by heavy raining in Limpopo, South Africa.

Andries Nel, South African deputy minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, said on Monday that the heavy raining had displaced 3,000 people from their homes in the Lephalale Local Municipality in the northern part of the country.

"Regrettably, the present disaster events have resulted in 32 fatalities. These include 25 drownings. Six fatalities were also caused by lightning and one person died due to a collapsed wall," Nel stated.

The South African official also said rescue operations were underway as a number of people were still trapped in their homes due to flooding. In addition, search efforts have begun to find people reported missing.

Over the past two weeks, torrential and persistent rains have pounded most parts of South Africa. The most affected areas are in the north and eastern parts of the country.

"There has been considerable damage to roads and bridges, houses, and water pumps, pipes and other water infrastructure. In some areas, communities are unable to access workplaces, health services, shelter and schools," said Nel.

The downpours have also caused massive power outages in various parts of the country.

Experts say the rains were some of the heaviest experienced in South Africa in more than a decade.

Forecasts from the South African Weather Service expected flooding in the next days in the Mpumalanga and low-lying areas of Limpopo Province. - Press TV.

WORLD WAR III & GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: The Ukrainian Fallout - S&P Credit Rating Agency Revises Russia's Outlook To Negative!

March 20, 2014 - GLOBAL ECONOMY - Credit rating agency S&P just revised its outlook on the Russian Federation to negative.

Russian rubble. RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko

"The outlook revision reflects our view of the material and unanticipated  economic and financial consequences that EU and U.S. sanctions could have on  Russia's creditworthiness following Russia's incorporation of Crimea, which  the international community currently considers legally to be a part of  Ukraine," they said.

"At the same time, we  affirmed our 'BBB/A-2' foreign currency and 'BBB+/A-2' local currency long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on Russia," they added.

Here's the release:

Russian Federation Outlook Revised To Negative On Rising Geopolitical And Economic Risks; Ratings Affirmed

Publication date: 20-Mar-2014 13:21:51 EST

  • In our view, heightened geopolitical risk and the prospect of U.S. and EU economic sanctions following Russia's incorporation of Crimea could reduce the flow of potential investment, trigger rising capital outflows, and further weaken Russia's already deteriorating economic performance.
  • We are therefore revising the outlook on our long-term sovereign credit ratings on Russia to negative from stable.
  • We are affirming our 'BBB/A-2' foreign currency and 'BBB+/A-2' local currency ratings on the Russian Federation.
As a "sovereign rating" (as defined in EU CRA Regulation 1060/2009 "EU CRA Regulation"), the ratings on the Russian Federation are subject to certain publication restrictions set out in Art 8a of the EU CRA Regulation, including publication in accordance with a pre-established calendar (see "Calendar Of 2014 Publication Dates For EMEA Sovereign, Regional, And Local Government Ratings," published Dec. 30, 2013, on RatingsDirect). Under the EU CRA Regulation, deviations from the announced calendar are allowed only in limited circumstances and must be accompanied by a detailed explanation of the reasons for the deviation. In this case, the reason for the deviation is the material and unanticipated intensification of geopolitical risks since our most recent release on Dec. 13, 2013, the introduction of sanctions, and the increased financial and economic downside risks to Russia related to these events. The next scheduled rating publication on the sovereign rating of the Russian Federation will be on April 25, 2014.

On March 20, 2014, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services revised its outlook on the Russian Federation (Russia) to negative from stable. At the same time, we affirmed our 'BBB/A-2' foreign currency and 'BBB+/A-2' local currency long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on Russia.

We also affirmed our 'ruAAA' long-term national scale rating on Russia.

The outlook revision reflects our view of the material and unanticipated economic and financial consequences that EU and U.S. sanctions could have on Russia's creditworthiness following Russia's incorporation of Crimea, which the international community currently considers legally to be a part of Ukraine.

In February 2014, pro-Russian forces took control of Crimea. As a consequence, on March 6, the European Union (EU) and the U.S. agreed on an initial round of sanctions, as part of a staged approach to imposing sanctions on Russia. On March 16, a referendum was held in Crimea in which approximately 97% of voters reportedly were in favor of Crimea joining Russia. The following day, the EU and U.S. announced that they viewed the referendum as illegitimate and sanctioned certain Russian and Ukrainian nationals through travel bans and asset freezes. On March 18, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, signed a decree incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation which was ratified by parliament today.

We expect that the EU and U.S. will impose further sanctions.

In our view, the deteriorating geopolitical situation has already had a negative impact on Russia's economy. The Central Bank of the Russian Federation appears to have abandoned its policy of increased currency flexibility and limited intervention in the foreign-exchange market. The Central Bank is now focused on stabilizing financial markets in light of the inflationary impact of the around 10% depreciation of the currency so far this year and the significant capital outflow, which we estimate at about $60 billion in the first quarter of 2014, similar to the level for the whole of 2013. The Central Bank also called an extraordinary meeting in March, raising its benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points to 7%.

Economic growth in Russia slowed to 1.3% in 2013, the lowest rate since 1999--excluding the economic contraction in 2009. We expect a further modest deceleration in growth this year and have lowered our GDP growth forecasts for 2014 and 2015 to 1.2% and 2.2%, respectively, from 2.2% and 3.0% in December 2013. In our view, there is a significant downside risk that growth will fall well below 1% if the uncertainties caused by the geopolitical tensions do not subside in the near term.

In our view, there is a material risk that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could extend beyond Crimea and that violence between pro- and anti-Russian protesters could spread to other cities in Eastern Ukraine. Should the situation deteriorate, we believe further and wider sanctions could be imposed against Russian institutions and individuals, potentially including trade restrictions. In our view, these sanctions could further undermine Russia's economic growth prospects. We note, however, that sanctions, particularly those that might be imposed by EU countries, could be tempered by European economic trade and energy interests.

Our ratings on Russia continue to be supported by its relatively strong external and government balance sheets. The ratings remain constrained by structural weaknesses in Russia's economy, in particular the strong dependence on hydrocarbons and other commodities. Further constraints are what we view as comparatively weak governance and economic institutions that impede the economy's competitiveness, investment climate, and business environment.

The Russian government's finances continue to be buoyed by strong commodity revenues, particularly from oil. These account for almost one-half of the government's budget revenues, but also leave it exposed to swings in commodity prices. To mitigate this vulnerability, the government has instituted a fiscal rule from 2013, which caps government expenditure based on long-term historical oil prices. This fiscal rule is designed to lead to the accumulation of assets in times of high oil prices, and to the drawing on fiscal assets in times of low oil prices, reducing the procyclicality of fiscal policy. In our view, the government's commitment to this fiscal rule will likely be significantly tested by the recent further deterioration in growth prospects, while off-budget measures to support additional spending could also increase. We estimate Russia's 2013 general government budget to have recorded a deficit of 0.6% of GDP. Based on our expectation that commodity revenues will decline slightly on the back of a slightly weaker oil price (falling to $95 by 2015), we think the general government deficit will gradually worsen, reaching 1.5% of GDP by 2016, just outside the level targeted by the fiscal rule, and implying an average annual change in general government debt of 1.5% of GDP over 2013-2016.

Russia's aging population will be a source of considerable medium- to long-term fiscal pressure. In a no-policy-change scenario, we expect the aging of the population to add more than 10% of GDP to government spending by 2050 compared with 2010 levels. While the government has been adjusting pension system parameters, it has so far shied away from more decisively tackling the issue. We now estimate the Russian government to be in a marginal net debtor position due to revised data on the outstanding stock of gross general government debt. Nevertheless, low levels of gross debt imply low general government interest payments at about 2% of revenues during 2014-2016.

Commodity exports are also behind Russia's persistent current account surpluses, resulting in a net external asset position of about 4% of GDP in 2014. Measured in terms of narrow net external debt, that is, external debt minus liquid external assets held by the public and banking sector, we expect Russia to be in a small net external creditor position. This strong external asset position has been declining since reaching a peak of 34% in 2009. We note, however, that due to consistently negative errors and omissions in Russia's balance of payments (averaging almost $8 billion annually, or 1.5% of CAR in 2007 to 2013) the reported net asset position is considerably lower than implied by the large current account surpluses.

We expect the current account surpluses to disappear by 2015, owing to imports rising faster than exports. Further ruble weakness could weigh on imports and keep current account deficits from occurring a little later, but we believe the longer-term trend of a weakening current account will remain in place even so. Gross external financing needs (current account payments plus short-term external debt by remaining maturity) will amount to 70% of CARs and usable reserves in 2014, in our view. Dependence on commodity exports results in terms-of-trade volatility, although past experience has shown that imports tend to adjust strongly, offsetting part of a commodity price-induced drop in export revenue.

Russia's political institutions remain comparatively weak and political power is highly centralized. Protesters, opposition members, nongovernmental organizations, and liberal members of the political establishment have come under increasing pressure. We do not expect the government to decisively and effectively tackle the long-standing structural obstacles to stronger economic growth over our forecast horizon (2014-2017). These obstacles include high perceived corruption, comparatively weak rule of law, the state's pervasive role in the economy, and a challenging business and investment climate.

The negative outlook reflects our view that there is at least a one-in-three chance that we could reassess the risks to Russia's creditworthiness based on its deteriorating external profile and reduced monetary policy flexibility. As a result, we could lower our ratings on Russia within the next 24 months. Geopolitical reaction to Russia's incorporation of Crimea could further reduce the flow of potential investment and negatively affect already weak economic growth, which would provide a further basis for lowering the ratings. Similarly, we could equalize the local and foreign currency ratings on Russia if we were to view Russia's transition toward a more flexible exchange rate regime as having stalled.

We could revise the outlook to stable if Russia's economy were to prove resilient to the current challenges, resulting in a return to a policy of a more flexible exchange rate, and if its external and fiscal buffers were to remain in line with our current expectations.

- Business Insider.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Freak Storm Destroys Winter Crops In India - 37 Farmers Commit Suicide Over Badly Damaged Crops; Figure Expected To Rise; 1.6 MILLION HECTARES Of Land Destroyed, "A National Calamity;" Over 50 BILLION RUPEES Demanded For Damage Relief!

March 20, 2014 - INDIA - A string of farmers have committed suicide in western India after freak hailstorms and rains destroyed winter crops worth millions of dollars, activists and politicians said Wednesday.

An Indian farm laborer poses for a photograph as he looks over wheat crops damaged in heavy storms in
a field on the outskirts of Amritsar on March 11, 2014 (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

The unusual weather struck parts of western Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, from late February and went on to badly damage crops.

A source from the Maharashtra chief minister's office told AFP that seven suicides had been confirmed, with more killed by the storm itself, but the opposition and activists said the real figure was much higher.

"There have been 32 (farmer) suicides so far across Maharashtra after the hailstorms started... We are getting hourly updates from our people," said Kishor Tiwari, president of farmers' advocacy group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.

He said the figure was expected to rise after more post-mortems were carried out.

India's main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said on Tuesday that the number of farmer suicides had gone up to 37, demanding that the natural disaster be declared a "national calamity," the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

"Since the hailstorm began on February 28, the entire rabi (winter-sown) crop on 1.6 million hectares of land in 17 districts has been destroyed," said senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde.

Grape farmers were the worst hit by the storms, but crops of other fruits such as mango, papaya, lime and watermelon were also badly hit, according to local reports.

Among those to commit suicide was debt-ridden Bapu Ramchandra Pawar, 62, who poisoned himself after his pomegranate farm was destroyed, police told PTI.

Ahead of a closely-fought general election, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is due to visit the troubled area on Thursday.

He is expected to hold a public rally in Vidarbha, a region notorious for its high level of farmer suicides.

A delegation of ministers from Maharashtra met India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday and demanded 50 billion rupees (800 million dollars) in relief towards damage caused by the freak weather. - Global Post.

FIRE IN THE SKY: "It Was Pretty Scary" - Fiery Meteor Blazes Across The Skies Over New Zealand!

March 20, 2014 - NEW ZEALAND - A man who saw a meteor blazing across the New Plymouth sky last night was about to ''fall to his knees and pray'' that it wasn't the end of the world.

File illustration.

Anthony Warren said he was standing outside his David St home smoking a cigarette when he saw the fiery ball with a long trail light up the city sky at 1.28am.

''It was pretty scary. I was hoping no more were going to fall.''

He said he had seen it begin in the south near Paritutu and travel north before it burned out.

''I ran out onto the field to try and see where it went.''

Thinking it was a comet, he looked in the phone book for the number for the observatory because he wanted to name it.

''I would've called it Zykodia, which is my daughter's name.''

New Plymouth Astronomical Society member Rodney Austin said from Warren's description it would have been a meteor he saw, rather than a comet.

He said a comet was a chunk of rock and ice orbiting the sun which evaporated with solar radiation and left a fuzzy trail, but appeared to move slowly.

A meteor - or shooting star - on the other hand, was a piece of space rock or debris which burnt up as it entered the earth's atmosphere and could create a quick streak of bright light.

Austin said there were usually two or three unusually intense meteors seen in a year.

''I've seen one which completely drowned out a full moon.''

He said Warren's meteor must have been fairly bright to be seen over the city lights. - Stuff.

MASS BEES/ANIMAL/BIRD/FISH DIE-OFF: The Latest Incidents Across The Earth - About 52,000 Young Trout Found Dead In A Hatchery In Pennsylvania, United States; Thousands Of Birds Found Dying From Outbreak Of Disease In Waikato, New Zealand; Massive Die-Off Of Honeybees From Harsh Winter In Iowa, United States; And 157 Dead Pigs Found In A River In Jiangxi, China!

March 20, 2014 - EARTH - The following constitutes the latest incidents of mass bees, fish, bird and animal die-offs across the Earth:

52,000 Young Trout Found Dead In A Hatchery In Pennsylvania, United States.
Doug Holt, owner of Green Spring Trout Farms, at scene of fish kill in early March.

About 52,000 fingerling trout were found dead March 14 at Green Spring Trout Farms near Newville, where about 12,000 adult trout died at the beginning of the month, said owner Doug Holt.

“The water has cleared up, and our DO [dissolved oxygen] numbers are slowly returning to normal, but we’re still having a steady pickoff of fish out of each raceway,” Holt said.

Lisa Kasianowitz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that the hatchery reported March 13 that “the flows in the spring returned to their normal clear state and dissolved oxygen levels had come back up.”

Holt said he didn’t contact DEP regarding the additional fish deaths after it couldn't find a reason for the earlier fish kill.

Kasianowitz, upon learning of the additional fish deaths, said she will notify inspectors Thursday morning.

On March 16, Holt said he measured DO levels of 2 milligrams per liter. DEP says at least 7 milligrams per liter is needed to sustain fish life.

“I’m sure it’s still residual manure,” said Holt, referring to manure spread of fields by farmers.

Kasianowitz said DEP has not identified the cause of the fish kill. She said DEP investigators looked at surrounding fields, and said manure application appeared to be within regulations.

“DEP has not determined a single cause for this incident,” she said.

The fingerlings deaths occurred in three sections south of the main race, which are used as a holding area because they are not as wide or deep, Holt said.

“I tried to think of everything we could do to try to keep our oxygen levels up — we were running electric aerators — but there’s no way to affect what’s coming in from the hillside to our spring,” he said.

“I can’t even fathom what it’s going to cost us,” Holt said. Each of the fingerlings could be sold next year for $2, which would mean a loss of more than $100,000 from the last fish kill. He said the loss isn’t covered by insurance.

“We’re just getting into our busy season,” Holt said. “We have a lot of fish left. It just hurts because we’re lacking certain species.”

DEP was notified of the problem at the hatchery March 2, and found “extremely low dissolved oxygen content in the spring, which is detrimental to fish.” The levels later rose to acceptable limits, inspectors said.

Kasianowitz also DEP has investigated recent releases from Shippensburg Wastewater Treatment Plant, but doesn’t believe they played a role in the hatchery incident.

It may not be possible to identify a cause, Kasianowitz said, because the geology of the region can result in surface water flowing underground and affecting water quality miles away. - Penn Live.

Thousands Of Birds Dying From Outbreak Of Disease In Waikato, New Zealand.
A suspected outbreak of avian botulism is killing thousands of birds in Waikato.

The disease, which causes paralysis in birds, has been recorded in Matamata-Piako District, Waipa District and Waikato District this summer.

There have also unconfirmed reports of bird deaths in the Hauraki District.

About 3000 birds are estimated to have died from the disease in the Waikato region, Fish & Game gamebird manager David Klee said. Along with game ducks, the bacteria was killing black swans, grey teals and the New Zealand dabchick, among others, he said. "It's pretty indiscriminate, anything that sits on those ponds, seems to be affected." Although blood samples had not been taken, Mr Klee said the bird deaths all showed "clinical symptoms" of botulism.

Affected birds were showing signs of paralysis, they were flightless and, in the critical stage, had "lolling" and "drooping" heads.

Most outbreaks were occurring at municipal wastewater treatment plants - and in particular older, less used, oxidation ponds.

"The problem is a lot of these ponds no longer have working aerators, they're filling up with sludge at a great rate.

"Basically in summer, when these ponds get drawn down, you've got the perfect microclimate for botulism to occur."

The drought-like weather may have also played a part in the outbreaks, Mr Klee said. "In years like this, when we've got long dry spells of weather it's more likely to occur."

Te Awamutu farmer Carl Webber has had to pick up dozens of dead birds from his paddocks, which surround the Te Awamutu wastewater treatment plant, this summer.

He said outbreaks happened every year but this year had been a bad one.

"It hasn't been big, big numbers this year, but it has been consistent. The whole summer birds have been dying."

He said up to 20 or 30 carcasses could be seen floating in the pond at any one time. "The [Waipa] council has to be more proactive," he said.

The oxidation pond had been neglected and birds needed to be kept off it, he said.

More rainwater from within the catchment could also be directed into the pond, he said.

Manager of water services at Waipa District Council Lorraine Kendrick said the council was working with Fish & Game to prevent the spread of the disease. The council reported birds that were sick and dead to Fish & Game every fortnight, and dead birds were immediately retrieved and disposed of. "Anywhere there is a pond system you have the potential for this to occur. But at wastewater plants, nutrient levels are higher."

The council tried to scare birds away from the disused oxidation pond by using a zon gun, which emitted noise, and employed a "shooter" to fire blanks at the site. The council was also looking at whether the pond could be redeveloped, she said.

Klee said the response of district councils has been mixed. "What we've found is that in areas where we have management plans in place with councils, we've been able to minimise outbreaks." - Stuff.

Massive Die-Off Of Honeybees From Harsh Winter In Iowa, United States.

This year's extreme cold winter wasn't just tough on us, it caused a drastic decrease in the number of honey bees in our state.

"It's devastating," said Mike Swett, of Squaw Creek Honey. "When I came out and saw my loss, I mean you literally just cry."

Swett said the majority of his 25 honeybee hives are now full of dead bees.

"I have dead bees, and I still have combed honey here and the bees are just basically starved to death," said Swett.

Some of Squaw Creek Honey is produced near Swett's Ames house. Out of a total of six hives there, only one is thriving.

"Last year I probably lost 8 to 10 percent of my bees.  This year, I'm seeing 60 percent loss," said Swett.

Swett said this year's brutal winter is what killed them.

"It was so cold that the bees were unable to move in their cluster, their ball to the next little bit of food," said Swett.

Swett estimates the deaths to cost him $600 to $1,000.

"If we have an extreme sort of condition experience like we had this year, this past year, it's really going to knock out those weaker, sicker or malnourished colonies," said Iowa Department of Agriculture's bee researcher Andrew Joseph.

"We think the losses might be as high as 70 percent or so," said Joseph.

The national average at around 30 percent.

Bees do much more than produce our honey.

"Pollination is the real value of honey bees," said Joseph. "We all like to eat a diversity of foods in our diets. We depend on honey bees. If we want to see those flowers out there in the environment, we need pollinators," said Joseph.

Joseph said bees weakened by parasites and pesticides are likely the ones who couldn't make it through the winter.

Experts said the lower number of bees could eventually lead to higher food prices. - KCCI.

157 Dead Pigs Found In A River In Jiangxi, China.
Pig carcasses wrapped in plastic sheets waiting to be moved from the banks of the
Gan river in Nanchang, China. Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty

Chinese authorities have found 157 dead pigs in a river, state media have said, underscoring the country's food safety problems a year after 16,000 carcasses were discovered in Shanghai's main waterway.

The animals were recovered from the Gan river in Jiangxi, which supplies drinking water to the provincial capital Nanchang, the official news agency Xinhua said on Wednesday.

Tests showed that the tapwater remains safe for drinking, it said, citing Nanchang authorities.

The Gan is a tributary of the Yangtze, one of China's main waterways. "Another 20 pigs have been fished out of the Gan river, for a total of 157," state broadcaster CCTV said on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.

Photos posted by CCTV showed staff in white clothing and face masks inspecting carcasses lined up on a riverbank. Ear tags indicated that the animals came from Zhangshu, part of Yichun city in the central Chinese province, CCTV said, citing Jiangxi's agriculture department.

An official with the Yichun agriculture bureau said it was unclear where the pigs originated. Zhangshu authorities could not immediately be reached.

China was stunned a year ago by the appearance of more than 16,000 dead pigs floating along parts of the Huangpu river, which flows through Shanghai – one of a series of food safety scandals in recent years. No official explanation was given for the incident, which embarrassed China's commercial hub. Last May, police detained 900 people for crimes including selling rat and fox meat as beef and mutton.

In 2008, six babies died and 300,000 fell ill in a scandal involving contaminated milk powder.

Public concern about food safety is high. In his address to China's parliament this month, the premier, Li Keqiang, promised to "apply the strictest possible oversight, punishment and accountability to prevent and control food contamination and ensure that every bite of food we eat is safe". - Guardian.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Train Crash Into Bus In Turkey - Nine Killed, Five Injured!

March 20, 2014 - TURKEY - A passenger train has crashed into a minibus in Turkey killing at least nine people and injuring five others.

The bus was bringing workers to an industrial zone on the edge of Mersin city.

It was hit on a railway crossing by the train on its way to neighbouring Adana.

All the dead were in the minibus. Three of the injured were said to be in a serious condition. No one aboard the train was hurt.

Local media reports suggested the level crossing barrier didn’t come down because of a signal failure.

Video footage on the DHA website showed a crushed minibus on the side of the tracks and medics trying to reach the injured. - Euro News.

WATCH:  Nine killed as train hits bus in Turkey.

TWILIGHT ZONE NOW: The Odyssey Of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 - CNN's Don Lemon Ask "Is It Preposterous" To Think A Black Hole Caused Flight 370 To Go Missing?!

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man ... a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. Next stop The Twilight Zone." - Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone.

March 20, 2014 - FRINGE - CNN’s Don Lemon has been entertaining all sorts of theories about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, including the chance something “supernatural” happened, but on Wednesday night, he actually asked panelists about the possibility a black hole was involved.

Graphic illustration: Andre Heath.

Lemon brought this up along with other “conspiracy theories” people have been floating on Twitter, including people noting the eerie parallels to Lost and The Twilight Zone, and wondered, “is it preposterous” to consider a black hole as a possibility?

Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said, “A small black hole would suck in our entire universe, so we know it’s not that.”

Here’s another theory I’ll just throw out there: what about the plane entered a wormhole into another dimension? I don’t know if that’s how the science works, though.

WATCH: Here's the video, via CNN:

- Mediaite.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: Widespread Violence, Bombings And Assassinations - Libya Pleads With The United Nations For Help Fighting Off Post-Gaddafi Chaos!

March 20, 2014 - LIBYA - The Libyan government announced on Wednesday that it has asked the international community for help with a ‘War on Terror’ that threatens to plunge the already-divided nation into a state of full-scale disarray.

AFP Photo / Abdullah Doma

Widespread violence is the main concern for Libya after a number of bombings and assassinations have plagued the eastern city of Benghazi. In Sirte - a city that is home to multiple major oil ports in the central region of the North African country - skirmishes between pro-government militias and rebel troops a number of people dead in the past several months. The government wrote on its official website that “terrorist groups” have waged war in the streets of Benghazi, Sirte, and other cities. Libya has failed to contain rebel groups that helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 then refused to lay down their arms, instead using the weapons to acquire wealth and oil.

“Libya’s interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism,” the government wrote, as quoted by Reuters. “The government confirms that it wants this war on terror and its crimes to start as soon as possible.”

Nations throughout Africa and the Arab world are known to be helping the government train soldiers and police, yet Libya simply seems to have no time to wait. Rebels have taken control of the nation’s major oil wells, essentially eliminating Libya’s largest export. The unrest was further exacerbated Wednesday when the Libya Herald reported that Al-Bahlul Al-Said, former undersecretary at the Interior Ministry, was abducted in the capital Tripoli by gunmen driving in two vehicles.

The US Army is among those attempting to help the Libyans. A senior Army official told the Associated Press Wednesday that fewer than a dozen soldiers will travel to Tripoli in the coming weeks, although that number will likely rise.

The anonymous source said that eventually 500 US troops from the 1st Infantry Division will train between 5,000 and 8,000 Libyan forces in basic combat skills. The Army is waiting on final approval before sending such number to Tripoli, as there are ongoing security concerns about the lingering tension throughout the country.

Earlier this month a team of US Navy SEALs took control of a Libyan oil tanker that had been overtaken by a militia group that intended to sell the shipload of crude oil. The militia, which is calling for the eastern half of Libya to gain independence from the west, eluded pro-government troops and made it all the way to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus before being overtaken by the US Navy commandos. - RT.

MONUMENTAL SOLAR SYSTEM CHANGES: The Perfect Solar Storm - Massive Magnetic Cloud Of Plasma Narrowly Missed Earth On July 23, 2012; Could Have Caused Major Fireworks, Wreaking Havoc On The Electrical Grid, Disabling Satellites And GPS, And Disrupting Our Increasingly Electronic Lives!

March 20, 2014 - THE SUN - Earth dodged a huge magnetic bullet from the sun on July 23, 2012. The perfect storm of events created a massive magnetic cloud that could have caused fireworks on Earth.

According to University of California, Berkeley, and Chinese researchers, a rapid succession of coronal mass ejections – the most intense eruptions on the sun – sent a pulse of magnetized plasma barreling into space and through Earth's orbit. Had the eruption come nine days earlier, it would have hit Earth, potentially wreaking havoc with the electrical grid, disabling satellites and GPS, and disrupting our increasingly electronic lives.

"Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous," said UC Berkeley research physicist Janet G. Luhmann, who is part of the STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Observatory) team and based at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory.

The solar bursts would have enveloped Earth in magnetic fireworks matching the largest magnetic storm ever reported on Earth, the so-called Carrington event of 1859. The dominant mode of communication at that time, the telegraph system, was knocked out across the United States, literally shocking telegraph operators. Meanwhile, the Northern Lights lit up the night sky as far south as Hawaii.

In a paper appearing today (Tuesday, March 18) in the journal Nature Communications, former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow and research physicist Ying D. Liu, now a professor at China's State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, Luhmann and their colleagues report their analysis of the magnetic storm, which was detected by NASA's STEREO A spacecraft.

A study last year estimated that the cost of a solar storm like the Carrington Event could reach $2.6 trillion worldwide. A considerably smaller event on March 13, 1989, led to the collapse of Canada's Hydro-Quebec power grid and a resulting loss of electricity to six million people for up to nine hours.

"An extreme space weather storm – a solar superstorm – is a low-probability, high-consequence event that poses severe threats to critical infrastructures of the modern society," warned Liu, who is with the National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. "The cost of an extreme space weather event, if it hits Earth, could reach trillions of dollars with a potential recovery time of 4-10 years. Therefore, it is paramount to the security and economic interest of the modern society to understand solar superstorms."

Based on their analysis of the 2012 event, Liu, Luhmann and their STEREO colleagues concluded that a huge outburst on the sun on July 22 propelled a magnetic cloud through the solar wind at a peak speed of more than 2,000 kilometers per second – four times the typical speed of a magnetic storm. It tore through Earth's orbit but, luckily, Earth and the other planets were on the other side of the sun at the time. Any planets in the line of sight would have suffered severe magnetic storms as the magnetic field of the outburst tangled with the planets' own magnetic fields.

The image above was captured on July 23, 2012, at 12:24 a.m. shows the coronal mass ejection that left the sun at the unusually fast speeds of over 1,800 miles per second.

The researchers determined that the huge outburst resulted from at least two nearly simultaneous coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which typically release energies equivalent to that of about a billion hydrogen bombs. The speed with which the magnetic cloud plowed through the solar wind was so high, they concluded, because another mass ejection four days earlier had cleared the path of material that would have slowed it down.

"The authors believe this extreme event was due to the interaction of two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes," said Joe Gurman, the project scientist for STEREO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

One reason the event was potentially so dangerous, aside from its high speed, is that it produced a very long-duration, southward-oriented magnetic field, Luhmann said. This orientation drives the largest magnetic storms when they hit Earth because the southward field merges violently with Earth's northward field in a process called reconnection. Storms that normally might dump their energy only at the poles instead dump it into the radiation belts, ionosphere and upper atmosphere and create auroras down to the tropics.

"These gnarly, twisty ropes of magnetic field from coronal mass ejections come blasting from the sun through the ambient solar system, piling up material in front of them, and when this double whammy hits Earth, it skews the Earth's magnetic field to odd directions, dumping energy all around the planet," she said. "Some of us wish Earth had been in the way; what an experiment that would have been."

"People keep saying that these are rare natural hazards, but they are happening in the solar system even though we don't always see them," she added. "It's like with earthquakes – it is hard to impress upon people the importance of preparing unless you suffer a magnitude 9 earthquake."

All this activity would have been missed if STEREO A – the STEREO spacecraft ahead of us in Earth's orbit and the twin to STEREO B, which trails in our orbit – had not been there to record the blast.

The goal of STEREO and other satellites probing the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth is to understand how and why the sun sends out these large solar storms and to be able to predict them during the sun's 11-year solar cycle. This event was particularly unusual because it happened during a very calm solar period.

"Observations of solar superstorms have been extremely lacking and limited, and our current understanding of solar superstorms is very poor," Liu said. "Questions fundamental to solar physics and space weather, such as how extreme events form and evolve and how severe it can be at the Earth, are not addressed because of the extreme lack of observations." - Daily Galaxy.

FIRE IN THE SKY: "I Have Never Seen Anything As Big And Bright" - Spectacular Meteor Fireball Turns Night Into Day In Southern France, Northwestern Italy, And Western Switzerland! [VIDEOS]

March 20, 2014 - EUROPE - received several reports of this meteor event from eyewitnesses in southern France and Switzerland.

File illustration.

In addition, the following security camera video footage confirms the time reported by the eyewitnesses.

 WATCH: As seen from southern France, filmed over St Laurent du var (next to Cannes) at 10pm:


 WATCH: As seen from northern Italy, captured by Mario Garberi, Associazione Astrofili Bisalta:


Eyewitness reports:

Switzerland/Italy/France meteor, approx. 22:00, 13 March 2014© LunarMeteoriteHunter / Google Earth


I'm writing to inform you that I saw something 'fall from the sky' this Thursday 13th of March around 10pm.

I was watching TV when I noticed a large ball of light moving quite fast in the sky. I understood right away that it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before (planes, shooting stars, helicopters, etc.)

I got up to move closer to the window but at that moment the fireball's brightness intensified then disappeared. So I looked online to see if anything was reported about it, but haven't found anything so far.

Cyril, France


While out driving with my husband, we saw a fast-moving and fragmenting ball of fire that was orange and green. Pretty impressive! It happened around 10pm on March 13th 2014.

Jo, nr. Montpelier, France


This evening I saw a huge ball of fire passing through the sky. It came from the East and continued in a westerly direction. I've never seen anything as big and bright, at least as bright as the Moon.

Nathalie, nr. Lausanne, Switzerland