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Friday, March 9, 2012

Blast shakes restless volcano in remote Aleutian Islands Explosion likely shot ash into sky

A restless Aleutian volcano exploded Wednesday night and may have blown off a slow-growing lava dome that was building for months in its summit crater, volcanologists say.

Cleveland Volcano, 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, probably burped up a small amount of ash -- a potential hazard to trans-oceanic air travel -- but the ash did not appear to reach above 20,000 feet, said Steve McNutt, a researcher with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Because of its remoteness, harsh weather in the area and budget constraints, Cleveland Volcano does not have instruments on its flanks. As a result, scientists cannot listen to its inner rumblings. But distant seismometers and specialized microphones detected the explosion about 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to the observatory.

The explosion caused a displacement of air and an airwave traveled out from the volcano at the speed of sound, McNutt said. Instruments at volcanoes 60 and 90 miles away detected the explosion several minutes after it occurred, he said.

Clouds on Wednesday and today prevented clear satellite views, so scientists are not sure exactly how much ash may have shot out of the 5,676-foot volcano, which makes up the western half of Chuginadak Island.

"It is the Aleutians in winter, after all," McNutt said.

Either way, the researchers do not think the volcano poses an immediate threat to air travel.

McNutt thinks the explosion blasted away a lava dome building inside the volcano's summit crater. As the thick, pasty molten rock flows slowly into the crater, it piles up and plugs gas vents, he explained. An explosion can occur when the gas builds up enough pressure, McNutt said.

For now, the volcanologists are waiting for better views of the volcano to determine exactly what happened. Scheduled satellite passes in the near future should give them a better idea, McNutt said.

If it's true that the dome was removed, he said, the risk is lower that a larger ash- producing explosion might affect air travel. That is, until another dome builds up.

In December, a similar event cleared a lava dome that had been building up at Cleveland Volcano for two months. The brief explosion blasted volcanic ash up to about 15,000 feet, the observatory said.

Meantime, volcanologists are monitoring another volcano closer to home, one that hasn't erupted for at least 500 or 1,000 years, McNutt said.

A series of small earthquakes has been detected in recent months at Iliamna Volcano, in Lower Cook Inlet about 110 miles from Anchorage, according to the volcano observatory. Those earthquakes are typical for the ancient volcano and could be related to the movement of nearby glaciers, McNutt said. Still, more investigation, including a flight to measure gas emissions, is warranted, he said.

"Another question, which always dogs us in these situations, is if molten rock is involved," he said.

Alaska News

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2012/03/08/2359467/blast-shakes-restless-volcano.html#storylink=cpy

Russia Volcano Bezymianny put on Code Red for imminent eruption

(TheWeatherSpace.com) - One of the most active volcanoes in the world has been put on aviation color code red, the highest alert given by the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team.

KVERT assigned the code on Tuesday and warns of an imminent eruption. "Activity of the volcano continuously increases," says the alert. "Strong ash explosions up to 42,640 ft (13 km) a.s.l. possible at any time. Ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft.

KVERT source: Activity of the volcano remains high. Seismic activity began to grow on February 12: about 7-19 weak seismic events were registering each day till February 29; about 25-43 weak seismic events and episodes volcanic tremor were recorded each day on March 01-05. Probably there is a preparation of a strong explosive eruption of the volcano. According to satellite data, a size and a brightness of a thermal anomaly abrupt increased on March 02, and continues to increase.

Bezymianny volcano is one the most active volcano of the world. In 1955, for the first time in history, Bezymianny started to erupt and after six months it produced a catastrophic eruption with the total volume of eruptive products over 3 km3. The lava dome began to grow in the explosive caldera immediately after the catastrophe and continues at now. 42 Vulcanian-type strong explosive eruptions of Bezymianny occurred in 1965-2011, while 20 of them producing ash up to 10-15 km a.s.l. Last explosive eruption occurred on April 13, 2011.

The Weather space

IDF upgrades notification system in face of growing missile threat

The Israel Defense Forces has acquired a new system that will let it see exactly where every missile strike has landed if the home front is under attack.

The new system is a modification of an existing command-and-control system called Castle Lake, which gives details on the location of Israeli forces and, as far as they are known, of enemy targets - anything from rocket launchers to enemy commanders.

Home Front Command drill in Tel Aviv

With the modification, Castle Lake will now also display a map of the country on which every missile that hits will be marked. In addition to giving the location of the hit, the system will provide information on what kind of missile was launched, how much damage it caused and how long the home front has been under assault. That will enable commanders to factor developments on the home front into their operational decisions.

The home front data will also enable commanders to evaluate the effectiveness of Israel's operations against the enemy: for instance, whether attacking a Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon had any effect on the rate of rocket launches from Lebanon.

The system was used for the first time last week, as part of a large-scale war games exercise.

"Essentially, commanders can see the effectiveness of the decisions they made and the way in which forces are being deployed," an officer in the army's C4I directorate explained. "It will be possible to go into the details of every launch - where it was fired from, what kind of missile it was, and how much damage it caused."

Last month, speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference, Military Intelligence director Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned that there are currently some 200,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. MI estimates that most of these missiles have a maximum range of 40 kilometers, but thousands of them have ranges of hundreds of kilometers.

"These ranges cover all of Gush Dan, from Syria, Lebanon and Iran," said Kochavi, referring to the coastal plain around Tel Aviv. "The warheads on these missiles are becoming ever more deadly, weighing hundreds of kilograms. They are becoming ever more accurate, and the entire network is becoming more dispersed, more concealed, and more integrated into an urban environment. Every tenth house in Lebanon has a missile arsenal or a launching pad."

Kochavi's remarks underscored the growing missile threat on Israel's home front. While the Home Front Command has been working on a plan to reinforce buildings in the most vulnerable parts of the country, even after it is complete, 1.5 million Israelis will lack appropriate access to shelters.

During the Second Lebanon War of 2006, some 4,000 rockets were launched at Israel. The IDF expects the number of missile launches in the next war to be ten times that figure, of which it expects several thousand to actually hit: around 7,500 to 10,000 short-range rockets, 1,800 to 2,300 medium-range rockets and some 300 long-range rockets. It predicts that these missiles will kill about 200 civilians and destroy thousands of homes.

To counter this, Israel has developed a range of missile-defense systems, including Iron Dome for short-range rockets, David's Sling (also known as Magic Wand ) for medium-range missiles and the Arrow for long-range missiles. The IDF believes that nine Iron Dome batteries could protect a sizable percentage of the population in any future war, and that without these batteries, civilian deaths would be double the 200 cited above.

Nevertheless, IDF officers stress that these systems can't provide hermetic protection: People will still have to run for shelters if they want to maximize their chances of survival.


Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers

Banks are foreclosing on America's churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

"Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches," said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.

Church defaults differ from residential foreclosures. Most of the loans in question are not 30-year mortgages but rather commercial loans that typically mature after just five years when the full balance becomes due immediately.

Its common practice for banks to refinance such loans when they come due. But banks have become increasingly reluctant to do that because of pressure from regulators to clean up their balance sheets, said Rolfs.

"A lot of these loans were given when the properties were evaluated at a certain level in 2005 or 2006," Rolfs said. "Banks have had to reappraise the value of these properties, whether it's a church or a commercial office building. Values have gone down, so the loans cannot continue in the same form."

The factors leading to the boom in church foreclosures will sound familiar to many private homeowners evicted from their properties in recent years.

During the property boom, many churches took out additional loans to refurbish or enlarge, often with major lenders or with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, which was particularly aggressive in lending to religious institutions.

Then after the financial crash, many churchgoers lost their jobs, donations plunged, and often, so did the value of the church building.


Solid Rock Christian Church near Memphis, Tennessee, took out a $2.9 million loan with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union at the beginning of 2008, to construct a new, 2,000 seat, 34,000 square-foot building to house its growing congregation.

In the middle of construction, the economy crashed. The church raided its savings to finish the project, but ended up defaulting on the loan.

The ECCU foreclosed and put the church up for auction.

"We are still fighting this," a church spokesman told Reuters. "We have filed for bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure and to restructure our debt."

At the iconic Charles Street African American Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts, churchgoers and clergy accuse the bank of being unwilling to negotiate.

The church is being threatened with foreclosure and a March 22 auction by its lender OneUnited bank, America's largest black-owned bank.

The bank says the church, which was founded in 1818 and played a major role in the anti-slavery movement, has defaulted on a $1.1 million balloon loan that came due in December 2011.

A balloon loan is a long-term loan, often a mortgage, that has a large, or balloon, payment due upon maturity. They often have very low interest payments and require little capital outlay during the life of the loan due to the large end payment.

The church is also involved in separate litigation with OneUnited involving a 2006 loan of $3.6 million that financed the refurbishment of two buildings into a community center.

"We want to refinance and we want to pay. It's doable, we have the means to do it but we can only do it if they actually sit down and talk to us," said the Rev. Gregory G. Groover Snr, the church's pastor.

Groover said the church did not default by missing monthly payments, but is in trouble because the loan ballooned.

"We don't have a million dollars to pay off the loan. I don't know what church does. The idea of auctioning off a church is senseless," he said.

In a statement provided to Reuters, OneUntied said it was not its practice to discuss the details of "any discreet customer relationship".

"It is not the practice of the Bank to exercise collection remedies including foreclosure in the absence of good cause. We trust the community will not rush to judgment without full knowledge of all the facts," it said.

Axel Adams, an Atlanta, Georgia official with the Rainbow PUSH coalition, the civil rights and economic justice organization led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said he had seen a "tremendous increase" in churches facing foreclosure.

"And some pastors have not notified their congregants," Adams said. "They are fearful that if they do, they will lose congregants prematurely."

Flat Rock Church in Lithonia, Georgia, which dates back to 1860, took out an $850,000 balloon loan with Sun Trust Bank in 2005 to fund a new 300-seat church.

In May 2010 the loan became due. The bank foreclosed and the church is due to be auctioned off next month.

"The bank has refused to negotiate and to this day I just don't know why," said Binita Miles, the church pastor.

A spokesman for Sun Trust said: "We view foreclosure as an action of last resort. We have been working for several years to address the issue with the client in hopes of avoiding foreclosure."

There are more than 300,000 churches in the United States.

"The church foreclosure market isn't anything extraordinary," said Rolfs. "It's simply another byproduct of the credit bubble."

Will Greece Resolution Spark a Bigger Crisis?

Markets around the world were buoyed on hopes that Greece’s long and winding journey to debt restructuring may at last be its final port of call.

But some are warning that this may actually be the beginning of a new and more dangerous crisis.

The private sector is being asked to write off more than 70 percent of the face value of their Greek government bonds in return for new debt. This will help Greece meet its debt obligations and enable it to tap into bailout funds from the EU and IMF.

It seems likely that other nations burdened by heavy debt loads and high interest rates may seek to follow Greece’s path to debt relief. If Greece doesn’t have to pay what it owes, they might argue, why should we? Call it Haircut Contagion.

European officials insist that Greece is a one-time deal, not meant to set a precedent for other nations. But it is easy to see that minority parties in debt-burdened European nations could find a demand for relief an attractive platform. Imposing a “tax” on bondholders rather asking citizens to pay higher taxes while public services are cut might prove popular with voters.

Demands for debt relief could take many forms. Greece has been able to encourage bond holders to participate in the debt swap by enacting laws that incorporated “collective action clauses” into the 86 percent of bonds governed by Greek law. These clauses allow super-majorities of bond holders to force hold-outs to participate in swaps. Other countries in the euro zone could replicate this strategy.

“Effectively, this is a large gift from the Greeks to the parts of the euro zone that face debt crises. By conducting its debt exchange in the way it did, Greece has in effect resurrected the plausibility of purely voluntary debt-reduction operations in Europe,” Moody’s has explained.

Such demands would put new strains on the global financial system. While Europe’s banks and insurance companies can withstand losses on Greek debt, a series of similar haircuts might destabilize the system and render some institutions insolvent.

Warren Mosler, a trader based in the Virgin Islands who is credited with creating the euro-swap futures contract, fears that all it would take to set off a panic would be serious political discussion of widespread haircuts.

“The idea of Greek default transformed from being a Greek punishment to a gift, with the pending question: ‘If Greece doesn’t have to pay, why do I?’ — threatening a far more disruptive outcome that is yet to be fully discounted,”Mosler writes on his website, Mosler Economics. “That is, should Greek bonds be formally discounted, the consequences of merely the political discussion of that question will be all it takes to trigger a financial crisis rivaling anything yet seen.”

He has spelled out exactly what he thinks would happen in a Haircut Contagion crisis.

“Possible immediate consequences of that discussion include a sharp spike in gold, silver, and other commodities in a flight from currency, falling equity and debt valuations, a banking crisis, and a tightening of ‘financial conditions’ in general from portfolio shifting, even as it’s fundamentally highly deflationary. And while it probably won’t last all that long, it will be long enough to seriously shake things up,” Mosler writes.

A recent paper cited by Reuters took a much more sanguine approach to the likelihood of Haircut Contagion. The ratings agency figures that countries may attempt to receive modest debt relief in exchange for giving up their rights to unilaterally change the terms of their debt. They could do this, for example, by restructuring bonds governed by domestic law into foreign law bonds, mostly likely governed by English law.

“Holders of local-law governed bonds in other euro zone countries that are perceived to be at risk might want to make a trade for English-law governed bonds,” Jeromin Zettelmeyer, deputy chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Duke University Professor Mitu Gulati, wrote in the paper. “Depending on how much these bondholders would be willing to pay to make this trade, it could serve the interest of the country as well to make it.”

Of course, countries that agreed to make this swap would be sacrificing a lot of their future flexibility. Some might find it too high a price to pay. In a sense, converting their debt to foreign jurisdiction bonds would be like doubling-down on the structural problems with the euro zone. The countries that did this would sacrifice sovereignty over their debt to achieve lower interest rates, much like they sacrificed monetary sovereignty for the currency union.

And it’s not clear that this would be all that attractive to bondholders, either. After all, a country that cannot or will not pay its debt cannot be forced to, just because the bonds are subject to foreign law.

The hope of European leaders was that preventing a disorderly default in Greece would avoid a domino effect of sovereign debt defaults. The danger, however, is that debt relief for Greece could spark a new and unexpected Haircut Contagion crisis.


U.S. magazine forms Iran war 'doomsday clock,' sets it to 10 minutes to midnight

Chances for war between Israel and Iran now stand at 48 percent, a new "doomsday clock" initiative by the U.S. magazine The Atlantic indicated on Thursday.

The new "Iran War Clock" utilizes a wide-ranging panel of experts in order to form what The Atlantic hopes would be an educated estimation as to the chances of all-out war in the Middle East. The project is an apparent take on the famous "Doomsday Clock , initiated by scientists to try and work out how close was mankind to the end of the world.

Presently the Iran War Clock is set to 10 minutes to midnight, with a current 48 percent probability of war erupting with Iran. The panel of experts includes Haaretz's own military analyst Amos Harel, as well as prominent scholars and journalists.

According to The Atlantic, each "panelist makes an individual estimate about the percentage chance of war and we report the average score. Based on this number, we adjust the Iran War Clock so that the hand moves closer to, or further away from, midnight."

"We're humble about the accuracy of this prediction, which is really a collective 'gut-check' feeling. But it may be closer to the truth than the alternative forecasts available."

In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said that the more veteran and all-inclusive Doomsday Clock was moved to five minutes to midnight, the first adjustment since the beginning of 2010, when it was moved back one minute to six minutes from midnight -- or "doomsday".

"Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed," the group said in a statement.


Panetta: US attack on Iran would be more effective

Have you noticed that Obama was dress for a funeral

WASHINGTON – United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the possibility of a strike against Iran, clarifying Thursday that the US has better attack capabilities than Israel's.

In an interview with the National Journal Panetta discussed what were to happen if Israel carries out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. “If they decided to do it there’s no question that it would have an impact, but I think it’s also clear that if the United States did it we would have a hell of a bigger impact,” Panetta stated.

Washington's diplomatic escalation in regards to Iran comes after a long week of meetings between US President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, in which the US declared it's committed to preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capabilities.

אובמה ונתניהו. לא דיברו על פצצות חודרות בונקרים (צילום: עמוס בן גרשום, לע"מ)
Netanyahu and Obama (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom, GPO)

“Let me be clear—we do not have a policy of containment,” Panetta clarified. “We have a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Just like his fellow Washington officials, Panetta has come to a conclusion that Israel has yet to make up its mind about whether or not to attack Iran. “As the president himself has said, I don’t believe they’ve made a final decision here,” Panetta said. “I feel confident that they really are seriously weighing all of the ramifications of how best to deal with Iran.”

Panetta mentioned the US has far more advanced weapons and a significantly larger air force than Israel, concluding that an American attack on Iran would be a lot more effective.