Tuesday, April 10, 2012
ANCHORAGE — A spring snowfall has broken the nearly 60-year-old seasonal snow record of Alaska's largest city.
Inundated with nearly double the snow they're used to, Anchorage residents have been expecting to see this season's snowfall surpass the record of 132.6 inches in the winter of 1954-55.
The 3.4 inches that fell by Saturday afternoon brought the total to 133.6 inches, and another 0.9 inches accumulated by 7 p.m., the Anchorage Daily News reported. That put the season's snowfall total at 134.5 inches — more than 11 feet.
Before a dumping of wet snow Friday, none had fallen since mid-March, and the seasonal measure hovered at 129.4 inches. The halt gave residents a chance to clear their snow-laden roofs and city crews an opportunity to widen streets squeezed by mountains of snow.
At the height of the snow overload, many residential streets were rimmed by snow-walled canyons that towered over fences and shielded homes. Some roofs collapsed.
In an effort to improve military units’ ability to detect enemy forces, the IDF Ground Forces Command is developing a miniature radar system that could be used in reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
IDF battalions and brigades rely on unmanned aerial vehicles as well as some electro-optic land systems for reconnaissance missions, but they are not equipped with radars, due to their relatively high cost and large size.
The Ground Forces Command has contacted local defense contractors in a bid to develop a small radar with a range of just a few kilometers that weighs no more than 20 kilograms and can be carried on a soldier’s back.
The radars would be used by reconnaissance squads in infantry and armored battalions which would deploy them ahead of the main force and search for enemy forces.
The data the radar provided would then be transferred back to the battalion’s command post where commanders could automatically dispatch UAVs to provide live footage of the suspected enemy force.
“This would enable forces to accurately see who is coming and immediately engage enemy targets,” a senior officer from the Ground Forces Command explained.
The IDF uses two UAVs for its ground forces. Elbit’s Skylark I is used for battalions as part of the Sky Rider Program, which saw the deployment of a UAV in every infantry battalion, as well as the Skylark II, which recently underwent evaluations along the border with Egypt ahead of its delivery to IDF brigades.
"The Iranian economy is on the brink of collapse. That is why this is the time to tighten the sanctions, not to relax them," Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz told Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti during their meeting yesterday.
Steinitz and Monti agreed on negotiations to establish an Israeli-Italian high-tech research foundation for industrial and technological collaboration between the two countries' high-tech industries. They also discussed the huge sale of Italian jet trainers to the Israel Air Force and reciprocal procurements by Italian companies from Israeli companies, such as Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1), Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.), and Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT).
Monti showed great interest in Israeli's biennial budget, saying that European countries should examine the matter in a positive light, partly because of the lengthening of the budget process, since budget frameworks will in future require the approval of EU institutions in Brussels.
The shortfall in US labor union pension funds is huge and growing rapidly. The latest data, from 2009, from the PBGC showed that these multi-employer plans were 48% underfunded with $331bn of assets to support $686bn of liabilities - and it has hardly been a good ride for those asset values since then.
Critically, as the FT notes today, recent changes by FASB has enabled Credit Suisse to estimate shortfalls more accurately and it paints an ugly picture. The critical difference between reality and what is being reported is the ability for firms to use actuarial 'facts' to discount liabilities or compound assets at a 7.5% annual growth rate - as opposed to the sad reality of a financially repressed investing environment where returns swing from +20% to -20% in a flash forcing all funds into market timers and not long-term buy-and-hold growth players.
These multi-employer pension schemes cover over 10 million people concentrated in industries with highly unionized workforces such as construction, transport, retail and hospitality but of the shortfall only $43bn lies with firms of the S&P 500 - leaving the bulk of the burden on small- and medium-sized businesses once again.
It seems the number and size of unfunded (implicitly government) liabilities continues to rise or does this force pensions to follow Ben's path and increase exposure to hedge funds (which are underperforming in this serene rally so far this year) in an effort to meet these hurdle rates? Either way it appears this under-appreciated drag on the real-economy as one after another small-, medium-, and large- (Safeway faces shortfalls larger than its market cap) businesses will need to eat into earnings to fund this shortfall.
The US navy announced the arrival of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the north Arabian Sea and the USS Enterprise, the world's longest naval vessel, in the Gulf of Aden.
A senior official in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government threatened in January unspecified action if American aircraft carriers returned to the Persian Gulf, saying: "We are not in the habit of warning more than once".
Although neither ship has entered the Gulf itself, the deployment will be seen as an unmistakable challenge in Tehran ahead of the beginning of negotiations on Saturday, which President Barack Obama has described as Iran's "last chance" to resolve the nuclear impasse through diplomacy.
In recent weeks Iran has been forced to temper its bellicose rhetoric after American and European Union sanctions against the country's central bank and energy sector began to have serious consequences for its already faltering economy.
In an apparent gesture of reconciliation, Iran offered to resume talks with the international community over the future of its nuclear programme, which it continues to insist is purely for peaceful purposes.
Despite strong Israeli misgivings and deep suspicions in the West, Iran's negotiating partners accepted the offer but have outlined a series of initial steps they expect Tehran to take to prove its sincerity.
These include a demand for the closure of Iran's best protected nuclear facility at Fordow and an immediate halt to the refinement of uranium to a concentration of 20 per cent, a level considered a short step away from weapons grade. All stocks of nuclear fuel enriched to 20 per cent must also be shipped abroad, Western diplomats said.
Iran reacted angrily to the demands yesterday, accusing world powers of an act of bad faith by announcing conditions before the talks, which are to be held in Istanbul, had even begun.
"Setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless and none of the parties will accept conditions set before the talks," Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, said.
But in a sign that Iran is willing to give at least the impression of compromise, the country's nuclear chief, Fereydoun Abbasi, said that Tehran was willing to contemplate halting the enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent – but only once it had stockpiled nuclear fuel at that level.
"The job is being carried out based on need," he said. "When the need is met, we will decrease production and it is even possible to completely revert to only 3.5 per cent (levels)."
Western powers are likely to reject the offer, however. Iran has already produced 240lb of uranium enriched to 20 per cent – just under the amount needed to produce one nuclear bomb if refined further – and has announced that it needs to treble that amount.
The United States and its European allies will also tell Iran that it must stop refining uranium to a concentration of 20 per cent - a level considered a short step away from weapons grade - and move existing stocks of fuel already enriched to such levels abroad.
The demands signal a Western acceptance of the most important conditions that Israel says must be fulfilled if it is to be persuaded to drop its threat of unilateral military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.
President Barack Obama has warned Iran that the talks, which begin on Friday, represent its "last chance" for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
Iranian media said the talks, which collapsed more than a year ago, would be held in Istanbul, apparently dropping a push by Tehran to stage the talks in a new venue.
In a significant softening of its position, the Iranian government dropped its opposition to the negotiations being held in Istanbul. Officials in Tehran had previously called for the talks to be held in Iraq or even conflict-ravaged Syria in a tactic seen as a time-wasting ruse.
According to Western diplomats quoted by the New York Times, Iran will be told it must seal and ultimately dismantle its Fordow uranium enrichment plant, buried deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom, as a sign of its sincerity.
Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20 per cent at Fordow and is moving much of its nuclear fuel to the plant in a step that has caused deep concern in Israel, whose US-provided "bunker-busting" bombs would probably not be able to destroy the facility.
Iran has already enriched 240 lb of uranium to 20 per cent according to UN inspectors, a little less than the material needed to supply one nuclear bomb if it is refined further. Iran says it plans to triple its stocks of the higher-grade fuel, saying it needs them to supply a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes.
The Israeli government has demanded a halt to all Iranian enrichment, including to lower levels of 3.5 per cent, but has agreed to allow its Western allies to adopt a "staggered approach" by concentrating first on Tehran's higher-grade fuel.
"We told our American friends, as well as the Europeans, that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiations to be clear, namely that [they] will demand clearly that no more enrichment to 20 per cent," Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are at odds over the severity of the demands that the six Western superpowers should present to Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program, which are scheduled to get underway on Saturday in Istanbul.
Netanyahu supports a demand to completely halt all uranium enrichment and remove all enriched material from Iran, while Barak is in favor of allowing the Iranians to continue enriching uranium to a low level and for several hundred kilograms of enriched uranium to remain in Iran.
In two separate statements made on Sunday, Netanyahu and Barak presented what they described as "Israel's position" on dialogue between Iran and the six superpowers. However, the statements contained several contradictions on core issues.
In contradiction to Netanyahu's statement, a statement released by Barak called for demanding that the Iranians remove all enriched uranium from the state "aside from a quantity of several hundred kilograms, which would not allow for the continued enrichment for weapons or a nuclear facility."
Barak presented two additional demands, beyond those presented by Netanyahu, including IAEA supervision over all Iranian nuclear activity and full disclosure of the history and the activity in important areas that belong to its military nuclear project. Barak also noted that, in exchange, the Iranians could receive fuel rods for the nuclear facility in Tehran.
Netanyahu said in a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti that the superpowers much demand a complete end to all uranium enrichment by Iran.
Netanyahu voiced skepticism on Sunday over talks with Iran, scheduled to begin in Istanbul on Saturday between the six Western powers and Tehran.
In a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in his Caesarea home, Netanyahu said that Israel will follow the talks closely "since Iran is using them to delay and deceive."
Netanyahu emphasized that Israel's stance over what the West should demand vis-à-vis Tehran's nuclear program has not changed. He reiterated the three demands he made during his visit in Canada last month – that Iran dismantle a nuclear facility near the city of Qom, complete halt uranium enrichment and remove all material enriched above 3.5 percent from the country.
Netanyahu's comments come as the U.S. media reported that President Barack Obama said he intends to present Tehran with a number of conditions. According to the New York Times, the U.S. presented Iran with similar conditions to those of Netanyahu – closing the facility in Qom, stopping uranium enrichment and transferring enriched uranium out of Iran. In return, the Iranians would be able to use nuclear technology for civilian use such as energy and medicine.