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Friday, December 28, 2012

Russia to Start Issuing Combined ID-Payment Cards in Jan.

MOSCOW, December 28 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian authorities will start issuing universal identity and payment cards in 2013 to streamline the payment of pensions and taxes and be used like bank cards in stores.

The universal card, implanted with an electronic chip, will serve as an identification card complete with the holder's picture and digital signature and be used to pay for household utilities, public transportation, prescriptions, or any other social or municipal needs. The cards resemble regular bank cards.

The cards will be issued on request beginning January 2013 and will be issued to all Russian citizens in 2014, except for those who submit a written refusal.

The card will be free of charge for all Russian citizens.

As of December 24, only 57 of 83 Russian regions were more than 50 percent ready to issue the cards. None of the regions were 100 percent ready.

In three-five years the card will be transformed into new-generation ID cards, replacing internal passports for Russians.

The Russian economics ministry earlier estimated the costs of the five-year program to be between 135 and 165 billion rubles ($4.4-$5.4 billion).

RIA Novosti

Spain's house prices to fall another 30pc

RR de Acuña & Asociados expects home prices in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities to fall a further 30pc in a relentless slide until 2018, but it may be even worse in sunbelt regions where 400,000 Britons either live or own homes.

Fresh losses could reach 50pc and drag on for 10 to 15 years in those places where construction ran wild during the bubble, bringing the total decline from peak to trough towards 75pc.

"The market is broken," said Fernando Rodríguez de Acuña, the group's vice-president. "We calculate that there are almost 2m properties waiting to be sold. We have made no progress at all over the past five years in clearing the stock," he said.

"There are 800,000 used homes on the market. Developers are sitting on a further 700,00 completed units. Another 300,000 have been foreclosed and 150,000 are in foreclosure proceedings, and there are another 250,000 still under construction. It's crazy."

The overhang is vast for a country with 48m inhabitants and annual demand near 200,000. It is coupled with an outflow of workers and the start of an aging population crisis.

The government says the housing market has already "touched bottom" after falling 30pc since 2008, even though premier Mariano Rajoy admits that there will no economic recovery until 2014.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts contraction of 1.3pc next year, while Citigroup and Nomura both expect the depression to continue into 2014. The unemployment rate is 26.2pc and rising.

As a member of the eurozone, Spain no longer has the monetary levers to engineer a soft landing for "nominal" house prices. This makes it much harder to break the vicious cycle of debt-deflation. The property sector and the banks are each dragging the other down. The share price of nationalised Bankia fell 14pc on Thursday after the authorities said the lender is worthless, with "negative value " of -€4.2bn (-£3.5bn).

Bankia will need a further €13.5bn of taxpayer funds, taking the total to €18bn. Some 350,000 small investors - many talked into buying Bankia's preferred shares as a form of saving - have lost their money.

Banco de Valencia fell to €0.09 after state rescue fund (FROB) said it would seize 99.9pc of the company before selling it on to CaixaBank, a total wipe-out for shareholders.

El Confidencial reported that bank rescue costs will push the budget deficit to 9pc of GDP for 2012, far above the orginal EU target of 4.5pc, later modified to 6.3pc.

There has been scant improvement since 2009, when the deficit peaked at 11.2pc. The IMF says the deficit is still stuck at 7pc even if bank costs are stripped out.

It warns against austerity overkill, arguing that too much fiscal tightening can be self-defeating in a regional slump without offsetting monetary stimulus. New research by the Fund suggests that Spain's "fiscal multiplier" may be three times higher than originally assumed.

Mr Rodríguez de Acuña said Spain's property crisis varies enormously by region, with the worst damage on the Club Med belt. Even so, recent firesales in the inland city of Toledo have shocked analysts.

Santander recently slashed prices by 60pc to clear a backlog of properties. When Banco Sabadel followed shortly after, it had to offer haircuts of 70pc. Another large bank suspended its Toledo sales two weeks ago after prices went into meltdown.

"We think prices will recover in the traditional coastal areas like the Canaries or Malaga within five to eight years, but for now banks are offering huge discounts and nobody is calling. Marbella has already fallen by 50pc and prices are going down and down," Mr Rodríguez de Acuña said.

"In places like Castellon [near Valencia] where over-development was mad, banks are not financing anything and there is a high probability that these properties will never be sold. They will have to be knocked down," he said.

Spain's bank rescue from the EU bail-out fund (ESM) is bringing the crisis to a head quickly, and brutally. Brussels insists that Madrid crystallise the losses in the portfolios of the rescued banks, ending the "extend and pretend" policy that has concealed the full gravity of the crisis until now.

The big trio of healthy banks - Santander, BBVA, and Caixa - have all rushed to sell their backlog before the state's "bad bank" unloads its holdings. They have already written down 95pc of the value of their land portfolio. "There is little more to lose," said Mr Rodrigues de Acuña.

The Telegraph

Syria will descend into ‘bloody chaos’ if UN envoy’s plan to establish transitional government fails: Russia

Russia warned Thursday Syria would descend into “bloody chaos” if a proposal from Lakhdar Brahimi, the international peace envoy, to set up a transitional government fails.

Mr. Brahimi challenged those in the conflict to work together to pave the way for democratic elections and sideline President Bashar al-Assad.

His proposal received strong backing from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said negotiations were the only way to end the fighting.

“The alternative to a peaceful solution is bloody chaos. The longer it continues, the greater its scale — and the worse things get for all,” he said.

SANA / The Associated Press In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, UN Arab League deputy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, speaks during a press conference in Damascus on Thursday. The international envoy charged with pushing to end Syria's civil war has called for the formation of a transitional government to run the country until new elections can be held.

After five days of negotiations with the regime in Damascus, Mr. Brahimi claimed to have the outline of a power-sharing pact, but his proposals were instantly rejected by the main opposition council.

It has been angered by the suggestion Mr. Assad could stay on as a figurehead despite the deaths of 45,000 people in the fighting. The Christmas mission by Mr. Brahimi and a “softening” of Russia’s support for Mr Assad’s regime has lifted hopes for a diplomatic end to civil war.

Mr. Brahimi said the regime must make previously unthinkable concessions to the leaders of the 21-month uprising.

“Change should not be cosmetic — the Syrian people need and require real change, and everyone understands what that means,” said Mr. Brahimi, the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy.

“We need to form a government with all powers… which assumes power during a period of transition. That transition period will end with elections.”

Speaking before he prepared to fly to Moscow Friday, Mr. Brahimi warned there must not be a “collapse of the state or the state’s institutions” during any power-sharing period.

Yasser Tabbara, a spokesman for the Syria Opposition Coalition, said the terms outlined by the envoy were unacceptable.

We need to find a quick solution

“It has been the position of the coalition that we need to find a quick solution on the issue of Bashar al-Assad stepping down,” he said.

“The priority of the coalition is to preserve lives and finish this with the least casualties. The plans proposed by Lakhdar Brahimi are out of touch with reality. The plan takes us back months and months, if not years.”

Moaz al-Khatib, the coalition leader, flatly dismissed Mr. Brahimi’s proposals in a Facebook posting this week.

Moscow has engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity to promote power-sharing and its view there will be no military solution to the conflict.

Mr. Lavrov met Thursday with Faisal Mekdad, the Syrian deputy foreign minister and Mr. Assad’s cousin, to press Damascus to co-operate with Mr. Brahimi.

Grassroots rebel supporters believe the Brahimi mission is a distraction at a time when fighters have advanced to the gates of the presidential palace in Damascus.

Alarm over Syria’s disintegration led to crisis talks between Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, and King Abdullah of Jordan about the fate of Syria’s chemical weapons. Israel fears the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamists fighting Mr. Assad or the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, an Iran ally.

The Daily Telegraph

‘Fiscal Cliff’ Distracts As ‘Fiscal Abyss’ In Japan, UK and U.S. Cometh

Today’s AM fix was USD 1,658.75, EUR 1,259.68 and GBP 1,031.37 per ounce.
Yesterday’s AM fix was USD 1,655.25, EUR 1,247.65 and GBP 1,022.96 per ounce.

Silver is trading at $30.16/oz, €22.97/oz and £18.79/oz. Platinum is trading at $1,533.70/oz, palladium at $701.00/oz and rhodium at $1,040/oz.

Gold climbed $4.10 or 0.25% in New York yesterday and closed at $1,664.20/oz. Silver slipped to $29.685 in London, but it rose to a high of $30.466 in New York and finished with a gain of 0.8%.

Currency Ranked Returns in US Dollars – (Bloomberg)

Gold pared back early gains and edged down on Friday and tick tock goes the US “fiscal cliff” clock as time is running out for the somewhat irrelevant New Year’s deadline.

Gold bullion prices are on target for their first weekly gain in a month after the sharp fall in December (-3%) led to bargain hunters buying the dip. Gold bottomed on December 29th last year prior to very strong gains in January 2012 and we believe a similar pattern may be seen again this year.

The yellow metal looks set to rack up its 12th straight year of gains on low to zero interest rates, concerns of the eurozone debt crisis and diversification into bullion by central banks.

2013 should see global gold demand grow on further strength from China and a recovery in India, helping the precious metal continue its bull run into its 13th year, according to the World Gold Council.

U.S. CFTC commitment of traders’ data is at 1930 GMT today.

President Obama meets congressional leaders from both parties regarding the fiscal cliff and if a deal isn’t struck it will likely fuel safe haven buying of gold.

Negotiations to avert the ‘fiscal cliff’ offer great political drama, but they won’t solve America’s looming budget and debt crisis and may cast the nation into another recession or worse.

A deal is likely to be done but any deal will be another cynical exercise of kicking the can down the road while failing again to address the root causes of the debt crisis which is too much debt at all levels of American society.

Gold Spot $/oz, 1 Year – (Bloomberg)

The political and media side show that is the so-called “fiscal cliff” will soon be overshadowed by the appalling and rapidly deteriorating situation regarding the U.S. national debt.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has alerted Congress that the nation will once again hit the debt ceiling on Monday, but that his department can take “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the bills for another few months.

Incredibly, the debt ceiling was raised from $14.294 trillion in August 2011, to its current level of $16.394 trillion. Thus in the span of only sixteen months, the Obama administration has added a whopping $2.1 trillion to the national debt.

Silver Spot $/oz, from Oct. 2011 – (Bloomberg)

The U.S. federal deficit is now exceeding $1 trillion dollars every year —up from $161 billion in 2007, the last year before the financial crisis. Spending is up some $1 trillion, as outlays for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements have increased by an amount equal to the entire 2013 military budget – a budget which may again surpass the combined military expenditure of every other nation in the world.

U.S. unfunded liabilities are now estimated at between $50 trillion and $100 trillion and by the end of the decade (in less than just 7 years), runaway entitlement spending will require shutting down the military or crippling many other vital domestic spending programs to head off massive deficits that will likely lead to a dollar crisis and significant inflation.

No matter what deal is eventually agreed, whether before or after the new year, it will at best nibble at the edges of the trillion dollar annual deficits that are being piled up.

While all the focus has been on the so called U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’, amnesia has taken hold and many market participants have forgotten about the far from resolved Eurozone debt crisis – not to mention looming debt crisis in the UK and Japan.

Cross Currency Table – (Bloomberg)

In Japan, the national debt is seen topping ¥1 quadrillion by the end of March 2013. A policy of money printing pursued for a decade has failed abysmally and now politicians look set to pursue currency debasement in an even more aggressive manner – with attendant consequences.

The UK is one of the most indebted countries in the industrialised world - the national debt now stands at more than 1 trillion pounds ($1.6 trillion) and total debt to GDP in the UK remains over 500%.

Gold is traditionally sought out as a safe-haven and inflation hedge that investors diversify into in times of trouble. This is because throughout history, those who own physical gold have been protected from financial, economic and monetary crisis.

Also, much recent academic research has shown gold is a proven safe haven asset.

Gold has lately been behaving like any risk asset. However, buyers should continues to focus on the long term as gold ownership will protect people from the fiscal abyss facing major economies and currencies internationally in the coming years.

(Bloomberg) -- Silver ETP Holdings Expand to Record 18,915.75 Metric Tons
Assets in exchange-traded products backed by silver rose to an all-time high of 18,915.75 metric tons yesterday, data tracked by Bloomberg showed.

(Bloomberg) -- Economist Dennis Gartman Says He’s Buying Gold Priced in Yen
Gartman says he bought bullion priced in euros yesterday.

(Bloomberg) -- Gartman Buying Gold Again in Euros and May Add to Purchases
Economist Dennis Gartman is buying one unit of gold in euros today.

A close above 1,265 euros this week “would force us to add to the position,” Gartman said in his daily report today.

(Bloomberg) -- Shanghai Gold Exchange to Raise Margin Requirements for Holidays
The Shanghai Gold Exchange will raise the margin requirement for gold contracts to 13% from 12% starting with the settlement on Dec. 28, according to a statement posted on the bourse’s website today.

The bourse will widen the trading bands for gold contracts to 10% from 9% from Dec. 31, the statement says.

Silver contract margin requirement will be unchanged and the trading bands will be increased to 13% from 12%, it says.

The exchange made the changes to prevent risks during market closure from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3, the statement says.

Zero Hedge

Syrian rebels: Assad used phosphorus bombs

Rebel forces in Syria claim that the Syrian army, loyal to President Bashar Assad, has used phosphorus bombs against them, even though such weapons are illegal according to international law. Rebel forces have uploaded videos showing bombs being fired as well as the damage caused by the alleged phosphorus shells, though no injuries or casualties were reported. The claims join earlier reports by rebels of a fatality caused by an unknown chemical.

Meanwhile, a neutral Syrian news agency reported Thursday that Assad's security detail has been reinforced in light of rising fears that an attempt will be made on his life. The UN's special envoy visited Syria and called for a political solution - the creation of a transitional government until an election could be held.

Torn Assad poster in Aleppo (Photo: AP)

Arabic-language Sky News has reported that opposition sources have claimed that the president's forces have dropped phosphorus bombs on a town near Damascus. Phosphorus bombs are illegal according to international law.

Rebels have posted a video allegedly showing the town directly after the phosphorus bombing. In the video one can see numerous small fires as well as white smoke, but no fotage of the actual bombing, which produces a highly recognizable trail of white smoke, can be seen.

However, in an additional video released by the opposition's YouTube page, a helicopter dropping a bomb which creates the same white smoke trails can be seen. However, in this video, the aftermath of the bombing on the ground is not presented. The video's reliability or location has not been confirmed in light of the regime's restriction on foreign, as well as local media.

This is not the first time the opposition has made such claims. Just this month the international Human Rights Watch claimed that Assad's army has used incendiary bombs. Such bombs contain highly flammable chemicals such as napalm, thermite, or phosphorus which can cause fires, lead to chemical burns or damage airways. In the meantime, conventional warfare continues in full swing. The Syria Observatory of Human Rights, an opposition group, has said that clashes between rebel and government forces were reported today in the Idlib region, sparking retaliatory aerial attacks by Assad's forces. The organization, which is courtly located in the UK and relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, has reported 49 deaths throughout the country today, among them 11 rebels and 16 soldiers in the Idlib area. The ceaseless fighting has yet to exhaust some in the international community who continue to call for a solution. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that a peaceful solution must be reached so as to stop the bloodshed. However, he noted that the chances of forging a solution to the Syrian conflict based on a June agreement by world powers that called for a transitional government are decreasing. On the other hand, the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is currently visiting Damascus and has met with President Assad, has called for a transitional government. At the end of a five-day visit to the country, Brahimi said that such a government should be set up and it should rule until elections can be held. A Syrian website has quoted unnamed sources as saying that security surrounding Assad has been beefed up. According to the report, Assad no longer sleeps in his bedroom in the presidential palace, and instead switches bedrooms on a daily basis. Additionally, it reported that due to fears that Assad will be poisoned, the ingredients for his meals are purchased through a number of retailers and that one of his bodyguards is now charged with tasting the president's food some two hours prior to his meals.

China to be surrounded by US stealth jets by 2017

The United States’ presence in the Asia-Pacific is about to be much more impressive: by 2017, the US is expected to have all but surrounded China, its number one economic rival, with fleets of the most advanced stealth warplanes in the world.

According to recent reports from some of the Pentagon’s top-brass, Uncle Sam will be essentially surrounding the United States’ top competitor in only five years’ time. By 2017, the Air Force’s F-22s and B-2s, as well as a fleet of the Marine Corps’ F-35, will all be deployed east.

News of the long-term plan stems from a report by Wired’s David Axe this week, who notes that several recent interviews with Defense Department officials suggest that the Obama administration’s “strategic pivot” plan in Asia announced earlier this year hasn’t been ignored just yet.

In June, the Pentagon revealed plans to restructure the US military so that 60 percent of its warships would be in the Asia-Pacific by 2020. At the time, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the decision was not meant to intimidate China, but was rather a common sense response to make sure America’s resources were divvied out where they might be most needed.

“Some view the increased emphasis by the United States on Asia-Pacific as a challenge to China, I reject that view entirely,” Panetta said this summer.

As recently as November, the secretary said of Asia, “We’re going to continue to invest in the region,” but that “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of focus.” Now only weeks later, the pieces are already being put in place.

Speaking of the B-2 bombers last month, 8th Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Wilson told Air Force Magazine that fleets “will rotate to forward operating locations all over the world in small numbers for a few weeks at a time,” with those operations “beginning with a short Pacific deployment” in early 2013.

That news takes on a whole new light following an address from Sec. Panetta at the National Press Club in Washington last week, where he announced “new deployments of F-22s … to Japan” and confirmed that the Pentagon is “laying the groundwork” for F-35s to be in Japan by 2017.

“[W]e still have to maintain our global leadership and presence by building innovative partnerships and partner capacity across the globe and using these innovative rotational deployments as a way to do exercises and training with other countries, developing their capabilities so that they can help provide for their own security,” Panetta said.

Writing for Wired’s Danger Room, Axe says, “When the deployments are complete in 2017, Air Force F-22s and B-2s and Marine Corps F-35s could all be within striking range of America’s biggest economic rival at the same time.”

“With Beijing now testing its own radar-evading jet fighters — two different models, to be exact — the clock is counting down to a stealth warplane showdown over the Western Pacific,” he says.

When the Pentagon first discussed its “strategic pivot” earlier this year, Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut) dismissed rumors of an eventual skirmish, saying, "China and the US are so tied together economically and another Cold War is not in the interest of either that ultimately common sense will prevail."

Regardless, the Obama administration’s current plan will position more than half of the United States Navy to the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the decade.

“Increased US involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future,” claimed Panetta.


We are already at war....Celente

Tracking Students & Citizens With Globally Connected Biometric Databases

The Biometric Database Law, originated in Israel,determines fingerprints and facial recognition software use to collect data on Israeli citizens as justified by decree of the Israeli government. This data is used for identification purposes by law enforcement and governmental agencies to deter criminal activity. However the Israeli government collects massive amounts of data on its citizens that violate their inherent right to privacy.

Israeli residents are subject to biometric tracking through passports and identification cards.

In the UK, the National Pupil Database (NPD) houses biometric information about British students for use of the government. The Administrative Data Liaison Service describes the NPD as “one of the richest education datasets in the world, holding a wide range of information about students who attend schools and colleges in England. The NPD combines the examination results of pupils with information on pupil and school characteristics and is an amalgamation of a number of different datasets, including Key State attainment data and Schools Census data (formerly known as PLASC) which are linked using a unique identifier for each pupil.”

The Biometrics Institute (BI), an international coalition of biometric users, academics and industry members want the UK government to rethink their widening use of the NPD as well as their burgeoning use of biometric technologies to create database profiles on citizens. BI is concerned that private sector corporations would now have access to the NPD which would open the door for Facebook and Google to use this information for nefarious purposes.


The BI was formed to “promote the responsible use of biometrics as an international forum for biometric users and other interested parties.” Their goals are to make sure:

• Promote ethical use of biometric technologies

• Retain privacy considerations

• Educate the public, governments and corporations on biometrics

• Influence standards of use of biometrics

• Test technology for on behalf of the industry

• Encourage research and development of biometrics

The Department of Education in the UK uses this database which stores extremely sensitive information about students, their parent’s social and educational background, finances, health, intelligence and social training, personal information, mental health records as well as fingerprints and facial recognition.

Terry Aulich, chair of the BI Privacy Committee explained: “Privacy breaches can have dangerous and disturbing consequences. All parents and pupils need water-tight guarantees to prevent any personal data, whether it is linked or consolidated, getting into the wrong hands or being misused by external groups such as the media and marketers, and criminals. Children cannot exercise informed consent about how their data is used and their parents are often unaware of the risks.”

More than 200 CCTV cameras have been installed in bathrooms and changing rooms to monitor students in the UK. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch said that parents were not aware of this new development and that schools should explain what is being done with the footage recorded.

These cameras were installed in 207 schools in England, Scotland and Wales. While the reasoning for this development is explained as necessary to divert crime, there is no significant research proving that CCTV cameras lower crime rates.


Google’s Conversions API is an advertising project that allows corporations to use user profiles to track their consumer habits offline as well as online. C-API will combine real-life data with online user information in order to “bring offline into your online world.”

Tracking consumers by in-store transactions, call-tracking coupled with online activities will be imputed into Google. Marketing will be enhanced with optimized “campaigns based on even more of your business data.”

Servers around the world will track and trace consumers using digital information collected in the real world. Biometrics plays a part in this Big Brother system that justifies this initiative under the guise of marketing; however Google has been under request of the US government for information they have collected on users.

In June, Google admitted they have been told by authorities from various governments, by way of more than 1,000 requests, to remove content from YouTube in the last 6 months of 2011. Google says this is “an alarming trend”. This is an attempt to subvert responsibility from the mega search engine, who works for the National Security Agency (NSA).

Google has “clarified” their statements on tracking consumers on and offline by stating that Google is only allowing advertisers to use data already collected in their marketing campaigns. Google claims not to be actually applying “phone-tracking” data to their searchable digital stores. This back-tracking of their original statements is more telling than the actual statement.

The Department of Defense (DoD) are using biometrics to fight terrorism, catalogue active duty troops and maintain national security interests. The Biometrics Identity Management Agency (BIMA) utilizes biometrics to “identify the enemy” and verify individuals to ensure secure business and governmental functions.

The US Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) has more than 90 million people’s photographs data based with the continuous use of the Department of Facial Recognition Software. The US Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System tracks an estimated 250,000 biometric communications a day. Over 126 million fingerprints, photographs and biographical information are filed for the US government to use at their discretion.

New Palestinian Fatah Logo Erases Israel

A new official logo celebrating Fatah’s 48th anniversary includes a map that shows all of Israel as “Palestine.”

The logo features various symbols, including a map of “Palestine” that includes all of Israel.

The Zionist Organization of America is demanding that Barack Obama, the EU and the United Nations must condemn the new logo.

Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) has published a picture of the official logo chosen by Fatah, the party co-founded by arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, for celebrations marking the movement’s 48th anniversary. The logo features various symbols, including a map of what should be Israel labelled only as ‘Palestine,’ the number 48, the Palestinian flag, and the slogan for the 48th anniversary, ‘The state and the victory.’ The ZOA is strongly urging President Barack Obama, the European Union and the United Nations to condemn this outrage which reiterates the clear fact that Abbas and the Fatah/PA have no interest in peace with Israel, only its destruction.

The new Fatah logo is consistent with official PA maps used in official documents, government offices and schools that do not acknowledge Israel’s existence and mark all of Israel as ‘Palestine.’ Other symbols central to Fatah ideology also appear in the logo, including a rifle and a key symbolizing the Palestinian claim of ownership to houses within Israel (‘New Fatah logo erases Israel,’ PMW bulletin, December 12, 2012).

Storm rakes half of nation; Arkansas still dark

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — As a the muted ends of a powerful winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people plodded through the Northeast, many in Arkansas were seeking warmth and shelter against the cold prospect of life without electricity into the new year.

A Christmas Day blizzard dumped more than 15 inches of snow on the state, causing massive damage to power lines that have affected more than 200,000 customers.

With the bleak word from the state's largest utility that the lights could be out until after the start of the new year, many residents who awoke snowbound Wednesday morning found themselves jamming the city's hotel rooms by Thursday night.

"I'm coping with hot toddies and peanuts," said Lynda Johnson, who lined up a series of hotel stays through hotels.com to make it at least through Saturday night. She has already been to the movies — she saw "Django Unchained" — and checked in with neighbors multiple times to see if the lights are back on.

They aren't.

Deena Brazell spent a night in her car for warmth, though she hadn't planned it that way.

"Everything in the apartment is electric. I stayed in the apartment the first night. After that, it got cold really quick," she said. "I went out to charge the phone and fell asleep, then I just decided to stay."

After the storm's peak early Wednesday, homes and businesses from border-to-border had lost power. Johnson, and several others, said they were hoping the power would be back on Wednesday after spending Christmas night in the dark. Butut then the president of the state's largest utility announced that some of the outages would persist at least into New Year's Day. Little Rock was among the cities hardest hit.

"We spent the first night at home and turned on the fireplace, but it doesn't give off a lot of heat," said Kathy Garner, who sought refuge at her sister and brother-in-law's house in Maumelle, a Little Rock suburb.

In a typical year, tornadoes bring Arkansas' worst weather, but the damage is isolated and linemen have a relatively easy time fixing the power grid.

This week's storm was epic by comparison, and despite the jokes — "In Wisconsin, we call this Tuesday" — as of Thursday night there was more snow on the ground in Little Rock than Milwaukee.

"You run out of money fast," Johnson said. "The things you had planned to do, you can't do. You need food, clothing and shelter. Since I'm not home, I have to find someplace for shelter. Then you have to find something to eat."

The storm system responsible for the misery roared out of the Rockies early Tuesday with blizzard conditions in southwestern Oklahoma and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast.

After sweeping across Arkansas, giving Little Rock its first white Christmas since 1926, it rolled into the Midwest and Northeast before moving on to Canada. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in the Adirondacks of New York; Indianapolis had 7.5 inches, its greatest snowfall in four years; and 4-6 inches fell in and around Concord, N.H.

"I'm going to be shoveling all day, just trying to keep up with the snow, which is impossible," said Dale Lamprey, clearing the sidewalk outside the legislative office building near the New Hampshire Statehouse.

Nationwide, at least 17 people died because of the ice, snow and wind. Deaths from wind-toppled trees also were reported in Texas and Louisiana, but car crashes caused most of the fatalities.

A Michigan woman who was riding in a car that struck a tree and two people riding in a car that slid across the center line of a road in Arkansas and hit another vehicle.

Two people were killed in Kentucky crashes, a New York man was killed after his pickup truck skidded on an icy road in northwest Pennsylvania, and an Ohio teenager died after losing control of her car and smashing into an oncoming snowplow.

Forty-two students traveling to London and Dublin were stuck in the Nashville, Tenn., airport thanks to poor weather in the Northeast. The frustrated students, from universities in Tennessee and Kentucky, were supposed to leave Wednesday and arrive in London on Thursday.

"It's a two-week program, so it's shortened already," said Joe Woolley, spokesman for the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad.

Farther east, the storm knocked out power to more than 7,000 homes and businesses in Maryland. In New Jersey, gusts of more than 70 mph were recorded along the coast, and the weather service issued a flood warning for some coastal areas. There were about 800 power outages in Vermont, but only a handful in neighboring New Hampshire.

Back in Arkansas, utility workers struggling in freezing temperatures restored power to nearly a third of their customers that lost power during the Christmas storm, but that still meant that more than 135,000 homes and businesses were in the dark as forecasters predicted another round of freezing rain for Friday.

"You just want to be home," Garner said at her sister's house. "You just want to be in your own bed. There's nothing like the comfort of your own home."


Photos show NKorea nuclear readiness

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea has repaired flood damage at its nuclear test facility and could conduct a quick atomic explosion if it chose, though water streaming out of a test tunnel may cause problems, analysis of recent satellite photos indicates.

Washington and others are bracing for the possibility that if punished for a successful long-range rocket launch on Dec. 12 that the U.N. considers a cover for a banned ballistic missile test, North Korea's next step might be its third nuclear test.

Rocket and nuclear tests unnerve Washington and its allies because each new success puts North Korean scientists another step closer to perfecting a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile that could hit the mainland United States.

Another nuclear test, which North Korea's Foreign Ministry hinted at on the day of the rocket launch, would fit a pattern. Pyongyang conducted its first and second atomic explosions, in 2006 and 2009, weeks after receiving U.N. Security Council condemnation and sanctions for similar long-range rocket launches.

(AP) This satellite image taken Nov. 19, 2012 by DigitalGlobe and annotated and distributed Friday, Dec....

North Korea is thought to have enough plutonium for a handful of crude atomic bombs, and unveiled a uranium enrichment facility in 2010, but it must continue to conduct tests to master the miniaturization technology crucial for a true nuclear weapons program.

"With an additional nuclear test, North Korea could advance their ability to eventually deploy a nuclear weapon on a long-range missile," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the nongovernment Arms Control Association.

Analysts caution that only so much can be determined from satellite imagery, and it's very difficult to fully discern North Korea's plans. This is especially true for nuclear test preparations, which are often done deep within a mountain. North Korea, for instance, took many by surprise when it launched its rocket this month only several days after announcing technical problems.

Although there's no sign of an imminent nuclear test, U.S. and South Korean officials worry that Pyongyang could conduct one at any time.

Analysis of GeoEye and Digital Globe satellite photos from Dec. 13 and earlier, provided to The Associated Press by 38 North, the website for the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said scientists are "determined to maintain a state of readiness" at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility after repairing flood damage.

The nuclear speculation comes as South Korea's conservative president-elect, Park Geun-hye, prepares to take office in February, and as young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marks his one-year anniversary as supreme commander.

Kim has consolidated power since taking over after his father, Kim Jong Il, died Dec. 17, 2011, and the rocket launch is seen as a major internal political and popular boost for the 20-something leader.

Some analysts, however, question whether Kim will risk international, and especially Chinese, wrath and sure sanctions by quickly conducting a nuclear test.

The election of Park in South Korea and Barack Obama's re-election to a second term as U.S. president could "prompt North Korea to try more diplomacy than military options," said Chang Yong-seok, an analyst at the Institute for Peace Affairs, a private think tank in Seoul. "I think we'll see North Korea more focused on economic revival than on nuclear testing next year."

The 38 North analysis said the North "may be able to trigger a detonation in as little as two weeks, once a political decision is made to move forward." But the report by Jack Liu, Nick Hansen and Jeffrey Lewis also said it was unclear whether water seepage from a tunnel entrance at the site was under control. Water could hurt a nuclear device and the sensors needed to monitor a test.

The analysis also identified what it called a previously unidentified structure that could be meant to protect sensitive equipment from bad weather.

"We don't have a crystal ball that will tell us when the North will conduct its third nuclear test," said Joel Wit, a former U.S. State Department official and now editor of 38 North. "But events over the next few months, such as the U.N. reaction to Pyongyang's missile test and the North's unfolding policy toward the new South Korean government, may at least provide us with some clues."

Another unknown is how China, the North's only major ally, would respond to calls for tighter sanctions. Washington views more pressure from Beijing as pivotal if diplomatic pressure is going to force change in Pyongyang.

Even if Beijing signs on to U.N. punishment if the North conducts a test, there may be less hurt for Pyongyang than Washington wants.

The impact of tougher sanctions would be "a drop in the bucket compared with the tidal wave of China-North Korean trade" that has risen sharply since 2008, even as inter-Korean trade has remained flat, said John Park, a Korea expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Trade figures show North Korea's deepening dependence on China. Pyongyang's trade with Beijing surged more than 60 percent last year, reaching $5.63 billion, according to South Korea's Statistics Korea. China accounted for 70 percent of North Korea's annual trade in 2011, up from 57 percent in 2010.

North Korea's 2006 nuclear test had an estimated explosive yield of 1 kiloton. The Los Alamos National Laboratory estimated in 2011 that the North's test on May 25, 2009, which followed U.N. condemnation of an April long-range rocket launch, had a minimum yield of 5.7 kilotons. The atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki at the end of World War II was about 21 kilotons.

Both North Korean tests used plutonium for fissile material. Without at least one more successful plutonium test, it's unlikely that Pyongyang could have confidence in a miniaturized plutonium design, according to an August paper by Frank Pabian of Los Alamos and Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University.

North Korea's small plutonium stockpile is sufficient for four to eight bombs, they wrote, but it may be willing to sacrifice some if it can augment information from the previous tests. Pabian and Hecker predicted that Pyongyang may simultaneously test both plutonium and highly enriched uranium devices.

A uranium test would worry the international community even more, as it would confirm that North Korea, which would need months to restart its shuttered plutonium reactor, has an alternative source of fissile material based on uranium enrichment. North Korea unveiled a previously secret uranium enrichment plant in November 2010.

"Whether and when North Korea conducts another nuclear test will depend on how high a political cost Pyongyang is willing to bear," Pabian and Hecker wrote.

Another test would also undermine Pyongyang's assertion that its long-range rocket launches are for a peaceful space program and not what outsiders see as the development of ballistic missiles that could eventually deliver nuclear weapons.

On the same day as this month's rocket launch, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman told state media that a hostile U.S. response to a failed launch in April of this year had forced Pyongyang "to re-examine the nuclear issue as a whole."

The statement was a clear threat to detonate a nuclear device ahead of any U.N. Security Council action, said Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.