GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse – Citigroup Fails Federal Reserve’s Stress Test As Goldman Sachs Group, Bank Of America Alter Plans!

March 27, 2014 – UNITED STATES – Citigroup Inc.’s capital plan was among five that failed Federal Reserve stress tests, while Bank of America Corp. won approval for its first dividend increase since the financial crisis.

A customer uses an automated teller machine (ATM) inside of a Citibank bank branch on Park Avenue in New York.
Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg

Lenders announced more than $60 billion of dividends and stock buybacks after the Fed approved capital plans for 25 of the 30 banks in its annual exam. Citigroup, as well as U.S. units of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc and Banco Santander SA, failed because of concerns about the quality of their processes, the central bank said yesterday in a statement. Zions Bancorporation failed after its capital fell below Fed minimums in a simulation of a severe economic slump.

The results show lenders may still face obstacles to boosting dividends and buybacks even as regulators say the firms have doubled their capital since the first public stress test in 2009. The Fed is increasing scrutiny of the industry’s controls and planning processes as concerns about capital levels wane.

Bigger Payout
Banks in this year’s test collectively received approval to pay out about 60 percent of their estimated net income during the next four quarters, according to a Fed official. That ratio is closer to the 69 percent that lenders were returning to shareholders in 2005 before the crisis, according to data from Bloomberg Industries.

Citigroup was denied in its attempt to quintuple its dividend to 5 cents a quarter and put in place a $6.4 billion buyback. Bank of America and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. each had to cut their planned capital return to gain approval.

Citigroup, which last year asked for the least capital return among the five largest U.S. banks, would have passed this year’s test on quantitative grounds alone. It had a 6.5 percent Tier 1 common ratio, above the Fed’s 5 percent minimum.

Multiple Defects
The central bank found defects in Citigroup’s planning practices that included areas the Fed flagged before. The regulator expressed concern with the New York-based company’s ability to project losses in “material parts of its global operations” and to reflect all business exposures in its internal stress test.

“Taken in isolation, each of the deficiencies would not have been deemed critical enough to warrant an objection, but when viewed together, they raise sufficient concerns regarding the overall reliability of Citigroup’s capital planning process,” the Fed said of the third-largest U.S. bank.

Mike Corbat, the bank’s chief executive officer, said in a statement that Citigroup is “deeply disappointed” by the rejection and will “work closely with the Fed to better understand their concerns so that we can bring our capital planning process in line with their expectations.” The timing of any resubmission hasn’t been decided, he said.

Mexico Fraud
The Fed made no mention of the bank’s discovery of a $400 million loan fraud last month at its Mexico unit, which had stirred speculation that regulators might fault Citigroup’s controls. Corbat has vowed that the people involved will be held accountable.

Citigroup shares fell 5.2 percent to $47.55 in extended trading yesterday in New York. It’s the second time the Fed has failed one of the bank’s capital plans. The last rejection came in 2012, when Vikram Pandit was the CEO, and the defeat played a role in Pandit’s ouster later that year, a person with knowledge of the board’s discussions said at the time.

“It came as a surprise,” said Michael Scanlon, managing director at Manulife Asset Management in Boston, who helps oversee $3 billion, including shares of Citigroup. “It can be a significant ding to confidence when these companies have failed in the past. Sometimes it’s short-lived and they resolve the issues, resubmit and move forward, and ultimately that is what Citigroup is going to have to do.”

Clambering Back
Two of the main gauges in the Fed’s test were the Tier 1 common ratio and the leverage ratio. The first measures a bank’s core equity, made up of common shares and retained earnings, divided by its total assets adjusted for risk using global banking guidelines. The leverage ratio makes no distinction among risks and is considered a stricter standard by some regulators.

Bank of America and Goldman Sachs saw each of their Tier 1 leverage ratios drop to 3.9 percent in their original capital plans, below the required 4 percent. Both firms lowered their requests and were approved, meaning they don’t have to resubmit.

The two firms asked for too much in buybacks and dividends after their own internal stress tests showed better performance than in the central bank’s exam. New York-based Goldman Sachs predicted its Tier 1 common ratio would be about 3.8 percentage points stronger than the Fed estimated in a worst-case scenario. The gap for Bank of America was 2.7 percentage points.

Moynihan’s Quest

Bank of America, ranked second by assets, raised its quarterly payout to 5 cents from 1 cent after the Fed’s decision and authorized a $4 billion stock buyback. The increase is a victory for CEO Brian T. Moynihan, who has pressed to raise the payout from the token level that prevailed since the financial crisis.

The Fed blocked plans in 2011 for an increase by the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company, which didn’t ask for anything the following year and won permission for a $5 billion stock buyback last year.

Goldman Sachs said yesterday that its capital plan “provides flexibility,” without saying what it seeks to pay out to shareholders.

Projected losses for the 30 banks under a scenario of deep recession would total $366 billion over nine quarters, the Fed said last week. The aggregate Tier 1 common capital ratio would fall from an actual 11.5 percent in the third quarter of 2013 to a minimum of 7.6 percent, before accounting for capital plans.

Stronger System
“The banking system is much better capitalized at this point in time compared to where it was in 2009,” Sameer Gokhale, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Carol Massar. “The risk that you see large-scale bank failures has diminished significantly.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co., the U.S. biggest lender by assets, had its capital plan ratified as it maintained a Tier 1 common ratio of 5.5 percent, a half a percentage point above the minimum. Last year, approval for the New York-based bank came with an order to resubmit the plan to fix qualitative weaknesses. The quarterly dividend will rise to 40 cents a share from 38 cents, and the company authorized a $6.5 billion stock buyback, according to a bank statement.

The Tier 1 common ratio at Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. home lender, was 6.1 percent, while Morgan Stanley’s was 5.9 percent. Wells Fargo boosted its dividend 5 cents to 35 cents a quarter. Morgan Stanley doubled its quarterly payout to 10 cents and announced a $1 billion buyback.

Zions’ Plan
Zions, the Salt Lake City-based bank that had a 4.4 percent Tier 1 common ratio in the test, said before yesterday’s results were announced that it planned to resubmit its capital plan.

The Fed cited Santander Holdings USA Inc., the U.S. unit of Madrid-based Santander, for “widespread and significant deficiencies” across the firm’s processes. The central bank also faulted HSBC North America Holdings Inc. and RBS Citizens Financial Group Inc. for estimates of revenue and losses in the test. The rejection means the lenders won’t be able to increase dividends to their European parent companies, freezing them at current levels, according to a Fed official.

The dividend raises will boost yields closer to the norms that prevailed before the financial crisis, when the stocks were favored by income-oriented investors. The average yield for the 24-company KBW Bank Index stood at 4.9 percent at the end of 2007. It’s now under 2 percent.

The $60 billion of payouts includes dividends that were already being paid in addition to increases and new repurchase plans.

Yields Improve
JPMorgan’s increase boosted its yield to about 2.7 percent annually based on yesterday’s close. Its payout ratio — dividends plus buybacks — equals about 56 percent of earnings over the next four quarters, according to figures from the banks and estimates from Stifel Financial Corp.’s KBW unit. That’s up from 48 percent in the last four quarters, said KBW, which made its estimates before stress-test results were announced.

Bank of America’s payout ratio climbed to about 39 percent from 34 percent, bringing the dividend yield to 1.2 percent. U.S. Bancorp’s payout jumped to about 70 percent from 59 percent, and the yield would be 2.3 percent.

SunTrust Banks Inc. doubled its dividend yield to 2 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Discover Financial Services boosted its yield to 1.7 percent from 1.4 percent, while American Express Co.’s climbed to 1.2 percent from 1 percent. – Bloomberg.

Continue reading

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse – Despite 18 BILLION Dollar Bailout From The IMF, Without Reforms Ukraine Will Default In 2014!

March 27, 2014 – UKRAINE – Kiev must impose tough reforms and austerity, otherwise even with billions of dollars of aid Ukraine will default in 2014, the coup-imposed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warns. It comes after the IMF agreed a bailout package worth up to $18 billion.

A customer and street vendor are seen before the background of an outdoor ad with an image of the Ukrainian
hryvnia and U.S. dollar bank notes in central Kiev (Reuters / Anatolii Stepanov)

“Our forecast predicts a 3 percent drop in GDP, provided we pass the stabilization package of laws the government proposes. If the laws are not passed, we forecast a default, and a 10 percent drop in GDP,” Yatsenyuk told the parliament on Thursday.

Ukraine will be short about $28 billion in 2014 due to a ballooning fiscal deficit. The country will also see inflation of 12 to 14 percent, depending on how much the national currency devalues, Yatsenyuk said. The government is not planning to raise minimum wages in response to inflation.

The government’s solution to the looming default is to cut budget spending, raise taxes on agriculture and oil and gas companies, as well as introduce a progressive scale for income tax. Excise taxes for tobacco and alcohol will also rise.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Reuters / Yves Herman)

Collecting the taxes may be a challenge for the authorities. According to Yatsenyuk, Ukrainian businesses owe some $13 billion in unpaid tax.

Another point of economic pressure on Ukraine is the forthcoming raise of gas price to consumers. Starting in May, gas would cost 50 percent more for households, while in July businesses will have to pay 40 percent more for what they use, Yuri Kolbushin, representative of Ukrainian gas monopoly Naftogaz, said on Thursday. There will be further price increases until 2018.

Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde (AFP Photo)

The hike was required by the International Monetary Fund before it agreed to grant Ukraine between $14 billion and $18 billion in stabilization loans.

Earlier the Ukrainian government said it needed to borrow $35 billion to avert default. – RT.

WATCH:   Blessing or Curse – IMF agrees $14-18bn bailout for Ukraine?

Continue reading

MONUMENTAL SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System’s Edge – Celestial Body 2012 VP113 Strongly Hints At The Possible Existence Of "PLANET X"!

March 26, 2014 – SPACE – Astronomers have found a new dwarf planet far beyond Pluto’s orbit, suggesting that this distant realm contains millions of undiscovered objects — including, perhaps, a world larger than Earth.

The newfound celestial body, called 2012 VP113, joins the dwarf planet Sedna as a confirmed resident of a far-flung and largely unexplored region scientists call the “inner Oort Cloud.” Further, 2012 VP113 and Sedna may have been pulled into their long, looping orbits by a big planet lurking unseen in these frigid depths.

“These two objects are just the tip of the iceberg,” study co-author Chadwick Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, told “They exist in a part of the solar system that we used to think was pretty devoid of matter. It just goes to show how little we actually know about the solar system.”

Probing the depths

For several decades, astronomers have divided our solar system into three main parts: an inner zone containing the rocky planets, such as Earth and Mars; a middle realm housing the gas giants Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune; and an outer region called the Kuiper Belt, populated by distant and icy worlds like Pluto.

The discovery of Sedna in 2003 hinted that this map is incomplete. Sedna, which is about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) wide, has an incredibly elliptical orbit, coming no closer to the sun than 76 astronomical units (AU) and going all the way out to 940 AU or so at its most distant point. (One AU, the distance from Earth to the sun, is about 93 million miles, or 150 million km.)

Both 2012 VP113 and Sedna are currently nearly as close as they can come to the Sun. Notice that both orbits have
similar perihelion locations on the sky and both are much more distant than the outer planets and the Kuiper Belt.

The discovery images of 2012 VP113, which has the most distant orbit known in our Solar System. Three images of the
night sky, each taken about 2 hours apart, were combined into one. The first image was artificially colored red, second
green and third blue. 2012 VP113 moved between each image as seen by the red, green and blue dots. The background
stars and galaxies did not move and thus their red, green and blue images combine to show up as white sources.
Credit: Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

That puts Sedna in the far outer reaches of the solar system. For comparison, Pluto’s orbit takes it between 29 and 49 AU from the sun.

And now astronomers know Sedna is not alone out there. Trujillo and Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., discovered 2012 VP113 using the Dark Energy Camera, which is installed on a 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

Follow-up observations by the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory, also in Chile, helped Trujillo and Sheppard determine details of 2012 VP113’s orbit and learn a bit more about the object.
The body comes no closer to the sun than 80 AU, and it gets as far away as 452 AU. About 280 miles

(450 km) wide, 2012 VP113 is large enough to qualify as a dwarf planet if it’s composed primarily of ice, researchers said. (By definition, dwarf planets must be big enough for their gravity to mold them into spheres; the mass required for this to happen depends upon the objects’ composition.)

The inner Oort Cloud

Objects as distant as Sedna and 2012 VP113 are incredibly difficult to detect; astronomers really only get a chance when the bodies near their closest approach to the sun.

Based on the amount of sky the scientists searched, Trujillo and Sheppard estimate that about 900 bodies larger than Sedna may exist in this faraway realm, which the astronomers dub the inner Oort Cloud. (The true Oort Cloud is an icy shell around the solar system that begins perhaps 5,000 AU from the sun and contains trillions of comets.)

Astronomers are discovering trans-Neptunian objects belonging to the Oort Cloud,
the most distant region of Earth’ssolar system. Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

These images show the discovery of the new inner Oort cloud object 2012 VP113 taken about 2 hours apart on UT
November 5, 2012. The motion of 2012 VP113 clearly stands out compared to the steady state background stars
and galaxies.Credit: Scott S. Sheppard: Carnegie Institution for Science

The total population of objects in the inner Oort Cloud, in fact, may exceed that of the Kuiper Belt and the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, researchers said.

“Some of these inner Oort Cloud objects could rival the size of Mars or even Earth,” Sheppard said in a statement. “This is because many of the inner Oort Cloud objects are so distant that even very large ones would be too faint to detect with current technology.”

The study was published online today (March 26) in the journal Nature.

Planet X?

Astronomers don’t know much about the origin or evolutionary history of Sedna and 2012 VP113 at this point. The objects may have formed closer to the sun, for example, before getting pushed out by gravitational interactions with other stars — perhaps “sister stars” from the sun’s birth cluster, researchers said. Or inner Oort Cloud objects may be alien bodies that the sun plucked from another solar system during a stellar close encounter.

It’s also possible that 2012 VP113 and its neighbors were knocked from the Kuiper Belt to the inner Oort Cloud when a big planet was booted outward long ago. This planet may have been ejected from the solar system entirely, or it may still be there in the extreme outer reaches, waiting to be discovered.

The dwarf planet 90377 Sedna, artist’s illustration pictured, was discovered in 2003. It has a similar orbit to the newly
discovered 2012 VP113. The Carnegie study indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, up to
10 times the size of Earth, is possibly influencing the orbit of these two dwarf planets

Dr Linda Elkins-Tanton, of the Carnegie Institution said: ‘This is an extraordinary result that redefines our
understanding of our solar system,’ stock illustration pictured. The dwarf planets sit at the
very edge of the system in a region known as the Oort cloud

Indeed, certain characteristics of the orbits of Sedna, 2012 VP113 and several of the most distant Kuiper Belt objects are consistent with the continued presence of a big and extremely faraway “perturber,” researchers said. It’s possible that a planet roughly 10 times more massive than Earth located hundreds of AU from the sun is shepherding these bodies into their current orbits.

Such supposition is far from proof that an undiscovered “Planet X” actually exists, Trujillo stressed. But he did say that the door is open, noting that an Earth-mass body at 250 AU from the sun would likely be undetectable at present.

“It raises the possibility that there could be stuff out there of significant mass, Earth-mass or larger, that we don’t know about,” he said.

The picture should clear up as more inner Oort Cloud objects are found, allowing astronomers to put more constraints on the origin and orbital evolution of these frigid, distant bodies.

“I think it’s a little hard to draw firm conclusions from two objects,” Trujillo said. “If we were to have 10 inner Oort Cloud objects, then we could really start saying detailed things about the formation scenarios.” – SPACE.

Continue reading

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: Meet The Mini-Saturn – Asteroid Chariklo Discovered In The Outer Solar System With Two Rocky Rings; First Rings Ever Observed Around A Small Planetary Object! [PHOTOS+VIDEOS]

March 26, 2014 – SPACE – It was thought that only planets have rings, but now an asteroid has proved experts wrong.

he remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object by far found to
have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and
Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the
result of a collision that created a disc of debris.

A rocky body orbiting the sun between Saturn and Uranus is girdled by two rings, scientists have learned.

Previously only giant gas planets, most famously Saturn, were thought to possess bands made up of dust, rocks and ice.


  • Diameter: 155miles (250km)
  • Original location: In the Kuiper Belt
  • Present location: Largest member of the Centaurs
  • Rings: Two – comprised of ice particles and pebbles.
  • Width of the rings: Two miles and five miles  (3km and 7km)
  • Thickness of the rings: Few hundred metres
  • Distance between the rings: Five miles (9km)

The ringed space rock, called Chariklo, was originally located in the Kuiper Belt, which is a circling group of icy dwarf planets and comets at the edge of the solar system.

At some point it was thrown out of the belt and now exists as the largest member of a group of objects known as the Centaurs, which are small solar system bodies with a an elliptical axis between two outer planets.

Totally surprising: An asteroid orbiting the sun between Saturn and Uranus (illustrated) is girdled by two rings,
scientists have learned. It is the first time that such a small celestial body with rings has been observed

The discovery has shocked experts as previously only giant gas planets, most famously Saturn, were thought to
possess rings made up of dust, rocks and ice. An image of Saturn taken by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft is pictured.

Astronomers stumbled across the rings while using several telescopes to observe Chariklo, which has a diameter of 155miles (250km).

‘We were not even looking for rings, because they had never been observed around small objects like Chariklo, so it is a totally surprising discovery,’ said Dr Uffe Graw Jorgensen, from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

‘We could even determine incredible details about the rings. There are two separate thin rings, which are comprised of ice particles and pebbles.

WATCH: ESOcast – First Ring System Around Asteroid.


 WATCH:Artist’s impression of ring system around asteroid Chariklo.


‘The two rings are only three and seven kilometres wide (two and five miles) and no more than a few hundred metres thick.

‘There are eight miles between the centres of the two rings and there is a nine kilometre (five mile) wide gap between them.

‘They have been measured at a distance of two billion kilometres with an accuracy of plus/minus a few hundred metres. It is really impressive.’

The discovery is reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature. – Daily Mail.

Continue reading

MONUMENTAL GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVAL: Death Toll In Washington’s Apocalyptic Mudslide Rises To 24 With Dozens STILL Missing – Hope Fades That Any Survivors Will Be Found As Rescuers Recover Two More Bodies And Believe They Have Located Eight Others Underground! [PHOTOS+VIDEO]

March 26, 2014 – WASHINGTON STATE, UNITED STATES – The death toll from Saturday’s devastating landslide in Washington is expected to rise to 24 after increasingly desperate rescuers slogging through debris recovered two bodies and believed they had located eight more, the local fire chief said on Tuesday.

The devastation: This aerial photograph taken in the aftermath of the huge landslide that struck Oso in Washington
state on Saturday morning shows how the hillside collapsed – while the red-dots in the diagram (inset right)
represent the 30 + homes that have been leveled by the disaster

Painstaking: Searchers slowly move through a field of debris following Tuesday’s deadly landslide that
left an estimated 24 people dead with dozens still missing

The official death toll rose to 16 with the discovery of the additional victims as crews searched under drizzly skies for survivors amid fading hopes that anyone could still be plucked alive from the massive pile of mud-soaked rumble.

‘Unfortunately we did not find any signs of life today, we didn’t locate anybody alive, so that’s the disappointing part,’ local fire chief Travis Hots told a media briefing.

 WATCH:  More Mudslide Victims Found.

‘It’s unimaginable, the conditions out there they’re dealing with,’ Hots said.

The grim discoveries came three days after the collapse of a rain-soaked hillside about 55 miles north of Seattle.

Searchers had warned they were likely to find more bodies in the debris field, which covered a neighborhood of 49 structures. Authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.

Quicksand: Rescuers user inflatable rafts to traverse the watery sludge and debris that has built up around the
rubble caused by the huge landslide that hit Oso on Saturday

 Hit like a bulldozer: Houses and other structures are shown flooded by the backed-up Stillaguamish River up-river
from the massive mudslide that killed at least 24 people on Saturday and left dozens missing

 Prayers: People gather Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at a candlelight vigil in Arlington, for the victims of
a massive mudslide that struck the nearby community of Oso, Washington

Authorities believe that the mudslide destroyed 35 homes, as well as 13 manufactured homes, including RVs, and at least one cabin.

As many as 176 people remained listed as missing three days after the slide on Saturday, tumbling over a river, across a state road and into a rural residential area where it swallowed dozens of homes near the town of Oso.

Officials said they were hoping that number would decline as some of those listed as missing may have been double-counted or were slow to alert family and officials of their whereabouts. Eight people were injured.

But the disaster already ranks as one of the deadliest landslides in recent U.S. history. In 2005, 10 people died when a hillside gave way and engulfed homes in La Conchita, California.

‘We’re all still hoping for that miracle but we are preparing for the other possibility,’ Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said Tuesday afternoon.

And as the rain still fell on Tuesday night, about 200 people gathered in the cold at a park in Arlington to pray for the victims, friends and family of those lost.

‘Hug each other. Wipe away each other’s tears,’ said Pastor Chad Blood with the Lifeway Foursquare Church in Arlington.

Hope: A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins of a home left at the end of a deadly
mudslide from the now-barren hillside seen about a mile behind, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, in Oso, Washington

More than 100 homes were affected by the collapse of the hill and the overflowing river
which now separates the town and covers one mile

The river’s banks have collapsed and water is flooding after mud piled in from a hillside on Saturday,
and remains the same today

‘People are just responding,’ he said. ‘When a need arises they just come and take care of it until we have to turn them away. I’m speechless at times, and so very proud of out community.’

Though authorities have said the chances were low of finding any more survivors in the cement-like mud blanketing the landscape, Hots said some 50 more searchers had been brought in to sift through the disaster zone in hopes of a miracle.

‘This makes up over 200 responders that are here on site working very hard to locate victims and hopefully find somebody that is still alive. That is still our number-one priority out there,’ he said.

‘What we’re finding is these vehicles are twisted and torn up in pieces.’

‘It’s amazing the force and magnitude what this slide has done.’

Another obstacle has been the chaotic nature of the debris field itself. In some places, the ground is covered by 15 feet of rubble.

‘It’s muddy in areas, it’s like quicksand,’ said Hots. ‘One of the folks out there told me, “Chief, sometimes it takes five minutes to walk 40 or 50 feet”.’

Searchers are also running into gasoline and septic discharge and dealing with ground that geologists warn remains unstable.

At one site in a square-mile zone of devastation that once contained a meandering river surrounded by rural homes, the landslide pushed a house onto the highway, leaving nothing intact but its cedar shake roof.

Operators of excavators with clawed buckets dug through the debris, and chaplains stood by to comfort searchers and families of the missing. Hots said dogs also were being used to identify potential buried bodies, which were dug out in some cases with bulldozers or other heavy equipment.

President Barack Obama, who was in Europe for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts, the White House said.

Set side by side, the two images show how the one-mile stretch of land looked before the disaster this
weekend which saw more than 176 go missing and killed 14

Search: From a helicopter, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary surveys the wreckage of homes destroyed in
Saturday’s mudslide near Oso, Washington as the search for survivors grew on Monday to include
scores of people who were still unaccounted for

Devastation: Search and rescue personnel continue working the area of Saturday’s mudslide, at Oso, Washington

Speaking at The Hague, where he was attending a summit, Obama began a news conference on Tuesday by addressing the disaster in Washington state and asking Americans to ‘send their thoughts and prayers’ to those affected by the disaster.

‘We hope for the best, but we recognize this is a tough situation,’ he said.

The president also called Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday to discuss the mudslide, according to Inslee’s office.

Compounding the sense of urgency was a fear of flooding as water levels rose behind a crude dam of mud and rubble that was dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide.

The river was rising with rain on Tuesday, but had cut a channel through fresh mud and debris, lessening the chance of flooding, officials said.

A volunteer was injured Tuesday when he was struck by debris blown by a helicopter’s rotor. The man was transported to a hospital for evaluation, but the injuries appear minor, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said in a statement.

Near the southern perimeter of the slide, volunteers from a logging crew gathered to help move debris with chain saws, excavators and other heavy equipment.

Gene Karger said he could see six orange flags in the debris field, marking bodies they would be pulling out. Karger, a logger most of his life, said it was the first time he was involved in this kind of rescue work.

‘You see parts of their bodies sticking out of the mud. It’s real hard. It’s that bad,’ Karger said. ‘There are people out there we know.’

Hots said about 200 responders using everything from heavy equipment and search dogs to their bare hands were working through the debris field Tuesday in rainy, wet conditions.

‘We didn’t locate anybody alive,’ he said. ‘We haven’t lost hope that there’s a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area.’

More than one mile of rain-soaked hillside collapsed onto the remote town, which is just five square miles in size, at 11am on Saturday.

Three days on, hundreds of rescue workers with dogs, aircraft and sonar equipment remain scouring the wreckage for survivors in the slide which has swamped a fifth of Oso’s land.

But amidst the devastation, experts have revealed they predicted this would happen in 1999.

In a report filed with the US Army Corps of Engineers, geologists warned of ‘the potential for a large catastrophic failure’ 15 years ago.

‘We’ve known it would happen at some point, we just didn’t know when,’ co-author Daniel Miller told The Seattle Times.

Geological reports warning the hill is in imminent danger of collapse date back to the 1950s.

Apocalyptic: Steve Skaglund walks across the rubble on the east side of Saturday’s fatal mudslide

Here rescue workers are seen removing a body from the wreckage of homes destroyed by a mudslide near Oso
This is one of the six bodies found after emergency services expressed doubt over their ability to find the missing people

But the alerts, issued by experts every ten years, went unnoticed.

And in a press conference following Saturday’s slide, the head of Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, John Pennington, said ‘it was considered very safe’.

Mr Miller said he was shocked to see houses being built around the danger zone weeks after a slide in 2006.

The slide, which was thought to be caused by heavy rain, formed a new channel along the cliff-side, but carpenters immediately set to work erecting homes along it.

‘Frankly I was shocked that the county permitted any building from across the river,’ Mr Miller told the paper.

In fact, the area has long been known as the ‘Hazel Landslide’ because of landslides over the past half-century. The last major one before Saturday’s disaster was in 2006.

‘We’ve done everything we could to protect them,’ Pennington said.

Patricia Graesser, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, said it appears the report was intended not as a risk assessment, but as a feasibility study for ecosystem restoration.

Asked whether the agency should have done anything with the information, she said, ‘We don’t have jurisdiction to do anything. We don’t do zoning. That’s a local responsibility.’

No landslide warnings for the area were issued immediately before the disaster, which came after weeks of heavy rain. – Daily Mail.

Continue reading

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Terror Grips Ebola-Hit West Africa – Fear, Confusion In Guinea As Death Toll Rises; Government Bans Bat Eating To Curb Ebola Spread, Warns On Rats!

March 26, 2014 – WEST AFRICA – Guinea battled Wednesday to contain an Ebola epidemic threatening neighbouring countries as fear and confusion gripped communities under siege from one of the deadliest viruses known to mankind.

Map of West Africa charting the spread of the Ebola outbreak, with facts about the disease (AFP Photo/)

Aid organisations have sent dozens of workers to help one of the world’s poorest countries combat a haemorrhagic fever outbreak which has killed at least 63 people, many of whom have been confirmed as infected by Ebola.

“On Monday, two more deaths were reported in our area. People are really frightened,” Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, a unit manager for Plan International in Guinea’s south, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“They have seen people die in a matter of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going to be the next fatality.”

The British-based charity said people of Guinea’s southern forests — the epicentre of the outbreak which began in February — had been terrified by seeing neighbours bleeding severely as they were struck down by the virus.

“People have never experienced anything like this before. Rumours are rife among communities who are trying to come up with their own explanations,” said Sandounou.

An electron micrograph image of an Ebola virus virion obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia (AFP Photo/Cynthia Goldsmith)

Ebola had never spread among humans in west Africa before February but five deaths being investigated in Liberia, one in Sierra Leone and others still being tested could bring the toll from the epidemic to above 70.

“We are not at the end of this epidemic, we continue every day to record a number of new cases or fatalities,” said Guinea’s chief disease prevention officer Sakoba Keita, confirming the two new deaths.

“But the daily incidence is lessening. We believe the peak has passed.”

The tropical virus — described in some health publications as a “molecular shark” — causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, the shutdown of organs and unstoppable bleeding in severe cases.

Scientists have examined 45 samples from victims of the epidemic, with 19 testing positive for Ebola, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.

Fact file on the deadly Ebola virus (AFP Photo/John Saeki/gal)

Other highly-contagious tropical bugs, including Marburg and Lassa, can lead to similar symptoms but the authorities have not announced which pathogens were been picked up in samples where Ebola was not detected.

– Danger of panic spreading –

Sierra Leone warned on Tuesday that a 14-year-old buried recently may have been infected in Guinea, while the deaths of four women and a boy in Liberia are being tested for the killer virus.

Guinea has banned inhabitants of the south from eating bats, a common feature of the local diet, as the creatures are considered to be the natural host of the virus.

Transmission of Ebola to humans can come from wild animals, direct contact with another human’s blood, faeces or sweat, as well as sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

This picture taken on March 9, 2003 shows International Red Cross workers spraying disinfectant at Kelle hospital,
northwestern Congo, around the room of an Ebola patient (AFP Photo/Desirey Minkoh)

Doctors Without Borders, which is known by its French initials “MSF”, said the spread of the disease was being exacerbated by people travelling to funerals in which mourners touch the dead person’s body.

No treatment or vaccine is available, and the Zaire strain of Ebola detected in Guinea — first observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo 38 years ago — has a 90 percent death rate.

Guinea is among the planet’s poorest nations despite vast untapped mineral wealth, with a stagnating economy, youth unemployment at 60 percent and a rank of 178th out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.

Plan, MSF and other aid organisations are providing treatment and sanitation facilities and relaying public health information, especially to schools, via the media and text messages.

“We are doing everything we can to treat the patients with dignity, whilst at the same time protecting the community and family from possible contamination,” said MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Christine Ferir.

“We want to avoid the danger of the population panicking and it is important to transmit all the information necessary to understand the disease and how people can protect themselves.” – Yahoo.

WATCH: The Ebola Virus.

Guinea Bans Bat Eating To Curb Ebola Spread, Warns On Rats
A man desinfects protection material at a warehouse of the Swiss branch of NGO Medecins sans Frontieres
(Doctors without Borders-MSF) on March 25, 2014 in Conakry, set to be used in areas plagued
by Ebola haemorrhagic fever (AFP Photo/Cellou Binani)

Guinea has forbidden the sale and consumption of bats and warned against eating rats and monkeys as the country combats a spread of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever with a mortality rate of as much as 90 percent.

“We discovered the vector agent of the Ebola virus is the bat,” said Remy Lamah, the country’s health minister, in an interview from the town of N’zerekore today. “We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals.”

In the west African nation, the Toma, Kissi and Guerze ethnic groups eat bats with the first two communities living in an area around the Ebola-stricken towns of Macenta, Gueckedou and Kissidougou. So far at least 63 people are suspected to have died in Guinea’s first recorded outbreak of the disease.

“The Kissi community eats bats and the epidemic is making a lot of devastation,” Moriba Traore, an inhabitant of Gueckedou, said by telephone. “Families in villages lost eight or ten members and people are dying. We are afraid.” – Bloomberg.

Continue reading

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT: Arab Summit Rejects Israel As "Jewish State" – Hamas PM Haniya Extols Martyrdom, Vows To Rock Tel Aviv With Suicide Bombers!

March 26, 2014 – MIDDLE EAST – The Arab League has refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, backing Palestine’s stance on the issue. The demand by Israel threatened to destabilize US-Palestinian peace talks, according to Arab leaders.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah (R) and Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Araby
(L) speak to the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah during the 25th Arab League summit at Bayan
palace in Kuwait City on March 26, 2014 (AFP Photo / Yasser Al-Zayyat)

“We express our total rejection of the call to consider Israel as a Jewish state,” said the declaration, issued at the close of the two-day long meeting which has been taking place in Kuwait City. The leaders also criticized “the continuation of settlements, Judaization of Jerusalem and attacks in its Muslim and Christian shrines and changing its demographics and geography.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the necessity for Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state is at the forefront of the peace talks. He states that both Palestinian Arab dismissals of the plans are the “root of the conflict”.

Palestinians recognized Israel at the beginning of the peace talks some two decades ago. However, Netanyahu wants the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “national homeland” – a move which would obliterate the right of return for Palestinians.

The problem is considered closely connected to the fate of Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homelands in 1948, and they regard Netanyahu’s demands as a means by which to address the question of Palestinian internally displaced persons.

The Palestinian Solidarity Committee-Seattle claims that the international community “has already recognized the Palestinian right of return. There is no reason that this right should not be fully recognized by the State of Israel.”

Their right of return, they argue, is entrenched in both the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13, 2) and The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 1, C).

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the summit Tuesday that during the previous eight months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israel has only been working to throw obstacles in the way of peace.

Netanyahu told visiting world leaders in January:

“The root of the conflict is not the settlements. The root of the conflict is not and has never been the lack of a Palestinian state. The root of the conflict is the consistent refusal to accept the existence of an independent nation state for the Jewish people.”

Arab League leaders rejected the recognition of the Jewish State earlier this month in a statement in Cairo.

“The council of the Arab League confirms its support for the Palestinian leadership in its effort to end the Israeli occupation over Palestinian lands, and emphasizes its rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state,” Arab foreign ministers said.

The US has already requested that Abbas make the move of recognition as a framework agreement is negotiated.

“In recognizing the Jewish state [the Palestinians] would finally make clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict,” Netanyahu stated in a concurrent speech to the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby.

Abbas has been clear in stating that he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. – RT.

Hamas PM Haniya Extols Martyrdom, Vows To Rock Tel Aviv With Suicide Bombers

At a rally held on March 23, 2014 in Gaza to mark the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said: “We yearn for martyrdom for the same goal for which our leaders died, just as the others love their seats of power.” Haniya cried: “Out of the ruins, we shall rock Tel Aviv,” and the crowds responded with chants of “Strike, strike Tel Aviv.”

Following are excerpts from the speech, which was broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV.

Ismail Haniya
: From paralysis, Hamas will set out on its path. From weakness, the giant Al-Qassam [Brigades] will arise. Out of hunger, we shall create steadfastness, perseverance, and defiance. Out of pain, we shall weave the fabric of hope.

Out of deprivation, we shall establish the balance of terror. Out of the ruins, we shall rock Tel Aviv.

We our bare hands, we shall dig into the rock and do the impossible.

Man: Allah Akbar. All praise to Allah.

Crowds: Allah Akbar. All praise to Allah.

Man: March on, oh Hamas.

Crowds: March on, oh Hamas.

Man: March on, oh Hamas.

Crowds: March on, oh Hamas.

Man: You are the cannon, and we the cannonballs.

Crowds: You are the cannon, and we the cannonballs.

Man: Oh beloved Qassam fighter…

Crowds: Oh beloved Qassam fighter…

Man: Strike, strike Tel Aviv.

Crowds: Strike, strike Tel Aviv.


Ismail Haniya: All the decision-makers within Palestine and abroad must understand the message conveyed by this rally: Yes, we are a people that yearn for death, just as our enemies yearn for life. We yearn for martyrdom for the same goal for which our leaders died, just as the others love their seats of power.

We do not seek jobs or positions. I say to them: Take your jobs and seats of power, and leave us the homeland. Leave us the homeland.

Man: Allah Akbar. All praise to Allah.

Crowds: Allah Akbar. All praise to Allah.

WATCH: Hamas PM extols martyrdom.


Continue reading