Daily Archives: December 16, 2008

U.S. Walloped By Extreme Arctic Blast, Record Low Temperatures

Cold Snap

Cathy Luo, from Taiwan but now a student in Tacoma, Wash., covers her ears with mitten-covered hands as she stands to have her photo taken by a friend during record cold Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, in Seattle. Icy driving conditions that from Saturday night to Sunday evening resulted in 110 collisions on state highways between the Seattle area and Canada and the low at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport dropped to 19 degrees at 4 a.m. Monday, breaking the old record of 20 for the date set in 1964. The National Weather Service said much of the state will receive snow Wednesday, and the cold will last through the week.

12 Deaths Blamed On Blizzards, Record Low Temperatures And Treacherous Road Conditions

With ice in the Northeast, a blizzard in the Midwest and snow along the West Coast, winter has come early to much of the U.S. Bianca Solorzano reports.

CBS | Dec 16, 2008

(CBS/AP) One week before the official start of winter, much of the nation is mired in a bitter cold snap.

Arctic air has found its way into Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, with snow hitting those areas. Plunging temperatures and heavy snow has also blanketed the Pacific Northwest.

And in the upper Midwest and the Plains, much of the region is facing temperatures well below zero, reports Early Show meteorologist Dave Price. Denver set a record at minus 19.

Twelve deaths nationwide have been blamed on the latest storms and ensuing cold, including a Ski Patrol member killed in an avalanche in Colorado.

A California Highway Patrol officer directing traffic around an accident in Hacienda Heights, east of Los Angeles, was hit by an out-of-control car, said patrol Officer Terry Liu. One person was killed in the San Diego area when an armored truck slid off a wet highway and rolled down an embankment.

Exposure probably killed an 87-year-old man found outside his Montana nursing home. Weather-related car accidents were responsible for a death in Illinois, two deaths each in Minnesota and Missouri, and three in Oklahoma.

Authorities said the storm also contributed to the death Sunday of a 61-year-old man who was washed off a jetty by large waves in Crescent City, Calif.

At its height Monday, the storm triggered hundreds of fender-bender traffic accidents on freeways, highways and surface streets across California, Washington and Nevada.

Las Vegas got its first snowfall in five years, and the interstate leading into Vegas was shut down by a blizzard.

Los Angeles, with just two inches of rain since July, saw two inches fall in one day. Part of a roof collapsed at a trade school injuring 10 people.

And in Oregon, snow and bitter cold paralyzed downtown Portland, shutting down schools.

Among the record low temperatures yesterday: Bismarck, North Dakota (minus 18, with a wind chill of minus 42); Glasgow, Montana (31 below zero, and if you factor in the wind-chill, 45 below); and 15 degrees in Portland, Oregon.

One Death In Colorado Avalanche

In Denver, with temperatures dropping to 19 below zero (breaking the previous Dec. 15 record of minus 6 set in 1951), school buses couldn’t start up, so thousands of students couldn’t make it to class.

Even hardened residents can’t believe it.

“I’m prepared,” one person told CBS Station KCNC. “But I’m still freezing.”

A weekend storm left more than a foot of snow in the mountains. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department said the body of Ski Patrolman Cory Brettman, 52, was found in an avalanche 100 yards long and 30 yards wide outside the boundaries of the Aspen Mountain Ski area Sunday, where 14 inches of snow fell. The incident was under investigation.

The center said Monday that the current avalanche danger is “considerable” or higher in all of Colorado’s mountain areas.

Another storm was headed for Colorado, and it could drop another foot or two of snow in parts of the mountains. The state’s southwestern corner was expected to get the most.

Authorities said the extreme cold may have been the culprit behind a natural gas leak that prompted authorities to evacuate about 75 people from their homes in the small town of LaPorte, 60 miles north of Denver.

The Poudre Fire Authority said a valve malfunction caused the high-pressure line to vent gas into the air. No injuries were reported and residents were allowed to go home about 3 1⁄2 hours later.

Denver’s Road Home, a partnership between the city and county of Denver and Mile High United Way, announced Monday afternoon it was opening an emergency shelter for homeless men because of the extremely low temperatures expected this week. The shelter will be open in the evenings through Sunday.

Cold, Rain And Snow Cover California

Rains that pummeled California have eased into light showers and clearer conditions for much of the state this morning. But chilly temperatures rare for the region and the season remain.

And another round of rain is expected this afternoon.

About 20,000 customers lost power across the state, utilities reported.

In Anaheim, students and teachers fled a trade school when the roof of a classroom collapsed during heavy rain Monday. Twelve students and two staff members were hospitalized with mostly minor injuries, and all but one were released by afternoon, said Lynn Porter, assistant superintendent of educational services.

In Yorba Linda, where 100 homes were lost to a wildfire last month, hundreds of residences in the canyon areas were ordered evacuated Monday morning because of the threat of mudslides. But the threat eased later in the day.

The area was one of several placed under a flash-flood watch because hillsides and canyons had been stripped of vegetation by recent wildfires, increasing the chances of severe flooding and mudslides.

A section of the Pacific Coast Highway in the Sunset Beach area was closed in both directions by flooding.

Midwest Hit Hard

The Midwest has been hit especially hard by snow and record cold. Fargo, N.D. is digging out from a weekend snowstorm with temperatures between 8 and 15 below zero – and the wind chill makes it feel like 30 below.

The St. Francis House shelter for the homeless in Sioux Falls, S.D., where Monday’s low was minus 11, was a lifesaver, said Richard Byrd.

“I would be probably huddled up right now under a bunch of blankets because this was my only alternative. If it wasn’t for the St. Francis house, I’d be in a scary, scary situation,” he said.

Major highways in Minnesota, and North and South Dakota reopened after Sunday’s blizzard dropped as much as 14 inches of snow, but hundreds of schools were closed in the three states.

Monday morning lows in North Dakota included minus 18 in Bismarck, with a wind chill factor of minus 42. The smaller communities of Bowbells and Berthold reported wind chill factors at around 50 below.

In Williston, N.D., Penny Groth acknowledged: “It’s just darn cold right now.” She said the Gramma Sharon’s Family Restaurant she owns had been closed since Saturday night because of the snow and cold.

A woman was arrested on child abuse charges after her 2-year-old son was found outside a Grand Forks mobile home dressed only in a shirt, shorts and boots when the temperature was 15 below zero, police said.

Monday’s cold was an abrupt change for many areas. Illinois had unseasonable warmth Sunday with temperatures in the 50s, but Monday morning lows were in the single digits across the northern part of the state. Rockford had a low of just 3, and 20 mph wind made it feel like minus 18, the National Weather Service said.

“Right now it looks like it’s about 14 degrees,” cashier Mike Kanise said Monday afternoon as he checked a weather station at Hannel’s Amaco truck stop in Jacksonville, Ill. “Feels like it’s minus 1.”

Hundreds of Illinois schools were closed because of ice-covered roads. More schools were closed in Michigan, where northern areas had blizzard conditions as wind gusting to more than 50 mph caused whiteouts and generated wind chills as low as 30 below.

If it wasn’t for the St. Francis house, I’d be in a scary, scary situation.

In central Arkansas, the morning commute has turned risky with ice glazing bridges and overpasses.

The National Weather Service says a quarter-inch of ice could accumulate in central Arkansas, with the possibility of up to a half-inch in the northeastern part of the state.

State offices are delaying openings, and several school districts in the northern part of the state canceled classes yesterday. Final exams scheduled for today at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and its law school were postponed until tomorrow.

In Wyoming, authorities on Sunday morning rescued two men stranded overnight on an island in a reservoir where they had been fishing. The freezing cold and high winds prevented them from returning to shore.

Northeast Still Reeling From Ice Storm

Hundreds of thousands remain without power four days after a devastating ice storm swept through several Northeastern states. .

“In my 26 years here it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” one worker told CBS station WBZ.

Central Maine Power says the number of its customers still in the dark is down to 30,000, and it hopes to have everyone back in service by tomorrow.

The Science Behind Giant Robot Gort


io9.com | Dec 10 2008

By Annalee Newitz

One of the huge hunks of coolness that everybody is anticipating when The Day the Earth Stood Still lands in theaters this Friday is eco-conscious alien Klaatu’s sidekick, the deadly bot Gort. In the original 1950s flick, Gort was a smooth, silver menace with a cylon-style eye glowing out of his wrap-around visor. In the remake he’s also giant, and one of his updated powers reflects today’s cutting-edge research in robotics. (Mild spoilers ahead.)


One of the ways that Gort fights when he goes into offensive mode is that his entire huge body breaks down into a swarm of self-replicating microbots that look like metal insects.


These microbots are tiny, but visible to the naked eye, and they fly in a giant formation, breaking down all organic substances in their path (buildings, trucks, humans). Basically they seem like a flying gray goo, or a nanotech disaster that eats everything. But they aren’t. They are actually more like swarming microbots, a technology that’s being developed in several labs across the world right now.

Most microbots look something like this one, a model used in the i-Swarm project where many tiny robots move in tandem and communicate with each other. Bots like this are the size of an insect, and are intended to behave like them too. They contain a microchip and can walk or fly, communicate via radio with each other or a home base, and may contain sensors that measure everything from the visual field to movement and sound. Right now, these kinds of swarming bots could be used as surveillance devices – scatter them over a wide area of enemy territory, and they can sense the movements of tanks or troops. Or they could be used in a disaster area to climb inside hard-to-reach areas to find out if there are any survivors.

Other types of swarming microbots, such as the magnetic swarming bots being developed at Carnegie Mellon, could easily become the tiny components of a giant robot like Gort. These bots, which you can see in the video from New Scientist below, can bond together to form any shape using magnets along their edges that they can turn on and off at will. So sometimes thousands of them might bond together into a giant robot shape. Then they could turn off their magnets and break into a million tiny pieces that eat through hardened military bases the way Gort does. Or that fly through Central Park in a massive, self-replicating swarm.

Gort is also based on the theoretical idea of a bot swarm that produces what’s called a “utility fog,” proposed by molecular manufacturing researcher J Storrs Hall and others. Basically a utility fog is a highly-advanced version of the magnetic swarming bots. But instead of magnets, they are covered in tiny robotic arms that can link many individual bots (called foglets) together in a lattice structure. The bots are small enough that when they link together they would create what appears to be a smooth surface – just like Gort’s smooth, silvery body.

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U.S. homes to lose more than $2 trillion in value this year

USA Today | Dec 15, 2008

foreclosureThe real estate Web site Zillow.com predicts that by the time this raggedy year finally ends, U.S. homeowners will have lost more than $2 trillion in home values.

As The Wall Street Journal writes, by the end of September, $1.9 trillion in value had vanished. That number is derived by taking the difference between the sum of all estimated home values in January compared with the end of the third quarter.

About 11.7 million American households are “underwater.”

The five worst-performing markets are in California. Three of top five best-performing markets are in North Carolina.

Analysts: Dollar collapse would result in ‘amero’


(Designs Computed)

Think deep recession likely regardless of Fed’s actions

WorldNet Daily | Dec 13, 2006

By Jerome R. Corsi

Two analysts who have reconstructed money supply data after the Fed stopped publishing it argue a coming dollar collapse will set the stage for creating the amero as a North American currency to replace the dollar.


The reconstructed M3 data – the broadest measure of money – published on econometrician Gary Kuever’s website, NowAndFutures.com, shows M3 increased at a rate of 11 percent in May, compared to 9 percent when the Federal Reserve quit publishing M3 data earlier this year.

Asked why the Fed decided to stop publishing M3 data, Kuever told WND, “The Fed probably wants to hide how much liquidity is being pumped into the market, and I expect the trend to keep pumping liquidity into the market will continue, especially since the economy is slowing down.”

Why is this important?

“The trend line in my M3-plus-debt chart is staggering,” Kuever said. “There has been a straight, long-term trend line of M3-plus-credit increasing since 2000. Long-term, we are creating inflation and the dollar has lost almost 98 percent of its value in the past 100 years.”

Kuever, a retired investor, is concerned that with growing budget and trade deficits “the dollar could collapse.”

“Especially if the Fed cannot increase rates, because we have already entered a recession,” he said.

Bob Chapman, who issued a reconstructed M3 estimate to the 100,000 subscribers to his newsletter, “The International Forecaster”, agrees.

“The world is awash in money and credit,” Chapman told WND. “My numbers show M3 increasing at about a 10-percent rate right now.”

Chapman believes the U.S. economy entered a recession in February. In his newsletter of Dec. 9 he predicted the Fed would hold interest rates at 5.25 percent.

“The Fed is in a very tough spot here,” Chapman wrote, “If they raise rates, the real estate market will collapse, and if they lower rates, the dollar will collapse.”

Meeting yesterday, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee voted, as Chapman had predicted, to hold the overnight lending rates between banks steady at 5.25 percent. This was the fourth straight meeting the Fed had voted not to change rates. In its rate announcement, the Fed affirmed the economy had slowed.

Almost immediately after the announcement of the Fed’s decision, the dollar weakened to a new 20-month low against the euro, with currency markets reportedly pricing in the expectation the Fed will be forced to lower rates next year to bolster the economy. Following the announcement by the Fed, the U.S. Dollar Index, or USDX, also dropped, with the dollar going below 83.

A dollar collapse is imminent, Chapman declared.

“Technicians studying the USDX think there is a support level for the dollar at 75, but I don’t think so.”

How low could the dollar go?

“If the dollar breaks through 78.33 on the USDX,” Chapman answered, “my guess is the dollar will go through a 35-percent correction, which would put it at 55.”

“The key in how low the dollar goes is the interest rates,” Chapman told WND. “In January, the Fed is going to have to make a decision which way to go. If Fed rates go up, the dollar will hold in the 78.33 range, but the stock market and the economy will tank. If next year the Fed lowers rates to keep the economy from crashing, the bottom will fall out of the dollar, and I see it going as low as 55. Once the dollar hits bottom, it will take the stock market and the economy right with it anyway. The Fed is in a box they can’t get out of.”

As WND reported earlier this week, in an unusual move, the Bush administration is sending virtually the entire economic “A-team” to visit China for a “strategic economic dialogue” in Beijing Thursday and Friday. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are leading the delegation, along with five other cabinet-level officials, including Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Also in the delegation will be Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

But Chapman doubts the trip will help the Fed to engineer a slow dollar slide.

“The Chinese are going to do what the Chinese want to do, not what we want them to do,” he said. “I believe the Chinese are going to send Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke home packing, with little or nothing to show for the trip.”

How severe will the coming dollar collapse be?

“People in the U.S. are going to be hit hard,” Chapman warned. “In the severe recession we are entering now, Bush will argue that we have to form a North American Union to compete with the Euro.”

“Creating the amero,” Chapman explained, “will be presented to the American public as the administration’s solution for dollar recovery. In the process of creating the amero, the Bush administration just abandons the dollar.”

Federal Reserve sets stage for Weimar-style Hyperinflation


Inflation 1923-24: A German woman feeding a stove with currency notes, which burn longer than the amount of firewood they can buy. DollarDaze

Motley Fool | Dec 15, 2008

By F. William Engdahl

The Federal Reserve has bluntly refused a request by a major US financial news service to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from US taxpayers and to reveal the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral. Their lawyers resorted to the bizarre argument that they did so to protect ‘trade secrets.’ Is the secret that the US financial system is de facto bankrupt? The latest Fed move is further indication of the degree of panic and lack of clear strategy within the highest ranks of the US financial institutions. Unprecedented Federal Reserve expansion of the Monetary Base in recent weeks sets the stage for a future Weimar-style hyperinflation perhaps before 2010.


On November 7 Bloomberg filed suit under the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesting details about the terms of eleven new Federal Reserve lending programs created during the deepening financial crisis.

The Fed responded on December 8 claiming it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about ‘trade secrets’ and ‘commercial information.’ The central bank did confirm that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to the requests.

The Bernanke Fed in recent weeks has stepped in to take a role that was the original purpose of the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The difference between a Fed bailout of troubled financial institutions and a Treasury bailout is that central bank loans do not have the oversight safeguards that Congress imposed upon the TARP. Perhaps those are the ‘trade secrets the hapless Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, is so jealously guarding from the public.

Coming hyperinflation?

The total of such emergency Fed lending exceeded $2 trillion on Nov. 6. It had risen by an astonishing 138 percent, or $1.23 trillion, in the 12 weeks since Sept. 14, when central bank governors relaxed collateral standards to accept securities that weren’t rated AAA. They did so knowing that on the following day a dramatic shock to the financial system would occur because they, in concert with the Bush Administration, had decided to let it occur.

On September 15 Bernanke, New York Federal Reserve President, Tim Geithner, the new Obama Treasury Secretary-designate, along with the Bush Administration, agreed to let the fourth largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers, go bankrupt, defaulting on untold billions worth of derivatives and other obligations held by investors around the world. That event, as is now widely accepted, triggered a global systemic financial panic as it was no longer clear to anyone what standards the US Government was using to decide which institutions were ‘too big to fail’ and which were not. Since then the US Treasury Secretary has reversed his policies on bank bailouts repeatedly leading many to believe Henry Paulson and the Washington Administration along with the Fed have lost control.

In response to the deepening crisis, the Bernanke Fed has decided to expand what is technically called the Monetary Base, defined as total bank reserves plus cash in circulation, the basis for potential further high-powered bank lending into the economy. Since the Lehman Bros. default, this money expansion rose dramatically by end October at a year-year rate of growth of 38%, has been without precedent in the 95 year history of the Federal Reserve since its creation in 1913. The previous high growth rate, according to US Federal Reserve data, was 28% in September 1939, as the US was building up industry for the evolving war in Europe.

By the first week of December, that expansion of the monetary base had jumped to a staggering 76% rate in just 3 months. It has gone from $836 billion in December 2007 when the crisis appeared contained, to $1,479 billion in December 2008, an explosion of 76% year-on-year. Moreover, until September 2008, the month of the Lehman Brothers collapse, the Federal Reserve had held the expansion of the Monetary Base virtually flat. The 76% expansion has almost entirely taken place within the past three months, which implies an annualized expansion rate of more than 300%.

Despite this, banks do not lend further, meaning the US economy is in a depression free-fall of a scale not seen since the 1930’s. Banks do not lend in large part because under Basle BIS lending rules, they must set aside 8% of their capital against the value of any new commercial loans. Yet the banks have no idea how much of the mortgage and other troubled securities they own are likely to default in the coming months, forcing them to raise huge new sums of capital to remain solvent. It’s far ‘safer’ as they reason to pass on their toxic waste assets to the Fed in return for earning interest on the acquired Treasury paper they now hold. Bank lending is risky in a depression.

Hence the banks exchange $2 trillion of presumed toxic waste securities consisting of Asset-Backed Securities in sub-prime mortgages, stocks and other high-risk credits in exchange for Federal Reserve cash and US Treasury bonds or other Government securities rated (still) AAA, i.e. risk-free. The result is that the Federal Reserve is holding some $2 trillion in largely junk paper from the financial system. Borrowers include Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, the US’s largest bank by assets. Banks oppose any release of information because that might signal ‘weakness’ and spur short-selling or a run by depositors.

Making the situation even more drastic is the banking model used first by US banks beginning in the late 1970’s for raising deposits, namely the acquiring of ‘wholesale deposits’ by borrowing from other banks on the overnight interbank market. The collapse in confidence since the Lehman Bros. default is so extreme that no bank anywhere, dares trust any other bank enough to borrow. That leaves only traditional retail deposits from private and corporate savings or checking accounts.

To replace wholesale deposits with retail deposits is a process that in the best of times will take years, not weeks. Understandably, the Federal Reserve does not want to discuss this. That is clearly also behind their blunt refusal to reveal the nature of their $2 trillion assets acquired from member banks and other financial institutions. Simply put, were the Fed to reveal to the public precisely what ‘collateral’ they held from the banks, the public would know the potential losses that the government may take.

Congress is demanding more transparency from the Federal Reserve and US Treasury on its bailout lending. On December 10 in Congressional hearings by the House Financial Services Committee, Representative David Scott, a Georgia Democrat, said Americans had ‘been bamboozled,’ slang for defrauded.

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Alternative Currencies Grow in Popularity


In Western Massachusetts one finds fine-artist-designed BerkShares, which are convertible to U.S. dollars.

Time | Dec 14, 2008

By Judith D. Schwartz

Most of us take for granted that those rectangular green slips of paper we keep in our wallets are inviolable: the physical embodiment of value. But alternative forms of money have a long history, and appear to be growing in popularity. It’s not merely barter, or primitive means of exchange like, say, seashells or beads. Beneath the financial radar, in hip U.S. towns or South African townships, in shops, markets, and even banks, throughout the world people are exchanging goods and services via thousands of currency types that look nothing like official tender.

Alternative means of trade often surface during tough economic times. “When money gets dried up and there are still needs to be met in society, people come up with creative ways to meet those needs,” says Peter North, a senior lecturer in geography at the University of Liverpool, author of two books on the subject. He refers to the “scrips” issued in the U.S. and Europe during the Great Depression that kept money flowing, and the massive barter exchanges involving millions of people that emerged amidst runaway inflation in Argentina in 2000. “People were kept from starving [this way],” he says. (Find out 10 things to do with your money.)

Closer to home, “Ithaca Hours,” with a livable hourly wage as the standard, were launched during the 1991 recession to sustain Ithaca, New York’s local economy and stem the loss of jobs. “Hours,” which are legal and taxable, circulate within the community, moving from local shop to local artisan and back, rather than “leaking” out into the larger monetary system. The logo on the Hour reads: “In Ithaca We Trust”.

Alternative (or “complementary”) currencies range from quaint to robust, simple to high-tech. There are “greens” from the Lettuce Patch Bank at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural Northeastern Missouri. In Western Massachusetts one finds fine-artist-designed BerkShares, which are convertible to U.S. dollars. According to Susan Witt, Executive Director of the E.F. Schumacher Society (the nonprofit behind the currency) more than $2 million in BerkShares “have been issued through the 12 branches of five [local] banks.” And in South Africa, proprietary software keeps track of Community Exchange System (CES) “Talents”; one ambitious plan is to make Khayelitsha, a vast, desolate township of perhaps a million inhabitants near Cape Town, a self-sustaining community.

The currencies are generally used in conjunction with conventional money, as in using local currency at the farmer’s market and regular greenbacks at the supermarket. “It doesn’t try in any way to replace cash,” says Christoph Hensch, a Swiss national and former banker now living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Rather, it offers a way “for people to share and redeem value they have in the community.” He says the currencies are most useful in geographical areas or social sectors where money doesn’t flow sufficiently, citing for example New Zealand’s Golden Bay, which is so remote that it sometimes nearly functions as its own economy.

Advocates of alternative currencies say that they are a means of empowerment for those languishing on the margins of fiscal life, granting economic agency to people like the elderly, disabled, or under-employed who have little opportunity to earn money. For example, in some systems one can “bank” Time Dollars for tasks like childcare and changing motor oil. It’s not whether you’re employed or what financial assets you have that matter, says Les Squires, a consultant on social networking software who has been working with groups developing alternative currencies. Each person has “value” which is “exchangeable” based on time spent or a given task.

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