The Yellowstone super volcano is a disaster waiting to happen (Source The Washington Post)
Yellowstone National Park sits squarely over a giant, active volcano. This requires attention. Yellowstone has been a national park since 1872, but it was only in the 1960s that scientists realized the scale of the volcano — it’s 44 miles across — and not until the 1980s did they grasp that this thing is fully alive and still threatens to erupt catastrophically. Yellowstone is capable of eruptions thousands of times more violent than the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The northern Rockies would be buried in multiple feet of ash. Ash would rain on almost everyone in the United States. It’d be a bad day. Thus geologists are eager to understand what, exactly, is happening below all those volcano-fueled hot springs and geysers.
Obviously they would like to know if and when Yellowstone will blow again, and with what level of explosiveness. A major eruption would be a low-probability, high-consequence event, a proverbial Black Swan, something that could have societal and planetary effects. The problem for scientists is that these big “supervolcano” eruptions rarely happen, and the most important action is out of sight, many miles below the surface, involving chaotic forces, complex chemistry and enigmatic geological features.
China flexes muscles with ‘Guam killer’ missile; new drills near Taiwan (Source Reuters)
China confirmed that it had put into a service a new missile that Chinese media has dubbed the “Guam killer” for its ability to hit the U.S. Pacific Ocean base with a conventional or nuclear weapon. China is in the midst of an ambitious modernization program for its armed forces, developing stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and advanced missiles as it strives to become a world class military by the middle of the century. That, along with an increasingly assertive stance in the disputed South China Sea and around Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, has rattled nerves around the region and in Washington. Speaking at a regular monthly news conference, Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that the military had begun putting into service the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile – called the “Guam killer” by media and defense experts. Wu gave few details, aside from that it can carry conventional as well as nuclear warheads and attack targets on land or at sea with precision. China has made little secret of the DF-26 program. The missile appeared in a major military parade in Beijing in 2015. In a separate announcement, China’s air force said that its aircraft had again flown around Taiwan, the latest in a series of exercises Taiwan has described as military intimidation. Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint.
Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island.
The Chinese air force said in a statement it scrambled fighter jets, early warning aircraft, reconnaissance planes and H-6K bombers from multiple airports for “combat military drills”. The air force said its H-6K bombers had conducted numerous drills circling Taiwan since April 18 “to improve its ability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Turkey repatriates gold from US in bid to ditch dollar (Source RT) Ankara has decided to bring back all its gold stored in the US Federal Reserve, according to Turkish media. In recent years, Turkey repatriated 220 tons of gold from abroad, and 28.7 tons was brought back from the US last year. Turkey’s gold reserves are estimated at 564 tons and are worth about $20 billion, Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported. This makes Ankara the 11th largest gold holder, behind the Netherlands and ahead of India. The reports come at a time when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a tough stance against the US currency.
He criticized dollar loans and said that international loans should be given in gold instead. I suggest that the loans should be made based on gold,” Erdoğan said during a speech at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul on April 16. “With the dollar the world is always under exchange rate pressure. We should save states and nations from this exchange rate pressure. Gold has never been a tool of oppression throughout history,” he added. Turkey is among several countries which have been moving gold from the US. The wave began in 2012, when Venezuela announced it was repatriating 160 tons of gold, valued at around $9 billion. Germany’s Bundesbank then demanded 300 tons be returned, with the Fed saying it would take seven years to do so. The Netherlands has also repatriated 122.5 tons of gold. “The central banks started the repatriation already a few years ago, meaning before we had Brexit, Catalonia, Trump, AFD or the rising tensions between the Politburo in Brussels and the nations of Eastern Europe,” Claudio Grass of Precious Metal Advisory Switzerland told RT.
A Furtive Glance at America’s Ongoing War Preparations Against Russia (Source strategic-culture.org)
While the world’s attention is riveted on Syria, the US is significantly boosting its forces in Europe. And these are not just divisions streaming in to take part in some exercises that will leave once those are over. This is a serious buildup to create a potentially offensive posture. The beefing up of the US forces is taking place amid preparations for a Russia-US summit. That’s a rather peculiar background for the event, to put it mildly!
The 4th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 4th Infantry Division will deploy to Europe as part of its Operation Atlantic Resolve. Based in Germany, the forces will participate in multiple exercises, most of which will be held very near the Russian border in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the Baltic States. The Army is considering deploying an entire division in a Reforger type of exercise, with troops coming over to use the pre-positioned hardware. Those forces could potentially see a surge, with a division-level deployment in late 2018 or 2019.
The plans include the creation of a rear-area operations command to be hosted by Germany. Another command is planned that will ensure mobility in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. A “military Schengen” to allow easy movement across borders is under consideration. NATO is rotating four battalion-size, combat-ready, air-power-supported battle groups throughout Poland — which is hosting 800 American troops — and the Baltic States.
Poland will host Anakonda 2018, the largest ever NATO military exercise, the scale of which is truly exceptional this year. It will involve about 100,000 troops, 5,000 vehicles, 150 aircraft, and 45 warships. The event was much smaller two years ago. The scenario is based on the premise of a surprise attack against Russia. Obviously this huge force will be assembled for offensive, not defensive operations. One hundred thousand troops, just imagine! This is the most flagrant violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, signed between NATO and Russia in 1997, which contains a passage about NATO refraining from the “stationing of substantial combat forces.”
Russia Is Attacking U.S. Forces With Electronic Weapons in Syria Every Day, General Says (Source Newsweek)
American forces in Syria are increasingly facing attacks from Russian and Syrian electronic warfare weapons, as Moscow uses the conflict to test its future arsenal.
General Raymond Thomas, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said that Syria has become “the most aggressive electronic warfare environment on the planet,” Breakingdefense.com reported. Speaking at a geospatial intelligence conference in Florida, Gen. Thomas said that Russian and Syrian regime forces “are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130 aircraft.” The Lockheed Martin EC-130 Compass Call is one of America’s most advanced electronic warfare weapons. Based on the C-130 Hercules, the plane was developed to disrupt enemy communications, radar and command operations. The craft’s presence in Syrian skies gives Russia the chance to test its weapons against the best the U.S. has to offer, whether directly or through its Syrian allies. Earlier this month, four anonymous officials told NBC News that Russia has also been regularly targeting smaller U.S. surveillance drones. One of those quoted said Russian operations were having a significant impact on U.S. capabilities. The sophisticated attacks were even successful against encrypted signals and anti-jamming devices, the official said.
Americans reflect on pros, cons of legal pot ahead of 420(Source Associated Press) America’s marijuana supporters have a lot to celebrate on this 420 holiday : Thirty states have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to a national advocacy group. Nine of those states and Washington, D.C., also have broad legalization where adults 21 and older can use pot for any reason. Michigan could become the 10th state with its ballot initiative this year. Yet cannabis remains illegal under federal law, and it still has many opponents. KELLY PEREZ, DENVER CEO and founder of kindColorado, which provides community engagement opportunities for the cannabis industry to be assets in communities. WHAT DOES 420 MEAN TO YOU? “It’s a celebration, and we still have work to do. The war on drugs has not ended; the negative impact on communities of color has not ended. So we still have work to do even though we’re legal in Colorado. There are states surrounding us that aren’t. And as long as one black or brown youth is arrested for possession, we still have our work to do.” “It’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s so much opportunity, but we really do want to keep our roots in change and the people’s liberation and reforming criminal justice and moving the legalization conversation forward but not forgetting those social justice issues.” “I want legalization to continue to be self-reflective and continue moving forward so that no one is arrested for cannabis possession. But also that we are having opportunities for people to enter this legal industry, especially folks who have been impacted by the war on drugs. … We haven’t done what we need to do for an industry built on the backs of black and brown and sick people.”
Starbucks to close stores for an afternoon for bias training (Source Associated Press) Starbucks, moving swiftly to confront a racially charged uproar over the arrest of two black men at one of its stores in Philadelphia, plans to close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for several hours next month to conduct racial-bias training for nearly 175,000 workers. The announcement Tuesday comes after the arrests sparked protests and calls for a boycott on social media. A video shows police talking with two black men seated at a table. After a few minutes, officers handcuff the men and lead them outside as other customers say they weren’t doing anything wrong. Philadelphia-area media said the two were waiting for a friend. Philadelphia police released a recording of the call
from the Starbucks employee that led to the arrests. In the recording, a woman is heard saying, “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.” She gives the address of the Starbucks store, and the entire call lasts less than 30 seconds. In the communications between police and dispatch that were also released, someone refers to “a group of males inside causing a disturbance,” and additional officers are sent.
The company reacted from a high level: Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson called the arrests “reprehensible” and said he wanted to apologize to the two men face-to-face. The company and a lawyer for the two men said they did meet, and Johnson delivered the apology. Starbucks also said the employee who called police no longer works at the store, but declined to give details. Johnson also promised to revamp store management training to include “unconscious-bias” education.
Stores Pulling Romaine Lettuce Off Shelves Amid E. Coli Outbreak (Source Consumer Reports)
Costco, Walmart, Kroger, and other retailers are pulling romaine lettuce products off their shelves in response to warnings from federal investigators about the nationwide E. coli outbreak blamed on contaminated romaine.
The E. coli outbreak stems from chopped romaine lettuce originating in Yuma, Ariz., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of romaine grown between November and March is from there. The CDC advised consumers to avoid packaged romaine that comes from the Yuma area. “We pulled every salad product that came from Yuma, or even had the potential to come from Yuma,” says Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety at Costco. “I think everyone is focused on following the advice we were given.”
Meanwhile, Panera Bread, which is being sued by a New Jersey woman who allegedly contracted E. coli there in March, announced that it switched its romaine provider.
The moves follow an earlier decision by Fresh Foods Manufacturing of Pennsylvania, which packages grab-and-go salads for supermarkets and convenience stores, to issue a voluntary recall of roughly four and a half tons of prepackaged salads and lettuce mixes.
But Consumer Reports says it’s unrealistic to expect consumers to figure out whether their romaine was produced in Arizona. As a result, CR is advising people to avoid all romaine lettuce sold in stores and restaurants, along with bagged romaine lettuce mixes and prepared salads. This advice includes whole-leaf romaine, in an abundance of caution.
IRAN SWITCHES FROM DOLLAR TO EURO (Source Middle East Monitor) Iran’s feud with the US is set to get worse after Tehran announced yesterday that it will start reporting foreign currency amounts in euros rather than US dollars, as part of the country’s effort to reduce its reliance on the American currency due to political tension with Washington.
Central bank governor Valiollah Seif said last week that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had welcomed his suggestion of replacing the dollar with the euro in foreign trade, as the “dollar has no place in our transactions today”.
Iran does hardly any trade with the US due to decades of economic sanctions. It’s most important trading partner is the UAE, which accounts for around 24 per cent of all Iranian imports and exports. China is not far behind with 22 per cent, followed by Turkey, India and the EU, all of which account for around six per cent of Iran’s trade.
Iran’s leaders have been threatening for some time to ditch the dollar for a different currency. The shift towards euro took on added urgency after the appointment of Donald Trump and his decision to include Iran on a list of mainly Muslim majority countries banned from entering the US.
Trump has also threatened to exit a 2015 nuclear deal Iran made with world powers. The next major test for the deal is 12 May when Trump will be required to re-endorse the deal, which he has derided as “the worst deal ever”.
The move is seen by Iranian officials as a logical and necessary step. The threat of further US sanctions has destabilised Iran’s foreign exchange market in recent months. Bank transactions involving the dollar are already difficult for Iran; sanctions have made US banks unwilling to do business with Tehran; foreign firms can be exposed to sanctions if they do Iranian deals in dollars, even if the operations involve non-US branches. According to Reuters, Ali Khamenei, who has welcomed the decision to replace the dollar, blamed foreign enemies for the “recent issues in the currency market” and asked Iran’s intelligence services to defuse the plots against the Islamic Republic.
Putin Warns Of Global “Chaos” If West Hits Syria Again(Source Zero Hedge)
In a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, Putin and Rouhani agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the seven-year Syria conflict, according to a Kremlin statement. –Reuters
The US-led strike was denounced by Putin as an “act of aggression,” and a “war crime” by Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. “Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin statement said. The United States, France and Britain launched over 103 missiles on Saturday night at three Syrian facilities in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in the city of Douma seven days prior. While the West has conclusively blamed the Assad government for the attack, serious questions have arisen over everything from Assad’s motive, the type of nerve agent used, to the credibility of the first responders – an NGO known as the White Helmets who have a reputation for staging evidence. France cited social media posts and YouTube evidence as justification for their participation in the strikes.