Saturday, March 15, 2014

Agriculture feels the choke as China smog starts to foster disastrous conditions - South China Morning Post

Worsening smog on the mainland is blocking natural light and could spell disaster for agriculture, scientists have warned.
He Dongxian, an associate professor with China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said an experiment in Beijing over recent months showed a drastic slowdown in the photosynthesis process, which allows plants to thrive.
Applied on a larger scale, such a slowdown could affect agriculture, which contributes 10 per cent to GDP. Farm output was likely to be affected by serious air pollution in winter and spring, with the prices of agricultural products expected to rise....

 -bth: Smog has gotten so bad in China that photosynthesis is being reduced and along with it agricultural production.  This is not good for China or the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Another Day, Another $678 Million Stealth Jet Wrecked - Wired on the F22

The Air Force admitted losing two of its 184 — make that 182 — top-of-the-line F-22 Raptor stealth fighters on Thursday. It was one of the worst days yet in what’s turning out to be a bad year for the pricey, radar-evading jet built by Lockheed Martin.
At 3:30 local time on Thursday an F-22, apparently belonging to the 325th Wing, a training unit based at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle, plunged into the ground in a wooded area inside the base perimeter near Highway 98, sparking a small fire.
The pilot ejected safely. “The cause of the crash is still under investigation and additional details will be provided as soon as they become available,” the flying branch said in a statement.
The same day, the Air Force copped to an earlier accident involving the stealth fighter, which costs as much as $678 million per copy (depending on how you crunch the numbers). On May 31, a student pilot on his second solo Raptor flight at Tyndall neglected to power up his jet’s engines fast enough after retracting the landing gear.
“Without sufficient thrust, the aircraft settled back to the runway, landing on its underside,” the Air Force explained in its official report, released on Thursday.
In June, 325th Wing spokesman Herman Bell said the incident would likely be categorized as a “class A” accident costing more than $2 million to fix.
In fact, the repair cost totals $35 million, the Air Force said yesterday....

-bth: It is Friday, take out the trash day, at the Air Force, so might as well announce both planes this afternoon.  The cost of these planes is ridiculous by any historical comparison.

Russia Said to Ready for Iran-Style Sanctions in Worst Case - Bloomberg

Russian government officials and businessmen are bracing for sanctions resembling those applied to Iran after what they see as the inevitable annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, according to four people with knowledge of the preparations.

Iran-style retaliation from the West, which would include freezing Russia’s foreign reserves, banking assets and halting lending to companies, is being treated as an unlikely worst case, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as talks are confidential. Still, officials are calculating the economic cost of a sanctions war with the West, the people said.

“If Russia begins to answer sanctions with sanctions, it will be a pure loss for the country,” Natalia Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said by phone. “More than 40 percent of consumption is imported goods.”...

bth: I am very doubtful that the EU or US could muster the political will for such a move.  Further I doubt the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Iranians or others would support such sanctions.

Russian military massing on the Ukrainian border

Russian military power in the troubled region
 Source: Daily Mail UK

Ukraine warned last night that 80,000 Russian troops were massing on its borders and could invade – as world leaders told Vladimir Putin to back off.
A senior security chief in Kiev said Moscow could launch a full-scale  invasion and Russian troops would be in the Ukrainian capital within ‘two or three hours’ of the order to advance.
Photographs of Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers close to Ukraine’s borders added to tensions.
Last night senior British officials told the Mail they had received reports about Russian troops massing on the border since Tuesday and were concerned by the show of force.

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The alleged targets of 'Putin's Plan' to invade south-eastern Ukraine

Source: Daily Mail.  Likely Russian occupation targets.

Russia-Ukraine obervations made by NightWatch.

Russia-Ukraine: A Russian radio news station on 12 March posted on its website that a "massing of Russian military equipment was noticed on the border with Ukraine in Belgorod Oblast."

According to the post, the equipment includes military vehicles and armored vehicles and arrived at the village of Veselaya Lopan (about 30 kilometers from the border) on railroad flatbeds. A local TV station reported that these military forces are "units of airborne forces." The village is located in Russia opposite the northeast border of Ukraine, northeast of Kharkiv.

Meanwhile, Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kyiv that Russia has deployed more than 80,000 troops, up to 270 tanks and 140 combat planes close to the border, creating the "threat of a full-scale invasion from various directions."

Parubiy said Russian troops are positioned in the immediate vicinity of the Ukrainian border, some of them as close as a two- or three-hour drive from Kyiv.
Comment: Based on separate reports from Russian and Ukrainian sources, a significant buildup of Russian conventional forces opposite the northeastern border of Ukraine is taking place. The location is far from Crimea.

The use of railroads means some units are not based nearby, hence the buildup. The number of soldiers and amount of equipment cannot be confirmed, but they appear to be enough to seize eastern Ukraine. The forces are not for defense because Ukraine has deployed no forces. The tanks, in particular, portend an incursion. This is not exercise preparation.

Russian propaganda and web postings from eastern Ukraine continue to relate unconfirmed stories of provocations and harassment by ultra-nationalist Ukrainians. The Russians have already stated that protection of ethnic Russians would justify an incursion. Russian propaganda and leaders have been making the case all week.

Based on the reports from independent sources and the nature of the forces observed, NightWatch judges that the Russians intend to occupy parts or all of eastern Ukraine. However, the reports suggest the buildup is not yet complete. Thus, the timing of an incursion is not clear. The start of operations could occur with little additional warning, but the Russians do not appear to be in a hurry or to be concealing their buildup....

-bth: NightWatch observations on Russian troop build up on the Ukrainian border.  A more general offensive seems likely now by Russia into Eastern Ukraine - not just the Crimea.  NightWatch is certainly worth reading in full.

Map of Ukraine - Der Spiegel

Map: Caught Between East and West -- Ukraine's Strategic Importance

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Senate intel head: CIA searched panel's computers - CNBC

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that the CIA searched the panel's computers and that the search may have violated the Constitution.

"The CIA just went and searched the committee's computers," California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a lengthy speech on the Senate floor, calling the the matter a "defining moment" for the oversight of the Intelligence Committee.

"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied by the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause," she said. "It may have undermined the Constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activity or any other government function."...