Tag Archives: Argentina

5 one-of-a-kind places on Earth

From Live Science:

1. Rolling clouds

Tubular cloud photo by Mick Petroff

A rare tubular cloud formation occurs with regularity only one place on Earth: Northern Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Here, ultra-long “roll clouds” form regularly in fall months. The phenomenon even has its own, geographically specific name, the Morning Glory cloud. Elsewhere in the world, roll clouds pop up only very occasionally, usually associated with sea winds or sometimes thunderstorm downdrafts.

2. Snow knives

Snow knives photo Southern European Laboratory

These sharp snow formations make the white stuff look uninviting. They’re called penitentes, and although they can form at high altitudes anywhere, there’s no place better to see them than in the Dry Andes of Chile and Argentina, way up past 13,000 feet. Penitentes, named after pointy hats worn by people doing penance for their sins in Christian traditions, form in very cold, dry air, where the water in snow sublimates, or turns directly into vapor without melting first. Sublimation randomly occurs faster in some areas than in others; once uneven pock-marks form in the snow, they focus the sunlight, causing those areas to sublimate ever faster. Spiky penitentes get left behind, unmelted. The tallest penitentes can reach 12 feet high.

3. Lakes that kill

Lakes that kill photo by Jack Lockwood, 1986 (U.S. Geological Survey)

To see a lake that can kill you without you even dipping in a toe, visit Africa. In Cameroon and on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are three deadly lakes: Nyos, Monoun and Kivu. All three are crater lakes that sit above volcanic earth. Magma below the surface releases carbon dioxide into the lakes, resulting in a deep, carbon dioxide-rich layer right above the lakebed.

In 1984, Lake Monoun abruptly exploded, releasing waves of water and a cloud of carbon dioxide. Thirty-seven people who lived near the lake asphyxiated in the CO2 cloud, though the cause of their deaths remained a mystery until two years later, when Lake Nyos let out its own burst of carbon dioxide. This time, 1,700 people died when the carbon dioxide, which is heavier than oxygen, displaced the breathable air in their villages.

Venting pipes have been installed in Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun in an attempt to release the carbon dioxide gas slowly and prevent future disasters. Kivu, which has never erupted, is not being vented, although local companies do extract dissolved methane from the lake to use for power generation.

4. Moving rocks

Moving rocks by Lukich, Shutterstock

At Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, it’s not horses or stock cars that make the rounds — it’s rocks. This pancake-flat dry lakebed is marked by tracks of large rocks that seem to have wandered from here to there under their own power.

In fact, the rocks (some of which weigh tens or hundreds of pounds) may require a perfect storm to get moving. According to lunar and planetary sciences researchers at NASA Goddard, wind pushes the rocks around. But for the wind to move huge boulders, there has to be little friction between the rock and the ground. Most likely, ice-encrusted rocks get inundated by meltwater from the hills above the playa, according to NASA researchers. When everything’s nice and slick, a stiff breeze kicks up, and whoosh, the rock is off.

5. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude

Superman's ice fortress Screenshot from Madrid documentary El Misterio De Los Cristales Gigantes

Imagine an underground world where shimmering crystals crisscross caverns like a giant’s Tinkertoys. Mexico’s Cave of Crystals, buried below the Chihuahuan desert, is just that. Here, enormous crystals of selenite grow more than 30 feet long.

But this fantasy world is tough to withstand. The cave is nearly 1,000 feet below the surface, and a magma chamber below keeps the caverns heated to about 136 degrees Fahrenheit, with 99% humidity. Explorers must wear protective gear if they hope to survive in this crystal cave for more than a few minutes.

~Eowyn

Governments of Ireland and France Seize Private Pensions

Following Argentina and Hungary, the governments of Ireland and France have also seized private pension funds as a partial fix for their debt problem.

George Coats of Financial News reports on November 29, 2010, that last week:

  • Ireland announced it would use the country’s €24 billion National Pensions Reserve Fund “to support the exchequer’s funding programme.” 
  • The French parliament, via a change made to the social security law, seized the €36 billion French reserve pension fund, the Fonds de Réserve pour les Retraites (FRR), to pay off the debts of France’s welfare system.

Coats explains what happened in France:

The assets [of FRR] have been transferred into the state’s social debt sinking fund Cades. The FRR will continue to control the assets, but as a third-party manager on behalf of Cades….

The transfer of the FRR’s assets to Cades is controversial. Force Ouvrière, a trade union confederation, accused the government of “provoking the clinical death” of the FRR.

The [French parliament's] decision was taken within the context of this year’s pension reform, which provoked riots with its decision to raise the retirement age. The state old-age pension system, the Cnav, is in deficit, and responsibility for financing the deficit rests with Cades.

The government is requiring the FRR to pay €2.1bn a year to Cades to meet this obligation.The government claims that the rise in retirement age will return Cnav to balance by 2018, so the FRR is expected to pay this sum for the next eight years. The FRR will then be wound down. It is expected to cease operations by 2024.

Coats concludes that “The move [by Ireland and France] reflects a willingness by governments to use long-term assets to fill short-term deficits.”

The U.S. national debt is now nearly $14 trillion. Don’t think that what happened in France, Ireland, Hungary, and Argentina can’t happen here.

~Eowyn

Government Seizes Private Pension Funds

UPDATE: See also Governments of Ireland and France Seize Private Pensions.”

No, it is not the U.S. government that just seized private pension funds. It’s the government of Hungary.

But given last January’s Obama trial balloon about seizing our 401k and IRA retirement accounts by forcing us to convert them into annuities (see HERE and HERE), this news from Hungary is alarming because it’s a precedent.

Never forget what Thomas Jefferson warned in his letter to Edward Carrington, 1787:

“If once they [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves.”

~Eowyn

Hungary Follows Argentina in Pension-Fund Ultimatum, `Nightmare’ for Some

By Zoltan Simon – Bloomberg – Nov 25, 2010

Hungary is giving its citizens an ultimatum: move your private-pension fund assets to the state or lose your state pension.

Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy announced the policy yesterday, escalating a government drive to bring 3 trillion forint ($14.6 billion) of privately managed pension assets under state control to reduce the budget deficit and public debt. Workers who opt against returning to the state system stand to lose 70 percent of their pension claim.

This is effectively a nationalization of private pension funds,” David Nemeth, an economist at ING Groep NV in Budapest, said in a phone interview. “It’s the nightmare scenario.”

Hungary is rolling back pension changes implemented more than a decade ago as countries from Poland to Lithuania find themselves squeezed by policies designed to limit long-term liabilities by shifting workers into private funds. Now the cost is swelling debt and deficit levels at a time when the European Union is demanding greater fiscal discipline.

Hungary, the most indebted eastern member of the EU, is following the example of Argentina, which in 2001 confiscated about $3.2 billion of pension savings before the country stopped servicing its debt. The government in Buenos Aires nationalized the $24 billion industry two years ago to compensate for falling tax revenue after a 2005 debt restructuring.

Hungary…Prime Minister Viktor Orban plans to use pension funds to pay current government pensions and reduce debt as he seeks to cut the budget deficit to less than the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product next year from a targeted 3.8 percent this year. The bloc last month rebuffed a request from nine members, including Hungary, Poland and Sweden, to discount deficit figures by the amount shifted to private managers. “There is a huge hole in the state pension system fund,” Matolcsy told reporters in Parliament. “The government fund’s revenue from pension contributions is 900 billion forint less than its expenditure. This is unsustainable.”

In 1998, Hungary required workers to put a portion of their pension contributions into privately managed funds that were designed to supplement state pensions. Today, about 3 million people have money in the private plans.

The funds’ assets will be automatically shifted to the state system on Jan. 31, unless members specifically opt out. Those who decide to remain in the private funds will lose their government pension after future contributions even as the state will continue to claim 70 percent of pension contributions paid after the individual, Matolcsy said.

“This is open blackmail,” Julianna Baba, president of the Stabilitas Penztarszovetseg, which groups private pension funds, said in a phone interview today. “It’s a rigged deal.” The association is filing a motion at the Constitutional Court to have the law annulled. It says the pension fund plan violates constitutional guarantees against discrimination, for the rule of law, social security, the defense of property and human dignity.

Other eastern EU members are also seeking to cut deficits with the help of pension funds. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said yesterday that the country may issue long-term pension bonds to compensate private funds for funneling some employee contributions to the budget…. Lithuania reduced contributions to private funds last year, and Estonia announced in April 2009 that it would freeze pension-fund contributions through the end of this year. The government in Tallinn is reinstating partial contributions to pension funds from January. In Bulgaria, private vocational pension funds will put 20 percent of their assets under state control to cover early retirement until 2014 to curb a widening deficit. This amounts to 100 million lev, or $68 million. Such retirement funds cover about 100,000 workers in specific professions who are forced to retire early.

…“The pension system changes will increase long-term risks, while short-term gains such as lower public debt and deficit will prove illusory, if the economy stays weak,” Michal Dybula, an economist at BNP Paribas in Warsaw said in an e-mailed note. “The proposed changes on pensions also increase the risk of rating downgrades, since Hungary’s structural fiscal position will not improve.”

In Hungary, employers set aside 24 percent of each worker’s salary for pension contributions and employees are required to pay 10 percent. Forcing workers back into the state system means the government will retain control of all that money, rather than transferring a portion to the private funds.

Under the rules announced yesterday, workers who choose to remain in the private pension funds will lose the social security contributions made by their employers, Matolcsy said. The government would continue to transfer contributions made by employees to the funds, he said.

“It’s unprecedented in Europe that a government is threatening to kick its own citizens out of the state pension system,” Zoltan Torok, a Budapest-based economist at Raiffeisen Bank International AG, said in a phone interview. “It’s probably enough to ensure that no one is going to stay in the private pension fund system in his or her right mind.”