This article was written by Eric Blair and originally published at Activist Post
I’m bordering on hating the police state, and I’m the type of person who wishes away all forms of hate. It seems like there’s a new police abuse story everyday worse than the last.
It’s gotten to where I despise watching, posting, and sharing police brutality videos. I may stop clicking on them altogether for the same reason I don’t watch horror movies: you can’t un-see something, and I don’t enjoy knowingly exposing myself to fear or hate.
In one sense I feel a duty to inform people of the growing tyranny, but in another sense I think it feeds exactly what the establishment wants — outrage and retaliatory violence — to justify its own brutality. The swelling police state is like a fat bully on the playground who pokes you over and over again with a stick until you’ve finally had enough and rip the stick out of his hand and beat the shit out of him with it. The government seems to be bullying citizens into responding in kind.
According to a new report, “Since 9/11, about 5,000 Americans have been killed by U.S. police officers, which is almost equivalent to the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed in the line of duty in Iraq.”
At this point, I could really spice up this article with individual examples of police abuse and some explicit videos, but I’m not going to. If you are reading this then you already know they’re out there including on this site. Most importantly, you understand it is a top-down vision that guides the abuse, not a few bad apples. Not anymore.
When faced with a “threat” the shoot-first, shoot-to-kill policy is now taught to police and other national law enforcement. Do you remember all the old war movies and cop shows? Marching orders were always “do not fire unless fired upon” to position themselves as noble good guys hoping to avoid killing, but ready to defend.
We should return the country’s lawmen to this policy. You take fire, you can fire back. If not, keep the safety on. Call it gun control for law enforcement. All it would take is a very simple law or even just the vision to implement this through public pressure.
In our current court system, the police are always given the benefit of the doubt in any mistaken shooting case. After all, they’re supposed to be the good guys. But, remember, good guys don’t shoot first even if “threatened”. Who said being a cop wasn’t dangerous? Sorry, cops, but that’s the sacrifice you must make for the honor to patrol a civilized society at our expense. You may one day take a bullet, although it’s highly unlikely, but you will still be the good guy. Probable cause, a warrant, and even a threat of deadly force is not enough reason to strike first.
If you’re like me, you’re past the outrage phase of the police state but don’t know what else to do for solutions besides informing people of what’s happening. Petitions and politics are almost useless. However, all campaigns can be used to inform people so they’re never futile.
I propose that we turn our rage into crowdsourcing a simple law that would prohibit domestic law enforcement from firing the first bullet in any dispute. We, the people, write the actual law and lobby for it. Pressure someone like Rep Justin Amash to introduce it in Congress to bring some publicity to it.
I don’t necessarily care if it ever becomes a “law,” I just want to make enough noise so the first thing everyone thinks when they watch a police abuse video is “cops should never be allowed to strike first” in any situation. Police should not be a strike force. Those that are should be shunned and replaced.
As Americans, we were promised the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The pursuit to Happiness is largely subjective, but the root and mechanics to success have largely eroded this right. Meanwhile, there are very few individual Liberties remaining. But you would think we can must up some energy to preserve our right to Life for goodness sake.
Something must be done to stop police abuse or it will boil over into more violence. At this point I’m willing to try anything to peacefully end the police state.
Let me know your thoughts and how you would write this law.
Oh, for those of you not aware of or outraged by the police state yet, go watch this video and come back to comment your ideas to stop this.
America and Israel Created a Monster Computer Virus Which Now Threatens Nuclear Reactors Worldwide | Washington’s Blog
Even Threatens the International Space Station
In their obsession to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Israel created a computer virus (called “Stuxnet”) to take out Iran’s nuclear reactors.
The virus appears to have spread to other countries.
One of the world’s top computer security experts – Eugene Kaspersky – said this week that the virus has attacked a Russian nuclear reactor. As The Register notes:
The infamous Stuxnet malware thought to have been developed by the US and Israel to disrupt Iran’s nuclear facilities, also managed to cause chaos at a Russian nuclear plant, according to Eugene Kaspersky.
The revelation came during a Q&A session after a speech at Australia’s National Press Club last week, in which he argued that those spooks responsible for “offensive technologies” don’t realise the unintended consequences of releasing malware into the wild.
“Everything you do is a boomerang,” he added. “It will get back to you.”
“Unfortunately, it’s very possible that other nations which are not in a conflict will be victims of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure,” said Kaspersky.
“It’s cyber space. [There are] no borders, [and many facilities share the] same systems.”
Not finished there, Kaspersky also claimed to have heard from “Russian space guys” in the know that even machines on the International Space Station had been infected “from time to time” after scientists arrived aboard with infected USBs.
Watch for yourself:
Other security experts agree.
As British security website V3 – in an article entitled “Stuxnet: UK and US nuclear plants at risk as malware spreads outside Russia” – reports:
F-Secure security analyst Sean Sullivan told V3 Stuxnet’s unpredictable nature means it has likely spread to other facilities outside of the plant mentioned by Kaspersky.
“It didn’t spread via the internet. It spread outside of its target due to a bug and so it started traveling via USB. Given the community targeted, I would not be surprised if other countries had nuclear plants with infected PCs,” he said.
Director of security strategy at FireEye, Jason Steer, mirrored Sullivan’s sentiment, adding the insecure nature of most critical infrastructure systems would make them an ideal breeding ground for Stuxnet.
Steer added the atypical way Stuxnet spreads and behaves, means traditional defences are ill equipped to stop, or even accurately track the malware’s movements.
“It’s highly likely that other plants globally are infected and will continue to be infected as it’s in the wild and we will see on a weekly basis businesses trying to figure out how to secure the risk of infected USB flash drives,” he said.
The use of XP in power plants is set to become even more dangerous as Microsoft has confirmed it will officially cut support for the 12-year-old OS in less than a year. The lack of support means XP systems will no longer receive critical security updates from Microsoft.
That’s almost as brilliant is waging a global war on terror in such an idiotic way that it is increasingterrorism …
If you knew there was a very safe Canadian investment that skyrocketed by 20 per cent last year, you’d probably say that was a good thing.
But when the thing that’s going up in value is farmland, Christie Young says it’s a crisis in the making.
The latest survey by Farm Credit Canada shows the price of farmland in Quebec rose by a staggering 19.4 per cent last year. Nationally, Canadian farmland from coast to coast has risen by an average of 12 per cent a year since 2008. That’s more than five times the rate of inflation.
For people who already own farmland, soaring prices are a windfall.
But Young, executive director of FarmStart, a group trying to help young farmers get into the business of farming, says Canada is facing a sea change that bodes ill for agriculture.
“The average age of farmers is 60 years old across Canada,” says Young.
“According to StatsCan data, about 50 per cent of our land assets will be transferred in the next five years. And of the retiring farmers, 75 per cent of them don’t have successors. It’s a transition we’ve never seen before in agriculture. And it’s one we are wholly and completely unprepared for.”
FarmStart has two incubator farms in southern Ontario to bring new farmers into the business, but at current prices, Young says there is no way those starting out could earn enough from their farms to make a living and pay their mortgage.
It is a problem that Rejean Girard, who farms southwest of Montreal, understands.
He bought his small plot of land near Saint-Cesaire 20 years ago. But Girard says the return he gets from the sheep he raises would never pay for that land today. By that measure, he says, the land is overpriced by about three-quarters.
The steadily rising price of land has caught the attention of savvy Canadian investors. Global investors have an interest, too, but in most provinces only Canadians are allowed to own farmland.
That has created an opportunity for Canadian farmland investment funds like Bonnefield, Agcapita and Assiniobia, which have been assembling blocks of farmland and selling shares to high net worth Canadians.
The president of Toronto-based Bonnefield, Tom Eisenhaur, says farmland has been one of the most lucrative and secure investments especially when markets are volatile, and “a better hedge against inflation than gold.”
Eisenhaur says he expects the price of land to continue to rise, if not at the same rate as over the past decade.
He quotes a United Nations survey that shows world food production will have to double over the next 20 years.
“While it’s trite to say, no matter how bad or how good things get in the markets, people still have to eat.”
Profits from rising prices
While Eisenhaur is profiting from rising prices, he scoffs at the idea that funds like his are responsible for the land boom.
He says that while farmers buy and sell some $15 billion worth of land each year in Canada, third-party investors like his company trade a mere $100 million worth.
So it seems clear that farmers’ pursuit of more acreage is helping to push up the price of the land.
That seems to be in direct conflict with what Girard, Young and many others say about the difficulty of paying for farmland with a farm income.
That is, until I speak with Gary Brien who farms near Chatham, Ont..
“The way we’ve looked at it is more of a way of life. It just so happens the land has gone up as we accumulated it over our lifetime,” says Brien. “I really don’t think we own it. We’re just using it while we’re here. The value to us may not be in a dollar value.”
Brien says that the last few years, bumper crops have pushed up farm incomes to record levels, so farmers have had cash to spare. And when farmers have money on hand, their non-monetary way of thinking of land, combined with the tax rules, encourages them to put that spare cash into farmland, whatever the price.
“Farmers don’t like paying income tax,” says Brien. “And if they get a bunch of money and have a choice to pay income tax, or buy more land, they buy more land.”
Bigger and bigger
That tends to mean existing farms are getting bigger and bigger, able to take advantage of the efficiencies of expensive modern farm machinery and make the money to buy more land.
But that doesn’t help the farmers who are just starting out small, without inherited family land and little prospect of paying off a mortgage, even if they could get one.
“We have farmers in rural areas paying far over the productive value of the land that they are buying because they have the income or there are such scarce land resources that they’ll pay anything,” says Young.
“For a new entrant looking at that landscape, it is almost impossible to conceive of buying a farm.”
Former Fed Quantitative Easer Confesses; Apologizes: “I Can Only Say: I’m Sorry, America” | Zero Hedge
By Andrew Huszar, also posted at the WSJ. Mr. Huszar, a senior fellow at Rutgers Business School, is a former Morgan Stanley managing director. In 2009-10, he managed the Federal Reserve’s $1.25 trillion agency mortgage-backed security purchase program.
Confessions of a Quantitative Easer
We went on a bond-buying spree that was supposed to help Main Street. Instead, it was a feast for Wall Street.
I can only say: I’m sorry, America. As a former Federal Reserve official, I was responsible for executing the centerpiece program of the Fed’s first plunge into the bond-buying experiment known as quantitative easing. The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I’ve come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.
Five years ago this month, on Black Friday, the Fed launched an unprecedented shopping spree. By that point in the financial crisis, Congress had already passed legislation, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to halt the U.S. banking system’s free fall. Beyond Wall Street, though, the economic pain was still soaring. In the last three months of 2008 alone, almost two million Americans would lose their jobs.
The Fed said it wanted to help—through a new program of massive bond purchases. There were secondary goals, but Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear that the Fed’s central motivation was to “affect credit conditions for households and businesses”: to drive down the cost of credit so that more Americans hurting from the tanking economy could use it to weather the downturn. For this reason, he originally called the initiative “credit easing.”
My part of the story began a few months later. Having been at the Fed for seven years, until early 2008, I was working on Wall Street in spring 2009 when I got an unexpected phone call. Would I come back to work on the Fed’s trading floor? The job: managing what was at the heart of QE’s bond-buying spree—a wild attempt to buy $1.25 trillion in mortgage bonds in 12 months. Incredibly, the Fed was calling to ask if I wanted to quarterback the largest economic stimulus in U.S. history.
This was a dream job, but I hesitated. And it wasn’t just nervousness about taking on such responsibility. I had left the Fed out of frustration, having witnessed the institution deferring more and more to Wall Street. Independence is at the heart of any central bank’s credibility, and I had come to believe that the Fed’s independence was eroding. Senior Fed officials, though, were publicly acknowledging mistakes and several of those officials emphasized to me how committed they were to a major Wall Street revamp. I could also see that they desperately needed reinforcements. I took a leap of faith.
In its almost 100-year history, the Fed had never bought one mortgage bond. Now my program was buying so many each day through active, unscripted trading that we constantly risked driving bond prices too high and crashing global confidence in key financial markets. We were working feverishly to preserve the impression that the Fed knew what it was doing.
It wasn’t long before my old doubts resurfaced. Despite the Fed’s rhetoric, my program wasn’t helping to make credit any more accessible for the average American. The banks were only issuing fewer and fewer loans. More insidiously, whatever credit they were extending wasn’t getting much cheaper. QE may have been driving down the wholesale cost for banks to make loans, but Wall Street was pocketing most of the extra cash.
From the trenches, several other Fed managers also began voicing the concern that QE wasn’t working as planned. Our warnings fell on deaf ears. In the past, Fed leaders—even if they ultimately erred—would have worried obsessively about the costs versus the benefits of any major initiative. Now the only obsession seemed to be with the newest survey of financial-market expectations or the latest in-person feedback from Wall Street’s leading bankers and hedge-fund managers. Sorry, U.S. taxpayer.
Trading for the first round of QE ended on March 31, 2010. The final results confirmed that, while there had been only trivial relief for Main Street, the U.S. central bank’s bond purchases had been an absolute coup for Wall Street. The banks hadn’t just benefited from the lower cost of making loans. They’d also enjoyed huge capital gains on the rising values of their securities holdings and fat commissions from brokering most of the Fed’s QE transactions. Wall Street had experienced its most profitable year ever in 2009, and 2010 was starting off in much the same way.
You’d think the Fed would have finally stopped to question the wisdom of QE. Think again. Only a few months later—after a 14% drop in the U.S. stock market and renewed weakening in the banking sector—the Fed announced a new round of bond buying: QE2. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, immediately called the decision “clueless.”
That was when I realized the Fed had lost any remaining ability to think independently from Wall Street. Demoralized, I returned to the private sector.
Where are we today? The Fed keeps buying roughly $85 billion in bonds a month, chronically delaying so much as a minor QE taper. Over five years, its bond purchases have come to more than $4 trillion. Amazingly, in a supposedly free-market nation, QE has become the largest financial-markets intervention by any government in world history.
And the impact? Even by the Fed’s sunniest calculations, aggressive QE over five years has generated only a few percentage points of U.S. growth. By contrast, experts outside the Fed, such as Mohammed El Erian at the Pimco investment firm, suggest that the Fed may have created and spent over $4 trillion for a total return of as little as 0.25% of GDP (i.e., a mere $40 billion bump in U.S. economic output). Both of those estimates indicate that QE isn’t really working.
Unless you’re Wall Street. Having racked up hundreds of billions of dollars in opaque Fed subsidies, U.S. banks have seen their collective stock price triple since March 2009. The biggest ones have only become more of a cartel: 0.2% of them now control more than 70% of the U.S. bank assets.
As for the rest of America, good luck. Because QE was relentlessly pumping money into the financial markets during the past five years, it killed the urgency for Washington to confront a real crisis: that of a structurally unsound U.S. economy. Yes, those financial markets have rallied spectacularly, breathing much-needed life back into 401(k)s, but for how long? Experts like Larry Fink at the BlackRock investment firm are suggesting that conditions are again “bubble-like.” Meanwhile, the country remains overly dependent on Wall Street to drive economic growth.
Even when acknowledging QE’s shortcomings, Chairman Bernanke argues that some action by the Fed is better than none (a position that his likely successor, Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, also embraces). The implication is that the Fed is dutifully compensating for the rest of Washington’s dysfunction. But the Fed is at the center of that dysfunction. Case in point: It has allowed QE to become Wall Street’s new “too big to fail” policy.
What A Confidential 1974 Memo To Paul Volcker Reveals About America’s True Views On Gold, Reserve Currency And “PetroGold” | Zero Hedge
Just over four years ago, we highlighted a recently declassified top secret 1968 telegram to the Secretary of State from the American Embassy in Paris, in which the big picture thinking behind the creation of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (rolled out shortly thereafter in 1969), or SDRs, was laid out. In that memo it was revealed that despite what some may think, the fundamental driver behind the promotion of a supranational reserve paper currency had one goal in mind: allowing the US to “remain masters of gold.”
Specifically, this is among the top secret paragraphs said on a cold night in March 1968:
If we want to have a chance to remain the masters of gold an international agreement on the rules of the game as outlined above seems to be a matter of urgency. We would fool ourselves in thinking that we have time enough to wait and see how the S.D.R.’s will develop. In fact, the challenge really seems to be to achieve by international agreement within a very short period of time what otherwise could only have been the outcome of a gradual development of many years.
This then puts into question just what the true purpose of the IMF is. Because while its stated role of preserving the stability in developing, and increasingly more so, developed, countries is a noble one, what appears to have been the real motive behind the monetary fund’s creation, was to promote and encourage the development of a substitute reserve currency, the SDR, and to ultimately use it as the de facto buffer and intermediary, for conversion of all the outstanding “barbarous relic” hard currency, namely gold, into the fiat of the future: the soon to be newly created SDR. All the while, and increasingly more so as more countries converted their gold into SDR, such remaining hard currency would be almost exclusively under the control of the United States.
Well, in the intervening 44 years, the SDR never managed to take off, the reason being that the dollar’s reserve currency status was exponentially cemented courtesy of both the great moderation of the 1980s and the derivative explosion of the 1990s and post Glass Steagall repeal 2000s, when the world was literally flooded with roughly $1 quadrillion in USD-denominated derivatives, inextricably tying the fate of the world to that of the dollar.
However, back in 1974, shortly after Nixon ended the Bretton Woods system, and cemented the dollar’s fate as a fiat currency, no longer convertible into gold, the future of the SDR was still bright, especially at a time when the US seemed set to suffer a very unpleasant date with inflationary reality following the 1973 oil crisis, leading to a potential loss of faith in the US dollar.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s article: the international monetary system, reserve currency status, SDRs, and, of course, gold… again.
Below is a memo written in 1974 by Sidney Weintraub, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Finance and Development, to Paul Volcker, when he was still just Under Secretary of the Treasury for Monetary Affairs and not yet head of the Federal Reserve. The source of the memo was found in the National Archives, RG 56, Office of the Under Secretary of the Treasury, Files of Under Secretary Volcker, 1969–1974, Accession 56–79–15, Box 1, Gold—8/15/71–2/9/72. No classification marking. A stamped notation on the note reads: “Noted by Mr. Volcker.” Another notation, dated March 8, indicates that copies were sent to Bennett and Cross. It currently resides in declassified form in Document 61, Foreign Relations Of The United States, 1973–1976, Volume XXXI Foreign Economic Policy, and is found at theOffice of the Historian website.
The memo is a continuation of the US thinking on the issue of the then brand new SDR, the fate of paper currencies, and the preservation of US control over reserve currency status. Most importantly, it addresses several approaches to dominating gold as well as the US’ interest of banning gold from monetary system and capping the free market price, contrasted by the opposing demands of various European deficit countries (sound familiar?) on what the fate of gold should be at a time when the common European currency did not exist, and some European countries were willing to fund their deficits with gold: something the US naturally was not happy about.
While we urge readers to read the full memo on their own, here the two punchlines.
First, here is what the S intentions vis-a-vis gold truly are when stripped away of all rhetoric:
U.S. objectives for world monetary system—a durable, stable system, with the SDR [ZH: or USD] as a strong reserve asset at its center —are incompatible with a continued important role for gold as a reserve asset.… It is the U.S. concern that any substantial increase now in the price at which official gold transactions are made would strengthen the position of gold in the system, and cripple the SDR [ZH: or USD].
In other words: gold can not be allowed to dominated a “durable, stable system”, and a rising gold price would cripple the reserve currency du jour: well known by most, but always better to see it admitted in official Top Secret correspondence.
To encourage and facilitate the eventual demonetization of gold, our position is to keep the present gold price, maintain the present Bretton Woods agreement ban against official gold purchases at above the official price and encourage the gradual disposition of monetary gold through sales in the private market. An alternative route to demonetization could involve a substitution of SDRs for gold with the IMF, with the latter selling the gold gradually on the private market, and allocating the profits on such sales either to the original gold holders, or by other agreement…. Any redefinition of the role of gold must be based on the principle stated above: that SDR must become the center of the system and that there can be no question of introducing a new form of gold– paper and gold–metal bimetallism, in which the SDR and gold would be in competition.
And there, in three sentences, you have all the deep thinking behind the IMF’s SDR: simply to use it as a vehicle through which a select few can accumulate gold (namely those who can create fiat SDRs d novo), while handing out paper “profits” to the happy sellers.
And just in case it was not quite clear, here it is again, point blank:
Option 3: Complete short-term demonetization of gold through an IMF substitution facility.Countries could give up their gold holdings to the IMF in exchange for SDRs. The gold could then be sold gradually, over time, by the IMF to the private market. Profits from the gold sales could be distributed in part to the original holders of the gold, allowing them to realize at least part of the capital gains, while part of the profits could be utilized for other purposes, such as aid to LDCs. Advantages: This would achieve our goal of demonetization and relieve the problem of gold immobility, since the SDRs received in exchange could be used for settlement with no fear of foregoing capital gains. Disadvantages: This might be a more rapid demonetization than several countries would accept. There would be no benefit from the viewpoint of financing oil imports with gold sales to Arabs (although it is not necessarily incompatible with such an arrangement).
One wonders just who in the “private market” would be stupid enough to convert their invaluable paper money into worthless, barbaric relics?
And finally, was there the tiniest hint of a proposed alternative system to the PetroDollar. Namely, PetroGold?
There is a belief among certain Europeans that a higher price of gold for settlement purposes would facilitate financing of oil imports… Although mobilization of gold for intra-EC settlement would help in the financing of imbalances among EC countries, it would not, of itself, provide resources for the financing of the anticipated deficit with the oil producers. For this purpose, it would be useful if the oil producers would invest some of their excess revenues in gold purchases from deficit EC countries at close to a market price. This would be an attractive proposal for European countries, and for the U.S., in that it would not involve future interest burdens and would avoid immediate problems arising from increased Arab ownership of European and American industry. (The Arabs could both sell the gold and use the proceeds for direct investment, so that the industry ownership problem would not be completely solved.) From the Arab point of view such an asset would have the advantages of being protected from exchange-rate changes and inflation, and subject to absolute national control.
One wonders if the price of gold is “high enough” now for Arab purposes, and just where the Arabs are now in their thinking of converting oil into gold… or alternatively into a gold-backed renminbi. And if not now, soon, once the pent up inflation in the Fed’s $4 trillion, and rising, balance sheet inevitably start to leak out?
The full Volcker memo can be found here.
h/t Koos Jansen
The Sun’s magnetic field will soon make a dramatic flip, which it does every 10 to 13 years, and scientists are keeping a close eye to see if that reverses the bizarre behaviour they’ve been seeing for the past decade.
Last week, the sun unleashed the biggest solar flare of the year, an X3.3 flare, which was followed with an only slightly less intense X1 flare from a Jupiter-sized sunspot.
X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flares, and in late October the sun fired off four in the space of a week.
All indications suggest the sun is ramping up to the midpoint of its solar cycle — which is the peak moment at which it is expected to reverse its magnetic field.
‘We would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada
The sun has been behaving particularly strangely since the last time its magnetic field flipped in 2003.
So solar physicists such as Ken Tapping at the National Research Council of Canada are watching carefully.
“As you can imagine, we’re concerned about what’s going to happen next,” said Tapping, who leads a team that monitors the sun’s magnetic activity using a radio telescope in Penticton, B.C.
“Obviously, we would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual, rather than heading off into some territory where we basically are not sure we understand what’s going to happen.”
A ‘sphere’ of gas
The sun’s magnetic field is produced by the movement of hot gases as it rotates and as heat rises from the sun’s core to its surface.
Tapping says the magnetic field is what makes the sun appear like a solid sphere rather than a transparent ball of gas: “It changes the fuzzy blob into something that’s more like a block of rubber.”
The effects of this magnetic field extend far beyond the planets of the solar system to the edge of interstellar space.
The polarity of the sun’s magnetic field flips every 10 to 13 years, an average of 11 years, marking the peak and midpoint of each solar cycle. The most recent cylcle, Solar Cycle 24 started in 2008 and is now approaching its midpoint.
According to NASA, the next flip is expected by the end of the year.
Tapping says the event typically takes one to a few months, and can be observed via the strength of the magnetic field over the sun’s surface — something that the Penticton measurements help calculate.
The beginning of the flip is also marked by the appearance of sunspots at high solar latitudes that are “magnetically the other way round” compared to those at the sun’s equator, Tapping said.
Sunspots typically form close to the “poles” of the sun at the beginning of a solar cycle, and gradually move toward the equator over the course of the cycle. The cycles overlap so that sunspots from two cycles typically coexist for a period of time.
Temporary increase in solar flares
Tapping added that the flip will probably have little effect on us humans, other than temporarily increasing the chance of significant solar flares.
‘I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada
Solar flares are eruptions of magnetic energy from the sun’s surface.
If they are directed toward Earth, they can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, knocking out man-made satellites and power grids, affecting navigation equipment on airplanes, and interfering with other electronics and communications systems.
The potential damage to electronic infrastructure on and around Earth are one of the main reasons scientists keep such a close eye on the sun’s magnetic activity.
Around the solar cycle peak and magnetic flip of 2003, the midpoint of Solar Cycle 23, the sun blasted off 17 major eruptions over the space of three weeks, including a record-setting X28 flare.
The resulting geomagnetic storms generated blood-red auroras on Halloween and partially disabled half of NASA’s satellite fleet, permanently damaging some satellites.
The rise in powerful solar flares at the peak of a solar cycle are due to the increased complexity of the sun’s magnetic field as it prepares to flip.
Start of strange behaviour
While this year’s solar storms are far weaker than the ones in 2003, they are “a bigger surprise even as they do less damage,” NASA says, since they come at the peak of one of the weakest solar cycles in a century.
The 2003 magnetic flip marked the beginning of some unexpected behaviour. The relationship between two measurements of the sun’s magnetic activity that normally correspond — the magnetic field strength and sunspot counts — started to diverge.
The next solar cycle was supposed to start in 2008, but “things just sat,” Tapping said. “And then the next cycle was about two years late in starting.”
Since then, it has been a cycle of unusually low magnetic activity.
“When we see the flip and start to get an idea of how activity starts to build up for the next cycle,” Tapping said, “I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.”
He noted, however, that usual behaviour is relative term, since scientists have only been monitoring sunspots since the 1700s, and taking more comprehensive measurements of the 4.5-billion-year-old sun since the mid-20th century.
“In all probability,” Tapping added. “The sun has done this before.