$640b Halal Industry Needs to Align with $1tr Islamic Finance Sector

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulf News

I wanted to take a sukuk break, as the last few months seem to be only about sukuk default, restructuring, conferences/seminars, etc. Islamic finance is not sukuk, its much bigger than an instrument. I wanted to look at an area that Islamic finance (IF) has not been linked to: the $640 billion (Dh2.3 trillion) halal industry (HI). There is a link, but it’s associated with IF ignoring HI!

The halal industry believes that Islamic finance has long ignored its little ‘halal-half’ brother, because it either does not understand the business model or its financing needs.

Islamic finance continues to have expected ‘challenges’ with standardisation, and the halal industry, the issue of certification and certifying bodies appears to be even more nascent. In IF, we have generally accepted guidelines on accounting (AAOIFI and Malaysia), prudential regulations (IFSB), ratings (IIRA), hedging (IIFM), but what and where are the leading HI standard bodies; Malaysia (Jakim), Brunei (Brunei halal), but there are more ‘bodies’ in OECD than OIC countries. Query: is the certification process accepted outside the home country?

The GCC countries are major importers of billions of dollars in foods/products, projected to touch $53 billion in 2020. Now, what if large importers like Saudi Arabia or the UAE impose ‘their’ halal certification criteria for exports from these countries, including G20 countries like Australia (red meat) and Brazil (chickens)? Because of the GCC’s volume of imports, could there be a risk of back-door certification via the GCC? However, if GCC countries do not have certifications or it’s not yet harmonized, then halal exporters still have time to establish certification before externally imposed.

In Islamic (equity) investing, we have Sharia-compliant screening from the five index providers plus AAOIFI and Malaysia, however, what criteria, if any, for investing in listed halal companies. Meat or poultry [and food] companies should have their products according to Quranic guidelines, “O mankind! Eat of that which is on earth, lawful and good…” 2:168.

Global market

Although a Sharia-compliant food-only index may not yet exist, S&P has, as of March 30, 15 Sharia-compliant food companies in the GCC (15 Saudi and one in each Oman and the UAE) and 123 global Sharia-compliant food companies from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the US and others.

Is it correct to assume that GCC public listed food or meat or poultry companies’ offerings are halal, because large local populations and percentages of the expatriate communities are Muslims in these Islamic countries? Assuming correctly, then the Halal Index is possible with ensuing Halal Funds/ETFs off of such indexes.

Thus, two sets of indexes: Sharia-compliant and Halal index, but what about Sharia-compliant Halal Food Index? Would this be a ‘low-debt non-financial social-ethical counter-cyclical halal index? This could benefit ‘investors of conscience and appetite.’

The reality is the halal industry needs to establish an initial screening methodology for publicly listed companies in the halal industry globally, as the Sharia-compliant screens may not capture them. The present awkward situation is: one can consume the food or products of listed halal companies, yet cannot invest in them because they may fail the present Sharia screening!

Islamic banks (in the GCC) have traditionally financed the chain of ‘borrowers’ associated in real estate industry, commercial and residential, as they allegedly better understand the business model, risk, and recourse. The banks have stayed away from halal companies, possibly ex-Al Islami, hence, the latter has relied on the ‘friends and family finance’ (upstarts) and traditional interest based loans (established companies).

There are halal funds set up, but they are more for acquisition than financing. It would seem the fragmented global halal industry, in OIC and G20 countries, would be ripe for a consolidation strategy, hence, no different than the often heard quest for a big balance sheet Islamic mega bank created via consolidation.

Thus, financing of viable halal companies via roll-up acquisition strategy? Surely, more must be done, otherwise we may continue to consume halal products or meats financed with Riba-based finance companies!

The halal industry needs to get (1) its act together on process, auditing, and certification, and get into the face of Islamic banks and better explain the (2) inter-relatedness of the sectors, (3) better explain the business model, risk and its mitigation, (4) better explain that it establishes the foundation for diversified lending, and increased investor options for Islamic banks’ customers, and (5) allow Islamic finance to talk the talk of a $2-trillion ‘niche’ market in the making!

The writer is the Global Head of Islamic Finance, Thomson Reuters. Views expressed in this column are of the writer.

12-16

Islam – America’s Answer to the Race Problem

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

Repeated from earlier article.

“O mankind.  We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other).  Surely the most honored of you in the sight of ALLAH is he or she who is the most righteous of you.  And ALLAH has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 

Hujurat:13

There is none more aware of the differences of human beings than the One who created them.  It is through the generosity and graciousness of ALLAH that He made us different nations, tribes and colors.  Just think for a moment how dull the world would be if everyone were pink and thought exactly alike.  We could not learn from each other – and thus, we could not grow.  But ALLAH, with His infinite wisdom, has made us different- so we may know each other.

In the early 1960’s, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and made the profound statement that “America needs to look at Islam as the answer to its race problem.”  Here was a man whose mind had been previously clouded by erroneous assertions of Black superiority and Caucasian devilishness.  While on hajj he wrote to his wife that he had sat down and eaten with blonde-haired, blue-eyed people and there was no racism there – only brotherhood.

Recently, in Southeast Michigan where I live, there have been a rash of ugly racial incidents and feelings put out.  There have been cross-burnings and even opposition to the building of a major mall because it would attract people from other cities nearby.  Southeast Michigan has the reputation of being one of the most racially segregated areas in the country.  Cities separated by a few miles are 90% African-American and 98% Caucasian respectively.

This can be looked at negatively as a sign of hatred, which in some cases it might very well be.  But what is more important than where people live is what is in their hearts.  ALLAH says regardless of where we live or were born, ALLAH says we are one ummah, and He is Lord (21:92)

In my nearly 30 years as a Muslim, I am a witness that Muslims, for the most part, look upon other Muslims as brothers and sisters, regardless of their culture, ethnic background, or school of thought.  As an example, a Muslim from China can meet a Muslim from the Netherlands while they are vacationing in Brazil, and there is an instant kinship and recognition – and most times a universal greeting of As Salaam alaikum.  I have seen this in no other group of people whether it be religious or fraternal.  Even Muslims who don’t necessarily like each other still share this kinship.  And it is not fake.  You know in your soul and heart if someone really likes you or not.

This is a blessing from ALLAH to those who are adherents to the highest form of existence for a human being…Islam.

Our charge now is to exercise this brotherhood by more visible interaction of the various Islamic communities.  Even if we live, work and play in different areas, we must make a conscious effort to be seen interacting and cooperating with each other.  This is not only good for us, but it will also be a sign and a help to those who are not Muslim.  It will raise the esteem of Muslims in the general society as having something very positive and beneficial to contribute to the entire world.

Let’s look in our communities and see how we can aggressively promote this religion.  Do you want to end racism?…..try Islam.

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

12-11

Celebrating Extraordinary Muslim Women

March 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Salma Hasan Ali

Washington, DC – On 10 March, three Muslim women will be honoured alongside philanthropist Melinda French Gates and human rights activists Panmelo Castro from Brazil and Rebecca Lolosoli from Kenya, by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a Washington, DC-based organisation that works to empower women around the world.

The need to recognise the work of Muslim women is important. Type the search terms “Muslim women” or “women in Islam” online and chances are that a majority of English-language hits will consist of stories relating to what Muslim women wear on their heads or how women in Muslim-majority countries are subjected to physical abuse, or subjugated under the false pretext of religious principle.

But there is another side to Muslim women that is too infrequently recognised, reported or discussed. The Vital Voices Global Partnership awards ceremony, taking pl ace two days after International Women’s Day, provides an opportunity to celebrate this not uncommon, yet too frequently overshadowed, side to Muslim women.

Andeisha Farid grew up in a refugee camp outside Afghanistan. As a teenager, she lived in a Pakistani hostel for six years, where she studied and tutored others. In 2008, at the age of 25, she started her own non-profit organisation, the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), in Kabul. Today, AFCECO runs ten orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 450 children of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

In a country where non-governmental organisations that work with women and girls are frequently targeted by religious extremists, Andeisha is constantly on guard. But she remains committed to providing Afghan children not only with food and shelter, but with a sense of mutual respect, regardless of ethnic differences, a feeling of khak – connection to the earth as their homeland – and a s ense of empowerment to shape their own future, and that of their country.

“The happy faces of these children give me hope,” she says. “It helps me conquer fear.”

Afnan Al Zayani is a wife, mother, social activist, television personality and CEO of a multi-million dollar business. It’s no wonder that Forbes and Arabian Business magazine call her one of the most powerful women in the Middle East. In addition, she helped ensure the first written personal status law that protects the rights of Muslim women in cases of divorce and child custody was passed in Bahrain.

She attributes her ability to juggle so many responsibilities to her strong faith. “God will judge us on whether we use our gifts of life and health towards good or evil,” she says. Immaculately dressed in her hijab, or headscarf, she shatters the Western stereotype of the downtrodden Muslim woman. Her guiding philosophy: “Live your life as if you will live forever; live yo ur day as if you will die tomorrow.”

Then there is Roshaneh Zafar. While studying development economics at Yale University in the United States, she came across the story of Khairoon, a woman in Bangladesh who owned only one sari. Khairoon borrowed $100 from the microfinance organisation Grameen Bank to invest in a business, and now owns a sweetshop, a poultry farm, a call centre – and a collection of colourful saris.

Roshaneh met Khairoon many years after her initial loan, and saw firsthand the miracle of microfinance in changing women’s lives. She decided to start a microfinance organisation in Pakistan called Kashf, which means “miracle”. It is now the third largest microfinance organisation in Pakistan, with 300,000 clients and a goal to reach more than half a million in the next four years.

Roshaneh’s message encapsulates the sentiment of many: “Women matter to the world. We need not accept the status quo. Freeing the world of poverty and disenfranchisement of women is possible. But it will only happen when 50 per cent of the world’s population is allowed to recognise its latent strength.”

It is these stories that must be reported, not only to herald the achievements of remarkable women, but to dispel falsely created perceptions of the role of Islam in defining the fate of Muslim women.

###

* Salma Hasan Ali is a Washington, DC-based writer focusing on promoting understanding between the West and the Muslim world. This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

12-11

The Muslim Community in Chile

March 4, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By  Salma Elhamalawy, The Society of Muslim Union of Chile

omar-ali-saifuddin-mosque the-new-abu-dhabi-mosque
Views of Al Salam mosque in Santiago, Chile  

The origins of Islam in Chile are not very clear. It is known that in 1854 two “Turks” resided in the country, a situation that was repeated in the censuses of 1865 and 1875. Their country of origin is not known, just that they were natives of some territory of the immense Ottoman Empire.

According to the 1885 census, the number of “Turks” had risen to 29, but there is no precise information on their origin and their faith, since religion was not included in that census. However, the census of 1895 registered the presence of 76 “Turks”, 58 of them Muslims. They lived mainly in the north of Chile in Tarapacá, Atacama, Valparaiso, and Santiago.

In the census of 1907, the Muslims had risen to 1,498 people, all of them foreigners. They were 1,183 men and 315 women, representing only 0.04 percent of the population. This is the highest percentage of Muslims in Chile’s history.

In 1920 a new census showed that the number of Muslims had decreased to 402, with 343 men and 59 women. The greatest numbers were in Santiago and Antofagasta, with 76 in each province.

In Santiago, the first Islamic institution of Chile, the Society of Muslim Union of Chile, was founded on 25 September 1926. Later, on 16 October 1927, the Society of Mutual Aids and Islamic Charity was established.

With the 1952 census, the number of Muslims had risen again to 956. The majority lived in Santiago, with others in the provinces of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, O’Higgins, Concepción, Malleco, Cautín and Valdivia, without much organization among them.

Their numbers decreased again, so that by 1960 there were only 522, with the majority of 209 living in Santiago. A decade later, the number of Muslims had increased to 1,431. However, the census did not indicate whether they were men or women, nationals or foreigners. Nevertheless, they were spread throughout the country.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there were no religious leaders or centers for praying. Muslims who maintained the faith met in the residence of Taufik Rumie’ Dalu, a trader of Syrian origin.

In 1990 the construction of the Al-Salam Mosque began, the first of the country. In 1995 another mosque was inaugurated in Temuco, and 1998 a new one in Iquique. Sources of the Islamic community indicate that at the moment, in Chile, there are 3,000 Muslims. Many of those are Chileans who, as a result of their conversion, have even changed their names. In spite of the small number of believers, they are not a homogenous community. The majority are Sunnis, and the rest are Shiites. Sufi groups have also arisen, but their members are mainly of non-Arab origin.

“I’ll never forget that day,” says the imam of Al-Salam Mosque, Sami Elmushtawi. “The day of the mosque’s inauguration was a day where the dreams of the Muslim community became true.” The Egyptian imam says further, “For us this was a unique opportunity, because not every day we are visited by kings, nor mosques are inaugurated either.” Apart from the fact that the King of Malaysia inaugurated the mosque on 1 October 1995, the mosque is considered one of the three best ones of Latin America, after those of Venezuela and Brazil.

The mosque, built to welcome 500 people, consists of three floors. The first has reading rooms, multipurpose hall, baths and cafeteria. The second contains the prayer hall, and the third has the office of the imam and rooms for guests.

“There are some people who come to pray during the day, but due to work the majority come to the mosque in the evening,” indicated Sami Elmushtawi.

However, Santiago is not the only place where Muslims can practice their faith. The Islamic Chilean Corporation of Temuco, founded in October 2001 in the city of Temuco, has the mission of spreading the Islamic culture and traditions. In addition, today it tries to open more channels to spread the moral values of Islam, overcoming the prejudices after 11 September 2001.

Muslim women pray at the mosque and in their houses. Chileans converted to Islam describe how they live as Muslims in a country which is dominantly Catholic, and how they are perceived. The attack of 11 September generated insults and practical jokes against them.

Karima Alberto, a 35-year-old housewife married to a Syrian merchant, has two children. She met her husband in his store. “He was the reason I converted to Islam, he told me marvelous things about Islam so I began to go to the mosque and learned more about Islam. It was like self-discovery,” she says.

Karima says that some people started treating them differently because of the 11 September attack. Although she is yearning to go to Makkah, she has already met her husband’s relatives in Damascus. “It was not difficult to stop eating pork or drink alcohol. It’s God’s will, and it’s stated in the Qur’an. Although some people think it’s a big sacrifice, I don’t look at it that way at all. Islam has given me a new vision.”

Carla Olivari, an 18-year-old student in a mixed school, says, “Now I do not feel pressured to drink alcohol at parties or to lose my virginity.”

At the age of 16, she used to pass by the mosque until one day she decided to enter. She left the mosque as a Muslim. “I feel that Allah chose me.” Her parents, who are Catholic, did not oppose, but her brother did. “When he sees me praying in my room, he calls me a lunatic.” However, she not only fasts during Ramadan, but on other days as well. “Above all, I pray for the victims in Palestine and Iraq.”

Carla wants to marry a Muslim. “My husband has to be a Muslim. I want my children to grow up in a Muslim family that teaches them important family values. Then I will get veiled permanently, not like now, when I only use it in the mosque.”

Habiba Abdullah, 40 years old, is a doctor at Roberto Del Río Hospital. She emphasizes that she carries the surname of her father, “Because Islam permits us to conserve our surname and not to be Mrs. Somebody.”

A member of a family of six brothers, she has a single son who is 18 years old. All her family is Muslim. “I was born a Muslim, and I’m proud of it. I remember my father taking us every weekend to the mosque. We would learn the Qur’an, and we would study Arabic. Although it was difficult when I first wore my veil at work, but little by little people started accepting me. Now people are not very surprised to see me with veil.”

Still, these women are a minority in Chile. “There are always people coming to the mosque out of curiosity,” states Imam Sami Elmushtawi. “Nevertheless, it is very satisfactory when I see their faces after leaving the mosque, or when they return again. Some people come to learn Arabic, and some come to learn more about Islam. But definitely it gives me greater joy that the Muslim community is increasing in Chile.”

Salma Elhamalawy contacted at: salma_elhamalawy@yahoo.com.

12-10

Indonesia to Kick Off $1 Billion Green Investment Fund

January 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Sunanda Creagh

2010-01-21T131423Z_273409850_GM1E61L1MT401_RTRMADP_3_RICE-INDONESIA

Workers carry sacks of rice at a paddy field in Karawang, in Indonesia’s West Java province January 21, 2009. Indonesian state procurement agency Bulog will release 300,000 tons of rice out of the government stock this week to stabilize domestic prices, its chief said on Thursday.

REUTERS/Beawiharta

JAKARTA, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Indonesia plans a $1 billion green investment fund this year to drive infrastructure developments that aid growth and help cut greenhouse gas emissions, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.

Indonesia has promised to slash its emissions by at least 26 percent from business as usual levels by 2020 but recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has also vowed to boost economic growth to 7 percent or more by 2014.

At global climate talks in Copenhagen last month, Yudhoyono announced a plan to develop the Indonesia Green Investment Fund, which will catalyse infrastructure development that could speed economic growth, boost food and clean water production and also help cut emissions blamed for global warming.

Indonesia’s sovereign wealth fund the Government Investment Unit will put $100 million into the fund and a further $900 million will come from foreign governments including Norway and Australia, plus institutional investors, said Edward Gustely, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Finance.

“We’re in the initial stages but the target is to have this fund operational within this year,” Gustely told Reuters, adding the fund would rival Brazil’s Amazon Fund in size and scope. “There’s no reason why this can’t, in the next five years, scale to $5 billion or more.”

Brazil launched its Amazon Fund last year to promote sustainable development and scientific research in the world’s largest rain forest, with donations from European countries and the first projects unveiled last month.

Indonesia last year became the first country to launch a legal framework for a U.N.-backed scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, allowing polluters to earn tradeable carbon credits by paying developing nations not to chop down their trees.

Catalyst

Indonesia’s green investment fund will not offer loans or grants but rather top-up funding needed for projects where a bank lender is seeking an additional equity injection.

“Many technology providers and project sponsors don’t have the balance sheet to top up the required equity needed to secure financing,” said Gustely. “We would come in and play a catalyst role to ensure good projects with good asset quality, with good expertise and proper management, can be deployed and proceed.”

The Copenhagen talks failed to achieve a legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but projects like the Indonesia Green Investment Fund were a way for countries to take initiative at home, said Gustely.

“This is driven by how to create more food, water and energy in a sustainable fashion while trying to achieve Indonesia’s growth objectives,” he said.

Fitrian Ardiansyah, climate change programme director for WWF Indonesia, welcomed the fund but said more needed to be done to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Indonesian government heavily subsidies fossil fuels, but investment in renewable energy sources is too expensive. The government must help the private sector by making investment in renewable energy sources cheaper, which will address the problem. But at the moment coal plants continue to be built, which does not help,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Pip Freebairn; Editing by Neil Chatterjee)

12-5

Surprising Results of CFR Survey

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel

By Jeffrey Blankfort, Counterpunch

The Council on Foreign Relations is always near the top of the Left’s list of bogeymen that stand accused of pulling the strings of US foreign policy. It is right up there with the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, right? Wrong. If that was the case,  those arguing that US support for Israel is based on it being a “strategic asset”  will have a hard time explaining a Pew Research Center survey on America’s Place in the World, taken of 642 CFR members between October 2 and November 16. The Pew poll  not only reveals that the overwhelming majority, two-thirds of the members of this elite foreign policy institution, believes that the United States has gone overboard in favoring Israel, it doesn’t consider Israel to have much importance to the US in the first place.

What can be concluded from the answers to questions that dealt with the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the general public forms its opinions from what it hears and reads in the mainstream media which are largely biased towards Israel while CFR members have greater access to as well as interest in obtaining more accurate information and are less susceptible to pro-Israel propaganda. That apparently not a single US newspaper saw fit to report on the opinions of CFR members, under those circumstances, is not surprising. The evidence:

(1) That on a list of countries that will be the “more important as Americas allies and partners” in the future, just 4 per cent included Israel which placed it in a tie with South Korea and far behind China, 58 per cent, India, 55 per cent, Brazil, 37 per cent, the EU, 19 per cent, Russia, 17 per cent, Japan, 16 per cent, the UK and Turkey, 10 per cent, Germany, 9 per cent, Mexico, 8 per cent, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and France at 5 per cent. CFR voters were allowed to make up to seven selections.(Q19)

(2) When asked which countries would be less important to the US, Israel, at 9 per cent  was behind 22 countries including Canada and Mexico and in the region Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.(Q20)

(3) What was particularly revealing is that “in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” only 26 per cent of the CFR sided with Israel, compared with 51 per cent of 2000 members of the general public who were polled over the same period. While but 16 per cent of CFR members sided with the Palestinians compared to 12 per cent of the public, 41 per cent of the CFRers sided with “both equally” as opposed to 4 per cent of the public. Supporting neither was 12 per cent of the CFR and 14 per cent of the public. (Q33)

(4) That the CFR has not had a major hand in making US Israel-Palestine policy nor is it in agreement with those who did is strikingly revealed by the response of its members when asked their opinion of US Middle East policies. The problem, according to 67 per cent of CFR members (as compared to 30 per cent of the public) is that the US favored Israeli too much, while only 2 per cent (as opposed to 15 per cent of the public) believed that US policy overly favored the Palestinians.. Twenty-four percent of the CFR believed US policy “struck the right balance” as did 29 per cent of the public. (Q34)

(5) The overwhelming majority of CFR members, 69 per cent, think that Pres.Obama is “striking the right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians as compared with a slim majority, 51 per cent of the public. Thirteen percent of the CFR believes that Obama is “favoring Israel too much,” as compared with 7 per cent of the public, while 12 per cent thinks he is siding with the Palestinians, a position taken by 16 per cent of the public. (Q35)

Regarding Iran, one detects the same gap between the CFR and the public. Whereas a 64 per cent-34 per cent majority of the polled CFR members see Iran as a major threat to US interests, compared with a 72-20 per cent per cent  majority of the public, only 33 per cent of the CFR  would support an attack on Iran should it get a nuclear weapon as contrasted  with 63 per cent of the public. (Q7)

The percentages are almost reversed when it comes  to Pakistan with 63 per cent of the CFR supporting US military action were “extremists…poised to take over Pakistan,” whereas only 51 per cent of the public would approve such a move. (Q24). This is another indication of the success of Israel’s  porte-paroles in the mainstream media  in  building up the Iran threat while downplaying the potential threats to the stabilty of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The entire Pew survey can be viewed here: http://people-press.org/reports/questionnaires/569.pdf

[Jeffrey Blankfort is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He an be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net]

Gold in the Limelight

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

www.adenforecast.com

Gold is soaring, hitting new record highs almost daily. This C rise is going strong. Our initial $1200 target level for this year’s rise has nearly been reached, but gold could go higher.

This is good news for all of us who have been invested in gold for the past eight years. But even for those of you who invested in more recent times, gold has been a good and profitable investment.

We feel strongly that this will continue in the months and years ahead. And there are many valid reasons why.

Most important, the unprecedented monetary policy currently in force is inflationary. The same is true of the weak U.S. dollar, negative interest rates, rising oil and commodities. Gold buying by central banks is also boosting the gold price higher.

Even though gold is still relatively unknown in mainstream investment circles, it’s starting to attract some attention. As this interest grows, momentum buying will pick up and the exchange traded funds are another big positive, simply because they make it easy to buy gold. The improving economy is another positive factor.

Yes, there are problems…. serious problems.  But that doesn’t mean the world is going to fall apart next month or next year.

Pessimists are always going to paint the worst case scenario. Optimists will forever present the best case scenario. The reality is usually somewhere in between. But the markets and the facts always tell the story and that’s what we try to focus on. So what are they currently telling us?

First, despite all that’s happening, it’s important to put things into perspective… and looking back, the overall situation was a lot worse last year compared to how it is now.

Remember, the entire financial world was on the verge of collapse last year as one huge company after another failed, or came close to it. Economies worldwide were dropping and so were all of the global stock markets. Fear and panic were rampant, and with reason. The crisis wiped out a greater chunk of household wealth than during the Great Depression. No one knew what to do…

Now fast forward to today…

For starters, nearly every economy in the world is growing, some obviously more than others. But the point is, they’re all up. Stocks around the globe have also been rising this year and confidence is returning.

In the U.S., for instance, the economy grew 3½% in the third quarter. The leading economic indicator has been up for seven consecutive months and stocks, which lead the economy, have been rising for eight months. Manufacturing is on the mend, along with other important economic signs, all showing that the recession ended in June and the economy is now on its way up, albeit slowly.

In other countries, growth has been far more robust. In China, for example, the economy is growing at a 9% rate. So Korea is growing at the fastest pace in seven years. India is going strong, the same is true in most of Asia, Brazil, and to a lesser extent, Europe is improving too.

2009: Great gains

So far, based on 18 of the world’s major stock markets, the gains this year have ranged between 11% and 92%. The average has been 31%. So even though the Dow Industrials is only up about 14%, the global stock markets are all telling us that ongoing growth lies ahead.

Since the markets look to the future, if that were not the case, these markets would be falling, not rising.

Okay, but what about commodities? The CRB commodity index has gained 24% this year. More impressive, copper has soared 101% and it’s known as the global economic market barometer.

Oil has also surged. It’s gained 75%. Very simply, if these two key commodities were not in big demand due to improving world economies, they wouldn’t be rising the way they are. Instead, they too would be falling.

The main point is… these are not signs of recession and they’re certainly not signaling a depression. In fact, they’re telling us that deflation is not currently a concern.

On the contrary, these rising prices are more indicative of inflation downstream. That’s especially true considering the weak dollar.

Again and very simply, in a healthy economy annual deficits shouldn’t be more than 3% of GDP. Once this percentage exceeds 5-6%, the currency of the country involved historically falls sharply.

Currently, this percentage has soared to about 10% in the U.S. and unfortunately, that pretty much puts the nails in the dollar’s coffin. This alone will propel gold much higher.

These are the key reasons why we continue to recommend buying and holding gold. Whatever the ultimate, longer-term outcome, it’s pretty clear that the situation is going to intensify and as it does, gold is going to be the main beneficiary and its bull market will endure well into the years ahead. That’s been the case for thousands of years during times of economic uncertainty and gross imbalances, and it’s now happening again.

Note that gold rose 56% and 58%, respectively, in the last two C rises (see Chart).  So far, gold has risen 32% in the current C rise.  Plus, its leading indicator still has room to rise further before it reaches the temporarily “too high” area.  Since this rise is powerful, the gains this time around could be similar to those in 2006 and 2008.  And if they are, gold could continue up to near the $1350 level before this C rise is over.

We’ll be watching closely but for now, hold on to all of your metals related investments.  Silver and gold shares are also surging, and so are most of the other metals.  Silver is at a new 16 month high and it too is approaching our first target area.  Gold and silver will both remain super strong above $1070 and $17.20. 

11-49

Independent Palestinian State?

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Push causes Israeli alarm

By Donald Macintyre in Ramallah

2009-11-10T105107Z_1235520321_GM1E5BA1FW201_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS

Palestinians light candles around a poster depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a rally marking the fifth anniversary of Arafat’s death, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 10, 2009. Arafat died on November 11, 2004.        

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian leaders from President Mahmoud Abbas down have alarmed Israeli ministers by swinging their weight behind a planned effort to secure UN backing for a unilaterally declared independent state in the West Bank and Gaza.

In an innovative strategy which would not depend on the success of currently stalled negotiations with Israel, the leaders are preparing a push to secure formal UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders as a crucial first step towards the formation of a state.

Although there is no fixed timetable, Palestinian officials see the second half of 2011 as a plausible starting date for such a process. That is when the Palestinian Authority is due to fulfill Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s widely applauded two-year plan for completing work on all the institutions needed for a fully-fledged state.

One senior Palestinian official said here that the new plan was “the last resort of the peace camp in Palestine” given the current negotiating impasse left in the wake of the US failure to persuade Israel to agree a total freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank as a preliminary to talks.

The moderate Palestinian leadership also sees the unilateral process as a viable – and, in internal political terms, significantly more credible – alternative to surrendering to intense US pressure to enter negotiations without the settlement freeze.

As the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to denounce the Palestinian plan in a speech last night, Israel’s President Shimon Peres declared in Brazil, “A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It’s impossible and it will not work. It’s unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.”

But officials here are hoping that, without any progress towards “final status” negotiations on a future state, the US could be persuaded not to veto such a resolution. Explicit UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders would, the officials believe, dramatically intensify legal and moral pressure on Israel to lift the 42-year-old occupation.

Some officials are even drawing a direct comparison with the diplomatic process by which Israel itself was established as a state: a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union.

The strategy is tied closely to – though not specified in – Mr Fayyad’s plan, “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State”, and is thought to have originated with the Prime Minister, an independent who has recently publicly questioned the willingness of Mr Netanyahu’s government to grant more than a “mickey mouse” state in any negotiations. But it has since had strong backing from Mr Abbas, and other leading figures in his Fatah faction.

At a commemoration of his predecessor Yasser Arafat’s death, Mr Abbas declared last week, “The Palestinian state is a fact which the world recognises”. Saying that more than 100 countries supported Palestinian aspirations for a state, he added: “Now we are fighting to get the world to recognise the borders of our nation.” Mr Abbas, who reaffirmed his intention not to run again as President, has insisted that he will not return to negotiations without a settlement freeze and clear terms of reference specifying a state based on 1967 borders, East Jerusalem as the capital, and an agreed solution for refugees.

The leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday followed his Fatah colleague Mohammed Dahlan in strongly endorsing the plan. “We have taken an Arab foreign ministers’ decision to seek the help of the international community,” Mr Erekat told Reuters, adding that the US and other leading international players would be consulted before any UN move. “If the Americans cannot get the Israelis to stop settlement activities, they should also not cover them when we decide to go to the Security Council,” he added.

Ghassan Khatib, head of the Palestinian government’s media centre, said that the international community should confront Israel with a choice of a clear negotiating path towards a state based on 1967 borders, or international recognition for a Palestinian state without an agreement. “They cannot block the negotiating approach to two states and at the same time refuse the alternative,” he added.

He said that progress by the current “peace camp” in charge in Ramallah was essential if it was not to “run out of ammunition” against the alternative offered by Hamas. “I honestly think there is no future for the peace camp in Palestine if this is not going to work,” he said, adding that it would be “political suicide” for the present leadership to enter negotiations on present terms. He said the international community had long been striving “for an agreed end to the conflict – a two-state solution as a result of an agreement. But we are saying it’s not working. Why not recognise a Palestinian state when it is ready, without necessarily relying on Israeli consent?”

Mr Khatib added that recognition for a unilaterally declared state would parallel Israel’s recognition as in 1948. “The other side was not [then] expected to accept. There was no consent by either the Palestinians or the Arab [states].” Such a strategy would be severely complicated by Gaza, if it were still controlled by Hamas at the time – but no more so than the negotiations which the US is currently trying to promote.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to reject the Palestinian proposal. Addressing a forum on the Middle East in Jerusalem, he said, “There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority…any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

Independence: Getting past the roadblock

Q. Would a unilateral declaration of independence carry risks?

A. Even if it were underpinned by a UN endorsement of a Palestinian state based on the areas occupied in 1967, it would certainly be a lurch into uncharted diplomatic waters. But some Western diplomats believe it would remove any lingering doubts about the meaning of UN Resolution 242, on which Palestinian and international demands for an end to the occupation begun in 1967 are based.

Q. What might be the advantage for the Palestinians?

A. Israel technically regards the West Bank as a disputed territory the final status of which is a matter for negotiation. Palestinians hope that a process of obtaining UN Security Council support for independence, followed by major individual countries recognising the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza as a state, would greatly and immediately put Israel under pressure to withdraw its forces and civilian settlers from the occupied territories in the West Bank. At the most extreme interpretation, Israel would then be regarded as occupying a foreign country. The UN could also grant the new Palestine immediate and full membership, with voting and proposing rights, in major international bodies.

Q. What is Israel’s main problem with the proposal?

A. Israel argues that such a unilateral declaration would not only violate its right to reach an agreement on borders with the Palestinians, but also directly cuts across the 1995 Oslo-derived agreement that neither side should take unilateral steps affecting the status of the territories.

11-48

Survey: Free Market Flawed

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By James Robbins

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new BBC poll has found widespread dissatisfaction with free-market capitalism.

In the global poll for the BBC World Service, only 11% of those questioned across 27 countries said that it was working well.

Most thought regulation and reform of the capitalist system were necessary.

There were also sharp divisions around the world on whether the end of the Soviet Union was a good thing.

Economic regulation

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was a victory for ordinary people across Eastern and Central Europe.

It also looked at the time like a crushing victory for free-market capitalism.

Twenty years on, this new global poll suggests confidence in free markets has taken heavy blows from the past 12 months of financial and economic crisis.

More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter – 23% of those who responded – feel it is fatally flawed. That is the view of 43% in France, 38% in Mexico and 35% in Brazil.

And there is very strong support around the world for governments to distribute wealth more evenly. That is backed by majorities in 22 of the 27 countries.

If there is one issue where a global consensus seems to emerge from the survey it is this: there are majorities almost everywhere wanting government to be more active in regulating business.

It is only in Turkey that a majority want less government regulation.

Opinion about the disintegration of the Soviet Union is sharply divided.

Europeans overwhelmingly say it was a good thing: 79% in Germany, 76% in Britain and 74% in France feel that way.

But outside the developed West it is a different picture. Almost seven in 10 Egyptians say the end of the Soviet Union was a bad thing and views are sharply divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia.

11- 47

“Blood Libel”?

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Israeli Organ Harvesting

By Allison Weir

89060-main_Full Last week Sweden’s largest daily newspaper published an article containing shocking material: testimony and circumstantial evidence indicating that Israelis may have been harvesting internal organs from Palestinian prisoners without consent for many years.

Worse yet, some of the information reported in the article suggests that in some instances Palestinians may have been captured with this macabre purpose in mind.

In the article, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” veteran journalist Donald Bostrom writes that Palestinians “harbor strong suspicions against Israel for seizing young men and having them serve as the country’s organ reserve – a very serious accusation, with enough question marks to motivate the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to start an investigation about possible war crimes.”

An army of Israeli officials and apologists immediately went into high gear, calling both Bostrom and the newspaper’s editors “anti-Semitic.” The Israeli foreign minister was reportedly “aghast” and termed it “a demonizing piece of blood libel.” An Israeli official called it “hate porn.”

Commentary magazine wrote that the story was “merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of European funded and promoted anti-Israel hate.” Numerous people likened the ar ticle to the medieval “blood libel,” (widely refuted stories that Jews killed people to use their blood in religious rituals). Even some pro-Palestinian writers joined in the criticism, expressing skepticism.

The fact is, however, that substantiated evidence of public and private organ trafficking and theft, and allegations of worse, have been widely reported for many years. Given such context, the Swedish charges become far more plausible than might otherwise be the case and suggest that an investigation could well turn up significant information.

Below are a few examples of previous reports on this topic.

Israel’s first heart transplant

Israel’s very first, historic heart transplant used a heart removed from a living patient without consent or consulting his family.

In December 1968 a man named Avraham Sadegat (the New York Times seems to give his name as A Savgat) (2) died two days after a stroke, even though his family had been told he was “doing well.”

After initially refusing to release his body, the Israeli hospital where he was being treated finally turned the man’s body over to his family. They discovered that his upper body was wrapped in bandages; an odd situation, they felt, for someone who had suffered a stroke.

When they removed the bandages, they discovered that the chest cavity was stuffed with bandages, and the heart was missing.

During this time, the headline-making Israeli heart transplant had occurred. After their initial shock, the man’s wife and brother began to put the two events together and demanded answers.

The hospital at first denied that Sadegat’s heart had been used in the headline-making transplant, but the family raised a media storm and eventually applied to three cabinet ministers. Finally, weeks later and after the family had signed a document promising not to sue, the hospital admitted that Sadagat’s heart had been used.

The hospital explained that it had abided by Israeli law, which allowed organs to be harvested without the family’s consent. (3) (The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime includes the extraction of organs in its definition of human exploitation.)

Indications that the removal of Sadagat’s heart was the actual cause of death went unaddressed.

Director of forensic medicine on missing organs

A 1990 article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs entitled “Autopsies and Executions” by Mary Barrett reports on the grotesque killings of young Palestinians. It includes an interview with Dr. Hatem Abu Ghazalch, the former chief health official for the West Bank under Jordanian administration and director of forensic medicine and autopsies.

Barrett asks him about “the widespread anxiety over organ thefts which has gripped Gaza and the West Bank since the intifada began in December of 1987.”
He responded:

“There are indications that for one reason or another, organs, especially eyes and kidneys, were removed from the bodies during the first year or year and a half. There were just too many reports by credible people for there to be nothing happening. If someone is shot in the head and comes home in a plastic bag without internal organs, what will people assume?” (4)

Mysterious Scottish death

In 1998 a Scot named Alisdair Sinclair died under questionable circumstances while in Israeli custody at Ben Gurion airport.

His family was informed of the death and, according to a report in J Weekly, “…told they had three weeks to come up with about $4,900 to fly Sinclair’s corpse home. [Alisdair’s brother] says the Israelis seemed to be pushing a different option: burying Sinclair in a Christian cemetery in Israel, at a cost of about $1,300.”

The J report states:

“A heart said to be Sinclair’s was subsequently repatriated to Britain, free of charge. James wanted the [Israeli] Forensic Institute to pay for a DNA test to confirm that this heart was indeed their brother’s, but the Institute’s director, Professor Jehuda Hiss refused, citing the prohibitive cost, estimated by some sources at $1,500.”

Despite repeated requests from the British Embassy for the Israeli pathologist’s and police reports, Israeli officials refused to release either. (5,6,7)

Israeli government officials raise questions

Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh reports in an article in CCUN:

“In January, 2002, an Israeli cabinet minister tacitly admitted that organs taken from the bodies of Palestinian victims might have been used for transplants in Jewish patients without the knowledge of the Palestinian victims’ families.

“The minister, Nessim Dahan, said in response to a question by an Arab Knesset member that he couldn’t deny or confirm that organs of Palestinian youths and children killed by the Israeli army were taken out for transplants or scientific research.

“`I couldn’t say for sure that something like that didn’t happen.’”

Amayreh writes that the Knesset member who posed the question said that he “had received `credible evidence proving that Israeli doctors at the forensic institute of Abu Kabir extracted such vital organs as the heart, kidneys, and liver from the bodies of Palestinian youth and children killed by the Israeli army in Gaza and the West Bank.” (8)

Israel’s chief pathologist removed from post for stealing body parts

For a number of years there were allegations that Israel’s leading pathologist was stealing body parts. In 2001 the Israeli national news service reported:

“… the parents of soldier Ze’ev Buzgallo who was killed in a Golan Heights military training accident, are filing a petition with the High Court of Justice calling for the immediate suspension of Dr. Yehuda Hiss and that criminal charges be filed against him. Hiss serves as the director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute….According to the parents, the body of their son was used for medical experimentation without their consent, experiments authorized by Hiss. (9)

In 2002 the service reported:

“The revelation of illegally stored body parts in the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute has prompted MK Anat Maor, chairman of the Knesset Science Committee, to demand the immediate suspension of the director, Prof. Yehuda Hiss.”

Alisdair Sinclair’s death had first alerted authorities to Hiss’s malfeasance in 1998, though nothing was done for years. The Forward reported:

“In 2001, an Israeli Health Ministry investigation found that Hiss had been involved for years in taking body parts, such as legs, ovaries and testicles, without family permission during autopsies, and selling them to medical schools for use in research and training. He was appointed chief pathologist in 1988. Hiss was never charged with any crime, but in 2004 he was forced to step down from running the state morgue, following years of complaints.” (10)

Harvesting kidneys from impoverished communities

According to the Economist, a kidney racket flourished in South Africa between 2001 and 2003. “Donors were recruited in Brazil, Israel and Romania with offers of $5,000-20,000 to visit Durban and forfeit a kidney. The 109 recipients, mainly Israelis, each paid up to $120,000 for a “transplant holiday”; they pretended they were relatives of the donors and that no cash changed hands.” (11)

In 2004 a legislative commission in Brazil reported, “At least 30 Brazilians have sold their kidneys to an international human organ trafficking ring for transplants performed in South Africa, with Israel providing most of the funding.”

According to an IPS report: “The recipients were mostly Israelis, who receive health insurance reimbursements of 70,000 to 80,000 dollars for life-saving medical procedures performed abroad.”

IPS reports:

The Brazilians were recruited in Brazil’s most impoverished neighbourhoods and were paid $10,000 per kidney, “but as `supply’ increased, the payments fell as low as 3,000 dollars.” The trafficking had been organized by a retired Israeli police officer, who said “he did not think he was committing a crime, given that the transaction is considered legal by his country’s government.”

The Israeli embassy issued a statement denying any participation by the Israeli government in the illegal trade of human organs but said it did recognize that its citizens, in emergency cases, could undergo organ transplants in other countries, “in a legal manner, complying with international norms,” and with the financial support of their medical insurance.

However, IPS reports that the commission chair termed the Israeli stance “at the very least `anti-ethical’, adding that trafficking can only take place on a major scale if there is a major source of financing, such as the Israeli health system.” He went on to state that the resources provided by the Israeli health system “were a determining factor” that allowed the network to function. (12)

Tel Aviv hospital head promotes organ trafficking

IPS goes on to report:

“Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who heads the Organs Watch project at the U.S. University of California, Berkeley, testified to the Pernambuco legislative commission that international trafficking of human organs began some 12 years ago, promoted by Zacki Shapira, former director of a hospital in Tel Aviv.

“Shapira performed more than 300 kidney transplants, sometimes accompanying his patients to other countries, such as Turkey. The recipients are very wealthy or have very good health insurance, and the `donors’ are very poor people from Eastern Europe, Philippines and other developing countries, said Scheper-Hughes, who specialises in medical anthropology.”

Israel prosecutes organ traffickers

In 2007 Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported that two men confessed to persuading “Arabs from the Galilee and central Israel who were developmentally challenged or mentally ill to agree to have a kidney removed for payment.” They then would refuse to pay them.

The paper reported that the two were part of a criminal ring that included an Israeli surgeon. According to the indictment, the surgeon sold the kidneys he harvested for between $125,000 and $135,000. (13)

Earlier that year another Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, reported that ten members of an Israeli organ smuggling ring targeting Ukrainians had been arrested. (14)

In still another 2007 story, the Jerusalem Post reported that “Professor Zaki Shapira, one of Israel’s leading transplant surgeons, was arrested in Turkey on Thursday on suspicion of involvement in an organ trafficking ring. According to the report, the transplants were arranged in Turkey and took place at private hospitals in Istanbul.”

Israeli organ trafficking comes to the U.S.?

In July of this year even US media reported on the arrest of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from Brooklyn, recently arrested by federal officials in a massive corruption sweep in New Jersey that netted mayors, government officials and a number of prominent rabbis. Bostrom opens his article with this incident.

According to the federal complaint, Rosenbaum, who has close ties to Israel, said that he had been involved in the illegal sale of kidneys for 10 years. A US Attorney explained: “His business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000 which he would turn around and sell for $160,000.” (15)

This is reportedly the first case of international organ trafficking in the U.S.

University of California anthropologist and organ trade expert Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who informed the FBI about Rosenbaum seven years ago, says she heard reports that he had held donors at gunpoint to ensure they followed through on agreements to “donate” their organs. (16)

Israel’s organ donor problems

Israel has an extraordinarily small number of willing organ donors. According to the Israeli news service Ynet, “the percentage of organs donated among Je ws is the lowest of all the ethnic groups… In western countries, some 30 per cent of the population have organ donor cards. In Israel, in contrast, four percent of the population holds such cards. (17)

“According to statistics from the Health Ministry’s website, in 2001, 88 Israelis died waiting for a transplant because of a lack of donor organs. In the same year, 180 Israelis were brain dead, and their organs could have been used for transplant, but only 80 of their relatives agreed to donate their organs.”

According to Ynet, the low incidence of donors is related to “religious reasons.” In 2006 there was an uproar when an Israeli hospital known for its compliance with Jewish law performed a transplant operation using an Israeli donor. The week before, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.” (18, 19)

The Swedish article reports that `Israel has repeatedly been under fire for its unethical ways of dealing with organs and transplants. France was among the countries that ceased organ collaboration with Israel in the 1990s. Jerusalem Post wrote that “the rest of the European countries are expected to follow France’s example shortly.”

“Half of the kidneys transplanted to Israelis since the beginning of the 2000s have been bought illegally from Turkey, Eastern Europe or Latin America. Israeli health authorities have full knowledge of this business but do nothing to stop it. At a conference in 2003 it was shown that Israel is the only western country with a medical profession that doesn’t condemn the illegal organ trade. The country takes no legal measures against doctors participating in the illegal business – on the contrary, chief medical officers of Israel’s big hospitals are involved in most of the illegal transplants, according to Dagens Nyheter (December 5, 2003).”

To fill this need former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then health minister of Israel, organized a big donor campaign in the summer of 1992, but while the number of donors skyrocketed, need still greatly surpassed supply.

Palestinian disappearances increase

palorgans

Bostrom, who earlier wrote of all this in his 2001 book Inshallah, (20) reports in his recent article:

“While the campaign was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.

“Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies.”

“I was in the area at the time, working on a book. On several occasions I was approached by UN staff concerned about the developments. The persons contacting me said that organ theft definitely occurred but that they were prevented from doing anything about it. On an assignment from a broadcasting network I then travelled around interviewing a great number of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza – meeting parents who told of how their sons had been deprived of organs before being killed.”

He describes the case of 19-year-old Bilal Achmed Ghanan, shot by Israeli forces invading his village.

“The first shot hit him in the chest. According to villagers who witnessed the incident he was subsequently shot with one bullet in each leg. Two soldiers then ran down from the carpentry workshop and shot Bilal once in the stomach. Finally, they grabbed him by his feet and dragged him up the twenty stone steps of the workshop stair… Israeli soldiers loading the badly wounded Bilal in a jeep and driving him to the outskirts of the village, where a military helicopter waited. The boy was flown to a destination unknown to his family.”

Five days later he was returned, “dead and wrapped up in green hospital fabric.” Bostrom reports that as the body was lowered into the grave, his chest was exposed and onlookers could see that he was stitched up from his stomach to his head. Bostrom writes that this was not the first time people had seen such a thing.

“The families in the West Bank and in Gaza felt that they knew exactly what had happened: “Our sons are used as involuntary organ donors,” relatives of Khaled from Nablus told me, as did the mother of Raed from Jenin and the uncles of Machmod and Nafes from Gaza, who had all disappeared for a number of days only to return at night, dead and autopsied.”

Why autopsies?

Bostrom describes the questions that families asked:

“Why are they keeping the bodies for up to five days before they let us bury them? What happened to the bodies during that time? Why are they performing autopsy, against our will, when the cause of death is obvious? Why are the bodies returned at night? Why is it done with a military escort? Why is the area closed off during the funeral? Why is the electricity interrupted?”

Israel’s answer was that all Palestinians who were killed were routinely autopsied. However, Bostrom points out that of the133 Palestinians who were killed that year, only 69 were autopsied.

He goes on to write:

“We know that Israel has a great need for organs, that there is a vast and illegal trade of organs which has been running for many years now, that the authorities are aware of it and that doctors in managing positions at the big hospitals participate, as well as civil servants at various levels. We also know that young Palestinian men disappeared, that they were brought back after five days, at night, under tremendous secrecy, stitched back together after having been cut from abdomen to chin.

It’s time to bring clarity to this macabre business, to shed light on what is going on and what has taken place in the territories occupied by Israel since the Intifada began.” (21)

The new “Blood Libel”?

In scanning through the reaction to Bostrom’s report, one is struck by the multitude of charges that his article is a new version of the old anti-Semitic “blood libel.” Given that fact, it is interesting to examine a 2007 book by Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history, and what happened to him.

The author is Bar-Ilan professor (and rabbi) Ariel Toaff, son of the former chief rabbi of Rome, a religious leader so famous that an Israeli journalist writes that Toaff’s father “is to Italian Jewry as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” Ariel Toaff, himself, is considered “one of the greatest scholars in his field.” (22, 23)

In February 2007 the Israeli and Italian media were abuzz (though most of the U.S. media somehow missed it) with news that Professor Toaff had written a book entitled “Pasque di Sangue” (“Blood Passovers”) (24) containing evidence that there “was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.”

Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper (the book was published in Italy), Toaff says:

“My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades. From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children.” (25)

(Incidentally, an earlier book containing similar findings was published some years ago, also by an Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, of whom Noam Chomsky once wrote, “Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value.” ) (26)

Professor Toaff was immediately attacked from all sides, including pressure orchestrated by Anti-Defamation League chairman Abe Foxman, but Toaff stood by his 35 years of research, announcing:

“I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me… One shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth.”

Before long, however, under relentless public and private pressure, Toaff had recanted, withdrawn his book, and promised to give all profits that had already accrued (the book had been flying off Italian bookshelves) to Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League. A year later he published a “revised version.”

Donald Bostrom’s experience seems to be a repeat of what Professor Toaff endured: calumny, vituperation, and defamation. Bostrom has received death threats as well, perhaps an experience that Professor Toaff also shared.

If Israel is innocent of organ plundering accusations, or if its culpability is considerably less than Bostrom and others suggest, it should welcome honest investigations that would clear it of wrongdoing. Instead, the government and its advocates are working to suppress all debate and crush those whose questions and conclusions they find threatening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Neta nyahu, rather than responding to calls for an investigation, is demanding that the Swedish government abandon its commitment to a free press and condemn the article. The Israeli press office, apparently in retaliation and to prevent additional investigation, is refusing to give press credentials to reporters from the offending newspaper.

Just as in the case of the rampage against Jenin, the attack on the USS liberty, the massacre of Gaza, the crushing of Rachel Corrie, the torture of American citizens, and a multitude of other examples, Israel is using its considerable, worldwide resources to interfere with the investigative process.

It is difficult to conclude that it has nothing to hide.

Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew. A version of this article containing citations and additional information is available at http://ifamericansknew/cur_sit/sweden.html.

11-37

The American Empire Is Bankrupt

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony. “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.

“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”

The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.

“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism … there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite. 

11-27

Hispanic Muslims in Atlanta Overcome Anti-Muslim stereotypes

March 1, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Caption: (from left to right) Converts Ismail Watters, Nidhal Watters, Maryan Watters and Siri Carrión pray to Allah in their living room in Snellville, Georgia.

By Ana Catalina Varela, Independent Submission
acvarela@munodhispanico.com

Adapted by TMO from an article originally published in Mundo Hispanico, a Spanish-language weekly in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hispanic Muslims in Atlanta are set on changing the negative image that some in the Latino community might have of them. That is the mission of the Atlanta Latino Muslim Association (ALMA), a group founded by Siri Carrion, a Puerto Rican woman who is also Muslim.

Wearing her hijab and kneeling, Carrion starts preparing to pray alongside her four children. One of them, Ismail, raises his hands and starts by saying the ‘adhan, inviting the angels into this family’s living room.

Carrion, who grew up in Northern California as a Muslim, moved to Georgia about eight years ago and saw the need for Latino Muslims to come together.

She is the founder of ALMA, the first group in the state that seeks to unite Hispanics who profess Islam, to create a venue for them to share their culture and religion.

“As Latino Muslims we seek unity and also to educate the rest of the Hispanic community about Islam, especially with the war in Iraq and after 9/11, there are some who have a negative perspective of what it is to me Muslim,” said Carrion.

She explains that one of the main reasons why ALMA was founded were to raise awareness in the community about Islam and to provide access to information in Spanish to those who want to learn and understand the religion.

“We currently have about 20 members who come from countries like Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba and Puerto Rico, just to name a few. As Latinos and Muslims, we speak the same language, eat similar foods and have similar cultural perspectives, and we also share the same faith,” she added.

Carrion, who works as a tax administrator for a business in the city of Marietta, also dispels the myths that some have of Muslim women. Being Muslim and a woman have not been an obstacle for her to become an example for her two young daughters.

The oldest of them, 13 year-old Maryam, looks up to her and wears her hijab proudly to school every day.

“I was raised in Islam but I was not forced to use the hijab. I chose to use it as an adult. But my daughter chose to wear it since she was young. She does so with pride and has never been teased at school, she is proud to believe in Islam and the other children see her as a faithful Muslim,” said Carrion.

Posted on her fridge, she has a picture of one of the hijacked planes flying into one of the World Trade Center towers on September 11. She explains that her purpose in doing so is to reject those violent actions and to remind her children that they are not like those men. They are a family of peace-seeking, God-loving Muslims.

9-10

Time to Sell?

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Time to Sell?
So there you are, one of the lucky few who, a couple years ago, spotted the best places to invest and now see some fat gains in your portfolio holdings. Is it so great that you consider scattering your account statements on the floor and rolling around on them? Or is that just me? But then, it might also occur to you that those big gains could be temporary, while selling the big winners could lock in your well deserved gains. So, do you sell? Or do you ride the wave a while longer, hoping to increase your gains?
My first reaction to the question about ‘’taking profits’’ on big gains in emerging markets stocks or funds, or perhaps gold and energy funds, is always the same. ‘’Gee, I don’t know if that’s the smart thing to do.î Comforting, right? But let’s be realistic for a moment, even rational, as all investors think they are.
If I knew for sure when to sell raging winners or strong performers in the Indian or Brazilian markets, that would infer powers of prescience that only CNBC promoters claim to possess, though they know no more than you or I. Such a call would suggest skill at predicting the future, or at least those actions forthcoming from thousands (if not millions) of other investors with different methods and goals.
Let’s be realistic about investing! I’m guessing where to invest now. I always have — and always will. What are the best things to buy now? And the best things to sell? If anyone really knew with any certainty, then investing would be so easy, everyone would know investors who ìcrushî the market regularly. But those ìcrushersî don’t exist, do they? So no one knows for sure what to do. We’re all just making our best guesses.
After accepting that premise, we can consider our choices — with the proper amount of humility to gain favor in the eyes of the market gods, who never stay long with investors claiming great success in the markets. And just as important as humility is accepting, from the start, that making major portfolio changes may cause regret in the future.
You could sell your big winners now — only to watch them rise even higher. So will you be right or wrong? The wrong decision plus a potential ego dent can linger in your memory and affect future decision making, adding an emotional influence that makes investors even less rational. But a decision must be made, and standing pat is also a decision.
So letís look at some decision-making ideas. First, we must admit that the changes we consider are timing decisions. Yet we all know we can’t time the markets, right? Timing is another one of those widely accepted ìdead wrongî investing tenets with the same value as diversification or the concept of ‘’stocks for the long run.’’
But you can consider timing in making your decision, since you always have in the past. And so have I — and most everyone else! You donít believe me? An illustration might help. Perhaps a friend asks you what to do with new money going into his brokerage account. What should he buy? Maybe some shares of the S&P 500 index fund or a good international equity fund? Or some energy stocks balanced by a mellow bond fund?
So when would you tell your friend to buy? In a month? Next March? Or maybe you suggest buying right now, since other things, like technology or gold funds may have already run too far, too fast? Yes, any investing decision involves timing, as in what you buy from all available options.
Yes, gold stocks and funds have had a great run for the past five years! In that time, for example, Fidelityís Select Gold fund has powered about 200% higher than the S&P 500, which sits about where it started then, showing a minimal gain in nominal terms. So this point brings up two more problems. Do you avoid the big winner, the gold sector, since it has done so well and is selling at a high price? And will you re-balance your portfolio, as in selling some gold shares and adding the cash to your S&P fund?
Consider this as you decide whether to sell a high flyer like gold. In 1998, the Russian government was essentially broke and defaulted on bonds issued to foreign investors. The situation looked bleak as the stock market index sat at about 100. Only a fool or high risk taker would have ventured into something looking that bad — or so it seemed.
A couple years later, smart money saw value there and watched that index power higher, going past 300, 400 and then 500. A great time to sell and take profits, right? Surely, you wouldn’t buy into a market that had risen 300% or 400%, right? And just where is that market index now? In late April 2006, the Russian market sits just above the 1,600 level.
For another fine example, look at the Brazilian market. Pounded down in unison with the S&P 500 during the bear market of 2000-2002, it bottomed at about 8,400. But smart money saw value there and watched as that index rose about 20,000 in a little more than a year. Is it time to sell? Maybe not, even with that index hitting a new, all-time high this week, passing the 40,000 level.
Did you hear on CNBC last year that you should sell your energy stocks or funds since oil had more than doubled in price and would soon fall? With oil now costing above $75 a barrel, how smart was that? One thing I have learned the hard way is that trends tend to last longer than you think they will. Selling your best performers seems like a great idea — until you realize that the person buying your winners may hold them and make even more on them.
And re-balancing is a stupid idea for several reasons. The worst of them are that all asset classes will, at some point, have their day in the sun and that selling your winners at a high price and buying more of your losers at low prices will ensure success over the long term. For a useful illustration on how that could fail to work, consider the investor in Japan who diversified into the S&P 500 in the early 1990s.
As his home market tanked, with the Nikkei average falling from 39,000 to about 8,000 in 13 years, he would have re-balanced annually, selling some of his winning S&P shares and moving the cash into a market that continued to fall every year! Each year he added to his losers and reduced the impact of holdings in a winning category.
So how about a couple ideas that seem better to me? If you have big winners in your portfolio that are making you nervous, consider selling a portion of them over time. If the fear of losing your big gains outweighs the fear of selling too soon, go ahead and sell. But my compromise solution allows hedging your decision somewhat and reducing the chance of being glaringly wrong. You are only a little wrong, regardless of what happens.
Another idea is doing a fresh fundamental analysis on why your best performers are doing so well and whether they will continue. Recently, I overheard a conversation at a local office of a big mutual fund company catering to individual investors. The investor asked the nice lady about her interest in buying into the companyís Latin American sector fund, a recent big winner. The lady commented that recent performance was impressive, indeed, but wondered how long those big returns could continue. If you, like this lady, have no idea about your holdingsí recent performance, you need to do some fundamental research, rather than just walking away from what seems too good to be true.
Brazilian stocks, a major portion of any high-flying Latin America fund, still look as good as ever! In fact, they look better now than three years ago when that market began its current bull market. And the market is still quoted as selling at about 13 times earnings, on average, while the country enjoys a trade surplus and its government, a small budget surplus.
Adding to these factors is a recent development regarding energy. Brazilís domestic oil production now sufficiently satisfies domestic demand, lessened by a long-running project to produce substantial amounts of sugar-based ethanol. Sharply rising energy prices have little effect on the economy. And while concerns are warranted, based on past events, that the currency could lose value sharply, Brazil sits on billions of dollars, enough to intervene on behalf of the real.
Similar conditions now exist in Russia, though they did not when that market began its huge bull trend. Awash in foreign currency reserves, the country, as a major world supplier of ever more costly energy, now runs budget surpluses. When Russiaís bull market ensued, oil sales were barely profitable. Fundamentals have clearly improved, right along with rising stock prices, which are much higher now. And valuations have risen right along with them.
The best of all fundamentals may be found in gold. When gold began its huge move higher, our federal government was running deficits so small that co-mingling excess Social Security withholdings as part of general operating funds (during Clinton’s second term), appeared to be a small federal budget surplus. Since then, the Bush regime has splashed red ink everywhere, and America’s unfunded liabilities for retirement programs like Social Security and Medicare have shot higher, from about $20 trillion in 2000 to over $50 trillion, with some estimates even higher.
And since Americans are not saving, all government funds must be borrowed. Of course, all the money left in the world wonít buy that many bonds, since countries with money to spend, like China, Russia, etc., have domestic investment needs. Our leaders will, no doubt, print whatever money is needed, and that amount grows shockingly higher — much higher than anyone thought possible when the Bush team took charge five years ago. So rising inflation makes our bonds really bad deals and makes borrowing even harder. The dollar printing press will run for the foreseeable future, so the fundamental case for gold improves along with its valuation.
With energy, today’s supply-and-demand problem was not as evident in investor thinking four or five years ago. The Iraq war has decreased oil production there, something not factored into the thinking of pre-war energy investors. And didn’t we all assume that oil production would increase after the invasion?
And as the Bush administration continues to anger eight other oil suppliers, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia, the potential use of energy as an economic weapon is higher now than when Bush, early in his first term, looked into Vladimir’s eyes and felt his honest soul. So again, fundamentals rise along with prices.
The best reason to sell or, better, scale out of your biggest winners is when the holdings just become too large in your overall portfolio. If you intended to maintain a 10% allocation in gold shares or funds, (which one really doesn’t matter, since they’ll rise together) and your gold holdings have risen to 15% or 20% of your portfolio, reduce your exposure. The added volatility resulting from such a large asset class position only increases the chance of your making an irrational decision later.
Of course, keeping your shares in a rising market like gold increases your chance of winning big, too, so factor that in as well. And when you sell some of your big winners, you must find something else with solid fundamentals to buy. And how many opportunities like that are available now?
So don’t sell just because something has done well. And don’t re-balance annually either, by taking money from sectors or asset classes in the middle of wonderfully profitable secular bull markets and adding hard-earned gains into something like the S&P 500, clearly in the early stages of a secular bear market.
Have a great week.
Bob