Texas Rangers Win the Rights to Yu Darvish

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

5880327.binMajor League Baseball’s Texas Rangers emerged victorious from a blind bidding process for the services of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Texas’ winning bid exceeded $51 million American dollars, and that merely secured the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with Darvish. The Toronto Blue Jays were reportedly the runners-up with an unspecified bid.

Darvish is the son of an Iranian father, Farsad Darvishsefad, and a Japanese mother, Ikuyu.  The two of them met in the United States, in Florida. Farsad’s father was a travel agent in Iran, and sent Farsad to the United States in 1977 to attend high school in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he also raced competitively in motocross.

Farsad played soccer at Eckerd College, a liberal arts school in St. Petersburg until the U.S. embassy takeover in 1979 and the coach benched him. He later worked at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., where the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks used to train. “When I was working in the cafeteria I used to watch them carry two trays — one was a milk tray, one was a food tray, so it was very huge, a very nice experience,” Farsad said in a 2008 interview with ESPN.com. “And of course I cheered for the Seahawks.” The family subsequently moved to Japan to raise a family.

Yu, who also goes by the Iranian name Farid, began playing baseball in the second grade in Japan. And he quickly ascended up the ranks. Eventually he became the ace pitcher for the powerhouse baseball program at Tohoku High. And his success carried over to the Japanese professional ranks, with the Fighters of Nippon-Ham.

Darvish has garnered the attention of American baseball scouts since he was a teenager. And the attention grew even further with the high profile international exposure that came with pitching in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as in the 2009 World Baseball Classic as a member of the Japanese national team. And, ultimately he became too tantalizing for American professional baseball to resist, and the Texas Rangers paid for his rights.

But Darvish isn’t just about the money. In February of 2007 he established a humanitarian fund dedicated to the construction, installment, and maintenance of wells, well pumps, and rainwater storage facilities in developing countries called the “Yu Darvish Water Fund.” He has also announced plans to contribute to this fund by donating 100,000 yen each time he notches a regular season win. The fund is managed by the Japan Water Forum.

The 25-year-old Darvish had in fact been going through some tough times in his personal life in recent months having recently been divorced from his wife. But the prospect of a new life and a new challenge in American baseball should do well to boost his spirits.

13-52

China tops US, Japan to Be Top Patent Filer

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lee Chyen Yee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China became the world’s top patent filer in 2011, surpassing the United States and Japan as it steps up innovation to improve its intellectual property rights track record, a Thomson Reuters research report showed on Wednesday.

The report said the world’s second-largest economy aimed to transform from a “made in China” to a “designed in China” market, with the government pushing for innovation in sectors such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals and technology.

However, legal experts said China would need to do more before it can lead the world in innovation as the quality of patents needed to improve.

The government provided attractive incentives for companies in China to file patent applications, regardless of whether a patent was eventually granted, they said.

“The idea of subsidizing patents is not bad in itself, however it is a blunt instrument because you get high figures for filings, but it does not tell you anything about the quality of the patents filed,” said Elliot Papageorgiou, a Partner and Executive at law firm Rouse Legal (China).

“One thing is volume, quality is quite another. The return, or the percentage of grants, of the patents is still not as high in China as, say, in the U.S., Japan or some places in Europe,” he said.

The Thomson Reuters report said published patent applications from China were expected to total nearly 500,000 in 2015, following by the United States with close to 400,000 and Japan with almost 300,000.

Published applications from China’s patent office have risen by an average of 16.7 percent annually from 171,000 in 2006 to nearly 314,000 in 2010, data from Thomson Reuters Derwent World Patents Index showed.

During the period, Japan had the highest volume, followed by the United States, China, Korea and Europe, the report said. It did not give figures for 2011.

“The striking difference among these regions is China — it is experiencing the most rapid growth and is poised to lead the pack in the very near future,” it said.

Of total patents filed in China, the percentage of domestic applications rose to nearly 73 percent in 2010 from less than 52 percent in 2006, indicating that Chinese companies have outpaced foreign entities in the patent boom.

In terms of patents overseas, Chinese companies have also been climbing in the rankings, according to data from the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO).

In 2010, China’s No.2 telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp was second on the list of applicants, ranking just behind Japan’s Panasonic Corp.

U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc came in third, while China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world’s second-largest telecom gear maker, was fourth, according to WIPO.

Chinese companies have been trying to be more innovative as they transform from contract manufacturers to regional and global brand names producing higher end products to improve margins.

Patent filings have also increased among Chinese companies due to legal battles that they have had to fight, especially in the telecommunications sector. For instance, Huawei and ZTE have been embroiled in patent disputes over fourth-generation wireless technology.

(Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee; Editing by Chris Lewis)

13-52

Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

$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

Stories of Friendship & Faith: The Wisdom of Women Creating Alliances for Peace

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

opening hearts, opening minds, opening doors

By Brenda Naomi Rosenberg

WisdomWomen_PROMOcover In Metro Detroit, a mostly segregated area of isolated and sometimes hostile communities, with almost every person affected by the failing economy, a devastated auto industry, sky- rocketing unemployment, an area where homes have been devalued by as much as 50%, I saw a spark of hope. A spark ignited with my friends from WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), women who share my passion for opening hearts and opening minds, women who dare to cross boundaries to make friends. Together, we created FRIENDSHIP and FAITH; the WISDOM of women creating alliances for peace, a book that offers hope and the possibility of how we can create peace if we are willing to extend our hands in friendship and formulate meaningful connections.

Twenty nine of us, ages 20 to 80 from seven different faiths -Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, and Buddhist-collaborated for a year to produce a collection of inspiring stories, stories of creating friendships across religious and cultural divides. Stories that describe everything from surviving flat-out hatred—to the far simpler challenge of making friends with someone of a different religion and race when you share a hospital room; stories that describe making friends at school, overcoming misunderstandings with colleagues at work and even daring to establish friendships that circle the globe; stories that will lift spirits—perhaps even inspire people to spark a new friendship wherever they live.

Our Journey to create Friendship & Faith began on January 24, 2009, when 14 WISDOM leaders gathered for a retreat at the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, led by the Rev. Sharon Buttry, whose story appears in the book. The retreat was called “Building Bridges”. Together we explored ways to strengthen relationships between women and create innovative projects for the future. To deepen our reflections that weekend, we divided into pairs— I teamed up with Gigi Salka, a Muslim friend and board member of the Muslim Unity Center. Our first exercise was to draw the bridge that connected us. Our bridge was a beautiful rainbow of colors; filled with many of the interfaith and educational projects we had worked on together, including placing a mini Jewish library, a gift of the Farbman family, at the Muslim Unity Center.  I wanted to share not only our bridge-building efforts but all the stories in the room. I proposed a book of our personal stories of how we built bridges across religious and cultural divides, with the hope to inspire others to reach out and to expand the circle of WISDOM.

The group’s enthusiastic response led to a task force focused on gathering stories from dozen of women from diverse backgrounds. Our task force includes WISDOM members Padma Kuppa, Sheri Schiff, Gail Katz, Trish Harris, Ellen Ehrlich, Judy Satterwaite, Paula Drewek and me. We turned to another friend: David Crumm, (founding editor of Read The Spirit www.ReadTheSprit.com, an online magazine, and publisher of ReadTheSpirit Books. David not only published our book, but helped us expand our creative circle. We invited writers from a similarly wide range of backgrounds to help us. Some of the writers are still in college—and some are veteran, nationally-known writers.

As you open the book, you’ll meet my three dear friends; Gail Katz, (Jewish) Trish Harris, (Catholic) and Shahina Begg, (Muslim) who will invite you to sit down with them around a kitchen table. They’ll tell you about the creation of WISDOM – their meeting at an interfaith event, the documentary premier of “Reuniting the Children of Abraham” at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, and how WISDOM has developed into a dynamic women’s interfaith dialogue organization hosting many successful educational and social-service programs.

Many stories will feel like you’re witnessing events unfolding in your back yard – stories about overcoming tough problems with relationships at school—or finding solutions when families suddenly encounter friction over interreligious marriages. Other stories take you to times and places around the world that you’ll find so compelling—so memorable—that you’ll want to tell a friend – two girls in Iran risking the wrath of religious authorities with their interfaith friendship,  a Jewish woman, child of holocaust survivors, who finds an unexpected friendship when a German couple moves in next door – a Muslim-Hindu marriage that raises cross-country anxiety in India—and a rare true story about an innocent Japanese girl who bravely faced hatred  in an internment camp here and also in Japan during World War II.  You will read the heartfelt stories of personal struggles. One Muslim woman shares her story of how challenging it was for her to start wearing a head scarf after 9/11, and another about how she ended an abusive marriage, stopped wearing her head scarf and started helping other Arab woman in all their relationships. And, some stories like mine show how a lunch with an Imam led to creating an interfaith project  “Reuniting the Children of Abraham”  that has crossed race, faith, cultural barriers and  international boundaries.

Read our book with a friend or neighbor. Meet us online at our www.FriendshipAndFaith.com web site.  Look for our stories on www.ReadTheSpirit.com.,and our book on www.Amazon.com.  We would love to come to your congregation or organization and present our program 5 Women 5 Journeys, an insightful exchange about our faiths, beliefs and challenges as women. If you are interested in organizing a congregational –wide “read” of this book contact: Gail Katz at gailkatz@comcast.net

12-15

Tunnel

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail-tunnel

A tunnel is an underground passageway. The definition of what constitutes a tunnel is not universally agreed upon. However, in general tunnels are at least twice as long as they are wide. In addition, they should be completely enclosed on all sides, save for the openings at each end. Some civic planners define a tunnel as 0.1 miles (0.16 km) in length or longer, while anything shorter than this should be called an underpass or a chute. For example, the underpass beneath Yahata Station in Kitakyushu, Japan is only 0.08 miles (0.13 km) long and therefore should not be considered a tunnel.

A tunnel may be for pedestrians or cyclists, for general road traffic, for motor vehicles only, for rail traffic, or for a canal. Some are aqueducts, constructed purely for carrying water — for consumption, for hydroelectric purposes or as sewers — while others carry other services such as telecommunications cables. There are even tunnels designed as wildlife crossings for European badgers and other endangered species. Some secret tunnels have also been made as a method of entrance or escape from an area, such as the Cu Chi Tunnels or the tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Some tunnels are not for transport at all but are fortifications, for example Mittelwerk and Cheyenne Mountain.

In the United Kingdom a pedestrian tunnel or other underpass beneath a road is called a subway. This term was used in the past in the United States, but now refers to underground rapid transit systems.

The central part of a rapid transit network is usually built in tunnels. To allow non-level crossings, some lines run in deeper tunnels than others. Rail stations with much traffic usually provide pedestrian tunnels from one platform to another, though others use bridges.

It is essential that any tunnel project starts with a comprehensive investigation of ground conditions. The results of the investigation will allow proper choice of machinery and methods for excavation and ground support, and will reduce the risk of encountering unforeseen ground conditions. In the early stages, the horizontal and vertical alignment will be optimized to make use of the best ground and water conditions.

In some cases, conventional desk and site studies will not produce sufficient information to assess, for example, the blocky nature of rocks, the exact location of fault zones, or stand-up times of softer ground. This may be a particular concern in large diameter tunnels. To overcome these problems, a pilot tunnel, or drift, may be driven ahead of the main drive. This smaller diameter tunnel will be easier to support when unexpected conditions occur, and will be incorporated in the final tunnel. Alternatively, horizontal boreholes may sometimes be used ahead of the advancing tunnel face.

12-8

Wars Sending US into Ruin

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford

By Eric Margolis, QMI Agency

2010-02-10T142132Z_01_BTRE61913W200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-AFGHANISTAN-ASSAULT

U.S. Marines walk during a dust storm in a U.S Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province, February 8, 2010.    

REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.

Military and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the figure reaches 75%.

China and Russia combined spend only a paltry 10% of what the U.S. spends on defence.

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — funded by borrowing — cost each American family more than $25,000.

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental authorizations ­– putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.

If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax.

The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.

It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

Increasing numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe — what neocons call “full spectrum dominance.”

If Obama really were serious about restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the nation’s giant Frankenbanks.

12-7

In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Horton, The Christian Science Monitor

78244074WM004_Supreme_Court
Yemeni family. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country – threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say – could turn into another Afghanistan.

Sanaa, Yemen – Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire – spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.

In a smoke-filled hall in the capital of Sanaa, where men gather to chew the mildly intoxicating leaves of the qat tree and smoke water pipes, most of the talk is about Al-Qaeda and American intentions in Yemen.

“By God, they want to turn this country into Afghanistan,” declares Mohammad al-Jaffi, a young man who says he fled the Arhab area, a mountainous region just north of Sanaa, after a recent attack on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout. On Monday, the government said it killed two Al Qaeda members in the Arhab region.

“We are not radicals here,” Mr. Jaffi adds, his cheek bulging with the pulpy green leaves that strict Salafis — the Muslim sect that Al Qaeda members belong to — consider forbidden. Holding up a qat branch, he yells, “Look at this. We all chew this here – in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis would kill us for chewing qat.”

But US and other foreign diplomats are clearly concerned. France, Germany, and Japan all closed their embassies Monday, following US and British closures the previous day, amid reports that a significant amount of explosives had gone missing from the Yemeni army.

“Exclusive Focus on Al Qaeda a Mistake”

With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its “partnership” with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.

“I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid.”

Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty – an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate.

“This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for – to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to,” says Ahmad al-Nasri. “By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us.”

Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is “crucial” in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable.

“The government doesn’t appear to be able to constantly control these areas,” he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. “But the image of Yemen being a Wild West … is not necessarily accurate.”

Yemeni government offices in Sanaa were closed and the Yemeni embassy in Washington was unable to comment before press time.

Water Shortages

A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.

The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa’s wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.

“Look at these apricot trees,” says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. “Half of them are dead from lack of water.”

“We don’t need more guns in this country,” declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. “This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water.”

Increased Sympathy for Al Qaeda?

Many locals emphasize that the country’s primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they’re ready to fight if the US comes – a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.

“We have a long history of fighting invaders here,” says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, “We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come.”

Back at the Sanaa qat hall, Uithman al- Ansi echoes that sentiment.

“If the Americans want a fight they will get it,” says Mr. Ansi as he grabs the hilt of his jambiya, the traditional dagger carried by many men here. Another man who says he is from Marib, one of the two frequently cited Al Qaeda strongholds, suggests that US attacks or support for attacks on suspected militants could increase the number of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen.

“The Americans don’t know our customs,” says the man. “When they attacked al-Harithi [a suspected Al-Qaeda member who was targeted by a US drone in November 2002] on our lands, his people became our guests. We have long memories.”

Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Boston.

12-2

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]

Fasting Good for Brain?

September 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Andrea Useem

2009-09-02T125425Z_01_DHA004_RTRMDNP_3_BANGLADESH-RAMADAN Ramadan is in its third week now, and the required dawn-to-dusk fasting often feels like a daily mini–marathon. By late afternoon, hunger and thirst have sucked me dry, leaving me sleepy, slow-minded, and sometimes short-tempered.

I know that the purpose of fasting is spiritual—God will reward us in the next life—but in this lifetime, fasting sometimes makes me an ineffective, irritable person. So I was excited to learn that Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, MD, had spoken at a recent Renaissance Weekend event about how caloric restriction can improve brain function.

I emailed Dr. Ratey to find out if those benefits might extend to religious fasting, and he sent me a 2006 paper on the brain functioning of men during the Ramadan fast. The researchers studied a small group of healthy men during and after the holy month, looking at their brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They concluded that “all individual results showed consistent and significant increase of activity in the motor cortex during fasting.”

That research builds on the work of other scientists, including Mark Mattson, PhD, who heads a neuroscience lab at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging. Mattson has done important research on how dietary restrictions can significantly protect the brain from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

In 2003, Mattson and others reported that rats deprived of food every other day, or restricted to a diet at 30% to 50% of normal calorie levels, showed not only decreased heart rates and blood pressure, but also “younger” brains, with “numerous age-related changes in gene expression.”

Mattson and his colleagues also shared data from research on humans, which shows that populations with higher caloric intakes—such as the United States and Europe—have a greater prevalence of Alzheimer’s than do populations that eat less—such as China and Japan. The authors speculate that humans may have adapted to conditions of feast and famine; the stress of having little food, they write, “may induce changes in gene expression that result in adaptive changes in cellular metabolism and the increased ability of the organism to reduce stress.”

Although this research is relatively new, with many questions left unanswered, the authors conclude that “it seems a safe bet that if people would incorporate a spartan approach to food intake into their lifestyles, this would greatly reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.” (Of course, how this recommendation translates for individual people remains almost a complete unknown; consult with your own doctor before restricting your diet in dramatic ways.)

But here’s the hard part: Although we know eating too much leads to all sorts of health problems, “it has proven very difficult to successfully implement prolonged dietary-restriction regimens,” reports Mattson and his team. Information and doctor’s orders are rarely enough motivation.

This last observation gave me hope, because it seemed the authors were overlooking the role of religion; it can inspire people in ways information or experts don’t. Would I be undergoing this rigorous month of fasting unless I believed strongly it was the right thing for me to do? Probably not. And the same goes for millions of Muslims around the world.

And many other religions include fasting or dietary restrictions as part of their religious observances. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, for example, fast one Sunday a month. The Orthodox Church in America notes five separate fasting seasons on its website, in addition to individual fast days; during some of these fasts, all food is restricted, and during other fasts, only certain foods are off-limits. Some Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays, and all do during Lent. Many types of Buddhist monks abide by a code that prohibits eating after noon each day.

Science may only now be discovering that some of these religious practices, both ancient and modern, offer nourishment not just for the soul, but for the body as well.

11-37

Offbeat Investment

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin de Sa’Pinto

ZURICH, August 24 (Reuters) – Few investors would be happy to see their assets turn sour, but an alternative investment launched recently offers them the chance to make a healthy return from just such a development.

Vinegar may be a unorthodox investment but Stefan Marti, managing director of vinegar maker Baerg Marti, said it has captured the imagination of many investors, especially from Russia and Asia.

“I was showing my bottled vinegar to some Japanese clients, and they asked me to sell them a barrel rather than bottles. They wanted their own barrel personalised with their logo so they could be identified with the product,” Marti told Reuters.

He said the clients were excited by the product and by its production process — it is matured in the Swiss mountains at an altitude of 3,000 metres for five years or longer in Limousin or cherry oak — which gave it a strong appeal as an investment.

Turmoil in the financial markets in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 has boosted the attractiveness of unusual asset classes like fine wines, art, rare coins and violins, which investors hoped could perform through the crisis.

Although rallying equities and corporate bonds are pulling investors in once again, interest from around the world in Baerg Marti’s vinegar has been growing, Marti said.

Investors could see returns that outstrip those of many more conventional funds and expected average returns of 200 to 300 percent over five years, he said. However, as the project is new there are no past performance figures.

Baerg Marti is offering 5-year contracts on the vinegars, which use Swiss produce, including apples, strawberries and blueberries, at a cost of 11,500 Swiss francs ($10,850) per barrel, plus a yearly storage fee of 150 francs.

There will be no performance fee, although Marti said one may be introduced for high volume buyers.

When mature, the best balsamic vinegars can cost 3,000 francs and more for just 1 litre, Marti said. A barrel contains some 30 litres.

Investors would be tied in to the five year contract, after which they could hold the investment, resell the vinegar or use it.

The vinegar benefits from temperature changes high in the Swiss mountains, however, one risk is from earth tremors, which can damage the quality.

Marti, who said the main interest in the investment so far has come from Japan, China and Russia. He said the barrels were insured for 11,500 francs for the investment period.

The market is liquid enough to give investors an exit, with demand from buyers in many parts of the world, Marti said, although he was unable to say what sort of bid-offer spread investors could expect if they needed to sell quickly.

He said the initial number of investors would be restricted as the first site, on the Mutthorn mountain in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, can hold a maximum of 500 barrels. Another site was in preparation, and would be ready in seven or eight months. ($1=1.060 Swiss francs)

11-37

Community News (V11-I36)

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Airmen & families celebrate Ramadan

By 1st Lt. Joe Kreidel

18th Wing Public Affairs

8/24/2009 – KADENA AIR BASE, Japan  — “It’s like planning for Christmas while everyone else is going about their business,” said Tech. Sgt. Angela Errahimi, a combat communications chief with the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, about preparing for Ramadan here. This same sense of dislocation is no doubt shared by many military members celebrating Ramadan in places like Okinawa where Islam is by far a minority religion.

Ramadan, which began Aug. 22, is a 30-day fast during which devout Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is the preeminent ritual in a faith that gives particular importance to its ritual observances.

“Islam was something I was looking for – the mosque was so quiet and peaceful,” said Sergeant Errahimi of her conversion six years ago. After meeting her now-husband, who is from Morocco, she studied at a mosque for one year prior to making her “shahada” or witness of faith.

It was Islam’s structure and emphasis on community that first appealed to Staff Sgt. Marvin Morris, an X-ray technician and the assistant NCOIC of radiology at the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. He called the daily regimen of five scheduled prayers “the military version of prayer.”

“The first few days of fasting are hard,” said Sergeant Morris. At Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where he was previously stationed, several non-Muslim friends attempted to join him in the fast; one friend made it one whole day. For Sergeant Morris, it’s in large part the hardship of fasting that makes Ramadan so special: “That’s what it’s about. It’s a cleansing process, a chance to focus inward and renew your commitment to Allah.”

The day’s perseverance is rewarded come sunset, as “Iftar” – the evening meal at which each day’s fast is broken – tends to be an extravagant affair. For a week leading up to Ramadan, Sergeant Errahimi and her husband, who have four children at home, prepared various dishes and pastries so as to have a stockpile once Ramadan actually began. Food preparation, too, is more difficult and requires more planning in Okinawa than in Washington, D.C., where the Errahimis lived previously. “Halal” meats are especially hard to come by.

Ramadan will conclude Sept. 19 with “Eid,” a major festival that traditionally involves a special public prayer, feasting, gift-giving, and visiting with family and friends. This communal, festive aspect of Ramadan may be somewhat lacking for Sgt. Morris this year, as he’s new to the island and hasn’t yet made many friends amongst the on-island Muslim community, miniscule compared to the one in northern California.

In 2007, Sergeant Morris celebrated Ramadan at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. While there he worked the night shift, convenient because it allowed him to sleep during the day when he couldn’t eat or drink. On multiple occasions he was able take “Iftar” with a group of Egyptian Muslims working in Afghanistan. “I loved it,” he said, “It’s a different culture, but we’re connected by our shared faith. It’s like a family away from family.”

NC Mosque hit by hate crime

TAYLOR, NC– A mosque in Taylors has been victim of a hate crime. The words ‘Death to Muslims’ were carved in a concrete outside the Islamic Center.

The anti-religious message was written sometime in the early morning hours last Saturday.  For members like Miriam Abbad, it’s hard to see.  She’s worshipped for 10 years at the center.  “When they say death to Muslims, that means me, my young children, my husband, my whole family.  What did we do wrong to deserve such mean words to come out?”

The FBI is investigating the case.

Delaware Muslim prof. network

A new service-based organization has formed with the goal of inviting Muslims to participate in activities that benefit the community.

The Muslim Professionals of Delaware began last month and is working on its first project, a drive to collect school supplies for disadvantaged children.

Group founders Semab Chaudhry and Ahmed Sharkawy, said they want to work with interfaith groups to help the needy, foster greater cultural understanding and hold career and college development workshops.

Anyone interested in joining or working with the group can visit www.mpod.us.com or e-mail info@mpod.us.com.

11-36

Threatening Iran

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts, Countercurrents.org

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Japan did not spend years preparing her public case and demonstrating her deployment of forces for the attack. Japan did not make a world issue out of her view that the US was denying Japan her role in the Pacific by hindering Japan’s access to raw materials and energy.

Similarly, when Hitler attacked Russia, he did not preface his invasion with endless threats and a public case that blamed the war on England.

These events happened before the PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) era. Today, America and Israel’s wars of aggression are preceded by years of propaganda and international meetings, so that by the time the attack comes it is an expected event, not a monstrous surprise attack with its connotation of naked aggression.

The US, which has been threatening Iran with attack for years, has passed the job to Israel. During the third week of July, the American vice president and secretary of state gave Israel the go-ahead. Israel has made great public disclosure of its warships passing through the Suez Canal on their way to Iran. “Muslim” Egypt is complicit, offering no objection to Israel’s naval forces on their way to a war crime under the Nuremberg standard that the US imposed on the world.

By the time the attack occurs, it will be old hat, an expected event, and, moreover, an event justified by years of propaganda asserting Iran’s perfidy.

Israel intends to dominate the Middle East. Israel’s goal is to incorporate all of Palestine and southern Lebanon into “Greater Israel.” The US intends to dominate the entire world, deciding who rules which countries and controlling resource flows.

The US and Israel are likely to succeed, because they have effective PSYOPS. For the most part, the world media follows the US media, which follows the US and Israeli governments’ lines. Indeed, the American media is part of the PSYOPS of both countries.

According to Thierry Meyssan in the Swiss newspaper Zeit-Fragen, the CIA used SMS or text messaging and Twitter to spread disinformation about the Iranian election, including the false report that the Guardian Council had informed Mousavi that he had won the election. When the real results were announced, Ahmadinejad’s reelection appeared to be fraudulent.

Iran’s fate awaits it. A reasonable hypothesis to be entertained and examined is whether Iran’s Rafsanjani and Mousavi are in league with Washington to gain power in Iran. Both have lost out in the competition for government power in Iran. Yet, both are egotistical and ambitious. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 probably means nothing to them except an opportunity for personal power. The way the West has always controlled the Middle East is by purchasing the politicians who are out of power and backing them in overthrowing the independent government. We see this today in Sudan as well.

In the case of Iran, there is an additional factor that might align Rafsanjani with Washington. President Ahmadienijad attacked former President Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most wealthy persons, as corrupt. If Rafsanjani feels threatened by this attack, he has little choice but to try to overthrow the existing government. This makes him the perfect person for Washington.

Perhaps there is a better explanation why Rafsanjani and Mousavi, two highly placed members of the Iranian elite, chose to persist in allegations of election fraud that have played into Washington’s hands by calling into question the legitimacy of the Iranian government. It cannot be that the office of president is worth such costs as the Iranian presidency is not endowed with decisive powers.

Without Rafsanjani and Mousavi, the US media could not have orchestrated the Iranian elections as “stolen,” a n orchestration that the US government used to further isolate and discredit the Iranian government, making it easier for Iran to be attacked. Normally, well placed members of an elite do not help foreign enemies set their country up for attack.

An Israeli attack on Iran is likely to produce retaliation, which Washington will use to enter the conflict. Have the personal ambitions of Rafsanjani and Mousavi, and the naive youthful upper class Iranian protesters, set Iran up for destruction?

Consult a map and you will see that Iran is surrounded by a dozen countries that host US military bases. Why does anyone in Iran doubt that Iran is on her way to becoming another Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, in the end to be ruled by oil companies and an American puppet?

The Russians and Chinese are off balance because of successful American interventions in their spheres of influence, uncertain of the threat and the response. Russia could have prevented the coming attack on Iran, but, pressured by Washington, Russia has not delivered the missile systems that Iran purchased. China suffers from her own hubris as a rising economic power, and is about to lose her energy investments in Iran to US/Israeli aggression. China is funding America’s wars of aggression with loans, and Russia is even helping the US to set up a puppet state in Afghanistan, thus opening up former Soviet central Asia t o US hegemony.

The world is so impotent that even the bankrupt US can launch a new war of aggression and have it accepted as a glorious act of liberation in behalf of women’s rights, peace, and democracy.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

11-31

World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

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Community News (V11-I28)

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Top scientist receives grant to develop fast test to detect porcine fat

peggy hsieh TALLAHASSEE, June 29, 2009– Y-H. Peggy Hsieh, of Florida State University,  recently received a grant from Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo K. of Japan to develop a rapid method for the detection of porcine fat. The two-year grant provides $216,000 in research funds plus $40,000 in consulting fees.

Pork tissue is strictly prohibited in  Halal diets for religious reasons. Reliable methods for the detection of any porcine tissue, including muscle and fat, are of paramount importance to the practicing Muslim and Jewish populations. Hsieh has previously developed a rapid pork immunoassay which can sensitively detect any pork muscle in food and feed mixtures regardless of their processing conditions. This pork-specific assay was commercialized in 2000 and has been widely used internationally. However, detection of pork fat remains challenging due to the physiochemical nature of the fat. Currently available methods such as DNA based Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) techniques, gas and liquid chromatography, and near-infrared spectroscopy, all require sophisticated instruments coupled with complex data analysis procedures for interpreting results. Rapid field tests of pork or any other fat are non-existent.

Hsieh will search for a porcine-specific and thermal-stable biomarker in the porcine fat tissue and develop a rapid method for the detection of the biomarker in raw and processed pork fat. It is anticipated that after two years, she will deliver the very first field assay which can identify even small amounts of pork fat in a wide range of raw and processed materials without using expensive instrumentation. This type of assay will greatly benefit billions of people who try to avoid pork in their diet. Tanaka has signed an optional licensing agreement with FSU in the hopes of commercializing Hsieh’s end product upon completion of this project.

The Tanaka Kikinzoku Group is Japan’s leading precious metals company with a history of over one hundred and twenty years. Although best known internationally for its high specification industrial products, the group is also producer and trader of a variety of bullion and platinum group metals, coins and bars. The group is also active environmentally, and is one of the world’s largest recyclers of platinum group metals. Their newly established Medical Group, which is funding Hsieh’s research, is focused on developing various products through the use of precious metals to improve human health.

Protestors at mosque presented with roses

BOSTON, MA–The mosque complex of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center officially opened last Friday with more than 1800 worshippers in attendance. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, city councilors, and state lawmakers also attended the ceremony.

The mosque had faced a plethora of problems including financial woes and allegations that some of the speakers there had indulged in extreme rhetoric.

A handful of protestors stood across the street from the mosque holding placards led by a leading critic Charles Mosque. Local Muslims gave them white flowers as a gesture of peace. A few arguments ensued but the overall atmosphere was peaceful.

The Muslim leaders of the area hoped that the mosque will become a hub of interfaith programs.

Mayor Bloomberg says schools won’t close for Eid

NEW YORK,NY–Mayor Michael Bloomberg says New York City’s schools can’t close for Muslim holidays.

The City Council is considering a nonbinding resolution on Tuesday asking the Education Department to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

The city has the nation’s largest school system. A 2008 study by Columbia University’s Teachers College estimates at least 10 percent of its 1.1 million students are Muslim.

The resolution asks the Bloomberg administration to observe the holidays in schools and for the state to require it by amending education law.

The mayor says the city is so diverse schools can’t observe every holiday.

LAPD appoints first Muslim chaplain

LOS ANGELES, CA–In a bid to improve relations with Muslims, the Los Angeles Police Department has appointed its first Muslim chaplain.

Pakistan-born Sheik Qazi Asad, 47, will become a reserve chaplain at the North Hollywood station, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

“We need to establish very good communication … where both parties are talking to each other,” Asad told the Times. “This is just opening up the door.”

Asad, a U.S. citizen, has spent a decade working to improve relations between police and Muslims  in Los Angeles County.

The LAPD hopes he’ll strengthen relations that have suffered since the department tried to map the city’s Muslim population in 2007, the newspaper said. The department abandoned the plan after critics called it religious profiling.

Asad has served as a member of the sheriff’s Executive Clergy Council, on which he worked to build trust between Muslims and police.

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Maulana Barakatullah: An Indian Muslim Revolutionary in America

July 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ayub Khan, MMNS

It was a hot summer night in 1927. An elderly and weak looking man entered a community hall in Marysville, California. The gathered crowd of over 800 Indians became ecstatic and greeted him with a  thundering applause. Strings of sparkling tears rolled down the face of  the elderly man. He went up to the stage and began speaking with his usual forceful delivery but suddenly stopped. He couldn’t utter a word. There were wails and sighs from the audience. The elderly man composed himself and smiled; it’s glow sent a cheer through the audience. But he did not speak. A voice that has shaken the corridors of British colonial authorities was soon going to be silent forever. This voice belonged to the great, but almost forgotten, hero of Indian independence movement Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali. Maulana Bhopali’s life is one full of dedication and service-a fiery journalist, a brilliant orator, an erudite Islamic scholar, a nationalist to the core, an author of several books, a polyglot who knew more than seven languages, a prime minister of India’s government -in-exile. He was all this and more.

Maulana Barakatullah passed away on his way to San Francisco on September 20, 1927 and was buried in the Old City Cemetery of Sacramento. His funeral was attended by Indian Americans of all religious persuasions and they hoped that the Maulana’s remains would eventually be transferred to India once it attains independence. But, alas, the wish remained unfulfilled and the Maulana rests in peace in a particularly beautiful section of this historic cemetery.

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Headstone of Maulana Barakatullah’s grave in Sacramento Historic Cemetery (Courtesy: Sharon Patrician)

Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali was born somewhere between 1859 and 1861 in the princely state of Bhopal in India. His father Maulvi Muhammad Shujaat Ullah was a Madrassa teacher originally with meager resources and income. A bright student Barakatullah successfully completed his religious education at Madrasa-e-Sulaimaniya and qualified as an Alim in 1878. He served as a teacher at the same school from 1879-1880. He was able to utilize the intellectual milieu of princely Bhopal and was likely to have come in contact with the scholar-prince Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan Qanauji. He is also reported to have met the pan-Islamist and reformer Jamaluddin Afghani in 1882 and was much impressed of his ideas.

In 1883 he disappeared mysteriously from Bhopal and ended up in Bombay where he enrolled himself in Wilson High School in Khetwadi. Despite being a mature student he did not mind attending the elementary grades. At the insistence of a certain Mr. Scot he began taking private lessons in English from him  in return for teaching Urdu.  Within three years he was proficient enough to qualify for the university entrance examination.

He went to London in 1887 and served as a private tutor teaching Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. He himself learned German, French, and Japanese. He was invited by the British convert Abdullah Quilliam to work at the Muslim Institute in Liverpool  in 1895. He subsequently taught at the Oriental College of University of Liverpool. He later distanced himself from the Muslim Institute over its style of functioning.

While in England he came into contact with Indian revolutionaries at India House. In response to the then British Prime Minister Gladstone’s racist comments about India he launched a flurry of articles and speeches criticizing the policies. As a result his activities were severely restricted. 

He left for New York in 1899 at the insistence of Muslim scholar and activist Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. In his six year stint in New York he churned out a prolific number of articles related to Islam and India which were published in Webb’s The Muslim World and also in mainstream newspapers such as the Forum. To earn an income he taught Arabic. He developed contacts with the Indian community in other cities of US and Canada and sought to instill the revolutionary spirit in them. While in America he kept in touch with fellow revolutionaries in India and had a scholarly exchange with the poet and nationalist leader Maulana Hasrat Mohani.  In these letters he stressed on the need for Hindu-Muslim unity in the freedom struggle. He became a founder member of the Ghadr Party started by the Indians in San Francisco.

Maulana Barakatullah reached Japan in 1909 and was appointed a professor of oriental languages at the University of Tokyo. He brought out a journal The Islamic Fraternity which was known for its anti-colonial content. After its suppression he brought out another newspaper by the name of El Islam which was banned in British India. As a result of his activities his appointment at the university was terminated in 1914. This, however, did not unnerve Maulana Barakatullah. He treated the world as his playground and moved his activities elsewhere.

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Maulana Barakatullah (extreme right) with the Turko-German Mission

He accompanied the Turko-German Mission to Kabul in 1915 and joined Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Raja Mahendra Pratap to form the Provincial government of India. He served as the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile. In 1919 he met Lenin and sought his help in India’s struggle for freedom. Throughout the the early 1920s he travelled widely in Germany, France, and Russia organizing the expatriate Indian communities on the revolutionary path.

His 1927 visit was his second one to the New World and would prove to be his last. He was suffering from diabetes and had a host of other ailments but his love for the nation was such that he undertook the long journey from Germany along with long time friend and fellow revolutionary Mahendra  Pratap. He arrived in New York in July 1927 and stayed at a hotel in Times Square. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians.   He also travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadr Party’s headquarters in San Francisco and was pleased with its work. He then proceeded to Marysville where he was destine to give his last public speech. Throughout this trip his constant companion was Raja Mahendra Pratap who was himself not keeping well and aging. According to Mahendra Pratap’s autobiography the Maulana last words were:  “I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, when I am leaving this world, I have regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others have followed me who are brave and truthful…With satisfaction I place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands.”

Maulana Barakatullah Bhopali was an epitome of sincerity and dedication towards one’s nation. A die hard to the core he never married as he considered it be distracting from his duty to the freedom struggle. It is an irony that this legendary son of the Indian freedom movement is reduced to the margins of Indian history. His name doesn’t find a mention in the country’s text books nor does his portrait grace the famed halls of the Indian parliament. There is, however, a university named after him in his native Bhopal.

Maulana Barakatullah’s sojourns in America also testify to the long standing links which Indian Muslims have maintained with the new world. Contrary to popular perceptions Indian Muslims did not begin arriving in America in the 1960s but at least sixty years earlier. The registers of cemeteries across California will verify this fact.

11-28

The Hummus War

October 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

081008_hummus

The inconspicuous chickpea, while puny in size, is causing a major war of words between Israel and Lebanon. Both countries lay claim to inventing the savory dip that has become a worldwide hit thanks to the tasty travels of visitors to the Middle East which has caused a dramatic demand for Hummus in North America as well as other regions like Japan.

So what’s all the fuss about? Apparently, Israel has been laying claim to such Lebanese national dishes as Hummus, Falafel, Baba Ghannoui and Tabbouleh, which have been adorning the dinner tables of Lebanese families for centuries. The Director, Fadi Abboud, of the Lebanese Industrialists Society is launching a lawsuit against Israel for infringement across food copyright laws. “It is not enough they (Israelis) are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine,” said Abboud in a recent interview. The case will be mirrored after the successful feta cheese copyright dispute, where the European Parliament declared Greece as the sole country with rights to brand the salty dairy product as originating from the Greek culture, which includes a mandate that says any cheese that bears the name ‘feta’ must be produced with either sheep or goat’s milk.

This culinary war is not merely about bragging rights but rather millions of dollars in export revenues that are at stake. In the USA alone, the domestic market for store-brand hummus has grown by 78% this year alone. Hummus sales in America are valued at approximately $250 million dollars for this fiscal year and that figure is set to skyrocket as the demand for hummus continues it upwards spiral. The global market for Hummus is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The reason for the popularity of hummus is that it really is the perfect food. It’s smooth, goes down easy and digests well especially since it does not cause the ‘gassy’ after effects that most bean-based foods do. Hummus is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy nutrients like iron and manganese, and is an excellent source of fiber. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has even listed Hummus as one of the best foods for weight loss in her ‘O’ magazine citing that the creamy dip is filling and nutritious enough to snack on a few times a week.

Only time will tell who will win the rights to hummus as it remains to be seen just exactly where Lebanon will file it’s lawsuit given that it is officially at war with Israel. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the Palestinians also lay claim to being the originators of Hummus, however they have stayed out of the fray for the time being. If the case ever does appear in court, it’s likely another hummus contender may step in the ring. However, while their busy duking it out in court, anyone with a blender can whip up their own Hummus at home. Just visit www.allrecipes.com and search the word ‘Hummus’. Happy dipping!

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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