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)

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Newt’s Tax Plan, and Why His Polls Rise the More Outrageous He Becomes

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

Newt Gingrich has done it again. With his new tax plan he has raised the bar from irresponsibility to recklessness.

Every dollar estimate I’m about to share with you comes from the independent, non-partisan Tax Policy Center – a group whose estimates are used by almost everyone in Washington regardless of political persuasion.

First off, Newt’s plan increases the federal budget deficit by about $850 billion – in a single year!

To put this in perspective, most forecasts of the budget deficit cover ten years.  The elusive goal of the White House and many on both sides of the aisle in Congress is to reduce that ten-year deficit by 3 to 4 trillion dollars.

Newt goes in the other direction, with gusto. Increasing the deficit by $850 billion in a single year is beyond the wildest imaginings of the least responsible budget mavens within a radius of three thousand miles from Washington.

Imagine what Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s or Fitch would do if it became law. We’d go directly from a triple-A credit rating to triple X – the veritable porn star of fiscal mayhem. Interest on our debt would become larger than most of the rest of the budget.

Most of this explosion of debt in Newt’s plan occurs because he slashes taxes. But not just anyone’s taxes. The lion’s share of Newt’s tax cuts benefit the very, very rich.

That’s because he lowers their marginal income tax rate to 15 percent – down from the current 35 percent, which was Bush’s temporary tax cut; down from 39 percent under Bill Clinton; down from at least 70 percent in the first three decades after World War II. Newt also gets rid of taxes on unearned income – the kind of income that the super-rich thrive on – capital-gains, dividends, and interest.

Under Newt’s plan, each of the roughly 130,000 taxpayers in the top .1 percent – the richest one-tenth of one percent – reaps an average tax cut of $1.9 million per year. Add what they’d otherwise have to pay if the Bush tax cut expired on schedule, and each of them saves $2.3 million a year.

To put it another way, under Newt’s plan, the total tax bill of the top one-tenth of one percent drops from around 38 percent of their income to around 10 percent.

What about low-income households? They get an average tax cut of $63 per year.

Oh, I almost forgot: Newt also slashes corporate taxes.

I’m not making this up.

This might be amusing if Newt were just being old Newt – if this were another infamous hot-air bubble emerging from an always provocative, sometimes clever, often bizarre mind.

But it’s the tax plan of the leading candidate for president of one of the two major political parties of the United States.

And it comes at a time when America’s super rich are raking in a larger portion of total income and wealth than at any time over the last eighty years, and when their marginal taxes are lower than they’ve been in three decades; a time when the nation’s long-term budget deficit is causing cuts in education and infrastructure which will impair our future and that of our children, and when safety nets and social services are being slashed.

Can Newt get away with this?

Probably — because his plan also comes at a time when Americans are so cynical about the major institutions of our society that someone who offers huge, outrageous plans holds a special fascination: The whole system is so awful, people tell themselves, why not just jettison everything and start from scratch? Let’s throw caution to the winds and do something really big – even if it’s colossally stupid.

This is why the more outrageous Newt can be, the better his polls. The more irresponsible his bomb-throwing, the more attractive he becomes to a sizable portion of Americans so fed up they feel like throwing bombs.

History is full of strong men with dangerous ideas who gain power when large masses of people are so desperate and disillusioned they’ll follow anyone who offers big, seemingly easy solutions.

At times like this a nation must depend on its wise elders – people who have gained a reputation for good judgment and integrity, and who are broadly respected by all sides regardless of political affiliation or ideology – to call out the demagogues, speak the truth, and restore common sense.

The great tragedy of America today is the paucity of such individuals when we need them the most.

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The Downward Path of Upward Mobility

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals what we have all sensed, that most Americans are increasingly concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. The issue quickly divides along partisan lines, as do so many, with liberals urging government to do more to reduce this gap and conservatives opposing such measures. (Overall, a significant majority does favor government action.)

But on an issue even more significant than income inequality, there does appear to be bipartisan agreement: the importance of social mobility. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) accurately noted that “upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise.”

Some believe we’re still doing fine. In his address to the Heritage Foundation last month, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared, “Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Ryan contrasted social mobility in the United States with that in Europe, where “top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.”

In fact, over the past decade, growing evidence shows pretty conclusively that social mobility has stalled in this country. Last week, Time magazine’s cover asked, “Can You Still Move Up in America?”
The answer, citing a series of academic studies was, no; not as much as you could in the past and — most devastatingly — not as much as you can in Europe.

The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom” — Daniels’s definition — was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.”

A 2010 Economic Mobility Project study found that in almost every respect, the United States has a more rigid socioeconomic class structure than Canada. More than a quarter of U.S. sons of top-earning fathers remain in the top tenth of earners as adults, compared to 18 percent of similarly situated Canadian sons. U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom tenth of earners are more likely to remain in the bottom tenth of earners as adults than are Canadian sons (22 percent vs. 16 percent). And U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom third of earnings distribution are less likely to make it into the top half as adults than are sons of low-earning Canadian fathers.

Surveying all the evidence, Scott Winship, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, concludes in this week’s National Review: “What is clear is that in at least one regard American mobility is exceptional. . . .

[W]here we stand out is our limited upward mobility from the bottom.”

When you think about it, these results should not be so surprising.

European countries, perhaps haunted by their past as class-ridden societies, have made serious investments to create equality of opportunity for all. They typically have extremely good childhood health and nutrition programs, and they have far better public education systems than the United States does. As a result, poor children compete on a more equal footing against the rich.

In the United States, however, if you are born into poverty, you are highly likely to have malnutrition, childhood sicknesses and a bad education. The dirty little secret about the U.S. welfare state is that it spends very little on the poor — who don’t vote much — lavishing attention instead on the middle class. The result is clear. A student interviewed by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan group founded to address these issues, put it succinctly, “The ZIP code you’re born in shouldn’t determine your destiny, but too often it does.”

Tackling income inequality is a very difficult challenge. Tax increases on the rich will do relatively little to change the basic trend, which is fueled by globalization, technology and the increasing gains conferred by education. (Getting back to the 1990 levels of income distribution in the United States, for example, would mean hundreds of billions of dollars of redistribution every year, which is exponentially larger than the biggest tax hikes anyone is proposing.)

But we do know how to create social mobility — because we used to do it. In addition, we can learn from those countries that do it so well, particularly in Northern Europe and Canada. The ingredients are obvious: decent health care and nutrition for children, good public education, high-quality infrastructure — including broadband Internet — to connect all regions and all people to market opportunities, and a flexible and competitive free economy. That will get America moving again — and all Americans moving again.

comments@fareedzakaria.com

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Poor Voter Turn-Out in the City of Houston Elections

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Only Around 118,000 People Came Out To Vote

800px-Election_MG_3455Out of the around 983,000 registered voters in the City of Houston, only about 118,000 showed up during the Mayoral & City of Houston Council Elections 2011 (about 12%). In some of the District Level Elections, the turn-out was even less than 10%. Many critics have said that this is not a good trend for a democracy.

In a race of six candidates, incumbent Mayor Annise Parker won the election, after getting only 59,920 votes (58,001 votes going to other five candidates) and barely avoiding a runoff, a signal that she lacks any sort of mandate heading into her second term.

“I want to thank the voters of Houston for giving me two more years in a job that I love,” she said. “I am still excited to go to work every day, absolutely thrilled.”
Ms. Parker ended up with 50 percent of the vote with 100 percent of the precincts reported. Of her five challengers, Jack O’Conner was the next closest, with 15 percent of the votes. Fernando Herrera came in third with 14 percent.

Recent media polls suggest that some voters haven’t been happy with Parker’s performance. Local TV Channel 11 Political Analyst Bob Stein has said the low voter turnout wasn’t exactly good news for Parker.

“It doesn’t help when the mandate she gets is less than 5-or-10 percent of the eligible registered voters here in the city,” said Stein. “It just doesn’t speak well when she has a difficult fight with some of the council members. True, they’re not getting many more voters either. But it’s hard to lead when very few people show up.”

In the Houston area just about 12% of the registered voters showed up at the polls, officials said. At the West Gray Multi-service Center in River Oak, traditionally one of the busiest polling places in Houston, the number of voters was at an all-time low. It was a far cry from Election Day two years ago when voter lines extended all the way around the building.
Incumbent City Council Member Jolanda Jones’ position was sought by three challengers. Jack Christie, a chiropractor and former Texas State Board of Education Chairman will be up against Ms. Jones on December 10th, 2011 run-off elections.

Another incumbent, Brenda Stardig of District A, finished second in a three-way race. The other two runoffs are for District B to replace term-limited Councilman Jarvis Johnson. His aide, Alvin Byrd and non-profit director Jerry Davis are in the runoff for that seat. And we won’t have the At-Large 2 seat filled until December 10th. It will be either Pastor Andrew Burks or former State Representative Kristi Thibaut, replacing outgoing Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Nancy Sims, a political analyst with Pierpont Communications says the turnout for the regular election was dismal already, so bleak might be a better prediction for the run-off races.
“Traditionally when we’re in a non-mayoral election year we do tend to have lower voter turnout in the run-off because all people are coming out for is these council races. So there’s nothing else on the ballot to pull them out. But the district races will probably drive the bulk of the turnout.”

Sims is referring to the run-off races in Districts A and B which are likely to generate more activity at the polls, and therefore those voters are more likely to determine the outcome of the two at-large races on the ballot.

But Sims says all Houston voters should take this election seriously.

“I would encourage voters to pay close attention. This is an important race. You’ve got four members of council, that’s going to be a quarter of the new council, with run-offs and still picking that leadership. So it’s important and every Houstonian can vote in the at-large races.”

Houston’s run-off election will be held Saturday, December 10th, 2011. There are four city council races on the ballot.

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30 Years of Unleashed Greed

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Robert Scheer

It is class warfare. But it was begun not by the tear-gassed, rain-soaked protesters asserting their constitutionally guaranteed right of peaceful assembly but rather the financial overlords who control all of the major levers of power in what passes for our democracy. It is they who subverted the American ideal of a nation of stakeholders in control of their economic and political destiny.

Between 1979 and 2007, as the Congressional Budget Office reported this week, the average real income of the top 1 percent grew by an astounding 275 percent. And that is after payment of the taxes that the superrich and their Republican apologists find so onerous.

Those three decades of rampant upper-crust greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s will be well marked by future historians recording the death of the American dream. In that decisive historical period the middle class began to evaporate and the nation’s income gap increased to alarming proportions. “As a result of that uneven growth,” the CBO explained, “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979:

The share of income accruing to higher-income households increased, whereas the share accruing to other households declined. … The share of after-tax household income for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income more than doubled. …”

That was before the 2008 meltdown that ushered in the massive increase in unemployment and housing foreclosures that further eroded the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans while the superrich rewarded themselves with immense bonuses. To stress the role of the financial industry in this march to greater income inequality as the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is not a matter of ideology or rhetoric, but, as the CBO report details, a matter of discernible fact.

The CBO noted that in comparing top earners, “The [income] share of financial professionals almost doubled from 1979 to 2005” and that “employees in the financial and legal professions made up a larger share of the highest earners than people in those other groups.”

No wonder, since it was the bankers and the lawyers serving them who managed to end the sensible government regulations that contained their greed. The undermining of those regulations began during the Reagan presidency, and so it is not surprising that, as the CBO reports, “the compensation differential between the financial sector and the rest of the economy appears inexplicably large from 1990 onward.” Citing a major study on the subject, the CBO added, “The authors believe that deregulation and corporate finance activities linked to initial public offerings and credit risks are the primary causes of the higher compensation differential.”

So much for the claim that excessive government regulation has discouraged business activity. The CBO report also denies the charge that taxes on the wealthy have placed an undue burden on the economy, documenting that federal revenue sources have become more regressive and that the tax burden on the wealthy has declined since 1979.

In the face of the evidence that class inequality had been rising sharply in the United States even before the banking-induced recession, it would seem that the Occupy Wall Street protests are a quite measured and even timid response to the crisis.

Actually, the rallying cry of that movement was originally enunciated not by the protesters in the streets, but by one of the nation’s most respected economists. Last April, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote an article in Vanity Fair titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%” that should be required reading for those well-paid pundits who question the logic and motives of the Wall Street protesters.

“Americans have been watching protests [abroad] against repressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few,” Stiglitz wrote. “Yet, in our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.”

Maybe justice will prevail despite the suffering that the 1 percent has inflicted on the foreclosed and the jobless. But to date those who have seized 40 percent of the nation’s wealth still control the big guns in this war of classes.

This article was published at NationofChange at:

All rights are reserved.

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Tunisia’s Ennahda May Back Open Economy

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Hammond

2011-10-25T195752Z_357696695_GM1E7AQ0B4401_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA

Soumaya Ghannouch (C), daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, celebrates outside Ennahda’s headquarters in Tunis October 25, 2011. The party said on Tuesday it had won more than 40 percent of seats in Sunday’s election, pledging to continue democracy after the first vote that resulted from the "Arab Spring" revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

TUNIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Tunisian Islamists who won a historic election victory this week are expected to promote business-friendly economic policies but Europe’s economic woes could favour Gulf investors in the short term, analysts say.

Ennahda has tried hard to assuage the concerns of Western powers and secular elites which have long had the upper hand in the North African country that it will not alter laws that guarantee women equal rights to men in divorce, marriage and inheritance.

But it has also been keen to argue it will not cause any ruptures in Tunisia’s economic life. The two are linked since Western tourism, with its expectations of sun, sand and drinking, has been an economic driver for Tunisia.

Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jbeli singled out on Tuesday wine and bikinis as elements in attracting tourism that the party had no intention to touch. He also said Ennahda had no plans to make changes to the banking sector, where Sharia-compliant services are so far minimal.

“We will pay close attention to what they implement but on the economic side we have no cause for concern. Our biggest concern is long delays in government formation,” said one Western diplomat in Tunis.

“A lot of their backers are from the merchant class who are keen on the idea of a liberal economic policy and they don’t have serious plans to change the economic policy of previous governments.”
Tunisia is under pressure to reinvigorate an economy that was hailed in recent years as a “miracle” by Western governments and financial institutions for its privatisations and deregulation but which has ground to a halt since the uprising that brought down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Unemployment was at 14 percent before Ben Ali fell, and one third of the jobless had higher education. The figure is thought to have worsened in recent months.

The biggest problem facing the country is resource distribution. It is no accident that the revolt started in Sidi Bouzid, a depressed provincial town in the semi-arid zone of the Tunisian interior where resentment against the affluent coastal cities is strong.

“Economically, they are not radicals. Ennahda is quite conservative economically,” said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin of Control Risks. “They favour free enterprise.”

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi assured a delegation of bourse officials on Tuesday that he favoured more flotations on a stock market. Share prices fell in October on apparent fear of an Ennahda win, though Tunisia’s Eurobonds did not react negatively to its victory.

An initial public offering in state operator Tunisie Telecom had been held up partly by the leftists who gained in influence after the revolution. Jbeli, who is tipped to be Ennahda’s prime minister, met employers’ federation leaders on Tuesday.

About 80 percent of Tunisia’s trade is with the European Union, but with Europe in a financial crisis Ennahda could draw money from the conservative Gulf Arab region.

“Qatar in particular may feel encouraged to resume exploring investment opportunities in the country as the political situation stabilises,” said Dubai-based analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates.

“Although it did not proactively support the Tunisian revolution like it did in Libya, many Tunisians, including Ennahda feel indebted to Qatar for the moral support it gave to their cause,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is not thought to have close ties to Ennahda, but Qatar’s leading Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera has heavily promoted the group. Qatar was a major Arab backer of the NATO operation to back Libyan rebels who succeeded in ending the rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

Sama Dubai, a government-owned company in the emirate, had plans in the Ben Ali era to develop a residential and commercial district in Tunis but the future of the project is now not clear and the land sits empty.

Hardliners among Ennahda’s rank-and-file could still rock the boat, despite Ghannouchi’s attempts to offer reassurances on social and economic policy.

“The danger is that Ennahda members or influential independents foment fears among investors with unguarded comments that do not really reflect the party’s intentions,” said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group.

“The net result is that we believe that investor sentiment over Tunisia will remain nervous and trending towards the negative in the aftermath of the election.” (Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Tarek Amara; Editing by David Stamp)

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Jordan’s Aqaba Port Thrives Amid Region’s Instability

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

2011-09-21T151251Z_1249690098_GM1E79L1S6H01_RTRMADP_3_JORDAN-PORT
2011-09-21T141512Z_01_BTRE78K13LI00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-JORDAN-PORT
2011-09-21T152533Z_1388484729_GM1E79L1S6Q01_RTRMADP_3_JORDAN-PORT

Immediately above:  Trucks transporting containers drive past the Port of Aqaba, 350 km (217 miles) south of Amman, September 18, 2011. It has not been as busy for a long while for vessel supervisor Mohammad Qassem, who is overseeing the loading of a commercial cargo ship that has just anchored in the sparkling blue waters of Jordan’s Aqaba port. Picture taken September 18, 2011.

REUTERS/Abraham Farajian

AQABA, Jordan (Reuters) – It has not been as busy for a long while for vessel supervisor Mohammad Qassem, who is overseeing the loading of a commercial cargo ship that has just anchored in the sparkling blue waters of Jordan’s Aqaba port.

“With all the problems around us, it’s amazing. These few months have been very active,” said Qassem, 49, near one of the port’s six large cranes at a berth that has become a huge construction site.
APM Terminals, part of the Danish A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, which won a 25-year contract to manage the port in 2006, has begun a $235 million investment to double the container terminal capacity’s to 1.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2013.

“This will allow the port to reach new efficiency levels and enhance its role as a shipping hub for the Middle East and Levant,” said Soren Hansen, chief executive officer of Aqaba Container Terminal (ACT).

The fortunes of the port, which is wedged between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and is Jordan’s only outlet to the sea, have fluctuated from boom to bust over the last several decades with every major political upheaval.

There was a golden era in the mid-1980s, when the port serviced Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran, and then a near-complete standstill during a U.S. naval blockade and United Nations sanctions in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The last watershed was a boom after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Now, as political unrest sweeps the Arab world, hurting trade flows through nearby ports including Syria’s Latakia and Tartous and Egypt’s Alexandria and Suez, Aqaba is enjoying a fresh revival.

“At the moment everyone is seeking security. Security is very, very important and Aqaba has it,” said Captain Mohamad Dalabieh, executive manager of Jordan’s Shipping Association.

“Aqaba is more of a political than an economic port.”

Last year, the port handled close to 16.8 million tonnes of freight, while throughput at its container terminal was around 605,000 TEU, almost double the level in 2003.

Since the start of this year, Aqaba has bucked the regional trend. Incoming cargo has climbed 27 percent from a year earlier to 6.69 million tonnes in the first eight months of 2011, while transit trade, mostly to Iraq, has jumped 68 percent, according to data from port authorities.

A major reason is the turmoil in Syria, where the political unrest and international economic sanctions have sharply cut the use of Syrian ports for regional transit trade. Much of this business is now going through Aqaba.

Another factor is U.S. military cargo being transported out of Iraq and through Aqaba as U.S. forces scale back their presence in that country, local shippers say.

“U.S. army cargo is trucked all the way from their bases in Iraq to both terminals in Aqaba, containers as well as general cargo, and this is helping boost traffic,” said Dreid Mahasneh, a former head of Aqaba port and a prominent shipper.

Both factors are expected to be temporary; U.S. forces are due to complete all or at least the vast bulk of their withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year, while Syria’s port business should recover when the country eventually regains political stability.

But Jordanian officials hope that even when calm returns to the region, Aqaba will be able to hang on to much of the business it has gained this year — particularly business related to the reconstruction of Iraq.

Port officials estimate as much as 40 percent of Aqaba’s incoming cargo is destined for Iraq, while ACT’s Hansen predicts total container throughput will rise 15 percent to around 700,000 TEU this year, mainly driven by Iraqi transit demand.

Shippers say Umm Qasr, Iraq’s main port, may not have enough capacity to handle the volume of imports that many predict Iraq will need when it begins reconstruction in earnest. Aqaba may also be helped by bottlenecks at Umm Qasr that include poor service and high handling costs.

“Iraqi cargo has increased to Aqaba simply because there are so much bureaucracy, capacity limitations and corruption…” Mahasneh said.

REGIONAL HUB

After years of underinvestment, ACT officials say the construction underway at Aqaba will allow the port to become a key conduit for regional trade on a permanent basis. Bulldozers are cutting more of the rugged mountains by the port’s tiny sliver of coast to make more space.

The average stay for a vessel is now 12-14 hours, down from two to three days several years ago, ACT officials say. The turnaround time for loading and unloading trucks has dropped to 40 minutes compared to as much as 48 hours in 2004.

“Aqaba is now working at nearly 60 percent of its capacity. We can handle at least 25 million tonnes annually with ease,” Dalabieh said.

Shippers say, however, that without improved efficiency in Jordan’s fleet of over 16,000 trucks, other competing regional ports could undercut Aqaba.

“Turkish, Iraqi and Kuwaiti ports, each of them have an edge. Jordan has a phenomenal opportunity to strengthen its position for Iraqi trade — but all components of the supply chain must work together,” said Hansen.

(Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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Gulf Perfumers Smell Opportunity

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

* Increasing global interest in Arab fragrances

* Local manufacturers see opportunities but competition fierce

* Regulation, marketing muscle are obstacles

By Martina Fuchs and Rachna Uppal

2011-09-07T153956Z_660766678_GM1E7971TXU01_RTRMADP_3_GULF-PERFUMES

Men visit the Ajmal fragrance store in Dubai Mall, August 4, 2011. Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest regional market for fragrances, accounting for $827.5 million last year; the UAE was in second place with $205.8 million. By 2014, it expects fragrance sales to have grown 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 16.5 percent in the UAE. Some predict even faster growth because of tourism and business travel to the region, in addition to rising competition as an increasing number of international players move into the Middle Eastern fragrance market. Picture taken August 4, 2011.

REUTERS/Mosab Omar

DUBAI, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Walk through any of Dubai’s immaculate, air-conditioned shopping malls, and the scent of spicy perfume becomes an integral part of the shopping experience.

From boutiques to sales clerks offering samples, there’s no shortage of fragrances lingering in the air, part of a tradition dating back thousands of years.

“I don’t count the layers my wife puts on every day, but her smell always blows me away,” says Mustafa al-Muhana, a Saudi Arabian visitor to one of the specialist perfume stores.

Per capita consumption of perfumes in the Gulf region is among the highest in the world. Men and women equally enjoy applying layer upon layer of scents which linger long after the wearer has disappeared from sight.

“If a perfume doesn’t leave a trail, it’s not good enough,” says Abdulla Ajmal, deputy general manager at Ajmal Perfumes, a United Arab Emirates-based fragrance manufacturer.

That belief is providing healthy sales for foreign makers of perfumes in the Gulf and also supporting a growing fragrance manufacturing industry within the region, which is struggling to diversify away from its traditional reliance on energy exports.

Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest regional market for fragrances, accounting for $827.5 million last year; the UAE was in second place with $205.8 million, according to consumer research firm Euromonitor International. By 2014, it expects fragrance sales to have grown 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 16.5 percent in the UAE.

Some predict even faster growth because of tourism and business travel to the region, in addition to rising competition as an increasing number of international players move into the Middle Eastern fragrance market, including Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Guerlain.

“The growth of the Gulf perfume industry will be exponential,” says Shazad Haider, chairman of Fragrance Foundation Arabia, the regional outpost of the Fragrance Foundation, a group which represents the industry’s interests globally. “We will see a minimum twofold growth over the next three years.”

The people of the Arabian Peninsula have used oud, a perfume resin from the agarwood tree, as well as sandalwood, amber, musk and roses for over two thousand years; they are still the dominant ingredients in local perfumes.

Perfume is repeatedly mentioned in the Islamic hadiths, which record the actions and words of Prophet Mohammed, and it is reported that he himself never refused perfume, intensifying its significance for all Muslims.

Many perfumers say they have identified a trend in which traditional Arab fragrances are starting to attract broader, global interest.

“We have a strong line that uses other Western notes but the interesting point is that our European, American…customers are looking for the oriental notes, especially the oud oil,” says Shadi Samra, brand manager at Saudi Arabia-based Arabian Oud, which has flagship stores in London and Paris.

In Dubai’s warehouse district, Ajmal Perfumes operates a $10 million, 150,000-square-foot (14,000-square-metre) factory that makes around 50,000 bottles of Arab and French fragrances a day.

Abdulla Ajmal said the turnover of the family-owned business in 2010 was $200 million; sales were dampened by the political unrest in the Arab world this year, but Ajmal said he still aimed for 6 percent growth in 2011.

For now, however, many local manufacturers may struggle to achieve their international ambitions because they do not comply with global industry standards covering restricted ingredients and quality control.

“If you want to export to anywhere else, not just to the West, but also Asia, you are going to have to comply with IFRA standards,” said Stephen Weller of the Brussels-based International Fragrance Association (IFRA). He added that the association currently had no Gulf members.

And while Gulf Arab perfume manufacturers seek growth abroad, they face stiff competition from French and global players on their home ground.

L’Oréal Middle East, the regional arm of the French cosmetics giant, accounted for 9.6 percent of fragrance sales in the UAE in 2009, the biggest share, followed by Ajmal with 9.2 percent, according to Euromonitor International. The three largest domestic makers, Ajmal, Rasasi and Designer Shaik, together accounted for 21 percent.

“Most of the international houses work very closely with consumers here in the region…They adapt and introduce something customised, or they modify some of their product ranges to fit the taste of the region,” said Mohamed al-Fahim, chief executive of Paris Gallery, one of the largest regional fragrance retailers.

At the store’s Dubai Mall branch, Arabian-style glass bottles now carry the names of brands such as Guerlain and Clive Christian. Armani Prive and Tom Ford, among others, have developed ranges specifically for the region, and others plan to follow.

A 50 ml bottle of French brand Kilian’s Arabian Nights collection retails for about 1,500 dirhams ($410). In an ackowledgement of the heavier-than-average use of perfume in the region, a refill sells for half-price.

Global fragrance houses which can adapt to brand-conscious Gulf consumers still enjoy hefty advantages over most local perfumers in the form of bigger marketing budgets, technology and general experience of the industry.

“We still have a way to go to produce something of the same level or even better than what is produced in Europe or the U.S.,” Paris Gallery’s Fahim said.

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Shehryar Khan in ‘40 Under 40 list’

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

shehryarSEATTLE,WA–Shehryar Khan, CEO of leading mobile and emergent technologies agency Übermind (www.ubermind.com), was named as one of the “40 Under 40” by the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ), an honor that the publication hails as one of its most prestigious annual awards.    

Khan was selected from a pool of 201 qualified applicants — one of the most competitive years yet for the award — for his leadership and contributions not just to his company, but also his industry and community.

While Khan’s been at the helm, Übermind has seen year-over-year growth of more than 70 percent, one hundred percent staff growth from 2010 to 2011, and the addition of powerhouse clients like Apple, Target, REI, and Alaska Airlines. The company also provides the local community with time and financial resources for nonprofits, as well as employee-matched charitable donations and pro bono projects.

“I put my heart into my work,” says Khan, “and I’m delighted to be recognized by the PSBJ and share the recognition with the immensely talented team of employees that comprise Übermind. I’m grateful to be part of such a dynamic team and to live in such a culturally and professionally progressive city like Seattle. I feel truly blessed, and sincerely thank the Puget Sound Business Journal for the honor.”

To be selected, says PSBJ assistant managing editor Becky Monk, applicants first had to be nominated by one of their peers and then articulate their business and community leadership accomplishments in an essay-form application. Submissions were read, scored, and deliberated on by eight judges — men and women from all walks of the business community — for more than half a day to ensure that the most deserving candidates were selected.

The 2011 honorees will be feted at a special VIP reception on September 14 at Showbox SoDo. Übermind employees are thrilled for Khan’s recognition and highlight his ability to not only develop sound, long-term strategies that drive the business forward but also to inspire all levels of employees with his motivational and “team first” management style. As Khan says, the function of a good CEO is to “inspire people around you to do their best work, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and create an environment in which they can excel.”

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Post-Traumatic Stress: The Disability of Our Time

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological problem that can affect people from any part of the globe, and from every social class. We can all sympathize with someone who lost his mind after his family got swept away by a tsunami. We have all heard stories of war veterans who were no longer the same after they came back home. Yet PTSD can also be triggered by seemingly minor events, such as being punished as a child for a misdeed one didn’t commit. It is increasingly documented that women involved with men on the autism spectrum are extremely likely to suffer from PTSD due to the constant emotional trauma of caring for a person disabled by a neurological disorder, which prevents him from responding appropriately to the needs of others.

PTSD was not labeled as a psychiatric disorder until 1980, but people have suffered from PTSD throughout the history of mankind. During the American Civil War it was called “Soldier’s Heart.” It is possible that the prevalence of PTSD has increased in recent years due to the ability to access graphic news on TV and the internet. Humans are now able to see traumatic events all over the world and some people have trouble coping with the images. On the other hand, the general public’s increasing emotional numbness to exposure to painful world events or even violent video games is also worrying and perhaps even more dangerous from a clinical standpoint.

People respond to emotional stress very differently. Some people can witness a barbaric event and yet bounce back and go on to lead healthy productive lives, but some people find they cannot recover their emotional balance after a negative experience. Some negative experiences are so shocking that they shake a person to their core. Yet some negative experiences are ongoing everyday experiences that undermine a person’s self-worth, and can also result in long lasting psychological damage.

People are best able to cope with negative life experiences when they have a deep emotional reservoir of positive life experiences and trust-based relationships. A person with a solid foundation of self-esteem and love can eventually heal from something as terrible as witnessing a murder while someone with a poor sense of self could fall apart just because his home went into foreclosure. Some people are simply more sensitive than others. It’s often hard to predict how one will react to traumatic stress until it happens. Having a history of trauma may increase one’s risk of getting PTSD after a recent traumatic event. There is a huge connection between childhood neglect or mistreatment and a person’s inability to process negative emotions.

While traumatic stress is happening, a person tends to block out the pain or reinterpret events in order to deal with the present situation. However, in the weeks, months, and years after the emotional trauma has passed, the person remains unable to cope effectively because of the memory of the pain. PTSD is characterized by periodic disconnect from present reality, where one’s mind relives a past event over and over, fully experiencing the emotions of that event as if it were happening now. One clue that one is not processing one’s stress effectively is when one feels exhausted during the day and falls asleep on time, yet wakes in the night burdened by repetitive thoughts and cannot go back to sleep for hours. Some people are even afraid to go to sleep due to nightmares or images in their minds.

Other symptoms of PTSD include disinterest in normal everyday activities, avoiding things that remind one of that event, emotional numbness, startling easily, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, erratic heartbeat, fainting, inordinately angry outbursts, intense shame and guilt, and a constant sense of danger. Traumatized children may develop irrational phobias, lose their toilet training, and often relive their trauma in play. Palestinian children whose homes have been destroyed by the Israelis have often been documented building play houses, or wetting themselves when they hear loud noises.

According to US statistics, about 7 percent to 8 percent of the general population will develop PTSD. These numbers go up significantly for veterans and rape victims, among whom PTSD has anywhere from a 10 percent to 30 percent chance of developing. Women war veterans experience PTSD far more severely than their male counterparts.

PTSD is clinically treated with calming medication and/or psychological counseling. Many people experiencing PTSD self-medicate with alcohol while the lucky ones find solace in supportive relationships.

The process of healing from PTSD requires going through a full grieving and healing process so that one can learn and grow from the negative life experience instead of letting it hold one back from truly living. Healing also involves learning how to set internal boundaries against past and present abusers in one’s life as well as learning to steer one’s mind away from bad thoughts. It may help to keep a journal of one’s feelings or to make a schedule where one records the time lost daily ruminating about painful past events or conversations.

It is important to understand that PTSD is not a sign of weakness or cowardice but actually points to a strongly developed conscience and higher than average emotional intelligence. The only way to overcome PTSD is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past while learning how to minimize stress and anxiety in your current life.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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America In Decline

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noam Chomsky

The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War ’90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade.

Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society—by now mostly financial—has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.

For the public, the primary domestic concern is unemployment. Under current circumstances, that crisis can be overcome only by a significant government stimulus, well beyond the recent one, which barely matched decline in state and local spending—though even that limited initiative probably saved millions of jobs.

For financial institutions the primary concern is the deficit.

Therefore, only the deficit is under discussion. A large majority of the population favor addressing the deficit by taxing the very rich (72 percent, 27 percent opposed), reports a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Cutting health programs is opposed by overwhelming majorities (69 percent Medicaid, 78 percent Medicare). The likely outcome is therefore the opposite.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes surveyed how the public would eliminate the deficit. PIPA director Steven Kull writes, “Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House (of
Representatives) are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget.”

The survey illustrates the deep divide: “The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. The public also favored more spending on job training, education and pollution control than did either the administration or the House.”

The final “compromise”—more accurately, capitulation to the far right—is the opposite throughout, and is almost certain to lead to slower growth and long-term harm to all but the rich and the corporations, which are enjoying record profits.

Not even discussed is that the deficit would be eliminated if, as economist Dean Baker has shown, the dysfunctional privatized health care system in the U.S. were replaced by one similar to other industrial societies’, which have half the per capita costs and health outcomes that are comparable or better.

The financial institutions and Big Pharma are far too powerful for such options even to be considered, though the thought seems hardly Utopian.

Off the agenda for similar reasons are other economically sensible options, such as a small financial transactions tax.

Meanwhile new gifts are regularly lavished on Wall Street. The House Appropriations Committee cut the budget request for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the prime barrier against financial fraud. The Consumer Protection Agency is unlikely to survive intact.

Congress wields other weapons in its battle against future generations.

Faced with Republican opposition to environmental protection, American Electric Power, a major utility, shelved “the nation’s most prominent effort to capture carbon dioxide from an existing coal-burning power plant, dealing a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming,” The New York Times reported.

The self-inflicted blows, while increasingly powerful, are not a recent innovation. They trace back to the 1970s, when the national political economy underwent major transformations, ending what is commonly called “the Golden Age” of (state) capitalism.

Two major elements were financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to so-called FIRE: finance, insurance, real estate) and the offshoring of production. The ideological triumph of “free market doctrines,” highly selective as always, administered further blows, as they were translated into deregulation, rules of corporate governance linking huge CEO rewards to short-term profit, and other such policy decisions.

The resulting concentration of wealth yielded greater political power, accelerating a vicious cycle that has led to extraordinary wealth for a fraction of 1 percent of the population, mainly CEOs of major corporations, hedge fund managers and the like, while for the large majority real incomes have virtually stagnated.

In parallel, the cost of elections skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into corporate pockets. What remains of political democracy has been undermined further as both parties have turned to auctioning congressional leadership positions, as political economist Thomas Ferguson outlines in the Financial Times.

“The major political parties borrowed a practice from big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy or Target,” Ferguson writes. “Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, U.S. congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process.” The legislators who contribute the most funds to the party get the posts.

The result, according to Ferguson, is that debates “rely heavily on the endless repetition of a handful of slogans that have been battle-tested for their appeal to national investor blocs and interest groups that the leadership relies on for resources.” The country be damned.

Before the 2007 crash for which they were largely responsible, the new post-Golden Age financial institutions had gained startling economic power, more than tripling their share of corporate profits. After the crash, a number of economists began to inquire into their function in purely economic terms. Nobel laureate Robert Solow concludes that their general impact may be negative: “The successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.”

By shredding the remnants of political democracy, the financial institutions lay the basis for carrying the lethal process forward—as long as their victims are willing to suffer in silence.

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Hunger and Starvation in Somalia?

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Are We doing Enough?

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah

In this month of Ramadan, those who listen to the huffaz reciting the Quran during Taraweeh prayers and those who read the Quran on their own will come across some of the verses that perhaps might be the most relevant ones for us in the times we are living.

We would read the verse four of Sura 106 that describes Allah as the one “who has given them food against hunger, and made them safe from danger.” We will also read the verse eight of sura 76, “And they fee, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captives. And in sura 90 verse fourteen describing the most challenging task for human beings and believers specifically, we are reminded of a group of peole who feed people on a day of hunger.

Doubtless Allah has given abundant food against hunger. Yet millions are suffering from hunger all over the world. In Somalia alone, hundreds are dying each day of starvation. So where is the food that Allah has provided the people with?  In Italy alone, 1.5 million ton of food is wasted every year because farmers do not want to sell their crops at a cheaper price. Estimates of how much food we toss in the US vary, but according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It), we’re wasting around 40 percent of the total. The leading English magazine the Economist recently wrote the following:

[T]he average American wastes 1,400 kilocalories a day. That amounts to 150 trillion kilocalories a year for the country as a whole—about 40 percent of its food supply, up from 28 percent in 1974. Producing these wasted calories accounts for more than one-quarter of America’s consumption of freshwater, and also uses about 300 million barrels of oil a year. On top of that, a lot of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) emerges when all this food rots.

These figures are about just countries out of 200 plus countries in the world. Obviously, when the food is not brought in the market due to cheap prices and some 40 per cent of what is cooked is wasted, one cannot blame God for failing in his promise.

The blame can certainly be placed on those who speak in the name of God. Why are they not raising the awareness about hunger and disproportionate distribution and known wastage of resources. More specifically the Muslim religious leadership can be questioned for failing to transmit the divine message to its followers and others. There is hardly anyone talking about the unjust distribution system that exists in our world. No one ever brings up the issue of wastage of food in our homes and religious institutions. How much food the Muslim community is wasting? All you need to do is look at the dumpster at a mosque that is serving iftar and dinner to the community. You will not be surprised to find the similarity between the national and Muslim pattern of wastage.

Hardly anyone is talking about sacrifice for the betterment of the world.

Economists describes the situation in terms of world food prices and its impact on future economy. Politicians, depending on whose money they are using to get re elected, would talk about the poverty without ever doing anything to change the situation and the religious leadership is talking about issues that are totally irrelevant to the life of people. They are still talking about the differences in fajr and isha times whether the time of fajr arrives when the sun is at a 15 degree angle or 18 degree angle.

Hardly anyone is acting on the Divine message that those who prefer the needs of others over their own comfort are indeed the one successful in the life and the life hereafter. It is the quality of sacrificing for others that is the foundation for a better world and better commitment to Allah.

For a rich man who does not know the limit of his wealth, spending a few hundred thousands is nothing. For the filthy rich Muslim leaders, feeding the poor and needy from Somalia and other starving country for an entire month is almost nothing. However, when the responsibilities are limited to only two and a half percent of one’s savings regardless of the savings and regardless of the means of earning, the results would not different. How come we rarely question those dictators who have usurped the national wealth of people about their fiscal policies. How come we do not talk in our masajid about those issues?

The crisis in Somalia can be resolved in a month if even a quarter of all the money that has been looted by leaders in the Muslim world is spent on developing projects to eliminate hunger.

But that is not going to happen. Within the religious framework even the biggest cheat would offer two and a half percent of his savings to qualify for Divine blessings.

It is now left to us, the people to do sacrifice even more for the sake of humanity. We are capable of doing that. But we need to get organized which often we are not.

We need to do the following to help improve the situation in Somalia and other places.

1. On an emergency basis our relief organizations survey the availability of food at a low prices in a world market.

2. On a longer term basis, a proper survey of putting an irrigation system with the possibility of growing new high yielding crops can be made to plan for the future.

3. Our entrepreneurs work in coordination with these agencies to produce and prepare cooked nutritious food to serve those who are in need.

4. Our masses demonstrate the quality of sacrifice in their life style. Every time we eat a meal, we make it a habit of donating amount at least half or one quarter of the amount of the meal we eat and give it to an organization that knows how to do the job right.

If the 4 plus million US Muslim community saves a quarter each meal, it alone can generate resources to do everything that is mentioned above. But this would happen only when we are willing to sacrifice and willing to heed to the divine call beyond the call of our duty.

One of the steps that American Muslim relief organizations should have taken is to organize a summit to discuss this humanitarian crisis so that all could coordinate their resources and direct them to appropriate actions. But then that would require sacrifice on the part of the leadership. If they want people to sacrifice their monetary , they have to show they are willing to tame their egos and willing to sacrifice their organizational popularity for a goal much bigger than that: serving the creation of God on a day when some of it may be hungry. (90:13)

A worrying alarm arrives now from the Italian Farmers Association (CIA): mass amounts of food is sitting and rotting in their fields because sale prices don’t cover all of the costs of production. The result is a 1.5 million of tons wasted every year and 4 billion of Euro frittered away. All this with rising costs for Italian consumers and farmers. (Source: EcoLocalizer (http://s.tt/12uez))

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More War! The Road to Armageddon

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts

[Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, was published by CounterPunch/AK Press. This article is from the Summer 2011 issue of the Trends Journal, a publication of Gerald Celente’s Trends Research Institute.]

As the second decade of the 21st century began, the US economy had not recovered from the Great Recession that began in December 2007.

The economy’s failure to recover was despite the largest fiscal and monetary stimulus in the country’s history. There was a $700 billion bank bailout, a $700 billion stimulus program, a couple of trillion in “quantitative easing,” that is, in debt monetization or the printing of money to finance the government’s expenditures. In addition the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet had expanded by trillions of dollars as the Fed purchased troubled mortgage bonds and derivatives in its effort to keep the financial system solvent and functioning. According to the Government Accountability Office’s audit of the Federal Reserve released by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Federal Reserve provided secret loans to US and foreign banks totaling $16.1 trillion, a sum larger than US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Despite the enormous fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy remained dead in the water.

In 2011 the deficit in the federal government’s annual expenditures was 43 percent of the budget. In other words, the US government had to borrow, or the Fed had to monetize, 43 percent of federal expenditures during fiscal year 2011. Despite this unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy did not recover.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the economy’s decline was temporarily halted by federal subsidies for car and home purchases. The $8,000 housing subsidy helped newlyweds purchase starter homes as the subsidy was a big chunk of the down payment in a depressed housing market. The car purchase subsidy moved future demand into the present. When these subsidies expired, the economy’s life support was turned off.

Problems with the statistical reporting of unemployment, inflation, and GDP disguised the worsening economy. Seasonal adjustments used to smooth the data over the course of the year were not designed for prolonged recession. Neither was the “birth-death” model used by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to estimate non-reported jobs from new start-up companies and losses from companies that have gone out of business. The birth-death model was designed for a growing economy and during downturns overestimates the number of new jobs created.

The “substitution effect” used in the consumer price index (CPI) underestimates inflation by assuming that consumers substitute cheaper foods for those that rise in price. For example, if the price of New York strip steak rises, this does not show up in the CPI, because of the assumption that people shift their purchases to a less expensive cut such as round steak.

Cooking the Books

The widely used “core inflation” measure does not include food or energy. Core inflation is a useful measure for those who want to put an optimistic spin on the outlook.

By underestimating inflation, the government can overestimate real GDP growth, thus creating a fictional rosy outlook. Similarly, by using the employment measure known as U.3, the government underestimates unemployment.

The “headline” unemployment rate, the one emphasized by the media and the financial press, stood at 9.2 percent in June, 2011. But this rate does not include any discouraged workers. A discouraged worker is a person who has ceased looking for a job, because there are no jobs to be found. A discouraged worker is not considered to be in the work force and is not counted among the U.3 unemployed. The federal government knows that this is phony and has a U.6 measure of unemployment that counts the short-term discouraged. This measure, seldom reported by the media, stood at 16.2 percent in June, 2011.

Statistician John Williams (shadowstats.com) continues to count also the long-term discouraged workers according to the way it was officially done in 1980. In June, 2011, this full measure of the US unemployment rate was 22.7 percent.

In other words, by 2011 between one-fifth and one-fourth of the US work force were without jobs.

As 2011 progressed, the United States faced three simultaneous economic crises. One crisis arose from the loss of US jobs, GDP, consumer income, and tax base caused by corporations off-shoring their production for the US market. Instead of making their products at home with American labor and providing Americans with jobs and states and localities with tax revenues, US corporations provided countries such as China, India, and Indonesia with GDP, jobs, consumer income and a tax base. This practice meant that economic stimulus was unable to revive the US economy as Americans cannot be called back to work jobs that have been moved abroad.

Another crisis was the financial crisis resulting from deregulation, fraud, and greed. Securitization of mortgages meant that issuers of mortgages no longer had any incentive to ascertain the credit worthiness of the borrower, because the issuers sold the mortgages to third parties who combined the mortgages with others and sold them to investors.

As mortgages were issued for fees, the more mortgages issued, the higher the income from fees. In order to collect fee income, some issuers faked credit reports for borrowers. With the housing market booming, many people took mortgages in order to make money on the resale of the properties. With housing prices rising rapidly, down payments and credit worthiness became concerns of the past. The financial crisis was made worse by the ability of investment banks to get around capital requirements and, thereby, leverage their equity by incurring enormous debt. When all the bubbles burst, the house of cards collapsed.

Economic Armageddon

The third crisis was the $1.5+ trillion annual federal budget deficits, which were too large to be financed without the Federal Reserve buying the Treasury’s new debt issues. Known as monetizing debt, the Federal Reserve purchased the Treasury’s bills, notes, and bonds by creating a checking account, which the Treasury would then draw upon to pay the government’s bills. The outpouring of Treasury debt raised concerns about the dollar’s exchange value and role as reserve currency, and it raised fears of inflation. Gold and silver prices rose as the dollar declined in foreign exchange markets.

Any one of these crises was serious. All together, they implied economic Armageddon.

There was no obvious way out, but even if one could be found, the government was focused elsewhere — on wars.

In addition to ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the US and NATO began military operations against Libya on March 19, 2011. As with the existing wars, the real purpose of the aggression against Libya was not acknowledged, but it became clear that the war’s purpose was to evict China from its oil investments in eastern Libya. Unlike the previous Arab protests, the Libyan rebellion was an armed uprising in which some saw the CIA’s hand.

The Libyan war upped the risk, because although hiding behind the veil of Arab protest, the US was actually confronting China. Similarly, in the US-supported armed rebellion in Syria, Washington’s target was the Russian naval base at Tartus. Overthrowing the Assad government in Syria and installing a US friendly regime would put paid to Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean.

By hiding its purposes behind Arab protests in Libya and Syria that it might have initiated, Washington avoided face-to-face conflicts with China and Russia, but nevertheless the two powers understood that Washington was striking at their interests. This elevated the recklessness of Washington’s aggressive policies by initiating confrontation with two nuclear powers, one of which held financial power over the US as America’s largest foreign creditor.

China’s oil investments in Angola and Nigeria were another target. To counter China’s economic penetration of Africa, the US created the American African Command in the closing years of the first decade of the 21st century. Disturbed by China’s rise, the US undertook to prevent China from having independent sources of energy. The great game that in the past has always led to war is being played out once again.

September 11, 2001, provided Washington with a new “threat” to replace the Soviet threat, which had expired in 1991. Despite the absence of the Soviet threat, the military/security budget had been kept alive for a decade. September 11, 2001, injected rapid growth into the military/security budget. A decade later the budget stood at approximately $1.1 trillion annually, or approximately 70 percent of the federal deficit which was crippling the dollar and threatening the US Treasury’s credit rating.

Focused on Middle Eastern wars, Washington was losing the war for the US economy.

As the expectation of economic recovery evaporated over the course of 2011, the need for war became more imperative.

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Houston Airport System: Passenger Totals Continue to Grow in First Half of 2011

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Passenger totals from the first six months of 2011 are continuing a positive growth trend recently recorded at airports within the Houston Airport System, especially in the areas of international travel and the amount of air cargo processed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

From January through June of this year, international passenger totals have increased by more than 4 percent, while the air cargo totals are almost 7 percent higher than the totals recorded during the same time period in 2010, airport system officials said in a report.

“The Houston Airport System continues to improve its position as the premiere gateway into key markets in Mexico and the rest of Latin America,” says Mario C. Diaz, director of aviation. “Global connectivity remains a top priority and the recent increase in international passenger totals reflects that commitment.”

The Houston Airport System reports increases in international passenger totals for 22 consecutive months. The increases in traffic are especially strong for travel between Houston and Mexico and destinations in Central and South America. Six-month totals for those two regions have increased by 35.2 percent and 29.8 percent respectively.

Air cargo totals are also increasing at Bush Intercontinental Airport, where an additional 15,000 tons of air freight was processed from January through June. This total represents a seven percent increase in the totals recorded during that same time period the previous year.

Passenger totals continue to climb at William P. Hobby Airport as well, where an increase of 8.6 percent is being recorded for the first six months of the year. Compared to the same time period in 2010, Hobby Airport has seen an additional 375,761 passengers, putting it on pace to end the year by topping the 9 million passenger threshold for the second consecutive year and only the third time in its history.

“We are definitely entering a new era at William P. Hobby Airport,” said airport general manager Perry J. Miller. “Because the facility itself is changing and the passenger totals are growing, there’s a genuine excitement about what the future is going to hold for both the airport itself and its passengers.”

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Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

13-30

Islam-Baiting Doesn’t Work

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Stephan Salisbury for TomDispatch

During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.

“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.

But as the 2012 campaign ramps up along with the anti-Muslim rhetoric machine, a look back at 2010 turns out to offer quite an unexpected story about the American electorate. In fact, with rare exceptions, “Islam-bashing” proved a strikingly poor campaign tactic. In state after state, candidates who focused on illusory Muslim “threats,” tied ordinary American Muslims to terrorists and radicals, or characterized mosques as halls of triumph (and prayer in them as indoctrination) went down to defeat.

Far from winning votes, it could be argued that “Muslim-bashing” alienated large swaths of the electorate — even as it hardened an already hard core on the right.

The fact is that many of the loudest anti-Muslim candidates lost, and for a number of those who won, victory came by the smallest of margins, often driven by forces that went well beyond anti-Muslim rhetoric. A careful look at 2010 election results indicates that Islamophobic talking points can gain attention for a candidate, but the constituency that can be swayed by them remains limited, although not insignificant.

A Closer Look

It’s worth taking a closer look. In 2010, anti-Muslim rhetoric rode in with the emergence that July of a “mosque” controversy in lower Manhattan. New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, facing indifference to his candidacy in the primary race, took up what right-wing anti-Muslim bloggers had dubbed “the Mosque at Ground Zero,” although the planned cultural center in question would not have been a mosque and was not at Ground Zero. With a handy alternate reality already sketched out for him, Lazio demanded that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, then state attorney general, “investigate” the mosque. He implied as well that its leaders had ties to Hamas and that the building, when built, would somehow represent a threat to the “personal security and safety” of city residents.

A fog of acrid rhetoric subsequently enshrouded the campaign — from Lazio and his Tea Party-backed opponent, Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman. Paladino beat the hapless Lazio in the primary and was then handily dispatched by Cuomo in the general election. Cuomo had not joined the Muslim bashing, but by the end of the race, dozens of major political figures and potential Republican presidential candidates — including Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry — had denounced the loathsome Mosque at Ground Zero and sometimes the whole of Islam. What began as a local issue had by then become a national political litmus test and a wormhole to the country’s darkest sentiments.

But the hard reality of election results demonstrated one incontrovertible fact. Both Lazio and Paladino, heavily invested in portraying Muslims as somehow different from everyone else, went down to dismal defeats. Nor could these trouncings simply be passed off as what happens in a relatively liberal northeastern state. Even in supposed hotbeds of anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobic rhetoric and fear mongering repeatedly proved weak reeds for candidates.

Take Tennessee, a state in the throes of its own mosque-building controversy (in Murfreesboro) at the height of the 2010 campaign.

There, gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey couldn’t slam Islam often enough. Despite raising $2.7 million, however, he went down to defeat in the Republican primary, attracting only 22 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Republican victor Bill Haslam, now governor, simply stated that decisions about mosques and religious construction projects should be governed by local zoning ordinances and the Constitution.

In another 2010 Tennessee race, Lou Ann Zelenik, a Tennessee Republican congressional candidate and Tea Party activist, denounced the Murfreesboro mosque plans relentlessly. Zelenik ran her campaign like an unreconstructed Indian fighter, with Muslims standing in as opponents in a frontier war. As she typically put the matter, “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

It didn’t work. Zelenik, too, was defeated, attracting 30 percent of the vote in a three-way primary race; the winner, state Sen. Diane Black, edged her out with 31 percent. Black declined to denounce the Murfreesboro mosque project and went on to win the general election.

Islamophobic Failures Around the Country

The impotency of anti-Muslim rhetoric was not some isolated local phenomenon. Consider this: in the 2010 election cycle, anti-Muslim Senate candidate Sharron Angle was defeated in Nevada, and the similarly inclined Jeff Greene lost his Senate bid in Florida. A slew of congressional candidates who engaged in anti-Muslim rants or crassly sought to exploit the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy also went down, including Francis X. Becker, Jr., in New York, Kevin Calvey in Oklahoma, Dan Fanelli and Ronald McNeil in Florida, Ilario Pantano in North Carolina, Spike Maynard in West Virginia, and Dr. Marvin Scott in Indiana.

Not all candidates bad-mouthing Muslims failed, of course. Renee Ellmers, a nurse running in North Carolina’s 2nd District, won her race by about 1,500 votes after airing an incendiary television spot that likened the lower Manhattan cultural center to a “victory mosque” and conflated Islam with terrorism. But Ellmers’ main campaign talking point was the abomination of health-care reform. That “victory mosque” was only a bauble-like embellishment, a dazzling attention grabber.

Similarly, Republican Rick Scott, running for governor in Florida, featured a deceptive television ad that referred to the New York project as “Obama’s mosque” and, like Ellmers’s ad, seamlessly fused Islam, terrorism, and murder. Tea Party favorite Scott, however, had a slight advantage in gaining a victory margin of about one percentage point over Democrat Alex Sink: he poured a staggering $73 million of his own money into the race in which he largely painted Obama as an anti-business incompetent. Despite lavishing more personal cash on the race than any candidate in Florida history, Scott won by less than 100,000 votes, falling short of 50 percent of the total. He was only the second Florida governor to take office without the backing of a majority of the electorate.

If some virulent political rhetoric was credited with bringing victory to candidates at the time, its effect in retrospect looks more questionable and less impressive. Take the victorious campaign of Republican Allen West for Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. A Tea Party favorite quick to exploit anti-Muslim fears, he was also a veteran of the Iraq War and had been fined by the Army for the beating and threatened killing of an Iraqi prisoner.

During the campaign, he made numerous statements linking Islam with terrorism and weighed in loudly on the proposed Manhattan Islamic center more than 1,000 miles away. In an open letter to his opponent, two-term incumbent Democrat Ron Klein, he noted that “the mosque symbolizes a clear victory in the eyes of those who brought down the twin towers.” Klein then caved and joined West in opposing the cultural center, claiming that Ground Zero should only be “a living memorial where all Americans can honor those who were killed on September 11, 2001.”

In the election, West reversed the results of his 2008 race against Klein and ever since, his victory has been seen as one of the triumphs of anti-Muslim trash talking. A look at the numbers, however, tells a slightly different story. For one thing, West, too, had a significant financial advantage. He had already raised more than $4 million as the campaign began, more than four times his total in 2008 and twice as much as Klein. Much of West’s funding came from out-of-state donors and conservative PACs. For all that money, however, West won the election by not “losing” as many votes as Klein did (when compared to 2008). In 2010, West won with about 115,000 votes to Klein’s 97,000; in 2008, when Klein had the funding advantage and a presidential year electorate at his back, he beat West, 169,000 to 140,000.

Off-year elections normally mean lower turnouts, which clearly worked to West’s advantage. His victory total amounted to about a third of the 2008 total vote. And there’s the point. The motivated, far-right base of the Republican Party/Tea Party can, at best, pull in about a quarter to a third of the larger electorate. In addition, West became the Definer: He blocked out the issues, agitated his base, and got people to the polls. Klein ceded the terms of the debate to him and failed to galvanize support. Did anti-Muslim rhetoric help West? Probably. Can it work in a presidential election year when substantial turnout ensures that the base won’t rule? Unlikely.

Nevertheless, candidates on the right are already ramping up the rhetoric for 2012. Herman Cain, the pizza king who would be president, is but one obvious example. He says he may not know much, but one thing he knows for sure: when he’s elected, no Muslims will find their way into his administration.

As he put it in an interview with Christianity Today, “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.” Cain told the Web site Think Progress that he’d brook no Muslim cabinet members or judges because “there is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Shariah law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.”

Before a national television audience at a recent Republican presidential debate, however, Cain proceeded to say that he really hadn’t said what he had, in fact, said. This is called a “clarification.” What he meant, Cain reassured television viewers, was that he would only bar disloyal Muslims, the ones “trying to kill us.”

It almost seems as if candidates defeated in 2010 when using over-the-top anti-Muslim rhetoric are expecting a different outcome in 2012. Lawyer Lynne Torgerson in Minnesota is a fine example of this syndrome. In 2010, she decided to take on Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, pounding him relentlessly for his supposed “ties” to “radical Islamism.”

“And what do I know of Islam?” she wrote on the “issues” page of her 2010 campaign Web site. “Well, I know of 911.” Alas for Torgerson, the strategy didn’t work out so well. She was crushed by Ellison, garnering only 3 percent of the vote. Now, Torgerson is back, her message even more extreme. Ellison is no longer simply tied to “radical Islamism,” whatever that may be; he has apparently used his time in Congress to become a “radical Islamist” pushing, she claims, nothing less than the adoption of “Islamic Shariah law.”

Shariah Is the New Mosque at Ground Zero

Shariah has become 2012’s Mosque at Ground Zero, with about 20 states considering laws that would ban its use and candidates shrilly denouncing it — a convenient way, presumably, to keep harping on nonexistent, yet anxiety-producing, “threats.” Since no one knows what you’re talking about when you decry Shariah, it’s even easier than usual to say anything, no matter how bizarre or duplicitous.

So be prepared to hear a lot about “Shariah” between now and November 2012.

Going forward, a few things seem clear. For one, the Islamophobic machinery fueled by large right-wing foundations, PACs, individuals, and business interests will continue to elaborate a virtual reality in which Muslim and Islamic “threats” lurk around every American corner and behind every door. It is important to realize that once you’ve entered this political landscape, taking down anti-Muslim “facts” with reality is a fool’s errand. This is a realm akin to a video game, where such “facts” are dispatched only to rise again like so many zombies. In the world of Resident Evil, truth hardly matters.

But bear in mind that, as the 2010 election results made clear, that particular virtual reality is embraced by a distinct and limited American minority. For at least 70 percent of the electorate, when it comes to anti-Muslim slander, facts do matter. Failure to challenge the bogus rhetoric only allows the loudest, most reckless political gamer to set the agenda, as Ron Klein discovered to his dismay in Florida.

Attacks on the deadly threat of Shariah, the puffing up of Muslim plots against America, and the smearing of candidates who decline to make blanket denunciations of “Islamism” are sure to emerge loudly in the 2012 election season. Such rhetoric, however, may prove even less potent at the polls than the relatively impotent 2010 version, even if this reality has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.

For those who live outside the precincts where right-wing virtual reality reigns supreme, facts are apparently having an impact. The vast majority of the electorate seems to be viewing anti-Muslim alarms as a distraction from other, far more pressing problems: real problems.

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular.

Reservation & Indian Muslims

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: How serious are the politicians and other leaders who have recently started voicing their concern about the need of reservation for Indian Muslims? Describing Muslims as socially and economically backward, they are demanding reservation to help them progress. Though some importance is being given to these demands, prospects of their being implemented remain fairly dim. This demands an analysis of the Reservation-issue for Muslims from several angles. What has prompted several leaders to start talking about it now in louder than before tones? Why are chances of it being implemented bleak? What has prompted “concerned” politicians to assure aggrieved sections that the issue is being considered?

Seriously speaking, greater importance is being accorded to making political noise about reservation for Muslims than actually assuring that their socio-economic grievances are dealt with constructively. With Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled for next year and the national parliamentary elections in 2014, electoral preparations are gaining political heat. The Congress is hopeful that by assuring Muslims a reservation quota in government jobs and education, it is likely to win their support in UP assembly elections. The UP assembly polls are also viewed as a “dress rehearsal” to national elections. Political victory in UP is expected to play a crucial role in helping Congress consolidate prospects of electoral gains in the subsequent parliamentary polls.

Against this backdrop, the timing is just perfect for Muslim leaders and various organizations to gain some political mileage by voicing their concern on the reservation-issue. This is one side of the political-hype made over reservation for Indian Muslims.

India is home to second largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims constitute the largest minority in India. Twenty-five percent of UP’s population are Muslims. Statistically, thus, the Congress cannot afford to ignore the electoral importance of the Muslim vote-bank in UP as well as the whole country.

Not surprisingly, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said recently that the home ministry is expected to submit a “concrete proposal” for minority reservation soon. With the necessary formalities, including consultations, having been completed, he said: “The home ministry will now take it forward. There is a sense of urgency.”

The Congress-led coalition government is likely to push for a proposal on lines of the model adopted by the southern states, which have provided reservation for Muslims – out of the existing OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota. Suggesting this, Khurshid said: “We believe the OBC element of affirmative action must be rationalised and fine- tuned in the manner in which it is being done in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.”

But this is not an easy job. Questions have already begun being asked on the sudden sympathy being displayed by Congress to a commitment it made in 2004. The 2004-Congress-election manifesto said: “The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale.”

Besides, while several leaders are not opposed to reservation for Muslims, they are against it being offered out of the OBC-quota. They fear that this political-card will create divisions in their OBC vote-bank. Janata Dal-United leader, Sharad Yadav, who is also a activist of OBC, said: “The government is trying to create divisions in the backward society.” Criticizing the government for not implementing the current OBC quota, he asked: “The rate at which the government fills the existing OBC quota is just two to three percent. The backlog is huge. With nothing on your plate, what will you offer the Muslims?”

“There should be a separate provision for Muslims if we are seriously interested in uplifting the backward sections of the community. It would be ideal, in my opinion, if a separate component of reservation is made for the Muslims to bring them on par with other sections of society,” according to Ram Kripal Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal Legislator in Upper House).

It maybe noted, the Ranganath Mishra commission recommended reservation for Muslims and Christians from within the 15 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the 27 per cent OBC quota. Set up in 2005, the commission submitted its report in 2007. The commission pointed out that caste system was prevalent among Muslims too. The commission recommended that Muslim Dalit groups, whose counterparts exist among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, should also be included in the central or state SC lists.

Several years have passed since reservation for Muslims was recommended by the Mishra commission and since the Congress committed itself to do so. The Indian Muslims have yet to benefit from the reservation-proposal. The manner in which the Congress has raised the issue at this juncture suggests that it is trying to play two cards at one go. The party is optimistic that this issue will help Congress win support from Muslims, particularly in UP. The Congress is also hopeful that the divisions created in OBC-vote bank will help it politically. Against this backdrop, politicking is more strongly linked with noise being made over reservation for Muslims than concern for their actual socio-economic progress!

13-29

Dubai Hotels Aim to Pick Up Pilgrim Trade During Ramadan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The National

Atlantis_Hotel_in_Dubai

Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.

The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.

This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.

The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch “pilgrim packages” as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.

“We are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,” said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.

Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.

“That’s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,” Mr Khan said. “If they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.”

The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.

“They have to transit via Dubai,” said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. “This is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.

“The room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.”

Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.

An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.

Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.

Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.

Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.

“The Chinese market will come because of the low prices,” Mr Khan said. “My hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.”

He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.

13-28

Islamic Trade Finance Seen Lifting Growth of Sector

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shaheen Pasha

DUBAI, June 9 (Reuters) – Islamic trade finance has benefitted from shifting preferences towards Sharia-compliant banking and could serve as one of the key growth drivers to help the nearly $1 trillion Islamic finance industry double in size.

The global Islamic finance industry, which has been growing between 15 to 20 percent a year, is widely expected to reach $2 trillion in the next three to five years.

While Islamic banking and Islamic bonds, or sukuk, are expected to lead growth, bankers say Islamic trade finance could serve as the dark horse emerging to propel the industry further.

Trade finance, the lifeblood of global commerce, underpins 60-80 percent of the $12-13 trillion trade in global merchandise and practitioners say it is safer than other forms of lending.

Total trade finance among the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which includes Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Turkey, is expected to reach $4 trillion by 2012, said Mohamad Nedal Alchaar, secretary-general of the Accounting & Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI).

“(Islamic finance) could tap 20 percent of the total trading financing, that’s very reasonable,” Alchaar said, adding that while the current Islamic trade finance market remains fragmented and non-competitive, there has been a shift towards pushing trade finance among Islamic practitioners.

Part of the increased interest in Islamic trade finance is that the Islamic finance industry, which prohibits interest, has matured and can provide complicated instruments, such as Sharia-compliant hedging products to protect trade transactions, said Yakub Bobat, global head of HSBC Amanah commercial banking.

“If you don’t have access to Islamic hedging, there will be a currency conversion impact. In the absence of those solutions, people go for conventional,” Bobat said. “But the proposition is now complete and you can now use Islamic hedges for trade transactions.”

Bobat said such innovations in the industry will help persuade people inclined toward Sharia-compliant business to opt for Islamic trade finance over conventional forms.

In Islamic trade finance, a bank will provide a letter of credit, guaranteeing import payments using its own funds, for a client based on sharing the profit from the sale of the item.

But some banks are still wary of providing Islamic trade finance services, citing it as more costly and time consuming.

In addition, some see little difference between conventional and Islamic trade finance as both are fee-based products, resulting in lower demand for the Islamic product.

Changing that view will be key for the industry, said Shabir Randeree, chairman of the European Islamic Investment Bank.

East-East Trade Flows Grow

“There is a very compelling reason to promote this product given that the returns of trade financing can be very attractive, much more than real estate financing, for example,” he said. “Providers of this product have not been as aggressive in promoting it.”

But with increasing cross-border trade among Asian and Middle Eastern countries, demand for more Sharia-compliant financing from Muslims is still expected to increase.

Asia to Middle East trade flows more than doubled between 2005 and 2008, according to the World Trade Organization.

“If I compare three years back, volumes have gone up overall in the Islamic trade finance market,” said Ghazanfar Naqvi, managing director, Islamic origination and client coverage at Standard Chartered Saadiq.

“It’s a function of more awareness and more offerings. Today we are seeing customer preference changing and trade finance is a key component of growth in Islamic finance.”

Naqvi said it was difficult to pin down tangible global figures for Islamic trade finance as the majority of deals are not public transactions.

The International Islamic Trade Finance Corp. (ITFC), an independent entity within the Islamic Development Bank, said in its annual report that it approved $2.17 billion in Islamic trade finance transactions at the end of 2009.

That grew to around $2.55 billion in 2010, with a majority of transactions taking place in OIC member nations.

HSBC Amanah’s Bobat said Islamic trade finance will be a significant contributor to growth in Islamic finance but the industry will have to look beyond asset finance.

“The industry today is pretty much focused on asset finance and it needs to have the ability to capitalise on trade,” he said. “(Islamic trade finance) should be as much bread and butter business as it is for conventional trade flows.” (Reporting by Shaheen Pasha; Editing by Jon Hemming)

13-28

Emerging Fast-Food Nation Indonesia Props Up Wheat Market

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Taylor

2011-06-28T113849Z_235646864_GM1E76S1IQV01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-WHEAT

A woman holding a baby walks past menus displayed in front of a fast food outlet in Jakarta June 28, 2011. Indonesia will be crowned top Asian wheat importer this year, as higher incomes turn Southeast Asia’s largest economy into a fast-food nation and help to keep global prices on the boil.

JAKARTA, June 28 (Reuters) – Indonesia will be crowned top Asian wheat importer this year, as higher incomes turn Southeast Asia’s largest economy into a fast-food nation and help to keep global prices on the boil.

As affluent Indonesians turn away from rice, their country is vying with Japan to be Asia’s leading wheat buyer, while the latter battles economic crisis in the wake of a devastating earthquake and an ageing population boosts protein in its diet.

“We are coming up on a par with, or even more than, Japan,” said Franciscus Welirang, chairman of the Indonesian Wheat Flour Mills Association, known as Aptindo. “It could be this year that we overtake.”

With Indonesia’s imports of the staple set to rise more than 10 percent this year and 3 percent a year in the period to 2015, the trend could even carry Indonesia to second place among the ranks of the world’s largest importers this year.

Listed firms that could gain from any rise in Indonesian wheat consumption include Indofood Sukses Makmur , Singapore’s Wilmar International and Malaysia’s PPB Group.

Indonesia, which relies entirely on imports for its wheat, gets around 60 percent of supplies from Australia, with Canada and the United States accounting for about 30 percent.

Western Australian wheat suppliers will benefit from the trend and continue to dominate Indonesian demand, analysts say, as geographic proximity and consumers’ preference for premium and standard white wheat head off competition from mainly soft white and hard red wheat producers in the U.S. and Canada.

Premium wheat from Western Australia, used to make bread and noodles, is also a favourite of East Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Taiwan.

Small Global Deficit

Global wheat output is set to show a small deficit this year, with stocks meeting any shortfall as output hits around 663 million to 673 million tonnes, analysts say.

The surge in Indonesian imports for the rest of this year coincides with a recent plunge in global wheat prices on improving crop weather in the West while Australian exports could jump nearly 9 percent to a record in 2011-12.

“In such a finely balanced market, any change in supply or demand will have an outsized impact on prices,” said Deepak Gopinath, director at Trusted Sources Research. “The continued rapid growth of Southeast Asian wheat imports will be bullish for wheat prices over the medium term.”

That growth will help moderate the price drop seen for the coming months, after wheat prices hit 2-1/2 year peaks near $9.00 a bushel in February on tight supplies and robust demand from Middle East and North African importers.

By 0628 GMT, the front-month July contract wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade was flat at $6.24 a bushel, after posting its fourth-straight week of losses last week to around the lowest in a year. A Reuters technical analysis showed CBOT wheat would fall to $4.02-1/4 per bushel over the next three months.

Southeast Asia now accounts for about 12 percent of global wheat imports, up from 9 percent in 2009. While wheat imports by neighbouring Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have held under 3 million tonnes over the past decade, Indonesian intake has almost doubled.

This is due in part to a wheat consumption push by the Indonesian government, an effort to avoid an over-reliance on the staple diet rice of which it is not a major exporter like many of its neighbours.
“Asia is a new market and one of the big issues in terms of food security,” said Jonathan Barratt, managing director of Commodity Broking Services in Sydney.

“We’re looking for increased production but it is not meeting the new demand from emerging economies — that’s the problem because it’s moving outside traditional food sources.”

Fast Food Chains

2011-06-28T113545Z_1643857741_GM1E76S1IM901_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-WHEAT

Customers queue to buy food at a KFC outlet in Jakarta June 28, 2011. Indonesia will be crowned top Asian wheat importer this year, as higher incomes turn Southeast Asia’s largest economy into a fast-food nation and help to keep global prices on the boil.

Behind Indonesia’s rapidly rising wheat imports stands a booming economy, set to rise about 6.5 percent this year, boosted by domestic consumption and mineral exports.

Appetites are changing, with bread-based breakfast favoured by the upper middle classes and noodles preferred by the middle classes, a shift away from the previous breakfast staple, rice.

Such changes are easy to spot on a walk through the smog-filled streets of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, where new fast food outlets and billboards for the likes of McDonalds , Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and KFC , have mushroomed.

McDonalds’ Indonesian licensee says the hamburger chain now has 117 restaurants in the country versus 98 at the end of 2009.

“The increasing westernisation of diets throughout Southeast Asia over the past couple of years, has certainly driven feed wheat demand,” said Michael Creed, an agribusiness economist for National Australia Bank.

About 60 percent of Indonesian wheat imports are now used to make noodles, with 20 percent consumed by bakeries.

Aptindo Indonesia recently forecast wheat imports would grow 10 percent this year to 5.1 million tonnes.

According to forecasts by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Indonesia is already ahead in Asia in the trade year July 2010 to June 2011, with wheat and flour imports at 6.1 million tonnes compared to 5.5 million tonnes in Japan.

USDA data showed 2009/2010 imports for Indonesia and Japan at 5.36 million tonnes and 5.5 million tonnes respectively. It adds that Indonesian wheat consumption is estimated to rise to 5.8 million tonnes in 2010/2011, versus 5.25 million in 2009/10.      A combination of ageing population, rising incomes leading to consumers favouring less starch and more high protein foods, are all helping to push Japan’s wheat consumption lower, analysts say.

Analysts say Indonesian wheat imports are seen rising about 3 percent annually in three to five years , with huge scope for further growth, given that its annual consumption of wheat per capita of 18 kg puts the country among the world’s lowest.

“There is a potential market to grow,” said a consultant at U.S. Wheat Associates.

Indonesia will import 700,000 tonnes of wheat flour this year, said Aptindo, 60 percent from Turkey.

The USDA forecast that Indonesia will rank third among global importers in 2010/2011, behind Egypt and Brazil.

“Indonesia are a fairly large importer,” said Creed, who sees Indonesia overtaking Brazil. “There is not exactly a huge amount of arable land in Indonesia… Brazil does have a capacity to increase productivity.”

But as tastes widen beyond rice, any negative impact on the traditional staple grain is limited due to Indonesia’s ambitious aims to be self-sufficient in rice production.

“The Indonesian government’s goal is to maintain rice self-sufficiency at all costs,” said Gopinath. “That means encouraging Indonesians to substitute wheat for rice as much as possible to slow the growth in rice consumption.” (Editing by Ramthan Hussain and Clarence Fernandez)

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