Offbeat Investment

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin de Sa’Pinto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-37

Threatening Iran

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Craig Roberts, Countercurrents.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-31

How the Serenity of Swat Was Vandalized

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Javed Akbar, The Canadian Charger

Nightmarish scenes in the valley of Swat in northern Pakistan – a major tourist attraction known for its ‘indescribable beauty and serenity’ mark the latest stage of that nation’s crisis, brought to a boil by the U.S. escalation of its war in Afghanistan, which is spilling across the border.

But the turmoil is also a sign of the deepening contradictions of Pakistani politics following the downfall of the U.S.-backed strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last year amid growing unrest.

The rise of extremism, militancy and the Taliban are a reaction to the American-led “war on terror” and the occupation of Afghanistan. So big has been the displacement of people (1.7 million according to the UN) due to the latest military operations in Swat that UN officials are already comparing the unfortunate situation prevailing in Pakistan with that of Rwanda, the Central African country where genocide in 1994 forced large-scale dislocation of communities.

The resulting disequilibrium of Pakistani society has as its latest consequence an increasing influx of the internally displaced people of Swat.

The refugees from Swat are victims of a Pakistani Army offensive, backed by the U.S., against forces of the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military broke a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban and carried out a scorched-earth assault — with the excuse that this is the only way to flush out Taliban fighters.

But the civilian population is paying a terrible price. The Pakistani military will never be able to win over those people who actually experienced what is happening on the ground. And certainly those people are not Taliban supporters either, since they have experienced their terror.

The U.S. has created the bizarre new moniker “Af/Pak” as a way to cover over its expansion of the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Building consent for this expansion has been what all the State Department, Pentagon and media propaganda has been about before the onslaught of this military expedition.
Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

That goes a long way towards explaining U.S. strategic planning.

The U.S. wants to wind down its occupation in Iraq, which it sees as a distraction, and push ahead with a much larger scenario — ‘in the arc of instability’ from North Africa to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. The U.S. is gearing up for, in the shocking words of Nagl, 50 years of warfare in this area.

Such imperial-style strategic concepts echo the “Great Game” of rivalries in the region over who’s going to control the oil and natural gas resources. Beyond that geopolitical battle, the military industrial complex has a material interest in perpetual warfare.

This is the new Great Game involving the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. It’s all about the resources that we have been observing since the beginning of the war in 2001. The U.S. had planned a pipeline to go from Central Asia through the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Planners saw Afghanistan as strategically important in these designs. The strategic importance was considered high enough to open a new front on its open-ended “war on terror.”

Despite eight years of war, occupation and counter-insurgency, and seeing that war and occupation aren’t working and are, in fact, backfiring, U.S. thinking doesn’t seem to be shifting at all. The Obama administration is certainly trying to repackage its essential continuity with the Bush administration’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there isn’t a whole lot of finessing that needs to be done to sell this to the American public, since there is a widespread impression that the Afghan war is a moral war, a necessary response to the 9/ll attackers, and that Pakistan is an untrustworthy and reluctant ally that is crawling with militants.
The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to address legitimate Muslim concerns, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

By not recognizing that the unresolved Kashmir issue is a cause for promoting militancy in the region, Washington has opted for selective engagement with the underlying causes of militancy and terrorism in the region.

The anti-war movement should not let Obama continue this imperial policy of aggression into Afghanistan and Pakistan (and potentially many other states).

The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theater has spawned a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes.

Meanwhile the sufferings of the people of the Northern Pakistan continue, with the rest of country adversely affected due to a war imposed upon its people.
Barack Obama has been bombing Pakistan since the third day of his presidency, and on the ground the Pakistani army has been acting as his country’s mercenaries.

* Javed Akbar is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

11-30

India Wants “Peace” with Pakistan

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Indo-Pak talks have been on hold since Mumbai-strikes in November last year. The two sides agreed to revive talks at first top-level contact last month in Russia on sidelines of a summit. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (June 16). On his return, while briefing media on his Russia-visit, regarding his talks with Zardari, Singh said: “We discussed India-Pakistan relations, which remain under considerable stress. The primary cause of this, as everyone knows, is terrorist attacks against India from Pakistani territory. I conveyed to President Zardari the full extent of our expectation that the Government of Pakistan take strong and effective action to prevent use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist attacks against India, act against perpetrators of past attacks and dismantle infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan. The President of Pakistan told me of Pakistan’s efforts to deal with this menace and the difficulties that they face.” “We agreed that our foreign secretaries will discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India and to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice including the horrendous crime of the attacks in Mumbai. They will report to us and we will take stock of the situation when we are at Sharm-el-Sheikh for the Non-aligned Summit in mid-July,” Singh said.

“I have spoken before of my vision of a cooperative subcontinent, and of the vital interest that India and the people of the subcontinent have in peace. For this we must try again to make peace with Pakistan. It also requires effective and strong action against the enemies of peace. If the leaders of Pakistan have the courage, determination and statesmanship to take the high road to peace, India will meet them more than half-way,” Singh said.

Undeniably, Singh’s comments suggest that India and Pakistan are making most of opportunities available to discuss terrorism and revival of their stalled talks. It was with this aim that Singh held talks with Zardari, without any “structured agenda.” During their talks, they also set the stage for subsequent meetings between them and at other levels. Not surprisingly, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on sidelines of G8 Outreach Af-Pak Summit in Italy’s Trieste city (June 26). It was the second high-level contact in a month. After his meeting with Qureshi, Krishna told media: “I am glad that this international conference has provided an opportunity for bilateral meeting with my counterpart from Pakistan.” The two ministers reviewed current status of Indo-Pak relations, which have remained under “considerable stress” because of terrorist attacks on India by elements based in Pakistan, Krishna said. They agreed on “vast potential that exist in India-Pakistan relations.” Krishna conveyed New Delhi’s stand, that India is “ready to meet Pakistan more than half way to utilize and harness that potential for our mutual benefit. At the same time, we have to address centrally why our relations come under stress recurrently.”

Efforts being made to bring Indo-Pak ties on track assume significance, as United States is also keen on improvement in their bilateral relations. In keeping with Af-Pak policy being pursued by President Barack Obama, United States National Security Adviser James Jones was here last week after stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jones held separate talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart M.K. Narayanan and other Indian leaders (June 26). Jones is first high-ranking US official to visit India following India and Pakistan’s agreement to revive stalled talks and discuss steps taken by Islamabad on tackling terrorism targeting India by militants based in Pakistan. Jones’ visit also assumes significance with it taking place ahead of proposed visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month.

The key issues touched on during talks Jones held with Indian leaders were: “Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there against India.” Jones is also understood to have shared his assessment of situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where operations are continuing against Taliban militants. During his talks in Islamabad and New Delhi, Jones laid stress that attacks such as Mumbai-strikes must be prevented, according to sources. He also “vowed” United States’ move to help India and Pakistan improve their ties and combat militant threat.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert O. Blake told a panel of House of Representatives last week: “India and Pakistan face common challenges, and we will support continuing dialogue to find joint solutions to counter terrorism and to promote regional stability.” “The timing, scope, and content of any such dialogue are strictly matters for Pakistani and Indian leaders to decide,” he said.

Though India remains dissatisfied with Pakistan having not taken necessary steps against those responsible for Mumbai-strikes, there is no doubt that two countries have displayed serious interest in recent past to revive their talks. Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony told a group of senior military commanders last week: “We must be vigilant about happenings on our western border, while at the same time, try to make peace with our neighbor.” Asserting that India should not be viewed as a “threat” by Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor said: “It’s their own perception of threat, but India has never been a threat to Pakistan despite having superior forces” (June 27). Speaking to newsmen at the Combined Graduation Parade of the Indian Air Force cadets at the Air Force Academy at Dindigul near Hyderabad, he said: “We on our side like to live as peaceful neighbors. We will be happy if Pakistan fights terror not only on its western borders but also on the eastern border.”

11-28

The American Empire Is Bankrupt

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-27

Reality Check for Obama in Afghanistan

February 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

He’s facing pressure to increase US troop levels there. Has Washington learned nothing from the Soviet experience?

Courtesy Walter Rodgers

 

2009-02-18T122025Z_01_POP09_RTRMDNP_3_AFGHANISTAN

between the U.S. troop commander in the area and local tribal leaders near Khas Kunar refugee camp, Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan February 18, 2009.

REUTERS/Oleg Popov  

Oakton, Va. – History may not repeat itself, but all too often it recycles mistakes. In 1961, before the Vietnam War became full-fledged, former Gen. Douglas MacArthur warned President Kennedy not to fight a land war in Asia. Over the next 14 years, more than 58,000 Americans died as Washington ignored his advice and ramped up operations.

Today, the US is stuck in another land war in Asia: Afghanistan. The original mission was to capture Osama bin Laden, disable Al Qaeda, remove the Taliban, and keep the country from being a safe haven for terrorists. After seven years of fighting, hundreds of dead US soldiers and thousands more wounded, those objectives have not been met.

And now the US wants to double down, adding as many as 30,000 additional US troops there to get the job done.

Sharp lessons from the Soviets

It’s unfathomable that Washington learned so little from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which ended in an ignominious retreat followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union three years later. The Soviets lost 15,000 soldiers.

In the brief honeymoon after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, US and Russian intellectuals and officials met to analyze the Afghan war and concluded it would have required 750,000 to 1 million Soviet troops to subdue Afghanistan. But Moscow never deployed more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at any one time. The Soviets discovered they could win battles but never hold more than a few cities in a country the size of Texas.

The United States now has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. Even if President Obama agrees to double that amount, the effort will be wasted. Half a million US troops might not be enough. It wasn’t in Vietnam. Mr. Obama needs to recognize that hesitation to expand the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with will or cowardice and everything to do with wisdom.

The totalitarian Soviets lacked the political will to deploy three quarters of a million troops. Kremlin mossbacks knew even the docile Russian populace of the Communist era wouldn’t buy it. In 1979, when the ruling Politburo reluctantly decided to send in the troops, it was bitterly opposed by the chief of staff, Marshal of the Army Nikolai Ograkov. He flatly first told then-Defense Minister Dimitri Ustinov and later party leader Leonid Brezhnev that a war in Afghanistan would be a huge mistake. So controversial was the decision to commit Russian forces that only a handful of senior members of the ruling Politburo participated. In the end, those elders chose to go in, primarily because they feared the US was trying to destabilize Afghanistan and sew it into the West’s patchwork encirclement of the Soviet Union.

It took nine years before Moscow concluded that its war in Afghanistan was a mistake. After the cold war, Russia declassified documents on Afghanistan and the West learned that on more than a dozen occasions between March of 1979 and the December invasion, Brezhnev refused to intervene despite destabilization of the Soviet Union’s southern border.

As a correspondent based in Moscow in the 1980s, I made several trips into Afghanistan with the Soviets. When I returned to Moscow, my Russian office manager asked me what it was like there. Waxing enthusiastic, I told her, “It was magnificent, straight out of Kipling and the 19th century.” Her blue Slavic eyes narrowed. “No, Walt, you are wrong. Afghanistan is the 14th century.”

After 9/11, when hordes of reporters traveled to this mystical, medieval land, the recommended reading was historical fiction of the late George MacDonald Fraser’s first “Flashman” volume on the Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842. The entire retreating British column of upwards of 16,000 men, women, and children – save for one survivor – was wiped out by the forefathers of those who drove the Soviets out 150 years later. Obama would be well advised to read “Flashman” and realize how little Afghanistan has changed.

It would be delusional to expect any American expeditionary force to liberate and enlighten Afghans, freeing women from resurgent Taliban. There’s an adage familiar to all who worked there: “There only two times an Afghan woman leaves her home: when she gets married and when she dies.” Afghanistan is a land polka-dotted in graveyards beyond counting. UNICEF says 20 percent of all Afghan children die before their fifth birthday. The entire US Army will not be able to convert greedy warlords to modernity.

Afghanistan is a feudal quilt of tribes. It’s disingenuous to call it a country. It is a failed state, perhaps best babysat by its regional neighbors: Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India.

Their individual interests and goals in Afghanistan may differ, but none is eager to have a rejuvenated Al Qaeda caliphate led by loose cannons such as Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden, whom they cannot control. If three regional superpowers – India, China, and Russia – opt to sit on the sidelines in their own neighborhood, what logic is there for American intervention from an ocean and continent away?

Even as they request more troops, US generals have acknowledged that an Iraq-style “surge” won’t work. “Afghanistan is not Iraq,” said Gen. David McKiernan, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General McKiernan, who led ground forces in Iraq in 2003, has described Afghanistan as “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq.” Today, the Pentagon talks of achieving not victory or lasting democracy but merely progress against militants.

No good options left

There are no good options left after the Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq. An increased American intervention in Afghanistan might have been more welcome six years ago. Now it is probably too late. Yet a total American withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave in its wake anarchy and bloodbath. An ugly Taliban triumph would ensue. The Taliban need to be contained, but not exclusively by the US, so Obama must persuade NATO and Afghanistan’s near neighbors to play a larger, perhaps dominant, role.

Pakistan can no longer labor under the ill usion that it can manipulate events from across the border. If the Pakistanis have learned anything since 9/11, it should be that Afghanistan’s growing destabilization increasingly threatens their own society. Imagine for a moment that the Obama administration were to announce a withdrawal from Afghanistan in six months. The regional powers who know their own neighborhood far better than Washington would quickly come up with a formula and the troops to stabilize the failed state. If there is no constituency among these neighbors to “fix” Afghanistan, then the US can no more go it alone than could the Russians.

The resurgent Taliban may be unstoppable. The Bush administration was warned of that four years ago but spent most of its resources instead in Iraq. Still, accommodation with the Taliban, who are brutal and medieval, is not the same as capitulation to bin Laden. Recall that in the late 1990s, the Taliban was initially reluctant to have an Arab-led Islamist jihad waged from Afghanistan. The past seven years of US bombing and war in the countryside have sharply reminded the Taliban that they were better off without bin Laden as a guest. The Sudanese were persuaded of that more than a decade ago.

The idea of creating a secular national army in Afghanistan to fend off the20Taliban is not only tardy but smacks of the usual American mind-set of throwing money and advisers at a problem. The Afghan tribes speak Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, and Turkmen with some Baluchi, Pashai, and Nuristani thrown in for good measure. Which language is the Afghan Army going to fight in?

The real challenge to a new Afghan Army, however, is that it is not aflame with the Islamic cohesiveness that fires the Taliban. Until it is, it will be little more than a collection of uninspired, unmotivated militiamen more interested in collecting a monthly American paycheck than in creating a unified nation out of the ashes of 30 years of war.

It is still not clear what Obama thinks other than that, unlike George W. Bush, he says Afghanistan is more central to the war on terror than Iraq. On that he is correct. Washington and Kabul just agreed to a strategic review of the war. Whatever option Obama chooses, he must not risk the same mistake the Soviets made in underestimating the energized power of the Islamic faith. An enlarged American footprint in Afghanistan runs the risk of repeating Russia’s fatal miscalculations. War, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Obama must remember that it is intolerable in the eyes of Muslims to be subjugated and occupied by non-Muslims, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan. Western military occupation didn’t work for the Crusaders in the Levant, for Napoleon in Egypt, or for the British in Iraq. Obama needs to be mindful of this as he decides whether to expand a war in southwest Asia, a historic graveyard of empires.

• Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN.

Mumbai-Terror Strikes Dominate India’s Diplomatic Parleys

December 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2008-12-23T145504Z_01_DEL44_RTRMDNP_3_INDIA

NEW DELHI: Diplomatic impact of Mumbai terror strikes has not been confined to the West, particularly the United States. The last week was marked by the issue being discussed between India and visiting dignitaries from countries closer, geographically than the US. The Mumbai-issue dominated the press conference addressed by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh before concluding his India visit (December 19). During his visit, Akhoundzadeh held discussions with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. India and Iran discussed tragic Mumbai incident, deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Akhoundzadeh said at the press conference.

The two sides also discussed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project as Mumbai-attacks have raised India’s concern about its security.  “We have expressed readiness on part of our country to take forward the project, the sooner the better,” Akhoundzadeh said. “We are expecting a response from India and Pakistan,” he added. On whether Mumbai-case has had any negative impact on it, Akhoundzadeh said: “This century is a century of Asia, with Asian capacities flourishing. The growing need for Asia is to meet increasing demand for gas.” “We feel that there are attempts from foreign powers, who do not welcome this project, to torpedo it. We feel leadership in Asia should be vigilant to look into their future demands,” he said. Referring to Mumbai case, he said that terrorism “should not deter the will and determination” of Asian countries to move ahead with project.

On Iran’s stand regarding Pakistan-based terrorists being responsible for Mumbai-case, Akhoundzadeh said: “It does not matter from which place they are. They should be dealt with iron hand.” “Terrorists have no religion, no patriotic value. India and Pakistan have proved in past few years that they have maturity to deal with terrorist cases. We should be coolheaded.  Whoever is behind it (Mumbai-case), the leadership of both countries should not fall victims to designs of terrorists,” Akhoundzadeh said. He pointed to leaders in both countries having fallen victims to terrorists, including Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto.

“No genuine Islamic individual would dare to endorse terrorism,” Akhoundzadeh said when asked on Islamic States’ stand on terrorism.

To a question on whether Indo-Pak dispute on Kashmir was root cause of terrorism in the region, Akhoundzadeh said that “growing sense of insecurity” in Afghanistan could be linked with it. With those (United States) who had “promised stability and development” to Afghanistan having failed, the State “could be the breeding ground for more terrorism,” he said.

The brief visit of Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawai Bin Abdullah was the first from a Gulf country since the Mumbai attack. During his meeting with Mukherjee, Abdullah “expressed deep condolences at the loss of life in the Mumbai terror attacks and solidarity with the people of India” (December 16). Abdullah noted: “There can be no excuse for not dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism across the Indian border.” Abdullah’s visit followed the landmark visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Oman last month. Mukherjee expressed appreciation on the telephonic call made by Abdullah soon after the Mumbai attack. He also apprised Abdullah of the results of ongoing investigations, which clearly point to “complicity of elements in Pakistan.”

During the two-day meeting of India-Russia Joint Working Group on Combating International terrorism, the Russian side “strongly condemned” the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and “reiterated their solidarity to the government and people of India.” “Both sides underlined their shared concerns on the growing threat of cross-border terrorism and reaffirmed their commitment for strengthening bilateral cooperation against terrorism,” according to a joint statement released on the two-day meeting (December 17).

Vivek Katju, Special Secretary in External Affairs Ministry led the Indian side, while the Russian delegation was led by Anatoly Safonov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Crime.

During the talks held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust,” India and Russia described their “cooperation in combating terrorism” as an important part of their “strategic partnership.” Giving stress to importance of “international efforts to prevent and fight terrorism” including the United Nations’ Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, they “underlined the need for expeditious conclusion of negotiations leading to finalization of India sponsored Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly.”

India and Russia pointed out to “curbing financing of terrorism” as a “key component of counter terrorism strategy.” They also expressed concern at spread of narcotics in the region, which “directly threatens the security of both countries.” “They agreed on the need to further consolidate bilateral efforts for sharing information and expanding cooperation against drug-trafficking.” They noted the “growing threat of use of cyber-space by terrorists in their activities and the need to cooperate in this field,” according to the joint statement. They also agreed to “expand the exchange of information, experience and cooperation in the means of countering terrorism.”

The Mumbai-case was also raised during talks between Albania’s Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha and his Indian counterpart Mukherjee (December 19). Basha was the first foreign minister from Albania to visit India (December 17-20). Albania, Basha conveyed, fully shared India’s sense of outrage at the Mumbai attacks and considered terrorism as a common challenge for the international community.

11-1

Muslim Sprinter Wins Olympic Sprint Dressed Head to Toe in a Hijab

August 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS Sprinters have long been squeezing their muscular frames into the most eye-wateringly skimpy, tight and revealing costumes imaginable. But one female athlete at this year’s Olympics is bucking the trend for bulging lycra and naked torsos.

In 2004, Bahrain’s Ruqaya Al Ghasara took part in the Olympics wearing hijab.

Al Ghasara won her heat of the women’s 200m sprint at the Bird’s Nest stadium – despite being clothed head to foot. Al Ghasara finished first followed by France’s Muriel Hurtis-Houairi and Sri Lanka’s Susanthika Jayasinghe.

Admittedly, Al Ghasara ‘s hijab is a rather sportier version of the traditional dress. Clinging to her body as she powers down the track the hijab completely covers her head, arms and legs.

Known as a Hijood – or hijab combined with a sports hood – the costume was specially designed for Al Ghasara by an Australian sports clothing company. It allows Muslim athletes to compete while still adhering to the strict modesty required of their faith.

Al Ghasara, who was the Bahrain flag-bearer at last week’s opening ceremony, said the Hijood has improved her performance. ‘It’s great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture-controlled fabric,” she said.

‘It’s definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I’m sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing.
‘I hope that my wearing the hijood sports top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don’t have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports.’

In 2004 Al Ghasara defied objections from fundamentalists in her village to take part in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, running in the 100 metres.? And in 2006 she won the women’s 200m final at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, making her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win a major international athletics gold medal.

2008-08-22T060349Z_01_OLYTS603_RTRMDNP_3_OLYMPICS-ATHLETICS

Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain celebrates winning her women’s 200m heat of the athletics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium August 19, 2008. Behind Al-Gassra are Oludamola Osayomi (L) of Nigeria and Aleksandra Fedoriva of Russia.     

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

10-36

Did U.S., Israel Provocateur S. Ossetia Conflict?

August 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Does the Sun Come Up in the Morning?

Courtesy Kurt Nimmo, Infowars

August 9, 2008–Dead civilians in South Ossetia. But you will not hear much about it on CNN or Faux News. Because they are too busy reporting ad nauseam about the extramarital shenanigans of CFR darling John Edwards.

In order to find out what’s really going on in Georgia, you have to read the international press on the internet. Bush, McCain, and Obama may cast blame on Russia, but reading the international press you get a different perspective.

2008-08-09T155205Z_01_OSS16_RTRMDNP_3_GEORGIA-OSSETIA

Chechen special forces soldiers from Vostok (East) army unit sit atop of an APC (armoured personnel carrier) as they move toward the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, at the South Ossetian settlement Dzhava, August 9, 2008.

REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Gori    

Soldiers from the Ukraine, the United States, Georgia and Azerbaijan partake in “Peace Shield 2005” on the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.

Russia accuses U.S. of orchestrating conflict

“Russian officials believe that it was the USA that orchestrated the current conflict. The chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security, Vladimir Vasilyev, believes that the current conflict is South Ossetia is very reminiscent to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo,” reports Pravda, the Russian newspaper.

Recall the CIA admitting it “helped to train the Kosovo Liberation Army before Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia,” according to The Sunday Times. The KLA is a perfect outfit for the CIA. “Known for its extensive links to Albanian and European crime syndicates, the KLA was supported from the outset in the mid-1990s by the CIA and Germany’s intelligence agency, the Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND). In the course of the 1999 war, the KLA was supported directly by NATO,” writes Michel Chossudovsky. “The KLA had extensive links to Al Qaeda, which was also involved in military training. Mujahideen mercenaries from a number of countries integrated the ranks of the KLA, which was involved in terrorist activities as well as political assassinations.” Of course, “links to Al Qaeda” translate into links to the CIA.

“The things that were happening in Kosovo, the things that were happening in Iraq – we are now following the same path. The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America. South Ossetian defense officials used to make statements about imminent aggression from Georgia, but the latter denied everything, whereas the US Department of State released no comments on the matter. In essence, they have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals. They are responsible for this. The world community will learn about it,” Vasilyev told Pravda.

Indeed, the world will learn about it, but not by way of America’s corporate media, more interested in the entirely meaningless baby-making of Clay Aiken and Jaymes Foster. Bread and circuses shall suffice in America.

U.S. loads up Georgia with weapons to fight “al-Qaeda”

The Federation of American Scientists website reveals that Georgia is the most recent recipient of U.S. weapons and aid, receiving 10 UH-1H Huey helicopters (four for spare parts only) and $64 million in military aid and training to fight Arab soldiers with alleged ties to Al Qaeda that have been participating in the Chechen war and are now taking refuge in the Pankisi Gorge region in northern Georgia. Like many of the recent aid recipients, claims that Georgia has become an al Qaeda sanctuary are dubious at best.

“The rapid increase in US strategic influence in the Caucasus has alarmed Russian policy planners. Moscow is keen to take steps to shore up its eroding position in the region. However, Russian officials have limited options with which to counter US moves while at the same time maintaining cordial relations with Washington,” Eurasia.net reported on April 8, 2002. “The most prominent US moves in the Caucasus are the decision to dispatch military advisers to Georgia and a March 29 State Department announcement on the lifting of an arms embargo imposed on Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both actions have the potential to tilt the military establishments of all three Caucasus nations away from Russia and towards NATO.”

Imagine Canada decided to enter a military and diplomatic alliance with Russia and Canada began arming itself to the teeth with Russian weapons and training with Russian military advisers. Can you guess what the reaction of Bush and the neocons would be?

It doesn’t take much imagination.

Rose revolution

The Rose Revolution was not a simple uprising but was aided by the CIA and Ambassador Richard Miles

CIA engineered Georgia’s Rose Revolution

Of course, this al-Qaeda presence is not so dubious when one considers the well documented fact the supposed Islamic terror group is a CIA contrivance. As well, this absurd concern for al-Qaeda’s presence under Georgian beds helped make possible Georgia’s so-called Rose Revolution. “The Rose Revolution was not a simple uprising but was aided by the CIA and Ambassador Richard Miles (think Serbia). From early 2002 onwards the CIA had been operating in Georgia, supposedly to combat Al Qaeda,” explains researcher James Schneider.

It appears the CIA has worked behind the scenes for quite a while in Georgia. Back in 1993, for instance, CIA agent Fred Woodruff was assassinated by unknown assailants outside of Tbilisi. “Spokesmen for the State Department and the C.I.A. declined to confirm that Mr. Woodruff was working for the intelligence agency. But high-ranking Administration officials said he was, adding that he was not spying on Georgian officials but was training Mr. [Eduard] Shevardnadze’s security forces,” the New York Times reported at the time. So tight was the CIA with the former president of Georgia, they engineered the “bloodless” Rose Revolution and pitched him out on his ear.

In the wake of Georgia’s much vaunted — by the U.S. corporate media — “revolution,” the installed government of autocrat Mikheil Saakashvilli wasted little time imposing “democracy” neocon-style, resulting in violent suppression of opposition political rallies. “Georgia was rocked by opposition rallies for six days last November as protesters occupied central Tbilisi demanding Saakashvili’s resignation over allegations of corruption and increasing authoritarianism,” reported RIA Novosti. “The Georgian leader responded by sending in riot police to crack down on protesters on November 7. Over 500 people were injured according to Human Rights Watch as police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to break up the demonstrations.” In addition, Saakashvilli’s goons used “non-lethal” weapons of the sort developed by the Pentagon (see video).

U.S. military holds “exercises” in Georgia immediately prior to conflict

Last month, Aljazeera reported that “a total of around 1,650 soldiers form the US, Georgia and several other East European countries, have begun exercises on the formerly Russian-controlled Vaziani base, the Georgian defense ministry said.”

NowPublic reported on July 17:

US officials insist the long-planned wargames have nothing to do with the recent dispute between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But they give Washington a chance to support pro-west Tbilisi at a critical time.

If you believe this, I have a bridge for sale.

In fact, these “long-planned wargames” were so important the State Department packed up and shipped off Condi Rice to Georgia. Her arrival was nicely timed to coincide with “a deadly firefight between Georgian troops and separatists in a Russian-backed breakaway region…. Ahead of Rice’s arrival, a senior State Department official who did not want to be identified told reporters that unchecked conflict in the region could lead to catastrophe. The official also said Moscow should realize its Soviet empire is gone.”

Catastrophe, indeed, although Russia’s response to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia demonstrated Russia’s resolve to reclaim its supposedly evaporated empire.

Israel gets in on the act

Let’s not forget America’s junior partner in chaos and mass murder, Israel. “In addition to the spy drones, Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert based in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military,” reports the International Herald Tribune.

No wonder the horrific photos emerging from South Ossetia have that Lebanon invasion look about them. Israel has over fifty years of experience in invading small countries and has consistently specialized in murdering and tormenting civilians.

Blind eyes all around

As Lavrov explains it, the “Georgian administration has found the use to its arms, which they have been purchasing during the recent several years… We have repeatedly warned that the international community should not turn a blind eye on massive purchases of offensive arms, in which the Georgian administration has been involved during the recent two years.”

Unfortunately, the international community will likely “turn a blind eye” to the U.S. and Israel arming, training, and obviously orchestrating the current conflict, same as they by and large turned a blind eye to Israel’s criminal invasion of Lebanon back in 2005 and the U.S. invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. In regard to the latter, the “international community” — indeed, the whole of the American people — are so disorganized and demoralized they cannot address the simple fact the neocons lied a nation into war. Nixon was bounced for far less.

It looks like Russia will be obliged to deal with Georgia’s treachery on its own. Regrettably, Russia’s response will entail even more murder of innocents and wholesale destruction, as this is how government historically deals with threats – real, imagined, or provocateured.

10-34

Time to Sell?

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

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

“New Urgency” to Curb Iran

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

“New Urgency” to Curb Iran
By Christian Lowe
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it wanted to refrain from taking action before a U.N. deadline set for Tehran to halt uranium enrichment expired, but a top U.S. official believed other countries were inching toward action.
Tensions remained high, with oil prices hitting a new high above $73, partly driven by fears the dispute could disrupt shipments from the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter.
“What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing,” UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.
“Now we need to go beyond that and agree on the specifics of what measures we need to put that into operation,” he said.
He said Iran’s shock announcement last week that it had enriched uranium to a low level and planned to produce it on an industrial scale had focused the minds of the international community.
The US and its European allies say Tehran could divert highly enriched uranium to make bombs.
“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week … Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is a new development. We heard last night and again today that all of those that spoke are looking at sanctions,” Burns said.
In a surprise development, an Iranian delegation appeared later in the day in Moscow for talks with officials from the EU3—Britain, France and Germany—although one European official said he did not expect a “breakthrough.”
The Security Council on March 29 gave Iran a month to halt enrichment and answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear program.
Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council, say they are not convinced sanctions would work. U.S. officials had hoped to use the talks to persuade them to take a tougher line on Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some countries, including Russia, wanted to wait until the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on Iranian compliance on April 28 before acting.
“We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month,” Lavrov told reporters.
An Iranian delegation headed to Moscow for talks on the dispute, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told state radio.
He said officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council would “discuss possible solutions which could pave the way to reach a comprehensive understanding based on a recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear technology.”
Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use, but Russia said Tehran was not responding to international demands.
One diplomat from a country that opposes Iran’s nuclear work said Iran could suggest a “pause.”
“This is to prepare the ground for renewing negotiations with the Europeans,” the diplomat, said about the proposal. It was unclear how long the pause would be.
A senior EU3 diplomat said he would welcome Iran’s presentating such an initiative and halting their enrichment research. But it would have to be more than a brief technical pause in order for the Europeans to revive negotiations with Tehran.
Burns said Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran’s negotiating positions “a ruse.”
Market worries that the nuclear crisis might disrupt Iranian oil exports pushed oil above $73 a barrel, a fresh record.
Tuesday’s meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Germany, France and Britain underlined international differences over punitive action against Iran.
All the powers have said they are determined to solve the problem through diplomatic means, but the US is alone among them in not ruling out military action.
Pres. Bush plans to raise the issue during PM Hu Jintao’s visit.

« Previous Page