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Friday, July 30, 2010




Stratfor issues new security alert

Links of the week:

Stratfor issues new security alert: Escalating Violence From the Animal Liberation Front


PIMCO: Privates Eye

FT: Sow the seeds of long-term growth (by Jeffrey Sachs)

PIMCO's Bill Gross says that old fashioned Keynesian stimulus programs are bound to produce dwindling results as they are running into "the headwinds of a structural demographic downwave". The demographic winter steadily worsening across the developed world is eroding the consumer base. This basically piles over another trend recently debated by the Economist's panel of big firms and banks oversaving and hoarding cash.

In the US the fed has been on a money printing spree since the beginning of the crisis. Yet, this failed to produce any surge in inflation with persistent worries about a possible deflationary spiral and the whole thing increasingly looking like Japan's lost decades.
If the Bank of Japan says, “We're going to go for an inflation target,” then something has changed dramatically, because everybody knows that the Bank of Japan has no tools to achieve an inflation target with the monetary multiplier zero negative.

. . .

We actually tried all of this back in 2001 to 2006, right? And we increased to 30 trillion yen the reserves—that's 6 times the legal reserve requirement. So that means the money supply should have increased by 500 percent and we should have had a 500 percent inflation rate. And absolutely none of that happened.

And we see the same thing in the UK today, the same thing in the US today, a massive increase in liquidity which [Bank of England Governor] Mervyn King once said, “We’re not like the Japanese. We’ll do it quickly and in massive amounts and we’re going to get the money supply going.” But he's not saying that anymore. He's realized that it doesn't work.

Source: Who Controls Bank of Japan?
If Gross is right, then pumping consumers with cash is not going to do the trick just as QE has failed to do so through banks and companies. Instead, Gross argues, governments should move in and do the spending and investment by themselves. Here he calls on Sachs among others (You can google for Sachs article by cope pasting the title into Google if you don't have FT subscription. FT is open for searches from Google), who suggests an alternative to the current fiscal stimulus in the form of a long term investment recovery plan driven by the government's spending. Regardless of what one may think about the whole approach, it's obvious that these days even Keynesians have to consider the implications of a rapid descent into sub replacement fertility now spreading from the rich world into developing nations.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 12:22 AM

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last updated: July 25, 2010

February 24, 2007


First we take Manhattan...

First we take Manhattan...
then we take Kirkuk

Source: Iraki Kurds National Anthem

As the referendum on the future of Kirkuk is approaching the tensions are rising all around with Turkey rumored to be considering an invasion of the Iraqi Kurdistan. But if until now the Turks may have been deluding themselves about the potential impact of this decision they were quickly brought back to their senses when a local Kurdish politician Hilmi Aydogdu, leader of the Democratic Society Party's branch in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, threatened Turkey with consequences in no mean terms. AP reports:

"The two sides in this war would be Turkey and the Kurds in Iraq. There are some 20 million Kurds in Turkey, and the 20 million Kurds would regard such a war as an attack against them," newspapers quoted Aydogdu as saying.

"Any attack on Kirkuk would be considered an attack on Diyarbakir...

The oil rich Kirkuk was ethnic cleansed from Kurds under Saddam and resettled with Shia and Sunni Arabs. Now its Arab and Turkoman population is dwindling as the Kurds came back to retake the city. For the Sunni Arabs Kirkuk may prove to be of special importance as the Sunni provinces have little or no oil. Ethnic cleansed from Baghdad and Kirkuk and cut off from major Iraqi oil fields the Sunni Arabs may soon find themselves facing an uncertain future after having been jammed back into this landlocked strip of land devoid of any valuable natural resources which is the Sunni heartland.

The all three Kurdish provinces in Iraq are booming. The construction boom is reported to be in full swing all across the land. It's an indication to how well the things are going for the Iraqi Kurds that dozens of thousands of Arabs work as gastarbeiters on construction sites in Kurdistan. While Arab academics are assassinated or flee the country the number of students and universities in Kurdistan has doubled and tripled. And while in Mosul and elsewhere the Sunni insurgents destroy statues considering them unislamic, in Kurdish cities statues of national poets and historical figures are erected on main squares.

The rise of the Iraqi Kurdistan is all the more surprising given that all around them the Sunni insurgents laid waste to power grid and oil pipelines and transportation is under constant sabotage. One can only try to figure out the proportions the economic miracle of the Iraqi Kurdistan could take were the Sunni insurgents and Shia militiamen not to destroy the rest of the country. The Iraqi Kurdistan is a living reminder of the historic chance of gigantic proportions the Arab world missed after the US removed Saddam. Billions of dollars assigned by the congress for reconstruction projects coupled with the American technical expertise and Iraqi oil resources could have easily made the country the true gem of the Middle East.

On checkpoints across the land Peshmerga militiamen are checking entering cars. Only Arab families with children are allowed in. Single Arab males need work permits and a Kurdish sponsor to enter, a precaution against suicide bombers (Israelis, sounds familiar? NB). The Iraqi Kurds know how to protect themselves from the violent instability raging all around them. It's a moment of sweet revenge for the Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere to watch Arab gastarbeiters struggling with the Kurdish language (the Kurds were persecuted to the point that their language was occasionally outlawed). Any additional strengthening of the Iraqi Kurds de-facto independent state is worrying the Turks.

Turkish leaders are concerned that Iraq's Kurds want Kirkuk's oil revenues to fund a bid for independence that could encourage separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey who have been fighting for autonomy since 1984. The conflict has claimed the lives of 37,000 people.

Turkey has not ruled out military incursions into Iraq to hunt separatist Kurds, despite warnings from the U.S., which fears that such moves could lead to tensions with the Iraqi Kurdish groups allied with Washington.

Source

What neither the PKK nor the Turks themselves seem to notice is that Turkey has started developing lots of soft underbelly recently. And it's not only in the form of a flourishing tourist industry - an easy target for preying militants. The Turkey's hands are tied by all kinds of signed and implied understandings with the EU whose membership Turkey has been seeking for decades. As the country keeps modernizing and growing prosperous, its population should be expected to grow more violence averse and less ready to bear costs of attrition wars against violent insurgencies. Tough issues like the genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks at 1915 are raised to public consciousness threatening to soon undermine the morale of the Turkish public and its opposition to the self determination struggle of its minorities.

Turkish civil rights groups in protest over the assassination of a prominent Turkish Armenian journalist who compared Armenian massacres by Turks in 1915 to genocide.


(photo by Reuters)

While the Turks clearly prefer to fight the Kurdish separatism in Iraq rather than in Turkey itself, they are likely to discover that the things actually work all the way round and a Turkish intervention mission in Kirkuk may lead to confrontations deep inside the Turkish Kurdistan. This confrontation may not necessarily take the form of a violent insurgency but rather of a massive civil disobedience campaign. Yet under present circumstances it is precisely this kind of 'soft' insurgency that Turkey may find surprisingly difficult to fight back.

As the referendum on the future of Kirkuk is approaching the rulers from Syria to Turkey to Iran grow tense as they should do. This is because the Kurdish militancy is on the rise around the region. This is because in Kirkuk the Kurds are proving that they are not people who give up readily on what was taken from them.


July 25, 2010

Towards the beginning of the end

But now a growing number of Turks are questioning the merits of cohabiting with the country’s estimated 14m Kurds. Never mind that Istanbul is the world’s largest Kurdish city, or that few of the provinces claimed by the Kurds are ethnically homogenous. In television debates and across the blogosphere support for the idea that the Kurds should go their own way is growing. Onur Sahin, who heads the Chamber of Agriculture in the Black Sea province of Ordu, says his fellow producers no longer want seasonal migrant Kurds to harvest their hazelnut crops.

Source: Turkey and its rebel Kurds: An endless war | The Economist

If they can openly discuss splitting the country, then Turkey has evolved beyond a Middle Eastern country. It's a fact that probably even Erdogan can no longer change.


PS

"The Uncontainable Kurds" linked by Charles is no longer fully available on the New York Times. Those interested can read it in full here.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 2:18 PM

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Saturday, July 17, 2010




Links of the Week

The current edition of the Economist is packed with the Middle East. Some links:

For good or ill, change is coming to Egypt and Saudi Arabia soon. Thank you and goodbye.

When kings and princes grow old. The Saudi succession.

After Mubarak. This is the concluding article of their special report on Egypt. Links to all its articles are on the right side.



The Economist on the future of Europe

Now even the project’s greatest cheerleaders talk of a continent facing a “Bermuda triangle” of debt, demographic decline and lower growth.

As well as those chronic problems, the EU faces an acute crisis in its economic core, the 16 countries that use the single currency. Markets have lost faith that the euro zone’s economies, weaker or stronger, will one day converge thanks to the discipline of sharing a single currency, which denies uncompetitive stragglers the quick fix of devaluation.

Source: Staring into the abyss



Europe's demographic winter

Ecclectica: Dictatorship of the dying


The story of the Supreme Leader by IWPR
IWPR: The Cleric Who Changed


Robert Fisk on Israel and Armenian genocide
The Independent: Israel can no longer ignore the existence of the first Holocaust


The rich world and its debt bubble.

Stagnate, default, inflate—they all seem equally grim. The best solution for rich countries is to work off their debts through economic growth. That may be harder for some than for others, given that many countries’ workforces are set to level out or shrink as their populations age. It will be all the more important for such countries to pursue structural reforms that will increase productivity.

But outgrowing debt is not easy: the McKinsey study found that, out of 32 cases of deleveraging following a financial crisis that it examined, only one was driven by growth. America, which has a younger workforce than Europe or Japan, might still manage it. But for many other countries the hole they have dug for themselves may already be too deep.

The Economist: A special report on debt. This is a special report with more links to all its articles on the right side of the fourth paragraph. It's a must read.


Goblin Shark. Just when you thought you've seen them all...

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Proclaimed Nobody at 8:49 PM

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Friday, July 16, 2010




Why are we here??!!

George Carlin with some ideas on why we are here




From an interview with an entomologist by the New York Times this week:
Q. SO BIG BRAINS ARE NOT ALWAYS AN ADVANTAGE?

A. Bigger is better if you want to produce enormously complicated behavior. But in evolution, brains evolve by selection. There always is pressure on animals to produce behaviors for as little energy as possible. And that means for many animals, smaller brains are better because they won’t waste energy.

You know, there’s this pervasive idea in biology that I think is wrong. It goes: we humans are at the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree, and as you get up that tree, brain size must get bigger. But a fly is just as evolved as a human. It’s just evolved to a different niche.

In fact, in evolution there’s no drive towards bigger brains. It’s perfectly possible that under the right circumstances, you could get animals evolving small brains. Indeed, on some islands, where there’s reduced flora and fauna, you’ll see smaller versions of mainland species. I would argue that their brain size has been reduced because it saves energy, which permits them to survive in situations of scarcity. They also might not need big brains because they don’t have natural predators on the islands—and don’t have to be as smart because there’s nothing to avoid.

Q. SPEAKING OF ISLANDS, WHEN AN APELIKE FOSSIL WAS DISCOVERED ON THE INDONESIAN ISLAND OF FLORES IN 2003, A GREAT CONTROVERSY BROKE OUT AMONG ANTHROPOLOGISTS. SOME SAID THIS THREE-FOOT TALL SMALL- BRAINED CREATURE WAS A NEW SPECIES OF HOMINID — A HUMANLIKE PRIMATE. OTHERS CLAIMED IT WAS AN EARLY HUMAN WITH A BRAIN DEFORMITY. WHY DID YOU JUMP INTO THE FRAY?

A. Because I thought it was a hominid. This thing about its being a human ancestor with a diseased brain never made much sense. The people who insisted it was a deformed early human couldn’t believe that it was possible to have such a huge reduction in brain size in any hominid. Yet, it’s possible to get a reduction in brain size of island animals as long as the selection pressure is there. There’s nothing to stop this from happening, even among hominids.

Q. SO WHY WERE OTHER SCIENTISTS INSISTING THAT FLORES MAN WAS A DEFORMED HUMAN?

A. Because there’s this idea that nature moves inexorably towards bigger brains and some people find it very difficult to imagine why if you evolved a big brain — as ancient hominids had — why you would ever go back to a smaller one. But evolution doesn’t really care. This smaller brain could have helped this species survive better than an energy-consuming bigger one. The insects have shown us this.

Source: Insects as Model Animals

As a matter of fact, I suspect strong evolutionary pressures are still at work on our species to downsize our brains. For example, not a week goes by without me stumbling on some individuals who astonish me with how energy efficient they are. Anyway guys, if you thought that you are here to grow big brains, then you were wrong. The insects have shown us this.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 12:22 PM

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Suckers

The ultimate proof that the Yankees are stupid...
U.S., Russia Swap Agents

In the final chapter of a saga worthy of a spy novel, the U.S. and Russia apparently began one of the biggest prisoner swaps between the countries since the Cold War.

A U.S. flight believed to be carrying 10 deported Russian agents and a Russian plane believed to have four prisoners aboard landed in Vienna Friday, the Associated Press reported.

. . .

Source: Wall Street Journal


Anna Chapman was deported back to Russia on July 8, 2010


If these Yankees had some sense they would have been trading American agents for more Anna-Chapmans and not the other way round. Suckers!

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Proclaimed Nobody at 11:11 AM

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Saturday, July 10, 2010




Discovering Islam

The New York Times reporter from Yemen...
Beneath the familiar Arab iconography, like pictures of the president that hang in every shop, there is a wildness about the place, a feeling that things might come apart at any moment. A narcotic haze descends on Yemen every afternoon, as men stuff their mouths with glossy khat leaves until their cheeks bulge and their eyes glaze over. Police officers sit down and ignore their posts, a green dribble running down their chins. Taxi drivers get lost and drive in circles, babbling into their cellphones. But if not for the opiate of khat, some say, all of Yemen - not just those areas of the south and north already smoldering with discontent - would explode into rebellion.

. . .

Last year I expected to see at least a few government soldiers when I visited the ancient city of Shibam in Hadramawt, the vast eastern province where Osama bin Laden's father was born. A few months earlier, four South Korean tourists were blown up by a suicide bomber as they admired the view of Shibam from across the valley. I was a little nervous. "Don't worry," my guide said, patting my shoulder as we walked up to the ridge where the Koreans died. "Ever since the bombing they have put this place on high security." But when we got to the top of the ridge there was not a single soldier or policeman to be seen. We gazed out over the valley in silence. A sign stood nearby, showing a pair of binoculars and the words in English "Discover Islam." As we began to leave, my guide smiled broadly and gestured at the sign. "The Koreans - they discovered Islam," he said, giggling at his joke.

. . .

Source: Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?

ROFL

:D :D


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Proclaimed Nobody at 10:52 AM

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Sunday, July 4, 2010




Children say: This life has turned us into grownups

Since 1984, the Basij have run military training for middle and high school pupils, aged 11 upwards. Girls as well as boys are taught how to use Kalashnikov rifles.

Officially, the Basij recruiting drive in Iranian schools is to help build a 20-million-strong army, an idea conceived by the late Ayatollah Khomeini in the early years of the war with Iraq.

Twenty years after the end of the war, Basij and Revolutionay Guards commanders are still carrying out that order. But in reality, the Basij’s raison d’etre has shifted from external to domestic security, nurturing a generation of young people loyal to the regime, devoted to defending it, and equipped with all the skills they need to do so.

. . .

The term “soft threat” was coined by Supreme Leader Khamenei to describe what he saw as corrosive western influences designed to undermine the politics and Islamic culture of Iran.

IRGC commander Brigadier-General Mohammad Ali Jafari has made it clear that Khamenei has entrusted the Basij with the task of combating “soft threats” and “confronting those who would strike at the strong relationship between the Supreme Leader and the people”.

As part of this virtual war, the Basij has designed its own politically correct computer games.

“Devil Den”, launched in July 2009 by the Basij’s then overall commander Hossein Taeb, is based around a scenario where Iranian students on a pilgrimage to Karbala in Iraq are captured by American soldiers. The Americans turn them over to Israel, which plans to perform experiments on them so that they will mutate into Israeli soldiers. An escape attempt results in a pitched battle with Israeli soldiers, which the Iranians win before returning home.

. . .

The “One Way to Heaven” camp scheme is designed for underprivileged schoolchildren. Last year, 20,000 attended these camps and were taken to visit the holy city of Mashhad.

Source: Iran's teenage paramilitaries


The latest national report on population and education in Syria for 2008 showed the number of dropouts increasing and affecting girls more than boys. The proportion of children below 15 who do not attend school was around 22 per cent.

“The phenomenon of girls dropping out of school is alarming,” Sabah al-Hallak, a social worker and primary school teacher, said.

Hallak said one reason was that many poor families were marrying off their daughters at an early age to men from the Gulf.

Source: Syrian Schoolgirl Dropouts Rise

Say what you say, but children of the Persian Syrian axis mature really fast...

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Proclaimed Nobody at 2:33 PM

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Friday, July 2, 2010




Kurds, Turkeys and Flotillas

Last updated: July 1, 2010

Source: Izismile

June 21, 2010

Turkish PM says he has to delay his participation in the next Gaza peace flotilla which, he threatened, would be accompanied by Turkish military ships. And the reason given? Well, Erdogan has got some unfinished business at home... he needs first to drown Kurdish insurgents in their own blood.



June 30, 2010

Hundreds of Kurds fled their homes in remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan after their villages have been submitted to bombardment by Turkish and Iranian forces. With supplies running out, humanitarian flotillas urgently dispatched by Turkish and international peace activists are still making their way to the remote landlocked area which is largely out of reach of the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government.

Source: Babylon & Beyond (Los Angeles Times)

The current escalation follows a surge in cross border attacks unleashed by the PKK and its Persian subsidiary PEJAK against Turkey and Iran. The rapid succession of humanitarian disasters in the region is threatening to stretch the world's ability to launch relief flotillas to the breaking point. Lebanon is already struggling to mount her own relief operation originally envisioned as two ships heavily loaded with humanitarian supplies and Haifa Wehbe. From the beginning the Lebanese authorities have been vacillating between sending the flotilla to Gaza and delivering relief supplies over land to Ain Al-Hilwe, the biggest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, where 70,000 Palestinians, surrounded by the Lebanese army and barbed wire, are vying for a new Guinness record in population density (The camp's territory is exactly one square kilometer). Once the choice fell on Gaza, Haifa Wehbe has generously declared her participation canceled in order to boost the flotilla's storage capacity to allow it to include two huge bags full of silicon implants, a personal donation by the mega pop star to the starving population of Gaza.

Palestinian children in Ain Al-Hilwe are still waiting for Haifa Wehbe

Source: BBC

And while we are on the subject of flotillas, one of the main Kurdish opposition groups in Syria declared that the solution to the Kurdish issue would be to give Kurds the right to self-government. The statement has immediately produced a rift in the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change, a motley coalition of secular, Islamist and minority groups in opposition to the current regime. The fellow dissidents explained to their Kurdish colleagues that before the Kurdish minority, that accounts for about 10% of Syria's population, demands autonomy, it should show the world some skill in taming wild Turkeys. Well, this is actually what some Kurds have been practicing for years now.

The new paradigm of Kurdish Turkish relations




July 1, 2010

Haifa Wehbe, Whales and flotillas

Philip Ammerman inspired me to continue this post with the following email.

very nice!

Tell me...if a lady with huge silicon implants falls overboard the flotilla, won't she float more easily?

Given that the original plan has indeed envisioned Haifa Wehbe's participation in the Lebanese flotilla, I believe that it's only apt and of a good taste to finish this post by exploring the natural buoyancy of some large marine mammals. And the first to come to my mind is... the Bryda's whale. Imagine a giant piece of silicon violently tossed around by oceanic currents. Such is the fury of a 15 meter long Bryda's whale launching itself against a pack of helpless sardines. (The following videos are best watched in full screen and at the maximum quality)



Impressed? And yet, even Haifa Wehbe, with her surgically enhanced floating capabilities, is likely to find matching the humpback whale's grace and easiness of movement under water challenging. Never mind the bulky and awkward Bryda's whales. Like huge underwater birds the humpbacks are flying in the open sea, their songs reverberating hundreds of miles across the ocean. So here they come - the humpback whales, the true Haifa Wehbes of the deep sea.

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Proclaimed Nobody at 10:21 PM

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