Saturday, April 2, 2011

UN staff killed by Afghan mob enraged over Florida Quran burning

At least 20 UN staff members were killed in northern Afghanistan when a protest over a Quran burning overseen by pastor Terry Jones turned into a violent mob.

By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent / April 1, 2011 Article From Christian Science Monitor

The attack, which may be the deadliest assault on the UN in Afghanistan, grew out of a protest in response to news that US pastor Terry Jones oversaw a Quran burning on March 20. Mr. Jones drew worldwide criticism last year for threatening to burn Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11.

The UN is still assessing the scope of damage and determining the exact death toll at its offices in Mazir-e-Sharif, a typically quiet city in northern Afghanistan.

While the outburst of civilian violence aimed at the UN is rare, this attack seems to show that anger over the foreign presence in Afghanistan is coming to the surface.

“In general you can easily rally people around issues such as insulting the Koran and insulting the prophet," says Martine van Bijlert, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "But other than that I think there is also an increasing tension and annoyance with the international presence and so a demonstration like that does get mixed up with more general suspicions about the intentions of the internationals.”

Today's violence came after two or three hours of protests over the Florida Quran burning, which was broadcast online. Demonstrators started throwing stones at the UN compound then attempted to climb its walls and attacked guards. In addition to as many as 20 UN workers being killed, at least four protestors died. The UN’s chief of mission in the city was injured but survived the attack.

Afghanistan saw several protests when Mr. Jones previously planned to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 last year. The controversial pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., decided not to go through with it at the time, largely due to a phone call from top Afghanistan commander US Gen. David Petraeus, who warned that the defamation of the Quran would likely cost the lives of US service men and women Afghanistan.

Jones decided to go through with the burning on March 20 after serving as judge in a “trial” of the Muslim holy book. He found it “guilty” of “training and promoting terrorist activities ... death, rape, torture of people worldwide” and crimes against women and minorities.

A smaller demonstration with about 100 protestors also took place in front of the US Embassy in Kabul. Demonstrators called for US forces to leave Afghanistan. There were no reports of violence or injury.

Friday's attack may cause the UN to reconsider the extent of its presence here. After the 2009 attack against UN guesthouses in Kabul, the UN pulled 200 workers from Afghanistan and withdrew an additional 400 from field postings to safer urban locations.

Less than two weeks ago, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that Mazir-e-Sharif would be among the first seven areas to be transitioned to the control of Afghan security forces. The UN deaths could certainly generate high-level discussions about the transition scheduled for mid-July.

“If anything what this attack demonstrates is that it will be a long time before transition is possible,” says Candace Rondeaux, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Afghanistan. “If you can’t deal with a public demonstration and control it then how can you deal with a sophisticated insurgency that’s armed to the teeth?”

11 countries speaking out against Koran burning in Florida

More than 10 countries have now condemned a Florida pastor's plan to burn the Koran in commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of nine years ago. As noted in the Monitor article Why the planned Koran burning causes outrage and alarm, "Muslims see it as the uninterrupted, unchangeable, and eternal word of God. Burning the Koran is akin to directly burning the word of God." Here is what leaders are saying worldwide.
- Stephen Kurczy, Staff writer From The Christian Science Monitor

1. India

The Indian government on Thursday condemned the Florida church pastor's plan to burn the Koran, reported the Indian Express.

"We condemn the action of the pastor. It is totally unbecoming of anyone who claims to be a man of religion. We hope that the US authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed," said Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Sept. 9.

"While we await the action of the US authorities, we would appeal to the media in India – both print and visual media – to refrain from telecasting visuals or publishing photographs of the deplorable act," Chidambaram said in a statement.

About 13.4 percent of the Indian population, or 155 million people, is Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.

2. Indonesia

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a personal appeal to President Obama to step in and prevent the Koran burning.

"Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam. If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts will be useless," Mr. Yudhoyono wrote in a letter to Obama, according to Agence France-Presse.

His spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told reporters "there is a deep concern over the planned Koran burning ceremony as it could spark conflict among religions."

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and approximately 86.1 percent of the 230 million population practices Islam, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The Telegraph reported today that the personal appeal from Indonesia will put Obama, who spent four of his childhood years living in Jakarta, "under intense pressure to ban the Koran burning in order to prevent a violent backlash across the Islamic world."

3. Bahrain

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued a statement that called the Florida Koran burning a "shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence."

The Associated Press reported that the Sept. 9 denouncement is among the first official denunciations in the Arab world against the planned torching of the Koran by the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Fla.

Bahrain, meanwhile, came under fire from Amnesty International on the same day for blocking freedom of expression.

The country is more than 80 percent Muslim according to the the CIA World Factbook.

4. Pakistan

Pakistan's president has called the proposal to burn the Koran "despicable," while Pakistan's ambassador to the United States has called on conservative radio host Glenn Beck to condemn the burning as a signal of religious tolerance.

President Asif Ali Zardari said "anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul," according to a statement released today and quoted by Agence France-Presse.

"It will inflame sentiments among Muslims throughout the world and cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace. ... The President called for doing all that it takes to stop such a senseless and outrageous act," the statement said.

Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani on Wednesday told the Associated Press that "the United States should live up to its high ideals and all these people who are against religious extremism and intolerance in the Muslim world should also speak up against meaningless gestures such as burning the Quran," said Haqqani.

"I think it would help if Mr. Glenn Beck came out against it, and said that people of faith do not burn the books of people of other faith," Husain Haqqani told AP. The radio host and TV personality has said that burning the Koran is like burning the flag or the Bible.

About 142 million Pakistanis, or 95 percent of the population, practice Islam, according to the CIA World Factbook.

5. Britain

Past and present British leaders have condemned the Florida pastor's plan.

The spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said today that "primarily this is an issue for the US, but clearly the government's view is that we would not condone the burning of any book. ... We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious tolerance," the spokesman said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Parliamentarian Greg Mulholland tabled a motion in the House of Commons that "calls on the Government to express its condemnation of the event and support any actions taken by the American administration in reaction to the event and help to prevent a potential violent backlash for troops in Afghanistan,” according to The Telegraph.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has also come out against the proposed event.

"I deplore the act of burning the Koran. It is disrespectful, wrong and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none," Mr. Blair said, according to Agence France-Presse.

"You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam. Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it."

About 1.3 million people practice Islam in the United Kingdom, according to the CIA World Factbook.

6. Canada

“I unequivocally condemn it,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said of the proposed Koran burning in Florida. “We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.”

“I don't speak very often about my own religion, but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that's what we want to see in this world,” he said, according to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. "I don't think that's the way you treat other faiths, as different as those faiths may be from your own."

Canada's defense minister has also warned that the Florida event could harm NATO troops fighting abroad.

"It will incite further violence and hatred and I'm concerned that this will put Canadians and other ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers in harm's way," Defense Minister Peter MacKay said in an interview with public broadcaster CBC, according to Agence France-Presse.

More than half a million people are Muslim in Canada, according to the CIA World Factbook.

7. Malaysia

“That is the most heinous crime and action, it's unthinkable," Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said of the proposed Koran burning event.

"There is no doubt whatsoever that it is an attack on Muslims. It will not only anger the Muslims in Malaysia and throughout the world – Christians also don't condone this kind of action," Mr. Aman told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, according to Agence France-Presse.

"I believe America will take appropriate action so this thing will not happen."

Numerous political parties in Malaysia, which has a Muslim majority of about 15.5 million, have also spoken out against the Florida pastor's initiative.

8. Lebanon

"The president condemns the announcement of a religious group in the United States of its intention to openly burn copies of the Koran," Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said in a statement, according to daily newspaper Arab News.

“It is a clear contradiction of the teachings of the three Abrahamic religions and of dialogue among the three faiths [Christianity, Islam and Judaism],” said the leader of Lebanon, whose 4 million population is about 60 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Amr Moussa, chief of the 22-nation Arab League that includes Lebanon, called the American pastor a “fanatic” and urged Americans to oppose his “destructive approach,” according to Arab News.

Mr. Moussa, who heads the Cairo-based body, said: “We want to see the reaction of the educated in the United States against this fanatic’s destructive approach."

9. Germany

As in the United States, Germany's political and military leaders have spoken out strongly.

“If a fundamentalist, evangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Koran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech Wednesday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Brig. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, the commander of German troops in Afghanistan, also condemned the action.

“I only wish this wouldn't happen, because it would provide a trigger for violence towards all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan," he said, according to The Telegraph.

Germany has more than 3 million practicing Muslims, according to the CIA World Factbook.

It also has a small band of Christians with a particular connection to Rev. Terry Jones: he used to be their pastor, until they kicked him out last year. An unnamed church member told Germany's largest news magazine, Der Spiegel, that he created a "climate of fear and control" in the Cologne-based congregation.

10. Vatican City

The Vatican has called the Koran burning an "outrageous and grave" response to the attacks of 9/11.

"These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community," the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious

Affairs said in a statement Wednesday through the Holy See Press Office.

"Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

The Vatican, which is technically the world's smallest country, has a population of just over 800 people, presumably all Roman Catholics. Protestant Christians also condemned planned the Florida event. In America, the 45,000-church National Association of Evangelicals and 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention both criticized it.

"Book burning is a cowardly act by those afraid that their beliefs aren't strong enough to attract people if they are allowed a choice," said prominent megachurch evangelist Rick Warren, according to The Tennessean.

11. Kuwait

"This bizarre plan ... undermines our faith ... is a flagrant insult to the feelings of Muslims worldwide and would ruin efforts to preach understanding amongst faiths," said a foreign ministry official cited by KUNA news agency.

According to Agence France-Presse, the unnamed official said Kuwait has asked its ambassador in Washington and envoy to the United Nations to coordinate with Arab and Muslim envoys to ensure that the “tolerant Islamic faith is respected.”

The statement came after Kuwaiti parliamentarians of various groups expressed outrage at the Koran burning plan.

The head of the Christian churches league in Kuwait, pastor Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, also condemned the plan in a statement and stressed it does not represent Christ's teachings of tolerance.

Kuwait's 2.7 million population is 85 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Gambling in Japan

On the Edge


The great kabuki actor Mitsugoro Bando VIII was a fan of fugu, or blowfish. Fugu is a rather bland, unremarkable fish except for one thing: its internal organs, particularly the liver, are highly toxic. Japanese chefs have to acquire a special certificate to prove that they know how to remove all traces of toxin before preparing the dish. Nevertheless, a couple of people die every year from eating it, which givesthe fish an exotic reputation. Diners enjoy the slight tingle that fugu sushi imparts to the tongue and lips. Bando, however, wasn't satisfied with this slight tingle. A daredevil eater, he relished bowls of soup made from fugu liver and in this way built up a certain resistance to the toxin. But on January 16, 1975, Bando ate not only one bowl of this liver soup for dinner but also the three bowls that his friend wisely declined. That night he suffered respiratory failure and died.

On the outside, Japan appears to be a clean, well-ordered place. The Japanese are, stereotypically, risk-averse. According to the Japanese adage, deru kugi wa utareru: the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. This apparent preference for order and conformity helps explain the patience with which the Japanese have responded to the triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami, and the partial meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear facility — that has afflicted the country. There's probably been more panic in California as people buy up potassium iodide pills out of fear of contracting thyroid cancer from radiation drifting over the Pacific.

Beneath this façade of conformity, however, lies a more interesting reality. Like Mitsugoro Bando VIII, the Japanese have become almost inured to calamity. They've accepted — and in some cases courted — extraordinarily risky behavior.

Consider Japan's dependence on nuclear energy. No other country in the world has had a direct experience of nuclear attack. And few other countries sit atop such seismically active tectonic plates. Yet, even as earthquakes repeatedly struck the island and hundreds of thousands of hibakusha struggled with the after-effects of radiation exposure from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Japan embarked on a massive nuclear energy program. It built 54 nuclear reactors, which generated nearly 30 percent of its electricity needs. The government planned to increase the share provided by nuclear energy to 40 percent by 2017 and 50 percent by 2030.

The reasons for this dependency were clear. Japan built a world-class economy, with huge manufacturing capacity, on an island with few natural resources and almost no indigenous supplies of energy. The country was heavily dependent on oil and natural gas imports. More recently, the government rationalized the expansion of the nuclear industry by claiming that it would reduce the country's carbon footprint. Japanese leaders consistently sold nuclear power as a safe alternative to fossil fuels.

But nuclear power was only as safe as the government claimed because the country's leading electrical utilities were lying all along. In 2002, Tokyo Electric admitted to falsifying repair reports at its nuclear facilities for two decades. Then, in 2007, it confessed again that it continued to conceal what had been going on, including six emergency stoppages at the Dai-ichi nuclear power station in Fukushima and a seven-hour-long "critical" reaction at Unit 3, one of its six reactors.

In 1997 and 1999, accidents at the reprocessing plant at Tokaimura exposed dozens of workers to radiation. Two workers died after the 1999 incident. In 2004, at the Mihama nuclear plant, steam released from a broken pipe that hadn't been checked once during its 28 years of operation killed five workers.
But perhaps worst of all, the Japanese government knowingly constructed structurally inadequate nuclear facilities. The world's largest nuclear facility, the Kashiwazaki Kariwa, sits on a fault line that generates three times the seismic activity it can withstand. Dai-ichi could withstand only a 5.7-meter tsunami, not the 7-meter wave that eventually overwhelmed it. The regulators should have known how high earthquake-generated waves could rise at that stretch of coast. In other words, Japan's nuclear facilities have always been ticking time bombs.

Embracing nuclear power isn't Japan's only risky behavior. For years, the Japanese government has boasted of a "peace constitution" that restricts the country to a defense-only posture. But this constitution hasn't prevented Japan from amassing one of the world's most powerful militaries, confronting China and Korea over disputed islands, cooperating with the United States on a missile defense system that destabilizes the region, and playing host to dozens of U.S. military bases that endanger human lives and the surrounding environment. (Even now, in the middle of a huge humanitarian crisis, the Japanese government has been building a $600,000 wall in Okinawa near where the United States wants to construct a new military base over the objections of the locals. "The United States should get out of Okinawa and hand over all those big bases to the tsunami's survivors," one elderly resident told Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Jon Mitchell in Postcard from…Henoko. "They're the ones who really need housing right now.")

Then there's Japan's economic behavior. It's common to talk about how risk-averse Japanese citizens are by noting that they kept much of their savings in post office accounts that were secure but paid virtually no interest. The Japanese government, on the other hand, wasn't so careful. Twenty-five years ago, the Japanese government and financial sector anticipated the current economic crisis by creating a bubble economy marked by unbridled speculation, unparalleled greed, and unbelievable corruption. Financial deregulation led to skyrocketing land values: at one point the land occupied by the Imperial Palace in the middle of Tokyo was reportedly worth the entire country of France. Japan has never really recovered from the pricking of this speculative bubble.

Meanwhile, during the current humanitarian crisis, Tokyo has taken unacceptable risks with those most vulnerable to the effects of radiation, argues FPIF contributor Alexis Dudden. "The Japanese government, in its effort to reassure the population, has in fact placed more people at greater risk, particularly children," she writes in Little Silver Riding Hoods. "In an era when Japan's greatest challenge is its declining population, the government should go to greater lengths to safeguard this future."

Is there somehow a contradiction between the stereotypical conformity of the average Japanese and this tendency to court disaster in the economic, military, energy, and humanitarian sectors?

When I lived in Japan in the late 1990s, it wasn't uncommon late at night to come upon office workers passed out on the street, vomiting in alleyways, or being carried home by their equally inebriated colleagues. Excessive drinking after work was part of the salaryman culture. Indeed, it could be awkward for a businessman to demur from such rituals. When such behavior becomes the norm, then engaging in risky activities becomes just another way of conforming.

Of course, it's only a sector of Japanese society that drinks to excess. Just as it's only a sector of the society that constructs nuclear plants on active fault lines, builds up a powerful and potentially aggressive military machine in a region that is still deeply suspicious of how Japan uses its power, and deregulates the economy to create a kind of pachinko capitalism that rewards the few and impoverishes the many. In this sense, an oligarchy of gamblers holds sway over the majority of cautious Japanese.

This is no time to blame the victims. The earthquake and tsunami and nuclear meltdown were all tragic surprises. But thanks to risk-takers who have taken to nuclear energy and military weaponry much as Mitsugoro Bando VIII took to fugu, Japan has been on the edge for some time now.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and writes its regular World Beat column, where this article originally appeared

Now Greenspan Wants to Take It All Back

March 31, 2011

No Flaw in His Model ... Old Time Religion Was Right After All


It all seems so long ago! On October 23, 2008, Alan Greenspan issued a mea culpa for his deregulatory policy as Federal Reserve Chairman. “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year.”

For a moment he seemed to be rethinking his lifelong assumption that the financial sector would seek to protect its reputation by behaving so honestly that its customers would gain from dealing with it. For years he had claimed that regulation was not needed because bankers would seek to protect their reputations and their “counter-parties” would look to their own interest.

 “Were you wrong?” Congressman Henry Waxman prompted him to elaborate.

 “Partially,” the Maestro replied. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organizations, specifically banks, is such that they were best capable of protecting shareholders and equity in the firms.” 

However, he admitted, “I discovered a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works. I had been going for 40 years with considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

But the past two or three years have evidently given Greenspan enough time for a re-think. In yesterday’s Financial Times (March 30, 2011) he returns to his old well-paying job, proselytizing for deregulation. His op-ed, “Dodd-Frank fails to meet test of our times,” is a Mea Culpa The Sequel to his co-religionists for his 2008 apostate Mea Culpa. “The US regulatory agencies will in the coming months be bedevilled by unanticipated adverse outcomes,” he warns,as they translate the Dodd-Frank Act’s broad set of principles into a couple of hundred detailed regulations.” The Act “may create … regulatory-induced market distortion,” because neither lawmakers nor “most regulators” understand how “complex” the financial system is.

But if Wall Street’s collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and other derivatives are too complex for regulators to understand, they must be too complex for buyers and other counterparties to evaluate. This would seem to negate a key logical assumption of free market theory. Without “full knowledge of the market,” and of the consequences of one’s action, one cannot make an informed choice. So on logical grounds, regulators would seem to be following orthodox free market theory in rejecting derivatives and other such “complex” products.

Not so in Greenspan’s world. He does not acknowledge that Wall Street has been so adept at translating its wealth into political power that it only approves regulators who do not understand complexity. That is a precondition for deregulators such as Greenspan.

It all depends on what the word “complex” means. His argument sounds like priests or nuns answering a parochial school pupil’s question about how God can let so many bad things happen here on earth by simply saying, “God is too large for you to understand. Just believe.” Greenspan claims that nobody has sufficient skills to be “entrusted with forecasting, and presumably preventing, all undesirable repercussions that might happen to a market when its regulatory conditions are importantly altered.” Just look at the Bush Administration’s happy-face appointees at the FDIC and IMF who expressed faith that risks were declining in 2007-08. “Regulators were caught ‘flat-footed’ by a breakdown we had erroneously thought was more than adequately reserved against.”

 When Greenspan says “we,” he means the useful idiots that Wall Street insists on, while blackballing whomever is not a suitably true believer in the deregulatory kool-aid being doled out by Greenspan’s co-religionists on behalf of their financial god too complex for mortals to know. “The problem is that regulators, and for that matter everyone else, can never get more than a glimpse at the internal workings of the simplest of modern financial systems.” But the “regulators who never got more than glimpse” were headed by Bubblemeister Greenspan himself. He bears his failure to “more than glimpse” like a badge of honor.

So it seems that only the bankers know what they’re selling, not their customers or the regulators. But you must trust Wall Street to do the right thing. If bankers do not make money for their customers, they will lose their trust. Why would bankers and financial institutions act in such a way as to profiteer at their customers’ expense (and that of the overall economy for that matter)?

The reason, of course, is that the financial sector notoriously lives in the short run. Countrywide Financial, Lehman Brothers, WaMu, Bear Stearns, A.I.G. et al. gave their managers enormous salaries and even more enormous bonuses to turn themselves into a new power elite, creating fortunes that will endow their heirs for a century.

Someone is winning from all this complexity. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has just published statistics showing that the wealthiest 1 per cent of America’s population doubled its share of wealth over the decade ending in 2007, when the bubble reached its peak. No doubt this polarization has widened as the economy shrinks under the weight of its debt overhead. But with regard to criticisms of the fact that bankers have used TARP and other bailout money simply to maintain “the outsized (to some, egregious) bankers’ pay packages,” Greenspan points out that “small differences in the skill level of senior bankers tend to translate into large differences in the bank’s bottom line.” Skill is expensive, and they are only being paid for their talents and expertise.

What amazes me about mismanagers like Countrywide’s chairman Mozilo and his counterparts is that when the S.E.C., F.B.I. and state attorneys general open a investigation to see whether to charge them with criminal felonies, they all insist that they were out of the loop, had no idea of what was going on, and profess to be “shocked, shocked, to find out that there’s gambling going on in this place.”

If they are so unknowledgeable to be even more stupid than the regulators and economist who warned about what was happening, how can they insist that they are worth whatever they can grab? For that matter, how did they manage to swap jail terms for getting to keep their tens of millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses? This is the real question that “free market” economists should be asking. Most Wall Street firms have paid substantial settlements, and Mozilo recently paid the Securities and Exchange Commission $67.5 million to avoid going to trial for civil fraud and insider dealing.

So in all this mess that has led to a $13 trillion government bailout, only Martha Stewart became an insider jailbird. For Wall Street, paying a civil fine “without acknowledging wrongdoing” blocks victims from recovering civil damages in the event that they try to sue to get their money back. Evidently the Obama Administration believes that to make the banks pay would simply require yet further bailouts of “taxpayer money.” So by refraining from prosecuting, Geithner at the Treasury and other regulators can claim to be saving taxpayers – by permitting the large banks to have grown 20 per cent larger today than they were when the bailouts began!

But Greenspan argues that the economy would be even poorer under financial regulation. “One of the [Dodd-Frank] law’s provisions,” he criticizes, “made credit-rating organizations legally liable for their opinions about risks.” But to avoid killing business with such regulation, “the Securities and Exchange Commission in effect suspended the need for a credit rating.” To make the ratings agencies responsible for the tens of billions of dollars lost as a result of their pasting AAA ratings on junk mortgages would cut down their business.

 It is as if fraud is simply part of the free market. In this respect, I find his Financial Times article even more damning than his October 2008 Congressional testimony.

To show how thoroughly he has been cured from his temporary apostasy from free market religion, Greenspan belittles the fact that: “In December, the Federal Reserve … proposed to reduce banks’ share of debit card fees associated with retail transactions, leading many lenders to contend they would no longer be able to afford to issue debit cards.”

 Can there be a better logic to promote the “public option” and have the Treasury issue credit cards as well as debt cards? The rake-off charged by banks from sellers and buyers alike (not to mention late fees that yield the card companies even more than their interest charges these days) has been a major factor eating into retail profits and personal incomes.

The banks are arguing, in effect: “If we can’t earn back enough profits to cover the losses we’ve made on our junk loans, we’ll organize our own lockout of customers – to force you to pay whatever we demand to cover our costs, pay our salaries and bonuses.”

So why not let the government say, “OK, we’ll provide a public-option alternative. And if this works, we’ll use it as a model for our public health insurance option.”

 Greenspan responds that if banks are regulated to reduce the risk they pose to the economy, they may simply pack up and take their dealings to London: “concerns are growing that without immediate exemption from Dodd-Frank, a significant proportion of the foreign exchange derivatives market would leave the US.” My own response is to say fine, let them leave. Let Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and bank regulators pick up the pieces from their next opaque gamble “too complex” to understand.

  Most slippery in Greenspan’s op-ed is his attempt to divert attention away from the instability that financial deregulation has caused – the vast polarization of wealth, the enormous mushrooming of debt beyond the ability to pay, the massive impoverishment of the economy as a result of its debt overhead, as if all this were stability? Don’t look there, he says; look at how “the global ‘invisible hand’ has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.” But real estate prices have not been stable – they have been inflated with debt, and then crashed the net worth of hapless borrowers. 

Commodity prices are not stable, especially not that of Greenspan’s beloved gold bullion.

Nevertheless, Greenspan concludes, there can be no such thing as a science of regulation. “Financial market behavior is subject to so wide a variety of ‘explanations,’ especially in contrast to the physical sciences where cause and effect is much more soundly grounded.” But what sets the physical sciences apart from junk economics is the fact that it is not directly self-interested. There are no huge financial rewards for having a blind spot (except of course for scientists denying that nuclear power might be dangerous or deep-water oil drilling a risky proposition). There is method in the madness of today’s free market orthodoxy opting for GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) financial models that sing along with maestro Greenspan that Wall Street wealth will all trickle down.

“Is the answer to complex modern-day finance that we return to the simpler banking practices of a half century ago?” he asks rhetorically “By “simpler” banking practices of days of yore, he really means more honest practices, subject to knowledgeable public regulation. It was a world where banks held onto the mortgages they made rather than flipping them to third parties without any responsibility for truth in lending – or in selling, for that matter. “That may not be possible if we wish to maintain today’s levels of productivity and standards of living.”

“In moving forward with regulatory repair, we may have to address the as yet unproved tie between the degree of financial complexity and higher standards of living,” Greenspan suggests. But his response is that wealth at the top is the price to be paid for rising living standards. But they are not rising – they are falling! Bankers have not turned out to be job creators. They are debt creators, and debt deflation is what is pushing the economy into depression, raising unemployment and driving housing prices further and further down.

So it sounds like Greenspan today would do just what he did years ago, and reject the warning by Fed governor Ed Gramlich urging the Fed to regulate the soaring financial fraud. His mantra is still that the invisible hand is too complex to regulate.

For further commentary on his remarkable “I take it all back” op-ed, I recommend the excellent column of Yves Smith, “OMG, Greenspan Claims Financial Rent Seeking Promotes Prosperity!” Naked Capitalism, March 30, 2011.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy. He can be reached via his website,
*This article is from Counter Punch

Medicinal Flowers on Verge of Extinction

2011-04-01 11:3 From NTD Television

These Rhododendron flowers growing on the Himalayan hills are used for domestic and medicinal purposes. But due to growing urbanization, these flowers are on the verge of extinction.

[Jeet Ram, Local]:
"We pick these rhododendron flowers for domestic uses like making juice and chutney, and for other medicinal purpose. Other people come and pick the plants for commercial use. They are almost extinct. Once picked, they dry up very soon.”

Environmentalists are also worried over the sharp dip in the numbers of the red blooms.

They say expansion of cities and urbanization has led to commercial use of the mountain flowers.

[Prem Sagar, Environmentalist]:
"The people who are plucking it for the commercial use, they are not licensed. And the part of seed, which is supposed to come out from the petals and out of the ripeness of the flowers, we are not giving any proper time to get it ripe and to let it come on the ground, pick them and collect them and then to sell it.”

Rhododendron trees are found in the area of Dhauladhar range of mountains of Himachal Pradesh, and the adjoining area of northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Radiation Rises in Seawater Near Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Plant

2011-03-31 11:43 

From NTD Television

The levels of radioactive iodine found in seawater near Japan's stricken nuclear power plant rose further on Thursday.

[Hidehiko Nishiyama, Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency]:
"Today's levels measured 330 meters (1082 feet) away from the water evacuation section of reactors No. 1 through 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, were again a little higher by 4,385 times (the legal limit)."

The level was the highest recorded since the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant began.

This does not present a health risk because nearby residents had already been evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the complex that extends out to sea.

In addition to the radiation found in seawater, the International Atomic Energy Agency says radiation measured at the village of Iitate located about 25 miles from the plant, exceeded a criterion for evacuation.

Japan's top government spokesman says they have yet to expand the exclusion zone.

[Yukio Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary]:
"If there is a possibility, or if the situation starts to look like, for an extended period of time, there is a level (of radiation/radioactive fallout) that will affect human beings we will need to consider an evacuation."

Japan has ordered those within a 12-mile radius from the plant to leave. It is encouraging those living in a 12-18 mile ring to do the same, or to stay indoors.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Babies Scanned for Radiation in Japan

From NTD Television

2011-04-01 12:19

 She's barely bigger than the Geiger counter that's scanning her.

Rio Nagashima was born four days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Her mother, like most parents at this screening center, isn't taking any chances with possible radiation leaks.

[Misato Nagashima, Mother of Rio]:
"I am so scared about radiation in the water. As the situation continues, I get more worried."

[Seven-Year-Old Juri Ito]:
"At first I thought it might be scary, but in the end it was fun."

Work has been ongoing to fix the radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

More than 70-thousand people have been evacuated so far, and officials say that's not likely to change any time soon.

Now three weeks on, the far-reaching effects of the nuclear disaster are still being felt.

In Taiwan, low levels of radioactive iodine found in the air have prompted officials there to test Japanese food imports.

But none of the levels found so far pose any health risk.

Widely Used in Europe... Natural Sedative Restores Youthful Sleep

From Life Extension 
By Robert Haas, MS

If you find yourself routinely struggling to fall asleep—or to stay asleep—you’re not alone. A staggering 30% of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia,1 while approximately 60 million experience problems falling asleep in a given year.2

In addition to its adverse impact on mood and quality of life, chronic insomnia can increase one’s risk for most degenerative diseases.3-10

In the search for natural ways to combat this health threat, researchers have isolated a set of nutritional compounds called bioactive milk peptides that promote sustained and restful sleep patterns while inducing a state of relaxation.

Bioactive Milk Peptides: A Natural Sedative?

For generations, mothers have given their children a warm glass of milk before bed as a way to help them fall asleep. As far back as 1934, this home remedy gained scientific validation when it was observed that people who ate milk and cornflakes were more likely to enjoy a full night of uninterrupted sleep.11

In 1997, pediatric researchers added to the evidence by demonstrating that newborns given an infant formula containing milk fell asleep not solely due to nursing and being held, but owing specifically to something in milk itself.12

In 2000,13 researchers identified what that “something” was. It turns out that nutrients found in cow’s milk called bioactive peptides (chains of amino acids) exert a sedative effect on the brain and induce sustained sleep patterns.

These bioactive milk peptides have since been shown to act on the brain’s GABA-A receptors,14 the same mechanism of action that makes the class of sedatives known as benzodiazepines so effective.15

The advantage of milk peptides, of course, is that they induce relaxation and sleep without the side effects associated with long-term benzodiazepine use.

In pre-clinical models, milk peptides15,16 markedly reduce anxiety and improve sleep in animals subjected to chronic stress.17

In human studies, a proprietary bioactive milk peptide compound used widely in Europe has been shown to effectively induce relaxation, leading not only to deeper, more restorative sleep, but also to substantial improvements across a wide range of stress markers.

Bioactive Milk Peptides: Reducing Stress, Restoring Sleep

When given this proprietary bioactive milk peptide compound, aging individuals suffering from stress-related symptoms and chronic insomnia consistently exhibit substantial reductions in biomarkers associated with the stress response. These stress response biomarkers include elevated cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure, along with physical and psychological symptoms.
Bioactive Milk Peptides: Reducing Stress, Restoring Sleep

In a number of especially noteworthy published studies, the improvements in stress-related markers proved to be both significant and system-wide.
For example, a group of over 60 women suffering from a constellation of stress-related problems was given 150 mg per day of this bioactive milk peptide compound.18 Before treatment, they suffered from a broad range of symptoms, including digestive, cardiovascular, pulmonary, emotional, cognitive, and social disorders.

Compared to controls, after just 30 days, significant improvements were observed for the milk peptide group in symptoms related to digestion (65.6% improvement—21% greater improvement than the placebo group), cognitive function (62.5% improvement—16.3% over placebo), cardiovascular function (48.9%—9.9% over placebo) and social difficulty (40.2%—9.7% greater than placebo).18

Interestingly, for those women exhibiting symptoms of the highest intensity at the outset of the study, the 30-day improvements were dramatic:18

As evidenced in the table below, compared to the placebo group, these women saw their stress-related conditions slashed across the board, with improvement almost 30% higher in some symptom categories.18 Similarly compelling results have been observed in men.

Cortisol Levels Slashed in Human Study

In a double-blind study involving over 40 healthy male subjects,19 two groups were subjected to psychological and physical stress tests, with cortisol concentrations, heart rate, and blood pressure levels measured at specific intervals.

Each of these three stress response markers were substantially lowered in the group taking the proprietary bioactive milk peptide compared to controls.19

Cortisol levels in the placebo group—measured before and after administration of stress testing—saw a net change of only -3.39%. This means that the harmful spike in cortisol typically caused by stressful situations was almost entirely unaffected in the group that did not receive treatment. By comparison, the milk peptide group experienced a net reduction in cortisol of -20.69%. In other words, the release of cortisol was kept under control by the milk peptides, limiting its detrimental effects.19

Cardiovascular Benefits

The milk peptide group also experienced an almost 50% lower increase in heart rate when placed under stress than those in the placebo group.19

The same beneficial effects were observed in blood pressure readings in the milk peptide group after placement under experimental stress. Following the mental stress test, for example, systolic blood pressure increased 21.25% in the control group, but only 14.65% in the milk peptide group. Similarly, diastolic blood pressure readings increased 21.24%, compared to 15.26% in the peptide group.19

Human Studies Verify Sleep Efficacy

Recent studies validate milk peptides’ capacity to restore more restful sleep patterns while enhancing daytime performance and cognition.

In a placebo-controlled study of 165 healthy adults with a history of insomnia, participants were given 150 mg of milk peptides or placebo each day for one month.

Changes in their ability to relax and fall asleep were evaluated using established diagnostic tools that measure 27 individual indicators of sleep disorders and insomnia-related problems (including daytime cognition and overall function).20


The proprietary milk peptide yielded positive outcomes in nearly all indicators measured, for both men and women.20 Sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances, and daytime dysfunction were all improved, especially in individuals who suffered from moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression.

These results were confirmed by yet another clinical analysis of bioactive milk peptides in adults suffering from pronounced sleep disturbances.

Thirty-two healthy men and women suffering from insomnia during the preceding six months took a 150 mg capsule of patented milk bioactive peptide one hour before bedtime—or placebo—for a month.21
Cardiovascular Benefits
After two weeks, the bioactive milk peptide group experienced a 50% improvement in sleep quality. At four weeks, they needed 30% less time to fall asleep and experienced improvements in daytime alertness and function.21

The dire health consequences of sleep deprivation range from elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), insulin resistance, and increased fat storage to greater risk of mortality from all causes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. In both animal and human studies, a proprietary set of bioactive milk-derived peptides used widely in Europe has been shown to effectively combat the stress response, blunt elevations of cortisol, and substantially eliminate stress-related symptoms across multiple systems of the body. The result is improved ability to relax and fall asleep. Using established diagnostic tools that measure sleep disorders and insomnia-related problems, this proprietary milk peptide yielded positive outcomes in nearly all indicators measured, for both men and women.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
The Deadly Effects Of Chronic Insomnia: An Unfolding Pandemic

When your body is chronically deprived of sleep, levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to rise, especially at the end of the day.31 This, in turn, raises insulin levels. Insulin promotes a metabolic environment that encourages the storage of fat. Stress, anxiety, and mild depression are the most common causes of chronic insomnia.32-37 Together, these unwanted phenomena negatively affect circadian rhythms and modify both sleep duration and sleep quality.38

The range of data published during the last decade reveal a horrific, ever-growing epidemic of stress-related insomnia in the US.

According to a published 2001 scientific poll, 38% of American adults reported obtaining 8 hours of sleep; by 2009, that number had decreased to only 28%.39

People suffering from chronic sleep debt can expect to experience adverse physiological changes in blood pressure, endocrine function, glucose and lipid metabolism, and sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system balance. In contrast, studies show that sleeping 7 to 8 hours each night reduces mortality from all causes,40 including automobile accidents due to drowsiness (drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths ).41

In addition to dermatological disorders, sleep studies have linked chronic insomnia to the following conditions:
  • Anxiety and depression32,33,35
  • Cancer3,42,43
  • Impaired cognitive function (concentration and memory loss)4,44-46
  • Metabolic syndrome5,47
  • Cardiovascular disease48-51
  • Diabetes6,7,52
  • Impaired insulin action53,54
  • Impaired glucose control55,56
  • Increased body mass index (BMI)8,57
  • Elevated C-reactive protein levels9,58
  • Elevated evening cortisol levels6,59
  • Hypertension10,60  
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4. Thase ME. Correlates and consequences of chronic insomnia. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2005 Mar-Apr;27(2):100-12.
5. Violanti JM, Burchfiel CM, Hartley TA, et al. Atypical work hours and metabolic syndrome among police officers. Arch Environ Occup Health. 2009 Fall;64(3):194-201.
6. Gangwisch JE. Epidemiological evidence for the links between sleep, circadian rhythms and metabolism. Obes Rev. 2009 Nov;10 Suppl 2:37-45.
7. Hayashino Y, Fukuhara S, Suzukamo Y, et al. Relation between sleep quality and quantity, quality of life, and risk of developing diabetes in healthy workers in Japan: the High-risk and Population Strategy for Occupational Health Promotion (HIPOP-OHP) Study. BMC Public Health. 2007 Jun 28;7:129.
8. Buscemi D, Kumar A, Nugent R, Nugent K. Short sleep times predict obesity in internal medicine clinic patients. J Clin Sleep Med. 2007 Dec 15;3(7):681-8.
9. Meier-Ewert HK, Ridker PM, Rifai N, et al. Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2004 Feb 18;43(4):678-83.
10. Kim J, Jo I. Age-dependent association between sleep duration and hypertension in the adult Korean population. Am J Hypertens. 2010 Dec;23(12):1286-91.
11. Laird DA, Drexel H. Experimenting with food and sleep. I. Effects of varying types of foods in offsetting sleep disturbances caused by hunger pangs and gastric distress-children and adults. J Am Diet Assoc. 1934;10:89-94.
12. Blass EM. Infant formula quiets crying human newborns. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 1997 Jun;18(3):162–5.
13. Clare DA, Swaisgood HE. Bioactive milk peptides: a prospectus. J Dairy Sci. 2000 Jun;83(6):1187-95.
14. Delini-Stula A, Holsboer-Trachsler E. Treatment strategies in anxiety disorders--an update. Ther Umsch. 2009 Jun;66(6):425-31.
15. Miclo L, Perrin E, Driou A, et al. Characterization of alpha-casozepine, a tryptic peptide from bovine alpha(s1)-casein with benzodiazepine-like activity. FASEB J. 2001 Aug 15;15(10):1780-82.
16. Violle N, Messaoudi M, Lefranc-Millot C, et al. Ethological comparison of the effects of a bovine alpha s1-casein tryptic hydrolysate and diazepam on the behaviour of rats in two models of anxiety. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006 Jul;84(3):517-23.
17. Guesdon B, Messaoudi M, Lefranc-Millot C, Fromentin G, Tome D, Even PC. A tryptic hydrolysate from bovine milk alpha(S1)-casein improves sleep in rats subjected to chronic mild stress. Peptides. 2006 Jun; 27(6):1476-82.
18. Kim JH, Desor D, Kim YT, et al. Efficacy of alphas1-casein hydrolysate on stress-related symptoms in women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;61(4):536-41.
19. Messaoudi M, Lefranc-Millot C, Desor D, Demagny B, Bourdon L. Effects of a tryptic hydrolysate from bovine milk alphaS1-casein on hemodynamic responses in healthy human volunteers facing successive mental and physical stress situations. Eur J Nutr. 2005 Mar;44(2):128-32.
20. So Ken Study: Effect of Lactium® on sleep disorders. October, 2006.
21. de Saint-Hilaire Z, Messaoudi M, Desor D, Kobayashi T. Effects of a bovine alpha S1-casein tryptic hydrosylate (CTH) on sleep disorder in Japanese general population. The Open Sleep Journal. 2009;2:26-32.
22. Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999 Oct 23;354(9188):1435-9.
23. Weissman MM, Greenwald S, Niño-Murcia G, Dement WC. The morbidity of insomnia uncomplicated by psychiatric disorders. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 1997 Jul;19(4):245-50.
24. Leproult R, Copinschi G, Buxton O, Van Cauter E. Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep. 1997 Oct;20(10):865-70.
25. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Kasza K, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Sleep curtailment is accompanied by increased intake of calories from snacks. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):126-33.
26. Plat L, Leproult R, L’Hermite-Baleriaux M, et al.Metabolic effects of short-term elevations of plasma cortisol are more pronounced in the evening than in the morning. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999 Sep;84(9):3082-92.
27. Grandner MA, Hale L, Moore M, Patel NP. Mortality associated with short sleep duration: The evidence, the possible mechanisms, and the future. Sleep Med Rev. 2010 Jun;14(3):191-203.
28. Wingard DL, Berkman LF. Mortality risk associated with sleeping patterns among adults. Sleep. 1983;6(2):102-7.
29. Lavie P, Herer P, Peled R, et al. Mortality in sleep apnea patients: a multivariate analysis of risk factors. Sleep. 1995 Apr;18(3):149-57.
30. Punjabi NM, Caffo BS, Goodwin JL, et al. Sleep-disordered breathing and mortality: a prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2009 Aug;6(8):e1000132.
31. Leproult R, Copinschi G, Buxton O, Van Cauter E. Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep. 1997 Oct;20(10):865-70.
32. Perlis ML, Giles DE, Mendelson WB, Bootzin RR, Wyatt JK. Psychophysiological insomnia: the behavioural model and a neurocognitive perspective. J Sleep Res. 1997 Sep;6(3):179-88.
33. Sukegawa T, Itoga M, Seno H, et al. Sleep disturbances and depression in the elderly in Japan. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2003 Jun;57(3):265-70.
34. Hall M, Buysse DJ, Nowell PD, et al. Symptoms of stress and depression as correlates of sleep in primary insomnia. Psychosom Med. 2000 Mar-Apr;62(2):227-30.
35. Benca RM. Mood disorders. In: Kryger MH, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2000:1140-57.
36. de Saint Hilaire Z, Straub J, Pelissolo A. Temperament and character in primary insomnia. Eur Psychiatry. 2005 Mar;20(2):188-92.
37. Vollrath M, Wicki W, Angst J. The Zurich study. VIII. Insomnia: association with depression, anxiety, somatic syndromes, and course of insomnia. Eur Arch Psychiatry Neurol Sci. 1989;239(2):113-24.
38. Bonnet MH, Arand DL. Hyperarousal and insomnia. Sleep Med Rev. 1997 Dec;1(2):97-108.
39. National Sleep Foundation. 2009 Sleep in America Poll™. Washington, D.C.
40. Cappuccio FP, D’Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010 May 1;33(5):585-92.
41. Available at: Accessed January 2, 2011.
42. Rosa Neto JC, Lira FS, Venancio DP, et al. Sleep deprivation affects inflammatory marker expression in adipose tissue. Lipids Health Dis. 2010 Oct 30;9:125.
43. Kloog I, Portnov BA, Rennert HS, Haim A. Does the modern urbanized sleeping habitat pose a breast cancer risk? Chronobiol Int. 2011 Feb;28(1):76-80.
44. Roth T, Ancoli-Israel S. Daytime consequences and correlates of insomnia in the United States: results of the 1991 National Sleep Foundation Survey. II. Sleep. 1999 May 1;22(Suppl 2):S354-S8.
45. Verstraeten E. Neurocognitive effects of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2007 Mar;7(2):161-6.
46. Ferrara M, De Gennaro L, Casagrande M, Bertini M. Selective slow-wave sleep deprivation and time-of-night effects on cognitive performance upon awakening. Psychophysiology. 2000 Jul;37(4):440-6.
47. Hall MH, Muldoon MF, Jennings JR, Buysse DJ, Flory JD, Manuck SB. Self-reported sleep duration is associated with the metabolic syndrome in midlife adults. Sleep. 2008 May 1;31(5):635-43.
48. Mullington JM, Haack M, Toth M, Serrador JM, Meier-Ewert HK. Cardiovascular, inflammatory, and metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Jan-Feb;51(4):294-302.
49. Alvarez GG, Ayas NT. The impact of daily sleep duration on health: a review of the literature. Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2004 Spring;19(2):56-9.
50. Sabanayagam C, Shankar A. Sleep duration and cardiovascular disease: results from the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep. 2010 Aug 1;33(8):1037-42.
51. Ikehara S, Iso H, Date C, et al. Association of sleep duration with mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes for Japanese men and women: the JACC study. Sleep. 2009 Mar 1;32(3):295-301.
52. Bass J, Takahashi JS. Circadian integration of metabolism and energetics. Science. 2010 Dec 3;330(6009):1349-54.
53. González-Ortiz M, Martínez-Abundis E, Balcázar-Muñoz BR, Pascoe-González S. Effect of sleep deprivation on insulin sensitivity and cortisol concentration in healthy subjects. Diabetes Nutr Metab. 2000 Apr;13(2):80-3.
54. Buxton OM, Pavlova M, Reid EW, Wang W, Simonson DC, Adler GK. Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men. Diabetes. 2010 Sep;59(9):2126-33.
55. Chaput JP, Tremblay A. The glucostatic theory of appetite control and the risk of obesity and diabetes. Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 Jan;33(1):46-53.
56. Scheen AJ, Byrne MM, Plat L, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Relationships between sleep quality and glucose regulation in normal humans. Am J Physiol. 1996 Aug;271(2 Pt 1):E261-70.
57. Park SE, Kim HM, Kim DH, Kim J, Cha BS, Kim DJ. The association between sleep duration and general and abdominal obesity in Koreans: data from the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001 and 2005. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Apr;17(4):767-71.
58. Patel SR, Zhu X, Storfer-Isser A, et al. Sleep duration and biomarkers of inflammation. Sleep. 2009;32(2):200-4.
59. Scheen AJ. Clinical study of the month. Does chronic sleep deprivation predispose to metabolic syndrome? Rev Med Liege. 1999 Nov;54(11):898-900.
60. Rööst M, Nilsson P. Sleep disorders--a public health problem. Potential risk factor in the development of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia and premature aging. Lakartidningen. 2002 Jan 17;99(3):154-7.

Obama’s Fatal Addiction

Posted on Mar 29, 2011
AP / J. Scott Applewhite
President Barack Obama applauds GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt before speaking to workers at GE’s plant in Schenectady, N.Y., on Jan. 21.

If it had been revealed that Jeffrey Immelt once hired an undocumented nanny, or defaulted on his mortgage, he would be forced to resign as head of President Barack Obama’s “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” But the fact that General Electric, where Immelt is CEO, didn’t pay taxes on its $14.5 billion profit last year—and indeed is asking for a $3.2 billion tax rebate—has not produced a word of criticism from the president, who in January praised Immelt as a business leader who “understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.”

What it takes, evidently, is shifting profit and jobs abroad: As of last year only 134,000 of GE’s total workforce of 304,000 was based in the U.S. and, according to The New York Times, for the past three years 82 percent of the company’s profit was sheltered abroad. Thanks to changes in the tax law engineered when another avowedly pro-business Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president, U.S. multinational financial companies can avoid taxes on their international scams. And financial scams are what GE excelled in for decades, when GE Capital, its financial unit, which specialized in credit card, consumer loan and housing mortgage debt, accounted for most of GE’s profits.

That’s right, GE, along with General Motors with its toxic GMAC financial unit, came to look more like an investment bank than a traditional industrial manufacturing giant that once propelled this economy and ultimately it ran into the same sort of difficulties as the Wall Street hustlers. As The New York Times’ David Kocieniewski, who broke the GE profit story, put it: “Because its lending division, GE Capital, has provided more than half of the company’s profit in some recent years, many Wall Street analysts view G.E. not as a manufacturer but as an unregulated lender that also makes dishwashers and M.R.I. machines.”

Maximizing corporate profits at the taxpayer’s expense is what top CEOs are good at, and after all it was Immelt who presided over GE when it got so heavily into the subprime mortgage business that it needed a government bailout to avoid bankruptcy. This was before Obama made him a trusted adviser.

Back at the end of 2008, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. government had agreed to insure an additional $139 billion in GE Capital’s debt holdings, the second such intervention within a month, adding, “The company’s exposure to the deepest financial crisis since the 1930s has cut its market value by more than half this year.” A Washington Post exposé titled “How a Loophole Benefits GE in Bank Rescue” documented the power of Immelt’s lobbying operation in Washington. GE was not initially deemed eligible for the debt guarantee program offered to failing banks, “but regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the scenes appeals from GE.” And it worked. As the Post reported, “The government’s actions have been `powerful and helpful’ to the company, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt acknowledged.” For the next two years, GE would still report enormous profits without paying taxes, adding insult to the injury that financial shenanigans had inflicted on ordinary taxpayers who bailed the company out.

On Feb. 6, 2009, Immelt sent a contrite annual letter to GE shareholders, admitting, “Our Company’s reputation was tarnished because we weren’t the ‘safe and reliable’ growth company that is our aspiration.” While conceding his own culpability in GE’s downturn, Immelt predicted a rosy future: “I accept responsibility for this. But, I think the environment presents an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Not, obviously, for the 50 million Americans who have either lost their homes or are deeply underwater in a housing market that is still in steep decline thanks to the lending practices of companies like GE Capital. Nope, the good times are in the offing only for corporations that know how to make the U.S. government a partner in their scams. As Immelt stated blatantly: “The global economy, and capitalism, will be `reset’ in several important ways. The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.”

That’s the essential blueprint for Obama’s restructuring of the economy, as the president put it in selecting Immelt to replace Paul Volcker as head of his outside team of economic advisers. Volcker had become increasingly critical of the corporate high rollers. Obama, although noting the suffering of ordinary Americans, clearly believes that such populism is now beside the point. As the president put it in announcing Immelt’s appointment on Jan. 20, 2011: “The past two years was about moving our economy back from the brink. Our job now is putting our economy into overdrive.”

But overdrive, with CEOs like Immelt shifting the gears, is what brought us so close to the brink. Once again Obama seems fatally addicted to the notion that the heavy hitters who got us into this mess are the very folks to be trusted to get us out of it. What he seems incapable of grasping is that while they are personally very good at avoiding the precipice, the rest of us are hardly passengers in their limos.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

CIA agents in Libya guide rebels West shadow force at work


Washington, March 31: The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military air strikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.

While US President Barack Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Gaddafi’s military, the officials said.

In addition to the CIA presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing air strikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.

American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Gaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.

In addition, the American spies are meeting rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Gaddafi, said US government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the activities.

American officials cautioned, though, that the western operatives were not directing the actions of rebel forces. A CIA spokesperson declined to comment.

The US and its allies have been scrambling to gather detailed information on the location and abilities of Libyan infantry and armoured forces that normally takes months of painstaking analysis.

“We didn’t have great data,” General Carter F. Ham, who handed over control of the Libya mission to Nato on Wednesday, said in an e-mail last week. “Libya hasn’t been a country we focused on a lot over past few years.”

Several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret finding authorising the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels, American officials said yesterday. But weapons have not yet been shipped into Libya, as Obama administration officials debate the effects of giving them to the rebel groups. The Presidential finding was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement released last evening, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, declined to comment “on intelligence matters,” but said that no decision had yet been made to provide arms to the rebels.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, also said yesterday that he opposed arming the rebels.

Article from: The Telegraph

***If you like reading this article I suggest reading this new posting of articles that I feel gives greater insight on the Libyan situation.

Spain's Solar Deals on Edge of Bankruptcy as Subsidies Founder

By Ben Sills - Oct 18, 2010 3:00 PM PT
Bloomberg Markets Magazine
German Vilimelis heard about Spain’s solar gold rush from his brother-in-law in 2007.

Across the plains around Lerida, the northeastern Spanish town where they spent weekends, farmers were turning over their fields to photovoltaic panels to capitalize on government solar- energy subsidies.

Vilimelis persuaded his father, Jaume, who made a living growing pears on 5 acres (2 hectares) of land in Lerida, to turn over a portion of his farm for the project, Bloomberg Markets reported in its November issue.

Vilimelis, 35, a procurement manager for a consumer goods company, pooled his family savings and mortgaged his apartment to obtain a loan of more than 400,000 euros ($558,500) to cover the investment. Within nine months, the family’s 80-kilowatt generation unit -- 500 solar panels on seven racks angled toward the sun -- was feeding power into the national grid.

Solar investors such as Vilimelis were lured by a 2007 law passed by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that guaranteed producers a so-called solar tariff of as much as 44 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity for 25 years -- more than 10 times the 2007 average wholesale price of about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour paid to mainstream energy suppliers.

Thanks to the incentives, the family met the monthly cost of the loan and even earned a small profit. Once the debt was paid off in 2018, Vilimelis looked forward to making even more money during the 15 additional years of subsidies guaranteed under Spanish law.

‘You Feel Cheated’

Now Vilimelis and more than 50,000 other Spanish solar entrepreneurs face financial disaster as the policy makers contemplate cutting the price guarantees that attracted their investment in the first place.

“You feel cheated,” he says. “We put our money in on the basis of a law.”

Zapatero introduced the subsidies three years ago as part of an effort to cut his country’s dependence on fossil fuels. At the time, he promised that the investment in renewable energy would create manufacturing jobs and that Spain could sell its panels to nations seeking to reduce carbon emissions.

Yet by failing to control the program’s cost, Zapatero saddled Spain with at least 126 billion euros of obligations to renewable-energy investors. The spending didn’t achieve the government’s aim of creating green jobs, because Spanish investors imported most of their panels from overseas when domestic manufacturers couldn’t meet short-term demand.

Stark Lesson

Spain stands as a lesson to other aspiring green-energy nations, including China and the U.S., by showing how difficult it is to build an alternative energy industry even with billions of euros in subsidies, says Ramon de la Sota, a private investor in Spanish photovoltaic panels and a former General Electric Co. executive.

“The government totally overshot with the tariff,” de la Sota says. “Now they have a huge bill to pay -- but where’s the technology, where’s the know-how, where’s the value?”

U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted solar energy as part of his plan to create green jobs this month with a decision to install photovoltaic panels on the roof of the White House. The government also approved the first large-scale solar-power projects on public land. Dublin-based utility NTR Plc and Chevron Corp. will build plants in California generating enough electricity between them to power about 600,000 homes.

 Sun Surplus

At first glance, Spain appears to be the perfect incubator for a solar-energy revolution. Thanks to its location in southern Europe, the country’s land mass receives 900,000 terawatt-hours of irradiation from the sun each year, according to the European Commission -- more than 3,000 times the power used annually by its citizens. In contrast, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, receives less than half that amount of irradiation. (A terawatt-hour streams enough power to run 1 billion washing machines for 60 minutes.)

The challenge for Spain was to transform that free resource into an industry that made economic sense and attracted investors. The first problem lawmakers encountered was price. Solar power, like wind and other renewable-energy sources, can’t yet compete on price against electricity generated from natural gas or coal.

Power from the most-efficient photovoltaic plants costs utilities about $275 per megawatt-hour to produce compared with about $60 for a coal-fired plant, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The cost of electricity from coal is held down in part by a plentiful supply of the mineral from established mines.


Spanish policy makers reasoned that generous subsidies would help the country meet its goal of 400 megawatts of installed solar power by 2010 as well as spur the development of a manufacturing industry.

The feed-in tariff proved too successful in luring investors. By the end of 2007, solar installations had exceeded the government’s target, three years early, and the following year, investors pumped 16.4 billion euros into Spain’s solar industry, quintupling power capacity to 3,500 megawatts from 700 megawatts.

“They underestimated the technology -- how cheaply panels could be installed and how quickly they could be installed,” says Jenny Chase, Zurich-based chief solar analyst at New Energy Finance. “When you have 40 megawatts of photovoltaic panels, you don’t think that if you get it wrong, you’ll end up with 3,500 megawatts.”

Panel Demand

At the same time, Spanish installations triggered a spike in panel demand. The benchmark price of crystalline silicon panels rose to a record $4.13 per watt in the second quarter of 2008, according to BNEF, a 28 percent increase from the same period in 2004. Most of the panels installed in Spain came from China and Germany.

Renewable-energy subsidies may not help to create companies that can operate on their own, says Annie Petsonk, international counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund. Policy makers need to plan for the long term when setting up tax breaks and grants, she says.

“Attempting to stimulate the deployment of a practical technology needs to be very carefully done,” Petsonk says. “When the economy turns downward, the pressure to get rid of the subsidies can bring you crashing down.”

Zapatero’s Plan

Zapatero’s predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, laid the foundation for Spain’s development of renewable energy. In 2004, his government shifted to revising renewable-energy subsidies every four years instead of annually, which meant project revenue estimates were stable enough to raise financing, according to Tomas Diaz, spokesman for the Spanish Photovoltaic Industry Association in Madrid.

When Zapatero came to power in April of the same year, his Socialist Party pushed green energy as a new source of economic growth. Under his program to create “the sustainable economy,” he funneled 6.3 billion euros into developing renewable energy and embarked on a 250 billion-euro transport plan that aims to complete a 10,000-kilometer (6,000-mile) high-speed rail network by 2020.

He also introduced subsidies of up to 20,000 euros for buyers of electric vehicles as part of a 4 billion-euro package of tax deductions, grants and subsidized loans to spur the modernization of the country’s auto industry.

‘Poster Child’

In 2007, the Spanish parliament approved Zapatero’s plan to introduce a feed-in solar tariff -- called that because it fixed the price at which producers can sell their power to the grid -- for photovoltaic plants at 10 times the wholesale rate. Spain’s number crunchers failed to anticipate the spiraling cost of an open-ended incentive, says Charles Yonts, a renewable- energy analyst at CLSA Ltd. in Hong Kong.

“Spain is the poster child of how things can go badly awry,” he says. “Far too much money was being paid out.”

Chinese panel manufacturers, thanks to their lower labor costs and ability to step up production, are best placed to benefit from any solar revolution, Yonts says.

Four of the five best-performing solar stocks this year are headquartered in China, including Qidong-based panel manufacturer Solarfun Power Holdings Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In November 2007, Zapatero unveiled a solar plant at his official residence in Madrid, with photovoltaic panels made by Spain’s Isofoton SA.

“We are a world power in this field, we are capable of exporting our technology and competing across five continents and we are today at the forefront of the renewable-energy industry,” he said.

Investment Surge

The surge in investment put Spain at the center of the solar-energy business just as Bilbao-based power company Iberdrola SA became the world’s largest producer of wind power, using turbines produced in Spain by Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica SA. Iberdrola is the largest shareholder in Gamesa, with a 15 percent stake.

As the state’s renewable-energy costs spiraled, Zapatero reduced the subsidy for new solar parks by about a quarter starting on Sept. 30, 2008. The move virtually eliminated any new solar investment in 2009, according to the Photovoltaic Industry Association.

Isofoton, the panel maker Zapatero deployed as a symbol of the Spanish solar industry, suffered an 83 percent sales slump and its losses almost tripled to 226 million euros in 2009. In June of this year, the closely held company was taken over by Madrid-based Affirma Energy Engineering & Technology SL and South Korea’s TopTec Co., which invested 50 million euros to strengthen the company’s balance sheet.
Germany, U.S.

Zapatero said Spain’s clean-power industry employed 180,000 in 2007. During the next three years, jobs fell by a third to 116,000, according to a study by the Madrid-based Trade Union Institute of Work, Environment and Health.

Lawmakers in Germany may be repeating some of Spain’s mistakes, Chase says. New solar-generating capacity in Germany reached 713 megawatts in the first quarter, almost 10 times the amount installed in the year-earlier period, thanks to government subsidies, she says.

In the U.S., Obama has rolled out a more modest program of inducements for clean-energy investors. The U.S. economic stimulus package included about $67 billion in loans, loan guarantees, grants and tax credits for clean energy.

When Zapatero took a delegation to the White House on Oct. 13, 2009, Obama praised Spain as a model of green-energy-driven economic transformation.

‘Worldwide Leader’

“We have enormous commercial ties between our two countries, and we pledged to work diligently to strengthen them, particularly around key issues like renewable energy and transportation, where Spain has been a worldwide leader,” Obama said at a press conference.

Miguel Sebastian, the minister responsible for Spain’s industry and energy policy, traveled two weeks later to the Solar Power International trade fair in Anaheim, California, with a group of executives to boost Spain’s renewable-energy exports.

In private encounters on the trip, Sebastian was criticized by Spanish executives for gyrations in the government’s energy policy, according to Carlos Navarro, chairman of Siliken SA, Spain’s biggest solar panel maker, who was part of the delegation.

“You’re whiners,” Navarro says Sebastian told executives. Sebastian declined to be interviewed for this article; a spokesman for Zapatero declined to comment on criticisms of the government’s solar-subsidy policy.

‘Sinking’ Solar Investors

Navarro told Sebastian that the industry needed a stable set of rules to help match production to the level of demand in the market. Siliken, which is aiming to trade on the Madrid Stock Exchange by 2012, suffered a 61 percent sales slump in 2009 after Zapatero cut solar subsidies. Overseas revenue will fuel the company’s recovery this year, Navarro says.

“Sebastian was telling people that photovoltaic was a priority, while at home they are sinking us,” Navarro says during an interview at Siliken’s solar-module assembly plant near Valencia. “I’ve developed a bit of a motto: If the Socialist government says they’re going to help you, run!”

In April, after the budget deficit ballooned to 11.2 percent of GDP, Industry Ministry officials announced that the government was considering cutting the subsidies for existing solar facilities -- even though the law guaranteed those rates for 25 years.

Investor Uncertainty

The suggestion triggered outrage among the owners and operators of photovoltaic systems and caused investors to flee solar energy investments.

Because of lack of investor interest, Renovalia Energy SA and T-Solar Global SA postponed initial public offerings that aimed to raise about 300 million euros. Solar Opportunities SL suspended 1 billion euros of investment in Spanish photovoltaic plants. The price of panels fell to $1.90 per watt by the second quarter of this year.

Foreign investors also joined in on the criticism, saying that rewriting the rules would jeopardize confidence in all Spanish assets. HgCapital, Hudson Clean Energy Partners and Impax Asset Management Group Plc wrote to Zapatero on May 27 saying the move would wipe out 400 million euros of client funds they had invested in the Spanish solar industry.

“The mere discussion of such a change at high government levels is already undermining confidence in Spain as a place for foreign direct investment,” the letter said.

40 Percent Cut

In June, Sebastian told solar executives he intended to reduce subsidies to existing photovoltaic plants by almost 40 percent, according to Photovoltaic Industry Association Chairman Javier Anta, who attended the meeting.

That news plunged German Vilimelis into despair. Sacrificing about 10 tons of profitable pear production a year to turn over the 1-acre plot to solar power made sense under the original pricing system, especially as the panels required almost no maintenance. The cut would require his family to kick in their own cash every month to avoid defaulting on the loan.

“Banks are unforgiving,” he says. “It would mean no more holidays. We’d have to cut back on everything.”

Across Lerida, solar construction has stopped dead. Vilimelis and his partners face more months of uncertainty as the government keeps postponing a final decision on the subsidy levels. Should Zapatero push through the cuts, he may find that foreign investors are equally unwilling to forgive.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Sills in Madrid at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at