Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Tuesday, 22nd January, 2008


ROME (VIEW: Carlo Ungaro)
Kabul in the 1970s was not as Westernized or "sophisticated" as it is today; and, of course, it was - at least superficially - the most tranquil of cities.
It was typical of most of us "Westerners," however, to interpret the wrong signs as indications of progress and potential for future development. We were thrilled at the existence of "The 25 Hour Club," a nightclub where we could drink alcohol, eat snacks and dance (Westerners only).
On rare occasions we were accompanied by select - read "elite" - Afghan friends. We seemed to believe a new Age of Enlightenment had dawned when a "Marks and Sparks" supermarket opened. We were finally able to buy many items we deemed essential to a civilized life - cocktail sausages, corn flakes, etc.
Returning to Afghanistan 30 years later, I found the same attitudes magnified by the thrill of being on a front line. The essential question asked by almost no one back then, and that very few seem to be asking now, is to what extent do these superficial signs of "Westernization" benefit the local population? To what extent do these "developments" actually favor, rather than hinder, the path toward authentic progress?

The percentage of U.S. Army recruits with high school diplomas dropped last year, continuing a trend that has strengthened since the start of the Iraq war, according to a report made public Tuesday.
National Priorities Project, a research group that analyzes federal data, found that nearly 71 percent of army recruits graduated from high school in the 2007 budget year.
The army's goal is 90 percent high school graduates, which it has not met since 2004.

Recent laboratory tests performed for The New York Times found so much mercury in tuna sushi that a regular diet of even two or three pieces a week at some restaurants could be a health hazard for the average adult, based on guidelines set out by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Eight of the 44 pieces of sushi The Times purchased from local restaurants and stores in October had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market.

John Ging, Gaza director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which helps the 70 percent of the population who are registered as refugees, called the Israeli cutoff of goods and fuel "collective punishment" and "counterproductive."
Israelis in border towns deserve security and protection, Ging said.
"But the Israeli response is a retaliation, which is equally illegal, against the civilian population of Gaza," he said . "It engenders animosity and a sense of injustice that allows those bent on violence to dictate the agenda."

Saudi Arabia supplies the United States with about 1.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, one-seventh of U.S. imports and second only to the 1.9 million barrels from Canada. Saudi clout in production shapes the world oil market, and its policies will weigh on the Feb. 1 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
As Bush's trip unfolded, U.S. dependence on Saudi Arabia was further illustrated when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Citigroup's biggest individual investor, disclosed that he had put more money into the New York-based banking company. The increase was announced the same day Citigroup posted a $9.83 billion fourth-quarter net loss, the biggest in its 196-year history, tied to the mortgage meltdown...

Bush's policies "have been catastrophic" for the Saudis, Freeman says. He cites neglect of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, along with the Iraq invasion that has empowered Iran, thereby threatening the dominance of Sunni leaders in the region.
In answer to the Iranian threat, Bush offered to sell Saudi Arabia kits for satellite-guided smart bombs valued at about $123 million. The administration formally notified Congress of the deal during his visit.

Deaths among children under 5 have fallen by more than half since 1960, when they were estimated at more than 20 million, Unicef said in a new report on the state of children worldwide. That figure dropped below 10 million for the first time since in 2006, the latest year which estimates are available...
But even after such dramatic gains in child survival, the new figures mean that 26,000 children still die every day from mostly preventable causes, Unicef noted. Four million infants die in their first month of life and up to half of these in their first day.

The new vehicles are much bigger than Humvees, with a height of 3.7 meters, or 12 feet; a weight of up to 18 tons; the ability to carry 6 to 10 soldiers, depending on the model; and an average cost of $500,000 apiece and up to $1 million. There are more than 1,500 of them in Iraq now, and the military plans to purchase more than 15,000 of them at a total cost of of more than $22.4 billion.

[Chanel] Clients were breathless with excitement."I want everything - it was made for me," the actress Diane Kruger said, while Sofia Coppola uttered one joyous word: "Flats!"

On his blog, JSMineSet, Sinclair has told his readers that as much as $450 trillion worth of derivatives could disintegrate, leading to a far greater, and in some ways unpredictable, calamity...
While the views of Sinclair , a gold bug who expects the price of gold to go up to $1,650, up from about $870 now, might be taken with a grain of salt, other experts have also begun to warn of the dire consequences of the credit market collapse.
Christopher Wood, a strategist based in Asia who publishes a widely read newsletter called Greed & Fear, pointed out in a note published over the weekend that the potential insolvency of bond insurers like Ambac, MBIA and ACA Capital speaks to a larger market correction that has not yet been grasped by policy makers.
"Greed & Fear's view is that with the bond insurance business model fast unwinding, a full-scale crisis could be coming," he wrote.

LANCASTER, England (VIEW: Philip Bond)
More and more, it appears that in the 21st century we are returning to the economics of the 19th, where wealth was overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of a few owners and astute speculators.Neither the Right nor the Left seem capable of creating a society in which all benefit from increased prosperity and economic security.
Right-wing claims that free markets will enrich all sections of society are palpably false, while the traditional European welfare state appears to penalize innovation and wealth-creation, thereby locking the poor and unskilled into institutionalized poverty and unemployment.Thus in the new age of globalization, both ideologies create the same phenomenon: an underclass caught between welfare and low wages, a heavily indebted middle class increasingly subject to job and pension insecurity and a new class of the super rich who escape all rules of taxation and community...
It was in Britain that neo-liberalism first emerged in its decisive form...
By the late 1990's, Britain was exhausted by Thatcherism; its public services were failing and the country was socially and economically fragmented. Thus in 1997 New Labor was elected...
Under the guidance of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the new progressives promised that the benefits of rising prosperity would be applied to the public sector and the poor. Social exclusion would be tackled by opening up education and extending opportunity to all. The rest of the world was once more transfixed by the social experiment taking place in Britain. Could this seemingly exclusive neo-liberal circle be squared for the benefit of all?

Sadly, after 10 years the conclusion has to be no.

Poverty in Britain doubled under Thatcher, and this figure has become permanent under New Labor. The share of the wealth, excluding housing, enjoyed by the bottom half of the population has fallen from 12 percent in 1976 to just 1 percent now. Thirteen million people now live in relative poverty. Social mobility has declined to pre-war levels.
The least able children from the richest 20 percent of the population now overtake the most able children from the bottom 20 percent by the age of seven. Nearly half of the richest group go on to get university degrees while only 10 percent of the poorest manage to graduate. Clearly, the New Left has entrenched class division even more firmly than the neo-liberal Right.

The president of Turkemenistan has abolished a holiday honouring the birthday of his megalomaniacal predecessor, further undermining a personality cult that nevertheless still clings to this hermetic Central Asian country a year after his death...
This weekend, the president reversed his predecessor's 2001 ban on the opera and the circus, and there are plans to build a tourist resort on the Black Sea.
When Berdymukhammedov, a former health minister and Niyazov's dentist, took power under constitutionally questionable circumstances following the former leader's unexpected death in late December 2006, he inherited a country forged as a monument to his predecessor.
Though Berdymukhammedov has show a desire for change, his style of rule continues to be "exclusively despotic" said Arkady Dubnoc, a Central Asia analyst...
"He wants a type of free country with a market economy," Dubnov said,"but he doesn't understand what that is."

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