Archive for the ‘Economic War’ Category

Austerity … will it lead to more pain?

Certainly there is no way that the austerity measures, increasingly called for in Europe will resolve anything, as it is impossible to cut or eliminate your way to prosperity.


More at The Real News

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The Iran situation continues to escalate.

While the continuing public dialogue is one of concern over Nuclear armaments for Iran, it is as yet unclear how far China or Russia will go in the defense of Iran.

I have a sense that there are already military and/or civil assets from both China and Russia in Iran, and that any unilateral military action by Israel or USA will lead to a significant escalation. I also suspect that Washington is aware of this and will not move to take such action.

Ultimately I am concerned that the ‘action’ is more likely directed at the US population and that any ‘incident’ will be used as provocation to eliminate further civil liberties within the USA.

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GOLD going to move, U$D under more pressure

Iranian oil will move to India and China using gold for settlements.

Iranian Oil for Indian & Chinese GOLD

Expect this to cause GOLD to have more upwards pressures and the demand for US dollars to decrease.

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The battle lines are drawing on the map of the globe …

Considering a U.S.-Iranian Deal

January 24, 2012 | 1211 GMT
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By George Friedman

Last week, I wrote on the strategic challenge Iran faces in its bid to shape a sphere of influence stretching from western Afghanistan to Beirut on the eastern Mediterranean coast. I also pointed out the limited options available to the United States and other Western powers to counter Iran.

One was increased efforts to block Iranian influence in Syria. The other was to consider a strategy of negotiation with Iran. In the past few days, we have seen hints of both.

Rebel Gains in Syria

The city of Zabadani in southwestern Syria reportedly has fallen into the hands of anti-regime forces. Though the city does not have much tactical value for the rebels, and the regime could well retake it, the event could have real significance. Up to this point, apart from media attention, the resistance to the regime of President Bashar al Assad has not proven particularly effective. It was certainly not able to take and hold territory, which is critical for any insurgency to have significance.

Now that the rebels have taken Zabadani amid much fanfare — even though it is not clear to what extent the city was ceded to their control, much less whether they will be able to hold it against Syrian military action — a small bit of Syria now appears to be under rebel control. The longer they can hold it, the weaker al Assad will look and the more likely it becomes that regime opponents can create a provisional government on Syrian soil to rally around.

Zabadani also gives outside powers something to help defend, should they choose to do so. Intervening in a civil war against weak and diffused rebels is one thing. Attacking Syrian tanks moving to retake Zabadani is quite another. There are no indications that this is under consideration, but for the first time, there is the potential for a militarily viable target set for outside players acting on behalf of the rebels. The existence of that possibility might change the dynamic in Syria. When we take into account the atmospherics of the Arab League demands for a provisional government, some meaningful pressure might actually emerge.

From the Iranian point of view, this raises the risk that the sphere of influence Tehran is pursuing will be blocked by the fall of the al Assad regime. This would not pose a fundamental challenge to Iran, so long as its influence in Iraq remains intact, but it would represent a potential high-water mark in Iranian ambitions. It could open the door to recalculations in Tehran as to the limits of Iranian influence and the threat to their national security. I must not overstate this: Events in Syria have not gone that far, and Iran is hardly backed into a corner. Still, it is a reminder to Tehran that all might not go the Iranians’ way.

A Possibility of Negotiations

It is in this context that the possibility of negotiations has arisen. The Iranians have claimed that the letter the U.S. administration sent to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that defined Iran’s threats to Strait of Hormuz as a red line contained a second paragraph offering direct talks with Iran. After hesitation, the United States denied the offer of talks, but it did not deny it had sent a message to the Iranian leadership. The Iranians then claimed such an offer was made verbally to Tehran and not in the letter. Washington again was not categorical in its denial. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a meeting with the German foreign minister, “We do not seek conflict. We strongly believe the people of Iran deserve a better future. They can have that future, the country can be reintegrated into the global community … when their government definitively turns away from pursuing nuclear weapons.”

From our perspective, this is a critical idea. As we have said for several years, we do not see Iran as close to having a nuclear weapon. They may be close to being able to test a crude nuclear device under controlled circumstances (and we don’t know this either), but the development of a deliverable nuclear weapon poses major challenges for Iran.

Moreover, while the Iranians may aspire to a deterrent via a viable nuclear weapons capability, we do not believe the Iranians see nuclear weapons as militarily useful. A few such weapons could devastate Israel, but Iran would be annihilated in retaliation. While the Iranians talk aggressively, historically they have acted cautiously. For Iran, nuclear weapons are far more valuable as a notional threat and bargaining chip than as something to be deployed. Indeed, the ideal situation is not quite having a weapon, and therefore not forcing anyone to act against them, but seeming close enough to be taken seriously. They certainly have achieved that.

The important question, therefore, is this: What would the United States offer if Iran made meaningful concessions on its nuclear program, and what would Iran want in return? In other words, forgetting the nuclear part of the equation, what did Hillary Clinton mean when she said that Iran can be reintegrated into the international community, and what would Iran actually want?

Recall that in our view, nuclear weapons never have been the issue. Instead, the issue has been the development of an Iranian sphere of influence following the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq, and the pressure Iran could place on oil-producing states on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran has long felt that its natural role as leader in the Persian Gulf has been thwarted, first by the Ottomans, then the British and now by the Americans, and they have wanted to create what they regard as the natural state of things.

The United States and its allies do not want Iran to get nuclear weapons. But more than that, they do not want to see Iran as the dominant conventional force in the area able to use its influence to undermine the Saudis. With or without nuclear weapons, the United States must contain the Iranians to protect their Saudi allies. But the problem is that Iran is not contained in Syria yet, and even were it contained in Syria, it is not contained in Iraq. Iran has broken out of its containment in a decisive fashion, and its ability to exert pressure in Arabia is substantial.

Assume for the moment that Iran was willing to abandon its nuclear program. What would the United States give in return? Obviously, Clinton would like to offer an end to the sanctions. But the sanctions on Iran are simply not that onerous with the Russians and Chinese not cooperating and the United States being forced to allow the Japanese and others not to participate fully. But it goes deeper.

Iran’s Historic Opportunity

This is a historic opportunity for Iran. It is the first moment in which no outside power is in a direct position to block Iran militarily or politically. Whatever the pain of sanctions, trading that moment for lifting the sanctions would not be rational. The threat of Iranian influence is the problem, and Iran would not trade that influence for an end to sanctions. So assuming the nuclear issue was to go away, what exactly is the United States prepared to offer?

The United States has assured access to oil from the Persian Gulf — not only for itself, but also for the global industrial world — since World War II. It does not want to face a potential interruption of oil for any reason, like the one that occurred in 1973. Certainly, as Iran expands its influence, the possibility of conflict increases, along with the possibility that the United States would intervene to protect its allies in Arabia from Iranian-sponsored subversion or even direct attack. The United States does not want to intervene in the region. It does not want an interruption of oil. It also does not want an extension of Iranian power. It is not clear that Washington can have all three.

Iran wants three things, too.

First, it wants the United States to reduce its presence in the Persian Gulf dramatically. Having seen two U.S. interventions against Iraq and one against Afghanistan, Iran is aware of U.S. power and the way American political sentiment can shift. It experienced the shift from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, so it knows how fast things can change. Tehran sees the United States in the Persian Gulf coupled with U.S. and Israeli covert operations and destabilization campaigns as an unpredictable danger to Iranian national security.

Second, the Iranians want to be recognized as the leading power in the region. This does not mean they intend to occupy any nation directly. It does mean that Iran doesn’t want Saudi Arabia, for example, to pose a military threat against it.

Third, Iran wants a restructuring of oil revenue in the region. How this is formally achieved — whether by allowing Iranian investment in Arabian oil companies (possibly financed by the host country) or some other means — is unimportant. What does matter is that the Iranians want a bigger share of the region’s vast financial resources.

The United States doesn’t want a conflict with Iran. Iran doesn’t want one with the United States. Neither can be sure how such a conflict would play out. The Iranians want to sell oil. The Americans want the West to be able to buy oil. The issue really comes down to whether the United States wants to guarantee the flow of oil militarily or via a political accommodation with the country that could disrupt the flow of oil — namely, Iran. That in turn raises two questions. First, could the United States trust Iran? And second, could it live with withdrawing the American protectorate on the Arabian Peninsula, casting old allies adrift?

When we listen to the rhetoric of American and Iranian politicians, it is difficult to imagine trust between them. But when we recall the U.S. alliance with Stalin and Mao or the Islamic republic’s collaboration with the Soviet Union, we find rhetoric is a very poor guide. Nations pursue their national interest, and while those interests are never eternal, they can be substantial. From a purely rhetorical point of view it is not always easy to tell which sides’ politicians are more colorful. It will be difficult to sell an alliance between the Great Satan and a founding member of the Axis of Evil to the respective public of each country, but harder things have been managed.

Iran’s ultimate interest is security against the United States and the ability to sell oil at a more substantial profit. (This would entail an easing of sanctions and a redefinition of how oil revenues in the region are distributed.) The United States’ ultimate interest is access to oil and manageable prices that do not require American military intervention. On that basis, Iranian and American interests are not that far apart.

The Arabian Factor and a Possible Accommodation

The key point in this scenario is the future of U.S. relations with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Any deal between Iran and the United States affects them two ways. First, the reduction of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf requires them to reach an accommodation with the Iranians, something difficult and potentially destabilizing for them. Second, the shift in the financial flow will hurt them and probably will not be the final deal. Over time, the Iranians will use their strengthened position in the region to continue pushing for additional concessions from them.

There is always danger in abandoning allies. Other allies might be made uncomfortable, for example. But these things have happened before. Abandoning old allies for the national interest is not something the United States invented. The idea that the United States should find money flowing to the Saudis inherently more attractive than money flowing to the Iranians is not obvious.

The main question for the United States is how Iran might be contained. The flow of money will strengthen Iran, and it might seek to extend its power beyond what is tolerable to the United States. There are potential answers. First, the United States can always return to the region. The Iranians do not see the Americans as weak, but rather as unpredictable. Challenging the United States after Iran has achieved its historic goal is not likely. Second, no matter how Iran grows, it is far behind Turkey by every measure. Turkey is not ready to play an active role balancing Iran now, but in the time it takes Iran to consolidate its position, Turkey will be a force that will balance and eventually contain Iran. In the end, a deal will come down to one that profits both sides and clearly defines the limits of Iranian power — limits that it is in Iran’s interest to respect given that it is profiting mightily from the deal.

Geopolitics leads in one direction. Ideology leads in another direction. The ability to trust one another is yet a third. At the same time, the Iranians cannot be sure of what the United States is prepared to do. The Americans do not want to go to war with Iran. Both want oil flowing, and neither cares about nuclear weapons as much as they pretend. Finally, no one else really matters in this deal. The Israelis are not as hardline on Iran as they appear, nor will the United States listen to Israel on a matter fundamental to the global economy. In the end, absent nuclear weapons, Israel does not have that much of a problem with Iran.

It would not surprise me to find out that the United States offered direct talks, nor to discover that Clinton’s comments could not be extended to a more extensive accommodation. Nor do I think that Iran would miss a chance for an historic transformation of its strategic and financial position in favor of ideology. They are much too cynical for that. The great losers would be the Saudis, but even they could come around to a deal that, while less satisfactory than they have now, is still quite satisfactory.

There are many blocks in the way of such a deal, from ideology to distrust to domestic politics. But given the knot that is being tied in the region, rumors that negotiations are being floated come as no surprise. Syria might not go the way Iran wants, and Iraq is certainly not going the way the United States wants. Marriages have been built on less.

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Where to go?

Question: When is there ever a panic? When is there ever a run on a financial system?

Answer: When enough participants no longer trust the system. It is the classic definition of a tipping point. It’s not that all of the participants lose faith in the system or institution. It’s not even when most of the participants lose faith: Rather, it’s when a mere some of the participants decide they no longer trust the system that a run is triggered.

These and other fabulous questions are asked and answered in this blog post:

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Korean change … stable for now.

The change of power balance in the Korean peninsula is going to be something of a flashpoint in the coming months.

Always ready for a fight or flight moment, North Korea now is in the throes of a change of power not seen since the city state years of the Italian peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Nominally a communist regime, North Korea could better be described as a feudal Kingdom, now with a powerful experienced Duke overseeing the development of a new young King.  One that is untested and untried with the most important elements in statesmanship to a military dictatorship, combat command and immediate control of senior military commanders.

I suspect that the leaders of South Korea are rightly concerned about the sound of sabre rattling changing to actually drawing the sword.

More from Reuters.

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“Carthago delenda est”

According to a speech President Obama gave in 2011,

We want Gaddafi gone. And this is non negotiable. Now we are shooting at him; but the purpose of the shooting is to make him back off,  not to crush him.”

It would appear that the ‘gone’ in this statement has been accomplished.  Now one must wonder at the state of the Libyan people.

Many may posit that a ‘form’ of democracy will take hold, this may yet be the result.  This will not be a one-stop-shop though.  The issues that drove Gaddafi from office remain and the struggle over the spoils in Libya has only just begun.

The sense that more political and economic struggle remains is clear, as is the likelihood that this situation on the north African coast is not over nor is it limited to just Libya and Egypt.

Expect the unrest to continue in both Libya and Egypt and for the issues that these people are struggling for to cause further disruptions across north Africa.  There are very real dangers for an expansion of a new form of colonial ‘association’ to take hold, there is a definite fear from many that are paying the price in lives and toil now that their efforts will be seconded by others waiting in the wings to hand over the spoils to European or American interests.

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The Greatest Daylight Robbery … ever.

Bloomberg reported on the 18th of October that Bank of America holding corp was getting support from the Federal Reserve to move at least some of the $74 TRILLION (with a T!) derivatives account holdings to an FDIC secured trading unit.Pen is mightier than the sword

The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counter-parties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.

The FDIC regulators are being overwhelmed by the savvy and strategic positioning of their opponents in the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department.

This action amounts to the largest single ‘heist’ in financial history, done in daylight, and likely to end up being forced into approval via the Treasury, as they work with great diligence to complete the looting of the US public purse.

The neuveau barbarians are not at the gates any more, they are in command of the world economy and moving it towards a planned collapse that leaves the minority IN CHARGE. Bank robbers no longer need guns to effect their shakedowns, though history shows that such events never go quietly.

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The collapse is not about ‘just money’ … the whole system is at risk

Tipping point.

Like when a glass of water is so full that the next drop will overflow it.

Which way will the riches flow out? For whose benefit?

This interview places more of these issues into a context … extending on a horizon much further out than just today and tomorrow or yesterday.

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EU House of Cards

Today’s comedic relief is brought to you, once again, by Europe. We weren’t going to write about the other side of the world today. But in this type of market you need an occasional good laugh, even if it threatens your wealth at the same time.

— After realizing the plan to leverage the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) was idiotic, the lemmings in Europe are running over to a new ‘solution’ – bank recapitalization. Like most things bureaucrats dream up, it’s good in theory. How it plays out in practice will be entirely different.

— That’s not the funny bit though. Check this out: Apparently European finance ministers have asked the European Banking Authority (EBA), Europe’s top (we use the word loosely) banking regulator, to stress test Europe’s banks – again.

— You may remember the same incompetent organization conducted stress tests in 2010 and 2011. The latest one, completed in July this year, found European banks to have a capital deficiency of just €2.5bn. At the same time as Athens was burning, these pompous fools didn’t even model a sovereign default. Now, just a few months later we’re talking about a need for €200 billion in fresh bank equity.

— But instead of all being sacked and the organization shut down – as would happen in the private sector – these imbeciles get another go. We can only conclude the EBA is a corrupt organization in the palm of the bankers. And it’s supposed to be their regulator?

— Look, the bank recapitalization plan is on the right track. We don’t dispute that. But it’s a plan being put together by a bunch of squabbling politicians who put their own re-election prospects ahead of anything else. So the chances of it actually being done properly are remote.

— As we wrote in our Sound Money. Sound Investments email update yesterday – bank recapitalization will be beneficial as long as they are accompanied by bad debt write-downs. The main problem with the global economy today is the amount of bad debt festering on bank balance sheets. This impedes the creation of new, productive debt.

— It also affects confidence. Banking is – and has always been – a business based on confidence. Without it, banks are exposed as the highly leveraged and fragile institutions that they are.

— So to improve confidence you need to purge the bad debt out of the system. This requires bank recapitalization to absorb the coming write-downs. Before we go any further, just what do we mean by ‘bank recapitalization’?

— The process is best explained with reference to a bank’s balance sheet. In balance sheet land, a company’s assets are equal to its liabilities and equity. The ‘equity’ value of a company is traded on the stock market. It is this portion usually referred to as ‘bank capital’.

— If you’re still with us, we’ll show you French basket case Société Générale’s balance sheet.

Assets €1.158 trillion

Liabilities €1.106 trillion

Equity €52.1 billion

— Here’s how it works. A write down in the value of its assets must be matched by a write down in the value of the equity. If the value of the banks assets fell by just 5 per cent, all the equity would be wiped out and the bank would be insolvent. This just goes to show how highly leveraged European banks are.

— Actually the bank’s assets have probably already fallen by 5 per cent. Luckily, it’s not required to ‘mark its assets to market’. Banks aren’t allowed to fail remember?

— Société Générale’s current market capitalization is just €14 billion. This is what investors think the bank’s equity value is worth. It will probably prove optimistic.

— This is where a recapitalization comes in. The Euro bailout fund, the EFSF, will contribute funds to banks in need of new equity capital. This should take the form of ‘preferred equity’, which will rank above existing equity when it comes to absorbing write-downs. That way anyone punting on European bank shares will take a hit before new taxpayer funds do.

— If all the bad sovereign debt in the system is really purged (which it won’t be, but bear with us) most of the existing equity holders will be wiped out. The pie-in-the-sky plan would then be for the preferred equity to convert to ordinary equity. Once this whole debt crisis thing blows over, say by Christmas*, the taxpayers would sell out for a profit, proving the eurocrats’ plan to be pure genius.

— There’s no harm in dreaming of course, but it won’t work out that way. There will be squabbling about which banks receive capital and how much is actually needed. If estimates of €200 billion are correct, the recapitalization plan will leave the EFSF just about empty, with no more funds to buy other struggling sovereign debt.

— And don’t forget, bad sovereign debt is the cause of the crisis. Insufficient bank capital is just a symptom of the problem. A Greek default still awaits.

— The Europeans are only just beginning to realize how big their problems are. So enjoy the rally, it won’t last for long.

* Remember in World War One the conventional European wisdom was the ‘it would be over by Christmas’. Christmas 1914 that is.

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