Monday, January 23, 2012
Life In Parts Of Europe Is Better Than In The USA!
Jack's Africa: NASA Gives South Africa's Rocket Man Elon Musk "Th...: http://www.fin24.com/Companies/TravelAndLeisure/SpaceX-gets-green-light-from-Nasa-20120122
I took Elena to La Costenera last night. This is a charming restaurant right on the Pacific Coast in Moss Beach, California. Monty Heying and his special partner Sandra joined us. We had a wonderful meal. Elena thank you for all of your love and support over the last eleven years. Thank you for making me more humane and civilized. You're a tough lady who can really take "heat" and stress! I love you very much!
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Jack's South America: A Brazilian Beach Beauty, Refined And Untouched: NEXT STOP A Brazilian Beach Beauty, Refined and Untouched Andre Vieira for The New York Times Beach at Praia do Rosa. More Photos » By SHI...
Burman: Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year
Published On Sat Jan 21 2012
An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011.ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.
In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.
In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.
In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.
READ MORE: Burman’s columns
Can we be certain that events in the Middle East will unfold in this way? Of course not. But like a high-stakes poker game where each player slowly reveals his cards, there are increasing signs that this game is careening out of control.
There is no consensus within Israel in favour of an attack on Iran. In fact, a recent poll suggests that less than half of Israelis (43 per cent) support a strike even though 90 per cent of them believe Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons. But the drumbeats for action are growing louder inside of Israel and they are egged on in the U.S. by the shrill tone of the extremist Republican primary process.
In Israel, the political case in favour of a strike, led by Netanyahu, points to its limited attack in 2007 on a burgeoning Syrian nuclear facility. But there are crucial differences this time. Iran’s nuclear facilities are well-dispersed and well-defended, and most experts believe that such a strike would likely fail or, at best, only delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a year or two.
But even more significant are the potentially frightening consequences of such a strike. Iran has threatened to hit back with full fury if its nuclear facilities are attacked. It could place Israel in considerable peril and lead to a resurgence of anti-American fever. Such a strike would also strengthen Iran’s rulers internally at a time of its greatest weakness and would radicalize the Arab world.
Serious people are doing serious work to prevent this from happening. There are meetings later this month in Tehran with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to stiffen sanctions against Iran is accelerating. However, this first decade of the 21st century serves as no model. Disastrous decisions were made by political leaders in an environment of arrogance and stupidity, and these disasters were condoned by a public which largely chose to look the other way and a news media which, at various times, was either complicit or incompetent.
Let’s hope that, in the handling of Iran, history is not repeating itself.
Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. email@example.com
Saturday, January 21, 2012
In 1981 I found myself alone in Jhannesburg. I did not have much money left. A nice lady named Barbara Broadhurst rented me a room in her home.. I needed a job badly. I answered an advertisement for Paul Tingley Selections. I went to an upscale home in Randburg. I met a charming Englishman named Paul Tingley. We "hit it off" instantly. He helped me to find a nice job with what was then Price Forbes Federale Volskas. I had a decent salary and an Audi company car. Paul and his family also became my good friends. I spent my weekends with them. They were so nice even to my estranged first wife. They indicated to her, that if she came to South Africa, they would help her open a restaurant.
In September of 1981 my personal circumstances changed. My estranged first wife refused to come to South Africa to live. She claimed that South Africa would go the same way as Angola and Mocambique will all of the European population expelled. She insisted that I leave South Africa and I start my life again with her in Australia.
I left Johannesburg without saying goodbye to Paul and his wonderful family. I never had a chance to say "thank you" or "I'm sorry." I looked for him for years on the internet. He seemd to drop out of sight around 2003. I assumed that he was dead.
Yesterday afternoon I "took one more shot" on the internet. I entered "Paul Tingley in South Africa" on Google. Usually the internet search results all dealt with a famous disable Canadian yachtsman from Vancouver named Paul Tingley. For a change I found Paul Tingley Selections with an office in Cape Town and one in Bryanston. I called the Cape Town number and it had been disconnected. I called the Bryanston number. A man answered and I knew that it was Paul. I did not have the courage to talk to him. I apologized and claimed that I had a worng number.
I then drafted a letter apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye. I thanked him for all of his help and friendship. I asked him to forgive me for my thoughtlessness 31 years ago.
Friday, January 20, 2012
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Update on Global Food Commodities
January 20, 2012
Corn, soybeans, rice and wheat are the most important food staples consumed in the world. We monitor these commodities because market fluctuations can lead to domestic unrest in import-reliant countries. Below is an assessment of these vital commodities.
Most countries have domestic agricultural industries. However, the majority of these countries do not produce more than what their populations can consume. Only a handful of countries are able to export significant quantities of key food staples to countries that cannot meet their consumption needs or experience temporary setbacks in their agricultural sectors.
Output from exporting countries is an important geopolitical issue. Increased demand for global food supplies can cause localized shortages and price spikes. Food shortages and price increases, in turn, can lead to political turmoil and social unrest in countries whose populations depend on these imports for survival.
The most important staple crops consumed by populations around the world are corn, rice and wheat. Soybeans have also become an important alternative source of protein, particularly in Asian diets. Corn and soybean exports are largely dominated by states in the Western Hemisphere, while global wheat supplies are primarily grown by states in the Northern Hemisphere. Asian states account for the majority of all globally traded rice, but China, the world's largest producer of rice, consumes almost all of the rice it produces.
The following breaks down the current status of each of the four major staple crops.Production forecasts are drawn primarily from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agriculture Service estimates.
The United States, Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine account for more than 80 percent of global corn exports. While some 90 countries rank among the world's corn importers, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Egypt are the most import-dependent nations, purchasing more than 40 percent of all globally traded corn.
The status of the corn market depends on weather conditions in the four major exporting countries. For the United States and Ukraine, the fall corn harvest has already occurred. While U.S. production fell by only 1 percent, the country's total exports are expected to shrink by 10 percent. Ukraine, however, nearly doubled production and more than doubled exports as a result of a record-breaking harvest.
For Brazil and northern Argentina, the period from December to February is key. It is during these summer months that corn goes through its silking and filling stages. A severe drought is currently affecting the region, and the extent to which the corn crop will be affected is not yet clear. Estimates of Argentina's production have fallen by 10 percent, but the country is still projected to produce more corn this season than in each of the previous two seasons. (The most recent drought in Argentina occurred in the 2008-2009 season, during which corn production fell by about 30 percent.) Although the ongoing drought also affects Brazil, Brazilian corn output is expected to increase by several percentage points compared to 2011.
Assuming current expectations hold, Argentine and Brazilian production will reach a combined output of 87 million metric tons. Since global corn production is expected to rise by several percentage points in the 2011-2012 season, Brazil and Argentina would have to lose nearly 50 percent of their expected corn crop for global production to fall below the 2010-2011 seasonal output.
The popularity of soybeans is growing. While less soy is produced than the other three food staples, soybean production has increased by nearly 150 percent in the past two decades, nearly twice the rate of corn production. The United States is a major producer and exporter of soybeans, but the fastest growth has occurred in Brazil. Indeed, there is growing domestic and foreign investment into the South American soybean industry, particularly in the Mercosur countries -- Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina.
The rising popularity of soy can be attributed to its being a relatively cheap source of protein for humans and livestock. Most soybeans are consumed in Asia's rapidly growing markets. China consumes more soy than any other nation. It imports more than 60 percent of globally traded soy, which represents more than 80 percent of China's total annual supply. To mitigate the risk posed by a sudden disruption in the soy trade, China stockpiles its soybeans for later consumption.
The drought that is affecting corn production in Brazil and Argentina is also expected to affect soybean production as the season progresses. Projected output for Argentina this season has dropped by nearly 3 percent, but the country still expects a slight increase in production compared to the previous season. Brazil will not be as lucky. The above-average rainfall seen in soybean-producing center-west states, such as Mato Grosso, will not further compensate for the drought in Parana state. As such, soybean production in Brazil will decrease by 2 percent. This will contribute to a 3 percent decline of global soybean production. Despite this decline, Brazil is expected to become the world's largest exporter of soybeans in the 2011-2012 season following an 8 percent dip in U.S. production.
The two largest rice producers by far are India and China. The two countries collectively produce more than half of the world's rice. Much of this rice is consumed domestically, however, and only India is a significant net exporter. Controlling nearly 80 percent of global rice exports, the top exporters of rice in order of rank are Thailand, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and the United States.
The rice market is temperamental, easily thrown off by too little or too much rainfall. The majority of rice produced in the world is consumed in the country of production; only about 7 percent of the world's rice production is available on global markets. Comparatively, 11 percent of corn produced is available on global markets, 20 percent of wheat and 37 percent of soy. This makes rice the most easily destabilized of the four key staples.
The 2011-2012 season has been more stable than the previous year, despite the flooding in Southeast Asia and the drought in China during 2011, and global production rose by just over 2 percent. With a 30 percent uptick in production over the previous year and an expected 17 percent increase in exports, Pakistan was the only top-five net exporter to have a noteworthy season.
Wheat is widely produced by countries all over the world. However, more than 90 percent of the export market is dominated by ten entities: the United States, Australia, Russia, Canada, the European Union, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Turkey and Uruguay. China is by far the largest producer of wheat, accounting for about 17 percent of global production (only the states of the European Union collectively produce more). However, China is not a major player in the global market because it consumes almost all it produces. Because most wheat is grown in the Northern Hemisphere, July and August are critical for adequate rainfall.
The current season's total wheat production is estimated to be up 6 percent from the previous season. The only major decline was in the United States, which saw a 10 percent drop from the previous season. Both Kazakhstan and Russia have had stellar years for wheat. Russian production increased from the previous year by more than 30 percent. Kazakhstan had its highest production in 30 years, representing a 132 percent increase over the 2010-2011 season and an expected export increase of more than 50 percent.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Iran Seeks Strategic Accommodation with Washington
January 19, 2012
News of the supposedly secret letter first emerged last Friday, when The New York Times reported that the Obama administration was relying on a secret channel of communication to warn the supreme leader of Iran of the consequences of crossing the line in threatening the Strait of Hormuz. Two days later, Iranian media quoted Mehmanparast as confirming receipt of the U.S. letter. He also clarified the channels through which the letter was disseminated: Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the missive to her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Khazaee. The Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also conveyed a similar message to the Iranian leadership, according to Mehmanparsat.
An Unlikely Appeal
We find it odd that the Iranians waited until Wednesday, after news of the letter had already been released, to claim that Obama used the letter to appeal for direct talks with Iran. Meanwhile, Washington responded with cautious ambiguity to this specific claim. While denying to AP that the U.S. president had sent a letter to Khamenei, an unnamed Obama administration official did say the United States was using other diplomatic channels to communicate with Iran. In a similar statement, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor reiterated that the United States had a number of ways to communicate its views to the Iranian government and that the U.S. government remains committed to establishing a dialogue with Iran. In other words, the United States acknowledges it sent a letter to Iranian leadership through multiple diplomatic channels but denies that the U.S. president himself appealed for direct talks. It is reasonable to believe Obama would refrain from such an appeal: U.S.-Iranian back-channel negotiations have a poor track record, such negotiations do not usually begin at the presidential level, and a direct appeal for talks would invite criticism from his domestic political opponents in the middle of the presidential campaign season.
The subtleties surrounding this diplomatic correspondence matter a great deal in the context of the Persian Gulf's geopolitical climate. Now that the United States has withdrawn from Iraq, Iran is trying to exploit Washington's reduced military footprint in the region. Tehran wants to convey to its adversaries that accommodating Iran is in their best interest. The best way for Iran to get this message across is to highlight the threat Tehran can pose to the Strait of Hormuz. This explains the timing of Iran's 10-day military maneuvers that centered on the strait and began on Christmas Day.
It appears that the Iranian plan is starting to get results. The United States is admitting to opening up a dialogue with the Iranian leadership, with the ultimate aim of avoiding a military conflict in the Strait of Hormuz. The question now is how far the Iranian leadership can go in negotiating with the United States.
Opportunities and Constraints
Iran clearly has the upper hand in Iraq and holds a valuable deterrent to attack -- its ability to threaten the Strait of Hormuz -- but Tehran is also operating under considerable constraints. The U.S.-led sanctions regime is making day-to-day business for Iran increasingly difficult, forcing Iran to contrive more elaborate and creative mechanisms to maintain trade ties with demanding foreign clients. Iran is likely trying to exploit Shiite unrest in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, but Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council state allies are doing everything they can to block Iran. Although they haven't been able to stamp out the unrest, these states seem capable of mitigating Iranian meddling. Finally, in Syria, the Iranian regime can take comfort in the fact that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is thus far surviving. But Iran also wants to avoid a situation in which countries looking to limit Tehran's influence -- the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, among others -- find enough reason to devote a surge of resources toward bringing down the al Assad regime, potentially depriving Iran of its foothold in the Levant.
But the United States also faces a number of constraints in trying to contain Iran. Washington has essentially ceded victory to the Iranians in Iraq, where Tehran has maintained the upper hand in managing the state's chaotic affairs. The last thing the United States wants is a military confrontation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Strait of Hormuz -- a conflict that would send oil prices soaring and exacerbate already fragile global economic conditions. The United States would like to see Iran lose its ally in Syria, but it does not want to commit the military resources to ensure the regime's toppling and does not want to risk sparking a broader sectarian conflict in the region. Further east, the United States is trying to negotiate a complicated deal with the Taliban, and Washington knows that the Iranians hold a number of levers with stakeholders in Afghanistan that could attempt to derail that deal.
The constraints each side faces have created room for diplomatic discussions to take place between rivals that have employed descriptors such as "Great Satan" and "Axis of Evil" to characterize each other. This wouldn't be the first time such a dialogue has been attempted, and there is no guarantee that this will go beyond a truce. Such a truce would entail both sides agreeing not to cross each other's red lines. For Iran, that red line is a U.S. military strike. For the United States, it is Iran's attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Regardless whether this dialogue commences, or which direction it takes, the Iranians benefit greatly from simple public knowledge of this letter. The best way for Iran to put its Saudi neighbors on edge is to spread the idea that the Americans are reaching out to Tehran for a deal. This may explain why Iran belatedly claimed that Obama appealed for direct talks in the letter. Saudi Arabia already doubts Washington's reliability as a security guarantor in the region, following the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. If the Saudis think the Americans are trying to negotiate with Iran unilaterally, Riyadh may even feel compelled to negotiate with its Persian adversary itself, just to keep up. A rush to the negotiating table is exactly what Iran wants to foment. Whether Iran can use this nascent diplomatic process to hit Tehran's aim of achieving a strategic accommodation with Washington is, of course, another question entirely.