US Buys Russian Choppers For Afghan Military

U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps

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(Washington Post) — The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan’s fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead.

In a turnabout from the Cold War, when the CIA gave Stinger missiles to Afghan rebels to shoot down Soviet helicopters, the Pentagon has spent $648 million to buy or refurbish 31 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps. The Defense Department is seeking to buy 10 more of the Mi-17s next year, and had planned to buy dozens more over the next decade.

The spectacle of using U.S. taxpayer dollars to buy Russian military products is proving a difficult sell in Congress. Some legislators say that the Pentagon never considered alternatives to the Mi-17, an aircraft it purchased for use in Iraq and Pakistan, and that a lack of competition has enabled Russian defense contractors to gouge on prices.

Read moreUS Buys Russian Choppers For Afghan Military

China pledges to ‘increase the renminbi’s exchange-rate flexibility’

Mike Krieger: This Is The Last Dance:

They refuse to allow the yuan to strengthen because they know that once they do that it will mark the real end of the dollar era. So instead they are spending like crazy on infrastructure ahead of them allowing the dollar to plunge.  Then the strong yuan will be employed to purchase all the commodities they need to utilize their infrastructure and the OECD gets priced out. To those that talk about yuan devaluation, you need to be specific.  Devaluation versus what?  Versus commodities generally along with other currencies?  I can buy that argument very easily.  Versus the dollar, highly doubtful.  Why? The latest data says China owns $877.5 billion in U.S. treasuries. All they have to do is start dumping and the dollar is finished as the Fed will be forced to print so many dollars it will make Mugabe blush.  People need to wake up.

(Mike Krieger, formerly a macro analyst at Bernstein, and currently running his own fund, KAM LP, summarizies the pretend reality we are all caught in now, knowing full well America is set on a crash course with reality at some point, yet sticking our collective heads in the sand, as the collapse will be some time in the “indefinite” future. In the meantime, banks will continue to boost US GDP by peddling “financial innovation” and restructuring advice to countries like Greece… and nothing else.)


China’s Stocks May Rally Tomorrow After Yuan Policy Move, CICC, SocGen Say

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June 20 (Bloomberg) — China’s pledge to make the yuan more flexible may boost shares denominated in the currency when markets open tomorrow, China International Capital Corp. and Societe Generale SA said.

“If it leads to appreciation for the yuan, it’s good news for the market,” Hao Hong, global equity strategist for CICC in Beijing, said in a report today. “Investors will want to get into Chinese assets because they will be worth more. It will also deflect political criticism and help stem inflation.”

The People’s Bank of China said yesterday that it will “increase the renminbi’s exchange-rate flexibility” after the economy improved. Officials have kept the yuan, also known as the renminbi, at about 6.83 per dollar since July 2008, aiding the nation’s exporters and fueling tensions with trade partners.

Read moreChina pledges to ‘increase the renminbi’s exchange-rate flexibility’

President Dmitry Medvedev Calls For ‘New World Economic Order’

Medvedev Pushes Ruble Reserve Currency to Cut Dollar Dominance

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

June 19 (Bloomberg) — Russia wants the ruble to be one of the world’s reserve currencies as President Dmitry Medvedev renews his push to reduce the dollar’s dominance and make Moscow a global financial hub.

“Only three, five years ago it seemed like a fantasy” to create a new reserve currency, Medvedev said yesterday in a speech in St. Petersburg, Russia. “Now we are seriously discussing it.”

Medvedev, who has repeatedly called for a supranational currency to match the dollar, said discussions with China are continuing on broadening the global options. Russia sold U.S. Treasuries for a fifth consecutive month in April, the U.S. Treasury Department said June 15. The world may need as many as six reserve currencies, Medvedev said.

“It’s something that’s obviously needed,” he said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “Developing a financial center in Moscow will considerably help to strengthen the ruble’s position as one of the reserve currencies.”

Medvedev’s comments underline Russia’s ambition to reassert its global power following the financial crisis. Gross domestic product shrank 7.9 percent last year, the worst contraction since the fall of communism in 1991, after the credit crunch sent commodity prices plunging.

If a country wants to alter the world economic order, including the number of reserve currencies, it must become an international financial center, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said in an interview yesterday.

‘Don’t Emerge by Fiat’

“For a currency to be a reserve currency, you have to have capital markets in which you can sell it and buy it very easily,” Fischer said. “New reserve currencies don’t emerge by fiat. They emerge as countries change.”

Medvedev said he envisages a new economic hierarchy allowing emerging-market giants such as Russia and China to drive the global agenda as the world emerges from the first global recession since the 1930s.

“We really live at a unique time, and we should use it to build a modern, prosperous and strong Russia, a Russia that will be a co-founder of the new world economic order,” he said.

Read morePresident Dmitry Medvedev Calls For ‘New World Economic Order’

North Korea lifts restrictions on private markets as last resort in food crisis

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North Koreans work on a farm near the Yalu River. A dire food shortage has led the government to lift all restrictions on private markets. (Reuters)

SEOUL — Bowing to reality, the North Korean government has lifted all restrictions on private markets — a last-resort option for a leadership desperate to prevent its people from starving.

In recent weeks, according to North Korea observers and defector groups with sources in the country, Kim Jong Il’s government admitted its inability to solve the current food shortage and encouraged its people to rely on private markets for the purchase of goods. Though the policy reversal will not alter daily patterns — North Koreans have depended on such markets for more than 15 years — the latest order from Pyongyang abandons a key pillar of a central, planned economy.

With November’s currency revaluation, Kim wiped out his citizens’ personal savings and struck a blow against the private food distribution system sustaining his country. The latest policy switch, though, stands as an acknowledgment that the currency move was a failure and that only capitalist-style trading can prevent widespread famine.

Read moreNorth Korea lifts restrictions on private markets as last resort in food crisis

UN Report Warns: Food Prices To Rise By Up To 40% Over Next Decade

I expect food prices to rise over 100% in the not too distant future.


Growing demand from emerging markets and for biofuel production will send prices soaring, according to the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation

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Somalis protest over high food prices during the spike of 2008. (Getty Images)

Food prices are set to rise as much as 40% over the coming decade amid growing demand from emerging markets and for biofuel production, according to a United Nations report today which warns of rising hunger and food insecurity.

Farm commodity prices have fallen from their record peaks of two years ago but are set to pick up again and are unlikely to drop back to their average levels of the past decade, according to the annual joint report from Paris-based thinktank the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The forecasts are for wheat and coarse grain prices over the next 10 years to be between 15% and 40% higher in real terms, once adjusted for inflation, than their average levels during the 1997-2006 period, the decade before the price spike of 2007-08. Real prices for vegetable oils are expected to be more than 40% higher and dairy prices are projected to be between 16-45% higher. But rises in livestock prices are expected to be less marked, although world demand for meat is climbing faster than for other farm commodities on the back of rising wealth for some sections of the population in emerging economies.

Although the report sees production increasing to meet demand, it warns that recent price spikes and the economic crisis have contributed to a rise in hunger and food insecurity. About 1 billion people are now estimated to be undernourished, it said.

Fairtrade campaigners said the predictions of sharply rising prices provided a “stark warning” to international policymakers.

“Investment to encourage the 1 billion people whose livelihoods rely on smallholder agriculture is vital. Not only will this increase yields but will go a long way to increase prosperity in poverty stricken regions,” said Barbara Crowther, director of communications at the Fairtrade Foundation.

“At the same time, the promise of increased agriculture commodity prices could spark a new surge in land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds and other powerful investors which risks marginalising further rural communities who must be included in solutions to secure and maintain food supplies.”

Read moreUN Report Warns: Food Prices To Rise By Up To 40% Over Next Decade

Gold Price Hits Record High Of $1,258

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The afternoon gold fix on the London Bullion Market hit a record high due to a weakened dollar and poor economic reports for the US.

Marcus Grubb, Managing Director of Investment at the World Gold Council, said: “Against a backdrop of sovereign risk in Europe, the release of weak employment numbers in the US on Thursday brought the dollar down from its recent highs rekindling fears of a double dip recession and gold duly performed in its role as a dollar hedge.

“In addition, World Gold Council figures released today, highlight that total sales by European central banks have amounted to just 1.8 tonnes since the third central bank gold agreement began in September of last year, which is significantly below historical levels.”

Mr Grubb said gold’s scarcity and attraction as a preserver of wealth in uncertain times continue to resonate with investors.

Investors’ concern that loose monetary policy will unleash inflation is among the factors prompting interest in tangible assets such as gold.

Jeremy Charlesworth, manager of the Moonraker Commodities fund, said: “If you mass produce something then it will lose value at some stage. Quantitative easing is undermining the value of Western currencies and assets.

“Yet the European Union has decided that the solution to the debt crisis is even more debt and confidence in the recovery package has now evaporated. When people abandon bonds and Western currencies they will look for real assets, which can’t be created at the touch of a button. The gold market really does have the bit between its teeth at the moment.”

Published: 3:52PM BST 18 Jun 2010

Source: The Telegraph

Iceland Rewrites Law to Create Haven For Investigative Reporting

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The new law was created with the involvement of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks

Iceland has passed a sweeping reform of its media laws that supporters say will make the country an international haven for investigative journalism.

The new package of legislation was passed unanimously at 4am yesterday in one of the final sessions of the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, before its summer break.

Created with the involvement of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, it increases protection for anonymous sources, creates new protections from so-called “libel tourism” and makes it much harder to censor stories before they are published.

“It will be the strongest law of its kind anywhere,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, MP for The Movement party and member of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which first made the proposals. “We’re taking the best laws from around the world and putting them into one comprehensive package that will deal with the fact that information doesn’t have borders any more.”

Wikileaks has been involved in the drafting of the package of laws alongside Ms Jonsdottir from the beginning of the process more than a year ago. Its founder, Julian Assange, worked from Iceland on the organisation’s release of the incendiary video of an apparently unprovoked American helicopter attack in Iraq that left eighteen people dead, including two journalists.

Mr Assange did not respond to requests for comment via email yesterday. But in February, he wrote: “All over the world, the freedom to write about powerful groups is being smothered. Iceland could be the antidote to secrecy havens … it may become an island where openness is protected – a journalism haven.”

Read moreIceland Rewrites Law to Create Haven For Investigative Reporting

Spain: The New Crisis In Euroland

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European leaders meet in Brussels today amid growing fears that Spain, Europe’s fifth-largest economy, is preparing to ask for a bailout which would dwarf the €110bn (£90bn) rescue plan for Greece.

The Spanish government yesterday dismissed reports that it was already in discussions with the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury for a rescue package worth up to €250bn.

Officials in Madrid, Brussels and Paris were forced to deny that a Spanish bailout – which would take the European debt and euro crisis into a potentially dangerous new phase – was on the Brussels summit agenda.

“Spain is a country that is solvent, solid and strong, with international credibility,” said its Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The European Commission spokesman said: “I can firmly deny [that a Spanish rescue is under discussion]. I can say that that story is rubbish.” (Sure!)

Brussels diplomats have been at pains to send out feel-good signals ahead of a summit in which Europe’s leaders are supposed to take the first steps towards more disciplined and co-ordinated, control of national finances. Those reforms are meant to restore confidence in the euro and underpin the €750m EU and IMF safety-net, created last month for euroland countries that lose the confidence of the financial markets.

However, it is proving hard to shake off persistent market fears about Spain, which, if it needed a lifeline, would swallow up a large part of the emergency fund. Worryingly for the EU, the doubts about Spain – whether real or driven by speculation – are eerily similar to the gradual seeping away of confidence that sent Greece into a financial death spiral in March and April. The Spanish government’s cost of borrowing hit a new record yesterday. The interest rate gap, or spread, between 10-year Spanish bonds and their German equivalents, rose by more than 0.10 of a point to 2.23 percentage points.

A senior Spanish banker, Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of the BBVA financial services group, confirmed that foreign private banks were now refusing to provide liquidity to their Spanish counterparts. “Financial markets have withdrawn their confidence in our country,” he said. “For most Spanish companies and entities, international capital markets are closed.”

As a result, the European Central Bank is said to have provided record amounts of liquidity to Spanish banks in recent days. The closure of bank-to-bank credit to Spanish institutions recalls to some market commentators the ripple of crisis through the global financial system after the fall of Lehman Brothers in the Autumn of 2008.

Read moreSpain: The New Crisis In Euroland

And Now Financial Scandals: The Hidden Wealth Of The Catholic Church

See also:

The Intelligence² Debate – Stephen Fry: ‘The Catholic Church is Not a Force For Good in the World’


Joachim Meisner
Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner, whose monthly stipend of 11,300 euros is paid by the government under a centuries-old agreement. Meisner and many of his fellow ministers aren’t the only ones to receive public stipends. Year after year, both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany receive generous payments from the federal, state and local governments. There are the proceeds from the church tax amounting to about 10 billion euros a year, but less well known are the annual subsidies to the church, both direct and indirect, which in the year 2000 amounted to an estimated 17 billion euros.

Part 1: The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church in Germany, already struggling to cope with the sex abuse scandal, has been hit by revelations of theft, opaque accounting and extravagance. While the grassroots faithful are being forced to make cutbacks, some bishops enjoy the trappings of the church’s considerable hidden wealth.

Shortly before Pentecost, Pastor S. received an unexpected early morning visit, not from the Holy Ghost, but from the police.

For the authorities, the words of the Gospel of Luke came true on that morning: He who seeks finds. More than €131,000 ($158,000) were hidden in various places in the rooms of the Catholic priest, tucked in between his laundry or attached to the bottom of drawers. The reverend was arrested on the spot. After several weeks in custody, Hans S., 76, is now back at the monastery, waiting for his trial.

And lo and behold, the proliferation of cash may have been even more miraculous than initially assumed. The public prosecutor’s office in the southern city of Würzburg now estimates that S. may have embezzled up to €1.5 million from collections and other church funds. The members of his flock in a wine-growing village in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia are stunned. They had blindly trusted their shepherd, who always seemed so humble and modest.

The Catholic Church is currently being shaken by a number of financial scandals, not only in Franconia but also in Augsburg, another Bavarian city, where Bishop Walter Mixa’s dip into funds from a foundation that runs children’s homes recently made headlines.

More than €40 million have gone missing in the Diocese of Magdeburg in eastern Germany, €5 million have disappeared in Limburg near Frankfurt, and it was recently discovered that a senior priest in the Diocese of Münster had 30 secret bank accounts. And while parishes throughout Germany are cutting jobs and funds for community work, many bishops are still living on the high horse. A brand-new residence? An ostentatious home for their retirement? Restoration of a Marian column to the tune of €120,000? None of these expenditures presents a problem to high-ranking church officials from Trier in the west to Passau in the southeastern corner of Bavaria, whose coffers are brimming with cash.

Read moreAnd Now Financial Scandals: The Hidden Wealth Of The Catholic Church

Hours After Debt Downgrade Greece Gets Vote of Confidence From China

Chinese sign multibillion euro contracts with Greece

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Greece’s prime minister George Papandreou welcomes Chinese vice-premier Zhang Dejiang who brought good news to the debt-ridden country.

Greece’s debt-ridden economy has received unexpected endorsement from China as the two countries announced multibillion euro accords to boost cooperation in fields as diverse as shipping, tourism and telecommunications.

The deals, which will see Greek olive oil being exported to China, were a welcome relief for a government smarting over Moody’s move hours earlier to downgrade the nation’s credit rating to junk.

As investors moved in the other direction, the world’s pre-eminent emerging economy embraced Greece. Signing the agreements, China’s vice premier Zhang Dejiang not only lauded Athens’ efforts to resolve its worst debt crisis in years but gave the eurozone’s weakest link a public vote of confidence, declaring it would soon come out of the woods.

“I am convinced that Greece can overcome its current economic difficulties,” said the politician who arrived in Athens with 30 of the economic power’s leading businessmen. “The Chinese government will encourage Chinese businesses to come to Greece to seek investment opportunities.”

Greek officials said the fourteen deals amounted to the biggest single investment by China in Europe. China views Greece as a “perfect gateway” to the continent and Balkan peninsular where Chinese exports have proliferated in recent years.

Under the agreement, Cosco, one of the world’s largest container terminal operators, will extend its reach with the construction of up to 15 dry bulk carriers in Greece. The company took over cargo management at Pireaus, the eastern Mediterranean’s premier dockyard, on a 35-year concession worth $1bn (£680m) last year.

The Chinese construction company BCEGI also signed an accord, thought to be worth €100m (£830m), to develop a hotel and shopping mall complex in Pireaus.

Other deals include the exchange of know-how between China’s Huawei Technologies and the Greek telecoms organization OTE and four agreements signed by food firms to export olive oil to China.

Read moreHours After Debt Downgrade Greece Gets Vote of Confidence From China