A reality check on Iran and the ‘bomb’

Much attention is paid, and rightly so, to the security of Israel and to the interests of the United States, but little attention has been given to Iran’s security needs – the regional problems facing Iran are indeed serious.

Not only does Iran have an ongoing Kurdish (Party For a Free Life in Kurdistan – PJAK) insurgency in its northwestern provinces and a growing Baloch insurgency in the southeastern border areas with Pakistan, the government in Tehran is also deeply concerned at being surrounded by countries that are in various states of collapse or conflict – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and the former Soviet Central Asian countries and by potentially hostile forces such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the massive US military presence in the Gulf.

There can be little doubt that Iran is a potentially major destabilizing factor in the Middle East, it has a more than irrational foreign policy and quite openly supports groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas in Palestine, and it may indeed eventually become a nuclear threat.

But in the long run possession of nuclear weapons is unlikely to be of any tangible benefit to the mullahs, while their actual use would bring the quick and completely justified destruction of the state of Iran.

via Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs.

What Are Those “Toxic Assests” Worth?

From late 2005 to the middle of 2007, around $450bn of CDO of ABS were issued, of which about one third were created from risky mortgage-backed bonds (known as mezzanine CDO of ABS) and much of the rest from safer tranches (high grade CDO of ABS.)

Out of that pile, around $305bn of the CDOs are now in a formal state of default, with the CDOs underwritten by Merrill Lynch accounting for the biggest pile of defaulted assets, followed by UBS and Citi.

The real shocker, though, is what has happened after those defaults. JPMorgan estimates that $102bn of CDOs has already been liquidated. The average recovery rate for super-senior tranches of debt – or the stuff that was supposed to be so ultra safe that it always carried a triple A tag – has been 32 per cent for the high grade CDOs. With mezzanine CDO’s, though, recovery rates on those AAA assets have been a mere 5 per cent.

via FT.com / Markets / Insight – Insight: Time to expose those CDOs.

A Pandemic of Economic Violence

Combine these two World Bank findings — zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices — and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances which could spread like multiple brushfires in a drought.

The Great Depression ended in a World War.

via Tomgram: Michael Klare, A Pandemic of Economic Violence.

Americans Soft Tush Kills forests

luffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.

via Mr. Whipple Left It Out – Soft Is Rough on Forests – NYTimes.com.

Is Food the New Sex?

Just as the food of today often attracts a level of metaphysical attentiveness suggestive of the sex of yesterday, so does food today seem attended by a similarly evocative — and proliferating — number of verboten signs. The opprobrium reserved for perceived “violations” of what one “ought” to do has migrated, in some cases fully, from one to the other. Many people who wouldn’t be caught dead with an extra ten pounds — or eating a hamburger, or wearing real leather — tend to be laissez-faire in matters of sex. In fact, just observing the world as it is, one is tempted to say that the more vehement people are about the morality of their food choices, themore hands-off they believe the rest of the world should be about sex. What were the circumstances the last time you heard or used the word “guilt” — in conjunction with sin as traditionally conceived? Or with having eaten something verboten and not having gone to the gym?

So if there is a moral to this curious transvaluation, it would seem to be that the norms society imposes on itself in pursuit of its own self-protection do not wholly disappear, but rather mutate and move on, sometimes in curious guises. Far-fetched though it seems at the moment, where mindless food is today, mindless sex — in light of the growing empirical record of its own unleashing — may yet again be tomorrow.

via Hoover Institution – Policy Review – Is Food the New Sex?.

USA – The Great World Hope

Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum in his book, “The Case for Goliath.

” When it comes to the way other countries view America’s pre-eminent role in the world, he wrote, “whatever its life span, three things can be safely predicted: they will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone.”

A senior Korean official remarked to Tom Friedman

“No other country can substitute for the U.S. The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

Yes, many Asians resent the fact that Americans scolded them about their banking crisis in the 1990s, and now we’ve made many of the same mistakes. But that schadenfreude doesn’t last long. In random conversations here in Seoul with Korean and Asian thinkers, journalists and business executives, I found people really worried: Could it be, they ask, that the Americans don’t know what they are doing, or, worse, that they know what they are doing but the problem is just so much bigger than anything we’ve ever seen?

via Op-Ed Columnist – Paging Uncle Sam – NYTimes.com.

Why Burma Matters

Burma’s hill tribes form part of a new and larger geopolitical canvas. Burma fronts on the Indian Ocean, by way of the Bay of Bengal. Its neighbors India and China (not to mention Thailand) covet its abundant oil, natural gas, uranium, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber, and hydropower. China especially needs a cooperative, if not supine, Burma for the construction of deepwater ports, highways, and energy pipelines that can open China’s landlocked south and west to the sea, enabling its ever-burgeoning middle class to receive speedier deliveries of oil from the Persian Gulf. These routes must pass north from the Indian Ocean through the very territories wracked by Burma’s ethnic insurrections.

via Lifting the Bamboo Curtain – The Atlantic (September 2008).

The War on Drugs Is a Failure

The revision of U.S.-inspired drug policies is urgent in light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics. The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries.

Mr. Cardoso is the former president of Brazil. Mr. Gaviria is a former president of Colombia. Mr. Zedillo is a former president of Mexico.

via The War on Drugs Is a Failure – WSJ.com.

What We Can Learn From Japan

“Japan is so dependent on exports that when overseas markets slow down, Japan’s economy teeters on collapse,” said Hideo Kumano, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. “On the surface, Japan looked like it had recovered from its Lost Decade of the 1990s. But Japan in fact entered a second Lost Decade — that of lost consumption.”

via When Consumers Cut Back – A Lesson From Japan – NYTimes.com.

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