The news is somewhat "All Greece, All the Time," but most of the pieces miss the more critical elements, and in today’s letter we will look at what I think those are, as well as at the important point that Greece is a precursor of a new era of sovereign risk. Plus, we glance at a few rather silly recent comments from economists. It will make for a very interesting discussion.
A few weeks ago I mentioned my friend Sir Walt Ratterman, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Long-time readers know that every Christmas I…
Hearts and minds, baby. "Nato has confirmed that two rockets fired at militants during its offensive in Helmand, south Afghanistan, missed their target and killed 12 civilians. The rockets struck a house in Marjah as thousands of Nato troops continued their operations to oust the Taliban. Nato's commander Gen Stanley McChrystal said that "we deeply regret this tragic loss of life". Coalition forces are aiming to build on gains in Operation Moshtarak, tackling snipers and booby-traps on day two. A third Nato death related to the operation has also been confirmed. Operation Moshtarak, meaning "together" in the Dari language, is the biggest coalition attack since the Taliban fell in 2001. The operation is also the first big test of US President Barack Obama's new "surge" strategy for Afghanistan."
Asking nicely. "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US would welcome peaceful engagement with Iran but not "while they are building their bomb". She spoke at the US-Islamic World forum in Qatar during a trip to rally Arab support for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. She said the West was "encouraging Iran to reconsider its dangerous policy decisions." The three-day Gulf tour will include her first trip to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on Iran by launching a diplomatic offensive in the Gulf. Iran says its nuclear programme is to generate electricity so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas, but the West suspects it of trying to develop atomic weapons. "The evidence is accumulating that that's exactly what they are trying to do," Mrs Clinton said."
Huge loss to mystery field. There will never be another Francis. "Writer Dick Francis, famous for his horse racing-based crime novels, has died aged 89, his family has said. Francis, who wrote more than 40 best-selling novels during his career, was also champion jockey in the 1950s and the Queen Mother's jockey. He first published his autobiography in 1957, and his first thriller, Dead Cert, followed five years later. Francis's most recent works, including Dead Heat and Silks, were co-authored by his son Felix."
Kenyan confusion escalates. "Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has revoked the prime minister's suspension of two government ministers linked to corruption allegations .... There had been growing calls for ministers to resign after millions of dollars of public money were siphoned off in an education and a maize scandal. Kenya's fractious coalition government has had its fair share of problems, but as it struggles to deal with corruption it seems to have hit an all-time low, and there is now confusion as to who is in charge."
We doubt Yemen can afford this loss. "Ten Yemeni soldiers are feared dead after a helicopter crash in Saada, a Shia insurgent stronghold in the mountainous north of the country. An unnamed official told Reuters news agency that the crash had been caused by a technical fault, adding: "The 10 soldiers are believed to be killed." The government has fought Shia rebels in the region on and off since 2004. Last week, a gun battle broke out between the two sides just hours after a ceasefire had been declared. Houthi rebels from the minority Shia Zaidi sect in Saada have been battling the government intermittently for about six years. More than 250,000 people have been displaced in the region because of the conflict. The Yemeni government is also battling against southern separatists and militants sympathetic to al-Qaeda."
Foreign journalism is lethally dangerous. "A British journalist has been arrested in Gaza by Hamas security forces, British and Hamas officials say. The man was identified as Paul Martin, The arrest was confirmed by the Foreign Office, which also said it was providing consular assistance. A Hamas spokesman said Paul Martin was arrested for violating security but further details were not given. Reports say he was taken into custody for a fortnight while attending a court hearing. Mr Martin has written for the BBC and the Times. Hamas interior ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussein said: "We have confessions that the British journalist committed offences against Palestinian law, and that harms the security of the country." Hamas is the Palestinian militant Islamist organisation that runs Gaza."
Not forgotten in Beirut. "Thousands of people have gathered in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, to mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of its former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. He had been campaigning against Syrian involvement in Lebanon when he was killed with 21 others in a bombing. Public protests led Syria to withdraw its troops after a 29-year deployment. Mr Hariri's son, Saad, who accused Syria of carrying out the killing, is now prime minister leading a government including pro-Syrian groups. The prime minister urged his supporters to turn out in force at Martyrs' Square in central Beirut, and they answered his call, says the BBC's Natalia Antelava at the rally. Speaking to the crowded square, Saad Hariri spoke of his father's legacy and called for the UN tribunal set up to investigate his murder to deliver justice. "We demand the truth, so that darkness does not win. We demand justice, so that revenge does not rule. We demand that the international tribunal act, in order to rectify this crime." "
On the bright side, political sex scandals are a sign of a mature democracy. "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suspended his chief of staff while an inquiry is held into allegations that he solicited sex from a job applicant. Last week an Israeli TV station showed footage of Rafiq al-Husseini undressing in a hotel room with a woman who was not his wife and inviting her to bed. The tape was made by a former Palestinian intelligence officer who says he wanted to expose corruption. Mr al-Husseini denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a plot."
We told you these freakazoid fuckers are scum. "The man providing legal advice to American church workers charged with trying to take children out of Haiti did jail time in the United States for bank fraud years before emerging as the key suspect in a child prostitution ring in El Salvador, according records and interviews. The mother and stepfather of Jorge Anibal Torres Puello told The Miami Herald in an extensive interview Saturday the fugitive wanted by Salvadoran police was their son, who has been advising the church volunteers in the unfolding legal drama."
That's a lot of wasted time "The oldest death row inmate in the United States, who spent most of his life behind bars, has died of natural causes at age 94. ... Viva Leroy Nash died late Friday at the state's prison complex in Florence, said an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman. ... Nash was still on death row, but spokesman Barrett Marson said Sunday he did not know if Nash died in his cell or in a medical facility at the prison."
Mexicans march against drug war "Over a thousand people took to the streets of Ciudad Juarez on Sunday to protest the city's record-setting crime wave, which civil rights groups say is made worse by the presence of some 6,000 Mexican soldiers. ... "The army's presence is anti-constitutional and violates citizens' rights. That's why we're asking them to withdraw," National Front Against Repression leader Javier Contreras bellowed at some 1,300 people taking part in the "March of Anger" in the center of the city. ... While debate over how best to fight the increasingly powerful criminal groups continues to wage within the U.S., many Mexican officials have arrived to the conclusion that legalizing cannabis -- essentially taking control of the cartel's most lucrative income source -- would be an effective opening volley."
Myanmar releases leading opposition figure from house arrest "The government hailed the release of the deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar opposition party Saturday and urged the junta to allow all political groups to take part in elections this year. ... "I welcome the release of U Tin Oo, who has been under house arrest without charge since 2003," said Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis, after the 83-year-old Tin Oo's current period of detention at his Yangon home expired. ... "It is essential that the regime now grant Aung San Suu Kyi's request to meet with the leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) so they can function as a political party." ... Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 64, has been in detention for most of the last 20 years since the ruling junta refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in Myanmar's last elections, in 1990."
Two dozen new medical schools is just a start toward what we need to remediate our provider shortage "These new schools are seeking to address an imbalance in American medicine that has been growing for a quarter century. Many bright students were fleeing to offshore medical schools, or giving up hope entirely, when they could not get into domestic schools. Meanwhile, American hospitals were using foreign-trained and foreign-born physicians to fill medical residencies. During the 1980s and '90s only one new medical school was established. ... "Huge numbers of qualified American kids were not getting into American medical schools or going abroad to study," Dr. Lawrence G. Smith, dean of the proposed Hofstra University School of Medicine, in Hempstead, N.Y., which is not yet recruiting students, said last week. "I think it was a kind of wake-up call." ... The proliferation of new schools is also a market response to a rare convergence of forces: a growing population; the aging of the health-conscious baby-boom generation; the impending retirement of, by some counts, as many as a third of current doctors; and the expectation that, the present political climate notwithstanding, changes in health care policy will eventually bring a tide of newly insured patients into the American health care system."
Cities start adding infrastructure for electric cars "As automakers prepare to introduce the first mass-market electric cars late this year, it is increasingly evident that the cars will get their most serious tryout in just a handful of places. In cities like San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and San Diego, a combination of green consciousness and enthusiasm for new technology seems to be stirring public interest in the cars. ... Utilities are gearing up to cooperate with the automakers, a first for the two industries, and governments on the West Coast are focusing intently on the coming issues. Price and tax incentives need to be worked out. Locations must be found for charging stations. And local electrical grids may need reinforcement. ... The California Public Utilities Commission, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, has brought together utilities, automakers and charging station companies in an urgent effort to write the new rules of the road. ... Much of the attention on electric cars has been on the vehicles' design, cost and performance. But success or failure could turn on more mundane matters, like the time it takes car buyers to navigate a municipal bureaucracy to have charging stations installed in their homes."
Most-medalled winter man. "Apolo Anton Ohno stands alone among United States men who have competed in Olympic Winter Games. The Seattle native took home the silver in 1,500 meter short-track speedskating Saturday at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. It was Ohno's sixth career Olympic medal, surpassing Eric Heiden. Ohno is now tied with Bonnie Blair for most medals won during the Winter Games by an American."
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Some 350 prominent economists from all over the world have written to the leaders of the G20 calling on them to implement the so-called "Robin Hood tax" on the banks "as a matter of urgency".
Two Nobel prizewinners, including the outspoken critic of the financial system Joseph Stiglitz, and scores of professors at universities from Harvard to Kyoto, are calling on G20 governments to back a financial transactions tax on speculative dealings in foreign currencies, shares and other securities of 0.05 per cent – say £500 on a £1m transaction.
The letter argues: "This tax is an idea that has come of age. The financial crisis has shown us the dangers of unregulated finance, and the link between the financial sector and society has been broken. It is time to fix this link and for the financial sector to give something back to society.
"This money is urgently needed. The crises of poverty and of climate change require an historic transfer of billions of dollars from the rich world to the poor world, and this tax would offer a clear way to help fund this."
You can read the four-paragraph letter signed by numerous Americans, including Jeffrey Sachs, here. And, in the campaign's video, you can see actor Bill Nighy as a profoundly discomfited banker reacting to the tax here:
Somebody at Goldman-Sachs wasn't swayed by banker Nighy. Last week, an attempt to game an opinion poll on the campaign's Web site was detected when there was a spike in traffic that was traced to a computer server registered at the investment giant.
That, of course, is just one of the many tactics likely to be used to shut down this idea. While a transaction tax on securities was proposed nearly four decades ago by James Tobin, his had a regulatory purpose in mind, and a levy of 0.5%, the Robin Hood Tax has revenue as its object and would be 1/100th size of Tobin's original proposal.
A proposal similar to the Robin Hood tax popped up at the G20 meeting November 7 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested it.
A transactions tax would face tough sledding in the U.S. For instance, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is dead set against it. As is, no surprise, Wall Street. The White House has proposed a levy on banks that would raise $90 billion over a decade.
House Democrats led Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio introduced their own transaction proposal - with the idea of raising $150 billion a year - in December as HR 4191. The bill has 29 co-sponsors, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated cautious support for the idea. But Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Mike McMahon of New York, and Debbie Halverson of Illinois, are actively opposing the bill.
Okay, I know I'm going against years of political normalcy here, but let me give a free piece of[...]
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