Current Events

U.S. Economy in Big Trouble

The Economist reported on January 12, 2006:

“The economy that Alan Greenspan is about to hand over [when he retires on January 31] is in a much less healthy state than is popularly assumed… he is leaving behind: the biggest economic imbalances in American history… Part of America’s current prosperity is based not on genuine gains in income, nor on high productivity growth, but on borrowing from the future. The words of Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian economist of the early 20th century, nicely sum up the illusion: ‘It may sometimes be expedient for a man to heat the stove with his furniture. But he should not delude himself by believing that he has discovered a wonderful new method of heating his premises.’… America kept the world going during troubled times. But now it is time for others to take the lead.”

On January 16, The Pravda published the following alarming article:

“The United States is heading to financial crisis at top speed. That is correct, America will default on its foreign debt sooner or later if the actual trends remain unchanged. Consequently, the whole dollar-based world (including savings in U.S. currency) may crumble. In actuality, the public have grown tired of numerous forecasts regarding an imminent collapse of the U.S. economy. The picture looks pretty grim this time around. Several factors will have an extremely detrimental effect on the dollar, according to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John Snow who forwarded a letter full of ominous predictions to 21 members of U.S. Congress…

“In his letter, Snow predicts a crisis in February this year. Citing U.S. government forecasts, Snow believes that America’s foreign debt currently standing at $8,184 trillion will hit the debt ceiling as early as February-March 2006. For decades the White House has been borrowing money to cover expenditures that exceeded the real economic growth rates. As a result, the U.S. public debt currently totals to $8.1 trillion, a huge figure compared to the U.S. GDP that is slightly above $11 trillion…  An additional minimum amount of $171 billion in foreign loans over the limit is required to satisfy the needs of the U.S. economy (though growth rates are far from being spectacular), otherwise the U.S. will face the first foreign debt default in its history. ‘We will run out of funds for financing the government operations by mid-March at the latest even if the U.S. Department of the Treasury takes all possible legal measures to keep the foreign debt ceiling from going up,’ says Snow. Under his scenario, the government will have to take ’emergency measures’ to pay the bills. The measures mostly boil down to cutting the spending in all areas from social sector to national security.”

The article continued:

“… a number of events are due [to] take place in March. The events look very alarming to the world of the dollar. First, Iran is to officially switch into the euro in its foreign trade operations including oil exports. Second, China is hinting at a potential increase of the euro share in its Central Bank basket of currencies. The dollar share currently holds 70% of the basket. The dollar will be severely affected should the two countries, an oil and gas producer and a manufacturer, take action in a simultaneous manner.”

Iran Threatens the West

The Observer reported on January 15:

“Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline President of Iran, launched an angry tirade against the West yesterday, accusing it of a ‘dark ages’ mentality and threatening retaliation unless it recognised his country’s nuclear ambitions. In a blistering assault, Ahmadinejad repeated the Islamic regime’s position that it would press ahead with a nuclear programme despite threats by the European Union and United States to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, where it could face possible sanctions. He added that Iran was a ‘civilised nation’ that did not need such weapons. Iran insists its nuclear programme is a wholly peaceful attempt to generate electricity.”

Regarding the nature of the threat of retaliation, The Observer speculated:

“Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer and analysts have predicted that any disruption to its supplies could have a grave impact on global markets.”

North Korea Threatens the USA

CBS reported on January 13: “North Korean three-star General Ri Chan Bok tells correspondent Dan Rather that if the U.S. invades his country, he will use nuclear weapons to defend it… Does the general think that the United States might attack North Korea? ‘We firmly believe that the United States will carry out its policies on our country, even if they have to use military means,’ Gen. Bok tells Rather. ‘What we can say to you definitely right now is that we currently have nuclear weapons,’ he threatens.”

Germans and Americans

On January 16, Der Spiegel Online published an interesting article about the differences between Americans and Europeans. The magazine stated:

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent trip to Washington has a lot of people talking about ‘common values’ among conservatives. But a US conservative is a different species from a European conservative… since the beginning of her [Merkel’s] term in November, it’s been post-Cold War realities — including secret CIA prisons in Europe, extraordinary renditions, and Guantanamo — which have defined the US-German relationship. Indeed, given such differences, one wonders just what exactly are those ‘common values’ so often touted by conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic?… British historian Tony Judt recently pointed out that Europe and America have been lumped together in an entity known as ‘the West’ only since Word War II. It’s an entity that held strong from Pearl Harbor through the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.”

The magazine concluded that a reference to “common values” should be dropped, as there is more division than agreement on true “values”–even amongst American and German conservatives.

Merkel in Russia and Washington

On January 16, Der Spiegel Online reported about Angela Merkel’s first visit to Russia as German Chancellor, stating:

“Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first visit to Moscow as German leader has heralded a cooler, more businesslike approach to Russia compared with the unquestioning friendship displayed by her predecessor Gerhard Schröder… Germany’s new chancellor, Angela Merkel, signalled a decidedly no-nonsense approach during her inaugural visit to Moscow on Monday that reflected concern in Berlin about an excessive dependence on Russian gas and Russian human rights abuses… The contrast in atmosphere compared with Schröder’s days could not have been greater. Yet analysts say the end of close personal ties won’t lead to a marked deterioration in relations between the two countries, simply because too much is at stake. It’s a cold economic fact that they need each other — Germany gets over 30 percent of its natural gas supplies from Russia and trade between the two countries surged 30 percent last year.”

The magazine summarized Merkel’s recent trips to Washington and Moscow, as follows:

“Merkel has won praise for her reserved, sober style on the international stage and was given credit for brokering a European Union budget deal last month. Her inaugural visit to Washington last Friday also went off smoothly despite her criticism earlier in the week of the detention of terror suspects without trial in Guantanamo Bay.”

However, when President Bush and Chancellor Merkel were asked during a joint press conference about the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Bush made it very clear that Washington had no intentions of closing it down any time soon. Chancellor Merkel did not take a strong position on that occasion, rather choosing to dance around the issue. It is perhaps noteworthy that subsequently, according to a news report, dated January 18, the European Parliament “demanded” of the USA the “immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, condemning the American practice of incarcerating hundreds of suspects” (Bild Online, January 18, 2006).

Did Germany In Effect Support the Iraq War?

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 17, 2006, about an outcry in Germany, after it was revealed that Germany collaborated with the United States during the Iraq war, even though former Chancellor Schröder publicly condemned the war. The article pointed out:

“Revelations that information from German intelligence agents in Baghdad was passed along to Washington, while former chancellor Gerhard Schröder publicly condemned the US-led war in Iraq, have caused an uproar in Berlin.”

The magazine continued to ask:

“So what was it? Hypocrisy at the highest levels or simply pragmatic realpolitik? Certainly, it would be naive to believe that just because Schröder refused to back US President George W. Bush’s plans for invading Iraq that all military and intelligence ties between Berlin and Washington would be cut… In an investigative report aired by German public broadcaster ARD late last week, a former Pentagon employee alleged that two Baghdad-based BND agents supplied useful intelligence to the US military’s Defense Intelligence Agency that helped American forces choose bombing targets.

“The most dramatic example of the alleged assistance may have been the April 7, 2003 attempt on the life of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. According to ARD’s Pentagon source, US intelligence received a tip that morning of a column of black Mercedes limousines near a restaurant often frequented by Saddam and other government leaders. It was thought that Saddam might be among the passengers. US officials reportedly called up German intelligence and asked them to have their agents do a drive-by of the restaurant. The German agents in Baghdad confirmed the existence of a convoy of armored vehicles outside the building and not long afterwards, four satellite-guided bombs obliterated the site. But that claim has been forcefully denied by the current BND [Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Agency] head, Ernst Uhrlau, who at the time was intelligence director at the chancellery…

“Berlin did, however, inform Washington that it had two BND agents operating in Baghdad. And once the war began, the German spooks quickly became highly valuable to US intelligence officials. Several times the Americans asked the Germans to clarify important details, such as whether or not Saddam Hussein’s claim was real that trenches around Baghdad had been filled with gasoline and would be set on fire as US forces approached… In exchange, the Americans provided the Germans with classified details about planned military operations — all valuable information for a German government that had been isolated by Washington because of its outspoken opposition to the war.”

The article published the following concluding remarks:

“While the whole episode may seem like a tempest in a tea cup to observers in Washington, it could have serious repercussions for the government in Berlin. The potential impact of the affair surrounding the two BND agents has been magnified by recent revelations about several other incidents of dubious cooperation with the United States on highly controversial matters in the war on terror. Sometimes that involved Berlin looking the other way while Washington bent the rules on human rights and sometimes the Americans simply misused German intelligence.”

Eavesdropping Without Court Approval Illegal?

The Associated Press reported on January 16, 2006, that former Vice President Al Gore accused President Bush that he “broke the law by eavesdropping on Americans without court approval.” Gore was quoted as saying: “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.” The article continued to point out:

“Gore… said the concerns are especially important on the [Martin Luther] King holiday because the slain civil rights leader was among thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government. King, as a foremost civil rights activist in the 1950s and 60s, had his telephone conversations wiretapped by the FBI, which kept a file on him and thousands of other civil rights and anti-Vietnam war activists.”

AFP reported on January 17, that “Civil liberties groups fired double-barrelled lawsuits at US President George W. Bush, challenging the legality of his domestic eavesdropping programme and demanding its immediate suspension. The suits were filed in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a host of other advocacy groups. Both actions sought an injunction that would prohibit the government from conducting surveillance of communications in the United States without judicial warrants.”

The news agency continued:

“The New York Times on Tuesday reported that much of the domestic spying conducted by the NSA after the September 11, 2001 attacks was unproductive and led federal agents to dead ends or innocent Americans. The monitoring of international telephone calls and computer messages placed by Americans to suspected terrorists abroad, and vice versa, produced such a huge amount of unfiltered information that it overwhelmed the FBI, current and former officials told the newspaper.”

First Elected African Female Leader

The Associated Press reported on January 16 about Africa’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was sworn in Monday as war-battered Liberia’s new president. The article explained about Liberia:

“Founded by freed American slaves in 1847, Liberia was prosperous and peaceful for more than a century, bolstered by abundant timber and diamond wealth. But back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 brought the country to its knees, killing 200,000 people and displacing half the nation’s population of 3 million. It is now one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 206th in terms of per capita income out of 208 countries on 2004 World Bank list. Today, not even the capital has running water or electricity: the rich rely on generators, the poor on candles. Unemployment is 80 percent.”

Focusing on Liberia’s new leader, the article continued:

“Born in Liberia in 1938, Sirleaf worked her way through college in the United States by mopping floors and waiting tables. She graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard in 1971 and took top jobs in Liberia, including finance minister, and senior positions at Citibank, the World Bank and the U.N. Twice imprisoned in Liberia in the 1980s for political reasons, she returned during a break in fighting in 1997 to run for president. She lost to Taylor, but tried again last fall, emerging victorious.”

We wish Ellen Sirleaf all the best in her endeavor to return peace and prosperity to this once peaceful and prosperous country.

War on Terror to Last for Decades?

The Daily Telegraph reported on January 17:
“Biological weapons pose a far more serious long-term terrorist threat to the West than nuclear weapons, according to Washington’s leading counter-terrorism expert. And Henry ‘Hank’ Crumpton, the newly-appointed head of counter-terrorism at the US State Department, believes that it is simply a matter of time before international terrorist groups such as al-Qa’eda acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them in attacks… [He also] warned yesterday that the ‘war on terror’ was likely to last for decades.”

Crumpton also had some harsh criticism for America’s European allies, stating:

“But despite the initial success achieved during the Afghan war in 2001, he expressed disappointment with the support Washington had received from its European allies since hostilities ended. ‘The job was not finished and it is not finished now.’ Bin Laden, who escaped to Pakistan, was ‘in all probability’ still alive, he said. The regime of President Assad in Syria also seriously threatens western security, he says. ‘The regime continues to support terror organisations. And we know that the Baathist leadership fled to Damascus taking with them money and terrorist expertise, and we cannot rule out the fact that some of that expertise related to WMD.'”

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