Wednesday, December 31, 2008

NPA Xmas truce over...

This is from
Surely the guerrilas and AFP could agree to a longer holiday truce instead of breaking up the holiday truces with a three day period of hostilities in between Xmas and New Year's.
The NPA thinks that if you use NPA territory and don't pay revolutionary taxes then you must suffer the consequences. Probably the NPA is a more efficient tax collector than the Arroyo administration!

Communist guerrillas resume hostilities
COMMUNIST New People’s Army guerillas have resumed hostilities with the end of their three-day Christmas truce last Friday.
The rebels toppled a communications tower in Quezon and engaged troops in a firefight in Agusan del Sur, killing a soldier and wounding two others.
The communist-declared truce ended December 26. A New Year’s truce will take effect December 31 and January 1.
Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said he was optimistic no untoward incident would occur during the New Year’s truce as in the Christmas cease-fire.
In Quezon, an undetermined number of NPA rebels swooped down on the Globe cell site compound in Sampaloc town, disarmed the firm’s security guard Eduardo Litaw, and then torched the cell site’s cabin, generator set, and other equipment.
1Lt. Celeste Frank Sayson, spokesman of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, said the attack on the cell site adversely affected the residents, considering the volume of people sending text messages during the holidays.
Sayson praised Globe executives for continuously rejecting the NPA’s demand for "revolutionary tax."
In Agusan del Sur Saturday, a soldier died and another was injured in a clash with at least 20 communist insurgents in Tagmamarkay village in Tubay town.
The casualties are from the Army’s 30th Battalion.
In Western Samar also on Saturday, troops from the 34th IB clashed with NPA rebels in Layo village, Pinabacdao town.
There was no casualty in the 15-minute firefight. –

Israeli Military Declares Online Media Ánother war zone''.

The press coverage in the West is almost universally pro-Israel with the occasional note that perhaps the Israeli response to the Hamas rockets is somewhat unproportional. But then the blame is always based squarely on Hamas as if by attacks on militants Israel does not provoke Hamas!
The Hamas rockets are indeed to be deplored but the damage they inflict is minimal compared to that inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians. Israel of course does very well at controlling the spin and what the media reports. Journalists are not allowed in Gaza to report firsthand what is happening. Even the warfare within the media is asymmetric with the Palestinian side having little power whereas Israel has plenty of power and control.

This is from

Israeli Military Declare Online Media ''Another war zone.''

Journalists Kept Carefully Away From Gaza as Israel Tries to Restrict Coverage
Posted December 30, 2008
Across the world, mainstream journalists are expressing increasing disquiet at the way the Israeli government is trying to manage international coverage of its war on the Gaza Strip. Journalists have been barred not just from the strip itself, but the government is now prohibiting journalists from going to parts of Israel near the Gaza Strip.
The Foreign Press Association is petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the ban, which is limiting the ability of media outlets to cover the attacks, and forces them to rely on second and third hand reports from Israeli military and Hamas spokesmen regarding the situation on the ground.
As the media struggles to get up-to-date information, television news coverage is narrow, and often relies on interviews with Israeli government officials explaining why the killings are righteous and legitimate expressions of democracy and freedom, more and more people are turning to online news sites (like for their war coverage.
The Israeli military has therefore announced that online media and the blogosphere are another warzone for the military to manage. To that end, the military is launching its own Youtube channel to bring the viewing public footage of “precision bombing operations” in the strip.
In ensuring that the only footage of their military operation is provided directly from them, the Israeli military is another step closer to completely managing public perception of the ongoing attacks. The military says the footage will allow the public to “know that people killed did not have peaceful intentions toward Israel,” which presumably means coverage of the killing of five children in their beds in a refugee camp last night, and the scores of other civilian deaths, will be carefully omitted from the official coverage.
Copyright 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Palestinian negotiator says peace talks with Israel ''suspended'

This is hardly surprising. In any event the last thing that Israel is interested in at this point is negotiating peace. It is interested in doing as much damage as it can on Hamas before reacting to international condemnation for the attacks on its own Gaza prison. There are bound to be numerous Palestinians who have only revenge in mind and heart after this so that even if Israel does manage to find some Palestinians to bargain with it will not stop the counter attacks since no Palestinian authority will have the power to control these militants as Israeli seems to demand. It would seem that Israel is also contemplating a ground invasion. This is bound to cause more losses for the Israelis and of course many for the Palestinian side in this very asymmetric warfare.

Palestinian negotiator says peace talks with Israel "suspended" 2008-12-29 22:19:29

RAMALLAH, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia said on Monday the peace negotiations with Israel "are suspended" in protest against the intensive Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
"It is impossible to hold peace negotiations with Israel, while its army is committing massacres against our people in the Gaza Strip," Qureia told reporters in the West bank city of Ramallah.
The "talks with Israel which are sponsored and supported by the United States are now suspended due to the awful bloody scene that the Gaza Strip is witnessing these days," he said.
Hamas, which has been ruling the Gaza Strip since mid June last year after it routed President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah security forces, has slammed the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) for not stopping the talks with Israel.
"There are no peace negotiations and there will be no negotiations at this time while Israel is attacking the Palestinian people," said Qureia, who is also a senior Fatah movement leader.
On Monday, five Palestinians were killed, including a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement's armed wing, in the latest Israeli air strike on southeast Gaza Strip, medics and witnesses said.
The witnesses said an Israeli air-to-ground rocket struck a car in the village of Abbasan, east of the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, killing at least five people, two of them militants.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Jihad said in a statement sent to reporters that Ziad Abu Tir, a senior militant leader of the group's armed wing, Saraya al-Quds, was killed in an Israeli air strike on his car in the village.
Mo'aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services in the Palestinian Health ministry, said 320 Palestinians were killed and over than 1,400 wounded since Saturday morning in the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Israel on Saturday launched an unprecedented and intensive operation on the Gaza Strip, saying the operation targets Hamas movement and all its political and military arms.
Since Saturday morning, Israel carried out over 300 air strikes on security buildings, mosques, metal workshops, underground tunnels near Gaza-Egypt borders and houses.

Somali president resigns.

This is from AFP.

This resignation is just a further sign of the weakness and virtual irrelevance of the internationally recognised Somalia govt. Meanwhile the Islamists are re-establishing their power base throughout most of the country. Once Ethiopian troops withdraw the Islamists will further consolidate their power. It will be interesting to see what Obama will do in relation to Somalia.

Somali president resigns
7 hours ago
BAIDOA, Somalia (AFP) — Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed resigned Monday following a bitter power struggle, adding political uncertainty to the war-ravaged country's security vacuum.
"I had promised to return the power if I could not bring peace, stability and democracy where people can elect their leader," Yusuf told a special meeting of parliament.
"I have handed over my letter of resignation to the speaker of parliament who will be the president in line with the transitional federal charter. I don't want to violate and never violated the charter," he added.
Elected in 2004, the 74-year-old former warlord headed a fractious administration. In recent months he had been embroiled in in-fighting which further weakened a government unable to assert its authority.
But Yusuf blamed the international community for failing to support his government, leading to its inability to effectively rule.
"The international community had promised more help to the people of Somalia, but that pledge was not honoured," he said.
"We were unable to pay salaries and other required logistics to the armed forces of Somalia because of lack of finance. Then the army disintegrated, unable to fight extremists."
Yusuf had been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein whom he sacked and replaced with a little-known lawmaker, who also resigned last week.
Hussein was appointed in November 2007 after his predecessor, Ali Mohamed Gedi, was also forced to resign over a bruising power struggle with Yusuf.
Yusuf differed with his premier over reconciliation efforts with the moderate Islamist-dominated opposition group following UN-sponsored peace talks in Djibouti.
The African Union's Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra urged Somali authorities to "make sure that there's no vacuum."
"We certainly hope that this development would help in bringing together the Somali stakeholders and in giving them the opportunity to implememnt what they have agreed in the Djibouti process ... to put in place a government of national unity and an expanded parliament," he said.
Yusuf's administration was the only one to receive international recognition since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled, sparking bloody clan fighting.
In 2006, his government faced a huge threat from a powerful Islamist movement that had taken control of much of south and central Somalia, prompting Ethiopia to send troops to back the government.
Now Ethiopia's plan to withdraw by the end of the month has sparked fears of security vacuum. A small African Union force in Mogadishu has failed to halt the violence.
Since the ousting of the Islamists in early 2007, the Shebab -- the military wing of the movement -- has waged relentless war against the Ethiopia-backed government forces and has retaken much of the territory it lost to its rivals.
Today, the government is only present in the capital Mogadishu and in the south-central town of Baidoa, where the parliament is based.
Parliament speaker Aden Mohamed Nur, who under the country's transitional charter steps in as interim president, called for unity.
"I have received and accepted the resignation letter of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed," Nur told parliament. "I congratulate the president for the bold step he has taken in respect of the transitional federal charter."
Yusuf then left Baidoa for the northern breakaway state of Puntland, of which he became the president when it declared its autonomy in 1998.
Somalia's parliament now has 30 days to elect a new president by secret ballot.
The winner must win a two-thirds majority of the votes. If not, a second and third round of voting is called. In the last round, the winner would only need a simple majority.
Conflict in Somalia and power struggles that erupted since 1991 have scuppered numerous initiatives to restore national stability.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grief and Fear in Gaza.

The blame for this tit for tat is mutual and not just to be put on Hamas as there is a tendency to do in the west. Israel has been targetting Hamas members for some time and the rocket attacks have been in response to these. The attacks then cause Israel to escalate resulting in more rocket attacks. Israel is punishing the whole population of Gaza and has been for some time. In fact Gaza is a huge prison controlled by Israel but also a democratically elected group of inmates Hamas!
Bombing in built up areas is bound to cause civilian casualties and the deaths of innocents indeed many more than the inefficient primitive rockets launched by Hamas into Israel.
The best we can hope for is that the US and others are able to pressure Israel sufficiently to arrange another ceasefire that will at least reduce the level of mutual violence. However, that is a very faint hope. The Israelis seem to think that this attack and a ground invasion will be a final solution to the problem of Hamas.

Grief and fear in Gaza
BBC journalist and Gaza resident Hamada Abu Qammar describes the impact of the current wave of Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets.
The streets of Gaza are deserted, apart from a few cars taking urgent cases to hospital and families screaming and shouting as they take bodies to the cemetery to be buried.
This morning I visited Shifa Hospital, the main one in Gaza.
I spoke to one man, a civilian, and also a 14-year-old boy who were injured in an airstrike on a police station in the east of Gaza City this morning.
The man said he had been going to work in a clinic when he heard the sound of planes and turned back. But after that he cannot remember what happened - he just woke up injured, with wounds in his hand, leg and stomach.
The teenage boy had blood on his head and was in a lot of pain. He could not even remember his own name. "I don't even know where I am," he said to me.
I saw a body too, in the emergency room, with a stick of wood stuck through the chest.
Yesterday I also went into the hospital; the morgue was full and bodies were left in the streets. Parents were scouring the hospital for their children.
I followed one woman who was screaming "my son, my son" as she searched the building.
Eventually they located him, a young man was in his twenties. The staff would not let her see the body, but I saw it. It didn't have a head and there was no stomach. She fainted on top of the remains of her son, which were covered with a white sheet.
The relatives in the hospital scream and scream. They don't have words to express their feelings, they just say "God help us", over and over.
'Sitting and waiting'
I have seen several Israeli airstrikes this morning - one on a Hamas police post on the coastal road, another on a house about 200m from the BBC office. Smoke pours into the sky. The largest so far today was on the Hamas security headquarters, which is also near to our office, a few hundred metres away.
I was watching it from the window. There were three very loud bangs and a power cut. I could hear women screaming in their houses, and gunshots from Hamas men surrounding the area to keep people way.
The compound was in a big residential area, with lots of high buildings and apartments. Some of the homes are only about 5m from the site - and of course those buildings were damaged, with windows shattered and falling to the ground.
Electricity comes and goes as usual. Most shops are closed. There is a lack of everything - the UN relief agency UNRWA has not been able to deliver food aid for about 750,000 people.
There are shortages of anaesthetic gas, medical supplies, flour and milk - but many of the people I have spoken to say they don't feel like eating while this is going on.
Families are just sitting in their homes. I spoke to one of my neighbours, Iman, a 14-year-old-girl. She was so scared she could barely speak.
"I don't know where to go. I don't know where is a safe place to stay. We don't know when they will strike again," she said.
Israel is not currently permitting international journalists to cross into Gaza

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Philippines: Hospitals Ready for New Year casualties.

When I first arrived as a visitor in Legazpi in October a few years ago,the first night I thought that we must live in a dangerous neighbourhood since I heard what I thought were gunshots in the evening. I was soon set straight that it was simply noisy firecrackers. The climax came on New Years when the noise lasted all night along with rockets and flares that seemed to go up from everywhere. It seems that there are few rules about fireworks in the Philippines and there are always accidents.

DOH readies hospitals
WITH Christmas over, the Department of Health is gearing for the New Year revelry by ensuring that hospitals have enough supply of medicines and equipment for victims of firecracker-related injuries.
"We have to make sure government hospitals, doctors, medical technicians and x-ray radiologists are ready," said Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
"We would want to know if there are hospitals needing added support in terms of medicines and equipment," he said.
He said in 2007, there were over 750 injury cases recorded by DOH sentinel hospitals.
Duque appealed to the public to use noise-makers instead of firecrackers and fireworks.
The National Capital Region Police Office said police will continue tandem patrols with the military until the New Year to ensure a crime-free celebration of the holiday season.
NCRPO chief Leopoldo Bataoil said the AFP-National Capital Region Command under Maj. Gen. Arsenio Arugay has deployed two companies to bolster police presence in the metropolis, with emphasis on security of vital installations, bus terminals, airports, seaport, shopping malls and other public places.
Traffic will be rerouted in the Makati Central Business District starting 10 p.m. today for the city’s New Year countdown.
Both lanes of Ayala avenue, from EDSA to Herrera street, will be closed to traffic.
The Department of Public Service advised motorists to take the following alternate routes:
For passenger buses coming from South Luzon Expressway and LRT, take Gil Puyat Avenue, left at EDSA to destination. Buses coming from EDSA/Ayala Avenue turn right to Gil Puyat Avenue to destination.
For passenger jeepneys and light vehicles coming from Washington Street, turn right to Gil Puyat, right to Ayala Avenue, right to Salcedo Street, left to Benavidez toward Esperanza, right turn to Makati avenue, right to Arnaiz avenue, right turn to Paseo de Roxas, left turn to Dela Rosa, right to Salcedo, left to Ayala avenue to destination.
For jeepneys and light vehicles coming from J.P. Rizal, turn right to Makati avenue, right turn to Paseo de Roxas, right turn to Ayala avenue to destination.
Both lanes of Makati avenue, from Paseo de Roxas to North Drive, will also be closed to traffic to make way for ground preparations.
The event features top rock acts with a laser lights extravaganza and a 10-minute fireworks display.
The event is presented by Mayor Jejomar Binay and the city government of Makati, the Makati Festivals Foundation, Ayala Land, Makati Commercial Estate Association, and ABS-CBN Foundation Sagip-Kapamilya.
This year, the event will also highlight the joint fund-raising drive of the Makati city government and the Sagip Kapamilya program. Cash donations will be collected at Sagip Kapamilya booths during the event.
Parking areas have been designated along the stretch of De la Rosa street and Paseo de Roxas. – Gerard Naval and Raymond Africa

Russian prophecies.

This is from Moscow Times. Interesting tidbits of prophecies including one about Russian world domination! In the short term though as the price of oil and gas declines the Big Russian Bear is facing a big deficit in 2009 According to the official news agency, the deficit will be 70 billion. Even in its deficit Russia does not come close to the USA.
But the lives of people and the fortune of nations are very different stories. While the fortune of a person is his or her own affair, those of countries, and of the world, are the problems of mankind. Philosophers, astrologers, and fortune-tellers have been giveing advice on these matters through the ages. Yes, people may have different attitudes to prophecies, but regardless of one's opinions about them, one thing is for sure: they are fascinating.
One historical figure that has come to be synonymous with prophecies is Nostradamus, whose name happens to be one of the most frequently searched on the Internet. His "Centuries" are said to have prophesied the burning and devastation of Moscow in 1571, Napoleon's defeat in 1812, the victory of communism in Russia and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
Recently, Russia pulled off a hat trick: hockey, football and Eurovision. The country was ecstatic and there was jubilation in the air. The press was obsessed about it, and still are. Among all the chaos I read the following comment on the Internet: When the Northern Empire wins on Ice and Grass and its Clown sings his song, Red Clouds will cover the Sky and the Apocalypse will come. This grim prophecy was said to have been one of the Bulgarian prophetess Vanga's predictions, and that made me think about Russia's future. Sear­ching for some evidence to substantiate the claim, I found out the passage was a harmless joke. Still, there are lots of prophecies about Russia that make people sit up and pay attention.
Vanga was born at the turn of the 20th century and died 12 years ago at the age of 84. Her gift of prophesy made her popular, and soon politicians visited her to have their fortunes told.
Among her most shocking predictions is what she had predicted in 1980: In August of 1999 or 2000, Kursk will be covered with water and the whole world will be weeping over it. Twenty years later, the nuclear submarine "Kursk" perished in an accident.
In January 1988 she said: We are witnessing events of paramount significance. Two big leaders shake hands. But we have to wait for a long time before the Eighth one will come forth and sign a final peace agreement on Earth. The first part of the prediction made reference to Gorbachev and Reagan, and the second to the fact that Russia joined the Group of Seven, now the G-8.
In the same way, she predicted some other events of world history. In 1989: The American brethren will fall after being attacked by the steel bird. The wolves will howl in the bush, and innocent blood will flow. It happened as predicted: The "Twin" towers of the World Trade Center in New York collapsed apparently because two commercial planes - "steel birds" - were flown into them. She predicted lots of things - the Chernobyl disaster, Boris Yeltsin's election win and so on. It is even said that Adolf Hitler left a visit with her looking very upset.
One of the popular predictions about Russia is that when the permafrost thaws and the floods come, nothing will survive on Earth but Russia. The climate will change and Russia will occupy the best inhabitable zone. Plus, Russia is predicted to herald in world peace and flourish in the face of good fortune.
Vanga also once said: "Everything melts away like ice yet the glory of Vladimir, the glory of Russia are the only things that will remain. Russia will not only survive, it will dominate the world."
Russia is on a roll with assorted victories. Whether we can believe that Russia will initiate world peace, however, remains to be seen.
By Daria Chernyshova

© 2007 Moscow News

Israel's Gaza Assault

This is from Aljazeera.

In one attack Israel has probably caused more casualties than the Hamas rockets have in years. Israel intends to overthrow the Hamas govt. in Gaza but even if it should achieve this which is not at all certain the desire for revenge is not about to evaporate. In the short term there could be even more attacks on Israel just to demonstrate that Israeli attacks cannot guarantee security. The outlook for peace between Palestinians and Israelis looks quite dim as we approach the New Year.

Analysis: Israel's Gaza assault
Osama Hamdan, the Palestinian Islamist Hamas representative in LebanonInterior ministry buildings were targeted in the raid [AFP]
Speaking to Al Jazeera, commentators and political figures share their thoughts on the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.
Osama Hamdan, Hamas representative in Lebanon
"I believe what happened today is a continuity of the Israeli collective crime against the Palestinians.
What happened in the last three years, the Palestinians were suffering under the siege.
"The Israelis expected that the people will react against the resistance and against Hamas which didn't happen in the past three years. That means they have to start very tough actions against Hamas.
"They attack 32 positions in Gaza, we expect the casualties will ... reach 200 killings.
"There is a clear reaction of the Palestinians in Gaza. They are calling for revenge. They are asking for the Palestinian resistance to react against the occupation.
"I believe Israel is not learning the lesson. They don't know that this kind of aggressive attack against the Palestinians creates a new cycle of violence inside Palestine. It will not defeat the Palestinian resistance.
"We are talking about six decades of occupation and, until now, the Palestinian people are resisting. What has happened today in Gaza will not stop the resistance, will not defeat the Palestinian people. They will find themselves under a reaction from the resistance.
"The peace process has completely failed, so we have to talk about a new process in the region which is supposed to start from the restoring of Palestinian rights and the commitment towards those rights.
"No one will accept now any talk about a peace process, because everyone knows that the Palestinian people are fed up with 17 years of negotiation without any result.
"The second thing which I believe is happening every morning is that Palestinians believe that there is no solution unless there is a resistance."
Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought
"If you remember what Tzipi Livni said in Egypt after her meeting with President Hosni Mubarak and the foreign minister, she made a clear warning, not just about a tit-for-tat attitude, but about a change in Gaza.
"That's why I suspect that the operation is not only intended to be limited, but aimed at toppling the regime in Gaza altogether, otherwise why would Israel target the police force?
"They are not the ones firing missiles in Israel - the police force keeps the order in Gaza. This is an operation that will create disorder and I suspect that Egypt and Ramallah are colluding in this.
"Israel would never have carried out such a massive attack had it not been for a green light from people that matter - for instance the United States, some of the European powers and also from Egypt and Ramallah.
"Hamas did not say it wanted the truce to be renewed, it wanted to renegotiate new terms for the truce. Hamas wanted a truce with the Israelis that would bring about the end to the siege.
"Unfortunately, because the Egyptian broker was a dishonest broker, siding by Israel and siding by Ramallah, the truce did not bring the most important dividend which was ending the siege.
"So Hamas said 'if you want to renew the truce, let's end the siege and open the crossings.' The Egyptians would not agree to this. The Israelis would not agree to this.
"The Israelis were not interested in renewing a truce. Cairo was determined to give Hamas a fatal blow and they gave the green light to Israel I suspect

Bush's 1 Trillion War on Terror: Even Costlier Than Expected

This is from Yahoo.
The absolute amount of US debt will be staggering when the hundreds of billions in bailout costs is added to these war costs. Once attempts are made to reduce these deficits wages and social programs will be the first to suffer. There will be continual clamour about unsustainable social security, unsustainable medicare and aid, unsustainable welfare, and on and on. What must be sustained however are profits because that is the sine qua non of capitalist production.
Once the economy begins to turn around watch for inflation and decrease in value of the US dollar.

Bush's $1 Trillion War on Terror: Even Costlier Than Expected
By MARK THOMPSON / WASHINGTON Mark Thompson / Washington Fri Dec 26, 4:30 am ET
The news that President Bush's war on terror will soon have cost the U.S. taxpayer $1 trillion - and counting - is unlikely to spread much Christmas cheer in these tough economic times. A trio of recent reports - none by the Bush Administration - suggests that sometime early in the Obama presidency, spending on the wars started since 9/11 will pass the trillion-dollar mark. Even after adjusting for inflation, that's four times more than America spent fighting World War I, and more than 10 times the cost of 1991's Persian Gulf War (90 percent of which was paid for by U.S. allies). The war on terror looks set to surpass the cost the Korean and Vietnam wars combined, to be topped only by World War II's price tag of $3.5 trillion.
The cost of sending a single soldier to fight for a year in Afghanistanor Iraq is about $775,000 - three times more than in other recent wars, says a new report from the private but authoritative Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. A large chunk of the increase is a result of the Administration cramming new military hardware into the emergency budget bills it has been using to pay for the wars. (See pictures of U.S. troops in Iraq)
These costs, of course, pale alongside the price paid by the nearly 5,000 U.S. troops who have lost their lives in the conflicts - not to mention the wounded - and the families of all the casualties. And President Bush insists that their sacrifice, and the expenditure on the wars, has helped prevent a recurrence of 9/11. "We could not afford to wait for the terrorists to attack again," he said last week at the Army War College. "So we launched a global campaign to take the fight to the terrorists abroad, to dismantle their networks, to dry up their financing and find their leaders and bring them to justice."
But many Americans may suffer a moment of sticker shock from the conclusions of the CSBA report, and similar assessments from the Government Accounting Office and Congressional Research Service, which make clear that the nearly $1 trillion already spent is only a down payment on the war's long-term costs. The trillion-dollare figure does not, for example, include long-term health care for veterans, thousands of whom have suffered crippling wounds, or the interest payments on the money borrowed by the Federal government to fund the war. The bottom lines of the three assessments vary: The CSBA study says $904 billion has been spent so far, while the GAO says the Pentagon alone has spent $808 billion through last September. The CRS study says the wars have cost $864 billion, but it didn't factor inflation into its calculations.
Sifting through Pentagon data, the CSBA study breaks down the total cost for the war on terror as $687 billion for Iraq, $184 billion for Afghanistan, and $33 billion for homeland security. By 2018, depending on how many U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq, the total cost is projected likely to be between $1.3 trillion and $1.7 trillion. On the safe assumption that the wars are being waged with borrowed money, interest payments raise the cost by an additional $600 billion through 2018.
Shortly before the Iraq war began, White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey earned a rebuke from within the Administration when he said the war could cost as much as $200 billion. "It's not knowable what a war or conflict like that would cost," Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said. "You don't know if it's going to last two days or two weeks or two months. It certainly isn't going to last two years."
According to the CSBA study, the Administration has fudged the war's true costs in two ways: Borrowing money to fund the wars is one way of conducting it on the cheap, at least in the short term. But just as pernicious has been the Administration's novel way of budgeting for them. Previous wars were funded through the annual appropriations process, with emergency spending - which gets far less congressional scrutiny - only used for the initial stages of a conflict. But the Bush Administration relied on such supplemental appropriations to fund the wars until 2008, seven years after invading Afghanistan and five years after storming Iraq.
"For these wars we have relied on supplemental appropriations for far longer than in the case of past conflicts," says Steven Kosiak of the CSBA, one of Washington's top defense-budget analysts. "Likewise, we have relied on borrowing to cover more of these costs than we have in earlier wars - which will likely increase the ultimate price we have to pay." That refusal to spell out the full cost can lead to unwise spending increases elsewhere in the federal budget or unwarranted tax cuts. "A sound budgeting process forces policymakers to recognize the true costs of their policy choices," Kosiak adds. "Not only did we not raise taxes, we cut taxes and significantly expanded spending."
The bottom line: Bush's projections of future defense spending "substantially understate" just how much money it will take to run Obama's Pentagon, Kosiak says in his report. Luckily, Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to hang around to try to iron out the problem.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pakistan deploys soldiers to Indian border

This is from the Guardian (UK)
The US wants to defuse the tension between India and Pakistan so that Pakistan can concentrate on the war on terror but it seems that this is not to be. I suppose India believes that if the US can use drones to attack jihadists in the territories then India should be able to use air attacks against suspected jihadist sites in Pakistan.

Pakistan 'deploys soldiers to Indian border'

Saeed Shah in Islamabad, Maseeh Rahman in Delhi
The Guardian, Saturday 27 December 2008

Pakistan moved troops away from its western border with Afghanistan, amid reports that thousands of soldiers were being redeployed along the eastern frontier with India yesterday, in what would be a major escalation of the confrontation between the two countries after the Mumbai terrorist attack last month.
Most experts still believe that war between the nuclear-armed adversaries is unlikely but, if confirmed, the troop movements risk triggering a conflict, with both sides in a state of nervous high alert.
A Pakistani defence official said: "Troops in snowbound areas and places where operational commitments were less [in the west], have been pulled back."
The official denied that the soldiers had been sent to the Indian border. However, media reports quoted witnesses who had seen long convoys of trucks carrying troops, passing through towns.
Pakistan has cancelled leave for all its soldiers, while India has told its citizens not to travel to Pakistan. "We are at the cusp of war," said Zafar Hilaly, a retired Pakistani ambassador turned analyst. "I really do think there is a chance. We shouldn't, by any means, rule out some kind of hostile action on the part of India."
Washington reacted with alarm at the reports, contacting Islamabad and New Delhi. "We hope that both sides will avoid taking steps that will unnecessarily raise tensions during these already tense times," said a US national security council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe.
New Delhi has blamed "elements from Pakistan" for the assault on Mumbai, hinting that the Pakistani-based extremist outfit that carried out the attack had support from a section of the army. Islamabad has offered to co-operate but says that no evidence has been shared by India.
A terrorist attack in India in late 2001, again blamed on Pakistani militants, triggered a massive build-up of troops on both sides of the border, with US intervention needed to avert the possibility of war.
Analysts believe that India's military options are limited to air strikes, but they are likely to be counter-productive and risk setting off a full-scale conflict. India would lose any moral high ground, and air strikes could not destroy the jihadist network.
There have been unconfirmed reports in recent days that India has moved troops to Rajasthan, which borders Pakistan. New Delhi was also reported to have cancelled all military leave until April after the attacks on Mumbai on November 26. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, met the army, navy and air force chiefs yesterday for the second time in a week.
Pakistan fears that India could launch an invasion from Rajasthan into Sindh province, aiming to cut off the north from the southern half of Pakistan. The calculation from India is thought to be that going into Sindh would not trigger a nuclear response from Pakistan - unlike the risk posed from invading the country's heartland Punjab province.
"Pakistan and India are at some distance from war, but when troops start moving, any misperception, or any miscalculation, can be dangerous," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, an analyst based in Lahore.
The Indian government has at times ruled out war, while at other points suggested that "all options" are open.
Since the Mumbai incident, India has demanded that Pakistan crack down on militant groups and believes that Islamabad's actions so far have not been genuine. "The issue is not war," Singh told reporters earlier this week. "The issue is terror, and territory in Pakistan being used to promote, aid and abet terror here."
Pakistan maintains that it cannot act without evidence. "There is not much that Pakistan will or can do to address Indian demands," said Kamran Bokhari, head of Middle East analysis at Stratfor, a private US geopolitical intelligence firm. "There are signs from both countries of preparation for war. Unilateral military action on the part of New Delhi appears quite likely."
India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said yesterday that "instead of raising war hysteria, they [Pakistan], should address this [militant] problem".
"We are for peace, not conflict," said Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani. "But if there is any action, we will retaliate."

Samir Amin: There is no alternative to Socialism.

This is from hinduonnet.
Samir Amin is a well known Egyptian left wing economist.
Amin takes a very different view of the present crisis than many leftist. For example many leftists consider the present crisis to be caused by a lack of regulation to a considerable extent. Amin considers the crisis one of the distribution of profits among oligolopolies. Deregulation is a product of the competition for profits. It should be noted that as the crisis continues large corporations often become larger by gobbling up failing competitors or merging often with the aid of governments.
Amin sees countries of the South possibly decoupling from the western global finance system. He believes that China has already done so to some extent and by concentrating its stimulus finance on internal markets will do so even more. India is moving in the direction of further integration with the west. I am not sure how far China can decouple as its development has been strongly linked to export development and it has also encouraged foreign capital to invest in China.

‘There is no alternative to socialism’
Interview with Egyptian economist Samir Amin.
SMITU KOTHARI Samir Amin: “It was the financial corporations that asked the governments to step in and ‘nationalise’ them. The rescue package was drafted by them, and they are in control of most of the bailout money.”
THE financial crisis continues to spread rapidly across the world, crippling banks, stock markets and manufacturing industries and leaving hundreds of thousands jobless in its wake. Two days after the much hyped meeting of the Group of 20 in Washington, D.C., economist Samir Amin shared his insights into and analysis of the arduous road ahead for economic globalisation and the urgent need for a course change from capitalism and the possibilities of a new internationalism in the form of a Bandung II initiative. The dominant view in the media and in policymaking circles is that the current financial crisis is the result of undue deregulation and the greed of a few in Wall Street. We feel that we need to go beyond the superficial and descriptive framing of the crisis and understand it historically and politically. What is your analysis?
The financial collapse is only the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface there is a deep crisis of accumulation of capital in the real productive economy, and deeper even there is a systemic crisis of capitalism itself. Let us look at the tip of the iceberg first – the so-called financial crisis. This is not the result of mistakes or irresponsibilities of the banking system operating freely in a deregulated environment. This flawed analysis gives the impression that if regulations are put in place the crisis will be corrected. This has been the expected response of the G-20 in Washington, D.C. And this should not be surprising since the G-20’s feeble declaration has been prepared beforehand by the International Monetary Fund [IMF] in concert with the G8.
I would like to submit another vision of this crisis, and for this we have to get rid of the notion of seeing this as a result of neoliberal globalisation. This is limiting because it is descriptive and not analytical. The reality of the current system is the extreme centralisation of capital and a limited number of large oligopolies, some 5,000 in number across the world, that control power at the global, regional and national levels. It is their decisions that are shaping the world. We are at a level of centralisation that is far higher and stronger than we were just 50 years ago. This extreme centralisation of capital has led to a fundamental shift in the logic of the management of the system – instead of investing in the productive economy to produce surplus value, of course with the exploitation of labour, the focus is now on the struggle to redistribute the profits of that surplus value between the oligopolies. This redistribution of profits among them is done through financial investments. Each one of them tries to widen its sphere of financial investment in order to redistribute the profits in its favour. These profits are of another nature – they are monopoly rents. And this is what is being called “financialisation”. And deregulation is essential in this struggle by the oligopolies for more profits through financialisation. And deregulation is not being fundamentally questioned as one can see from the new rules articulated in the November 15 G-20 communique.
The attempt of the oligopolies and their Western governments is to restore the system as it was, and this is not impossible in the short run. Let us assume that the injection of billions of dollars will avoid the breakdown of the major financial institutions and restore a minimum credibility of the monetary and financial system. The second condition for the system being restored is that protests of the victims of this crisis will be manageable. Through inflation, unemployment and reduced pensions, common people will pay, and their protests will be manageable, fragmented and will not disrupt the system. The third condition is that the global South accepts and plays by the rules of the game – that is, the need to maintain the globalisation of the monetary and financial system by being part of it. And that restoring the monetary and financial system needs the inclusion of the monetary and financial systems of the South into the global integrated one. That is the target of the meeting of the G-20 – to bring key emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil and others into this project of restoring the system to what it was. Without having these countries on board, any restoration will not last long. Without having a crystal ball, I would say that even if it is restored it will not be for long. We will have another and deeper crisis within a few months, a few years, not much more than that.
What needs more research and more debate among us, people of the Left, is that the current breakdown is not the result of mistakes on regulation, etc. (which is the mainstream view), but a logic that is innate by the very centrality of the struggle for the redistribution of profits among the oligopolies. So the solution to this problem requires radical change, is long term and will come about when the oligopolies are nationalised with the objective of socialisation. This is, of course, not on the present agenda. And, therefore, we continue to be in a serious and continuous crisis of capitalism and imperialism, and not just of the financial markets. And this need not be the last one, and capitalism could come out of it sooner or later, but as long as cosmetic changes are applied, the world will continue to go from crisis to crisis. There is an impression that this crisis offers new possibilities for the global South. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claims that a significant shift is taking place, and emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India now have an equal standing at the high table of geopolitics. He has also claimed credit for anticipating the global crisis, stating that several protective measures have been put in place in India. And in this context, the reformist calls for the reorganisation of the World Bank and the IMF so that they reflect the current global stature of developing countries have gotten louder. Will the presidency of Barack Obama listen to any of this and be any different?
The last question first. For sure, Barack Obama is better than a John McCain. Also, from the point of view of the evolution of U.S. society, it is something positive for an African American to be elected President. But from the point of view of policies and politics of the U.S. vis-a-vis the rest of the world, little will change. Perhaps the tonality, the language will change but the targets will be the same. Remember that during the campaign, while Obama promised many changes on the domestic social front, he did not say anything important in respect to the U.S.’ global geopolitical strategy. So I do not expect any major shift in policy with regard to Iraq, Afghanistan nor for that matter with China and Russia.
Now to the earlier set of questions, which are more important and complex. On the G-20, there is no need to go into details of the communique. I hold that the set of policies which aims to restore the system was already decided on at the onset of the financial crisis a few months ago. And this was not decided by the governments of the U.S., Japan and Europe (the triad) but by the oligopolies themselves and accepted later by the former. It was the financial corporations that asked the governments to step in and “nationalise” them. The rescue package was drafted by them, and they are in control of most of the bailout money.
And simultaneously the calls for reform of the IMF are essentially moves to help the organisation function in a changed environment. In the past 10 years or so, several Southern countries have exited from IMF programmes because they got rid of their debt through export surpluses, etc. So the IMF became irrelevant, and the language of reform is now being used to integrate key emerging economies into the financial system. This way, the countries of the South will pay their share for restoring the system when they should logically be using the opportunity of the crisis to decouple and move out of the system. So you find the masquerade of the G-20 and the key countries of the South rubber-stamping the decisions of finance capital.
Let’s look at why China agreed to the G-20 measures. The G-20 communique is unimportant for China. It does not want a political conflict with the West and the U.S. in particular. China is not integrated in the global monetary and financial system and it is unlikely that it will move towards integration, so the decisions taken in the November 15 summit will have little consequence for it. There will be pressure on China to integrate with the system but it is unlikely to, and government officials have repeated this in the recent past.
But that is not the case for other countries of the South. Take India which is partially integrated with the global monetary and financial system. It has maintained exchange control, does not have capital account convertibility, has a number of major nationalised banks and has limited the operations of foreign banks. Instead of taking the opportunity of the crisis to move out of the system, the choice of the Government of India has been the opposite, that is, to move deeper into the system and accept empty flattery from the West of being an emerging global power with a seat at the high table. This is also related to political issues such as the nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. and the ambition of India to be a counter force to China in Asia with the support of the U.S. This is the choice of the ruling class in India. Whether this decision can be challenged by the Left and progressive forces and maybe even some sections of the ruling Congress party remains to be seen. If this remains unchallenged, it is very dangerous.
With respect to other countries in the G-20 such as South Africa, South Korea and Brazil, they are completely integrated with the system. Their only hope is that the system will not have them pay too much because of the current crisis. Malaysia did move out partially after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and could be in a situation similar to India’s.
This situation is indicative of the loss of legitimacy of the ruling classes in the South. One more related point on Prime Minister Singh’s statement that he had anticipated the crisis and had taken precautionary measures: this is pure political rhetoric, and to say that the crisis was expected is a lie. In terms of precautionary measures, the fiscal stimulus initiated by the Government of India is exactly what finance capital and big business wants.
All the conventional economists and therefore governments did not expect such a crisis. Even among the Left economists, there were very few who saw this coming. I wrote in 2003 in Obsolescent Capitalism that this continuous search for a redistribution of profits will lead to a breakdown of the financial system, but I also wrote that I did not have a crystal ball to predict when that would happen. Even before the crisis broke out, trade liberalisation was having a rough time. The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha Round of negotiations continue to flounder into its 8th year. The WTO plus bilateral and regional free trade agreements are being negotiated but at a very slow pace. The crisis is likely to see a wave of protectionism in the developed world. President Obama will inherit an anti-trade U.S. Congress. Given this context, what do you see as possibilities for alternative frameworks outside of free trade such as the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development)-led General System of Trade Preferences (GSTP) and the Latin American experiment with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA?
At a conceptual level we should distinguish trade from free trade. Being against free trade does not mean that you are against any kind of trade. Delinking from the free-trade paradigm does not mean moving to the moon. Unfortunately, for most Southern governments, speaking of trade has become synonymous with free trade. Free trade can be multilateral, regional or bilateral and it is undesirable in all three scenarios for the countries of the South. A third point is that the U.S. has been pro-free trade both at the multilateral and bilateral level, not for them but for their trading partners. The current U.S. Congress is opposed to free-trade rules being applied to the U.S. but it wants the same rules to access markets in the global South. This is very typical behaviour of a hegemonic power, that is, “you have to comply with international law, but I won’t”.
In all cases, free trade – multilateral or bilateral – is being questioned for a number of years. The blind alley into which the Doha Round has moved is just one example. The conflicts on agriculture subsidies and exports and services liberalisation will continue. So the current crisis is also a very good opportunity to move out of the concept of free trade to regulated and negotiated trade. This negotiation must be asymmetric because there is an objective asymmetry between the North and the South. This reminds me of a joke about the fisheries agreement between France and Senegal. “The French fleets are allowed to fish in the Senegalese waters and vice versa.” [Laughs] This kind of hypocrisy is not acceptable.
Indeed, UNCTAD has always suggested principles for global and regional trade negotiations. Among the proposals from the South, ALBA is the best and most advanced of the lot. ALBA is a project not of economic market integration of South America but of building complementarities that are planned, decided and negotiated by governments. This, importantly, also includes a common political stand. Unfortunately, ALBA is not effective yet because Brazil rejects the logic of ALBA. And an ALBA without Brazil means Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia and this is not enough to change the balance of forces in Latin America. You have been talking about the need for a Bandung II. Bandung I was underlined by a deep sense of idealism, with the participating leaders influenced by different kinds of socialisms. There is also a decline of the Left and its role as an emancipatory political force forging an alternative to capitalism. How do you see these processes?
When you say that there was a moral content in Bandung I, I would qualify it as nationalist. There was a nationalist feeling precisely because the states of Bandung were coming out of an emancipatory history of struggle for national independence, associated with radical reform like in China, or with semi-radical reform in some other countries, or with very little reform but still, nationalism. We can call it positive nationalism. But that was the limit of Bandung because it meant that nationalism was operated by the ruling classes, in the larger sense.
Today, most people have lost their confidence in nationalism. Bharat? What does it mean for an Indian child? Nothing. Other identities – Hinduism, regionalism, etc. – have become more important. This is a proof that the good nationalism which played its positive role in bringing together the peoples of India against the British is now losing credibility, but what is replacing it is not internationalism of working people; it is illusions of pseudo-nationalism, we could call them new nationalisms. This is a very dangerous trend.
This is what I am calling the liberal virus. The Left must get rid of this liberal virus. The liberal virus is the belief in two or three things. One – that there is something called a market system.
There is nothing which would qualify as a market economy. Markets exist, but there are capitalist markets, there could be socialist markets. There were markets even before capitalism as in India and elsewhere. There are market subsystems in an overall system, and we are dealing with capitalist markets, not markets. That is one dimension of the virus – accepting the language of the dominant powers that there are two types of economy, planned, that is, administratively managed, or market managed. There is nothing of the two. These are two ideological pictures of reality. Let us get rid of that and understand that there is nothing called the market economy. There is a capitalist economy, of course with markets, but markets are submitted to the logic of accumulation of capital. It’s not a market which produces, as a by-product, capitalist accumulation. Capital accumulation commands and controls the market.
The second belief is democracy separated from social questions. Today, democracy is being defined through parties, elections, fair elections more or less and some basic political rights. There is less concern about whether it is leading to social progress. What we need is democratisation of society, associated with social progress, not disassociated from it – associated with the task of giving full importance to social rights, to the right to food, to shelter, to employment, to education, to health, etc. This does not mean only putting them in the Constitution but creating the conditions where the exercise of those rights in order to achieve social progress limits the rights of property. The right of property can be recognised but [should be] submitted to the social rights.
This is a real revolution in the concept of democracy. Even the Left today accepts that pattern of, let’s call it bourgeois democracy if you want, or representative democracy or some caricature of democracy or masquerade. It accepts it as if socialism should be submitted to the absolute recognition of property rights. There is an absolute contradiction there. Socialism is socialisation of property; it’s not the absolute respect of property rights.
There are other dimensions to the liberal virus. The liberal virus is also working at the global level – that there is no alternative but to operate within the global system as it is dominated by imperialism; we have to unilaterally adjust to it.
That is part of the liberal virus, which has also been called structural adjustment; which is structural adjustment of India today to the requirement of accumulation of capital in the United States and not the opposite, of course. Not the adjustment of the United States to the needs of development in India. Now that is also something the Left has to get rid of. You have been saying for several decades now that capitalism is on the decline – with indicators such as the polarisation of wealth, the loss of productive capacities of peoples and the destruction of the environment – but the fact is that it is still hegemonic. So where do you see the impulses of a people-centred socialism coming from in this hegemonic environment?
I am optimistic because I think we are moving towards the possibility of a Bandung II. That is, of a common front, an alliance, a rapprochement and a convergence of most of the countries of the South against the North or independent from the North at least to a certain degree. The content of such an alliance should be the following. One, it should move out of the current monetary and financial system as far as possible. Some countries will be able to do this. China is an example and perhaps Malaysia too. Perhaps, this will encourage other countries to move in this direction.
Second is to give priority to shift their internal development policies from outward-oriented export strategies towards the domestic popular market or the masses as far as possible. This is easy for continental countries such as China and India. There are signs that China is already doing this by moving out of the logic of global markets. India can do this but it is doing the opposite. China has six-odd special economic zones [SEZs] and they are highly regulated, and India is on the flawed path to set up some 500 SEZs, which will be practically open and unregulated. The other countries that are not as big as these two should give priority to regional cooperation instead of focussing on the markets of the North. Regional cooperation is not easy in South Asia because you have India, which is big, and the rest are small countries. And there is a rightful fear of Indian sub-imperialism in the region. But if you take Asia with China, India, South Asia and South-east Asia, then you get a more balanced picture and there is more room for genuine trade and economic cooperation. Such a response with key countries from Africa and South America is what I would like to call Bandung II.
And this will be different from the first Bandung conference with Asian and African states in 1955. The focus now can also be on issues like technology. These states, especially China, India and Brazil, are now in a position to develop technologies by themselves. This is a huge difference from the 1955 meeting because at that time these countries had hardly any industries and the level of technical and scientific knowledge was very low. So despite the lofty goals of the conclave, they had to import technologies and submit to the conditions of the West. UNCTAD did try to set up initiatives to absorb and learn from technologies and some countries did benefit.
Now the situation is different, and the challenge of the monopoly of technologies by the North can now be countered by the South. It is therefore no surprise that the WTO (through the Agreement on TRIPS [trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights]) is being used by the North to overprotect that monopoly. I think China is de facto using mechanisms to overturn this monopoly, and this is why you hear protests on China not protecting intellectual property rights. India could also do this but it is not. The city of Bangalore is a services powerhouse but sadly not geared towards the development of India but for the primary benefit of transnational corporations and raising their monopoly rents. And this is done with cheap but highly educated Indian professionals.
So Bandung II should be conceived very differently even at a political level. Bandung I was a meeting of the states and its peoples. China had just come out of a revolution, and India, Indonesia and Egypt were newly independent from colonialism. So to a large extent, these governments were legitimate in the eyes of their own people and there was a progressive nationalistic outlook. But now we are faced with ruling classes that are much more comprador and that benefit from their integration with the global system. And, therefore, they have little legitimacy, and Bandung II must be a Bandung of the people. If this popular mobilisation of the people can happen, maybe some governments will change.
In other words, this means it has to be a Bandung of the Left. And this obviously means that the Left does not act like it does now, that is, that there is no alternative to capitalism. What I am trying to say here is that the clear message should be that “there is no alternative to socialism” in the long run. And this is where the importance of internationalism comes in. If a new internationalism does not happen we will be faced with more of the crisis situations of the rise of political Islam, political Hinduism, political ethnicism and the like. This is an imminent danger because when people lose confidence in the power structures they will be easily manipulated by those illusions. And we should bear in mind that this is absolutely acceptable by imperialism, provided they don’t go too far into so-called “terrorism”. The World Social Forum is entering its ninth year. It is going to be held in Belem. You have been quite critical about the WSF. What are your thoughts on that, as well as the role the WSF should be playing given the current crisis? Given that across the world, even in pockets, even if it is fragmented and disorganised, there is growing resistance to capitalism, how do you see us building the transitions? Institutionally, politically, organisationally, in terms of a new internationalism – somewhere you called this the fifth international?
Well, this also relates to the question of the World Social Forum. I think the gloomy years were very short. The first half of the 1990s, from the breakdown of freely existing socialism, the move on the capitalist road by China. Then movements of resistance and of protest started again. Everywhere in the world, in the North and in the South, in the East and in the West. Because the consequences of the implementation of the so-called neoliberal – it’s not neoliberal, its ultra reactionary, full stop.
Whether it was growing pauperisation, growing inequality, growing unemployment, growing precariousness, etc., it’s only normal that the people started resisting and organising themselves and protesting. It’s also absolutely normal that the resistance and its beginning is one, fragmented; because everyone is fighting on the immediate front to which he or she is confronted. Two, that they remain basically defensive that they want to defend what was acquired before, whether in the North defending the social democratic welfare state or in the South defending land reforms or the rights to education, free public health and free education or against privatisation and all that.
Now, the World Social Forum came naturally as a result of that growing protest and resistance as a forum open to all movements of protest. I’m not negative about it. I’m considering that it is positive to the extent that we, the World Forum for Alternatives, existed before the World Social Forum and played a role in it and will continue to do so. But, we believe that this is not enough, and that the challenge is far more serious than many of the social movements believe. They believe that through their fragmented resistance they can change the balance of forces.
I feel that this is wrong. The balance of forces cannot be changed unless those fragmented movements forge a common platform based on some common grounds. We, the World Forum for Alternatives, call it convergence with diversity, that is, recognising the diversity, not only of movements which are fragmented but of political forces which are operating with them, of ideologies and even visions of the future of those political forces; and that this has to be accepted and respected. We are no more in the situation where a leading party alone was creating the common front with transmission belts, etc. etc. It’s very difficult building that convergence in diversity, but unless this is achieved, I think the balance of forces will shift in favour of the popular classes.In India, there is a growing trend of religion playing a more strident and aggressive role in politics, often deciding its course. And there is, therefore, a growing shift towards the Right, towards greater social conflict and violence, towards the kind of fragmentation that we are seeing. We are also witnessing a marriage of convenience between this religious Right and the forces of economic globalisation. Where do you see the potential for democratic political forces to intervene in this, to bring some constructive political outcome?
That’s a very difficult question. My judgment on this political Islam, political Hinduism is very negative. They are reactionary. It’s not because they are religions. It’s because of the content. And they are manipulated by the ruling classes.
I don’t think that this political Islam, political Hinduism has been the spontaneous product of the popular classes. To a great extent, they are operated and mobilised in order to avoid the Left. With a view to creating a wall which prevents the Left from penetrating the popular classes. It’s an illusion. It has worked precisely because the political elite has lost its credibility and its legitimacy. And these forces appear as alternatives.
If we look within their programmes, these are not only socially and culturally, in most cases, reactionary but they are economically and socially reactionary. They accept, de facto, existing capitalism, existing imperialism, and they compensate their submission to them by creating an internal enemy. Whether the Muslims here, the Hindus there or the Christians elsewhere. And this is really dangerous.
Now, how do we deal with this reality? It’s not easy for the Left. It’s a real challenge. And the Left cannot just remain at the level of principles. To say that the alternative is a secular state which separates itself from religion is not enough. It has also to develop how the influence of those reactionary forces on the popular classes can be defeated. Through the Left moving into the masses to defend, not in rhetoric but in fact in action and through action, their real economic and social interests. This is the only way to marginalise the centrist and reactionary forces. As long as the Left is doing nothing within the popular classes, as long as most of their analyses and programmes are only on paper or in their political rhetoric, they will continue to be a marginal force. Nothing more than that.

Gaza braces for Israel attack.

This is from AFP.

It seems that another ceasefire is not likely. Note this article speaks of Hamas violently ceasing power but in fact Hamas was elected and the power seizure was to stop a potential seizure by Abbas supporters. The innocents and children will be in danger of course because of Israeli attacks which pay little attention to collateral damage. Both sides are guilty of not concerning themselves with innocents and there is a never ending tit for tat as Israel targets militants and the militants respond with rockets, most of them ineffective and just prompting more Israeli reaction.

Gaza braces for Israeli offensive
4 hours ago
JERUSALEM (AFP) — The spectre of a military invasion loomed large over Gaza on Friday as militants fired another volley of rockets despite Israeli warnings that failure to stop the attacks would lead to bloodshed.
"Army preparing for combined ground, air operation in Gaza," declared the front-page headline in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
Media speculated that Israeli forces were likely to conduct limited military operations rather than a full-scale invasion of the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas.
The Israeli authorities nonetheless opened crossings to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and vital supplies, including fuel and medicine, to the aid-dependent population.
Violence in and around Gaza has flared since a six-month ceasefire ended on December 19, and escalated dramatically on Wednesday when militants fired more than 80 rockets and mortar rounds after Israeli forces conducted deadly air strikes over the coastal strip.
Five rockets and two mortar rounds were fired by militants before dawn on Firday, but caused no casualties.
One mortar shell hit a house which was not occupied at the time, near the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the besieged Palestinian territory, causing some damage, residents said.
Israel has responded to the rocket attacks by tightening the blockade it has imposed since Hamas, which is branded a terrorist outfit by Israel and the West, violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007.
But on Friday, officials said about 90 truckloads of supplies, including some sent from Egypt, were being delivered to the impoverished and overcrowded territory of 1.5 million people.
At the same time, the Israeli government issued dire warnings to Gaza militants, saying the Jewish state would strike back hard if attacks continue.
"I will not hesitate to use Israel's strength to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television on Thursday, adding ominously: "We have very great and destructive strength which we do not wish to use."
"I think of the tens of thousands of children and innocents who will be in danger as a result of Hamas' actions," he said.
Since the Egyptian-mediated truce ended last week, Israel has threatened to launch a major offensive on Gaza, and top leaders called for the toppling of Hamas.
The Islamist movement -- which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state -- has warned in turn that it would retaliate by resuming suicide bombings inside Israel. The last such attack claimed by Hamas was in January 2005.
Egypt boosted security along its border with Gaza in anticipation of an offensive, while popular pressure for a military operation is mounting in Israel.
"The systematic shelling of civilians in Israel's communities is a war crime and a crime against humanity. The state of Israel has to protect its citizens," the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot said.
The conservative Jerusalem Post called for the "methodical elimination" of Hamas leaders.
"Once begun, Israel's battle against Hamas must be terminated only when the Islamists lose their governing capacity," the English-language newspaper said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to replace Olmert as prime minister after the February 10 election, warned that the situation in Gaza "has become an obstacle on the way of the Palestinians toward a state."
"Enough is enough. The situation is going to change," she said in after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Thursday.
Livni has vowed to topple Hamas if her Kadima party wins the February election.
Under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, the centrist party orchestrated the pullout of Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation but Israel retains control of the borders.

U.S. Russia, China in Dogfight over Jet Sales

It seems the an economic downturn does little to cool down very costly jet sales. Countries such as India, Malaysia, and Indonesia have populations with many whose basic needs are not met but the military will gobble up available resources to get the latest high tech jet planes.

US, Russia, China in Dogfight Over Jet Sales
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is bracing for tough competition from Russia and China as cash-flush Asian economies look up to the trio for a new breed of fighter jets to beef up their air forces, experts say.
Japan, India, Australia and South Korea are keen to have the most modern, fifth generation, jet fighters while Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia are reportedly eyeing fourth generation fighters from China.
With Asia powering ahead with military modernization and capability growth, the United States wants to maintain leadership in defense sales in the region attracted by low cost offerings from Russia and China, experts said.
"The Americans and Russians are competing hard for the Asian fighter aircraft market, but everybody is also watching to see how aggressively the Chinese will be entering this market," Richard Fisher, an expert with the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, said.
The tight competition comes as Asian economies move ahead "much more aggressively" to upgrade their air defense capabilities, he said.
"It's not quite right to say an arms race, but there is an arms jog in Asia," Fisher said.
The United States is currently the sole producer of fifth generation fighters - the F-22s and F-35s. Export of F-22s is barred by law while the lower cost F-35s have just started flight testing ahead of deployment around 2012.
Russia and China's fifth generation fighter offerings could well be on the market between 2015 and 2020, a time frame experts say is not very far away in terms of defense planning.
"I don't want to get into the numbers because they were given to me in confidence but the price the Russians are estimating for their fifth generation fighter is substantially less than the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) and substantially less than F-22," U.S. aviation expert Reuben Johnson told a Washington forum last week on "challenges to the Asian air power balance."
He said the Russian arms industry was grappling with high production costs.
Russian weapon exports to China have also plunged as Beijing became more wary over Moscow's sales of its most advanced weaponry to neighbor India, Johnson said.
"What is really the challenge is we have two very large countries, China and India, whose economies are booming and who are buying lots of hardware and we are looking at a situation down the road where they are going to have very, very sophisticated air forces," he said.
Russia had already teamed up with India to co-develop and co-produce a version of Moscow's fifth generation fighter, but Fisher said that given the Indian preference of diversifying its weapons sources, it was possible New Delhi could purchase a U.S. fifth generation fighter at some point.
The United States is also vying with Russia and others for a 12-billion-dollar contract to sell 126 fourth generation fighter jets to the Indian air force.
The competition from Russia could prod the Americans to lift an export ban on F-22s, eyed by Australia and Japan, top U.S. allies in the region, experts said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hinted during a recent Australian visit that Congress may be asked to reconsider the ban.
"It is imperative that the United States consider selling some version of the F-22 to maintain a strong deterrent posture in Asia," Fisher said.
"I would say categorically that Japan requires a capability of the level of the F-22 in order to sustain a sufficient position to deter China," he said.
© 2007 Moscow News

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Philippines: Hunger at new record-high

This is from bayanihanpost.

The economic downturn plus the continuing high price of staples such as rice no doubt are contributing to this situation.

Hunger at new record-high 23.7% of families, Moderate Hunger at 18.5%, Severe Hunger at 5.2%
by SWS

The proportion of families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months reached a new record-high of 23.7%, or an estimated 4.3 million households, according to the final Social Weather Survey for 2008, fielded over November 28-December 1, 2008.The latest Hunger record is 11 points above the ten-year average of 12.6%. It has surpassed the previous record-high incidence of 21.5% in September 2007 [Chart 1, Table 1].Hunger has now been at double-digits for over four years, since June 2004. The Hunger average of 2008 is 18.5%, higher than the 2007 average of 17.9%. The measure of Hunger refers to involuntary suffering because the respondents answer a survey question that specifies hunger due to lack of anything to eat. Record-high Moderate Hunger, Severe Hunger upThe rise in Total Hunger by 5 points between September and December resulted from a 3-point increase in Moderate Hunger, combined with a 2-point increase in Severe Hunger.Moderate Hunger, referring to those who experienced it "Only Once" or "A Few Times" in the last three months, rose from 15.2% (estimated 2.7 million families) in September to a new record-high 18.5% (estimated 3.3 million families) in December. The latest score is nine points above the ten-year average Moderate Hunger rate of 9.2%. The few who did not state their frequency of Hunger were also placed in this category. Severe Hunger, referring to those who experienced it "Often" or "Always" in the last three months, went from 3.2% (about 580,000 families) in September to 5.2% (about 940,000 families) in December. The new rate is two points above the ten-year average Severe Hunger rate of 3.3% [Table 1].Hunger jumps to record-highs in Mindanao and Metro ManilaThe proportion of households experiencing Hunger is now highest in Mindanao, with the latest figure jumping to 33.7% (estimated 1.4 million families), a new record-high in that area. It is now at record-high 23.3% (estimated 570,000 families) in Metro Manila, 20.7% (estimated 750,000 families) in the Visayas, and 20.0% (estimated 1.6 million families) in Balance Luzon [Chart 2, Table 2].Overall Hunger rose by 15 points in Mindanao, from 18.3% in September to 33.7% in December. It rose by 9 points in the Visayas, from 11.7% to 20.7%.It barely changed in Metro Manila, from 23.0% in the previous quarter to 23.3% now, while it stayed at 20.0% in Balance Luzon.Moderate Hunger rose by almost 12 points in Mindanao, from 16.0% in September to a record-high 27.7%, by 7 points in the Visayas, from 11.3% to a record-high 18.0%, and by 3 points in Metro Manila, from 15.0% to 18.3% [Charts 3 to 6, Tables 3 to 6]. It declined by 2 points in Balance Luzon, from 16.5% to 14.0%.In all areas, the latest Moderate Hunger rates remain higher than their ten-year averages.Severe Hunger declined by 3 points in Metro Manila, from 8.0% in September to 5.0% in December.It rose by almost 4 points in Mindanao, from 2.3% to 6.0%, by almost 3 points in Balance Luzon, from 3.5% to a new record-high 6.0%, and by 2 points in the Visayas, from 0.3% to 2.7%. The latest Severe Hunger figures remain higher than their ten-year averages in all areas except Visayas, where its latest score of 2.7% was slightly lower than its ten-year average of 3.1%.Survey Background The SWS survey questions about household hunger are directed to the household head, using the phrase "nakaranas ng gutom at wala kayong makain" or "experienced hunger, and did not have anything to eat." The Fourth Quarter of 2008 Social Weather Survey was conducted over November 28-December 1, 2008 using face-to-face interviews of 1,500 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao, and 600 in Balance Luzon (sampling error margins of ±2.5% for national percentages, ±6% for Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao, and ±4% for Balance Luzon). The area estimates were weighted by National Statistics Office medium-population projections for 2008 to obtain the national estimates.The quarterly Social Weather Surveys on household hunger are not commissioned, but are done on SWS's own initiative and released as a public service, with first printing rights assigned to BusinessWorld.

Contract Point to Significant US Commitment in Afghanistan.

This is from the Washington Post.

Plenty of money for new construction to house occupying troops but there is no mention of how much is being spent to rebuild for Afghan civilians. As in Iraq there are plenty of facilities and services for the foreign occupiers but most Afghans remain without basic services.
This commitment also shows the seamless foreign policy continuity between the Obama and Bush administration further illustrated by the fact that Obama has retained the services of Gates as minister of defence.

Contracts Point to Significant U.S. Commitment in Afghanistan
By Walter PincusWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, December 25, 2008; A05
Earlier this month, standing at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States is making a "sustained commitment" to that country, one that will last "some protracted period of time."
A series of new proposals coming out of the Pentagon make clear a significant aspect of that commitment: up to $300 million in construction projects at the base, in order to house more than 5,000 additional American forces. And the timeline of the proposals appears to indicate that these troops would arrive in Afghanistan much later in 2009 than U.S. officials have announced thus far.
Gates has talked of sending up to four additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan early next year. One brigade, consisting normally of around 3,500 soldiers, is due to arrive in January. Gates said recently that he hoped another two brigades would be sent by spring. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last Saturday that by next summer, up to 30,000 U.S. troops would join the 31,000 already in Afghanistan.
The indication of additional troop deployments in the works for next winter comes in three solicitations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for military housing contracts. Each could cost up to $100 million, with two of the three scheduled for completion by late next year.
The most recent of these solicitations came this week, when the Corps of Engineers sought bids on design and construction of two barracks to hold 2,000 members of a future Army brigade. The project also includes constructing guard stations and towers and perimeter fencing around the barracks area; putting in vehicle inspection areas; renovating a building to house administration offices; and constructing a separate office building and a cold-storage warehouse.
The proposal, which was updated Monday, also allows for the winning contractor to offer an "optional" bid on constructing a third barracks for another 1,000 troops -- something that was not part of the original proposal. The contractor would have a year to complete the project from the time it is awarded, so the new barracks could not be fully occupied until the end of 2009.
Another project, put out for bid earlier this month, involves construction of a new power plant for the Kandahar base, as well as electrical and water distribution systems and communications lines. In addition, it calls for relocating housing for the approximately 1,500 personnel who sustain the systems, a headquarters building and other storage, maintenance shops, warehouses and other supporting infrastructure. Scheduled to be awarded at the end of February, that project also is supposed to be completed by the end of 2009.
At another section of Kandahar Air Field, the Corps of Engineers is proposing an installation to house a corps support battalion, adjacent to an Afghan National Army garrison. The structure will initially house 665 soldiers, but eventually, according to the notice, 1,640 will live there.
Another indication of the Pentagon's expanding, long-term involvement in Afghanistan comes in a pre-solicitation proposal from the Corps of Engineers to supply operation and maintenance services for Afghan National Army installations around the country. The contract could run as high as $500 million over five years, beginning next October. The Army Corps said it is looking for qualified firms that would provide all public works functions for the Afghan National Army at its bases, even to the point of keeping its utilities and other infrastructure fully operational.

Somali president resigns under US pressure.

This is from
As usual the US is intervening in Somalia. This intervention is not likely to further US policy very much as the Islamists continue to take over more territory while the recognised govt. is little recognised on the ground.
It would be nice if the US could force Robert Mugabe to resign. Mugabe is now even losing support among key anti-colonial figures such as Desmond Tutu.

Somali President Yusuf Resigns Under US Pressure
New Prime Minister Also Steps Down
Posted December 24, 2008
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf announced the he intends to formally resign as of Saturday in a move praised by the African Union as a way to strengthen the mandate (such as it is) of the floudering Somali government and allow Yusuf to “go with some sort of dignity.”
The announcement came just hours after Prime Minister Mohamed Guled, himself in power for only a week after Yusuf dismissed the former prime minister, announced his own resignation. While Yusuf gave no official reason for his resignation, Guled said his own decision was based on a desire “to end infighting among the government.” Guled’s resignation likely opens the way for former Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein to return to power.
But the source of Yusuf’s resignation isn’t a total mystery. The move came in the wake of a meeting with US under-secretary for African affairs Jendayi Frazer, who reportedly ordered the Somali President to restore former Prime Minister Nur to power or resign. If he refused, the US would reportedly back sanctions against him.
So Yusuf is out, and talks are now of a power-sharing deal in the Somali government. But with the Islamist insurgency seizing ever more of the country, the question much be asked: what power is there left for this self-proclaimed government to share, and how long will anyone be able to keep it?

Southeast Asia economies declining and still coupled to US.

THis is from the Asiatimes.
Interesting that it is the most open of these Asian economies that are most effected. Singapore in particular is actually in recession while most others are simply showing declines in growth. It seems that Indonesia might require loans from the IMF. The terms would no doubt limit severely freedom for Indonesia to set its own financial policies.

Down and still coupled
By Shawn W Crispin BANGKOK - With falling exports, declining confidence and tight liquidity squeezed by fleeing foreign capital, Southeast Asia has wholly failed to decouple from the mounting downturns in the United States and Europe. Looking ahead to 2009, the question is not if, but rather how far, the trade-geared economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members will fall in line with the global economy. As global trade collapses, some of ASEAN's 10 members will be hit harder than others, economists predict. The region's most open economies, namely Singapore and Malaysia, where merchandise exports respectively represent around 200% and 100% of gross domestic product (GDP), will be particularly hard
hit. Others including Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, where exports represent a smaller, but still substantial, percentage of GDP will also see declining growth. Hopes that China - with which ASEAN has a trade surplus driven by exports of raw materials and component electronics and computer parts for re-export to third countries - might buoy the region's economies have faltered with recent softening in China's export figures. Meanwhile, economists say that the stimulus package announced last month by China has been tailored mainly to tide over the domestic economy and Beijing has indicated no plans or extraordinary measures to lift the region's sinking economies. Swiss investment bank UBS said in a recent note to clients that for the first half of next year it expects China's "appetite for FDI in the region will remain quite low" and that China "would be only a marginal positive factor for Asia and ASEAN commodity exporters in 2009". That analysis underscores now prescient Credit Suisse quantitative research from November 2007, which demonstrated that recent strong growth in ASEAN exports to China were largely intermediate goods intended for final export to now-slumping US, Europe and Japan. The same research questioned how much ASEAN had really decoupled from US demand, noting that 70% of intra-Asia trade was in intermediate goods and that more than half of China's total imports were destined for re-export to mainly Western markets. As such, slackening commodity demand, including from China, will impact adversely on several economies in the region. Earlier this year, certain Asian countries reaped huge profits from fast-rising global commodity prices but are now doubly exposed to deteriorating global demand and declining terms of trade. Malaysia and Indonesia, ASEAN's top commodity exporters, are expected to take the biggest hits on this front. Thailand, despite its position as the world's leading exporter of rice, tapioca and raw rubber, is because of even higher oil and gas imports a net commodity importer and so less exposed to global price swings. Net fuel and food importing Philippines, which earlier this year experienced the highest local inflation rates in 17 years at 12.2%, will also net-net benefit economically from softening global commodity prices. Policy mattersWhile all economies in the region are expected to fall, how hard they actually land will depend on individual governments' policy responses. Some are better placed than others to ramp fiscal spending and slash interest rates to spark more domestic demand and locally oriented investment
. How well governments devise and implement those policies will go a long way in determining the extent of individual countries' slowdowns in 2009. Indonesia, which faces severe budget deficit financing issues and has in recent months been hounded by rumors it may seek an International Monetary Fund rescue package, is seen as the most wobbly of the regional lot. Faced with stubbornly high inflation, current account deficits and a depreciating currency, the government's fiscal options and Bank Indonesia's monetary maneuverability will both be limited in their scope to stimulate economic growth. UBS notes that around 50% of Indonesian government bonds are now owned by local banks and few wish to increase that share, as seen earlier this year when foreigners wishing to dump their local positions sold mainly to the central bank and local pension funds. Should its terms of trade decline further in 2009, some analysts fear Indonesia could be pushed into a 1997-style crisis, driven by both foreign and domestic capital flight. Barring that worst-case scenario, UBS predicts growth will fall to 3% next year, or nearly half this year's 5.8%. Thailand is in better shape financially but faces uncertain political risks, which took a sharp toll on the economy in 2008. Those risks were underscored when anti-government protesters besieged Bangkok's main international airport for eight days beginning in late November. The closure caused exports - which currently represent around 65% of GDP - to fall 18.6% year-on-year in November, resulting in a US$1.3 billion loss in overseas sales, according to Commerce Ministry figures. A new Thai government installed in December has raised hopes for stability and has already indicated plans to double the outgoing administration's extra-budgetary spending to 200 billion baht (US$5.8 billion), including funds to prop up falling agricultural prices. Fiscal stimulus will be paired with monetary loosening, signaled by the Bank of Thailand's drastic 100 basis point benchmark interest rate cut on December 3. While many economists predict Thai growth of around 2%, others believe the stimulus won't prevent the economy from tilting negative in 2009. As perhaps Asia's most trade-dependent economy, Singapore had already slipped into recession by the third quarter of 2008, with - 0.6% year-on-year GDP growth. With global trade forecast to contract further in the quarters ahead, economists expect Singapore's growth to remain in negative territory through 2009. Given the government's perceived penchant for sometimes overstating growth on the upside, the actual economic situation next year could be worse than official statistics indicate. Declining export volumes are expected to ripple adversely through the local economy, leading to significant lay-offs in the manufacturing sector and dampened consumer sentiment, including towards the crucial property sector. The government is expected to provide substantial fiscal support, including through the use of off-budget measures such as tax rebates, micro-loans and rental rebates, according to UBS. The establishment of a US$30 billion "swap line" between the US Federal Reserve and the Monetary Authority of Singapore has alleviated earlier dollar liquidity concerns and set the stage for monetary loosening at the MAS's next policy meeting in April. But with global trade faltering, local demand for US dollars should decline, depending, of course, on how deeply MAS cuts interest rates and whether monetary easing can spark a new investment cycle, which seems doubtful for 2009. Malaysia will face similar if not tougher economic challenges. UBS predicts economic growth will drop drastically from 5.4% in 2008 to 0% in 2009, driven down by the double whammy of declining exports and terms of trade in line with falling global commodity prices. Commodity exports represented 26% of GDP in 2007, driving a balance of payment surplus of $13.2 billion. This year's balance of payments is on course to just break even, and economists expect that statistic will likely turn negative in 2009. Credit Suisse noted in the aforementioned 2007 research that for every percentage point drop in US GDP growth, Malaysia's will fall 1.6%. That's led some economists to contend the government has moved too timidly in using fiscal and monetary policy to offset the negative impact of collapsing exports. The perceived inaction is reflective of the government's still bullish forecast for 3.5% economic growth next year, optimism aimed at deflecting growing criticism from a more assertive political opposition. For all the bad news, there is some upside - at least for the brave of heart. ASEAN stock markets collapsed across the board in 2008, with many losing around half their market capitalization year-on-year due to foreign investor flight. That's driven average share prices down to near 20-25 year lows on price-to-book valuations and exceptionally low price-to-equity ratios of around 8.6 times earnings, according to UBS. For those with the liquidity and patience beyond 2009, the region's battered, yet comparatively deleveraged equities are trading at bargain basement prices. Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor. He may be reached at

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