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Friday, January 6, 2012

Signs of the times

Seven indonesian volcanoes in level III

JAKARTA, Jan. 5 -- Out of 127 volcanoes in Indonesia, seven are in danger status of level III (alert) declared by the Center of Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG).

The volcanoes are Mount Papandayan in West Java province, Mount Lokon and Mount Karangetan of North Sulawesi province, Mount Kawah Ijen in East Java province, Mount Anak Krakatau in the border of Banten and Lampung provinces, Mount Gamalama at North Maluku province and Mount Lewotolo in East Nusa Tenggara province.

The National Agency of Disaster Mitigation (BNPB) and regional agencies of disaster mitigation (BDPB) are enhancing preparation and planning to anticipate the impact of the volcanoes' activities.

Out of the seven volcanoes, authorities are focusing on Mount Kawah Ijen, Mount Gamalama and Mount Lewotolo as their eruption impact is the biggest compared to others.

Increasing activities of the Mount Gamalama are forcing 3,638 people to take refuge. Out of total, 465 refugees need special attention as they are the most vulnerable people of being exposed by eruption. They are babies, toddlers, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with disabilities and old people. They are prioritized in terms of salvation, evacuation, security, health and psycho social service.

Three people were killed by cold lava flood of the volcano in the end of last year following heavy rain on the top of the volcano.

Meanwhile, Mount Kawah Ijen contains huge danger if it erupts as it threatens as many as 9,000 people living surround the volcano. Head of BNPB Syamsul Muarif urged authorities to stay alert to face the worst scenario. The biggest threat of Mount Kawah Ijen is not hot cloud, flamed material launch or volcanic ash, but is within its volcanic lake containing 30 million meter cubic of water with deadly acid level. However, people are still not urged to take refuge.

Mount Lewotolo, with eruption type of explosive, holds primary danger of volcanic bombs and hot cloud while the secondary one is cold lava flood. As many as 16,000 people living around the volcano are threatened and 500 of them are taking refuge. However, data shows that there has been no strong eruption that claims lives since 1660 up till now.

Meanwhile, Mount Lokon in the city of Tomohon of North Sulawesi that erupted on Dec. 27, 2011 still does not force people to take refuge.

In the meantime, Mount Anak Krakatau that erupts almost every day with small intensity does not pose any danger to people as it locates in a strait connecting the islands of Java and Sumatra.

The head of Data Center, Information and Public Relation of BNPB said that the volcano is in a growth phase and there is a small possibility that it erupts like what happened in 1883, triggering strong tsunami and claimed thousands of live.


US-Israel to meet Great Prophet?

Sweden recognises new file-sharing religion Kopimism

A "church" whose central tenet is the right to file-share has been formally recognised by the Swedish government.

The Church of Kopimism claims that "kopyacting" - sharing information through copying - is akin to a religious service.

The "spiritual leader" of the church said recognition was a "large step".

But others were less enthusiastic and said the church would do little to halt the global crackdown on piracy.Holy information.

The Swedish government agency Kammarkollegiet finally registered the Church of Kopimism as a religious organisation shortly before Christmas, the group said.

"We had to apply three times," said Gustav Nipe, chairman of the organisation.

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

"Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi. Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution," he added.

The church's website has been unavailable since it broke the news of its religious status. A message urged those interested in joining to "come back in a couple of days when the storm has settled".

Despite the new-found interest in the organisation, experts said religious status for file-sharing would have little effect on the global crackdown on piracy.

"It is quite divorced from reality and is reflective of Swedish social norms rather than the Swedish legislative system," said music analyst Mark Mulligan.

"It doesn't mean that illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if 'Jedi' was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres.

"In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday's technology," he added.Piracy crackdown

The establishment of the church comes amid a backdrop of governmental zero-tolerance towards piracy.

The crackdown on piracy has moved focus away from individual pirates and more towards the ecosystem that supports piracy.

In the US, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) aims to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

It could also stop search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites. Domain name registrars could be forced to take down the websites, and internet service providers forced to block access to the sites accused of infringing.

The government is pushing ahead with the controversial legislation despite continued opposition.


Israel concerned may be under cyber attack

(Reuters) - Israeli officials said on Friday they were concerned the country may be under cyber attack after a wave of credit card code thefts in the past week by a hacker who claims to be operating out of Saudi Arabia.

Credit card company officials said 14,000 numbers had been posted on line Tuesday and another 11,000 Thursday. However, they said some of the codes had expired and that the active cards were all being cancelled.

The hacker has identified himself as OxOmar and says he is part of a Saudi Arabian hacker team. In a post Thursday he said he had leaked information about more than 400,000 Israelis and said the "Jewish lobby" was hiding the scale of the attack.

Israeli officials say the hacker has also released email addresses and passwords, but have yet to confirm where he is based.

"This incident should be treated as a cyber attack," Justice Ministry official Yoram Hacohen told the Ma'ariv daily.

"?When it comes to digital felonies committed outside the country, it is difficult to locate the perpetrator if he took the correct precautions," Hacohen added.

The data theft was one of the worst that Israel has said it has faced, and while the financial damage was reportedly minimal, the breaches have heightened concerns about the potential use of stolen information by Israel's enemies.

"These matters are worrisome," Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz told Israel Radio, calling the incident "a sample of the great danger out in cyberspace."

He added that Israel had "impressive capabilities" and was setting up an agency to deal with the issue, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged last year.

On the back of the credit card theft, a parliamentary committee has scheduled a session for the coming week to review Israel's readiness to defend itself from cyber attacks.

"We must prepare to cope with cyber threats in anticipation of any attempts to use Internet terror to strike at Israel," said lawmaker Ronit Tirosh, the committee chairwoman.

Some newspaper columnists speculated that hackers might be retaliating for recent attacks in Iran, including the mysterious Stuxnet computer virus that snarled its controversial nuclear computer systems.

"The peculiar incident we are facing could be a bad joke, a youthful prank, a hate-driven terror attack for beginners or the first stage in an Iranian cyber-terror attack," commentator Ben Caspit wrote in Friday's edition of Ma'ariv.

However, Hershkowitz dismissed such speculation, saying: "the imagination tends to soar."

The hacker wrote in his Web post: "So, I've started thinking of sending all Israeli credit cards I own which reaches 1M data."

"Enjoy it world! Purchase stuff for yourself online, buy anything you want," he added.

Dov Kotler, CEO of Isracard, a unit of Bank Hapoalim, said 5,200 credit card numbers listed by the hacker Thursday, belonged to his customers.

The thefts have dampened Internet sales in Israel, media reports said, though no figures were immediately available. Israeli reports have indicated that most of the information stolen had been gleaned from online commercial sites.

The Danger Debt Poses to the Western World

When Carlo Ponzi, a dishwasher from Parma, Italy, immigrated to the United States in 1903, he had $2.50 in his pocket and a million-dollar dream in his head. He was able to fulfill that dream, at least temporarily.

Ponzi promised people that he would multiply their money in a miraculous way: by 50 percent in six weeks. With his carefully parted hair and charming accent, Ponzi beguiled investors and fueled their avarice. The first investors raked in fantastic returns. What they didn't know was that Ponzi was simply using the next investors' money to pay them their profits.

The scheme continued. Ten investors turned into 100, and 100 investors turned into 1,000, until the scam was discovered. Ponzi spent many years in prison, and he died a pauper in 1949. But his name remains important to every criminologist today -- and every economist.

Economists use the term "Ponzi scheme" to describe a disastrous mechanism in which someone pays off old debt by constantly taking on new debt. The repayment of the debt -- the most recent loans, plus interest -- is deferred into the distant future, fueling an eternal process of debt refinancing.

It's the classic pyramid, or snowball scheme, practiced by thousands of con artists after Ponzi. The most spectacular case was that of New York financier Bernard Madoff, who was responsible for losses of about $20 billion by 2008. Snowballs are set into motion, becoming bigger and bigger as they roll along. In the worst case, they end in an avalanche that takes everything else with it.

Western economies have not acted much differently than the fraudster Madoff. In 2011, they were virtually inundated with bad news and old sins. Almost everyone -- in Europe and in the United States -- has been living beyond their means, from consumers to politicians to entire countries. Governments have become servants to the markets upon which they have become dependent.

Bigger Snowballs

On an almost weekly basis, the reports have become more worrisome and the sums of money involved more staggering. Many are now concerned that, as 2012 begins, the snowballs will only get bigger -- and roll faster:

There are the banks in Europe, which will have to repay about €725 billion in combined debt in 2012, including €280 billion in the first quarter alone. With the private market largely off-limits to them, the banks have had to rely on the European Central Bank (ECB) to bail them out. The ECB is now lending them fresh money -- as much as they want -- at minimal interest rates.
There is a country like Italy, which has an exorbitant amount of debt to service at the beginning of the year. About €160 billion in debt will mature between January and April; the total for the entire year is about €300 billion. The government in Rome is already having trouble finding buyers for its bonds.
There is the ECB, which is creating billions essentially out of nothing. On an almost weekly basis, it is acquiring bonds that no one else would buy from Portugal, Spain and Italy and, in the process, it is turning into a reluctant financier of nations. This financial aid already amounts to €211 billion.
There is the European Commission, whose president, José Manuel Barroso, supports the use of so-called euro bonds. These bonds, which would be issued jointly by the countries in the monetary union, would amount to an accumulation of collective debt on top of national debts.
There is the €440-billion euro bailout fund, of which €150 billion are already promised to Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But because this amount is still not enough, the finance ministers have decided to "leverage" the fund, a seemingly harmless term for bringing in additional lenders, thereby multiplying the volume of credit.
And then there is the United States, which only remains solvent because the Congress in Washington keeps raising the debt ceiling. The American government already owes its creditors about $15 trillion. Stay tuned for the next installment.

In other words, there are plenty of snowballs that have started rolling and getting larger with each rotation. Some aspects of the economic system in the industrialized countries resemble a gigantic Ponzi scheme. The difference is that this version is completely legal.

Living on Credit

Old debts are paid with new ones, with borrowers giving not the slightest thought to repayment. This has been going on for a long time, far too long, in fact. It was only with the eruption of the financial crisis in 2007 and the outrageously expensive bailouts of banks and economies that many people realized that the entire world is living on credit.

"Debt is rising to points that are above anything we have seen, except during major wars," economists at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) concluded in a recent study. "The debt problems facing advanced economies are even worse than we thought."

This is even true of seemingly rock-solid Germany. In the third quarter of 2011, German public debt amounted to €2.028 trillion, an increase of €10.8 billion over the debt level just three months earlier. Germany's public debt grew by about €120 million a day -- or more than €80,000 a minute -- between July and September.

To make matters worse, this increase occurred in a quarter marked by plentiful tax revenues and a significant decline in unemployment. But debts increase independently of whether times happen to be good or bad.

The End of the System

The same thing is happening almost everywhere. In the first decade of this century, which was by no means a weak period economically, countries more than doubled the level of debt -- to an estimated grand total of $55 trillion by the end of 2011.

The United States leads the pack with its national debt of $15 trillion, followed by Japan with about $13 trillion. Germany's €2 trillion looks almost paltry by comparison. Today, the three major rating agencies award their highest credit rating to only 14 countries in the world.

The fact that nations are continually spending more than they take in cannot turn out well in the long run. The word "credit" comes from the Latin "credere," which means "to believe." The system will only function as long as lenders believe in borrowers. Once the belief in the creditworthiness of borrowers is destroyed, hardly anyone will be willing to buy their securities.

When that happens, the system is finished.

This is precisely what happened with Carlo Ponzi's scheme. And now entire countries are suffering suspiciously similar fates. They are no longer being taken seriously.

Greece is effectively insolvent. Italy and Spain are forced to offer higher interest rates to find buyers for their government bonds. And France threatens to lose its impeccable credit rating. The debt crisis has arrived in the heart of Europe.

Meanwhile, it is also flaring up in the United States once again, with Democrats and Republicans blaming each other for the nation's debts. Instead of taking responsibility and consolidating the budget, President Barack Obama prefers to rail against the Europeans' approach to crisis management. They, in turn, refuse to tolerate any interference, especially from the United States, which they blame for being the source of the financial crisis in the first place.

In this fashion, the Old World and the New World are tossing the blame back and forth, while confidence in politics and its ability to avert collapse is dwindling on both sides of the Atlantic. Is there still a way to stop the avalanche, or at least to diminish is destructive force? Why do countries that collect taxes have to borrow money in the first place?

Of Good Debt and Bad Debt

Lutz Goebel is used to borrowing money. The 56-year-old businessman is the managing partner of the Henkelhausen Group, a German mid-sized company that specializes in motors in the western German city of Krefeld, with 240 employees and €65 million in annual sales. The debt Goebel incurs is of a completely different nature than the country's debt.

Five years ago, Goebel had the opportunity to buy another company's gas-engine service division. Goebel was convinced that it was a worthwhile investment, and that the resulting net revenues would ultimately exceed the €1.5 million he had to borrow to pursue the deal. "It paid off," he says today.

As president of the German Association of Family-owned Businesses, Goebel represents the interests of 5,000 companies throughout the country. The owners of these businesses usually borrow funds only when they intend to make significant changes or build something new. For them, debt is a necessary part of developing their companies.

There are undoubtedly good reasons to go into debt. Companies use debt to finance investments. Private citizens use it to pay for major acquisitions, like automobiles or real estate. Most are aware that they have to economize as long as they are using current revenues to pay off the principal and interest on their debt.

It can also make perfectly good sense for governments to go into debt, such as when a government seeks to stabilize its economy with additional spending to ward off a recession. It particularly makes sense when governments borrow money to pay for real assets that will also benefit future generations, like a bridge or a kindergarten.

Everyone Benefits

Finance experts call this form of the solidarity principle "pay as you use," in which future generations are expected to pay for the rest. In addition to leaving the assets -- bridges, kindergartens and the like -- to its children and grandchildren, the current generation also leaves a portion of the financing up to future generations, and everyone benefits from it.

The only problem is that countries hardly ever use this instrument in such a productive and far-sighted manner. Nowadays, governments usually borrow money to finance their daily expenditures, like paying the salaries of government employees or servicing existing debt.

Of course, there are also people who live unrestrained financial lives. Readily available credit at every bank makes it more likely than ever that they will be tempted to abuse it. Living on credit used to be considered somewhat disreputable, but not anymore. In the third quarter of 2011, Americans had $700 billion in outstanding credit card debt. There are likewise undoubtedly many companies with lax payment policies. The number of major corporations with excellent credit ratings has been consistently declining for years.

Nevertheless, there is still a difference between private and public debt. Citizens and companies usually have real assets to serve as collateral against their debt. The value of a government, on the other hand, is -- with the exception of a few companies, properties and land -- primarily virtual, namely, that it enjoys the priceless privilege of being able to issue bonds. It borrows money from citizens who, in return, receive a bond that promises repayment of the principal plus interest.

In the 14th century, northern Italian rulers applied this principle for the first time. The British historian Niall Ferguson sees the invention of the government bond as "the second great revolution" in the economic world, following the introduction of credit by banks. It served as the foundation for the ascent of money, according to Ferguson.

Spiegel Online

Syria reports deadly 'terrorist' explosion in capital Damascus

An explosion by terrorists targeted the central Maidan district of Damascus on Friday, Syrian state television said, adding that the attack targeted a police bus in central Damascus, causing several deaths.

Initial reports claim a suicide bomber detonated himself in the city's Maidan quarter near the Syrian intelligence headquarters, with Syria's official news agency SANA reoprting that 15 people were killed in the attack and another 46 wounded.

A resident of the conservative district, where protests against President Bashar Assad have been expanding, said ambulances were seen in the area. SANA said that the explosion took place near Hassan al-Hakeem Basic Education School.

The report came only two weeks after two booby-trapped cars blew up at Syrian security sites in Damascus, with 44 killed and dozens wounded.

Syria blamed Al-Qaida for the blasts, which hit two security buildings and came a day after an Arab League delegation arrived to prepare for monitors who will report on Syrian President Bashar Assad's implementation of a plan to end the bloodshed. Some Assad opponents said the attacks could have been staged by the government itself.


Town resists billionaire's Zeus temple bid

Agrigento Temple of Zeus

AGRIGENTO, Italy, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The mayor of Agrigento, Italy, says the town's Temple of Zeus isn't for sale -- not even for as much money as it took "to save Italy's finances."

Russian precious-metals billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov recently showed interest in purchasing the ruins in Agrigento's famous Valley of the Temples.

"I wouldn't sell the Temple of Zeus even for 40 billion euros ($51.2 billion), the figure Premier Mario Monti had to find to save Italy's finances," Mayor Marco Zambuto said.

Zambuto said he is interested in attracting foreign investment in the UNESCO World Heritage site, ANSA reported Thursday.

"It's a different matter if we are talking about turning over management [of sites] for events or initiatives, or even the sponsorship of renovations and maintenance of the temples and sanctuaries in the valley," he told ANSA. "I don't rule out this option."

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2012/01/05/Town-resists-billionaires-Zeus-temple-bid/UPI-45331325813873/#ixzz1ii3q48D4

Global economy could endure disaster for a week

(Reuters) - The global economy could withstand widespread disruption from a natural disaster or attack by militants for only a week as governments and businesses are not sufficiently prepared to deal with unexpected events, a report by a respected think-tank said.

Events such as the 2010 volcanic ash cloud, which grounded flights in Europe, Japan's earthquake and tsunami and Thailand's floods last year, have showed that key sectors and businesses can be severely affected if disruption to production or transport goes on for more than a week.

"One week seems to be the maximum tolerance of the 'just-in-time' global economy," said the report by Chatham House, the London-based policy institute for international affairs.

The current fragile state of the world's economy leaves it particularly vulnerable to unforeseen shocks. Up to 30 percent of developed countries' gross domestic product could be directly threatened by crises, especially in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, according to the think-tank.

It is estimated that the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Asia cost businesses $60 billion, or about 2 percent of east Asian GDP, the report said.

After the Japanese tsunami and nuclear crisis in March last year, global industrial production declined by 1.1 percent the following month, according to the World Bank.

The 2010 volcanic ash cloud cost the European Union 5-10 billion euros and pushed some airlines and travel companies to the verge of bankruptcy.

"I would like to think we can learn from those experiences and be more resilient for longer but it won't happen unless governments and businesses are better prepared and put in place different supply chains which can be relied on when disasters strike," said Alyson Warhurst, chief executive of UK-based risk analysis company Maplecroft.


Costs can escalate quickly when transport or major production hubs are disrupted for more than a few days, which can in turn threaten food and water supplies and energy and communication networks, the report said.

In the event of prolonged disruption, some businesses would be forced to cut investment and jobs or consider closing down, leading to a permanent reduction in countries' growth.

In general, governments and businesses are under-prepared to respond to high-impact, unpredictable events, with worst-case scenarios rarely factored into their contingency plans.

"Contingency and business planning often assumes the return of status quo ante post-crisis. But this approach will be inadequate in a world of complex economic and social risks, when there is no return to business-as-usual practices," said Bernice Lee, the report's lead author.

"Industries - especially high-value manufacturing - may need to re-consider their just-in-time business model in an interdependent world," she added.

Climate change and water scarcity will only add to risks, putting even more pressure on infrastructure and resources.

Experts have been warning governments over the past few years that they are not properly prepared to deal with national crises.

The UK government came under fire in 2007 for its lack of preparation and response to severe floods, which cost the economy 3.2 billion pounds.

The think-tank recommended various ways to improve responses from governments and businesses to extreme events.

It particularly highlighted social media networks as a useful "one-stop shop" for information in the event of a crisis. In the London riots last year, social networks such as Twitter proved invaluable for many people to track the rioters' movements across the UK capital and take precautions.

The full report is available at www.chathamhouse.org

Peter Schiff...a wonderful year for precious metals

For such a wonderful year for precious metals investors, the final calendar quarter left little to celebrate. Just as people now take for granted that their phones will also take pictures, play music, and surf the internet, many investors have come to expect gold and silver to move up in a straight line.

In fact, in a recent CNBC interview one analyst claimed that gold's recent correction proves that it is not really a safe haven. In truth, such a statement merely proves how little some analysts know about markets.

However much the fundamentals may be on your side, there are always mitigating factors that affect price movement. In the case of gold and silver, the temporary resurgence of the dollar versus other fiat currencies alternatives has been the dominant factor - but even that isn't the whole story.


The critical factor that has been in play the past few months has been the European debt crisis going critical. I have said all along that the US is in worse shape than the EU overall because the EU has less will and capacity to resolve - or even temporarily paper over - its problems. The flip side is that, absent the massive stimulus the US has received, Europe has been forced to deal with its sovereign debt problems first.

Global investors have been spooked since the credit crunch of 2008. That means they are more likely to follow the herd rather than stick to the fundamentals. It takes a certain firmness of character to watch your investments sell off by double digits and not have a moment of self-doubt.

So, what we're seeing is big moves into and out of asset classes. But what is important to understand about these circumstances is not the scale of the moves but the direction of the trend.

Right now, the dollar is riding high. But it's still down over 30% over the last decade as measured by the generous US Dollar Index. Gold, by contrast, is up over 350% in that period. Of course, past performance does not guarantee future results, but the fundamentals have not changed. It's worth remembering that mainstream analysts chose the dollar over gold in almost every report over the last 10 years, based on a blind faith in the power of the US government to centrally plan the American economy. The market proved them wrong.

Once again, the mainstream narrative is that the real danger is in Europe and therefore the US offers a safe haven. This has caused a stampede out of euros and into dollars. But as we've seen over the last few years, the euro and dollar can decline simultaneously - and will continue to do so as more and more investors realize that the real safe haven is gold.


There is a reason assets don't move up in a straight line. Besides varying liquidity needs and risk appetites of investors, there are also built-in mechanisms to flush speculators out of a skyrocketing market.

As silver approached $50 this past April, the COMEX raised margin requirements for futures contracts on the metal, thereby pushing many speculators out of the market. While this practice presumably prevents speculators from overusing leverage, it also has the effect of crushing the short-term price of the metal. Both gold and silver have been subject to increased margin requirements this past year.

While we can now rest assured that future price increases are driven more by long-term investment than short-term speculation, it is not without costs. Speculators serve to reduce volatility in a market by buying in anticipation of future scarcity and vice versa. So, pushing out the speculators may increase volatility in the future. However, it's my feeling that in truth no gains have been lost at all - they have merely been postponed.


In order to determine whether the recent sideways movement of gold and silver is cause for concern, let's look at what lies ahead for 2012.

It is clear from 2011 that the new Tea Party members of Congress are not strong enough to stop the fiscal bleeding, and with the Occupy Wall Street movement in full swing, President Obama doesn't have a lot of room to compromise. Washington has been reduced to short-term measures to "pay" its bills, and the bills are mounting faster than ever.

Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve seems intent on pushing all the boundaries of monetary policy. In its most recent ploy, the Fed has engaged in a covert bailout of Europe through the use of currency swaps. From an investment perspective, this goes to show how deluded dollar investors are - they're buying into a currency that is being printed for any and all comers. This news should have caused the dollar to tank and gold and the euro to rise, but again, the fear trade is overriding all other considerations.

2012 should see more trouble from Europe, and therefore potentially more dollar buying. This might even be the year we see a few members exit the euro. However, there is no way to know how the euro will react in the short-term to such events, as such scenarios may already be priced into the market. In any event, long-term, the eurozone will be stronger without its weaker members. If they cannot mend their profligate ways, better to force them out now than compromise the solvency of the stronger members.

For smart investors, dollar strength caused by euro fears is simply an opportunity to buy contra-dollar assets on the cheap. Yes, I believe sub-$30 silver and sub-$1600 gold are still cheap for what's ahead. And with 2012 forecasts of $2,200 by Morgan Stanley, $2,050 by UBS, and $2,000 by Barclays, it appears I'm not alone.

Peter Schiff is CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Precious Metals, a gold and silver coin and bullion dealer offering honest products at competitive prices.

Pound benefits as euro dumped amid fears for banks

Traders dumped the single currency and pushed sterling to 82.6p per euro as Italian and Spanish banks led a rout of financials that was driven by the anticipation of a hefty round of capital raisings.

The seemingly unstoppable debt crisis led economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to urge Asian banks to brace for turbulence.

In a blog, the economists called for Asia's Chiang Mai Initiative, a $120bn (£77.5bn) agreement of pooled emergency resources, to be readied.

Shares in two Italian banks, including Unicredit, were suspended after sustaining heavy losses. Spanish banks were punished after the finance minister said the sector will need €50bn to recapitalise. French and German banks were also hit.

The concerns doused optimistic US economic data to push stockmarkets into the red for the second day in a row. Italy's MIB fell 3.7pc, Spain's Ibex 2.9pc, and France's CAC 1.5pc. In London the FTSE slid 0.8pc. The yield on Italy's 10-year bonds soared back over the 7pc bail-out level.

Sterling has risen 2.9pc against nine peers in the past six months, making it the third-best performer after the Japanese yen and the US dollar, according to Bloomberg.

France successfully raised €7.96bn of long-term debt in a bond auction but was forced to pay a higher price than last month. Demand for the bonds was lacklustre compared to a similar auction in November.

The spectre of default from Hungary added to the jitters. The government was forced to cut the size of a short-term bond auction from 45bn forints (£117m) to 35bn forints and pay a cripplingly high rate of 9.96pc.

Tamas Fellegi, the minister in charge of negotiating new IMF financing, said he was "entirely clear about the seriousness of the situation."

Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, is due to meet Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris this afternoon to start the run-up to the next European leaders summit on January 30th.

Meanwhile the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) placed a €3bn three-year bond, the proceeds of which will be disbursed to Ireland and Portugal.

The Telegraph

'US deploys troops in Israel for Iran war'

An unnamed source said the military deployment of US anti-missile ships and accompanying support personnel will occur in January and later this spring, Global Research reported.

Commander of the US Third Air Force based in Germany Lt.-Gen Frank Gorenc said it is not just an "exercise," but a "deployment," The Jerusalem Post said.

Washington and Tel Aviv have planned to hold what they call the largest-ever joint military exercise this spring.

The US commander visited Israel two weeks ago to confirm details for “the deployment of several thousand American soldiers to Israel.”

The US General also visited one of Israel's three Iron Dome anti-missile outposts. The Israeli Air Force has announced plans to deploy a fourth Iron Dome system in coming months.

While US troops will be stationed in Israel for an unspecified amount of time, Israeli military personnel will be added to United States European Command (EUCOM) in Germany.

This is while the US is reportedly bringing its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and ship-based Aegis ballistic missile systems to Israel.

The White House has resumed its anti-Iran war rhetoric after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report in November, in which Tehran was accused of conducting activities related to developing nuclear weapons. Iran strongly dismissed the allegations.

US analyst Robert Parry said the documentary evidence showed that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano was installed with the support of the US and that he privately indicated to US and Israeli officials that he would help advance their goals regarding Iran.

In December, Iran's Navy launched massive 10-day military drills in the strategic Strait of Hormuz to show that the country is ready to defend itself against any attack.

"We wanted to send this message to certain powers that Iran is always prepared to defend itself against foreign aggression," Iran's Navy Deputy Commander Admiral Amir Rastegari told Press TV.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama on Saturday signed into law fresh economic sanctions, targeting Iran's Central Bank and financial sector.

Anti-Iran measures provoked by the US and Israel are aimed to deny Iran's right of having peaceful nuclear program.

Tehran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA, has repeatedly stated that its nuclear activities are solely for civilian purposes.


Crude Plan: Iran war and double recession

Euro drops to 16-month low over bank concerns

The euro has dropped to its lowest rate against the dollar and pound in 16 months, as concerns continue over the health of Europe's banks.

The euro fell as low as $1.2780 against the dollar and was at an 11-year low versus the yen.

Against the pound, it fell to 82.52p, the lowest since September 2010.

Markets were unsettled after France's cost of borrowing rose and a Spanish minister suggested its banks may face a higher bad loan bill.

Bank stocks dropped, with shares in Italy's UniCredit at a 19-year low.

Luis de Guindos, Spain's economy minister, told the Financial Times that its banks may face up to 50bn euros ($64.2bn, £41.3bn) in new bad loans - higher than previous public estimates by the government.

On Thursday, Spain also unveiled more austerity measures - after outlining 8.9bn euros in new spending cuts and tax rises last week.

Spain said its social security deficit was worse than expected in 2011 and aims to recover 8.2bn euros that has been lost to tax fraud this year.

This is the latest in a wave of austerity measures, with a total of 16.5bn euros to be cut in 2012.

French bank stocks closed lower, with Societe Generale down 5.4% and BNP Paribas down 5.3%.

Germany's Deutsche Bank fell almost 6%, with Commerzbank down 4.5%.

Spain's Santander dropped 4.5%. Italy's UniCredit fell 17% before its shares were suspended for the second day in a row.

Italy and Spain - both passing painful spending cuts - will have to sell billions of debt in the coming months.French debt sale

France sold 8bn euros of bonds at an auction, paying an interest rate of 3.29% to borrow for 10 years, up from 3.18% at the last sale in December.

Many investors fear that France is poised to lose its top credit rating, making it more expensive to borrow.

In December, France saw its AAA credit rating placed on negative outlook by rating agency Fitch.

Fitch said the change in outlook was prompted by the heightened risk of government liabilities arising from the eurozone's debt crisis.

At Thursday's sale, demand from investors for the benchmark 10-year bonds had fallen.

The bid-to-cover ratio was 1.64, almost half of the 3.05 it was in the December auction.

France introduced a 65bn-euro austerity plan in November.

The gap, or spread, on French bonds compared to comparable debt from Germany - Europe's largest economy - hit record highs last year.


New York governor urges mandatory DNA samples

NEW YORK — New York's governor on Wednesday proposed making the state the first in the country to take mandatory DNA samples from anyone convicted of a crime, including relatively lesser offenses.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in an annual "State of the State" speech to the New York legislature, said currently DNA was collected in less than half of crimes on the books.

"I will propose a bill requiring the collection of a DNA sample from any person convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor," said Cuomo, a former federal prosecutor and New York state attorney general.

Cuomo said that applying DNA collection to all criminals would both help law-enforcement bodies fight serious crime and protect against wrongful convictions.

Current exclusions include "numerous crimes that are often precursors to violent offenses," he said.

"As a result, we are missing an important opportunity to prevent needless suffering of crime victims. We are also failing to use the most powerful tool we have to exonerate the innocent," he said.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance welcomed the initiative.

"I am pleased Governor Cuomo has made post-conviction DNA collection for all crimes one of his legislative priorities," Vance said.

"Our current law only permits us to collect DNA from half of all convicted offenders. It?s as if doctors were only permitted to use a life-saving medicine in half of their cases. It would not make sense in medicine, and it does not make sense in law enforcement," he added.