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Friday, June 22, 2012

Putin wants to show he is key player in Middle East region

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose support for Syrian President Bashar Assad is straining his ties with the West, is scheduled to visit Israel on Monday for a short trip one diplomatic official said is designed to send a clear message to the world: Russia is a key player in the region that needs to be taken into account.

While the official purpose of the 24-hour visit will be to dedicate a memorial in Netanya to the Red Army defeat of the Nazis, talks between Putin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will center on Russia’s policy of propping up Assad in Syria and on the talks with Iran. Russia is a member of the P5+1 group – which also includes the US, China, France, Britain and Germany – negotiating with Tehran.

Putin last visited Israel in 2005, during his first term as president in a ground-breaking first-ever Russian presidential visit here. While one diplomatic official acknowledged the differences of opinions between Moscow and Jerusalem on issues surrounding Iran, Syria and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, it was critical for Israel to keep open a good channel of communication with the Kremlin.

Moscow, the official said, also recognizes that Israel is a central player in the region, even if it is firmly in the American camp.

Another diplomatic official – again not downplaying the policy differences between Israel and Russia – said that there has been an “amazing improvement” in ties with Moscow since the Soviet era, when the Kremlin actively helped Israel’s worst enemies with the goal of hurting Israel.

“Obviously we don’t agree about everything,” the official said, “but we have a constructive dialogue.”

During an interview published Thursday in The Washington Post, Defense Minister Ehud Barak alluded to the conversation that needed to be had with Russia regarding Syria.

Asked whether he thought the West should arm the Syrian opposition, Barak said many steps should be taken, adding that “Russia has invested a lot of political capital and money in the [Assad] regime. They should have a certain role if we want to succeed.”

Barak said that if “America and Russia talk[ed] together about who can use what leverage, that could be extremely effective... It’s time for the world to dictate to Mr. Assad to move out of power or else. But the ‘or else’ can be convincing only if America and Russia will join hands,” he said.

Barak said he thought the Russians could “in an honest, frank discussion” be convinced to cooperate on Syria. “They could have a major role in helping to solve the Syrian issue.”

Putin, accompanied by a delegation that includes a large entourage of 60 journalists, will land Monday morning and be met by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who met him in Moscow late last year and declared that the presidential elections there were fair and democratic. That position was controversial and at odds with the declared position of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Putin will go directly to Netanya for the dedication of the memorial, believed to be one of the only, if not the only, memorial to the Red Army in a country that was not formerly part of the Soviet bloc. One government official said this showed “the unique historic relationship between the two countries.”

Netanyahu announced the plans to build the memorial commemorating the Red Army’s victory over Germany in World War II during his visit to Moscow in February 2010.

Approximately 25 million Soviets were killed during World War II, including some 11 million Red Army soldiers.

The number of Jews who fought in the Red Army has been put at around 500,000, of which nearly 200,000 are believed to have been killed.

Following the dedication ceremony, Putin will go to Jerusalem for meetings with Netanyahu. There will be a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders, followed by statements to the press and a working luncheon with staff.

Liberman will attend that meeting, as well as a meeting in the evening between Putin and President Shimon Peres.

Peres will then host a state dinner in the Russian leader’s honor.

The next day, Putin will travel to Bethlehem to dedicate a Russian cultural center, and then on to Jericho where a meeting is expected with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. From there, he will go to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II, and then back to Moscow.

Jerusalem Post

Bank downgrade "shocker" aims to plant fear and panic

Increased Seismic Activity in Iceland’s Katla Volcano

Increased seismic activity was detected in Mýrdalsjökull glacier in south Iceland, under which the volcano Katla lies, last night. Twenty-six minor earthquakes were picked up by sensors, all of which had their epicenter within the Katla crater.

A seismic activity expert on watch at the Icelandic Meteorological Office informed ruv.is that the earthquake swarm had started at 1 am and continued through 5 am.

However, there is no reason to be concerned about an imminent volcanic eruption or glacial outburst in Katla. The earthquakes were all shallow and originated in seismic activity in the geothermal system.

Iceland Review

Germany Faces Delay in Ratifying Euro Rescue Fund

The pleasant news arrived from the northeastern port city of Rostock on Thursday. German President Joachim Gauck was to be named an honorary citizen of the city of his birth. The other news, which came from the southwestern city of Karlsruhe, was not as uplifting. The judges on Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, had asked the president to delay signing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Union fiscal pact into law.

The Constitutional Court, anticipating challenges to the legislation, wanted more time to review documents. Gauck, hardly three months in office, was already faced with an important decision. If he complied with the request from Karlsruhe, at least one piece of legislation proposed by Chancellor Merkel and her coalition government -- the permanent bailout fund known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) -- would undoubtedly be delayed. The ESM was originally scheduled to come into force on July 1, 2012.

Now the ESM will have to wait.

Gauck doesn't want to sign the two laws, at least for now, when they are presented to the two houses of the German legislature -- the federal parliament, the Bundestag, and the upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat -- for ratification next week. However, laws in Germany are only considered ratified, and therefore binding under international law, when signed by the president. Now it could take another two or three weeks before the court rules on possible emergency appeals.

Declining a request by the Constitutional Court judges, especially on such a delicate matter, would have created a massive conflict and set off a debate on the question of whether a German president in cases of doubt has the power to ignore Karlsruhe. It was a conflict Gauck was anxious to avoid. According to a statement by the president's office, Gauck intended to "comply with the request, in keeping with standard government practice among the constitutional bodies, and out of respect for the Federal Constitutional Court, as soon as the Bundestag and the Bundesrat have adopted the corresponding treaty laws."

For Merkel, this means that what has already been a grueling struggle over rescuing the euro is now entering the next phase. A ratification on July 1 would have sent a strong signal to the financial markets: Namely that the euro rescue is going according to plan. But now, at least for a while, it will remain subject to a possible decision from the Karlsruhe court. That may not be a disaster, but it is a symbolic setback for European leaders seeking to rescue the euro. Once again, those plans face another delay.


Ahmadinejad calls for 'new world order' without nuclear monopoly

Iran's president defended his nation's right to develop nuclear energy on Thursday during a visit to Brazil.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's press conference came two days after nuclear talks with world powers in Moscow ended without progress. He spoke to journalists on the sidelines of the UN conference on sustainable development being held this week in Rio de Janeiro.

In order to tackle the social and economic inequalities and the injustice currently undermining human dignity world-wide, there is a great need for a "new world order," he said through a Portuguese-speaking translator.

"This order would be based on compassion and justice, and in it, all humanity would be respected," he said, pointing out that in the world today, a small minority has the power to make decisions, without consideration for the needs of the majority.

A sign of the injustice in the current world order, he said, is the nuclear proliferation question.

"The countries that have nuclear arms today, and that at certain moments used those arms, today through threats are telling other countries they cannot have these weapons," he said. "We believe that nuclear energy, along with other forms of energy, should be accessible to all nations and is the right of all nations. But nowadays, it is monopolized by a few."

In the talks between Tehran and six world powers that ended Tuesday, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany argued that Iran should stop enriching uranium to the point where it is steps away from being usable in nuclear warheads. Iranian leaders during the talks said the country is not pursuing nuclear weapons, and that the uranium is only meant for medical uses and to make reactor fuel.


URGENT Syria air defenses down Turkish military plane over Latakia

Turkish F-4 Phantom

The Turkish military reported Friday, June 22, that radar and radio contact was lost with a Turkish air force F-4 plane after it took off from Erhac Airport in the eastern province of Malatya while flying over the sea opposite the Turkish-Syrian border. 

The incident took place not far from the Syrian port of Latakia.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Syrian anti air defenses shot the plane down in an ambush calculated to retaliate for the defection of the Syrian Air Force pilot Col. Hassan Maray al-Hamadeh to Jordan a day earlier with his MiG-21 warplane. Officials in Damascus are certain his defection was organized by US and Turkish intelligence.
DamPress and other Syrian news agencies reported at 16:00 local time Friday that two military aircraft infiltrated Syrian airspace over Latakia and broke the sound barrier while flying low in threatening formation. 

One was hit by Syrian anti-air fire and the second escaped. DamPress speculates that the intruders were either Turkish or Israeli. The Turkish press reported later that a search operation rescued the two pilots of the downed aircraft from the sea. The plane has not been found. Since Thursday, Syria’s entire air fleet has been grounded while its spy agencies screen flight personnel for more potential defectors.


Syria Possess Vast Quantities of Chemical Weapons

WASHINGTON, D.C. -The Syrian Army is by regional standards a highly-capable military force and its air force is one of the largest in the Middle East.

In addition to that, Western experts believe Syria has a large chemical weapons arsenal including mustard gas, the more modern sarin and even VX - the most toxic of all chemical agents.

“Unlike Moammar Gadhafi, who had basically dismantled his chemical weapons,” said John Pike, head of Globalsecurity.com, “the Syrians have a very active poison gas program.” Pike says they have “the medium-range ballistic missiles that would enable them to deliver it to the neighborhood - certainly to Israel and Turkey, but not farther afield, certainly not to western European countries.”

Experts say there is little hard data on Syria’s chemical weapons program because the country has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention that outlaws the production, possession and use of such weapons. Most of the estimates come from intelligence agencies and analysts.

Deterrence Against Israel

Charles Blair, with the Federation of American scientists, says it makes sense for the Syrians to have a chemical weapons arsenal because they need some sort of deterrent against the Israelis.

“In 2007 the Israelis destroyed what at that point were nuclear reactors going up in what was believed was the nascent Syrian nuclear program.” Blair said “It’s entirely possible that after that, the Syrians redoubled their efforts with their chemical deterrent because they no longer had a nuclear route.”

Experts believe the chemical weapons - known as "the poor man’s nuclear weapon" - are produced in four or five facilities in Syria and stored in dozens of places throughout the country.

Weapons are secure

Aram Nerguizian, a Syria expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says these sites are well protected.

“A lot of talk about securing these facilities so far is moot,” he said, “because a lot of the elite units in the Syrian military are critical to maintaining the safeguards on those facilities. There is a strong sense of confidence within the U.S. defense community, that the Syrian armed forces currently have strong safeguards in place.”

There has been some debate about what to do to secure the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal if the crisis escalates. Some reports have indicated that the U.S. Defense Department is drawing up contingency plans to secure that arsenal.

But Charles Blair is skeptical about such an endeavor, saying “the only way that you could envision really securing the Syrian stockpile is with a large force.” He says the Department of Defense estimates that “it would take 75,000 U.S. forces to properly secure it. And there is no large standing Western army anywhere near Syria. “I don’t think there is any way that the West can secure the stockpiles," he said.

Analysts also believe it is essential to make sure that those chemical weapons don’t fall into the hands of groups like Hezbollah or al-Qaida. Experts also fear that the rebels fighting the Syrian government might obtain those arms - but they point out that right now, the rebels don’t have the necessary military systems to deliver them.


Banks are insolvent

Will Toledo, Ohio Be The First Major American City To Be Owned By China?

It has been said that there are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation.  One way is by using the sword, and the other is by using debt.  Fortunately, America is not in danger of being conquered by the sword right now, but America is being conquered by debt.  The borrower is the servant of the lender, and today we owe China more than a trillion dollars.  By running a gigantic trade deficit with us, China has been able to become incredibly wealthy.  We have begged them to lend us back some of the money that we have sent them and this has made them even wealthier.  Now China is gobbling up U.S. real estate and U.S. assets at an astounding pace.  In fact, some cities are in danger of becoming completely dominated by Chinese ownership.  One of those cities is Toledo, Ohio.  In many "rust belt" areas, real estate can be had for a song, and the Chinese are taking full advantage of this.  America was once the wealthiest nation on earth, but now we are drowning in debt and we are being sold off in chunks to the highest bidder.  Is this the legacy that we are going to leave for future generations?
According to a recent Fortune article, Chinese investors have been very busy purchasing distressed commercial real estate in Toledo lately....
In March 2011, Chinese investors paid $2.15 million cash for a restaurant complex on the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio. Soon they put down another $3.8 million on 69 acres of newly decontaminated land in the city's Marina District, promising to invest $200 million in a new residential-commercial development. That September, another Chinese firm spent $3 million for an aging hotel across a nearby bridge with a view of the minor league ballpark.

Toledo is being promoted to Chinese investors as a "5-star logistics region".  From Toledo it is very easy to get to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Indianapolis.
With a population of 287,000, Toledo is only the fourth largest city in Ohio, but it lies at the junction of two important highways -- I-75 and I-80/90. "My vision is to make Toledo a true international city," Toledo's Mayor Mike Bell told the Toledo Blade.
For some reason the Chinese seem to be very interested in that area of the country.  Last month, I wrote about how one Chinese group plans to develop a 200 acre "China city" just 40 minutes away from Toledo....
A Chinese group known as "Sino-Michigan Properties LLC" has bought up 200 acres of land near the town of Milan, Michigan.  Their plan is to construct a "China City" with artificial lakes, a Chinese cultural center and hundreds of housing units for Chinese citizens.  Essentially, it would be a little slice of communist China dropped right into the heartland of America.  This "China City" would be located about 40 minutes from both Detroit and Toledo, and it would be marketed to Chinese business people that want to start businesses in the United States.

But it is not just the rust belt that is being bought up by the Chinese.  A recent Forbes article documented several of the huge real estate deals that the Chinese are doing in New York right now....
According to a recent report in the New York Times, investors from China are “snapping up luxury apartments” and are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on commercial and residential projects like Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. Chinese companies also have signed major leases at the Empire State Building and at 1 World Trade Center, the report said.

In addition to real estate, the Chinese are also buying up businesses and natural resources all over the United States.
For example, the Dalian Wanda Group recently bought U.S. movie theater chain AMC Entertainment for 2.6 billion dollars.
Also, the Obama administration has been allowing companies owned by the Chinese government to gobble up U.S. oil and gas deposits worth billions of dollars.
On top of all that, the Federal Reserve recently announced that it will now allow Chinese banks to start buying up American banks.
So how in the world did we come to be so completely and totally dominated by China?
Well, the key to all of this is the trade deficit.
Most Americans can't even tell you what a trade deficit is, but it is at the very heart of our economic problems.
Basically, we buy far, far more from other countries than they buy from us.
Most Americans don't realize this, but the truth is that the United States has a trade imbalance that is more than 5 times larger than any other nation on earth has.
Overall, the U.S. has run a trade deficit of more than 8 trillion dollars with the rest of the globe since 1975.
If you go into a Wal-Mart of a dollar store today and you start looking at product labels, you will notice that hundreds of products say "made in China" and very few of them say that they were made in this country.
Every single month, China sends us gigantic mountains of plastic crap to sell in our stores and we send them gigantic mountains of our money.
The U.S. trade deficit with China during 2011 was $295.4 billion.  That was the largest trade deficit that one country has had with another country in the history of the planet.
Sadly, so far our trade deficit with China in 2012 is about 12 percent larger than it was last year.
So things are getting even worse.
To get an idea of how far things have come, let us take a look back at the 1980s for a moment.
Back in 1985, the U.S. trade deficit with China was only million dollars for the entire year.
All of this imbalanced trade is absolutely killing us.
Today, the United States spends about 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that China spends on goods and services from the United States.
So why doesn't China buy more stuff from us?
Well, there are a whole lot of reasons.  One of the main reasons is that they slap huge tariffs on many American-made goods.
For example, according to the New York Times a Jeep Grand Cherokee that costs $27,490 in the United States costs about $85,000 in China thanks to all the tariffs.
So why do we allow China to keep doing this to us?
That is a very good question.
Meanwhile, China is continually getting wealthier and we are continually getting poorer.
All of the money that is leaving this country and going to China could be going to U.S. businesses and U.S. workers instead.  In turn, those businesses and workers would pay taxes on that money to support the government.
Instead, we have to go beg China to lend us the money that we just sent to them.
At this point, China now holds approximately 1.17 trillion dollars of U.S. government debt.
None of this ever had to happen.
But it did happen because we were stupid.
Now China has mountains of money to literally buy us up.
But China is not the only country that we have an imbalanced trading relationship with.
For example, the new "free trade agreement" between the United States and South Korea that Barack Obama has been touting went into full effect on March 15, 2012.
So how has that "free trade agreement" turned out so far?  The following is from a recent article by Pat Buchanan....
The U.S. trade deficit with Korea tripled in one month. Imports from South Korea jumped 15 percent to $5.5 billion in April, while U.S. exports to South Korea fell 12 percent to $3.7 billion. Suddenly, the U.S. trade deficit with Seoul surged to an annual rate of $22 billion.
Shades of NAFTA. When it passed in 1993, we had a $1.6 billion trade surplus with Mexico. By 2010, our trade deficit with Mexico had reached $61.6 billion.

The truth is that these free trade agreements are not fair and balanced.
U.S. workers end up competing for jobs with workers in countries where it is legal to pay slave labor wages.  And other countries often have far fewer rules and regulations to follow as well.  In his recent article, Buchanan described why all Americans should be economic nationalists....
Global free trade means U.S. workers compete with Asian and Latin American workers whose wages are a fraction of our own and whose benefits may be nonexistent. Global free trade means U.S factories that relocate to Indonesia or India need not observe U.S. laws on health, safety, pollution or paying a minimum wage.
Global free trade means that companies that move factories outside the United States can send their products back to the United States free of charge and undercut businessmen who retain their American workers and live within American laws.
Free trade makes suckers and fools out of patriots.

Unfortunately, both major political parties in the United States are absolutely married to the one world economic agenda that the elite are pushing.
So we will continue to bleed wealth, businesses and jobs at an astounding pace.
You can get a really good idea of the horrific manufacturing job losses in the United States over the past 40 years by checking out this map right here.
Overall, the United States has lost a total of more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 2001 America has lost approximately 2.8 million jobs due to our trade deficit with China alone.
There seems to be absolutely no concern with protecting American jobs these days.
If you can believe it, Chinese corporations are even building our bridges.  The following is a brief excerpt from a recent ABC News article....
In New York there is a $400 million renovation project on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge.
In California, there is a $7.2 billion project to rebuild the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland.
In Alaska, there is a proposal for a $190 million bridge project.
These projects sound like steps in the right direction, but much of the work is going to Chinese government-owned firms.
"When we subsidize jobs in China, we're not creating any wealth in the United States," said Scott Paul, executive director for the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Americans need to start understanding that our trade deficit is causing us to lose massive numbers of businesses and jobs and that this is making us poorer as a nation.
As I wrote about the other day, the median net worth of families in the United States declined "from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010" according to the Federal Reserve.
Even if you take away the effect of the housing collapse, household net worth still declined by 25 percent between 2005 and 2010.
A lot of that decline in wealth was due to the recent recession, but the point I am trying to make is that we are getting poorer as a nation.
A decade ago, the United States was ranked number one in average wealth per adult.  By 2010, the United States had fallen to seventh.
And when you factor in our debts, we are a complete and total mess.  U.S. consumers are more than 11 trillion dollars in debt and the federal government is nearly 16 trillion dollars in debt.
We are getting deeper in debt at the same time that our ability to service that debt is declining.
The reality is that our economy is completely falling apart and it no longer produces enough jobs for everyone.
In fact, it isn't even close.
Right now there are about 3.7 workers that are "officially" unemployed for every single job opening.
So what we are doing right now is clearly not working.
We need to fundamentally change direction as a nation.
Unfortunately, that is not going to happen any time soon.
So where do we go from here?
Economic Collapse