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The Daily IndigoStar7 / News Ticker

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Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 6:14pm
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Can a return to the drachma save Greece as unemployment soars?

Can a return to the drachma save Greece as unemployment soars?

Greece’s unemployment bomb has detonated. After a deceptive calm, the surge in job losses since last summer is shocking even for those who never believed that combined fiscal and monetary contraction could possibly lead to any result other than ruin.

Can a return to the drachma save Greece as unemployment soars? The EU-ECB-IMF troika is imposing a further 150,000 public-sector job cuts in Greece over three years, without any offsetting Marshall Plan to rescue private industry. Photo: EPA By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor

8:50PM GMT 19 Feb 2012

A variant of this lies in store for Portugal as its "internal devaluation" starts in earnest. The young Schumpeterians in charge of the Portuguese economy insist otherwise - cocksure that shock therapy will triumph without the cushion of debt relief and devaluation - but events have a habit of demolishing dreams.

In November alone 126,000 Greeks lost their jobs in a country of 11 million, equivalent to three and a half million Americans in a single month. The unemployment rate jumped from 18.2pc to 20.9pc.

This has not yet fed through into social breakdown. Greeks receive unemployment support for an average of thirty weeks, with a ceiling of €454 a month, according to Professor Manos Matsaganis from Athens University. Those with civil service tenure are placed on labour reserve for two years at half their basic pay, or a third of their actual pay.

Once these cushions are exhausted, Greeks are on their own. The monthly ratchet effect will then become painfully evident. It is why the Orthodox primate Hieronymos II warned in a letter to the prime minister that ever further doses of the same "deadly medicine" is becoming dangerous.

"The voices of the desperate, the voices of Greeks are being provocatively ignored. Fear is giving way to rage and the risk of a social explosion can no longer be ignored by those who give orders and those who execute their lethal recipes," he said.....

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/90918...

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Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 6:18pm
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Japan, China to Help Europe Solve Crisis

Japan, China to Help Europe Solve Crisis

By Toru Fujioka - Feb 19, 2012 10:01 AM ETSun Feb 19 15:01:00 GMT 2012

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumisaid his nation and China will work together to help Europesolve its debt crisis through the International Monetary Fund.

Europe needs a bigger so-called firewall of added funding to contain the crisis, even as Greece shows some improvement in solving its financial woes, Azumi told reporters in Beijing yesterday after meeting Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan. Azumi, who met Chinese Finance Minister Xiu Xuren during his visit, also said he asked China to make its currency more flexible.

“We shared the view that Europe needs to make more efforts to create a bigger firewall,” Azumi said. “We also agreed to act together as the IMF will probably ask the U.S., Japan and China” to help boost its lending capacity.

The IMF proposed last month to boost its lending funds by as much as $500 billion to insulate the global economy against any deterioration of Europe’s sovereign crisis. That would be similar to a G-20 decision in April 2009 to triple the fund’s resources as part of plans to pull the world out of recession. At that time, the U.S. and Japan each contributed $100 billion, the EU $178 billion and China $50 billion....

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-19/japan-china-will-help-europe-s...

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Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 6:22pm
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Gunmen Kill Syrian Officials

Gunmen Kill Syrian Officials

By Glen Carey and Danielle Ivory - Feb 19, 2012 6:16 PM ETSun Feb 19 23:16:58 GMT 2012

Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule stepped up their deadly attacks against government officials as the violence of the past 11 months pushes the country toward civil war.

Gunmen killed Syrian Public Prosecutor Nidal Ghazal, Judge Mohammed Ziyadeh and their driver in Idlib, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.

The international community is divided on how to resolve the conflict as the daily death toll mounts. Forces loyal to the president are using tanks and artillery to try to crush a rebellion aimed at toppling Assad’s regime. Syrian government forces killed 27 people across the country yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, citing activists.

“I’m worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday.

Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday on CNN that it’s too early to arm the Syrian opposition, because it’s difficult to identify.

“I think intervening in Syria would be very difficult,”he said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” Syria is “an arena right now for all of the various interests to play out. And what I mean by that is you’ve got great power involvement: Turkeyclearly has an interest, a very important interest, Russia has a very important interest, Iran has an interest.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-19/syrian-gunmen-kill-officials-a...

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What Happens When China Stops Buying Our Debt?

What Happens When China Stops Buying Our Debt?

For years, people have wondered what happens when China stops buying U.S. Treasury bonds. Once China refuses to finance our massive deficits, the thought goes, interest rates will surge, and the Treasury might have a hard time selling bonds (ask Greece what it's like). And if China actually began selling its Treasury bonds... that could bring about something far worse.

But we don't have to wait any longer. China has been a net-seller of Treasuries for the past few months. And not only does the world still exist, but interest rates are near an all-time low. Like so many other stories about the economy, the idea that the U.S. is reliant on China to buy its debt and that hell will break loose when it stops is greatly exaggerated.

China has indeed been a prolific buyer of U.S. debt over the past decade. In 2000, mainland China owned less than $60 billion of Treasury debt. By 2010, it owned more than $1 trillion, surpassing Japan as America's largest foreign creditor.

But those numbers have topped out, and actually dropped, in the last few months:

anImage

Source: Treasury Department.

At this rate, Japan will likely reclaim its status as the largest foreign owner of Treasuries sometime this year. As of December, China owned $1.1 trillion of Treasuries, next to Japan's $1.04 trillion.

What's behind China's pullback? The nation is deeply secretive about its financial dealings, so no one knows. But it's likely that after scrapping its currency peg to the dollar in 2010, China no longer has the incentive to hold a "price be damned" approach to buying Treasuries. It also has a vested interest in not seeing Europe's financial system implode, and has been vocal about its interest and commitment to buying European assets. That might take up funds that otherwise would have gone toward Treasuries.

There's also that pesky credibility thing. China's leaders have ridiculed the U.S. for spending with abandon for years. When Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told a group of Chinese students that Treasuries are safe in 2009, "the comment provoked loud laughter from the audience of students," according to Telegraph UK. That same year, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned:

We've lent a huge amount of capital to the United States, and of course we're concerned about the security of our assets. And to speak truthfully, I am a little bit worried. I would like to call on the United States to honor its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets.

Disturbed by last year's debt-ceiling circus, China may be acting on its fears.

https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/02/17/what-happens-when-chin...

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Infographic: Rare Earth Elements: The Technology Metals

Rare Earth Elements: The Technology Metals This infographic is sponsored by Dacha Strategic Metals, a member of the Forbes & Manhattan group of companies

Rare Earth Elements: The Technology Metals Infographic

Rare Earth Elements: The Technology Metals

In this infographic, we look at how rare earth elements are an essential input for most of the technology we use today. Rare earths are used to build high powered magnets, lasers, and modern displays – all things we need to make things like iPads, TVs, hybrid vehicles, medical equipment, smart phones, portable x-ray machines, wind turbines, speakers, microphones, and headphones.

China currently has a near monopoly on rare earth production and has reduced export quotas. It is also expected to run out of rare earth reserves in 15-20 years.

What will the future hold for rare earth elements and what kind of investment opportunities do they create for investors?

This infographic is sponsored by Dacha Strategic Metals, a member of the Forbes & Manhattan group of companies

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Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 6:40pm
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Infographic: A Clear Look at Diamonds

Visual Capitalist Feature: A Clear Look at Diamonds

A Clear Look at Diamonds

How Diamonds Form

  • Kimberlite and Lamproites are carrot shaped deep-origin volcanic eruptions
    • 1 in 200 volcanic pipes contain gem-quality diamonds
    • Magma itself does not have diamonds, but acts as an elevator to bring up diamonds coming from depth
    • Diamonds coming to earth’s surface are old, ranging from 1-3.3 billion years old. 22%-73% age of Earth.
    • Formed at depths between 140 – 190km where exact conditions exist for diamond creation (temperature + pressure)
    • Meteorites
      • Microdiamonds can be found at meteorite impact craters. Some impact events create shock zones of high pressure and temperature suitable for diamond creation.

Diamond Properties

  • Hardest natural substance on earth
  • Optical properties (brilliant, lustre, color)
  • Unique. Every diamond is different because they are crystals that form with different sizes, colours, and defects.

Diamond Type and Colour

Diamonds get color from their impurities or structural anomalies.

Type 1 diamonds:

  • 98% of gem diamonds have Nitrogen as a key impurity, which can make them white, light yellow, or light brown.
  • 0.1% have nitrogen impurities, but more diffuse, making an intense yellow or brown color.

Type 2 diamonds:

  • 1.8% are entirely devoid of impurities, but have structural anomalies that can give yellow, brown, orange, pink, red, or purple colour.
  • 0.1% have boron impurities, that make them blue or grey.
  • Green diamonds also can occur if a diamond is exposed to radiation

Diamond mining

  • Because each diamond is unique, unlike other commodities, there is another measurement that must be considered to prove an economic deposit: diamond value. Each diamond has a unique value based on size and characteristics. Companies must take a bulk sample of at least 2000 carats to give an “average” for diamond value.
  • Generally all diamonds from a similar volcanic pipe have similar characteristics

Market for diamonds

  • 130,000,000 carats (26,000kg) of diamonds mined annually, valued at $13B (US) – global diamond retail sales: $72B
  • 30% are gem quality, 70% industrial use. Industrial diamonds are valued for hardness and thermal conductivity.
  • Gem diamonds are valued for clarity, color, cut, and carat (4 C’s). Given all other factors remaining the same, more carats mean an exponential increase in value. Clarity is how pure each diamond is and the number, size, color, location, orientation and visibility of defects. Colourless diamonds (white) are graded on a scale from D to Z, with Z being light yellow. Rare and desirable colors are red, green, purple, blue, orange, and pink. Cut refers to quality of workmanship and angles to reflect maximum amount of light. Quality of cut is the most important of 4 C’s.

Demand: Economic growth and demographics

  • China/India to drive diamond demand through newly affluent population. In the world diamond retail market, Asia in 2005 made up 23% of purchases. In 2020, they will make up 57%!
  • By 2020, China’s GDP on a PPP (purchasing power parity) basis is forecast to grow 190% to 28 trillion! This would be the highest in the world.
  • Supply is to decline as mines go deeper and underground, with no significant new mines starting production.
  • 92% of world’s diamonds are cut and polished in India, mostly in the city of Surat
  • 85% of world’s rough diamonds, 50% of cut diamonds, and 40% of industrial diamonds are traded in Antwerp, Belgium, the diamond centre of the world.
  • 2-3% of diamonds traded today are conflict diamonds (from unstable West or central African countries where mines are controlled by rebels)
  • Highest ever auction price paid for diamond: $46m for Graff Pink, a rare 24.78 carat pink diamond by Laurence Graff (UK)
  • Cullinan the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found at 3,106.75 carats (621.35g). Found in South Africa and divided into 9 polished stones. The largest stone, Cullinan I has an estimated value of $400m.

Copyright (C) 2011 Visual Capitalist

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Sun, Feb 19, 2012 - 6:48pm
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Infographic: The Gold Life Cycle / click

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Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 3:21pm
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"Markets Are So Rigged By Policy Makers That...."

Bob Janjuah: "Markets Are So Rigged By Policy Makers That I Have No Meaningful Insights To Offer"

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/20/2012 - 08:38

I am staggered at how easily the concepts of Democracy and the Rule of Law – two of the pillars of the modern world – have been brushed aside in the interests of political expediency. This is not just a eurozone phenomenon but of course the removal of elected governments and the instalment of "insider" technocrats who simply serve the interests of the elite has become a specialisation in Europe. Many will think this kind of development is not a big deal and is instead may be what is needed. Personally I am absolutely certain that the kind of totalitarianism being pushed on us by our leaders will – if allowed to persist and fester – end with consequences which are way beyond anything the printing presses of our central banks could ever hope to contain. Communism failed badly. Why then are we arguably trying to resurrect a version of it, particularly in Europe? Are the banks so powerful that we are all beholden to them and the biggest nonsense of all – that defaults should never happen (unless said defaults are trivial or largely meaningless)?...– So, in terms of markets, be warned. My personal recommendation is to sit in Gold and non-financial high quality corporate credit and blue-chip big cap non-financial global equities. Bond and Currency markets are now so rigged by policy makers that I have no meaningful insights to offer, other than my bubble fears...The end of the bubble will be sign posted by either monetary anarchy creating major real economy inflation or by a deflationary credit collapse (if they run out of pumping "mandates"). The end game is incredibly binary in my view, but in between it is pretty much a random walk. Either way, "bonds are toast" in any secular timeframe (due either to huge inflationary pressures, or due to a deflationary credit collapse), which in turn means that asset bubbles in risky assets will get crushed on a secular basis.

https://www.zerohedge.com/

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Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 3:23pm
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JPM Hikes Crude Price Forecast, Sees $120 WTI By Election

JPM Hikes Crude Price Forecast, Sees $120 WTI By Election Time

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/20/2012 - 11:27 Central Banks Crude Equity Markets Iran Japan OPEC

JPM brings some less than good news for the administration, which unless planning to propose another $500 billion or so gas price offsetting fiscal stimulus (which would bring total US debt to $17 trillion by the end of 2012) may find itself with the bulk of its electorate unable to drive to the voting booths come November. In a just revised crude forecast, JPM commodity analyst Larry Eagles, has hiked both his Crude and Brent expectations across the board, and now sees WTI going from $105 currently to a $120 by the end of the year, $4 higher than his prior forecast. Alas, since in another report from this morning titled "Return of Asset Reflation" JPM finally figures out what we have been saying for months, namely that the stealthy global central bank liquidity tsunami is finally spilling out of equity markets and into everything else, inflation is about to become a substantially topic in pre-election propaganda. As a reminder, when gold was at $1900 last summer, central banks had pumped about $2 trillion less into the markets. We expect the market to grasp this discrepancy shortly.

https://www.zerohedge.com/

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Everything Disconnects/ Everything Is Soaring, MS Issues Warning

As Everything Disconnects And Everything Is Soaring, Morgan Stanley Issues A Warning

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/20/2012 - 14:11 Bob Janjuah Commodity Futures Trading Commission Morgan Stanley NASDAQ Natural Gas

The latest report from Morgan Stanley's Graham Secker can be summarized simply as follows: i) in January everything has disconnected as traditional linkages between asset classes have broken down, ii) also in January every major asset class (equities, treasurys, gold, oil) was up materially, iii) such a phenomenon has been seen only 5 times in the past 5 years, iv) a double digit decline followed 3 of the past 4 such surges. Then again, as Bob Janjuah lamented earlier, when a bunch of bespectacled economists who have never held a real job in their academic careers since transplanted with banker blessings to various central bank buildings, and who continue to plan the fate of the world in secrecy (a fate that can be summarized as follows: CTRL+P), as the only marginal decision makers, who really cares anymore?

https://www.zerohedge.com/

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Consequences To Expect If The U.S. Invades Iran

Guest Post: Consequences To Expect If The U.S. Invades Iran Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/20/2012 10:31 -0500

Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market.com

Consequences To Expect If The U.S. Invades Iran

Let’s be honest, quite a few Americans love a good war, especially those Americans who have never had to bear witness to one first hand. War is the ultimate tribally vicarious experience. Anyone, even pudgy armchair generals with deep-seated feelings of personal inadequacy, can revel in the victories and actions of armies a half a world away as if they themselves stood on the front lines risking possible annihilation at the hands of dastardly cartoon-land “evil doers”. They may have never done a single worthwhile thing in their lives, but at least they can bask in the perceived glory of their country’s military might.

This attitude of swollen ego through proxy is not limited to the “Right” side of the political spectrum as some might expect. In fact, if the terrifyingly demented presidency of Barack Obama has proven anything so far, it is that elements of the “Left” are just as bloodthirsty as any NeoCon, and just as ready to blindly support the political supremacy of their “side” regardless of any broken promises, abandoned principles, or openly flaunted hypocrisies. No matter how reasonable or irrefutable the arguments against a particular conflict are, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of the populace which ignores all logic and barrels forward to cheerlead violent actions which ultimately only benefit a select and elite few.

They do this, though they rarely openly admit it, because of unbalanced and irrational biases which drive their decision making processes. In the case of the wars in the Middle East, the common public argument boils down to one of “self defense”. “They are coming to get us!” At least, that is what we are constantly told. And I’m sure that some Americans out there truly believe this. However, in their heart of hearts, others instead relish the idea of imposing their world views and philosophical systems upon others, even if it means using cluster bombs and predator drones.

Some people simply hate Muslims, for one reason or another. Some people believe that war will bring with it economic gain. Some are so afraid of what they do not comprehend that they only feel secure by attacking it. Some believe that the U.S. citizenry is morally obligated to become entangled with governments like Israel’s, and support them without question as if they are infallible, though they are often just as corrupt as the governments we are directed to despise. And yet others (for religious purposes), actually clamor for Middle Eastern destruction in the desperate hopes that their version of biblical prophecy will be vindicated. Ultimately, most Americans who support continued destruction in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, do so out a selfish need for private absolution and elevation, not out of a sincere sense of patriotism, and not because nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Iran present a legitimate danger to their safety.

These men and women have invested their very identities into the mechanizations of collective war. They will not be swayed by evidence or honorable arguments. Any criticism of the actions of the collective will immediately be treated as a personal attack on their individual character, causing their minds to shut down completely.....

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-consequences-expect-if-us-inva...

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Must Read: U.S. official "optimistic" on global accounting move

U.S. official "optimistic" on global accounting move

An illustration picture shows a one Euro coin being melted by a smith in Skopje, December 6, 2011. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

An illustration picture shows a one Euro coin being melted by a smith in Skopje, December 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

LONDON | Mon Feb 20, 2012 9:54am EST

LONDON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. regulator was "optimistic" on Monday about finding a framework for the world's top economy to use global book keeping rules for investors to compare cross-border companies.

"We are hopeful we can put forward a model," James Kroeker, chief accountant at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), told Reuters.

More than 100 countries, including Europe, use accounting rules from the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and are waiting to see if the world's biggest capital market, with up to 12,000 listed companies, adopts them too.

Other heavyweights like Japan would likely follow suit.

Kroeker said the SEC had delayed its decision due the more urgent and heavy work of fleshing out a reform of Wall Street known as Dodd-Frank.

Work on aligning U.S. and IASB accounting rules aimed at paving the way to U.S. adoption has also taken more time, along with a review of IASB governance.

Kroeker said he will make a proposal to SEC commissioners in "coming months" on how the United States could switch, which would spark changes in how the IASB deals with national bodies.

He downplayed the notion of smaller firms being able to opt out indefinitely if U.S. adoption went ahead.

"Having a model that works for everyone, even if there is a delay in timing, is important, otherwise you ingrain the idea that the smaller companies will never have to change and you end up with a two GAAP system permanently in the U.S.," he said.

Kroeker was in London to attend the IASB's advisory council where he gave an update on the U.S. adoption decision.

"I would not want to let a handful of areas that are particularly challenging hold up the broader important decision. There might be ways we need to finesse over time. There will be some areas we might not align on day one," he told the meeting.

MULTILATERAL MECHANISM

IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst, under pressure from IASB member countries to move on from years of heavy focus on convergence with U.S. rules, welcomed Kroeker's comments.

"It was a very solid and confidence-boosting statement. I think they are on the right track," IASB Chairman Hans Hoogervorst told Reuters.

To reassure the United States it would still have a strong voice after adoption, Hoogervorst spoke of the need for a new, multilateral mechanism to keep national standard setters like the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) plugged into the IASB rulemaking process....

https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/us-usa-accounting-idUSTRE81J0...

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Myanmar declares war on opium

A policeman holds poppy plants after a field was destroyed above the village of Tar-Pu, in the mountains of Shan State January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Special Report

Myanmar declares war on opium

By Andrew R.C. Marshall

TAR PU VILLAGE, Myanmar - In 2011, Myanmar was the world's second-biggest supplier of opium after Afghanistan. Now emerging from a half-century of military rule, the new government says it wants to buck that trend. Full Article | Video

https://www.reuters.com/

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Saudi Arabia vows to end violence with "iron fist"

An anti-government protester stands behind a traffic light as he is sprayed with water in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, February 20, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed World

Bahrain disperses march with water cannon

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA - Bahraini police used water cannon and tear gas to break up a march chanting anti-government slogans after a funeral, while protesters were arrested for approaching a roundabout at the center of an uprising last year. Full Article

https://www.reuters.com/

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U.S. Senators in Cairo want swift end to NGO case

U.S. Senators in Cairo want swift end to NGO case

The head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (R) meets with U.S. Senator John McCain at the Defense Ministry in Cairo February 20, 2012. REUTERS-Middle East News Agency (MENA)-Handout U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) talks during a news conference with other U.S. Senators during their visit to Egypt, in Cairo February 20, 2012. REUTER-Asmaa Waguih U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (C) talks during a news conference with other U.S. senators during their visit to Egypt, in Cairo February 20, 2012. REUTERS-Asmaa Waguih

1 of 3. The head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (R) meets with U.S. Senator John McCain at the Defense Ministry in Cairo February 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Middle East News Agency (MENA)/Handout

CAIRO | Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:14pm EST

CAIRO (Reuters) - U.S. Senators said in Cairo on Monday they hoped for a swift end to a row over U.S. pro-democracy activists accused of working illegally in Egypt and said they were committed to help Egypt nurture its democratic institutions and rebuild its economy.

Senator John McCain, leading the delegation, said Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi assured them Egypt was working to solve the dispute that triggered a crisis between Washington and Cairo, threatening $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

Tantawi heads the military council that took control when U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year. U.S. officials have previously cited Tantawi's assurances that the case was being resolved only for the row to deepen.

At least 43 activists, including 19 Americans, have been banned from leaving Egypt, where a court said it would start a trial on February 26 for those involved in the case that includes both U.S. and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

"The way we approach this issue of the NGOs is with some guarded optimism that we will resolve this issue very soon," McCain told a news conference with four other senators, adding their visit was planned before the NGO case erupted in December.

Among those accused is Sam LaHood, Egypt director of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the son of the U.S. transportation secretary. Some of the Americans involved have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy....

https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/us-egypt-usa-idUSTRE81J18J201...

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Iranian ships reach Syria, Assad allies show support

Iranian ships reach Syria, Assad allies show support

Demonstrators shout during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Kafranbel near Idlib February 19, 2012. REUTERS-Handout Residents rest in a shelter in the Baba Amro district of Homs in this February 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS-Mulham Alnader-Files A man protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad sprays graffiti on a wall, where graffiti (written in blue) translates as 'Down with Bashar', is seen in the Bab Sharqi district of Damascus February 18, 2012. Picture taken February 18, 2012. REUTERS-Stringer

1 of 3. Demonstrators shout during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Kafranbel near Idlib February 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Angus MacSwan

AMMAN/BEIRUT | Mon Feb 20, 2012 3:42pm EST

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia, China and Iran showed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, days before an international meeting likely to pile more pressure on him to step down in the face of an increasingly bloody uprising.

Assad met a senior Russian politician in Damascus, who reiterated Moscow's support for his self-styled reform program and spoke out against any foreign intervention in the conflict, Russian and Syrian news agencies reported.

China accused Western countries of stirring up civil war in Syria, and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.

Government forces pressed on with their crackdown on the anti-Assad uprising, with opposition activists reporting five people killed in renewed shelling of an opposition-held district of Homs, and troops and militiamen blockading Hama. Both cities have been in the forefront of the revolt.

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For graphic of Homs link.reuters.com/tuc56s

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The crisis is entering an important week, with Western and Arab powers due to meet at a conference in Tunisia on Friday to pressure Assad to give up power, while Assad forges ahead with plans for a referendum on Sunday for a new constitution...

https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/us-syria-idUSL5E8DB0BH20120220

An epic lack of foresight, accuracy and rationale... https://www.tfmetalsreport.com/comment/170246#comment-170246

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Northern lights and volcanoes in Iceland / Photo Gallery

Northern lights and volcanoes in Iceland captured by British photographer

Volcanic eruption on the Fimmvorouhals mountain pass, with Aurora Borealis display in the sky behind.
British photographer, James Appleton from Cambridge, has spent the past seven years capturing the volatile landscapes of Iceland - and was rewarded with shots of an erupting volcano and the northern lights. He says: "I became aware of the Fimmvörðuháls volcano through a friend of mine who is an Icelandic vulcanologist. I knew immediately I had to try and get out to see it. On the plane flying over to Iceland I had in my mind's eye the perfect image I wanted to see, which was exactly this combination of an erupting volcano and the Aurora Borealis. I never dared to hope it might actually happen, but seeing it for real put all the hairs on the back of my neck up. When I saw the photographs come through the camera I was jumping around with excitement." https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/9093100/Northern-lig...
View of the lava flow away from the eruption site at Fimmvorouhals, Iceland.
To take his pictures James braved not only the mighty heat of the volcano, but also the frozen bite of the harsh Icelandic winter. "The closest I got was probably only a few hundred metres away," said James. "I was trying to be as responsible as possible, but the temptation to get in for closer images was too much. It was a case of trying to stay on ridges and high ground to avoid possible gas pockets or caves under the snow formed by the heat of the lava.

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Oil price hits eight-month high on Iran sanctions

Oil price hits eight-month high on Iran sanctions

Oil prices reached their highest level for eight months at one stage on Monday as the market reacted to sanctions imposed by Iran on shipments to Britain and France.

A worker of Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation checks oil flow of well PK-2 during its inauguration at Ingoli village, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Ahmadabad, India Anglo-Dutch Shell has already stopped buying Iranian oil along with other big EU groups including France's Total, Spain's Repsol and Italy's Eni Photo: AP By Roland Gribben

4:25PM GMT 20 Feb 2012

Quotations for Brent oil hit $121.15 a barrel before losing ground amid uncertainty about whether Iran could find replacement customers.

The oil price movements are raising fresh fears about the return of inflationary pressures at a time when they are showing signs of easing.

Tension in the Middle East resulting from Iran's nuclear ambitions are also impacting on oil prices. Analysts are also pointing to the shutdown of production in Sudan and the threat of disruption in Libya as factors influencing prices.

Iran has acted in advance of the EU ban on buying its oil, which is not due to start until July, in an attempt to cause economic pain and raise prices to make it easier to find new buyers.

Analysts say Iran is attempting to get its retaliation in first after the EU decision to punish Opec's second biggest oil exporter for its nuclear ambitions.

But Iran is having difficulties persuading non-EU countries to take its oil. China, the main target along with India, is attempting to use its negotiating muscle by holding out for a discount. Iran is trying to resist the pressure because it is anxious to avoid seeing prices fall and risk further damage to its own economy.

An estimated 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil is said to be floating around the market in search of customers.

The ban on shipments to Britain and France will have little impact since both import negligible quantities from Iran.

Greece, Spain and Italy have been bigger purchasers and the EU decision to delay its ban until July is aimed at giving them time to find replacement supplies.

Teheran has provided few details about the extent of its sanctions and questions were being raised about whether international subsidiaries of British and French companies would be affected.

Anglo-Dutch Shell has already stopped buying Iranian oil along with other big EU groups including France's Total, Spain's Repsol and Italy's Eni.

Shell's 35pc-owned Japanese subsidiary Showa Shell says it does not expect to be affected. A spokesman said Shell and Showa are two separate companies but there is speculation Showa may not renew its 100,000-barrel-a-day contract with Iran next month.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/oilprices/9093934/Oil-price-hits-eig...

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Greek debt may remain at 160 percent in '20: IMF/ECB

Exclusive: Greek debt may remain at 160 percent in '20: IMF/ECB

BRUSSELS | Mon Feb 20, 2012 5:10pm EST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greece will need additional relief if it is to cut its debts to 120 percent of GDP by 2020 and if it doesn't follow through on structural reforms and other measures, its debt could hit 160 percent by 2020, a confidential analysis conducted by the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission shows.

The baseline scenario in the 9-page report, obtained exclusively by Reuters, is that Greece will cut its debts to 129 percent of GDP by 2020, well above the 120 percent target.

"The results point to a need for additional debt relief from the official or private sectors to bring the debt trajectory down," said the report, which is being discussed by euro zone finance ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Monday to decide on a second financing program for Greece.

"There is a fundamental tension between the program objectives of reducing debt and improving competitiveness, in that the internal devaluation needed to restore Greece competitiveness will inevitably lead to a higher debt to GDP ratio in the near term," says the report, dated February 15.

"In this context, a scenario of particular concern involves internal devaluation through deeper recession (due to continued delays with structural reforms and with fiscal policy and privatization implementation).

"This would result in a much higher debt trajectory, leaving debt as high as 160 percent of GDP in 2020. Given the risks, the Greek program may thus remain accident-prone, with questions about sustainability hanging over it," it said.

The analysis cautioned that Greece may not be able to implement all the necessary changes quickly enough.

"The Greek authorities may not be able to deliver structural reforms and policy adjustments at the pace envisioned in the baseline," it said.

"The debt trajectory is extremely sensitive to program delays, suggesting that the program could be accident prone, and calling into question sustainability," it said.

OFFICIAL SECTOR ROLE

The report said that debt could be reduced to 120 percent from 129 percent through a restructuring of the accrued interest on Greek bonds, which would shave 1.5 percentage points off the final result.

A further 1.5 percent could be obtained from lowering interest rates on bilateral euro zone loans extended to Athens under the first bailout program and 3.5 percentage points could be saved by restructuring the portfolios of Greek bonds held by euro zone central banks in their investment portfolios.

The biggest contribution to the debt reduction, however, could come from the ECB forgoing profits on the Greek bonds the central bank bought under a market intervention program since 2010. That would cut the debt by 5.5 percentage points....

https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/20/us-greece-debt-news-idUSTRE81...

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Iran Uses European Oil Dependence as Blackmail on Nukes

Iran Uses European Oil Dependence as Blackmail on Nukes

Feb 20, 2012 12:00 AM EST

In the West’s high-stakes nuclear game with Tehran, Ahmadinejad may hold the stronger hand.

The signs of economic recovery in the United States grow more numerous—and with them rises the probability of President Obama’s reelection. But two crises abroad threaten to rain on the American parade: the European sovereign-debt debacle and the phony war over Iran’s nuclear program. Most commentators treat these two crises as unrelated. But they are in reality two sides of the same crisis. Call it the Euranian crisis.

The connection surfaced on Feb. 15 when Iran’s Oil Ministry threatened to cut off exports to six European countries in a bid to preempt the EU embargo on oil imports from Iran, which goes into effect on July 1. At first sight, this was just a new version of an old ruse: if someone threatens you with sanctions, try to get your retaliation in first. In typical fashion, it coincided with television coverage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad personally inserting the first Iranian-made nuclear fuel rods into a reactor in Tehran (while chanting verses from the Quran)—as well as the arrest of three Iranians suspected of plotting attacks on Israeli diplomats in Bangkok.

It’s all rather reminiscent of that gangster character Jimmy Cagney used to play: the little guy who tries to intimidate bigger opponents by acting like a psychopath. But there’s even more method to Iran’s seeming madness.

First, note which European countries Tehran threatened with its oil-export ban: France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Four out of the six belong, with Ireland, to the “PIIGS” club of euro-zone countries with chronic deficits. These are not exclusively fiscal deficits (gaps between government spending and tax revenue). Experts have long given more weight to the PIIGS’ trade deficits, which have been larger for longer than their fiscal deficits. According to Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, the key imbalance at the heart of the euro crisis is the trade and services deficit between the PIIGS and the so-called core: Germany.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/02/19/iran-uses-european-oil...

An epic lack of foresight, accuracy and rationale... https://www.tfmetalsreport.com/comment/170246#comment-170246

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