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The operation to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips involved dozens of Navy SEALs, who parachuted from an aircraft into the scene near dark Saturday, landing in the ocean. The SEALs were part of a group of Special Operations forces involved in the effort, according to military officials.

The SEALs set up operations on the USS Bainbridge, which had been communicating with the four pirates via radio and had used smaller boats to make deliveries of food and water to their lifeboat. Yet the pirates were growing increasingly agitated, the officials said. At one point Saturday, the pirates opened fire on one of the smaller U.S. Navy craft that approached.

As the seas grew rougher, the Bainbridge offered to tow the lifeboat to calmer waters, and the pirates agreed, linking up the lifeboat to the destroyer with a towing cable that left 75 to 80 feet between the two vessels. Phillips at the time was tied up in the lifeboat, having been bound — and occasionally beaten — by the pirates ever since he had attempted to escape by jumping into the water on Friday, the officials said.

Meanwhile, one of the pirates, estimated to be between 16 and 20 years old, asked to come aboard the Bainbridge to make a phone call. He had been stabbed in the hand during an altercation with the crew of the Maersk Alabama and needed medical care. “He effectively gave himself up,” a senior military official said. The Navy then allowed that pirate to speak with the others in hopes that he could persuade them to give up.

The three other pirates, however, showed signs of growing irritation, as the Bainbridge, 18 miles from shore, towed the lifeboat further out to sea, the senior military official said. “They had no promise of money, clearly no passage. The one ticket they had was the captain,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

“In the last discussion, they said, ‘If we don’t get what we want, we will kill the captain,’ ” the official said.

Soon afterward, two pirates moved to one of the hatches of the lifeboat and stuck their heads out. The third pirate advanced toward the captain and pointed his AK-47 straight at Phillips’s back, the rifle touching it or inches away, the official said.

U.S. military observers thought that Phillips was about to be shot. SEAL snipers, who were positioned on a deck at the stern of the Bainbridge, an area known as the fantail, had the three pirates in their sights. The on-scene commander gave the snipers authority to fire.

“As soon as the snipers had a clear shot at the guy who had the rifle, they shot him and the other two in the hatches,” the senior military official said.

A member of the Special Operations team slid down the tow line into the water and climbed aboard the lifeboat. Phillips was then put in a small craft and taken to the Bainbridge.

more articles in the Washington Post HERE

The Reuters headline put it this way: “Pirates Pose Annoying Distraction For Obama.”

So many distractions, aren’t there? Only a week ago, the North Korean missile test was an “annoying distraction” from Barack Obama’s call for a world without nuclear weapons and his pledge that America would lead the way in disarming. And only a couple of days earlier the president insisted Iraq was a “distraction” — from what, I forget: The cooing press coverage of Michelle’s wardrobe? No doubt when the Iranians nuke Israel, that, too, will be an unwelcome distraction from the administration’s plans for federally subsidized daycare, just as Pearl Harbor was an annoying distraction from the New Deal, and the First World War was an annoying distraction from the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s dinner plans….more HERE

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning . Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

The writer is a veteran trader, a distinguished professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

The weeklong extravaganza of G-20, NATO, EU, U.S. and Turkey meetings has almost ended. The spin emerging from the meetings, echoed in most of the media, sought to portray the meetings as a success and as reflecting a re-emergence of trans-Atlantic unity.

The reality, however, is that the meetings ended in apparent unity because the United States accepted European unwillingness to compromise on key issues. U.S. President Barack Obama wanted the week to appear successful, and therefore backed off on key issues; the Europeans did the same. Moreover, Obama appears to have set a process in motion that bypasses Europe to focus on his last stop: Turkey.

Berlin, Washington and the G-20
Let’s begin with the G-20 meeting, which focused on the global financial crisis. As we said last year, there were many European positions, but the United States was reacting to Germany’s. Not only is Germany the largest economy in Europe, it is the largest exporter in the world. Any agreement that did not include Germany would be useless, whereas an agreement excluding the rest of Europe but including Germany would still be useful.

Two fundamental issues divided the United States and Germany. The first was whether Germany would match or come close to the U.S. stimulus package. The United States wanted Germany to stimulate its own domestic demand. Obama feared that if the United States put a stimulus plan into place, Germany would use increased demand in the U.S. market to expand its exports. The United States would wind up with massive deficits while the Germans took advantage of U.S. spending, thus letting Berlin enjoy the best of both worlds. Washington felt it had to stimulate its economy, and that this would inevitably benefit the rest of the world. But Washington wanted burden sharing. Berlin, quite rationally, did not. Even before the meetings, the United States dropped the demand — Germany was not going to cooperate.

The second issue was the financing of the bailout of the Central European banking system, heavily controlled by eurozone banks and part of the EU financial system. The Germans did not want an EU effort to bail out the banks. They wanted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out a substantial part of the EU financial system instead. The reason was simple: The IMF receives loans from the United States, as well as China and Japan, meaning the Europeans would be joined by others in underwriting the bailout. The United States has signaled it would be willing to contribute $100 billion to the IMF, of which a substantial portion would go to Central Europe. (Of the current loans given by the IMF, roughly 80 percent have gone to the struggling economies in Central Europe.) The United States therefore essentially has agreed to the German position.

Later at the NATO meeting, the Europeans — including Germany — declined to send substantial forces to Afghanistan. Instead, they designated a token force of 5,000, most of whom are scheduled to be in Afghanistan only until the August elections there, and few of whom actually would be engaged in combat operations. This is far below what Obama had been hoping for when he began his presidency.

Agreement was reached on collaboration in detecting international tax fraud and on further collaboration in managing the international crisis, however. But what that means remains extremely vague — as it was meant to be, since there was no consensus on what was to be done. In fact, the actual guidelines will still have to be hashed out at the G-20 finance ministers’ meeting in Scotland in November. Intriguingly, after insisting on the creation of a global regulatory regime — and with the vague U.S. assent — the European Union failed to agree on European regulations. In a meeting in Prague on April 4, the United Kingdom rejected the regulatory regime being proposed by Germany and France, saying it would leave the British banking system at a disadvantage.

Overall, the G-20 and the NATO meetings did not produce significant breakthroughs. Rather than pushing hard on issues or trading concessions — such as accepting Germany’s unwillingness to increase its stimulus package in return for more troops in Afghanistan — the United States failed to press or bargain. It preferred to appear as part of a consensus rather than appear isolated. The United States systematically avoided any appearance of disagreement.

The reason there was no bargaining was fairly simple: The Germans were not prepared to bargain. They came to the meetings with prepared positions, and the United States had no levers with which to move them. The only option was to withhold funding for the IMF, and that would have been a political disaster (not to mention economically rather unwise). The United States would have been seen as unwilling to participate in multilateral solutions rather than Germany being seen as trying to foist its economic problems on others. Obama has positioned himself as a multilateralist and can’t afford the political consequences of deviating from this perception. Contributing to the IMF, in these days of trillion-dollar bailouts, was the lower-cost alternative. Thus, the Germans have the U.S. boxed in.

The political aspect of this should not be underestimated. George W. Bush had extremely bad relations with the Europeans (in large part because he was prepared to confront them). This was Obama’s first major international foray, and he could not let it end in acrimony or wind up being seen as unable to move the Europeans after running a campaign based on his ability to manage the Western coalition. It was important that he come home having reached consensus with the Europeans. Backing off on key economic and military demands gave him that “consensus.”

Turkey and Obama’s Deeper Game
But it was not simply a matter of domestic politics. It is becoming clear that Obama is playing a deeper game. A couple of weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled a trip to Turkey. During the EU meetings in Prague, Obama vigorously supported the Turkish application for EU membership, which several members are blocking on grounds of concerns over human rights and the role of the military in Turkey. But the real reason is that full membership would open European borders to Turkish migration, and the Europeans do not want free Turkish migration. The United States directly confronted the Europeans on this matter.

During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new alliance secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed his candidacy because of his defense on grounds of free speech of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on consensus, so any one member can block just about anything. The Turks backed off the veto, but won two key positions in NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.

So while the Germans won their way at the meetings, it was the Turks who came back with the most. Not only did they boost their standing in NATO, they got Obama to come to a vigorous defense of the Turkish application for membership in the European Union, which of course the United States does not belong to. Obama then flew to Turkey for meetings and to attend a key international meeting that will allow him to further position the United States in relation to Islam.

The Russian Dimension
Let’s diverge to another dimension of these talks, which still concerns Turkey, but also concerns the Russians. While atmospherics after the last week’s meetings might have improved, there was certainly no fundamental shift in U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians have rejected the idea of pressuring Iran over its nuclear program in return for the United States abandoning its planned ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States simultaneously downplayed the importance of a Russian route to Afghanistan. Washington said there were sufficient supplies in Afghanistan and enough security on the Pakistani route such that the Russians weren’t essential for supplying Western operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, the United States reached an agreement with Ukraine for the transshipment of supplies — a mostly symbolic gesture, but one guaranteed to infuriate the Russians at both the United States and Ukraine. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO, although the German position on unspecified delays to such membership was there as well. When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia.

The Germans are not going to be joining the United States in blocking Russia. Between dependence on Russia for energy supplies and little appetite for confronting a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany, the Germans are not going to address the Russian question. At the same time, the United States does not want to push the Germans toward Russia, particularly in confrontations ultimately of secondary importance and on which Germany has no give anyway. Obama is aware that the German left is viscerally anti-American, while Merkel is only pragmatically anti-American — a small distinction, but significant enough for Washington not to press Berlin.

At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia looks to be on the horizon. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The U.S. Congress for several years has threatened to pass a resolution condemning Turkish genocide against Armenians. The Turks are extraordinarily sensitive to this charge, and passage would have meant a break with the United States. Last week, they publicly began to discuss an agreement with the Armenians, including diplomatic recognition, which essentially disarms the danger from any U.S. resolution on genocide. Although an actual agreement hasn’t been signed just yet, anticipation is building on all sides.

The Turkish opening to Armenia has potentially significant implications for the balance of power in the Caucasus. The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war created an unstable situation in an area of vital importance to Russia. Russian troops remain deployed, and NATO has called for their withdrawal from the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There are Russian troops in Armenia, meaning Russia has Georgia surrounded. In addition, there is talk of an alternative natural gas pipeline network from Azerbaijan to Europe.

Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.

From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.

The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.

Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.

This is why Obama’s most important speech in Europe was his last one, following Turkey’s emergence as a major player in NATO’s political structure. In that speech, he sided with the Turks against Europe, and extracted some minor concessions from the Europeans on the process for considering Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Why Turkey wants to be an EU member is not always obvious to us, but they do want membership. Obama is trying to show the Turks that he can deliver for them. He reiterated — if not laid it on even more heavily — all of this in his speech in Ankara. Obama laid out the U.S. position as one that recognized the tough geopolitical position Turkey is in and the leader that Turkey is becoming, and also recognized the commonalities between Washington and Ankara. This was exactly what Turkey wanted to hear.

The Caucasus is far from the only area to discuss. Talks will be held about blocking Iran in Iraq, U.S. relations with Syria and Syrian talks with Israel, and Central Asia, where both countries have interests. But the most important message to the Europeans will be that Europe is where you go for photo opportunities, but Turkey is where you go to do the business of geopolitics. It is unlikely that the Germans and French will get it. Their sense of what is happening in the world is utterly Eurocentric. But the Central Europeans, on the frontier with Russia and feeling quite put out by the German position on their banks, certainly do get it.

Obama gave the Europeans a pass for political reasons, and because arguing with the Europeans simply won’t yield benefits. But the key to the trip is what he gets out of Turkey — and whether in his speech to the civilizations, he can draw some of the venom out of the Islamic world by showing alignment with the largest economy among Muslim states, Turkey.

….more Stratfor Articles HERE

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Record sales of gold scrap have turned some of the world’s largest importing countries such as Turkey into net exporters and have prompted India, the largest buyer, to stop importing for the first time in 10 years.

The surge in scrap flows has counterbalanced the spike in investors’ buying and contributed to capping bullion prices at $900-$950 a troy ounce, traders say. Gold prices reached a year-high of $1,005.4 an ounce in mid-February.

The same set of factors connected to the economic crisis that prompts western investors to hoard bullion forces some in the Middle East and Asia to sell. Traders noted that although some sales reflected profit taking, others were signs of consumer distress amid rising unemployment and persistently high food prices.

India, the world’s largest gold buyer by a wide margin, did not import at all in February and March and only minimal amounts in January because of large supplies of domestic scrap, according to the Bombay Bullion Association, the industry body.

“For the first time since the [Indian gold] market was liberalised [more than] 10 year ago, we are starting to observe periods of near-zero levels of net imports,” says Gargi Shah, an analyst with GFMS, the precious metals consultancy, in Mumbai.

“The buy-to-sell ratio of jewellery at the retail level has dramatically switched,” she says, explaining that while last year a typical retailer sold about 10kg of jewellery every week and bought back about one kilogram of scrap, the flow is now only 200g of sales and purchases of scrap of about 8kg.

At the same time, Turkey, traditionally the world’s second largest importer, has become an important net exporter in the first quarter, traders say. They add that Vietnam, usually a large buyer, and Thailand are also exporting gold.

“The scrap flows [in Asia] had been quite large,” says a senior gold trader in Hong Kong. He estimates Asian countries exported about 70 tonnes of gold a month in the first quarter of the year, equal to about 40 per cent of the world’s monthly mine supply. Under normal circumstances, Asia is a net importer of gold.

John Reade, a precious metals strategist at UBS in London, says these are indications that global flows of bullion scrap have “exceeded newly mined gold by a considerable margin”. He says the increase in scrap will answer questions posed by gold investors about who is selling gold in the current environment.

Mumbai, traditionally India’s gold centre, has been exporting gold to Dubai and Zurich, reversing the traditional bullion flow, traders say. The surge in scrap has driven local gold prices in Asia to a discount against the London benchmark.

Traders note gold scrap sales have slowed in the last 10 days as gold prices have dipped to less than $930 an ounce and some Asian currencies, in particular India’s rupee, have appreciated against the US dollar. Spot gold on Wednesday traded at $$920 an ounce in London, up 4.9 per cent this year.

Special Alert – The Next Big Thing

It’s often said that markets hate uncertainty. That’s true, but the key to keeping your head above water is to anticipate the unanticipated. While the worldwide economic crisis is front and center one should be asking, “What’s the next big thing that can greatly impact the markets.”

I believe it’s not a question of if, but when Israel attacks Iran. Such an attack would become headline news and greatly impact markets worldwide. My belief as a Christian that we could be in “End Times” plays no role in this assessment. (There are Christians supporting Israel in the belief this can somehow accelerate or induce end times). I’m truly looking at this through secular glasses and as someone who has spent 25 years away from the pack on Wall Street.

The Middle East has been front and center since biblical times. Religious or not, you must realize how Jews have found themselves smack in the middle of many of the most important times in history. Despite being a Christian, I’m the son of a Jewish mother, so Jewish tradition says I’m still a Jew. Since my Lord and Savior was a Jew and His Father has made the Jews his chosen people, this commentary is indeed being written by someone who sympathizes with their historical plight. But again, I pen this article not as a sympathizer but as a market strategist who happens to see them in the middle of the next big event that can impact the financial markets.

So why do I believe it’s a question of when, not if?

Newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will present his new government to parliament tomorrow. Based on media reports, it’s expected to be a so-called “hard-line” coalition. Key members of this coalition have been calling for radical changes to the perceived “dovish” ways Israel has been going in recent years. Prime Minister Netanyahu, a very polished speaker who has spent a lot of time in front of the U.S. media (and is very well liked among Conservatives), has openly stated on numerous occasions that Israel can’t allow Iran to go nuclear. I have no doubt that this is not posturing on his part but a deep conviction.

Make no mistake about it: the people of Israel are divided on this potential development. We also must be keenly aware that such an attack will almost certainly have no open political support and be publicly condemned worldwide. But a part of this criticism will be fluff as many in the world, including many Arab states, would like nothing better than to see Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime disappear. But they can’t risk the outrage that’s certainly to be heard from the Muslim world and the liberal community.

My speculation after watching, reading and hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu these last few years is he will do all he can to see Iran stopped in its quest to become a nuclear power. He will not back down no matter how much political fallout from around the world develops. But to expect him to act next week, next month or maybe in just several months, remains an open question.

Knowing the United States has been its biggest ally, he will need to do a very good balancing act, especially since the Obama administration has taken a whole new tack towards Iran versus the previous administration. While we’ll certainly hear a lot of public debate about this, I believe Israel will first try to obtain a real sense of where the Obama administration will fall after the watershed event. But regardless of what they conclude, I remain convinced they will attack.

So what are the potential financial outcomes of such an attack? The no-brainer is oil goes to a significant higher level and keeps much of whatever that premium becomes. Financial markets are almost certain to react to the downside, but to what extent the physical and political damage occurs should go a long way in determining how low they go and for how long. Gold is also an expected benefactor.

I don’t take any pride in looking for destruction and loss of lives but my job is to deal with any and all potential factors that can impact markets. This plight won’t be the only hotbed area that can impact markets. I think Pakistan is fast becoming a country losing central control and, since it’s already a nuclear power, could only add to expected Iran/Israel conflict.

The Obama administration is changing both the tone and language on how it speaks about terrorism, enemies, etc. You need to know i think this is a big mistake. Many years ago, a man who would become President made a speech that IMHO, was bang on then and bang on now. Liberals are best not to watch.

“Some people like the Jews, and some do not.  But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

– Winston Churchill
Prime Minister of Great Britain

…..article written by Peter Grandich. On November 3, 2007 at the MoneyTalks Survival Conference, Peter Grandich of the Grandich Letter warned that “an unprecedented economic tsunami will hit American beginning in 2008”.   Peter advised publicly to short the US market two days from the top in October, 2007 and stayed short until the last week of October, 2008. He began to buy stocks in March 7th,  2009.
….go HERE to visit Peter’s Website.