Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nervous Nations on a Gold Buying Spree

It is a trend that is catching on. First China bought gold from the International Monetary Fund, then it was the turn of India. Now, Sri Lanka has jumped onto the bandwagon.

Countries are buying gold like there is no tomorrow.

Sri Lanka’s central bank said it had been buying gold to diversify its reserves amid volatile currency markets, days after India announced it had purchased 200 tonnes of the precious metal, by doling out hard cash. (Link)

Dennis Gartman, founder of The Gartman Letter, told CNBC Monday that the price of gold will “continue to go up until it stops.”

“It is a gold bubble and to say otherwise it’d be naive,” Gartman said. He called the trade on the precious metal: “mind boggling and unbelievably crowded,” but also said he is currently long — or betting gold will go higher.

According to Gartman, gold’s Friday low of $1,102/oz is the floor. If it breaks that support, he suggests investors should “head to the sidelines.”

When asked for a proper place where to put money as a hedge against inflation if it’s not gold, Gartman tipped Canadian and Australian currencies.

“If you’re going to be any place, be there,” Gartman said.

Australia’s central bank has already raised interest rates twice in the last couple of months and Canada is preparing to hike its key lending rate, he said.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Great Depression Ahead

Harry Dent- the longtime investor and author predicted a severe downturn in Japan and a great boom in the United States in the 1990s and has made quite a name for himself. He was right on those two counts and since then he has been churning out an endless stream of books filled with predictions.

His current bestseller "The Great Depression Ahead," predicts a new Great Depression right around the corner.

According to the description on Simon and Schuster:

"The first and last economic depression that you will experience in your lifetime is just ahead. The year 2009 will be the beginning of the next long-term winter season and the initial end of prosperity in almost every market, ushering in a downturn like most of us have not experienced before. Are you aware that we have seen long-term peaks in our stock market and economy very close to every 40 years due to generational spending trends: as in 1929, 1968, and next around 2009? Are you aware that oil and commodity prices have peaked nearly every 30 years, as in 1920, 1951, 1980 -- and next likely around late 2009 to mid-2010? The three massive bubbles that have been booming for the last few decades -- stocks, real estate, and commodities --have all reached their peak and are deflating simultaneously."

Among Dent's predictions are the following:

• The economy appears to recover from the subprime crisis and minor recession by mid-2009 -- "the calm before the real storm."

• Stock prices start to crash again between mid- and late 2009 into late 2010, and likely finally bottom around mid-2012 -- between Dow 3,800 and 7,200.

Although it may be possible to identify demographic and economic trends through long term cycle analysis, to forecast the stock market is too far fetched. Nevertheless, the book makes for an iteresting read at a time when the world is teetering on economic meltdown.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Freedom vs. Greater Good of Society

In the United States, everyone is debating on how to reform the healthcare and it seems there are as many ways of reforming the broken healthcare system (that everyone agrees) as there are special interests and lobby groups such as the insurance companies and drug companies who are spending millions of dollars to win their side of the argument with the lawmakers.

Joining the debate bandwagon, an alliance made up of major health agencies, including the American Diabetes Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two former surgeon generals, wants to reverse the obesity epidemic by investing more in health promotion and disease prevention, especially to kids. The alliance has urged the lawmakers to pass legislation and deal with this alarming health problem which is not only dangerous by enormously expensive.

The group says the American children are getting addicted to poor diets--loaded with salt, sugar and fat--and sedentary lifestyles, which leads to cancer, heart disease and diabetes later on, costing billions of dollars to the taxpayer. Obesity-related spending contributes $150 billion to healthcare spending each year. (Link. HealthDay)

Amid the media coverage of the often rowdy and sometimes abusive language against any form of national healthcare heard in the townhall meetings, it is stunning to read that America- the world's only superpower and the world's largest economy, is expanding a free health service meant to take modern medicine to the third world as reported on CBS.

"People from all around Los Angeles have been lining up around the clock since Monday - waiting, hoping to get free medical care.

Some 1,500 people a day - many working poor, almost all with little or no health insurance - file into L.A.'s cavernous Forum to see hundreds of doctors, dentists, and optometrists. All of these medical professionals are volunteers. All of these people are in need.

Larry Durst's disability check won't cover the glasses he needs. He says without this clinic he would suffer and go without.

Kenya Smith needs a checkup for two-week-old Zoe. Her insurance doesn't cover it.

"They wanted $1,500 for just to be seen by the doctor plus co-payments. That was a lot of money I thought," she said.

Anna Garcia got in line Tuesday for dental work. She works for Orange County, has five children, and her husband is out of work. The co-pay for three year old Aizza's root canal: $1,000.

"I couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want her to lose her teeth. So I once read about this program, and I had to take advantage of it, even if it meant missing a couple of days of work," she said.

The program is run by Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group established 24 years ago to take modern medicine to the third world. Today they do some 40 multi-day free clinics a year - 65 percent of them now in the U.S.

"There are about 49 million people who don’t have access to the care they need. They simply can’t afford it," says Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical."

The debate over healthcare reform in the United States centers around questions of a person's right to health care, access, fairness, sustainability, and quality purchased by the high sums spent by the taxpayers. The mixed public-private health care system in the United States is the most expensive in the world, with health care costing more per person than in any other industrialised nation. The U.S. is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have a universal health care system.

Just like the American tobacco industry and their lobbysts who spend vast sums of money to influence lawmakers and persuade people, particularly younger people, that smoking is an assertion of freedom and liberty- so too does the drug and insurance companies and the lobbysts of the private healthcare industry spend vast sums of money to kill off any legislation that will bring in a public option which can compete with the private healthcare.

The present healthcare debate has pitted two opposing ideologies against each other, and a proper balance between them needs to be found to satisfy the majority of the people.

President Obama, the democratic president considers health care a freedom issue: everyone should walk as equals under the same insurance umbrella. That people are left out in the rain is contrary to the American ethos.

Conversely, Republicans see it as a liberty issue. Obama's reform plan leads to some with the individual's power of choice. In large part, this choice is the choice of how to spend one's money, but there is no small amount of philosophical objection to government telling you what to do -- that's also contrary to the American ethos.

Read about the five freedoms Americans will likely loose if the public option of the healthcare reform bill intended to provide affordable healthcare to the poor and compete against the private insurance is enacted into law.

United States of America- the world's great bastion of freedom- is deeply skepical of any program such as the universal healthcare that gives power to their government to control any aspect of their lives.

China rises to a Global Power with Market Socialism

China Thursday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party's rise to power with a spectacular military parade that is billed as the largest ever in Chinese history. It also underlines China's new status as a global power, and throughout the gala celebration "Socialism with Chinese characteristics," a concept developed by the late Deng Xiaoping in 1984, was the phrase heard most often in the official commentary.

“The 60 years of new China have proved that only socialism can save China,” Hu Jintao, the president of China said in his key note address.

“We will unswervingly follow socialism with Chinese characteristics and comprehensively implement the ruling party’s basic theory, basic line and basic programme.”

Economic reforms under a market socialist model began in China in 1979, which has allowed for astonishing economic growth of more than 8 per cent for over two decades. This has induced profound social migration from rural to urban cities and caused major environmental challenges.

Despite the global economic downturn that started in early 2008, the Chinese economy has come out earlier than most of the western economies.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


From the Excerpt of 'Broken Open' by Elizabeth Lesser.


I have been a student and practitioner of meditation for thirty years. I still find it difficult—at times boring and at other times confrontational. And I still find it valuable—nourishing, expansive, and illuminating. Sometimes I meditate every day; sometimes I go months without ever sitting on my meditation cushion. I have taken short meditation courses and spent most of my time waiting for the evening or weekend to be over. And I have gone on long, solitary retreats and surrendered to the practice, emptying myself of worry, falseness, restlessness, and complaints. Without hesitation, I can say that meditation practice has made a remarkable difference in my life.

People are attracted to meditation for a variety reasons, including these:

•to relax, physically and mentally;

•to keep the heart open and soft;

•to accept life on its own terms;

•to feel more alive, connected, and content;

•to find inner peace; and

•to make contact with other realms of consciousness, what some call the divine or God.

Meditation can help us achieve any of these—but only over time, and with dedication and work. We come to meditation feeling that parts of our life are difficult and that perhaps a meditation practice will make them less so. We want relief now. But that is not how meditation works. The desire for peace and happiness is noble; the expectation of instant results is unreasonable.

Meditation is a matter of slow and steady experience. It is not a cure. It is not a set of moral values. It is not a religion. It is a way—a way to be fully present, a way to be genuinely who we are, a way to look deeply at the nature of things, a way to rediscover the peace we already possess. It does not aim to get rid of anything bad, or to create anything good. It is an attitude of openness. The term for this attitude is mindfulness.

Full Excerpt on Oprah

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Looming 'Age of Austerity'

Global leaders may be saddled with the weakest recovery since World War II if they are to pay off the $9 trillion tab they ran up rescuing the world economy from the deepest financial slump in seven decades.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterparts from the Group of 20 nations meet in Pittsburgh today warning that the recovery is still too weak to start reversing lifelines to banks and the broader economy. Their next challenge will be to reduce the resulting debt before it sparks higher bond yields and erodes their governments’ creditworthiness.

“There’s no question that the most significant vulnerability as we emerge from recession is the soaring government debt,” said Harvard University Professor Kenneth Rogoff who is a co-author of a new history on financial crises. “It’s very likely that will trigger the next crisis as governments have been stretched so wide.”

Unwinding the borrowing will probably require leaders to raise taxes and cut spending, ushering in what HSBC Holdings Plc Chief Economist Stephen King calls an “age of austerity” that saps growth prospects for years to come even amid recovery.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts the world economy’s potential growth rate will fall to 1.1 percent next year, compared with 2.4 percent in the decade before the crisis. The International Monetary Fund says G-20 debt will reach 82.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, almost 20 percentage points more than two years ago and the equivalent of about $37 trillion. (Link Bloomberg)

Carmen Reinhart, Professor of Economics at University of Maryland has provided a synopsis of the paper she did with Professor Kenneth Rogoff titled "Eight hundred years of financial folly" that is referred to in the above article. This paper which predicts the next likely financial crisis is available on VoxEU. The two professors have also written another sobering paper, "Is the 2007 US Sub-Prime Financial Crisis so Different? An International Historical Comparison."

Most of the major governments around the world have cast a vast safety net by propping their economies with millions of taxpayer dollars and in the process are running massive deficits. Now the world waits for the next financial crisis as has happened for the last eight hundred years and more.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Edward Kennedy's lifelong passion: Public Service

Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009) was a United States Senator from Massachusetts and a member of the Democratic Party. First elected in November 1962, he was elected nine times and served for 46 years in the U.S. Senate. At the time of his death, he was the second most senior member of the Senate, and the third-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. For many years the most prominent living member of the Kennedy family, he was the son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, both victims of assassinations, and the father of Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy.(Link Wikipedia)

The revelation in May 2008 that Senator Kennedy had a serious form of brain cancer sent tears and a stunned silence across the US Congress, where he is known as the 'liberal lion' for his unrelenting work of the liberal causes.

US President Barack Obama, the country's first president who received a strong, early endorsement from Kennedy, said after learning of his illness in 2008 that he "would not be sitting here as a presidential candidate had it not been for the battles Ted Kennedy has fought."

"I stand on his shoulders," Obama said.

Sen. Kennedy was responsible for more than 300 major bills of legislation that has been enacted into law. Kennedy opposed the Vietnam War, led the congressional fight to impose sanctions against South Africa over apartheid and succeeded in banning arms sales to Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet. He helped greatly in the long effort to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He also worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor on issues of social and economic justice, which his Meals on Wheels program for senior citizens dramatically underscores. But in all of those years, in all the causes he embraced, he called his vote against the resolution to sanction the Iraq war the “best vote” he ever cast.

Britain's prime minister Gordon Brown paid a generous tribute to Edward Kennedy, claiming that his record of public service “surpasses those of many presidents”.

He said, "Northern Ireland is today at peace; South Africa is free of apartheid; more children not only in his nation, but in the poorest nations, are going to school and have health care. We owe a great debt to the vision and courage of Ted Kennedy.”

With the US engaged in a major debate about the provision of health care, the Prime Minister said that to Mr Kennedy this was “the cause of his life”. Mr Brown said: “He never ceased fighting for universal health care. As he said only last month, we're almost there'. He did this not only for America but for the world. He knew that if a system of universal health care as a right and not a privilege could be achieved in the United States, others everywhere would be encouraged to take it up.”

Recalling his memories of meeting Kennedy, Mr Brown said he would remember him as the man who said: “The pursuit of the presidency is not my life; public service is.” He wrote: “His work teaches timeless lessons about serving the public — the need to reach out beyond ancient loyalties and old enmities, the need to unite rather than divide, our capacity to master the great issues.”

Kennedy died without achieving what he called 'the cause of his life'- the health care reform bill that he worked on four decades. Newsweek carries an article on Kennedy's fight for health care.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Battle of US Healthcare. It is US's excessive capitalism vs. UK's socialism

As the debate on healthcare reform gets heated up in the Capitol Hill of the United States, President Obama has urged leading Senate Democrats involved in drafting a healthcare bill, to include a public health plan which will create a government-run health insurance plan to compete with the private insurance companies of the healthcare system. President Obama believes that such a plan would help consumers and keep costs down.

Most republicans and critics of the public plan argue that such a plan will drive out private insurers and lower the quality of healthcare.

As the debate gets nasty across town hall meetings and rallies in the congressional districts, the universal healthcare system of the UK National Health Care(NHS) has come under attack from the radical right wing and conservate activists. Conservatives and Republican politicians believe that the free market can fix the healthcare and all other social problems and that the government should not get involved.

Professor Stephen Hawking who was in Washington to receive America's highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has defended UK's NHS after its severe criticism during the American political debate over health care reforms.

"The physicist spoke up for the NHS after the Republican Right claimed it was 'evil' and 'Orwellian' in a direct attack on Barack Obama's plans to overhaul health care in the U.S.

Critics of the president have said his plans would introduce a 'socialist' system like Britain's.

Prof Hawkin, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, said: 'I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS.

'I have received a large amount of high quality treatment without which I would not have survived.'

Even UK's prime minister Gordon Brown who normally avoids American party politics has defended the NHS against what his ministers described as inaccurate slurs by opponents of president Obama's plan. Mr Brown and his wife posted messages on the social networking site Twitter.

On the No 10 Twitter site, Mr Brown said: “NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there.”

Writing in the Guardian Sahil Kapur states that a study by the "Health Affairs found last year that more than 100,000 Americans die every year from preventable illnesses – the highest of any industrialised country. The study also said they would probably be alive if they were living in France, where they wouldn't have been denied care. The US can prevent these deaths, and as other industrialised countries demonstrate, it is easily doable.

Embracing a system in which people die from neglect is morally indefensible, particularly in a country that guarantees the right to life and has the resources to carry out this promise."

The United States spends far more per capita (and as a percentage of GDP) on healthcare than the rest of the developed world, while every other industrialised country has much stronger government presence in healthcare. Along with lower costs, they also achieve universal coverage, and tend to enjoy higher satisfaction rates.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Glimpse into the Future City State

"The Global Fair and Festival 2009" has opened in Songdo International City in South Korea's Incheon Free Economic Zone.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the country's largest festival President Lee Myung-bak said:

"The past century was dominated by a competition among nations, but we will see fierce competition among cities in the years ahead. More than half of the global population is concentrated in urban areas and the figure is expected to surge up to 80 to 90 percent," Lee said.

During the 80-day festival, 68 exhibitions, conferences and concerts will be held.

About 20 international conferences will be held at the fair, including the Global Environment Forum 2009, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many other scholars plan to attend.

The Fair will introduce "Smart City," a knowledge-based industrial city equipped with state-of-the-art information and communication infrastructure, to the participants of the Asian-Pacific City Summit (APCS) to be held in September


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jobless economic recovery in the US

The Federal Reserve Board's Chairman has to go to Congress and report about the nation's economic health every six months.

As usual, the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke presented the same testimony to both the House Financial Service Committee and the Senate Banking Committee on July 18-19th, a ritual required in legislation written by the late lawmakers Hubert Humphrey and Augustus Hawkins, the Humphrey-hawkins Act (27th October 1977).

The Humphrey Hawkins Law intended to implement the Employment Act's (1946) assumption of Federal responsibility for achieving full employment and price stability.

Bernanke who has extensively studied the Great Depression knows the risk of braking too soon. That's what happened in 1937, which fiscal and monetary policies both tightened, in part of misplaced fear of inflation. That set the stage of the second leg of the Great Depression that followed growth from 1933 to 1936 that averaged over 9%, but still left unemployment well in double digits.

With the US unemployment expected to range between 9.8% and 10.1% in 2010, up from the current 9.5% jobless rate, the world's largest economy appears to have turned the corner but only to a path of tepid recovery.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Worries over greying Asia

According to an AFP article, Asia is facing an ageing crisis with weak and inadequate pension systems and family-based support dwindling, an ADB report revealed Saturday.

"A young continent reaping the demographic dividend of a large youthful workforce is giving way to a greying continent where the ratio of retirees to workers is on the rise," senior Asian Development Bank economist Park Donghyun said in a study released by the Manila-based lender.

Improved female education and better medical care is inducing Asians to have fewer children, allowing them to live longer and causing a "seismic" demographic shift, Park said.

The median age of China, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam "will exceed the world average by 2050" which spells trouble for their pension systems along with that of the Philippines, the study said.

The greying phenomenon is more pronounced in East and Southeast Asia than in South Asia, it added.

"In contrast to industrialised countries, most Asian countries do not yet have mature, well-functioning pension systems," Park said.

"As a result, they are ill-prepared to provide economic security for the large number of retirees who loom on the horizon."

In the past, experts have warned that unless action is taken now to meet the changing population trends, the South East Asian countries could face long-term social and political implications.

The problem is different from country to country and the policy makers of each country will need to work out the solution that suits them best considering the pace of the number of elderly that is increasing.

The older workers who face big challenges in a fast changing environment can remain employable only if they upgrade themselves constantly by embracing new skills and technology.

The value of the experience of the older workers in any country will diminish fast unless they can adept to the fast changing conditions of a society that can count on a globally mobile workforce to fill the gaps by relocating from one country to another.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Looking for alternative models- Compassionate Capitalism

Some economic pundits are now predicting that there are eery similarities between the Great Depression of 1932 and the current economic meltdown that started in the Wall street with the burst of the US housing bubble and quickly spread across the Atlantic to Europe and around the world to Japan and Asia.

For the last three decades, the leading economic power and the only super power in the world, the United States of America has seen a strong dominance of political leadership by the Republican party starting with President Ronald Reagan in 1981, interrupted only by the two terms that Bill Clinton served as president. Successive administrations have championed the growth of commerce unfettered by government regulation. Even Clinton, a political centrist who abandoned many of the progressive legacies of Democratic presidents such as Roosevelt and Lyndon B Johnson, did little to control the excesses of Wall Street.

In the 1920s, as now, political leaders created the conditions that precipitated economic crisis. In both instances, a lack of effective regulatory oversight fostered a climate of reckless speculation on the stock market. And just like the federal government in 1929, the outgoing Bush administration failed to see the emergency coming.

In 1929, the US president Herbert Hoover, who presided over the worst depression in history that sent millions into unemployment believed that the economy will fix itself and no government intervention was necessary.

At his inaugral speech in 1929 Hoover is reported to have said, "I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope. We shall soon be in sight of the day when, God willing, poverty will be banished from this nation." Seven months later, the stock market crash precipitated an economic crisis unprecedented in US history.

In a speech in November 2008 , George Bush, also a Republican president echoed the same sentiments that were heard in 1929 that the fundamentals of the American economy were strong. To President Bush's credit, he subsequently moved his Treasury department to intervene agressively and rescue the ailing financial institutions.

Although America is used to have depressions, the magnitude of the current meltdown in a globalised world has revived the memory of the horrors of the Great Depression in 1929, causing some experts to worry whether the current economic crisis could lead to suffering on a similar scale.

With the world's money markets in turmoil, international banks failing and stock markets crashing, the anti-globalisation movement is stepping up their opposition to liberal principles that allows the unregulated use of capital to operate markets with minimum interference from national governments.

One book, "The Anti-Globalization Breakfast Club: Manifesto for a Peaceful Revolution" brings together the views of many of the world's leading thinkers in alternative policy studies. Their collective views represent a fascinating insight into a growing movement that is slowly but surely affecting the way the world does business.

Here is part of Amazon's editorial review of this book.

Alternative models for grass roots economic development such as micro-financing are now being widely adopted in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and elsewhere. New views on measuring development such as GDH (gross domestic happiness) have been adopted by Bhutan rather than GDP, and China's own hybrid approach combining market and planned policy to achieve economic transformation offer new choices for developing countries. All of these are representative of a new wave of thinking that rejects the increasingly discredited policies of the IMF and World Bank.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Obama is elevating science to the top

President Bush's administration has been consistently at odds with the scientific community over global warming. Scientists explain global warming as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the lower atmosphere, making the Earth warmer. They also say that's why glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and Iceland are melting at alarming rates, coral reefs are dying from warmer water, and sea levels are rising.

Although the United States is largest emitter of greenhouse gases, President Bush has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty which 141 countries signed promising to reduce greenhouse gases.

US President-elect Barack Obama has promised to make clean energy a top priority in his new administration. Over the next ten years, he wants the US government to spend US$150 billion on promoting green technologies. But a substantial portion of the funds will go into propping up America's failing car industry. Obama wants to invest US$15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy. He is hoping it can create 5 million new green jobs in the next decade."

Many scientists who objected to the Bush administration's policies, from restrictions on embryonic stem cell research to the global warming are hopeful that Obama is giving a more prominent role to the scientists.

"I think they'll be restoring the role of science in the federal establishment," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based advocacy organization. "We've got a bunch of people across the [new] administration who get it."

In a sign that President-elect Barack Obama intends to elevate science to greater prominence, John P. Holdren, a Harvard physicist widely recognized for his leadership on energy policy and climate change, has been named to be appointed White House science adviser.

In 2004, Holdren joined other prominent scientists to sign a letter accusing the Bush administration of undermining and censoring scientists.

"When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the letter said.

Holdren, who was an adviser to the Obama campaign and a member of a scientific advisory committee to President Bill Clinton, is a specialist on energy, climate change, and nuclear proliferation.

Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program in the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

In addition to his Kennedy School appointments, John Holdren is also Professor of Environmental Science and Policy in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and President and Director of the independent, nonprofit Woods Hole Research Center. He has been at Harvard since 1996 and affiliated part-time with the Woods Hole Research Center since 1992.