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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Private Equity 

Private Equity

"Private equity" is a term that is comforting and, in a sense, politically correct. It conjures up pictures of private people with a few dollars saved up putting it into equities. Perfectly normal and harmless; in fact, it's just the way the economy should work, for the benefit of the widows and orphans as well as most everyone else.
However, private equity is a good deal more than that and it has been spreading, on a quite remarkable scale, all around the world. It has become bigger and bigger in the United States and the scale and value of the deals has been doubling and more in Europe. In "America's Suicidal Statecraft", I recorded that -

"....the economic and financial environment in which the IMF is required to operate has now changed, quite fundamentally, a second time. The first such change was in 1971, with the closing of the 'Gold Window'. Now, [Professor] Kolko writes, 'The whole nature of the global financial system has changed radically in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with ‘virtuous’ national economic policies that follow IMF advice – [changed in] ways the IMF cannot control. The investment managers of private equity funds and major banks have displaced national banks and international bodies such as the IMF, moving well beyond the existing regulatory structures."

Further on, I said that former Chairman of the Fed Greenspan had shown -

"...a careless disregard for the dangers that a reckless quest for fast-buck profits posed for the American economy – and the society. In an article in Forbes, on 13 March 2006, entitled “Private Inequity”, Neil Weinberg and Nathan Vardi warned investors that, “driven by greed and fearlessness, private equity firms are the new power on Wall Street.” “A reckoning,” they said, “is nigh.” Amid other bubbles, the “buyout bubble” had gathered pace and scale in the course of 2005 and into 2006 and had changed ownership of major corporations in some six of the biggest buyouts ever recorded.
At $106 billion, investors more than doubled their stake in leveraged buyout funds in 2005 compared with 2004. A major operator, the Blackstone Group, after making gains said to be 70% on Blackstone Fund IV, launched a $13 billion Blackstone V in 2005. “Just half a dozen giant firms control half of all private-equity assets,” Weinberg and Varda wrote. “Three titans--Blackstone, Carlyle Group and Texas Pacific Group--lord over companies with 700,000 employees and $122 billion in sales. Buyout shops own such iconic brands as Hertz, Burger King, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Entertainment, Linens ’N Things and more. Adept at reaping riches whether their investors win or lose, ten buyout chiefs grace the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans. Among them is the billionaire cofounder of Blackstone: Stephen Schwarzman.”
They went on to say that 'There would be no reason to begrudge the financiers their take if they were building enterprises and creating jobs. But they do not make their fortunes by discovering new drugs, writing software or creating retail chains. They are making all this money by trading existing assets. Some buyout firms dabble in deeds that got Wall Street and Big Business in trouble in the post-Enron era--conflicts of interest, inadequate disclosure, questionable accounting, influence-peddling and more. Increasingly the big guys jump into bed with each other. Last year buyout firms sold more than $100 billion in assets back and forth to one another, 28% of all buyout fund deals are up fourfold in two years, says Dealogic. Moreover, some buyout shops ply rape-and-pillage tactics at their new properties. They exact multimillion-dollar fees advising businesses they just bought. They burden a target company with years of new debt, raised solely to pay out instant cash to the buyout partners. It is akin to letting the Sopranos come in and gut your business to cover your gambling debts.'
Neither the Fed under Greenspan nor other regulators showed any concern about these transactions and their possible effect on the American economy – that is, the macro economy, reaching far and wide into the health of enterprises and individuals. In any event, they took no steps to control or even effectively monitor “private equity” – or “inequity”. If the rewards of the operators were obscene compared with the rewards of the armies of workers whose jobs were potentially put at risk, the distortions and corruption of the American economy by financial sleight-of-hand of this kind – however legal – were obscene for the American economy as a whole and, ultimately, for America’s status as a world power. But the Fed, the Administration and the Congress and the regulators – whoever they might be - did nothing. They let the caravan – a caravan of ultimate destruction – roll on.The buyout mania spread to Europe and on to Australia. Some large Australian enterprises were bought by private-equity firms, including parts of the Packer media empire. Then, about a week ago, news emerged that a private-equity group was trying to buy Qantas, the famous Australian airline. I wrote to some friends and contacts in Australia along the following lines -


I have been disturbed by reports that Qantas is being targeted by a private-equity group headed by Macquarie Bank and Texas Pacific.
Amid a cluster of financial developments in recent years, involving credit and other derivatives, hedge funds and other, ever more intricately "sophisticated" devices, private-equity funds have grown to what we can now fairly call massive proportions. The risks they constitute to even the most powerful economies have grown robustly and continue to spread like a destructive wildfire, potentially consuming productive paddocks extending to the horizon and beyond, on an unprecedented scale and at unprecedented speed.
Private-equity funds are just one more feature - and an especially disturbing feature - of the self-destruction of the American economy. As with so many elements in the American model, the plague that these funds represent has been spreading its infection further and further - and with constantly greater risks and potential devastation - to other economies, in Europe, for example, and now, like a terrifying pandemic, to Australia....
I hope that you and others will do all that you can to bring the government, its economic and financial advisers and others to reflect on these issues and bring some sanity to Australian thinking and to the evolution of our financial and economic destinies, before it is too late.

The private-equity buyout seems to have its origins in the junk-bond era of the 1980s when the "adventurers, marauders and buccaneers", as I called them then, managed to get hold of enough funds to make takover offers for often very large companies. There were stories of unknowns being able to bid for General Motors. In Australia, bidders emerged - some of them not so unknown, such as Holmes a'Court - for Australia's then largest corporation, BHP.
That phase passed but perhaps its essential nature can be seen reproduced in the mobilisation of funds of wealthy individuals by asset-management companies and the application of these funds to buy out, sometimes small, sometimes medium and sometimes large and often iconic corporations.
The dangers then arise from what happens to the companies that are "bought out". They are not acquired to make traditional fixed-captital investment in factories and machinery so as to improve productivity and production over the years. Rather are they acquired to make a fast buck through a transitory lift in the share price. Wages are cut, costs are reduced through "outsourcing" and some parts are sold off to make a quick cash "profit". The acquired company characteristically has a large burden of debt directly related to the buyout - a debt which will place severe limitations on its ability to maintain and enhance real fixed-capital investment in the enterprise in the future.
Those who gain most are almost certainly those smart financial operators who manage the private-equity funds and set up the buyout deals. Those who suffer most are those who get hit hardest as a result of the general deteriroation of the real economy. That means characteristically the workers and the middle-class professionals.
In that regard, I might just offer one final extract from "America's Suicidal Statecraft" -

What we have in the United States now is fragile and overstated economic growth precariously dependent on housing and refinancing bubbles that are already collapsing while shortfalls in consumer incomes persist. Only massive credit can sustain the consumer spending on which growth and some sort of febrile stability in the American economy are based. In addition, though seriously understated, inflation is increasing and the trade deficit – a product of disguised inflation - is reaching ever new records. Instead of strong fixed-capital investment which could and should, in a healthy economy, bolster sustainable consumption, corporations are pouring funds into stock buybacks, mergers and acquisitions. Supported by a moody, flighty and highly-leveraged carry trade, the highly vulnerable bond market faces a nervous future. Equities are overpriced – largely because of the merger/buyback fever and the competitive quest of mutual and other funds for “shareholder value” - and have been moving in a narrow range for long enough to suggest that, with a little nudging, they could be ready to tumble over a precipice. Despite it all, consensus economists remain steeped in denial: “The entrepreneurial spirit in the United States is alive and well,” is a common view. “We have a 4.2% unemployment rate. And it’s going down. Join us. Be competitive.” 4
Although these problems are particularly characteristic of the United States, the American model has crossed the Atlantic and been adopted to some extent – though far from completely - in Europe. For example, “merger mania” has taken hold in Europe to such an extent that the total value of all announced bids in the first quarter of the past five years has moved from $257.9 billion in 2002 and $229.8 billion in 2003, to $514.8 billion in 2004, $567.5 billion in 2005 and $859 billion in 2006. Cash takeovers especially put proceeds into the hands of individuals or – mostly – a variety of mutual, pension and other funds which then seek profitable reinvestment in markets in which private equity buyouts and cross-border mergers and acquisitions have caused the amount of available stock to shrink. Funds seeking to buy that stock continue to increase, with more and more publicly-traded companies making bids for rivals using borrowed cash. Prices rise, booms and bubbles appear and inflate and, just as in the United States, capital spending is diverted from much more highly desirable fixed-capital investment to risky and, to the general economy, much less beneficial investment through transfer of the ownership of assets.
When a moment of acute crisis does finally arrive – as it inevitably will - and decisive action becomes imperative, there may be little room left for any new monetary and fiscal stimulus, especially in the United States. American tax rates, especially for the rich, have already been cut in a way that has contributed substantially to the already massive budget deficit. Interest rates and credit policies are already, as the Fed sees it, “accommodative” even after the rate hikes in 2005 and 2006; and the economy is in even deeper trouble with debts, deficits and bubbles than it was around the time of the short recession in 2000 to 2001. So far as the instruments they commonly use are concerned, the administration and the Fed may be able to do little, in the event of a crisis, to haul the economy back from the brink of catastrophic collapse.

The Danger of Hedge Funds 

Editorial
Hedging on Hedge Funds

Published: November 30, 2006
In October, a month after the Amaranth hedge fund lost $6.6 billion — the most ever by a hedge fund — Henry Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, spoke with Bloomberg News about the importance of “transparency” at hedge funds and “liquidity” in the system. His remarks were interpreted at the time as a warning, perhaps even a harbinger of more oversight.
What a difference a month makes.
In what was billed as a major economic address last week, Mr. Paulson devoted less than one-tenth of his speech to hedge funds, leaving the impression that he is basically satisfied with the regulatory status quo.
No one wants the Treasury secretary to be an alarmist. But other officials, notably at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission, have gone further than merely acknowledging “potential risks” and pledging more “deliberations,” as Mr. Paulson did in his speech. Without pushing any panic buttons, they have broached the need for more collateral and better risk controls at banks that deal with hedge funds and greater oversight of hedge funds that solicit investments from pension plans.
Currently, some 9,000 hedge funds manage $1.3 trillion of investors’ money and control trillions of dollars more through their use of loans and derivative financial tools. They invest in all major sectors and operate through banks and securities firms, affecting the economy as a whole. And yet, they remain largely beyond the reach of federal overseers, a holdover from the days when they were much less ubiquitous. In 1990, only a handful of hedge funds existed, and altogether they managed just $39 billion.
Opponents of regulation routinely note that hedge funds are indirectly supervised because the banks they do business with are regulated. According to that logic, banks guard against excesses by their hedge fund clients to protect themselves from losses and regulatory problems. That reasoning also assumes that bankers are free of conflicts that might impair their judgment. But as hedge funds have grown, banks have earned increasingly larger commissions, fees and trading profits from them, a development that could induce some bankers to err on the side of recklessness.
There’s also an issue of practicality. As hedge funds become more numerous and complex, it is simply not feasible for banks to stay on top of their activities. And then there’s the matter of responsibility. It’s not a banker’s job to protect the public interest. It’s the job of regulators.
Mr. Paulson was right when he noted in his speech that the need for regulation must be balanced against the benefits of flexibility. But the challenge of striking a balance is beginning to sound like an excuse for delay. It’s time to move the discussion beyond whether hedge funds require more regulation to how they should be regulated.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Self-destructive Decline of a Superpower 

In the piece below, Martin Jacques looks at the imperial decline of the United States with a good deal of validity - but with a blindness to the fundamental economic and financial weakness of the United States that is so significant a part of the American decline.
It can be argued that, in "America's Suicidal Statecraft", I have over-emphasised the economic and financial aspects and have tended to pay too little attention to the sort of political and strategic points that Jacques is making.
However, you will find much, if not all and more of what there is in the piece below, spread through the pages of "America's Suicidal Statecraft".
Power tends to consist in a cluster of strengths: economic, social, political and strategic. They have to be effectively wrapped up together. Economic power alone is not enough; but the cluster will be lacking real integrity without it.
The Bush II Administration has totally failed to appreciate the economic situation in the United States - and would not want to confess it, even it did recognise the stark facts. It has nevertheless embarked on most ill-considered political and military adventures that have served to reveal unambiguously, to friends and rivals alike, just how meagre the power of the world's single superpower has become.
There are many substantial differences, but there are also many striking similarities between the demise of the Soviet Union and the decline of the United States. Both have involved clear elements of self-destruction. Both have presented themselves - and perhaps have genuinely deceived themselves - that they are not hollowed-out shells, right up to the point at which the Soviet Union fragmented and now at which the United States seems to be approaching its terrifying moment of truth.
Just one of many references linking the economic and the political/strategic in "America's Suicidal Statecraft", reads as follows -

The political centre and right have become virtually a must if there is to be small government and low taxes. There is nowhere else for parties seeking power to go. But is what is called the political centre really and more accurately just an associate of the far right with the deeply deceptive characteristics that [American writer, Tom] Frank has suggested? Is this the centre that “New Labour” claims to occupy in Britain? Has the post-war, left-leaning “liberalism” in Australia now changed its spots to become a new right-wing conservatism based on that in the United States? If so, the variety of economic, social, political and strategic risks faced by the United States must be assumed also to confront other countries that have, in so many ways – deceptively, corruptly and/or fecklessly – adopted or slipped negligently into the American model.
Two further crucial developments must be noted. The first is that several of the rapidly emerging and industrialising countries have retained elements of leftist tendencies or have returned to them. This applies to the Latin American countries and particularly to the largest of them, Brazil, and one of the most important – as a big-oil country on the American threshold - Venezuela. Even Cuba has become, to some, less outrageous and more acceptable, except in the United States.
Much of the respect accorded governments is earned by the success of their policies especially in achieving economic growth and some greater measure of political and strategic independence. By these criteria, China has succeeded splendidly in the last twenty years, and so too, though so far to a lesser degree, has India. China still has nominally a communist government and certainly a government that intervenes and participates robustly in the economy. In those economic, financial and other matters that count in enabling the People’s Government in Beijing to hold on firmly to the reins of power, the government is not going to change. It will gently allow a little flexibility in the external value of its currency; but it is not going to allow its power to control that currency to be lost in a rampant and unpredictable free market. It has got where it is by maintaining control; unlike the United States, it is not going to throw that control – that sound economic management - heedlessly away.
Against that background, the global position is far from being what it was in the dynamic Western countries in the quarter century after the Second World War. A precise return to those times, in national or global economic policies, is not practicable. However, the plethora of left-wing ideas then made for lively debates and it may be that a resumption of those debates, updated to meet present-day circumstances, may be possible and will almost certainly erupt if there is, in the next few months or years, the alarming sound of bursting bubbles in the United States as well as in other countries that have embraced the American economic – and political - model. The day of the right wing’s virtual monopoly of place and power may then be over and the financial oligarchy, though not eliminated, may be required to compete in a political market that is rather more “free” than it has been for a long, long time.
A variety of political parties and political solutions may return, some of them perhaps emanating and globalising from China or India, Brazil or Argentina, perhaps even Russia. Ideas could well be precipitated by a major economic collapse of the kind of the Great Depression of 1929 to 1932. To the extent that changes are not forced upon us, such a collapse would leave no option but to seek around for and adopt policies, whether of the left or the right that might deliver us, in some degree if not perfectly, from our torments.
The decadent electoral practices that have dogged the United States as well as the damaging policies of such groups as the neo-cons may be swept away in this scenario of economic collapse and there may be a general cleansing of the political stables that will enable the United States to return to its former glory as a dynamic economy and a more nearly exemplary democratic state. The type of government that might then prevail throughout the world might, hopefully, be one that is appropriate to a mixed economy, that is neither a Leviathan nor a Lilliputian but suited to its democratic tasks and able to confront those tasks efficiently and responsibly. A world that contains such governments should be able to tackle fundamental problems of the economy, peaceful change nationally and globally, the environment, poverty and, given the threats from so many directions, even the survival of the species. At the same time, such a world should be able to offer far greater opportunities for more equal negotiation among countries large and small, north and south, of whatever race or religion, than has been the case in recent decades.



James




America Faces a Future of Managing Imperial DeclineBush's failure to grasp the limits of US global power has led to an adventurism for which his successors will pay a heavy price
by Martin Jacques

Just a few years ago, the world was in thrall to the idea of American power. The neoconservative agenda not only infused the outlook of the White House, it also dominated the global debate about the future of international relations. Following 9/11, we had, in quick succession, the "war on terror", the "axis of evil", the idea of a new American empire, the overarching importance of military power, the notion and desirability of regime change, the invasion of Iraq, and the proposition that western-style democracy was relevant and applicable to every land in the world, starting with the Middle East. Much of that has unwound with a speed that barely anyone anticipated. With the abject failure of the American occupation of Iraq - to the point where even the American electorate now recognises the fact - the neoconservative era would appear to be in its death throes.
But what precisely is coming to an end? Neoconservatism in all its pomp conceived - in the Project for a New American Century - that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world could be remade in the American image, that the previous bipolar world could be replaced by a unipolar one in which the US was the dominant arbiter of global and regional affairs. In fact, the Bush administration never came close to this. For a short time it did succeed in persuading the great majority of countries to accept the priority of the war against terror and seemingly to sign up for it: even the intervention in Afghanistan, in the aftermath of 9/11, elicited widespread acquiescence. But the US singularly failed to command a majority of states in support of the invasion of Iraq and garnered even less support when it came to global public opinion. It demonstrated its unilateral intent by ignoring its failure to gain assent within the UN and invading Iraq, but the subsequent failure of its Iraqi adventure has served only to reinforce its isolation and demonstrate the folly of its unilateralism. Its strategy in the Middle East - always the epicentre of the neoconservative global project - lies in tatters.
Elsewhere the neoconservative project was stillborn. North Korea was branded as part of the "axis of evil" but the US, in agreeing to the six-party talks as a way of handling the crisis on the Korean peninsula, tacitly admitted that it simply did not enjoy enough leverage to deal with the Kim regime. This was demonstrated more forcibly with its failure to prevent the recent nuclear test, and the US's subsequent dependence on China for seeking some means of engaging North Korea in dialogue. In fact China has now cajoled the US into accepting the need for it to do something it had previously resisted: entering into direct talks with North Korea, with China playing the role of honest broker. For all the neoconservative bluster, the US is simply too weak in east Asia - and China too strong - for it to be anything other than a secondary player in the North Korean crisis. It has been a striking illustration of the slow, remorseless decline of American influence in the region.
Meanwhile, in the region that it has dominated for well over a century, which it has traditionally regarded as its own backyard and in which it intervened with impunity throughout the cold war - namely Latin America - the US is now facing its bleakest ever situation, far worse than anything the Cuban regime represented during the cold war. The US is confronted with a formidable and well-resourced adversary in Chávez's Venezuela, and a continent in which the left has made extraordinary progress. The Bush administration, so far at least, has been quite unable to halt its growing isolation in Latin America and the left's onward march.
Even in the Middle East, the weakness of the neoconservative position has become increasingly evident in its handling of Iran, another member of the "axis of evil". As in the case of North Korea, the US, partly as a result of its preoccupation with the occupation of Iraq, in effect devolved negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions to the group of four consisting of Germany, France, Russia and the UK.
Although the west Europeans have been happy to do most of America's bidding, Russia has not and nor, it would appear, has China. Both are permanent members of the UN security council, and both are resistant to sanctions and the threat of military action. As a result, negotiations over Iran have been mired in something of an impasse. Of course, if the neoconservatives had felt strong enough, they could have forced the issue in a manner similar to their approach in Iraq. The point is that they did not. And now it would seem inconceivable that they can contemplate military action against Iran.
On the contrary, the tables appear to be in the process of being turned: the US, instead of seeking to isolate Iran, is now likely to need Iranian and Syrian support in helping to sort out the debacle in Iraq. Taken with the failure of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the continuing disaster of the occupied territories, we can see that the US is in retreat. Ever since 1956, it has been increasingly and formidably dominant in the region, with Israel riding pillion, and since 1989 it has been the overwhelming arbiter of events there. This year marks the beginning of the decline of American power in the Middle East, with untold consequences.
Here we can see the cost of Bush's adventurism for American imperial power. In failing to understand the inherent limits of US global power consequent upon deeper, though seemingly unrecognised, longer-term global trends, the Bush administration hugely overestimated American power and thereby committed a gross act of imperial over-reach, for which subsequent administrations will pay a heavy price. Far from the US simply conjoining its pre-1989 power with that of the deceased USSR, it is increasingly confronted with a world marked by the growing power of a range of new national actors, notably - but by no means only - China, India and Brazil.
Just six years into the 21st century, one can say this is not shaping up to be anything like an American century. Rather, the US seems much more likely to be faced with a very different kind of future: how to manage its own imperial decline. And, as a footnote, one might add that this is a task for which pragmatists are rather better suited than ideologues.
Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is the American Economy really "STRONG"? 

Bushwhacked on the Economy

There were two rather interesting points worth repeating in Barron's Up and Down Wall Street column this morning. The first will be familiar, the 2nd, perhaps less so.

As we noted the day before Election Day, It is Still the Economy, Stupid. Voter insecurity -- about Jobs, rising costs of healthcare, education, housing, automobiles, food and energy -- has much of the middle class on edge. This seems to have been lost on many people.
Alan Abelson addresses this very issue:
"SURVEYING THE SHAMBLES AFTER THE VOTERS had pretty much laid waste to his personal aspirations and political blueprints for the next two years, the president professed to be baffled as to why the economy, which he characterized as "strong," failed to play a more powerful role in shaping the outcome.
We can help Mr. Bush here: The economy, in point of fact, was a big factor in deciding the election. But for an awful lot of folks, not a few of whom voted, it has been anything but strong.
It has been for some time a favorite conceit of the administration, its economic shills and the bullish claque on Wall Street that we're enjoying the best of all possible worlds: a buoyant economy unsullied by inflation. In truth, we've had the most lopsided expansion in memory (and ours, sigh, goes back a long way), with a fair number of people making out quite well, but a much larger number -- make that a really huge number -- of people treading water at best.
As to inflation, computers, as economists never tire of telling us, undeniably are cheaper than ever. The question is, though: Have you every tried eating a computer? Or living in a house made of computers? Or driving a computer to work? For, by contrast, the cost of shelter and food and fuel and lots of other stuff that is still quaintly considered by most of the citizenry as essential ingredients of the good life are awfully pricey and getting pricier.
Nor should we forget, in taking the measure of the economy, that it rests on a very tentative foundation, indeed: a giant but rapidly deflating housing bubble floating on a vast sea of debt."
None of this will be particularly unfamiliar to the regular readers of this blog. What you may be unfamiliar with, however, is how some of the employment data shakes out.
It turns out that there's much less to new job creation than meets the eye:
"In his reflections, offered at his post-election press conference, the president singled out the bright job picture, echoing the sentiments he expressed on release of the October employment data a couple of Fridays ago. And, to be fair, he didn't lack for company. Chorusing Mr. Bush's upbeat view of the report were the usual suspect Wall Street cheerleaders, who couldn't wait to pick up their megaphones and hail the big upward revisions of the previous two months' employment data, and the drop in last month's jobless rate.
Except to confuse civilians, journalists and kindred innocents, we were and remain a little mystified as to what all the hoorahing was about. While there was a sprinkling of glad tidings, notably the modestly longer workweek in September and October, and a nice 0.4% rise in hourly wages, the report struck us as pretty lame. Worse than that, actually, because of what it seemed to portend for both jobs and the economy.
The consensus -- which has become a synonym for wrong guessers -- was looking for upwards of 120,000 additions to the nation's nonfarm payrolls. Instead, the gain was a considerably more subdued 92,000. And as those trusty stewards of the excellent Liscio Report, Philippa Dunne and Doug Henwood, noted in their astute dissection of the numbers, the supposedly large revisions to previous months were not especially outsized, but pretty much in line with similar revisions effected over the past 45 years.
Somewhat ominous, too, was the fact that the improvement, far from widespread or even decently pervasive, was quite spotty -- and those spots were either not terribly encouraging as indicators of future employment trends, or a mite suspect.
For example, in this survey, which was more or less critical because it happened to take place immediately in advance of the elections, a full 39,000, or 42% of the total gain, came courtesy of local governments, mostly back-to-school hires. Another 27,000 of the additions were in bars and restaurants and 23,000 were in health care.
In contrast, manufacturing shed 39,000 jobs in October and construction employment declined 26,000, weighed down by a hefty 31,000 shrinkage in payrolls connected to residential construction. The drop in homebuilding employment, Philippa and Doug point out, was conspicuous among the workers who finish houses, likely a preview of things to come.
But the larger point of all these numerical details -- and we apologize if you're feeling a trifle numbed by numbers -- is that the bulk of jobs being added are not big payers, and the bulk of the jobs being lost are." (emphasis added)
And that, in a nutshell, is the source of GOP woes. Sure, Iraq has become an ever larger morass, and voters know it. And we cannot overlook the high percentage of exit polls commentary regarding corruption.
But if the economy was throwing off more benfits to the folks below the top 10% of earners/asset holders, the election would not have been nearly so lopsided.
Yes, its still the economy -- the bifurcated economy. I continue to be amazed how few people see the schism . . .
>
Source:Bushwhacked!Alan AbelsonUP AND DOWN WALL STREET MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

"America's Suicidal Statecraft" 

Blogs are devices to enable bloggers to achieve their own narcissistic aggrandisement; but they do have incidental social, political, literary and even civilising purposes too.
They provide a link between the media and the individual, between information/intelligence and the individual, and they allow all sorts of ideas and notions, plus good and bad emotions to flow among individuals.They are perhaps one of the ultimates in networking in an ever larger and more intimate way.
Who am I talking to now? What do they know of me? What do they care about me? What do they care about what I have to say?Probably they won't give any of those questions even a moment's reflection - unless of course I say something that boosts their ego, that flatters the trivial quality of their thinking or pays them a dividend which they can put in their bank - any kind of bank, financial, ethical or fatuous.
Is that a curse on all blogs and bloggers?
Probably rather is it a stripping away of what conceals the reality of the soul of humanity wherever it is expressed. In newspapers...in other media ... in debates in the parliament ...in debates in the pub...wherever men and women gather and start to thump their tubs, flash headlights on their visions or stroke their own adorable narcissistic souls...

Don't forget to order your copy of "America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-destruction of a Superpower", available from Amazon from 20 November 2006, at $US 29.99.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Water is More Precious than Oil or Gold 

Investing in transporting water
...New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past...
Jonathan Kolber - Other articles Fri 27 Oct, 2006
New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past. I recently met with a representative of this new venture in California, who told me that there are a collection of companies capable of, well, making water from thin air. Wired News reports that the technology is winning acceptance from the military. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeded the research by backing a few early stage companies. However, an independent company is leading the pack. Aqua Sciences was first to market with a system capable of delivering water in places with unforgiving climates, such as Iraq. A 20-foot machine produces 600 gallons of water a day with zero toxic emissions or by-products. It was demonstrated on Capitol Hill last week to accolades from congressmen. According to CEO Abe Sher, "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere... We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination." While the economics of replacing conventional sources of water with "air water" have yet to be convincingly demonstrated, the technology's representative believes its process will ultimately produce water at 7 cents per gallon. Clearly, such pricing will make it an attractive alternative to trucking water into disaster areas or military theatres. Further, as deep aquifers begin to be depleted in places such as Las Vegas, expect these units to become an attractive alternative to bringing in water via truck, train or diversion of rivers. All of those alternatives carry a tremendous cost in fuel, infrastructure or environmental consequences. In military theatres and disaster relief, it's a slam-dunk. Bringing water via C-17 cargo planes costs $30 a gallon. This new approach slashes that 100-fold, to just 30 cents a gallon. While many technologies can produce water this way in theory, this new machine needs just 14%2

Water is more vital than Oil or Gold 

Investing in transporting water
...New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past...
Jonathan Kolber - Other articles Fri 27 Oct, 2006
New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past. I recently met with a representative of this new venture in California, who told me that there are a collection of companies capable of, well, making water from thin air. Wired News reports that the technology is winning acceptance from the military. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeded the research by backing a few early stage companies. However, an independent company is leading the pack. Aqua Sciences was first to market with a system capable of delivering water in places with unforgiving climates, such as Iraq. A 20-foot machine produces 600 gallons of water a day with zero toxic emissions or by-products. It was demonstrated on Capitol Hill last week to accolades from congressmen. According to CEO Abe Sher, "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere... We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination." While the economics of replacing conventional sources of water with "air water" have yet to be convincingly demonstrated, the technology's representative believes its process will ultimately produce water at 7 cents per gallon. Clearly, such pricing will make it an attractive alternative to trucking water into disaster areas or military theatres. Further, as deep aquifers begin to be depleted in places such as Las Vegas, expect these units to become an attractive alternative to bringing in water via truck, train or diversion of rivers. All of those alternatives carry a tremendous cost in fuel, infrastructure or environmental consequences. In military theatres and disaster relief, it's a slam-dunk. Bringing water via C-17 cargo planes costs $30 a gallon. This new approach slashes that 100-fold, to just 30 cents a gallon. While many technologies can produce water this way in theory, this new machine needs just 14% humidity. This makes it suitable for most places on Earth. What is the significance of this? Many forward-looking thinkers have made the case that fresh water is the "next oil crisis." Supplies in many parts of the world have been diminishing as demand has been rising. Global warming will disrupt ecosystems, further reducing supplies and – if predictions of more severe weather prove accurate – increasing need for disaster relief sources of water. But there is a practically unlimited supply of fresh water in Earth's atmosphere. Just to give one example, scientists have documented a "river of air" that is more than 100 miles wide and carries more water than the Amazon. This water from air is but the first of a series of emerging technologies that will shortly arise to address the need for potable water. I am also aware of nanotechnology membranes that use minimal amounts of electricity to separate salt and all other substances from ocean water, cutting the costs of reverse-osmosis dramatically. These membranes are not yet being produced in volume. Once volume production is underway for new approaches, whether nanotechnology membranes, air extraction or others, costs will plummet as they always do. Regards,Jonathan Kolberfor The Daily Reckoning

Water: More Precious than Oil or Gold 

Investing in transporting water
...New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past...
Jonathan Kolber - Other articles Fri 27 Oct, 2006
New technology is about to make shortages of potable water a thing of the past. I recently met with a representative of this new venture in California, who told me that there are a collection of companies capable of, well, making water from thin air. Wired News reports that the technology is winning acceptance from the military. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeded the research by backing a few early stage companies. However, an independent company is leading the pack. Aqua Sciences was first to market with a system capable of delivering water in places with unforgiving climates, such as Iraq. A 20-foot machine produces 600 gallons of water a day with zero toxic emissions or by-products. It was demonstrated on Capitol Hill last week to accolades from congressmen. According to CEO Abe Sher, "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere... We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination." While the economics of replacing conventional sources of water with "air water" have yet to be convincingly demonstrated, the technology's representative believes its process will ultimately produce water at 7 cents per gallon. Clearly, such pricing will make it an attractive alternative to trucking water into disaster areas or military theatres. Further, as deep aquifers begin to be depleted in places such as Las Vegas, expect these units to become an attractive alternative to bringing in water via truck, train or diversion of rivers. All of those alternatives carry a tremendous cost in fuel, infrastructure or environmental consequences. In military theatres and disaster relief, it's a slam-dunk. Bringing water via C-17 cargo planes costs $30 a gallon. This new approach slashes that 100-fold, to just 30 cents a gallon. While many technologies can produce water this way in theory, this new machine needs just 14% humidity. This makes it suitable for most places on Earth. What is the significance of this? Many forward-looking thinkers have made the case that fresh water is the "next oil crisis." Supplies in many parts of the world have been diminishing as demand has been rising. Global warming will disrupt ecosystems, further reducing supplies and – if predictions of more severe weather prove accurate – increasing need for disaster relief sources of water. But there is a practically unlimited supply of fresh water in Earth's atmosphere. Just to give one example, scientists have documented a "river of air" that is more than 100 miles wide and carries more water than the Amazon. This water from air is but the first of a series of emerging technologies that will shortly arise to address the need for potable water. I am also aware of nanotechnology membranes that use minimal amounts of electricity to separate salt and all other substances from ocean water, cutting the costs of reverse-osmosis dramatically. These membranes are not yet being produced in volume. Once volume production is underway for new approaches, whether nanotechnology membranes, air extraction or others, costs will plummet as they always do. Regards,Jonathan Kolberfor The Daily Reckoning

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Feeding 7, 8, 10 Billion People 

Absurdity or not, rather than abolish the CAP, the best course might be to modify it to preserve its best features and to use it to achieve a more efficient food production and distribution around the world. A solution to the food problem might lead, somewhat paradoxically, to a solution to the population problem – which is likely to preoccupy us more and more as the years pass.
For the huge and rapidly expanding global population we will inevitably have in the next few decades, we will need to produce as much food as we can as efficiently as we can with what will almost certainly be a declining area of arable land. Urbanisation and desert creep may be expected continuously to reduce the area of reasonably fertile land – an area that is already utilised to the full. In those circumstances, we do not want to reduce the production or productive potential in Europe – and North America – provided always of course that we can achieve that without damaging farmers in the poorer countries or the reasonably fair distribution of food to needy communities around the planet.
With all its faults, the CAP has stabilised farming and farmers’ income in Western Europe for the last forty years and can now, with some careful reform, extend similar stability to the whole of the continent. Not only was there this economic stability but the CAP also constituted a unifying social and political factor when other aspects of European integration were causing tension and conflict. It is not going too far to say that the advantages that the CAP gave to farmers and farming communities were a factor in making it easier for the Europeans to pursue European political union and to work together under the security shield of NATO.
In the future, the CAP – and similar arrangements, suitably reformed, in North America – can be used to ensure food security, economic, social and political cohesion and efficient use of what will become increasingly the scarce natural resource of arable land. At the same time, it can be used to lift living standards around the world. It is not by dramatic cuts in European and North American farm production that we will meet our food-supply needs or indeed resolve our population and environmental dilemmas, but by arranging our production and distribution more fairly and efficiently around the world.
In general terms, this can be done by ensuring that the production and distribution of European and North American supplies are directed, not as at present to damage and inhibit production in the developing countries, but to give robust, practical support to farming in the developing world and to build up the infrastructure that is essential to a better life and better marketing to those farming communities.
In this connection, let us revert to proposals that were made twenty years ago. A background point needs to be made to start with:
“One of the shibboleths that we should resist is that it is always virtuous to cut public expenditure and always vicious, lax and sloppy to increase it. Leaving aside humanitarian, welfare and security considerations – which may require increased public outlays from time to time – government expenditures can be highly beneficial from a strictly economic point of view. We should not regard all government expenditure as homogeneous; quite patently it is not. We need to consider the nature, the purposes and the effects of particular public expenditures. Only then will we be able to assess whether those expenditures are ‘good’ in the current economic circumstances, or ‘bad’ in the sense that they maintain or intensify economic conditions that call for remedy.” 3
One situation that does call for remedy is that in which perhaps half the present global population – that is, some 3 billion people – are chronically malnourished, hungry or starving. Without some drastically new arrangements, the number will increase dramatically in the years immediately ahead, if only because of the shortage of fertile land. Already 40% of our planet is being used for either growing crops or grazing livestock. In 1700, the percentage was only seven. Intensive farming practices have reduced cropland areas slightly in the United States and Europe. However, the land is being gobbled up by urbanisation, so that there is now little room for agricultural expansion. "Except for Latin America and Africa, all the places in the world where we could grow crops are already being cultivated. The remaining places are either too cold or too dry to grow crops," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It seems imperative therefore that we maintain food production in Europe and North America while we try to feed a rapidly growing global population in the future by developing efficient food production in Africa and Latin America. "The real question is, how can we continue to produce [enough food from the land to keep up with the world's burgeoning population] while preventing negative environmental consequences such as deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion?" said Dr Ramankutty.
We can meet – or partly meet – present and future needs through emergency programs which will never solve the basic problem or we can devise longer term arrangements to enable the needy to meet their own needs – for this generation and those to come. To take up the second option, a “Food Discount Plan” was proposed just twenty years ago:
“For the least-developed countries, the donors should give substantial food – and possibly other consumer – aid, perhaps under some ‘Food Discount Plan’ that would allow provision of cheap supplies against guaranteed increased consumption. However much we might regret it, we have to acknowledge that many of the poorest countries – mostly in Africa and Asia – are just not going to develop significantly in the next couple of decades and are going to need food aid to prevent starvation and keep nutrition at even barely tolerable levels. The International Wheat Council has recently (1984) estimated that grain consumption by the poorest countries will almost double by the end of the century – from 262 million tonnes in 1980 to 500 million tonnes in 2000. (The IWC estimates that world grain trade will increase only from 209 to 265 million tonnes between 1980 and 2000.) Even the doubling of consumption by the poorest countries will not be enough to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in those countries; and they will not be able to produce or buy all their basic food needs themselves. The volume of cereals food aid fell in the 1970s. From now on – especially with increasing populations – it will have to increase considerably if even the most urgent needs of the poorest countries are to be met. If malnutrition is to be eliminated and reasonable nutritional standards achieved, a new approach to the provision of food aid, at much higher levels, and with much greater effectiveness in getting food to hungry people, will be needed.
“We must take it that all the capital equipment and technical assistance in the world is not going to achieve much for undernourished and starving in the poorest countries before the turn of the century – at the earliest. We must therefore plan, on a large and well-organised scale, to meet their most urgent food needs until the time comes when they can look after themselves. With the objective of ultimate self-care in mind, we should organise our food aid in such a way that it will contribute to their being able to feed themselves by supplying their own food from their own farms as soon as possible – perhaps long before any other substantial economic development may be possible.
“Under a ‘Food Discount Plan’, donor countries would make food available at below-market prices. An umbrella multilateral agreement – negotiated within the United Nations or some other suitable international body – would lay down the broad principles of the Plan, to be administered, let us say, by the United Nations or by the Food and Agriculture Organisation or perhaps by the two in collaboration. Under this umbrella, individual agreements would be concluded by donors with each individual recipient country. (Not every country would necessarily conclude an agreement for specific supply with each eligible recipient country, but the multilateral umbrella agreement would, inter alia, lay down rules which would ensure that the needs of each eligible recipient t were fairly met.) Each recipient country would negotiate a level of additional food imports at which it would receive those additional food imports completely free. In other words, at that level, the additional imports would be provided wholly as grant aid. If that negotiated level were not reached, a price would be charged pro rata for the percentage shortfall. If no additional food at all were imported – that is, if food imports were to continue at no more than the level of an agreed base period – then normal world prices would – as before – be paid by the otherwise eligible developing country for its food imports. As imports mounted above the level of the base period, discount prices would begin to apply, until, at the agreed level for additional imports, prices would be discounted to nil. If imports were to continue to mount still higher so that they were above the level of agreed additional imports, these further imports might also be supplied free but that would depend on the specific agreements – together with any supplementary understandings – concluded by donors with each developing country.
“The additional imports having been supplied at discount prices, the crucial questions would then be how food should be distributed within the recipient country and what should be done with any proceeds from its sale. The recipient government could distribute the additional food free to its people on the basis of need or could sell it at a discount price taking account of the low or nil prices it had paid for it. In any event, the additional food would have to be sold at a price lower than the world price and sufficiently low to enable the poorer sections of the population to raise their nutritional levels by consuming the additional food.
“The revenue accruing to the recipient government from sales of the additional food should be used for budget support (including social-welfare programmes), for development programmes and especially to encourage and support domestic food production. The principles for use of revenues would be laid down in the umbrella multilateral agreement; the details of practice would be established in the bilateral agreements between donors and recipients.
“Thus, within the principles laid down in the multilateral umbrella agreement, the precise terms for supply of food under the Discount Plan would be tailored to the particular needs of each recipient country, through the bilateral agreements concluded between the donors and the eligible recipient countries. Where a country or a region had a famine or near-starvation situation, food would be provided free and direct to the needy, on a carefully-supervised basis, in which the recipient government would collaborate with (say) representatives of the United Nations and/or the FAO in the actual distribution of the food. Where there was a chronic low-nutritional situation, food would be sold at a price which would increase the purchasing power of those at the bottom of the income-scale. In all cases, the financial arrangements would have to be such as not to create disincentives for local farmers. On the contrary, the sales and revenue arrangements would need to ensure additional incentives to local farmers to provide more food more cheaply for local low-income consumers. Apart from joint supervision of distribution of food in famine and near-starvation situations, recipient governments would agree to collaborate more generally with supervisory United Nations and/or FAO personnel to ensure that the principles of the multilateral umbrella agreement were carried into effect in the actual programmes.
“Such a Plan should, in theory and – with good management – in practice, raise nutritional standards in the least-developed food-deficit countries, eliminate surpluses in the over-production countries and bring supply of, and demand for, food more into harmony with genuine need throughout the world. If we are to get through the next couple of decades – and probably longer – with a minimum of humane attention to those people in the poorest countries with too little food to survive decently, or even to survive at all, we will need to formulate some such plan and implement it with vigour, determination and enlightened generosity. At the same time, we must do what we can to set these least-developed countries on the road to self-generating economic development – but, as we have already said, that is almost certainly a generation and probably much, much longer away. A ‘Food Discount Plan’ would at least buy some time; it would provide essential food to the world’s poorest people until the longer-term development programmes can have some effect.
“This consumer aid will, therefore, need to be supplemented with infrastructure aid and such aid for longer-term development as the relatively primitive economies can absorb. Most aid should be grant aid, with relatively little aid subject to repayment on commercial or quasi-commercial terms.” 4
The shortages of food foreseen in 1985 did in fact occur. Many more millions of people are hungry and malnourished now than twenty years ago. Populations are now so much greater and set to move way above the present six billion mark. Many more now starve to death whether because of emergencies of climate or war or simply from chronic food shortages – arising from the inability of the land to support their present populations - that afflict such countries as Mali and others in Sub-Saharan Africa. The need for what may be called a Global Food Plan was urgent twenty years ago. It is much more desperately needed now.
Here we must interpolate that, if we were to implement such a plan, it would be of advantage to the highly-developed countries themselves who now face macro instabilities of unprecedented dimensions. If the economic and financial circumstances of the 1930s - or worse – should emerge again, we will see with terrible clarity how necessary it is, not just to engage in patronising rhetoric or futile pledges to the least-developed countries, but to rescue ourselves by rescuing others - our neighbours or those who are far away, those who are like us and those who are not, those whom we used to regard as poor and who now, perhaps, might be no poorer than we will have become ourselves. The economic and social tsunami may, by then, have overwhelmed us all. The imperative then will be to work together and plan together to resolve our common problems for our common survival. It will not be a matter of one country or group imposing a "plan" on others or being “charitable” to others, but of all of us designing the way ahead through common effort, initiative and inspiration.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

VOW: Our Fourth Birthday 

Our Fourth Birthday

Just four years ago, in the early days of January 2002, we launched the initiative for Victory Over Want (VOW). It was - and is - a visionary concept; but, above all, it was - and remains - practical, pragmatic and based on precedents that succeeded brilliantly in the past.

Roosevelt's Four Freedoms

It is more than sixty years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for Freedom from Want as one of the four basic freedoms. As we enter 2006, there is more hunger, malnutrition and starvation around the world than ever. Despite the marvellous advances in medicine, more people suffer from devastating illness than ever before - from maladies that are mostly treatable and, in many cases, completely curable. The homeless grow in numbers every year - even in the wealthiest countries as well as in the poorest.
None of this is because we do not have the resources to eliminate most of this suffering and deprivation. Instead of doing that - instead of acting in practical ways - we indulge in rhetoric, we offer often grandiose but mostly empty pledges, and we embrace "solutions" that, having failed so often, we must know are doomed to fail again.
Recently, we have seen a "solution" agreed at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong, that will see agricultural subsidies reduced or eliminated, not now but in some eight years time. But even if and when the subsidies have all gone, the farmers in the poor countries will still be struggling desperately to make a decent living and the demand for food will still enormously outstrip the supply. The effective demand will be less of course than the potential demand. The need for food will be as great or almost certainly much greater than ever before.
Farm production in Europe and North America might then be less than it was before; production in some of the developing countries might be greater. But, in aggregate, the amount of available food will be just about what it is now. That means that the amount available for the hungry, malnourished and starving will be about what it is now - and by 2013, there will be millions more mouths to feed and many more millions of children and adults who will, inevitably, go to sleep hungry each night.
We are now about six billion living human beings. That number is increasing as never before. It will continue to increase until we achieve standards of living that will enable everyone to join - voluntarily - in limiting population growth to what the earth might be able to sustain.
Already, we are using just about all the fertile areas. Deserts are not shrinking; they are creeping, spreading, growing larger each year. We need, not to limit our use of farmland but to manage and nurture it better. We need to have a much broader and longer vision of feeding the world's people from the farmland we have available to us.
Twenty years ago, a world food discount plan was put forward that would have arranged production to accord with the needs of a growing population and the needs of poor farmers in developing countries, including their needs for infrastructure and economic development. That plan would not have cut needed production in the richer farm areas or anywhere else. On the contrary, it would have expanded production to meet urgent and continuing needs.
Two things are really required.
First, we need to develop projects and programs that bring benefit to us all. It should not be a question of giving and receiving or of having "do-gooder" donor countries on one side and "corrupt, incompetent and ignorant" recipients on the other. Instead, it should be a matter of everyone working together to solve problems of poverty - and disease and other human afflictions - for the benefit of all, rich and poor, wherever they may be.
Second, we need to identify failure - the failure of our efforts over the last half century - and to have the vision and the will to embark on new ventures that are much more likely to succeed.

Paul Theroux: "Empty Talk and Public Gestures"

Paul Theroux tells us that "dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful but stupid and harmful." He deplores what "seems to be Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures." Most perceptively, he regrets "the patronising attention of donors [that] has done violence to Africa's belief in itself." "Even in the absence of responsible leadership," he adds, "Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be - something they never get credit for."
Theroux has still left out one important consideration - or has failed to make it explicit. The established, rich and powerful societies of our world, especially in the United States but also Western Europe, face a period of potential economic and social turmoil right now - in 2006 and beyond. Just one precipitating event - financial, economic, political or strategic or even a natural disaster - could cause devastation more cruel than we have ever known - even in the Great Depression of the 1930s. It will then be for all of us to lift ourselves up together, as we did for a time - all too short a time - in the twenty years or so immediately after World War Two. For a while there, in the late 1960s, we thought we might even achieve Roosevelt's goal of a world free from want. Then it all fell apart.
If those circumstances of the 1930s - or worse - emerge, we will see with terrible clarity how necessary it is, not to engage in patronising rhetoric or futile pledges, but to rescue ourselves by rescuing others - our neighbours or those who are far away, those who are like us and those who are not, those whom we used to regard as poor and who now, perhaps, might be no poorer than we have become ourselves. The economic and social tsunami may, by then, have overwhelmed us all.
The imperative then will be to work together and plan together on our common problems for our common survival. It will not be a matter of one country or group imposing a "plan" on others but of all of us designing the way ahead through common effort, initiative and inspiration.

The Cost is Trivial, the Gain is Great

That is what Victory Over Want had in mind four years ago and the concept that it still nourishes today. Four years on, it still seems to be the best way ahead. Indeed, the imperatives are much greater now than they ever were; and, in a world that has become accustomed to think in terms of billions, even trillions of dollars - often trillions of debt rather than trillions of hardworking assets - the VOW initiative would not cost much. Indeed, to get it robustly launched, it would cost less than it now costs to buy just an average house in California or London or Sydney.
It would cost absurdly less than the $2 billion that the United States has to borrow overseas every day just to keep its external payments in balance; and, over a relatively short time, a well-managed VOW could turn that massive borrowing into the marvellously worthwhile lending that used to be characteristic of a powerful, dynamic American economy.
For a trivial outlay, there could be enormous profit for everyone.
For those who would like more information on VOW, please send your query to VOW@topica.com or jcumes@chello.at For information on websites, please go to -

http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/poverty01.htm and
http://victoryoverwant.org/

To everyone, wherever they may be, we wish everything of the best for 2006.



James Cumeshttp://www.authorsden.com/jameswcumes

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