Sunday, January 15, 2012

Healthline 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Beer

Beer drinkers rejoice: Your favorite brew may be healthier than you think.

For years, wine drinkers have indulged without guilt, reveling in the news that red wine can help protect against heart disease. Recent research shows that beer can also be good for what ails you, from reducing risk for broken bones to helping warding off diabetes and mental decline. It can even increase longevity, a large study suggests.

However, the key to tapping into beer’s benefits is moderation, meaning just one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men. Heavy drinking ups the threat of liver damage, some cancers, and heart problems. Bingeing on brewskis can also make you fat, since a 12-ounce regular beer has about 150 calories, while light beer has about 100.
Here are 10 surprising—and healthy—reasons to cheer about your next beer.

1. Stronger Bones

Beer contains high levels of silicon, which is linked to bone health. In a 2009 study at Tufts University and other centers, older men and women who swigged one or two drinks daily had higher bone density, with the greatest benefits found in those who favored beer or wine. However, downing more than two drinks was linked to increased risk for fractures.

For the best bone-building benefits, reach for pale ale, since a 2010 study of 100 types of beer from around the word identified these brews as richest in silicon, while light lagers and non-alcoholic beers contained the least.
2. A Stronger Heart

A 2011 analysis of 16 earlier studies involving more than 200,000 people, conducted by researchers at Italy’s Fondazion di Ricerca e Cura, found a 31 percent reduced risk of heart disease in those who quaffed about a pint of beer daily, while risk surged in those who guzzled higher amounts of alcohol, whether beer, wine, or spirits.

More than 100 studies also show that moderate drinking trims risk of heart attacks and dying from cardiovascular disease by 25 to 40 percent, Harvard reports. A beer or two a day can help raise levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps keep arteries from getting clogged.
3. Healthier Kidneys

A study in Finland singled out beer among other alcoholic drinks, finding that each bottle of beer men drank daily lowered their risk of developing kidney stones by 40 percent. One theory is that beer’s high water content helped keep kidneys working, since dehydration increases kidney stone risk.

It’s also possible that the hops in beer help curb leeching of calcium from bones; that “lost” calcium also could end up in the kidneys as stones.
4. Boosting Brain Health

A beer a day may help keep Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia at bay, researchers say.

A 2005 study tracking the health of 11,000 older women showed that moderate drinkers (those who consumed about one drink a day) lowered their risk of mental decline by as much as 20 percent, compared to non-drinkers. In addition, older women who downed a drink a day scored as about 18 months “younger,” on average, on tests of mental skills than the non-drinkers.
5. Reduced Cancer Risk

A Portuguese study found that marinating steak in beer eliminates almost 70 percent of the carcinogens, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) produced when the meat is pan-fried. Researchers theorize that beer’s sugars help block HCAs from forming.

Scientists also have found that beer and wine contain about the same levels of antioxidants, but the antioxidants are different because the flavonoids found in hops and grapes are different.
6. Boosting Vitamin Levels

A Dutch study, performed at the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute, found that beer-drinking participants had 30 percent higher levels of vitamin B6 levels in their blood than their non-drinking counterparts, and twice as much as wine drinkers. Beer also contains vitamin B12 and folic acid.
7. Guarding Against Stroke

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that moderate amounts of alcohol, including beer, help prevent blood clots that block blood flow to the heart, neck and brain—the clots that cause ischemic stroke, the most common type.
8. Reduced Risk for Diabetes

Drink up: A 2011 Harvard study of about 38,000 middle-aged men found that when those who only drank occasionally raised their alcohol intake to one to two beers or other drinks daily, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes dropped by 25 percent. The researchers found no benefit to quaffing more than two drinks. The researchers found that alcohol increases insulin sensitivity, thus helping protect against diabetes.
9. Lower Blood Pressure

Wine is fine for your heart, but beer may be even better: A Harvard study of 70,000 women ages 25 to 40 found that moderate beer drinkers were less likely to develop high blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart attack—than women who sipped wine or spirits.
10. Longer Life

In a 2005 review of 50 studies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that moderate drinkers live longer. The USDA also estimates that moderate drinking prevents about 26,000 deaths a year, due to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

These benefits appear to apply in other countries as well, with an earlier study reporting that, “if European beer drinkers stopped imbibing, there would be a decrease in life expectancy of two years—and much unhappiness.”

US urges Pakistan to hold dialogue on Balochistan

he US has urged Pakistan to “really lead and conduct a dialogue that takes the Balochistan issue forward”, says the US State Department.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland addressed the issue in a “twitter-briefing” that the department holds every Friday, allowing people from around the world to tweet their questions to her.

“This was a very popular question on our feed, so we wanted to make sure that we answered it today,” said Ms Nuland who focused on the violence plaguing Balochistan instead of tackling political issues raised in most of the tweets.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses,” she said.

“This is a complex issue. We strongly believe that the best way forward is for all the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue.”

The State Department official noted that the US took the allegations of human rights abuses very seriously and had discussed these issues with Pakistani officials. “And we also urged them to really lead and conduct a dialogue that takes this issue forward,” she concluded.

While her answer may not satisfy Baloch nationalists who had sent most of the questions, it would still irk Pakistani authorities who do not want the Balochistan issue to be discussed at international forums.

Washington-based Baloch nationalists are hoping that Ms Nuland’s response would set an example and encourage other governments and international organisations, such as the United Nations, to address the issue.

The question that Ms Nuland responded to came from Pakistan from a person who identified himself only as “Cadet 1081” and asked: “Pakistan is committing genocide of the Baloch nation, why does the US not intervene in Balochistan and make us get our freedom?”

While Ms Nuland confined herself to addressing the issue of human rights violations, other respondents did not. “Pakistan is not killing Baloch people. Only the followers of Balach and Hyrbyar want freedom,” wrote Mr Spirit 110.

“Pakistan is killing innocent Baloch people and the world is blind. It is our right to be free,” wrote Behuman.

Pakistani Judges acting as petitioners


Veteran civil rights activist and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jahangir has said that she has read the verdict in the NRO case but unfortunately reached the conclusion that the judges were playing their role not as a judge but a petitioners’ lawyer.

She said that it seems that the judiciary was rendering the role of lawyers in the Memo as well as NRO case so what could be done when an institution had decided to send home a democratic government. She said that the government has always been stuck in a blind alley, but now a screen has been erected in front of it after the recent political standoff.

Talking to Daily Times here on Saturday, she suggested to the PPP coalition government in the centre to deal with the current political situation boldly, taking a principled stance on their constitutional rights and should also bring all the matters in the house to open debate and if there was found some need to amend the constitution for removing ambiguity about the institutional jurisdictions that must be taken.

Asma Jahangir said that MQM’s role in the recent scenario was most important to continue the democratic system and the PPP’s coalition government and if they would continue their alliance and support the democratic forces, democracy would prevail in future.

The human rights activist also suggested that the government should move a resolution to strengthen parliament and the democratic system in the country. She also urged the judiciary not to get stuck on the NRO issue but take up thousands of other pending cases.

On a query about the Memo scandal, she said that it would fizzle out into nothingness, adding that the American national Mansoor Ijaz’s arrival or absence would make no difference in the case. “It makes no difference whether Ijaz flies into Pakistan or not,” she maintained.

Highlighting the judiciary and establishment’s coalition in the past, she said that the judiciary and establishment had always been together and now when they were realizing that the judiciary and establishment might be separated, their perception has changed again.

To a query about Imran Khan’s PTI and its support from the establishment, she said that the establishment had always been supporting a segment of politicians; previously it had created one such segment in 1985 and now it needs another.

Answering another query related to the Lahore Bar Association elections and the chances of the military establishment’s influence in the lawyers community during the polls, she said that the men in boots never passed from here (Bar Associations), adding they were previously thumping their boots gently; but now, they are forcefully thudding them.

Deaths in attack on Pakistan Shia procession

A blast has hit a Shia Muslim religious procession, killing 14 people and wounding 20 others, in Pakistan's central Punjab province, local police say.

The explosion hit the gathering in Rahim Yar Khan district where Shias were marking the 40th day of mourning of the death of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussain.

"Fourteen people have been killed and 20 more injured," Suhail Zafar, a senior police official, told Pakistan's private Geo TV channel.

The injured have been taken to local hospitals, he said.

Another police officer told the Associated Press news agency that a crowd of mourners started throwing rocks at police after the blast. Police officers had to lob tear-gas canisters into the crowd to control them.

The processions of Shia Muslims, who make up about 20 per cent of Pakistan's population, are often attacked by armed Sunni Muslim groups who consider them apostates of Islam.

U.S. intelligence report on Afghanistan sees stalemate


The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.

The sobering judgments, laid out in a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last month and delivered to the White House, appeared at odds with recent optimistic statements by Pentagon officials and have deepened divisions between U.S. intelligence agencies and American military commanders about progress in the decade-old war.

The detailed document, known as an NIE, runs more than 100 pages and represents the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other U.S. intelligence agencies. Similar in tone to an NIE prepared a year ago, it challenges the Pentagon's claim to have achieved lasting security gains in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials who have read or been briefed on its contents.

In a section looking at future scenarios, the NIE also asserts that the Afghan government in Kabul may not be able to survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.

"Its viability is tenuous," said one official, citing the report.

Although the review gives the U.S. military and its allies credit for driving the Taliban out of some areas last year, it says the gains were not enough to bolster the weak central government in Kabul, haven't diminished the Taliban's will to keep fighting, and haven't instilled confidence among Afghans in much of the country.

As a result, the NIE warns that the overall difficulties could jeopardize the Obama administration's plans to withdraw most U.S. troops and hand over responsibility for the war to the Afghan government by 2014.

The findings prompted a sharp response from Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of Western forces in the war, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who filed their objections in a one-page written dissent. The comment was also signed by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of Central Command, and Adm. James Stavridis, supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Military and Pentagon officials argued that assumptions used by intelligence agencies were flawed.

"It assumes a quicker drawdown of U.S. support to the Afghan government than a lot of people are projecting, " said one U.S. official familiar with Pentagon thinking, speaking of the assessment.

Military officials also cited what they claim are gaps in the intelligence agencies' understanding of the Taliban leadership's thinking, the officials said.

Some in Congress and the Obama administration are concerned that the bleak assessment suggests little progress was made in the last year. During that time, the U.S. has suffered more than 400 military fatalities and spent more than $100 billion. As of Wednesday, 1,873 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since U.S. forces invaded in late 2001, according to the website

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote a dissent to last year's NIE when he was U.S. commander in the war. He is now CIA director, and he pledged during his Senate confirmation hearings not to allow his personal views as a former commander to color the CIA's analysis.

The recent NIE agrees with the military that Afghan Taliban fighters have found safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas. After a six-week lull, CIA drone strikes resumed this week in North Waziristan, reportedly killing four people Wednesday, but U.S. officials warned that drone strikes alone cannot prevent Afghan insurgents from regrouping there.

"It's all about the safe haven," one congressional official said. "That has to be solved."

Military officials have acknowledged that there are no easy answers, and that a peace deal may be the only solution.

The Taliban has suffered heavy losses, particularly in southern Afghanistan, but it also has gained ground in the country's east, near Pakistan, according to officials briefed on the NIE. But the intelligence community is not convinced that military gains in the south can be maintained once large numbers of U.S. forces withdraw.

The Afghan army and in particular the police face enormous problems contending with the insurgency as U.S. assistance declines, the document concludes. But it also raises doubts about whether Afghan civilian ministries can govern successfully in the south and other areas.

In late 2009, President Obama agreed to deploy 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and the total U.S. force in the country peaked at about 100,000 last summer. The U.S. now has 91,000 troops there, and all combat forces are scheduled to withdraw by 2014.

Pentagon planners assume that a residual force will remain to train and assist the Afghans, but the White House has yet to sign off on that. The Obama administration is negotiating a long-term military alliance with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Pentagon officials insist that the troop increase has put the Taliban on its heels.

"We're moving in the right direction and we're winning this very tough conflict," Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told troops on Dec. 14 at Forward Operating Base Sharana in the eastern province of Paktika.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday that Panetta continues to believe there has been "substantial progress." The key, he said, is "to strengthen Afghan security forces and to build toward a long-term relationship with Afghanistan."

National intelligence estimates often carry significant weight in U.S. policy circles, although they are hardly immune from errors.

Most famously, the 2002 NIE on Iraq judged with high confidence that Saddam Hussein was secretly amassing chemical and biological weapons, and trying to build a nuclear bomb. The George W. Bush administration repeatedly cited that NIE before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but it ultimately was proved inaccurate in almost every respect.

Although they declined to discuss the contents of the current NIE, some members of Congress with access to intelligence said they are concerned about the lack of progress in Afghanistan.

"I think there are real problems," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. "There have been gains in security … but the Taliban is still a force to be reckoned with. They still occupy considerable land in the country."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Obama administration should release an unclassified version of the NIE for public debate.

"I do think it would be very helpful to release an unclassified version," she said. "Given the expense and the lives that are at stake, the American people should see some of the top-line conclusions of the NIE."

Pakistanis' distrust of foreigners impedes aid groups

By: Alex Rodriguez
Los Angeles Times

Pakistan's suspicions of foreign aid groups rose last year after the CIA staged a fake vaccination campaign to catch Osama bin Laden.
International aid groups say they're under siege in Pakistan, demonized by hard-line Islamists, viewed as spies by suspicious Pakistanis and, now, increasingly sidelined by the government.

The groups report that in the last year, they began to feel unwanted in the country, and in some cases persecuted. Nongovernmental organization visa requests languished or were outright rejected. New travel restrictions hampered aid workers' movement. Some workers were arrested and harassed.

Western aid officials believe that the Pakistani government's suspicions about the groups rose dramatically last year after the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May in the military city of Abbottabad.

To many Pakistanis, a phony vaccination campaign engineered by the CIA to help pinpoint Bin Laden's whereabouts in the weeks before the raid reinforced long-held conspiracy theories that Western humanitarian projects camouflaged espionage operations.

"All of a sudden we were all doing subversive spy work; we generally feel that's how we're viewed here," said a Western aid official, who, like other Westerners interviewed for this article, asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Obviously, we don't like any of those associations. That's what we're fighting against all the time."

The Pakistani government denies allegations of a clampdown on the groups.

"It's not the policy of the government of Pakistan," said a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk about such matters. "We are here to facilitate international NGOs."

Aid officials see it differently. A U.S. citizen working for a Western group was detained for nine days last year in the southern city of Sukkur after Pakistani authorities discovered he had overstayed his visa by a day, said a source familiar with the incident. Local police finally decided to deport him, but not before parading him in front of TV crews.

"There were a lot of rumors that he was a spy," the source said. "It was a way for local authorities to assert themselves and show who's boss, to show they were watching."

The aid group Save the Children had to fly eight of its expatriate workers out of the country last summer because of concern that Pakistan's main intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, might detain them, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported last fall. A Pakistani doctor involved in the fake CIA vaccination campaign had falsely claimed that he worked for Save the Children, helping trigger the government's scrutiny of the group. The doctor is now in Pakistani custody and faces possible treason charges.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced this month it had shut down three of its offices in northwestern Pakistan because it had become increasingly difficult for some of the organization's personnel to access those offices. Other offices will also be shut down soon, said Marek Resich, a spokesman for the Red Cross mission in Pakistan. The organization will maintain its offices in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta.

Resich would not say whether Pakistani authorities were impeding the organization's work, or why Red Cross personnel were unable to get to their offices. However, a source familiar with the closures said the Red Cross shut down the offices because authorities last year began barring non-Pakistani Red Cross workers and officials from visiting branch offices in the northwest.

Last summer, a top Red Cross official complained about the growing level of government interference in Pakistan.

"To live and work and get permission to do anything has become more difficult," Pascal Cuttat, the departing head of the Red Cross delegation in Pakistan, said in July during a news conference in Geneva. "Everyone is struggling with the bureaucracy."

Pakistanis have always been suspicious of foreigners, particularly Westerners. Hard-line Islamist clerics and analysts routinely warn that the U.S. will one day wrest control of the country's nuclear arsenal, or that CIA agents lurk behind every corner.

In 2011, the animosity reached new heights with the killing in January of two Pakistani men by a CIA contractor, and with the Bin Laden raid and subsequent revelation about the CIA vaccination ruse.

"It was a very weird year," said Jerome Voisin, a field coordinator with the French aid group Solidarites, which conducts relief efforts in Sindh province, a region devastated by floods in 2010 and '11. "It seems international NGOs are not seen here as partners. There is this kind of suspicious climate here."

Dozens of nongovernmental organizations work in Pakistan, and some have had a presence in the country for decades. Aid groups were instrumental in providing relief to victims of a devastating earthquake in 2005 that ravaged northern Pakistan and killed 79,000 people. In 2010, they helped the country begin its arduous recovery from the catastrophic floods that affected more than 20 million people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

International NGOs are overseen by the Pakistani Finance Ministry's Economic Affairs Division, which every year reviews each group's mission plan.

The strained relationship between Pakistani authorities and the international aid community took its toll on the world's response to floods in Sindh province last year, which displaced more than 1.8 million people. Western NGO officials said the Pakistani government waited five weeks before allowing international aid organizations to provide relief to flood victims.

The delay reflected the government's desire to scrutinize and control the international response to the disaster, the Western officials said. But instead of facilitating a global response to the floods, the government's approach "killed it," said a senior official with the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, an umbrella advocacy group for the international aid community in Pakistan. "The whole thing was dead on arrival.... The delay made it impossible to catch up."

Another Western aid official said, "Many people we met had already been on the side of the road for a month and a half, without any food or shelter. During that period, people died on the side of the road."

Oil prices, Iran are increasingly sources of concern,worry lists for 2012

Washington Post

The price of crude oil and growing tensions with Iran are bubbling to the top of economists’ and policymakers’ worry lists for 2012, as U.S. and European Union sanctions threaten to reduce the sales of Iranian oil and put pressure on one of the world’s largest petroleum exporters.

“It’s been in the background for quite some time,” said Edward Yardeni, a leading investment strategist. “I’ve characterized it as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for 2012. Now it’s come from behind to be at the head of the pack.”
The push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil exports comes at a time when oil prices are already high. Last year was a record-shattering year for oil prices, which averaged $107 a barrel, about 14 percent more than in the previous record year of 2008, according to figures from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The U.S. oil import bill — for crude and refined products — jumped about $125 billion from 2010 to 2011.

Rising oil prices could hurt the fragile global economy, which includes economists’ other big worry: Europe.

Barclays Capital analysts noted on Friday that in terms of the euro currency, oil prices “have now almost matched their previous peak of July 2008,” draining money from economies already struggling with the sovereign debt crisis. Three of Europe’s most troubled economies — Greece, Spain and Italy — are also the E.U.’s biggest importers of Iranian crude and would be most affected by a new ban. (The United States already bars imports of Iranian crude oil.)

“At current prices, the world economy is going to grow at 3 percent to 3.5 percent this year,” said Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank. “That’s not great, but okay. At $125 a barrel, it is only going to grow 2.5 percent, and that’s not very good. And at $150, we might only grow 1 percent, and that’s a disaster.”

Many analysts do not think Iran would risk military conflict by carrying out its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, used by tankers carrying 17 million barrels of oil a day, about a fifth of the world’s consumption. E.U. leaders meet Jan. 23 to decide whether to embargo Iranian crude, but oil prices fell Friday on reports that any import ban would be phased in or delayed six months.

Within that time, a new overland pipeline from the United Arab Emirates would open and Libyan output, damaged by civil war, would probably return to normal. And European refiners, who buy about 600,000 barrels of Iranian oil daily, could line up new suppliers.

Moreover, that delay would give Iran yet another chance to negotiate international inspections of its nuclear program. “That’s the end game,” said Julian Lee, an energy expert at the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies, “to get the Iranians to sit at the table and talk and put in proper monitoring of their nuclear industry. The sanctions aren’t an end in and of themselves.”

Meanwhile, U.S. and European efforts to put a crimp in Iran’s exports appear to be having an effect already.

U.S. restrictions on doing business with Iran’s central bank have been felt in India, the second-largest buyer of Iranian oil. Refiners there are seeking new suppliers after India’s government threatened not to sign a waiver to protect them from U.S. sanctions, according to Lloyd’s List. In addition, Lloyd’s List said, since Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, Turkish banks used by Indian refiners to pay for Iranian crude are refusing to transfer those funds.
Japan has also said it would trim its purchases of Iranian oil. Japan imported more than 300,000 barrels a day of oil from Iran in the first 11 months of 2011, according to the International Energy Agency. That provided 10 percent of Japan’s oil imports.

While Iran’s customers are looking for new supplies, Iran is looking for new customers. Oil exports are the country’s main source of income, providing $73 billion of revenue in 2010 and covering half the national budget, according to Energy Department figures.
Lee said Iran was thought to be talking to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez about disguising Iran’s oil by mixing it with Venezuela’s. A veteran oil trader in London said Iran could also offer small discounts to tempt independent refiners into buying its crude. He added that Iran could also be looking, as it has in the past, for barter deals such as one in which Cuba might swap sugar for oil.

Iran’s greatest hope for rerouting its exports would be to sell more to its biggest customer, China, which imported about 550,000 barrels a day last year. But a contract dispute has led to a temporary decline in Iranian sales to China. And it isn’t clear how much China wants to rely on one source of oil or how much China can add to its strategic stockpiles.

Some companies will seek waivers to continue to do business with Iran; Japan said it would seek waivers to continue reduced purchases.

Some companies already have waivers. The Italian oil giant ENI has a waiver to continue to receive 10,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude oil as payment for work ENI did on two Iranian fields under old agreements, a company spokesman said. At the current rate, it would take until 2014 for ENI to be fully paid.

Although tensions over Iran may be adding as much as $5 a barrel to the price of oil, according to experts and traders, it is not the only geopolitical factor fueling high petroleum prices.

Nigeria, which produces about 2 million barrels a day, is facing Islamic violence in its north, nationwide protests over the end of fuel subsidies and strikes by major unions. Instability in Libya and Iraq threaten exports there as well.

Moreover, while Saudi Arabia, which produced 10 million barrels a day toward the end of last year, says it can boost output by another couple of million barrels a day to make up for other countries’ lost production, many oil experts fear that the kingdom would be physically unable to do that.

The world’s spare oil production — recently about 4 percent of daily production of 89 million barrels — is important in maintaining stable prices. If sanctions did block Iranian sales, part of that spare capacity would be used.

Deutsche Bank’s Sieminski says he has three “normal” or “standard” worries: “Can the Federal Reserve get the U.S. economy going? Can the Europeans solve their sovereign debt problem? And will China have a soft landing?” He said that, now, “on top of that we have geopolitical concerns mostly related to oil.”

The oil fears are at odds with the others. “With the macroeconomic issues, the worry is that we won’t get enough oil demand. With the geopolitical issues we worry that we won’t have enough oil supply,” he said. As a result, he predicted, “we had a lot of oil price volatility in 2011 and it doesn’t look like 2012 is going to improve much.”

The quiet war in Saudi Arabia

BY:Joshua Jacobs

There are good reasons not only for the media, but for western governments to begin taking an active interest in the ongoing street conflict in Eastern Province

While western powers have been happy to use Saudi Arabia as an ally to ratchet up the pressure on Assad's beleaguered regime in Syria, it has not caught a whiff of the silent crackdown occurring within the kingdom. Since late November the protest movement which was largely snuffed out last spring has returned to the streets in force, largely centered on the oil rich and largely Shia Eastern Province.

The Saudi response was both brutal and predictable. Security forces shot and killed three protesters and wounded many more over several days of crackdowns in the eastern city of Qatif. Clashes continued throughout December as demonstrators battled security forces who routinely utilized live ammunition. In a series of retaliatory raids on the homes and districts of protest sympathizers hundreds were arrested and wounded. The killings along with the continued discrimination and mistreatment of the Shia of the Eastern Province has formed the basis of the current protest movement - a protest movement that has suffered heavily like its neighbour in Bahrain, but with little in the way of a headline.

Today, while attention was focused on the Strait of Hormuz, on Syria, and on the rising tensions in Bahrain, Saudi security forces launched an assault on the city of Awamiyah killing at least one and wounding half a dozen more. Eye witnesses have stated that soldiers on trucks opened fire on demonstrators, hitting many as they fled. The attack bears all the hallmarks of a planned operation with electricity being cut to the area prior to the assault. The area at the time of writing is apparently still under military lock-down and reflects a state of siege with clashes continuing to occur and gunfire being heard.

This attack was almost certainly condoned by the royal family and comes on the heels of a series of indictments against demonstrators and high profile invectives against the protest movement. Despite this attack and others like it, the rumblings and tremors of protest and crackdown show no sign of abatement. Indeed in the past few months they have once again reared their head in the south west in Najran and Jazan, compounded with protests over women’s rights in Riyadh and Buraydah.

These protests bear all the hallmarks of a movement which could coalesce and burst anew from the ashes of the disjointed and largely suppressed protests of last spring. They also come at an extremely troubling time for the kingdom. The death of Crown Prince Sultan highlighted the geriatric character of the upper echelons of the ruling family, and the potential uncertainty and disquiet surrounding the issue of succession. Meanwhile, continuing tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and rising furor on the streets of Bahrain open up the risk of unrest spreading to the kingdom in a domino effect. Indeed the extremely aggressive Saudi position on Bahrain and the continued quartering of troops in the tiny island monarchy has a direct relationship to their fears of domestic instability. The possibility of Saudi Shia rallying on behalf of their co-religionists in Bahrain, or vice versa is a looming threat that the Saudis are taking great pains to neutralize.

Though the protests currently centre on a single province, the Eastern Province is home to the majority of Saudi energy reserves, terminals, and processing facilities. Disruption and upheaval in this province has a disproportionate impact on Saudi Arabia. A protracted and visible uprising would not only weaken the Saudi government internally but could have a tumultuous impact on the global energy market. This is all the more reason for not only the media, but for western governments to begin taking an active interest in the ongoing street conflict.

Saudi rulers certainly understand the threat posed by the protesters and the risk of an expanding movement: their actions are a testament to that fact. So why is the world’s media apparently incapable of recognizing the same thing? Arab media has been noticeably silent, with the two largest Arab media entities the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya and the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera having said almost nothing. However there is little excuse for western media. Saudi Arabia is probably America's most important Arab ally, the world’s most important single energy node, and one of the most influential countries in the region. It's also experiencing its worst domestic upheavals since its rebellions of the early 1980's. Taken in a vacuum this is a significant news story. When set against the context of the unfolding drama in the Gulf and the wider contours of the Arab Spring, it is incredible.

The past year was a bad one for Saudi Arabia: the coming year augurs to be even worse. The time has come to slice through the veil Saudi Arabia has kept around its crackdown and recognize that the Arab Spring at least in limited form has hit the kingdom. What comes next is difficult to say, but with the rapidity of change that the Arab Spring has introduced us to, it would be wise to pay close attention to the warning signs as they appear. It is entirely possible that we will see a very, very, warm spring in Saudi Arabia.

I am only answerable to Parliament: Gilani

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Sunday that he was the Prime Minister of 180 million people and was only answerable to the Parliament and not to any individual.
Prime Minister Gilani added that it was important for the Parliament and not the prime minister to complete the five year term.
Hopeful about the fulfillment of the Parliament’s tenure, Gilani said that all the institutions are working in their domains and he is only answerable to the Parliament.
While speaking to the media in Vehari, the Prime Minister said there was no violation of rules and conduct in the response given to the memo case. He clarified that he has never labeled accusations against anyone, adding that reply submitted in the memo case by Army Chief and DG ISI in the Supreme Court was not according to the rules of law.
Responding to a question regarding Army Chief’s complaint to President against him, Prime Minister Gilani said he was not present in the meeting but presidential spokesperson has already denied the statement.
The prime minister did not comment on if Mansoor Ijaz had arrived in Pakistan.

Unrest in Balochistan

the frontier post

The political volcano is active in Balochistan and can erupt any time to emit lava.
The army is busy in military operations which the government had denied many times in the past. Now the facts have come to light and the whole nation knows about the army action.

Balochistan has never enjoyed its political and economic rights since the birth of Pakistan. It was always treated as a colony of the federal government whose bureaucrats ruled over it from Islamabad.
Finally our prime minister started political dialogues with its nationalist leaders for peace in war torn Balochistan which was a wise step. His meeting with Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal has brought to light many facts. He informed the Prime Minister that the nationalist forces were in the mountains who demanded complete provincial autonomy. They demand the ownership of their natural gas, gold, copper mines and marble, as well as Gwadar seaport. The federal government always denies them and argue that there are no experts there to run these organizations. Thus it sends people from all the provinces especially from Karachi to try their luck who get lucrative jobs there while the Balochis go to other cities to work as labourers in their industries whose wheels are run by their natural gas.
Balochistan is the biggest province of Pakistan but is the least populated where there is always scarcity of water. There are no irrigation canals and the river Indus is of no benefit to it while the Punjab, Sindh and the Khyber Paktunkhwa utilize its water by deriving canals out of it and constructed hydro-electric stations which illuminate the houses of the cities and villages of the other provinces. The Pakhtunkhwa does not get its net profit according to G. N. Qazi formula. The WAPDA denies it under one pretext or another.
Now Awami National Party government should forget net profit income. It should demand the complete return and ownership of electricity to this poor province which will become the most prosperous province of Pakistan in future with the income of electricity. Electricity was purely a provincial subject. After the dismemberment of one unit, it was not returned to it and handed over to the WAPDA.
God has bestowed upon barren Balochistan all its kindness and riches in the form of minerals like gas, gold and copper mines whose income goes to the federal treasury. Then Balochistan begs its own generated money from it.
When complete ownership of the Gwadar sea port is demanded, the federal government argues that there are no expert there. Therefore, employees of the Karachi seaport go there to get good jobs while the Baloch youth work as labourers there. This has created sense of deprivation in them which has given birth to nationalist movements there. Seaports are maintained by the city corporations and municipalities in other countries of the world. The examples of Hong Kong, Singapore and others are there which maintain them efficiently.
If complete provincial autonomy with financial powers is given to Balochistan, it will become the richest province and its government will spend its own generated money according to its own priorities. The separatist movements started by them will come to an end. They want to live a prosperous and respectable life in the federation of Pakistan.
Give them the ownership of their gas. Their faces will smile when its income pours there. Then there will be no need of packages like Aghaz-e-hukaoaka-e- Balochistan. The peace will return to it. The industries run by gas will appear and investors from other provinces will rush to peaceful Balochistan to establish industries which will wipe out the unemployment of the Balochis.

Pakistan's Selfish Politicians: '' Damning exposure ''

Just imagine. A briefing was reportedly arranged on the country’s worrisome economic condition for the parliamentarians, four each from the parties sitting in the parliament. For the briefing, the government had lined up a 25-member team of relevant senior officials led by finance minister Hafeez Shaikh. But only seven parliamentarians turned up out of the 55 who had accepted the invitation, showing up in a damning exposure in true colours the oligarchs crowding the parliament wearing the masks of the people’s elected representatives. Over these past four years, gratingly they have been galling the citizens’ ears with their incessant chant of democracy, vaingloriously flaunting themselves as uncompromising democracy champions and posing to be the people’s great friends.
But with this shameful show of absenting almost wholesale from a briefing that meant so much to the citizens going through the worst-ever economic times of their lives over this period, the parliamentarians have displayed what a stock of charlatans they all are made up of. Wallowing in streams of personal wealth and family riches, the oligarchs can certainly neither feel the pangs of the masses pitched in gruelling economic conditions, nor even would they care to know of their anguish on this count. It is their own personal prosperity that comes compellingly to them. Not of the masses, who indeed in their reckoning figure up no more than their family serfs and slaves and their personal servants and valets.
Congenitally imposters, they indeed have been parading deceitfully as democracy what in essence and substance is out-and-out a plutocracy, a rule of the elite, for the elite and by the elite. They even know not that democracy’s centrepiece is the mass of the people, the commoners around whose wellbeing the entire system revolves. Economy thus occupies the central position in a democratic order for making the lives of the masses easier, happy and livable. And it compulsorily forms the focal point of lawmakers and governments alike. “It’s economy, stupid”, once said famously former US president Bill Clinton, underscoring the tremendous import of economic rejuvenation, vibrancy and robustness in a nation’s life. And he did give his people strong economy to live comfortable and happier lives.
In China, they have in fact gone to the extent of compromising on their communist ideology to liberalise their economy, open it up to private enterprise and foreign investment and have emerged the world’s leading global economic giant, with America in its great debt. With this economic miracle, they have also brought an economic miracle to their over-one-billion people’s lives. Even in several African countries, which are no democracies, their autocratic rulers have at least given their peoples flourishing economies that, despite their autocrats’ rampant thievery, is doing a lot economic good to their otherwise oppressed lives. And in the western and other established democracies, their national economies and their citizens’ economic uplift is the top priority of their legislators and governments.
But not here in our own land. The PPP has ruled over these four years without even a semblance of a defined economic policy. Amazingly, for quite big part of its rule, it had run the crucial finance ministry on ad-hoc basis without a regular minister in charge. It has seen the national economy sliding steeply down the hill and the country slip deep into a black economic hole with not a streak of worry on its forehead. In every manner, the country is in a fathomless economic chaos and virtually on the brink of economic collapse. But if Zardari and Gilani have demonstrated themselves to be so illiterate in economics, except their own personal and family economics, their opponents too show themselves to be no lesser ignorant. They too have no recipe to prevent the country’s this fall. Ask any opposition party or leader about what they have for an economic policy, an empty stare is the response.
Hilariously, Nawaz Sharif, now assuming the airs of the country’s putative next ruler, often moans he had given a 10-point economic agenda for national economy’s rejuvenation but the government didn’t implement it. Go through it; if you do not conclude it to be more about politics than about economics, then you will have to infer from it only shallowness of mind and superficiality of thought of Mian Sahib as an economic thinker. It is not generalizations, which this agenda was in substance, but specifics and details, which it was not, that really matter. But then criticism is the easiest part, which is as yet the regime opponents’ specialty. The difficult part is to suggest solutions, which they are palpably bereft of. For pulling the nation out of its woes, most of them are now screaming for early elections as if those are some kind of a magic wand which when rubbed on Islamabad’s floors would swish off the people’s all economic pains just like that.
But such things come natural to oligarchs and plutocrats who have made mounds of fortunes from hefty food-grain support prices, kickbacks and commissions, bank-loan write-offs and such like good things. They will flourish whether rain or winter; and so long as they are strutting on the national landscape, the mass of the people will continue becoming poorer even if it is sunshine or summer. It is as simple as that.

ANP not to leave president, prime minister in lurch

Frontier Post

Senior ANP leader and Federal Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour said Saturday evening that his party stood by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani for thwarting conspiracies against the democratically elected government, saying “we are not the people who leaves their friends in lurch neither our forefathers taught us this lesson”.
He was addressing a meeting of the office bearers of ANP wards falling in PK-2 constituency at Yakka Toot area in interior city in connection with upcoming death anniversaries of Fakhr e Afghan, Baacha Khan and Rehber e Tehrik, Khan Abdul Wali Khan due for January 26 next.
Bilour said, “We are sailing in the same boat and if it sinks we all will sink but will never leave the friends in difficult times”.
“The President of ANP Asfandyar Wali Khan had given categorical assurance to the Prime Minister at a meeting of the allied partied called by him (PM) in Islamabad the other day that we are with you come what may”. He said that ANP “salutes” to President Asif Ali Zardari who gives a name to our province and rights over the provincial resources.
“How could we leave him when he needs us”, he explained.
He also substantiated his view point by recalling the dismissal of the PML-N Government when close friends of Nawaz Sharif had joined other political party that formed the next government leaving their mentor in lurch while the ANP members in protest resigned from the ministries.
Parliament is supreme institution as it reflected wishes and aspirations of the 180 million people of the country therefore, other state organs must pay respect and honor to it.
The government through its political wisdom averted the clash between the institutions which was seemed to be imminent during last few weeks.
We do not want any clash as it would put the future of democracy in danger. We have all regards and respect for the state institutions but we will never allow them to dictate their will on the government.
He claimed that all the politician in the country today were product of the dictatorship except the ANP which never supported any dictator whether it was Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq or Pervez Musharraf.
The ANP has a long list of sacrifices for the cause of democracy since inception of the country.
He recalled that the ANP leaders in the past were dubbed as traitors, non-Muslim and agent of India and Russia etc but with the blessing of Allah Almighty all this propaganda proved wrong and today there was ANP government in the Khyber Pakhunkhwa.
Concluding, he appealed to the party workers and the people to participate in the death anniversary function at Tehmas Khan Stadium in large number.
The central leaders of ANP including Asfandyar Wali Khan will address the rally.
The meeting was also addressed Secretary Information ANP KP Malik Mustafa, President of ANP Peshawar City District Niaz Mohmand, General Secretary ANP City District Sartaj Khan, and President ANP PK-2 Nazir Baghi.

ANP eyes clinching seven seats in Senate polls from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

The major political party in the coalition government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Awami National Party (ANP) is eyeing the winning of seven seats in the elections for the Senate (upper house) of the parliament scheduled on March 2, 2012 while PPP is likely to clinch four seats, while one will go to JUI-F.

Eleven Senators from the province are due to retired in next month after completion of six years term.

According to sources ANP has decided to clinch seven of twelve Senate seats from the province and its coalition partner has to get four seats.

The JUI-F to get one seat, but other opposition parties with a total strength of 19 members are unlikely to get elect their nominees.

With majority members in the parliamentary parties of opposition, the JUI-F MPA, Akram Khan Durrani is the leader of the opposition, while other political parties included PML-N, PML-Q and PPP-Sherpao has 9, 7 and 3 legislators, respectively.

But, due to lack of consensus they are not agreeing on unanimous candidate will lose chance electing their own representative.

However, development of consensus amongst them can cut the strength of ANP triumph to six.

The political parties have invited applications and have started selecting suitable candidates for the polls.

The retirement of eleven Senators will bring the representation of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), PP-Sherpao, while PML-Q will lose representation from the province.

The retiring candidates are included Professor Khurshid Ahmad, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim Khan, Afia Zia (JI), Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan, Talha Mehmood and recently elected Qari Abdullah JUI-F, Saleem Saifullah Khan, Begum Fakharuzaaman (PML-Like Minded), Haji Ghufran (PP-Sherpao), Ilyas Ahmad Bilour (ANP) and independent Ammar Ahmad Khan.

The seats to become vacant are seven general, and two each seats are reserved for women and technocrats.

In the Senate polls of March 2009 there was 50/50 distribution of seats between the coalition partners of ANP and PPP in the province.

However, this time, the ANP will go for clinching seven seats and will leave four seats for its junior coalition partner PPP, while one seat will go JUI-F.

The minority seats for which election will be held for first time will also go to ANP.

The major political parties ANP and PPP have yet to finalise candidates for the election.

However, sources in JUI-F said that the possible probable of candidates of the party would be the one of the retiring Senators Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan and Talha Mahmood.

Half of the strength of the upper house of the parliament is going to retire next month.

The members of the national and provincial assemblies will elect candidates from their respective provinces, FATA and Federal Capital Islamabad.

For first time four minority representatives will also be elected to the Senate with one member from each province.

Islamabad: where facts meet fiction


Saturday may have been quiet in comparison to the crisis-ridden week that just passed but it had its fair share of political activity.

Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met President Asif Ali Zardari for the first time since the heated outburst of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the ISPR’s waspish reply. The COAS then went on to join the prime minister in the DCC meeting who then waxed lyrical over the Pak military.

Hence, many predicted that the latest crisis to shake the house of the PPP was over. But for others, this was just a peaceful interlude; war is the natural state of affairs in the Hobbesian civil-military affairs.

Welcome to Islamabad where theories flourish and facts are forced to fit pre-existing hypotheses.

An inexplicable development such as the prime minister’s outburst on Monday where he described Kayani’s and ISI honcho Shuja Pasha’s affidavits as legally shaky, can easily lead an entire city to predict the coup that it had earlier ruled out.

Everyone and his aunt were sure that the government was ready to remove the COAS and that in response the army was about to walk in.

But why would the PPP that too had paid the price of Nawaz Sharif’s foolhardy move in October ’99 consider a similar move? And similarly, no one explained how an army, which is battling a hostile Washington and militias and resentment from within the ranks over May 2, Salala and the extension of the army chief, contemplate a takeover?

Imagine a roomful of corps commanders who all remember the promotions blocked by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s overly long tenure. They then got rid of him to bring in a professional soldier who too got glued to the seat. Would they now allow anyone to move and take charge a la Musharraf and stay put indefinitely?

In Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon, everyone thought so.

And of course, it’s now universally accepted that each time the military is about to move, it not only changes the command of 111 Brigade but also announces this through the media.
Such is the logic of the speculations and analysis that rule Islamabad.

We can and we do predict the future. And if we are ever proven wrong we simply plough ahead with more predictions.

Is the government going? And if so, will it go before the Senate elections or after the budget? Why is its departure imminent and how? The answers vary by the hour as well as the political affiliations of the person asked. But discussed they are everywhere — at dinners, the parliament house, over cups of coffee and tea, telephone conversations as well as BBMs!

It’s hard to find a ruling party member who does not believe that the judiciary, the military and Nawaz Sharif are colluding to send the government packing.

It’s a conspiracy on the lines of the Da Vinci Code.

It was under a grand plan that ‘memogate’ was unveiled and Nawaz Sharif petitioned the Supreme Court. In these hard cruel times the military is going to use the judges to send the government home.

If it is not the NRO implementation case where the judges have already inched closer to disqualifying the president or the prime minister or both, then it might go for the jugular (aka Zardari) with the memo case.

The commission will investigate and find the memo to be the real McCoy. This will give the courts the chance to then try and declare Husain Haqqani and the president guilty of treason.

The minus one formula is at work.

So what if both these options leave the PPP numbers in the parliament intact?

Not really, for once the president or the prime minister are rendered useless by the court, the fickle rats will desert the sinking ship, leaving the PPP government bereft of a majority.

And why these rats have not been given the signal to do this already so as to save the time and energy of first orchestrating a court verdict and then juggling numbers in the national assembly?

This silly question is not even worth asking. In Pakistan we are wont to never grab our nose directly when there is the option of stretching our hand from behind the head and then pulling at the nose.

The PPP is being targeted and that is the only script anyone is familiar with. Any new twists and turns in the old plot are not acceptable.

But of course the PPP can pre-empt this all by announcing early elections. That none of the other parties are agreed on a single date for the general election is irrelevant.

Fact and fiction are not just stacked up against the PPP but also the PML-N. For the very evil establishment that has colluded with Sharif and the judiciary on ‘memogate’ has also propped up Imran Khan as an alternative to the PML-N.

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf with its revolutionary message and open embrace of has-been politicians is the establishment’s latest ploy. As it once created the IJI to deal with the PPP, it has now created the PTI to deal with both the PML-N and PPP.

But is the establishment colluding with the PML-N or with the PTI? And is it going to throw the PPP out to put the PML-N in power or the PTI? Silly, small details.

The establishment, like the proverbial playboy, flirts with anyone and everyone. It also controls the MQM that blows hot and cold with the PPP. The party’s tantrums are another sign that the army has decided to send the PPP government home.

The theories are unending. And the scenarios they throw up are limitless.

But common to them all is an omnipotent establishment – despite being vulnerable to international pressure, domestic anger and resentment within the ranks.

So powerful that it somehow allowed a PPP and a Zardari that it hates to come to power and stay put for four years. But now it finally has a plan to send it home but no one knows why.

No wonder then that one is tempted to rephrase the anonymous proverb to say that those the gods want to destroy, they simply send to Islamabad to take its gossip seriously.

New Miss America crowned

A 23-year-old beauty queen from Wisconsin won the Miss America pageant Saturday in Las Vegas after singing opera and strutting in a white bikini and black beaded evening gown.