Wednesday, July 30, 2008 Returning the Favour

29 July 2008, a new online and print magazine first issued in February 2008, and published quarterly, has been courteous enough to link my blog in an article on gold mining blogs in their current gold mining issue.

I will therefore return the favour.

This is a great resource for all kinds of information about mining, sponsored by the well-known site,

Read the current issue
here (in very sophisticated flash or adobe pdf formats).

The issue summary is

Note (15 August 2008): David Shvartsman of Finance Trends Matter has been kind enough to link my article on "Rising Profits in FASB Wonderland... or Wimpy's Rule" on his blog. Mr. Shvartsman is running a really great blog, so be sure to visit his site too (linked also in my blog summary on the right).

Straight Down the Tubes at Merrill Lynch

30 July 2008

Here is a piece of financial detail you don't often see. On April 3, 2008, Merrill Lynch's CEO, John Thain, stated that the company's balance sheets were looking fine.

That means the company had sufficient capital to cover its operating costs.

"We have plenty of capital going forward and we don't need to come back into the equity market," Thain told the Nikkei in an interview published on the Japanese business daily's Web site and dated for Friday, April 4.

This statement followed a dilutive injection of $6.6 billion in new capital by Asian and Middle Eastern investors in 2007.

Unfortunately, a large piece of Merrill's capital ($30.6 billion) was marked to fantasy, not to market.

The soon-to-be-impaired asset consisted of U.S. super senior ABS CDOs (otherwise known as toxic waste - essentially unmarketable mortgage-backed securities). According to a Merrill press release on July 28, 2008, the supposed $30.6 billion asset was unloaded to an affiliate of Lone Star Funds for a purchase price of $6.7 billion. The amount of the loss on the sale of this impaired asset was $23.9 billion.

Note too that this so-called "super senior " debt placed Merrill at or near the first-in-line position to get paid as cash payments worked their way through these mortgage-backed (collateralized debt) assets - with who knows who taking out hefty fees and commissions along the way at various stages of packaging and repackaging - one reason these so-called assets have so quickly become worthless or nearly so.

While no two repackaged CDOs are the same, Merrill's difficulties certainly raise the question as to how little - if anything at all - those holding securities further down the line will ever be reimbursed (in this case, for throwing their good money at irresponsible or hapless borrowers and being willing to pay inflated fees to financial gamesmen for the privilege of being taken for much if not all of their invested funds).

Now, here's the interesting part. As recently as June 30, 2008, this so-called asset was carried on Merrill's books at $11.1 billion, according to Merrill's second quarter report. That is, either the market - or Merrill's valuation methods - shifted so rapidly that the toxic asset degraded by a further 39.6% in only 28 days.

Moreover, during a conference call on July 17, Mr. Thain was bold enough to state, "Right now we believe that we are in a very comfortable spot in terms of our capital."

We now have this asset degrading over a period of only 11 days (from July 17 to July 28), not 28 days. That's a loss of roughly 3.6% per day over an 11-day period.

Merrill went on to declare a $5.7 billion total write-down as of July 28. The company now hopes to raise another $8.5 billion by selling stock... a dramatic turnaround from Mr. Thain's position as recently as July 17, 2008.

What? Again?

Here is the fundamental problem with bank assets:

The banks say that their assets are worth whatever they want to say they are worth. One only knows what the market will pay when they are unloaded at fire sale prices.

In this case, Merrill's asset was worth 78.1% less than its original book value. Merrill's market value has fallen by almost the same percentage (from the $100 range in January 2007 to the $25 range today.)

Supposedly the credit default crisis is winding down.

What then explains Merrill's 39.6% devaluation of an $11.1 billion asset over the past 11 days alone?

I read today that another analyst has said we are in the seventh inning stretch.
If so, then it's either a double header, or this is the world series of bank disclosures.

My call - this is the 7th inning stretch of nothing....

There are a lot more impaired assets out there, and we'll be hearing about them for a long time to come.

The truth is, we don't know the real asset value of any of the financial companies exposed to these low quality repackaged financial vehicles. Any number is a guess, and in my view, that is not good enough information on which to base an investment decision - any investment decision!.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Global Debt Is a US Issue - It's That Simple!

25 July 2008, updated 28 July & 10 August 2008

I have previously referred to the work of the very dedicated independent researcher Michael W. Hodges.

I noticed today that Mr. Hodges has produced a single chart on his website that reveals exactly why the United States is now in such serious economic trouble.

Here it is.

What is the above chart telling us?

In brief, the US economy represents about 25% of world GDP.

In a world economy now impacted by the surging and emerging commodity, manufacturing and service-based economies of China, India, Russia, Brazil and others, as well as with the established economic powers in Europe, and also considering such powers as Japan, Australia, Canada and Mexico - that is truly impressive!

No wonder the US has been called the engine of the global economy....

Here is the problem.

The US has reached this place of ascendancy through debt accumulation rather than through savings and investment. This is the opposite position of the US at the beginning of the 20th century, and it spells big trouble for the US economy going forward.

What is the problem?

The United States, representing an incredible 25% of the world economy, also shoulders roughly 79% of all the world's government debt.

That's right.

The US population of 304.7 million people, representing only 4.5% of the world's population of 6 billion-712 million people, must now pay up on roughly 80% of all the world's government debts.

And the US government is growing its debt at a frightening clip, exceeding $4 trillion (or $45,000 per family) per year. (The accelerating rate of increase of the US debt position is driven in large part by escalating interest payments, which are now growing like Topsy!)

At this point, each individual American on average is going to have to cough up $207,000 to pay off this accumulated government debt.

Also keep in mind that Mr. Hodges' most comprehensive calculations of US debt and obligations at all levels, including state, district, municipal and individual debt, adds up to a figure of about $120 trillion, or $400,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

That is just too difficult for a mere 305 million people to pay.

In fact, it isn't going to happen - at least not without radical inflation (read devaluation) of the US dollar.

With the help of Michael Hodges, you saw it here.

The US cannot pay its bills except with a greatly devalued currency. And that is going to spell disorder for the world economy for many years to come.

Look our below!

By the way, the combined Republicans and Democrats are presently muscling some horrible legislation through the US Congress. The housing bailout bill, in a flamboyant display of group-think and responsibility-aversion, has just passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 272-152. This piece of pork will throw another estimated $41.7 billion taxpayer dollars at the reckless denizens of Wall Street who paid themselves millions of dollars per year as they packaged liar loans and negative equity mortgages to sell to global investors. The actual cost of this single piece of bailout legislation is estimated to exceed $100 billion. Whoever has been left holding these hot potatoes has lost roughly half their investment at this point, and the markdowns aren't done yet. Unfortunately the banks and the GSEs hold a large portfolio of this financial toxic waste. Once again, the Wall Street Journal has emerged as an honest voice, stating publicly how bad this wasteful legislation is. The editorial concludes: "The rescue will only delay a housing market bottom, and it may or may not help bank stocks. The one certainty is that taxpayers are assuming a huge new risk." Read all about it - here.

For more thoughtful WSJ opinion about Fannie, Freddie and bailout mania, click here.

28 July 2008:
More bad news for US taxpayers. The so-called "housing bill" has already been rushed heedlessly though Congress. And George Bush, the biggest-spending president in 30 years, isn't going to veto this turkey. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are both cheering the bill, indicating that neither candidate has really thought through the problematic issue of robbing the responsible in order to rescue the reckless (this issue is actually at the heart of the problem in its present state). Let's just tack another $300 billion to $1 trillion onto that taxpayer bill, shall we? I hope it is clear to you that these mounting bills are not going to be paid back with "real money." Devaluation of the currency is now the only way out for America's foundering ship of state. And this will clearly occur whether a Republican or a Democrat is elected.

Let me add a further note regarding Ron Paul. Mr. Paul is probably not right on every issue, but he is right on the biggest issue. The US has to stop its big spending now, because it simply lacks the means to pay the bills. I suspect that Mr. Paul's program will eventually be proven out. When America's international partners begin refusing to accept any more US debt issues (remember, these run at a net $700 billion per year), the nominal value of the US dollar will fall further, Americans' international purchasing power will take another big hit, and interest rates on treasury bills and bonds will climb to much higher levels (they are presently astonishingly low!). When America's international partners stop accepting its debts, the US government will then launch an austerity budget. It will have no choice!

A currency crisis looks to be in store for the United States, though it is always difficult to predict when it will take place. While "later" has so far proven to be the most accurate descriptor of the pace of unwinding of America's long emergency, "sooner" is at some point going to happen.

August 10, 2009: The feature film, I.O.U.S.A., is already showing at the film festivals, and is due for gradually wider release this month. It is an Agora Financial project, and aims to inform Americans how serious their debt crisis is. I'm looking forward to seeing this one. The film has been compared to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." The distinction? If the US doesn't rein in its free-spending ways, there will be no funds to bankroll new conservation measures. Economics in Greek basically means "household law." If we don't keep our own house in order, then new ideas in all areas will go neglected. The real question is if it is already too late. There will certainly be a crisis. The question is if we will be able to avert it when it breaks into the foreground.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Was Omar Khadr a “Child Soldier?”

5 November 2007, 5, 8, 11, 12 & 13 May, 27 July 2008, 25 October, 22 November 2010, 19 November 2012 (Updated)

CBC Radio did a short feature on
Omar Khadr this morning (November 5, 2007). He was described as a “child soldier.” His (recently updated and greatly expanded) story is well-documented on Wikipedia.

Omar is the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, one of Osama bin Laden’s senior lieutenants. The family lived in Peshawar from 1985 through 1997, though Omar was born in Toronto, and he and his family members are nominally Canadians. Omar, along with his siblings, was trained by al Qaeda, under the direction of Osama bin Laden. Omar’s family and bin Laden’s family associated with each other on a somewhat regular basis.

Omar, at age 15, was the only survivor in a July 27, 2002 battle with US forces in Afghanistan. There are various versions of his capture. In short, when found, he was originally reported to have killed one US soldier (Christopher James Speer) and injured three others. He was also injured in the confrontation, but then rescued and treated for his wounds. He was bleeding heavily, and would have died if not treated (according to the CBC).

More recent documents indicate that the grenade which injured the US soldiers, killing Sgt. Speer, may have been thrown by another militant. US courts in other rulings have determined that the throwing of the grenade was an act of terrorism, not an act of war. Video footage reveals that Khadr assisted in the burying of landmines and that he handled weapons and explosives with enthusiasm. Khadr's training by al Qaeda and his active involvement in al Qaeda activities (including statements of praise by Osama bin Laden) are well-documented. A recent biography (Guantanamo's Child) has just been released, authored by Michelle Sheppard. I have ordered but have not yet read the book, though I think the book's title makes no secret of its intended progressive ideological slant.

The point I wish to make – as indicated by the title of this piece – is not a semantic one.

Soldiers are members of armies who fight in battles and wars on behalf of governments or other entities having political status. If our country is at war with the army of which the soldier is a member, we have the option of making terms of peace or war with the political entity sponsoring that army. That is, we can declare war, propose a truce, offer our surrender, or declare victory following a decisive outcome in combat.

Al Qaeda is not a political entity with which it is possible to establish terms of either war or peace. We have no option as to engaging or not engaging, or even of surrendering to this “enemy.” This enemy has engaged the nations of the west on its own terms, focussing upon our full civilian population as its target. Al Qaeda is an unusual enemy in another respect, as it also has no army. Its agents – whether adults or children (and al Qaeda does not demonstrate concern as to whether its agents are adults or children) – are not soldiers. All, whether adults or children, and whether we find it palatable or not, are trained in the tactics of terror and violence.
Al Qaeda is a tightly-knit but widely dispersed totalitarian political movement utilizing terrorism and suppression of opposition as its primary mode of operation. Its adherents are agents of oppression, advocates of uniformity and proponents of the elimination of competing belief systems on an international scale.

The terrorist participants in this illegal international organization train their children to be terrorists.

However dangerous we may suppose the agents of al Qaeda to be, we can hold little doubt that the children trained by this extralegal underground network are as dangerous as the adults whom it has trained.

Al Qaeda's well-described training program is bone-chillingly militant and aggressive, devoid of human compassion, single-mindedly focused on the disruption of civilian life, all-encompassing in its ideological stance, puritanical in its preference for civilian attack versus the attainment of military objectives, and persistent in its impact on its participants. The fundamental lesson imparted by al Qaeda to its trainees is a simple two-element message: “Kill the infidels (meaning anyone, Muslim or otherwise, who does not adhere to their hate-fuelled belief system); and continue on to die a (so-called) martyr's death.”

Despite a smokescreen of intense ideological rhetoric, this organization is best understood by examining its actions rather than by attempting to grasp its ideology. The members of this extra-legal group view the killing and injury of civilians as their overarching mission. Al Qaeda dispatches no emissaries and maintains no embassies. It holds no plan of government or policy of international relations. The organization exists entirely outside the framework which makes it possible for international law to take on the meanings which (within our only partially law-governed international culture) we desire to ascribe to it.

The resources of al Qaeda are devoted entirely to the acquisition of explosives and weaponry and to the conversion and training of agents of destruction based on a rhetoric of hate. Terror is not a means to an end for this organization, but an end in itself. The more innocent civilians (or soldiers) who are killed and injured, and the greater the suffering and loss of their victims, the more glorious al Qaeda's victory.

Adherents of al Qaeda also view it as a supreme honour to be killed in carrying out their mission of death and destruction - and I suspect that this is so because these individuals hold out no more positive goals for their own lives than for those whom they intend to deprive of life, liberty, health and safety.
It is an unseemly fact that al Qaeda is recruiting adults and children alike with the single plan of injuring and killing their self-defined enemies at home and abroad. This organization has no other program. What we do or do not do will not alter their plan, as it is ideologically driven, and therefore fundamentally independent of the flow of world events.

The question as to how we are to respond to al Qaeda and the Islamic extremism it represents is before us. These current choices are more difficult than the past half century has prepared us for, and are by all means entirely shocking to our sensibilities. Yet we must now begin to formulate our responses to the present extraparadigmatic circumstances. The necessity of doing so will press upon us evermore as time drives us forward.

From our own cultural perspective, Omar Khadr was indeed a child at the time he allegedly murdered one US soldier and injured three additional US soldiers (or fought enthusiastically alongside the person or persons who did so). But he was not a soldier by any definition of the term that I am aware of.

I will leave it to you, the reader, to determine your own response to the following questions:
Was Omar Khadr an innocent victim of the terrorists who succored and trained him, twisting and distorting his thinking during the vulnerable developmental phases of childhood and adolescence? Was he too young to understand and comprehend the mission of death into which he had been recruited through the influences of his father, his other family members, and their associates? Do international legal standards pertaining to the treatment of child soldiers apply to him for such reasons, regardless of the status of the organization in which he participated, perhaps due in some large measure to a presumption of the application of direct or indirect coercion upon him as a child? 

Further, and perhaps idealistically, might it in some way be possible to rescue Omar Khadr from his exploitative circumstances and restore him to a peaceful, productive and cooperative way of life - in the same manner that our own lives are productive - whether in Canada or in the Muslim world? Given competing priorities (not the least being the compensation of the multitudes of victims of terror both at home and abroad), is it wise to allocate societal resources to the project of rehabilitating Omar Khadr and those like him? Might there be some higher benefit accruing to us due to the learning about fundamental principles of international human relations which might be gained from such a project?

Alternatively, was Omar Khadr a committed - perhaps reflexive - child terrorist, fully (or partially) responsible for sharing and invoking the brutal vision of the organization (into which he was assimilated essentially from birth) that recruited, guided and trained him, and to which we can only assume he had sworn allegiance to the death? Was his conditioning, based on lifelong family participation and organizational membership, so early and deep that it is fundamentally irreversible? Were his personal motives and intentions inseparably allied with those of the adult terrorists with whom he lived, trained, decreed jihad and battled side-by-side? Was he functioning under the auspices of an extra-legal terrorist organization that itself makes no recognition of international law, and expects no such legal status for its members? 

Further, does Omar Khadr demonstrate any desire to change and to reconcile himself to peaceful coexistence with the peoples of the west - or even with that great portion of Muslims who do not condone al Qaeda and its methods? Is the cost of rehabilitating terrorists - whether children or otherwise - greater than the resources our society can bring to bear on this problem, given the plethora of unaddressed challenges that already confront us closer to home - or that are more central to the core principles of our society? Finally, is rehabilitation the wrong question - a Quixotic venture that will only lead us astray while we remain susceptible to further attack by those whose only intention is to do us harm?

Proceeding further - stretching beyond these initial questions - was Omar Khadr
an innocent child victim and a committed international terrorist, concurrently? Or, yet again, was he - is he now - something other than either of these diverse but inherently constraining portrayals might allow?

I encourage you to exercise your own judgement in answering the above questions.

It is indisputable that the recruitment of children into hostilities by any organization is treated as a war crime under international law, making clear that al Qaeda itself is an international criminal organization, and that their recruitment of Omar Khadr was a criminal act.

Around the world, thousands of children are now being born into the families of individuals who have committed themselves to the totalitarian and genocidal ideologies of various Islamic extremist movements. The children of these persons will surely be raised to give comfort to and to stand beside terrorists if not to practise terrorism themselves. They will do so in the company of their parents, their school teachers, their religious leaders, and many other members of their families and communities.

Conditioning of this type is very difficult to reverse. It raises an entirely different set of questions than does the matter of child soldiers in settings such as Africa, where children recruited into combat are separated from their families and inculcated in ideologies that are incongruent with prior family and community practice.

Omar Khadr, during his developing years, was one of this multitude of Islamic children being raised in extremist environments. As has already occurred in the case of Omar Khadr, we can expect that we will surely be facing such persons in future battles for many years to come. That these future combatants will have been recruited into jihad through their families as children will in most cases not be a concern to us when we face them in battle, whether as children (from our point of view) or as adults.

I submit, therefore, that the most difficult element for us in the story of Omar Khadr is not that he was imputedly a child soldier, but rather that as an individual born in Canada, his story is more approachable to us than are the stories, for example, of the children of the madrasahs of Waziristan. Our egalitarian instincts drive us to attempt to treat him as we would any other Canadian child. This reflex is less automatic in the case of children born to foreign cultures in foreign lands.

(The politics of Waziristan - again for example - are complex, with Islamic radicalism there driven by the region's conservative native Pashtun tribespeople, an ascendant Taliban movement, and the influx of al Qaeda and other radical elements. Click here for analysis from US News & World Report.)

We know little about the children who are being raised into extremist environments across the Islamic world. Yet it is almost certain that we will be engaging such children in battle - whether we desire to or not - while continuing to conduct operations in the region with the intention of stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing to an end its role as an international terrorist haven.

Those who are the children of Islamic extremists now will emerge as adults later, and we will be in no position to make subtle differentiations in response to their targeted attacks on civilians in public places (
these organizations certainly draw no distinction between adults and children in such attacks), or their attacks on health workers, aid workers, teachers, elected representatives, other leaders, suspected collaborators - and of course, soldiers - both our own and native Afghani troops.

Taken in context, Omar Khadr stands as a symbol, if you will, of a rising tide of Islamic youth who are being drawn into radical causes, with the full intention on the part of their families that they will do battle with infidels both at home and abroad as participants in a global jihadist movement.

Therefore, I will permit you to refer to Omar Khadr as a child (at the time of his capture) if this is your preference, though I consider this characterization of him questionable in his own cultural context (that is, while we would view him as a child, that was not a matter of concern to his recruiters, including his family members).

Additionally, it is certainly reasonable that you take full consideration of the extent to which Omar Khadr was surely exploited and his life misused by the criminal organization in which he was raised. But understand - Omar Khadr was not a child stolen from his family and forced into battle. He was raised at the outset to do exactly what he was engaged in doing when American troops encountered him and his comrades in arms on that fateful day in July 2002, one of the American soldiers giving his life in this confrontation (whatever direct or indirect role that Khadr played in his demise).

Omar Khadr's family were brazen enough to groom their son for his well-documented position in the international jihadist movement (in which he was
apparently already fully active at the time of his capture), while simultaneously taking advantage of the full benefits of their Canadian citizenship. These benefits were accorded to Omar Khadr and his family while they were fully occupied with a leadership role in a movement intended to subvert Canada and the nations of the West.

Call Omar Khadr a child, call him exploited, call him a victim - if this is what you believe - but please, don't refer to Omar Khadr as a child soldier. This is where I draw the line. That he was not. Neither in the contexts of historical precedent nor international law.

5 May 2008: The trial judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, has indeed just ruled that this young man is not a child soldier. While this ruling has aroused controversy, I believe the judge is quite right in reaching this finding on this particular question of law and procedure. Click here for the Reuters story on Yahoo!, or here for the National Post version of the story.

8 May 2008: Due to frequent views of this post, I have substantially edited the text (above) in order to clarify the specific ethical questions I am attempting to raise. I wish to distinguish the question of Omar Khadr's presumed mistreatment as a child by his family and by al Qaeda, the organization to which they adhere, from the narrower but also important question of Omar Khadr's right to be treated as a child soldier under international law.

In brief, I see no easy answers to the question of his status as a child accused of assault, murder and perhaps other crimes before the courts. Certainly, the applicable evidence as to what he did or did not do should be fully weighed in a court of justice. That he was actively engaged in both the practice and support of terrorism does not appear to be in question, though there are obvious nuances to be considered, due to the focus of his activity in the Afghan context. Perhaps Omar Khadr has been wrongfully accused of the particular offenses with which he is presently charged. In this case, it is the task of the court to determine if this is or is not so.

What troubles me is the notion that an active and committed member of a terrorist organization, whether a child or not, has the right under international law to be treated as a child soldier, with the implication that rehabilitation is the primary issue at stake.

That is, the indisputably optimistic presumption of international law is that child soldiers can be rehabilitated. I have no such certainty or confidence regarding children subject to the lifelong indoctrination and training of extralegal and particularly blatantly terrorist organizations whose agents and operatives do not belong to armies consistent with any kind of historical precedent, and who often reside in communities that fully condone or at least openly tolerate their activities.

Am I certain as to whether Omar Khadr, specifically, can or cannot be rehabilitated? I am not. Perhaps he can be and perhaps he cannot be. That will depend upon the particulars of the case and on the particulars of his individual makeup, which are not known to me.

However, I object to the simplistic presumption that rehabilitation is the primary issue in Omar Khadr's case because, within our own cultural context - not his - he is (or was) a child at the time of his alleged offenses.

Further, it troubles me, as is typical in our discourse on current events, that the media focus on the story of the offender - in this case - Omar Khadr - rather than on the stories of the four victims, about whom we are told little, if anything at all, and one of whom, due to the loss of his life, allegedly at this young man's hands, though possibly at the hands of one of Khadr's compatriots, no longer has a story that can be told.

The final chapter of the story of Sergeant First Class (SFC) Christopher James Speer's life - this chapter both heroic and tragic in its essence - has already been written. While the stories of the dead can be told and retold by those who remember them, they are embellishments of the past, and no portion remains for future events. The door to Sgt. Speer's hopes, dreams, plans and goals remains forever closed. It is the alleged actions of Omar Khadr (and/or the terrorist operatives with whom he stood) that have sealed the last chapter of Sgt. Speer's life, and it is the nature of Omar Khadr's responsibility for this act - including the question of his direct or indirect involvement - that is now in question.

As a rule, we discuss the rights of the perpetrators of crime more easily than we do the rights of its victims, and this continues to trouble me. This is a problem of our society, not that of the Khadr family. (Islamic societies typically make haste with the prosecution and punishment of offenders, adhering to standards of evidence - and considerations of age - much less circumspect than our own.) The fact that Omar Khadr was a child, and his four alleged victims adults, does not in any manner reassure me that he is entitled to the rights of a child soldier as presently defined under international law, whether his part in causing injury and death to the soldiers was direct or indirect.

Strikingly, not only is it difficult to learn about Omar Khadr's victims through regular media channels, a web search for "omar khadr victim" will return endless entries in which Khadr himself is portrayed as a victim. Information about his victims will not be uncovered by such a straightforward search. (Setting aside the incident presently before the courts, we do not know, for example, how many innocent persons - children included - may have been killed or injured while travelling across the mine fields that Khadr and his colleagues salted along local roads.)

Again, the portrayal of Khadr as a victim may not be entirely wrong, but it is certainly not wholly right, offering further evidence that the dead and injured that Khadr and his associates left behind have virtually no one to speak for them, even among their countrymen, whose rights and safety they fought, died and sustained injury to preserve.

In cases such as that of Omar Khadr, we face far more difficult questions than those pertaining to his status as a so-called child soldier.

In my view, the concept of the "child soldier," and particularly its reflexive misapplication by presumptive defenders of the rights of children in regard to Omar Khadr, is more a distraction than an aid in a case such as this one.

New links - 11 May 2008:

60 Minutes November 2007 video and story here.

Omar Khadr: A Most Peculiar Young Offender - March 22, 2008 Globe & Mail editorial, scribed by Sean Fine. An articulate example of what I would consider to be "old paradigm" logic. I do not pretend to be able to give voice to a new paradigm by which we will be able to formulate a coherent response to the fact that we are presently facing a rising tide of postnational terrorism which in all of its aspects is contrary to the principles of law, justice and due process to which the nation states of our era presume to have advanced, or to the associated and unpalatable fact that terrorists have families within which they raise their own children to be adherents to an agenda of genocide, but I do wish to draw the reader's attention to the fact that the Globe & Mail's seductively passionate editorial in fact entirely skirts the most difficult issues at the cutting edge of the still inchoate post-September 11 paradigm.

The unavailability of an applicable paradigm for understanding our new era has forced the author of this editorial to depict Khadr not as a child soldier, but as a "young offender," likening his situation to that faced by youths who stand before the Canadian criminal justice system under the April 1, 2003 Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act.

(I have considered alternative scenarios in which concerned Canadians might have cast Omar Khadr's case. For example, with no greater irony than in Mr. Fine's analysis, Canadians could very sincerely cast the problem as a child protection issue. Within the Canadian context, this would be an entirely defensible presumption. Such a portrayal of young Khadr's dilemma obviously breaks down rapidly when one considers how Canadian social workers might attempt to assure Omar's presumed rights as a Canadian child in the tribal regions of Afghanistan. We would certainly have been reluctant to dispatch our social workers to an al Qaeda lair in the Afghan hinterland in order to secure this particular child's rights under Canadian family law. The obvious implication is that it is difficult if not impossible to conceive how the standards of Canadian law could apply in circumstances such as those of young Omar Khadr, and I believe the same difficulty bears on Mr. Fine's analogy, if that is what it is. To be honest, I have considered many times the potential of exploring this dilemma by writing a stage play - working title, "Protecting Omar" (c) - in which a team of idealistic Canadian social workers is dispatched to Afghanistan to confront Omar's parents about their neglect and mistreatment of him, then to attempt to apprehend Omar and to return him to a "culturally appropriate" Canadian foster home. It might be worth illustrating the maze of dilemmas that such a set of presumptions would create in the context of live theatre.)

As has so far most often been the case with our efforts to define Omar Khadr's status, formulating his story as a Canadian youth criminal justice issue lets slip loose more truth than it is able to capture. The presumptions of the author vaporize rapidly against the harsh backdrop of international jihad within which young Khadr's narrative unfolds.

What I do know is that in an earlier era (when the status, security and hegemony of nation states remained unquestioned), we would have responded differently than we do now to a family in our midst who were raising their children to subvert and disrupt the nation which has given them shelter and sustenance, with the concurrent intention of imposing by force of arms a genocidal religious dictatorship in a foreign land where agents allied with them were being trained at the same time to suppress and brutalize religious moderates in their own society (as well as all local non-adherents of their totalitarian ideology, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and others) and simultaneously - and quite expansively - declaring religious war (jihad) against the entire societies of the west.

How we can apply the full set of Canadian legal principles in the cases of persons whose lives are entirely devoted to wholly overthrowing exactly these same principles is a mystery to me, though I agree that there surely must exist some middle ground which must be held while seeking a resolution of this dilemma.

Please permit me, therefore, to state the problem face on.

Somewhere over the intervening half century or more, the concept of treason has evaporated, and with it, the allied notion of sedition. We have no updated set of ideas with which to replace these historic pillars of federal and international law. By as yet unidentified means, we will have to generate a new conceptual framework within which to recapture the sensibilities of an earlier age without altogether sacrificing a century or more of presumptive cultural evolution and psychological insight.

The current situation does not afford us the luxury of unlimited time in determining what this fresh accommodation will be. Whatever "new paradigm" comes to pass will be given its ultimate shape through our practices in such cases as that of Omar Khadr. My overarching concern is that we define the entire range of dilemmas we now face clear-headedly, including far-reaching questions bearing on public protection and safety. We must concomitantly call to mind that our present decisions are forming our future habits of responding, and therefore giving shape to our longer-term strategic response to the unreservedly terrorist and totalitarian tactics of the Islamic extremist movement.

12 May 2008 - Note on prisoner management practices at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp: In my view, the inmates at Guantanamo, as suspected terrorists, should be considered dangerous prisoners. I am supportive of the use of the death penalty for terrorists without major reservations. However, I oppose the use of torture or prisoner mistreatment for any purposes. Torture is illegal, it is ineffective, and it narrows the distinction between who we are and the people whose practices we oppose.

Regarding the alternative adjudication system at Guantanamo, this is a topic I have not researched, and it is beyond the scope of my knowledge to comment on this matter. It does seem reasonable to me that some sort of alternative adjudication method should be applied in cases of terrorism, given the sensitivity of the information obtained - and the associated life-and-death consequences - in investigations of terrorism.

By analogy, the investigation of terrorism has some parallels to investigations of organized crime, though obviously the stakes are dramatically higher in addressing the challenges posed by terrorism. There are far-reaching concerns bearing on witness protection, the consequences of failure to prosecute and convict, public protection and liability issues, etc.

Is it unreasonable to surmise that those who choose to involve themselves in terrorist activities have already decided to play outside the rules to which the remainder of us have submitted? Are we not discussing logical consequences of blatantly illegal and inarguably antisocial actions on a global scale?

New Link: Jerry Z. Muller: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism, Foreign Affairs. Suggested in comment by "Neo-Jackson." See comments section for this post. By the way, this particular comment is in my view brilliantly insightful, and greatly strengthens the case I have attempted to establish in the present post, albeit tentatively. (And no, Neo-Jackson is not I, posting to myself. This is a real person other than I whose thinking - though more strictly conservative than mine - is in accord with my own on this matter.)

13 May 2008 (New and additional links to this story): Today Senator Romeo Dallaire referred to Omar Khadr as clearly a child soldier, and called for his return to Canada for rehabilitation and reintegration into Canadian society. I cannot overstate the degree to which I admire and respect Senator Dallaire for his work in the area of human rights protection. However, in this case, I clearly differ with him. Nonetheless, this is a great man with important views to be expressed. You may read Senator Dallaire's comments here.
Child soldier's rehab offers lessons for Khadr: This optimistic story of the rehabilitation of a child soldier to my mind reveals more the contrasts of Omar Khadr's story with that of a "typical" child soldier who presently lives as a rehabilitated member of Canadian society. Michelle Sheppard composed this story for the Toronto Star.

The Case for Omar Khadr - Liveblogging the Subcommittee on International Human Rights: From my perspective, this story represents mainstream coverage of the Khadr case. The difficult questions are not broached.

Omar Khadr - Coming of Age in a Guantanamo Bay Jail Cell: This 2007 CBC story illuminates important background factors in Khadr's upbringing. The information provided is of great relevance to my core argument (a four-paragraph excerpt follows):

"The complexity of the Khadr case is heightened by his upbringing as the youngest in a family of al-Qaeda sympathizers who considered religious martyrdom, being a suicide-bomber, as a supreme calling. Omar's father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an associate of Osama bin Laden and a reputed financier of al-Qaeda operations. He was killed in October 2003 by Pakistani forces. One of Omar's older brothers, Abdullah Khadr, is in jail in Toronto and is fighting a U.S. extradition request for terrorism-related crimes.

"The Rolling Stone article says Omar's father used to tell his children, 'If you love me, pray that I will get martyred.' He urged his sons to be suicide-bombers, saying it would bring "honour" to the family. He actually warned his son Abdurahman, 'If you ever betray Islam, I will be the one to kill you.'

"The Khadr family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1988, when Omar was two. Four years later, in 1992, Omar's father Ahmed nearly was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan. Ahmed and his family returned to Toronto, but when Ahmed recovered the Khadr family returned to Pakistan and soon found themselves back in Afghanistan where they lived in a large compound with bin Laden.

"The U.S. government says this was about the time Omar and his older brothers Abdullah and Abdurahman attended a military camp that provided instruction on handguns, assault rifles, bomb-making and combat tactics. Omar was 14 on Sept. 11, 2001."

27 July 2008: Much new information is now surfacing as Omar Khadr's defenders mount a case built on the premise that Sgt. Speer was killed with an American-made hand grenade in a "friendly fire" incident.

The new information is summarized in a National Post feature, entitled, "Khadr victim killed by friendly fire: lawyers." Excerpts from this article follow:

"Although al-Qaeda suspects were still alive in the compound, U.S. soldiers entered. 'Based on our interviews,' Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said, 'it appears that at least two U.S. soldiers threw hand grenades.'

"Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said none of the interviewed soldiers 'suggested that Speer was hit by friendly fire,' and one, Sgt. Layne Morris, told the National Post this week that he had seen Mr. Khadr, then 15, 'crouched in the rubble waiting for U.S. troops to get close enough so he could take one of them out.'

"Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler, who counters Sgt. Morris had been injured and evacuated from the scene ahead of the final assault, argues that had four, instead of just two, 500-lb. bombs been dropped, and the Mark 19 worked, 'there is a very good chance that the last individuals in the compound, including Omar, would have been killed, and Sgt. Speer [would be] alive today.'

"Mr. Khadr's taped discussion of conditions in the compound ahead of the battle is among a number of scenes that did not make the ten minutes of 'highlights' released early Tuesday by the Canadian lawyers defending Mr. Khadr, who work closely with Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler.

"Although the lawyers later that day released all seven hours - they show Mr. Khadr being interrogated over four days in February, 2003 - there has been little to no publicity given to scenes Mr. Khadr's prosecutors are more likely to have focused on.

"In one he talks about his brothers receiving six months of training - with the interrogator asking if it was to learn about 'infantry' and 'rifles,' and Mr. Khadr himself citing 'grenades.' Mr. Khadr also says his father put them through it 'for self defence.'
"In another scene in which mines are mentioned, Mr. Khadr agrees with the interrogator's assessment that 'the whole purpose ... was to take them apart, to use them as an explosive.'"Mr. Khadr says his father dropped him off at the compound near Khost - and the interrogator notes the multilingual youth had said it was to serve as a translator."The interrogator draws out of Mr. Khadr that Afghans and at least two Arabs were present, and there was talk of attacking the Northern Alliance - the U.S.-allied Afghan group that had opposed Taliban rule in Afghanistan."

Khadr family members speak: Omar Khadr's mother reportedly continues to make aggressively anti-Canadian statements as Khadr's defenders attempt to portray him as a Canadian citizen. She has recently stated in a television interview (according to a comment posted at this site) that she "would never raise a son in Canada, because all Canadian boys are gay or on drugs." She reportedly added that she was "proud" to have her son "train in Bin Laden’s camp."

Omar Khadr himself has attributed his presence in the building where the conflict with allied forces occurred to his father's placing him there, allegedly as a translator. He has stated, "What was my mistake? Being in a house where my father put me?"

Omar Khadr's sister Zaynab Khadr has taken a high profile in the cases of Omar Khadr and his brother Abdullah Khadr, as well as in other Canadian terrorism cases, as she has attended the bail and preliminary hearings for the men and youths arrested for plotting far-reaching terrorist actions in Canada in 2006. She maintained that many of the accused were "family friends."

Zaynab Khadr's arranged wedding at an al Qaeda compound was attended by Osama bin Laden. Her husband is an Egyptian terrorist named Khalid Abdullah - a follower of Ayman al-Zawahiri who is now in hiding from authorities following his reported participation in the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan in 1995.

Additionally, many links to the present whereabouts of "multiple al Qaeda veterans" were obtained following the seizure of Zaynab Khadr's laptop computer in 2005 (upon her return to Canada at that time). Both Zaynab Khadr and her mother are prohibited from leaving Canada, not for security reasons, but because they can no longer be granted passports due to reporting the loss of their passports on an excessive number of occasions.

Other comments from Khadr's mother and sister, as well as further details about the release of his interrogation videos, can be obtained in this July 15, 2008 Global News Network story.

25 October 2010: Just to wrap things up, Mr.Khadr has pleaded guilty today on all counts

According to the Associated Press news story, "The now 24-year-old prisoner, who was seriously wounded when he was seized in a gunbattle in 2002, admitted to throwing a grenade that killed a special forces medic during a fierce raid on an al-Qaida compound. He also pleaded guilty to building and planting roadside bombs and receiving weapons training from al-Qaida. He is the last Western detainee at Guantanamo."
Due to many levels of controversy, this verdict will certainly not satisfy all critics. To sum up, Omar Khadr is one of probably hundreds of thousands of young people who have been raised in a family and community setting where extremist/terrorist views are condoned. 

While this might sound superficially like the description of a child soldier, it is in fact a description of the most typical of our present and future enemies. He has not been ripped out of a family or community context to practice terror, but raised in a terrorist family, in which the highest ideal is to violate the rights and safety of innocent civilians - that is, you and me - as we are branded as "infidels" by an extremist culture.

Though from our viewpoint Mr. Khadr's life story is tragic, his number is legion. The extremists we will meet on future battlefields - and who will practice terror in our cities and communities - are exactly the same. These are precisely the people whom we will send soldiers to battle in future wars. As a trained mine-builder, Mr. Khadr has already killed and injured those fighting on our behalf. 

It is perhaps a paradox of the nature of our own news media (it would be quite different in the Islamic world) that we hear more sympathetic voices raised for Mr. Khadr than for his victims - those who represented our interests and safety abroad, specifically Christopher Speer, whom he murdered, and Layne Morris, who lost his eye in the battle in which Mr. Khadr was ultimately apprehended. 

In future, let's hear more of Sgt. Speer and Sgt. Morris, though no less of Mr. Khadr. It is a sad fact of our world that there are legions from whence Mr. Khadr has come. Thus, understanding and treating him better might offer us greater insight into the thousands more arrayed against us who are so much like him. 

Fundamentally, there is nothing unique about Omar Khadr or his circumstances, apart from the twist of fate that led to his being raised in Canada. He is one of millions who have been raised in the culture of terror. Though his story is common, perhaps his Canadian citizenship may open doors to increased mutual understanding, whether or not for mutual reconciliation. 

I for one would far prefer that we lived in a world where children are not groomed for terrorism by their parents and their teachers, but alas, that is not the world we inhabit! It is tough for him, tough for the many who are like him, and tough for us. But that's the way it is.

(19 November 2012) As time has passed, it has become more important to me that if in some way Mr. Khadr's story can somehow be retold, perhaps that might still offer hope for a broader process of change and understanding across an unimaginably deep cultural abyss. If the fact that he spent many of his formative years in Canada could possibly make a difference, it might still be worthwhile to search for ways to build on that - while never forgetting that we are dealing with a "hard" story about determined and brutal adversaries who wish us no good. 

22 November 2010 - (from Wikipedia):

Guilty Plea

On October 25, 2010, Khadr pled guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, two counts of providing material support for terrorism and spying. [202] [203] Under the plea deal, Khadr would serve one more year in Guantanamo Bay, and be returned to Canada, but Canadian authorites denied Khadr would be repatriated as part of any agreement.[204]

This plea deal was negotiated between Lieutenant Colonel Jon S. Jackson, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the White House. It is reported the prosecutors objected to the deal but ultimately the Convening Authority agreed with Lieutenant Colonel Jackson's proposal and accepted the deal. The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs said in Parliament during Oral Question period that Canada was not involved in the agreement between Khadr and the US government, but when asked about an exchange of diplomatic notes indicating that Canada is inclined to favourably consider a request from Khadr for a transfer to Canada after one year, he said Canada would implement the agreement.[205] [206]

Reportedly, Khadr will spend the next year in near solitary confinement in the section of Guantanamo reserved for the two prisoners who have been convicted in the Military Commission system, a Taliban cook and an Al Qaeda propagandist.[207]

However, Khadr has also apologized for his actions. This is the behaviour of an adult, not a "child"
As reported by the Huffington Post, Khadr stated, "I'm really, really sorry for the pain I've caused you and your family," said Khadr, standing in the witness stand. "I wish I could do something that would take away your pain."

As he spoke, Speer gripped the armrests of her chair and shook her head. After he stepped down, and the jury had left the room, she cried and hugged a victim's representative who has accompanied her to the court sessions....

Khadr, now 24, admitted killing her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, as part of his plea deal. He also acknowledged placing 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan and spying on U.S. convoys to assess the best ways to attack them. Prosecutors said Khadr was a terrorist and war criminal – a claim challenged by critics of the tribunals – because he was not a legitimate soldier in the battle.

My take... possibly Khadr's apology was motivated by his (already noted) extensive Al Qaeda training. The Al Qaeda agent is instructed always to decieve the infidel. Then again, perhaps he is also responding as an adult to his present situation.

I remain convinced that Mr. Khadr was never a "child soldier." Note the following:
(Mrs Speer) reminded Khadr, and the military jury considering his sentence, that he had an opportunity to escape the compound with other children and women who were permitted by U.S troops to leave at the start of the battle.

"You had your choice and you stayed," she told him in an hour of often emotional testimony that left some audience members in tears as photos of her dead husband and his two young children were played on a screen in the front of the courtroom.

Khadr bowed his head at the defense table and did not look up as the widow spoke to him. Later, he apologized to her in an unsworn statement, a maneuver that allowed him to address the court without having to face questions from the prosecution yet still make his most extensive public comments since his capture (as described above).

Omar Khadr - not a child soldier.

Omar Khadr - now a responsible adult?

Possibly yes. His public statements inspire confidence that he has matured, despite the misleading "child soldier" rhetoric.

Everything we do will make more sense from here on out if we treat Mr. Khadr as a responsible individual - from start to finish.

From my ethical perspective, Mr. Khadr may yet prove himself to be a better man than his apologists and defenders. More credit to him for his ongoing adult behaviour!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Swiss Franc Is Still Strong

20 July & 9 August 2008

On November 9, 2007, within days of the start of its current move upwards, I recommended that Canadian buy the Swiss Franc.

On July 15, 2008, I noted that Switzerland, along with Japan, is one of only two major world powers to be managing its money supply conservatively (that is, to be refraining from the practice of inflating the money supply in order to finance irresponsible government behaviour).

Accordingly, I though it might be timely once again to examine the value of the Swiss Franc relative to the Canadian dollar.

I have done that, and have reached two conclusions.

1. From a technical perspective, the Swiss Franc still has ample room to increase against the Canadian dollar - even though it has already gained 25% since its early November 2007 low. This can be seen in the moderate values of the RSI and MACD indicators, as well as the evident position of the Swiss Franc at the midpoint of its relative position against the Canadian currency over the past 12 years.

2. Fundamentals also favour the continuing recovery of the Swiss Franc. The Swiss are refraining from inflation of their money supply, and global realities no longer support the borrowing of the Swiss Franc to win more lucrative gains in other currencies. It is becoming too risky to borrow at low interest rates in conservatively managed currencies to make investments in high risk currencies that are managed irresponsibly - the US dollar being a prime example of this latter case.

The chart for the Swiss Franc against the Canadian dollar since 1996, presented above, reveals that the Franc has already won a tidy 25% gain against the relatively strong Canadian Loonie. But the Swiss manage their currency more conservatively than do we Canadians - and so, in my view, the Swiss Franc can rise further still. Its time to increase is not yet done!

Here is a list of my blog entries concerning the Swiss Franc:

1. Canadians, Buy the Swiss Franc Now!

2. The Swiss Franc Continues To Climb in Canadian Dollars.

3. My first compliment from Fleck.

4. Currencies 101.

5. Another Swiss Franc Buying Opportunity for Canadians.

6. All You Need To Know About Global Money Supply in One Place.

7. The Swiss Franc Is Still Strong.

. Use "FXF" (CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust) To Buy the Swiss Franc.

9. Gold is Better Than the Swiss Franc.

10. Swiss Franc Alert.

11. Gold Isn't Gaining All That Much... In Canadian Dollars!

Addendum: Many visitors to this site have enquired about how to purchase the Swiss Franc. The most direct method is simply to purchase Swiss Francs from a currency dealer. In Canada, Custom House Currency Exchange offers competitive rates. You may also wish to contact your broker about an exchange-traded fund or a Swiss Franc government bond (which would pay interest on your investment, but could be subject to decline in value even if the currency itself rises relative to other currencies). Additionally, some banks permit investors to maintain foreign currency accounts. Sophisticated investors may wish to enter this trade through purchasing futures contracts or other types of options, such as calls. Many brokers specialize in foreign currency purchases, so I suggest that you start with a broker familiar to you. As I understand it, Pamela and Mary Anne Aden at Aden Research, for example, will execute foreign currency trades for their customers. But for those who don't know how, simply purchasing the currency from a competitive currency trader (possibly your local bank, or a trader recommended by your bank) will be a good place to get started. Ideally the "spread" between the buy and ask price for the currency should be less than 4 cents on the dollar (roughly 4%). That is, you should not pay a premium of greater than 2% to purchase the currency. This being said, my own experience with currency dealers is that it is very difficult to exchange currencies in this idealized range. Our local broker's rates are much higher, for example. Never exchange currencies in large amounts at airports, hotels and other locations that are charging large premiums to provide a convenience service to travellers. Look for the best rates any time you exchange currencies!

August 5, 2008:
As currency purchases at fair exchange rates are extremely difficult to obtain, I am now recommending that mainstream investors simply purchase the FXF exchange traded notes, "CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust" (denominated in US dollars) through their broker. This exchange traded note uses the interest on its deposits to cover the management fees of the fund, with the result that you will receive modest interest income via this method.

Note (9 August 2008): Most global currencies happen to be weak against the US dollar right now, as the US market is presently driven by the fantasy that the US government's now $800 billion rescue of the financial system by "nationalizing" the government sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and using taxpayer money to guarantee worthless bank assets will make everything "all right again." That fantasy will persist for a season, and then it will fade, as all fantasies do.

In the meantime, the Swiss Franc may not have bottomed for US investors. However, I note that the Franc is holding up fine against the Canadian dollar, as both are under pressure versus the US dollar, which is presently enjoying a transient upward move due primarily to concerns about the stability of the Euro. Pamela and Mary Ann Aden advise that the market value of the Euro is presently stronger than that of the Swiss Franc. My own take is that the Swiss Franc clearly possesses superior fundamentals compared to the Euro, which relies upon the historically unproven concept of international cooperation (don't expect the cooperation of the European countries to be maintained in hard times or in crisis!).

October 11, 2008: If you're interested in Swiss Franc Government Bonds, here is a recommendation from WikiAnswers. This brief note recommends EuroPacific Capital. Its C.E.O. and Chief Global Strategist, Peter Schiff, is a long-term US dollar bear who saw the present economic meltdown coming years ago. EuroPacific Capital is a secure and well-managed company, and I can certainly vouch for the reputation of Mr. Schiff, whose articles on the mismanaged US economy I have been reading for years on Safehaven.

While I am currently recommending gold as a superior store of value to the Swiss Franc, gold trades as both a commodity and a currency, with the result that its market price is much more volatile. If you are a long-term buy-and-hold investor, gold will certainly outperform the Swiss Franc as a long-term store of value. But if you don't like $100 price moves in a day (gold has had two such moves in the past month - including only yesterday!), then holding the Swiss Franc may prove less unsettling.