CIA-funded corruption: Karzai admits to being on secret US payroll

Top Afghan officials have been on the CIA’s payroll for over a decade, receiving tens of millions of US dollars in cash. Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted to receiving the clandestine financial support, but dismissed the sum as a “small amount.”

A New York Times report has revealed that unparalleled corruption in the Afghan government has been encouraged by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Since the start of the decade-long war, CIA agents have delivered cash to Afghan officials in “suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags.”

“We called it ‘ghost money,’” said Khalil Roman, President Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, adding that it “came in secret, and it left in secret.” There is no evidence that President Karzai was a recipient of any of the money, as Afghan officials claim the cash was distributed by president’s National Security Council, the report said.

Russia Today, Moscow

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Political corruption and the ‘free trade’ racket

In polite circles in the United States, support for free trade is a bit like proper bathing habits: It is taken for granted. Only the hopelessly crude and unwashed would not support free trade.

There is some ground for this attitude. Certainly, the US has benefited enormously by being able to buy a wide range of items at lower cost from other countries. However, this does not mean that most people in the country have always benefited from every opening to greater trade.

And it certainly does not mean that the country will benefit from everything that those in power label as “free trade”. That is the story we are seeing now as the Obama administration is pursuing two major “free trade” agreements that in fact have very little to do with free trade and are likely to hurt those without the money and power to be part of the game.

The deals in questions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both being pushed as major openings to trade that will increase growth and create jobs. In fact, eliminating trade restrictions is a relatively small part of both agreements, since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated.

Dean Baker

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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This gold price fall is a bad omen

After years of attracting strong demand from fearful investors, a crash in gold prices on Monday caught the financial world on the hop.

In London the price was officially “fixed” at $1,395 per troy ounce, down 9.2% from Friday. Eight hours later on the New York market, the price for immediate delivery was down 9.1% from Friday at $1,365 an ounce. Most other commodity prices fell in gold’s wake. By Monday evening Brent oil fell below $100 a barrel for the first time since July 2012.

The sudden collapse of gold left brokers and bloggers scratching their heads for explanations. Whatever the cause, it must be big to have such an impact. And gold’s special place in finance means there will be repercussions.

Tom Lines

The Guardian, United Kingdom

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Organised crime worth $90bn year in East Asia

Organised crime gangs dealing in fake goods, drugs, human trafficking, and the illicit wildlife trade earn nearly $90bn annually in East Asia and the Pacific, a UN report reveals.

In a report released on Tuesday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said drug trafficking accounted for more than a third of the illegal transnational trade.

The report, named “Transnational Organised Crime in East Asia and the Pacific: A Threat Assessment”, says that as much as $16.3bn worth of heroin and $15bn of methamphetamine are traded annually in the region.

“These transnational criminal activities are a global concern now,” Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative of the UN agency, said in a statement.

“Illicit profits from crimes in East Asia and the Pacific can destabilise societies around the globe,” Douglas said.

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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When hunger came to Egypt

Egyptians are getting hungry. The fall of the Egyptian pound to just 60% of its 2012 exchange rate against the dollar has priced everything but bread out of the reach of the poorer half of the population, and the bread supply is now at risk.

The news late last week that Libya and Qatar may lend US$5 billion to Egypt was overshadowed by reports that Cairo owes $5 billion to the oil companies that produce oil and gas on its territory. Half of the amount is overdue, and oil companies reportedly expect to wait years for payment. Egypt’s arrears on trade credits from suppliers of oil, wheat, and other essential items probably exceed its $8.8 billion cash reserves, leaving the country flat broke.


Asia Times Online

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The truth about extreme global inequality

The crisis of capital, the rise of the Occupy movement and the crash of Southern Europe have brought the problem of income inequality into mainstream consciousness in the West for the first time in many decades. Now everyone is talking about how the richest 1 percent have captured such a disproportionate share of wealth in their respective countries. This point came crashing home once again when an animated video, illustrating wealth disparities in the US, went viral last month. When an infographic catches the attention of tens of millions of internet users, you know it is hitting a nerve.

But the global scale of inequality remains largely absent from this story. So we at /The Rules decided to put together a video that would give it some attention.

While this information is not new, it is still startling. In the video we say that the richest 300 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest 3bn – almost half the world’s population. We chose those numbers because it makes for a clear and memorable comparison, but in truth the situation is even worse: the richest 200 people have about $2.7 trillion, which is more than the poorest 3.5bn people, who have only $2.2 trillion combined. It is very difficult to wrap one’s mind around such extreme figures.

Jason Hickel

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Funny money and super-rich

High tax rates only cement the current wealth structure in place. Increasing inequality is bemoaned by the left worldwide, with the Financial Times’ Edward Luce doubtless making President Barack Obama choke on his cornflakes by claiming that “US inequality will define the Obama era”.

Yet contrary to the left’s fond belief, the increasing inequality and the crass behavior of the super-rich are responses not to inadequate levels of taxation but to two decades of monetary policy that has imposed negative real interest rates on the world economy. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, his predecessor Alan Greenspan, and their imitators abroad are responsible for the rise of a global nouveau riche class that is not only uniquely privileged, but in many (though not all) cases uniquely unpleasant in its ethics and behavior.

Martin Hutchinson

Asia Times Online

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