Empires have come and gone. Some lasted a blink of an eye and some millennia.
The question is, after 9/11, the rise of China and a great financial crisis, where does the U.S. empire stack up to its predecessors?
Well, it seems the one commonality they all have is the point when their might was undermined by sloth and greed. And entitlements: free bread and circuses. For some it took years, others centuries.
Here, in a compelling and unique address, is what Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the Roman Empire, might say to President Obama now about how to keep America great.
Read on and share with family and friends...
Empires have come and gone. Some lasted a blink of an eye and some millennia.
How much do you spend on your summer vacation? American households usually spend about $1,200 per person on summer vacations, according to a recent American Express survey.
Presidents spend more on their vacations than you or I. They have to. Air Force One and security does cost more than loading the Honda and heading to the beach.
Here's how much some recent presidents spent our tax dollars on vacation.
Ronald Reagan spent most of his free time at his California ranch. Taxpayers covered the cost of approximately $8 million for presidential travel during Reagan's first six years in office, according to the Los Angeles Times. That amounts to $1.3 million a year.
For George Bush the cost of flying Air Force One to his Texas ranch was approximately $56,800 per trip, for each of the 180 trips according to Media Matters. President Bush spent Christmas during his two terms at the White House so his staff and secret service could spend the holiday with their family, according to Conservative Byte.
Now Obama plans to blow away all previous presidents' leisure travel costs on our dime with a better than Disney World extravaganza trip to Africa.
However Obama had to cancel the safari because of the need to fill the surrounding jungle with snipers to guard the president from wild animals!
Behind the scenes of the Fiscal Cliff debate, there was plenty of f-bombing, poison pilling, and grandstanding leading up to the deal - and that was before the members of Congress and the Senate actually got serious with their usual ultimatums, followed by earnest- looking sound bites and posturing. But what gets me really riled up is the amount of "pork" contained in the bill...
The hope is that Abe's promises of fresh stimulus, unlimited spending and placing a priority on domestic infrastructure will be the elixir that restores Japan's global muscle.
As a veteran global trader who actually lives in Japan part time each year, and who has for the last 20+ years, let me make a counterpoint with particular force - don't fall for it.
I've heard this mantra eight times since Japan's market collapsed in 1990 - each time a new stimulus plan was launched - and six times since 2006 as each of the six former "newly elected" Prime Ministers came to power.
The bottom line: The Nikkei is still down 73.89% from its December 29, 1989 peak. That means it's going to have to rebound a staggering 283% just to break even.
Now here's the thing. What's happening in Japan is not "someone else's" problem. Nor is it something you should gloss over.
In fact, the pain Japan continues to suffer should scare the hell out of you.
And here's why ...
The so-called "Lost Decade" that's now more than 20 years long in Japan is a portrait of precisely what's to come for us here in the United States.
Perhaps not for a few years yet, but it will happen just as we have already followed in Japan's footsteps with a "lost decade" of our own.
The parallels are staggering.
To continue reading, please click here...
So far, the impact of Western sanctions - an EU embargo of oil purchases, European and U.S. restrictions on Tehran's access to international banking, and a new move to intensify the trading restrictions even further - have had a devastating impact.
Iran's currency, the rial, has collapsed.
Riots have begun. Its government has rapidly lost its authority. And the Iranian economy is unraveling.
This has all the markings of a full-blown crisis.
It will have an uncertain impact on the region and the wider oil market. This could get very unpredictable and very nasty.
Let me explain...
Sanctions Paralyze Iran's EconomyIndications are emerging from several quarters that the current sanctions regime has dealt a major blow to the Iranian currency. The developments are prompting foreign initiatives to paralyze the regime in Tehran.
"The current perception is that the sanctions may have to be increased before Tehran will show clear signs of relenting," a source in the EU Energy Commissioner's office told me on October 6.
Still, it remains too early to determine how far EU members are prepared to go in strengthening anti-trade restrictions.
Nonetheless, several policy sources in Brussels, London, and Paris, confirmed last week that a rising consensus believes something additional is warranted.
A complete EU embargo of Iranian oil imports took effect on July 1. That action had widely been expected to put upward pressure on Brent prices in London. While some of that pressure has materialized, continuing demand concerns from the ongoing credit crisis and sluggish employment data have dampened the impact.
Still, a widening of the rift with Iran, coupled with the deteriorating situation on the Syrian-Turkish border, is certain to bring the problem to center stage.
Last night, Marina and I had the distinct pleasure of dining with Khaled Duwaisan, Kuwait's Ambassador to the Court of St. James and the longest-serving foreign emissary in London.
His Excellency is a very gracious man, well respected by his peers, and, after more than two decades in London, certainly somebody who has seen much come and go in his time.
Our discussions centered on the situation presented by Iran in the Persian Gulf and the current crisis there.
Also attending the dinner and long discussion were the ambassadors from every other Gulf Coordination Council nation in the region and the legal representative of the Iranians (who currently have no official diplomatic connection with the United Kingdom).
Now, as with such sessions, all of the conversations were held under Chatham House rules. That means, while general themes can be discussed, all participants agree not to connect named people with specific positions in commenting on the meeting afterwards.
This was one of the more memorable sessions I have ever had. It was striking how articulately and passionately the delegates addressed the subject.
The overwhelming response to my comments could be summarized in two ways: the rejection of a nuclear-armed Iran and a strong opinion that the region must settle its affairs on its own.
The first conclusion is certainly shared by the West, but the second may well be difficult to achieve in practice. The prospect of Iran with nuclear capability is hardly a matter Washington, or London, or Brussels will allow the region to decide on its own.
The gathering certainly understood that. These are, after all, seasoned diplomats well-schooled in the protocols and realities of international politics. But they are also experienced in the affairs of a region with the longest and most intricate negotiating traditions on the face of the earth.
They also have a perspective honed from several thousand years of history, tradition, and conflict. There was present a quality I rarely experience in my international meetings -- patience.
However, one other matter quickly surfaced that was unanimously viewed as a major element in the ongoing conflict. The assembled representatives spoke about it candidly and directly.
There are three reasons for this - all happening within the last week:
- First was Tehran's successful launch of a satellite, viewed by all in the region as being for military intelligence.
- Second, in his toughest talk to date, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced defiance to Western sanctions and pledged open retaliation if they are instituted.
- Finally, last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressed concern that, if matters continue, Israel could attempt an air-strike takeout of Iranian nuclear facilities within a month. Iran has been frantically moving essential components of its nuclear program underground to withstand such an attack.
What's more, the EU decision to stop importing Iranian crude starting July 1 will cripple any chance Tehran has to combat escalating economic and political turmoil at home.
Yet Khamenei's defiant tone during his Friday prayer meeting speech indicates that Iran's religious leadership will not wait for the system to unravel.
And that is what makes this both a full-blown and an intensifying crisis.
Brinksmanship in the Straits of HormuzSo what's being done?
Washington has little - leverage, save its ability to temper an immediate escalation by Israel (leverage the U.S. can still apply, at least for the moment). It also has some indirect influence on what the E.U. does.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia also is a wild card. It will not tolerate a nuclear Iran.
And yes, there are ample indications that American and Israeli intelligence have concluded Iran will achieve the ability to develop nuclear weapons in the next 18 to 24 months.
Some elements of that process will be available earlier, but remember: A weapon is of little value unless it can be controlled and delivered. The logistical and infrastructure considerations need to be in place first.
Yet with such an inevitable conclusion staring them in the face, the West has decided to embark on a risky path...
The target here is not the nuclear project at all (over which there is less and less outside control). Instead, it has become about creating massive domestic instability to bring down a regime.
Now, this is not about ending the theocracy. With or without Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president or Ali Khamenei as supreme leader, Iran will remain a Shiite-dominated country. Religion decisively controls politics, and the clergy oversees the society.
The West is seeking a more moderate application of what will remain the Iranian cultural reality.
However, as the brinksmanship intensifies, so will the price of crude oil. Tehran, in this dangerous game of international chicken, really only has one card to play - the Strait of Hormuz.
There has been much misinformation circulated about the strait. Here are the facts.
On any given day, 18% to 20% of the world's crude oil passes through it.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the Strait's narrowest point is 21 miles wide; however, the width of the shipping lane in either direction is just two miles, cushioned by another two-mile buffer zone.
Of greater significance, though, is the fact that most of the world's current excess capacity is Saudi. (This is the oil that can be brought to market quickly to offset unusual demand spikes or cuts in supply elsewhere.) And, unfortunately, Saudi volume must find its way through the same little strait.
If we're unable to access the Saudi excess, that loss guarantees the global market will be out of balance. That will intensify the price upsurge - an upsurge that is already happening.
Now for the question I'm being asked several times a day in media interviews...
Just how bad can it get?
With tensions between Iran and the West quickly escalating, we could see gas jump to $6.00 a gallon at the pump in a matter of months.
Make no mistake about it: If Iran were to follow through on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices would surge as high as $200 a barrel in matter of days.
But that's just the beginning...
A wider Iranian war could throw the entire region into chaos -- making $100 oil seem like a bargain.
None of this is hyperbole. In fact, these dangers are likely according to of one of world's leading energy analysts, Dr. Kent Moors.
Dr. Moors is an advisor to six of the world's top 10 oil companies, including natural gas producers throughout Russia, the Caspian Basin, the Persian Gulf and North Africa. He also consults for high-level officials from the U.S., Russian, Kazakh, Bahamian, Iraqi and Kurdish governments on all things energy related.
In short, Kent's insights are invaluable.
That's why we've given Dr. Moors a chance to address all of the concerns swirling around the energy market today.
In the interview that follows you'll learn what you really need to know about Iran, the global oil market, and most importantly, what you can do to profit...
Dr. Kent Moors on the Brewing Crisis in the GulfQ) Dr. Moors, how serious are the recent developments in Iran?
Moors: This is the most serious U.S.-Iranian crisis since the fall of the Shah in 1979. There's a very dangerous situation inside Iran that is only being accentuated by the oil market problems that have resulted from Western sanctions.
First off, on the Strait of Hormuz: This is the most significant oil choke point in the world. Some 35% of the world's seaborne oil shipments and at least 18% of daily global crude shipments pass through this narrow channel in the Persian Gulf. And while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy is not large enough to blockade the Strait of Hormuz for any length of time, it could disrupt traffic.
Q) What effect would closing the Straits of Hormuz have on oil and gas prices?
Moors: Closing the strait would result in a rise in crude oil prices of between $20 and $40 a barrel in a matter of hours. Any interruption beyond 72 hours would push prices to between $150 and $200 a barrel.
As far as gas prices are concerned, the basic rule of thumb is that each $1.00 rise in a barrel of oil results in a 3.2-cent rise in a gallon of gasoline. So $200 oil would equal $6.00-plus gasoline.
Q) Why is this crisis unfolding right now?
Moors: Three major elements are causing Iran to become belligerent:
Oil futures finished at their highest level in eight months yesterday (Tuesday), with West Texas Intermediate crude jumping 4.2% to settle at $102.96 a barrel on the on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).
The surge came after Iran warned a U.S. aircraft carrier to stay out of the Persian Gulf. The message fueled speculation that Iran will make good on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers.
An average of 14 supertankers carrying one-sixth of the world's oil shipments every day pass through the Strait, a narrow channel which the U.S. Department of Energy calls "the world's most important oil chokepoint."
With global oil demand expected to rise to a record 89.5 million barrels per day in 2012, a major disruption to oil exports from Iran would drastically affect pricing.
Even though Iran has made such threats repeatedly over the past 20 years, tighter sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe may have pushed the country to its breaking point. Iran just concluded a 10-day military exercise intended to prove to the West that it can choke off the flow of Persian Gulf oil whenever it wants.
Now Iran is expected to trigger oil market performance similar to spring 2011, when Libya's civil war caused oil prices to spike close to $115 a barrel.
In fact, if the Iranian government made good on shutting down the Strait, oil prices would probably shoot up $20 to $30 a barrel within hours and the price of gasoline in the United States would rise by $1 a gallon.
While we can't control Iran's actions, we can control how we prepare for whatever political and economic turmoil it inflicts. That's why it's time to buy the United States Oil Fund LP (NYSE: USO).
Global Political Tensions Will Bolster US Oil FundIran is trying to scare the world out of imposing more sanctions against it, which drastically limit the country's ability to conduct business.
The latest sanctions, signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama last Saturday, will make it far more difficult for refiners to buy crude oil from Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter.
But here's what those reports didn't tell you: If the housing market isn't fixed soon, it's going to drag the rest of the economy down into a hellish bottom that will take years, if not decades, to crawl out of.
The housing market is our single-most important generator of gross domestic product (GDP) and, ultimately, national wealth.
It's time we fixed what's broken and implemented new financing and tax strategies to stabilize prices.
Contrary to the naysayers - and in spite of political pandering and procrastination - we can almost immediately execute a simple two-pronged plan to fix mortgage financing and stabilize U.S. housing prices.
I call it a not-so-modest proposal.
The Worst Since the Great DepressionThe facts are frightening: We are in a bad place. The plunge in housing prices we've seen during the current downturn is on par with the horrific freefall the U.S. housing market experienced during the Great Depression.
And without an effective plan to arrest the double-dip in housing, there's no bottom in sight.
Hope Now, an alliance of lenders, investors and non-profits formed at the behest of the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, counts 3.45 million homes being foreclosed from 2007 through 2010. Current estimates of pending and potential foreclosures range from another 4 million to as many as 14 million.
According to RealtyTrac, a real-estate data provider, the country's biggest banks and mortgage lenders are sitting on 872,000 repossessed homes. If you add in the rest of the nation's banks, lenders and mortgage-servicers, the true number of these REO (real-estate owned) homes is closer to 1.9 million.
These shocking statistics illustrate just how large the current overhang of bank-owned properties actually is (at current sales levels, REO properties would take three years to unload). And they help us to understand how the staggering number of yet to-be-foreclosed, repossessed, and sold homes will depress U.S. housing market prices for years to come.
Especially the Caspian.
This land-locked body of water borders five countries, each having major oil-and-gas reserves.
One of those countries is Iran - the focus of the latest problem that's cropped up in the global energy sector.
And that "problem" - Iran oil sanctions - is certain to bring about an increase in the price of crude oil.
Chinaoil- the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp's (CNPC) trading unit- shipped two cargoes totaling 600,000 barrels of gasoline to Iran in exchange for $55 million, according to Reuters. The cargoes were Chinaoil's first direct sales to Iran since at least January 2009, according to Reuters data.
Additionally, Unipec- the trading arm of the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) (NYSE ADR: SNP)- agreed to sell 250,000 barrels of gasoline to Iran.
The sales couldn't come at a worse time for the United States. Washington has spent months lobbying the international community to tighten sanctions on Iran, which is openly expanding its uranium enrichment capacity.
And she was right.
A wrestler, a standup comic, several movie actors, and former sports figures have been elected to office; tea parties are back as a way of challenging leadership; even a disgraced former governor makes it onto "Celebrity Apprentice."
But she never saw this one coming - a U.S. sanctions move against Iran that may actually work... and make you some money in the process.