Monday, March 14, 2011

Historical Silver Eagle Prices: Remembering When The American Silver Eagle Commanded A 400% Premium

Did you know that American Silver Eagles can command extraordinary premiums, in certain situations? Read and find out about the time when these coins were fetching premiums up to 400% more than other silver bullion coins...

I recently published an article on Ezinearticles entitled, "2011 American Silver Eagle: 5 Reasons Why You Should Buy This Silver Coin! " extolling the virtues of this lovely silver bullion coin. One of the five reasons I listed as a good reason to buy was the excellent profit potential, even with the price of silver trading over $30 an ounce (the price of silver has since pulled back a bit).

Since the time I published that article, an incident happened that really got me excited, even more, about the investment potential of American Silver Eagles.

I was in my local coin shop recently, browsing through their trays of various silver rounds. With the price of silver off its recent highs, I thought this would be the perfect time to add to my silver stock!

I happened to overhear a conversation between the coin shop owner and another customer. It went something like this:

Owner: "Hey, Bill, you ordered any 2011 Silver Eagles yet?"

Bill: "Hadn't thought about it. They're a bit pricey. Thought I'd just stick with buying a bag or two of junk silver when I have some extra cash."

Owner: "Junk is always good but I like Eagles, too. Some folks I know made some serious money on them back in '99.

Bill: "Really?"

Owner: "Yeah, back during that whole Y2K scare period. When everyone thought the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight on January 1st. " (He laughed). "People were paying crazy prices for those coins - double the spot price of silver!"

Bill: "You're joking?"

Owner: "I'm serious! It was crazy, man! I guess people figured if the whole banking system shut down or something, those silver eagles would come in handy."

Bill: "Yeah, but why the Eagles?"

Owner: "Guess it was because Silver Eagles are so well-recognized. And they have that U.S. government guarantee."

Bill: "Man! I had no idea! I thought silver was silver..."

A this point in the conversation, I moved away (lest they think I was eavesdropping, LOL!). When I got home that day, I did a little research on Silver Eagles and it turns out what the shop owner told the customer was true.

At the end of 1999, at the height of the Y2K scare American Silver Eagles were fetching HUGE premiums. The spot price of silver at that time was around $6.50. But Silver Eagles were commanding prices up to $12.50 an ounce!

Meanwhile, the Canadian Silver Maple leaf coin, an equally lovely silver bullion coin with a higher silver purity, was only commanding prices of $7.50 on the market.

Like the coin shop owner said, the reason investors were more than willing to pay the huge premium for the American Silver Eagle and not the Silver Maple leaf coin was because they believed in the event the banking system was unable to function, the silver Eagle coin would be more readily accepted for bartering purposes!

And the reason investors felt the Silver Eagle would be more readily accepted was because of their United States government guarantee and worldwide recognition! Of course, after the Y2K scare passed, premiums on the coins quickly returned to normal but anyone who would have sold during this period would have done fabulously!

Could a situation like this happen again?

Yes, the economy appears to be on the mend but the risks are still out there. In the event of a widespread financial panic, would the American Silver Eagle once again be the go-to silver bullion coin? And possibly command a huge premium over other silver coins? Who knows? But, as Mark Twain once said: "The past doesn't repeat itself - it rhymes!"

Order your 2011 American Silver Eagle coins today! Just go to: ==>

By Christina Goldman

Live Money: How to Invest in Silver: “wealth management portfolio”

A lot of people are considering precious metals investment as a significant part of their wealth management portfolio. Platinum, gold, silver and other metals such as palladium and titanium that have great monetary value are some of the options you can choose for investing. However, gold and silver are the most common metals that investors choose, where silver is the cheaper option. Gold is more valuable than silver and it backs some of the major currencies in the world, but silver can also be a great option to invest in.

Why Invest in Silver

Silver may not be as expensive or even attractive as the yellow metal, gold. However, it can be a great choice for investment, considering the many uses it has and the likely decline in its global reserves. Usually, a major part of silver is obtained from zinc and copper mines, with the silver mines contributing only 30%. But as silver has numerous uses in industrial and medicinal productions, the demand is always high. Considering the demand and supply in the future, the probability of an increase in silver prices is very high, making it a safer, affordable investment option.

Different Investment Options for Silver

Silver has always been valuable, and was used as money for a long time in the past. Unlike earlier times, when you could only buy the physical metal for investment, there are a variety of options available today for silver investment.

Buy the Physical Metal – Silver Bars, Coins and Jewellery

One of the best and the easiest ways to invest in silver is to purchase it in the physical form. You can choose from a number of silver bullion options that include silver coins, bars, silverware and silver jewellery.

  • Silver Coins – Silver coins come in a variety of designs and can weigh anywhere from 1 ounce to 1 kg. You can choose to buy silver coins minted by private companies, which are available in local jewelery shops, or from national governments that issue special silver rounds such as UK Britannias, US Eagles, Chinese Pandas, and Canadian Maples.
  • Silver Bars – Silver bars, again, can be bought directly from government auctions, banks or private mining companies.
  • Sterling Silver – Sterling silver is a form of physical silver, which is not 100% pure silver. It is made of 92.5% actual silver, and the remaining percentage of other metals such as copper. As pure silver is too soft to be molded in to intricate designs and larger moulds, sterling silver is often used for manufacturing jewellery and other forms of silver ware like cutlery, frames etc.

As silver is relatively cheaper, you can purchase a few kilos of the metal with just a few thousand dollars. However, as storing and securing such quantities of this metal is not easy, you can choose from the other silver investment options below.

Silver Futures

You can invest in silver futures by opening a futures trading account that allows you to buy or sell silver for gain. In futures, you have to get into a contract that can be a little expensive and risky. Usually, a single silver futures contract represents 5,000 ounces of silver, and expires after a month. Although silver futures may not become useless like a few stocks, considering the risk, you should not invest in them unless you are an experienced trader.

Investment in Silver Stocks and Silver Mines

There are a number of silver mining company stocks in the UK and around the world. You can look for private companies and silver mining companies, in major exchanges like London, NY or Tokyo, that offer stocks in the silver sector. Although silver stocks are usually safer than other stocks, there is an element of risk involved as silver prices can be highly volatile.

Perform a background check thoroughly, for each of the available stocks, to figure out the profitability and risk before investing. An advantage of investing in silver stocks is that, although it is risky, it gives you the flexibility to buy and sell it like any other stock for profit.

Mutual Funds

Like silver stocks, silver mutual funds can be a good choice for investing in silver, if you do not want to have the actual metal in your possession. You can either choose to invest in actual silver or in the stocks of a silver mining company, through a mutual fund. The best way to choose the right silver mutual fund is to keep in mind your investment objectives and the allocation of precious metals in your portfolio. Although mutual funds are relatively safer and more profitable when compared to stocks, you should invest in them only after thorough research to minimize risk.

Silver ETFs

You can invest in silver ETFs or exchange traded funds simply by opening a brokerage account. As there are a number of silver ETF options in the market, it is a relatively easy investment option. However, before you choose to invest in one, research the trends in silver prices, and the trends in the value of the ETF you’re considering. To make profit with silver ETFs, you should invest in them when the prices are low. Silver is sometimes just one part of the portfolio of an ETF. In such a case, choose an ETF that has sufficient amount allocated to silver, to meet your investment goals.

Among all the options mentioned above, tangible silver and ETFs are often the preferred investment options, as they are considered low risk investments.

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Zimbabwe/Long Crisys: Peter Godwin exposes the truth and the fear of the Mugabe era

In mid-2008, after nearly three decades of increasingly tyrannical rule, Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old Pandora’s Box of Zimbabwe, lost an election. But instead of conceding power, he launched a brutal campaign of terror against his own citizens. Peter Godwin, author of the award-winning books Mukiwa: A White Boy In Africa and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, was one of the few outside observers to bear witness to the terrifying period that Zimbabweans call, simply, “The Fear”.

Peter Godwin exposes the truth and the fear of the Mugabe era

Peter Godwin was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He studied Law at Cambridge University, and International Relations at Oxford. He is an award-winning foreign correspondent, author, documentary-maker and screenwriter.
After practising human rights law in Zimbabwe, he became a war correspondent, and has reported on war from over 60 countries, including in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Somalia, Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kashmir and during the last years of apartheid South Africa.
He served as East European correspondent and diplomatic correspondent for the London Sunday Times, and chief correspondent for BBC television’s flagship foreign affairs program, Assignment – making documentaries from such places as Cuba, Panama, Indonesia, Pakistan, Spain, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, the Baltics, and the Balkans as it descended into war.
At great personal risk, Godwin returns secretly to the country he knows so well. He visits the torture bases, the burning villages, the death squads, the opposition leaders in hiding, the last white farmers, the churchmen and diplomats putting their own lives on the line to stop the carnage.
Threaded through with personal history, The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe is the brave and astonishing record of a dictatorship gone mad.
Accompanied by his sister, Georgina, Godwin journeys through the ravaged, once-familiar landscape.
They visit the grave of their sister, killed during the civil war. As they pour “lucky bean” seeds from the coral tree in their old garden into the runnels of the letters on her gravestone, they call their mother, now living in exile in faraway London. “Where would you like to be buried when you die?” he asks her. “At home,” she says. “In Africa. Next to your father.”
Told with a brilliant eye for detail and Godwin’s natural storytelling gifts, this is a story framed by personal loss. But, most deeply, it is a moving and stunning account of a people grotesquely altered, laid waste by a raging despot. It is about the astonishing courage and resilience of a people, armed with nothing but a desire to be free.
Leadership editor Robbie Stammers had the pleasure of meeting up with Godwin on his visit to South Africa recently, and had the following questions to ask him:
You have studied Law at Cambridge and International Relations at Oxford – it is an incredibly impressive CV. You could have landed with your bum in the butter in a very cushy job. What made you decide to become a war correspondent, travelling to some of the most violent countries in the world?

My real problem is that I don’t plan ahead. I’ve never been career-minded.
People with whom I grew up have dispersed across the world, so you get used to this constant change and, somehow, that becomes your expectation. And in that sense, planning seems sort of pointless.
I trained as a lawyer, but I mostly read law to appease my father.
When I went back to Zimbabwe originally, it was to finish the fieldwork for a PhD and I ran out of money, so the only thing I was trained to do as such was law. So I started working as a lawyer while I was trying to finish the PhD and didn’t do it for very long – and I don’t think I was very good at it, either. I got bored!
The thing about law is that you see it on television and everyone is in court, but every one minute you’re in court, arguing your case, there is probably an hour of research. I took on a big high-treason case and I did hours of political research on it, which fascinated me.
I then started doing odd pieces of freelance journalism and the London Sunday Times said, “Well, if you want to send that stuff, there is no guarantee we will publish it and we’re not going to pay your expenses. We won’t pay for anything unless we use it.”
I had no expectations, and then I discovered that they had run these pieces and I started writing more and more.
I imagine that increased your confidence?
I enjoyed it. I never went to journalism school or anything. I just learnt on the job and became some sort of “Wiki journalist”.
I found myself ultimately in London, on the foreign desk with a short-term contract.
You become a prisoner of your own resumé insofar as to say, “Look, this guy has been in a war in Africa.” So then I ended up just getting sent wherever, covering conflict.
I did it for a long time – for the Sunday Times and then for the BBC. I must’ve done probably 10 years as a foreign correspondent and then documentaries for the BBC before moving over full-time to books.
You had to contend with two competing legal systems: that of the Rhodesian government and the other of tribal chiefs. Do you think tribal chiefs still play a significant role today in Zimbabwe?
They play a huge role.
Zimbabwe is much more rural than South Africa; and the other thing in Zimbabwe, which to a greater or lesser extent is probably not half as true now as it used to be, is that many urban Zimbabweans have rural homes at the same time.
What’s happening now is that the chiefs are under more and more pressure from Mugabe. He put them on salaries, gives them cars, and then expects them to be agents of political control. If their areas turn against Zanu-PF and Mugabe, then the chiefs will come under enormous pressure and will be changed, if necessary.
So one of the bad things that we have seen happen in the last couple of decades – but in particular, in the last five or 10 years – is the chiefs coming under Zanu-PF’s control.
It has been noted that Zimbabwe is the most educated country on the continent. If you consider Zimbabweans to be a very highly educated country, how has Mugabe managed to secure such an iron fist over his people, and why have they not had the ability to fight the oppressor?
In some ways, the more educated you are, the more options you have to get out.
The fact is, with no education whatsoever, you may ultimately resist more; but if you have two degrees and a job offer is on your desk, you can just bugger off.
So Zimbabweans have left in enormous numbers. Black Zimbabweans in their millions. So that’s been one of the problems – the best and brightest have been skimmed off and have gone elsewhere into the Diaspora.
The other thing is, Zimbabweans have actually resisted – peacefully. The opposition movement (Movement for Democratic Change), from its very formation in early 2000, was a platform that was dedicated to non-violence, and it’s kept that up. It hasn’t been given nearly enough credit for that.
However, it is up against an army and police force that are extremely well established. These aren’t people into whose gun barrels you’re going to put carnations. Trust me, they are not people who are going to be using just teargas. They are pretty hardcore.
I think that there has been reluctance on the part of the opposition leadership to push young people into the guns of these oppressors.
You could argue that we’ve actually lost far more people over the last 10 years to disease and HIV and a collapse of health and agriculture than we might have done in a short, sharp revolution, but that is difficult to say.
Has the brain drain in Zimbabwe passed a point of no return?
I think that it’s hanging by a thread.
At the moment in Zimbabwe, there is still a cultural memory of how things should work, and I think that is related to the education point.
You get this tragic situation where, if you finished school 10 years ago, you’d be 28 now. So anyone beyond their mid-20s is probably still very well educated, but people under that age may have very little, since the education system has collapsed. You therefore have these contiguous generations where one is very well educated and the other is not at all educated.
We now have kids of 15 years of age who cannot even read or write, and I think that’s the worry – that you lose the cultural memory of efficiency and how it all works.
People can’t even remember how a good economy once functioned. You have to start from scratch.
Since last year, with the banishment of the Zimbabwe dollar, and everything turning into the so-called Government of National Unity, there’s been some improvement, mostly for the upper middle-classes. However, the ordinary folk still struggle to source US dollars, so their lives haven’t changed that much.
I think that the law of entropy applies here, where the more complicated the organism, the more likely it is to go wrong.
Zimbabwe has always been a smaller and simpler place than South Africa. The economy is less complex and it can probably be fixed quicker with relatively less capital.
So I do honestly think that if democracy – real democracy, not the fudge we have at the moment – were restored in Zimbabwe, much money would go in and I think you could fix it astonishingly quickly.
Whether you could still do that in five years, I don’t know. I think if it were started quickly, you could just snatch it back; but the longer it’s delayed, the more difficult it gets.
It is very sad. I have travelled to many places over the years and, after visiting Zimbabwe in 1997, I realised one of the most beautiful places on earth is right on our doorstep.
An astonishing country – and the truth is, it’s one of the reasons that I keep writing about it.
The point is that Zimbabwe is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s more important than just being viewed as a small landlocked country. In many ways, it’s become totemic. It is symbolic of Africa’s hopes and fears – continentally.
At one point, it was the most advanced country with the highest standards of living. People would always point to it as an example of “See what Africa can do and what it can achieve”, and now it’s one of the worst countries.
It has become a universal story, with a Shakespearean plot line.
There is something about the place – it affects people more than most other countries.
You must have a file bigger than a telephone directory on Mugabe’s desk, considering your books – starting with Mukiwa, to the current The Fear.
I’m not sure. (laughs) They are much more sensitive about daily newspapers, radio and TV footage, though, and I don’t think they’re great readers of books. I think, in general, they don’t see books as much of a threat.
But since The Fear was published, the ripple effect in other countries has been enormous, particularly in South Africa, where people said: “Oh, my God. This is happening on our borders!”
They are gobsmacked and ashamed that they haven’t given the situation more attention because they’ve become anaesthetised to it in a way. Then, suddenly, if you put it all together in one book, it has a real emotional impact.
You may not reach tens of millions of people, but the people you do reach become activists in a way. It can really galvanise them into doing something.
How did you manage to return secretly time and again and interview the key people you did for The Fear?
It was no great cloak and dagger thing, but there are places and ways to get in.
After years in war-torn areas, you can judge how and when a political climate goes up and down. There are times when the police are everywhere and other times when they are literally looking elsewhere and are not that bothered.
In some points, it was a very scary place to be in and, indeed, I had some near misses.
I think, certainly, having been born and having grown up in Zimbabwe helps you to fit in.
My journalistic background taught me how to blend into different environments. For example, when I was on the white farms, I made sure I was dressed to look just like a farmer; and when I was in the hospitals, I dressed consistently with people who might routinely be there.
Your sister, Georgina, was with you. I imagine that by what I’ve read, she is a broadcaster and a writer in her own right, who was banned from Zimbabwe. If everything went according to plan and the winds of change sweep through Zimbabwe, would you and your sister return to live there?
The problem is, the longer you stay out, the more you do get integrated into your other life.
My kids were born in America and London and my wife edits Marie Claire magazine in New York, so there would be nothing really as an equivalent job for her.
I think Georgina may be very tempted to go back and I’m sure she could get a good job in Zimbabwe.
I would probably spend a big chunk of every year there, but whether I could move lock, stock and barrel immediately back is a different question.
I think I’d be in a situation where I would spend six months a year there and then commute the rest of the time.
What are your thoughts on the current dilemma facing the country? Just last month, Mugabe told his so-called Prime Minister of the Government of Unity Morgan Tsvangirai that he had unilaterally appointed all 10 provincial governors. What now?
This Global Political Agreement has been breached by Zanu-PF in major ways, all the way along.
Most importantly, the electronic media is still completely dominated by Zanu-PF, as are the police and the army. All these many breaches, any one of which should be enough for the MDC to pull out.
And the process of public consultation, nationally – with town hall meetings and meetings in the countryside to decide what should go into a new constitution draft – was also deeply flawed.
In fact, what’s been happening, is Mugabe’s people have been breaking up these get-togethers where the people are critical of Zanu-PF. They get beaten up and intimidated. So that process of consultation has been a joke. It’s been a disaster.
Mugabe said that they would have a referendum on a new Constitution early this year, and if the answer was a resounding “yes” from the public, then they would have elections in June under the new Constitution; and if they vote “no”, they would still have elections in June, but under the old Constitution.
But they basically have the same underlying conditions that they had in the 2008 elections. The dollar might have gone, but Mugabe is still in charge of the forces of intimidation.
The chance of having a free and fair election under the conditions I’ve described is infinitely small.
One thing that is necessary before you go anywhere near the next election in Zimbabwe, is to completely reform the voters’ roll, which is a joke. There are thousands of voters who are over 100 years old in a country that has one of the lowest lifespan averages in the world – I don’t think so.
There are ghost voters: almost a third of the registered voters are actually dead! Others are infants.
So the MDC is faced with this terrible conundrum, which is that either it can pull out now and just bring the whole ‘unity’ government down and Mugabe would go it alone, or it can stay with it through the constitutional vote and into the next elections and almost certainly lose because of fraud and intimidation – even if the MDC is the most popular party.
My biggest worry now is the diamonds discovered in Chiadzwa. This has effectively given Mugabe a new lease on his political life. It has changed everything.
Diamonds in Chiadzwa were discovered in 2006 and started being mined by freelancers until about 2008. Then Mugabe’s people stepped in and now the Chiadzwa diamonds are the exclusive domain of Mugabe and the military. So, suddenly, this huge extra amount of money comes flowing in.
Zimbabwe was a kleptocracy, but even for the corrupt elite, there is not much left to steal in a full-blown failed state, when everything
has collapsed.
The farms, the mines and businesses eventually run out of money and the economy just gets smaller and smaller.
One would sometimes hope in those situations that that was where you would find the solution, with just no one making money anymore – but then the diamonds changed the whole dynamic.
It’s depressing. The timing of the diamond finds is extremely demoralising – it has refinanced Mugabe’s regime, made them more determined to cling to power.
This may sound like a rather juvenile question, but it is one that has come up for years at dinner parties. People argue that you do not want to make a martyr out of him, but why has no one assassinated Mugabe yet?
Mugabe has pretty good security, and the concern there is that if your method of changing power is through assassination, it tends to create a knock-on effect.
Also, the people in Zimbabwe are relatively pacifistic.
There was apparently a very early attempt by a chef, who put ground glass into Mugabe’s food in the ‘80s, but I don’t think that was political – it was some bizarre witchcraft thing.
Mugabe alluded to it once, but other than that, nothing that we know of.
Do you think many of the Zimbabwean exiles are in denial about what goes on at home?
I think that most of the black Diaspora has been aware of it because many of them have had relatives who had been tortured as well
as threatened.
It depends on when you left. Some of the whites who left a long time ago have decoupled and don’t pay daily attention to what is happening in Zimbabwe.
It also depends where people are with their own lives. Some people have stopped being exiles and ‘become’ South Africans or whatever. Their identities have changed.
For those who still try to keep a finger on the pulse, there is still much detail they may not know about which is contained in The Fear, and it has much more power when it is all laid out in literary terms in one chunk. It shocks them.
You have been involved in bringing so much attention to the atrocities happening in your homeland. Is there ever going to be a place for Peter Godwin to get involved politically, considering your history with your own country?
No, I think that is funny, as I have been asked that before.
I’m not a politician, but I think writers have real roles to play in these situations. They can bear witness, and help expose the terrible truth to conscientise people.
We have different roles in society, and writers have a really important one – particularly in unfree societies.
This is what I did after the 2008 elections. I felt that if I could contribute in some small way toward a transition to real democracy, then that would be reward enough.
When you returned at the time of the 2008 elections, to “dance on the political grain of Mugabe”, were you full of hope at the time?
Oh, yes, there was a period of about two weeks where we had seen the raw data and realised the huge extent of the turn against Mugabe.
There was much negotiation behind closed doors. Specifically with some of the Western diplomats helping to put together an exit package from Mugabe – amnesty and financial guarantees etc. – and it looked like it was really going to happen, that he would stand down.
Of course, Harare was pulsing with rumours and we all thought that there was a really good chance.
I think Mugabe was feeling his age and his wife, Grace, was saying: “It’s enough.” Then Mugabe had meetings with the generals and decided to go another way altogether.
For that brief window, though, it looked like change was going to happen.
But political parties that are born of liberation wars, and become the government, can be particularly stubborn about ceding power. They can be quite Messianic – believing they have a right to continue in power indefinitely.
In South Africa, you are on your fourth president, but Zimbabwe is still on its first.
Mugabe is so associated with power, and the party would be very vulnerable without him. He has painted himself into this corner, as he never allowed a successor to be groomed – such is the hubris of the dictator.
I don’t think that Mugabe has been bullied or controlled, but I do think that he’s not hands-on in the day-to-day running of the country. He has always delegated, that’s always been a style. He’s never been a hands-on guy in terms of how it’s done.
What is Peter Godwin’s definition of a good leader?
If you want to be a good leader, we all know the obvious things one needs, but I think you also have to have empathy. A good leader needs the ability to try and see things from other people’s point of view. You need a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion – and Mugabe has shown no compassion whatsoever to his own people.
When more and more power is concentrated in one man, such as Mugabe, the more difficult it is to change his own world view. He becomes even more authoritarian.
He reacts badly to criticism; and if people criticise him, they get taken out or squeezed out.
In that situation, people around you only tell you what you want to hear, which affects the impartiality of your input. You start getting more and more unreliable data, and your decisions start to get more and more skewed and bizarre.
For instance, about the famine, when people tried to warn Mugabe that farming had collapsed and that what few crops that had been planted, had failed, one of Mugabe’s ministers said: “No, no, I’ve flown over the country and all looks nice and green.” That’s what Mugabe wants to hear, and his ministers all know you don’t ever bring him bad news.
A real leader needs to get the real input and absorb it with empathy and then act upon it.
Mugabe lives in a totally delusional world now and I think that that is the biggest danger Zimbabwe faces.

Source: Leadership online/by Robbie Stammers

Zimbabwe/Long Crisys: Zanu in shadow of elusive magnate

A Chinese businessman, Sam Pa, is casting a long and warped shadow over Zimbabwe as it heads towards what many fear will be violent elections later this year.

ENIGMATIC: A rare photograph of Sam Pa who has allegedly been underwriting operations to influence the outcome of polls in favour of Zanu-PF

" 'No other foreign businessman in Zimbabwe has such enormous influence' "

He has been identified as the financier of a covert operation whose purpose is to sustain President Robert Mugabe's regime.

The details of the deal that this mysterious Hong Kong-based magnate has cut with Mugabe's national intelligence chief, Happyton Bonyongwe, have not been disclosed officially and officials loyal to Mugabe and Bonyongwe deny any connection.

International researchers into his opaque business activities have noted a similarity with his wheeler-dealing in other African countries, where companies he represents are alleged to have manipulated networks within the elites and used closed-door negotiations to secure a large stake in strategic mineral resources.

Oil-rich Angola, a rising economic power in Africa and the main source of China's oil, was a prime example. He has also invested heavily in mineral-rich Guinea and Tanzania. Madagascar since the coup has been another focus of attention. Now it looks as if Zimbabwe is falling under the spell of this canny Chinese investor.

Pa conducts his business largely under the radar, keeps his name and face out of the headlines and is said to use a variety of different identities and nationalities which he changes with nonchalant ease depending on the country and situation he is in.

In the case of Angola, the relationship was built up by key figures in the presidency and intelligence services and is now controlled by General Helder Vieira Dias. Dias, known as ''Kopelipa", is the most powerful man in the country after president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

The courtship clinched billions of dollars of oil and infrastructure contracts for the Chinese and Angolan companies Pa's name is associated with. Although he uses a profusion of aliases Pa's special standing has enabled him to travel by private executive jet on an Angolan diplomatic passport whenever he wants.

In Zimbabwe, elements of the Bonyongwe deal have now begun to emerge and it fits his pattern of drawing members of a country's elite into lucrative joint ventures so that, over time, he becomes indispensable to them.

Some disillusioned intelligence officers and party officials, unhappy at the way the country's valuable mineral resources are being traded away for personal and electoral gain, have released what they know is happening.

They allege that in return for diamonds and mineral resources to supply China's booming economy Pa has provided funds and equipment to Bonyongwe's Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to enable it to deliver an electoral victory for Mugabe and his party.

Opponents of Mugabe and the many Zimbabweans wanting free and fair elections and democratic and accountable government will find it disturbing to learn that a secretive Chinese businessman, who schemed his way into Mugabe's inner circle, has allegedly been underwriting operations to influence the outcome of polls in favour of Zanu-PF.

The ramifications of Pa's secret funding of the CIO are already beginning to be felt, the sources said. The money is being used to train and deploy militias who are harassing and intimidating people amid a sudden surge in political violence

"We all know that Zanu--PF does not have even a ghost of a hope of winning a free and fair election," said political analyst, John Makumbe, a longtime Mugabe critic. Makumbe said it was therefore "obvious" that the former liberation movement intends to resort to indiscriminate political violence to cow people into voting for Mugabe and his party which could spell a return to single-party dictatorship.

Pa has also ploughed money into vehicles for the CIO, providing the intelligence service with more than 100 Nissan pickup trucks, so increasing its operational capability against the regime's opponents, the sources said. He was also involved in funding a CIO hearts and minds programme and Mugabe's anti-sanctions campaign against Western governments headed by Britain and the United States which have hit Mugabe and key regime figures with a travel ban and asset freezes.

He has underwritten a seed and fertiliser inputs programme to win over the large farming vote which is vital for a Zanu-PF victory. Most striking, the sources alleged that in early 2010, he had offered to match the salaries of the entire staff of the CIO, the police and the armed forces to ensure their loyalty to the Zanu-PF cause.

There is no evidence that the money has been paid and the low salaries continue to cause resentment in the services.

Subsequently, they said Bonyongwe, himself, had proposed that the CIO should pay off all the party's debts.

The intelligence chief's suggestion caused concern in the upper echelons of Zanu-PF as questions were asked about where and how the CIO had got its hands on so much money.

The unease was not dispelled when it was revealed that Pa was behind the funding and was in a commercial relationship with Bonyongwe, the sources said. It was believed that the Chinese businessman was to be the beneficiary of lucrative diamond concessions in the Marange diamond fields negotiated by Bonyongwe. The intelligence chief used his position to intimidate local companies to sell assets to Pa at knock-down prices.

Marange is home to one of the world's richest diamond deposits. Experts say it could make anywhere in the region of $75-billion to $200-billion in the next 50 years if exploited properly. But the industry is riddled with corruption and mismanagement.

The finance minister Tendai Biti complained recently that his treasury has received almost no diamond-based revenue at all. Millions of dollars' worth of diamonds remain unaccounted for and have been smuggled abroad. Renegade CIO sources said that Pa himself "is part of the grand plan to use Marange diamonds to prop up the regime".

The sources alleged that, using different aliases, Pa had flown out of Harare and military airbases last year with about 60000 carats of gem-grade diamonds and 69kg of industrial diamonds.

Crucial to Pa's special relationship with Bonyongwe and the CIO, the sources said, was the creation of the joint-venture Sino Zim Development. Backed by Bonyongwe it was awarded its own diamond concession at Marange. Last year, Sino Zim ranked top of five bids for concessions which Zanu-PF classified as "special national interest projects". The joint venture came ahead of even a Chinese government bid backed by General Constantine Chiwenga, the Defence Force Chief and other bids which Zimbabwean ministers and vested interests had supported. This issue continues to irritate Bonyongwe's rivals at the top of the regime. But, the sources said, it was too late to undo. Pa has made himself too important to Zanu-PF for anyone to act except Mugabe as the party readies for elections. But shunned by the West, Mugabe applauds and relies on China for political and economic support.

"No other foreign businessman in Zimbabwe has such enormous influence," said one CIO officer familiar with the Pa dossier. "Pa has burrowed into the very heart of the regime. ''

It was in 2008 that Pa was first introduced to Bonyongwe and realised that he was a man he could do business with. The introduction was made by the head of the Tanzanian intelligence service, CIO sources said.

Zimbabwe, for all its great economic potential, was in a mess. It had just gone through flawed and violent elections. There were food shortages, services were at a standstill and the economy was in ruins - the kind of chaos a shrewd businessman could exploit.

Nearly three years later Zimbabwe is an important component of a vast, controversial and opaque business empire.

At its core is the China International Fund (CIF) which heads a network of more than 20 associated companies.

It occupies a building at 88 Queensway in the heart of the Hong Kong business district. Also pivotal to the structure is China Sonangol, CIF's joint venture with Sonangol, Angola's national oil company and main cash cow. Although Pa has no official position in the companies and remains anonymous, in that his name does not appear on any company documents, he has been identified as the deal-maker time and again.

Typical was CIF's $7-billion deal with Guinea's former military dictatorship which gave the fund the right to develop the country's mining, oil, gas and infrastructure projects. It was there that this rare photograph of Pa was taken (above). International human rights organisations criticised the deal, saying it showed China was willing to deal with countries with poor human rights records to secure their mineral wealth for itself.

China Sonangol has snapped up several prime Harare properties including luxury lodges and Livingstone House.

The CIO occupies one floor. When in town Pa stays at a beautiful lodge bought from a Dutch woman, where he has held parties for his CIO friends. The staff has been provided with CIO cars.

The CIO sources said they always assumed that Pa had Chinese intelligence connections.

In 2009, a US congressional commission published a scathing report about the 88 Queensway Group. It said its lack of transparency and public accountability was a "major concern" for the United States as it acquired assets globally by stealth. It implied strongly that CIF could be falsely representing itself as a private business when it was actually an arm of the intelligence and public security services out to increase China's influence and guarantee the supply of oil and raw materials from Africa to fuel its runaway economy.

The researchers said they could find no paper trail for Pa. His name was not on any company documents and he held no official positions, nor shareholding. He was an enigma. They were not sure Sam Pa was his real name, but whoever he really was they regarded him as "very important".

"The Sam Pa connection was the most elusive," one of the writers of the report recalled. "All our research was based on finding concrete documents and paper trails but he stayed essentially clean."

Chinese experts said it was not entirely uncommon for leaders of Chinese businesses to operate behind the scenes, even nominating their wives to front their companies. This was especially true when the People's Liberation Army privatised its vast business empire in the 1990s.

On one of Pa's recent visits to Zimbabwe he was accompanied by a Chinese woman called Veronica Fung, who is a director of at least 24 companies, including CIF and China Sonangol. It is thought she is Pa's wife.

The Chinese experts speculated that there could be another explanation why Pa was so hard to identify: perhaps he was a "princeling", the son of a well-connected original Chinese communist revolutionary.

"It is almost impossible to research on them, not even Chinese dissidents will touch it," said a researcher.

''But they are extremely well-connected and they are extremely organised. It is also well recognised as a problem that exists. That is obviously a possibility. How else would these companies obtain financing of billions of dollars for projects?"

A Hong Kong magazine claimed that CIF was really controlled by a Chinese man who went by various names, including Samo Xu.

Adding to the puzzle, the American congressional report said Sam Pa was possibly the businessman controlling the multibillion-dollar Chinese oil and infrastructure projects in Angola who had been identified as Xu Jinghua, but who was known to have several aliases, including Sam King.

"Xu may also refer to himself as Sam Pa or Sampa," the report said. Hong Kong sources said Pa had used the name Sam King in the 1990s when he traded guns for diamonds during the Angolan civil war.

Whoever he really he is, with this confusion of identities, it is clear that the influence of this elusive Chinese businessman in Africa is enormous.

The Chinese foreign ministry has put out several statements distancing itself from some of Pa's business dealings.

In Zimbabwe, the Chinese ambassador Xin Shunkang has also warned the government to be cautious, saying his government has no connection with China Sonangol and, by implication, Pa.

Sources said Mugabe has started to harbour reservations as signs emerged that Pa cannot deliver all that he undertook.

Pa's long-promised deal on delivery of two Airbus 340s for Air Zimbabwe from Germany fell through at the beginning of the year. But with elections in the air the regime still depends on him.

It may be that Bonyongwe will come to regret the association. For the moment, though, the Mugabe regime depends too much on this arch-manipulator with his multiple personalities and mysterious, unexplained, connections to let him go.

Libya/Crisys: Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi Forces Move on Town Near Rebel-Held Benghazi

AJDABIYA, Libya — Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced Sunday on this anxious town, a strategic linchpin on the doorstep of the opposition capital of Benghazi and within grasp of a highway crucial to recapturing the eastern border and encircling the rebellion with heavy armor and artillery.

After another day of headlong retreat, this time from the refinery and port at Brega, one town west of here, the rebels prepared for what some called a last stand at Ajdabiya, taking refuge in military barracks where they stacked ammunition boxes six deep, positioned a handful of tanks and tried to bring order to a jumble of small artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Bulldozers built berms three feet high near a pair of green, metal arches that mark the town’s entrance.

The fate of Ajdabiya, an eastern town of 120,000 near the Mediterranean coast, may prove decisive in the most violent and chaotic of the uprisings that have upended the Arab world. Under a sky turned gray by a menacing sandstorm, the rebels valiantly vowed victory but acknowledged the deficit posed by their weapons and pleaded for a no-flight zone that seemed a metaphor for any kind of international help.

“Our retreat is a tactic,” said Said Zway, 29, a civil engineer-turned-fighter, at Ajdabiya’s entrance. “We can wait until they impose a no-fly zone. If they don’t, what can we do, my friend? We fight and die. God is with us, God willing.”

¶From its ecstatic beginning, Libya’s uprising has taken a darker turn, as Colonel Qaddafi’s forces have recaptured Zawiyah, near Tripoli, and are now besieging Misurata, a commercial capital and an oasis of rebel control in the west. Officials in Tripoli talk with bluster, and a more sullen mood has settled over Benghazi, where reports of lawlessness grow.

¶The United Nations Security Council may take up this week an Arab League call for a no-flight zone over Libya, a decision that Colonel Qaddafi’s government deemed Sunday an “unexpected departure” from the league’s charter. The foreign ministers of major industrial nations are expected to consider the topic at a meeting in Paris on Monday. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to fly on to Egypt and Tunisia afterward, and is expected to meet with Libyan opposition leaders.

¶But a front line that shifted eastward by the day and plunging morale here threatened to outpace a decision that still faces opposition from Russia and China and lacks the clear support of the United States and Europe.

¶The debate abroad overshadowed the stark reality on the ground — planes alone have not defeated the rebels, but rather a relentless onslaught of tanks, artillery, helicopters and ships at sea has sent rebels hurtling back the past several days from a series of oil towns along Libya’s flat, virtually indefensible coastal plain.

¶At the front, pleas for foreign help have grown by the day, from demands for a no-flight zone to growing calls for bombing of Libyan ships at sea, military bases and Bab al-Aziziya, the compound in Tripoli that serves as Colonel Qaddafi’s headquarters.

¶“We demand intervention from America, from Britain, from France!” shouted Wanis Kayhani, 42, a fighter waiting in a parked Toyota pickup near the front. “I personally want them to send troops from abroad to stop this dictator. I swear to God almighty!”

¶“No, no, that won’t work!” another fighter shouted.

¶“Whatever it takes,” Mr. Kayhani replied.

¶Libya’s former interior minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes, appeared unexpectedly before reporters in Benghazi on Sunday evening in his role as the new head of the rebel army and promised a vigorous defense of Ajdabiya, calling it a “key” city.

¶Once a close ally of Colonel Qaddafi and head of the country’s special forces, General Younes resigned his post in late February to join the rebels. He said that he had spent days at the front lines and acknowledged that opposition fighters had overextended: they advanced “too far, too fast and did not protect the areas they gained,” he said.

¶Striking an optimistic note, though, he cast the setbacks as a strategic decision.

¶“War is a matter of advance and tactical withdrawal,” he said. “What we are trying to do is lure him into an area where we can even the fight.”

¶The day began with military vehicles, ambulances, cars and pickup trucks loaded with everything from anti-aircraft guns to a coat rack fleeing Brega, which rebels held just Saturday. Winds blew sand across the street like drifting snow, as rebel trucks and cars hurtled down both lanes of a two-lane road toward an old sign that read, “Warning ... speeding is the quickest way to die.” There was no traffic going the other way.

¶They regrouped at the entrance to Ajdabiya, where only last week jubilant crowds of many hundreds had beckoned convoys of fighters west to Tripoli.

¶“We are going to defend Ajdabiya now, we have to defend Ajdabiya,” said Massoud Bousier, a 36-year-old fighter who fled Brega. “He has a tank and we have a stone. This Kalashnikov,” he said, raising his rifle, “does nothing. This is like a stone.”

¶So far, the strategy of an invigorated, though no less bizarre Colonel Qaddafi, absolute ruler here for nearly 42 years, has proven clear. With little regard for life, he has pummeled into submission rebel-held towns in his traditional stronghold of the west — Surt and Misuratah among them — and deployed to the east forces believed loyal to his sons to recapture strategic oil towns between his birthplace of Surt and Ajdabiya.

¶Ajdabiya is most strategic for its location, 100 miles from Benghazi and perched on a highway that bypasses eastern Libya’s coastal cities and cuts straight to the border with Egypt, which rebels have lightly defended. It was still unclear whether Colonel Qaddafi would try to take the city in a bloody battle or bypass it en route to Benghazi and the highway.

¶General Younes said he hoped Colonel Qaddafi’s forces would overextend as they advance, and many rebels speculated that his army was already running short on fuel.

¶Even in regions he controls, his rule remains contested. Women organized a small protest in the capital on Sunday, witnesses said, and a rebel spokesman in Misurata said 30 soldiers had defected from a brigade organized by Colonel Qaddafi’s son, Khamis, that has besieged the city.

¶But optimism was in short supply on the rebel side, and officials in Tripoli boasted they would quickly and easily, as they put it, liberate Benghazi, where the opposition has formed a state in waiting.

¶“You do not need a full-scale military attack because when we come to them, they just raise their hands and give up,” said Col. Minad Hussein, a military spokesman.

¶At the edge of Ajdabiya, rebels tried to bring military discipline to the throngs of fervent youth who have volunteered to fight. Gates were closed to two makeshift military bases, where hundreds of boxes of ammunition were stacked in a sprawling courtyard. Volunteers filled dozens of sandbags that were lined behind berms and not yet tied shut.

¶On loudspeakers, rebel leaders urged the curious to leave.

¶“If you don’t have a tank or a heavy weapon, go back home,” one shouted.

¶Rumors swirled — that rebel special forces had encircled government forces in Brega after nightfall, that 8,000 volunteers were coming under cover of night from Benghazi and that Colonel Qaddafi was deploying mercenaries from Egypt. A fear of the unknown endemic to wartime rippled through a town of dull buildings interspersed with pastels of pink, orange and green. Doctors reported shortages of equipment at the hospital, and residents stocked up on infant formula, medicine and food.

¶“When you start fighting, do you think how it’s going to end?” asked Mr. Zway, the engineer. “You don’t. There is no chance to go back now, believe me. Believe me.”

¶A little ways away, near the bulldozer that build the sand embankment, a smiling Abdel-Salam Maatouk sat with friend and drank tea boiled on a small fire.

¶“You live how many times?” he asked. “Once. You die how many times? Once.”

¶His friends nodded, as he offered a smiling soliloquy: “We’ll draw the line at Ajdabiya. And then from there to Surt and then to Tripoli. God willing, I’ll be able to shout chants at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, and I’ll be able to do that on a day soon.”

¶Maybe it did not really matter that he could say it tomorrow. He said it today. And as he did, the tea may have tasted a little sweeter and the campfire felt a

¶Kareem Fahim in Benghazi and David D. Kirkpatrick in Tripoli contributed reporting.


Analysis: Seawater helps but Japan nuclear crisis is not over

NEW YORK/VIENNA (Reuters) - Pumping seawater into troubled nuclear reactors in Japan should keep them from a catastrophic full-scale meltdown, but conditions are still so volatile that it is far too early to declare the emergency over, nuclear experts said.

It is probably the first time in the industry's 57-year history that seawater has been used in this way, a sign of how close Japan is to facing a major nuclear disaster following the massive earthquake and tsunami on Friday, according to the scientists.

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) workers on Sunday were pouring seawater into two reactor cores at the coastal Fukushima Daiichi power plant and were considering using seawater on a third. Authorities have been forced to vent radioactive steam into the air to relieve pressure in the plant and reactors at the company's nearby Daini plant are also troubled.

"I am not aware of anyone using seawater to cool a reactor core before. They must be desperate to find water and the seawater was the only thing nearby," said Richard Meserve, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and president of the Carnegie Institution, in an interview on Sunday.

He said that suggests the company has decided it will sacrifice the reactors altogether, in what has become the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

The method being used to regain a semblance of control of the reactors smacks of last-resort desperation, said Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies and formerly a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy.

"I would describe this measure as a Hail Mary Pass but if they succeed, there is plenty of water in the ocean and if they have the capability to pump this water in the necessary volume and at the necessary rates...then they can stabilize the reactor," said Alvarez in a press conference on Saturday.

In a sign of how volatile the situation is, the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement on Sunday in Washington that it fears the situation "took a turn for the worse as serious problems developed" at the Unit 3 reactor at Daiichi.

It said that statements from Tokyo Electric officials indicate that water levels have dropped so far that approximately 90 percent of the fuel rods in the core of the reactor were uncovered and that despite pumping in seawater the water level is still well below where it should be.

The Daiichi plant was shut immediately after the March 11 earthquake when outside power was lost. Diesel generators kept the cooling water running over the superheated uranium fuel rods in the reactor core for about an hour until water from the tsunami caused them to stop.

Without circulating cooling water, the water inside the core was heated by the rods and enough evaporated causing some to partially melt. Adding the seawater should keep the rods from melting further, the scientists said.

The fear is that if the uranium fuel rods did not cool, then they could melt the container that houses the core of the reactor, or even explode, releasing a radioactive material cloud.

The experts interviewed by Reuters cautioned that it is still far too early to definitively say that the day has been saved, especially as the information from the company and the authorities is incomplete.

But they say that with every hour that goes by, the chances of a major catastrophe is diminished -- as long as water from the sea or elsewhere, keeps reactor cores from overheating.

Japanese authorities "appear to be having enough success to have forestalled a definite core melt accident that's difficult to control," said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "After three days that is very good news."

Still, he said it was "still a touch-and-go situation."

A meltdown of nuclear fuel -- which contains most of the radioactivity -- would not lead to a major escape of potentially dangerous clouds into the air as long as thick walls shielding the reactor cores were not breached. The danger is that a full-scale meltdown could cause the pressures that could create that breach through an explosion.

The passage of time may help to reduce the danger, said Professor Richard Wakeford at the Dalton Nuclear Institute of Britain's University of Manchester.

"The reactor cores were still hot when the reactor shut down, as time goes on that radioactive decay heat will get less and the problem will get less," he said in a statement.

TEPCO officials have not publicly addressed the danger facing workers involved in the seawater operation at the three reactors. However, a statement from TEPCO Director Tsuyoshi Otani suggested there is some concern.

"TEPCO staff are currently working near and in the plants and injecting seawater and boric-acid into the reactors to cool down the core under such high radiation atmosphere in order to prevent catastrophe," he said in a press release.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there might have been a partial meltdown of the fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at the Daiichi plant.

A German industry expert, however, said any partial meltdown "is not a disaster" and that a complete meltdown was unlikely.

Robert Engel, a structural analyst and senior engineer at Switzerland's Leibstadt nuclear power plant, said he believed Japanese authorities would be able to manage the situation at the damaged Fukushima facility north of Tokyo.

Engel was an external member of a team sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Japan after a 2007 earthquake that hit Japan's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, at the time the largest such event to affect a nuclear complex.

"I think nobody can say at this time whether there is a small melting of any fuel elements or something like that. You have to inspect it afterwards," he said.

Normally, Engel said, the water level inside a reactor core is 3 to 4 meters above the fuel. If the rods are not covered by water for a short period of time then they will be damaged and a core melting is possible.

"I think they will be able to manage it ... when the (reactor) containment is intact only a small amount of radioactivity can go out, like in Three Mile Island," he said referring to the 1979 nuclear accident at a plant in Pennsylvania in the United States that badly setback the nuclear industry in the United states.

At Three Mile Island, a cooling fault led to a build-up of pressure in the radioactive core and resulted in a relatively small radiation leak.

But Wakeford, the University of Manchester professor, said the Japanese authorities were doing the right thing by evacuating people in the case the worst happens.

"If the fuel is uncovered by cooling water it could become so hot it begins to melt -- if all the fuel is uncovered you could get a large scale meltdown," he warned.

By Scott DiSavino and Fredrik Dahl

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Competitive parenting’s latest weapon: Just what competitive parents need in the race to have the best child in the world.

There’ll be no more excuses for under-performing children now their parents can get them tested for sporting prowess.

So, kids, just give up those dreams of being an astronaut and start running! Pic: AP
So, kids, just give up those dreams of being an astronaut and start running! Pic: AP

A US company is selling DNA home testing kits – just swab the little darling and post it off, and they’ll let you know whether you’re nurturing the next Usain Bolt.

Just what competitive parents need in the race to have the best child in the world. Now they can hang around the school gate boasting that not only did little precious learn to align a Rubik’s Cube at two months, he also has the genes of a champion.

Never mind that the science is wobbly at best – with experts arguing that eight in 10 humans have the relevant gene (ACTN3), and that athletic success is slightly more complex than an inbuilt genetic predisposition.

What matters is that for a mere $200-odd, parents have a piece of paper that justifies their overly optimistic expectations.

I used to coach kid’s soccer for an exclusive private school. And the parents were living the stereotype – always thinking their tubby little two-left-footer should be up the front. They’d be on the sidelines, screeching at other kids to pass to their wunderkind.

Imagine if they’d had this kid tested and found out his DNA showed he was set to be the next Flores. There’d be no stopping them.

Or imagine some poor young boy who only dreams of rocketships being told his future is long-distance running. Out come the trainers, on goes the expectant parental smile.

Atlas Sports Genetics describe the test as safe for “the youngest of athletes”, and helpfully suggest it would make a wonderful birthday present for little Johnny.

The Journal of the American Medical Association warns the tests will lead to a “winning is everything” culture for kids, while Australian Medical Association SA President Dr Andrew Lavender said:

It smacks of Hitler’s idea of the ideal race. The product preys on insecurity and ignorance. Most genes interact with each other so it is impossible to exclude specific results.

When mum or dad takes the swab of their kid’s cheeks, what are they dreaming of? Are they imagining the pure joy of their child, forced up before dawn for extra laps of the local pool?

I doubt it. They’re imagining what they’ll be able to tell their friends. Their colleagues. They’re imagining being in the VIP stands as their kid wins Olympic gold, or sitting just behind Bec and Lleyton at the tennis, while their respective progeny battle it out.

And what, then, when the kid hits the oily skids of early adolescence, when he has lost all interest in the outside world and dreams only of slaying cyber-dragons?

Will the parents’ disappointment be all the more bitter for having dreamed of physical perfection?

And this poor kid, battling with the usual pains of growing up, to know they were genetically blessed, but must be mentally flawed to have failed so badly.

Competitive parenting is a blood sport, and this mail-order test is the latest weapon.

The Punch

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