Wednesday, February 26, 2014

All Eyes on Gold and China

This Is No Recovery, This Is a Bubble – And It Will Burst

According to the stock market, the UK economy is in a boom. Not just any old boom, but a historic one. On 28 October 2013, the FTSE 100 index hit 6,734, breaching the level achieved at the height of the economic boom before the 2008 global financial crisis (that was 6,730, recorded in October 2007).
Since then, it has had ups and downs, but on 21 February 2014 the FTSE 100 climbed to a new height of 6,838. At this rate, it may soon surpass the highest ever level reached since the index began in 1984 – that was 6,930, recorded in December 1999, during the heady days of the dotcom bubble.
The current levels of share prices are extraordinary considering the UK economy has not yet recovered the ground lost since the 2008 crash; per capita income in the UK today is still lower than it was in 2007. And let us not forget that share prices back in 2007 were themselves definitely in bubble territory of the first order.
The situation is even more worrying in the US. In March 2013, the Standard & Poor 500 stock market index reached the highest ever level, surpassing the 2007 peak (which was higher than the peak during the dotcom boom), despite the fact that the country’s per capita income had not yet recovered to its 2007 level. Since then, the index has risen about 20%, although the US per capita income has not increased even by 2% during the same period. This is definitely the biggest stock market bubble in modern history.
Even more extraordinary than the inflated prices is that, unlike in the two previous share price booms, no one is offering a plausible narrative explaining why the evidently unsustainable levels of share prices are actually justified.
During the dotcom bubble, the predominant view was that the new information technology was about to completely revolutionise our economies for good. Given this, it was argued, stock markets would keep rising (possibly forever) and reach unprecedented levels. The title of the book, Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market, published in the autumn of 1999 when the Dow Jones index was not even 10,000, very well sums up the spirit of the time.
Similarly, in the runup to the 2008 crisis, inflated asset prices were justified in terms of the supposed progresses in financial innovation and in the techniques of economic policy.
It was argued that financial innovation – manifested in the alphabet soup of derivatives and structured financial assets, such as MBS, CDO, and CDS – had vastly improved the ability of financial markets to “price” risk correctly, eliminating the possibility of irrational bubbles. On this belief, at the height of the US housing market bubble in 2005, both Alan Greenspan (the then chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) and Ben Bernanke (the then chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President and later Greenspan’s successor) publicly denied the existence of a housing market bubble – perhaps except for some “froth” in a few localities, according to Greenspan.
At the same time, better economic theory – and thus better techniques of economic policy – was argued to have allowed policymakers to iron out those few wrinkles that markets themselves cannot eliminate. Robert Lucas, the leading free-market economist and winner of the 1995 Nobel prize in economics, proudly declared in 2003 that “the problem of depression prevention has been solved”. In 2004, Ben Bernanke (yes, it’s him again) argued that, probably thanks to better theory of monetary policy, the world had entered the era of “great moderation”, in which the volatility of prices and outputs is minimised.
This time around, no one is offering a new narrative justifying the new bubbles because, well, there isn’t any plausible story. Those stories that are generated to encourage the share price to climb to the next level have been decidedly unambitious in scale and ephemeral in nature: higher-than-expected growth rates or number of new jobs created; brighter-than-expected outlook in Japan, China, or wherever; the arrival of the “super-dove” Janet Yellen as the new chair of the Fed; or, indeed, anything else that may suggest the world is not going to end tomorrow.
Few stock market investors really believe in these stories. Most investors know that current levels of share prices are unsustainable; it is said that George Soros has already startedbetting against the US stock market. They are aware that share prices are high mainly because of the huge amount of money sloshing around thanks to quantitative easing (QE), not because of the strength of the underlying real economy. This is why they react so nervously to any slight sign that QE may be wound down on a significant scale.
However, stock market investors pretend to believe – or even have to pretend to believe – in those feeble and ephemeral stories because they need those stories to justify (to themselves and their clients) staying in the stock market, given the low returns everywhere else.
The result, unfortunately, is that stock market bubbles of historic proportion are developing in the US and the UK, the two most important stock markets in the world, threatening to create yet another financial crash. One obvious way of dealing with these bubbles is to take the excessive liquidity that is inflating them out of the system through a combination of tighter monetary policy and better financial regulation against stock market speculation (such as a ban on shorting or restrictions on high-frequency trading). Of course, the danger here is that these policies may prick the bubble and create a mess.
In the longer run, however, the best way to deal with these bubbles is to revive the real economy; after all, “bubble” is a relative concept and even a very high price can be justified if it is based on a strong economy. This will require a more sustainable increase in consumption based on rising wages rather than debts, greater productive investments that will expand the economy’s ability to produce, and the introduction of financial regulation that will make banks lend more to productive enterprises than to consumers. Unfortunately, these are exactly the things that the current policymakers in the US and the UK don’t want to do.
We are heading for trouble.
Ha-Joon Chang teaches economics at the University of Cambridge in London. He is the author of the forthcoming book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (Allen Lane).

Americans trash about 1/3 of their food, worth $161bn – USDA

About 30 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food produced in the United States is wasted, an incredible statistic, especially given the lack of landfill space, not to mention the global menace of world hunger.
The shocking statistic gives a new meaning to the term ‘junk food,’ as Americans are sending 133 billion lbs (60 billion kg) of food to the garbage dump each year. To put it another way, 141 trillion calories annually – or 1,249 calories per capita daily – went uneaten in the United States, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture.
The top three food groups in terms of the amount of total food loss cost are ranked as follows: meat, poultry, and fish (30 percent); vegetables (19 percent); and dairy products (17 percent). Retail food waste, for example, in grocery stores and restaurants, accounted for 10 percent (43 billion lbs), while consumer losses amounted to 21 percent (90 billion pounds) of the available food supply.
The issue of food loss is becoming a serious topic not just in the United States, but across the world as countries struggle with mounting levels of garbage, while food scarcity among an exploding world population demands a new way of thinking about eating habits.
In 2010, the average American spent $4,016 on food (both for at-home and away-from-home consumption) out of an average disposable income of $36,016, the report, titled ‘The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States’, noted.
Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of US adults (35.7 percent) are obese, which is perhaps the best argument that Americans can offset a large part of the food waste problem by simply eating less. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion in 2008; the costs of providing medical assistance for individuals who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight, thereby placing an enormous strain on healthcare costs.
At the same time, the problem of global food scarcity is gaining the attention of world leaders.
“The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050, and this will require a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels. Currently…the number of food-insecure people reached 802 million in 2012,” the report stated.
The USDA warned that developed countries like the United States – where 49 million people lived in food-insecure households out of a total population of over 305 million – should not take their current level of food security for granted.
“Although most of this population growth will occur in developing countries, developed countries like the United States also face issues of hunger and food insecurity,” it said.
In an effort to attract attention to the problem of food waste, the USDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year kicked off the US Food Waste Challenge. The United Nations’ Environment Program’s (UNEP) World Environment Day’s central theme was also food waste.
AFP Photo / Spencer Platt
The report acknowledged that tackling the problem is no easy challenge given the many diverse places where food is distributed, consumed and disposed of.
There are an estimated 119 million households, over a half a million dining establishments, including fast-food outlets, and numerous other locations where people gather to eat, such as schools, institutions, and prisons across the United States, it said.
Eco-hazardous habits
A largely ignored problem associated with our intensely urbanized lifestyles is how to get rid of our food waste in a way that does not inflict long-term damage on the environment. Discarding uneaten food into plastic garbage bags and burying them in landfills only exacerbates the problem.
According to statistics by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste accounted for 34 million tons of some 250 million tons of municipal solid waste in the United States in 2010, with a price tag of about $1.3 billion.
After recycling a number of materials, like metals, plastic and paper, food waste came out on top in terms of what is overloading our garbage dumps, with 21 percent of the total, according to the EPA.
The most worrying problem with land-filling food waste is that it generates methane gas as it decomposes anaerobically. Methane is 21 times more powerful in accelerating global warming than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA as cited in the USDA report.
Landfills account for 34 percent of all human-related methane emissions in the United States
The report pointed to a growing human footprint on the planet as a good reason for nations to start addressing this issue.
The report offered some suggestions on addressing the issue, including expanding on community composting programs, of which there are around 3,510 such initiatives in the US that allow neighborhood residents to leave food scraps and yard trimmings at the curb for a special collection.
At the same time, companies will work to offset food waste if “it is economically justifiable, that is, if the benefits outweigh the costs.”
The report suggested the potential advantages of building “consumer goodwill” for business, using by way of example “a sandwich shop donates uneaten yet wholesome food to a community feeding organization at the end of each day.”
Delivered by The Daily Sheeple

Bad Economic News Is Good News?

Dollar Devaluation since 1913

To devalue a currency, like the dollar, means that the value of the currency decreases. In the case of the dollar, we call dollar devaluation.  The value of a currency is also referred to as purchasing power.  The more a currency is devalued, the less you can buy with it because the purchasing power decreases.
The graph below shows the purchasing power of the US dollar since 1913. 1913 is when the Federal Reserve, which is actually a privately-owned central bank, took over the US banking system. As you can see, it’s been pretty much downhill since the Fed took over.  In fact, the dollar has lost over 96% of its value.  That means today’s dollar would be worth less than 4 cents back in 1913.
Dollar Devaluation
Dollar Devaluation since 1913
How does the Federal Reserve devalue the dollar?  By printing more money.  Printing more money causes monetary inflation.  That means there are more dollars in circulation, but just because there is more paper money floating around, that doesn’t mean value has been created.  All you really get is price inflation.  Here’s an extreme example: Let’s say the Federal Reserve just gave everyone in America $1 million.  Wouldn’t that be great if everyone in America became a millionaire over night?  Unfortunately, nothing would change, except prices would increase. Think about it.  How much would you have to pay the plumber to come to your house, if he’s already a millionaire?

Fighting inflation

Unlike paper money dollars, which can be printed out of thin air, gold does not lose value.  In fact, gold doesn’t really go up or down.  When gold goes up, it really means the dollar is going down and when gold goes down, it’s actually the dollar getting stronger (increasing its purchasing power).  So by keeping a portion of your savings in gold, you offset the losses of your dollar being devalued by the Federal Reserve and reckless government spending.  When you buy gold or other commodities that resist inflation, it’s called a hedge against inflation.

An American Military Coup & Dead Banksters — Dave Hodges

Dave Hodges from joins me to discuss the very real possibility of a US military coup, and the signs which Dave says point to it. Dave reminds us that Dr. Jim Garrow told Dave on his show that “a coup is in process.” We also discuss EU plans to confiscate the savings accounts of its citizens, Obama’s MyRA which is the US government’s attempt to seize OUR savings, and we discus the lengthening list of dead Banksters about which Dave says; “This is a criminal mafia organization that’s trying to run the planet and key witnesses who might speak out are disappearing… I believe this is evidence tampering through murder.”
Dave Hodges’ site: 

Alternative Currency Sabotaged?

• “Bitcoin” facing uncertain future after series of suspicious setbacks
By Keith Johnson
It’s been a tough week for bitcoin, the popular alternative currency that allows consumers to transact business discreetly, outside the purview of the controlling central banks.
On February 7, Japan-based Mt. Gox, the world’s third-largest venue for exchanging bitcoin into United States dollars, caused the price of the digital currency to lose more than 20% of its beginning week value of $850 after it suspended trading amid an “increase in withdrawal traffic.” By Monday, the company announced it would halt withdrawals indefinitely after detecting “unusual activity.” As a result, the price of bitcoin plummeted a staggering 27% from its Friday closing price of $692 to $500.
This is just the latest setback for the original bitcoin exchange, which once boasted handling 80% of all bitcoin transactions but now barely represents 14% of the market currently in trade. In May 2013, Mt. Gox suffered a major public relations disaster after its U.S. bank account was seized by the Department of Homeland Security for failing to properly register as a money-services company. Prior to that, the company was targeted with a series of computer hacking attacks that caused delays in processing requests and gained them a reputation for slow payouts—something they’ve found hard to shake.
“The Mt. Gox affair is a symptom, not a cause, of deep-seated problems in the bitcoin system,” wrote Michael Hiltzik in a recent article for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a sign that bitcoins aren’t ready to serve as anything but pieces in a very risky, speculative game.”
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Others aren’t nearly as skeptical as Hiltzik. Among them is millionaire investor and bitcoin guru Roger Ver, who is taking Mt. Gox’s recent troubles in stride.
“This is just another temporary bump on the wild ride of bitcoin,” Ver recently told this AMERICAN FREE PRESS reporter. “I think bitcoins will increase to more than $10,000 each in the future.”
In November 2013, Ver saw the writing on the wall for Mt. Gox and told Wired magazine that he would not recommend using it as an exchange, adding: “Anybody who has enough information about what’s going on in the bitcoin world, you would not buy your bitcoins on Mt. Gox.”
When asked by this AFP reporter what the Mt. Gox debacle means for the bitcoin economy as a whole, Ver replied, “In the long run it is good for bitcoin since people will be more likely to use more responsible exchanges in the future.”
In an effort to gauge how others within the bitcoin community are reacting to the recent setback, this newspaper reached out to Jinyoung Lee Englund, director of public affairs for the Bitcoin Foundation.
When asked to respond to detractors who say that bitcoin is doomed to failure, Mrs. Englund replied: “It’s fair to say that at this stage of growth, the possibility of bitcoin succeeding versus failing is about 50-50. Obviously, there are those that believe that the odds are more in [our] favor, such as the three top tech venture capital firms in the nation as identified by Forbes magazine [that] invested over $30 million into this space in the last quarter alone. . . . But by no means do we advocate that anyone invest his life savings into bitcoin. That is a very risky endeavor. If you intend on participating in this experimental stage, be willing to lose everything you put in.”
This AFP reporter also contacted Jonathan Levin, a post-graduate economics student at the University of Oxford who has been tracking bitcoins currently in circulation. Levin sees a bigger problem than Mt. Gox on the bitcoin horizon. While preparing virtual currency statistics for the website, Levin found that huge stocks of bitcoins sitting in dormant accounts could dramatically impact the currency’s future price and stability.
“Of the total money supply, one-third of [bitcoins] are sitting in addresses that have not been touched in a year,” Levin told AFP. “If those coins were to move, then the market would have to adjust, decreasing the price of bitcoin. This dormancy of coins essentially reduces bitcoin to commodity money that can be bought at a spot price during a transaction and used as a medium of exchange. This would essentially [re-]define bitcoin as a payment network rather than a unit of account.”
Levin suggested that this “concentration of wealth” among some bitcoin users could be potentially detrimental to its acceptance as a viable medium of exchange. “In previous virtual currency schemes there have been organized methods for getting spent coins back to the users to keep the economy going,” he said. “The mechanisms by which this happens in bitcoin are far from certain and could mean that we get an oligarchic society, which I am sure none of us want. This means that when people decide whether to buy or not buy bitcoins they are speculating on the motives, incentives and decisions of the people that control large amounts of bitcoin.”
When asked by this AFP reporter to respond to Levin’s arguments, Roger Ver replied: “I don’t share these concerns. Early adopters with large caches of bitcoin have the proper incentives not to do anything to destroy the value of their bitcoin savings.”
Of course, the same could be said for other commodities, especially precious metals like gold, which often stay dormant for years as investment vehicles. Then again, precious metals have intrinsic value, whereas bitcoin—like all other fiat currencies—is only as strong as the faith one has in them.

Playing Real-Life Monopoly

It might seem like a game of Monopoly played by real monopolies and, with a tired groan, one might be tempted to dismiss it as part of an ugly but irreversible trend. But the merger of cable-television mammoth Comcast with its runner-up competitor Time-Warner Cable is a huge piece of news whose outcome, if it goes forward, will be crippling to communications in this country.
With this $45-billion deal, Comcast’s 21.7 million subscribers will combine with Time-Warner’s 11.4 million to put most tv subscribers in the pocket of one company, giving it control over about a third of all cable TV customers and unprecedented leverage over smaller regional and local providers. (Comcast has agreed to “divest” or sell off about 3 million subscribers, a ripple in the power pond.) Since cable television is now the primary source of news, education and entertainment for a large and increasing number of American families, this deal would make one company our primary newspaper, movie theater and library.
What’s more, the deal would deepen the grave for the Internet as we know it: a grave already being dug with the recent Net Neutrality decision. Both Comcast and Time-Warner are major providers of high-speed Internet services. By combining Internet with the cable television services, the companies have been able to offer a slightly lower price and more convenient hook-up for Internet connectivity than the telephone and other companies offering it. That’s won them a huge market — about 40 percent of all high-speed connections in this country.
That market power has allowed Comcast to strike first in taking advantage of the recent Net Neutrality decisions. Netflix, the popular Internet-based movie and television provider, has now agreed to pay Comcast more money for smoother and quicker connections signalling a blow to Net Neutrality.
What that will do to prices is anyone’s guess but the more important threat is to Net Neutrality because, with one company controlling so much of the market and legally allowed to choose what you can and can’t access, there will be no open Internet. It will turn into a clone of cable television: charging you more for seeing some pages on the newspaper, viewing certain movies in the theater and accessing sections of the library.
The courts can stop this merger. Most analysts doubt they will.
Anti-trust laws have a critical place in modern capitalism. With an imperative to grow, companies always attempt to corner their market. And when they become big, companies can do virtually anything they want and have always been able to. The only real blocks they confront are labor unions (which are weaker than ever) and a set of laws explicitly outlawing monopoly: the ability of one company to control an entire market through take-over or purchase of its competitors.
As hard as it is to imagine, regulators once enforced those anti-trust laws and, until the mid-2000s, they strictly prohibited any vendor from controlling more than 30 percent of the cable market. That prohibition was a product of decades of pressure and protest by consumer advocates and free media organizations. Comcast wasn’t happy with that restriction and, starting around 2005, it poured a fortune into fighting to over-turn the federal 30 percent rule. In 2009, a federal appeals court threw the rule out.
The FCC and federal litigators may go to court to oppose this merger but it’s difficult to see what ground they will stand on. Monopoly, in today’s capitalism, isn’t only permitted, it’s ubiquitous.
In fact, both Comcast and Time-Warner are already monopolies. This merger is merely a logical extension.
The history of Comcast is a case study in corporate gobbling of selections all over the menu. Since 1990, when it began its quest to become the major player in entertainment transmission, the company has acquired AT&T Broadband (which set its footprint in cable TV) and then literally dozens of local and regional cable companies. It also bought MGM (the movie studio), Universal Pictures (ditto), a controlling interest in the NBC system (including MSNBC), a dizzying array of companies like theme parks and investment firms and over a dozen local systems previously controlled by Time-Warner.
If something makes you cry or laugh when you see it, there’s a good chance Comcast owns it. The company serves cable television to about 21 million homes in the U.S.
While Time-Warner Cable is the little guy in this deal, it is hardly a slouch. It runs cable systems in 29 states serving nearly 11 million homes and offices with basic and digital cable. It was once part of the Time-Warner company — one of the richest entertainment companies in the world — but it was spun off in 2009 and really has no relationship to the giant parent except the name (which it leases). Still with all that cable hook-up, it is a formidable presence and its footprint has grown steadily.
Both companies are also Internet heavies. Comcast serves about 20 million homes and offices with high-speed cable. Time-Warner serves about 8.6 million (through its Road-Runner service).
In places where they operate, these companies are literally the only game in town. You get your cable from them or you don’t watch tv. That’s monopoly.
Given the federal court’s 2009 decision, and the fact that these companies already monopolize communications in their markets, a challenge to this merger appears almost hopeless. The aggressive opposition from advocates, law-makers and regulators to Comcast’s NBC majority-stock purchase didn’t stop that recent deal. Since Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is a good friend of several Obama Administration heavies — Attorney General Eric Holder recently vacationed at Roberts’ retreat in Martha’s Vineyard — the good money is that this deal won’t hit many road-blocks.
This merger would effectively end diversity within the cable industry. The most powerful information system we have would suddenly be controlled or heavily influenced by one company and, by any reasonable definition, it’s a bad company. If you want an image of what an evil monopoly looks and acts like, Comcast fills the bill perfectly.
With a pricing policy and remarkably dismissive support systems, both Comcast and Time-Warner routinely appear on lists of “the worst companies in the country”.
Consumers have continuously complained about both systems’ down-time and spotty, often dismissive, customer service.
They also complain about content. Much specialized and “alternative” programming available on satellite dish and some local cable systems can’t be found on Comcast or Time-Warner. If you’re a big cable subscriber, you won’t find Free Speech TV (which carries, among other things, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program), or Link TV (the progressive documentary network) or even Al Jazeera America (a mainstream news network that actually covers the world, competing head to head with CNN International and the BBC). There are, in fact, scores of networks and stations that you’ll never see. The steady growth of DirectTV and Dish TV — which carry all those networks and much more — are a direct result of Comcast’s and Time-Warner’s service and content rstrictions and limitations.
This arrogance and outright censoring makes their pricing — which, in Comcast’s case is 400 percent above the average cable price in Europe — all the more galling. And the gall overflows when Comcast charges “special fees” like the $1.50 monthly delivery fee for “premier content” for more popular networks.
Not only are customers stuck with paying more but they can’t even skip the commercials. Comcast actually disables fast-forwarding for some of its programming and markets this capability to advertisers, promising them a captive audience for their less that artful commercials.
But nowhere is Comcast more of a bully than in its Internet policies. The clearest reflection of that is its pricing and product “shaping”. Comcast’s high-speed is about as expensive as any other company’s, but it is now about to get more expensive and that’s accomplished in several ways. There is now a “data limit” in place for Comcast customers. If you flow 300 gigabytes of data into your home, you’re covered by your monthly fees. If you go over that, you get slammed with a $10 fee for every 50 GBs you received.
That means nothing to most people because few flow 300 GBs of data into your home. But those who work on the Internet (like activists) do sometimes hit that limit and, if you’re watching Internet movies or shows through your cable system, so will you. The threat here isn’t to today’s usage, it’s to the future. And, given cable watching trends, it’s the near-future.
Comcast’s explanation for this data-limitation policy is revealing. They claim it’s to protect most users (who don’t use this kind of data) from “usage hogs.” In short, Comcast has developed a sneaky pricing policy which inhibits the full use of the Internet but is shifting the blame to…you guessed it: consumers.
That’s why activists are particularly concerned. The company that will now be selling all the information needs that subscribers have has traditionally shown no respect for information users. And since it can now offer “tiered content delivery” on the Internet (due to the recent court trashing of Net Neutrality rules), the morphing of the Internet to an on-line “bazaar” is almost a foregone conclusion.
Comcast’s recent Netflix deal demonstrates how it plans to take advantage of the Net Neutrality demise. The deal doesn’t violate Net Neutrality in the traditional sense. Net Neutrality prohibits a service provider (like Comcast) from dividing its data lines into faster and slower lines and then charging more to put certain websites into the faster ones. This isn’t about the speed of your connection to the Internet (which already involves paying more or less), it’s about allowing certain sites to move more quickly over those connections than others. This deal actually offers Netflix its own speedy connection directly to your television. That might sound good if you’re a Netflix viewer, but you’ll probably end up paying more for your movies because Netflix will be paying more for the faster connection, and, more importantly, other sites that you want to visit will become harder, or impossible to access.
“Officially, Comcast’s deal with Netflix is about interconnection, not traffic discrimination,” explains Timothy Lee in his informative Washington Post piece on the deal. “But it’s hard to see a practical difference between this deal and the kind of tiered access that network neutrality advocates have long feared. Network neutrality advocates are going to have to go back to the drawing board.”
As bad as all this might be currently, the most destructive impact of this merger will be felt in the future because new technologies — like Google Fiber — can deliver Internet speeds that make Comcast’s look slow. But the company insists that consumers don’t want that kind of speed. “Our business customers can already order 10-gig connections,” wrote Comcast Vice President David Cohen. “Most websites can’t deliver content as fast as current networks move, and most U.S. homes have routers that can’t support the speed already available to the home.”
In cyber-corp speak, that means that if enough Comcast customers want the higher speed, they will have to pay top dollar for it. Not only will this put Comcast in control of the Internet’s content. If the merger is approved, Comcast will control the Internet’s access and speed.
Internet activists expected and warned of developments like this when the courts threw out Net Neutrality in January but the speed with which Comcast has moved has unquestionably surprised us. As I wrote in my last piece, we need to de-privatize the Internet…now more than ever.
Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!

Marc Faber: Unrest In Ukraine, Thailand & Venezuela From Lack Of Recovery

Cutting Defense Spending, a Shell Game Masquerading as Something Substantial

Yesterday the Obama administration proposed a budget plan that would include downsizing the Army to pre- W.W.II levels, eliminate the U-2 spy plane, retire the A-10 Thunderbolt jet fighter, draw down the Marine Corps from 190,000 to 182,000 and mothball half of the Navy’s 22 cruisers, (just a little something from all the service branches so it’s all equitable).
As expected the proposed cuts drew criticism from the usual suspects with Republican Senator Marco Rubio commenting, “Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in seventy years does not accurately reflect the current security environment. Cutting key Air Force and Naval capabilities just as we are trying to increase our presence in the Pacific does not make strategic sense”. Thank you Marco for your not so keen insights. Will someone inform this fool the cold war ended in 1991 and fabricating a new one with China is sheer lunacy.
But back to the proposed cuts; if one looks closely at them as well as what is to be expanded, it’s really a shell game masquerading as something substantial in cutting defense spending.
To begin with cutting the Navy’s fleet of 22 cruisers is offset with the building of 32, new generation, “Littoral Combat” ships. The original plan called for building 52 of these ships but you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to recognize that’s a plus 10 ships on the high seas.
Then there’s the mothballing of the A-10 “Warthog” fleet offset by fully retaining the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter force just coming on line, the most costly program in Pentagon history. Hmm, replace one type fighter jet with a more expensive one. Don’t ask for logic, just read on.
Consider the plan to shrink the size of the Army from 522,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 and the Marines dropping from 190,000 to 182,000. This is offset by increasing special ops forces by several thousand to some 69,700. These are the same special ops forces conducting night raids, kicking in doors, calling in drone strikes and missile attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia where operations kill and maim scores of innocents in funeral processions and wedding parties, but hey, “collateral damage” happens, So we must pursue insurgent “suspects” wherever they may be lurking in the hinterlands of the world to salve the harebrained likes of Marco Rubio and his ilk even as they bleat we’re going to put U.S. security at risk.
As for eliminating the U-2 spy plane what do you need that for when there are satellites operating in space that can see everything.
Then last but not least, spending for cyberwarfare will increase under the proposed plan. Just in case you had a memory lapse, cyberwarfare was first initiated in the world in 2010 by us and the Israeli’s with “Stuxnet”, a computer virus that temporarily crippled Iranian computers controlling their centrifuges enriching uranium.
This of course has led others to conduct cyberwarfare against us attacking computer systems of major corporations, universities, even the Pentagon. It’s not exactly standing on high moral ground and express indignation against others for doing what you started considering you were the perpetrator initiating the practice.
It’s certainly enlightening when one looks beyond the “veneer” of these Pentagon budget cut proposals as a whole different picture emerges.
And let’s not forget it isn’t only Republican lawmakers making harrumphing noise about the proposed “cuts”. Democrats too have been behind the unnecessary, bloated defense spending with the manufacture of various weapons systems spread among jurisdictions in 44 of the 50 states.
So these proposed defense cuts are presented as necessary under “sequester,” that calls for automatic federal spending cuts.
Yet it’s all just a ruse, a con game by officials in tailored suits, just an updated version of the old “flim flam” man conning some unsuspecting rube, getting him to try his luck and choose which shell the elusive pea is under. Ah sorry, you lose.

ObamaCare may increase premiums for 11 million workers, report says

Republicans renewed their fight against ObamaCare on Monday in response to a new report in which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services concludes that 11 million small business employees may see their premiums rise under the law.
The report, released Friday, says the higher rates are partly due to the health law's requirement that premiums can no longer be based on a person's age. That has sent premiums higher for younger workers, and lower for older ones.
The report found that 65 percent of small businesses would see a spike in insurance premiums and about 35 percent of small businesses would see lower rates for plans covering six million people, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The estimate is far from certain, partly because many small businesses renewed their policies in 2013. Renewing before the end of the year allowed them to avoid higher premiums that went into effect Jan. 1, when coverage was required to conform to the law. 
Also limiting the certainty of the estimate is the fact that the report looks at three specific provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Employers' decisions will be based on more factors, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Still, Republicans were quick to pounce on the report, which was requested by House Speaker John Boehner and was due before the end of 2011.
"This is another punch in the gut for Americans already struggling in the president’s economy," Boehner said in a statement. "It's clear why the administration sought to delay and deemphasize the release of this report. It undermines the central promise of the president’s health care law: affordable coverage." 
"These 11 million people who will see their premiums spike are 11 million more reasons to repeal this law and start over with common sense reform that will make care more affordable, not more costly." 
House Small Business Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said the report is the latest piece of bad news for the law, which hit a snag earlier this month after the Obama administration announced another delay in requiring businesses to provide health coverage.
"The fact that two-thirds of Americans who work at small businesses will see premium increases because of the health law is devastating news. This is one more in a long line of broken promises from President Obama and Washington Democrats," Graves said in a statement.
The report did not estimate by how much premiums are expected to increase or decrease, and did not consider other parts of the law that can impact the cost of plans, such as tax credits designed to encourage employers to offer health insurance coverage, the Journal reported.
"Since the Affordable Care Act became law, health-care costs have been slowing and premium growth has slowed to the lowest rate in years," Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the newspaper. "The law is making it easier for businesses to offer coverage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Click here for more from The Wall Street Journal.

France set to falter on debt pledge to EU

There was more bad news for France on the economic front on Tuesday when new figures from the EU suggested they were not going to meet a promise to cut its public deficit. But there were some reasons for Paris finance chiefs to smile.
France is set to breach promises to cut its public deficit, according to new figures from the European Union suggesting the country's deficit will remain above the 3.0-percent ceiling in 2014 and 2015.
The EU's winter economic outlook, released on Tuesday, suggested France's deficit will climb to 4.0 percent of output this year and remain at 3.9 percent in 2015.
Following the release of public deficit figures last year, the French government had promised to keep its deficit beneath the EU's 3.0-percent ceiling, predicting public spending cuts would keep the deficit beneath 2.8 percent for 2015.
Source and full story: The Local (France), 25 February 2014

Another "Successful Banker" Found Dead

The dismal trail of dead bankers continues. As The Journal Star reports, a successful Lincoln businessman and member of a prominent local family died last week. Former National Bank of Commerce CEO James Stuart Jr. was found dead in Scottsdale, Ariz., the morning of Feb. 19. A family spokesman did not say what caused the death. This brings the total of banker deaths in recent weeks to 9 as Stuart is sadly survived by three sons and four daughters.

Mr Stuart's background (via The Journal Star),
Stuart was a native of Lincoln and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Business Administration.

In 1969, Stuart joined Citibank in New York City and served as a loan officer until 1973, when he joined First Commerce Bancshares (then NBC Co.) as executive vice president. He was named president in 1976, chairman and CEO in 1978, and also became chairman and CEO of National Bank of Commerce in 1985. Stuart spent his life building the organization into an important business voice in Lincoln, friend and colleague Brad Korell said.

“He was a very successful banker,” said Korell, who worked with Stuart for more than 30 years. “I always felt that he was a visionary. He really did build one of the most successful and admired banking organizations in the Midwest.”

Stuart spent much of his career with First Commerce Bancshares, a $3 billion multi-bank holding company headquartered in Lincoln. First Commerce was sold to Wells Fargo in 2000.

He is a former member of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and was appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman to the board of the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 2008. Stuart was also involved with natural resources-related groups such as Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and U.S. National Forest Foundation.

He served on the international board of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the boards of the University of Nebraska Foundation and Nebraska Wesleyan University.

According to Korell, Stuart was living in Scottsdale, overlooking his family's financial investments, as well as golfing and fishing.
Which brings the total number of recent banker deaths to 9 (via Intellihub):
1 – William Broeksmit, 58-year-old former senior executive at Deutsche Bank AG, was found dead in his home after an apparent suicide in South Kensington in central London, on January 26th.
2- Karl Slym, 51 year old Tata Motors managing director Karl Slym, was found dead on the fourth floor of the Shangri-La hotel in Bangkok on January 27th.
3 – Gabriel Magee, a 39-year-old JP Morgan employee, died after falling from the roof of the JP Morgan European headquarters in London on January 27th.
4 – Mike Dueker, 50-year-old chief economist of a US investment bank was found dead close to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State.
5 – Richard Talley, the 57 year old founder of American Title Services in Centennial, Colorado, was found dead earlier this month after apparently shooting himself with a nail gun.
6 -Tim Dickenson, a U.K.-based communications director at Swiss Re AG, also died last month, however the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown.
7 – Ryan Henry Crane, a 37 year old executive at JP Morgan died in an alleged suicide just a few weeks ago.  No details have been released about his death aside from this small obituary announcement at the Stamford Daily Voice.
8 - Li Junjie, 33-year-old banker in Hong Kong jumped from the JP Morgan HQ in Hong Kong this week.
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I Think It’s Time To Allow The Market To Collapse, We Cannot Go On Like We Are Going.

Before the collapse of 08 there were tremors going off everywhere. Many saw it coming. There was an upkick on the doom of the markets and the housing markets were on track of not paying back their loans to people who were suckered into easy loan options in the beginning but a few years down the road wouldn’t be able to handle the payments but were told that real estate was going to rise at the rates they were going and so they could just borrow against it…. to many on that dole and they were the bubble that burst.
For the last several years since the crash there has recently been the uptick in people warning about another coming collapse. I again take notice because all the money for QE is gone. Inflation is rising month to month… seems like everytime I go to the store I leave with less. The GDP top debt ratio has gone above 100%. There is no manufacturing or making of goods in the US like there once was. We all are on borrowed time now… Unemployment is at 25% (the real number). Corporations are buying their own stocks on borrowed money that is interest free right now. But don’t kid yourself because when a percentage point is placed on these loans Corporations will not be able to afford buying back their own stocks. Everyone getting paid is direct from the bailout funds. The next debt bubble to burst is going to rise out of nowhere because they are all connected as never before on the funding from debt itself. I’m feeling it’s days away now and can come at any time, without notice, and the only thing left to save it will be the confiscation of the savings of what will be in the banks at the time.
I think it’s time to allow the market to collapse. We cannot go on like we are going. If we would have allowed the collapse to happen in 08 we would be building in the black by now. But an economy based solely on debt bubbles is not something that can be sustained to a peoples that want to call themselves freeborn.
It will come as a thief in the night… come and knock us all on our asses. Much worse then in 08. It’s not like we don’t deserve it… we have allowed it to grow and the pain would have been much less if allowed to fail in 08.
DEBT BUBBLES… all our industries are in debt bubbles… and many of these are major holders of their own stocks that will be worth pennies soon enough… all of them.
Try and find an industry that is not part of a debt bubble… you can’t.
IT must be our destiny. You see it…. I see it… and no one can do anything for 3 more years.
We have a president that does not have a CLUE about anything. A community organizer that has no leadership and has never ran anything.
“President Barack Obama is doing everything he is not supposed to do — and is failing to do the things he is supposed to do — to fix this economic crisis,”
Yet, all you conservatives… REFUSED to vote for Romney… and that NO VOTE helped re-elect this man.
No one KNOWS anything… hearing after hearing…
“What difference does it make?”
Yet with all the lies people voted again for in-experience… because they got a free cell phone. CANDY for the ignorant.
We really have some dumb people in the USA.
even … George Soros Bets on U.S. Financial Collapse
It is only a matter of time before the stock market plunges by 50% or more, according to several reputable experts.
“We have no right to be surprised by a severe and imminent stock market crash,” explains Mark Spitznagel, a hedge fund manager who is notorious for his hugely profitable billion-dollar bet on the 2008 crisis. “In fact, we must absolutely expect it.”
Unfortunately Spitznagel isn’t alone.
“We are in a gigantic financial asset bubble,” warns Swiss adviser and fund manager Marc Faber. “It could burst any day.”
Faber doesn’t hesitate to put the blame squarely on President Obama’s big government policies and the Federal Reserve’s risky low-rate policies, which, he says, “penalize the income earners, the savers who save, your parents — why should your parents be forced to speculate in stocks and in real estate and everything under the sun?”

Wall Street Boys Gone Wild

Many people already had low opinions of the Wall Street elite. I’m referring to the investment-banker types who get incredibly rich through financial manipulations, government bailouts and implicit government guarantees provided for too-big-to-fail banks. But a recent New York magazine piece showed that even the most jaded were being too generous in their assessment of this gang.
Kevin Roose, who was working as a New York Times reporter at the time, managed to infiltrate a black-tie party at the St. Regis Hotel sponsored by a secret Wall Street fraternity. The so-called Kappa Beta Phi (the reverse of Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society) was not made up of a bunch of college kids or recent grads. It featured many of the leading figures on Wall Street — multimillionaires and billionaires, all of whom were well past the age at which we expect people to start being responsible for their actions.
Roose, whose new book, “Young Money,” includes this episode, reported on childish skits by men dressed up in drag and sexist and homophobic jokes directed against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D–Mass., among others. There were also tone-deaf wisecracks about the financial crisis and their bailout by the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department, which apparently is quite amusing to these people.

The rest of the country has experienced these events a bit differently. On the basis of Congressional Budget Office projections, the collapse of the housing bubble will have cost the country more than $24 trillion ($80,000 per person) in lost output through 2024. The people who are unemployed, underemployed or have lost their homes probably don’t have as much to laugh about these days as the brothers of Kappa Beta Phi.
The anger prompted by Roose’s account makes this a great time to bring back the idea of taxing their speculation. While Dodd-Frank reforms will curb some of the worst abuses, the Wall Streeters are still making huge fortunes shuffling money rather than doing anything productive. A modest tax can raise a huge amount of money for productive ends, such as infrastructure and education, while making shuffling money a bit less profitable.
Last year, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced a bill that that would place a tax of 0.03 percent (3 cents on $100) on the sale of assets such as stocks, bonds and derivatives. In other words, they are proposing a very modest sales tax. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that this tax would raise almost $40 billion a year. That’s almost twice the amount needed to extend unemployment benefits for a full year.
Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota proposed a somewhat higher rate, comparable to the one in place on stock trade in the United Kingdom, which could raise as much as $170 billion a year. In short, there is real money at stake here. All versions of these bills are held up in committees.
The idea of imposing a tax on financial transactions is hardly new or radical. The tax in the United Kingdom dates back to the 17th century, and it hasn’t prevented the country from having one of the largest stock markets in the world.
Even the International Monetary Fund has come out in favor of increasing taxes on the financial sector. It points out that the financial sector is seriously undertaxed compared with other sectors of the economy. Most of us pay a sales tax when we buy clothes or a car, but for some reason we are supposed to believe the world will come to an end if the Wall Street guys have to pay a tax when they are flipping credit default swaps.
When they give up on claiming that a Wall Street sales tax will bring on the apocalypse, the usual fallback is that it would hit small savers and pension funds. The argument is that the brokerage houses will pass on the tax so that everyone with a 401(k) will get socked with extra costs.
There are two problems with this story. First, most people with 401(k)s aren’t buying and selling stock every five minutes. (In fact, many companies now charge a fee to people who change their assets between funds frequently.) This means the cost to most people would be relatively small even if it is passed on.
However, the more important point is that people respond to higher trading costs by trading less. Most research shows that if trading costs go up by 50 percent, then people cut back their trading by roughly 50 percent. This means that people will pay more for each trade but they will be carrying out many fewer trades, leaving their total trading costs pretty much the same.
Since on average we don’t make money by trading, fewer trades are not going to hurt the return we get on our 401(k). It will, however, be bad news for the Wall Street folks who profit from the trades.
And that is why our representatives in Congress are not anxious to take up the Harkin-DeFazio or Ellison bills. Those fraternity brothers telling sexist and homophobic jokes have lots of money, and in Washington that means campaign fundraising, which means power.
For this reason, members of Congress will come up with all sorts of nonsense to avoid making Wall Street pay taxes like the rest of us. In fact, Barack Obama’s administration has been working overtime to block a tax in the European Union. The White House has been demanding an exemption for the European subsidiaries of U.S. banks that would make the tax unworkable.
A Wall Street sales tax would be a quick effective way to bring the brothers of Kappa Beta Phi down to earth. But until people starting making demands of their representatives, they will keep taking the Wall Street money, and the brothers will keep laughing at the rest of us at their black-tie and drag parties at the St. Regis.
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author, most recently, of The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive.

Apparent Theft at Mt. Gox Shakes Bitcoin World

The most prominent Bitcoin exchange appeared to be on the verge of collapse late Monday, raising questions about the future of a volatile marketplace.
On Monday night, a number of leading Bitcoin companies jointly announced that Mt. Gox, the largest exchange for most of Bitcoin’s existence, was planning to file for bankruptcy after months of technological problems and what appeared to have been a major theft. A document circulating widely in the Bitcoin world said the company had lost 744,000 Bitcoins in a theft that had gone unnoticed for years. That would be about 6 percent of the 12.4 million Bitcoins in circulation.
While Mt. Gox did not respond to numerous requests for comments, and the companies issuing the statement scrambled to determine the exact situation at Mt. Gox, which is based in Japan, the news helped push the price of a single Bitcoin below $500 for the first time since November, when it began a spike that took it above $1,200.
But at the same time that the news about Mt. Gox was emerging, a New York firm announced plans to create an exchange that could draw the world’s largest banks into the virtual currency market for the first time.
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Bitcoin Believers

While regulators debate the pros and cons of bitcoins, this volatile digital currency inspires the question: What makes money, money?
The new exchange is being put together by SecondMarket, which rose to fame a few years ago after creating a platform for buying and selling shares of companies like Twitter and Facebook before they went public.
Without the trouble at Mt. Gox, the SecondMarket plans would have been seen as a major boon for virtual currencies, providing a potential entry point into the Bitcoin market for large banks, which have so far avoided virtual currencies as their price has skyrocketed.
Barry Silbert, SecondMarket’s chief executive, said that he had already talked with several banks and financial companies about joining the new exchange, along with financial regulators, and that he hoped to have it in operation this summer.
But plans for any new venture will be tested by the collapse of Mt. Gox, which could shake the faith of early Bitcoin adopters. Ryan Galt, a blogger who writes frequently about Bitcoin and was one of the first to circulate the news about Mt. Gox, wrote on Monday: “I do believe that this is one of the existential threats to Bitcoin that many have feared and have personally sold all of my Bitcoin holdings.”
On Monday, Mt. Gox took down all of its previous posts on Twitter, one day after its chief executive, Mark Karpeles, resigned from the board of the Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for virtual currencies.
A statement from the chief executives of Bitcoin companies like Coinbase, Circle, and Payward, said that the “tragic violation of the trust of users of Mt. Gox was the result of one company’s abhorrent actions and does not reflect the resilience or value of Bitcoin and the digital currency industry.”
The events are in keeping with the stark ups and downs of Bitcoin’s short existence.
Released in 2009 by an anonymous creator known as Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin program runs on the computers of anyone who joins in, and it is set to release only 21 million coins in regular increments. The coins can be moved between digital wallets using secret passwords.
While Bitcoin fans have said the technology could provide a revolutionary new way of moving money around the world, skeptics have viewed it variously as a Ponzi scheme or an investment susceptible to fraud and theft.
Many leading names in the Bitcoin community were still trying to determine the scope and potential consequences of the troubles at Mt. Gox. A document detailing the purported theft, labeled “Crisis Strategy Draft,” appeared to come from Mt. Gox.
While officials at the Bitcoin Foundation could not verify the origins of the document, they were preparing for the closure of Mt. Gox.
Patrick Murck, the foundation’s general counsel, said that “this incident just demonstrates the need for initiatives by responsible individuals and responsible members of the Bitcoin community like what’s being described” in SecondMarket’s initiative.

Mt. Gox’s difficulties this week are only the latest in a long line of problems at the Tokyo-based exchange. Created in 2010, Mt. Gox quickly became the most popular place to buy and sell Bitcoins. But the firm has suffered several intrusions and technological mishaps, which have led to steep declines in the currency’s price. A few weeks ago the company stopped allowing its customers to withdraw Bitcoins after it said it had discovered a flaw in some of the basic Bitcoin computer code.
While other exchanges were briefly hit by problems, they came back online. Mt. Gox never opened up again, prompting speculation about its future.
Until now, the major Bitcoin exchanges have all allowed anyone from the public to buy and sell virtual currency. SecondMarket’s plan is to create a platform more like the New York Stock Exchange, where only large institutions can join and trade.
Mr. Silbert says he will only open the exchange once they have several regulated financial institutions signed on as members. His hope, he says, is to give them partial ownership so that they have an incentive to trade there.
For much of Bitcoin’s life, banks have viewed the virtual currency with either derision or dismissiveness.
Recently, though, a number of banks have released research reports that have been less negative. A December report from Bank of America said that virtual currencies could become an important new part of the payment system, allowing money to move more cheaply than it does with credit cards and money transmitters like Western Union.
The statement from the Bitcoin companies on Monday night, which was not signed by Mr. Silbert, said that “in order to re-establish the trust squandered by the failings of Mt. Gox, responsible Bitcoin exchanges are working together and are committed to the future of Bitcoin and the security of all customer funds.”

WARNING: Stocks Will Collapse by 50% in 2014

It is only a matter of time before the stock market plunges by 50% or more, according to several reputable experts.
“We have no right to be surprised by a severe and imminent stock market crash,” explains Mark Spitznagel, a hedge fund manager who is notorious for his hugely profitable billion-dollar bet on the 2008 crisis. “In fact, we must absolutely expect it.”
Unfortunately Spitznagel isn’t alone.
“We are in a gigantic financial asset bubble,” warns Swiss adviser and fund manager Marc Faber. “It could burst any day.”
Faber doesn’t hesitate to put the blame squarely on President Obama’s big government policies and the Federal Reserve’s risky low-rate policies, which, he says, “penalize the income earners, the savers who save, your parents — why should your parents be forced to speculate in stocks and in real estate and everything under the sun?”
Billion-dollar investor Warren Buffett is rumored to be preparing for a crash as well. The “Warren Buffett Indicator,” also known as the “Total-Market-Cap to GDP Ratio,” is breaching sell-alert status and a collapse may happen at any moment. 
The writing is on the wall, People!

Venezuela’s real inflation may be six times the official rate

Among the complaints of the Venezuelans that have taken to the street by the tens of thousands over the past couple weeks is the government’s inability to stem high inflation. It’s easy to see why people are angry; official figures put the country’s annualized inflation rate at 56%, which is among the highest in the world. And there’s reason to believe even that high number is a drastic underestimate of Venezuela’s actual inflation rate.
The problem with Venezuela’s official rate is that it doesn’t account for the country’s highly active black market, according to Johns Hopkins economics professor Steve Hanke. Venezuela’s shortage index, which tracks the percentage of basic goods in short supply, is approaching 30%—meaning that well over a quarter of the things Venezuelans want to buy, they can’t easily find. The current list includes flour, corn, butter, eggs, and even toilet paper. Government controls have been put in effect to artificially keep prices low, but they have had the opposite effect of discouraging production and exacerbating the shortages.
It also doesn’t help that Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has plunged since president Nicolas Maduro took office, which is making Venezuelans reluctant to hold onto the local currency, instead stashing away foreign currencies such as US dollars.
The result is that almost anything one can buy on the open market can be turned around at a higher price, often in US dollars, on the black market. “The prices in the economy are much, much higher than the controlled prices being used by the government,” Hanke said. “The inflation rate is much higher than anyone is projecting. It’s in the triple digits.” According to the Cato Institute’s troubled currencies project, which estimates the inflation implied by a country’s black market prices, Venezuela’s rate was 330% as of last week, or nearly six times the official figure.
Whether protests, which have used roadblocks as a means of disruption, will worsen Venezuela’s economic woes remains to be seen. But there’s at least the potential for such tactics to exacerbate the country’s shortages. “The protests will probably worsen them marginally,” Hanke said. “But the economy is so messed up that it may not even be that noticeable.”

The Last 3 Weeks Have Seen The Macro Fundamentals Of The G-10 Major Economies Collapse At The Fastest Pace In Almost 4 Years And Almost The Biggest Slump Since Lehman

Global Economy Collapses Despite 4th “Warmest” January On Record
The last 3 weeks have seen the macro fundamentals of the G-10 major economies collapse at the fastest pace in almost 4 years and almost the biggest slump since Lehman. Despite a plethora of data showing that ‘weather’ is not to blame, US strategists, ‘economists’, and asset-gatherers are sticking to the meme that this is all because of the cold on the east coast of the US (and that means wondrous pent-up demand to come). However, as the New York Times reports, for the earth, it was the 4th warmest January on record.
G-10 macro data is collapsing…
Must be the weather in the US, right?
For people throughout the Eastern United States who spent January slipping, sliding and shivering, here is a counter-intuitive fact: For the earth as a whole, it was the fourth-warmest January on record.
But this might be another surprise: Despite all the weather drama, it was not a January for the record books.
By the time analysts averaged the heat in the West and the cold in the East, the national temperature for the month fell only one-tenth of a degree below the 20th-century average for January. January 2011 was colder.
No state set a monthly record for January cold. Alabama, also walloped by the ice storms, came closest, with the fourth-coldest January on its record books…..
Chinese Home Price Growth Slows
Chinese now home prices were up 9.6% year-over-year in January. This was down from 9.9% in December.
Home prices were up in 69 of 70 cities surveyed.
CNBC’s Dierdre Wang Morris pointed out that Chinese developers were taking a hit after the data.
This also comes on the back of news that Industrial Bank Co. has restricted lending to developers and related industries like steel and cement, reports Bloomberg.
This Week’s Data Will Help Us Figure Out If The Slowdown Is Really About Weather — Here’s Your Complete Preview
G-20 Agrees To Grow Global Economy By $2 Trillion, Has No Idea How To Actually Achieve It