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..There's a little Samuel Pepys in all of us..

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It is a matter for some thought.. the lengths the Eurozone will go to prop up what must eventually become yet another grand gesture..
To all intents and purposes, the one economy that is in the black, is being dragged down by 16 other member countries who are struggling to fight off impending bankruptcy..
The German Parliament has voted, by some majority, to the establishment of a 780bn Euro 'bailout fund'.. something short of the €3trillion that was suggested as necissary by the US Treasury Secretary..
The problem has been, and remains, the lack of productivity endemic in the countries which have already recieved emergency loans, and those which teeter on the brink of needing funds to stave off bankruptcy..
It appears Greece will get it's next tranche of loans, and that should hold off the wolf at the door for another few months, but, the question remains, what can be done in the short term to improve the situation..?
And the answer is glaringly obvious..
We are caught in a carolsel.. where bankrupt countries are being kept afloat without any significant changes to their economic situations..
This can end with only one scenario.. That being the end of the Euro, and that will be accellerated by the German people's dissatisfaction with the loaning of their capital to prop up failures..

Monday, September 26, 2011

This impending switch in roles between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladmir Putin has some senior Russians a tad wary..
Former leader Mikhail Gorbachev says this could set Putin up for another..possibly..12 years in the drivers seat..
Saturday was the day Putin announced his plans to run for the Presidency again, and barring some kind of revolution, this amounts to the prospect of another Kremlin leader for life.. a tradition that stretches back 450 years to the reign of Ivan the Terrible, Russia's first Czar..
No matter how popular or effective a leader may be, that seems like a long commitment, and Putin's ruling party, United Russia, made every effort over the weekend to cast it as the shining path to the glory of the nation. "The return of Vladimir Putin to the post of President is totally logical, because he remains our national leader,".. said Andrei Isaev, a senior Party boss..
The concern is.. that this could lead to another 12 years of the status quo, of political stagnation. Alexei Kudrin, one of Putin's most trusted advisers, who has served as Russia's Finance Minister for 12 years, said on Sunday that he wanted no part of it. "I see no role for myself in the new government," Kudrin told reporters during a trip to Washington..
Now there is a small cadre within the Kremlin.. a small faction of Kremlin liberals who have lobbied for President Dmitri Medvedev.. a self-styled Westernizer and reformer, to stay on for six more years. But his re-election would have required a reversal of Putin's grand political strategy.. In 2008, when the constitution barred Putin from taking a third consecutive term as President, he chose a successor from among his most loyal lieutenants.. the weakest and least independent among them was Medvedev, and when he was chosen, it seemed clear that he would be little more than a placeholder President, warming Putin's seat until he could legally return in 2012.
This is a situation that should be closely watched, for if Putin returns, it could well mean a reversal of the relaxation of Russian relations with the West.. and a reversal of the new freedoms the Russian peoples now enjoy due to Medvedev's more liberal moves.. greater freedom of the press, fewer restrictions on the political opposition and the easing of state control of the economy..
Given the unstable position Europe is presently in, a more restrictive Russia would only deepen the depression generally felt throughout the Eurozone..
As said, this bears our attention..

Another situation which will bear our scrutiny..
China's top security official visited Pakistan today in an effort to strengthen ties with a country whose relationship with the United States is growing more tenuous by the day..
Pakistani officials and commentators have been talking up their country's relationship with Beijing, with some suggesting it could one day replace the United States as Islamabad's main foreign benefactor..
China's Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu was met by his Pakistani counterpart, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who brushed aside questions on the timing of the visit..
"Lets not talk USA here. I am here with my friend China," he told reporters. "China is always there for us in the most difficult moments."..
You bet they are.. now..
There was a time not so long ago, that the only country which supported Pakistan was the US.. pumping money directly into their economy, and maintaining strong diplomatic ties..
But, it seems the US support has had too many price-tags.. the likes of the killing of Osama..
The last thing we need, is to lose the status we now have with Pakistan, relinquishing it to China.. who's ultimate goals are as shrouded as that country is large..

And with the United States..
It appears to be a case of 'here we go again'..
Congress is once again allowing shutdown politics to bring the federal government to the brink of closing..
For the second time in nine months, lawmakers are bickering and posturing over spending plans.. The difference this time is that everyone agrees on the massive barrel of money to keep the government running for another seven weeks..
"It is embarrassing," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., admitted Sunday.. Warner asked: "Can we, once again, inflict on the country and the American people the spectacle of a near government shutdown?"..
At issue is a small part of the almost $4 trillion budget intended for an infrequent purpose, that being federal dollars to help victims of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters and whether some of the expense should be offset by cuts in other government spending..
This sort of crisis management has cost Congress credibility in the eyes of the electorate, with about eight in 10 Americans disapproving of the institution's performance after this summer's debt crisis.. this is the reason Moodys downgraded the nation's ratings as a result, unnerving the world's financial markets..
And here we go again..
And there is yet another pressing problem on Barack's plate.. Unemployment in the South is losing him votes by the hundreds of thousands.. The South has gone from having the lowest unemployment rate, to the highest..
Several Southern states.. including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation.. have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago.. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest.. which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession..
And with Congress playing it's self-serving game.. the White House needs what can be done to be done now..
But again, what good does it do the GOP to get them to play ball.. what concessions before the end of this term..
At what cost, Barack..?

That financial 'black hole' we've spoken of for years is becoming a reality..
Meetings of the IMF in the US are suggesting discounting.. forgiving.. forgetting completely.. Greece's overall debt by 50%.. The plan also envisages an increase in the size of the Eurozone bailout fund to 2 trillion Euros..
When will we learn that tossing our cash into a futile attempt to prop up any economy that cannot support itself, is as much as flushing it down the loo..
Should this keep up, we will soon find us all in a never ending circle of 'quantitative easing'.. profligate printing of specie by our own Treasury.. leading to massive inflation.. growing unemployment.. and what will amount to a global depression..
Now, 'global' might not quite be accurate.. Russia and China have the internal resources to lose international markets.. their populations alone could keep them afloat, and while even with those two countries the water may lap at the gunnel's, they will not suffer to the depth the West will..
Their populations are already inured to what we would consider 'intolerable' living conditions, and restrictions through State regulation..
But, as we said, the 'black hole' solution appears to be in motion..
Over the weekend, the G20 reasserted its commitment to "a strong and co-ordinated international response" to the crisis, but analysts warned this would not be enough to satisfy investors..
And that's a harbinger of things to come..

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A couple of items of note..

Perhaps the most influential of the Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, has finally entered the modern world.. King Abdullah has granted the franchise to women.. and further, to their right to sit on the highly influential Shura Council..
To date, the kingdom has been enforcing a strict version of Sunni Islamic law..
This 'Westernisation' process through North Africa and Asia has sprung up with amazing rapidity, and in fact, flies directly in the face of centuries of tradition..
Just goes to show what incentives cars, larger salaries, education, and in no small part, the Internet, has been..
Betimes the old Chinese saying comes to mind though..
"May you not live in interesting times.."

Now, private talks have been ongoing, to allow Greece to default on next months interest payments, while still remaining in the Euro.. But one must question the wisdom of this course of action.. Christine Laguard has admitted, that should those who have had 'bail-out' loans begin to default, or should another country declare themselves as in need, the IMF would not have the means to pull more fat from the fire..
However, It is believed that policymakers feel they need to concentrate on recapitalising banks and boosting the funds of the European Financial Stability Facility.. the plan to increase the EFSF's financial firepower could see the money available to bail out EU banks and member states rise from 440bn Euros to about 2trillion Euros..
He added that the plan could also enable the European Central Bank (ECB) to buy more Italian and Spanish bonds to prevent those two countries needing a full bailout..
There appears to be little point to continuously bemoan the good money being tossed after bad.. it is a course the EU appears doggedly set on, to preserve the tattered integrity of this grand experiment..
And meanwhile, there is not a nation on this earth that's not watching with some trepidation.. for if.. when..the European Union ends.. we'll need all those bureaucrats which have been made redundant..

And, the next area of conflict to keep the engine of war turning over, could well be Pakistan, especially with the growing tensions at the Afghani border..
Afghan defense officials warned Pakistan on Sunday to stop firing rockets and heavy artillery into the northeast of the country or the military will respond with force.. Pakistan denied it was responsible..
Separately, a U.S. official confirmed an attack on a facility used by American officials in Kabul..
"The situation is fluid, and the investigation is ongoing," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation..
It's been ten years since the combined forces of Britain and the US drove the Taliban from power..

Monday, September 19, 2011

Just a couple of brief notes..
It was a combative President Obama today, as he demanded that the richest Americans pay higher taxes to help cut soaring U.S. deficits by more than $3 trillion.. He promised to veto any effort by congressional Republican to cut Medicare benefits for the elderly without raising taxes as well..
"This is not class warfare. It's math," Obama declared, anticipating Republican criticism, which was quick in coming..
House Speaker Boehner, whom Obama singled out in his speech for having "walked away" from a "grand bargain" during the debt-ceiling debate in July, said the president's approach was unhelpful..
"This administration's insistence on raising taxes on job creators and its reluctance to take the steps necessary to strengthen our entitlement programmes are the reasons the president and I were not able to reach an agreement previously, and it is evident today that these barriers remain," he said..
And this is the problem Barack's going to face for the remainder of his tenure.. battling the GOP who today called Barack's plans to 'tax the rich' out and out 'class warfare'..
This may be the template we see for the remainder of Obama's term in office.. a constant fight with a Republican House.. and obstacles constantly being thrown in the path of a smooth passage of any bills..

Our own Business Secretary Vince Cable told this years LibDem Conference, that we are in the equivalent of an 'economic war'.. In a bleak assessment of the future, he said the era of ever-rising living standards had ended and people were just worrying about "how to survive"..
Now he's taken a page from this blog..
Vince also has called for higher taxes on the higher earners.. taking a page from Barack's speech..
The sad fact of the matter is, that we, the middle class, are in for quite a while of hand-to-mouth living, as prices rise and jobs disappear..
To suggest anything else, would simply be a Pollyanna view on the current situation..
And the least we can expect from government these days.. is accurate and honest assessments..

Saturday, September 17, 2011

While not offering anything in the way of a concrete solution, our Chancellor, George Osborne has announced that things are dire within the EuroZone, and has urged those countries involved to get a grip on things..
Nothing like stating the obvious..
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attended the Warsaw meeting of Finance Ministers yesterday.. and has some rather scathing things to say about the state of European finances, but he too, had nothing in the way of concrete suggestions to remedy the situation..
It is an unfortunate fact that Europe is our major market for exports, and with the extent of the decay, it is uncertain just how many countries will be able to maintain dealing with a strong Pound Sterling.. This is a major concern, for while we in Britain might have a tenuous hold on our particular situation, that would change dramatically should French and German banks continue to expose themselves to unrecoverable debts.. loans made to Greece.. Ireland.. Portugal..
And if the situation deteriorates further, with the possibility of major EuroZone countries the likes of Italy and Spain needing bailouts.. we will find ourselves knee deep in someone else's privy..
A few days ago we posted a breakdown of what the situation is today, for those dependent on Government Social Services.. If the Euro falls, and well it might, we will find ourselves in a position wherein our only hope is to devalue our own currency, to improve it's chances of maintaining a place in the global marketplace..
That would not be good for Cameron and the Tory Party, but indeed, we would be reduced to frantically grasping at straws, electing perhaps Labour back into power, with, once again, no palliative solutions to keep this island afloat..
It would seem, that we must inure ourselves to the pain of paying for the past 50 years of profligate borrowing, regardless of who's running the country..
There doesn't seem to be many alternatives..
Even Canada thrown it's oar into the fray.. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says world leaders will continue to push Europe to tackle its debt crisis in order to prevent a ripple effect on economies around the globe..
"It's imperative that the Europeans deal with the sovereign debt situation, and deal with their banking situation, make sure that banks are adequately capitalized. Otherwise we run the risk of a large shock emanating from Europe," Flaherty said in an interview with CBC Radio's 'The House'.. broadcast today..

Meanwhile, back in the States.. Obama is keeping up his appeal for public support of his $447 billion proposal to boost jobs and consumer spending by urging Americans to press Congress to pass the legislation. "No more division or delay," he said..
In his weekly radio and Internet address today, he focused on a message that has become central to a presidency struggling to address stubbornly high unemployment numbers and dipping approval of his handling of the economy..
The president announced his jobs legislation to a joint session of Congress last week and has since gone outside Washington to build a case for its passage. He has been to Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina..
"The No. 1 issue for the people I meet is how we can get back to a place where we're creating good, middle-class jobs that pay well and offer some security," he said..
A laudable sentiment, but again, it begs the question..'How..?'
His address came in the face of sobering public opinion ratings for the president..
A New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday.. showed nearly half of those surveyed worried the economy was headed for another recession.. and nearly three out of four said they believe the country is on the wrong track..
Mind you, four out of four have no idea whatsoever, as how this mess might be sorted out..

The American Ambassador to Pakistan said in remarks broadcast today.. that there is evidence linking the Haqqani insurgent network to the Pakistani government.. a charge that could raise tensions in an already strained anti-terror alliance between Washington and Islamabad..
The U.S. and NATO blame the Haqqani network for many of the attacks in Afghanistan, including this week's strike on the U.S. Embassy. The group.. affiliated with both the Taliban and al Q'aida and its army of several thousand fighters is widely assumed to be based just over the Afghan border in Pakistan..
U.S. officials have long suspected links between the Pakistan military and the Haqqani network..
But needing Pakistani cooperation to beat al Q'aida and stabilize Afghanistan.. they rarely say so publicly and as directly as Ambassador Cameron Munter did in his interview with Radio Pakistan..
Meanwhile, floods in that country have displaced millions of people, and left them stranded.. homeless.. and without aid of any kind, so far..

Friday, September 16, 2011

The storm clouds are gathering over Greece..
The American Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, has flown to Poland to throw his two cents in concerning the EU debt crisis.. Now as for the next tranche of bailout payments to Greece, European Finance Ministers will wait until October to decide whether the situation can be saved by pouring cash into a leaking bucket.. the majority of analysts agree Greece will default on it's next interest payments.. which leaves few options for that beleaguered country..
The one solution, as we mentioned some months ago, is for Greece to leave the EU temporarily, lose the Euro and return to the Drachma, and devalue the currency as low as the markets will bear..
But, what then of all the billions already loaned..? French and German banks are dangerously exposed.. and investors in those countries could see their own house of cards wobble should none of this cash come home..
The markets have closed here.. but investors seem uncertain.. with the exception of France's Cac, which closed down about 1% on the heels of uncertainty in the banking sector, the rest ended the day flat..

In perhaps an optimistic moment.. at a campaign fundraiser last night in Washington, President Obama said he believes his chances of being reelected in 2012 are “much higher” than they were in 2008..
“Over the last couple of months there have been Democrats who voiced concerns and nervousness about, well, in this kind of economy, isn’t this just.. aren’t these just huge headwinds in terms of your reelection?” Obama said..
“And I just have to remind people that, here’s one thing I know for certain: the odds of me being reelected are much higher than the odds of me being elected in the first place.”..
Obama made the remarks before a gathering of 50 donors to his reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee who each paid $35,800 to attend..
Yet history cannot be ignored.. No American President has ever been re-elected, with an unemployment level over 7.2%..
As we write, it stands a full two points above that level, with the private sector unable to keep up with the layoffs in the Public Service..
That, does not look as though it will change much in the next 15 months or so..
Obama attended two intimate $35,800-per-couple fundraisers last night, assuring donors that he will push Congress to pass his economic initiative and expressing confidence in his ability to win a second term.. Comparing his drive to get the public behind his $447 billion jobs proposal to a political campaign, Obama declared.. "We intend to keep the pressure up," he said. "Folks are ready for action.".. Now, there's an understatement if ever there was one..
Best of luck with Congress.. the GOP has no great desire to pass legislation that could reflect well on the President, regardless of the good it may do their constituents.. The general view is, that this 'recession' will last longer than the run-up to the next election, and if the Republicans can use this to their advantage, they will..
We've already seen how 'playing politics' is indeed a game in the US..
They appear to have lost their way in the overall Game..

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We've all been concerned.. preoccupied.. with international economic events.. Numbers the likes of 'trillions' have been tossed about with gay abandon, none of which is, in real terms, intelligible to the average man on the street..
But.. this is how it's affecting those on fixed incomes.. state pensions, be they reflective of lifetime earnings, or disability contributions.. The average basic state pension amounts to some £400/month.. those collecting disability can add another £500/month.. giving a basic gross monthly income of £900.. for those collecting both benefits that is..
Now those in Canada or the US immediately jump for their conversion tables, and say 'that works out to some $1350/month, give or take.. But it must be stressed, that what costs a dollar in North America, costs a Pound here..
Electricity will cost a pensioner a minimum of £40/week.. or £120/month..
Gas will run about the same, on a yearly average.. that's for heating.. we're now at £240/month for basics.. Council tax and Water and Sewerage will cost another £80/month.. Petrol, for those who can still afford to keep a car on the road, is at £1.50/l.. £30 minimum for a weeks driving around town.. when a loaf of bread weighs is at £1.50.loaf.. an average weeks shop will come to £70.. another £280 per month..
Then, back to the car, insurance will run you £340/annum.. or say £28/month.. Road tax is at £150/annum.. £14/month.. Telly License another £25/month..
Now all this adds up to £787..roughly speaking.. and leaves the pensioner with £113/month disposable income.. just over £25/week.. And if you're among the generation that smokes and always has.. a pack of 20 will cost you £7.35.. and there goes your excess..
Not to mention any payments an individual might be making on catalogue purchases or credit cards..
This will be an exceedingly rough time for all in this country.. in fact, for all, everywhere..
But this is the reality, today, for those who's incomes will not increase after strike action.. for those who have worked all their lives for a State Pension, only today to find themselves in a position of virtual poverty..
And, as inflation creeps up, this situation will only get worse. It stands at 4.5% this month.. and expect it to rise despite the efforts of the Bank of England to keep interest rates down..
Now this is just a keyhole look into someone on State Benefits.. which in most cases includes Housing Benefits.. Those on a private pension may make more through a Public Sector or Private Sector pension, but they're looking at rent, and on the average, a 2 bedroom flat will run you £850/month..
Take that off their total..

It makes one wonder..
To look around the elegant city of Antwerp, you wouldn’t know that Belgium has now gone longer without a government than any country in modern history..
The trains still run on time, the teachers show up in their classrooms, museums are packed, taxes are collected, welfare is paid, and the country’s F-16 fighter jets are dropping bombs in Libya.. even though Belgium has now gone a year and a quarter without a federal government, after the 2010 elections produced no majority and the feuding parties became locked in perpetual disagreement over coalition plans..
For some, this might sound like a libertarian’s idea of Utopia.. A country with nobody to raise taxes.. to slash spending.. to introduce major new government programs..
And indeed, Belgium has just managed, despite having only a largely powerless caretaker government, to post a second-quarter economic growth rate.. 0.7%.. that exceeded those of neighbouring Germany, France and Britain.. The assessment of analysts is the country’s world-leading beer industry has remained aloft as the world drinks away its financial sorrows.. And the government deficit has even been cut somewhat..
But beneath the surface, the cracks are beginning to show..
Without anyone at the rudder, tiny Belgium is in danger of colliding with some of the world’s more dangerous currents, and the next few weeks could be decisive..
The problem is drugs, and those who traffic heroin.. When Dutch authorities moved to clean up Rotterdam, which was rife with heroin trafficking.. those dealing death simply moved their operations a couple of hours south, to Antwerp..
A police official with the Antwerp force said.. “Our crime problem now requires the kind of major solution that can only come from the federal government – but it looks like we can’t do anything until we get one..”
“We have a pension crisis that is threatening to overwhelm us, for which we don’t have the means, we haven’t put aside any money, and nobody has decided how to pay all those pensions,” said Yves Desmet, Political Editor of the Flemish newspaper 'De Morgen'.. “And you have a gigantic public debt of almost 100 per cent of GDP and growing..”
Yet it is not at all clear that these problems can be solved, even with a government.. The Flemish parties would like to seize their province’s share of the tax revenue and use it to fund their own, separate programs.. Most of the French speakers would prefer it stay national.. And as the country has gone through 10 attempts to form a government without success, the parties have become even more entrenched in their positions and less compromise-oriented..
As a final insult, it seems that the fiscal problems will strike Belgium at precisely the moment when it forms a government.. assuming it is able to do so by 2012, which is not at all certain.. In that case, the awkward years without a government may be remembered as an economic and political Golden Age..
“It’s not for nothing,” Desmet said, “that Belgium is the birthplace of surrealism.”
How true..

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is this the beginning of the end..?
As fears grow that Greece will default on it's next round of interest payments.. the word is that that country will be bankrupt by October..
An interjection here.. the markets clawed their way back into positive figures yesterday, and this morning in early trading the FTSE is up almost 38 points..
But this Greek situation is not going to allow investor confidence to recover.. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Sarkozy, and Greek Prime Minister Panandreou will meet this afternoon to discuss this problem of over-extension..
Moody's has downgraded two French banks because of their exposure to this Greek debt..Credit Agricole was cut from Aa1 to Aa2 and Societe Generale from Aa2 to Aa3..
A third bank, BNP Paribas, was kept on review for a possible downgrade.. All three banks' ratings have been on review since the 15th of June, and Moody's decision had been widely anticipated by the markets..
Moody's said all three banks were strong enough to absorb the losses emanating from any Greek debt default..
But, this has led to widespread speculation on the future of the Euro, and in fact, on the future of the EuroZone itself..
As we stated years ago, this European experiment was fraught with dangers.. with all member States tying their economies to the weakest member..
And there is still Italy and Spain to be considered.. while the major problem of Greece remains..
There are some saying that talks over the next few weeks could allow Greece to have the next tranche of bail-out money.. but with that country looking at debts totalling 130 to 140% of it's GDP.. there are real concerns that once again, handing that country more loans is simply forestalling the inevidable..
The question remains.. what can Greece concievably do to reduce it's debt load without driving up inflation and putting the Greek man on the street in an untenable position.. It would seem that this great experiment in an united Europe is heading for failure..
The President of the EU.. Jose Manuel Barroso.. says the entire future of the EuroZone is now in question..

Here in Britain.. Unemployment figures released this morning indicate those out of work rose by 80,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to July..The jobless rate now stands at 7.9%..
Youth unemployment also rose sharply, by 78,000 to 973,000..
The total claiming Jobseeker's Allowance rose by 20,300 in August to 1.58 million..
And perhaps even more disturbing.. the number of people in employment fell in the three months to July.. by 69,000 to 29.17 million..
This is a trend the government is having kittens over.. as our tax base decreases.. so does our ability to maintain social services..
The sad fact is, that in some parts of the country, unemployment has topped those figures seen in the last 'recession'.. indicating that those areas are already presaging that which will be seen throughout the Kingdom in the very near future..
And to add to our problems.. the Trades Union Council is meeting over the next few days, and it's leaders are calling for serious strike action in the coming months.. This could indeed be our 'winter of discontent'.. as literally hundreds of thousands of public sector workers prepare to walk off the job.. The issue for these people, is pensions.. The government has legislated higher pension payments for public sector workers, and this does not sit well with Union leaders..
Unison.. Unite.. the GMB.. and the Fire Brigades' Union.. will consult members about co-ordinated industrial action starting in November.. This will affect such services as garbage collection.. even filtering down to grave diggers.. all the services the public needs to maintain a functioning society..
Now, as the government has warned, this will not bring the public in line with the cause of the workers.. The pensions these public workers are fighting for are on the whole, much more than those outside the umbrella of the TUC..

And in the US.. Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty last year, the Census Bureau reported yesterday.. and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the Bureau has been publishing figures on it.. And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997..
Economists pointed to a telling statistic.. It was the first time since the Great Depression that median household income, adjusted for inflation, had not risen over such a long period.. that, according to Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard..
Katz said..“This is truly a lost decade.. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”..
More as the day progresses..

And in India.. People are sick and tired of MPs for causing frequent disruptions of parliament and point out that they take salaries for work not done. The little over month-long monsoon session that just ended saw unceasing bedlam in both the houses over a variety of issues, ranging from the frivolous to the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign..
With only 11 bills passed and 14 introduced during the Aug 1st through Sep 8th sitting.. the number of Bills, especially those relating to important economic reforms, awaiting parliamentary passage on their way to becoming the law of the land has risen to an astromical 86..
Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman M.H. Ansari has decried the loss of productive time of parliament to frequent disruptions.. He called it 'a sad commentary on the right and duty of members to participate meaningfully in the proceedings of the house'..
The middle class is disgusted.. and rightly so..
'So many hours were lost... so few bills passed, I wonder what is the point of having a month-long session for work which can be done in a week and a half,' asked Aashish Khanna, a law student of Delhi University..
India boats the second best growth figures among the industrialised nations, and it, as a market, is something that deserves close attention..

It's typhoon season in the Far East.. and with more rain in the forecast, Thailand has been hit hard..
More than a million people have been displaced by flooding.. and Bankok itself is now in danger from the rising waters..
And the Camper Countdown continues..

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This was the day.
Ten years ago our world changed, and it will never be the same again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tensions are rising between Israel and Egypt.. again..
The unrest began after Friday prayers, when thousands converged on Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand faster political reforms following the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak in February..
From there, hundreds marched on the Israeli embassy.. They smashed through a security wall around the building before a group of about 30 broke in and threw documents out of windows..
Now..Egypt has declared a state of alert.. and Israel has withdrawn all of it's Embassy staff..
One protester is quoted as saying "We've been brought up to hate Israel but now we can express this openly. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, no Egyptian blood will go unavenged."..
A brief history is perhaps called for..
Israeli War of Independence.. "al-Nakba".. or 'The Disaster'.. came days after Israel became a sovereign State back in 1948-1949..Upon independence, Israel was invaded by the armies of six Arab nations.. Egypt, Syria, Transjordan (later Jordan), Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In addition, local Arab Palestinian forces also fought the Israelis..
Following the short Suez War of 1956 between Israel and Egypt which resolved nothing.. only setting the stage for a future war between the Jewish nation and its Arab neighbors.. In the 1956 war, Israeli forces fairly easily defeated the Egypian military and occupied the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, only to give it back to Egyptian control in the cease-fire agreement.. In the years after 1956, Egypt and the other Arab powers, Syria and Iraq, more closely became aligned with the Soviet Union, which supplied them with large amounts of modern military weaponry and Soviet advisers and trainers..
Likewise, Israel moved closer to the United States in those years, to the point where the Arab- Israeli Conflict became a part of the larger and very dangerous Cold War between the U.S. and its allies on one side, and the Soviets and their allies and satellites on the other..
The introduction of the American-Soviet competition and arms sales in the region only accelerated the likelihood of a Middle Eastern war evolving into a Cold War confrontation..
The immediate cause of war in 1967 came out of Egypt's decision to expel United Nations troops from the Sinai peninsula and blockade Israel's port of Eilat.. The UN forces were intended to form a buffer between the border separating Israel and Egypt, and their expulsion led the Israeli government to fear an imminent attack by Egypt..
It should be pointed out that ever since the start of the first war in 1948, Israel had existed in a continued legal state of war with all of its Arab neighbors, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.. The first two wars were ended with cease-fires, but with no lasting peace.. not unlike the conclusion of the 1950-1953 Korean War, in which an armistice ended the fighting, but did not bring a legal end to war.. Thus, when the military forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, as well as Iraq, began to mobilize and make obvious preparations for war, Israel felt forced to act in self-defence.. On June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive ground attack on Egypt, along with coordinated air strikes that effectively destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq on the ground..
The 1979 Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed in Washington, D.C. on the 26th of March 1979, following the 1978 Camp David Accords, which were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and were witnessed by US President Jimmy Carter..
This Accord has lasted.. until now..
There have been protests outside the embassy since the deaths on 18 August of five Egyptian policemen on the border with Israel.. the incident marked a sharp escalation in tensions between Israel and Egypt.. Their 30-year-old peace treaty was already being tested after Egyptian leader Mubarak was forced from office..
Herein the basic problem with this 'Arab Spring'.. With long-time leaders the like of Assad and Mubarak now absent.. It is anyone's guess what faction will replace them..
And as we stated some time ago.. the last country the West wants to see involved in any more Middle Eastern conflicts, is Israel.. There are problems enough with Gaza and the West Bank.. To add other Arab States into the equation, could open yet another front for Western involvement, and frankly, we can neither afford it monetary.. nor can it be ignored and left to Israel to once again take on the combined weight of the Arab League..
Troubling times..

Just as brief note on Barack's 'jobs' address to the nation.. 17 times he told Congress to "Pass this Legislation now.." But it was, as many had feared, a cream-puff speech.. recommending nothing we hadn't been expecting.. and putting the onus on his 'Super Budget Committee' to pare yet more from their cost-cutting plans, to pay for his programs..
Yet the truth of the matter is, that indeed, while doing nothing for the next 14 months or so will not help the American man on the street.. Republicans gain notning by adding their stamp of approval to Barack's plans.. And it's exceedingly doubtfull partisan politics would be discarded, to help the Democrats..
While the options were few for Barack, we had hoped he would have had something more robust to say.. Something to swing that man on the street towards the belief his government is doing all it can to help both the country, but it's individuals..
Underwhelming, to say the least..

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tonight's the night..
At midnight GMT.. Barack will address his nation to outline a 'new' job creation program designed to reduce the horrendous problem a 9% unemployment rate poses.. and deliver his plan to get America back on it's feet..
Frankly, expectations are not optimistic.. He's not even got the full support of his own Party.. Republicans are so certain he won’t offer anything new that some aren’t attending.. Democrats are questioning why the White House is pouring so much of its capital into another big speech.. And both parties are skeptical that any concrete action will come of it in Congress..
But for Obama, the speech is not only likely to be his last, best chance to take a serious stab at jolting the economy.. it’s also an opportunity to rebalance the debate in Washington, where Republicans have been steering the agenda since the November midterm elections.. His task is nearly impossible.. appease liberals.. appeal to independents.. win over some Republicans.. and make a compelling case to Washington-weary voters..
Progressives want Obama to ignore practical political considerations,that is, Republicans control the House.. and offer a package on par with the magnitude of the problem.. That means a plan worth at least $300 billion, with few tax cuts and lots of money for government-financed jobs, direct state aid and infrastructure projects..
They are way past viewing the GOP as a willing partner, and they’re wondering whether the president will agree and pitch a package that appeals to voters, not Capitol Hill Republicans..
The Obama who shows up tonight may be different than the one who hits the road Friday, heading to Richmond to campaign for the package..
Standing in front of Congress, Obama will be urgent and insistent, challenging lawmakers to put the economy ahead of their respective parties and to act on his proposals before the end of the year..
The question is whether Obama will go after Republicans more directly in the speech, as he tends to do on the stump. In essence, whether he will name names as they sit before him and put them on the spot. They are the party of tax cuts. So why are they signaling opposition to extending the payroll tax for workers.?
A partisan tone won’t sit well with Republicans, who are already casting the speech as political, particularly after the White House’s fumbled attempt to schedule it on the same night as the Republican presidential debate.. In a pre-emptive strike, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor positioned themselves this week as arbiters of compromise..
Obama has tried for months to make a double-edged, seemingly contradictory argument.. The economy needs a short-term government stimulus and a long-term plan to cut government spending..
But for tonight, at least, Obama won’t dwell on the nuanced approach, which makes sense to economists and close observers of the Washington debate but can get lost in translation to the broader public..
Obama will challenge the 12-member congressional supercommittee to exceed its $1.5 trillion goal for budget savings.. setting a higher target that would allow additional money to fund tax breaks and other stimulus spending..
Obama speaks during the dinner hour on the East Coast and during the workday on the West Coast, and the broad outlines of the package are already known.. not exactly a recipe for big Nielsen ratings..
In Washington, a handful of Republican lawmakers are boycotting it, including Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois.. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia.. and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.. Even some Democrats are cynical about the prospect of another whip-cream speech.. tasty but not filling..
According to a Democratic aide.. “The question isn’t, what will the speech say. The question is, what does he do after the speech is over..”
As they say, the proof of the pudding, is in the eating.. And the sad truth is, there is effectively nothing Barack can do other than offer a quick fix.. As said before, this is a global situation, one in which the economies of all countries are either in bankruptcy, or close to it..
Barack's one solution to reduce unemployment figures is to institute FDR's prototype 'New Deal'.. but once the American infrastructure is intact, the problem of these huge debts will still dangle like a Sword of Damocles over that country..
In this, the US is no different from any other country in these disturbed times.. It will take decades of education for the masses to accept the consequences of the sequences which led us here.. and educated they must be..
That, will not be in tonight's speech..
It is interesting to note, that analysts are universally pessimistic.. All our conditions for a recession are already in place.. The horrid connotation of the word 'Depression' has kept it out of sight.. Yet, in the classical sense, we have already filled all the criteria for that label..
But again, that won't be part of tonights speech..

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A brief note to start the day..
Europe’s austerity initiatives are beginning to show signs of backfiring, even as governments prepare to tighten their belts further..
Waning growth in two key sectors of the European economy.. another poor election showing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-bailout party and plunging bank shares heightened fears that a new recession cannot be avoided.. Those fears gained momentum when Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, warned that the global economy is on the brink of a fresh crisis..
Efforts to rein in spending are hurting growth just when it is needed most to shake off the debt crisis, boost employment and restore consumer and business confidence.. High growth rates allowed Canada to overcome its 1990s debt crisis relatively quickly.. In contrast, European deficit-busting efforts are coming when growth is low to non-existent, implying there will be no quick fix to the debt problems..
“We see that there has been, particularly over the summer, a clear crisis of confidence that has seriously aggravated the situation,” Largarde, France’s former Finance Minister, said in an interview published Sunday in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.. “Measures need to be taken to ensure that this vicious circle is broken.”..

Our Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has laid the blame for last months riots on a 'broken penal system'.. Apparently three quarters of those either convicted of riot related offences, or are awaiting trial, have existing criminal records, some of those for 'serious crimes'..
He said the "hardcore" of those involved were known criminals whose behaviour had not been changed by previous punishments..
Clarke lays the blame for such recidivism on the penal system, saying there was not nearly enough emphasis put on rehabilitation..
Clarke argued that this made his efforts to reform the penal system and cut reoffending even more important..
The government is piloting payment-by-results schemes for private firms who successfully rehabilitate offenders.. an incentive program, so to speak..
Clarke has argued that fewer criminals should be sent to prison, suggesting that tough community punishments would be more effective at reducing reoffending..
And this is a stance that we have taken for years.. that those convicted of minor infractions who are given custodial sentences are merely being enrolled in a 'school for scoundrels'..

With Colonel Muammar Gaddafi all but gone, Libya's prospects can be summed up in one word.. oil..
Far different from the revolutions in Tunisia or Egypt, or the rebellions in Yemen, Bahrain or Syria, the possibilities of Libya's new leaders either forging a new democracy or being forced to fight a lingering insurgency could depend heavily on how they kick-start the oil sector, which accounts for about 95% of Libya's earnings and which will finance virtually every penny of Libyans' public services..
How easily the oil industry can piece itself together is unclear, however. Listening to Ali Tarhouni, the Oil and Finance Minister for the rebels' National Transitional Council, it sounds simple enough.. That the six-month war appeared to have damaged only "about 10%" of the oil infrastructure, and also said he was astonished to discover that Gaddafi's forces had not blown up or burnt key facilities.. the likes of the oil refinery in Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli.. as they faced a devastating defeat.. Libya's oil production has plummeted since the revolt erupted in February to an all-time low last month of about 60,000 barrels a day.. That's a trickle compared to the production of 1.6 million barrels a day last January.. Tarhouni claims that gas pipelines will reopen almost immediately.. which is good news for Italians, who import 25% of their gas from Libya, and that his country could pump about 500,000 barrels of oil a day within four months and return to prewar levels within a year..
With the NTC overwhelmed with securing the country, defeating the last Gaddafi holdouts and hunting down the colonel himself, Tarhouni's team could delay renegotiating oil contracts for years..
Take Iraq, for example.. there, the government waited six years after Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed in 2003 before signing its first new oil contract.. The Libyan council has said it will honor the current contracts signed with big oil companies, including deals with BP, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and many others.. But they also insist Libya's oil industry will work very differently once a new government is in place, and that they could open up bids to new players like China and Malaysia..

Asian stocks fell but Europe regained its balance this morning after several tumultuous sessions of trading sparked by the bleak U.S. jobs picture.. Swiss shares soared after the country's central bank moved to control the strong franc..
Oil slid below $84/barrel amid expectations that continued weakness in developed economies will crimp demand for crude.. The greenback gained against the Euro but was lower against the Yen..
European shares headed higher in early trading after a steep sell-off..
Worrisome American employment figures and the possible spread of Europe's sovereign debt crisis from small economies like Greece to major ones like Italy are stoking investor fears.. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have already needed to be rescued with loans from the IMF and Europe, but Italy is regarded as too large to bail out..
Gold shares were among the gainers this morning.. as prices for the precious metal hovered near record highs.. Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining Group, China's largest gold miner, rose 2.3%.. Newcrest Mining Ltd., Australia's No.1 gold miner, rose 0.9%..

We'll see what develops as the day goes on..

Monday, September 05, 2011

Ahh well.. it's a development we've been awaiting for months..
Stock market indices fell around the world today, with a report of flat U.S. job growth in August spooking investors in Europe and North America..
In Toronto, the S&P/TSX declined 98.33 points, or 0.77%, to 12602.41, led by selloffs in industrials, energy and basic materials.. Shares of Silvercorp Metals dropped almost 10%, Sherritt International more than 6% and Precision Drilling by 5%.. Gold producers showed the best gains.. Golden Star Resources surged 12%, NovaGold Resources gained 7% and Barrick Gold added 3%.. as investors scramble to find a safe haven for their money.. Gold prices climbed by $55/ounce to $1,884.10 while crude oil prices dipped by $2.33, or almost 3%, to $86.60..
In New York, the Dow Jones lost 253.31 points, or 2.2%, to close at 11240.26.. The Dow is now back into negative territory for the year, off 2.9%..
Financials and industrials led the selloff in the U.S.. Bank of America fell more than 8% after a report that a dozen U.S. banks will be sued by the Federal Housing Finance Agency for allegedly misrepresenting the quality of mortgage securities they assembled and sold at the housing bubble’s peak..
This has all the earmarks of a cold winter..
The greatest fear is.. that the US is rapidly falling into recession again..
The lack of hiring in the U.S. last month surprised economists, who were expecting about 93,000 jobs to be added.. Previously reported hiring figures for June and July were revised lower.. The unemployment rate held steady at 9.1%, the U.S. government reported today..
In Asia, indexes closed sharply lower.. Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average sank 1.9%..with sentiment also undermined by the persistent strength of the yen, which hurts exporters..
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.4%, and South Korea's Kospi slid 4.4 %.. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid three%.. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and the Philippines also were down..
Mainland Chinese investors worried about the economic outlook dumped shares, dragging Shanghai's benchmark Composite Index down two%, its lowest close in 13 months.. The Shenzhen Composite Index lost 2.4%..
Traders waited for signs that the U.S. Federal Reserve might take action at its September meeting to support the economy.. perhaps a third round of bond purchases, dubbed 'Quantitative Easing III'.. or QE3..
"Right now the possibility has increased," said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "I think they have to do something. The markets are expecting QE3."..
An international debt inspectors' review of Greece's finances was interrupted today amid disagreements over the country's deficit figures.. The review will be resumed in about 10 days and must be completed in order for the country to receive the next tranche of bailout loans at the end of the month..
Signs that the Italian government's commitment to its austerity program is wavering have also shaken investors.. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has backtracked on some deficit-cutting measures, prompting EU economic officials to urge it to stick to its promised plan..
Ex-Chancellor Lord Lawson has thrown in his tuppence here.. he says David Cameron should use the EuroZone crisis as an opportunity to tear up the Lisbon Treaty..
The Tory peer accuses the architects of the Euro of "grotesque irresponsibility" for embarking on a "misbegotten and predictably disastrous venture"..
And he urges the Prime Minister to tell them "enough is enough"..
And that's the best advice offered of late.. Lord Lawson was chancellor under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s..
And truth be told, we've built entire economies on nebulous computer generated unimaginable figures.. Sums utterly beyond comprehention, even to those who administer the 'money'.. Such has been the depth of our follies, that it has come down to affecting us all..
While it is difficult to get a mortgage without a sizeable downpayment.. there are those who will never have the wherewithall to save ten or fifteen thousand.. and who's income is taken entirely for the simple basics..
We will watch this play out, as the next tranche for Greece approaches.. but nations aside, we're all in for hard times ahead.. Interest rates are being kept low to rein inflation, yet we still have a rate of 5% and rising.. Unemployment is going to bankrupt us, and that includes the EuroZone and the US..
Barack has to follow the plan we set out some months ago.. a new 'New Deal'.. or as one Nobel Lauriate said, 'restructure the nations infrastructure'..
American highways are notoriously bad..

In the early days of the Obama administration, organized labor had grand visions of pushing through a sweeping agenda that would help boost sagging membership and help revive union strength.. Now labor faces this reality: Public employee unions are in a drawn-out fight for their very survival in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where GOP lawmakers have curbed collective bargaining rights..
Also, many union leaders are grousing that the president they worked so hard to elect has not focused enough on job creation and other bold plans to get their members back to work..
"Obama campaigned big, but he's governing small," said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union..
Labor remains a core Democratic constituency and union leaders will stand with Obama in Detroit this Labor Day, where he will address thousands of rank-and-file members during the city's annual parade Monday.. But how long this support will last, is entirely dependant on the next moves by the President.. It is of paramount importance that he get unemployment down, and not a little, but a lot..
And to add to Baracks woes..
The United States Postal Service has long lived on the financial edge, but it has never been as close to the precipice as it is today.. the agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances.. According to the Postmaster General, Patrick R. Donahoe..“Our situation is extremely serious..If Congress doesn’t act, we will default.” In recent weeks, Donahoe has been pushing a series of painful cost-cutting measures to erase the agency’s deficit, which will reach $9.2 billion this fiscal year.. They include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing up to 3,700 postal locations and laying off 120,000 workers.. nearly one-fifth of the agency’s work force.. and this in the face of a no-layoffs clause in the unions’ contracts..
The post office’s problems stem from one hard reality.. it is being squeezed on both revenue and costs..
As any computer user knows, the Internet revolution has led to people and businesses sending far less conventional mail..

It was a brief lesson from American history that served as a not so subtle suggestion for contemporary Europe.. When an official from a European central bank met recently with a financial official in Washington, his host pulled out the Articles of Confederation, the 1781 precursor to the U.S. Constitution, to use as talking points..
The message was clear.. join together in a stronger union, or risk collapse..
The story of America’s failed early effort to operate as a loose confederation of 13 states is increasingly relevant for many European officials who are grappling with the drastic problems of their own flawed 17-nation currency union.. The lack of strong central coordination of the EuroZone’s debt and spending policies is a key reason Europe has been unable to resolve its financial crisis despite more than 18 months of trying..
And that is why, despite all the political obstacles, Europe appears to be inching closer to a more centralized fiscal union that would eventually turn the Euro Zone into something resembling a United States of Europe..
Now.. where have we read that before..
With the new bailout for Greece that was agreed upon by European leaders in July still awaiting approval from each country in the EuroZone, the fractionalized way that Europe runs fiscal decision-making risks setting off yet another crisis at each step along the way.. Every plan requires agreement among finance ministers and the Parliament of any member country can veto the deal..
Many economists say that the Continent’s debt crisis, which began in early 2010 with the threat that Greece might have to default on its loans, could have been resolved far more quickly if there were some sort of central financial body, akin to the Treasury Department in the United States..
What is it we have come to.. and how fortunate Britain has kept the EuroZone at arms length..

Japan braced for more heavy rain and floods come Monday as the death toll from the worst typhoon to hit the country in seven years climbed to 34.. Rescuers searched for 55 others who remained missing, and tens of thousands of families struggled without power or telephone service..
Typhoon Talas.. which was later downgraded to a tropical storm.. lashed coastal areas with destructive winds and record-setting rains over this past weekend before moving offshore into the Sea of Japan.. Thousands were stranded as it washed out bridges, railways and roads..
The destruction added more misery to a nation still reeling from a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami six months ago.. In one of his first acts in office.. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, sworn in just one day before Talas made landfall.. vowed the government would provide as much assistance as quickly as it could..
Still with weather.. Gulf Coast residents from Texas to Florida braced for a third day of severe weather as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee continued to lash the region as it moved inland..
The National Weather Service indicated flood and flash flood watches and warnings were in effect from coastal Texas into the Gulf states, with 10 to 15 inches of rain expected..
Heavy rains will continue to expand northeastward into the Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachian mountains through next week, with rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches expected and isolated amounts of 12 inches possible..
"These may cause life threatening flash floods and mudslides," the weather service said..

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