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Friday, June 24, 2011

Syrian Troubles

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The drought that dried up southern China for five months has been replaced with torrential rain and floods that have killed 175 people and caused 292,000 others to be evacuated. Some 4.4. million people have been affected. The public is blaming the Three Gorges Dam for the severity of a variety of agricultural and environmental problems, yet the country has four more hydroelectric projects in the works. China is struggling, and financial prophets have declared that China's economy is heading for a hard landing. 

The Three Gorges hydroelectric dam spans the Yangtze River in China's Hubei province. The massive structure is just under 1.5 miles - 7,661 feet (2,335 m) - in length and 131 feet (40 m) in width at the top. It has been the pride of the Chinese government since it was completed in 2008. As the worst drought in half a century tortured southern provinces along the Yangtze during the past five months, the dam became the focus of anger for those desperate for water. Those provinces now drown under torrential rains and flooding, and the dam is once again being held responsible. With 1.4-1.8 million residents displaced so that Three Gorges could be built, along with its being blamed for recent earthquakes, landslides,and pollution, the dam is catching a lot of heat. 

"The dam operators lack experience in managing the water flow," said Yang Fuqiang, a senior adviser on climate and energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, according to ClimateWire. "They waited for too long until the drought impact reached extremes. And when they finally released water, the natural connection between the river and surrounding lakes was already broken, making it difficult to refill the lakes." 

China's State Council recently reported on a variety of "urgent problems" with the dam, including a heightened risk for landslides and earthquakes, as well as damage to the ecology of the Yangtze. Despite these issues, China is in various stages of building four additional hydroelectric projects on the Jinsha River. 

China has been zealous in its infrastructure construction, though. Nobody can argue it hasn't. 

Nouriel Roubini, the economist who has been repeatedly credited with predicting the global financial crisis, spoke bleakly about China's financial future at a conference in Singapore early last week. 

"There is a meaningful probability of a hard landing in China after 2013," he said. 

Roubini pointed to certain factors that have historically harmed economies. China has been focusing too much on drawing investment into state run projects and too little on helping its own people spend money. It's pumped billions of dollars into unnecessary infrastructure projects that its people don't even use, and it has squashed out private investment. 

"I was recently in Shanghai and I took their high-speed train to Hangzhou," said Roubini. "The brand new high-speed train is half-empty and the brand new station is three-quarters empty. Parallel to that train line, there is a also a new highway that looked three-quarters empty. Next to the train station is also the new local airport of Shanghai and you can fly to Hangzhou," he said. "There is no rationale for a country at that level of economic development to have not just duplication but triplication of those infrastructure projects." 

Nick Ferguson, with FinanceAsia.com, wrote Tuesday that China's financial quagmire became obvious at the end of May when the Chinese government announced it would spend up to $450 billion "to bail out thousands of local government investment vehicles - which have kept the economy alive for the past two years by bankrolling countless infrastructure projects...all of which are little used." 

The infrastructure projects cause upsets, too, because they displace people. When the Three Gorges Dam was built and the land behind it flooded, 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages were submerged under the water. Between 1.4 and 1.8 million people were forced to move. The new hydroelectric projects will displace millions more. 

The dam's operators haven't done a good job of controlling drought or flooding, either. Obviously. This month's flooding has destroyed at least 8,400 houses in just Zhejiang province alone, as well as 422,550 acres of farmland already hit hard by the droughts. Food prices, especially for vegetables, promise to shoot up due to the destruction. People still need to eat. 

China has long been good at scrambling to stay on its feet.  Its accountants can wiggle to make the numbers work, and the country still holds hope for foreign investors.  China may somehow keep itself upright, but it has certainly got itself onto some sloppy, muddy ground. 


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Obama touts efforts to advance gay rights

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(Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday touted his efforts to advance gay rights and promised further progress, but stopped short of declaring his support for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Obama received an enthusiastic reception from gay, lesbian and bisexual supporters at a New York fundraiser, but a few dozen gay rights protesters outside the hotel and a handful of hecklers inside the ballroom where he spoke served as reminders of frustration that he has not done more for their cause.

"I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as any other couple in this country," Obama said to applause from a crowd of 600 at the "Gala with the Gay Community" event hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris, where tickets started at $1,250 a plate.

Obama's speech reflected his desire to shore up his support among gay and lesbian voters, a constituency that supported him strongly in the 2008 presidential vote, as he revs up his 2012 re-election bid.

But as he seeks to broaden his appeal to a wide base of independent voters, the president is not expected to push any new gay rights initiatives that could alienate social conservatives over the next year.

Obama stressed his record on gay issues, including winning repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military, his order for the Justice Department to stop defending the law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex unions and expansion of benefits for same-sex partners of federal employees.

But Obama, who said in December his views on marriage for gay couples were "constantly evolving," held to a cautious line on the issue, saying only that it was a matter that should be decided by the states, not the federal government.


Obama's visit came as lawmakers in the New York state capital, Albany, deliberated on whether to join Washington, D.C., and five states where gay marriage is legal.

Several people briefly heckled the president's speech, screaming, "Marriage!" and "Say yes to marriage!" when he described his initiatives on gay rights.

About 30 protesters gathered outside the hotel, chanting: "Obama, Obama, let mama marry mama."

Louis Flores, 38, said he was "angry and disappointed" that Obama had not done more on gay marriage. "We should all be holding the president to his campaign promise."

The U.S. public is nearly evenly split over whether gays and lesbians should be able to marry legally, with 45 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed, according to a Pew Research poll released last month.

Younger voters, an important demographic for Obama, are particularly accepting of homosexuality and could react well to initiatives on gay causes.

A CNN exit poll showed 4 percent of voters were gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 70 percent of them voted for Obama. Other estimates put gays at 7 percent of overall voters.

The gay community is also seen as an influential group in media and Hollywood, and as an important fundraising bloc.

Later on Friday, Obama attended an intimate fundraiser for Wall Street and other supporters who paid $35,800 each at a small Upper East Side restaurant, and then spoke to an audience at a screening of the Broadway show "Sister Act," who paid $100 and up to attend the event with actor Whoopi Goldberg.

At the restaurant fundraiser, Obama acknowledged he may have a tougher time garnering enthusiasm about his candidacy in 2012 than he did in 2008, joking that his graying hair had made him seem less fresh-faced than the last time around.

"Now I'm sort of old news. But the vision hasn't changed, and my enthusiasm and my commitments haven't changed. And I hope yours haven't changed either, because if we're able to work just as hard as we did in 2008, then I think we're going to get through this very difficult time," he said.

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Pressure on Greece escalates as EU leaders meet to avert crisis

Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou (L) talks with newly appointed Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos before a cabinet meeting at the parliament in Athens
Greece's finance minister said he had agreed changes to a five-year austerity package with EU-IMF negotiators, as European leaders gathered in Brussels for their own crisis summit.

In Athens, Evangelos Venizelos, the country's new finance minister, said the changes included a raft of new taxes designed to plug a €5.5bn (£4.87bn) gap in the internationally-imposed austerity programme.

The Greek government had struggled to close a black hole in the austerity plan, and the new measures will face a key vote in the Greek parliament next week.

In Brussels, Europe’s political leaders will gather again today to discuss plans to avert the eurozone’s first ever default, which could be just days away.

The leaders urged Greece’s politicians and people to unite behind a €28.4bn programme of tax rises, austerity and privatisations.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said: “we will ask the leaders and citizens of Greece to rise to the occasion and do what must be done.” He added: “It’s going to be difficult and painful but it’s the only way out of this crisis.”

The Telegraph


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Australian, Korean banks vulnerable in Greek debt crisis

AUSTRALIAN and South Korean banks are the most exposed in Asia to Europe's debt crisis given their large dependence on offshore wholesale funding markets, a senior official at Fitch Ratings said today.

While the direct exposure is low, if the Greek debt crisis implodes and spurs a major dislocation in global credit markets, Australia and South Korea's banks and economies would suffer the most, said Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia-Pacific sovereign ratings.

"Among the countries in Asia I would regard as relatively more exposed are both Korea and Australia, who have an issue of short-term and long-term external debt of the banking system," he told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of a conference in Sydney.

"If the banks found it more difficult to refinance that debt, then there could be repercussions for the economies," he said, adding "quite a lot" of risk still remains in the process to firm up a second bailout package for Greece.

Australia faces some domestic issues too, with a housing market that looks "overstretched" and if interest rates were to go much higher to contain a mining boom, stress would soon become evident among borrowers, the Fitch analyst said.

After the remarks, the Australian dollar fell 20 points to reach a session low of $US1.0513, before recovering to $US1.0535 late in the day.

Australia's four biggest banks have in recent years leaned heavily on foreign currency borrowing and were among the biggest issuers of debt in the world using their respective governments' funding guarantees during the financial crisis.

Slower asset growth and still-firm demand for deposits is reducing Australian banks' reliance on wholesale borrowing to an estimated $100 billion from around $160bn in recent years, while house prices have cooled.


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Since flooding began on June 6th, there has been a disturbingly low level of media attention given to the crisis at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Facility near Omaha, Nebraska. But available evidence strongly suggests that something very serious could have happened there.

Unfortunately for members of the public, there is no shortage of proof that serious nuclear incidents and radiation releases have happened in America, and have been covered up each and every time.

Most Americans are completely unaware that dangerous radiation has leaked from some three-quarters of all U.S. nuclear power stations and should naturally raise concerns that much of the the country’s water supplies may be contaminated. For this reason, it is paramount that the media and the public demand every bit of information available on this latest event.

First accounts tell us that on June 7th, there was a fire reported at Fort Calhoun. The official story is that the fire was in an electrical switchgear room at the plant. The apparently facility lost power to a pump that cools the spent fuel rod pool, allegedly for a duration of approximately 90 minutes.

The following sequence of events is documented on the Omaha Public Power District’s own website, stating among other things, that here was no such imminent danger with the Fort Calhoun Station spent-fuel pool, and that due to a fire in an electrical switchgear room at FCS on the morning of June 7, the plant temporarily lost power to a pump that cools the spent-fuel pool.

In addition to the flooding that has occurred on the banks of the Missouri River at Fort Calhoun, the Cooper Nuclear Facility in Brownville, Nebraska may also be threatened by the rising flood waters.

As was declared at Fort Calhoun on June 7th, another “Notification of Unusual Event” was declared at Cooper Nuclear Station on June 20th. This notification was issued because the Missouri River’s water level reached an alarming 42.5 feet. Apparently, Cooper Station is advising that it is unable to discharge sludge into the Missouri River due to flooding, and therefore “overtopped” its sludge pond.

Not surprisingly, and completely ignored by the Mainstream Media, these two nuclear power facilities in Nebraska were designated temporary restricted NO FLY ZONES by the FAA in early June. The FAA restrictions were reportedly down to “hazards” and were ‘effectively immediately’, and ‘until further notice’. Yet, according to the NRC, there’s no cause for the public to panic.

http://21stcenturywire.com/2011/06/22/why-is-there-a-media-blackout-on-nuclear-incident-at-fort-calhoun-in-nebraska/ hostgator coupon 2011

First Greece...next U.S.

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Strong quake sparks brief Alaska tsunami warning

(CBS News)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook a large swath of Alaska's Aleutian Islands on Thursday evening, sending residents of small coastal towns to higher ground as officials issued a tsunami warning in the temblor's wake.

The quake was centered about 122 miles east of Atka, about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It was recorded at a depth of 26 miles, the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said.

The quake was felt through the central Aleutians and as far east as Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, but no damage was reported, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"It was shaking, it was just a little rumbly" and lasted about 20 seconds, said Atka resident Rodney Jones.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center posted a tsunami warning for some coastal areas of Alaska, but canceled the warning about an hour after the quake. The warning covered an area from 80 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor to about 125 miles west of Adak.

Jones said it appeared all of the town's 61 residents took to higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning, which he heard issued over CB radio. The townspeople gathered on a high hill for about an hour, near the city's new water tank.

During their wait for the all-clear signal, he said a priest with the town's Russian Orthodox Church recited prayers.

In Dutch Harbor, longshoreman Jim Paulin said warning sirens caused also caused hundreds of people to begin climbing up a nearby hill.

"Right now there's hundreds of people up on the hilltop," he told The Associated Press before the all-clear was given. "I can look across the bay and see people on another hilltop."

After the tsunami warning was canceled, he said everybody was "calm. It seems like everybody's kind of enjoying it. It's good weather."

Paulin said no one seemed panicked because the city has been evacuated in the past. But, he said, "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/23/national/main20073902.shtml#ixzz1QCbwba4z

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Is the economy improving?

Is the U.S. economy improving? That is what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would have us believe. Bernanke declared today that the "recovery appears to be proceeding at a moderate pace" and that everything is going pretty much as planned. Sadly, the mainstream media and most of the American people still seem to have faith in the economic pronouncements of Helicopter Ben. They seem to have forgotten all of the Bernanke quotes from before the financial crisis. Bernanke pledged that there would not be a housing crash and that there would not be a recession. It is amazing that anyone still believes that Bernanke has any credibility left.

Of course "economic recovery" is one of Barack Obama's favorite new terms. He loves to talk about all of the signs that the economy is improving. To Obama, all of the recent bad economic news is no big deal. He says that what we are experiencing right now are simply "bumps on the road to recovery".

Well, whether you want to call them "bumps" or "potholes" or "massive gaping wounds that are gushing blood all over the place", the truth is that the U.S. economy is not improving at all. In fact, it is rapidly getting worse.

Let's take a look at just a few areas of the economy....

Federal Government Finances

As I wrote about yesterday, the national debt is completely and totally out of control. Since Barack Obama took office, the U.S. national debt has increased by nearly 4 trillion dollars.

Keep in mind that from George Washington to Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government accumulated only 1 trillion dollars in debt.

Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. GDP grew by only 4.26%, but the U.S. national debt soared by 61% during that same time period.

Now the Democrats and the Republicans are busy negotiating over some modest reductions in spending.

But unprecedented federal spending is one of the only things propping the economy up right now.

If the U.S. economy is performing so poorly after being flooded with "stimulus money" from the federal government, what is going to happen once the federal government cuts back?

State And Local Government Finances

All over the United States, there are large numbers of state and local governments that are on the verge of bankruptcy.

For the moment, let's just focus on the state of Illinois.

Did you know that things have gotten so bad in Illinois at this point that the Illinois state government is letting bills go unpaid for long periods of time on a regular basis?

It's true.

Right now they have billions in unpaid bills and they are facing a financial future that is so bleak that it is almost indescribable.

In one recent article, author Stephen Lendman described the horrific financial crisis that Illinois is facing right now....

With spending exceeding revenues, and obligations not postponed, unpaid bills are growing "at a frightening rate. For instance, IGPA's Fiscal Futures Model indicates (they) could reach $40 billion by July 1, 2013, with an associated delay in paying those bills of more than five years."
Besides its $13 billion deficit and $6 billion in unpaid bills, its pension fund is about $130 billion in the red - a red flag that state workers may lose out altogether, wiping out their promised retirement savings.

But it isn't just the state government that is having problems. According to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, the average household in Chicago would owe a whopping $63,525 if all local government debt was divided up equally among all of the households.

The truth is that even if the finances of the federal government could somehow be fixed, there would still be dozens and dozens of very significant "government debt problems" all across America.

With so many state and local governments drowning in debt, jobs are being slashed at an alarming rate. UBS Investment Research is projecting that state and local governments in the U.S. will combine to slash a whopping 450,000 jobs by the end of next year.

So would the U.S. government step in and start bailing out state and local governments?

Not likely.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan has said the following about the prospect of bailing out the states....

"If we bail out one state, then all of the debt of all of the states are almost explicitly on the books of the federal government."
So for now, state and local governments are on their own.

Commercial Real Estate

Commercial real estate continues to decline all across America.

Moody’s/REAL All Property Type Aggregate Index fell 3.7% in April and is now the lowest it has been in over 10 years.

Overall, commercial real estate is down by over 40 percent since the peak back in 2007.

Residential Real Estate

The United States is dealing with a housing crash that never seems to end.

According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales in the United States fell another 3.8% in May.

During this housing crash home values have declined more than they did during the Great Depression and there does not appear to be any hope in sight.

New home sales are in even worse shape. During the first three months of this year, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month periodever recorded.


As 2009 began, the official U.S. unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. Today it is 9.1 percent.

The American people keep waiting for a "jobs recovery", but it has not shown up.

Sadly, all of this is part of a long-term trend.

Over the past decade, U.S. multinational corporations have been laying offmillions of workers in the U.S. and hiring millions of workers overseas to take their place.

The labor of American workers is rapidly losing value in a globalized economy. Big corporations have a tough time justifying paying ten times more to a worker in the United States when they are allowed to hire people for slave labor wages overseas.

The share of the national income taken in by U.S. workers continues to decline. Just consider what Mortimer Zuckerman had to say in a recent article for usnews.com....

Labor's share of national income has fallen to the lowest level in modern history, down to 57.5 percent in the first quarter as compared to 59.8 percent when the so-called recovery began. This reflects not only the 7 million fewer workers but the fact that wages for part-time workers now average $19,000—less than half the median income.

In the United States today, there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone. The number of "middle class jobs" has fallen by about 10 percent over the last decade.

Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year. That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

We are seeing the rise of a whole class of people that are chronically unemployed. At the beginning of 2009, the number of "long-term unemployed" in the United States was approximately 2.6 million. Today, that number is up to 6.2 million.

So in light of these employment statistics, can anyone really say that the economy is improving?

Economic Anxiety

The economy is the number one issue on the minds of the American people. There is an extraordinary about of economic pain out there today, and Americans are becoming impatient.

According to CNBC, the Money Anxiety Index is at its highest level in 30 years....

The latest indicator to ring up trouble is the Money Anxiety Index, which uses traditional economic metrics as well as other factors to gauge the level of consumers' worry regarding their personal financial conditions.

According to the May figures, the MAI is not only at its highest level in 30 years at 91.9 but also two months away from indicating another dip into recession. In the past, five straight months of increases in the index often signaled recession.

Most recent polls show that the American people are rapidly becoming more pessimistic about the direction the U.S. economy is headed.

According to a recent CNN poll, 48 percent of Americans believe that "another Great Depression" is likely within the next 12 months.

When you really stop and think about that number, it is really frightening.


Ben Bernanke may not admit it, but the truth is that the price of just about everything is soaring.

For example, when Barack Obama took office, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States was $1.83. Today it is about $3.74.

So what are our politicians doing about it?

Not much.

They just want to pretend that it isn't happening.

In fact, members of Congress are actually tinkering with the idea of changing the way that inflation is calculated once again.

By making inflation appear lower, it would be easier for Congress to deny cost of living increases to those on Social Security and other social programs.

How sad is that?

Economic Suffering

As American families find it increasingly difficult to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, many of them find themselves forced to put off other expenses. According to one recent survey, 26 percent of Americans have put off doctor visits because of the economy.

Other Americans can't make it at all without government assistance. As 2007 began, there were only 26 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are more than 44 million Americans on food stamps, which is an all-time record.

It is not good to have so many Americans on food stamps, but it is probably better than the alternative.

If there were tens of millions of Americans that could not feed themselves we would probably already have economic riots in the streets.


So do our politicians have any solutions?

Of course not. Everything that they have tried has failed.

Several top Democrats in Washington D.C. are now calling for a new economic stimulus package. When in doubt, our politicians usually revert to spending more money.

Sadly, this is about the best that our economy is going to get.

What we are experiencing right now is "the recovery". As we move forward things are going to get progressively worse.

A lot of people don't like to hear that we are in the middle of a long-term economic decline, but that is the truth.

The era of tremendous economic prosperity for America is coming to an end.

An economic nightmare is coming.

You better get ready.
Economic Collapse

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