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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Old Testament prophecy fulfilled before our eyes?

What do sycamore and cedar trees have to do with biblical prophecy, the tragic events of 9/11 and the imminent future of the United States?

The roots of a sycamore tree at Ground Zero felled on Sept. 11, 2001, have been preserved as a memorial to the event in New York City. A local messianic rabbi believes it's a visible fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about God's current judgment on America.
Everything, according to a new book which says an obscure text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah is an urgent wake-up call for all Americans in light of what happened on that fateful day in 2001.

"The Harbinger"by Jonathan Cahn, a messianic rabbi from the Jerusalem Center-Beth Israel Congregation in Wayne, N.J., deciphers stunning connections between what some may think is a cryptic biblical prophecy to the news events happening right now, in our current time.

The key verse in question isIsaiah 9:10, which states: "The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars." (King James Version)

These words were first uttered by leaders in ancient Israel and in response to a limited strike by Assyria on the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali – an attack the prophet makes clear is actually part of a limited judgment by God against apostasy. It wasn't meant to destroy the nation, but to awaken it, according to most commentaries.

Historically speaking, the northern kingdom of Israel did not repent of its rebellion against God's commandments, and were eventually conquered and deported from their property by the ancient Assyrians. Eventually, the southern kingdom of Judah was also overcome by the Babylonians after the Jews refused to repent as well.

But in"The Harbinger,"Cahn shows uncanny similarities between what's stated in Isaiah 9:10 to the 21st century events of 9/11 and the years afterward, suggesting America is currently under a time of focused judgment by Almighty God.

Cahn claims the part of the prophecy noting "The bricks are fallen down" refers directly to the crumbling of the World Trade Center in New York City, with the verse connoting on an attitude of defiance, a desire to rebuild with stronger materials instead of acknowledging the hand of God and moving toward national repentance.

The verse mentions sycamore and cedar trees, and it's here that things start to get eerie with the terrorist attack involving planes that smashed into the Twin Towers, leading to their eventual crumbling.

"After the cloud of dust began to clear, police officers, rescue workers and onlookers gazed at the little plot of land at the edge of Ground Zero," Cahn writes in"The Harbinger."

"There in the middle of the ash and debris that covered the ground was a fallen tree. It would soon become a symbol of 9/11 and of Ground Zero. And itwasa symbol ... but one much more ancient than anyone there could have realized, and one carrying amessageno one could have fathomed."

"The tree at Ground Zero that was struck down on September 11 was a sycamore tree."

Cahn notes that in Old Testament times, the Assyrians who attacked the ancient Israelites intended to cut down the sycamore trees belonging to God's people. But the intention was not present with the hijackers of 2001.

"The terrorists had no idea of Isaiah 9:10, no idea of the Harbingers, no idea of the sycamore tree growing at the corner of Ground Zero, and no idea that their attack would cause it to fall or that its fall was connected to an ancient prophecy. They had no idea ... but it still happened."

Not only was a sycamore tree struck on 9/11, but it was replaced in the exact same location by another tree of the type mentioned in the original Hebrew,an "erez" tree, which is the same genus as the cedar.

The uprooted sycamore tree from Ground Zero was replaced by the "Tree of Hope," a conifer tree which Rabbi Jonathan Cahn says fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 9:10.

"The most natural thing to have done would have been to replace one sycamore with another," Cahn writes. "But the prophecy required that the fallen sycamore be replaced with a tree of an entirely different nature. So the tree that replaced the sycamore of Ground Zero was likewisenota sycamore. According to the prophecy, the sycamore must be replaced by the biblicalerez. So it must be replaced by a conifer tree."

And that's what took place in 2003, as a conifer tree, the "Tree of Hope" as it was called, was planted in the spot where the sycamore was slammed on 9/11.

"Think about it," says Cahn. "Who could have put it all together? The tower fell because of the terrorists. It happened to fall exactly as it did in order to strike down that one particular tree. The tree just happened to be a sycamore, which just happened to be growing at the corner of Ground Zero.

"The tree that would replace it just happened to be given as a gift from outsiders who had nothing to do with anything else, but who just happened to feel led to give it. Their gift just happened to be the fulfillment of the biblical Erez Tree, which just happened to be the same tree spoken of in the ancient vow – the tree that must replace the Sycamore.

"They just happened to lower it into the same soil in that the fallen Sycamore had once stood – exactly as in the Hebrew of the ancient vow. And the man who led the ceremony around the tree just happened to bring it all together without knowing that he was bringing anything together. No one knew what they were doing. It wasn't a matter of intent. It was a manifestation of the Harbingers."

"The parallels are truly stunning," says Joseph Farah, founder of WND, who is producing avideodocumentary about Cahn's findings. "They are too numerous and too powerful to relate in news story form. In fact, they are overwhelming in their number and their exactitude. I am persuaded God is trying to tell America something and Rabbi Cahn has found the key to unlocking the message."

AsWND previously reported, two major American political figures actually voiced the Isaiah 9:10 prophecy in public in the immediate wake of the 9/11 onslaught.

"In the aftermath of the attack, the nation was stunned," said Cahn, "Everyone was trying to make sense of what had happened – this unprecedented attack on America. The very next day, September 12, then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle presented America's response to the world. And what did he say?"

Daschle said: "America will emerge from this tragedy as we have emerged from all adversity – united and strong. Nothing … nothing can replace the losses of those who have suffered. I know there is only the smallest measure of inspiration that can be taken from this devastation. But there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that speaks to all of us at times like this."

Read more:Old Testament prophecy fulfilled before our eyes?http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=379829#ixzz1hH3qv7nF

Greek woes drive up suicide rate

The rate of increase in suicides in Greece was the highest in Europe in the first half of 2011, according to figures from the country's health ministry. Experts attribute the rise to the country's economic crisis.

Painful austerity measures and a seemingly endless economic drama is exacting a deadly toll on the nation. Statistics released by the Greek ministry of health show a 40% rise in those taking their own lives between January and May this year compared to the same period in 2010.

Before the financial crisis first began to bite three years ago, Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. It now has almost double that number. Attempted suicides have also increased. While the country's suicide level is still among the lowest in Europe in absolute terms, the ministry's reported rate of increase has come about despite the stigma attached to suicide in a country where the Orthodox church refuses funeral rights for those who take their lives.

"It's never just one thing, but almost always debts, joblessness, the fear of being fired are cited when people phone in to say they are contemplating ending their lives," said Eleni Beikari, a psychiatrist at the non-governmental organisation, Klimaka, which runs a 24-hour suicide hotline.

Klimaka received around 10 calls a day before the crisis; it now gets more than 100 in any 24-hour period.

"Most come from women aged between 30 and 50 and men between 40 and 45 despairing over economic problems," said Beikari. "In my experience it's the men, suffering from hurt dignity and lost pride, who are most serious."

As poverty has deepened, unemployment has hit an unprecedented 18% (with over 42% affecting the 25 to 40 age group) and crime has skyrocketed in a country heading for a fifth straight year of recession. Greece's social fabric is fraying in ways once unthinkable. With the homeless now exceeding 20,000 in central Athens alone, funding cuts disproportionately affecting welfare services and drug use on the rise, the economic crisis has morphed increasingly into one of mental health with depression, neuroses and cases of self-harm also surging, according to experts. Psychiatrists have reported a 30% increase in demand for their services over the past year with most patients citing anxiety and depression brought on by financial fears for the decision to seek help.

Child helplines have similarly been deluged by calls. "The crisis is clearly aggravating family relations," Katiana Spyrides, another psychotherapist, said. "In particular we've seen increases in the stress levels of children and adolescents who face new problems, such as seeing their parents imprisoned for economic crimes, or who because of the situation have had to compromise their emotional and other needs."

Psychiatrists say the alarming rise signals an urgent need for a national suicide prevention policy in a nation that until now had discounted the need for one.

"Preventative strategies have to be increased," said Beikari. "Teachers, prison guards, priests, police, professionals in a position to spot those who might be suicidal, need to be sensitised. This is an issue that can no longer be ignored."

Most suicides, attempted and real, have occurred in the greater Attica region surrounding Athens and on the island of Crete where a number of businessmen with no prior history of mental illness have taken their own lives over the last 18 months.

• Some text and a heading in this article were corrected on 21 December 2011 because they described Greece's suicide rate as the highest in Europe. The rate is among Europe's lowest, but the rate of increase in early 2011 was high, as the story said elsewhere.

THe Guardian

Syrian Split: rebels want foreing boots on ground..observers out

France and Turkey in war of words over 1915 massacre of Armenians

The French parliament is on Thursday to debate and likely approve a bill tabled by a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party that would see anyone who publicly denies the "genocide" facing a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (£38,000). The only legal equivalent in France is for denying the Holocaust.

Turkey has increased pressure on France to drop the law, with President Abdullah Gul and a Turkish delegation to Paris warning its adoption would ignite a diplomatic crisis and have economic consequences.

In a joint declaration, Turkey's ruling and opposition parties denounced it as a "grave, unacceptable and historic mistake", calling on France to consider its own past, including its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its colonial past in North Africa.

Turkey claims the bill is blatant electioneering – an attempt to win votes with France's Armenian minority, estimated to number up to 500,000 people, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

But European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti said on Wednesday: "Today all peoples must be lucid and courageous in looking at their history. It has been nearly 100 years since the Armenian genocide took place, those responsible are dead, it is simply a matter of recognising a fact of history." He added that the opposition Socialists were planning to back the bill along with the ruling UMP party.

"If this was to win votes, I don't think the opposition would vote (for the law). But the Socialists will vote for this bill, which comes from a deputy, not from the government," he said.

However, French diplomatic sources cited by Le Monde conceded that the vote on the draft bill, approved by the Elysée, was part of Right-Left fight to win Armenian votes.

The Senate, which has a Socialist majority, had been due to vote on a 2006 law criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide but the Socialist-proposed bill was blocked in May by Mr Sarkozy's ruling UMP majority, leading to the new draft law. Mr Sarkozy had threatened to "throw a grenade without its pin in it" if Ankara continued to reject the term genocide while on a trip to Armenia in October.

The French president's relationship with Turkey was long frosty due to his opposition to the EU entry of the mainly Muslim nation. But ties had warmed in recent months as the two countries worked together on tackling the crisis in Syria and other regional hot spots.

Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister who has spearheaded the rapprochement, insists the draft law is not a government initiative and diplomats claim the spat will not affect the "fundamentals" of Franco-Turkish relations.

But the Turkish government has warned of "serious and irreparable" consequences. It is considering recalling the Turkish ambassador in Paris for consultations and asking the French ambassador in Turkey to leave.

Possible trade sanctions could target French interests in the country and exclude French companies from public contracts.

A similar diplomatic spat erupted in 2001 when Paris passed a law recognising the killings as genocide.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million of its people were killed during the First World War by forces belonging to Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.

Turkey rejects the term genocide and says between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died in combat or from starvation when Armenians rose up and sided with invading Russian forces.

The Telegraph

U.S. warns of new international action against Syria after two-day ‘massacre’ leaves 250 dead

DAMASCUS — Syria’s main opposition group on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency meetings into “the bloody massacres” as it reported 250 people killed in the past 48 hours.

Washington warned of new international measures against Syria, and said if Damascus did not fully implement an Arab League plan to contain the violence, “the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown.”

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accused the opposition of pushing for foreign intervention and trying to sabotage an Arab-brokered deal for observers, but ignoring calls for talks.

Reacting to reports of hundreds of civilians killed this week, the Syrian National Council (SNC) called for an “emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyah mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular.”

It also appealed for an “emergency meeting for the Arab League to condemn the bloody massacres… and cooperate with the United Nations in taking the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians.”

The SNC, a major umbrella group of factions opposed to Assad, reported “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period.”

It urged the Security Council to declare the cities and towns under attack “’safe zones’ that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas.”

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since mid-March.

A White House statement said Assad’s regime had “flagrantly violated their commitment to end violence and withdraw security forces from residential areas.

“The United States is deeply disturbed by credible reports that the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians and army defectors, while destroying homes and shops and arresting protesters without due process,” it said.

“Time and again, the Assad regime has demonstrated that it does not deserve to rule Syria. It’s time for this suffering and killing to stop.”

National Post

Tanzania floods: Heavy rains inundate Dar es Salaam

The Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) has warned that the downpours are set to continue and has told those living in the city's valleys to move.

The BBC's Aboubakar Famau in Dar es Salaam says the city's business activities have come to a standstill.

Several main roads that link the centre to the suburbs are flooded and some bridges have been destroyed.

Everywhere is flooded, people are on top of their house roofs”Shaaban Ramadhan HusseinFlood victim

According to TMA, these are the heaviest rains Tanzania has experienced since independence in 1961.

Hundreds of people living in the city's valleys have been left homeless.

Taabu Kibwa said her whole house was covered by water.

"We have lost all our properties, in fact we are left with empty hands. Everything in the house has been lost including television sets and refrigerators," she told the BBC.

"I have three children, one of whom I don't even know where he is."

Another resident, Shaaban Ramadhan Hussein, said he worked and lived in his home which was now under water.

"Everywhere is flooded, people are on top of their house roofs, no rescue has come so far. We are not happy, it is like the government doesn't care about us," he said.

Our correspondent says the floods seem to have caught many by surprise, yet it was only a few days ago that the Tanzania Meteorological Agency warned of possible devastation by heavy rains.

The police commander for Dar es Salaam, Suleiman Kova, has urged people to leave the valleys, but he said some residents were refusing.

"We went [to] rescue some and they then refused to vacate saying they are keeping an eye on their properties," he said.

Our correspondent says the government has set up centres to temporarily accommodate people displaced by the floods.

There is little chance of them relocating to their home villages or regions before the festive season because the weather agency has cautioned that the rains are not going away, he says.

Home-Sales Revisions to Hurt: More Distress in Market

Now we know that the recent housing crash was about 14 percent worse than previously thought. That is the conclusion of benchmark revisions by theNational Association of Realtors, after they realized that their numbers were “drifting” from other industry calculations.

That drift was caused by a big shift away from For Sale By Owner (FSBO) sales to Realtor sales (which was a big factor in their methodology), an increase in the geographic size/range of many multiple listing services (MLS), and double counting due to Realtors listing properties in several different local MLS’s.

So what does this change? I’ve already expounded on what it doesn’t change, which is really anything happening today in the economy, current home sales and prices and already-accounted-for losses from the housing crash.

It does however, change perception and economic prediction as we go forward. The Commerce Department will have to revise the housing component of GDP lower, and, perhaps more importantly, we have to look at comparisons and the overall health of today’s housing market differently.

First and foremost, distressed sales, which are foreclosures and short sales, mean a lot more now.

Shadow inventory (properties with seriously delinquent loans or properties already in foreclosure/repossessed), which CoreLogic just reported now stands at 1.6 million properties in October, are suddenly a far greater share of the overall market, since normal for-sale inventory dropped by 14 percent with the revisions.

This is important because loan defaults and foreclosures in total and as a percentage of total inventory and sales volume are key metrics in forecasting home sales and pricing.

“This has implications, especially given the late stage default and ready foreclosure pipelines have grown enormously...shadow inventory just got much larger. Time to absorb got much longer. The NAR revisions make it so we have to increase our upper bounds in distressed-to-organic sales metrics, which means a higher likelihood of greater house price depreciation,” notes mortgage analyst Mark Hanson. “Already in key regions and states around the nation distressed sales are the market. This will make it so many more markets around the country become mostly distressed markets in which distressed volume outpaces organic.”

Home buyers, sellers, and especially builders base important decisions on these distress factors in today’s market, and now their base of comparison is suddenly way off.

Granted, many of these same people are looking and comparing very locally and should know better than to rely on aggregate national data, but still it does have implications on overall consumer sentiment, which translates into buying and selling.

As we’ve already noted on this page, foreclosures are increasing, as the backlog from the so-called “robo-signing” paperwork scandal makes its way through final processing.

That increase in inventory will now be compared against a smaller pool of organic inventory, and that may, in turn, affect overall home prices more than we anticipated. Investors will likely take up much of that slack, and if the government and private sector finally finish plans in the works to entice more investors, some of that effect could be largely mitigated.

So no, the revisions don’t change sales on the ground today, but it remains to be seen how the perception of a deeper housing crash will affect home sales, prices and distress in the future.


'UNESCO funds Palestinian magazine glorifying Hitler'

NEW YORK – The Simon Wiesenthal Center asked UNESCO’s director-general Wednesday to suspend its sponsorship of a Palestinian children’s magazine, saying the magazine applauded Hitler for murdering Jews.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, the educational children’s magazine, Zayafuna, “includes terms glorifying jihad.”

The PMW report references an essay in the magazine by a teenage Palestinian girl. The girl wrote about meeting Adolf Hitler in a dream, who tells her that he killed the Jews “so you would all know that they are a nation who spreads destruction all over the world.” In the essay, Hitler tells the child to be patient regarding the suffering of the Palestinians at the hands of the Jews.

In a letter to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, Shimon Samuels, the Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, wrote that the editors of Zayafuna “endorse Adolf Hitler as a role model for Palestinian children,” noting that a quarter of thechildren’s submission selected for publication by the magazine “express hatred for Jews and reflect messages transmitted through PA official media.”

“Apparently, the magazine’s positive m
essages on coexistence and peace apply to all but Jews and Israelis,” Samuels wrote. “Through a young girl, the Holocaust is presented as an act for the benefit of humanity.”

The Palestinian Authority’s deputy minister of education and its former minister of education are both on the magazine’s advisory board, Samuels noted.

UNESCO, Samuels said, has sponsored Zayafuna since August. The Hitler essay ran in the magazine’s February 2011 issue.

While Samuels noted the October edition states that “opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily express UNESCO’s views,” Samuels wrote that this disclaimer was “hardly a fitting response to the discovery of the repugnant Holocaust celebration in the February issue.”

Samuels recalled the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s suggestion last month “when ‘Palestine’ was welcomed into UNESCO, that the new member be tested by being held to the declared values of UNESCO.”

“Until Zayafuna publicly apologizes for its anti-Semitism, Palestine will have already failed that test,” Samuels wrote, and urged UNESCO to demand that PA President Mahmoud Abbas rescind funding for the magazine.

PMW head Itamar Marcus said his organization welcomes the Wiesenthal Center’s call to UNESCO to stop funding the magazine Zayafuna.

“UNESCO’s continued funding of a hate magazine makes them a participant in the hate promotion it disseminates,” Marcus said. “It would be a violation of basic moral principles to fund a Palestinian magazine that glorifies violence and jihad, and presents Hitler as a role model for children.

“The only way, it seems, the Palestinian Authority will ever stop its repeated hate promotion is if there are financial consequences to their hate promotion,” Marcus said. “Let us hope that UNESCO takes the morally decent route and stops the funding, and not the politically expedient route of turning away in the face of Palestinian hatred.”

Jerusalem Post

US tax “ultimatum” has Swiss banks sweating

Some 11 Swiss banks must hand over thousands of client names and pay billions in fines to avoid tax evasion prosecution in the United States, according to reports.

Swiss newspapers claim the deadline for the US ultimatum passed on Tuesday night. However, banks are keeping tight lipped over claims that they would also have to provide all correspondence with offshore clients over the past 11 years.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has been steadily closing a net around Swiss banks ever since UBS admitted in 2009 to helping wealthy US citizens evade taxes. The Swiss authorities were then compelled to water down banking secrecy laws by handing over the names of nearly 4,500 UBS clients.

Since then, the DoJ and the US tax authority – the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – have been building cases against other Swiss banks that are alleged to have either opened secret accounts from scratch or poached UBS clients who wanted to dodge the crackdown.

Two tax amnesties have netted thousands of clients, some of whom have provided the IRS with details of how they opened their accounts and a so-called roadmap of which banks allegedly helped them evade taxes.

Hopes dashed
In addition, two former Swiss bank employees were arrested this year with at least one turning whistleblower to lighten his sentence.

Information gleaned by the SonntagsZeitung and Tages-Anzeiger newspapers points to the US authorities demanding some 6,500 account details and around $3 billion (SFr2.8 billion) in fines from the 11 banks. UBS paid a $780 million fine in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the Swiss authorities had hoped to negotiate a catch-all civil settlement that included all Swiss banks. But those hopes appear to have been dashed by the DoJ’s determination to pursue criminal probes into the 11 worst offenders.

The prospect of a criminal prosecution has placed banks under far greater pressure as a conviction could spell the end of their activities in the US.

Worried clients
“It appears that the US is pressing for a settlement similar to the UBS deal, which entailed a deferred prosecution agreement that included the payment of funds [fines], the disclosure of information and cooperation in further investigations,” US tax lawyer Scott Michel told swissinfo.ch.

Credit Suisse has already complied with the ultimatum – at least in part – by informing an unspecified number of US clients last month that it would hand over their names.

The bank, along with the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters, which has been handling Switzerland’s negotiations, declined to comment on the latest reports of a deadline for the 11 financial institutions.

But Scott Michel told swissinfo.ch that his office had received “multiple calls” from worried clients who wanted to come clean before the authorities caught up with them.

“If the name is provided by the Swiss before the account holder contacts the IRS, the IRS will likely take the position that any disclosure is untimely, leading to a risk of criminal prosecution,” Michel warned.

Little legal redress
Banking clients can expect little protection from the Swiss courts despite the strong tradition of legal banking secrecy in the country.

Under the terms of the UBS deal which was ratified by the Swiss parliament in 2010, the US authorities could legitimately demand information from other banks that demonstrate “behavioural patterns” of tax evasion.

Some 380 UBS clients appealed to the courts against the handover of their details to the US authorities, but only 100 cases were upheld – some of them only partially.

On Tuesday, a Swiss court rejected an appeal by a Credit Suisse client for more time to prepare a legal defence against the handover of his confidential data, according to the Reuters news agency.

Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch

Fitch warns again on U.S. debt

NEW YORK – Fitch Ratings on Wednesday warned again that the United States’ rising debt burden was not consistent with maintaining the country’s top AAA credit rating, but said there would likely be no decision on whether to cut the rating before 2013.

Last month, Fitch changed its U.S. credit rating outlook to negative from stable, citing the failure of a special congressional committee to agree on at least US$1.2-trillion in deficit-reduction measures.

“Federal debt will rise in the absence of expenditure and tax reforms that would address the challenges of rising health and social security spending as the population ages,” Fitch said in a statement.

“The high and rising federal and general government debt burden is not consistent with the U.S. retaining its ‘AAA’ status despite its other fundamental sovereign credit strengths,” the ratings agency said.

In a new fiscal projection, Fitch said at least US$3.5-trillion of additional deficit reduction measures will be required to stabilize the federal debt held by the public at around 90% of gross domestic product in the latter half of the current decade.

Fitch, when it lowered its outlook to negative, had said it was giving the U.S. government until 2013 to come up with a “credible plan” to tackle its ballooning budget deficit or risk a downgrade from the AAA status.

“A key task of an incoming Congress and administration in 2013 is to formulate a credible plan to reduce the budget deficit and stabilize the federal debt burden. Without such a strategy, the sovereign rating will likely be lowered by the end of 2013,” Fitch reiterated.

Rival ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating on the United States to AA-plus from AAA on August 5, citing concerns over the government’s budget deficit and rising debt burden as well as the political gridlock that nearly led to a default.

On November 23, Moody’s Investors Service, warned that its top level Aaa credit rating for the United States could be in jeopardy if lawmakers were to backtrack on US$1.2-trillion in automatic deficit cuts that are set to be made over 10 years.

The plan for automatic cuts was triggered after the special congressional committee failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction. Moody’s said any pullback from the agreed automatic cuts to take effect starting in 2013 could prompt it to take action.
Financial Post

French Banks Won't Be Able To Handle Inevitable Italian Restructuring

Despite the latest attempt by the European Central Bank to kick the proverbial can far down the road, the Eurozone remains under heavy pressure, and France’s AAA credit rating hangs from a thread. According to research by Nomura, France’s exposure to peripheral Europe tops €680 billion ($887 billion), more than 25% of its GDP, putting its banks at substantial risk in the event of another debt restructuring or an outright default among the PIIGS.

France’s biggest problem, and arguably the Eurozone’s, continues to be Italy. While Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, along with the ECB’s Mario Draghi, have praised Italy’s new Prime Minister, Mario Monti, for his attempts at implementing austerity and structural reform, some continue to believe the Eurozone’s third largest economy will be forced to restructure its debt.

From a piece I wrote back in November quoting Nouriel Roubini:

With public debt at 120 per cent of gross domestic product, real interest rates close to five per cent, and zero growth, Italy would need a primary surplus of five per cent of gross domestic product - not the current near-zero – merely to stabilize its debt. Soon real rates will be higher and growth negative. Moreover, the austerity that the European Central Bank and Germany are imposing on Italy will turn recession into depression.

The famed Dr. Doom was making the case for a restructuring of Italy’s debt. Nomura’s analysts paint another scary picture:

The size of Italy’s debt burden has precluded an official sector backstop up to this point, and debt restructuring may indeed be too much for the French banking system to handle. Figure 3 [reproduced in this article] shows the exposures of French banks to Italian assets and the appendix contains some illustrative calculations of potential losses for French banks. The losses for French banks in a situation of Italian exit/restructuring could generate losses in excess of 20% of French GDP.

French debt-to-GDP levels are expected to hit 90% in 2012. The “additional contingent liability” of an Italian restructuring would push France over the top, its debt-to-GDP levels jumping past 120%. “In addition, the jump would be even bigger if it happens in the face of declining French GDP,” wrote the analysts. Goldman Sachs’ economists estimated France would slide into recession in 2012, while official numbers show Q3 GDP inching up 0.4%.

Breaking the numbers down even further, France’s non-financial private sector holds about €265 billion ($346 billion) in Italian sovereigns, while the French public sector holds about €107 billion ($140 billion). All in all, French claims on Italian sovereign securities total €416 billion ($543 billion), which is about 16.3% of 2010 GDP.

Global banks rallied on Wednesday, in part acknowledging the ECB’s “long-term refinancing operations” (LTRO), considered by some to be backdoor QE. In the U.S., Morgan Stanley,JPMorgan, and Citi ended the day in positive territory.

For now, European policymakers appear to have kicked the can down the road enough to calm markets and ease funding pressures on their embattled banking system. But Merkozy & Co. still face a host of structural, political, and financial problems that will keep investors on edge throughout 2012. France’s exposure to Italy, it seems, is one of the most dangerous.


The head of Britain's biggest state-controlled bank has warned that a eurozone country could leave the single currency during 2012

The head of Britain's biggest state-controlled bank has warned that a eurozone country could leave the single currency during 2012, sending shockwaves around Europe's banking system.

Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir Philip Hampton made the prediction during Jeff Randall's Christmas Dinner, a seasonal discussion between business leaders on Sky News.

He said: "I think it's likely that one country, a small country will drop out.

"It could be any of them because I think that some of these things will be driven by political events, as much as by economic circumstances and social unrest, and all of those sorts of things. But I think there is a very good chance that one country will fall out."

Sir Philip said such an event would "produce massive strains" in Europe's banking system.

"At the more extreme levels of that you would get a wave of recapitalisations of banks by governments throughout Europe," he added.

The chairman of RBS, which came near to bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis and is now 83% owned by the taxpayer, also admitted things could still go horribly wrong in Britain's banking system.

He said: "I don't think the system has been fixed. I think it is very much on the mend."

He then joked: "There is a ghoulish expression used in the City that the British banks are the best looking horse in the glue factory or the best looking pig in the slaughterhouse."

Meanwhile, the boss of Sainsbury's told the group that charity shops can have a detrimental effect on the British high street.

The supermarket giant's chief executive Justin King said: "Ultimately lots of charity shops potentially undermine vibrant new small businesses starting up, so I don't think we should assume that they are necessarily a benign force."

Imperial Tobacco's boss Alison Cooper also attended the gathering for the Jeff Randall LiveChristmas special.

She suggested that Chancellor George Osborne may need to be prepared to deviate from his rigid deficit reduction strategy, known as Plan A, during the coming year.

Ms Cooper said: "There will need to be some agility around it if necessary, on the basis of how the world evolves and to make sure that we're responsive to that but the core of it will remain."

Sky News

Most American's Still Have No Idea How Bad the U.S. Economy Is

Economic Collapse writes: Even though most Americans have become very frustrated with this economy, the reality is that the vast majority of them still have no idea just how bad our economic decline has been or how much trouble we are going to be in if we don't make dramatic changes immediately. If we do not educate the American people about how deathly ill the U.S. economy has become, then they will just keep falling for the same old lies that our politicians keep telling them. Just "tweaking" things here and there is not going to fix this economy. We truly do need a fundamental change in direction. America is consuming far more wealth than it is producing and our debt is absolutely exploding. If we stay on this current path, an economic collapse is inevitable. Hopefully the crazy economic numbers from 2011 that I have included in this article will be shocking enough to wake some people up.

At this time of the year, a lot of families get together, and in most homes the conversation usually gets around to politics at some point. Hopefully many of you will use the list below as a tool to help you share the reality of the U.S. economic crisis with your family and friends. If we all work together, hopefully we can get millions of people to wake up and realize that "business as usual" will result in a national economic apocalypse.

The following are 50 economic numbers from 2011 that are almost too crazy to believe....

#1 A staggering 48 percent of all Americans are either considered to be "low income" or are living in poverty.

#2 Approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be "low income" or impoverished.

#3 If the number of Americans that "wanted jobs" was the same today as it was back in 2007, the "official" unemployment rate put out by the U.S. government would be up to 11 percent.

#4 The average amount of time that a worker stays unemployed in the United States is now over 40 weeks.

#5 One recent survey found that 77 percent of all U.S. small businesses do not plan to hire any more workers.

#6 There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.

#7 Since December 2007, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% once you account for inflation.

#8 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.6 million Americans were self-employed back in December 2006. Today, that number has shrunk to 14.5 million.

#9 A Gallup poll from earlier this year found that approximately one out of every five Americans that do have a job consider themselves to be underemployed.

#10 According to author Paul Osterman, about 20 percent of all U.S. adults are currently working jobs that pay poverty-level wages.

#11 Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

#12 Back in 1969, 95 percent of all men between the ages of 25 and 54 had a job. In July, only 81.2 percent of men in that age group had a job.

#13 One recent survey found that one out of every three Americans would not be able to make a mortgage or rent payment next month if they suddenly lost their current job.

#14 The Federal Reserve recently announced that the total net worth of U.S. households declined by 4.1 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone.

#15 According to a recent study conducted by the BlackRock Investment Institute, the ratio of household debt to personal income in the United States is now 154 percent.

#16 As the economy has slowed down, so has the number of marriages. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, only 51 percent of all Americans that are at least 18 years old are currently married. Back in 1960, 72 percent of all U.S. adults were married.

#17 The U.S. Postal Service has lost more than 5 billion dollars over the past year.

#18 In Stockton, California home prices have declined 64 percent from where they were at when the housing market peaked.

#19 Nevada has had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for 59 months in a row.

#20 If you can believe it, the median price of a home in Detroit is now just $6000.

#21 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida are sitting vacant. That figure is 63 percent larger than it was just ten years ago.

#22 New home construction in the United States is on pace to set a brand new all-time record low in 2011.

#23 As I have written about previously, 19 percent of all American men between the ages of 25 and 34 are now living with their parents.

#24 Electricity bills in the United States have risen faster than the overall rate of inflation for five years in a row.

#25 According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980. Today they account for approximately 16.3%.

#26 One study found that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.

#27 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.

#28 The United States spends about 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that China spends on goods and services from the United States.

#29 It is being projected that the U.S. trade deficit for 2011 will be 558.2 billion dollars.

#30 The retirement crisis in the United States just continues to get worse. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and 29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.

#31 Today, one out of every six elderly Americans lives below the federal poverty line.

#32 According to a study that was just released, CEO pay at America's biggest companies rose by 36.5% in just one recent 12 month period.

#33 Today, the "too big to fail" banks are larger than ever. The total assets of the six largest U.S. banks increased by 39 percent between September 30, 2006 and September 30, 2011.

#34 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth that is roughly equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans combined.

#35 According to an analysis of Census Bureau data done by the Pew Research Center, the median net worth for households led by someone 65 years of age or older is 47 times greater than the median net worth for households led by someone under the age of 35.

#36 If you can believe it, 37 percent of all U.S. households that are led by someone under the age of 35 have a net worth of zero or less than zero.

#37 A higher percentage of Americans is living in extreme poverty (6.7%) than has ever been measured before.

#38 Child homelessness in the United States is now 33 percent higher than it was back in 2007.

#39 Since 2007, the number of children living in poverty in the state of California has increased by 30 percent.

#40 Sadly, child poverty is absolutely exploding all over America. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 36.4% of all children that live in Philadelphia are living in poverty, 40.1% of all children that live in Atlanta are living in poverty, 52.6% of all children that live in Cleveland are living in poverty and 53.6% of all children that live in Detroit are living in poverty.

#41 Today, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#42 In 1980, government transfer payments accounted for just 11.7% of all income. Today, government transfer payments account for more than 18 percent of all income.

#43 A staggering 48.5% of all Americans live in a household that receives some form of government benefits. Back in 1983, that number was below 30 percent.

#44 Right now, spending by the federal government accounts for about 24 percent of GDP. Back in 2001, it accounted for just 18 percent.

#45 For fiscal year 2011, the U.S. federal government had a budget deficit of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars. That was the third year in a row that our budget deficit has topped one trillion dollars.

#46 If Bill Gates gave every single penny of his fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for about 15 days.

#47 Amazingly, the U.S. government has now accumulated a total debt of 15 trillion dollars. When Barack Obama first took office the national debt was just 10.6 trillion dollars.

#48 If the federal government began right at this moment to repay the U.S. national debt at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 440,000 years to pay off the national debt.

#49 The U.S. national debt has been increasing by an average of more than 4 billion dollars per day since the beginning of the Obama administration.

#50 During the Obama administration, the U.S. government has accumulated more debt than it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that Bill Clinton took office.

The Market Oracle

Chinese Hackers Hit U.S. Chamber of Commerce

WASHINGTON – A group of hackers in China breached the computer defenses of America's top business-lobbying group and gained access to everything stored on its systems, including information about its three million members, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The break-in at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the boldest known infiltrations in what has become a regular confrontation between U.S. companies and Chinese hackers. The complex operation, which involved at least 300 internet addresses, was discovered and quietly shut down in May 2010.

It isn't clear how much of the compromised data was viewed by the hackers. Chamber officials say internal investigators found evidence that hackers had focused on four Chamber employees who worked on Asia policy, and that six weeks of their email had been stolen.

It is possible the hackers had access to the network for more than a year before the breach was uncovered, according to two people familiar with the Chamber's internal investigation.

One of these people said the group behind the break-in is one that U.S. officials suspect of having ties to the Chinese government. The Chamber learned of the break-in when the FBI told the group that servers in China were stealing its information, this person said. The FBI declined to comment on the matter.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Geng Shuang, said cyberattacks are prohibited by Chinese law and China itself is a victim of attacks. He said the allegation that the attack against the Chamber originated in China "lacks proof and evidence and is irresponsible," adding that the hacking issue shouldn't be "politicized."

The Chamber moved to shut down the hacking operation by unplugging and destroying some computers and overhauling its security system. The security revamp was timed for a 36-hour period over one weekend when the hackers, who kept regular working hours, were expected to be off duty.

Damage from data theft is often difficult to assess.

People familiar with the Chamber investigation said it has been hard to determine what was taken before the incursion was discovered, or whether cyberspies used information gleaned from the Chamber to send booby-trapped emails to its members to gain a foothold in their computers, too.

Chamber officials said they scoured email known to be purloined and determined that communications with fewer than 50 of its members were compromised. They notified those members. People familiar with the investigation said the emails revealed the names of companies and key people in contact with the Chamber, as well as trade-policy documents, meeting notes, trip reports and schedules.

"What was unusual about it was that this was clearly somebody very sophisticated, who knew exactly who we are and who targeted specific people and used sophisticated tools to try to gather intelligence," said the Chamber's Chief Operating Officer David Chavern.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/12/21/chinese-computer-hackers-hit-us-chamber-commerce/#ixzz1hFAWj9I9