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Monday, December 26, 2011

Ancient Seal Found in Jerusalem Linked to Ritual

JERUSALEM – A rare clay seal found under Jerusalem's Old City appears to be linked to religious rituals practiced at the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago, Israeli archaeologists said Sunday.

The coin-sized seal found near the Jewish holy site at the Western Wall bears two Aramaic words meaning "pure for God."

Archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University said it dates from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D. -- the year Roman forces put down a Jewish revolt and destroyed the second of the two biblical temples in Jerusalem.

The find marks the first discovery of a written seal from that period of Jerusalem's history, and appeared to be a unique physical artifact from ritual practice in the Temple, said Reich, co-director of the excavation.

Very few artifacts linked to the Temples have been discovered so far. The site of the Temple itself -- the enclosure known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary -- remains off-limits to archaeologists because of its religious and political sensitivity.

Archaeologists say the seal was likely used by Temple officials approving an object for ritual use -- oil, perhaps, or an animal intended for sacrifice. Materials used by Temple priests had to meet stringent purity guidelines stipulated in detail in the Jewish legal text known as the Mishna, which also mention the use of seals as tokens by pilgrims.

The find, Reich said, is "the first time an indication was brought by archaeology about activities in the Temple Mount -- the religious activities of buying and offering and giving to the Temple itself."

The site where the seal was found is on the route of a main street that ran through ancient Jerusalem just outside the Temple compound.

Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, a biblical archaeologist not connected to the dig, said the seal was special because it "was found right next to the Temple and is similar to what we see described in the Mishna."

"It's nice when we can connect an activity recorded in ancient sources with archaeological finds," he said.

The seal was found in an excavation run by archaeologists from the government's Israel Antiquities Authority. The dig is under the auspices of a broader dig nearby known as the City of David, where archaeologists are investigating the oldest part of Jerusalem.

The City of David dig, located inside the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan and funded by a Jewish group affiliated with the settlement movement, is the Holy Land's highest-profile and most politically controversial excavation

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/12/25/ancient-seal-found-in-jerusalem-linked-to-ritual/?intcmp=trending#ixzz1herLf8TT

Trends analysis for 2012

Economic Martial Law
In late 2008, with the economy in tatters, Gerald Celente warned of the strong possibility of a bank holiday following the inauguration of Barack Obama. He suggested that the prudent Trends Journal subscriber “might consider preparing for such contingencies by having ready access to cash and gold. When banks reopen following a ‘holiday,’ limits may be set on withdrawal amounts and the currency may have been devalued, officially or de facto.”

Celente’s concern was brushed off or completely ignored by the media as pundits conned the public into imagining that recovery was at hand. But was the White House reading the Trends Journal? Were they listening to Celente’s bank holiday forecasts?

As would be revealed by Vice President Joe Biden, calling a bank holiday was being considered as a first priority by the Obama White House on Inauguration Day. “Literally, one of the early [discussions was] whether we might have to call a bank holiday… a bank holiday on the day after we were sworn in,” admitted Biden.

We submit that, considering the current economic and geopolitical conditions, central banks and world governments already have plans in place to declare economic martial law … with the possibility of military martial law to follow.

Battlefield America
Suddenly, with a stroke of the Presidential pen and overwhelming support from the Senate’s “Gang of 100,” the American “homeland” became the Fatherland. And from sea to shining sea, the United States was now categorized as a “battlefield.”

On 15 December 2011 (precisely 220 years to the day that the Bill of Rights was ratified) the United States Senate, bowing to pressure from the Obama administration, removed language from an earlier version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) that would have prevented US citizens from being subjected to indefinite military detention when captured or arrested, at home or abroad. In its final White House-approved form, the NDAA granted the President authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. Anyone, anywhere, at any time could be arrested, tortured and executed if declared an enemy of the state by el Presidente of los Estados Unidos.

What should have been a blaring front page headline, such as: “El Presidente Granted Dictatorial Powers: Bill of Rights Repealed,” was relegated to the bottom of page A31 of the self-proclaimed “Paper of Record,” The New York Times, under the “who cares?” trouble-free headline, “$662 Billion Military Bill Is Approved by Congress.”

From the rest of the so-called “liberal” mainstream media, there was mostly silence and hardly even a peep from its normally vocal lefty chorus … who, along with the lefties on the street, would have been shouting, screaming and Bush-bashing, had it been the former Republican President advocating this new “Bill of No Rights.”

Invasion of the Occtupy
Once again, Time magazine is behind the times. Its person of the year should not be the “Protestor.” We picked the “Occtupy.” Protestors, in one form or another, have been around since time and memorial.

But the “Occtupy” is like nothing history has ever witnessed. At first it was ignored, then it was derided as a minor irritant that would soon fade away. But it spread and multiplied, and no one seemed able to stop it. The Occtupy had no head, no single voice, but it spoke in many tongues as it grew into a giant, formless creature with tentacles that reached around the globe.

The Occtupy is invulnerable because it is indefinable. Anonymity is its strength. With no leader, no manifesto, no physical headquarters, no official spokesman, its very formlessness, which critics term weakness, is in fact its strength. With no leader's head to cut off, no headquarters to demolish, and no spokesman to silence, it is like a thousand-tentacled octopus – impossible to grasp and wrestle into submission.

Though the Occupy movement took the media by surprise, 15 years ago Gerald Celente predicted in his book Trends 2000 (Warner Books, 1997) that prolonged protests would hit Wall Street in the early years of the new millennium and would spread nationwide.

The “Occtupy” is upon is. It is no passing fad but rather a trend that will strengthen as it grows. Occtupy has become, and will remain, a megatrend of the new millennium.

Climax Time
In 2012, many of the long-simmering socioeconomic and geopolitical trends that we have forecast and tracked will come to a climax. Some will arrive with a big bang and others less dramatically … but no less consequentially.

On the economic front, alarm bells had long been ringing and signals flashing “danger ahead.” It seems inconceivable that the mainstream media and its stable of pundits, who should have known better, either missed, or downplayed the warnings. But that’s what they did, serving up each remotely positive morsel of economic data as though it were incontrovertible “proof of progress.”

As 2011 came to a close, the inevitable Day of Reckoning was at hand. The euro-zone was in meltdown. The great experiment was failing, and the desperate attempts to make it appear as though it could be saved were only part of a con game. And when the old con grew stale, a fresh con was tried: the "fear" and "if" con.

The IMF’s Christine LaGarde warned of dire consequences “…If the international community doesn't work together.” The new "fear" was real. History was in many ways repeating itself: Financial panic, massive unemployment, currency wars, trade wars, hot wars. Lagarde was correct – the world was ready to slide into a 1930s scale Depression.

But the big "if" – that "if" only the international community would join together and "focus on what it can do" – was the con.

There is no "if." The Climax is coming. The financial house of cards iscollapsing. And when the collapse can be no longer be denied, following the example of the 1930s, a pretext will be found to go to war.

Technocrat Takeover
“Democracy is Dead; Long Live the Technocrat!” could be the slogan for a major new trend ushering in the New Year. As it takes root and grows, it will be among the most important trends shaping the new millennium.

No one has yet to call the merger of state and corporate powers that has been foisted upon Greece and Italy by its proper name – Fascism – though a pair of lightning-quick financial coup d’├ętats have installed two unelected figures as head of state.

And few in the mainstream media are calling these “technocrats” by their proper name: Bankers!

Unlike politicians, theoretically responsible to the will of an electorate, the technocrats appear to have pledged allegiance to the demands of their nations’ creditors and the agenda demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Pulled from the rank of the White Shoe Boys, they will feel free to preside over an Austerity Era without worrying about the cash-strapped, unemployed, deep-in-debt populace.

But a rudderless ship, repeatedly torpedoed by financial saboteurs and set adrift in a minefield of red ink, will not be saved just because a technocrat is at the helm.

Repatriate! Repatriate!
It’s a new millennium trend, which, if realized and implemented, could prove instrumental in solving many of the socioeconomic problems plaguing so much of society. “Repatriate! Repatriate!” will pit the creative instincts of a multitude of individuals against the repressive monopoly of the multinationals.

It took a small, but financially and politically powerful group to sell the world on globalization, and it will take a large, committed and coordinated citizens’ movement to “un-sell” it. Around the world, in one form or another, anti-globalization rhetoric is ratcheting up.

What began simply – with grassroots “buy local” movements, farmers’ markets and community self-sufficiency – has entered an evolutionary phase. A new “patriotism,” a revived sense of “nationhood” has already been born, as well as a growing realization that for a nation to be strong, it has to be independent. To be independent it has to rely on itself, above all.

Secession Obsession
Winds of political change are blowing from such disparate places as Tunisia, Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, London, Brussels, Spain, Northern Italy, India, and even Russia. They have blown open a window of opportunity through which previously unimaginable political options may now be considered – including radical decentralization, Internet-based direct democracy, secession, and even the peaceful dissolution of nations.

There are currently 11 mega-nations with a population of over 100,000,000 people. All of them are too big, too powerful, too undemocratic, too environmentally irresponsible, too intrusive, too insular, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small local communities.

Because of its sheer size, the US, like the rest of the mega-nations, is fundamentally unsustainable, ungovernable, and, therefore, unfixable. But, just as a group has a right to form, so too does it have a right to disband, to subdivide itself, or to withdraw from a larger unit. Today there are separatist movements in over two dozen countries, and many secessionist movements in the United States.

Rebellions, such as the “Occtupy,” offer the possibility for a new world disorder – a disorder that rejects cant and dogma; a disorder that fosters creativity and seething human enterprise; a disorder, most importantly, that promotes the decentralization of governance.

Safe Havens
The End is Near! The end of the world as we know it is approaching. Not the “End Times” that Armageddonites predict nor Mayan Calendar catastrophists dread. Rather, as the signs of imminent economic and social collapse become more pronounced, legions of New Millennium survivalists are, or will be, thinking about looking for methods and ways to escape the resulting turmoil.

Survivalism 2.0, a trend that had been simmering for years and bubbled over when the “Panic of ’08” hit, will come to a full boil in 2012. Those “on-trend” and who “Think for Themselves” have already taken measure to implement Gerald Celente’s 3 G’s (GC’s 3-G’s): Gold, Guns and a Getaway plan. Put another way, personal security, financial security, and a safe haven.

The so-called austerity measures that have been instituted in Greece and Italy, will seem mild once the bottom truly falls out of the world economy. The outrage that is now fuelling the “Occtupy” will be matched by the desperation of the millions of the newly destitute.

“Security” for many will become priority No.1. As Gerald Celente says: “When people lose everything and have nothing left to lose … they lose it.” Their violent reactions will put at risk virtually everyone unlucky enough to cross their paths.

For many law abiding citizens, especially in the US, the threat will not only come from some desperate lone-wolf mugger, predator street gang or marauding flash-mob, but from Uncle Sam himself.

The groundwork has been put in place for “Economic Martial Law” and a suspension of the Bill of Rights. Uncle Sam, “Public Enemy No.1” is at the ready; the military now has full control over the population. A situation looms that will prove intolerable to those accustomed to enjoying personal freedoms.

And as economies falter, and governments feel threatened by the restless “have not’s” and “going over the top’s,” to varying degrees, personal freedoms and “inalienable rights” will become alien.

The hardy and adventurous will find ways to go off-the-grid and live independently in remote locations. But for many, without the skills, strength or desire to go rugged, the only realistic safe havens will be found in a few countries positioned to escape the worst of the collapse.

Where to go? What to do? How to do it? The pitfalls and the possibilities will be addressed in your upcoming Top Trends 2012Trends Journal.

Big Brother Internet
Many computer experts were calling 2011 the “Year of the Hack,” as tales of large-scale computer data breaches hit the headlines. As 2012 dawns, we forecast the coming year as the beginning of the end of Internet Freedom: A battle between the governments and the people.

The Stuxnet computer worm used to damage the Iranian nuclear effort, discovered in late 2010, the first acknowledged cyberweapon served as a wake-up call to the general public. Generals around the world have been predicting cyberwars for several years, and every major nation has already in place a
cyberwarfare force.

The word from the front (US, UK, Germany, France, et al) has been remarkably similar. The Internet has become a “Wild West,” cybercrime is “the most profitable criminal activity ever seen,” and “every company in every conceivable industry with significant size … has been compromised.”

Though the cybercrime threat is real and on the rise, many IT experts claim governments are fear mongering to prepare the public for measures that will end the anonymity and free association on the Internet.

What will it mean to you? How far will the government go to “Big Brother” the Internet? Under the guise of protecting intellectual property and commercial interests, governments will propose legislation in 2012 to require Internet users to present the equivalent of a driver’s license and/or bill of health to navigate cyberspace. This new “authentication technology” will be a boon for a few, but for the general population, it represents yet another curtailing of freedom, and another level of governmental control.

Direct vs. Faux Democracy
As 2012 approaches, in every corner of the world, a restive populace has made it clear that it’s disgusted with “politics as usual” and is looking for change. Government, in all its forms – democracy, autocracy, monarchy, socialism, communism – just wasn’t working.

Still, among all the systems of governance, the one that held the most promise and most captured the imagination of the citizenry was democracy. But though representative democracy, as practiced in the West, was noble in principle, it was little more than a cruel sham in practice. The established ruling parties were no more than representatives – middle men – carrying out the will of the very rich and very powerful forces who had manipulated government throughout history.

In 2012, the only practical solution to breaking the “party rule” stranglehold – in the US or Russia, England or France – is Direct Democracy (DD). Theoretically, the elected officials of “representative democracies” are meant to carry out (represent) the people’s will. But, in practice, most are beholden to special interests whose campaign contributions (a.k.a. bribes and payoffs) are repaid in kind. Bluntly: The people in power represent only the people with the most power.

The only viable solution we can envisage to disempower the powers that be – and reverse today’s ruinous socioeconomic and geopolitical trends – is to take the vote out of the hands of party politicians and institute Direct Democracy: If the Swiss can do it, why can’t anyone else?

It is due time for Thomas Jefferson’s vision that “… in due time the voice of the people will be heard and their latent wisdom will prevail,” to prevail. To bring volunteers together and further the Direct Democracy movement, The Trends Research Institute has established the web site www.DirectDemocracyNow.org

Alternative Energy 2012
Many of the alternative energy technologies we’ve hung our hopes on – solar panels, wind turbines, and even magnetic motors that yield more energy than they consume – are in the process of being supplanted by a new crop of exciting energy possibilities.

Even under the cloud of Fukushima, the harnessing of nuclear power is being reinvigorated by a fuel that is significantly safer than uranium and by the introduction of small, modular, portable reactors that reduce costs and construction time.

Geologists are using new technologies to open vast stores of natural gas that, until now, have been locked in deep, inaccessible shale beds. They offer the prospect providing more energy than Saudi oil fields ever could. Tapping this new energy wealth means shattering or “fracking” the once-impenetrable layers of shale where the gas is locked.

But the process is implicated in rising earthquake activity around the world, and contamination of the aquifer in mining locations. Therefore, while shale gas could provide abundant, cleaner-burning fuel for decades, the price we may have to ultimately pay may be very high: the stability of the ground we stand on, and the purity of the water we drink.

“Green gasoline” will spark less sticker shock. There are dozens of projects underway that explore the possibility of creating cleaner, competitively priced liquid fuels distilled from wood chips, corn stalks, animal fats, and engineered algae. These fuels are true hydrocarbons, not alcohols, so they won’t corrode existing engines and pipelines.

Because they use waste or cheap, abundant commodities such as feedstocks, costs are low and they don’t compete with food supplies. Plan to start saying goodbye to conventional liquid fuels … and for those looking for investment opportunities, in the upcoming Trends Journal we will identify promising possibilities.

Going Out in Style
As bleak as the global socioeconomic outlook appears, life goes on. Everyone still needs the basics of food, shelter and clothing. And everyone who has the means, or even just a little extra, will continue to crave something more … something with style.

In looking ahead to what can be achieved in a period of economic hardship and geopolitical upheaval, we’re taking a page from the book of the Great Depression. In those years of an economic downturn of historic proportions, the human spirit soared.

During those “worst of times,” America reveled in quality and style. It was “Swing Time” during the down time. The message was: As bad as it is, it isn’t all bad, and just because the economy is down, you don’t have to go down with it.

In the bleak terrain of 2012 and beyond, “Affordable sophistication” will direct and inspire products, fashion, music, the fine arts and entertainment at all levels. US businesses would be wise to wake up and tap into the dormant desire for old time quality and the America that was.

Trends Journal

Libya War.....

Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world's sixth-largest economy,

Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world's sixth-largest economy, according to a team of economists. The banking crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession has relegated the UK to seventh place in 2011, behind South America's largest economy, which has boomed on the back of exports to China and the far east.

Russia and India are expected to benefit from a surge in growth over the next 10 years and push the UK into eighth place. Like most economies, India is struggling with high inflation and slowing growth, but its highly educated workforce and skills in growth areas from IT and services to engineering will push the economy into fifth place. After a decade of selling oil and gas to Europe and other parts of Asia, Russia will be at number four.

The only compensation for ministers concerned by Britain's relative fall is that France will fall at a faster pace. Nicolas Sarkozy can still boast that France is the fifth-largest economy behind the US at number one, China, Japan and Germany, but by 2020, the Centre for Economics and business Research (CEBR) forecasts it will fall past the UK into ninth spot. Germany will also slip to seventh place in 2020.

CEBR chief executive Douglas McWilliams said: "Brazil has beaten the European countries at soccer for a long time, but beating them at economics is a new phenomenon. Our world economic league table shows how the economic map is changing, with Asian countries and commodity-producing economies climbing up the league while we in Europe fall back."

Europe is expected to suffer a "lost decade" of low growth following a credit binge over the past 20 years. Paying back debts over a short timescale will restrict growth and prevent many countries, including the UK, from clawing back output lost in the banking crash for many years.

The European Union, recently described by one Chinese official as "a worn-out welfare society", will remain the world's largest collective trading bloc, though a recession next year is expected to hit global growth. The latest forecasts by the CEBR show world growth falling to 2.5% in 2012, a downward revision from the forecast made in September.

However, the CEBR warned a scenario involving "one or more countries leaving the euro, sovereign defaults and banks going bust and needing to be bailed out" would reduce global growth in 2012 to 1.1%. The European growth slowdown is forecast to be even more marked, with a fall in GDP by 0.6% and a possible fall of 2% if the euro currency club breaks up. The US forecast is better, with growth of 1.8%.Emerging economies, which have seen their stock markets dive in recent months as investors assess the fallout from the euro crisis, would regain their momentum, said the CEBR.

China is forecast to grow by 7.6% and India by 6%. But other recent star economies with closer links to the EU or commodity prices are likely to face an economic slowdown with Turkish growth slowing to 2.5% from 7.1% this year, Saudi Arabia at 4% after 6.1% this year, Russia 2.8% after 3.8% this year, and Brazil 2.5% after 2.8% this year.

The Guardian

North Korea: Kim Jong-un hailed 'supreme commander'

Kim Jong-Un, son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, visiting the construction site of a power station in Jagang Province, North Korea

New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been hailed by state media as "supreme commander" of the country's powerful armed forces for the first time.

The ruling party newspaper Rodong Shinmun also called on Kim Jong-un to lead North Korea to "eternal victory".

State media had been calling Mr Kim "the great successor" after the death of his father Kim Jong-il on Monday.

Mr Kim has little political experience and experts believe senior officials are guiding the transition.

"We declare from our hearts ... we will complete the task of songun (military-first) revolution under comrade Kim Jong-un", the paper said in an editorial.

The "songun" policy prioritises spending on North Korea's armed forces.

Last year, the Swiss-educated Mr Kim was made a four-star general and given senior positions in the government and the Workers' Party.

The announcement comes on the 20th anniversary of the declaration of the late Kim Jong-Il as supreme commander in 1991.

Large crowds have continued to mourn Mr Kim's death in the capital Pyongyang, gathering to bow in front of large portraits of him set up around the city.

Some mourners were reported to be volunteering to clear snow from the streets in advance of the funeral motorcade that is expected to take Mr Kim's body around the city on Wednesday.

"Our general Kim Jong-il went on trips of field guidance for people throughout his whole life, on roads covered with snow, and how can we make his last trip on snow-covered roads?", mourner Jong Myong Hui told AP.

Pyongyang residents were quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as expressing their appreciation for the state distribution of fish, an order reportedly issued by Kim Jong-il a day before his death.

"Salespeople and citizens burst out sobbing at fish shops in the capital", according to the Rodong Shinmun paper.

The South Korean government confirmed on Saturday that Lee Hee-ho, wife of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, will head a delegation to the North next week to express their condolences.

This will not however be an official visit and the South Korean government has issued a travel ban on its citizens in connection with the leader's death, the Yonhap news agency reports.


Why Some Business Owners Think Now Is the Time to Sell

Looking back, Cyndi Finkle wishes she had sold her craft services company, Sunday Night Dinner, early in 2008 when the economy was booming. With a track record of 30 to 50 percent annual growth for each of the previous five years, it could have been a compelling transaction.

At the time, however, she was not emotionally ready to part with a business she had started in 1997 and built into one of the largest suppliers of services to television crews and casts in Los Angeles. When her husband suggested selling, “I burst into tears and looked at him as if he were telling me to cut off my arm,” Ms. Finkle said. “Then everything changed, and I realized he was right.”

But the recession hit, and Ms. Finkle’s annual revenue dropped sharply along with declining television advertising and production budgets — making it impossible for her to sell. “I’ve had to work really hard the last three years to save my company and get it back, a lot of times working for free,” she said. “It was no longer about building it, it was about keeping it going until things got better.”

Revenue for 2011 is finally back to 2008 levels, about $1.2 million, and Ms. Finkle is eager to sell. For one thing, she purchased another business, an art studio aimed at children, backed in part by a loan from the Small Business Administration. Moreover, the coming expiration of the Bush tax cuts means that by the end of 2012, the long-term capital gains tax rate will increase to 20 percent from the current 15 percent (unless Congress passes legislation extending the lower rate).

Failing to sell before the end of 2012, she said, could cost her tens of thousands of dollars, “and knowing that motivates me to sell in 2012.”

Ms. Finkle is not the only small-business owner looking to the new year as an opportune time to sell. There is a pent-up pipeline of owners who have had to put off selling in recent years because of the economy. And now that many of these companies have at least one year of profits on the books, they are more attractive to potential investors.

“A lot of these companies are having record profits because they reduced their overhead in the downturn and now sales are coming back,” said John D. Emory Jr., chief executive of Emory & Company, a Milwaukee-based investment banking company that specializes in selling businesses with $10 million to $100 million in annual revenue. “A lot of owners have told me they want to start a sale process in the first half of 2012, hoping to complete the sale before the end of 2012. Many owners, especially the leading edge of the baby boomers, wanted to sell in 2008, 2009 or 2010 and would have sold in those three years had the economy stayed strong.”

Those looking to sell are taking steps to appeal to buyers: trimming costs, diversifying revenue, upgrading financial statements and making the chief executive’s role less essential. And they are braced for the sales process to take longer than they would like.

For most owners, the business represents their largest asset, and taxes constitute their largest single expense, said Mackey McNeill, a certified public accountant in Covington, Ky. “The ability to negotiate the best possible selling price and to minimize taxes determines the owner’s financial fate,” Ms. McNeill said.

To illustrate the impact of the expiring capital gains tax cut, Ms. McNeill created hypothetical companies that would sell for $5 million and $10 million each, assuming typical values for equipment, depreciation, real estate, inventory and good will. According to her calculations, and assuming Congress does not act, the owner would save $150,000 in taxes by selling a $5 million company in 2012 instead of 2013. For a $10 million business, the savings would be $325,000. These assumptions cover both S corporations and limited liability corporations, Ms. McNeill said. They would not be valid for a company operating as a C corporation.

The tax savings are an important factor in Joel Lederhause’s quest to sell a majority stake in DiscountRamps.com, a retailer of loading, hauling and transport equipment based in West Bend, Wis. “We won’t continue to grow 15 to 20 percent a year unless we have some outside capital influx,” Mr. Lederhause said. “We want some money to go into the company to accelerate its growth, and take a portion of our sweat equity off the table.”

The company, which projects $22 million in sales this year, keeps about $6 million in finished goods in its warehouse, which limits its growth potential. DiscountRamps.com offers 11,000 different products, and keeps at least one of each item in stock. With an infusion of capital, Mr. Lederhause said, the business could grow to more than $100 million in five years by expanding its product lines into promising new markets.

The New York Times

A Very Scary Christmas And An Incredibly Frightening New Year

Can you hear that?  It almost sounds like a little bit of peace and quiet.  This year, the holiday season has been fairly uneventful, and for that we should be very grateful.  But it isn't going to last long.  2012 is going to be a much more difficult year for the U.S. economy and the global financial system than 2011 has been.  So if things are going well for you right now, enjoy this little bubble of peace and tranquility while you can.  Because while things may look calm on the surface right now, the truth is that this is a very scary Christmas for financial professionals and world leaders.  Most of them know how fragile the global financial system is at the moment.  Most of them know that we are living in the greatest bubble of debt, leverage and financial risk that the world has ever seen.  As I wrote about the other day, world leaders would not bethrowing huge bailouts around like crazy if everything was going to be just fine.  The truth is that we are rapidly approaching another financial crisis that may end up being even worse than the horrific crash of 2008.
Despite unprecedented efforts by the European Central Bank, the yield on 10 year Italian bonds is nearly up to 7 percent again.
Keep an eye on the yield on 10 year Italian bonds.  That is going to be one of the most important financial numbers in the world in the coming months.
But Italy is not the only problem.  The reality is that several European governments are teetering on the verge of default right now.  Meanwhile, confidence in the European financial system has been absolutely shattered and a devastating credit crunch has set in.  Nobody (other than the ECB) wants to loan money to the banks and the banks are massively cutting back on loans to businesses and consumers.  This is causing the money supply to fall.  The ECB is trying to hold things together with chicken wire and duct tape, but it isn't going to work.
In major financial centers such as the City of London, this is a very scary Christmas and the outlook for the new year looks very frightening.  Because financial activity has dried up so dramatically, a number of firms are already shutting down.  The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article....
London’s stockbrokers are shrinking as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and competition from international firms squeezes revenue and fees.
“This isn’t just a blip, this is much worse,” said Tim Linacre, who is stepping down as chief executive officer of Panmure (PMR) Gordon & Co., a 135-year-old brokerage. “It’s a desert for activity, which is why you are seeing some firms throw in the towel.”
In the past month, Altium Capital closed its securities unit. Evolution Group Plc (EVG), Merchant Securities Group Plc, Arbuthnot Securities Ltd. and Collins Stewart Hawkpoint Plc have all accepted takeover offers from larger competitors.
“It feels worse than any other time,” said Lorna Tilbian, an executive director at Numis Corp. who began her career in 1984. “All I hear about is people putting up a white flag.”
Many out there are wondering if we are about to face another crisis like the one we saw back in 2008.
Unfortunately, none of the underlying problems that caused that crisis were ever really fixed.
We did not learn from history so now we are in for another round of pain.
In fact, Chris Martenson believes that this next crisis will be even worse than 2008....
There are clear signs of a liquidity crunch in the asset markets right now, and the question I keep hearing is, Is this 2008 all over again?
No, it’s worse. Much worse.
In 2008 there was a lot more faith and optimism upon which to draw. But both have been squandered to significant degrees by feckless regulators and authorities who failed to properly address any of the root causes of the first crisis even as they slathered layer after layer of thin-air money over many of the symptoms.
Anyone who has paid attention knows that those "magic potions" proved to be anything but. Not only are the root causes still with us (too much debt, vast regional financial imbalances, and high energy prices), but they have actually grown worse the entire time.
Frightening stuff.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the coming derivatives crisis that could potentially wipe out the entire global financial system.
When the next great financial crisis strikes, there is going to be a lot of focus on derivatives once again.
Top global financial authorities such as Ben Bernanke continue to insist that derivatives are perfectly safe.
But there are other voices in the financial world that are warning that we are heading for financial armageddon.  For example,just check out what Mark Faber is saying....
"I am convinced the whole derivatives market will cease to exit. Will become zero. And when it happens I don't know: you can postpone the problems with monetary measures for a long time but you can't solve them... Greece should have defaulted - it would have sent a message that not all derivatives are equal because it depends on the counterparty."
That is very strong language.
Faber also believes that the stock market is going to get hit really, really hard during the coming crisis....
"I am ultra bearish. I think most people will be lucky if they still have 50% of their money in 5 years time. You have to have diversification - some real estate in the countryside, some gold and some equities because if you think it through, say Germany 1900 to today, we had WWI, we had hyperinflation, WWII, cash holders and bondholders they lost everything 3 times, but if you owned equities you'd be ok. In equities in general you will not lose it all, it may not be a good investment, unless you put it all in one company and it goes bankrupt."
Some of the top financial officials in the entire world have also used some very scary language in recent weeks.
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christian Lagarde, recently stated that we could soon see conditions "reminiscent of the 1930s depression" and that no country on earth "will be immune to the crisis"....
"There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating"
But most people are so busy opening up the cheap plastic presents under their Christmas trees (that were mostly made overseas) that they aren't even paying attention to these warnings.
Look, when the money supply falls significantly it is almost impossible to avoid a recession.  Just look at the historical numbers.
Unfortunately, money supply numbers all over Europe are falling dramatically right now as an article in the Telegraph recently noted....
All key measures of the money supply in the eurozone contracted in October with drastic falls across parts of southern Europe, raising the risk of severe recession over coming months.
Confidence in the banking system in Europe has never been this low in the post-World War II era.  Sadly, most people simply do not understand how bad things have gotten for major European banks.  One Australian news source recently put it this way....
"If anyone thinks things are getting better, they simply don't understand how severe the problems are," a London executive at a global bank said. "A major bank could fail within weeks."
Others said many continental banks, including French, Italian and Spanish lenders, were close to running out of the acceptable forms of collateral, such as US Treasury bonds, that could be used to finance short-term loans.
Some have been forced to lend out their gold reserves to maintain access to US dollar funding.
The outlook is very ominous.
Financial professionals all over the globe are telling us what is coming if we are willing to listen.
The following comes from a report recently produced by Credit Suisse's Fixed Income Research unit....
"We seem to have entered the last days of the euro as we currently know it. That doesn’t make a break-up very likely, but it does mean some extraordinary things will almost certainly need to happen – probably by mid-January – to prevent the progressive closure of all the euro zone sovereign bond markets, potentially accompanied by escalating runs on even the strongest banks."
The first six months of 2012 are going to be a very key time.  National governments and big European banks are scheduled to roll over huge mountains of debt.  But if they can't find any takers that could bring the global financial system to a moment of great crisis very quickly.
The following is how former hedge fund manager Bruce Krasting recently described the problem that Italy is facing....
At this point there is zero possibility that Italy can refinance any portion of its $300b of 2012 maturing debt. If there is anyone at the table who still thinks that Italy can pull off a miracle, they are wrong. I’m certain that the finance guys at the ECB and Italian CB understand this. I repeat, there is a zero chance for a market solution for Italy.
But even if we don't see a formal default by a major European nation such a Italy, that doesn't mean that major European banks are going to make it through the crippling recession that has now begun in Europe.
Charles Wyplosz, a professor of international economics at Geneva's Graduate Institute, is absolutely convinced that we are going to see some major European banks collapse....
"Banks will collapse, including possibly a number of French banks that are very exposed to Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain."
Authorities in Europe are saying the "right things" publicly, but privately they are preparing for the worst.
As the Telegraph recently reported, the British government is now making plans based on the assumption that a collapse of the euro is only "just a matter of time"....
A senior minister has now revealed the extent of the Government’s concern, saying that Britain is now planning on the basis that a euro collapse is now just a matter of time.
Yes, we are heading for a huge financial collapse and massive economic trouble.
So enjoy the good times while we still have them.
They are not going to last too much longer.
The Economic Collapse

World economy is in danger and urged Europeans to speak with one voice

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of the International Monetary Fund said the world economy was in danger and urged Europeans to speak with one voice on a debt crisis that has rattled the global financial system.

In Nigeria last week, IMF Christine Lagarde said the IMF's 4 percent growth forecast for the world economy in 2012 could be revised downward, but gave no new figure.

"The world economy is in a dangerous situation," she told France's Journal du Dimanche in an interview published on Sunday.

The debt crisis, which continues into 2012 after a European Union summit on December 9 only temporarily calmed markets, "is a crisis of confidence in public debt and in the solidity of the financial system," she said.

European leaders drafted a new treaty for deeper economic integration in the euro zone, but it is not certain that the accord will stem the debt crisis, which began in Greece in 2009, and now threatens France and even economic powerhouse Germany.

"The December 9 summit wasn't detailed enough on financial terms and too complicated on fundamental principles," said Lagarde.

"It would be useful for Europeans to speak with a single voice and announce a simple and detailed timetable," she said. "Investors are waiting for it. Grand principles don't impress."

Part of the problem, she said, has been national calls for protectionism, making it "difficult to put in place international coalition strategies against it."

Lagarde added: "National parliaments grumble at using public money or the guarantee of their state to support other countries. Protectionism is in the debate, and everyone for themselves is winning ground."

She did not specify which countries she was referring to.

Emerging countries, which had been growth engines for the world economy before the crisis, have also been affected, said Lagarde, citing China, Brazil and Russia.

"These countries, which were the engines, will suffer from instability factors," she told the newspaper.

BofA Said to Split Regulators Over Moving Merrill Derivatives to Bank Unit

Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.

Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC- insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis, had $1.04 trillion in deposits as of midyear, ranking it second among U.S. firms.
“The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.”
Accommodating Clients

Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, declined to comment on the transfers or the firm’s discussions with regulators. The company “continues to accommodate the needs of our clients through each of our multiple trading entities, including Bank of America NA,” he said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the company’s deposit-taking unit.

Barbara Hagenbaugh, a Fed spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss supervision of specific institutions. Greg Hernandez, an FDIC spokesman, declined to comment.

Bank of America posted a $6.2 billion third-quarter profit today, compared with a loss of $7.3 billion a year earlier, as credit quality improved and the firm booked one-time accounting gains. The lender rose 7.3 percent to $6.47 at 1:54 p.m. in New York trading, making it the day’s best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Credit-default swaps on Bank of America eased 10 basis points to a mid-price of 380 as of 11:49 a.m. in New York, according to broker Phoenix Partners Group.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Bank of America’s long-term credit ratings Sept. 21, cutting both the holding company and the retail bank two notches apiece. The holding company fell to Baa1, the third-lowest investment-grade rank, from A2, while the retail bank declined to A2 from Aa3.
Moody’s Downgrade

The Moody’s downgrade spurred some of Merrill’s partners to ask that contracts be moved to the retail unit, which has a higher credit rating, according to people familiar with the transactions. Transferring derivatives also can help the parent company minimize the collateral it must post on contracts and the potential costs to terminate trades after Moody’s decision, said a person familiar with the matter.

Bank of America estimated in an August regulatory filing that a two-level downgrade by all ratings companies would have required that it post $3.3 billion in additional collateral and termination payments, based on over-the-counter derivatives and other trading agreements as of June 30. The figure doesn’t include possible collateral payments due to “variable interest entities,” which the firm is evaluating, it said in the filing.

Dubrowski declined to comment on collateral or termination payments after the downgrade.

‘Be Prepared’

Bank of America’s rating is now four grades below the one Moody’s assigned to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the biggest U.S. bank by deposits at midyear, and a level below the rating given to Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-biggest. Bank of America is the only U.S. lender that lacks a rating of A3 or higher among the five firms listed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as having the biggest derivatives books.

“We had worked very hard over the course of the last nine months to be prepared to the extent that we did receive a downgrade, and feel very good about the way that we’ve minimized the potential impact” Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said in a conference call today with analysts. “Since the downgrade, we have not seen any change in our global excess liquidity sources.”

Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in the weather or interest rates.
‘Created a Firewall’

Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

“Congress doesn’t want a bank’s FDIC insurance and access to the Fed discount window to somehow benefit an affiliate, so they created a firewall,” Omarova said. The discount window has been open to banks as the lender of last resort since 1914.

As a general rule, as long as transactions involve high- quality assets and don’t exceed certain quantitative limitations, they should be allowed under the Federal Reserve Act, Omarova said.

In 2009, the Fed granted Section 23A exemptions to the banking arms of Ally Financial Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, Fifth Third Bancorp, ING Groep NV, General Electric Co., Northern Trust Corp., CIT Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among others, according to letters posted on the Fed’s website.

The central bank terminated exemptions last year for retail-banking units of JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and Deutsche Bank AG. The Fed also ended an exemption for Bank of America in March 2010 and in September of that year approved a new one.

Section 23A “is among the most important tools that U.S. bank regulators have to protect the safety and soundness of U.S. banks,” Scott Alvarez, the Fed’s general counsel, told Congress in March 2008.