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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Government's War on Living Standards (1947 to now)

Forget RFID: Check Out Our Super Trendy Tracked and Traced Future

RFID tags are so last season. Google Glass isn’t even as potentially invasive as the new tech that’s coming out now.

Between infinitesimally small cameras that allow you to take high definition 3-D “selfies” of your insides and electronic tattoos or pills that authenticate your body the way a password does, the future is turning out to be more than just a tad bit creepier than Back to the Future II said it would be.

The world is bad enough with vast swaths of disconnected people wandering through it like techno zombies, faces constantly down in their smart phones. It’s a lot like this:

Go to dinner, half the tables are filled with people who aren’t spending nearly as much time with each other as they are with their smart phones.

Go to a concert, people aren’t watching and listening to the actual concert while they are there: they are recording it on their smart phone instead. This lady was so busy doing something on her phone as she walked through the mall that she tripped and fell face down into a water fountain.

But that is nothing compared to the new “Android Wear” smart watch that was just announced. Check out the commercial for yourself:

Android Wear is a watch-like device that features Google Now. The commercial shows people literally talking to their wrists all day as the little smart watch feeds them information about every thing they are doing as they go about their daily lives.

Wired is calling it “Google Now for your Body.” Google Now is an electronic “smart” personal/social assistant that, according to the Wikipedia entry on it, “uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of web services. Along with answering user-initiated queries, Google Now passively delivers information to the user that it predicts they will want, based on their search habits.”

You won’t just be interacting with the Internet anymore…it will be interacting with you.Preemptively. In real time.

Remember a few weeks back when stories came out that “Google will know you better than your intimate partner”? The idea (read: goal) is that computers will be so advanced within a mere 15 years, they will surpass humans and be able to literally read our minds (so says futurist and Google Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil).

As if technology hadn’t invaded our lives enough by now, if this trendy new tech catches on, the Aldous Huxley phrase “learn to love your servitude” will take on a whole new meaning. Call me crazy, but this seems like every far-reaching implication about the potential horrors of our ever-growing surveillance state all rolled into one little high tech Dick Tracy gadget.

Maybe it’s just because I didn’t grow up in a time when everybody (even five-year-olds) had their own cell phones and we were all constantly communicating electronically with one another, but I’m nostalgic for the good old days when no one — and especially no robots — knew me better than I knew myself.

Then again, ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the guy who chalks the enormity of the NSA spy program down to just “the nature of our society,” told us this was coming back in a September 2008 interview with McKinsey Quarterly:

When people have infinitely powerful personal devices connected to infinitely fast networks and servers with lots and lots of content, what will they do? There will be a new kind of application and it will be personal. It will run on the equivalent of your mobile phone. It will know where you are via GPS, and you will use it as your personal and social assistant. It will know who your friends are and when they show up near you. It will remind you of their birthdays. [...] When you go to school it will help you learn, since this device knows far more than you ever will.Consider that last line when you are getting fitted for your super cool new mind reading, life tracking Google smart watch.
Credit to Activist Post

Ukraine Announces Joint US Military Exercises As Obama Rules Out "Military Incursion"

With the story of the day undoubtedly Yellen's first (bungled) press conference, it was easy to forget that the second coming of the Cold War is raging in the Ukraine. For those curious what they may have missed, here is a summary of the major events that took place in the troubled country this afternoon. Highlights from AP, AFP, Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, RIA and Interfax.
President Barack Obama ruled out U.S. military involvement in Ukraine on Wednesday, emphasizing diplomacy in the U.S. standoff with Russia over Crimea.

"We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine," Obama told KNSD, San Diego's NBC affiliate, in an interview. "There is a better path, but I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either," Obama said.
Russian forces seized military installations across the disputed Crimean Peninsula on Wednesday, prompting Ukraine’s security chief to announce that his country will hold joint military exercises with the United States and Britain.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lithuania, trying to reassure nations along Russia’s borders who were terrified by the sight of an expansion-minded Moscow.

"We’re in this with you, together," Biden said.
Ukraine's government is preparing to evacuate its remaining military personnel and their families from the breakaway region of Crimea now that Russia has moved to annex the territory.

Andriy Parubiy, the secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, didn't provide details on the mechanisms or timing of the plan, however.

"We're working on a plan to quickly and effectively move not only the military personnel, but first of all their family members, to continental Ukraine," Mr. Parubiy told a media briefing in Kiev. He added that 25,000 places had been reserved for such transfers altogether.

A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman in Crimea, however, said Wednesday evening that he had received no word yet of any order to evacuate.

Early in the day, pro-Russian forces in Crimea had stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters and allegedly detained the base's commander, sparking an ultimatum from Ukraine's acting president that the country would take "appropriate measures" if he and others weren't released.
... The ultimatum deadline has come and gone, and so far nobody has been released to the best of our knowledge.
Moscow will respond in kind to U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian officials over the Crimea dispute and is considering other steps if Washington escalates tensions, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the United States and the EU announced sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region, most of whose 2 million residents are ethnic Russians.

Washington has threatened further sanctions while Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week.

"We are looking at a broad range of responsive measures. They can be identical measures regarding certain lists of American officials - not necessarily representatives of the administration ... who have influenced American policies," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

"There is also the possibility of passing asymmetrical measures, that means steps which, let's say ... won't go unnoticed in Washington," he said.
Russia threatened late Wednesday that it could alter its position at Iranian nuclear talks in response to pressure from the European Union and United States over its seizure of Crimea.

"We would not like to use these talks as an element of a stakes-raising game taking into account the moods in various European capitals, in Brussels and Washington," deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency.

Ryabkov was speaking in Vienna after the latest round of Iranian talks involving Russia. Those at the talks included the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said he saw "signs" a long-term nuclear deal could be reached.

Under an interim agreement Iran struck with the six powers in November, the two sides are aiming for a long-term deal by a July 20 target date. But Rybakov warned that Russia, that joined the West in urging Tehran to curtail its nuclear activities, could shift its stance, saying it considered its "historic" role in Crimea more important.

"But if we are forced, here we will take the path of counter-measures, because when it comes down to it, the historic value of what has happened in recent weeks and days from the point of view of restoring historical justice and reuniting Crimea and Russia is incomparable with what we are doing" on Iran, he said.

"At the end of the day, the choice and the decision is down to our colleagues in Washington and Brussels," Ryabkov said.
Russia’s economy is showing signs of a crisis, the government in Moscow said as the U.S. and the European Union announced sanctions over its plan to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine.

“The situation in the economy bears clear signs of a crisis,” Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Belyakov said in Moscow yesterday. The cabinet needs to refrain from raising the fiscal burden on companies, which would be the “wrong approach,” he said. “Taking money from companies and asking them afterward to modernize production is illogical and strange.”

Even before the standoff with the West, the worst since the Cold War, Russia’s economy was facing the weakest growth since a 2009 recession as consumer demand failed to make up for sagging investment. President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty today on Crimea joining Russia, signaling his defiance of Western sanctions. Russia won’t seek to further split Ukraine, he said in the Kremlin.

The Ukrainian crisis is putting a strain on Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which expanded 1.3 percent in 2013 after 3.4 percent the previous year. Last year’s
growth was “insufficient” and the current outlook and government forecasts “can’t satisfy us,” Putin said March 12.
Russia will cover Crimea's estimated 55 billion rouble ($1.53 billion) budget deficit with funds from the federal budget, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Channel 1 state television on Tuesday.

"The volume of the (budget) deficit of Crimea and Sevastopol is about 55 billion roubles," Siluanov said in an interview televised by Channel 1.

"The whole sum will definitely be covered with federal budget."
Switzerland has frozen negotiations on a free trade deal with Russia, the head of the country's economic affairs department said Wednesday, a decision he linked to Moscow's annexation of part of Ukraine's Crimea region.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF Radio, Johann Schneider-Ammann said the talks with Russia, as well as the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Kazakhstan, had been halted. Mr. Schneider-Ammann, who is a member of Switzerland's seven-person cabinet, blamed the increasing crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea after a Sunday referendum for the halt.

"In this uncertain situation we cannot pretend as if nothing has happened," Mr. Schneider-Ammann said in the interview. He called the freeze the "first formal sign" of Switzerland's concern over the situation in Ukraine, saying the Alpine country wanted a trade deal with Russia "but not at any price."

The halt of the talks also applies to Switzerland's partners in the European Free Trade Association, which includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which were also due to take part in the next round of negotiations in April, a spokesman for the Swiss Economics Dept. said.
The German government said on Wednesday that defence contractor Rheinmetall's plan to deliver combat simulation kit to Russia was unacceptable in light of the diplomatic showdown with Moscow over its military occupation of Crimea.

The economy ministry, asked by Reuters about Rheinmetall's intention to honour contractual obligations to deliver about 100 million euros ($139 million) worth of technology to a Russian combat training centre, said it was in contact with the firm.

"The German government considers the export of the combat simulation centre to Russia unacceptable in the current circumstances," the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

"The government is in contact with the company. At the moment no such export is foreseen," said the ministry.

Rheinmetall had said earlier on Wednesday that it intended to complete the delivery of the equipment, which was ordered about two years ago. The company said it had no further orders outstanding from Russia or Ukraine.
Moscow will decide whether to introduce visas for Ukrainians visiting Russia after it is officially informed of Kiev's new visa regime for Russians, Russian state news agency RIA reported a source at Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday.

Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy said earlier in the day that Ukraine's Foreign Ministry had been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, as tensions rise between the two neighbours
European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now.

Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region has revived doubts about whether the European Union should continue to rely on Russia for nearly a third of its gas, providing Gazprom with an average of $5 billion per month in revenue. Some 40 percent of that gas is shipped via Ukraine.

EU powerhouse Germany is among those with particularly close energy links to Russia and has echoed comments from Gazprom, Russia's top natural gas producer, that Russia has been a reliable supplier for decades.

EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis, however, had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. "Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union," one EU official said on condition of anonymity.

"At the back of people's minds, there will always be the doubt that if the relationship goes sour, Russia has that weapon and it's not something it should have," another official said, referring to Russia's option of severing supplies.
As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the EU's "indigenous supplies", which include renewable energy and shale gas.
Russia has "shared [its] fears" about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the head of the Russian Federal Migration Service said on Wednesday.

"I won't keep it secret that we have shared our fears with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Our fears were understood to a certain extent, and a certain form of interaction with that organization has begun," Konstantin Romodanovsky told reporters in Moscow.

"I think that by combined efforts we will minimize the problems that the unstable situation in Ukraine may cause us," he said.
And that's a wrap.

Credit to Zero Hedge

Beef Prices Surge Most In A Decade As Food Inflation Soars

Just a month ago we warned that food inflation was on its way. Today we got the first confirmation that problems are on their way. While headline data washes away the nuance of what eating, sleeping, energy-using human-beings are paying month-in and month-out, the fact, as WSJ reports, that beef prices surged by almost 5% in February - the biggest change since Nov 2003 - means pinching consumers and companies pocketbooks that are still grappling with a sluggish economic recovery. "Things are definitely more expensive," exclaimed on mother of three, "I can't believe how much milk is. Chicken is crazy right now, and beef - I paid $5 a pound for beef!" Just don't tell the Fed!

Via WSJ,

Of course, it's not just beef...

...prices also are higher for fruits, vegetables, sugar and beverages, according to government data. In futures markets, coffee prices have soared so far this year more than 70%, hogs are up 42% on disease concerns and cocoa has climbed 12% on rising demand, particularly from emerging markets.

Food prices have gained 2.8%, on average, for the past 10 years, outpacing the increase in prices for all goods, which rose 2.4%, according to the government.

Still, the price increases pose a challenge for food makers, restaurants and retailers, which must decide how much of the costs they can pass along and still retain customers at a time of intense competition and thin profit margins. During previous inflationary periods, food makers switched to less-expensive ingredients or reduced package sizes to maintain their profit margins. Retailers and restaurants usually raise prices as a last resort.

In California, the biggest U.S. producer of agricultural products, about 95% of the state is suffering from drought conditions, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. This has led to water shortages that are hampering crop and livestock production.

U.S. fresh-vegetable prices that jumped 4.7% last year are forecast to rise as much as 3% this year, while fruit that gained 2% last year will rise up to 3.5% in 2014, according to the USDA.

But, as The Wall Street Journal notes, there are more consequences:

Food-price increases are a particularly touchy issue for emerging markets, where spending on food accounts for a higher share of monthly budgets than in wealthier countries.

In 2008, a spike in food prices caused riots from Haiti to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Three years later, in 2011, rising food prices were a factor behind the Arab Spring protests in North Africa and the Middle East that ultimately toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

The increase in global prices last month surprised some economists, and raised the specter of more severe increases that could hit the world's poorest countries, economists said.

And it's set to get worse:

"To be honest, until a month ago, our feeling and thinking was that most markets were well-supplied," said John Baffes, a senior economist at the World Bank. "Now, the question is: Are those adverse weather conditions going to get worse? If they do, then indeed, we may see more food price increases."

Drought, harsh winter seen fueling higher food prices, Chris Christopher, economist at IHS Global, writes in client note.

Consumers may face “surge ahead”

Just don't tell the Fed - or they mighy just take the punchbowl away...
Credit to Zero Hedge