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Wednesday 08.20.2014

Food costs up, energy costs down as inflation rises slightly
You've probably noticed you're spending more at the grocery store. According to report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Tuesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.1 percent in July, the weakest growth since February. One of the biggest factors was food prices, which increased 0.4 percent in July. The monthly increase was small, but drought and disease have pushed food prices to historic heights over the past year or so. Since July 2013, the price of meat is up 9.3 percent. Dairy goods increased 4.3 percent from last July, and fruits and vegetables are up 2.0 percent. The US Department of Agriculture warned about the problem in June, saying, "the ongoing drought in California could potentially have large and lasting effects on fruit, vegetable, dairy, and egg prices, and drought conditions in Texas and Oklahoma could drive beef prices up even further." The US Department of Agriculture warned about the problem in June...

ISIS militants take to social media to encourage Ferguson protesters to embrace Islamic extremism
ISIS militants and their supporters are using social media to encourage protesters in Ferguson to embrace radical Islam and fight against the U.S. government. Jihadists in Syria and Iraq and their sympathisers in the West have taken to Twitter to send messages of support to hundreds of demonstrators taking part in a ninth night of angry protests in the U.S. city following the shooting by police of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The militants' tweets denounce local officers for the way they have attempted to quell the violence, make reference to historic acts of police brutality, and even use the hashtag #FergusonUnderISIS in an attempt to get angry young men in the city to declare allegiance to the Islamist group. The news comes as footage purportedly taken from the scene of the Ferguson protests appeared to show one demonstrator marching along a street holding a sign reading 'ISIS is here'. One ISIS sympathiser calling himself Mujahid Miski, who claims to be from Minneapolis–Saint Paul...

California's Economic Collision Course: Immigration and Water
You have heard it before: “As California goes, so goes the nation.” If that is the case, the national economy will be harmed for decades to come because of California’s misplaced priorities today. Indeed, by emphasizing high-speed rail over water and failing to deal with its debt crisis, California poses a long-term threat to our national economy and is on an economic collision course of increased immigration and lack of water. California has more than 38 million residents. Despite net losses of millions of residents to other states, California continues to grow through immigration. Latinos now equal the number of non-Hispanic whites in California. With projections that show California’s population reaching 45 to 50 million within 20 years, you would think job creation would be job one for Jerry Brown. Sadly, that is not the case today. Despite a much-heralded recovery in the media and by Governor Jerry Brown, California still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

Steve Ballmer cuts ties with Microsoft but still owns 333 million shares
Steve Ballmer quit being Microsoft CEO last year, and now he's stepping down from the company's board of directors. In a public letter to Satya Nadella, who replaced him as CEO, Ballmer announced he's shifting his focus to run the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team he just bought for $2 billion. "I bleed Microsoft — have for 34 years and I always will," Ballmer wrote. But he cited the coming fall NBA season, civic contribution and teaching as keeping him from fully serving on the company's board. Ballmer, who was one of the company's first 30 employees and eventually succeeded Bill Gates to run it, said he owns more Microsoft shares than anyone except index funds -- 333 million shares to be precise, or about 4% of the company. It's a position of influence he plans to hold "for the foreseeable future," he wrote. Ballmer said he would use his power as a heavyweight investor to "encourage boldness by management."In his letter to Nadella, Ballmer emphasized the importance of making "big bets"...

Rick Perry turns himself in to face abuse of power charges

Black market boom lays bare a social divide in Colorado’s marijuana market
In these, the curious, infant days of Colorado’s legalisation of recreational marijuana, of shiny dispensaries and touch-screen ordering and suburban parties where joints are passed like appetisers over granite countertops, no one would notice the duplex. Plain brick, patchy grass behind chain link, it appears weary, resigned to what the tenant calls “the ‘hood” and others might call left-behind Denver, untouched by the frenzy of investment that has returned to downtown. The front door of the duplex stays closed. Sheer white curtains cover the living room window. A basement filtering system vents air scrubbed of the sweet funky smell of the pot growing in the basement. The tenant keeps his grow operation here small. It’s his home. That’s his grandson upstairs watching TV with strict instructions not to open the door if someone knocks. Should the cops inquire, they’d find a frail-looking, middle-age Latino with diabetes and heart problems, talking about his pension and his Medicaid...

Japan export rebound offers hope for economic growth
Japan's exports rose in July for the first time in three months in a tentative sign that demand overseas is starting to recover, which could raise hopes that exports can offset a slump in consumer spending. The export data will be a relief for the Bank of Japan, which has predicated its economic growth and inflation forecasts on a rapid rise in exports as part of the government's "Abenomics" plan to energize the Japanese economy. The 3.9 percent annual rise in July was roughly in line with a 3.8 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll. It followed a revised 1.9 percent decline in the year to June. Growth in exports was driven by increased shipments of automobiles and electric machinery, the data showed. "The data shows exports are recovering moderately as a trend, so external demand may offset some of the weakness in domestic demand ahead," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute.

Are machines killing the job market?
The jobs might not be coming back. Computer productivity has defined the workplace of the twenty-first century. Artificial intelligence and robotics allow businesses to replace more and more workers with computer agents, not only increasing the pace of automation but also expanding it into fields previously thought "safe." Professionals such as doctors and lawyers are watching helplessly while AI takes over the routine functions of their jobs, leaving many to wonder what fields are still safe for someone who just wants to make a good living. For centuries economists have largely agreed on the impact of technology that improves productivity, allowing businesses to produce more with less staff. Although in the short run it causes layoffs, over the long term an economy as a whole reliably grows and more jobs open up than were disrupted. This issue, studied since the Luddite Rebellion, has been well understood for several hundred years. That may now be changing.

St. Louis Cops Shoot and Kill Man Near Ferguson, Crowd Gathers
Two St. Louis city police officers shot and killed a black man who came within several feet of them brandishing a knife on Tuesday a few miles from the turbulent suburb of Ferguson, authorities said. A crowd of at least 100 people quickly gathered at the scene. Some people chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” — the refrain from a week of protests over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, three miles away. Several hours after the shooting, there was tension in the air, but no physical confrontation. Police presence was limited, in stark contrast to scenes that unfolded in Ferguson last week. "I think protest here will remain peaceful as long as the police keep a low profile," said Daniel Brown, 34, a St. Louis attorney. The man in the St. Louis shooting had taken energy drinks and a package of pastries from a nearby convenience store, Police Chief Sam Dotson told reporters. He said that the man was “acting erratically, walking back and forth, up and down the street.”

Dennis Gartman on the US housing market and Michael Hudson on the EU

Ferguson Chants Heard After St. Louis Cops Shoot Suspect
A 23-year-old black man was shot and killed by St. Louis police today after he charged at them with a knife, just 10 days after police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson less than 6 miles away. The man had taken two energy drinks from a store and returned to take a package of pastries without paying, according to St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dotson. The suspect then went into the street and was "acting erratically," and talking to himself, Dotson said. When the store employee followed him outside, the man threw the pastries into the street, the chief said. Police responded to a 911 call, and the suspect walked toward the officers' vehicle and put his hand on his waistband, pulled out a knife and held it in an "overhand" position, above his shoulder, Dotson said. The chief said the officers got out of their vehicle and drew their weapons, telling the man to drop the knife, but he continued to advance, reportedly saying "Shoot me, kill me now."

Ukraine’s Next Crisis? Economic Disaster
Ukraine’s next crisis will be a devastatingly economic one, as violent conflict destroys critical infrastructure in the east and brings key industry to a halt, furthering weakening the energy sector by crippling coal-based electricity production. The Ukrainian military’s showdown with separatists in the industrial east has forced coal mines to severely cut production or close down entirely. This has led to an electricity crisis that can only be staunched by cutting domestic production along with exports to Europe, Crimea, and Belarus — or worse, getting more imports from Russia. In the coal centers of Ukraine’s industrial east — Luhansk and Donetsk — fighting has forced the full closure of an estimated 50 percent of coal mines, while overall coal production has fallen 22 percent over the same period last year. Key industry sources say they will potentially run out of coal in less than three weeks. For Ukraine, the second largest producer of coal in Europe, this will have a devastating impact...

Average Price of Ground Beef Hits All-Time High
he average price for all types of ground beef per pound hit its all-time high -- $3.884 per pound -- in the United States in July, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That was up from $3.880 per pound in June. A year ago, in July 2013, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.459 per pound. Since then, the average price for a pound of ground beef has gone up 42.1 cents--or about 12 percent. Five years ago, in July 2009, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $2.147, according to the BLS. In those five years, the average price has climbed by $1.737 per pound--or almost 81 percent. Along with the average price data, the BLS calculates a consumer price index, which is a “tool that simplifies the measurement of movements in a numerical series,” explains BLS. “An index for 110, for example, means there has been a 10-percent increase in price since the reference period.”

The VA’s unreachable press shop: $7.7 million a year, no phone number or email on the website
Most government websites have at least one or two main numbers for reporters to call. While it’s hard to prove a negative, the VA’s Office of Public Affairs does not seem to have any number listed at all for reporters, and if it is there, it is buried deeply enough to be easily missed. The VA does have a list of toll free numbers to reach the VA, but none of these are numbers for any of the VA’s 54 press people. The main public affairs page also doesn’t include any way to get help. And somewhat unbelievably, none of the VA’s press releases include any contact information. One number listed on several web pages is the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). So conceivably, a veteran reporter could find help using that number. Incidently, the VA’s press shop was sharply criticized last month by Rick Weidman of the Vietnam Veterans of America. In a House hearing, Weidman said that even when you can reach a VA public affairs person, they don’t do a very good job.

Coming to Your Dinner Table: California's Drought
California is suffering an epic drought. It’s not the worst drought the state has ever had, but it’s certainly the worst drought the state has ever had while housing tens of millions of residents and containing a significant fraction of U.S. agricultural production. And there’s some suggestion that this may be the new normal -- not just because of global warming, as you’ve probably already read, but also because California’s natural condition is “extra dry.” An expert interviewed by Tom Philpott of Mother Jones says that the 20th century, which saw California’s rise as an agricultural powerhouse, was an unusually wet period for the state. Merely reverting to "normal" would mean having about 15 percent less water -- and the state is still growing. That does not mean that California will become an uninhabited desert, scattered with wind-scoured ruins providing a silent and reproachful testimony to Man’s hubris. California has enough water to support quite a lot of population growth...

Phoenix-area residents rescued from houses, cars after flash flooding
As many as four inches of rain fell near Phoenix on Tuesday, sending flash floodwater through areas of Arizona already saturated from recent rains. Two women and their two dogs were rescued after flood waters trapped them inside a house in the rural community of New River north of Phoenix, according to Amanda Jacinto, spokeswoman for the fire department in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria. Aerial video from CNN affiliate KTVK showed firefighters landing on the roof of the house. Strong currents enveloped the base of the home and water pressure ripped off parts of the structure. Jacinto said the rescuers were unable to hoist the women onto the roof, so a four-person crew from the fire department could reach them via a shallow-water crossing. No one was injured during the rescue, according to Phoenix Fire Department Capt. Benjamin Santilla. Santilla reported 14 other rescues in the area. An elderly woman was trapped in her car as flood waters swelled around her SUV, submerging the bottom half of the vehicle...

How to Prevent a Riot: What Ferguson Can Teach Us

Fannie Mae Sledgehammers Housing Forecasts
You’d think the housing market is in fine shape, based on the sizzling optimism of the National Association of Home Builders, which just released its Housing Market Index. It rose to 55 in August – above 50 means more builders view conditions as good than poor – the third month in a row of gains, and the highest level since January. All three components of the HMI rose: current sales conditions to 58; future sales (that’s where hope thrives) to 65, the highest since August 2013; and traffic of prospective buyers (that’s where reality is nagging) to 42. OK, so foot traffic was crummy. But in the prior month, it was 39, even crummier. That all three components rose three months in a row “is a positive sign that builder confidence appears to be firming following an uneven spring,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. This feat was due to “sustained job growth, historically low mortgage rates, and affordable home prices, which are helping to unleash pent-up demand.”

The Guy Who Called the Housing Crisis Sold General Motors
Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, is best known for shorting the subprime mortgage securities that nearly crippled the economy, effectively "calling" the economic recession and making a boatload of money at the same time. And while it doesn't have anything to do with real estate -- an area Bass clearly knows well -- Hayman Capital Management's largest stock holding since late 2013 has been General Motors Company. This past quarter, Hayman Capital sold 1.5 million shares of General Motors. Let's dig into this move. Hayman Capital first opened a position in General Motors during the fourth quarter of 2013, and it added almost 2.5 million shares to that position in the first quarter of 2014. Even after Hayman Capital sold 1.5 million shares, GM was still its largest stock holding at the end of the recorded period. The percentage of Hayman's portfolio invested in General Motors actually increased from 23% at the end of the first quarter, to nearly 28% at the end of the second quarter.

Mother mourns U.S. journalist purportedly beheaded by Sunni militants
The mother of American journalist James Foley, who was purportedly beheaded by Islamic militants, said on Tuesday her son gave his life to expose the suffering of the Syrian people and she asked his kidnappers to release their other captives. "He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person," Diane Foley said in a post on a website set up by the Foley family. James Foley was abducted in Syria in November 2012 while reporting on the conflict there for GlobalPost. A video released on Tuesday by Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria, appeared to show Foley being beheaded. The Sunni militants also threatened to kill another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, who went missing in Syria in July 2013, unless the United States stops its airstrikes against the group. "We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents.

"What is Money?" with Joseph T. Salerno -- Ron Paul Money Lecture Series

Health care data breaches have hit 30M patients and counting
The recent theft of 4.5 million medical records by Chinese hackers highlights one undeniable truth about health care data: it's valuable, and bad people want it. In this latest incident, hackers reportedly stole personal data from Community Health Systems patients, including their Social Security numbers, which is an especially coveted piece of information if you want to steal someone's identity. But it appears that patients' medical data and credit card numbers were not stolen in this case. Thanks to some tougher federal reporting requirements for health-care data breaches in recent years, we have a better sense of when patient information goes missing or might have been inappropriately accessed by someone. Tougher breach notification requirements were tied to a provision in the 2009 stimulus act that included billions of dollars in incentives to encourage electronic health record adoption, in part to allay fears that health care's digital transformation put our health records at greater risk.

1 in 7 Americans can’t afford basic food nutrition
Despite being in one of the most advanced and wealthiest nations in the world, millions of Americans cannot afford to consume basic nutrition and are forced to rely on government and charitable food programs to get by, according to a new report that is shedding light on the number of people who are food insecure. The non-profit organization Feeding America revealed the results of its study entitled “Hunger in America 2014” and highlighted that 46 million people depend on various food programs, including soup kitchens, school lunch programs, food pantries and others, to supplement their daily diet. And this isn’t just for homeless people. According to the report, food aid recipients consist of 12 million children, seven million seniors and millions more of military families, young college graduates and the working poor. Food insecurity for these demographics has worsened since the economic crash a few years ago. Between 10 and 12 percent of the population were food insecure between the years 1995 and 2008.

New York Fines British Bank Standard Chartered Another $300 Million For Not Living Up To 2012 Agreement
The British bank Standard Chartered will pay another large fine to New York’s financial regulator, the Department of Financial Services. The regulator announced Tuesday that the bank, headquartered in London but with the lion’s share of its business done overseas, would pay a $300 million penalty, end dollar transactions for its Hong Kong subsidiary, and abandon some client relationships in the United Arab Emirates. The penalty follows a $340 million settlement the bank reached with DFS in 2012, when the Department’s head, Benjamin Lawsky, threatened to pull the bank’s charter to operate in the United States over allegations that it did business with individuals and businesses in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. DFS claimed that Standard Chartered had hidden some 60,000 transactions worth $250 billion from the U.S. government by stripping out the identities of its Iranian clients. As part of the deal, DFS installed a monitor to ensure the bank’s ongoing compliance with anti-money laundering rules...

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