In what is either a case of blinders-wearing or just poor timing, today the Fordham Institute’s Kathleen Porter-Magee has an article on NRO, co-written with the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern, in which she and Stern take to task national curriculum standards critics who assert, among other things, that the Common Core is being pushed by President Obama. Yes, that’s the same Kathleen Porter-Magee whom it was announced a couple of days ago would be on a federal “technical review” panel to evaluate federally funded tests that go with the Common Core.
The ironic timing of the article alone is probably sufficient to rebut arguments suggesting that the Common Core isn’t very much a federal child. Still, let’s take apart a few of the specifics Porter-Magee and Stern offer on the federal aspect. (Other Core critics, I believe, will be addressing contentions about Common Core content).
Some argue that states were coerced into adopting Common Core by the Obama administration as a requirement for applying for its Race to the Top grant competition (and No Child Left Behind waiver program). But the administration has stated that adoption of “college and career readiness standards” doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core. At least a handful of states had K–12 content standards that were equally good, and the administration would have been hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
Ah, the power of parsing. While it is technically correct that in the Race to the Top regulations the administration did not write that states must specifically adopt the Common Core, it required that states adopt a “common set of K-12 standards,” and defined that as “a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.” How many consortia met that definition at the time of RTTT? Aside, perhaps, from the New England Common Assessment Program, only one: the Common Core.
NCLB waivers, for their part, gave states an additional option – having their state college systems confirm state standards as “college and career ready” – but that came after RTTT had already pushed states to adopt Common Core, and offered only a single alternative. That’s probably why, to use Stern and Porter-Magee’s own words, “President Obama often tries to claim credit” for widespread adoption of the Core. He actually had a lot to do with it!
As for states having “equally good” standards somehow being able to get past RTTT commonality demands, well, that’s just not how it works. The rules were the rules, and states didn’t just get out of them by saying “I dare you to act like our standards aren’t super.”
Education policymaking — and 90 percent of funding — is still handled at the state and local levels. And tying strings to federal education dollars is nothing new. No Child Left Behind — George W. Bush’s signature education law — linked federal Title I dollars directly to state education policy, and states not complying risked losing millions in compensatory-education funding (that is, funding for programs for children at risk of dropping out of school).
This is a very curious, self-defeating argument. Basically, Porter-Magee and Stern are asserting that the Feds only supply a small fraction of education money, and yet all states got sucked into No Child Left Behind. Applied to Common Core, federal money needn’t be very large in percentage terms to be irresistible, illustrating the very point about compulsion that Stern and Porter-Magee hope to refute. And it’s not hard to see why relatively small bombs of federal money pack a big punch: Taxpayers – who live in states – had no choice about paying their federal taxes, and no matter how they look in relative terms, millions or billions of federal dollars seem like mammoth sums in most news stories.
Perhaps the clearest evidence that states can still set their own standards is the fact that five states have not adopted Common Core. Some that have adopted it might opt out, and they shouldn’t lose a dime if they do.
It’s true that five states have not fully signed on to Common Core (Minnesota has adopted the language arts, but not math, portions), but that’s likely in large part because Race to the Top did not put annual funding on the line, and waivers had a non-Core option. But forty-five state did sign on, suggesting that the push was still very forceful. And it is irrelevant whether Porter-Magee and Stern think that states that opt out shouldn’t lose a dime of federal money. The reality is that those that have opted out did lose a full chance to win Race to the Top money, and if Common Core and accompanying tests are made central to a reauthorized NCLB – and why wouldn’t they be, since almost every state has adopted them – then annual funding would be put at risk. Which is what Common Core supporters have probably wanted since before the Obama administration existed, writing in 2008 that the job of the federal government is to furnish “incentives” for state adoption of “common core” standards.
So please, do look at NCLB when thinking about possible federal control of the Common Core. It’s a clarion alarm about what’s likely coming.
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Report: SEAL Team 6 member who killed bin Laden left with a ‘go f*** yourself’ from government
1:19 PM 02/11/2013
The SEAL Team 6 member who killed Osama bin Laden is facing an uncertain future after leaving the service and receiving a “go fuck yourself” from the government, an Esquire article about the unnamed hero reveals.
“I left SEALs on Friday,” the unnamed SEAL told author Phil Bronstein last September. He exited a little over three years short of the 20-year retirement requirement. “My health care for me and my family stopped at midnight Friday night.”
“I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no,” the SEAL told Bronstein, executive chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting. “You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go fuck yourself.”
Bronstein reports that after leaving the service and killing the nation’s most wanted man the SEAL is left with “nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.”
The report details the raid and some of its ironies: politicians and film stars have profited both monetarily and politically, but given the secrecy of the mission, the SEAL cannot even use his greatest accomplishment to get another job.
“He’s taken monumental risks,” his dad told Bronstein. “But he’s unable to reap any reward.”
Without a stable income, the shooter told Bronstein — between details of the harrowing kill mission — he still has bills and remains concerned about the safety of his family.
“I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids, and work from there,” he is quoted as saying. “I’d like to take the things I learned and help other people in any way I can.”
Bronstein goes in depth into the raid with the SEAL with details such as what he was thinking as he was flown into the compound. “Instead of counting, for some reason I said to myself the George Bush 9/11 quote: Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended. I could just hear his voice, and that was neat. I started saying it again and again to myself. Then I started to get pumped up. I’m like: This is so on.”
He said he gave the female CIA analyst who whose intelligence work lead them to bin Laden the remaining magazine from his rifle.
And he recalled what Osama looked like after he was shot.
“And I remember as I watched him
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:53 pm
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QE has left companies with a £90bn pension bill, MPs told
The Bank of England’s £375bn policy of quantitative easing has left companies having to find £90bn to fill pension fund deficits, MPs were told.
The warning came after the Treasury decided to transfer the £35bn built up at the Bank through its quantitative easing (QE) programme Photo: Alamy
1:27PM GMT 29 Jan 2013
Mark Hyde-Harrison, chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds, said inflexible pension regulations meant companies had to pay down these deficits, leaving them unable to use the funds to strengthen their balance sheets.
This had the knock-on effect of limiting growth in the economy, he told members of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee looking at the Bank’s plans to buy government bonds, or QE, to stimulate the economy.
"A strong economy and strong companies produce good pension funds," he said.
QE has raised the price of gilts, lowered yields and reduced the returns on pension investments, helping push final-salary schemes into large deficits.
Government bonds are used by pension fund to ensure they have the necessary funds to payout members in future. Low gilt yields, along with low interest rates, has meant that pension schemes have had to hold more assets to meet those obligations.
Mr Hyde Harrison said schemes needed to find £9bn a year over the next ten years to fill the gap.
He was also concerned that when the time came to unwind QE that the Bank fulfilled its promise to buy back the bonds and not cancel them.
Pensions expert Ros Altman told the committee that QE had been a "tax on pensions" and "savers". She said the policy was meant to be expansionary but not for pensioners.
"Asset purchase have raised the cost of annuities," she said, adding that the consequences of QE on pensions had been "overlooked".
While the benefits of asset purchases may have had short-term benefits for the whole economy, it had distorted long-term savings schemes, she said.
The Bank of England has said that without QE the subsequent financial fall-out would have left pension funds and savers worse off. It argues that its "money printing" programme staved off a much deeper recession than the one experienced
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Tue Jan 29, 2013 1:52 pm
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The hedge funds and the big banks have done better than anyone under the Fed’s printing regime.
When the Fed prints the guys that do the best are the guys who have a direct line to Bernanke and Co. Where do you think all the new money goes? I haven’t seen any checks show up in my mail box.
The big banks and the hedge funds have done amazingly well over the past 3 years or so. Never forget that the quarter after Goldman Sachs was bailed out was the most “profitable” in the history of the bank.
Goldman Sachs was dead in the Fall of 2008, but the Fed not only saved the recklessly leveraged investment bank but gave it so much money that bonuses in 2009 were the largest Goldman had ever handed out. Many a Maseratti was bought in the depths of the recession with money that flowed from the Fed.
So when Bernanke and the President wax about how increased easing is going to “save the American economy” take it with a greain of salt.
The post A Top Left Economist Says That the Fed is Helping the Rich, Hurting the Poor. He’s Right. appeared first on AgainstCronyCapitalism.org.
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Left To His Own Wits, Obama is Clueless and Classless
- Jerry McConnell (Bio and Archives) Wednesday, October 10, 2012
The rumors, jokes, snickers and innuendos have been around for at least a few years, but there wasn’t much concrete proof before THAT night. If you haven’t guessed by now, by ‘THAT’ night I meant the evening of October 3, 2012, when the long awaited debate between the two presidential contenders representing the major political parties, President Barack H. Obama and former Massachusetts Governor and executive businessman, Mitt Romney finally came to pass.
I have no clear cut idea why this particular presidential debate ,was so eagerly awaited unless it was to find out just what substance of which at least ONE of these combatants was made; and to justify or put down close and personally held previous judgments on both parties and persons.
It didn’t take long.
I had decided not to watch the debate at all, preferring to read about it from the various pundits on radio, television, Internet and newspapers the following morning. But the burn got to me and I did watch and listen for about two or three short segments over the course of the entire farce. It really didn’t take me that long to catch on almost at once that the one that I usually call a usurping imposter proved himself to be just that.
Oh, he tried to be glib and slick with polished words but it was mostly empty rhetoric; empty, uncomfortable body language and befuddlement; he was in so far over his head without his teleprompter, I now believe no government official should be allowed to ever use one. If nothing else, it would keep him or her honest, but more importantly, it might keep him or her from ever being elected in the first place.
Obama was up crap-creek without a paddle.
On the other hand, Romney looked so relaxed, so comfortable, so unpressured and spoke so deftly while at all times looking directly at his opponent, and configuration little shared by him. The only times Romney looked away from Obama was to cast a questioning look at Jim Lehrer when he was trying to bail Obama out of a tight situation.
Obama seemed so lost that if it were anyone else I may have had a snippet of sympathy for him, but fully knowing the man’s egocentricities and narcissisms I couldn’t muster even a tiny bit of empathy for him. As was stated in the Patriot Post of October 5, 2012 online, James Taranto a Wall Street journalist devised a theory that the Leftmedia (that’s all of the LameStreamMedia and left wing bloggers) “so pamper leftist politicians that they are unable to defend themselves when presented with a strong conservative argument from a determined opponent.” So as the Patriot Post said, “The irony is that the media had a hand in his defeat” making some feel that just retribution prevailed that night.
I , for one, was puzzled when Obama made such a grand effort to state how rosy was the climate of the economy; the economy that is all but in the tank and in shambles compared to what it was when his term in office started in January of 2009. One item alone speaks volumes of disastrous denigrations today compared to then; the price of gasoline. We are over the $4 per gallon in many places around the country and breathing heavily while closing in on that price in the rest of our homes.
Even while Obama still after four years blames Bush for all of his problems, I am reminded that he, Obama that is, told us to elect him in 2008 and he would CHANGE everything for the better. It is to be assumed that he would have CHANGED things like the economy and the price of gas that was around $2 a gallon, would be LOWER instead of HIGHER.
Had he investigated production of domestic oil it surely could have at least kept if from doubling itself and more likely may have been headed down to ONE dollar a gallon now four years later. And a $35 trip to the grocery store wouldn’t cost closer to the $75 that it does today.
Since the debate the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims the employment just last month, September, INCREASED by 873,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped three tenths of a percent from 8.1 to 7.8. How fortuitous for Obama; get shellacked in a debate to help show how incompetent you are and YOUR Labor Bureau magically produces a large gain in new jobs. In that this news is still hot off the presses I will not comment on it to except to say, “Wow! Where did all that good news come from Big Daddy?”
So I will refrain from further discussion until more information is available on how this good news was manufactured. Although, considering that four years ago the percent of unemployed was around 4.5, I guess 7.8 is still woefully bad and Obama will need to get to his friendly teleprompter for some better answers.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Oct 10, 2012 12:41 pm
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Do Western Central Banks Have Any Gold Left???
Posted Tuesday, 2 October 2012 | Share this article| Source: GoldSeek.com
By Eric Sprott & David Baker, Sprott Asset Management
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the world’s Western central banks lie vaults holding gargantuan piles of physical gold bars… or at least that’s what they all claim. The gold bars are part of their respective foreign currency reserves, which include all the usual fiat currencies like the dollar, the pound, the yen and the euro.
Collectively, the governments/central banks of the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland, Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are believed to hold an impressive 23,349 tonnes of gold in their respective reserves, representing more than $1.3 trillion at today’s gold price. Beyond the suggested tonnage, however, very little is actually known about the gold that makes up this massive stockpile. Western central banks disclose next to nothing about where it’s stored, in what form, or how much of the gold reserves are utilized for other purposes. We are assured that it’s all there, of course, but little effort has ever been made by the central banks to provide any details beyond the arbitrary references in their various financial reserve reports.
Twelve years ago, few would have cared what central banks did with their gold. Gold had suffered a twenty year bear cycle and didn’t engender much excitement at $255 per ounce. It made perfect sense for Western governments to lend out (or in the case of Canada – outright sell) their gold reserves in order to generate some interest income from their holdings. And that’s exactly what many central banks did from the late 1980’s through to the late 2000’s. The times have changed however, and today it absolutely does matter what they’re doing with their reserves, and where the reserves are actually held. Why? Because the countries in question are now all grossly over-indebted and printing their respective currencies with reckless abandon. It would be reassuring to know that they still have some of the ‘barbarous relic’ kicking around, collecting dust, just in case their experiment with collusive monetary accommodation doesn’t work out as planned.
You may be interested to know that central bank gold sales were actually the crux of the original investment thesis that first got us interested in the gold space back in 2000. We were introduced to it through the work of Frank Veneroso, who published an outstanding report on the gold market in 1998 aptly titled, “The 1998 Gold Book Annual”. In it, Mr. Veneroso inferred that central bank gold sales had artificially suppressed the full extent of gold demand to the tune of approximately 1,600 tonnes per year (in an approximately 4,000 tonne market of annual supply). Of the 35,000 tonnes that the central banks were officially stated to own at the time, Mr. Veneroso estimated that they were already down to 18,000 tonnes of actual physical. Once the central banks ran out of gold to sell, he surmised, the gold market would be poised for a powerful bull market… and he turned out to be completely right – although central banks did continue to be net sellers of gold for many years to come.
As the gold bull market developed throughout the 2000’s, central banks didn’t become net buyers of physical gold until 2009, which coincided with gold’s final break-out above US$1,000 per ounce. The entirety of this buying was performed by central banks in the non-Western world, however, by countries like Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the Philippines… and they have continued buying gold ever since. According to Thomson Reuters GFMS, a precious metals research agency, non-Western central banks purchased 457 tonnes of gold in 2011, and are expected to purchase another 493 tonnes of gold this year as they expand their reserves.1 Our estimates suggest they will likely purchase even more than that.2 The Western central banks, meanwhile, have essentially remained silent on the topic of gold, and have not publicly disclosed any sales or purchases of gold at all over the past three years. Although there is a “Central Bank Gold Agreement” currently in place that covers the gold sales of the Eurosystem central banks, Sweden and Switzerland, there has been no mention of gold sales by the very entities that are purported to own the largest stockpiles of the precious metal.3 The silence is telling.
Over the past several years, we’ve collected data on physical demand for gold as it has developed over time. The consistent annual growth in demand for physical gold bullion has increasingly puzzled us with regard to supply. Global annual gold mine supply ex Russia and China (who do not export domestic production) is actually lower than it was in year 2000, and ever since the IMF announced the completion of its sale of 403 tonnes of gold in December 2010, there hasn’t been any large, publicly-disclosed seller of physical gold in the market for almost two years.4 Given the significant increase in physical demand that we’ve seen over the past decade, particularly from buyers in Asia, it suffices to say that we cannot identify where all the gold is coming from to supply it… but it has to be coming from somewhere.
To give you a sense of how much the demand for physical gold has increased over the past decade, we’ve listed a select number of physical gold buyers and calculated their net change in annual demand in tonnes from 2000 to 2012 (see Chart A).
Numbers quoted in metric tonnes.
† Source: CBGA1, CBGA2, CBGA3, International Monetary Fund Statistics, Sprott Estimates.
†† Source: Royal Canadian Mint and United States Mint.
††† Includes closed-end funds such as Sprott Physical Gold Trust and Central Fund of Canada.
^ Source: World Gold Council, Sprott Estimates.
^^ Source: World Gold Council, Sprott Estimates.
^^^ Refers to annualized increase over the past eight years.
As can be seen, the mere combination of only five separate sources of demand results in a 2,268 tonne net change in physical demand for gold over the past twelve years – meaning that there is roughly 2,268 tonnes of new annual demand today that didn’t exist 12 years ago. According to the CPM Group, one of the main purveyors of gold statistics, the total annual gold supply is estimated to be roughly 3,700 tonnes of gold this year. Of that, the World Gold Council estimates that only 2,687 tonnes are expected to come from actual mine production, while the rest is attributed to recycled scrap gold, mainly from old jewelry.5 (See footnote 5). The reporting agencies have a tendency to insist that total physical demand perfectly matches physical supply every year, and use the “Net Private Investment” as a plug to shore up the difference between the demand they attribute to industry, jewelry and ‘official transactions’ by central banks versus their annual supply estimate (which is relatively verifiable). Their “Net Private Investment” figures are implied, however, and do not measure the actual investment demand purchases that take place every year. If more accurate data was ever incorporated into their market summary for demand, it would reveal a huge discrepancy, with the demand side vastly exceeding their estimation of annual supply. In fact, we know it would exceed it based purely on China’s Hong Kong gold imports, which are now up to 458 tonnes year-to-date as of July, representing a 367% increase over its purchases during the same period last year. If the imports continue at their current rate, China will reach 785 tonnes of gold imports by year-end. That’s 785 tonnes in a market that’s only expected to produce roughly 2,700 tonnes of mine supply, and that’s just one buyer.
Then there are all the private buyers whose purchases go unreported and unacknowledged, like that of Greenlight Capital, the hedge fund managed by David Einhorn, that is reported to have purchased $500 million worth of physical gold starting in 2009. Or the $1 billion of physical gold purchased by the University of Texas Investment Management Co. in April 2011… or the myriad of other private investors (like Saudi Sheiks, Russian billionaires, this writer, probably many of our readers, etc.) who have purchased physical gold for their accounts over the past decade. None of these private purchases are ever considered in the research agencies’ summaries for investment demand, and yet these are real purchases of physical gold, not ETF’s or gold ‘certificates’. They require real, physical gold bars to be delivered to the buyer. So once we acknowledge how big the discrepancy is between the actual true level of physical gold demand versus the annual “supply”, the obvious questions present themselves: who are the sellers delivering the gold to match the enormous increase in physical demand? What entities are releasing physical gold onto the market without reporting it? Where is all the gold coming from?
There is only one possible candidate: the Western central banks. It may very well be that a large portion of physical gold currently flowing to new buyers is actually coming from the Western central banks themselves. They are the only holders of physical gold who are capable of supplying gold in a quantity and manner that cannot be readily tracked. They are also the very entities whose actions have driven investors back into gold in the first place. Gold is, after all, a hedge against their collective irresponsibility – and they have showcased their capacity in that regard quite enthusiastically over the past decade, especially since 2008.
If the Western central banks are indeed leasing out their physical reserves, they would not actually have to disclose the specific amounts of gold that leave their respective vaults. According to a document on the European Central Bank’s (ECB) website regarding the statistical treatment of the Eurosystem’s International Reserves, current reporting guidelines do not require central banks to differentiate between gold owned outright versus gold lent out or swapped with another party. The document states that, “reversible transactions in gold do not have any effect on the level of monetary gold regardless of the type of transaction (i.e. gold swaps, repos, deposits or loans), in line with the recommendations contained in the IMF guidelines.”6 (Emphasis theirs). Under current reporting guidelines, therefore, central banks are permitted to continue carrying the entry of physical gold on their balance sheet even if they’ve swapped it or lent it out entirely. You can see this in the way Western central banks refer to their gold reserves. The UK Government, for example, refers to its gold allocation as, “Gold (incl. gold swapped or on loan)”. That’s the verbatim phrase they use in their official statement. Same goes for the US Treasury and the ECB, which report their gold holdings as “Gold (including gold deposits and, if appropriate, gold swapped)” and “Gold (including gold deposits and gold swapped)”, respectively (see Chart B). Unfortunately, that’s as far as their description goes, as each institution does not break down what percentage of their stated gold reserves are held in physical, versus what percentage has been loaned out or swapped for something else. The fact that they do not differentiate between the two is astounding, (Ed. As is the “including gold deposits” verbiage that they use – what else is “gold” supposed to refer to?) but at the same time not at all surprising. It would not lend much credence to central bank credibility if they admitted they were leasing their gold reserves to ‘bullion bank’ intermediaries who were then turning around and selling their gold to China, for example. But the numbers strongly suggest that that is exactly what has happened. The central banks’ gold is likely gone, and the bullion banks that sold it have no realistic chance of getting it back.
1) http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/statisti … output.pdf
2) http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center … 12012.aspx
3) http://www.ecb.int/stats/external/reser … .E.en.html
6) http://www.snb.ch/en/mmr/reference/annr … ett/source
ECB Data as of July 2012. Bank of Japan data as of March 31, 2012.
* European Central Bank reserves is composed of reserves held by the ECB, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland.
** Bank of Japan only lists its gold reserves in Yen at book value.
Our analysis of the physical gold market shows that central banks have most likely been a massive unreported supplier of physical gold, and strongly implies that their gold reserves are negligible today. If Frank Veneroso’s conclusions were even close to accurate back in 1998 (and we believe they were), when coupled with the 2,300 tonne net change in annual demand we can easily identify above, it can only lead to the conclusion that a large portion of the Western central banks’ stated 23,000 tonnes of gold reserves are merely a paper entry on their balance sheets – completely un-backed by anything tangible other than an IOU from whatever counterparty leased it from them in years past. At this stage of the game, we don’t believe these central banks will be able to get their gold back without extreme difficulty, especially if it turns out the gold has left their countries entirely. We can also only wonder how much gold within the central bank system has been ‘rehypothecated’ in the process, since the central banks in question seem so reluctant to divulge any meaningful details on their reserves in a way that would shed light on the various “swaps” and “loans” they imply to be participating in. We might also suggest that if a proper audit of Western central bank gold reserves was ever launched, as per Ron Paul’s recent proposal to audit the US Federal Reserve, the proverbial cat would be let out of the bag – with explosive implications for the gold price.
Notwithstanding the recent conversions of PIMCO’s Bill Gross, Bridegwater’s Ray Dalio and Ned Davis Research to gold, we realize that many mainstream institutional investors still continue to struggle with the topic. We also realize that some readers may scoff at any analysis of the gold market that hints at “conspiracy”. We’re not talking about conspiracy here however, we’re talking about stupidity. After all, Western central banks are probably under the impression that the gold they’ve swapped and/or lent out is still legally theirs, which technically it may be. But if what we are proposing turns out to be true, and those reserves are not physically theirs; not physically in their possession… then all bets are off regarding the future of our monetary system. As a general rule of common sense, when one embarks on an unlimited quantitative easing program targeted at the employment rate (see QE3), one had better make sure to have something in the vault as backup in case the ‘unlimited’ part actually ends up really meaning unlimited. We hope that it does not, for the sake of our monetary system, but given our analysis of the physical gold market, we’ll stick with our gold bars and take comfort as they collect more dust in our vaults, untouched.
By: Mr. Eric Sprott Chairman, Sprott Money Ltd , CEO, CIO & Senior Portfolio Manager & Mr. David Baker, Sprott Asset Management
1 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-0 … -gfms.html
2 See notes in Chart A.
3 http://www.gold.org/government_affairs/ … greements/
5 Mine supply estimate supplied by World Gold Council; YTD gold mine production data suggests that total 2012 gold mine supply will come in lower around 2,300 tonnes, ex Russia and China production. In addition, Frank Veneroso has recently published a new report that warns that the supply of recycled scrap gold could drop significantly going forward due to the depletion ofthe inventories of industrial scrap and long held jewelry over the past decade.
– Posted Tuesday, 2 October 2012 | Digg This Article | Source: GoldSeek.com
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Wed Oct 03, 2012 12:35 am
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Broken America: The towns left in financial ruin
First came the US sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Now entire towns are declaring bankruptcy.
GUY ADAMS LOS ANGELES SATURDAY 07 JULY 2012
They were hanging up the bunting in Mammoth Lakes this week, celebrating Independence Day in the traditional small-town fashion. First, locals queued up for an eat-all-you-can-eat "pancake breakfast". Then they took part in a fiercely contested "hot-dog-eating contest". Finally, after witnessing the annual town parade, the community oohed and aahed over a short but patriotic fireworks display.
Yet behind the show of civic pride lay a palpable sense of unease. For all the conspicuous consumption of junk food, and the proudly worn stars-and-stripes paraphernalia, locals were grimly aware that their picturesque resort, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The previous day, local councillors voted unanimously to seek bankruptcy, after Mammoth Lakes found itself facing a bill of $43m (£28m) from a botched property deal. The town, in winter a popular ski destination, became the state’s second municipality in a less than a week to suddenly declare itself insolvent. Officials issued a statement claiming "bankruptcy, unfortunately, is the only option left", after a court ordered it to immediately pay the $43m to its largest creditor. It remains unclear how local police, firefighters, and core services will continue to be funded.
Mammoth’s debt, which amounts to roughly $5,000 for every man, woman and child who lives there, and is more than twice the council’s annual operating budget, arose in the most parochial of fashions: the town was successfully sued for breaking a contract with a local real estate firm which wanted to build a hotel complex near its small airport. But fallout from its troubles is being felt far and wide.
The insolvency occurred just days after Stockton, a commuter town east of San Francisco, became the largest US city in decades to file for insolvency, having built up debts of between $500m and $1bn. Worried analysts are now wondering if the two quick-fire bankruptcies represent the start of an ugly trend that could be about to accelerate – with devastating effects.
Fears over civic bankruptcies stretch back to December 2011, when a high-profile Wall Street analyst called Meredith Whitney caused an overnight panic in the municipal bond market, which underpins America’s public fortunes, by telling the TV news show 60 Minutes that she believed that there were going to be "50 to 100 sizeable defaults" by debt-ridden cities in the not-too-distant future.
Whitney claimed the nation’s local administrations were operating in a collective deficit of something like half a trillion dollars. In addition, they had underfunded pension liabilities of another $1.5 trillion. If large numbers were to fall into insolvency, and begin defaulting on bond payments, she believed the financial system could suffer meltdown on a scale similar to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Since 2007, a series of small cities – from Westfall in Pennsylvania, to Moffett in Oklahoma, and Prichard in Alabama – have found themselves in court declaring "Chapter Nine," the part of the US bankruptcy code applicable to municipalities. Whitney believed that trickle could become a flood. And if a meltdown were to happen, she said that it would gather pace in the state with the nation’s highest public debts and most dysfunctional government: California.
Little wonder, then, that the sudden bankruptcies of Mammoth Lakes and Stockton have raised eyebrows. Some experts say they are at the extreme end of a trend which, while serious, can be avoided through fiscal reform in a now-growing economy. Others, shaken by Stockton’s attempt in court this week to become the first US city to impose losses on bondholders, wonder if Whitney was right – and if an entire house of cards is about to fall.
Richard Ciccarone, a specialist in municipal bond research for McDonnell Investment Management, is among the optimists. But he recently analysed 2011 data from 124 of 500 Californian cities. He told The Independent that around a dozen (roughly 10 per cent of his sample) are now "extremely vulnerable" to bankruptcy.
In seeking to identify candidates for civic insolvency, he looked for low liquidity levels, steep declines in home values and a high "public safety ratio," the portion of spending that a city devotes to police and fire services. "When cities cut budgets, police and fire tend to be the last to suffer," he says.
Administrations most vulnerable to insolvency spend up to 80 per cent of budgets on "public safety," Ciccarone says. When further squeezed, they can end up in a sort of fiscal death spiral: cutting public safety budgets increases crime and makes them less attractive places to live, meaning that affluent residents move, further reducing tax revenues. "We saw a similar process happening in the Rust Belt, in the 1970s and 1980s," he says.
One such city is Stockton, whose current difficulties stem from years of short-sighted policymaking which has left the city of 300,000 residents facing an annual bill of $20m to merely service its soaring debt. For years, it pursued a policy similar to that of Vallejo, a Californian neighbour which went bankrupt in 2008: at almost every opportunity it granted inflation-busting pay rises to police, firefighters, and other public workers, without raising taxes on residents.
In boom years, as property tax revenues soared, that profligacy seemed appropriate. Stockton’s house values quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, allowing the city of 300,000 residents to spend like a drunken sailor: $47m on a loss-making sports arena, $100m on a smart marina. But with the bust, home values fell back to 2000 levels and revenues fell accordingly.
The city was left with foreclosure rates of just under ten per cent, 15 per cent unemployment, and no way to meet the financial obligations it had built up during the good times. It began reducing retiree medical benefits, closing parks and libraries, and sacking police and fire officers. Crime rose, poverty grew, and a vicious circle began to turn.
Mark Paul, co-author of a book called California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It, argues that the seeds of the bankruptcies of Stockton, and to a lesser extent, Mammoth Lakes are rooted in Proposition 13, a ballot measure passed in 1978 which froze property taxes and introduced a requirement that a two-thirds majority in the state’s Senate vote for any major tax increases.
Despite passing the law, Californians continued to demand expensive services, causing city, state and regional administrations to slowly clock up ever-greater debts. Twenty-five years into that experiment, he says that if more bankruptcies are now to be avoided, with the wider calamity that could bring, he says residents must confront an awkward reality: good government never comes for free.
"A something-for-nothing mentality is encouraged by our system," he says. "That will only change when politicians start being honest and tell people that if they want proper services they have to be prepared to pay for them. The recession pulled the covers off problems which have been festering for a long time.
"At the moment, everyone is left wondering who is going to be next to bear the brunt of the pain."
The towns left in financial ruin
The biggest city in the US to run out of money so far, it listed a debt of $1bn in its bankruptcy application last month
Mammoth Lakes, California
The ski town filed for bankruptcy this week after losing a legal fight costing twice its annual budget
West Fall, Pennsylvania
The economy was doing well in this small town yet its $20m debt still proved too big for it to cope with
Jefferson County, Alabama
Failure to restructure $3.1bn bonds on its sewers sent its finances down the drain
Central Falls, Rhode Island
Went broke last year due to its massive pension bill for the baby boomers among its 18,000 citizens
Debt led to police officers being laid off, fire stations being closed, and cuts imposed on other services in 2008
Raised 78 per cent of its income from speeding tickets – until a state-imposed ban on the fines made it insolvent in 2008
When town ran out of money for pensions in 2009, it simply stopped paying them, but that was not enough
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Jul 07, 2012 9:12 am
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The 2008 donors who haven’t returned to President Obama are disproportionately centrists and very liberal Democrats, while regular Democrats have stuck by the president, according to a new analysis of campaign finance data.
The analysis, by Stanford political scientist Adam Bonica, matches and deepens a BuzzFeed finding that roughly 90% of those who gave more than $200 to Obama haven’t returned, a mark of the disillusionment among some of his early supporters and of his ongoing struggle — despite the advantages of organization and incumbency — to keep even with his 2008 fundraising totals.
"The 2008 donors who were most likely to give again in 2012 are those with ideological scores most similar to Obama’s, whereas moderate-to-conservative donors and those on far left are significantly less likely to re-up,” Bonica said.
Bonica’s model is based on a large swathe of publicly available campaign finance data. He examined all of Obama’s $200-plus individual donors from 2008 and 2012, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. He then gave each contributor an ideological "score" based on his or her past political donations, with -2 being the most liberal and 2 being the most conservative. Once each of Obama’s contributors had an ideological score, Bonica divided them into new, returning, and drop off donors before plotting them on comparative ideological graphs.
The story of Obama’s failure to impress the ideological progressives who had hoped he’d pass single-payer health care and battle Republicans, is a familiar story. But Bonica’s research suggests the degree to which conservative criticism has also eaten into Obama’s core support, leaving the president fighting a two-front battle.
Bonica said he was surprised by the finding.
“Initially my expectation was that Obama’s donors were going to be more moderate in 2012 than they were in 2008,” Bonica said.
But the collapse onon both sides of the ideological spectrum makes sense, Bonica said, when thought of in the context of a candidate whose political record was as sparse as Obama’s was when he ran in 2008.
“Donors have had several years to learn about Obama’s policy preferences through his initiatives and statements, which has eliminated a lot of the uncertainty about where Obama stands,” he said, adding that Obama’s current donor drop off pattern is similar to that of George W. Bush in 2004.
Only 11% of these drop off donors have given to another political group or candidate this cycle. This low percentage suggests that Obama’s drop off donors from 2008 aren’t so much switching allegiances as they are removing themselves from the political process.
“Obama’s drop off looks to be more dramatic than other presidents, but that’s mostly a function of him having raised from an incredible number of people in 2008 — people who you usually wouldn’t have expected to give to a Democratic presidential candidate,” Bonica said.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:56 am
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In many dystopic visions of the future, corporate ads are everywhere. In “Minority Report,” holographic ads accost Tom Cruise with personal suggestions. In films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Running Man,” corporations sponsor death-match game shows, sometimes replete with little absurdities like the “Wells Fargo Death Blow.”
Harvard professor and communitarian philosopher Michael J. Sandel seemingly believes we’re already living in that dystopic future. Corporations name our stadiums, Rolaids brings in relief pitchers (“that spells relief!”), and unscrupulous people bet on other’s lives through life insurance exchanges and death pools. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets is Professor Sandel’s jeremiad against this increasing tide of commodification. He asks for a national conversation on “the great missing debate in contemporary politics,” namely the “role and reach of markets.”
Sandel objects to a long list of market exchanges. To name but a few: paying students to read books, carbon credits, tolls to drive in the carpool lane while driving solo, payments by companies to employees to get healthy (so-called “health bribes”), paying line-standers, athletes selling autographs, selling stadium naming rights, and skyboxes. He objects for two reasons: 1) market choices can reflect underlying economic inequality; 2) markets corrupt goods and degrade social norms.
Both of these objections deserve the careful attention of political philosophers. Even libertarians don’t believe that everything should be bought and sold, and sometimes allowing market transactions will crowd out other norms. Sandel discusses one example extensively: after a day-care center became fed-up with parents arriving late to pick up their kids, thus making teachers stay late, they decided to charge parents a late fee. The result? More parents showed up late because they felt they were now paying for a service. An interesting social phenomenon, certainly, and worthy of consideration.
But Sandel hardly supplies any deep thoughts on these questions. Instead, what he mostly offers are his unsupported feelings about when a good is corrupted and when underlying economic inequality is a problem. Ultimately, like Judge Robert H. Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and America’s Decline or Rick Santorum’s It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, What Money Can’t Buy is largely a list of things that Sandel doesn’t like. For a book by a respected political philosopher, it is startlingly short of philosophical insight.
The occasional valuable observation is overshadowed by complaining and moralizing. For example, “moneyball”–the term given to Oakland Athletics’ manager Billy Beane’s strategy of focusing on recruiting undervalued players who contribute to winning through unappreciated skills such as drawing walks–leaves Sandel cold. Moneyball brings the cold values of economics to baseball and makes it worse because “it’s hard to stand up and cheer for the triumph of quantitative methods and more efficient pricing mechanisms.” Instead, Sandel would rather see more free-swinging for the fences. Similarly, skyboxes separate fans into classes, thus undermining the “civic teaching” of sports–“that we are all in this together, that for a few hours at least, we share a sense of place and civic pride.” During one extended passage, Sandel criticizes Inuits who sell their exclusive right to hunt walrus to big-game hunters. “The appeal of such a hunt is difficult to fathom,” he writes, because walruses are so easy to kill that it is “less a sport than a type of lethal tourism.” Therefore, “this bizarre market caters to a perverse desire that should carry no weight in any calculus of social utility.”
But Sandel never explains why skyboxes magnify inequality in a worse way than Upper West Side apartments. He never explains why Inuits should be allowed to kill walruses but not big-game hunters. He never acknowledges that there are those who think “moneyball” results in a more interesting game. Moreover, he never seriously addresses how some markets, such as granting property rights in endangered species (including the right to hunt), benefit those endangered species. Perhaps most surprisingly, Sandel never discusses black markets and whether bringing them into the open may be preferable to their effects–e.g. crime and dangerous merchandise. No, Sandel would rather address the problems that come with black markets by earnestly imploring people to stop buying things he doesn’t like.
Rick Santorum and Michael Sandel should go fishing some time. If they put preconceptions aside, they will quickly realize they have a lot in common. They both feel the “national character” is eroding and that “we” need to have a serious conversation about where our culture is going. They can even trade knowing nods over their shared conviction that, while there’s nothing wrong with certain voluntary relationships (same-sex couples and corporations), why do they have to do it in public?
Clearly, the attitudes of a new “moral majority” infect the left as much as the right. To see how, pick up Sandel’s book and turn to a random page. Page 59: “Health bribes trick us into doing something we should be doing anyhow. They induce us to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.” Page 89: “When market reasoning is applied to sex, procreation, child rearing, education, health, criminal punishment, immigration policy, and environmental protection, it’s less plausible to assume that everyone’s preferences are equally worthwhile. In morally charged arenas such as these, some ways of valuing goods may be higher, more appropriate than others.” Page 33: “Something is lost when free public theater is turned into a market commodity, something beyond the disappointment experienced by those who are priced out of attending.” Page 47: “Before we can decide whether market relations are appropriate to such domains, we have to figure out what norms should govern our sexual and procreative lives.”
Thankfully, we already have a way to “figure out what norms should govern our sexual and procreative lives”: individual rights. The great insight of Enlightenment political thinkers was that governments should not have jurisdiction over certain personal choices. Individual and property rights delineate “zones of autonomy” that remove some questions from the public sphere. In a sense, classical liberal philosophers conceptually drew a bubble around our bodies and our property and argued that penetrating that bubble with outside commands is only justified in limited circumstances.
Those who argue against this view have always pointed to how individual choices have effects that leak outside the bubble. Libertine and indulgent choices, for example, can erode the moral fabric of society, thus giving governments the right to regulate our personal lives. The misuse of private property, such as selling ad-space on your forehead (something Sandel criticizes) can also have negative ramifications outside the “zone of autonomy” by making others believe that the human body is just a commodity to be sold. The world is too interconnected, the argument goes, to give individual rights a moral trump card.
Conservative and communitarian arguments are thus equivalent in form. For both philosophies, “we” are supposed to be engaging in a collective conversation about what values will run “our” lives. Neither philosophy argues that such personal choices are off-limits on principle; each only offers arguments based on situational convenience and personal taste. Thus, by collaborating in this type of argument, conservatives and communitarians clear the way for increasing government’s encroachment on our personal space. When politicians battle over our foreheads and bedrooms our control over those personal zones is only as good–only as tenuous–as a political victory. Come the next election, a Sandel may turn into a Santorum, and you may lose the control you once had. Ultimately, the world is too interconnected to not give individual rights a moral trump card.
Sandel, like Santorum, like Bork, like all of us, wishes that people were better–better at staying healthy, better at reading books, better at taking care of the environment–or at least good enough to not need cash payments to make us “do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Yet I doubt that Professor Sandel teaches at Harvard for free. By taking a paycheck, is he doing the right thing for the wrong reason?
I don’t mean to demean Professor Sandel with a base tu quoque argument. I believe Professor Sandel should charge for his services just as I believe Mickey Mantle was justified in charging for his autograph. I bring up the example, however, to challenge whether there is a difference between professors’ salaries and Mickey Mantle charging for autographs–a difference, that is, not rooted in Sandel’s fond memories of the halcyon days when baseball players were the “object of fervent pursuit by young fans clamoring for autographs.” The onus is on Professor Sandel to differentiate between the two, and in What Money Can’t Buy, he fails to meet this challenge.
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Romania’s hospital scandal: Babies left to die as doctors refuse to work without bribes
A quarter of a century after the West learned about Ceausescu’s orphanages, children are again the victims, this time of endemic corruption
Alison Mutler , Vadim Ghirda Sunday 01 April 2012
Dr Catalin Cirstoveanu runs a cardio unit with state-of-the-art equipment at a Bucharest children’s hospital. But not a single child has been treated in the year and a half since it opened. The reason? Medical staff he needs to bring in to run the machinery would have expected bribes.
So Dr Cirstoveanu has launched a lonely crusade to save babies who come to him for care. He flies them to Western Europe on budget flights so they can be treated by doctors who don’t demand kickbacks. That’s what he did last week for 13-day-old Catalin, who needed heart surgery. Dr Cirstoveanu packed a small bag, slipped emergency breathing equipment into the baby carrier and caught a cheap flight to Italy, where doctors were waiting to perform the surgery.
The operation was successful. Two days later, though, a three-week-old baby that Dr Cirstoveanu whisked away to the same clinic in Italy – with tubes piercing her tiny frame – died before she was able to have lymph gland surgery. "I was very worried it wouldn’t work," he said. "But in Romania, she would have died anyway."
The soft-spoken doctor is fighting an exhausting and largely solitary battle against a culture of corruption that is so embedded in Romania that surgeons demand bribes to save infants’ lives, and it’s even necessary to slip cash to a nurse to get your sheets changed. It’s one of the reasons why the country’s infant mortality rate is more than double the European Union average, with one in 100 children not reaching their first birthday. "To be honest, it’s so deeply rooted into our system that it’s really difficult to eliminate," the health minister Ladislau Ritli said.
Patients in Romania – a member of the European Union – routinely discuss the "stock market" rate for bribes. Surgeons can get hundreds of euros and upward for an operation, while anaesthetists get roughly a third of that, depending upon what a patient can afford. Nurses receive a few euros from patients each time they administer medications or put in drips. Getting a certificate stamped to have an operation abroad can easily cost hundreds, if not thousands of euros if you ask the wrong doctor. While the Romanian state appears unwilling to do anything, it often ends up footing the bill.
At Dr Cirstoveanu’s unit in the Marie Curie hospital, Catalin’s operation would have cost €2,000-€3,000 (£1,666-£2,500) without bribes. Romanian state health insurance is paying 10 times that for his operation in Italy – a small fortune in a country where the average monthly salary is €350 after tax.
Bribes across Romania accounted for some €750,000 a day in 2005, according to a World Bank report; more recent estimates are not available. The culture of bribes – or "informal payments" as they are commonly known – is tacitly accepted. But anger is rising. One of Marie Curie’s donors, Procter & Gamble, has gone back to the hospital and the health ministry several times to ask questions about when the unit will start functioning.
The tragic plight of Romanian children is nothing new. In a misguided effort to boost Romania’s then population of 23 million, the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu banned birth control and abortion, which led to thousands of infants being left in orphanages in harrowing conditions, subsequently broadcast around the world after his execution in 1989.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, the country’s shortcomings are again being seen through the gaze of children and powerless parents trapped in a web of corruption. For those whose children die shortly after birth, grief is magnified when they do not receive a birth certificate or even see their babies alive. Angela Vasile, whose baby daughter Cristina lived only one day, saw her infant just once after she died, lying on a metal table. Ms Vasile was then put in a ward of nursing mothers, adding to her anguish.
Bianca Brad, a Romanian actress and singer, spoke out publicly about the pain of losing her baby at birth, calling the situation "criminal". She founded the Emma Association to help grieving parents, offering support for those who do not receive psychological counselling and remain locked in years of grief.
Officially, the new cardio unit that Dr Cirstoveanu runs isn’t functioning because jobs have not been filled. The real reason appears to be that Dr Cirstoveanu has banned staff from taking bribes. That means that hi-tech machinery lies idle because qualified experts do not bother to apply for jobs, as they know they cannot supplement their incomes with bribes.
The zero-tolerance policy to corruption makes for a gruelling work schedule for Dr Cirstoveanu, who needs to shuttle babies abroad for surgery, and take care of them on the flight. During the two-hour flight with the girl who died, Dr Cirstoveanu fixed tubes, sedated her and hand-pumped oxygen to keep her alive. In the less than 24 hours he had in Bucharest between returning from Catalin’s trip and departing with the little girl, he squeezed in a shift in his own clinic.
Many disillusioned doctors have abandoned the country, which spends only 4 per cent of its gross domestic product in healthcare – about half the percentage of GDP spent by Western European countries. Last year, some 2,800 Romanian doctors – discouraged by the antiquated and corrupt health system and low wages – left to work in Western Europe, according to the Romanian College of Doctors.
"Ideally, we would have decent salaries and nobody would be tempted to accept informal payments," said Mr Ritli. "And the population would be educated so people would believe that this is not the only way to get proper healthcare."
Yet remarkable things are happening at the Marie Curie Hospital. Dr Cirstoveanu is overseeing the survival of Andrei, an eight-month-old Roma baby born to underage parents. His intestines are almost non-existent. The tiny infant, who weighs about 2kg, with limbs that look like gnarled twigs, was given only days to live. His bright eyes, alert gaze and lively personality have endeared him to all staff who comfort him in their arms as much as they can outside of his incubator.
Andrei could get life-saving surgery in the United States – but a fee of hundreds of thousands of dollars is proving prohibitive. Nurses are so fond of the bright boy that they are playing the state lottery in an attempt to raise funds for his surgery.
Even in this grim setting, there are signs that doctors are mobilising in an effort to make things better. Anca Mandache, a child heart surgeon, left her career in France to offer her services to the Marie Curie hospital, accepting a tenth of her previous salary. Others also are expressing an interest in working at the clinic.
Dr Cirstoveanu, who also flies sick babies to Germany and Austria, says he feels ashamed that he has to go to the lengths he does to save children, but talks with pride of the moment he sees the joy of relieved parents whose babies survive.
They are in awe of his dedication. "Dr Cirstoveanu is more than a hero – he is a god for us and the children," said Gheorghe Meliusoiu, Catalin’s 28-year-old woodcutter father. "If there were more like him, many lives would be saved."
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Mar 31, 2012 8:57 pm
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