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Iran Threatens to Block Oil Shipments,
as U.S. Prepares Sanctions
By DAVID E. SANGER and ANNIE LOWREY - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.
The declaration by Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, came as President Obama prepares to sign legislation that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iran’s oil revenue in a bid to deter it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
OIL JUMPS ON IRAN THREAT
Oil jumps over 2% as Iran threatens supplies
By Steve Hargreaves @CNNMoneyMarkets
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Oil prices jumped over 2% Tuesday, crossing the $100-barrel-mark after Iran threatened to choke off the flow of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranian threat came in response to a recent tightening of Western sanctions against Iran that attempt to limit the amount of oil that country can export.
"If Iran oil is banned, not a single drop of oil will pass through Hormuz Strait," Iran's 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Tuesday, according to the Iran State News Agency.
Iran is also currently conducting Naval exercises in and around the Strait.
Iran Could Stop Oil Flow If Sanctions Are Imposed
By: Reuters - CNBC.com
Iran's first vice-president warned on Tuesday that the flow of crude will be stopped from the crucial Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if foreign sanctions are imposed on its oil exports, the country's official news agency reported.
"If they (the West) impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz," IRNA quoted Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying.
When can I buy gold and silver?
Is it on the verge of a big move?
By Chris Vermeulen - CommodityOnline.com
"The question everyone keeps asking is: When can I buy Goldand silver? With what is unfolding across the pond and the bullish outlook for the U.S. dollar index, the next move is a coin toss. I do feel a large move brewing in the marketplace, so I am preparing for fireworks in the first quarter of 2012."
The past few months have been tough for those holding precious metals stocks, PM futures contracts or physical bullion. Silver is trading down 41%, precious metals stocks down 30% and gold 15%. It has people scratching their heads.
Peter Schiff predicts:
Higher oil, higher gold, falling dollar and QE3
Olivier Ludwig, managing editor IndexUniverse: On this side of the Atlantic, with the Fed, what's your outlook? Do you see a QE3?
Peter Schiff, president Euro Pacific Capital: I think QE3 is going to happen – if it's not already here in disguise. They will officially acknowledge it. The government just revised downward its estimate for third-quarter growth from 2.5% to 2%. I think we're relapsing into recession because we never really fixed our problems – we just added more debt and more government.
I think the Fed will be looking at oil prices, which will be well over $100 a barrel shortly. We'll be seeing record-highGasoline prices seasonally, and probably we'll see Heating Oilprices the highest they've ever been in the wintertime.
The Fed will unfortunately react to this thinking: "Oh no! We need cheaper money because higher energy prices are going to be a drag on the economy." But, of course, the higher energy prices result from all the cheap money.
Treasury Sees U.S. Debt Near Limit By End Of Friday
By Jeff Bater - WSJ.com
The U.S. debt will come within $100 billion of its ceiling on Friday, and the Treasury Department anticipates the Obama administration will begin steps to seek a $1.2 trillion increase in the limit.
A senior Treasury official on Tuesday told reporters the administration will need to let Congress know when the debt gets within $100 billion of the ceiling, expected to happen by the close of business Friday. Currently, the debt limit is $15.194 trillion, and it would be $16.394 trillion after an increase.
Obama seeks $1.2 trillion debt ceiling increase
By James O'Toole and Alex Mooney @CNNMoney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The year couldn't end without a final word about the nation's debt ceiling.
President Obama plans to ask Congress this week to raise the debt limitby $1.2 trillion, an increase that should get the government through most of next year, a Treasury department official said Tuesday.
Fortunately, though, the increase should come without the fireworks that accompanied this summer's debt battle, as it comes in line with the deal struck back then.
That deal, signed into law in August, authorized a phased increase of the debt ceiling by up to $2.4 trillion, with $400 billion of that kicking in immediately and another $500 billion coming in September.
Keiser Report: Parasites With Bailouts (E228)
Certain Prediction for 2012
By Cal Thomas - PatriotPost.us
According to the Mayan "long count" calendar, the final day on Earth is less than a year away, on Dec. 21, 2012.
While we wait to see if that apocalypse occurs, a more reliable prediction includes an end of a different sort. The economic stimulus pipeline from Washington to the states is about to run dry. This means many governors can be expected to ask their legislatures, or voters, to raise taxes for "essential" programs. To government, all programs are "essential."
According to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), Washington state is planning to put a tax-increase proposal on its ballot in March, while California voters are likely to vote in November on raising taxes. California is a certifiably insolvent state. It is in deep debt because Democratic politicians won't stop spending, not because taxpayers aren't paying their "fair share."
A Run On The Global Banking System—How Close Are We?
By Gonzalo Lira
Nine weeks after its bankruptcy, the general public still hasn’t quite realized the implications of the MF Global scandal.
My own sense is, this is the first tremor of the earthquake that’s coming to the global financial system. And how the central banks and financial regulators treated the "Systemically Important Financial Institutions" that had exposure to MF Global—to the detriment of the ordinary, blameless customer who got royally ripped off in its bankruptcy — is both the template of how the next financial crisis will be handled, and an accelerator that will make the next crisis happen that much sooner.
Obama to Choose Powell, Stein for Fed Board
By Scott Lanman and Roger Runningen - Bloomberg.com
President Barack Obama said he will nominate two former U.S. Treasury Department officials for the Federal Reserve Board, including one who served in a Republican administration.
Jerome Powell, an attorney who was a Treasury undersecretary for former President George H.W. Bush, and Jeremy Stein, a Harvard University economist who has advised the current administration, are Obama’s picks.
If Our Debt Is So Dangerous,
Why Are People Begging for More?
All year long, investors have been desperate to buy U.S. debt. We should let them before it's too late.
By Jordan Weissmann - TheAtlantic.com
In 2011, bond buyers fought tooth and nail to get their hands on U.S. government debt.
This morning, Bloomberg reported that investors' demand for Treasury bonds was the highest it's been since 1995. For taxpayers, the timing could not be better. The more banks, pension funds, and foreign countries clamor for Treasuries, the lower the interest rate our government has to pay. So in this age of gargantuan budget deficits, we're getting dirt-cheap loans to keep the lights on in Capitol Hill.
Washington’s year of drama leaves little done regarding debt
By Lori Montgomery - WashingtonPost.com
Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin roofing contractor-turned-Republican lawmaker, has helped change the way Washington talks about the national debt. That’s not to say he has done much about the debt itself.
Nearly a year ago, Ribble and other newly elected House Republicans came to Capitol Hill on a single-minded mission to shove the federal debt to the top of the congressional agenda. They succeeded. At every opportunity, they demanded cuts in spending, forcing a series ofwhite-knuckle showdowns that have kept the government in a state of perpetual crisis. Washington nudged close to a public conversation about the kind of government taxpayers want and what they are willing to pay for it.
China spared penalty on value of currency
Trade group 'disappointed' by ruling
By Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times
The Obama administration said Tuesday thatChina is making headway on its currency-valuation policies and should not be deemed a currency manipulator — fighting back against top SenateDemocrats who had demanded President Obama sanction the U.S.’s top economic competitor.
The Treasury Department said that while China’s currency is still undervalued, the "misalignment has narrowed over the course of the past 18 months."
Tokyo and Beijing Agree on Currency Pact
By LINGLING WEI and BOB DAVIS in Beijing
and TAKASHI NAKAMICHI in Tokyo - WSJ.com
BEIJING—A wide-ranging currency agreement between China and Japan is expected to give the Chinese yuan a more powerful role in international trade, but Beijing still must make substantial changes in how it manages its economy before the yuan becomes a currency powerhouse on the scale of the dollar or euro.
Economic woes in Europe and U.S. have undermined market confidence in the dollar and euro, but investors looking for a safe place to store their money have few other currency options. China, among other nations, has objected to the primacy of the dollar in international trade, and has suggested other ways to run the international monetary system, including giving a bigger role to the International Monetary Fund and a wider role for the yuan.
Economists React: China-Japan Currency Pact
China Realtime Report - WSJ.com
China and Japan announced a wide-ranging currency accord on Christmas day that is expected to give the yuan a more prominent role in international trade. Among the measures, the two countries agreed to promote direct yuan-yen trade, rather than converting their currencies first to dollars, and also for Japan to hold yuan in its foreign-exchange reserves
What does a more muscular yuan mean for the global economy? Here are views of three prominent economists:
Barry Eichengreen, University of California at Berkeley:
I think the new accord is squarely in line with China’s strategy for internationalizing the yuan, which is to proceed in stages: first encourage its use in trade invoicing and settlement, then encourage its use in international investment, and lastly encourage its use as international reserves. They’ve been moving unilaterally to implement the strategy, most recently permitting offshore holders of yuan to invest in the Chinese stock market.
The Perfect Heist:
Why Government Theft Continues to Go Unnoticed
By Bill Bonner - DailyReckoning.com
12/23/11 Baltimore, Maryland – Today, we doff our caps to the folks at the European Central Bank. They’ve pulled off the perfect heist.
The euro-feds have opened the valves…turned on the spigots…and let nearly a half trillion euros worth of liquidity flow directly into the very same banks that have proven they can’t be trusted with a penny.
But that’s how a zombie system works. The living give. The monsters get.
And since, at this stage of the credit cycle, the living don’t have much to give, the feds turn on the printing presses.
Then, from whom does the money come?
Gotta come from someone, no?
That’s right… When you borrow it, it comes from the people who lend it. When you tax it, it comes from the taxpayers. But whom does it come from when you just print it up?
Will the payroll tax conference committee
be ‘Supercommittee 2.0’?
By Felicia Sonmez
When Congress reconvenes in January, at the top of its agenda will be an effort by a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to strike a deal that either finds savings in the federal budget or raises taxes -- or both.
The mandate of the 20 lawmakers tapped to serve on the payroll tax conference committee is somewhat similar to that of the bipartisan “supercommittee” that fell short in its effort to tame the debt this fall. But there are several key differences between the two panels.
Slowing Inflation Cheers Fed
Easing Price Rises Give Central Bank Room to Spur Growth
By JON HILSENRATH - WSJ.com
U.S. inflation is slowing after a surge early in the year.
This is good news for Americans, as it means the money in their pockets goes further. It also is welcome at the Federal Reserve, which has been counting on an inflation slowdown. It gives the Fed some maneuvering room in 2012 if central-bank officials want to take steps to bolster economic growth.
The slowdown has been apparent for months in some commodities. The price of copper is down 21% from a year earlier. Cotton is down 45%. Natural-gas prices continue to fall, and crude oil has retreated from peaks hit in April, though not as sharply as other commodities.
The Big Lie
Wall Street has destroyed the wonder that was America.
By Michael Thomas - The Daily Beast/Newsweek
Imagine a vast field on which a terrible battle has recently been fought, the bare ground cratered by fusillade after fusillade of heavy artillery, trees reduced to blackened stumps, wisps of toxic gas hanging in the gray, and corpses everywhere.
A terrible scene, made worse by the sound of distant laughter, because somehow, on the heights commanding the dead zone, the officers’ club has made it through intact. From its balconies flutter bunting, and across the blasted landscape there comes a chorus of hearty male voices in counterpoint to the wheedling of cadres of wheel-greasers, the click of betting chips, the orotund declamations of a visiting congressional delegation: in sum, the celebratory hullabaloo of a class of people that has sent entire nations off to perish but whose only concern right now is whether the ’11 is ready to drink and who’ll see to tipping the servants. The notion that there might be someone or some force out there getting ready to slouch toward the buttonwood tree to exact retribution scarcely ruffles the celebrants’ joy.
Badly Written Bad Rules
New studies show the quality of federal regulation is plummeting.
President Obama is leading his regulators in an anvil chorus unlike anything in modern U.S. history. So it is unsurprising but still instructive that independent students of regulation say the quality of the many rules they're putting out seems to be at all-time lows.
Regulatory quality isn't the same as content—though bad rules are usually badly written, as seems to be the case here. Rather, quality refers to a deliberative process: defining the problem; measuring costs, benefits and risks; weighing alternatives, making trade-offs, avoiding duplication; and giving the public opportunity to comment. If all goes well a quality rule will promote or at least not impair "economic growth, innovation, competitiveness and job creation," as Mr. Obama's January 2011 executive order on regulation had it.
U.S. Homes Lose $700 Billion in Value in 2011 --
and That's the Good News
By Sheryl Nance-Nash - DailyFinance.com
The year-end housing news is sobering -- U.S. homes are expected to lose more than $681 billion in value in 2011. But there's an upside -- that's 35% less than the $1.1 trillion lost in 2010, according to newresearchfromZillow (Z), a real estate information marketplace.
What else did the research show? Just nine out of 128 markets analyzed had gains in values in 2011. Bragging rights go to the New Orleans area, where the gains were greatest at $3.5 billion. Pittsburgh claimed the number two spot with a gain of $2.7 billion.
Firms Give U.S. Plans to Rent Seized Homes
By John Gittelsohn - Bloomberg.com
Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG) and Deutsche Bank AG (DB), whose executives played roles in the housing bubble, are among the hundreds of firms that responded to a U.S. government request for proposals to rent out foreclosed homes.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency asked for ideas as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage companies seized by the government in 2008, seek to reduce losses, stabilize neighborhoods and support housing values by turning into rentals a portion of the more than 180,000 repossessed homes in their inventory. The submissions were due by Sept. 15.
Direct Government Interference with Consumption
Mises Daily: by Ludwig von Mises
[Human Action (1949)]
In investigating the economic problems of interventionism we do not have to deal with those actions of the government whose aim it is to influence immediately the consumer's choice of consumers' goods. Every act of government interference with business must indirectly affect consumption. As the government's interference alters the market data, it must also alter the valuations and the conduct of the consumers. But if the aim of the government is merely to force the consumers directly to consume goods other than what they would have consumed in the absence of the government's decree, no special problems emerge to be scrutinized by economics. It is beyond doubt that a strong and ruthless police apparatus has the power to enforce such decrees.
to be carpet-bombed with Vietnam-era
Agent Orange chemical if Dow petition approved
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger - NaturalNews.com
(NaturalNews) A key chemical of one of the most horrifying elements of the Vietnam War -- Agent Orange -- may soon be unleashed on America's farmlands. Considered by world nations to be a "Weapon of Mass Destruction" (WMD), Agent Orange was dropped in the millions of gallons on civilian populations during the Vietnam War in order to destroy foliage and poison North Vietnamese soldiers. The former president of the Vietnamese Red Cross, Professor Nhan, described it as, "...a massive violation of human rights of the civilian population, and a weapon of mass destruction."
A key chemical in that weapon --2,4-D-- is just months away from being dropped on agricultural land across the United States. Dow AgroSciences, which along with DuPont and Monsanto is heavily invested in genetically engineered crops, haspetitioned the U.S. governmentto deregulate a variety of GE corn that's resistant to 2,4-D, which comprises 50% of the recipe of Agent Orange.
You Won't Believe How Corrupt,
Lazy And Stinking Rich Our Congress Critters Have Become
If our founding fathers could see the cesspool that the U.S. Congress has become today, they would roll over in their graves. Most Americans don't realize this, but we already have a "part-time Congress". Members of Congress only "work" a little over a third of the days on the calendar. The rest of the time they have off. It is no wonder why so many members of Congress are involved in so much corruption - they have so much free time on their hands that they are bound to get into trouble. Many members of Congress also use their positions of power and the information they learn during the course of their duties to become fabulously wealthy. At a time when incomes nationally are actually declining, our Congress critters are becoming stinking rich at a staggering pace. Yes, politics in America has always been a game that is funded and played by wealthy individuals, but things have gotten so extreme that it is hard to argue that average Americans have any control over Congress at all at this point. Instead of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people", we now have a government "of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy". If you doubt this, just keep on reading.
Paul Craig Roberts:
We have a republican party that is a Gestapo party
"Full Faith and Credit"
of General Obligation Bonds
Comes to Critical Test in Alabama Bankruptcy
By Mike Shedlock - GlobalEconomicAnalysis.blogspot.com
General obligation bonds are thought to be perfectly safe because they are backed by the ability to tax, no matter what it takes to pay off the obligation. I have been waiting for a test of this theory and that time is at hand.
Jefferson County Alabama filed the biggest bankruptcy in the history of the US and has stopped paying interest on its general obligation bonds. For background details, please see Jefferson County Alabama Hires Bankruptcy Firm; Record Municipal Bankruptcy Coming; Death Spiral Swaps and JPMorgan Fraud Revisited.
Sears to shut up to 120 stores as woes deepen
Moves signal 'deepening problem'’ and 'desperation,' analyst says
By Andria Cheng and Robert Daniel, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — At a time when overall holiday season sales have turned out better than expected, Sears Holdings Corp. was an exception: It said Tuesday that it will close up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores after disappointing holiday sales.
Its stock, having already lost 37% of its value this year, tumbled 27% to $33.38, their lowest since December 2008 and the biggest percentage drop in at least 10 years. Sears also was the biggest decliner among S&P 500 component stocks.
Sears Will Not Close Enough Stores
The numbers do not add up. Sears Holdings has over 4,000 full-line and specialty stores. Same-store sales for the eight weeks which ended December 25 were down 5.2%. That figure represents a sharp acceleration of negative numbers from the earlier part of 2011. But, Sears Holdings only plans to close 100 to 120 Kmart and Sears Full-line stores.
Sears is in great enough trouble so that shuttering 3% of locations barely dents the problem. The Kmart and Sears store networks must have a larger portion of their outlets which underperform enough not to be profitable, or are only marginally so.
Many Sears, Kmart stores to close
Retailers recorded soft holiday sales
By Michelle Chapman
and Anne D'Innocenzio - AP - WashingtonTimes.com
NEW YORK — Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores to raise cash after a weak holiday shopping season for the retailer.
The closings fueled speculation about whether the 125-year-old retailer can turn itself around.
The closings are the latest and most visible in a long series of moves to try to fix a company that has struggled with falling sales and shabby stores as rivals such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. spruced up their looks and turned into one-stop shopping sources.
Up to 120 Sears, Kmart Stores to Close
U.S. Home Prices Fell More Than Forecast
By Timothy R. Homan - Bloomberg.com
Residential real estate prices dropped more than forecast in the year ended October, showing a broad-based decline that indicates the U.S. housing market continues to be weighed down by foreclosures.
The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities dropped 3.4 percent from October 2010 after decreasing 3.5 percent in the year ended September, the New York-based group said today. The median forecast of 27 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected a 3.2 percent decrease.
U.S. home prices drop in October: Case-Shiller
By Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — U.S. home prices took a step backward for a second month in October, according to a key index released Tuesday.
The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite index fell 1.2% in October to moves its 12-month drop to 3.4%. After five straight months of gains starting in April, prices have started to cool. The gauge isn’t seasonally adjusted, and there is generally greater interest in buying homes during the spring and summer.
Real House Prices and House Price-to-Rent
A monthly update: Case-Shiller, CoreLogic and others report nominal house prices. However it is also useful to look at house prices in real terms (adjusted for inflation) and as a price-to-rent ratio.
Below are three graphs showing nominal prices (as reported), real prices and a price-to-rent ratio. Real prices are back to 1999/2000 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is also back to 2000 levels.
The Worst Time Of The Year?
For a lot of Americans, this is the worst time of the year. If you don't have any money, it can be really hard to hear others go on and on about how good "Santa Claus" was to them this year. For many, there is simply not much to be cheerful about as the year ends. There are millions of people in this country that do not have a "happy family" to spend the holidays with, there are millions of people in this country that do not have any money to spend on gifts, and there are millions of people that are either already sleeping in the streets or that are in imminent danger of losing their homes. It can be really difficult to feel "holiday cheer" when you are freezing cold and you don't have any food in your stomach. The realization that you are not going to enjoy any of the good things that other people get to enjoy this time of the year is enough to push many people over the edge. Yes, for most of the country this time of the year is filled with food, family and fun but for millions of others this time of the year tends to magnify despair, depression and thoughts of suicide. If you are blessed as we get ready to enter 2012, please remember those out there that are really hurting. If someone does not help them, they might not make it to 2013.
Hospital is facing a bleak prognosis
A Victorville hospital has agreed to deals with Prime Healthcare, which has a record of stripping out low-margin or unprofitable medical services.
By Michael Hiltzik - LATimes.com
Back in September, Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris killed the proposed takeover of a struggling Victorville hospital by a nonprofit arm of Prime Healthcare Corp., saying it was "not in the public interest."
Her ruling was anything but casual. Basing the decision on what she said was her own department's investigation, as well as testimony at a marathon public hearing in August, Harris indicated that the takeover would result in the reduced availability of healthcare in the High Desert.
How to Ace a Google Interview
Brain teasers like the ones used for hiring by the Internet giant are spreading to other picky employers.
By WILLIAM POUNDSTONE - WSJ.com
Imagine a man named Jim. He's applying for a job at Google. Jim knows that the odds are stacked against him. Google receives a million job applications a year. It's estimated that only about 1 in 130 applications results in a job. By comparison, about 1 in 14 high-school students applying to Harvard gets accepted.
Jim's first interviewer is late and sweaty: He's biked to work. He starts with some polite questions about Jim's work history. Jim eagerly explains his short career. The interviewer doesn't look at him. He's tapping away at his laptop, taking notes. "The next question I'm going to ask," he says, "is a little unusual."
If Your Teeth Could Talk ...
The Mouth Offers Clues to Disorders and Disease;
Dentists Could Play Larger Role in Patient Care
By MELINDA BECK - WSJ.com
The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth provides an even better view of the body as a whole.
Some of the earliest signs of diabetes, cancer, pregnancy, immune disorders, hormone imbalances and drug issues show up in the gums, teeth and tongue — sometimes long before a patient knows anything is wrong.
There's also growing evidence that oral health problems, particularly gum disease, can harm a patient's general health as well, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia and pregnancy complications.
Scientists make virus even more deadly
Debate Persists on Deadly Flu Made Airborne
By DENISE GRADY and DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. - NYTimes.com
The young scientist, normally calm and measured, seemed edgy when he stopped by his boss’s office.
"You are not going to believe this one," he told Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. "I think we have an airborne H5N1 virus."
The news, delivered one afternoon last July, was chilling. It meant that Dr. Fouchier’s research group had taken one of the most dangerous flu viruses ever known and made it even more dangerous — by tweaking it genetically to make it more contagious.
President Obama and the Spread of Security Theater
During his tenure, the TSA has demeaned air travelers --
and if his administration gets its way, boat, train and truck passengers are next.
By Conor Friedersdorf - TheAtlantic.com
My colleague James Fallows, as indispensable on the air-travel beat as he is on all the others he covers, has a good post up recounting his interactions with the Transportation Security Administration during his holiday travels. On this subject he and I are of the same mind: that most of the demeaning inconveniences we face in airports are "security theater" that do little if anything to make us safer, and are worthy of small, symbolic protests by freedom-loving citizens. But I would urge him to reconsider a small part of his conclusion, where he writes the following:
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