Saturday, September 12, 2009

Noteworthy - Week of September 6th

I apologize for adding commentary to the news this week. I usually oppose doing so, as I would like this blog to remain as neutral as possible, with regards to the news, but I couldn't help myself this week after the witnessing just how unresponsive the mainstream media has become today. To me, it is criminal how little they are reporting to the American people and how little they are questioning about what is really going on in our country. It's almost as though the media is willing giving up their 1st Amendment rights to the government.

With that said, here is the news from the past week:

President Obama's Green Energy Czar Van Jones stepped down at 12:01 AM on Sunday amid controversy surrounding his signing of a 9/11 Truther statement, which believes the U.S. allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur so that President Bush could go to war in the Middle East. Van Jones stated in his resignation that he was the target of a conservative smear campaign (although that it used his own words). The mainstream media had not published an article on the czar until the resignation, including the news that led to Mr. Jones' resignation. Fox News Commentator Glenn Beck had issued in-depth coverage of Mr. Jones in the weeks leading up to his resignation using clips of the Green Energy Czar, in his own words, to help his viewers understand Mr. Jones' background. As it turns out, Van Jones is a self-avowed communist, who believes that white people are poisoning minorities and, who produced a radical speech album entitled "Wartimes- Reports from the Opposition" with convicted cop killer and former black panther Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Why is it that the President handpicked Van Jones to be his advisor? Why has he selected other radical-type people as his advisors? Is Van Jones the type of person that represents America? And why did the mainstream media fail to cover or look into Mr. Jones? President Obama's senior advisor Valerie Jones said earlier this year that the White House had been following Van Jones since his early days in Oakland (when he was a well-known radical activist).

Here is a link to the video (Parts 1-5) in which Glenn Beck exposes that Van Jones had, indeed, signed a 9/11 Truther statement that, ultimately, led to his resignation.

On Wednesday, House Democrats succeeded in pushing forward the nomination of controversial Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Among Mr. Sunstein's controversial views are:
  • Animals should be able to sue their owners, with attorneys representing them, for violations of existing animal protection laws (as stated in his book Animal Rights in 2004);
  • The 1st Amendment needs to be reformulated
  • The belief in a 2nd Bill of Rights, which FDR supported, that would give Americans the right to right to an education, a right to a home, a right to health care, and a right to protection against monopolies;
  • Citizens should celebrate tax day since taxes bring liberty to a nation
The new FCC chief Julius Genachowski is coming under fire after hiring civil rights attorney, Mark Lloyd, who has been critical of corporate-owned media in the past, to promote diversity in media ownership. Mr. Lloyd has been critical of conservative viewpoints, especially in regards to talk radio, and has suggested that a fully funded U.S. network, such as the BBC in England, would give the government more power to choose what programs are aired. Other statements by Lloyd include him speaking out against the 1st Amendment and supporting Hugo Chavez's "incredible--dramatic-- revolution." Here is a video of Mr. Lloyd's words.

The role of White House Czars, which currently stand at more than 30 and are not subjected to Congressional approval or oversight, has sparked debate in Congress in light of the Van Jones controversy and President Obama's unusually high number of appointees.

On Thursday morning, a video came to light that essentially no mainstream media outlets, except Fox News, have reported about. The video, an under cover investigation into ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), shows a "pimp" and his 20-year old "prostitute" talking to two ACORN advisors in Baltimore, MD about a house, which they would like to setup for prostitution purposes. The couple mentions that 13 young illegal aliens from El Salvador will be coming to stay at the house and participate in the business as well. The ACORN advisors then devise a way for the duo to set up the business legally, acknowledging fully that what they are doing is illegal, and advises that the couple might be able to claim the girls as dependents but that they definitely should not claim any income that they earn.

On Friday, a similar video by the same pair was published online. This time, the under cover reporters investigated a Washington, D.C. ACORN office and had similar results there, too.

One has to wonder when (or if) the mainstream media will decide to cover these investigations into an organization with ties to President Obama, which is also receiving funding from the federal government, including up to $8.5 billion in stimulus money.

The Census Bureau announced on Friday that it had cut ties with ACORN after four employees were fired this week amid the undercover investigations in Baltimore and Washington D.C. ACORN is also being investigated for voter fraud in at least 13 states.

In other news, President Obama made his health care reform pitch before a full session of Congress on Wednesday evening. The speech was widely regarded as partisan in nature, although the President sent a message to all parties that it was time to work together to find the reform that America is looking for. Obama stated his plan would cost $900BB and money for funding would come from Medicare fraud reduction (which the President states is rampant), cost savings, and taxes.

One should question, however, why the President has not tackled the apparent rampant fraud in Medicare during his first eight months in office, especially if it could save the government millions of dollars in taxpayer revenue during the time of a financial crisis. He has tackled every other area of the economy and government, why not this one? Is it not (borderline) treasonous to fail to do so, considering the dire circumstances and uncertainty of our country?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, citizens insured through the government grew by 1.2% last year to a total of 29% of the population or 87.4MM. Medicare, Medicaid and the Children Health Insurance Program, a federal program for children of low-income families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, were the main insurance groups.

Up to two million people marched on Washington D.C. on Saturday in protest of government spending, lack of fiscal responsibility and big government.

According to the stimulus bill passed earlier this year, the government plans on spending $100 million to map broadband availability-- a project some say should cost no more than $3.5 million.

The U.S. trade gap widened significantly during the month of July to 16.3% or $31.96BB. Imports surged 4.7% to $159.55BB, while exports gained only 2.2% to $127.59BB, creating concern that the U.S. economy will lag other nations out of the global recession.

The dollar sank to its lowest level this year this week, as investors continued to seek foreign and more risky assets, seeing green shoots in Asia and fearing the dollar is losing its place as the global standard.

The Census Bureau's annual report on living standards stated that the inflation-adjusted median household income fell 3.6% last year to $50,303, the steepest drop in forty years, and the poverty rate reached 13.2%, the highest level since 1997.

Job openings in July fell to the lowest number since tracking began in 2000 to 2.4 million jobs-- half the peak of the high of 4.8 million in mid-2007.

For the sixth consecutive month, Americans borrowed less, increasing concern that trend will continue and holding an economic recovery at bay.

Consumers and economists alike are feeling more confident about the economy according to preliminary University of Michigan results and a survey of forecasters by the Wall Street Journal.

Public unwillingness to send more troops to Afghanistan might pit the Democrat-majority Congress against the White House.

Iran rejected any compromise of its nuclear program this week and Ahmadinejad chastised the Obama administration for interfering in Iranian affairs. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Iran this week and promised the nation 20,000 barrels/day of refined gasoline to the nation, interfering with the U.S.'s sanctions against Iran, which is an oil-rich but gas poor nation. Russia stated this week that it wouldn't back any new rounds of sanctions against Iran and dismissed a U.S. timetable for the nation to end its nuclear power program.

The European Central Bank warned in its monthly bulletin for September, which was published on Thursday, that resurgent protectionism is a real threat to the economic global recovery.

Friday night, the Obama administration stated that the U.S. will begin placing a 35% tariff on Chinese tires, with a plan to reduce the tariff by 5% each of the next two years. The decision comes just two weeks before G-20 leaders are to meet in Pittsburgh in which trade tension and economic disputes are expected to be discussed. At the meeting the Obama administration is expected to ask for new sanctions on Iran to combat its nuclear program and China's vote in the UN Security Council is pivotal.

As a background, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, is widely considered to have exacerbated the Great Depression, as many of the countries penalized by the U.S. retaliated to save their own economies. Are we going down the same path?

Multinational companies are fighting Argentina's proposed doubling of its value-added tax (to 21%) on electronic goods not produced in the Tierra del Fuego special economic zone.

The Obama administration is hoping to further deregulate international travel, allowing Japan and other nations within Europe to participate in an "open skies" program with U.S. airlines.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged continued stimulus in China, stating that the world's third largest economy still faced persistent problems and uncertainties despite an upturn in growth.
China reported a 12.3% growth rate for August versus 10.8% in July-- the 4th consecutive month of acceleration in growth.

Chinese airlines and shippers are threatening to default on payments of oil-derivative contracts they entered into with foreign banks last year. Both industries lost hundreds of millions of dollars as oil prices turned south in late 2008. The Chinese government this week backed their decision to fight the derivative losses.

Taiwan's premier and cabinet members announced their resignations this week, a move not uncommon in the nations young democracy.

France is likely to start taxing carbon emissions on both household and corporations starting next year. As of January 1, a special tax of 17 Euro ($24.74) will be levied per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted of fossil fuels, in hopes of transitioning the country toward more environmentally friendly goods. The tax falls short of the 32 Euro per metric ton and subsequent 5% annual increase until the tax reached 100 Euro per metric ton in 2030 that PM Sarkozy recommended. France's citizens support the special tax.

Three major oil manufacturers have agreed to develop the huge Gorgon natural gas field off the remote northeast coast of Australia. The field is expected to go online in 2014, more than 30 years after it was discovered. Australia is currently the sixth largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) but could become #1 in the world by 2020 and be a key supplier to the emerging markets in Asia. The field is expected to produce 15 million tons of gas per year, nearly twice as much as the next largest natural gas field in Australia.

The U.S. was able to successfully sell $70BB worth of Treasuries this week, as a slow economic recovery outlook continued to damper inflation expectations, allowing Treasury rates to stay low. The Treasury, however, remains concerned that Congress will not lift the nation's debt ceiling and is preparing for alternative measures should the legislative branch balk.

The FDIC's emergency guarantee program is set to end October 31, which will test the strength of the American banking system without extraordinary government assistance.

E-mails brought to light this week showed that UBS was concerned about CDOs in the summer and fall of 2007. A Connecticut judge ordered the company to set aside $35.5 million to cover a potential judgment against the company in a CDO case.

Senator Chris Dodd's decision to remain on the Senate Banking Committee raised the chances of an overhaul of the financial rules in the U.S.


Africa:

After a six-year trial, Former Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, was cleared of corruption charges after a judge ruled the funds couldn't be traced to the government.


The Americas:

Brazil's GDP rose 1.9% during the second quarter, officially pulling the nation out of a recession. Monetary easing, government spending and tax cuts were responsible for the quick turnaround.

Mexico City's water supply is running dangerously low as drought has wreaked havoc on one of the world's most populated cities.

Mexico's oil output is falling faster than expected, increasing the likelihood that it will lose its status as a major oil exporter in the near future, worsening an already strained economy.

New Los Angeles school superintendent Ramon Cortines plans to expose the city's school system in hopes of creating enough embarrassment and outrage to break the logjam in the school board, city leadership and teachers union that has hindered past attempts at change.

Starting Tuesday, federal contractors will be required to use an electronic system to verify their employees' work eligibility in the U.S.

Regulators seized Corus Bank on Friday, making it the 91st bank to close its doors this year and the first to be done in by deteriorating construction and commercial real estate loans.

Harvard and Yale, two of the largest endowments in the U.S., both stated that they lost 30% of their value for the year ending June 30-- a combined $17.8BB drop for the universities. Columbia University announced a 21% decline in its endowment during the past year.

Cadbury rejected a $16.73BB offer to be acquired by Kraft Foods early this week. The news, which was released by Kraft, is certain to draw the attention and stir bidding by the food giant's competitors. According to reports, Kraft is especially interested in Cadbury's established Latin America and Indian brands. Cadbury estimates that more than half of India's population has never tasted chocolate, providing the company with a huge potential of growth.

Wynn Resorts won regulatory approval to list its Macau assets on the Hong Kong stock exchange. The firm is expected to raise $1 billion in the IPO.

A group of Microsoft competitors are scrambling to acquire a set of patents formerly owned by the technology giant in order to avert any legal threat to the Linux operating system.

Steve Jobs appeared in public for the first time since receiving a liver transplant earlier this year, taking the stage at an event in San Francisco.

Monsanto said that it would cut more jobs as the world's largest seed company's Roundup herbicide revenue is suffering due to competitive generic Chinese products.

John Mack stepped down as CEO of Morgan Stanley this week; he will be succeeded by brokerage chief James Gordon. Mack plans to stay as chairman of the board.

Procter and Gamble announced that it will cut prices, expand overseas and reposition its Cheer brand as a low-price detergent in order to enhance its lackluster profits.

Bloomberg, as well as a few private equity companies, has expressed interest in McGraw-Hill's BusinessWeek assets.

A Greenwich Village restaurant in New York City is no longer accepting cash as payment in their establishment, unless it is as a tip for waiters. The high-end restaurant, Commerce, is adopting a strictly credit or debit card system.


Asia:

Kai-Fu Lee, an executive, who resigned from Google last week and has also worked for Microsoft, announced his plans to create a Chinese technology incubation company called Innovation Works, which he hopes will create five start-ups per year and allow the firm to keep a 10-20%+ stake in each. Mr. Lee plans to use $115MM in capitalization to start the company.

China will sell 600 billion Yuan ($878.4 MM) in debt on September 28th in Hong Kong, marking the first offering of Yuan sovereign debt outside of Mainland China.

China's $300BB sovereign wealth fund is considering a big investment in distressed U.S. real estate. Lower Manhattan is feeling the pain of the office-supply glut.

In a landmark case, a Hong Kong judge convicted a former Morgan Stanley banker of nine counts of insider dealing this week.

Inflationary pressures are causing the Indian central bank to reconsider its loose monetary policy stance.

Indian farmers are watching their crops wilt away, as India's drought continues to wreak havoc on agriculture there. Demand for products, such as sugar, have caused prices to increase dramatically and forced the nation to input many goods. India is the world's largest consumer of sugar.

India's largest cell phone provider by subscribers, Bhardi, raised its bid for South African MTN Group. The transaction would create one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world with more than 200MM subscribers and $20BB in revenue and be the largest cross-border deal in Indian history.

The Japanese economy grew less than initially reported in the second quarter. The Cabinet Office reported that GDP grew 2.3%, rather than the initially reported 3.7%.

Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's former president, was sentenced to life in prison on charges of corruption.


Commodities:

EnCana will receive $3.5BB for spinning off its oil sands business.

Gold climbed to more than $1,000/oz. this week, as investors flocked to the precious metal amid uncertainty of the U.S. dollar and world economy. Silver continued its upward rise this week as well, ending the week near $17/oz.

Natural gas soared 15% on Thursday as a slightly smaller-than-expected increase in U.S. gas supplies versus last week was reported and investors turned their thoughts to the upcoming winter season. Meanwhile, many storage facilities and gas-related production companies are benefiting from the commodity's oversupply.


Europe:

A strengthening Euro is threatening to put a damper on the European recovery and tying the hands of the European Central Bank.

Major companies are pressing their weight on Ireland to approve the EU Treaty that the nation rejected just a year ago, arguing that the fragile state of the island's economy is too dire to further reject the so-called Lisbon Treaty again. Opponents argue that the country would be giving up its sovereignty.

Spain announced tax hikes and budget cuts in order to gain a better grip on the nation's struggling financial situation. The move follows similar actions by Ireland; England is considering taking action as well.

The Bank of England kept its interest rates and bond-buying program unchanged. The bank's key interest rate has been at 0.5% since March. A senior reporter of Dow Jones stated this week that investors might be discounting just how much inflation the central bank is willing to take on.

Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom plan to merge their U.K. operations to form the nation's largest cell phone operator.


Middle East:

Dubai opened its first driver-less, air-conditioned mass transit railway this week after four years of planning and construction. The transit system--the first in the UAE-- is expected to reduce traffic congestion by as much as 17%.


Oceania:

Australians in mining towns are starting to warm to Chinese investment in mines there, as many Western companies have suspended projects due to lack of financing and weakened commodity pricing.


Et Cetera:

This week's Barron's "Up & Down Wall Street" by Alan Albelson.

Barron's review of this week's market news and its preview of next week's market events.

The Economist's review of this week's politics and business news.

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