USA 2008: The Great Depression

Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world’s richest country faces economic crisis

We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.


Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York

Read moreUSA 2008: The Great Depression

IMF Approves Selling 400 Tons Of Gold

Washington (AHN) – The executive board of the International Monetary Fund has approved the sale of some 440.3 tons of its gold supplies in a wide-ranging financial overhaul and to replenish its depleting coffers.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF managing director, welcomed the board’s move on Monday, the action seen as a buffer to the expected $400 million budget deficit the Washington-based lending institution could experience in the next few years.

The board is projecting to generate at least $11 billion from the sale of at least 12 percent of its gold reserve. The money to be generated from the sales would fund the reorganization of the IMF and finance lending to needing countries.

Read moreIMF Approves Selling 400 Tons Of Gold

Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Huge budget deficit means millions more face starvation.

Ears of wheat growing in a field. Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty images

The United Nations warned yesterday that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices, which have created a “new face of hunger”.

Read moreFeed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

IMF: mortgage crisis may cost $945bn worldwide

The International Monetary Fund released its semiannual Global Financial Stability Report, predicting that the economic crisis “is spreading beyond the US subprime market.” The report comes ahead of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings.

The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday the worldwide losses stemming from the US subprime mortgage crisis could hit 945 billion dollars as the impact spreads in the global economy.

Read moreIMF: mortgage crisis may cost $945bn worldwide

Fed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has reduced the key federal funds rate six times in as many months — reducing the cost for major borrowers significantly. This combines with providing $270 million in funding, plus $30 billion in additional guarantees, for JP Morgan Chase to buy Bear Stearns Cos.

“Helicopter Ben” is living up to the nickname he earned after he remarked in a 2002 speech that he would stave off a recession even if he had to drop money from helicopters to do it.

The results of these policies have been destructive. The dollar is collapsing not only against foreign currencies — we’re now at par with the Canadian dollar and rocketing toward a 2-1 deficit against the Euro — but also against commodities. Gold was passing the $1,000-an-ounce landmark, silver $20. Even industrial metals like copper and zinc are fetching record prices.

Now, a spike in a particular commodity — say, for instance, $100-per-barrel oil — can be attributed to a shortage. But when they all move dramatically and simultaneously, it’s the purchasing power of our money that has gone down.

In fact, the increasing cost of even the base metals recently prompted Edmund Moy, director of the United States Mint, to propose further debasing the copper and nickel-plated, zinc slugs we call coins by substituting color-coated steel.

Read moreFed’s interest rate games could destroy the dollar

World Bank Expects More High Food Prices

Rising food prices, which have caused social unrest in several countries, are not a temporary phenomenon, but are likely to persist for several years, World Bank President Robert Zoellick says.

Strong demand, change in diet and the use of biofuels as an alternative source of energy have reduced world food stocks to a level bordering on an emergency, he says.

Speaking to reporters Monday before the bank’s spring meeting this coming weekend, Zoellick said the 185-member World Bank would work with other organizations to deal with the crisis by seeking ways to help farmers, especially in Africa, to increase productivity and improve access to food through schools or workplaces.

“This is not a this-year phenomenon,” he said, referring to the price spike. “I think it is going to continue for some time.”

Read moreWorld Bank Expects More High Food Prices

Food prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

LONDON – Staple food prices will rise for some years, but should eventually fall to historical averages as harvests increase, biofuel company executives said on Thursday.

Soaring demand for better quality food from rapidly industrializing emerging markets such as China, supply shortages, increased demand for biofuels, and a surging appetite for food commodities by investment funds, have combined to push prices of basic foods higher and higher in recent months.

Stephane Delodder, managing partner of Netherlands-based consultancy iFuel Corporate Advisory, told a conference the problem of rising food prices would persist for some years.

Market forces should eventually help rebalance supply and demand, especially in markets which are not highly regulated, but this could take some time.

“(It could be) a few years at most before the situation returns to normal,” Delodder said.

He said grains and oilseed futures markets, which have corrected down recently after meteoric rises, may already be signaling that supply will rise as farmers raise plantings.

Read moreFood prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

Lawmakers Heavily Invested in Defense

WASHINGTON (AP) – Members of Congress have as much as $196 million collectively invested in companies doing business with the Defense Department, earning millions since the onset of the Iraq war, according to a study by a nonpartisan research group.

Read moreLawmakers Heavily Invested in Defense

We spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT

BT tested secret “spyware” on tens of thousands of its broadband customers without their knowledge, it admitted yesterday.

It carried out covert trials of a system which monitors every internet page a user visits.

Companies can exploit such data to target users with tailored online advertisements.

An investigation into the affair has been started by the Information Commissioner, the personal data watchdog.

Privacy campaigners reacted with horror, accusing BT of illegal interception on a huge scale. Yesterday, the company was forced to admit that it had monitored the web browsing habits of 36,000 customers.

The scandal came to light only after some customers stumbled across tell-tale signs of spying. At first, they were wrongly told a software virus was to blame.


BT carried out undercover trials of a system which records every website a customer visits (below)

Executives insisted they had not broken the law and said no “personally identifiable information” had been shared or divulged.

BT said it randomly chose 36,000 broadband users for a “small-scale technical trial” in 2006 and 2007.

The monitoring system, developed by U.S. software company Phorm, accesses information from a computer.

It then scans every website a customer visits, silently checking for keywords and building up a unique picture of their interests.

If a user searches online to buy a holiday or expensive TV, for example, or looks for internet dating services or advice on weight loss, the Phorm system will add all the information to their file.

One BT customer who spotted unexplained problems with his computer was told repeatedly by BT helpdesk staff that a virus was to blame.

Read moreWe spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT