IBM joins Lockheed on FBI identification contract

IBM Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. have agreed to work together on the $1 billion contract to develop and maintain the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, IBM said today. Federal, state and local authorities will use the new multimodal biometrics system.

Lockheed Martin won the 10-year contract in February, but IBM lodged a protest with the Government Accountability Office and work was held up. Big Blue’s announcement that it is joining Lockheed Martin’s team as a subcontractor made no mention of the protest.

As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin will provide program management and oversight in addition to biometric and large-systems development and integration expertise, the news release said. As a subcontractor, IBM will provide some information technology services in addition to specific software and hardware to be used in the NGI system.

NGI is an upgrade to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which collects and stores fingerprints related to law enforcement investigations.

The system will expand fingerprint processing capacity and also include palm prints and iris- and facial-recognition capabilities. The system requires a significant degree of technical flexibility to accommodate other biometric modalities that may mature and become important to law enforcement efforts in the future.

When completed, the system will double the FBI’s IAFIS capabilities. The Clarksburg, W.Va., facility houses the largest collection of its kind in the world — more than 46 million sets of digitized fingerprints. Searches require only a matter of minutes.

In addition to IBM, the Lockheed Martin team includes Accenture Ltd, BAE Systems Information Technology Inc., Global Science and Technology Inc., Innovative Management and Technology Services LLC, Platinum Solutions Inc. and the National Center for State Courts.

05/02/08 — 04:17 PM
By David Hubler

Source: Washington Technology

Fed joins with European banks to battle credit crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve announced Friday that it will expand a series of efforts to deal with the global credit crisis, in coordination with European central banks.The Fed said it was boosting the amount of emergency reserves it supplies to U.S. banks to $150 billion in May, from the $100 billion it supplied in April. The Fed took this action and several other moves to boost credit in coordination with the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank.

The latest moves are part of a series of actions the Fed has made since the credit crisis struck in August.

The efforts are designed to increase reserves so that banks don’t become hesitant about lending to consumers and businesses, which would make the current economic slowdown even more severe.

(The continuing bailouts are destroying the dollar and will create a total crash very soon. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreFed joins with European banks to battle credit crisis

Fed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls


Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, arrives at the Federal Reserve building for a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, April 29, 2008. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg News

May 2 (Bloomberg) — A month after the Federal Reserve rescued Bear Stearns Cos. from bankruptcy, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke got an S.O.S. from Congress.

There is “a potential crisis in the student-loan market” requiring “similar bold action,” Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and six other Democrats wrote Bernanke. They want the Fed to swap Treasury notes for bonds backed by student loans. In a separate letter, Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Paul Kanjorski and 31 House members said they want Bernanke to channel money directly to education-finance firms.

Student loans are just the start. Former Fed officials and other Fed-watchers say that Bernanke’s actions in saving Bear Stearns will expose the central bank to continuing pressure to use its $889 billion balance sheet to prop up companies or entire industries deemed important by politicians. The Fed satisfied Dodd’s request today, expanding the swaps to include securities backed by student debt.

“It is appalling where we are right now,” former St. Louis Fed President William Poole, who retired in March, said in an interview. The Fed has introduced “a backstop for the entire financial system.”

Critics argue that the result will be to foster greater risk-taking among investors emboldened by the belief that the government will bail them out of bad decisions.

The Fed’s loans to Bear Stearns were “a rogue operation,” said Anna Schwartz, who co-wrote “A Monetary History of the United States” with the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

`No Business’

“To me, it is an open and shut case,” she said in an interview from her office in New York. “The Fed had no business intervening there.”

Read moreFed `Rogue Operation’ Spurs Further Bailout Calls

Federal Reserve may Want Inflation

We are now importing inflation. This does not only apply to the cost of commodities, such as oil, but also to consumer goods imported from Asia. This is a newer trend as, in our analysis, Asia had been exporting deflation until the summer of 2006; since then, we have seen increased pricing power by Asian exporters.

Inflation is not just a U.S. phenomenon; as Asian economies are far more dependent on agricultural and industrial commodities, rising inflation may become a serious concern in the region. The stronger and more prudent Asian central banks may realize that allowing their currencies to float higher versus the U.S. dollar may be the most effective way to combat inflationary pressures.

Read moreFederal Reserve may Want Inflation

Iran dumps U.S. dollars in oil transactions

TEHRAN – Iran had totally removed U.S. dollars in the country’s oil transactions, an Oil Ministry official said on Wednesday.

“The dollar has completely been removed from our oil trade….Crude oil customers have agreed with us to use other currencies (in the trade),” Oil Ministry official Hojjatollah Ghanimifard was quoted as saying by the state television.

“We make our transactions with euros in Europe, but yen in Asia,” he added.

Due to the tensions with Washington in the past years over the nuclear disputes and the latest depreciation of dollars, Iran has vowed to decrease the greenback in its foreign trade. Iran central bank also has reduced dollars in the country’s foreign reserves. In last November’s summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Saudi Arabia, Iran proposed that it was necessary to replace the U.S. dollar with other major hard currencies in oil trading.

(In the past such actions were enough for the U.S. to start a war. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreIran dumps U.S. dollars in oil transactions

Rockefellers urge action on climate change

One of America’s most powerful families will call tomorrow for a sweeping shake-up at the top of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company.

A group of descendants of John D. Rockefeller, who founded Exxon’s predecessor Standard Oil in 1870, will begin a campaign to split the role of chief executive and chairman of the board at the oil and gas group, a role held by Rex Tillerson.

Last night the family group issued a statement saying that the company’s leadership was “failing to address the future of energy and related industry hurdles”.
It said that representatives would make an announcement in New York to explain “that a majority of the family is now so concerned about the direction of ExxonMobil Corporation that it is urging a major change”.

Exxon, which earned $40 billion (£20 billion) last year, when Mr Tillerson was paid $21.7 million, was the slowest of the big oil majors to acknowledge climate change. The family is calling for an independent chairman and a bigger leadership role for the directors. The campaign comes as big oil companies face mounting pressure to deal with public concern over global warming.

Read moreRockefellers urge action on climate change

U.S. risks stagflation, says BIS chief

BASEL, Switzerland, April 29 (Reuters) – Stagflation is an increasingly plausible prospect in the United States and weak economic growth could last well into 2009, if not longer, the head of the Bank for International Settlements says.

That does not herald a rerun of the economic stagnation and rampant inflation that ran riot during the 1970s when oil prices last soared to unprecedented levels, Malcolm Knight, BIS general manager, said in an interview.

But it does cast some doubt on the White House’s thesis that the economy will rebound in the second half of 2008 in response to the tens of billions of dollars of tax rebates the government will be delivering to U.S. households in the coming weeks.

“I see a certain amount of scope for stagflation in a number of economies and that usually tends to result in subpar economic growth performance for an extended period of time, which could go well into 2009 or even longer,” said Knight, a Canadian who worked for more than 20 years at the International Monetary Fund.

“I think the U.S. economy is likely to experience weakness this year and in much of 2009,” said Knight, speaking to Reuters at BIS headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

“Stagflation is a definite risk.”

Read moreU.S. risks stagflation, says BIS chief

Bank bail-outs to be kept secret

The Bank of England has imposed a permanent news blackout on its £50bn-plus plan to ease the credit crunch.

Ferocious and unprecedented secrecy means taxpayers will never know the names of the banks that have been supported through the special liquidity scheme, which was unveiled by Bank Governor Mervyn King last week.

Requests under the Freedom of Information Act are to be denied. Details will be kept secret even after 30 years – the period after which all but the most sensitive state documents are released.

Any Bank of England employee leaking the names of institutions involved will face court action for breach of contract.

Even a figure for the overall amount advanced will not be published until October. Meanwhile the Bank is expected to issue at least £50bn of Treasury bills to banks in exchange for their mortgages – entirely in secret.

Read moreBank bail-outs to be kept secret

Former workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

WASHINGTON — KBR employees working in Iraq stole weapons, artwork and even gold to make spurs for cowboy boots, two former company workers told Senate Democrats on Monday.

Appearing before a Democrats-only panel looking into allegations of contracting abuses in Iraq, the witnesses accused their former co-workers of widespread improper activity.


Linda Warren, former employee of KBR, shows the flag she brought back from Iraq during testimony on Capitol Hill on Monday. Warren said many of her colleagues stole numerous items while doing reconstruction work in Iraq.
SUSAN WALSH
: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Read moreFormer workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

DynCorp Manager Used Armored Car To Transport Hookers in Iraq

Some explosive testimony this afternoon from a panel of whistleblowers testifying before the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee on contractor abuse in Iraq.

A contractor died when a DynCorp manager used an employee’s armored car to transport prostitutes, according to Barry Halley, a Worldwide Network Services employee working under a DynCorp subcontract.

“DynCorp’s site manager was involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by DynCorp. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was travelling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by the contractor’s manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Other revelations:

– Kellogg Brown & Root contractors used to destroy countless quantities of still-usable equipment that was difficult to transport in “massive burn pits” that were “burning 24 hours a day.”

– KBR’s ice foreman “was cheating the troops out of ice at the same time that he was trading the ice for DVDs, CDs, food and other items at the Iraqi shops across the street.”

– When KBR whistleblower Frank Cassaday reported weapons looting, he was placed in a jail tent by KBR security.

– KBR employees looted Iraqi palaces for treasure to sell on eBay.

Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Source: Muckraked

Wall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

April 28 (Bloomberg) — As farmers confront mounting costs and riots erupt from Haiti to Egypt over food, Garry Niemeyer is paying the price for Wall Street’s speculation in grain markets.

Commodity-index funds control a record 4.51 billion bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans through Chicago Board of Trade futures, equal to half the amount held in U.S. silos on March 1. The holdings jumped 29 percent in the past year as investors bought grain contracts seeking better returns than stocks or bonds. The buying sent crop prices and volatility to records and boosted the cost for growers and processors to manage risk.

Niemeyer, who farms 2,200 acres in Auburn, Illinois, won’t use futures to protect the value of the crop he will harvest in October. With corn at $5.9075 a bushel, up from $3.88 last year, he says the contracts are too costly and risky. Investors want corn so much that last month they paid 55 cents a bushel more than grain handlers, the biggest premium since 1999.

Read moreWall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

U.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

WASHINGTON—Studies indicate that credit card defaults and related write-offs increased drastically since 2006. Today, lenders write off 33 percent more in credit card debt than they did two years ago.

Statistics show that about 35 percent of all credit card holders are already exhibiting signs of possible default. Late credit card payments result in fees many consumers can’t afford.

Credit card debt accelerated to unprecedented heights since bank loans began to dry up due to mortgage defaults. Total U.S. credit card debt reached almost $800 billion in November 2007, up from around $680 billion in March of last year, according to the latest available government statistics.

In the aftermath of the U.S. mortgage crisis, the credit card bubble may be next to burst. In the past few years, banks have aggressively marketed credit card ownership and usage to consumers with limited income and low credit scores. Credit card standards remain lax, while loan standards have tightened to a degree.

Read moreU.S. Credit Card Debt Soars to Unprecedented Heights

Gasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Big New Shock at the Pump Forecast by Two Analysts

Get ready for another economic shock of major proportions — a virtual doubling of prices at the gas pump to as much as $10 a gallon.

That’s the message from a couple of analytical energy industry trackers, both of whom, based on the surging oil prices, see considerably more pain at the pump than most drivers realize.

Gasoline nationally is in an accelerated upswing, having jumped to $3.58 a gallon from $3.50 in just the past week. In some parts of the country, including New York City and the West Coast, gas is already sporting a price tag above $4 a gallon. There was a pray-in at a Chevron station in San Francisco on Friday led by a minister asking God for cheaper gas, and an Arco gas station in San Mateo, Calif., has already raised its price to a sky-high $4.62.

Read moreGasoline May Soon Cost $10 a Gallon.

Ted Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push

Says diminishing farmland will lead to food riots, despite being behind corn-based ethanol push
Billionaire Globalist Ted Turner, who earlier this month predicted that global warming would eventually lead to cannibalism, has repeated his call to curb population growth, claiming that disappearing farmland will cause food riots, despite the fact that Turner himself is behind the push to grow corn-based ethanol, an industry the UN has blamed for food shortages and increased poverty.

“There are a lot of different problems being caused by an ever-increasing number of people in a finite-sized world,” Turner told CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “The resources of the planet just can’t keep up with the demand and I’m afraid this going to be more commonplace. I’m afraid we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. It’s very complicated I do want to say.”

Watch the video.

“We’ve had warnings for a number of years,” Turner said. “Grain stocks have been dropping every year for the last 10 years or pretty close to that – the reserves. And, the environment in so many different areas is being – the pressure being put on it by the ever-increasing number of people and the number of people using more stuff and more energy – that’s what ‘s leading to global climate change and the over-fishing of the oceans,” he added.

Read moreTed Turner Repeats Call For Population Curb

OPEC president sees $200 oil possible

ALGIERS (Reuters) – OPEC President Chakib Khelil does not rule out oil prices reaching $200 a barrel, even though supply is adequate, because the market is driven by the dollar’s slide, Algerian government newspaper El Moudjahid reported on Monday.

“Questioned about a possible rise which would go to $200, the minister did not rule out this eventuality, explaining that this rise is indexed from now on to the fall in the dollar or to the rise in the dollar,” El Moudjahid reported.

“In terms of fundamentals, stocks are high, demand is easing, supply is satisfactory. Therefore normally, without geo-political problems and the fall of the dollar, the prices of oil would not be at this level,” he was quoted as saying.

Khelil, a former World Bank official, is also Algeria’s Minister of Energy and Mines.

He added: “The prices are high due to the fact of the recession in the United States and the economic crisis which has touched several countries, a situation which has an effect on the devaluation of the dollar, and therefore each time the dollar falls one percent, the price of the barrel rises by $4, and of course vice versa,” he was quoted as saying in brief remarks to journalists on Sunday.

He added that: “If this (the dollar) strengthens by 10 percent, it is probable that (oil) prices will fall by 40 percent.”

If the U.S. economic situation improved from now to the end of the year “that would help the market to stabilize.”

“But I don’t think that an increase in production would help lower prices, because there is a balance between supply and demand and the stocks of gasoline in the United States have recorded a surplus and are at their highest level for five years.”

The independent El Watan newspaper reported Khelil as saying that if the dollar’s value on currency markets stayed as it was at present, then oil prices would be expected to remain at between $80 and $110 a barrel.

(Reporting by William Maclean; editing by James Jukwey)

Mon Apr 28, 2008 5:59am EDT

Source: Reuters

The food crisis begins to bite

Rioting in Haiti. Rationing in America. Queues in Egypt. Protests in Afghanistan. As the price of food continues to soar, the impact is being felt by people around the globe

CHINA

The roaring economy and an ever expanding middle class have had a particularly profound effect on food prices, particularly rice and wheat. Because of industrialisation, rice planting fell from 33 million hectares in 1983 to 29 million by 2006 and China now imports more than ever, placing a major strain on international supplies. Despite freezing prices, rampant inflation means the cost of food has risen by 21 per cent this year.

USA

In a land where supposedly the rich are thin and the poor are overweight, one of the largest cash and carry stores, Sam’s Club, announced this week it would limit customers to take home a maximum of four bags of rice. The move came a day after Costco Wholesale Corp, the biggest US warehouse-club operator, limited bulk rice purchases in some stores and warned that customers had begun stockpiling certain goods.

NORTH KOREA

Even during times of relative stability, North Korea has shown itself to be inept at feeding its population. During the 1990s a famine caused by poor harvests killed an estimated two to three million people. On Wednesday the World Food Programme warned that the country could again be plunged into famine because of the spiralling cost of rice and there was an estimated shortfall of 1.6 million tons of rice and wheat.

EGYPT

Up to 50 million Egyptians rely on subsidised bread and this year Cairo has estimated it will cost $2.5bn. But with the price of wheat rocketing in the past year there are fears the country has plunged into a “bread crisis”. Queues are now double the length they were a year ago. Inflation hit 12.1 per cent in February with prices for dairy goods up 20 per cent and cooking oils 40 per cent

VENEZUELA

Latin American countries were some of the first nations to voice their concern at rising wheat prices, particularly after thousands of people in Mexico took to the streets at the beginning of 2007 to take part in the so-called “Tortilla Protests”. This week the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba’s vice-president flew to Caracas to announce a joint $100m scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region’s poor.

BRAZIL

On Wednesday Brazil became the latest major rice producer to temporarily suspend exports because of soaring costs and domestic shortages. In recent weeks Latin American countries and African nations have asked for up to 500,000 tons of rice from Brazil which will now not be delivered. Brazil’s agricultural ministry has said it has to ensure that the country has at least enough rice reserves to last the next six to eight months.

IVORY COAST

Some of the worst instability resulting from high food prices has been felt in West Africa. One person was killed and dozens were injured last month as riots tore through Ivory Coast after the prices of meat and wheat increased by 50 per cent within a week. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was forced to cut taxes to halt the disorder. Violent protests have also broken out in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

AFGHANISTAN

There have been street protests about the soaring cost of food in a country almost entirely reliant on imports of wheat. Already utterly impoverished, the plight of Afghans has worsened because Pakistan has cut its regular flour supply. The government has sought to assure citizens that there is sufficient food and has set aside $50m for additional imports. The price of wheat has risen by around 60 per cent in the last year.

THAILAND

The price of rice in the world’s largest exporter rose to $1,000 a ton yesterday and experts warned that it will continue to rise. This is because of the massive demand from the Philippines which is struggling to secure supplies after India and several other producers halted exports. The government has said it can meet the export requests. Indonesia has said it is withholding purchases for a year because prices are so high.

EAST AFRICA

Hundreds of thousands of poor Africans in Uganda and Sudan are to lose out on a vital source of food after one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations said it was cutting aid to 1.5m people. Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, blamed soaring costs and countries failing to live up to aid commitments for the fact that the number of people the charity can help will fall by almost a quarter.

INDIA

The country as added to the problems facing many countries in the region by halting its export of rice, except for its premium basmati product. This has left countries normally reliant on Indian exports, such as the Philippines, searching for alternative supplies. India has more than half of the world’s hungriest people and its priority is to safeguard domestic supply. But it too has watched as the cost of food has soared, not just rice but cooking oil, pulses and even vegetables. India has this year forecast a record grain harvest but experts warned farm productivity will have to rise much faster if the nation is to feed its 1.1bn people and avoid a food security crisis. Around two-thirds of India’s population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods but agriculture is growing much more slowly than the overall economy.

HAITI

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere has seen a three to four-fold increase in the number of so-called boat people trying to leave because of food shortages. Already gripped by wretched poverty, the food crisis triggered riots that led to the death of six people. Haiti’s wretched food security situation is a result of “liberalisation measures” forced on the country after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was returned to power.

THE PHILIPPINES

The government has been desperately trying to secure alternative sources of rice to counteract the decision of a number of nations to halt rice exports. The country’s National Food Authority, which handles rice imports for the government, has now said it plans to increase imports 42 per cent to 2.7m tons this year. This could cost $1.3bn if it does not increase the price of the subsidised rice it is selling to people. But the Philippines is responsible for producing 85 per cent of its own food and international experts believe the country will handle this crisis. The government has also been encouraging consumers and even fast food restaurants to be more frugal and be careful not to waste food. The government is confident it will be able to source sufficient supplies from Vietnam and Thailand.

EUROPE

Less vulnerable to food price fluctuations than emerging nations, but food prices across Europe have nonetheless increased. In Britain wholesale prices of food have increased by 7.4 per cent over the past 12 months, roughly three times the headline rate of inflation. According to the government’s own statistics grocery bills have gone up by an average of £750 over the same period, the equivalent of a 12 per cent rise.

By Jerome Taylor and Andrew Buncombe
Friday, 25 April 2008

Source: The Independent

Investigators: Millions in Iraq contracts never finished

WASHINGTON – Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG’s review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors’ actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children’s hospital in Basra, only to “essentially terminate” the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

Read moreInvestigators: Millions in Iraq contracts never finished

Food Riots and Speculators

Food riots have broken out across the globe destabilizing large parts of the developing world. China is experiencing double-digit inflation. Indonesia, Vietnam and India have imposed controls over rice exports. Wheat, corn and soy beans are at record highs and threatening to go higher still. Commodities are up across the board. The World Food Program is warning of widespread famine if the West doesn’t provide emergency humanitarian relief. The situation is dire. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez summed it up like this, “It is a massacre of the world’s poor. The problem is not the production of food. It is the economic, social and political model of the world. The capitalist model is in crisis.”

Right on, Hugo. There is no shortage of food (This is disinformation – The Infinite Unknown); it’s just the prices that are making food unaffordable. Bernanke’s “weak dollar” policy has ignited a wave of speculation in commodities which is pushing prices into the stratosphere. The UN is calling the global food crisis a “silent tsunami”, but its more like a flood; the world is awash in increasingly worthless dollars that are making food and raw materials more expensive. Foreign central banks and investors presently hold $6 trillion in dollars and dollar-backed assets, so when the dollar starts to slide, the pain radiates through entire economies. This is especially true in countries where the currency is pegged to the dollar. That’s why most of the Gulf States are experiencing runaway inflation.

Read moreFood Riots and Speculators

Rationing of rice hits Britain’s Chinese and curry restaurants

Rice is being rationed in Britain as shopkeepers limit supplies to their customers to prevent hoarding. Restrictions on sales in Asian neighbourhoods are reported as emergency measures are taken by governments worldwide to combat the soaring cost of rice and prevent outbreaks of food rioting.

Tilda, the biggest importer of basmati rice, said that its buyers had resorted to restricting their customers to two bags per person.

“It is happening in the cash and carries,” said Jona-than Calland, of Tilda.

“It’s to stop people from hoarding. I heard from our salesforce that one lady went into a cash and carry and tried to buy eight 20kg bags.”

Read moreRationing of rice hits Britain’s Chinese and curry restaurants

Japan’s Hunger Becomes a Dire Warning for Other Nations

MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare.

“I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn’t believe it – this is the first time in my life I’ve wanted to try baking cakes and I can’t get any butter,” said the frustrated cook.

Japan’s acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term – perhaps permanent – reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest – a 30% increase this month – has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.

“This was the first time the Government has had to take such drastic action since the war,” said Akio Shibata, an expert on food imports, who warned the Agriculture Ministry two years ago that Japan would have to cut back drastically on its sophisticated diet if it did not become more self-sufficient.In the wake of the decision this week by Kazakhstan, the world’s fifth biggest wheat exporter, to join Russia, Ukraine and Argentina in stopping exports to satisfy domestic demand, the situation in Japan is expected to worsen.

Read moreJapan’s Hunger Becomes a Dire Warning for Other Nations

Load Up the Pantry – The Wall Street Journal

I don’t want to alarm anybody, but maybe it’s time for Americans to start stockpiling food.

No, this is not a drill.

You’ve seen the TV footage of food riots in parts of the developing world. Yes, they’re a long way away from the U.S. But most foodstuffs operate in a global market. When the cost of wheat soars in Asia, it will do the same here.

Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.

Load up the pantry,” says Manu Daftary, one of Wall Street’s top investors and the manager of the Quaker Strategic Growth mutual fund. “I think prices are going higher. People are too complacent. They think it isn’t going to happen here. But I don’t know how the food companies can absorb higher costs.” (Full disclosure: I am an investor in Quaker Strategic)

Stocking up on food may not replace your long-term investments, but it may make a sensible home for some of your shorter-term cash. Do the math. If you keep your standby cash in a money-market fund you’ll be lucky to get a 2.5% interest rate. Even the best one-year certificate of deposit you can find is only going to pay you about 4.1%, according to Bankrate.com. And those yields are before tax.

Meanwhile the most recent government data shows food inflation for the average American household is now running at 4.5% a year.

And some prices are rising even more quickly. The latest data show cereal prices rising by more than 8% a year. Both flour and rice are up more than 13%. Milk, cheese, bananas and even peanut butter: They’re all up by more than 10%. Eggs have rocketed up 30% in a year. Ground beef prices are up 4.8% and chicken by 5.4%.

These are trends that have been in place for some time.

And if you are hoping they will pass, here’s the bad news: They may actually accelerate.

Read moreLoad Up the Pantry – The Wall Street Journal

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club limits rice purchases

NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) Sam’s Club warehouse division said on Wednesday it is limiting sales of several types of rice, the latest sign that fears of a rice shortage are rippling around the world.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, said it is limiting sales of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice “due to recent supply and demand trends.”

U.S. rice futures hitting an all-time high Wednesday on worries about supply shortages.

On Tuesday, Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O: Quote, Profile, Research), the largest U.S. warehouse club operator, said it has seen increased demand for items like rice and flour as customers, worried about global food shortages and rising prices, stock up.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, is limiting sales of the 20-pound (9 kg), bulk bags of rice to four bags per customer per visit, and is working with suppliers to ensure the products remain in stock.

Warehouse clubs cater to individual shoppers as well as small businesses and restaurant owners looking to buy cheaper, bulk goods.

With prices for basic food items surging, customers have been going to the clubs to try to save money on bulk sizes of everything from pasta to cooking oil and rice.

Read moreWal-Mart’s Sam’s Club limits rice purchases

Bay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases

The price of a food staple — rice — is rising significantly, NBC11 reported.
The price of rice has increased dramatically in recent weeks due to crop failure overseas and resulting hoarding, NBC11 reported.
And at least one Bay Area store is asking customers to hold back on their rice purchases. Costco has posted signs asking customers to follow their regular rice-buying habits.
The rice price increase is a result of a domino effect, NBC11’s Noelle Walker reported. Drought in Australia led to a severe decline in rice production that in turn led the world’s largest rice exporters to restrict exports. That spurred higher rice prices and hoarding in Asian countries, NBC11 reported.

Now in the United States, rice prices have skyrocketed.
Son Tran owns Le Cheval Vietnamese Restaurant in Oakland.
He said he’s seen the price of rice go from $20 to $40 in a matter of weeks.
And Le Cheval’s stockpiles are dwindling.
Add to that, the price of vegetables has gone up 50 percent, and some of Tran’s regular customers aren’t so regular anymore.

Read moreBay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases