Big stores start to ration rice purchases

Supermarket chains have begun rationing rice as the effects of rising prices and disruptions to supply spill over from specialist grocers and suppliers to larger stores.

Netto, the Danish-owned discount store, has been restricting sales of larger bags of rice to one per person in all stores in recent weeks across the UK.

Mike Hinchcliffe, marketing manager for Netto UK, said: “We’re temporarily limiting our larger 10 kg bags of rice to one per customer because, like most other UK supermarkets, we are having to manage and minimise the impact the global rice shortage is having on our suppliers.

“We are experiencing a high demand for rice and have introduced this measure across our 184 UK stores to ensure that all of our customers have a fair opportunity to make their regular rice purchases. Our smaller 1kg packs remain on free sale with no restrictions planned at this time.” It expects the restriction to continue “indefinitely”.

By Lucy Killgren
Published: May 30 2008 23:45 | Last updated: May 30 2008 23:45

Source: Financial Times

Eurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Eurozone inflation surged to the highest rate for 16 years on the back of sharply higher oil prices as consumer spending in the 15-country region showed further signs of weakness.

Annual inflation in the eurozone reached 3.6 per cent in May, according to official data released on Friday, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous month. That appeared to rule out any chance of an early cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank, which aims to keep inflation “below but close” to 2 per cent.

Evidence also emerged that higher prices were wreaking economic damage by forcing households to retrench. Germany reported a surprise 1.7 per cent drop in April retail sales, extending a 2.2 per cent fall in March.

This week, the European Commission reported eurozone consumer confidence had plunged in May to its lowest level for almost three years.

As well as driving inflation higher, the soaring cost of fuel has led to Europe-wide protests this week – with fishermen blocking ports in France and on Friday giving out fish free in Madrid.

Read moreEurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Terror law turns thousands of council officials into spies

Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people
Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people

Thousands of middle managers in local councils are being authorised to spy on people suspected of petty offences using powers designed to prevent crime and terrorism.Even junior council officials are being allowed to initiate surveillance operations in what privacy campaigners likened to Eastern bloc police tactics.

The Home Office is expected to be urged by the Commons Home Affairs select committee to issue guidelines to councils on the type of operations in which surveillance can be used.

Amid increasing concern in Parliament that the UK is slowly becoming a surveillance society, the committee has looked at the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which some MPs say is being misused to focus on petty crime rather than serious offending.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, told The Times: “I am personally shocked by the numbers involved in surveillance by the local authorities. It is important we make sure there is proper accountability and transparency in the way this operates.” The committee, which has concluded an investigation into the surveillance society and is to publish its report in eight days’ time, is understood to have been concerned at the lack of guidance from central government to local authorities on how powers under the Act should be used.

Councils are increasingly allowing anyone of a “service manager” grade rather than high-ranking officials with a legal background to authorise surveillance operations. Relatively junior council officials are giving permission for operations to spy on people, their homes, obtain their telephone records and discover who they are e-mailing.

“A lot of councils are making the proactive decision to use these powers more,” a spokesman for Lacors, the central body that oversees local authorities, said.

“They think it’s a fantastic tool. Inevitably, more middle-management staff will be called on to authorise surveillance.”

Read moreTerror law turns thousands of council officials into spies

Wall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

May 30 (Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Donald Kohn raised the possibility of giving Wall Street securities firms permanent access to loans from the central bank, as long as regulators tighten oversight of the companies.

Kohn also advocated continuing Fed auctions of funds to commercial banks and loans of Treasuries to Wall Street dealers even after markets stabilize. Such channels would stay open “either on a standby basis or operating at a very low level,” he said in a speech in New York yesterday.

The remarks go beyond Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who has indicated the central bank would shut lending to investment banks when the credit crisis passes. Lawmakers and regulators are debating how to approach the supervision of investment banks in the aftermath of the Fed’s rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. in March.

“If you are a bondholder in one of these Wall Street firms, you know you have a big `Sugar Daddy’ now called the Federal Reserve that’s going to back you up,” said Jeff Pantages, chief investment officer of Alaska Permanent Capital Management in Anchorage, which oversees $1.8 billion in assets.

“But if you are a stockholder this kind of worries you” because investment banks “will be more highly regulated and won’t be able to use leverage as much as” before, he said.

Kohn said he hasn’t decided whether securities firms should continue to gain access to loans from the central bank.

More Extensive

“The more extensive the access, the greater the degree to which market discipline will be loosened and prudential regulation will need to be tightened,” Kohn said in his speech to a conference hosted by the New York Fed. “Unquestionably, regulation needs to respond to what we have learned about the importance of primary dealers and their vulnerabilities to liquidity pressures.”

Read moreWall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

Bob Barr A Poor Representative Of Liberty

The Libertarian Party recently nominated former Republican Congressman Bob Barr as their presidential nominee. This nomination represents a compromise of the principles that the Libertarian Party used to stand for. Party members decided that they were going to sell out the principles of their party in exchange for some coverage in the corporate controlled media. Is some coverage in the establishment media worth having a man at the front of the party with an incredibly dubious past pertaining to freedom and liberty? Although it is possible that Barr might have changed his ways and realized his mistakes for not abiding by the Constitution, his record speaks for itself. Barr voted in favor of the Patriot Act, worked for the CIA throughout the 1970s and supported the phony war on drugs for several years. The Patriot Act is one of the most tyrannical pieces of legislation ever passed in the history of the United States. The war on drugs is entirely against the principles of the Libertarian Party. Considering Barr’s record of supporting anti-freedom policies and legislation, he is not a suitable choice to vote for in the general election. If you want to vote for a candidate that believes in liberty and the Constitution, write in Ron Paul.

Barr won the nomination over Mary Ruwart who would have been a fine candidate to promote the Libertarian cause. Ruwart is an author who has supported the cause of individual freedom for many years. She is a long time member of the Libertarian party and had none of the baggage that Barr has. By selecting Barr as the presidential nominee, the Libertarian Party has selected a poor representative.

Below is a blurb from a Bloomberg report talking about how Barr has upset many Libertarians with his dubious past.

Barr has angered Libertarians by backing what they view as abuses of government, including efforts to crack down on drugs and his vote for the Patriot Act, which gave the government expanded powers, such as wiretapping, to fight terrorism. Civil libertarians condemn his co-sponsorship of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and his opposition to abortion.

Read moreBob Barr A Poor Representative Of Liberty

US banks likely to fail as bad loans soar

US banks set aside a record $37.1bn to cover losses on real estate loans and other credits during the first quarter in a sign of the growing economic pain being caused by the global credit crisis, regulators said on Thursday.

Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said it was likely loan-loss provisions and bank failures would rise in coming quarters as the fallout from market turmoil hits the real economy.

“While we may be past the worst of the turmoil in financial markets, we’re still in the early stages of the traditional credit crisis you typically see during an economic downturn,” she said, adding: “What we really need to focus on is the uncertainty surrounding the economy . . . and again it is all about housing.”

Ms Bair spoke as the FDIC released its quarterly banking profile, which showed loan-loss provisions in the first quarter were more than four times higher than last year’s level. That was the main reason bank earnings fell 46 per cent to $19.3bn from the first quarter in 2007 for the commercial banks and savings institutions where the FDIC insures customer deposits.

Following restatements by banks, the FDIC revised the industry’s net income for the fourth quarter of last year from $5.8bn to $646m – the lowest since the end of 1990.

Meanwhile, the FDIC said the number of “problem” banks rose in the first quarter from 76 to 90, with combined assets of $26.3bn. Three US banks have failed this year, compared with three for the whole of last year and none in 2005 and 2006.

Ms Bair said she expected more bank failures but emphasised that the number of problem institutions remained well below the record levels of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s – when one in 10 banks were in that category.

However, she said one worrying trend was the declining “coverage ratio”, which compares bank reserves with the level of loans that are 90 days past due. This ratio fell for the eighth consecutive quarter, to 89 cents in reserves for every $1 of noncurrent loans, the lowest level since the first quarter of 1993.

“This is the kind of thing that gives regulators heartburn,” said Ms Bair. “We also want them to beef up their capital cushions beyond regulatory minimums given uncertainty about the housing markets and the economy . . . It’s only prudent to be building up capital at a time like this.”

In a sign that some US banks may have underestimated the cost of the housing slump, KeyCorp this week doubled its forecast for loan losses – its second revision in as many months – sending its share price tumbling by more than 10 per cent. During the property boom, KeyCorp expanded in fast-growing regions such as southern California and Florida, where problem loans are now growing.

By Joanna Chung and Saskia Scholtes in New York
Published: May 29 2008 20:43 | Last updated: May 29 2008 20:43

Source: Financial Times

Depleted Uranium Shells Worse Than Nuclear Weapons

(NaturalNews) The use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by the U.S. military may lead to a death toll far higher than that from the nuclear bombs dropped at the end of World War II.

DU is a waste product of uranium enrichment, containing approximately one-third the radioactive isotopes of naturally occurring uranium. Because of its high density, it is used in armor- or tank-piercing ammunition. It has been fired by the U.S. and British militaries in the two Iraq wars and in Afghanistan, as well as by NATO forces in Kosovo and the Israeli military in Lebanon and Palestine.

Inhaled or ingested DU particles are highly toxic, and DU has been classified as an illegal weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority has estimated that 50 tons of DU dust from the first Gulf War could lead to 500,000 cancer deaths by the year 2000. To date, a total of 2,000 tons have been generated in the Middle East.

Read moreDepleted Uranium Shells Worse Than Nuclear Weapons

China’s Cyber-Militia

Chinese hackers pose a clear and present danger to U.S. government and private-sector computer networks and may be responsible for two major U.S. power blackouts.

Computer hackers in China, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have penetrated deeply into the information systems of U.S. companies and government agencies, stolen proprietary information from American executives in advance of their business meetings in China, and, in a few cases, gained access to electric power plants in the United States, possibly triggering two recent and widespread blackouts in Florida and the Northeast, according to U.S. government officials and computer-security experts.

One prominent expert told National Journal he believes that China’s People’s Liberation Army played a role in the power outages. Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a leading trade group, said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that the PLA in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States. The intelligence officials said that forensic analysis had confirmed the source, Bennett said. “They said that, with confidence, it had been traced back to the PLA.” These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history, which occurred in August of that year. A 9,300-square-mile area, touching Michigan, Ohio, New York, and parts of Canada, lost power; an estimated 50 million people were affected.

Officially, the blackout was attributed to a variety of factors, none of which involved foreign intervention. Investigators blamed “overgrown trees” that came into contact with strained high-voltage lines near facilities in Ohio owned by FirstEnergy Corp. More than 100 power plants were shut down during the cascading failure. A computer virus, then in wide circulation, disrupted the communications lines that utility companies use to manage the power grid, and this exacerbated the problem. The blackout prompted President Bush to address the nation the day it happened. Power was mostly restored within 24 hours.

There has never been an official U.S. government assertion of Chinese involvement in the outage, but intelligence and other government officials contacted for this story did not explicitly rule out a Chinese role. One security analyst in the private sector with close ties to the intelligence community said that some senior intelligence officials believe that China played a role in the 2003 blackout that is still not fully understood.

Read moreChina’s Cyber-Militia

$75 limit on credit card charges at gas pump causes frustration

LOS ANGELES – As if sky-high gasoline prices weren’t frustrating enough, many owners of thirsty SUVs, pickups and motor homes who use a credit card at the pump are being blocked from getting a full tank.

That’s because many station operators have a $75 limit on Visa (V) or MasterCard (MA) transactions at the pump.

If motorists hit the limit, they must do a second transaction at the pump to finish filling. Another solution, though inconvenient: Go see the attendant to have the card swiped inside. But this information often is not on the pump, and it can be aggravating even if it is, so customers are venting their ire.

“It’s frustrating to them, and they let us know,” says Tom Robinson, president of Rotten Robbie, a 34-station chain based in Northern California. “There’s always an adjective associated with the pump, and it’s like ‘stupid’ or worse.”

Station owners say they simply are passing through policies of Visa and MasterCard, which won’t reimburse them more than $75 per transaction at the pump if there’s a disputed charge or a fraudulent card is used.

May 30, 08

Source: USA Today