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from Sky News:

A senior economist at the worldwide bank HSBC has warned of civil unrest in Britain if food prices continue to soar.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, senior global economist Karen Ward cautioned that the UK could experience the kind of food riots seen in other countries.

“Even in the developed world I think we have very, very low wage growth, so people aren’t getting more in their pay packet to compensate them for food and energy, and I think we could see social unrest certainly in parts of the developed world and the UK as well.”

She went on to highlight the link between high food prices and the escalating cost of crude oil.

“More and more we are seeing that some of these foodstuffs are actually substitutes for energy itself, particularly biofuels. So I think the energy markets are a significant contributor to these food price gains.”

The comments come as the United Nations warned the cost of food is now at the highest level for 21 years and set to rise further.

Food costs have gone up for eight months in a row, with the National Farmers Union forecasting the trend will continue for the rest of 2011.

The cost of basic foodstuffs has been caused by increasing demand and extreme weather destroying crops and has been partly to blame for the unrest sweeping the arabic world.

Rising prices contributed to riots across North Africa and the Middle East in the past several months that have toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Wheat has nearly doubled in price over the past six months and rising demand has caused the cost of sugar to rise by 14% over the past 12 months.

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from The Daily Telegraph:

Governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen have faced protests in recent weeks, part fuelled by rising food costs. Unfortunately, this is a trend that looks set to continue and probably escalate over the next two decades.

The rise of the middle classes in emerging markets, coupled with a soaring world population, underpin an increase in the price of basics such as wheat, corn and sugar.

But the situation is going to be made much worse by the scarcity of water – the most important commodity there is.

“Water remains a more problematic commodity than food and fuel: though cheap in its natural state, it is expensive to process and expensive to transport, especially in the quantities necessary for agriculture,” according to a report from a Washington-based think tank released last month.

“Past water shortages have been temporary or small-scaled; future groundwater depletion will be massive and effectively permanent.”

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) study looked at water as a strategic resource in the Middle East – the most water-scarce region on Earth.

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from Business Insider:

Selling government debt is a gigantic confidence game.  For decades, investors all over the globe have gobbled up massive amounts of U.S. debt at low interest rates because they believed that it was a certainty that they would be paid back and make a little bit of profit on top of it.

Unfortunately, things have changed. Confidence is U.S. Treasuries is dying, and if confidence in U.S. government debt completely collapses at some point we could literally be looking at financial Armageddon. 

Why is that so? 

Well, when the world totally loses faith in U.S. Treasuries, interest rates on U.S. Treasuries will have to keep going up until enough investors are found to buy them.  But much higher interest rates will mean much higher interest on the national debt and thus much higher federal budget deficits.  That will erode confidence in U.S. Treasuries even further.  In the end, a vicious cycle of eroding confidence and higher interest rates could ultimately lead to hyperinflation as the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve flood the system with endless amounts of paper money to try to keep the system solvent.

Faith in U.S. Treasury bonds is absolutely critical if the world financial system is going to continue to operate in a stable manner.  In the post-World War 2 era, U.S. Treasuries have been largely viewed as the absolutely safest investment out there.  So if there comes a point when the market for U.S. Treasuries completely collapses, it is going to cause unprecedented financial chaos.  The worldwide derivatives market, which is already highly unstable, would almost certainly implode.  Credit markets all over the globe would seize up.  Global trade would quickly grind to a standstill.

This isn’t going to happen overnight (hopefully).  Rather, the loss of confidence in U.S. Treasuries is something that is likely to take months or even years to play out.  But once that confidence is gone, it is not something that will be able to be rebuilt easily.

Think of it this way – once you drive a car off a cliff, is it easy to reconstruct it? Of course not.

Well, that is where we are headed with U.S. Treasuries.

The Federal Reserve is flooding the system with new dollars, Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress seem poised to pass a new tax deal which does not include corresponding spending cuts which will cause U.S. government budget deficits to become even more bloated, and there is a tremendous lack of faith both in U.S. political leaders and in the Federal Reserve at this point.

The rest of the world is losing faith that the U.S. government is going to be able to handle all of the debt that it has accumulated.  We may be approaching a “tipping point” soon

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from AFP:

Economists peddling dire warnings that the world’s number one economy is on the brink of collapse, amid high rates of unemployment and a spiraling public deficit, are flourishing here.

The guru of this doomsday line of thinking may be economist Nouriel Roubini, thrust into the forefront after predicting the chaos wrought by the subprime mortgage crisis and the collapse of the housing bubble.

“The US has run out of bullets,” Roubini told an economic forum in Italy earlier this month. “Any shock at this point can tip you back into recession.”

But other economists, who have so far stayed out of the media limelight, are also proselytizing nightmarish visions of the future.

Boston University professor Laurence Kotlikoff, who warned as far back as the 1980s of the dangers of a public deficit, lent credence to such dark predictions in an International Monetary Fund publication last week.

He unveiled a doomsday scenario — which many dismiss as pure fantasy — of an economic clash between superpowers the United States and China, which holds more than 843 billion dollars of US Treasury bonds.

“A minor trade dispute between the United States and China could make some people think that other people are going to sell US treasury bonds,” he wrote in the IMF’s Finance & Development review.

“That belief, coupled with major concern about inflation, could lead to a sell-off of government bonds that causes the public to withdraw their bank deposits and buy durable goods.”

Kotlikoff warned such a move would spark a run on banks and money market funds as well as insurance companies as policy holders cash in their surrender values.

“In a short period of time, the Federal Reserve would have to print trillions of dollars to cover its explicit and implicit guarantees. All that new money could produce strong inflation, perhaps hyperinflation,” he said.

“There are other less apocalyptic, perhaps more plausible, but still quite unpleasant, scenarios that could result from multiple equilibria.”

According to a poll by the StrategyOne Institute published Friday, some 65 percent of Americans believe there will be a new recession.

And the view that America is on a decline seems rather well ingrained in many people’s minds supported by 65 percent of people questioned in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published last week.

“It is true: Today’s economic problems are structural, not cyclical,” argued New York Times editorial writer David Brooks.

He said the United Sates is losing its world dominance much in the same way the British Empire began to crumble more than a century ago.

“We are in the middle of yet another jobless recovery. Wages have been lagging for decades. Our labor market woes are deep and intractable,” Brooks said.

Nobel Economics Prize winner Paul Krugman also voiced concern about the fate of the fragile economic recovery if voters return the Republicans to political power.

“It’s hard to overstate how destructive the economic ideas offered earlier this week by John Boehner, the House minority leader, would be if put into practice,” he wrote in a recent editorial.

“Fewer jobs and bigger deficits — the perfect combination.”

The Wall Street Journal, usually more favorable to Boehner’s call for tax cuts, ran a commentary from another Nobel Prize-winning economist — Vernon Smith — that failed to provide much comfort for readers.

“This fact needs to be confronted: We are almost surely in for a long slog,” Smith wrote.

And it seems such pessimism has even filtered into the IMF, which warned on Friday that high levels of national debt and a still shaky financial sector threaten to derail the global economic recovery.

“The foreclosure backlog in US property markets is large and growing, in part due to the recent expiration of the home buyer’s tax credit. When realized, this could further depress real estate prices.”

This could lead to “disproportionate losses” for small and medium-sized banks, which could in turn “precipitate a loss of market confidence in the recovery,” the IMF warned.

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from Bloomberg:

Wheat rose in Chicago after Russia, the world’s third-largest grower, extended a ban on grain exports into next year, raising the prospect of higher food prices that already have sparked riots in Mozambique.

Wheat for December delivery rose as much as 1.5 percent to $7.2475 a bushel, advancing for a third day and taking this week’s gain to 4.3 percent. Russia, suffering from its worst drought in at least a half century, started an export ban Aug. 15 that was scheduled to end Dec. 31. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday it wouldn’t be reviewed until after the next harvest and Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said Russians are hoarding staples.

“Russia was for the last couple of seasons a very large part of the world export market and now all of sudden they disappeared,” said Keith Flury, a grains analyst at Ratzeburg, Germany-based F.O. Licht. “This is kind of the new fundamental shift that not everybody was really ready for.”

Wheat traded in Chicago, a global benchmark, as much as doubled since June as Russia’s drought, flooding in Canada and parched fields in Kazakhstan and the European Union ruined crops. Higher prices, combined with rallies in corn, rice and livestock, are increasing concern of a return to the food crisis of 2008, which sparked riots from Haiti to Egypt.

Residents of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, were on strike for a second day yesterday in a protest over higher food and utility prices. At least seven people have died in clashes with police and another 280 injured, Cabinet spokesman Alberto Nkutumula said yesterday.

Prices Peak

While prices have jumped, they’re still a long way off the peaks reached in 2008. Then, wheat reached a record $13.495 and rice rose as high as $25.07 per 100 pounds in Chicago. Rice for November delivery closed yesterday at $11.43. A United Nations’ index of 55 foods rose to 175.9 points last month, 18 percent below the 214 points recorded in June 2008. The world’s poorest nations will spend 37 percent less on cereal imports this year than at the peak, according to the UN.

World wheat stockpiles are expected to be 174.8 million metric tons in the 2010-11 season, comprised of local marketing years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s 40 percent more than in 2007-08.

Wheat for December delivery was 8.5 cents, or 1.2 percent, higher at $7.2225 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, as of 12:15 p.m. in London. Prices rose as high as $8.68 Aug. 6. Milling wheat futures for November delivery climbed 0.5 percent to 230.75 euros ($296) a metric ton on NYSE Liffe in Paris.

Corn for December delivery rose 0.1 percent to $4.48 a bushel, after earlier reaching $4.49, the highest compared with intraday prices since June 2009. Soybeans for November delivery advanced 0.7 percent to $10.165 a bushel. Rice for November delivery gained 0.9 percent to $11.53 per 100 pounds.

Russia produced 61.7 million tons of wheat last year, the largest crop after China and India, according to the International Grains Council.

Special Meeting

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization will hold a special meeting of its intergovernmental groups on grains and rice on Sept. 24 in Rome.

Russia accounted for 14 percent of the global exports of wheat, flour and related products in the year to June 30, according to the USDA. “We can only review lifting the ban on grain exports after the next year’s crop is harvested and we have clarity on the balances,” Putin said in Moscow yesterday.

“So far we are not declaring any crisis, it’s premature,” Abdolreza Abbassian, senior grains economist at the FAO, said. “But we are not saying it’s not a tight situation. It’s a very tight situation.”

Speculators including hedge funds increased their net-long position, or bets on higher prices, in Chicago wheat futures by 9.9 percent in the week ended Aug. 24, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data.

World wheat production will reach 645.7 million tons in the 2010-11 season, the USDA said last month, reducing its previous forecast of 661.1 million tons.

Germany’s grains harvest fell 12 percent to 43.8 million tons this year after “extreme weather,” the country’s Agriculture Ministry said today.

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from Der Spiegel:

As speculators attack the euro, Europe is facing a growing threat of national bankruptcies. The consequences would be dramatic for the whole of the continent, especially German banks, which are highly exposed to risky debt. EU politicians are willing to pay almost any price to help the beleaguered countries. By SPIEGEL staff.

On Wall Street, they call Bill Lipschutz the “Sultan of Currencies.” He once turned the legendary investment bank Salomon Brothers into the world’s largest foreign currency trading operation. Today Lipschutz runs his own hedge fund, which specializes in currencies.

“I still approach the market the same way. I still approach it as a 24/7 market,” says Lipschutz. He trades almost constantly, even at home in his apartment in New York’s trendy NoHo district, where there are monitors everywhere. Every night, Lipschutz gets up at two or three in the morning to see what is happening on the European markets.

Europe is indeed currently the hottest topic on the global financial markets. The value of the battered euro has been falling since the Greek government confessed to the actual scope of its debt — and since it became clear that things are not looking significantly better in the other PIIGS countries (the acronym refers to Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

There has never been this much uncertainty. No one knows whether the Greeks will manage to solve their problems, whether and how other countries will come to their aid, whether the crisis can be confined to Greece or whether it will spread like wildfire among the PIIGS — and end up tearing apart the European currency union. . . . . .

 read the full article here.

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from Kitco:

Thanks to the endless barrage of feel-good propaganda that daily assaults the American mind, best epitomized a few months ago by the “green shoots,” everything’s-coming-up-roses propaganda touted by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, the citizens have no idea how disastrous the country’s fiscal, monetary and economic problems truly are. Nor do they perceive the rapidly increasing risk of a totalitarian nightmare descending upon the American Republic.

One stark and sobering way to frame the crisis is this: if the United States government were to nationalize (in other words, steal) every penny of private wealth accumulated by America’s citizens since the nation’s founding 235 years ago, the government would remain totally bankrupt.

According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent report on wealth, America’s private net worth was $53.4 trillion as of September, 2009. But at the same time, America’s debt and unfunded liabilities totaled at least $120,000,000,000,000.00 ($120 trillion), or 225% of the citizens’ net worth. Even if the government expropriated every dollar of private wealth in the nation, it would still have a deficit of $66,600,000,000,000.00 ($66.6 trillion), equal to $214,286.00 for every man, woman and child in America and roughly 500% of GDP. If the government does not directly seize the nation’s private wealth, then it will require $389,610 from each and every citizen to balance the country’s books. State, county and municipal debts and deficits are additional, already elephantine in many states (e.g., California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York) and growing at an alarming rate nationwide. In addition to the federal government, dozens of states are already bankrupt and sinking deeper into the morass every day.…

It is estimated that the top 1% of Americans control roughly 40% of the nation’s wealth. In other words, 3 million people own $21,400,000,000,000.00 ($21.4 trillion) in net private assets, while the other 305 million own the remaining $32,000,000,000,000.00 ($32 trillion). 77,000,000 (77 million) Americans (the lowest 25%) have mean net assets of minus $2,300 ($-2,300.00) per person; they live from paycheck to paycheck, or on public assistance. The lower 50% of Americans own mean net assets of $27,800 each, about enough to purchase a modest car. Obviously, it would be impossible to retire on such an amount without significant government or other assistance. Meanwhile, the richest 10% of Americans possess mean net assets of $3,976,000.00 each, or 143 times those of the bottom 50%; the top 2% control assets worth more than 1,500 times those in the bottom 50%. When you combine these facts with Wall Street’s typical multi-million dollar annual bonuses, you get an idea of wealth inequality in America. Historically, such extreme inequality has been a well-documented breeding ground for totalitarianism.

If the government decides to expropriate (steal) or commandeer (e.g., force into Treasuries) America’s private wealth in order to buy survival time, such a measure will be designed to destroy the common citizens, not the elite. Insiders will be given advance warning about any such plan, and will be able to transfer their money offshore or into financial vehicles immune from harm. Assuming that the elite moves its money to safety, there would then be $120,000,000,000,000.00 ($120 trillion) in American debt and liabilities supported by only $32,000,000,000,000.00 ($32 trillion) in private net worth, for a deficit of $88,000,000,000,000.00 ($88 trillion). In that case, each American would owe $285,714.29 to balance the country’s books. (Remember to multiply this amount by every person in your household, including any infant children.)

If the common people suspect that something diabolical was in the works, a portion of the $32 trillion in non-elite wealth could be evacuated as well prior to a government expropriation and/or currency devaluation, resulting in less money for the government to steal. What these statistics mean is that it is absolutely impossible for the government to fund its debt and deficits, even if it steals all of the nation’s private wealth. Therefore, the government’s only solutions are either formal bankruptcy (outright debt repudiation and the dismantling of bankrupt government programs) or unprecedented American monetary inflation and debt monetization. If the government chooses to inflate its way out of this fiscal catastrophe, the United States dollar will essentially become worthless. You can be absolutely certain that a PhD. in economics, such as Dr. Bernanke, is well aware of these realities, despite what he might say in speeches. For that matter, so are Chinese schoolchildren, who, when patronized by Treasury Secretary Geithner about America’s “strong dollar,” laughed in his face. One day, perhaps America’s school children will receive a real education so that they, too, will know when to laugh at absurd propaganda.…

These deficits and debts are now so gargantuan that they have become surreal abstractions impossible even for sophisticated financiers to begin to comprehend. The common citizen has absolutely no idea what these numbers mean, or imply for his or her future. The people have been deluded into thinking that America’s arrogant, egomaniacal, always-wrong-but-never-in-doubt fiscal witch doctors and charlatans, including Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, Geithner and Ponce de Bernanke, have discovered a Monetary Fountain of Youth that endlessly spits up free money from the center of earth, in a geyser of good will toward the United States. Unfortunately, this delusion is false: there is no Monetary Fountain of Youth, and contrary to the apparent beliefs of the self-deified man-gods in Washington, D.C., the debt and deficits are real, completely out of control, and 100% guaranteed to create catastrophic consequences for the nation and its people.

When government “representatives” deliberately sell into slavery the citizens of a so-called free Republic, they have committed treason against those people. This is exactly what has happened in the United States: the citizens have been sold into debt slavery that they and their descendants can never escape, because the debts piled onto their backs can never, ever be paid. Despite expensive and sophisticated brainwashing campaigns emanating from Washington, claiming that America can “grow” out of its deficits and debt, it is arithmetically impossible for the country to do so. The government’s statements that it can dig the nation out of its fiscal hole by digging an even deeper chasm have become parodies and perversions of even totally discredited and morally disgusting Keynesianism.

The people no longer have elected representatives; they have elected traitors.

The enslavement of the American people has been orchestrated by a pernicious Master Class that has taken the United States by the throat. This Master Class is now choking the nation to death as it accelerates its master plan to plunder the people’s dwindling remaining assets. The Master Class comprises politicians, the Wall Street money elite, the Federal Reserve, high-end government (including military) officials, government lobbyists and their paymasters, military suppliers and media oligarchs. The interests and mindset of the Master Class are so totally divorced from those of the average American citizen that it is utterly tone deaf and blind to the justifiable rage sweeping the nation. Its guiding ethics of greed, plunder, power, control and violence are so alien to mainstream American culture and thought that the Master Class might as well be an enemy invader from Mars. But the Master Class here, it is real and it is laying waste to America. To the members of the Master Class, the people are not fellow-citizens; they are instruments of labor, servitude and profit. At first, the Master Class viewed the citizens as serfs; now that they have raped and destroyed the national economy, while in the process amassing unprecedented wealth and power for themselves, they see the people as nothing more than slaves.

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