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NEWS to Disturb the Comfortable... we don't tell you what to think, but we give you something to think about.

Thursday 10.23.2014

Canadian parliamentarian sergeant-at-arms hailed as 'hero'
As sergeant-at-arms of Canada's House of Commons, Kevin Vickers is accustomed to being in the middle of big things. But never before like this. Members of parliament, the press and the public hailed the 58-year-old Vickers on Wednesday after he reportedly shot dead a gunman who'd gotten into the Canadian legislature. This came minutes after a Canadian soldier was killed not far away, and perhaps before there might have been more bloodshed had not Vickers stepped up. "Kevin is definitely a hero," said Matt Miller, the Vancouver Observer's parliamentary bureau chief, who was in his office just above Vickers and the shooting. One suspect, one soldier dead in attack. Miller recalled hearing one shot, followed quickly by about three dozen rounds before the gunfire ceased. Ultimately, according to parliamentarian Craig Scott, it was Vickers who ended the ordeal outside the building's caucus rooms. Scott tweeted, "MPs and Hill staff owe their safety, even lives, to Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers."

New White House fence jumper; apprehended before reaching residence
Only weeks after a knife-carrying, fence-jumping intruder made it deep inside the White House, Secret Service officials apprehended a person Wednesday night who jumped the White House fence. The intruder was captured well before reaching the residence. “An individual jumped the north fence of the White House,” said Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan. “He was immediately taken into custody by canine units and Uniformed Division officers.” No shots were fired, Donovan said. D.C. fire and emergency medical services spokesman Tim Wilson said the department was notified of the incident about 7:21 p.m., and shortly afterward the man was transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries from a dog bite. The White House was under lockdown for more than 90 minutes afterward. Authorities shut down Lafayette Park after the incident, moving dozens of tourists to H Street. By 9 p.m., officers were allowing people inside the White House to leave and credentialed staff to enter the area...

Helicopter money
Periodically articles appear advocating, or discussing, helicopter money. Here is a simple guide to this strange sounding concept. I go in descending order of importance, covering the essential ground in points 1-7, and dealing with more esoteric matters after that. Helicopter money is a form of fiscal stimulus. The original Friedman thought experiment involved the central bank distributing money by helicopter, but the real world counterpart to that is a tax cut of some form. What makes helicopter money different from a conventional tax cut is that helicopter money is paid for by the central bank printing money, rather than the government issuing debt. The central bank printing money is nothing new: Quantitative Easing (QE) involves the central bank creating reserves and using them to buy financial assets - mainly government debt. As a result, helicopter money is actually the combination of two very familiar policies: QE coupled with a tax cut.

Carl Icahn: 'No-Brainer' High-Yield Market Is in a Bubble

No Picket Fence: Younger Adults Opting to Rent
On a recent sunny afternoon, a half-dozen grinding and spinning cement trucks helped lay the foundation for what many real estate developers see as the most promising housing opportunity in postrecession America: apartment living. Here in suburban Vienna, about 16 miles west of downtown Washington, Joshua Solomon’s DSF Group is remaking a congested but nondescript intersection into a haven for young adults of the millennial generation. Like many other developers who survived the housing bust, he now expects a coming wave of renters who intend to stay that way for a while to help lead the industry to a brighter future. “That generation of folks has seen people really get hurt by homeownership,” said Mr. Solomon, president of the company, which is based in Waltham, Mass. “The petal has really fallen off the rose as it pertains to homeownership. People don’t want to be tied down to a mortgage they can’t get out of quickly.”

New data shows it will take 398,879,561 years to pay off the debt
The US government’s debt is getting close to reaching another round number—$18 trillion. It currently stands at more than $17.9 trillion. But what does that really mean? It’s such an abstract number that it’s hard to imagine it. Can you genuinely understand it beyond just being a ridiculously large number? Just like humans find it really hard to comprehend the vastness of the universe. We know it’s huge, but what does that mean? It’s so many times greater than anything we know or have experienced. German astronomer and mathematician Friedrich Bessel managed to successfully measure the distance from Earth to a star other than our sun in the 19th century. But he realized that his measurements meant nothing to people as they were. They were too abstract. So he came up with the idea of a “light-year” to help people get a better understanding of just how far it really is. And rather than using a measurement of distance, he chose to use one of time.

Reynolds American institutes smoke-free workplace
Reynolds American Inc., the maker of Camel cigarettes, announced it is banning smoking inside its facilities starting in 2015. Currently, employees of the second-largest American tobacco company are allowed to smoke traditional cigarettes, cigars and pipes at their desks, and in conference rooms, elevators and hallways. Come Jan. 1, that'll be no more, Reynolds American spokesman David Howard told the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. "We will restrict traditional smoking to the designated areas as they are put together in 2015 and 2016," he said. "The bottom line is that we believe it is the right thing to do, updating our tobacco usage policies, at the right time to do it. The policy change will better accommodate nonsmokers and visitors to our facilities." Employees will still be allowed to use electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn cigarettes like the Eclipse brand, moist snuff and snus.

Why India's love affair with gold is set to deepen
For the last two days Neeta Malhotra has been busy shuttling from one jewellery store to another in Mumbai. Her elder daughter is getting married next year but she's trying to buy as much jewellery as possible for the wedding now. 'I was waiting for this period to start buying gold jewellery for my daughter's wedding' says Mrs Malhotra, as she checks out a necklace in the store. But why is she in such a hurry to buy so much jewellery right now? After all, her daughter's wedding is still a year away. "This is the best time to purchase gold and the prices are also low right now. I am not sure whether I will get the same rate next year," she says. Neeta is one among millions of Indians who have been thronging stores over the last two weeks to purchase jewellery, as the festive and wedding season kicks in. Domestic prices are 7.4% lower compared to the same period last year, thanks largely to a slump in international demand - and this is expected to give a big boost to sales this year.

How Quantitative Easing Contributed to the Nation’s Inequality Problem
Janet L. Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, is regarded as a person of the highest integrity. And that is what’s so utterly confounding about the speech she gave in Boston last week about inequality. She did a wonderful job highlighting the growing disparity between rich and poor and how it is beginning to impinge upon what it means to be an American, but she ignored the fact that, in many ways, the Fed’s policies have compounded the problem. There is no question that her remarks were a real shocker. We have been conditioned not to expect anything so honest, and in such clear and unequivocal language, from any top government official, let alone from the sitting head of the Federal Reserve. That’s why it’s worth repeating a few of Ms. Yellen’s conclusions. “The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” she said. “The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years...

ISIS excels at recruiting American teens: Here are four reasons why
Three Denver schoolgirls skipped class Friday to fly to Turkey to join ISIS. A 19-year-old American nurse aid planned to travel to the Turkish border to marry an ISIS member she met on the Internet. A suburban Chicago teen was arrested before boarding a flight to Turkey to join ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. These are just three recent examples of American teenagers lured from lives of relative comfort in the US to the frontlines of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a terrorist group known for its brutality – and increasingly, for its sophisticated recruitment campaigns that are drawing more and more disaffected teens from Western countries such as the US, the UK, and France. According to CIA estimates, about 2,000 Westerners have traveled to Iraq and Syria (many via Turkey) to join ISIS. Of these, more than 100 have come from the US, at least 500 from the UK, and more than 700 from France, according to estimates from authorities in those countries.

Watchdog report on Veterans Affairs kept secret for years

Why people still feel the economy stinks
U.S. unemployment is down. Consumer confidence is up. Inflation is low. Things are improving, yet Americans are still worried. The economy is voters' top concern ahead of the midterm elections next month, ranking ahead of national security, according to a recent Politico poll. Only 42% of those surveyed by CNN late last month thought the economy was in good shape. While that's the highest share since January 2008 and an improvement from the 29% who felt this way a year ago, it's still weak overall. Let's take a look at what's going right: The unemployment rate is below 6% for the first time since 2008. Job openings are back to 2001 levels. Consumer confidence is at its highest point since before the recession, and inflation remains a tame 1.7%. Sounds great, but it's taken the country a long time to get to this point, said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.

Obama brings in 1,900 people from another Ebola nation
Since an outbreak of Ebola hit the Democratic Republic of the Congo in July, the Obama administration has brought into the U.S. at least 1,900 refugees from the disease-stricken nation, WND has learned. Required medical screening for refugees may not detect all diseases. The mandatory blood and urine tests for all refugees would not detect Ebola. The strain of Ebola found in the Congo is slightly different from the virus that has been ravaging West Africa. Researchers have conclude the Congolese outbreak is not connected to the epidemic in West Africa. The U.S. refugee program this year is on pace to resettle 70,000 citizens, including a limit for the fiscal year of 2014 of 14,000 from Africa, with the State Department giving priority to Congolese refugees. Since July, at least 1,900 Congolese refugees have been resettled within the U.S., according to statistics provided by the State Department.

Opec resists falling oil prices action

Dow Chemical to cut $1 billion in costs over three years
Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N), the No. 1 U.S. chemical maker by sales, said it was looking to cut fixed costs by $1 billion over the next three years, building on reductions that have helped boost margins. Shares of the company, which reported a better-than-expected profit for the fourth straight quarter, rose nearly 4 percent. Rival Dupont (DD.N) has said it plans to shave off $1 billion of annual costs by 2019. Dow, which said it had been cutting fixed costs annually by 3 percent since 2012, did not elaborate on the latest cost cuts. Low raw material costs helped push up margins for the ninth straight quarter in Dow's plastics business, contributing to a 43 percent jump in net income in the three months ended September. Dow's plastics business has benefited from a shale boom in the United States that has pulled down prices of raw materials such as ethane and naphtha, giving the company an edge over oil-dependent European rivals.

Six Signs Your Government’s Too Big
In today’s episode, we’re going to show you six “red flags” to look out for. These flags will inform you — with little doubt — that your government is, in fact, too swollen. Let’s dive right in… No. 1: Your government is too big if government contractors get paid to hit the refresh button for months on end… “Employees at an ObamaCare processing center in Missouri with a contract worth $1.2 billion,” one New York Post article reads, “are reportedly getting paid to do nothing but sit at their computers.” Serco, a company owned by a British firm, was awarded over a billion dollars to handle ACA applications. According to one whistleblower, Serco is attempting to hide the lack of actual work they’re doing. Instead, its HR department is hastily hiring employees in its centers in Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Of course, duly compensated with each new body in a chair. Weeks can pass, the whistleblower told St. Louis’ News 4, before employees receive even one application to process.

US stores hire big with high hopes for holiday shopping
US stores and shippers are ramping up holiday hiring to potentially the highest level in 15 years, but no one is sure whether that will be answered by a burst of shopping. Package shipper FedEx said Tuesday it would add 50,000 temporary workers for the November-January holiday shopping season, aiming to avoid last year's debacle when it and rival UPS were overwhelmed by the online sales surge, resulting in a huge number of deliveries missing the December 25 Christmas target. UPS earlier said it was adding up to 95,000 holiday workers to meet what all analysts agree will be another banner season for shipper-dependent online sales. Added to hiring by stores, that could give around one million more people work for the three-month stretch. But, a week ahead of the unofficial kickoff to the year-end splurge, views were mixed over whether consumers will open their pocketbooks and unleash their credit cards more generously than last year.

Middleton and Randazzo on bank capital and bank regulation

Sprint Fired 452 Employees Last Weekend, Keeps Chasing Low-End Data Consumers
In an effort to maintain its position as the low-cost leader in wireless data, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) today announced a 1-gigabyte shared data allowance for $20 in its Family Share Pack. The wireless carrier claims that its plan doubles the data offered by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and more than triples the data offered by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) at the same price point. According to Sprint this is how it works: Customers can build their own plan in three easy steps. First, choose the shared data allowance. For 1GB, it’s $20 per month for up to 10 lines. Second, add data access for phones with unlimited talk and text while on the Sprint Network. The data access charge for non-discounted phones is $25 per month per line for 1GB through 16GB. Third, add your tablet devices for $10 per month per line and mobile broadband devices for $20 per month per line. There is no early termination fee and no annual service contract with non-discounted phones.

Afghan opium at all time high, despite $7.6B spent fighting it
Afghan farmers are growing an unprecedented amount of poppy—used for opium and heroin—despite more than $7 billion spent by the U.S. since 2001 fighting Afghanistan's poppy cultivation and developing a counter-narcotics program. Last year, 209,000 hectares of poppy were produced, which exceeds the previous 2007 peak by 16,000 hectares, according to a report Tuesday from John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction. (A hectare is nearly 2.5 acres.) Afghanistan produced about 75 percent of the world's supply of heroin last year. The country is the world's largest grower of poppy. In 2013, opium-based products made in Afghanistan were valued at nearly $3 billion, a 50 percent increase from 2012, according to the report. Poppy's resurgence in Afghanistan is due in part to affordable deep-well technology that has transformed 200,000 hectares of desert in the southwest into fertile land.

Sears Announces Third Cash Boost in Two Months
The struggling retailer plans to raise $625 million through an offering of notes and warrants. Sears Holdings CEO and majority shareholder Eddie Lampert has agreed to pump another $303 million into the struggling retailer as it tries to boost liquidity ahead of the holiday season. Lampert’s hedge fund ESL Investments owns a 48.5% stake in Sears. In a regulatory filing Monday, the company announced it planned to raise $625 million through an offering of senior notes and warrants, with ESL contributing its pro-rata share of $303 million. “This rights offering provides Sears Holdings with additional long-term flexibility and we expect it will provide confidence to our vendors and other constituents that we will continue to generate the liquidity needed to support our business,” Sears said in a blog post. As Reuters reports, Sears’ “deepening financial troubles have forced insurers and banks to raise the cost of guaranteeing payment to vendors...

Another death knell for the middle class
It may be time to play a dirge for the American middle class. While many American families enjoyed rising prosperity in the decades following World War II, those wealth gains have eroded, leaving the middle-class poorer than anytime since the 1940s, according to new research from economists Emmanuel Saez of University of California, Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics. At the same time, the richest Americans have become richer, putting their share of wealth at the dizzying heights only seen during the era of "The Great Gatsby" and the Gilded Age of the robber barons, the researchers note. While economists have focused on income inequality in the United States, Saez and Zucman sought to explore the issue of wealth. The question, they write, is to investigate whether American household wealth -- homes, retirement and investment assets, minus debts -- has been hit by a similar growing disparity.

Congressional pockets get at least $150 million deeper
Congress is at least $150 million richer, according to a new report. For the Record aired “Beltway Nation” earlier this month highlighting the lucrative culture of waste, corruption and abuse of power in Washington, D.C. New numbers released this week illustrating the increasing wealth of members of Congress further demonstrate the opportunities for self-enrichment available to insiders of America’s political culture. Roll Call reported Tuesday that the combined minimum net worth of Congress jumped up to $2.1 billion dollars, an increase of more than $150 million since 2013. The numbers come from a Congressional Quarterly Roll Call analysis based on the financial disclosures filed last year by each member of Congress or delegate. The total financial gain averages out between $300,000 to $3.9 million per lawmaker, but as Roll Call points out, not unlike the average wealth spread across the rest of America, the deepest pockets are “concentrated at the top.”

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