Venezuela’s Real Inflation May Be Six Times the Official Rate

Venezuelan taking to the streets in protest
Venezuelan taking to the streets in protest

Among the complaints of the Venezuelans that have taken to the street by the tens of thousands over the past couple weeks is the government’s inability to stem high inflation. It’s easy to see why people are angry; official figures put the country’s annualized inflation rate at 56%, which is among the highest in the world. And there’s reason to believe even that high number is a drastic underestimate of Venezuela’s actual inflation rate.

Steve Hanke
Steve Hanke

The problem with Venezuela’s official rate is that it doesn’t account for the country’s highly active black market, according to Johns Hopkins economics professor Steve Hanke. Venezuela’s shortage index, which tracks the percentage of basic goods in short supply, is approaching 30%—meaning that well over a quarter of the things Venezuelans want to buy, they can’t easily find. The current list includes flour, corn, butter, eggs, and even toilet paper. Government controls have been put in effect to artificially keep prices low, but they have had the opposite effect of discouraging production and exacerbating the shortages.

Bolivares

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

It also doesn’t help that Venezuela’s currency, the Bolivar, has plunged since president Nicolas Maduro took office, which is making Venezuelans reluctant to hold onto the local currency, instead stashing away foreign currencies such as US dollars.

The result is that almost anything one can buy on the open market can be turned around at a higher price, often in US dollars, on the black market. “The prices in the economy are much, much higher than the controlled prices being used by the government,” Hanke said. “The inflation rate is much higher than anyone is projecting. It’s in the triple digits.” According to the Cato Institute’s troubled currencies project, which estimates the inflation implied by a country’s black market prices, Venezuela’s rate was 330% as of last week, or nearly six times the official figure.

Whether protests, which have used roadblocks as a means of disruption, will worsen Venezuela’s economic woes remains to be seen. But there’s at least the potential for such tactics to exacerbate the country’s shortages. “The protests will probably worsen them marginally,” Hanke said. “But the economy is so messed up that it may not even be that noticeable.”

Advertisements

Coalition Of Black Pastors Call For Holder Impeachment Over Same-Sex Marriage

A coalition of African-American civil rights leaders and pastors stunned Washington on Tuesday by launching a campaign to gather one million signatures on a petition calling for the impeachment and removal ofAttorney General Eric Holder for attempting to undermine states’ authority to “coerce states to fall in line with same-sex marriage.”

President Barack Obama walks past US Attorney General Eric Holder
President Barack Obama walks past US Attorney General Eric Holder

“President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have turned their backs on the values the American people hold dear, values particularly cherished in the black community: values like marriage, which should be strengthened and promoted, rather than weakened and undermined,” says a statement by the Coalition of African American Pastors that has been posted online with their impeachment petition.

CAAP logo 2Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP) is calling for Holder’s impeachment for “attempting to impose ‘same-sex marriage’ throughout the nation despite federal law, rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, and state constitutional amendments to the contrary,” reads the online petition.

“What we have in Attorney General Holder is a man so political in his zeal to redefine marriage that he is willing to run roughshod over the rulings of the Supreme Court, binging federal law, and the United States Constitution along with the constitutions of a majority of states,” the Rev. Bill Owens, founder and president of CAAP, said in a statement.

This comes as Holder announced on Tuesday that state attorney generals are not obligated to defend laws in their states that prohibit same-sex marriage if they do not believe in such legislation.

The Attorney General told the New York Times that if a state has a gay marriage ban in place and that state’s Attorney General doesn’t agree with it, he or she does not have to defend it.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner is stunned by Holder encouraging AGs to ignore their oaths of office if they have a personal problem with a particular law.

The Times article, always beholden to the Obama administration, spun the lawless nature of Holder’s comments with this:

“Mr. Holder was careful not to encourage his state counterparts to disavow their own laws, but said that officials who have carefully studied bans on gay marriage could refuse to defend them.”

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington

Attorney General Holder, a longtime friend and ally of President Barack Obama, spoke Tuesday at the winter meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, telling top law enforcers at the state level that laws banning gay marriage can be cast aside if they believe they encourage illegal discrimination.

Holder told them,

‘In general, I believe that we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.’

‘And we must endeavor in all of our efforts to uphold and advance the values that once led our forebears to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.’

Holder’s speech came just weeks after Holder ordered Justice Department employees to give legal same-sex marriages equal consideration, even in states where such unions are not recognized.

The result of his latest remarks is a new federal government-sanctioned license, covering attorneys general who refuse to defend ‘traditional marriage’ laws when they are challenged in court.

That has angered the Coalition of African American Pastors, which said it aims to collect 1 million signatures on an impeachment petition that blames Holder for violating his oath of office by picking and choosing which laws to enforce on the basis of his personal beliefs.

‘President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have turned their backs on the values the American people hold dear,’ the group said, ‘values particularly cherished in the black community: values like marriage, which should be strengthened and promoted, rather than weakened and undermined.

Addressing Holder’s move to bring state attorneys general along, the group accused him in a statement of trying to ‘coerce states to fall in line with the same-sex “marriage” agenda.’

Six hours after the coalition’s pres conference, its online petition to Congress had collected fewer than 4,000 signatures.

Coalition of African American Pastors logoThe CAAP’s petition calling for Holder’s impeachment says that Holder’s position on the matter is in opposition to the values of the black community, and similarly faults President Barack Obama for his support of same-sex marriage.

The petition reads:

“President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have turned their backs on the values the American people hold dear, values particularly cherished in the black community: values like marriage, which should be strengthened and promoted, rather than weakened and undermined. Our nation calls for the building up of a healthier marriage culture; instead, our elected leaders are bent on destroying marriage, remaking it as a genderless institution and reorienting it to be all about the desires of adults rather than the needs of children.”

The CAAP is supporting a “March For Marriage” on June 19 of this year in Washington D.C. “in support of the bedrock of society and our culture’s most pro-life and pro-child institution.”

CAAP describes itself as a grass-roots movement of Christians who believe in traditional family values such as “supporting the role of religion in American public life, protecting the lives of the unborn, and defending the sacred institution of marriage.”

CAAP says it is not affiliated with any political party or religion denomination, and says it welcomes believers of all races and backgrounds to work with them in spreading Christian values and convictions.

Owens reiterated that Holder’s stance on marriage is an attack that should be defended by people among all racial and religious groups.

Rev. Bill Owens
Rev. Bill Owens

“Marriage is an institution that benefits all of society; therefore every citizen has an interest in protecting marriage from these brazen attacks,” Owens said at the National Press Club.

Democratic attorneys general in five states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Nevada — have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans against lawsuits filed by gay couples.

Are we to assume that this new way at looking at state laws applies to all laws? If an attorney general of a state carefully studied laws allowing abortions and found them morally and legally abhorrent, are we to assume that the AG could then refuse to defend them?

This is not the first time there has been a push for Holder’s impeachment. A group of congressional Republicans introduced a resolution in November alleging the attorney general had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” during his time at the top of the Justice Department.

Impeach Holder

Feds Indict Union Thugs For Burning Down Church For Employing Non-Union Workers

Last week, the federal government indicted multiple union members for burning down a Quaker church in 2012.

Ten members of a Philadelphia ironworkers union face charges of arson and racketeering in connection with a fire against the church, which was employing non-union workers.

Church burning“Ironworkers Local 401 [was charged] with allegedly participating in a conspiracy to commit criminal acts of extortion, arson, destruction of property, and assault in order to force construction contractors to hire union ironworkers,” the FBI said in a press release. “Specifically, the indictment charges RICO conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, three counts of arson, two counts of use of fire to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit arson. Eight of the 10 individuals named in the indictment are charged with conspiring to use Ironworkers Local 401 as an enterprise to commit criminal acts.”

The group of self-described THUGS—an acronym for “Those Helpful Union Guys”—allegedly burned down the meetinghouse as part of a wider campaign of violence against non-union work sites across the city.

The indictment goes on to describe how the union used non-union point men in an effort to distance the union from allegations of violence. Those individuals served as scouts in order to identify and threaten any construction site that was not utilizing union labor.

“The defendants had a network of individuals, friendly to the Ironworkers Local 401, to help identify construction projects and job sites where work was being performed without using Local 401 members,” the FBI said. “The indictment alleges that business agents would approach construction foremen at those work sites and imply or explicitly threaten violence, destruction of property, or other criminal acts unless union members were hired.”

Special Agent In Charge, Edward J. Hanko
Special Agent In Charge, Edward J. Hanko

FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko said that he hopes the indictment will serve as a warning to other unions that are engaged in violent pressure campaigns. He added that the FBI suspects that there are other victims out there who have been too scared to report violence to the police.

“The strong-arm tactics we have seen in this case are outrageous and brazen—and an unfortunate blow to the worthy intentions of unionism,” Hanko said. “The fight for workers’ rights may sometimes call for tough tactics, but violence, intimidation, arson, and sabotage are crimes which won’t be tolerated. This investigation has been wide-ranging, but it is far from over. Now that this indictment has been unsealed, we expect to hear from more victims and will aggressively pursue all other leads we receive.”

Robert Reeves, president of E. Allen Reeves, Inc., the firm building the burned down Quaker meetinghouse, told the Washington Free Beacon soon after the fire that union violence would not stop without direct political action.

“I think there’s a resurgence in violence because unions are contemplating their loss of market share,” he said. “I wish that leaders in the Philadelphia region would speak up against violence. They don’t tolerate it in schools, but they look the other way when it’s their supporters.”

Philadelphia police immediately suspected union members of perpetrating the arson, though no arrests were made in connection to the fire in the months after the incident. United States Attorney Zane David Memeger stepped in to help put the violent spree from the union to a halt.

“While unions have the right to legally advocate on behalf of their members, my office will not tolerate the conduct of those who use violence to further union goals,” Memger said. “Union officials and members who commit arson, destroy property, use threats of physical harm, and engage in other acts of violence to extort victims on behalf of their union need to be criminally prosecuted. Today’s indictment makes that clear.”

If convicted of all charges, four union leaders each face up to 130 years in prison, while six other alleged co-conspirators face 20-to-40-year prison terms.

Chinese Foreign Minister Makes Rare visit to Iraq

China - Iraq flagsChinese foreign minister Wang Yi has held talks in Baghdad on issues ranging from trade to arming Iraq’s hard-pressed security forces.

It is the first such visit in over a decade.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Mr Wang met with prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, during which the Iraqi premier called for “cooperation in the field of fighting terrorism,” a statement from his office said.

During a joint news conference, foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari hailed China as “the biggest trade partner for Iraq, and the biggest investor in the oil and electricity sectors”.

Chinese companies PetroChina and CNPC have substantial investments in Iraqi oil production, which accounts for the lion’s share of government revenue.

Baghdad is seeking to dramatically ramp up its oil sales to fund reconstruction of its battered infrastructure.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi Foreign Minister
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi Foreign Minister

Mr Zebari also says Mr Wang’s visit included discussions on arming Iraqi security forces, which are struggling to curb a year-long surge in violence that has killed thousands of people.

The situation in Syria, Iraq’s civil war-torn neighbor to the west, and Iran to its east, which is negotiating with world powers including China on its controversial nuclear program, were also discussed.

It was “the first visit to Baghdad by a high-ranking Chinese official since 2003″, the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

It follows a trip by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for talks that also included Syria and weapons purchases.

China - United States flags 5The issue of American weapons deliveries provides an opening in Iraq for other countries to make gains in diplomatic and military ties, a situation Baghdad could also seek to use as leverage with Washington.

Iraqi officials have been angered by delays in the delivery of some US weapons over concerns about potential abuses, and has sought to bolster its forces with purchases made from elsewhere.

Sony Electronics to Lay Off One-Third of Its U.S. Employees

SonyElectronics giant Sony announced today that it will lay off 1,000 of its U.S. employees at Sony Electronics by the end of this year.  It will also close 20 of its U.S stores.

“Sony Electronics confirmed a total staff reduction of one-third by the end of the calendar year, affecting approximately 1,000 employees across all sites,” the company said in a statement.

The layoffs come less than a month after it was announced that the Japanese tech company is expecting losses of over $1 Billion by the end of the fiscal year.

On the company’s website, President and COO of Sony electronics, Mike Fasulo wrote:

“While these moves were extremely tough, they were absolutely necessary to position us in the best possible place for future growth. I am entirely confident in our ability to turn the business around, in achieving our preferred future , and continue building in our flawless commitment to customer loyalty through the complete entertainment experience only Sony can offer.”

Unfortunately for Sony it appears that customers believe that other companies can offer a better experience.  The companies loses come as electronics consumers have been favoring commenting brands of smart phones, personal computers and televisions.

While only 1,000 of Sony’s American employees are expected to be laid off, the company has also said that it will reduce its workforce by 5,000 worldwide by the end of 2014.

Holder Feeling Heat From House Democrats Over Use Of FBI National Security Letters For Domestic Spying

A pair of House Democrats is adding a bipartisan flavor to months of GOP-led protestations over the way President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice circumvents the spirit of Constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures.

Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and David Cicilline (R.I.), both Democrats, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week

Rep Jerrold Nadler
Rep Jerrold Nadler
Rep David Cicilline
Rep David Cicilline

demanding the DOJ explain its rationale for relying on the FBI’s secret National Security Letters, which allow Federal law enforcement to compel banks and Internet providers to give up private customer information — without their knowledge or consent.

National Security Letters are among the Patriot Act’s many freedom-choking legacies. The DOJ welcomes the FBI’s interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to include the FBI’s use of National Security Letters to collect wire-based data, as the two Congressmen point out, on a “case-by-case basis.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General:

Over the past several months, the media has focused on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  Section 215 permits the government to obtain “any tangible thing” if there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the information sought is “relevant” to an investigation “to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Under this authority, the National Security Agency collects records on virtually every phone call made in the United States.  We understand that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may also use Section 215 to collect telephone records on a case-by-case basis.  Section 215, of course, requires the government to obtain the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before it may demand these records from a communications service provider.

On February 4, 2014, at a full committee hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, we questioned Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole about a different investigative tool—National Security Letters, or “NSLs.”

NSLs permit the FBI to obtain, among other things, telephone records, email subscriber information, and financial transaction records that are “relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”2 NSLs are issued by senior FBI officials.  No judicial finding is necessary.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies noted that “foreign intelligence investigations are especially likely to implicate highly sensitive and personal information and to have potentially severe consequences for the individuals under investigation.”3 The Review Group was “unable to identify a principled reason why NSLs should be issued by FBI officials when section 215 orders . . . must be issued by the FISC,”4 and therefore recommended that “all statutes authorizing the use of National Security Letters should be amended to require the use of the same oversight, minimization, retention, and dissemination standards that currently govern the use of section 215 orders.”

As we consider reforms to the government’s surveillance capabilities, it would be helpful to understand more about the interplay between Section 215 and NSLs.  To that end, we ask the following questions:

·    Presumably, anything that the government can obtain through an NSL it can also obtain through a Section 215 order from the FISA court.  Given the overlap with Section 215, why are NSLs necessary?

·    In what instances would the FBI choose to use an NSL instead of Section 215?  In what instances would the FBI choose to use Section 215 instead of an NSL?

·    In 2009, the Department of Justice reported that the FBI had made 21 applications for business records to the FISA court.  In 2010, the number of requests jumped to 205.  In a 2011 letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, FBI Director Robert Mueller explained that “over the last two years, the FBI has increasingly had to rely on business records orders to obtain electronic communications transactions records that historically were obtained with NSLs.”6 Why did the FBI shift from NSLs to Section 215? Does it still rely on Section 215 for these purposes?  Does the FBI’s dependence on one authority or the other shift over time?

Although the government periodically reports certain aggregate numbers to the House Judiciary Committee, we require a side-by-side comparison of (1) the FBI’s use of NSLs, (2) the FBI’s use of Section 215, and (3) the NSA’s use of Section 215, which often generates leads for the FBI.
We therefore request that you provide, for all fiscal years from 2006 to the latest available reporting period, the following information:

·    The number of NSLs issued by the FBI, the statutory authority for each such NSL, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such NSLs;

·    The number of times that the FBI has requested a Section 215 order from the FISA court, the number of such orders modified and granted, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such orders;

·    The number of “RAS-approved” selectors used by the NSA to query telephone metadata; the number of searches conducted with those selectors; and the number of times these queries generated a tip to the FBI.

We ask that you provide this information as soon possible, but no later than March 7, 2014.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact John Doty from Congressman Nadler’s Office at 202.225.5635 or William Walsh from Congressman Cicilline’s Office at 202.225.4911.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler   Member of Congress

David Cicilline     Member of Congress

Even the NSA must go through at least a pantomime of the judicial process, via the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to obtain legal authorization to spy on everyone. But, as The Hill’s Julian Hattem notes, the FBI can rely on National Security Letters without any judicial review whatsoever.

While it’s obvious that this election season has plenty of Democratic Congressmen pretending to act like outraged Republicans in order to save their seats, Nadler and Cicilline have at least — perhaps unwittingly — made a bipartisan matter out of something the Obama Administration has preferred, so far, to treat as a fringe issue that draws complaint only from “right-wing” Constitutionalists.

USPS Joins Other Non-Military Government Agencies in Soliciting for Ammunition

USPS 1The U.S. Postal Service joins the long list of non-military federal agencies purchasing large amounts of ammunition.  The USPS is currently seeking companies that can provide “assorted small arms ammunition” in the near future.

On Jan. 31, the USPS Supplies and Services Purchasing Office posted a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website asking contractors to register with USPS as potential ammunition suppliers for a variety of cartridges.

“The United States Postal Service intends to solicit proposals for assorted small arms ammunition,” the notice reads, which also mentioned a deadline of Feb. 10.

The Post Office published the notice just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced his proposal to remove a federal gun ban that prevents lawful concealed carry holders from carrying handguns inside post offices across the country.

Ironically the Postal Service isn’t the first non-law enforcement agency seeking firearms and ammunition.

Govt Agencies Buying Ammo and Guns

Since 2001, the U.S. Dept. of Education has been building a massive arsenal through purchases orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The Education Dept. has spent over $80,000 so far on Glock pistols and over $17,000 on Remington shotguns.

Back in July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also purchased 72,000 rounds of .40 Smith & Wesson, following a 2012 purchase for 46,000 rounds of .40 S&W jacketed hollow point by the National Weather Service.

NOAA spokesperson Scott Smullen responded to concerns over the weather service purchase by stating that it was meant for the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement for its bi-annual “target qualifications and training.”

That seems excessive considering that JHP ammunition is typically several times more expensive than practice rounds, which can usually be found in equivalent power loadings and thus offer similar recoil characteristics as duty rounds.

Including mass purchases by the Dept. of Homeland Security, non-military federal agencies combined have purchased an estimated amount of over two billion rounds of ammunition in the past two years.

Additionally, the U.S. Army bought almost 600,000 Soviet AK-47 magazines last fall, enough to hold nearly 18,000,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammo which is not standard-issue for either the U.S. military or even NATO.

It would take a Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world, two trips to haul that many magazines.

A month prior, the army purchased nearly 3,000,000 rounds of 7.62x39mm ammo, a huge amount but still only 1/6th of what the magazines purchased can hold in total.

The Feds have also spent millions on riot control measures in addition to the ammo acquisitions.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security spent over $58 million on hiring security details for just two Social Security offices in Maryland.

DHS also spent $80 million on armed guards to protect government buildings in New York and sought even more guards for federal facilities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

While the government gears up for civil unrest and stockpiles ammo without limit, private gun owners on the other hand are finding ammunition shelves empty at gun stores across America, including shortages of once-common cartridges such as .22 Long Rifle.