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Monthly Archives: January 2014

FLASH: $NUS Halted, Down 30% for Investigation of China Unit… Update: Circuit Breakers Hit, $NUS Down 40%

“Trading in NuSkin stock has been halted after cratering 21.6% during today’s trading day.

Earlier this week, the multi-level marketing firm was the subject of a negative article in The People’s Daily” in China.

The article claimed that the company lies to its distributors, was sold without proper regulatory approvals, and made inaccurate scientific claims.

NuSkin fire back with a press release that said the article itself was inaccurate:

“We are dedicated to operating in full compliance with applicable regulations as interpreted and enforced by the government of China,” it continued. “Nu Skin has an 11-year history of doing business in China under these regulations. Our business activities are regularly monitored by the government in this rapidly growing marketplace. As is our practice, we will communicate openly with regulators to address questions arising from this article….”

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World Bank: Global Economy is Set to Accelerate for 2014

“Global growth is set to accelerate in 2014 as advanced economies turn a corner five years after the global financial crisis, said the World Bank.

Growth is projected to strengthen to 3.2 percent this year, 3.4 percent in 2015, and 3.6 percent in 2016 – up from 2.4 percent in 2013.

“Most of the acceleration is expected to come from high-income countries, as the drag on growth from fiscal consolidation and policy uncertainty eases and private sector recoveries gain firmer footing,” the World Bank wrote in its newly-released Global Economic Prospects report on Wednesday.

Stronger growth and increased demand from developed nations will be an important tailwind for developing countries and should help compensate for the impending tightening of financial conditions, the Washington-based development bank said.

Growth in high-income countries is forecast to quicken to 2.2 percent this year from 1.3 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, growth in developing countries is estimated to pick up modestly to 5.3 percent from 4.8 percent.

The bank says the withdrawal of quantitative easing and corresponding increase in global interest rates is expected to weigh only modestly on investment and growth in developing countries as capital costs rise and capital flows moderate in line with a global portfolio rebalancing….”

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Dr. Doom Says The Sky May Fall Any Day Now

“As stocks returned a whopping 30% in 2013, there have been growing concerns about a stock market bubble. Especially considering that the rally supported by only meager earnings growth.

While many have made comprehensive arguments showing why stocks are not in a bubble, Marc Faber, author of “The Gloom Boom And Doom Report,” continues to argue that we’re in a bubble that’ll pop as we head for a financial crisis.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, he says we are in a “gigantic financial asset bubble.” He also thinks the bubble could burst at any moment.


“I think we are in a gigantic financial asset bubble. But it is interesting that that despite of all the money printing, bond yields didn’t go down. They bottomed out on July 25, 2012 at 1.43% on the 10-years. We went to over 3.0%. We’re now at 2.85% or something thereabout. But we’re up substantially. Now, this hasn’t had an impact on stocks yet. In fact, it pushed money into the stock market out of the bond market. But if the 10-years goes to say 3.5% to 4.0%, then the 30-year goes to close to 5.0%, the mortgage rates go to 6.0%. That will hit the economy very hard.”

“[The bubble] could burst before. It could burst any day. I think we are very stretched….”

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Making Things Safer, Basel Committee Lowers the Leverage Ratio Rule

“World banking regulators said they would soften the terms of a rule meant to ensure banks’ soundness, bowing to pressure from banks that had argued it would stifle their lending to consumers and businesses.

The Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, made up of banking regulators from around the world, said it had revised the definition of its leverage ratio in ways that will allow banks to report lower levels of overall risk. The leverage ratio measures capital held by a bank against its total assets, so the changes will lead to higher reported capital ratios. That will reduce the pressure on banks to either shed assets or raise more capital to meet the requirement.

The biggest beneficiaries of the changes appear likely to be banks most involved in securities and derivatives markets. Most important, the rules no longer require banks to count 100% of their off-balance-sheet assets. That not only includes most of banks’ derivatives exposures, but also the guarantees and letters of credit that are essential to greasing the wheels of international trade.

In addition, the changes allow for extensive “netting” of securities-financing transactions, such as repurchase agreements, or “repos,” for greater counting of margin payments received from counterparties. And they let banks eliminate double-counting of exposures involving central counterparties. Those changes will have the effect of reducing assets reported under the leverage ratio, increasing banks’ reported ratios.

The announcement is the latest in a series of amendments to the aggressive new rules that regulators drew up in reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, in an effort to make the financial system safer. Much of that fine-tuning has had the effect of softening the impact of the new rules, as the industry has managed to persuade regulators that their plans were overzealous. Sunday’s announcement follows a similar relaxation of a new rule on minimum liquidity standards at the start of last year. It also follows a significant dilution in the U.S.’s so-called Volcker rule, which is an attempt at curbing speculative trading by banks, and signs from the European Union that it will soft-pedal parallel plans of its own.

Banks will have to report their leverage ratios from 2015 onward, and regulators intend to force them to have a ratio of at least 3% starting in 2018, but there is no binding commitment to the latter….”

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Mexicali Blues: US Government-Sanctioned Drug-Running

“For over a decade, under multiple administrations, the U.S. government had a secret agreement with the ruthless Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed it to operate with impunity, an in-depth investigation by a leading Mexican newspaper confirmed this week. In exchange for information and assistance in quashing competing criminal syndicates, the Bush and Obama administrations let the Sinaloa cartel import tons of drugs into the United States while wiping out Sinaloa competitors and ensuring that its leaders would not be prosecuted for their long list of major crimes. Other revelations also point strongly to massive but clandestine U.S. government involvement in drug trafficking.

Relying on over 100 interviews with current and former government functionaries on both sides of the border, as well as official documents from the U.S. and Mexican governments, Mexico’s El Universal concluded that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Justice Department had secretly worked with Mexican drug lords. The controversial conspiring led to increased violence across Mexico, where many tens of thousands have been murdered in recent years, the newspaper found after its year-long probe. The U.S. agents and their shady deals with Mexican drug lords even sparked what the paper called a “secret war” inside Mexico.

The newspaper’s investigation also confirmed long-held suspicions that U.S. authorities were signing secret agreements with Mexican drug cartels — especially Sinaloa, which CIA operatives have said was a favorite for use in achieving geo-political objectives. Supposedly without the knowledge or approval of officials in Mexico, ICE and DEA, with a green light from Washington, D.C., made deals with criminal bosses allowing them to avoid prosecution for a vast crime spree that has included mass murder, corruption, bribery, drug trafficking, extortion, and more. In exchange, cartel leaders simply had to help U.S. officials eliminate their competitors — certainly a win-win scenario for crime bosses who prefer to operate without competition or fear of prosecution…..”

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[youtube://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyaWbPRhJvE 450 300]


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Small Business Confidence Rises on Better Sales

“U.S. small business sentiment improved in December, with firms more optimistic about future business conditions and future earnings.

The National Federation of Independent Business said on Tuesday its Small Business Optimism Index edged up 1.4 point to 93.9 last month.

The increase was driven by a net increase in the number of firms who expect better business conditions six months from now. Companies also were more optimistic about revenues and profits….”

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Because, Max Keiser

[youtube://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_OFh8xk35k#t=177 450 300]

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Bulls Take Heed: $GS Declares Equity Valuations Lofty by Any Measure

“We imagine this call is going to get a lot of debate going about how expensive stocks are right now, and the durability of this rally.

Goldman equity strategist David Kostin declares in his latest ‘Weekly Kickstart’ note that the market is getting pricey.

These three paragraphs pack a major punch. Bulls should take heed:

The current valuation of the S&P 500 is lofty by almost any measure, both for the aggregate market as well as the median stock: (1) The P/E ratio; (2) the current P/E expansion cycle; (3) EV/Sales; (4) EV/EBITDA; (5) Free Cash Flow yield; (6) Price/Book as well as the ROE and P/B relationship; and compared with the levels of (6) inflation; (7) nominal 10-year Treasury yields; and (8) real interest rates. Furthermore, the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio suggests the S&P 500 is currently 30% overvalued in terms of (9) Operating EPS and (10) about 45% overvalued using As Reported earnings.

Reflecting on our recent client visits and conversations, the biggest surprise is how many investors expect the forward P/E multiple to expand to 17x or 18x. For some reason, many market participants believe the P/E multiple has a long-term average of 15x and therefore expansion to 17-18x seems reasonable. But the common perception is wrong. The forward P/E ratio for the S&P 500 during the past 5-year, 10-year, and 35- year periods has averaged 13.2x, 14.1x, and 13.0x, respectively. At 15.9x, the current aggregate forward P/E multiple is high by historical standards.

Most investors are surprised to learn that since 1976 the S&P 500 P/E multiple has only exceeded 17x during the 1997-2000 Tech Bubble and a brief four-month period in 2003-04. Other than those two episodes, the US stock market has never traded at a P/E of 17x or above.

As you can see in this chart, since 1976, the only times that PE ratios have been higher…..”

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Mission Accomplished

“This was the neo-conservatives’ victory lap when they supposedly achieved one of their main stated goals: to discover and neutralize terrorist organizations, primarily al Qaeda.

Well, things have changed.

In what can be described a truly ironic event and a major failure for America’s stated mission (because one can’t help but wonder at all the support various Al Qaeda cells have received from the US and/or CIA) of eradicating the Al Qaeda scourge from the face of the earth, we learn today that al Qaeda appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history. According to a CNN report “from around Aleppo in western Syria to small areas of Falluja in central Iraq, al Qaeda now controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East….”

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Analyzing This Morning’s Monster Miss on the Jobs Report

“Favorable readings from multiple indicators buoyed expectations for Friday’s jobs report, stirring hopes that the economy’s momentum at last is spreading to the labor market.

Economists’ median forecast for December payrolls climbed to 200,000 from 191,000, in the Dow Jones Newswires survey. The revision came after Wednesday’s ADP National Employment Report said that private businesses added 238,000 jobs in the final month of 2013. Expectations held steady for the unemployment rate, now 7.0%. Reports Thursday that both layoffs and claims for jobless benefits eased at year-end kindled optimism for the report to be released Friday by the Labor Department.

Bloomberg News

“What’s happening is the economy is generating some momentum,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist ofJefferies LLC. “We’re seeing the effects of that accelerated growth on the labor market.” He pointed to the 4.1% growth in third-quarter gross domestic product, and said fourth-quarter GDP — the advance estimate will be released in three weeks — could come in around 3%.

December’s reading will signal whether the labor market’s strength late last year is enduring. Since September, U.S. employers have added an average of 193,000 positions a month. The unemployment rate declined almost a full percentage point throughout 2013 — nearly twice the 0.5 percentage-point decline during 2012. The drop reflects good news and bad news. While some job-seekers found new positions, others gave up and left the work force. Those exits from the work force — along with the effects of an aging population — are seen in the labor-force participation rate, which, at 63.0, is three percentage points below its prerecession level.

The Labor Department report also is a critical benchmark for Federal Reserve policy makers, whose January meeting will focus on the central bank’s bond-buying stimulus. Minutes from the panel’s December meeting, released Wednesday, showed agreement on the decision to reduce the purchases by $10 billion, to $75 billion, starting this month. Fed policy makers have said they expect to dial back the program steadily in 2014, as long as the economy looks strong enough to progress without such support.

All told, the U.S. is about 1 million jobs away from recouping the roughly 9 million positions lost during and after the recession.

Economists in the most recent Wall Street Journal survey forecast on average that in 2014 the U.S. will add almost 198,000 jobs a month — the highest estimate since 2005, when the survey first posed the question. Such a pace would put the country on track to return to prerecession job levels before July.

However, when one factors in steady population growth, it would take the U.S. until April 2019 to reach where it would have been without the recession’s toll. If labor-market gains accelerate to a pace of 250,000 jobs a month, the U.S. would reach that point sooner, in August 2017. (Note that monthly job gains most recently notched such a pace in 1999.)

Returning to net payroll growth for the first time since January 2008 “doesn’t mean the labor market will be back to normal but it’s a major step along the way to normalcy,” Mr. McCarthy said…..”

Full article

Actual job creation came in at +74k jobs. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%. The participation rate falls to a new low….

Full report

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The Truth is That Psychopaths are Psychopaths

“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of the truth.

Indeed, scientists have shown that people will go to absurd lengths – and engage in mental gymnastics – in order to cling to their belief in what those in authority have said.

Part of the reason so many are so vulnerable to naive belief in authority is that we evolved in small tribes … and we assume that the super-elites are just like us.

In reality, there are millions of psychopaths in the world … and they are largely running D.C. and on Wall Street.

These people have no hesitation in lying to promote their goals.

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs told Morley Safer of 60 Minutes and CBS News:

Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.

And studies show that the super-rich lie, cheat and steal more than the rest of us.

Who’s to Blame … Big Government or Big Business?

Conservatives tend to believe that the captains of industry are virtuous and that the government can’t be trusted.

Liberals tend to believe that government servants are virtuous and that corporations can’t be trusted.

But the truth is that psychopaths are psychopaths … whether they’re in the private sector or government….”

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On the Matter of Genetic Experimentation

“In a new study published in the peer reviewed Public Library of Science (PLOS), researchers emphasize that there is sufficient evidence that meal-derived DNA fragments carry complete genes that can enter into the human circulation system through an unknown mechanism. (0) I wonder if the scientists at these biotech corporations have already identified this method? In one of the blood samples the relative concentration of plant DNA is higher than the human DNA.  The study was based on the analysis of over 1000 human samples from four independent studies. PLOS is an open access, well respected peer-reviewed scientific journal that covers primary research from disciplines within science and medicine.  It’s great to see this study published in it, confirming what many have been suspecting for years.

When it comes to genetically modified crops and foods, we really have no idea of what the long term effects will be on the public. The very first commercial sale of genetically modified foods was only twenty years ago in the year 1994. There is no possible way that our health authorities can test all possible combinations on a large enough population, over a long enough period of time to be able to say with certainty that they are harmless. Geneticist David Suzuki recently expressed his concern, saying that human beings are part of a “massive genetic experiment” over many years, as thousands of people continue to consume GMO’s, and it makes sense.

Advances in genome science over the past few years have revealed that organisms can share their genes. Prior to this, it had been thought that genes were shared only between individual members of a species through reproduction. Geneticists usually followed the inheritance of genes in what they would call a ‘vertical’ fashion, such as breeding a male and female -you follow their offspring and continue down the road from there. Today, scientists recognize that genes are shared not only among the individual members of a species, but also among members of different species.

“Our bloodstream is considered to be an environment well separated from the outside world and the digestive tract. According to the standard paradigm large macromolecules consumed with food cannot pass directly to the circulatory system. During digestion proteins and DNA are thought to be degraded into small constituents, amino acids and nucleic acids, respectively, and then absorbed by a complex active process and distributed to various parts of the body through the circulation system. Here, based on the analysis of over 1000 human samples from four independent studies, we report evidence that meal-derived DNA fragments which are large enough to carry complete genes can avoid degradation and through an unknown mechanism enter the human circulation system. In one of the blood samples the relative concentration of plant DNA is higher than the human DNA. The plant DNA concentration shows a surprisingly precise log-normal distribution in the plasma samples while non-plasma (cord blood) control sample was found to be free of plant DNA.” (0)

It’s not like a human being mates with an apple, banana or a carrot plant and exchanges genes. What biotechnology and biotech corporations like Monsanto have done, is they have allowed for the transfer of genes from one to the other without any regard for the biological limitations, or constraints. The problem with this is that it is based on very bad science. The conditions and biological ‘rules’ that apply to vertical gene transfer, at least those that we are aware of, do not necessarily apply to horizontal gene transfer. Biotech science today is based on the assumption that the principles governing the inheritance of genes are the same when we move genes horizontally as they are when they are moved vertically. It just goes to show that GMO’s should be subjected to much more experimentation and rigorous research before we continue to consume them….”

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Related article on children’s vitamins 

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Turning America Into a Banana Republic

“In a White House speech Thursday promoting his supposed offensive against inequality, President Barack Obama will formally name five communities as so-called “promise zones.” The White House on Wednesday released a statement identifying impoverished neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Antonio, as well as Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, as the first such zones. Another fifteen regions are to be designated in the coming months.

In an attempt to lend an aura of progressive reform to the measures it is proposing, the administration scheduled the speech for the week of the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty.” Besides the “promise zones,” these measures include a restoration of three months of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a small increase in the federal minimum wage.

The counterposition of these paltry proposals to the last significant social reforms in the US, including Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, only underscores the repudiation by the political establishment and both big business parties of social reform and their joint drive to dismantle the reforms of the past. Obama’s claims to be fighting inequality are belied not only by his past record, but by the further attacks on the working class he is presently pursuing.

The White House and the Democratic Party are cynically seeking to use the Christmas-time expiration of benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers, which they engineered by dropping an extension from the two-year budget deal they negotiated with the Republicans, to attack the Republicans and posture as advocates of working and poor people in advance of the 2014 midterm elections. The Democrats have already indicated they will agree to new social cuts elsewhere in exchange for Republican acceptance of a mere 90-day extension of the benefits.

The increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour being advanced by the Democrats would leave the base wage, in real terms, lower than it was in the 1960s.

Obama’s “promise zones” are at once derisory in their scale and funding and reactionary in their content. It appears that the proposal has been cobbled together by combining and repackaging previously announced “revitalization” efforts such as “promise neighborhoods” and “choice neighborhoods.” It is not clear whether any additional funds are proposed for the new program. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the administration has since 2009 spent a mere $350 million “in 100 of the nation’s persistent pockets of poverty.”

This compares to the trillions of dollars handed over to the banks and corporations in the form of taxpayer bailouts and the tens of billions in monthly subsidies to the financial markets provided by the Federal Reserve Board. The Democratic-controlled Senate this week ensured the continuation of this policy by handily confirming Obama’s nominee and Wall Street’s pick, Janet Yellen, to succeed Ben Bernanke as the next Fed chairman.

Obama’s singled-minded focus on covering the bad bets of Wall Street and further enriching the financial elite, in part by driving stock prices and corporate profits to record highs, has fueled a staggering increase in social inequality. The total wealth of billionaires has more than doubled since the stock market hit bottom in March of 2009. Since then, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has risen by 170 percent. More than 95 percent of all income gains in the US during Obama’s first term went to the richest 1 percent of the country.

On the other side of the ledger, Obama has combined an unprecedented assault on social spending with a relentless drive to slash workers’ wages and increase their exploitation. At the center of the 2009 forced bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, engineered by Obama’s Auto Task Force, was a 50 percent cut in the wages of new-hires as well as sharp reductions in the benefits of active and retired workers. This became the trigger for a nationwide assault on workers’ wages and benefits.

The majority of new jobs created in the US since the 2008 Wall Street crash pay between $7.67 and $13.83 an hour. The number of temporary jobs has increased by 50 percent.

Just as the auto bailout was presented as a boon to auto workers, every so-called “job creation” and “antipoverty” measure has centered on driving down wages and increasing speedup, while granting new tax breaks to business, so as to make US corporations more “competitive,” i.e., profitable, and increase US exports.

This was summed up in Obama’s choice of an Amazon.com fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee as the site of what was billed as a major economic policy speech last August. Speaking at a facility where the base pay is $11 an hour and working conditions are notoriously brutal, Obama praised the company’s “job creation” and declared Amazon to be “a great example of what’s possible.”

Meanwhile, Obama is proposing alongside his “promise zones” another $5 billion in tax incentives for businesses that take advantage of the poverty-wage labor being offered up.

The zones do not constitute an antipoverty program at all. They involve no government-funded jobs, but are rather, like free enterprise zones internationally, an inducement to private companies to profit from highly exploited, low-paid labor. The Philadelphia zone includes 35,000 residents in an area where the official poverty rate is close to 51 percent and unemployment is 13.6 percent. The first priority listed in the Philadelphia proposal is to “fight crime” by partnering with the police department….”

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[youtube://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt8T-Dl1tIo 450 300]

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The Zelig of Wall Street Crime

“It’s beginning to look as if JPMorgan Chase has had a hand in every major banking scandal of the last decade. In fact, it’s the Zelig of Wall Street crime. Take a snapshot of any major bank fraud and chances are you’ll see JPMorgan Chase staring out at you from the frame.JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon. (Photograph: Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images)

Foreclosure fraud, investor fraud, cheating customers, market manipulation, LIBOR … and now, the coup de grâce to JPM’s tattered reputation: a $2 billion fine for closing its eyes and covering up as Bernie Madoff literally bilked widows and orphans, along with a lot of other families and charities. (Here’s a list of investors.)

Does Jamie Dimon, the bank’s CEO, still think people don’t say enough nice things about him? Do his friends?

More importantly, how does the largest bank in the country (measured in assets) get away with being worse than Enron? That one’s easy: By being the largest bank in the country.

Guilty as Sin

JPMorgan Chase was hit with a “deferred prosecution agreement” for criminal behavior in this latest settlement, which basically means they won’t be prosecuted as long as they honor the agreement and keep admitting to their own wrongdoing. As the New York Times notes, this kind of arrangement is “nearly unheard-of for a giant American bank,” is “typically employed only when misconduct is extreme,” and “underscores the magnitude of the case against JPMorgan.”

According to publicly available information, the case against JPMorgan Chase is extremely damning. Even after highly suspicious facts came to light about the Madoff operation, JPM continued to package and sell Madoff-fed funds to its customers. It failed to report him to the authorities even after concluding that he was engaged in massive fraud….”

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Your Tax Dollars at Work: Hit the Bricks Kids

[youtube://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afpiUBMZZtY 450 300]

“The following article from the New York Times is extraordinarily important as it perfectly highlights the incredible hypocrisy of the U.S. governmentwhen it comes to overseas slave labor and human rights. While the Obama Administration (and the ones that came before it) publicly espouse self-important platitudes about our dedication to humanitarianism, when it comes down to practicing what we preach, our government fails miserably and is directly responsible for immense human suffering.

Let’s get down to some facts. The U.S. government is one of the largest buyers of clothing from overseas factories at over $1.5 billion per year. To start, considering our so-called “leaders” are supposedly so concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, why aren’t we spending the money here at home at U.S. factories? If we don’t have the capacity, why don’t we build the capacity? After all, if we need the uniforms anyway, and it is at the taxpayers expense, wouldn’t it make sense to at least ensure production at home and create some jobs? If a private business wants to produce overseas that’s fine, but you’d think the government would be a little more interested in boosting domestic industry.

However, the above is just a minor issue. Not only does the U.S. government spend most of its money for clothing at overseas factories, but it employs some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the process. Child labor, beatings, restrictions on bathroom brakes, padlocked exits and much more is routine practice at these factories. Even worse, in the few instances in which the government is required to actually use U.S. labor, they just contract with prisons for less than $2 per hour using domestic slave labor. Then, when questions start to get asked, government agencies actually go out of their way to keep the factory lists out of the public’s eye, even going so far as denying requests when pressed for information by members of Congress.

Sadly, as usual, at the end of the day this is all about profits and money. Money government officials will claim is being saved by the taxpayer, but in reality is just being funneled to well connected bureaucrats.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — One of the world’s biggest clothing buyers, the United States government spends more than $1.5 billion a year at factories overseas, acquiring everything from the royal blue shirts worn by airport security workers to the olive button-downs required for forest rangers and the camouflage pants sold to troops on military bases.

But even though the Obama administration has called on Western buyers to use their purchasing power to push for improved industry working conditions after several workplace disasters over the last 14 months, the American government has done little to adjust its own shopping habits.

Labor Department officials say that federal agencies have “zero tolerance” for using overseas plants that break local laws, but American government suppliers in countries including Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam show a pattern of legal violations and harsh working conditions, according to audits and interviews at factories.Among them: padlocked fire exits, buildings at risk of collapse, falsified wage records and repeated hand punctures from sewing needles when workers were pushed to hurry up.

In Bangladesh, shirts with Marine Corps logos sold in military stores were made at DK Knitwear, where child laborers made up a third of the work force, according to a 2010 audit that led some vendors to cut ties with the plant. Managers punched workers for missed production quotas, and the plant had no functioning alarm system despite previous fires, auditors said.Many of the problems remain, according to another audit this year and recent interviews with workers.

At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.

“Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks.

And there is no law prohibiting the federal government from buying clothes produced overseas under unsafe or abusive conditions.

Why am I not surprised…”

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Planned Layoffs Drop by 32% in December

“The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms plunged by 32 percent in December to the lowest monthly total in more than 13 years, a report on Thursday showed.

Employers announced 30,623 layoffs last month, down from 45,314 in November, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The last time employers announced fewer job cuts was June of 2000, when 17,241 planned layoffs were recorded.

The figures come a day ahead of the closely-watched U.S. non-farm payrolls report, which is forecast to show the economy added 196,000 jobs in December

On Wednesday, payrolls processor ADP reported private employers added 238,000 jobs last month. That was well above market forecasts and has fed speculation of stronger overall U.S. growth in 2014….”

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