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Source: Komo News

Counterfeit coins by the thousands are turning up in Washington state, and authorities are warning coin collectors to be on the lookout for them.

All or most of the counterfeits appear to be from China.

“Stacks of ingots, bars, all kinds of stuff – they make everything from pennies all the way up to silver dollars,” says Port Angeles police officer Duane Benedict. “China is making these things by the thousands.”

Several of the fake coins were recently sold to a Port Angeles business, EZ Pawn, for $400. They would have been worth more than $1,500 had they been real, Benedict said.

Officer Benedict got a call from EZ Pawn.

“They brought me in there to look at something they thought was fake. So I was pre-warned. But I picked it up and said, ‘What’s fake about it?'”

The 20 counterfeit U.S. Morgan silver dollars were supposedly from a century ago. Brian Winters of EZ Pawn has bought coins for years – and even he was fooled.

Unlike most counterfeits, the coins did not all have the same dates. One was a super rare 1893S, worth thousands and thousands.

It was at that time Brian pulled out a loupe and looked at a real coin and a suspect one. He found the “T” and the “I” too thick. All the coins were fake.

The real coin weighed in at 26.7 grams. The fake was two grams lighter.

For those of us without a gram scale – there are other tests for detecting the counterfeit coins.

The real ones have a high-pitched ring when they’re dropped. The counterfeits land with a thud.

Also – a strong magnet will detect small amounts of iron in counterfeit U.S. coins. If a supposedly “silver” coin has even a little bit of attraction to the magnet, then it is a fake, Benedict says.

The counterfeits aren’t just limited to silver dollars. Other coins – including Indian head pennies – also have turned out to be fakes.

And EZ Pawn says they’re continuing to see fake coins brought in by other customers.

And Benedict warns businesses to be suspicious if someone uses only coins to pay for merchandise.

“Use caution if someone brings in a lot of coins to buy something, and look them over carefully,” Benedict said.

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Source: ZeroHedge.com

A week ago, when we reported on a move by the Dutch central bank that ordered a pension fund to forcibly reduce its gold holdings, we speculated that “this latest gold confiscation equivalent event is most certainly coming to a banana republic near you.” And while we got the Banana republic right, the event that we are about to describe is not necessarily identical. It is much worse. A bill proposed in the State of Washington (House Bill 1716), by representatives Asay, Hurst, Klippert, Pearson, and Miloscia, whose alleged purpose is to regulate secondhand gold dealers, seeks to capture “the name, date of birth, sex, height, weight, race, and address and telephone number of the person with whom the transaction is made” or said otherwise, of every purchaser of gold in the state of Washington. Furthermore, if passed, Bill 1716 will record “a complete description of the property pledged, bought, or consigned, including the brand name, serial number, model number or name, any initials or engraving, size, pattern, and color or stone or stones” and of course price. But the kicker: if a transaction is mode for an amount over $100, which means one tenth of an ounce of golds, also required will be a “signature, photo, and fingerprint of the person with whom the transaction is made.” In other words, very soon Washington state will know more about you than you know about yourself, if you dare to buy any gold object worth more than a C-note. How this proposal is supposed to protect consumers against vulture gold dealers we don’t quite get. Hopefully someone will explain it to us. We do, however, get how Americans will part with any and all privacy if they were to exchange fiat for physical. And in a police state like America, this will likely not be taken lightly, thereby killing the gold trade should the proposed Bill pass, and be adopted elsewhere.

While we are confident that representatives Asay, Hurst, Klippert, Pearson, and Miloscia have no clue why they are even proposing this bill, we would also be delighted to find out which moneyed interests they represent, and what happens to precious metal trading in America should Bill 1716 become a legal precedent which is effectively the first step before the final implementation of Executive Order 6102 version 2.

Read Full Bill…

Source: Bloomberg.com

South Korea’s Financial Services Commission suspended the business of four local savings banks for six months from today due to a liquidity crunch.

The four banks are Bohae Mutual Savings & Finance Co. and three subsidiaries of Busan Savings Bank — Jungang Busan Savings Bank, Busan II Savings Bank, and Jeonju Savings Bank, the financial watchdog said in a statement today.

“They have suffered a bank run” after the recent suspension of two other banks, the FSC said in a statement after a meeting at 7:30 a.m. today. “We concluded that they will not be able to meet demand for withdrawals, eventually hurting depositors’ interests and credit order.”

Busan Savings Bank and Daejeon Mutual Savings Bank were ordered to halt operations for six months from Feb. 17 due to soured construction project loans. The commission is tightening scrutiny of smaller mutual savings banks, with a plan to buy as much as 3.5 trillion won ($3.1 billion) worth of deteriorating loans made to builders and developers.

State-run Korea Finance Corp. and other big commercial lenders in the country are prepared to provide 2 trillion won in credit to the mutual banks to prevent a potential liquidity crunch, and the government may secure as much as 10 trillion won together with Korea Deposit Insurance Corp., the commission’s chairman, Kim Seok Dong, said on Feb. 17.

Combined assets at South Korea’s 105 savings banks totaled 86.5 trillion won as of September 2010, accounting for about 3 percent of total assets held by the country’s financial institutions, according to the FSC’s data.

State-run Korea Deposit Insurance guarantees clients’ deposits and interest up to 50 million won in case a financial institution becomes unable to repay clients.

Source: The Telegraph

Millions of the world’s poorest people and the state of the global economy are threatened by the food price rises, writes Geoffrey Lean.

‘Within a decade,” promised the top representative of the world’s mightiest country, “no man, woman or child will go to bed hungry.”

Dr Henry Kissinger, at the height of his powers as US Secretary of State, was speaking to the landmark 1974 World Food Conference. Since then, the number of hungry people worldwide has almost exactly doubled: from 460 million to 925 million.

And this week the airwaves have been full of warnings that the formidable figure could be about to increase further, as a new food crisis takes hold. Some experts warned that the world could be on the verge of a “nightmare scenario” of cut‑throat competition for the control of shrinking supplies.

The cause of such alarm? On Wednesday, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that global food prices had hit a record high and were likely to go on rising, entering what Abdolreza Abbassian, its senior grains economist, called “danger territory”.

That is bad enough for Britain, adding to the inflationary pressures from the soaring cost of oil and other commodities, not to mention the VAT increase. But for the world’s poor, who have to spend 80 per cent of their income on food, it could be catastrophic.

Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, warns that the rising prices are “a threat to global growth and social stability”, and Nicolas Sarkozy has identified them as a priority for the G20, which he chairs this year.

Already they are higher than in 2008, when they drove the tally of the malnourished briefly above a billion for the first time in history, and caused riots in countries as far apart as Indonesia, Cameroon and Mexico. That ended nearly two decades during which the number of hungry people had stayed the same, while the world population grew by 1.2 billion, so that the proportion of an increasing humanity without enough to eat steadily fell.

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Source: Bradenton.com

David O’Brien is getting used to seeing damaged vegetables. The salesman for C&D Fruit and Vegetable in Manatee sees hundreds of acres of strawberries, cucumbers, beans and squash at the farm destroyed by the recent cold weather.

The result of all the produce destruction is being felt across the state as grocery shoppers are finding fresh vegetables in short supply along with soaring prices.

Arching her eyebrows at prices along the produce aisle, Ilene Ellman decided to alter her shopping routine.

Source: Natural News

Figures recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) index of 55 food commodities indicates that worldwide food prices hit a record high in December. Though the costs of some food commodities like rice, corn and soy actually decreased, oil seeds and sugar jumped significantly due to various factors including erratic weather and droughts, according to reports.

In the past, such ups and downs on the commodity market did not immediately affect actual food costs for consumers, but some experts say that this is no longer the case, and that “food inflation” will occur right alongside the commodity price gains. And rapid food inflation has already taken place in India, for example, with recent reports indicating that the country experienced an overall food inflation rate of 18 percent in 2010.

Low food stocks, droughts and poor weather conditions have all contributed to the escalating food crisis, which has led many nations to cut off exports in order to save supplies for their own populations. And the resulting global shortages only exacerbate the problem further as importing nations scramble to source needed commodities for their own populations.

Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO, explained in a Bloomberg report that since not all commodity prices are rising, the overall indicator can be deceiving. Even so, prices across the board may increase as a result of a domino effect from the commodities that are in short supply, or even from the same conditions like droughts and poor weather that have caused shortages and price increases in the other categories.

Rising global food prices and supply uncertainty are just another reason why self-sufficiency is vital to long-term survival. Individuals who grow their own food and live off their own land as much as possible will not be affected by volatile supply and demand issues that affect the global food market.

Source: Financial Times

Brazil has warned that the world is on course for a full-blown “trade war” as it stepped up its rhetoric against exchange rate manipulation.

Guido Mantega, finance minister, told the Financial Times that Brazil was preparing new measures to prevent further appreciation of its currency, the real, and would raise the issue of exchange-rate manipulation at the World Trade Organisation and other global bodies. He said the US and China were among the worst offenders.

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Source: Bloomberg

Cash is king in Italy, a lesson Massimiliano Romano learned when he tried to pay for a cab with a credit card at Rome’s main train station.

“I thought my cards would be enough,” said Romano, head of research at brokerage Concentric Italy in Milan. “But I had to let 10 people go in front of me in the line before I found a driver who would accept a credit card.”

The Italian Banking Association has declared “war on cash” in a country where credit-card usage is less than half the European Union average, according to the Bank of Italy. The association, known by its Italian acronym ABI, says it costs banks and companies as much as 10 billion euros ($13.3 billion) a year to process cash payments, mainly in increased security and labor. Rome-based ABI aims to cut those expenses by promoting electronic payments with credit and debit cards and wire transfers in both the public and private sectors.

“Italy urgently needs these changes to catch up with other countries like France, which has allowed non-cash payments for public services for more than two decades,” said Rita Camporeale, head of payment systems and services at ABI.

Italy’s culture of cash is deeply rooted. Italians are the euro-region’s least-indebted consumers and among its biggest savers, according to 2009 Eurostat data. Companies often pay salaries in cash to evade taxes, particularly in Italy’s southern region, where organized crime is prevalent.

Lost Revenue

Italy loses about 100 billion euros of revenue a year from untaxed transactions in the so-called underground economy, which amounts to about 22 percent of gross domestic product, according to government statistics. The Finance Ministry agrees with ABI proposals to make public offices accept electronic payments and install point-of-sale terminals, Camporeale said in a Dec. 21 interview. Banks also want a ban on cash salaries, she said.

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Source: CS Monitor

Hungary, Poland, and three other nations take over citizens’ pension money to make up government budget shortfalls.

People’s retirement savings are a convenient source of revenue for governments that don’t want to reduce spending or make privatizations. As most pension schemes in Europe are organised by the state, European ministers of finance have a facilitated access to the savings accumulated there, and it is only logical that they try to get a hold of this money for their own ends. In recent weeks I have noted five such attempts: Three situations concern private personal savings; two others refer to national funds.

The most striking example is Hungary, where last month the government made the citizens an offer they could not refuse. They could either remit their individual retirement savings to the state, or lose the right to the basic state pension (but still have an obligation to pay contributions for it). In this extortionate way, the government wants to gain control over $14bn of individual retirement savings.

The Bulgarian government has come up with a similar idea. $300m of private early retirement savings was supposed to be transferred to the state pension scheme. The government gave way after trade unions protested and finally only about 20% of the original plans were implemented.

A slightly less drastic situation is developing in Poland. The government wants to transfer of 1/3 of future contributions from individual retirement accounts to the state-run social security system. Since this system does not back its liabilities with stocks or even bonds, the money taken away from the savers will go directly to the state treasury and savers will lose about $2.3bn a year. The Polish government is more generous than the Hungarian one, but only because it wants to seize just 1/3 of the future savings and also allows the citizens to keep the money accumulated so far.

The fourth example is Ireland. In 2001, the National Pension Reserve Fund was brought into existence for the purpose of supporting pensions of the Irish people in the years 2025-2050. The scheme was also supposed to provide for the pensions of some public sector employees (mainly university staff). However, in March 2009, the Irish government earmarked €4bn from this fund for rescuing banks. In November 2010, the remaining savings of €2.5bn was seized to support the bailout of the rest of the country.

The final example is France. In November, the French parliament decided to earmark €33bn from the national reserve pension fund FRR to reduce the short-term pension scheme deficit. In this way, the retirement savings intended for the years 2020-2040 will be used earlier, that is in the years 2011-2024, and the government will spend the saved up resources on other purposes.

It looks like although the governments are able to enforce general participation in pension schemes, they do not seem to be the best guardians of the money accumulated there.

The table below is a summary of the discussed fiscal-retirement situations (source):

*These figures do not include the costs of higher taxes, price inflation and low interest rates, which additionally devaluate retirement savings.

Source: CBS/ 60 Minutes

By now, just about everyone in the country is aware of the federal deficit problem, but you should know that there is another financial crisis looming involving state and local governments.

It has gotten much less attention because each state has a slightly different story. But in the two years, since the “great recession” wrecked their economies and shriveled their income, the states have collectively spent nearly a half a trillion dollars more than they collected in taxes. There is also a trillion dollar hole iln their public pension funds.

The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about.

“The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency,” Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

“It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy,” she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, “‘Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to.”

Whitney says it’s time to start.

California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status. It now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system, which had to increase its tuition by 32 percent.

Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner. The state also eliminated Medicaid funding for most organ transplants.

Then there’s New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.

Gov. Christie acknowledged that’s a lot of jobs. “I canceled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don’t have the money. And you know what? I can’t pay people for those jobs if I don’t have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don’t have it. I literally don’t have it.”

Asked if this is going on all over the country, Christie told Kroft, “Yes. Of course it is. It’s not like you can avoid it forever, ’cause it’s here now. And we all know it’s here. And the federal government doesn’t have the money to paper over it anymore, either, for the states. The day of reckoning has arrived. That’s it. And it’s gonna arrive everywhere. Timing will vary a little bit, depending upon which state you’re in, but it’s comin’.”

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.

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