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China on high alert over new bird flu cases – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

China on high alert over new bird flu cases – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Local authorities set to close live poultry markets in major cities [EPA]
Chinese officials are taking measures to prevent the spread of H7N9, a deadly strain of bird flu that has already killed 22 people this year.Three members of the same Chinese family contracted H7N9 in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, the worst-affected by the current spike in cases.

Local authorities are set to close live poultry markets in major cities, according to reports in official media.

Live poultry trading will be halted in cities in coastal Zhejiang province from February 15, and neighbouring Shanghai will stop trading for three months beginning on Friday.

So far this year, China has confirmed 110 human H7N9 cases, including 22 deaths, according to an AFP news agency’s tally of reports by local authorities.

By comparison there were 144 infections and 46 deaths in all of 2013, according to official figures.

Zhejiang alone has seen 53 cases this year, almost half the national total, and 12 deaths.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s only wholesale poultry market began culling 20,000 chickens and suspended imports of fresh poultry from mainland China for three weeks after the discovery of the H7N9 bird flu virus in a batch of live chickens from the southern province of Guangdong.

The government order took effect on Tuesday, two days before the start of the Chinese New Year, when poultry sellers generally anticipate a surge in sales.

Easily transmitted

China’s human H7N9 outbreak began in February 2013 and sparked fears the virus could mutate to become easily transmissible between people, potentially triggering a pandemic.

Both Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have said there has been no evidence so far of sustained human-to-human transmission.

But limited spread, such as between relatives in close contact, is possible, and there have been previous such family clusters.

The WHO said on Wednesday that the spike in cases this year was not surprising due to seasonal factors, rather than a virus mutation.

“Today there is no evidence that the characteristics of the virus have changed in a way that would explain an increase in cases and change in case fatality,” WHO Representative in China Bernhard Schwartländer told the AFP news agency.

Hong Kong Newspaper Punished for Its Political Stance, Says Publisher- The Epoch Times

Hong Kong Newspaper Punished for Its Political Stance, Says Publisher

– The Epoch Times.

HONG KONG—Mainland Chinese companies have stopped advertising in Hong Kong’s free daily newspaper am730 for political reasons, the paper’s founder Shih Wing-ching claimed recently.

Shih wrote in his opinion column in am730 on Jan. 16 that this withdrawal of funds came as a united front, indicating that there was a uniform reason behind all of the companies’ decisions. He suspected that the actions were motivated by politics rather than commercial interests, because otherwise there would be no reason for the banking and telecommunications industries to act simultaneously.

Shih also stated that he will not yield to any political forces or change the direction of his paper against his will. If worst comes to worst, he will stop running the paper.

He added that the yearly advertising costs of these Chinese companies have exceeded 10 million HKD, while am730’s entire earnings are only 10 to 20 million HKD (US$1.3 to $2.6 million). If these companies continue to withhold their advertising, a large portion of am730’s earnings will vanish.

A very successful businessman and the founder of Centaline Property Agency Limited, Shih said that if a business cannot keep its balance financially, it will not go far.

Financial columnist and senior media professional Liao Shi-ming said, “At present, sales of Chinese companies in Hong Kong have grown large. It has become unfeasible for a daily newspaper to operate relying only on the sales of advertising to local enterprises or foreign investors.”

“This forces Hong Kong media operators to face the test at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party,” Liao said.

According to Liao’s analysis, am730 is classified as conservative and moderate among Hong Kong newspapers. While the paper seldom criticizes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directly and never touches the “sensitive” issue of the CCP’s persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, the paper holds firm to the core values of Hong Kong, she said.

However, am730 did mention Falun Gong in a Jan. 3 article called “Hong Kong artists stand by Epoch Times” about Hong Kong celebrities sending New Year’s greetings to readers through the Epoch Times.

The article included quotes from people identified as netizens, showing concern for the celebrities about the Epoch Times “Falun Gong” background. The quotes suggested that publishing greetings in the Epoch Times would cause trouble for the celebrities and prevent them from visiting mainland China, where Falun Gong is severely oppressed. The paper did not contact the celebrities directly to get their opinions about the netizens’ comments.

Shih told the Epoch Times that he was not informed about this article, but he said am730 should have checked with the celebrities before reporting these comments.

Liao believed that am730 attempted with this unusual article as to show its position to the CCP, indicating that the paper would not step out of line on the issue that CCP considers most sensitive and most fears to see discussed openly.

“That is a case of obviously siding with the wicked and bullying good people,” Liao said.

Liao appealed to Hong Kong media to hold on to basic morals when facing critical moments, and avoid siding with the CCP against their conscience.

Translated by Y.K. Lu. Written in English by Sally Appert

Into The Gold Labyrinth | Zero Hedge

Into The Gold Labyrinth | Zero Hedge.

Gold_Labyrinth

The surprise of 2014 is gold! The yellow precious metal had its fourth week of gains in a row. It seems like the gold market has been ‘set free’ in 2014. This would mean the end of the cyclical correction, which indicates that the market is ready for the big and final phase of the secular bull run in gold. All of this fits perfectly with everything we have been saying for years about gold.

For those who didn’t notice, please read our free Guide to Gold.

One thing becomes very clear here: gold is moving from the West to the East. Chinese gold import from Hong Kong has been rising dramatically since 2011 and at the same time, the gold price has seen a 30% correction. This brought up a lot of questions from subscribers.

Hong-Kong-China-monthly-net-exports-gold

Source: Toqueville Funds / Bloomberg

“How is it possible that the price goes down when there is huge demand?!” To know the answer you have to look at the futures market. Because that is where the market price for gold is set. Yes, you read it well: paper contracts dictate the price of the physical metal.

Since 2011 there are a lot of ‘sell contracts’ for gold, better known as short positions. This caused huge downward pressure on the gold price. An ideal way for China to buy physical gold cheaply. But the Chinese were not the active shorters. American investment banks did that, with JPMorgan in the lead. JPM, AKA, the ‘banker’ of the US government.

JPMorgan built up an historical short position over the years. But at the same time, the bank was bringing in more and more physical gold to store it in its vault below the famous Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York. Where does this gold come from? Just look at the chart for the registered physical gold at warehouses with the COMEX, the American futures market.

COMEX warehouse gold

Source: 24hGold

The COMEX has been sucked dry in the last year. You will never guess who recently signed a sale agreement for the JPM building in the center of New York, underground gold vaults included… yes, you got it, the Chinese!

Those who want an even better view, should check out the next photo of the new situation in NY.

JPMorgen Chase Manhatten Building now belongs to the Chinese

(H/t Koos Jansen)

Yes, that is correct, the vaults of the Fed are right across from the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Coincidence? We do not think so… But the reserves in the US are naturally insufficient to satisfy the Chinese hunger for gold. The effect of the price correction made sure that the ‘weak hands’ in the gold market let go of their gold. Weak hands is a synonym for (small) investors.

Since the rise of the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD) in 2007, more and more investors committed larger amounts of capital to the gold ETF. At the peak of the market there were 1,300 tonnes of gold in GLD, more than countries like China. That was also not part of the Chinese plan. You probably understand by now where this is going. When the gold price got shaken up, those same investors stepped out of GLD.

Meanwhile, more than 500 tonnes of gold was pulled out of GLD, which implies that the ETF has less than 800 tonnes of gold today.

GLD tonnage gold holdings

Where did all this GLD gold go? From the vaults in London, to the smelters in Switzerland to the depots in… Hong Kong! And now we are full circle again: the enormous transfer of gold from Hong Kong to China. All of this – large scale price manipulation in combination with huge gold transfers – is not a walk in the park. All parties need to cooperate.

So it would be hard to imagine that it did not happen with the approval of the US government and the Fed. And probably forced by China! Let us clarify that. China has stopped buying US debt since 2011. That was also the moment that the Fed needed to jump in to support the market. After QE we quickly saw QE2, QE3…

QE Fed base

Without these actions from the Fed there would not have been a single buyer of US Treasuries, which would probably mean the end of the American empire. China wanted, or rather demanded, its gold from the West! You can say many things about the Chinese but they certainly are not dumb.

The Chinese realized that for years they received a poisoned gift from the Americans. Only through the acquisition of gold, both world powers would be on a ‘level playing field’ again. Of course, we do not know where this level playing field is, but we do assume that China has more or less reached it. How much gold landed in China since 2011, is very hard to determine. In 2013 alone, more than 2,000 tons was transferred from Hong Kong to China. And this is just one of the import routes. China is not just buying gold from its own gold mines, but is also directly or indirectly the largest customer of most gold producers. All melted gold also found its way to China.

In short, China was the gold market in the last two years!

However, we are spotting a few signals indicating that China is releasing its grip on the gold market. Not only has the continuous drain from GLD stopped, but we also read that China has started buying US Treasuries again. Even more, the Chinese portfolio of US government bonds is at record levels! Now you also know why the American central bank suddenly started ‘tapering’, or scaling back the buyback program of US debt.

Does China have enough gold then? It would not surprise us.

A small calculation taught us the following:

  • The US owns more than 8,000 tonnes of gold while the yearly US GDP is just shy of 16 trillion dollars. The yearly GDP of China is a little over 8 trillion dollars, almost half. You would expect then that the level playing field for gold in China hovers around 4,000 tonnes.
  • The official amount of gold in the Chinese central bank is still 1,054 tonnes today, but because of the huge gold transfers these last years, we expect that China is close to its golden level playing field.

We do admit, it is a lot of information to digest, but it is extremely important! You have to understand that the US, with the largest pile of debt in the world, would be helped hugely by a higher gold price. The higher the value of gold, the lower the real value of their debt. We have the feeling that if China loosens its grip on the gold market, the gold price can move up quite fast. There is nothing that America wants more and China is now well-hedged.

Where can the gold price go to then? Another small calculation to help us out…

The historical ratio of the monetary base of the Fed teaches us that a gold price of 5,000 to 7,000 dollars/ounce should be enough for the US to make its debt bearable again. From the current level this means at least a quadrupled gold price. For most people this seems improbably high, but do not forget that since the start of the secular trend in gold, its price already went 5x higher. Also in the 70s, the gold price skyrocketed in its second phase from 100 dollars to 850 dollars per ounce in barely four years!

As for now, we’re in the midst of the bottoming proces with gold. Once this proces ends- lets say above 1,300 dollars – the gold price could see a voilent upswing towards 1,550 dollars, where the next battle field arrives for gold. We prefer to play the next U-turn in gold with a selection of quality gold stocks, as the current leverage to the gold price – risk/return – is the best in years, even decades!

Download our Free ‘Guide to Gold’

Sprout Money offers a fresh look at investing. We analyze long lasting cycles, coupled with a collection of strategic investments and concrete tips for different types of assets. The methods and strategies from Sprout Money are transformed into the Gold & Silver Report and the Technology Report.

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Sprott: “Manipulation Of Gold By Central Banks Cannot Continue In 2014” | Zero Hedge

Sprott: “Manipulation Of Gold By Central Banks Cannot Continue In 2014” | Zero Hedge.

With Deutsche Bank quitting the price-setting panel for gold and Bafin bearing down on the manipulators, Eric Sprott provides some more color on where the manipulation in the precious metals markets is underway (and when it will end)…

Submitted by Eric Sprott of Sprott Global Resource Investments,

Introduction

As we very well know, 2013 was a difficult but also puzzling year for precious metals investors. The price of gold, silver and their related equities declined by a significant amount while demand for physical bullion from emerging markets and their Central Banks was exceptionally strong.

A common argument that has been made to explain the precipitous decline of the price of precious metals in 2013 is of investors’ disenchantment with precious metals, which had been piling up in exchange traded products as a way for investors to gain exposure to the metals. Proponents of this theory point to the large declines in the total holdings of those ETFs as evidence of investors fleeing the precious metal trade. As shown in Figure 1, the price of both gold and silver suffered very significant declines throughout 2013. Therefore, if this explanation is correct, one would expect the total ETF holdings of both metals to be lower as well.

However, this is not the case. As shown in Figure 2 gold ETFs suffered large redemptions whereas silver ETFs saw their holdings remain more or less constant throughout the year, and this without any observable change in trading patterns in the two largest ETFs; GLD and SLV (Figure 3 shows the ratio of the trading values in the ETFs over time). If redemptions are a symptom of investors’ disenchantment with precious metals as an investment, shouldn’t silver have suffered the same fate as gold? Indeed it should have, but we think the reason silver ETFs were not raided like gold was that Central Banks do not have a silver supply problem, they have a gold problem. As we have argued before, the raiding of gold ETFs is bullish for gold because it reflects an imbalance in the physical market.1

Figure 1: Gold and Silver prices declined significantly in 2013
maag-01-2014-1.gif
Source: Bloomberg

Figure 2: ETF Holdings – Troy oz (millions)
maag-01-2014-2.gif
Source: Bloomberg, tickers ETSITOTL & ETFGTOTL

In this article, we further argue that the April raid on gold and gold ETFs almost backfired by creating a tsunami of buying in India and increased demand to unsustainable levels. In May 2013 alone, Indians imported 162 tonnes2 of gold in a market where monthly global mine production is about 182 tonnes. A continuation of this trend, coupled with strong buying from other Emerging Markets and their Central Banks, would have been overwhelming. But, the response was swift. We suspect that, at the behest of Western Central Banks, the Reserve Bank of India reacted by enacting, in incremental steps, restrictive measures to prevent gold imports (See Figure 4 for a timeline of the major changes made by the Indian Government).3

Figure 3: Traded Value – Ratio of SLV to GLD
maag-01-2014-3.gif
Source: Bloomberg. Traded Value is calculated by taking the total trading volume for a quarter and multiplying it by the average price over that quarter. A ratio of 1 indicates that SLV traded as much, in $ terms, as GLD.

Figure 4: Efforts to Curb Indian Gold Imports
maag-01-2014-4.gif
Source: Bloomberg, Economic Times

 

Supply and Demand Imbalances: The Indian Effect 

We have already discussed at length the supply and demand imbalance in an Open Letter to the World Gold Council, asking them to revise their methodology because it grossly understates the amount of demand coming from emerging markets.4 Our gold supply and demand table (Table 1) reflects the latest available data (2013 Q3 in most cases). World mine production, excluding Chinese and Russian production still stands at about 2,100 tonnes a year. Chinese net imports most likely exceeded 1,700 tonnes for 2013 (81% of world mine production) and demand from the rest of the world is rather stable.5

The overall picture has not changed much since our last article, with the exception of Indian imports. As of the second quarter of 2013, India had cumulative net gold imports of 551 tonnes, which annualizes to 1,102 tonnes.6 However, Q3 data shows net imports of only 31 tonnes (for a total of 582 tonnes YTD), which annualizes to 776 tonnes.

This incredible loss of momentum for “official” gold imports was the result of concerted actions by the Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Government. While the “official” justification for those restrictions is the large Indian current account deficit, this argument makes little sense. According to government officials, Indian’s taste for gold and the corresponding imports worsens the country’s trade balance, worsens its current account deficit and puts downward pressure on their currency, the Rupee.

But, without going into too many details, the classification of gold as a “good” in the trade balance is at best misleading. Since gold is more of an investment vehicle and is not “consumable” per se, it should instead be accounted for in the capital account of the balance of payments instead of the current account. Indeed, Switzerland, which is a large net importer of gold, reports its trade balance “without precious metals, precious stones and gems as well as art and antiques” to reflect fact that those are “investments” rather than consumption goods.9 In this case, why should India be any different and report their trade data excluding gold? To us, all the fuss about gold imports by the Indian Government is a red herring.

So, without the intervention in the Indian gold market, the shortage of gold would have wreaked havoc in the market, a situation that Western Central Banks could not tolerate.

Table 1: World Gold Supply and Demand 2013, in Tonnes
maag-01-2014-5.gif
Sources: GFMS data comes from the WGC’s “Gold Demand Trends” publications for 2013 Q1, Q2 & Q3. Chinese mine supply comes from the China Gold Association and is up to October 2013, the annualized number is a Sprott estimate.8 Russian mine supply comes from the Union of Gold Producers and is up to 2013 Q3. Chinese data is taken from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department and covers the period Jan.-Nov. 2013 and is annualized to account for the missing month. Changes in Central Bank gold reserves are taken from the IMF’s International Financial Statistics, as published on the World Gold Council’s website for 2013 Q1, Q2 & Q3 and include all international organizations as well as all central banks. Net imports for Thailand, Turkey and India come from the UN Comtrade database and include gold coins, scrap, powder, jewellery and other items made of gold. The data is for 2013 Q1, Q2 & Q3. ETFs data comes from GFMS as well.

 

Conclusion and Outlook for 2014

As demonstrated in our Open Letter to the World Gold Council, there was a large supply-demand imbalance in 2013. The evidence presented here suggests that the decline in the price of gold in mid-2013 and the subsequent raid of gold ETFs (but not silver ETFs) was engineered by Western Central Banks to help solve their physical gold supply problem. However, the resulting increase in Indian gold demand exacerbated the problem. The solution was to restrict Indians from importing gold by all means possible in order to help the Western Central Banks regain control of the gold market.

However, the rate of drain in gold ETFs cannot continue forever; at the current pace of 930 tonnes/year, there are less than two years of gold left in ETFs. Moreover, Indians have proved highly creative at finding ways around import restrictions.10 Smuggling is on the rise and will most likely increase as smugglers become more sophisticated. Overall, we believe that interest in physical gold from emerging markets will remain a driving force.

Besides, mine production is unlikely to grow, as reflected by the significant decrease in capital expenditures expected for the major gold producers (Figure 5).

Accordingly, we believe that the manipulation of gold prices by central banks, as demonstrated by the above analysis, cannot continue in 2014. Therefore, we expect substantial increases in the price of precious metals as the true shortages become obvious.

Figure 5: Capital Expenditures ($mm) – XAU Index Members
maag-01-2014-6.gif
Source: Bloomberg. Consensus analyst estimates are used for years 2013-2015.

 

P.S. Due to recent developments, we would also like to highlight some related media stories

Jan. 17, 2014: Germany’s top financial regulator said possible manipulation of currency rates and prices for precious metals is worse than the Libor-rigging scandal

Jan. 17, 2014: Deutsche quits gold price-setting as regulators investigate fix (Did the regulators ask them to?)

Dec. 13, 2013: Bafin Said to Interview Deutsche Bank Staff in Gold Probe

Nov. 26, 2013: U.K., German Regulators Scrutinize Gold, Silver Pricing

Sept. 9, 2013: Sprott Thoughts: A Leaky Fix

 

1 See, for example, “Redemptions in the GLD are, oddly enough, Bullish for Gold”.
2 http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/06/03/gold-india-imports-idINDEE95207H20130603
3 See “Do the Western Central Banks have any gold left?”. Sprott Asset Management LP, Markets at a Glance May 2013.
4 See the full article at: http://www.sprott.com/markets-at-a-glance/open-letter-to-the-world-gold-council/
5 As a reminder, because of our methodology which uses net imports as a proxy for total demand in countries that do not re-export gold, we exclude the “total industrial demand” estimate from the GFMS to avoid double counting. Thus, we underestimate total gold demand because we do not include industrial demand from the countries other than China, India, Turkey and Thailand.
6 As reported by the UN Comtrade Statistics. We use the total dollar amount reported and average quarterly prices to infer the total amount of gold imported and exported.
7 This is calculated by taking the total consumer demand for jewellery, coins and bars for 2013 Q1 & Q2 from table 10 of the WGC’s “Gold Demand Trends” and subtracting from it demand from the individual countries we have listed in the table (China/Hong Kong, India, Turkey, Russia and Thailand).
8 http://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=zh-CN&u=http://www.cngold.org/&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dcngold.%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den
9 See the Swiss Customs Administration website: http://www.ezv.admin.ch/themen/04096/04101/index.html?lang=en
10 See, for example: http://www.thestar.com/business/economy/2013/12/27/insatiable_appetite_for_gold_fuels_indias_smuggling_industry.html http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/12/03/india-gold-smuggling-idINDEE9B20HY20131203 http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-12-29/chennai/45674552_1_airline-staff-gold-smuggling-flight-attendant

Central Hong Kong Sees Near-Record Pollution Levels in 2013 – Bloomberg

Central Hong Kong Sees Near-Record Pollution Levels in 2013 – Bloomberg.

Roadside pollution worsened in Hong Kong’s Central district last year as vehicular emissions helped send nitrogen dioxide concentrations to near-record levels, an environmental advocacy group said.

Citywide levels of the pollutant, linked to damaged lung function, were the second-highest on record, according to Clean Air Network Ltd.. Particulate matter levels at all monitoring stations exceeded World Health Organization guidelines by two to three times, the group said in a report yesterday.

Hong Kong’s legislators yesterday approved HK$11.4 billion ($1.5 billion) in funding to replace old diesel vehicles. Aging buses and trucks have led to a worsening in air quality since 2007. Nitrogen dioxide levels are getting worse because of local emissions, rather than from China’s Pearl River Delta region, the environmental group said.

“As you can see from the air quality in 2013, end-of-pipe solutions are not enough considering the time it takes,” Sum Yin-Kwong, chief executive officer of Clean Air Network, said in a statement. “To speed up the improvement in air quality, we hope to see the government look into the problem from a comprehensive transport management perspective in this year’s policy address.”

The city will use the approved subsidies to phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles in a program that will begin on March 1, according to an e-mailed government statement citing the Environmental Protection Department. The plan should lead to a cut in levels of respirable suspended particulates and nitrogen oxides by 80 percent and 30 percent respectively, the department said.

Roadside Monitors

Hong Kong has three roadside pollution monitoring stations in the busy districts of Central,Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. The Central monitor, sandwiched between the Asian headquarters of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and a Tiffany & Co. outlet, recorded nitrogen dioxide concentration levels of 126 micrograms per cubic meter last year, according to the environmental group report.

The Central roadside gauge stood at 6, the highest level in the “moderate” health risk range, at 3 p.m. today. The reading at the Causeway Bay roadside station, located in a busy shopping area, hit 7, considered to pose a high health risk, according to data posted on the department’s website.

Hong Kong introduced an air quality index on Dec. 30 pegged to pollution-induced hospital admission risks. Readings on the index are calculated based on health risks from inhaling concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Air pollution in the city contributed to 3,183 premature deaths last year, according to the group.

To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at nkhan51@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hwee Ann Tan at hatan@bloomberg.net

Meet The Minimum-Wage Homeless Who Are “Cleaning Up” Fukushima (For The Yakuza) | Zero Hedge

Meet The Minimum-Wage Homeless Who Are “Cleaning Up” Fukushima (For The Yakuza) | Zero Hedge.

We’re an easy target for recruiters,” one homeless man explains. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.” As Reuters exposes, 3 years after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the meltdown at Fukushima’s nuclear facility, Northern Japanese homeless are willing to accept minimum wage (from yakuza-based entities) for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.

Via Reuters,

Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.

He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100a head.

“This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day,”

It’s also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.

In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp’s network of decontamination subcontractorsand illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.

In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai’s train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan’s second-largest construction company.

Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan’s three largest criminal syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai – had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.

We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another,” said Junichi Ichikawa, a spokesman for Obayashi. He said the company tightened its scrutiny of its lower-tier subcontractors in order to shut out gangsters, known as the yakuza. “There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough.”

Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.

If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn’t move forward. You wouldn’t get a tenth of the people you need,” said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.

There are many unknown entities getting involved in decontamination projects,” said Igarashi, a former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. “There needs to be a thorough check on what companies are working on what, and when. I think it’s probably completely lawless if the top contractors are not thoroughly checking.”

I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”

“The construction industry is 90 percent run by gangs.”

It would seem, perhaps, that France (and the US) need their own nuclear accident to unleash an employment boom…

 

Thyroid Cancers Surge Among Fukushima Youths | Zero Hedge

Thyroid Cancers Surge Among Fukushima Youths | Zero Hedge.

It seems US sailors aren’t the only ones who three short years after the Fukushima disaster are being stricken by cancers and other radiation-induced diseases. For once, the media blackout surrounding the Japanese nuclear power plant tragedy appears to have crumbled, and at least a portion of the truth has been revealed. Hong Kong’s SCMP reports that fifty-nine young people in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Notably, all of newly diagnosed were younger than 18 at the time of the nuclear meltdown in the area in March 2011. They were identified in tests by the prefectural government, which covered 239,000 people by the end of September.

And while it is not rocket surgery to put two and two together, now that the data is in the public domain, here come the experts to explain it away.

On one hand, there are those who seemingly have not been bribed by the Abe government to “bend” reality just a bit in the name of confidence. People such as Toshihide Tsuda, a professor of epidemiology at Okayama University who has called upon the government to prepare for a possible increase in cases in the future. “The rate at which children in Fukushima prefecture have developed thyroid cancer can be called frequent, because it is several times to several tens of times higher,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun quoted him as saying.

He compared the figures in Fukushima with cancer registration statistics throughout Japan from 1975 to 2008 that showed an annual average of five to 11 people in their late teens to early 20s developing cancer for every 1 million people.

And then come those who probably would still be touting the great job Tepco is doing in containing the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, even though Tepco itself has now admitted the exploded nuclear power plant is out of control.

Tetsuya Ohira, a professor of epidemiology at Fukushima Medical University, disagreed. It was not scientific to compare the Fukushima tests with cancer registry statistics, he argued. Scientific? Or notpolitically feasible for a prime minister who is desperate to restart domestic nuclear power plants, since Abenomics is getting monkeyhammered thanks to soaring energy and food import costs (and, among other factors, leading to a crash in Abe’s popularity rating), and any reality leaking, pardong the pun, from Fukushima will end both that ambition, and his political career prematurely.

Shockingly, a month ago, prefectural officials deemed it unlikely that the increase in suspected and confirmed cases of cancer was linked to radiation exposure. Their “logic” is that in the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, it was not until four or five years after the accident that thyroid cancer cases surged. Apparently the thought that the local cancer victims may have been subject to radiation orders of magnitude higher than Chernobyl thanks to a lying government which consistently repeated that “all is well” has not crossed anyone’s mind.

“It is known that radioactive iodine is linked to thyroid cancer. Through the intake of food, people may absorb and accumulate it inside glands,” said Dr Choi Kin, a former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association.

Children might absorb more of it than adults because they were still growing, he said, but it remained to be proven that the radioactive iodine came from the nuclear disaster instead of the normal environment.

Bottom line “experts” are divided about whether the Fukushima cancers are caused by nuclear radiation… which, perhaps, is why they are experts. As everyone else knows, a surge in thyroid cancer in a population in close proximity to an exploded power plant, can only be due to one thing: non-participation in the ponzi stock market. So start buying stocks, or else the p53 mutations are coming for you too!

 

Toxic E-Waste Dumped in Poor Nations, Says United Nations – Our World

Toxic E-Waste Dumped in Poor Nations, Says United Nations – Our World.

e-waste

Millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices bought this Christmas are destined to create a flood of dangerous “e-waste” that is being dumped illegally in developing countries, the UN has warned.

The global volume of electronic waste is expected to grow by 33 percent in the next four years, when it will weigh the equivalent of eight of the great Egyptian pyramids, according to the United Nations StEP initiative, which was set up to tackle the world’s growing e-waste crisis. Last year nearly 50 million tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide — or about seven kilograms for every person on the planet. These are electronic goods made up of hundreds of different materials and containing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. An old-style CRT computer screen can contain up to three kilograms of lead, for example.

Once in a landfill, these toxic materials seep out into the environment, contaminating land, water and the air. In addition, devices are often dismantled in primitive conditions. Those who work at these sites suffer frequent bouts of illness.

An indication of the level of e-waste being shipped to the developing world was revealed by Interpol last week. It said almost one in three containers leaving the EU that were checked by its agents contained illegal e-waste. Criminal investigations were launched against 40 companies. “Christmas will see a surge in sales and waste around the world,” saysRuediger Kuehr, Executive Secretary of StEP. “The explosion is happening because there’s so much technical innovation. TVs, mobile phones and computers are all being replaced more and more quickly. The lifetime of products is also shortening.”

According to the StEP report, e-waste — which extends from old fridges to toys and even motorized toothbrushes — is now the world’s fastest growing waste stream. China generated 11.1 million tonnes last year, followed by the US with 10 million tonnes, though there was significant difference per capita. For example, on average each American generated 29.5 kilograms, compared to less than five kilograms per person in China.

By 2017, Kuehr expects the volume of end-of-life TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and other products to be enough to fill a 15,000-mile line of 40-tonne lorries. In Europe, Germany discards the most e-waste in total, but Norway and Liechtenstein throw away more per person. Britain is now the world’s seventh most prolific producer, discarding 1.37 million tonnes, or about 21 kilograms per person. No figures are available from government or industry on how much is exported.

Although it is legal to export discarded goods to poor countries if they can be reused or refurbished, much is being sent to Africa or Asia under false pretences, says Interpol. “Much is falsely classified as ‘used goods’ although in reality it is non-functional. It is often diverted to the black market and disguised as used goods to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling,” said a spokesman. “A substantial proportion of e-waste exports go to countries outside Europe, including west African countries. Treatment in these countries usually occurs in the informal sector, causing significant environmental pollution and health risks for local populations,” he said.

Few countries understand the scale of the problem, because no track is kept of all e-waste, says the European Environment Agency, which estimates between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3 million tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to west Africa and Asia. “These goods may subsequently be processed in dangerous and inefficient conditions, harming the health of local people and damaging the environment,” said a spokesman.

new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that the US discarded 258.2 million computers, monitors, TVs and mobile phones in 2010, of which only 66 percent was recycled. Nearly 120 million mobile phones were collected, most of which were shipped to Hong Kong, Latin America and the Caribbean. The shelf life of a mobile phone is now less than two years, but the EU, US and Japanese governments say many hundreds of millions are thrown away each year or are left in drawers. In the US, only 12 million mobile phones were collected for recycling in 2011 even though 120 million were bought. Meanwhile, newer phone models are racing on to the market leaving old ones likely to end up in landfills. Most phones contain precious metals. The circuit board can contain copper, gold, zinc, beryllium, and tantalum, the coatings are typically made of lead and phone makers are now increasingly using lithium batteries. Yet fewer than 10 percent percent of mobile phones are dismantled and reused. Part of the problem is that computers, phones and other devices are becoming increasingly complex and made of smaller and smaller components.

The failure to recycle is also leading to shortages of rare-earth minerals to make future generations of electronic equipment.

 

Yet another massive nail in the dollar’s coffin

Yet another massive nail in the dollar’s coffin.

On the other side of the world today, a couple of gentlemen that few people have ever heard of signed an agreement that has massive consequences for the global financial system.

It was a Memorandum of Understanding signed by representatives of the Singapore Exchange and Hong Kong Exchange. Their aim– to combine their forces in rolling out more financial products denominated in Chinese renminbi.

This is huge.

Hong Kong and Singapore are THE two dominant financial centers in Asia. For years they’ve been locked in competition with one another, much like New York and London. So their public partnership is a very big deal… indicative of the clear objective they have in front of them.

Bottom line– finance executives in Asia see the writing on the wall. They can see that the dollar is in a period of terminal decline, and it’s clear that the Chinese renminbi is going to take tremendous market share away from the dollar. They want a big piece of the action.

The renminbi has already surpassed the euro to become the #2 most-used currency in the world when it comes to trade settlement, according to a report released yesterday by the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).

Right now the renminbi has about an 8.6% share of the global market for trade settlement. Granted, the dollar has the lion’s share of trade settlement at more than 80%.

But just look at how quickly the renminbi has grown; in January 2012, its share of the global market was just 1.9%. So it’s grown by nearly a factor of 5x in less than two years.

With today’s agreement between Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s financial exchanges, that growth will likely accelerate.

As we’ve discussed before, the dollar is in a unique position simply because it is the world’s dominant reserve currency.

This means that when a rice distributor in Vietnam does business with a Brazilian merchant, they’ll close the deal by trading US dollars with each other… even though neither nation actually uses the dollar.

It’s been this way since World War II, simply because there has been such a long tradition of trust in the United States, and a steady supply of dollars throughout the world.

But this confidence is fading rapidly as merchants and banks around the world have been seeking alternatives, primarily the Chinese renminbi.

As the dollar’s market share in international trade decreases, it will mean the end of US financial privilege. No longer will the US be able to print money without repercussions.

And as so many other nations have learned the hard way, when you print money with wanton abandon and indebt your nation to the hilt, there are severe consequences to pay.

Today’s move between Hong Kong and Singapore gives us a glimpse into this future.

We’ll soon see more financial products– oil, gold, Fortune 500 corporate bonds, etc. denominated in renminbi and traded in Asia.

And as trade in these renminbi products grows, the dollar will be closer and closer to its reckoning day.

Years from now when this has played out, it’s going to seem so obvious.

Just like the post-Lehman crash in 2008, people will scratch their heads and wonder– ‘why didn’t I see that coming? Why didn’t I recognize that it was a bad idea to loan millions of dollars to unemployed / dead people?’

Duh. Same thing. People will look back in the future and wonder why they didn’t see the dollar collapse coming… why they didn’t recognize that it was a bad idea for the greatest debtor nation in the history of the world to simultaneously control the global reserve currency…

The warning signs are all in front of us. And today’s agreement between Hong Kong and Singapore is one of the strongest signs yet.

 

The Black Death Is Back…?! | Zero Hedge

The Black Death Is Back…?! | Zero Hedge.

Not since the Middle Ages has the bubonic plagues taken so many lives in a year. Having wiped out 25 million people in Europe, appearances of the Black Death since have been rare but the Red Cross is reporting a new outbreak has killed more than 20 people on the island of Madagascar. Living standards in the nation have collapsed since 2009 (what else happened in 2009?) and the prevalence of rats has helped spread the disease easily. While China claims to have the bird flu under control (despite some rumors out of Hong Kong), the Red Cross warns there is a risk of a Black Death epidemic.

 

Via BBC,

A village in Madagascar has been hit by a deadly outbreak of the bubonic plague, medical experts on the island have confirmed.

 

Test were carried out after at least 20 people in the village, near the north-western town of Mandritsara, were reported to have died last week.

 

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned in October that Madagascar was at risk of a plague epidemic.

 

The disease is transmitted to humans via fleas, usually from rats.

 

 

Bubonic plague, known as the Black Death when it killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages, is now rare.

 

 

The prevalence of rats in Madagascar’s prisons means the plague can spread easily.

 

The Pasteur Institute said there were concerns that the disease could spread to towns and cities where living standards have declined since a coup in 2009 and the ensuing political crisis.

 

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