March 30 10:42 AM

Deciding the Arctic’s Future Behind Closed Doors – Diplomats from Finland, Iceland and Sweden are upset; indigenous groups are furious. Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean are meeting behind closed doors on Monday to discuss the region’s future. Many of those who have interests in the Arctic have not been invited.  Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has invited his counterparts from four other Arctic countries — the United States, Russia, Denmark (representing Greenland) and Norway — to discuss the future of the far north. No other guests have been invited — a fact that has enraged diplomats from several northern countries as well as representatives from indigenous peoples who call the Arctic their home.
 
Banking on hypocrisy – Elizabeth Warren – Banks or families? For almost a year, the big banks and the American Bankers Association have presented that choice to Congress. Lobbyists argue that meaningful consumer protection will jeopardize the safety and soundness of banks, telling lawmakers that they must decide between the two. While American families have made clear that they overwhelmingly support the reforms that a new consumer financial protection agency will produce — like clear, understandable terms and conditions for consumer credit products and accountability for the big banks — the lobbyists have made equally clear their plan to kill the agency. ABA lobbyists now aggressively insist that separating consumer protection and safety and soundness functions would unravel bank stability. Yet just a few years ago, they heatedly argued the opposite — that the functions should be distinct.
 

Consumer spending increases in February, 5th straight months of gains – Consumers kept their wallets open for the fifth month in a row in February even though their incomes remained unchanged, according to government data released Monday. Spending on nondurable goods, such as clothing, jumped 0.9 percent last month, while spending on services rose 0.3 percent. Those increases were partially offset by a 0.2 percent decline in purchases of durable goods such as autos. Total consumer spending increased 0.3 percent.

 Payback Time – States’ Debt Woes Grow Too Big to Camouflage…– California, New York and other states are showing many of the same signs of debt overload that recently took Greece to the brink — budgets that will not balance, accounting that masks debt, the use of derivatives to plug holes, and armies of retired public workers who are counting on benefits that are proving harder and harder to pay. Some economists fear the states have a potentially bigger problem than their recession-induced budget woes. If investors become reluctant to buy the states’ debt, the result could be a credit squeeze, not entirely different from the financial strains in Europe, where markets were reluctant to refinance billions in Greek debt. “If we ran into a situation where one state got into trouble, they’d be bailed out six ways from Tuesday,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard and a former research director of the International Monetary Fund. “But if we have a situation where there’s slow growth, and a bunch of cities and states are on the edge, like in Europe, we will have trouble.”

 
  • WTO: Trade Will Expand 9.5% This Year – You’ve got to hand it to WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and his eternal optimism. From always seeing the completion of the Doha Development Round being around the corner to forecasting a significant rebound of trade this year, he’s an upbeat chap. Hence, the WTO is predicting an expansion in global trade volume of 9.5% in 2010 after a contraction of 12.2% in 2009. Almost certainly, we will not go back to pre-crisis trade volumes just yet, but a 9.5% annual increase is nothing to sneeze at, either. The following press blurb is part of a much lengthier feature on how product and service categories and, in turn, trading nations and regions have been differentially affected by the crisis. There’s also more on the never-ending debate on why trade shrunk so much so quickly last year. The chart here is of year-on-year changes in regional merchandise exports to Q4 2009, BTW:
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    Our Turn? – Am I the only one who senses it might be America’s turn to go nuts? I don’t mean a family squabble, like the Boomer-Hippie-Vietnam uproar that was essentially an adolescent rebellion against bad parenting in the national household. I mean a genuine descent into madness, with the very high probability of persecution, violence, murder, and mayhem — all more or less sponsored by various authorities and institutions.
     
    German Firm Wins Right to Make Beer Called ‘Fucking Hell’ – The EU’s trademarks authority has permitted a German firm to brew beer and produce clothing under the name "Fucking Hell". It may be an expletive in English, but in German it could refer to a light ale — Hell — from the Austrian town of Fucking. Whether it will be brewed there is another question.
     

     Did the Federal Government Make Money Bailing Out Citigroup? » The Washington Post is anxious to tell its readers that the government made a profit on its bailout of Citigroup. This claim gives a whole new meaning to the notion of "profit." The government gave enormous amounts of money to Citigroup through various direct and indirect channels. It is only getting a portion of this money back in its "profits," the rest is going to Citigroup’s shareholders (e.g. Robert Rubin) and its millionaire executives who are highly skilled at getting the government to hand them money.

    The World is Choking on Government Debt – Unprecedented relationships are beginning to form in the global bond markets. For as long as anyone can remember, the US government has enjoyed the lowest cost of borrowing whatever the maturity of the bond, because the US has been deemed the safest credit anywhere in the world. The prospect of default of the United States has been considered so low that academics describe the US Treasury bond as the risk-free bond., from which all other credit instruments are priced. This relationship seems to be breaking down, for the first time in living history. This past week Berkshire Hathaway was able to raise funds at an interest rate lower than that of the US Treasury.  The bonds  of DuPont and other stalwart corporate names also yielded less than equivalent maturity Treasuries.

    Apartment rents cheaper than stays in homeless shelters – Cities, states and the federal government pay more to provide the homeless with short-term shelter and services than what it would cost to rent permanent housing, the U.S. government reports.A study of 9,000 families and individuals being released today by the Department of Housing and Urban Development finds that costs to house the newly homeless vary widely, depending on the type of shelter and social services provided by the six cities in the report.Emergency shelter for families was the most costly. In Washington, D.C., the average bill for a month in an emergency shelter ranges from $2,500 to $3,700. In Houston, the average is $1,391.
     

    Humans ‘too stupid’ to save climate – Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory. It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate scientists’ emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit. "I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful."

    Globalization Critic Noreena Hertz: ‘Even War Is Good for Economic Growth’ – SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dr. Hertz, one is constantly reading about how much a country’s economy has grown or shrunk. Why is gross domestic product (GDP) taken so seriously? Noreena Hertz: It’s easy to measure and shows how one nation performs in comparison to another. Every country, therefore, measures its economic success by its GDP. Only Bhutan is an exception. SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the constitution of Bhutan, the people should not become richer every year, but happier. The little Asian kingdom wants to achieve this with a socially equitable society and better protection of the environment. Is this a better approach?

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