October 11, 2012
- Phase 2 of the Occupy movement? The Wal-Mart strike you haven’t heard about
- Crisp and clean dollar bills only, please: Chris Mayer’s first dispatch from Myanmar
- “Biggest fire sale in history” gets even more lucrative
- Garden plots in Detroit, independence movement in Venice: Disparate tales of a world flying apart and reinventing itself
- First it’s voluntary, then it’s mandatory: The slow creep toward totalitarianism at school
- In defense of the unemployment numbers… reader experiences with direct democracy… a first-hand account of the Venezuelan election… and more!
Eighty-eight people out 10,000 isn’t much… unless it’s the leading edge of a new and more potent phase of the Occupy movement. At least that’s the thought that crosses our mind with the Wal-Mart strike.
You haven’t heard about it?
You’re not alone.
The Wal-Mart labor strikes since they began a week ago today. They made The New York Times yesterday… on page B2.
Why do we care?
Entertainment value: Major labor unions are backing an effort called “Making Change at Wal-Mart,” a company that’s successfully kept unions at bay throughout the company’s 50-year history. Those 88 workers who walked out Tuesday are spread across 28 stores in 12 states.
Organizers sent 200 employees to WMT’s shareholder meeting in Arkansas yesterday, demanding an end to the company’s attempts to “silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job.”
Candidates for Wal-Mart’s new banking venture?
Maybe it won’t amount to anything… but the unions are talking about a “combined protest and educational campaign” on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, the evil capitalists who manage Wal-Mart are making a foray into the banking business.
The world’s largest retailer is teaming up with American Express to create a prepaid debit card called Bluebird. Deposit a paycheck at any Wal-Mart cash register, load it up on your Bluebird card. Or leave the money on deposit and use the card at any ATM in Amex’s ExpressCash network. Next year, even check-writing privileges will be available.
We like this idea. The deposits won’t be FDIC insured. Nor are Wal-Mart and Amex likely to take their customers’ money and blow it on collateralized debt obligations.
“It is not what I expected,” writes the wayfaring Chris Mayer with a firsthand account from Myanmar — or if you prefer, Burma. “I expected that 50 years of relative isolation would’ve left a pretty desperate and decrepit country. I found a place much more prosperous looking than official GDP figures and the like would indicate.”
Indeed, Chris senses the opportunity in Myanmar now is akin to that in Thailand a few years ago. Identifying ways to play it is proving more challenging, but Chris is persevering, with the help of our acquaintance Lawrence Mackhoul from Leopard Capital.
The currency of choice: U.S. dollars. But not just any dollars. “We had bills rejected because of small tears or tiny ink spots or small pen marks. We had money rejected because the crease in the center was too great. Most absurd of all was when Lawrence tried to change his hundreds at a hotel desk and they rejected his perfectly crisp hundred dollar bills because they had ‘CB’ in the serial number. “Lawrence stood there at the counter with a small pile of hundreds as they rejected each one. It seems the whole stack had ‘CB’ in the serial number. “When asked why the ‘CB’ mattered, we got a long answer that didn’t make much sense to us. Something about how the U.S. sanctions make certain money impossible to exchange.”
The sanctions are lifting, though. Opportunity awaits. Stand by for more dispatches from Chris…
Update: The “biggest fire sale in history“ Mr. Mayer spotted in January just got bigger.
The International Monetary Fund has upped its estimate of the assets that European banks will have to shed to stay afloat: $4.5 trillion. That’s up from a $3.8 trillion estimate a mere three months ago.
“Failure to implement fiscal tightening or set up a single supervisory system in the timing agreed could force 58 European Union banks, from UniCredit to Deutsche Bank, to shrink assets,” says a Bloomberg summary of the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report.
Even if eurozone leaders patch up the system with chewing gum and baling wire, Chris figures the banks will have to unload $1.8 trillion in assets over the next 10 years. “There is no better, more-reliable way to make money than to buy something from someone who has to sell. Bankers are the best people in the world to buy from,” Chris wrote in January.
With these latest developments, the sellers might be more motivated than ever. Follow Chris for your chance to take advantage.
The major U.S. stock indexes are recovering from the last two days of losses. At last check the S&P is at 1,441, the Dow a hair below 13,400.
“Stocks have come under pressure, with 3rd quarter earnings season underway,” wrote Options Hotline editor Steve Sarnoff last night. “Bears have grabbed the short-term bias. Global economic worries and European debt woes have boosted the US dollar and Treasuries, while pressuring stocks and commodities.”
“So far this week, risk assets are on their heels. A stronger dollar and weaker Apple shares could work to slam stocks, but we shall soon see if support kicks in and returns the edge to the bulls.”
Gold is also recovering a bit of its losses from earlier this week, currently $1,771.
Ironically, we have two seemingly disparate items today… both highlight what happens when complicated bureaucratic systems and structures begin to fall apart. One in Detroit, once a bastion of innovation and modernity. The other in Venice, an ancient trading empire.
In the engine-locked Motor City, some folks are putting the considerable vacant land to good use and creating what certain scholars are calling “blots,” a portmanteau of “block” and “lot.”
“Experts say,” the Detroit Free Press reports, “dozens of square miles of Detroit are now vacant, counting empty fields from which all buildings have been removed, as well as abandoned parks, roads and other public spaces no longer maintained by the city.”
Many Detroiters, “tired of waiting for permission or a plan,” have started repurposing the vacant land, with only about 40% of the projects recorded in the city’s assessor’s office, according to a local expert.
“In emptier parts of Detroit,” the paper on, “some residents have fenced in the vacant lots next to their houses to create suburban-size parcels. They create gardens, children’s playgrounds, parking for cars, toolsheds or other structures.
“The Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit group that works with local growers, estimates that there were more than 1,000 family, school and community gardens in the city in 2011.
“The gardens operate as small, nonprofit, volunteer-based plots on which residents grow fruits and vegetables. In most cases, the food is donated to food banks, given away to neighborhoods or consumed by the growers themselves.”
Meanwhile, as the eurozone collapses, Venice is itching for independence from Italy. Seventy percent of Venetians polled by a local newspaper want to go their own way.
“It may sound crazy, but I think Veneto will become independent before Scotland or Catalonia,” professor Pizzati, former World Bank economist tells the Telegraph. “We argue that our right to self-determination is being violated.
“The economic situation here is really desperate,” he goes on, “with the recession hitting small and medium-sized businesses. Meanwhile, of the 70 billion euros we pay in taxes to Rome, we get back about 50 billion euros, directly and indirectly. We are losing out on 20 billion euros a year.”
The pro-independence movement, Indipendenza Veneta, was formed in May and in a short amount of time presented a 20,000 name long petition to their governor, Luca Zaia.
Venice was independent far longer than a country called “Italy” has existed…
“Inspired by the nationalist aspirations of Scotland and Catalonia,” the Telegraph reports, “pro-independence campaigners will hold a mass rally in the heart of the lagoon city on Saturday, calling for an urgent referendum to be held on the issue.”
With an expected turnout in the several thousands, “They will be ferried across the Grand Canal in gondolas to deliver a ‘declaration of independence’ to the headquarters of the Veneto regional government.
“It may sound fanciful, and it will be fiercely resisted by Rome, but activists want to carve out a new country in northeastern Italy which would comprise Venice, the surrounding region of Veneto and parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.”
For the last 10 days, the John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, have become what you might call “Orwellandia.”
In today’s rapidly implausible installment of “The War on You,” we see that students there have been asked to carry photo ID cards equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to track their every move.
For now, the cards are optional. But students who buck the system find themselves losing privileges. Some are being shut out of common areas like the cafeteria and the library.
Sophomore Andrea Hernandez was told she won’t be allowed to vote in student council elections. She says a teacher told her, “I needed the new ID with the chip in order to vote,” she tells WorldNetDaily. In another interview with Salon.com, she said she felt as though the chip brands her with “the mark of the beast.”
There’s a creepy carrot-and-stick quality to these “optional” cards. When Hernandez’s dad complained, he got a letter from a deputy superintendent that said, “I urge you to accept this solution so that your child’s instructional program will not be affected. As we discussed, there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card as we begin to move forward with full implementation.”
“Full implementation” = mandatory. The schools are doing this because of the Texas state government’s own creepy carrot-and-stick MO: The schools in question need to up their attendance rates lest they lose state funding.
“I don’t think last Friday’s numbers for unemployment are ‘cooked,’” a reader writes. At least no more than usual, he says: “As a conservative, I complain about them now, but I remember Democrats complaining about them when Bush was in office. I personally keep closer tabs on the numbers John Williams provides on his website at ShadowStats.com.
“Despite the 0.3% drop in the U-3 index, we don’t feel like there has been an improvement, for two reasons:
1) All of the improvement is because of new part-time jobs. Out of 873,000 jobs created, 582,000 were part-time. U-3 index went from 8.1% to 7.8%, but the U-6 index (which doesn’t count part-time jobs) stayed level at 14.7%.
2) In the last 3 years, we have averaged 120,000-160,000 new jobs a month paying $20,000-40,000 a year, while we lost 20,000 to 60,000 jobs a month that paid $70,000 a year or more.
“Too many people are working part time or accepting jobs that pay considerably less than previous jobs for the country, as a whole, to feel like this is a recovery.
“I enjoy The 5 and make it part of my daily reading. Keep up the good work!”
“Did someone peek,” writes a reader carrying on our direct-democracy thread, “and look at the state of Washington’s things that are up for vote this November?
“Legalize drugs? Vote yes/no. Gay marriage? Vote yes/no. The TV ads have already started and I’m getting sick to my stomach.”
The 5: Interesting. “what’s the point of this voting exercise anyway?” Doug French wrote in Laissez Faire Today yesterday, “No matter what political flavor you vote for, government gets bigger and more intrusive.” Y’all sound like kindred spirits.
“Even better,” writes a reader on the same topic, “press 1 for yes and get to pay the bill for the cost. Press 2 for no and get a free pass on the cost.
“That way the referendum idea might work better than it has in California, where they vote for an idea but withhold approval to raise taxes to fund it! We need to achieve voter responsibility before we can get rid of the political brain dead dead-weight currently pretending to run the show.”
“You are fully forgiven for not knowing all details about tiny Switzerland,” writes a Swiss reader correcting a fellow reader on that country’s procedures in direct democracy.
“Paragraph 03:30 states that 500,000 signatures are required to launch a national Swiss referendum. Upon verification, 50,000 will do it, and whoever launches the collection of signatures has got 100 days to get them together and verified.
“Certain laws are even subject to compulsory referendum, i.e., people are called to vote on it anyway. It happens so often that the turnout usually comes in below 50%. All efforts to raise the hurdle have been unsuccessful, despite the big increase in suffrage over the past 100 years or so.
“Carry on your good work. It always provides a lot of information and a good insight on what happens in the U.S.”
“No matter who won,” writes a reader from Venezuela commenting on Hugo Chavez latest “victory,” “there would be cries of fraud during the election. This one is no exception.
“However, it is interesting to note that I live in the state of Carabobo, which has traditionally been against Chavez and his regime and also has an opposition governor. Chavez won in Carabobo yet after the results were given on Sunday night, Carabobo’s capital city of Valencia was dead quiet. No matter, if the opposition candidate conceded, and he is well informed, the win was a win.
“This was not an election between right and left. Chavez represents the lowest of human nature and he banked on a massive ignorant populace. With an educated electorate, and a moral one at that, Chavez would be a fringe maniac hollering from a box in a park (or from prison, where he was pardoned from).
“It is a further disgrace how resources will continue to be squandered in the coming years. Did you know there was a plan to build a pipeline from Venezuela to Florida? Imagine that. Imagine Venezuela producing 7 million barrels of oil per day (which it can, and relatively easily). Imagine having Venezuela supply 5 million, instead of 500,000 barrels to the U.S. Maybe someone will notice after Nov. 6, especially with the prospect of $6 gas in California.
“On the upside, Notre Dame is 5-0 this season and I’m going to the BYU game. So not all is lost.”
The 5: Brings to mind an old joke. Q: How do you know someone went to Notre Dame? A: They tell you.
The 5 Min. Forecast
P.S. Nearby, in Nicaragua, the speaker lineup is set for the second edition of the Rancho Santana Sessions. This intimate gathering aims to help you achieve the ultimate in diversification: exposure to foreign business opportunities, foreign real estate and strategies that can limit your U.S. tax liability.
The dates: Dec. 5-9. The place: Rancho Santana, on Nicaragua’s stunning Pacific frontier. For a full speaker lineup and other essential details, please follow this link.