May 7, 2009

Gold sales cost Europe’s central banks $40bn

FT May 7 2009

Europe’s central banks are $40bn poorer than they might have been after they followed a British move taken 10 years ago on Thursday to shrink the Bank of England’s gold reserves, analysis by the Financial Times has shown.

London’s announcement on May 7 1999 that it would sell a large share of the Bank’s gold reserves in favour of assets offering a return, such as government bonds, was the high water mark of so-called “anti-gold” sentiment among European central banks.

Many of these banks, such as those in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, decided later in 1999 to follow Britain and sell off their reserves. At that time, gold was worth around $280 an ounce, less than a third of its current level of more than $900.

European banks sold about 3,800 tonnes of gold, reaping about $56bn, according to calculations from official sales data and bullion prices.... Read all here

Obama: "Gun Salesman of the Year"

Just in from Alternet: VICTORVILLE, Calif. -- Ever since it became clear that Barack Obama would be our next president, there's been an unprecedented run on guns 'n ammo in America. Partly this is fueled by fears, some justified some not, that Obama will outlaw a broad range of assault weapons; partly it's fueled by socioeconomic factors, racism and right-wing hate.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in Victorville, a desert exurb of Los Angeles that boomed faster with the subprime craze than just about any city in the country and fell harder when it all collapsed. Today, guns and ammo are in short supply here in Victorville. But there is an abundance of despair and paranoia.

There are a lot of guns around these parts, too. The barren desert surroundings are perfect setting for gun enthusiasts of all stripes, and it feels like most everyone here owns a weapon or two. And why not? You can drive 15 minutes beyond city limits, turn off onto a backroad and start unloading to heart's content. That is, if you are able to get your hands on some ammunition.

In Victorville, every single gun store is out of all types of ammo, all the time.

"I went through 11,000 of 9mm rounds in two days. That's an awful lot for a little shop like this. I would never ever stock that much," an owner of a gun shop tucked away in a corner of a strip mall told me. "All the people that make ammunition are making more than they have in any other year, but they are still running out."

Excessive target practice did not even come close to explaining the insatiable demand for ammo. Even the local Wal-Mart, the pioneer in demand-driven distribution, can't keep up, selling out of as soon as soon a new shipment comes in.

Rumor on the street has it that Wal-Mart has sold more ammo year-to-date than any other year in its history. And while Wal-Mart's media relations department would not confirm or deny that information, citing proprietary concerns, all one has to do is visit their two stores in the area.

Aside from a couple of boxes of buckshot, shelves in the guns-and-ammo department stand perpetually empty -- a weird sight in a store otherwise overflowing with goods. According to a salesperson at their Victorville location, ammo that arrives overnight will be picked clean long before lunch hour rolls around. The only sure way to buy is to call as soon as the store opens at 9 a.m. and put what you want on hold. That is, if a shipment comes in that day at all.

Charles Drew, owner of a gun store in Victorville, told the press that even people that don't own guns are hoarding ammunition "just in case." It is a trend recorded nationwide.

The Outdoor Wire, a news service for the outdoor industry, has named Obama its "Gun Salesman of the Year." Mandatory FBI background checks for firearms sales have jumped by 50 percent in recent months, while ammunition manufacturers have seen record sales. Olin Corp., maker of Winchester ammunition, upped its first-quarter sales this year from $110 million to $133 million, giving it a much-appreciated 20 percent boost in profits.

Ammunition has been so scarce lately that some police departments have been forced to scale back on target practice, fearing that they won't have any bullets left for real police work.

And the thing to remember is that bullets aren't cheap. A box of 25 9mm rounds sells for about $25. More specialized ammo easily sells for $2 a bullet or more. But in these difficult times, cost does not appear to be an issue, even in the flat-broke city of Victorville... Read all here

Government Still Blocking Information on Secret IP Enforcement Treaty

Broken Promises from the Obama Administration Keep Americans in the Dark About ACTA

Washington, D.C. - Two public interest groups today called on the government to stop blocking the release of information about a secret intellectual property trade agreement with broad implications for privacy and innovation around the world.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge said that the April 30th release of 36 pages of material by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) was the second time the government had the opportunity to provide some public insight into the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), but declined to do so. More than a thousand pages of material about ACTA are still being withheld, despite the Obama administration's promises to run a more open government.
"We are very disappointed with the USTR's decision to continue to withhold these documents," said EFF Senior Counsel David Sobel. "The president promised an open and transparent administration. But in this case and others we are litigating at EFF, we've found that the new guidelines liberalizing implementation of the Freedom of Information Act haven't changed a thing."
EFF and Public Knowledge filed suit in September of 2008, demanding that background documents on ACTA be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Initially, USTR released 159 pages of information about ACTA and withheld more than 1300 additional pages, claiming they implicate national security or reveal the USTR's "deliberative process." After reconsidering the release under the Obama administration's new transparency policies, the USTR disclosed the additional pages last week, most of which contain no substantive information.
However, one of the documents implies that treaty negotiators are zeroing in on Internet regulation. A discussion of the challenges for the pact includes "the speed and ease of digital reproductions" and "the growing importance of the Internet as a means of distribution."
Other publicly available information shows that the treaty could establish far-reaching customs regulations over Internet traffic in the guise of anti-counterfeiting measures. Additionally, multi-national IP industry companies have publicly requested that ISPs be required to engage in filtering of their customers' Internet communications for potentially copyright-infringing material, force mandatory disclosure of personal information about alleged copyright infringers, and adopt "Three Strikes" policies requiring ISPs to automatically terminate customers' Internet access upon a repeat allegation of copyright infringement.
"What we've seen tends to confirm that the substance of ACTA remains a grave concern," said Public Knowledge Staff Attorney Sherwin Siy. "The agreement increasingly looks like an attempt by Hollywood and the content industries to perform an end-run around national legislatures and public international forums to advance an aggressive, radical change in the way that copyright and trademark laws are enforced."
"The USTR's official summary of the process, released last month, recognized the lack of transparency so far while doing nothing to broaden stakeholder input or engage public debate," said International Affairs Director Eddan Katz. "The radical proposals being considered under the Internet provisions deserve a more transparent process with greater public participation."
Litigation in the case will now continue, with USTR asking U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer to uphold its decision to conceal virtually all of the information that EFF and PK seek concerning the ACTA negotiations.
For the documents released so far: