Surging commodity prices have pushed up global food prices 83% in the past three years, according to the World Bank—putting huge stress on some of the world’s poorest nations.

Following excerpt From the Wallstreet Journal’s “LiveMint.com,
Washington: Finance ministers gathered last weekend to grapple with the global financial crisis also struggled with a problem that has plagued the world periodically before the time of the pharaohs: food shortages.
Surging commodity prices have pushed up global food prices 83% in the past three years, according to the World Bank—putting huge stress on some of the world’s poorest nations. Even as the ministers met, Haiti’s Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis was resigning after a week in which that tiny country’s capital was racked by rioting over higher prices for staples such as rice and beans.
Rioting in response to soaring food prices recently has broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to deter food theft from fields and warehouses. World Bank president Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. In countries where buying food requires half to three-quarters of a poor person’s income, “there is no margin for survival,” he said.

I’m pretty sure political lobbying is evil.

scary article excerpts (original publication here):

“…several Republican and Democratic presidential campaign officials whose lobbying firms have been paid more than $15 million by foreign governments since 2005…”

The firms of McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, who until recently was the chairman of Washington-based BKSH & Associates, and campaign co-chairman Thomas G. Loeffler, who heads the Loeffler Group in San Antonio, received millions of dollars lobbying the White House, Congress and others as agents of nearly a dozen foreign clients in recent years.

“At no time have I discussed my clients with John McCain, and there have been many occasions where he has voted against my clients’ interests, but that doesn’t change my belief that John McCain is the best candidate to lead our nation,” said Mr. Loeffler, a former Texas congressman, whose firm has received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia.

The arrangements are legal, and hundreds of lobbyists are registered to work for foreign clients. But experts say conflict-of-interest questions can arise if lobbying and campaign activities overlap.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea that one person plays all these roles,” said Toni-Michelle C. Travis, a political analyst and professor of government at George Mason University. “The entanglements become greater and greater, and that can lead to conflict-of-interest questions at some point.”

“…Mark Penn, former top strategist to Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, recently resigned after consulting on a Colombian trade agreement that Mrs. Clinton opposed. Mr. Penn is chief executive of Washington-based Burson-Marsteller, which has lobbied for the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Colombian Embassy and the Mexico Tourism Board.

In addition, the Glover Park Group where top Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson previously worked, received more than $170,00 last year from the Colombian trade bureau and $250,000 from Dubai Aerospace Enterprises Ltd.”

Poll says predictions for short-term progress grimmest in nearly 50 years

WASHINGTON – Growing numbers of middle-class Americans say they are not better off than they were five years ago, reflecting economic pressures amid growing debt, a study released Wednesday shows. Their short-term assessments of personal progress, according to the study, is the worst it has been in almost half a century.

The survey by the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based research organization, paints a mixed picture for the 53 percent of adults in the country who define themselves as “middle class,” with household incomes ranging from below $40,000 to more than $100,000.

It found that a majority of Americans said they have not progressed in the past five years. One in four, or 25 percent, said their economic situation had not improved, while 31 percent said they had fallen backward. Those numbers together are the highest since the survey question was first asked in 1964. Among the middle class, 54 percent said they had made no progress (26 percent) or fallen back (28 percent).

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Middle-class prosperity also lagged compared with richer Americans. From 1983 to 2004, the median net worth of upper-income families — defined as households with annual incomes above 150 percent of the median — grew by 123 percent, while the median net worth of middle-income families rose by just 29 percent.

US New Jobless claims rise to over 400,000, highest level in 2 years, click picture to read more.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance jumped by a seasonally adjusted 38,000 to 407,000 for the week ending March 29. The increase left claims at their highest point since Sept. 17, 2005, following the blows of the devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes.

“This report supports the view that the jobs market is deteriorating toward recessionary conditions,” said T.J. Marta, a fixed-income strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

The latest snapshot of labor activity was worse than economists had anticipated. They had predicted claims would be much lower, around 365,000….Meanwhile, the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits rose by a sharp 97,000 to 2.94 million for the week ending March 22, the most recent period for which that information is available. That was the highest since July 17, 2004.

US Workers lose their jobs in highest numbers in years

232,000 US jobs have vanished since January, Senior Economist at Economic Policy Institute says, “most people depend on their paychecks.”

Published: April 5, 2008:

“The nation’s employers eliminated tens of thousands of jobs for the third month in a row, the government reported Friday, and top Democrats immediately called for new measures to help suffering American workers. After the early-morning report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 80,000 jobs had disappeared in March, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said she would propose a second economic stimulus package. Hers would supplement the $150 billion in tax rebates scheduled to be mailed to millions of Americans beginning next month.”…

…”

The March decline was the largest job loss since March 2003 when the economy was still shaking off the lingering effects of the 2001 recession. Since the start of the year, 232,000 jobs have disappeared, the bureau said yesterday.

More than once in the past, three consecutive months of job losses have marked the start of a recession. “It is our view that we are already in one,” said Drew Matus, a Lehman Brothers economist, offering a view widely held on Wall Street.”…

…”

Unemployment rose in every sector of the work force, except among teenagers. Hourly wage gains slowed for production workers, who constitute 80 percent of the work force. The 5-cent rise last month brought the average wage to $17.86 an hour, an increase of 3.6 percent since the previous March, not enough to keep up with inflation.

“You can talk all you want about the importance of stock portfolios and the wealth embedded in your home,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, “but when you get right down to it, most people depend on their paychecks.”…

Wall Street Braces for biggest overhaul since Great Depression.

The following is an excerpt from this article at BusinessWeek.com today:

“While Wall Street faces the biggest overhaul of its regulatory structure since the Great Depression (and since the often decried Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 -these parenthese added by blogger, not original to article), analysts are already wondering if the plan to be announced by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Monday would help prevent the kind of risky investments that led to the near-collapse of Bear Stearns Cos.

The plan maps out a course for broader oversight of the nation’s financial markets by consolidating power into the Federal Reserve. It will eliminate overlapping state and federal regulators and give the central bank an expanded role in looking at the books of investment banks and brokerages.

What remains unclear is exactly how much the Fed would be able to control Wall Street’s freewheeling investment banks — the banks including Bear Stearns that have lost billions of dollars over the past six months from buying risky mortgage-backed securities. While the proposal will for the first time impose regulation of hedge funds and private equity firms, some say it is lacking the kind of muscle to curb the Street’s appetite for risk.

“This is a good start for the basis of discussion,” said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and former chief economist of the U.S. Trade Commission. “But, this is bank reform written by an investment banker. … There’s nothing so far to improve the conduct of business on Wall Street to avoid another crisis.”

footnote: from Wikipedia: “Sarbox” (Sarbanes-Oxley); is a United States federal law enacted on July 30, 2002 in response to a number of major corporate and accounting scandals including those affecting Enron, Tyco International, Adelphia, Peregrine Systems and WorldCom. These scandals, which cost investors billions of dollars when the share prices of the affected companies collapsed, shook public confidence in the nation’s securities markets. Named after sponsors Senator Paul Sarbanes (DMD) and Representative Michael G. Oxley (ROH), the Act was approved by the House by a vote of 423-3 and by the Senate 99-0. President George W. Bush signed it into law, stating it included “the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”[1]

Jim Rogers says U.S. Should Abolish the Federal Reserve Bank on CNBC, 3/12/08