Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fresh Chestnuts!

My neighbor gave me some chestnuts, quite a lot of them as you can see from the photo! I don't know what they sell for or the open market but when I lived in Asheville, a street vendor sold fresh hot roasted chestnuts every fall, 6 for $1.50.

Chestnuts are very good nutritionally, being lower in fats and calories than most nuts. (Most nuts have nearly 50% fat; chestnuts only about 1%.) They don't keep the way most nuts do, so they need to have some processing or they will mold and spoil in just a few days.

Chestnuts are best known as roasted, because that brings out the sweetness. However, back in the days before the chestnut blight, they were used in a variety of dishes from a vegetable side-dish, or boiled and mashed, to puddings, stuffing ingredient, and even roasted and ground for flour. You can roast, peel and freeze them but since I'm out of freezer space, I'm looking at alternatives.

I have several ideas in mind for their use. Certainly, I shall roast and grind some (as soon as I can afford a grain grinder). I plan to puree some for use in combination with some kind of fruit for a leather roll-up, and I want to make a batch of chestnut biscotti.

I'll post pics and recipes when I make something with them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here's a Tasty photo...

I know I have mentioned several times that I am having a great fall crop of raspberries. In most years, my fall crop is always better than the earliier crop in June; this year it has been a bumper crop. Which is a good thing because most of my 'backyard crops' for this year are non-existent.

The photo above was taken just 2 days ago, so you can see there are more berries still to mature.
My raspberry plants are a mix of Heritage, Caroline, and some native canes from North Carolina I acquired years ago. I can tell the native berries from the other 2... they are smaller berries. Then, Heritage matures earlier than Caroline, so I'd say the photo is probably of Caroline berries, although I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

I suppose I have picked about 4 gallons or more, from a total of about 20 row-feet of canes. I think the size of the yield this year is due to several reasons. For one thing, they have been in this spot 2 years now, and I think they like it. They are also lightly organically fertilized just once in spring, and side-dressed with minerals like
Greensand, or Azomite. It is probably a boon that we had lots of wet weather off and on, too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soup Beans and Cornbread

With all the rain we’ve had this week, I searched my brain (and recipe file) for a pot of something I could make that would last for 2-3 days and have a warming effect. Around this area, a favorite and easy simple dish is “Soup Beans and Cornbread”. It’s basically just a pot of pinto beans served with cornbread on the side (although some folks put cornbread in their bowl of beans).

Beans are high in protein, but they are not a complete protein by themselves. The addition of a whole grain creates a high-quality, high-fiber, fat-free protein, with equal or better nutritional value than a protein like meat, and with far less cost incurred. As an example, beans and rice would be a complete protein provided you used rice that has only had the husk removed, like brown rice. (White rice doesn’t cut it, not even the ‘enriched’ white rice.)

So adding whole-grain cornbread along with beans could also provide a complete protein, that is, if you can find corn meal that is not de-germed. Most corn meal on the grocery store shelves has been de-germed so it can last almost indefinitely. BTW, the bags of masa harina (used to make tortillas and tamales) is corn meal that has been bleached with lye.

I keep some stone ground whole grain cornmeal in the freezer that I use for my cornbread; the germ will become rancid stored at room temps for very long. Most cornbread recipes call for more corn meal than flour, somewhere close to a 2:1 ratio. I make mine almost the opposite, and I use white whole wheat flour. It still makes a nice crumb but not so much that I make a big mess trying to slice a wedge of cornbread to butter.

Cornbread follows in a separate post.

Soup Beans

1 pound dry pinto beans

1 large onion, diced

1 clove garlic (if desired)

1 or 2 smoked ham hocks

1 or more onion, finely diced for garnish

red pepper flakes, to taste

Freshly ground pepper and any herbs of your choice, to taste.

(Remember, the ham hocks will be salty. I generally don’t need to add any salt; it can be added if necessary when served.)

Sort the beans carefully to remove any small stones and yucky beans. Rinse well, cover with 2” of water, and soak overnight in the refrigerator. If time is a factor, bring the beans to a boil, turn off heat and cover for 2 hours. In either case, discard the water, rinse again, and cover with 1-2” of water. Add the smoked ham hocks and chopped onion, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Cover and cook on low until beans are almost tender. I’m cooking this batch in a crockpot, and it may take 6-8 hours.

When the beans are about 20-30 minutes away from being tender enough to eat, remove the hocks. Chop the meat from the hocks, shred and add the meat back to the pot, along with some red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of black pepper to taste. If you want to add any herbs, now is the time. (This is also the time your cornbread should go in the oven!)

When the soup beans and cornbread are finished cooking, ladle the beans into a bowl, add minced onion on top, butter a wedge of warm cornbread, and enjoy!

Note: I find that this makes a lovely and substantial lunch meal break in the summer when I’m busy in the garden. That leaves plenty of room for a super salad at suppertime when it has cooled down a bit.


Cornbread recipes are as controversial as pinto bean or chili recipes, and everyone has their own way of doing them. My recipes are just good ole basic recipes, and can be tweaked to your personal taste in all sorts of ways.


1 cup whole grain cornmeal
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (I prefer white whole wheat flour)
2 tsp. baking powder big pinch of baking soda (about ¼ tsp.)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. salt (depends on the kind of salt, and your taste buds)
1 stick unsalted butter that has been melted and allowed to cool (or ½ cup ghee*)
1 ¼ cups milk (don’t add it all at once; some days it takes less to make the batter and some days it takes more)
1 large egg (I’m using a duck egg, because I have them.)
Sugar is optional; I think it depends on where you were raised!

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and put in the oiled cast iron skillet to heat. (Because I’m a butter freak, I use nearly a Tbs. of butter in the skillet. The butter can easily brown too much or even burn, so I add it just a minute ot two before I’m ready to take the heated pan out of the oven and add the batter.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. If you only have regular de-germed corn meal, you can add some drained corn kernels to help round out the protein; plus, they add more texture.

In another bowl, beat together the milk and the egg until well light and frothy, then whisk in the butter. Dump this all at once into the dry mix and stir gently until everything is just moistened. DO NOT OVER-MIX.

Take the hot iron skillet out of the oven, dump the batter in and spread gently to even it out. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick or table knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Baking time will vary with altitude and humidity. If you have added corn kernels, the baking time may be a bit longer.

Remove pan from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before cutting. You may choose to turn the pan upside down over a plate to remove the cornbread; when I do this, I put a second plate atop the turned-out cornbread and invert it again so the top is facing up. The presentation is much nicer!

*Ghee is clarified butter; once clarified, it will keep for a very long time in a jar on the shelf without becoming rancid.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What's the 'Right' Thing To Do?

Would you steal a drug that your child needs to survive? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is torture ever justified?

There’s now a free (and for years an extraordinarily popular class) Harvard University course being offered online about looking at, and challenging, the reasoning behind the how’s and why’s of the moral decisions we make every day.

Over the years, more than 14,000 students have taken popular course “Justice” with Michael J. Sandel. Interest has run high outside the classroom and recently enough money was raised to produce it like a big HD multimedia event and not some boring online class.

After I watched the intro (above) and took a peek at some of the classes, I intend to watch as many of the 12 episodes as I can; if I really like the class I’ll watch them all. They will all be available on YouTube, or linked together here.

In today’s world, the scandals all over the news appear to stem from lack of moral fiber. Our moral compass is broken. In my grandfather’s time, a man was judged by his ethical fiber, and a man’s word (and or handshake) was his bond.

I think it’s time we re-examine what it means to have ‘moral fiber’ and perhaps this course can give us some insights about how we (and others) got here, and whether we can change it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It must be Friday...

A Georgia bank fails today. It must be Friday... just announced the Atlanta-based Georgian Bank has failed, the 95th bank failure so far this year. That's an average of more than 10 per month, with probably more to come.

The cost of today's failed bank will cost the FDIC an estimated $892 million. Sigh.


Headline on the CNBC site: "Housing Will Remain Weak As Long as Jobs Are Scarce"

Some Renewable Energy Projects Funded, finally!

Installing Solar Panels at Wayne National Forest, photo by US Forest Service

The U.S. government has awarded $550 million in grants for renewable energy projects, which will double the amount of stimulus money heading toward green energy over the next few years. The move signals an encouraging commitment to a clean energy future, which will help to combat climate change and create greatly needed green jobs.

The grants will be given in cash to companies, instead of tax credits in order to provide an reimbursement to solar, wind, biomass and other renewable energy production facilities.

Projects already underway include the Wayne National Forest installation, which was given $400,000 to add 250 additional solar panels to a facility that already had 50 previously installed. The Solar Expansion Project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

FDIC in a pickle

I'm not sure I really understand all of this... the FDIC has spent a lot of money to pay off depositors in failed banks, and is now short of cash. Just 2-3 days ago, I read the FDIC is considering a huge loan from banks. This is where I get confused...

We know the government owns the FDIC, and we know the government has lent billions to bail out banks. So why would the government (FDIC) borrow money from (government) money in banks? Isn't that like borrowing your own money?

Now, I just read (Bloomberg) that if the FDIC 'borrows' from the government, it will push us past the debt limits. Does that mean the US government is 'tapped out'??

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Seduction of Gold on Two Fronts

I've written a few things lately about this precious metal we call gold, mostly from a financial value viewpoint.

Lately I've been thinking about this lovely malleable metal in terms of adornment. I lived in Miami during and after the first influx of Cuban Refugees in the early 1960's. It wasn't until they had been amongst us a year or two that I frequented some common areas. One thing I remember is all the heavy gold chains and ID bracelets the men wore and it wasn't 14KT either.

The only jewelry I could afford as a young adult was silver, and I soon learned I couldn't wear it without my body reacting to it. I began to wish I had some gold jewelry, other than small gold studs in my ears. When I divorced my first husband, I immediately bought myself a heavy gold nugget ring which I wear to this day, and a Museum Movado watch with an 18KT gold case. Eventually I bought a few more select pieces that I wore with my corporate drag.

Now I dress comfortably in jeans and hiking boots, and seldom wear any of the jewelry except my nugget ring, and a couple of small gold chains. I've given some of it to nieces, but even they dress down these days. However, the allure of gold still remains deep within me.

As to the value of gold jewelry... would I trade what few pieces I have left for food in a real crisis? I really don't know since I have never been in that kind of situation. I do regret some pieces I hocked, or sold, to pay rent. I was friends in the 1960's with a Hungarian man who came to the US as a refugee in WWII. He would buy any kind of gold jewelry at yard sales, auctions, etc. I remember him describing people in the war-torn areas of Europe who wore coats with gold jewelry sewn inside. They were always able to trade for food with it.
I guess once you have seen it happen, you know it can happen again.

On the financial/market value side of gold... if you have been watching the market, gold is up further in value, well over $1,000 now. The IMF has announced they want to sell 403 tonnes of gold, which is about 1/8 of their gold holdings. 403 tonnes has a market value of close to $13 Billion.

Unconfirmed via Reuters reports say China is interested in buying it, if the price is right. They said $13 billion is small beans to the Chinese, who have more than $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. The Chinese report having 1,045 tonnes of gold already, accumulated slowly over the last 10 or so years. I wonder how much the US still has?

Last year in a moment of panic about the banks, a neighbor withdrew $25,000 from her savings and installed a home safe. I suggested she buy gold with it; gold was $928 then. That would have bought around 27 ounces of gold, worth about $2500 more today. Her savings were paying a pittance, even the CD's. After about 60 days, she put it back in the bank.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Potato Experiment Results

Results are discouraging, but not a total failure... and I learned some lessons that will be helpful in the future, plus gained a small pile of fingerlings to eat!

When I started the
Great Potato Experiment, I had no room to plant fingerlings, so I planted them in tires. Two things I did wrong: One, I put the tires over weed-cloth because the area was just grass. Secondly, I used straw and grass clippings, no dirt.

The weed-cloth prevented any roots from penetrating deeply in a search for water, and the fill material of straw and grass clippings did not hold enough water to create a growing medium.

When the plants died off and I dug the fingerlings (Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings) I found 50 or more small tubers the size of a nickel. I think if they had been in a better growing medium, they would have grown larger and the experiment would have been a success, even with the weed-cloth. The original tubers I planted were still intact, and had not decomposed much to make roots for new tubers to grow.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blueberry Lavender Jam

Michelle, over at Big Black Dog posted a lovely recipe for blueberry-lavender jam. I would not have thought about adding lavender to blueberries, but it sure does sound yummy. Hop on over and take a look!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What's going on with me...

Actually not much, at least online. I have been mostly absent for several days while I was taking a short course offered by the Virginia Dept. of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries.

Technically the course is on Hunter Safety, and I wanted to take it because I live in a heavily wooded mountainous area now over-populated by deer. That means hunters will be out in force when the various seasons open, and I wanted to know the rules about hunting near people and public roads for my own protection.

To my delight, the course covers a lot of conservation efforts in my state, and emphasis in the safety course is placed on conservation and protected species.

The tax on hunting and fishing licenses, guns, ammunition, archery and related items goes into a separate fund used for conservation and recreation. By a federal law, each state gets a share based mainly on population, amount of land and number of licenses, and must use some of it for conservation. In my state it's almost 50%.

That money pays the biologists, game wardens, stocking and wildlife re-population efforts (including fish hatcheries), disease control (i.e. rabies in wild animals), hunter safety education, and other such endeavors. The rest of that specific tax money collected is used for things like public boat ramps, woodland trails, forest roads, parks and other recreational areas.

I had no idea that those things were paid for specifically out of the tax monies charged on guns and hunting/fishing licenses. I must say I was also impressed at the game wardens' responsibilities to protect all forms of illegal hunting, and the kind/gender of game you can take. They have strict laws about how many of what gender, and when, to protect and keep the wildlife population from becoming extinct.

The fines for illegal game are incredibly high; taking something like a turkey during mating season can cost someone $2500. All game has to be immediately tagged with a chit that comes with your license, and anyone found with something like a deer without a tag can also face jail time, even if it is a deer you accidentally hit driving down the road. Failure to call the authorities in a case of hitting a deer makes you just as responsible as someone illegally hunting.

The course certainly changed my attitude about hunters, although there are always bad apples in any bunch.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Failure Fridays Continue

Regulators closed more banks today at a cost of $850 million to the FDIC. Getting to be like clockwork, isn't it?

Regulators closed subsidiaries of Irwin Financial Corporation in Kentucky and Indiana Friday, bringing the total number of bank failures this year to 94, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

RIP Mary Travers

Wednesday September 16, Mary Travers, the powerful female voice of Peter, Paul and Mary passed away at the age of 72, from complications associated with a bone marrow transplant she had several years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia.

The group's enduring songs of the 1960's protest movements brought urgency to the politics of the time, participating in voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and performing at political rallies all over this country.

I remember well songs like "If I had a Hammer", "Leaving on a Jet Plane", and "Puff, the Magic Dragon". At the time, I was a part-owner of a 30' sailing vessel of the Dragon class, and of course we named our boat

Her passing really marks the end of an era for me, now only remembered on recorded pieces of plastic.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spitting Contest

Have y'all been noticing the spitting contest that's going on? It goes like this...

The Chinese haven't been too happy with how the US government has been handling the mess on banking and investment firms going belly-up... and since the Chinese have a substantial stake in US dollars, they are worried about more losses.

They say they were deliberately encouraged (and mal-informed) by some firms to invest in derivatives. So, the Chinese recently announced they would allow some Chinese government-owned firms to default on derivatives. Spit one.

Then the US government issued a 35% tariff on Chinese tires, effective with a 2 weeks notice. Spit two.

Now the Chinese have spit back, threatening to cut off imports of American chicken.

I wonder how we will spit back? I did notice gold shot up dramatically on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Gold Coin with Charisma and Lawsuits

When President Roosevelt seized all the US gold coins in the 1933, the US mints had just produced about half a million 1933 $20 gold pieces, called a ‘double eagle’. They were never released by the government but melted down instead, although a few did make it outside the federal vaults.

Two of the coins were given to the Smithsonian, and one went into King Farouk of Egypt’s coin collection. That coin eventually came to the hands of a British dealer and the US government seized it. Finally an agreement with the government was reached and in 2002 it was sold at auction for $7.6 million.

In 2004, 10 more of them were found in an old forgotten family safe deposit box by the family of a Mr. Switt. When the family took them to the US Mint for authentication, the government seized them, claiming they were stolen goods. Mr. Switt had been a gold dealer and the family insists he would have acquired the coins legitimately before the ban, most likely through a gold-for-gold exchange process used by the Mint in those days.

The Secret Service, which polices currency crimes, has argued that all of the double eagles that escaped government control passed through the hands of Mr. Switt (grandfather of the current owner) working with a corrupt cashier at the Mint. A Mint spokesman declined to comment on the case because of the litigation.

The family has sued the government for their return, and a District Court judge recently ruled that the government must prove they were stolen.

With the right timing and a good market, Mr. Fenton (the dealer who sold the Farouk coin) said, they could bring $4 million to $6 million each, because there are many people who would want to own one.

“This coin,” Mr. Fenton said, “has got so much charisma.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Selling an Idea

Sometime back in my career days, I was in a workshop and this example about selling an idea came up. The tale (back in the days of the Cold War) goes like this:

The Russians and the Americans met at a bargaining table. The Russians put their demands on the table, and the Americans became indignant saying, "No Way"... and walked out.

A year later they met again, and the Russians put the same demands on the table. The Americans refused them, and left.

Six months later, they met yet again. The Russians put the same demands on the table, and after some consultations, the Americans agreed to think about it.

The point? When we first hear something that seems unacceptable, we dismiss it. When we keep hearing it over and over, we become more used to the idea. Eventually we come to believe it.

Keep that thought in mind as you hear glowing reports on the news; carefully re-check the reality around you for comparison. Are houses selling in your neighborhood? Are folks finding jobs again? Are your banks lending?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

More "Putting Food By"...

As the garden languishes in the last throes of warm weather, I have been drying more of my produce since it takes up much less space (and energy) to store.

I had lots of pole beans, and the ones that didn't get picked while still tender were allowed to stay on the vines. However, with the wet and cooler weather, I was afraid they would mold rather than dry so I picked a bunch. Put them on low in the dehydrator for a couple of hours until they were dry enough to shell easily. What you see in the photo is only a portion, now drying since I shelled them.

These beans are Kentucky Wonder, and probably not the best bean to dry as a staple. However, they can be ground into a flour to add nutrition to a number of dishes like stews and meat loaf. They make a great thickener!

Besides that, any whole dry beans that aren't eaten over winter will still be viable for planting next spring.

Then I dried some corn. Blanched it about 2 minutes, cut it off the cob and spread on the dryer shelves. I wanted to make some old-timey parched corn, which is kinda like corn nuts only not as greasy or salty. Turns out you need to dry the corn ON the cob so you have whole kernels to parch. It makes a great snack, and my neighbor has a few ears drying now on his stalks for me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

3 More 'Friday Failures'

Regulators closed banks in Illinois, Minnesota and Washington state today, at a cost of more than $2 billion to the FDIC insurance fund. That brings this year's failures to 91 or 92... but who's counting? BTW, that's four times the failures of 2008. In Illinois alone, 16 banks have failed so far this year.

Brickwell Community Bank has been seized by regulators. Cost to the FDIC is $22 million.

Ventura Bank
, based in Washington state, has also been seized, costing the FDIC fund about $298 million.

Corus Bank
, the 3rd largest in Illinois, also collapsed. The FDIC estimates it will cost the insurance fund about $1.7 Billion.

A week or two ago the FDIC reported it only had $10 billion remaining in funds. Today’s hits will take 20% of that reserve. reports that over the next five years, the FDIC expects roughly $70 billion in losses due to the failure of insured institutions. Hey, just ask the government to print more!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Silver and Gold

Photo: Creative Commons License by Muffet

Continuing with my thoughts on money, currency, and gold… I thought I’d write about silver a bit. In my earlier post on
Gold Value, Investing and Risks, I mentioned USD ‘silver certficates’ which preceded the USD federal reserve notes.

There are still a few of those silver certificates around, in the hands of collectors. They were withdrawn from general circulation in the mid-1960’s as I recall. That was about the time the price of silver went up and the value of the silver in our coins became more than the face value of the coins, so the US Mints stopped making silver coins. I read somewhere that when silver was $16/ounce, the silver value of our then-silver dime was over $1 in value by weight of the silver.

People began saving their silver coins as the newer alloyed coins were minted. When many folks were preparing for Y2K, it was advised to look for silver coins in case our economy collapsed. Those old silver coins usually have no value to a coin collector except for the silver value. Those coins are called ‘junk silver’, and even today an occasional silver coin will show up in circulating change.
(I once found an old US half-dime in some change; they were minted from 1792-1873. I had it in my jewelry box with some buffalo nickels and my baby sister bought ice-cream from the ice-cream truck with them.)

My grandfather always carried 2 silver dollars in his pocket. One was minted the year he was born, and the other was minted the year my grandmother was born. I got them when he died, but when all my jewelry was stolen a few years later, the coins were in the box. I bought one replacement, his birth year (1882) several years ago, in just ordinary circulating condition, and I paid something like $20 for it.
Probably cost about that to replace it today as that year Morgan Silver dollars were plentiful except the ones with the "CC" mint mark.

Silver has fluctuated a lot in USD value over my adult years, from around $2 to almost $23 a troy ounce. Today as I write this, it is $16.62.

The US Mint issued Kennedy half-dollars in the mid-1960’s that had an inner core of 79% copper and 21% silver, and clad with an outer layer of 80% silver/20% copper. They were the last US Mint coins containing any silver; their total silver content was 40%. Our current half dollar coin has a metal value of about 8¢.

Pennies from 1909-1982 were 95% copper (except for the 1943 steel WWII penny), and worth almost 2¢ in copper today. Pennies since 1982 are 97.5% zinc and worth about half a cent in metal value. The few folks who do small metal castings (like sand castings) can melt pennies along with some aluminum cans and some copper wire for a very inexpensive homemade alloy that has a low melt point for casting small parts.

If you want to see the historical (and current) price of silver, check

One thing does concern me a bit… should a catastrophic event occur, would our government confiscate our silver and gold coins they way the Patriot Act says they can (including confiscation of food stores and other items) in much the same way Roosevelt confiscated gold in 1933?

Of course, you could invest in gold foil-covered chocolate 'coins' like the photo above... you can always eat them!

Scouts' Penknives Now Barred from Camping Trips

Photo: Creative Commons License by freeparking

The Telegraph (London Newspaper)
reports that British Scouts will no longer be able to carry their traditional penknives due to the fears of those in charge of health and safety.

I guess if they want to roast hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire (are those still allowed?), they will be expected to whittle the sticks with their teeth?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

China Issues Mandatory H1N1 Vaccine Shots

This week China issued its first mandate for all their population to be inoculated with the A/H1N1 flu vaccine, beginning October 1 at a huge public rally. It is the first country in the world to do do.

This follows a
report by the Associated Press on August 25 saying half of the Chinese health care workers would reject taking any H1N1 vaccine.

In Vancouver, the Vaccine Resistance Movement (VCM) held a demonstration "We're Not Gonna Take It" rally in late August. The VCM was started by a number of local researchers and activists who have been researching the
'vaccine dangers' issue and threats to natural health solutions, as well as False Flag Events and Psychological Operations for many years.

They are focused on the
'right to choose' and oppose any mandatory vaccinations. They also oppose any consequences for 'non-compliance', saying the basic concepts of human rights and freedoms means we must maintain our right to determine and control what's best for our own body.

They point out
"that evidence exists that this strain of H1N1 was created in a lab, and that the known toxic ingredients of the vaccines include live viruses and adjuvanta, with the potential for serious harmful or even lethal side-effects."

So far in this country (USA) there is only speculation. The official federal stance is a voluntary program, although I understand health-care professionals are being strongly pressured to take the vaccine.

Hey... Big Thanks to a California friend for sending the second 2 links!

It was a sneaky Monday...

On Labor Day, Reuters ran the story that China's Ministry of Finance is planning to issue (sell) bonds in their sovereign yuan currency, to raise as much as $100 billion yuan, the equivalent of $14.64 billion.

The move comes as China presses ahead with internationalizing it's yuan. China has already allowed some foreign banks to sell yuan-denominated bonds, and launched a pilot program to allow companies to settle imports and exports in yuan.

In a separate
report by another English paper, China is reported to be alarmed by the US printing money to buy US Treasury debt, which could cause inflation and a decline in the value of the USD. A top member of the Chinese hierarchy, Mr. Cheng, said if there is a serious devaluation of the USD, it could compel China to redesign its foreign reserve policy.

He said most of the Chinese Reserves are in US bonds, over $2 trillion, and China would need to diversify into euros, yen, and other currencies.
"Gold is definitely an alternative, but when we buy, the price goes up. We have to do it carefully so as not to stimulate the markets," he added.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are we getting too technical with rules?

In Tampa last week, Steve Valdez tried to cash his wife's check (to him) at her bank, and was denied.

Why? The bank (Bank of America) requires a thumbprint if you don't also have an account at that bank. Mr. Valdez
was born armless and uses prosthetic arms, hence has no fingerprints.

The bank refused to cash the check.

Numbers are looking positive!

In my post about the President speaking about H1N1 at the Rose Garden on September 1, I didn't mention that his opening remarks were about the positive numbers showing up on the economic front.

Indeed, numbers
are increasing. The numbers just announced for unemployment were higher than anticipated, and even Food Stamp numbers are up!

Reuters reports the USDA announcement that the record number of more than 35 million Americans received Food Stamps in June, up 22% from the previous June.
(By the way, that means 1 in every 9 Americans is now receiving Food Stamps.) June was the 7th straight month of Food Stamp rolls increasing. The average benefit amount is over $133 per person.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gold Value, Investing, and Risks

I mentioned investing money in gold as being 'safe'... but JUST REMEMBER, I am not a financial advisor. I am not completely sure gold is a truly safe investment in this country, either, based on our history.

In April 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevely issued
Presidential Executive Order 6102, which confiscated all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States. The stated reason was based on "An Act to provide relief in the existing national emergency in banking, and for other purposes~"

An individual was allowed to keep up to $100 in gold. Failure to comply with the Presidential Executive Order could result in fines of $10,000 and 10 years in prison.

Having said that, let's look at the
value of gold. The price of gold on the market today is very close to $1,000 USD per troy ounce of gold. But what does that really mean? Well, what you can buy with an ounce of gold today isn't really very much more that what an ounce of gold could buy 50 years ago, although the purchasing power of gold has increased, while the purchasing power of the USD had decreased. In other words, it takes more dollars to buy milk, or a car, today than 50 years ago.

When gold coins were "withdrawn" from circulation in 1933, the gold "standard" to back the US dollar was reduced from 23.22 grains to 13.71 grains. There are 480 grains of gold in one Troy ounce of gold. (Troy is the measurement standard for metals; 12 Troy ounces = 1 pound, whereas 16 Avoirdupois ounces = 1 pound.)

So, the USD changed overnight in value; it had been just over 20 dollars for an ounce of gold, and overnight it went to 35 dollars for an ounce, becoming generally called "the gold standard" which remained in effect for many years. Richard Nixon finally took the US completely off the gold standard in 1971.

When I was a youngster, our US paper dollars were marked "silver certificate" which meant they could be exchanged for silver. Now they say "Federal Reserve Note" but they can no longer be redeemed for silver, only for more notes. Government currency backed only by the power of the government is called a "fiat" currency, and is only as good as the government.

If you watch much television, especially late at night, you will see many commercials by companies buying scrap gold jewelry. (In fact, some of that business has been in the news lately due to lawsuits and press about the pitiful amounts they pay for gold.)

Those are companies are trading dollars of varying value for gold of known value.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do These Dots Connect?

I've spent several days reading and trying to understand the Derivatives Market, and I still barely have a clue. I do not begin to qualify as any kind of financial analyst, but I do read. And, some things stand out in recent news making me wonder if there is any connection between them?

First, we all know China holds a huge stake in the USA. I don't know how much of a stake, and I'm not sure I want to know.

Then last week China made this blip on the Financial Market radar: “BEIJING, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) may unilaterally terminate derivative contracts with six foreign banks that provide over-the-counter commodity hedging services, a leading financial magazine said.

China's SOE regulator, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), had told the financial institutions that SOEs reserved the right to default on contracts, Caijing magazine quoted an unnamed industry source as saying, "On September 1, 2009 Reuters said that the Banks, not the commodities would be at risk if China followed through."

Then, in several other unrelated reports:

1. Sep 3 HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Hong Kong is pulling ALL its physical gold holdings from depositories in London, transferring them to a high-security depository newly built at Hong Kong's airport, in a move that won praise from local (Chinese) traders Thursday.

2. China pushes silver and gold investment to the masses.

3. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) said last Wednesday China has agreed to purchase approximately $50 billion worth of bonds denominated in Special Drawing Rights (SDR's, the IMF's own currency), a fundraising effort that is part of a broader push to bolster the IMF's resources.

Many analysts had expected China would sell some of its more than US$2 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves to buy the IMF bonds, in order to reduce its exposure to the U.S. dollar. But according to the agreement posted on the IMF Web site, China will use its own currency, the RMB, called the renminbi.

"The addition of the SDR-denominated bonds to China's assets should help the nation painlessly diversify its foreign-exchange reserves, the world's largest. U.S. dollar assets now account for a good portion of their reserves, but because China's positions are so large it would be difficult for it to switch out of the dollar and into something else without causing market turmoil."

In a research note, Barclays Capital economist Wensheng Peng said the currency used for China's payment will eventually come back into China, as the funds are lent out to member nations who then convert them to major currencies such as the dollar.

4. ChinaDaily ran this story: The national flag of the People's Republic of China (PRC) will be hoisted at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on September 20, 2009.

Chinese associations in the United States had applied to hold a ceremony in front of the US President’s residence to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of PRC.

Chen Ronghua, chairman of Fujian Association of the United States, told reporters that their application was approved not only because of the sound Sino-US relations but also because China is a responsible country.
"Many Americans admire China due to the success of last year’s Beijing Olympics," said Chen.

More than 1,000 people will attend the ceremony and the performances held after it, according to Zhao Luqun, who will direct the performances. Zhao said the performances will demonstrate the friendship, magnanimous spirit and kindness of modern Chinese people.

5. That brings me to the IMF itself, the World Bank, and other IFI (International Financial Institutions). These groups control the world's finances. All the loans are made with strings attached, and usually as political as monetary. They controlled all the world's money, until recently... and now, still "mostly" although there are other movements rising on the wind that may affect each of us.

Understanding the history and global reaches of monetary policies a bit better just might help each of us individually, and I will cover some of it in another post.

But for now, I would buy gold (if I had any money!). Not investments in gold funds, but real gold (coins, mini-bars) to have in your own possession. It is a valid, world-wide medium of exchange.
The Wall Street Journal reports gold just increased another 2.3% as the USD continues to drop.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Irish Potato Famine and Tomato Blight

I must say, this worries me, whereas the H1N1 Flu business only concerns me. We have all heard about the tomato blight in the Eastern US this year, predominately, but not limited to, the northeast.

For certain, it ruined my tomato crop this year. If I had to depend on this year's garden to feed me, I would certainly starve this winter.
I know the tomato blight is related to the potato blight, and just in the last few days, Wisconsin has confirmed potato blight in at least 3 different areas.

The disease can stay in the soil for years, but there are steps you can take for prevention. One step is fungacide spraying. The other is to cut plants off at the root, seal it in a plastic bag and let it dry in the sun before disposing of the whole package.

The Great Famine
The Great Famine (Irish: an Gorta Mór meaning "the great hunger") was a period of starvation, disease and mass emigration between 1845 and 1852 during which the population of Ireland was reduced by 20 to 25 percent. Approximately one million of the population died, and a million more emigrated away from Ireland's shores.

The proximate cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost was high in Ireland—where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food.

Prior to the arrival in Ireland of the disease Phytophthora infestans, commonly known as blight, there were only two main potato plant diseases. One was called 'dry rot' or 'taint' and the other was a virus, known popularly as 'curl'. According to W.C. Paddock however, Phytophthora infestans is an oomycete, not a fungus.

How and when the blight Phytophthora infestans arrived in Europe is still uncertain; according to some historians; however, it almost certainly was not present prior to 1842, and probably arrived in 1844. At least one of the sources of the infection suggests it may have originated in the northern Andes region of South America, Peru in particular. It was then conveyed to Europe on ships carrying bat guano, which was in great demand as a fertilizer on European and British farms.

In 1844 Irish newspapers carried reports concerning a disease which for two years had attacked the potato crops in America. According to one historian, a likely source was the eastern United States, where in 1843 and 1844 blight largely destroyed the potato crops.

Once it was introduced it spread rapidly. By late Summer and early Autumn of 1845 it had spread throughout the greater part of northern and central Europe. By mid-August, Belgium, Holland, northern France and southern England had all been stricken.

Crop loss in 1845 has been estimated from 33% to a high of 50%. In 1846, 75% of the harvest was lost to blight. The first deaths from starvation were recorded in the autumn of 1846.

Fortunately, in this country we are not as dependent on the potato (except for MickeyD's French Fries) as we are on wheat. But what if the wheat disease in Africa spreads here?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Another Friday "Surprise, Surprise"

Well, it's another Friday... and the Feds announced the seizure another 5 banks today, pushing the number of bank failures this year to 89. This batch of failures cost the FDIC about $401 million.

The FDIC insures deposits at over 8,000 institutions with roughly $13.5 trillion in assets, and reimburses customers for deposits of up to $250,000 when a bank fails. According to the Bloomberg
story, the surge in failures has nearly depleted the Washington-based regulator's deposit insurance fund, leaving it with the lowest reserve since 1993.

Maine Governor Proclaims Civil Emergency

The Bangor Daily News reported on September 2, 2009 that Maine Governor John Baldacci has declared a state-wide civil emergency.

The stated reason for the emergency designation, according to the article, is that it shields the state school system and health care providers from liability claims that could arise from vaccine clinics based out of the public schools this fall to deal with both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 Swine flu.

“Maine has been proactive in its response to this new flu,”
Baldacci said in announcing the proclamation, “But as the school year begins, we must continue our vigilance, which will require a responsible and aggressive vaccination and public education campaign."

Refusing swine flu vaccine? Quarantine and $1,000 per day fine

A bill that passed the Massachusetts senate earlier this year gives the government a little too much power.

According to the bill, if there is a Swine Flu pandemic and you don't get the Swine Flu vaccine, you can be ordered into quarantine. If you refuse the quarantine, you can face a fine of $1,000 per day that you resist.

Government officials would also have the right to enter private property to assess the status of the pandemic.

To see the whole story, see the news clip below.

Editor: I read somewhere in the last 2-3 weeks that Massachusetts has deputized hundreds of paramedics, dentists, doctors and health care practitioners to administer the vaccine. My question is WHY they have to be deputized to give someone a shot?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Warning: Swine Flu Shot Linked to Killer Nerve Disease

The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official [Great Britain] body that oversees public health, was leaked to The Daily Mail, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine. GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:

* More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu

* The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times

* The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear

* The U.S. Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected

Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown.

Editor: I can vouch for the GBS link from the 1976 vaccinations in the US because my cousin's daughter contracted it from the vaccination. Also, keep in mind that this time around, the US Government has guaranteed the vaccine manufacturers they will be immune from lawsuits.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

CDC 2009 H1N1 Vaccination Campaign Planning Checklist

The CDC released it's H1N1 Vaccination Campaign Checklist Monday:

"This document is intended for state and local planners. Its purpose is to outline the main 2009 influenza A (H1N1) monovalent vaccine (“ 2009 H1N1 vaccine”) planning actions. It is not meant to be exhaustive, and more detailed guidance is, or will be, available on specific topics.

Target and Priority Groups

Coordination of vaccine distribution
Vaccination of healthcare workers and EMS personnel
Vaccination of school-aged children
Hard to reach and vulnerable populations (i.e. Develop plan for reaching these populations and/or transporting to clinic sites)
Doses administered tracking
* Contact primary public health counsel to determine which allied health professionals are legally permitted to administer vaccine, to what types of patients, and under what conditions.
* Ensure dissemination/explanation of PREP Act information to planners and vaccinators"

(See HHS PREP Act Declaration here.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Remarks by the President on H1H1 Preparedness


From the Rose Garden

"Now, we just had a good meeting about our ongoing efforts to prepare this country for the H1N1 flu virus this fall. And I want to thank John Brennan, our CDC Director Tom Frieden, and Secretaries Sebelius, Napolitano, Duncan, and Locke, for all the good work that they've been doing to get us ready today.

As I said when we saw the first cases of this virus back in the spring, I don't want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everybody to be prepared. We know that we usually get a second, larger wave of these flu viruses in the fall, and so response plans have been put in place across all levels of government. Our plans and decisions are based on the best scientific information available, and as the situation changes, we will continue to update the public.

We're also making steady progress on developing a safe and effective H1N1 flu vaccine, and we expect a flu shot program will begin soon. This program will be completely voluntary, but it will be strongly recommended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A staggering 28.9% unemployment rate

While the state of Michigan has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, the city of Detroit leads the way for cities.

For the month of July, the unemployment rate in Detroit stood at a staggering 28.9% — and that’s probably undercounted in the same way all unemployment figures are, due to the way such rates are measured. Still, it’s the highest rate ever on record for Detroit.

Fed urges secrecy on banks in bailout programs

Remember just a couple of days ago I said that I have noticed that almost all the bank closings have been announced after banking hours on a Friday... and some kind of shell game going on?

Well, now Reuters reports that the Fed has gotten a delay in revealing bank information requested under The Freedom of Information Act.

"NEW YORK, Aug 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve asked a federal judge not to enforce her order that it reveal the names of the banks that have participated in its emergency lending programs and the sums they received, saying such disclosure would threaten the companies and the economy.

The central bank filed its request on Wednesday, two days after Chief Judge Loretta Preska of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Bloomberg News, which had sought information under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Underlying this case and a similar one involving News Corp's (NWSA.O) Fox News Network LLC is a question of how much the public has a right to know about how the government is bailing out a financial system in a crisis.

The Clearing House Association LLC, which represents banks, in a separate filing supported the Fed's call for a delay. It said speculation that banks' liquidity is drying up could cause runs on deposits, and trading partners to demand collateral.

The next day after the above story, Rueters posted the update story that the Fed’s received a delay. Preska directed the Fed's board of governors to file a notice of appeal and an emergency stay application with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fed was not immediately available for comment."

My thought is that the money the government is using is our money, and we have a right to know how it is being used. 'Nuff said.