Mysteries abound in Brink’s truck stop gems and gold heist

In the early hours of July 11, two armed guards left their Brink’s big rig, giving a gang of thieves a 27-minute window to make the huge snatch, its total value still a mystery. Estimates range from $10 million to $100 million…

How much the thieves netted during the 2 a.m. snatch is hotly debated. Brink’s said it was less than $10 million based on the insurance. A federal law enforcement source and some associated with the International Gem and Jewelry Show world said the total appears to be closer to $100 million…

The crime didn’t match the usual definition of a heist because it did not involve a robbery so much as stealth burglary

FBI agents and sheriff’s major crimes investigators have scoured the Flying J truck stop off the 5 for clues…The Flying J Travel Center is open 24 hours a day on Frazier Mountain Park Road and includes a Dunkin’ Donuts Express and a Wendy’s with space for 47 trucks. Truck-stop cargo thefts, according to insurance industry underwriters, are relatively common. But data on U.S. truck-stop cargo thefts between 2012 and 2018 showed only one theft in Lebec.

Hope the coffee break was tasty. I wouldn’t lay blame on the drivers/guards. Long haul trucking is tough enough. Rest, refreshment stops are just about mandatory. Wonder if Brink’s see it that way.

Pic of the day

Click to enlargeAP

This 2013 file photo shows an 80-foot thick coal seam at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek strip mine near Decker, Montana. As far as US energy barons like the Koch Bros. are concerned it may as well be gold.

K Street is paved with gold

A once-decrepit section of downtown Washington has become a luxury marketplace, feeding off the lavishly paid men and women successfully representing the political agenda of the corporate sector.

In 1993, when Tony Podesta, a top Washington lobbyist, moved his firm to G Street Northwest, the neighborhood was a skanky collection of warehouses, liquor stores and the remains of a red light district.

The money is flowing. Podesta’s own company made $25.1 million in lobbying fees last year, plus another $10 million for its public relations work. From Podesta’s office, it’s just a two-minute walk to the new City Center development and its deluxe retail offerings. Paul Stuart on I street sells a navy chalk stripe Italian suit for $4,984. Around the corner is Louis Vuitton, where the Président Classeur briefcase sells for $9,700. A half-block away is Hermès, manufacturer of the Birkin bag, one of which sold recently at auction in Hong Kong for $221,846.

Most lobbying compensation packages are closed to public view, but some – especially of top officials working for tax-exempt trade associations – are not. In 2012, National Journal identified 12 trade association executives making over $2 million a year.

Among the top earners in that select group were Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, $6,428,872; Thomas J. Donohue, United States Chamber of Commerce, $4,761,900; and Thomas R. Kuhn, Edison Electric Institute, $4,006,893…

In 2014, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, conducted a study for the Sunlight Foundation that revealed that there were 799 registered Washington lobbyists whose fees for at least one year between 1998 and 2012 exceeded $1 million…

In the 2014 elections, 31,976 donors — equal to roughly one percent of one percent of the total population of the United States — accounted for an astounding $1.18 billion in disclosed political contributions at the federal level…

Former members of the do-nothing, know-nothing club called Congress can easily double or triple his or her government salary when they leave office. Often unearned in the first place.

Campaign reform, taking the money out of politics is supposed to originate with this crowd.

Don’t hold your breath waiting.

Germany’s Gold Delusion

Germany’s gold is on the move. For the first time since official gold transactions became more transparent, the Bundesbank has given notice that a significant portion of its holdings will be transferred home from France and the United States. Ostensibly, this is just a matter of monetary housekeeping. But why now?

One possibility is that German policymakers believe that we are approaching an every-country-for-itself scenario – and only gold guarded by one’s own police is worth anything.

But this is more than far-fetched. The world in which financial trust breaks down completely between Germany and France or Germany and the US is one in which we have much bigger problems than where a country’s gold is located. International trade would collapse, and major global companies would struggle to sell their products. Having more gold at home, rather than in the vaults of the New York Fed, would be neither here nor there in such a situation…

Perhaps German central bankers sense a longer-term shift in international preferences away from the dollar and want to be ready in some fashion. This is plausible in terms of a future decline in the dollar’s importance as a reserve asset and safe haven. Reserve holdings of dollar assets (primarily by central banks) were worth around 2% of US GDP in 1948 and about the same in 1968. Today, such holdings are at least 15% of US GDP – with some estimates as high as 30%…

But moving Germany’s gold is hardly helpful in this regard. What would help is to turn the euro around – in the sense of convincing investors that the common currency has a bright future, because it is underpinned by a stronger monetary, fiscal, financial, and political union. When seen in this light, the physical location of gold is purely a distraction…

…Moving gold does nothing to keep inflation under control or change the behavior of central banks. The link between currencies and gold was irrevocably broken in 1971, when US President Richard Nixon decided to suspend the convertibility of dollars into gold for central banks. We have lived in a purely fiat money system ever since – meaning that our money’s value is not backed by gold or any other physical item…

German politicians would thus seem to be suffering from some serious delusions about the importance of gold and the effects of shifting its location. But they are right to worry about the ECB’s policies: Providing unconditional credit to eurozone governments is unlikely to make these governments more careful…

The German fascination with gold is a red herring. Its fear of wayward monetary policy is not.

Regular readers of this blog are aware of my dedication to Project Syndicate. I owe no loyalty to any unifying credo at the site. I’m not certain you could describe one – other than a predilection for modern and up-to-date economic analysis and thought.

I’m drawn back most often by the quality of writing and understanding of economics. Many of these Doctors of the science of economics [whatever that might mean] are individuals whose opinions frankly serve as fodder for discussion around a portion of our extended family. Whether the provocation be political, philosophical or directly concerned with economics – these functions served by a nation’s commerce within and without borders illuminate the bedrock foundations of how our society progresses.

Paul Ryan – turns straw into gold – if you believe?

Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention contained several false claims and misleading statements. Delegates cheered as the vice presidential nominee:

Accused President Obama’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.” In fact, Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances, and Ryan himself has embraced the same savings.

Accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” about recommendations of a bipartisan deficit commission — which Ryan himself helped scuttle.

Claimed the American people were “cut out” of stimulus spending. Actually, more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers.

Faulted Obama for failing to deliver a 2008 campaign promise to keep a Wisconsin plant open. It closed less than a month before Obama took office.

Blamed Obama for the loss of a AAA credit rating for the U.S. Actually, Standard & Poor’s blamed the downgrade on the uncompromising stands of both Republicans and Democrats.

And when he wasn’t attacking Obama, Ryan was puffing up the record of his running mate, Mitt Romney, on taxes and unemployment.

Click the link and read the details – if you can stomach them. I stopped paying any attention to what Republican candidates for president were saying back during Nixon’s first shot at it.

He got worse on his return; but, the Republican commitment to racism in an era of dynamic civil rights change both for Blacks and women – brought him to power. His criminal pursuits had time to flourish and provide an object lesson to American voters that lasted for a little while.

But, then, the era of Reagan and voodoo Reaganomics proved once again that a big enough lie – repeated loudly enough and frequently – is sufficient to delude an appropriate number of voters. I hope you don’t think education levels were growing in depth and breadth back then. Or since.

Now, with the advent of the Madison Avenue types like Karl Rove, Wall Street money boys like the Koch Bros – the .50-calibre shotgun approach is out in full force. Hopefully, outfits like reach enough people to compensate for the million of dollars spent on local TV advertising. The biggest lies on prime time television since imitation Viagra hit the streets.

So, like Rumpelstiltskin hustling the King and his daughter, those who watched Paul Ryan, last night, were treated to an evil cellar dweller bragging that he could spin straw into gold. Where’s a Grimm when you need one?

What’s in your vault?

For decades, the U.S. government has stashed gold five stories beneath Manhattan in a vault under the Federal Reserve’s fortress near Wall Street…

Some conspiracy theorists suspect that the billions of dollars’ worth of bullion might have been looted in a dramatic heist, a la the movie “Die Hard: With a Vengeance.” Others claim that the gold has been used in a shadowy government transaction, or swapped with gold-painted bars…politicians like Rep. Ron Paul and – a few dimwit – members of Germany’s Parliament.

Now…the federal government has quietly been completing an audit of U.S. gold stored at the New York Fed. The effort included drilling small holes in the bars to test their purity.

The Treasury Department has refused to disclose what the audit has revealed so far, saying the results will be announced by year’s end. But as one former top Fed official said recently, the testing may finally prove that “Goldfinger didn’t sneak in at night” and take the gold.

“The calls for audits are saying, ‘We don’t trust the government for the last 200 years,'” said Ted Truman, a former assistant Treasury secretary and Fed official. He called perennial questions about the country’s reserves “the gold bug equivalent of the birther movement“…about right for Ron Paul…

In New York, about $21 billion in U.S. gold is locked inside the Fed’s vault. It’s stored alongside bullion from three dozen other countries and organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. All told, about 23% of the world’s official gold reserves are stored in the central bank’s vaults.

The final results still might not satisfy some. Paul, the Texas Republican and presidential contender, wants an independent audit of all U.S. gold.

In 1981, when Paul was on the Gold Commission…he argued for full gold audits every year…Like every phony fiscal conservative, he doesn’t mind wasting taxpayer dollars on his obsessive delusions…

Trades reveal China and Russia shifting away from the dollar

Uh-oh… Swiss mega-bank UBS completed a survey of 80 central bank reserve managers that control about $8 trillion this week and more than half predicted the US dollar would be replaced as the world’s reserve by a “portfolio of currencies” sometime in the next 25 years.

That UBS even conducted a survey on the dollar’s validity represents a sea change in attitude…

“The results [of the survey],” according to The Financial Times, “are the latest sign of dissatisfaction with the dollar as a reserve currency, amid concerns over the U.S. government’s inability to rein in spending and the Federal Reserve’s huge expansion of its balance sheet…”

Russia and China are doing their part to accelerate the dollar’s demise. The two nations’ central banks have signed an agreement to conduct trade in rubles and yuan.

“This agreement,” says Russian Central Bank Deputy Chairman Viktor Melnikov, “allows for settlements through Russian and Chinese banks not only in the freely convertible currencies but also in the yuan and the ruble.” It builds on a handshake deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao…

“Dollar’s Reserve Currency Status at Risk Following Russia-China Deal,” reads a breathless headline on this story at

“The headline is a bit overblown,” says our acquaintance, the veteran U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman, “but it – and the underlying story – is a step in the direction it posits.”

No one is surprised at the move. Well, maybe a few Republicans and a couple of Texans in the Oil Patch. Not any likelihood this time of Uncle Sugar invading China or Russia – or even Mexico – because trades are leaving the dollar the way Saddam Hussein was doing before Bush and Cheney found it convenient to invade Iraq.

Mining gold and gems in city sidewalk cracks

Scraping and digging, prospecting

An entrepreneurial Queens man makes his living off New York City streets, but in a manner far different from that which city residents have witnessed before.

Raffi Stepanian, 43, earns his cash scouring the sidewalks in Midtown’s Diamond District for hidden treasure – chips of rubies, diamonds, platinum and gold that somehow fell off their owners’ jewelry and became lodged in the cracks between cement slabs or hopelessly stuck in a piece of gum some passerby flippantly spit out onto the street, according to a report.

In less than a week, Stepanian told The New York Post he amassed enough gold for two sales worth nearly $850 on 47th Street.

“The percentage of gold out here on the street is greater than the amount of gold you would find in a mine,” the Whitestone man told the Post. “It comes close to a mother lode because in the street, you’re picking up gold left by the industry.”

The valuable gem chips are already cut and processed, which makes them even more marketable than the unrefined ore one would find in a mine. And the precious stones are out on the street for anyone willing to get down on his or her knees and look for them, Stepanian says.

It’s the same principle as collecting cans on the street and redeeming them for nickles…It’s redemption of usable gold.”

I never cease to be amazed at the prospects for earning a living seemingly always available to anal retentives and the endlessly compulsive.

Ideas shaping a new India

Puja for a new car

This new year will bring the 20th anniversary of that shimmering, amorphous thing, the new India.

Like China and South Africa and other made-over nations, India has more than one birth date. There is that midnight hour in 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed the end of British rule and spoke of India’s “tryst with destiny.” But it is to 1991, when India began to open its doors to the world and loosen the economic controls on its own citizens, that the present form of the country can most easily be traced…

Who is this new India? Its character is coming into ever sharper focus, and it is becoming clearer which ideas have most shaped its remaking.

Here, based on my own years of traveling in and reporting on the country, are five ideas that have done much to turn the new India new — out of a larger pool of ideas that could be mentioned.

Class is a situation. Every society has distinctions of class. But in an earlier India, these distinctions were taken to be intrinsic and eternal and heritable; class was not circumstance, but identity.

The ancient caste system was the most obvious symbol of this idea. But it had many subtler expressions, too.

Businessmen made a point of hierarchically noting that “he came to meet me” or “I went to meet him,” rather than simply saying, “We met.” Waiters hunched and bowed and obsequiously overdosed on the word “sir” or “sahib” when serving.

A rising group of young Indians conceives of class very differently: not as a fixed identity, but as a transient situation, and a situation that can change…

The next three areas of change are Family, English language, Gold is old. RTFA.

Modernity is best served traditional. Changes of this kind have been disruptive, to say the least, in many parts of the developing world. India is often faulted for modernizing too slowly and chaotically. But there is perhaps another way of seeing its journey over the past 20 years: as a different model of modernization.

It is a model of forward movement in which the past retains the upper hand and the future stands on the defensive. Change, however inevitable it might seem, must prove itself before being allowed to work on India.

But the Indian model is more than just cautious. It tends to assume, against all odds, that the traditional and the modern are ultimately compatible.

I don’t think that’s so unusual, although not necessary. Where it might be considered a requirement, say, in Mainland China – much, much less so on Taiwan. For a direct comparison.

Time will tell. Indians will make the decision. How much of the nation is involved is still a key question.