Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Venezuela's currency now worth so little shopkeepers weigh vast piles of notes instead of counting them

Inflation in Venezuela is expected to reach 720 per cent this year, with the largest bolívar bill now worth just five US cents on the black market
Some shopkeepers have reportedly taken to weighing rather than counting the wads of cash customers hand them, and standard-size wallets have become all but useless in the socialist South American state. Instead, many people stuff huge volumes of cash into handbags, money belts, or backpacks, in scenes analysts have said are suggestive of "runaway" inflation.
In 2014, plummeting global oil prices decimated Venezuela's economy. President Nicolás Maduro responded by fixing the official exchange rate and ordering banks to print more cash, which ultimately devalued the currency further, while goods prices soared.   
The country of 30 million does not publish consumer-price data on a regular basis, but observers have said scenes on the streets of the capital, Caracas, are reminiscent of the past century's most chaotic cases of hyperinflation. 
Humberto Gonzalez, who runs a delicatessen in the city, said he uses the same scales to weigh slices of salty white cheese and the stacks of bolívar notes handed over by his customers .
“It’s sad,“ Mr Gonzalez told Bloomberg. ”At this point, I think the cheese is worth more.”
Jesus Casique, a consulting firm director, told the news site that although weighing cash was not ubiquitious, it was indicative of a financial crisis.
“When they start weighing cash, it’s a sign of runaway inflation,” he said. “But Venezuelans don’t know just how bad it is because the government refuses to publish figures.”
Oil makes up a staggering 95 per cent of Venezuela's exports, and accounts for a quarter of the country's economy, with oil-related revenues having historically supplied roughly half the government budget. This kind of over-reliance on a single export notoriously depresses all other industries in a country, in a phenomenon known by economists as "Dutch Disease".  
When the price of oil on the global market collapsed by two-thirds in 2014, Venezuela had little else to fall back on, so a natural reaction would have been for the bolívar to collapse. But Mr Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez following the revolutionary leader's death in 2013, instead tried to control the exchange rate, creating a massive black market for currency.
Figuring out scams to get dollars and then sell them for bolívars became hugely lucrative business for Venezuelans, setting off a feedback loop that drove the inflation rate higher and higher. 
In one of Caracas richer neighbourhoods, the owner of a tiny kiosk selling newspapers, cigarettes and snacks told the Washington Post that every evening he quietly stuffs a plastic bag full of the day’s earnings, around 100,000 bolívars (about £42) in notes of 10, 20, 50 and 100 bolívars. Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and he said carrying that much cash frightens him.
“All of Caracas is unsafe,” the 42-year-old told the newspaper, opting not to give his name.
His best-selling item is cigarettes, he said, which have climbed in price from 250 bolívars to 2,000 bolívars a pack — at least 20 bills.
The shrinking value of the currency has meant that withdrawing the equivalent of £5 from an ATM produces a fistful of more than 100 bills. Some ATMs now need to be refilled every three hours, because the machines can only hold so much cash. This means there are often a limited number of functioning ATMs in Caracas, and long queues to withdraw money. 
Electronic payment is increasingly common in the country Henkel Garcia, director of the Venezuelan economic think tank Econométrica, told the Washington Post. “The use of online payments is likely to have soared," he said.
But it is expensive for small businesses to buy and set up credit-card machines.
Mr Maduro, who has largely continued the socialist policies of his predecessor, blamed the situation on an “economic war” waged by his opponents in the business community and in the United States. But, in a sign his government recognises the severity of the problem, he recently announced the issue of larger-denomination bills, expected in January.
The notes are reportedly set to start at 500 bolivars and reach 20,000 bolivars, or just over £8.
Until the notes are issued, however, the Venezuelan people are poorer than ever, while the country is awash with cash. 
Bremmer Rodrigues, who runs a bakery on the outskirts of Caracas, said his family are at a loss over what to do with their bags of bills. Every day his business takes in hundreds of thousands of bolívar, he said, which he hides around his office until packing them up in boxes to deposit at the bank. He said if someone looked in on him, he might be mistaken for a drug dealer.

GOP rep: 'No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment’

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Tuesday defended the constitutionality of flag burning, saying President-elect Donald Trump would violate freedom of speech if he cracked down on it.
"Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment," Amash tweeted.

Trump earlier Tuesday floated severe penalties for flag burning, mentioning loss of citizenship or a year in jail.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” he tweeted.
Trump did not specify what inspired his 7 a.m. tweet about flag burning, which is considered protected speech under U.S. law. The Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson in 1989 that burning the American flag is allowed under the First Amendment.
A spokesman for Trump on Tuesday said he agrees with Trump that the controversial act should be outlawed.
“I think most Americans would agree with me that flag burning should be illegal. It’s completely despicable,” Jason Miller told CNN’s “New Day."
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) told CNN he disagrees with Trump, though.
“I don’t think we want to make this a legal issue. So I disagree with Mr. Trump on that, and the court is probably right," Duffy said.
“I think the court is probably right that we want to protect those people who want to protest and their right to actually demonstrate with disgracing our flag, even though so many of us who love our country and love our flag object to it.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also split with Trump and defended flag burning as free speech.
“We have a First Amendment right. We’ll protect our First Amendment. That’s what the court has upheld,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

Every single Trump cabinet member so far opposes LGBT rights

Every single cabinet member appointed by Donald Trump so far opposes LGBT rights.
The Republican President-elect has begun appointing his top team ahead of his inauguration in January.
So far the billionaire – who claimed he would “protect our L-G-B-T-Q citizens” while running for election – has appointed a string of politicians who oppose LGBT rights.
With many spots still up for grabs, here’s a run-down of Trump’s cabinet so far:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is known as one of the most conservative and anti-LGBT members of Congress, holding a 0 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard on LGBT rights.
He fought vocally against equal marriage and discrimination protections for LGBT people, and opposed lifting the ban on openly gay people serving in the military.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos is a prominent donor to the anti-gay marriage lobby. She previously donated $200,000 in a successful bid to add an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Michigan ballot.
DeVos family organisations have also made large donations to anti-gay marriage causes – $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, and $100,000 to Florida4Marriage.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price

Another opponent of LGBT rights in Congress, Price is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defence Act, which would legalise discrimination against LGBT people on the grounds of religion.
He holds a zero rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard on LGBT rights, opposing anti-discrimination protections.
When equal marriage became law, he fumed: “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court serves only as further encouragement to use the court system as a systematic springboard to enact agendas outside the democratic and legislative structures of government.
“Thirty States have held statewide ballots banning gay marriage since the year 2000, and yet legislating from the bench has superseded both public approval and our elected representatives.
“This is not only a sad day for marriage, but a further judicial destruction of our entire system of checks and balances.”
Vice President Mike Pence

The Governor of Indiana stirred up international outrage last year when he signed Indiana’s controversial ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’, giving businesses the right to discriminate against gay people on the grounds of religion.
Pence claimed the law was intended to “protect” organisations from having to provide services for same-sex weddings,.
Pence recently confirmed plans to roll back Barack Obama’s executive protections on LGBT rights, so that “the transgender bathroom issue can be resolved with common sense at the local level”.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao
Secretary Chao served in George W Bush’s Cabinet as Labor Secretary, overseeing a Department of Labor which was opposed to LGBT anti-discrimination protections.
In recent years she has campaigned heavily for her husband, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell, who led opposition to LGBT rights in the chamber, voted against adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes and supported a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.
The below are Cabinet-level officials
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus

The current Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Priebus has steered the GOP into its most anti-LGBT position in decades, helping pass its most homophobic policy platform in decades.
The GOP platform opposes same-sex marriage and adoption, opposes a ban on ‘gay cure’ therapy, and supports ‘religious freedom’ laws to effectively permit anti-LGBT discrimination.
Defending the platform earlier this year, Priebus claimed that “the facts say” that children who aren’t raised by opposite-sex couples are more likely to be drawn to drugs and crime. His claim was rated false by PolitiFacts.
Priebus has – you guessed it – a nought percent approval rating on HRC’s congressional scorecard.
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

The retired US Army Lieutenant has a history of opposing LGBT rights, recently attacking Obama administration for lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
After the Pentagon lifted the ban, he fumed: “Too often, way too often, our troops are instead are distracted by trivial matters, trivial matters about what words to use, what terminology is politically correct and what bathroom door to open up.
“My God, war is not about bathrooms. War is not about political correctness or words that are meaningless.”
Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

The Governor of South Carolina initially vowed to defend her state’s ban on same-sex weddings amid a lawsuit.
She said: “The citizens of South Carolina spoke – they spoke something that I, too, believe, which is marriage should between a man and a woman. I’m going to stand by the people of this state, stand by the constitution, I’m going to support it and fight for it every step of the way.”
Haley also only agreed to endorse Mitt Romney in 2012 after checking he opposed equal marriage, confirming: “I asked him about family and he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
The Governor appears to have toned down her opposition in recent years. Governor Haley dismissed calls for an anti-trans bathroom law in her state, and also cryptically called on the GOP to “respect modern families” in a recent speech.

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