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MH370: Putting a Price on Life

Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters

With the flight now declared lost, an even more mysterious undertaking begins—in the world of insurance. Who gets paid now?

On Monday, when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” it wasn’t simply a concession to the reality of the situation. It was a signal to the carrier’s insurance companies, and to lawyers around the world.The official conclusion that a plane isn’t likely to be located, retrieved, or salvaged triggers a “hull loss,” which meant insurers would begin making payments to compensate Malaysian Airlines for the loss of the plane.

Dollars to Rubles

Did Russia Dump Its U.S. Bonds?

Alexsey Druginyn/AFP/Getty

The Fed’s latest data shows that its foreign account holdings dipped $118 billion in two weeks and Russia’s central bank is the likely culprit.

The conflict between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine is escalating rapidly. But the warfare is mostly rhetorical and financial.Earlier this month, after the U.S moved to impose sanctions on top Russian officials and bar Russia from the G-8, Russia’s stock market plummeted and the value of its currency, the ruble, fell against the dollar. In response, Putin adviser Serge Glazyev said Russia would strike back through financial means. “We hold a decent amount of Treasury bonds—more than $200 billion—and if the United States dares to freeze accounts of Russian businesses and citizens, we can no longer view America as a reliable partner,”  Glazyev said earlier this month, per this Barron’s report.

Where Russia Stashes Its Cash

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty

If the U.S. and the European Union really want to go after Russia’s assets, they’ll have to go to Cyprus, the Netherlands, and the British Virgin Islands.

—By CNBC’s John Schoen. Follow him on Twitter @johnwschoen or email him.For now, U.S. and EU sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea are limited to freezing the banks accounts of a few Russian individuals. But if Western powers decide to tighten the screws by freezing Russian assets outside of the country, they won’t have to look far: Russia’s investment holdings are concentrated in a short list of small countries, according to the latest data available.

Thin Air

Bitcoin’s Clueless Enthusiasts

The Daily Beast

Hailed as a perfect answer to the evils of fiat money, the virtual currency has come crashing down because the invisible hand is paralyzed without government.

The curtain is being revealed to show that there isn’t that much behind it. The Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, which started life as a place to trade cards from a fantasy game, was hacked. After intruders made off with about $500 million worth of Bitcoin, about 7 percent of the total outstanding, Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy. Flexcoin, a smaller exchange based in Canada, also shuttered after robbers made off with its inventory. Last November, the Feds shut down Silk Road, an online marketplace for drugs and other illicit activities where Bitcoin was commonly used.

The 0.001 Percent

Let Them Eat Food Stamps

The Daily Beast

Forbes published its annual billionaire list, whose ranks continue to grow even as the American middle and working classes are poorer than ever thanks to stagnating worker wages.

There are a record number of women on the Forbes billionaire list this year — 172 or a 25 percent increase from last year. But that’s about the only good news to be found there. Otherwise, the ranks of the Forbes list—which  continues to grow astronomically bigger both in terms of the numbers of members and their total net worth—stands in stark contrast to the decline in the middle class in America and worldwide and the persistent, deepening scourge of poverty.

Vroom

Tesla’s Headed for a Crash

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty

After years of being underappreciated by Wall Street, financial analysis’s are predicting ludicrous growth rates for Elon Musk’s electric car company.

Tesla Motors is back in the news again.In the past year, the company has been on a continuous roll. In August, it opened an assembly plant in the Netherlands, and it now as has a functional cross-country supercharger network in the U.S. In the fourth quarter, it sold about 6,900 cars, more than expected. It ended 2013 with 22,477 cars sold, worth $2.5 billion, and a projection that it would “deliver over 35,000 Model S vehicles in 2014, representing a 55+% increase over 2013.

Bitcoin Forever!

Jim Urquhart/Reuters

The biggest risk to the virtual currency doesn’t come from hackers but from governments. And that’s good news.

The shuttering on Tuesday of Mt. Gox, hasn’t just left customers of the Japanese-based bitcoin exchange panicked to the tune of about $300 million, it’s instigated the latest round of comparisons to tulip-bulb mania, sour anti-semitic rants from neo-Nazis, and “Is Bitcoin Finished?” stories.So: Is bitcoin finished? The short answer is no. And while I explain why, think on this: If and when the end does come for bitcoin, an internet payment protocol that only cranked up in 2008, it won’t be because of cyberspace’s answer to bank robber Willie Sutton undermining belief in a virtual currency (ain’t they all virtual?), it will be because governments around the globe are trying their damnedest to choke off a payment system that allows people to cut out the middle man.

Digits

Don’t Trust the Numbers

Bloomberg/Getty

Every week we’re bombarded by numbers about GDP or consumer confidence or some other leading indicator about our economic health and prosperity. Don’t trust them says Zachary Karabell.

A week does not pass without another set of economic numbers blasting through the ether. Many of these receive instant coverage in the media and become fodder for financial market gyrations. This week alone we’ve had a home price index, consumer confidence number, a series of regional manufacturing surveys, and then on Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its latest estimate of the mother of all indicators, GDP.But for all the noise that these numbers generate, what do they actually tell us? What if I told you that many of the assumptions we make about our economic life are wrong, and that these assumptions based entirely of what these statistics, our “leading indicators” say.

Ultra-Rich Can Now Buy Citizenship

Classix/Getty

Got an extra $5 million? Then you can become a citizen of the country of your choice.

By Robert Frank | CNBC Reporter and Editor The wealthy often buy their most prized possessions at auction: art, jewelry, wine and even mansions.Now they might be able to bid on an even bigger auction prize: visas.In the latest twist to the global drama over luring rich emigres from China, Russia and other countries, an immigration official in the U.K. is proposing a plan to auction off visas to the overseas rich, with minimum bids starting at $4 million.

Snake Oil Aisle

Whole Foods: Temple of Quackery

Getty

Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?

If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience.

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Shame on You, Walmart!

With an Ohio Walmart hosting a holiday food drive for its own workers, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky criticizes the notoriously stingy company for not paying them more.

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Daniel Gross

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