Monthly Archives: December 2010

Glad that’s over with.

I was beginning to think we had a problem there for awhile. Foreclosure-gate? MERS? Robo-signing?

Hey, what, me worry? That’s so yesterday. No problem is so large that we can’t just ignore it until it ceases to exist. Let’s call them the too-large-to-focus-on problems. Bank of America has decided to resume foreclosures after a temporary halt.

NEW YORK ( — Bank of America said Friday it was ending its hiatus on foreclosure sales, and promised to get its act together after a series of sloppy home seizures prompted the bank to back off and re-examine its process.

We have identified areas of our process that can be improved and while we make these improvements, it’s important that we move ahead with efforts to reduce the number of abandoned properties across the country,” said Barbara Desoer, president of Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) Home Loans, in a statement. “The properties can drag home values in neighborhoods and slow the eventual recovery of the housing market.”

The bank said it plans to proceed with 16,000 foreclosures this month, though it will observe a “holiday suspension” of sales and evictions from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2. Freddie Mac (FMCC) and Fannie Mae (FNMA) have announced a similar holiday freeze.

The Bank of America action ends the “voluntary freeze” that the bank initiated in October, after a series of messy real estate mistakes. …

“We continue to be committed to ensuring that no property is taken to foreclosure sale until our Bank of America customer is given an opportunity to be evaluated for a modification or, if ineligible for a modification, a short sale or deed in lieu solution,” said Desoer. “Foreclosure is the option of last resort.”

Last month, Desoer said the bank “deeply regrets” the way it handled some of its foreclosures.

I suspect that one process they are reviewing is how to get Congress to retroactively legalize the MERS bank. That way the foreclosure procedures won’t look “sloppy” any more, but simply “legal”. And, by the way, they are just cleaning up the neighborhoods. They would like to reduce the number of unsightly, abandoned houses which drive down values for the whole place by, well, by foreclosing on people and having a few more empty houses on the street, but their hearts are really in it this time. 16,000 foreclosure actions planned for the coming month. (Do they mean January, after the “holiday break”? Or is from now until Dec 20 considered a month? Or maybe they mean the next four weeks, but excluding the break? Who cares? Any way they measure the four weeks, they are talking about dumping a lot of people out into the street during the coldest fucking part of the year.)

But they “deeply regret” the “series of messy real estate mistakes”; it is implied that the mistakes are no longer being made or have been corrected, although how that occurred without any investigations into MERS being finalized – or, hell, even really started, for that matter – is left to speculation.

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Posted by on December 12, 2010 in MERS, Wall St and banks


Espionage act being invoked?

updated Dec 14

The House Judiciary Committee is going to hold a hearing on Dec. 16 to discuss the potential application of the US espionage laws relative to wikileaks. The meeting will address how espionage laws can be “updated and effectively implemented” in the digital age.

People are going to miss the import of this. We have gone from one Senator calling for “arrest him for treason” to a full-blown hearing on the possibility of invoking the Espionage Act. I have verified that the hearing will take place – it is listed as the next hearing on the Committee’s webpage. As of today (Sunday, Dec. 12), there are no witnesses listed for the hearing, but it will be very interesting to see who they plan to call.

Note the following from wikipedia:
“House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) or House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC),[1] 19381975) was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, the House changed the committee’s name to “House Committee on Internal Security”. When the House abolished the committee in 1975,[2] its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.”The committee’s anti-communist investigations are often confused with those of Senator Joseph McCarthy.[3] McCarthy, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct involvement with this House committee.[4] McCarthy was the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Government Operations Committee of the U.S. Senate, not the House.”

Naomi Wolf had a very interesting piece in the Huffington Post on Friday about the Espionage Act, and the ramifications of invoking it now. She points out:

“This week, Senators Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein engaged in acts of serious aggression against their own constituents, and the American people in general. They both invoked the 1917 Espionage Act and urged its use in going after Julian Assange. For good measure, Lieberman extended his invocation of the Espionage Act to include a call to use it to investigate the New York Times, which published WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables. Reports yesterday suggest that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder may seek to invoke the Espionage Act against Assange.

“These two Senators, and the rest of the Congressional and White House leadership who are coming forward in support of this appalling development, are cynically counting on Americans’ ignorance of their own history — an ignorance that is stoked and manipulated by those who wish to strip rights and freedoms from the American people. They are manipulatively counting on Americans to have no knowledge or memory of the dark history of the Espionage Act — a history that should alert us all at once to the fact that this Act has only ever been used — was designed deliberately to be used — specifically and viciously to silence people like you and me.

“The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 — because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens — educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists — who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted ‘crime’ of their exercising their First Amendment Rights. … Esteemed Judge Learned Hand wrote that the wording of the Espionage Act was so vague that it would threaten the American tradition of freedom itself. Many were held in prison for weeks in brutal conditions without due process; some, in Connecticut — Lieberman’s home state — were severely beaten while they were held in prison. The arrests and beatings were widely publicized and had a profound effect, terrorizing those who would otherwise speak out.

“Presidential candidate Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence in 1918 under the Espionage Act for daring to read the First Amendment in public. The roundup of ordinary citizens — charged with the Espionage Act — who were jailed for daring to criticize the government was so effective in deterring others from speaking up that the Act silenced dissent in this country for a decade. In the wake of this traumatic history, it was left untouched — until those who wish the same outcome began to try to reanimate it again starting five years ago, and once again, now. Seeing the Espionage Act rise up again is, for anyone who knows a thing about it, like seeing the end of a horror movie in which the zombie that has enslaved the village just won’t die….

“Let me explain clearly why activating — rather than abolishing — the Espionage Act is an act of profound aggression against the American people. We are all Julian Assange. Serious reporters discuss classified information every day — go to any Washington or New York dinner party where real journalists are present, and you will hear discussion of leaked or classified information. That is journalists’ job in a free society. The White House, too, is continually classifying and declassifying information….

“As I noted in The End of America, if you prosecute journalists — and Assange, let us remember, is the New York Times in the parallel case of the Pentagon Papers, not Daniel Ellsberg; he is the publisher, not the one who revealed the classified information — then any outlet, any citizen, who discusses or addresses ‘classified’ information can be arrested on ‘national security’ grounds. If Assange can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, then so can the New York Times; and the producers of Parker Spitzer, who discussed the WikiLeaks material two nights ago; and the people who posted a mirror WikiLeaks site on my Facebook ‘fan’ page; and Fox News producers, who addressed the leak and summarized the content of the classified information; and every one of you who may have downloaded information about it; and so on. That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous — not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.

“This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of ‘third rail’ of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government ‘spies’, ‘traitors’, enemies of the state’ and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation. The outcome? A hydra that breeds fear. Under similar laws in Germany in the early thirties, it became a form of ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’ to criticize the Nazi party, to listen to British radio programs, to joke about the fuhrer, or to read cartoons that mocked the government. Communist Russia in the 30’s, East Germany in the 50’s, and China today all use parallel legislation to call criticism of the government — or whistleblowing — ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’, and ‘legally’ imprison or even execute journalists, editors, and human rights activists accordingly….

“I call on all Americans to understand once for all: this is not about Julian Assange. This, my fellow citizens, is about you.”

update, Tues. Dec 14

It appears the Obama administration is calling a Grand Jury meeting on the Assange case (the “case” being entirely unclear, as there are no laws under which Assange can be charged in the US). Writer Justin Elliott on calls this a “major escalation of the Obama administration’s war on wikileaks” in this brief article, which is copied in full below.

“Grand Jury Meeting in Assange Case”

Monday, Dec. 13 by Justin Elliott,

This report from Julian Assange’s attorney, if accurate, marks a major escalation in the Obama administration’s war on WikiLeaks:

“We have heard from Swedish authorities there has been a secretly empaneled grand jury in Alexandria … they are currently investigating this,” Mark Stephens told Al-Jazeera’s Sir David Frost on Sunday, referring to WikiLeaks. The site, which facilitates the disclosure of secret information, has been slowly releasing a trove of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables since November 28.

It’s still unclear what law the government believes Assange broke in this case, despite repeated assertions by the administration that he is a criminal. Here, meanwhile, is Salon’s interview with an expert about the “horrible” precedent such a prosecution would set from a First Amendment perspective.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this apparent development: it’s worth remembering that the Obama administration has been even more aggressive than the Bush administration in going after leakers.

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Posted by on December 12, 2010 in civil rights, Congress


Obama and the base.

I find it amusing, in a morbid sort of way, that Obama had to call in his big brother, Clinton, to defend him against the bullies who hate his tax cut compromise with the Republicans. The bullies are those formerly known as “his base”.

“We are no longer the knights who say ni! We are now the knights who say ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing!”

-Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail

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Posted by on December 11, 2010 in economy


What to do with the toxic Gulf seafood.


Here’s an idea: force-feed it to the military, prisoners, and students. Sort of like the smell tests the government scientists are conducting to see if the shrimp are safe to eat, only this has the advantage of actual human guinea pigs.

“Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who doubles as President Barack Obama’s point man on Gulf Coast oil spill recovery, is pressing America’s armed services to consume as much Gulf seafood as possible.

“Navy Capt. Beci Brenton said Monday that Mabus has talked with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the secretaries of the Air Force and Army, and his staff has talked to the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates a worldwide chain of stores for military personnel, making the point ‘that we should be buying Gulf Coast seafood.’

“In a meeting Monday with Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, Mabus reaffirmed his commitment to using the tools at his disposal to help the Gulf seafood industry recover from the damage the BP oil spill has done in reality and perception. The board is gearing up for a large-scale national marketing campaign, with $30 million in BP money and millions more in federal dollars, to reassure restaurants and markets across the country that Gulf seafood is safe.

” ‘He expressed what we wanted to hear: He is in favor of the federal government buying seafood from the Gulf,’ said Smith, who said he would like to see Gulf seafood as the choice throughout the public domain, ‘whether it’s the military or prison systems or school systems.’

Smith met with Mabus as a representative of the Gulf Coast Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition, an alliance of businesses and government entities from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida working for economic recovery in the Gulf. Smith was joined at the meeting by Mayor Sam Jones of Mobile, Ala., and Mayor-elect Ashton Hayward of Pensacola, Fla.

“BP is giving the Louisiana marketing board $30 million to spend over the next three years to promote Gulf seafood, and Smith said a request for proposals from agencies that would craft the marketing campaign will be going out shortly. The Louisiana board also will be getting a share of the $15 million the Commerce Department has given to the Gulf State Marine Fisheries Commission to divide among the Louisiana board and its sister groups in the other Gulf states, including Texas.

“Ralph Hode, fisheries disaster recovery coordinator for the commission, said the money will be used for direct marketing, web-based marketing, supporting testing efforts in the states to ensure the quality and safety of the seafood, and helping fishers to have their products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as coming from a sustainable fishery. That last can be an invaluable marketing tool. Wal-mart, for example, plans to buy all of its wild-caught fresh and frozen fish from MSC-certified fisheries beginning next year.

“Smith said the industry is facing a kind of chicken-and-egg — or perhaps fish-and-roe — conundrum in getting back on its feet after the trauma of the BP spill….

“While the number of fishers back in the water has risen in the past month, Smith said only 40 percent to 50 percent of the fleet is back on the job, which he blamed on the uncertainties surrounding the claims process being administered by Kenneth Feinberg, and continuing market concerns among fishers. Then, with less supply, Smith said, some demand goes unmet and buyers look elsewhere, perhaps not to return for some time to come, if ever….

“The still unanswerable question is the long-term effect of the oil spilled and the dispersants used to break it up, effects that might not show up for years. ‘We don’t know that answer and I don’t think there’s a scientist that could give you a definitive answer,’ Smith said….

” ‘Our biggest challenge aside from hurricanes and oil spills has been imports,’ he said, particularly from places like China, which, he said, from children’s toys to drywall to fish-farms, puts no premium on safety.”

Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, it’s the Chinese we need to be worried about, all right.


These items are related.

The fact that Obama insists on extending the Bush tax cuts, thereby ensuring stagnation in jobs, the future dissolution of the Social Security, a leap in the rich/poor divide plaguing the country, and continuing growth of the deficit is related to the following three items.

ONE: The president met with Jamie Dimon to discuss the economy yesterday.

From businessweek:

Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) — “President Barack Obama met with JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon at the White House today to discuss ways the administration and business community can work together on economic growth, an administration official said.

“The Oval Office meeting with Dimon was part of the president’s attempts to reach out to U.S. businesses, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

“Also as part of that effort, Shelly Lazarus, chairman of advertising agency Ogilvy Group Inc., met today at the White House with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s liaison to the business community, the official said.

“Joe Evangelisti, a JPMorgan spokesman, declined to comment….

“Over the last week the president has announced a series of measures, including a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, which have the support of the business community.

“ ‘The president has shown a willingness to learn,’ Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications Inc. chairman of the Business Roundtable, said today at a news conference in Washington. ‘The things that occurred in the past couple of days are extraordinary.’

“Obama announced a deal with South Korea on Dec. 3 that would allow a free-trade agreement between the two nations to proceed. Preserving the decade-old tax rates and passing long- stalled trade deals have been among demands of corporate advocates such as the Business Roundtable.

“Seidenberg issued a list of complaints against Obama and Democrats in Washington six months ago, saying proposals to raise corporate taxes and impose environmental regulations threatened to undercut companies’ ability to expand and hire.

“The Business Roundtable, a Washington-based group, representing chief executives from companies including JPMorgan and Exxon Mobil Corp., released a “Roadmap for Growth” today that called for changes to corporate tax policy, a cut in spending and revisions in new financial rules and health-care legislation. The group said it shared Obama’s goal of retooling the U.S. education system and modernizing the electricity grid.

“Since his party’s losses in last month’s midterm elections, Obama has held meetings with current and former top executives including Michael Duke, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Alan Lafley, a former CEO of Procter & Gamble Co., and Steven Reinemund, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc.”

TWO: the revelations of the size and scope of the Fed’s bailout of the banking sector:

From David Degraw at ampedstatus:

“What if the greatest scam ever perpetrated was blatantly exposed, and the US media didn’t cover it? Does that mean the scam could keep going? That’s what we are about to find out….

“This is the Wall Street equivalent of the Pentagon Papers….

“We were finally granted the honor and privilege of finding out the specifics, a limited one-time Federal Reserve view, of a secret taxpayer funded “backdoor bailout” by a small group of unelected bankers. This data release reveals “emergency lending programs” that doled out $12.3 TRILLION in taxpayer money – $3.3 trillion in liquidity, $9 trillion in ‘other financial arrangements.'”The Federal Reserve was secretly throwing around our money in unprecedented fashion, and it wasn’t just to the usual suspects like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, etc.; it was to the entire Global Banking Cartel. To central banks throughout the world: Australia, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, England… To the Fed’s foreign primary dealers like Credit Suisse (Switzerland), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Royal Bank of Scotland (U.K.), Barclays (U.K.), BNP Paribas (France)…
“Even the Financial Times, which named Lloyd Blankfein its 2009 person of the year, reacted by reporting this: ‘The initial reactions were shock at the breadth of lending, particularly to foreign firms. But the details paint a bleaker and even more disturbing picture.’…

“Think about it. In just this one peek we got at its operations, we learned that the Fed doled out $12.3 trillion in near-zero interest loans, without Congressional input….

“Can you imagine what we could do to restructure society with $12.3 trillion? Think about that…People also can’t grasp the colossal crime committed because they keep hearing the word ‘loans.’ People think of the loans they get. You borrow money, you pay it back with interest, no big deal.”That’s not what happened here. The Fed doled out $12.3 trillion in near-zero interest loans, using the American people as collateral, demanding nothing in return, other than a bunch of toxic assets in some cases. They only gave this money to a select group of insiders, at a time when very few had any money because all these same insiders and speculators crashed the system.

“Do you get that? The very people most responsible for crashing the system, were then rewarded with trillions of our dollars. This gave that select group of insiders unlimited power to seize control of assets and have unprecedented leverage over almost everything within their economies – crony capitalism on steroids.

“This was a hostile world takeover orchestrated through economic attacks by a very small group of unelected global bankers. They paralyzed the system, then were given the power to recreate it according to their own desires. No free market, no democracy of any kind. All done in secrecy. In the process, they gave themselves all-time record-breaking bonuses and impoverished tens of millions of people – they have put into motion a system that will inevitably collapse again and utterly destroy the very existence of what is left of an economic middle class. That is not hyperbole. That is what happened.

“We are talking about trillions of dollars secretly pumped into global banks, handpicked by a small select group of bankers themselves. All for the benefit of those bankers, and at the expense of everyone else. People can’t even comprehend what that means and the severe consequences that it entails, which we have only just begun to experience….

“Welcome to the neo-feudal-fascist state.
“The Global Banking Cartel has now been so blatantly exposed, you cannot possibly get away with pretending that we live in a nation of law based on the Constitution. The jig is up.

“It’s been over two years now; does anyone still seriously not understand why we are in this crisis? Our economy has been looted and burnt to the ground due to the strategic, deliberate decisions made by a small group of unelected global bankers at the Federal Reserve….”

THREE: wikileaks is said to have a file on a large US bank which they are going to dump in January. For some reason, our members of Congress and this administration are going rabid about wikileaks, even to the extent of talk about retroactively changing our laws so they can charge Assange with something, anything, here in the US. This is a strange and savage attack on freedom of the press from our own Congress. Since the State Dept. documents are not likely to be the cause of this uproar, one could conclude that the coming bank dump is the real motive behind this willingness to subvert the Constitution in order to take down one man, who only publishes what is given to him by someone else and is certainly not the author of the leaked documents themselves. And we will find the driving force behind the outrage from Congress regarding Assange and wikileaks to be the real rulers of the United States: the banking and business cartels. If wikileaks has information on a major US bank, they surely don’t want this getting out. If the coming bank dump is fairly benign, wikileaks serves as a good distraction from the ongoing financial global thievery and is as useful a tool for that purpose as any fake terrorist attack has proven to be so far. It is not coincidence that wikileaks has dominated the news cycles, while the findings about the Fed have been completely ignored by the media. The wikileaks brohaha also serves as an excuse to circumvent the freedom of the press and a free internet while the global bankers continue robbing us blind. What could be a more satisfactory arrangement for the bankers? They can steal from us at will and keep the press muzzled on the issue through our own new laws rather than having to spend their cash to bribe members of Congress or buy the media. There is, after all, a provision in the State of Emergency law (under which we are operating currently, as Obama renews Bush’ “state of emergency” each year) which already protects much of the operation of the US financial world as state secrets. New laws curtailing the press would ensure that nothing about financial decisions is allowed to be discussed in the press.



a little prognostication

Now that the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans are all but guaranteed to be extended for at least another two years, we can be assured that the economy will not improve. These tax cuts to the wealthy do NOT trickle down into the economy at large (the wealthy tend to hoard their money rather than spending it like poor people have to), the wealthy do not create more jobs based on their personal taxes, and these tax cuts actually add to the deficit in very real numbers. But they don’t have to be offset by spending cuts in this particular case (something the Republicans insist on for everything else). So what’ll happen is that the economy will get even weaker, job losses will continue to mount, foreclosures will increase. Obama and the Congress will decide to “help” the economy by reducing spending. Taken off the table forever is the idea of reducing military spending. And clearly they have forestalled the possibility of increasing taxes. They will cut Social Security to the bone, reduce medicare and medicaid, etc., etc. All the ideas presented by the “deficit commission” will be trotted out again and this time presented to Congress for a vote. The austerity measures will pass easily, since the Republicans, the teabaggers, and the corporatist Democrats never met a poor or unemployed person they didn’t want to beat the shit out of.

Oddly, giving the taxpayers a break on the SS deduction taken from their paychecks for the next year is part of the “bargain” for getting Democrats on board with the tax cut extension. I say that it is odd because even though SS cannot add to the deficit and is not in any real fiscal trouble right now, the way to keep SS solvent forever is to remove the cap on the wages that are taxed for SS. By giving the employed a break on SS, they are going to put SS at risk of not being able to meet its obligations, thereby guaranteeing that there will be an issue with the fund sooner rather than later. This will used as the final excuse for cuts to SS, although as I have pointed out ad nauseum, the SS fund cannot affect the deficit, and could be made solvent in perpetuity by removing the cap on wages.

The saddest part is that it will be way too late for the average citizen to realize that he just got robbed so that the rich people would not have to pay any increase in their share of taxes, no matter how modest. Congress couldn’t come up with a better plan to more rapidly drive this country right into the ground if they did it on purpose. You don’t suppose…..?



Update, Dec. 9 –

Here’s a take from Robert Borosage on the tax cut compromise:

“The White House is peddling its tax-cut deal as a needed stimulus plan, a boost to the economy that will create jobs and generate growth. This new-found concern for jobs is laudable, if startling from a White House that has been hawking deficit reduction for months – with a three-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending announced last year, the president’s deficit commission rolling out its austerity plan two weeks ago, the president announcing a federal pay freeze last week. You can get worse whiplash following this president’s economic message than watching a tennis match up close.”So now the White House is in full court press – the president, vice president, Larry Summers, David Axelrod – selling the deal as a vital plan to create jobs and get the economy going. Goldman Sachs, we’re told, has changed its growth estimates.

“But, in fact, this is far more a deal to keep the economy from slowing than to get it going. The White House is over-promising once more, making the same mistake it made in the original recovery act—underestimating the scope of the crisis, and hyping the plan to address it.

“Take a close look at the deal. Basically, it is an agreement to keep tax rates at the same level – for the very rich to the middle class (the poor fare worse). The Bush tax rates are extended. The expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credit is extended. Unemployment insurance is extended. Dividends and capital gains keep their special rate. The alternative minimum tax remains limited. None of these add a boost to the economy; they simply avoid constricting the economy. (Sadly, the only people facing higher taxes are families making less than $40,000 or individuals making less than $20,000, who will lose refunds they received from the President’s Make Work Pay refundable tax credit that wasn’t part of the deal).

“Three elements are new. The unconscionable estate tax deform offers an average million bucks or so in extra tax breaks to the heirs of the wealthiest few thousand families in America – but even if there is an epidemic that lays waste to the elderly rich, it will have no effect on jobs.

“The president’s team is touting the corporate tax break that allows companies to write off investments completely in the next year. But its effect on jobs is likely to be very limited. Companies are sitting on trillions in cash; they aren’t investing because they don’t have customers, not because they don’t have money. Worse, the larger companies are using much of their investment to build plants abroad where markets are growing. Unless carefully drafted, the measure will end up subsidizing them to ship jobs abroad.

“The third measure is the payroll tax cut for employees. The administration touts this as ‘progressive’ since it reduces the employees’ share of the payroll tax that applies to only the first $106,800 of income. But of course, those who make more get a greater tax break than those who make less – someone making the six-figure maximum will get a break about $2,100, a $50,000-a-year earner will get less than half that.

“This is likely to help the economy. It will come as a small increase in take-home pay, more likely than a lump-sum refund to be spent rather than saved. However, the break totals $120 billion for one year in a nearly $15 trillion economy. We’ve got more than 20 million people in need of full-time work. States and localities are looking at another round of layoffs. Home values aren’t recovering, and Americans have only begun to dig themselves out of excessive debt. Just as the George Bush tax-break stimulus passed in early 2008, this boost will come and go without much notice. The increased consumer spending it generates may provide insulation from another downturn, but it is a long way from the jobs agenda we need – or from providing the elixir the White House is touting.

“Worse, the plan is all tax cuts. This not only has the White House embracing the conservative theme that tax cuts stimulate the economy and create jobs; it abandons the centerpiece of the president’s reform agenda: the need to invest in areas vital to our future – education, infrastructure, innovation – to generate jobs in the short term even as we build a new foundation for the economy going forward. The president gave a powerful speech in North Carolina last week laying out this agenda. It was lost in the brouhaha over tax cuts. And next year, if the president repeats the case, he’ll face a Republican majority in the House pledged to slash $100 billion – 20 percent — out of domestic spending next year having already given away the store in tax cuts.

“Liberals are up in arms about the unconscionable tax breaks lavished once more on the very wealthy while most Americans are still struggling. The president argues, forcefully, that that was the necessary price of an agreement that will boost the economy. But an untold price of the deal is that the White House is bolstering the conservative tax cut mantra in selling it, even as it weakens the president’s own vital case for the need to invest in America.”

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Posted by on December 7, 2010 in austerity, Congress, economy, Wall St and banks


Attention, Walmart shoppers!

Please support the spy on your neighbor program, brought to you by the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and Big Brothers Watching Everywhere. Dreamt up by the same folks who gave us the big overhead signs on our highways which read, “Report suspicious activity. Call 1-800-…”

This falls into the “WTF happened to my country” category.

Article from; “Homeland Security ‘Messages’ Coming to Walmart, Hotels, Malls”, by Daniel Tencer, 12/6/10:

Shoppers at Walmart will soon have something other than glossy magazines and chewing gum to look at when in the checkout line: A “video message” from the Department of Homeland Security asking them to look out for “suspicious” activity and report it immediately.

It’s part of a new Department of Homeland Security program that could see Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s face on video screens in malls, retail outlets and hotels across the United States.

The Walmart video, which will soon be launched at 230 locations nationwide and may eventually be expanded to nearly 600 locations in 27 states, features Napolitano thanking the retailer by name for participating in the program.

Napolitano then says: “If you see something suspicious in the parking lot or in the store, say something immediately. Report suspicious activity to your local police or sheriff. If you need help, ask a Walmart manager for assistance.”

The video, which doesn’t appear to offer any advice on what constitutes “suspicious” activity, is part of DHS’ “If You See Something, Say Something” program. It was launched originally in the New York City public transit system and, according to the DHS, is about to go nationwide.

Besides Walmart, the program has partnered with Mall of America in Minneapolis, the US’s largest mall, as well as the American Hotel and Lodging Association, rail operator Amtrak, and the Washington, DC, public transit system.

“In the coming months, the Department will continue to expand the ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign nationally with public education materials and outreach tools designed to help America’s businesses, communities and citizens remain vigilant and play an active role in keeping the country safe,” DHS said in a statement.

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Posted by on December 7, 2010 in MIC, security state


carpe jugulum

Literally, “seize the throat”. Figuratively, “go for the jugular”.

Our elected officials no longer try to hide whose side they are on in the class divide in America. The newly elected Republicans and Teabaggers are slightly – but only just slightly – more open about this than the Democrats, who are joined with them at the hip but make the occasional (dismal, half-hearted) pretense of outrage at the Republican stance. The newly formed teabagger party in particular is presenting quite a study in the level of ignorance abounding in our society. They only give a nod to one sentence in the entire Constitution – that would be the second amendment about guns – which they interpret to read, “Fuck, yeah, we get guns!” The rest of it wafts through their brains without the slightest stirring of the air. But aside from the foreboding lack of intellect, one must be struck with how readily they adopted the corporate mindset of their backers; that all business is good and all business must be allowed to operate without regulatory constraint, no matter the cost to society. Yet they billed themselves as being “of the people” and “grassroots”. In Congress, we have the venal and the merely stupid. And the stupid will not even know they are being played by the venal.

We are a failed empire. We are ruled by an oligarchy comprised of the wealthiest families in the country and the largest corporations and financial houses in the world. Our Congress and President intend to shovel the last few scraps of the country’s wealth into the hands of this oligarchy by turning the other 90% of us into serfs begging to work any hours, for any pay, in a land bereft of opportunity and equality.

This is how the USSR collapsed; financial crisis, the imposition of austerity measures and privatization of the public sector enforced by the financial elites who now rule Russia as an open oligarchy while the citizens stand in bread lines. We know what happens in a country where the wealthiest private companies and individuals rule and grow ever more powerful without regulations to force them to consider the effects of their actions on the larger society around them. We know what a completely unfettered free market does to a country – and we don’t have to look at Russia or Chile as examples; we can refer to our own past. Consider the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, the age of the robber-barons. Slave wages, sweat-shops, child labor, extreme industrial pollution and ethnically divided inner-city ghettos were the fate of the common worker. Our government finally understood that private companies needed some constraint in order for society as a whole to flourish. This is perhaps the most important and abiding role of our government…to consider, take into account, and act for the benefit of the externalities that businesses refuse to acknowledge.

But this government now, the one we currently have in Washington, has decided to strengthen the markets of the wealthy at the expense of the people. It is inevitable that the country will collapse as a result, and with a population so divided politically (intentionally divided, I would contend, by the media and the politicians) and fearful for their own uncertain financial security, the resulting violent backlash will be that of neighbor against neighbor rather than being directed at the true culprits.

Never in our history has there been such an income gap between the rich and the poor. The richest 1% possess more wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 90%. Corporate profits set records each quarter. Wall Street profits are higher than ever. The bonuses and pay of the CEO’s and management of the largest financial houses are setting new records a mere two years after nearly destroying the economy and being bailed out by taxpayers. The five largest banks are 20% larger than they were before the crisis. They control 8.6 trillion dollars in financial assets; that equals 60% of our nation’s GDP. But even this isn’t enough for them; Jamie Dimon, the “reasonable, nice guy” in the banking world, thinks JP Morgan should be bigger than it already is. []

The very infrastructure of our country is being sold off to foreign interests. While the federal government prefers to spend our money to wage wars around the globe, operate over 700 military bases around the world, purchase weapons, hire and pay almost a thousand companies to spy on America’s e-mails and eavesdrop on America’s phone calls, it can’t see its way clear to help cash-strapped states retain teachers or maintain public roads and schools. The individual states are now actually selling our infrastructure on long-term leases to foreign interests to raise money. []

The Wall St. banks have money, however. The derivatives market – that shadowy, inexplicable asset class which blew up the economy in ’08 – was valued at about 200 trillion then and is now estimated to be worth over 500 trillion today. These “assets”, of course, don’t really represent anything tangible, they are complete fabrications made up wholecloth by Wall St. Here’s how illusory these figures are. These “assets” are notionally based on US real estate. Yet all the real estate in the US is valued at about 20 trillion. The GDP of the entire world is roughly 58 trillion. How anyone can fail to grasp the implausibility of a mortgage-related derivatives market outstripping the entire valuation of all US real estate by a factor of twenty or so is difficult to fathom. Clearly the governments of the US and Europe should have let the financial institutes involved in this fraud fail and broken them up back in ’08. The restructuring and rebuilding of the various economies would have been tedious and would have required meticulous attention to detail, but in the end, it’s all really just paperwork. We should have done the work.

Iceland, which collapsed as a result of the crisis, refused to play the game as dictated by the banks. They nationalized their banks and are currently recovering. They are in the process of rewriting their constitution to protect themselves in the future. []

Europe, on the other hand, is falling into the trap set by the banks, one country after another, and forcing their people to undergo austerity measures for an economic crisis foisted on them by those very banks. We are next, although the austerity measures our Congress is proposing to inflict on us do not relate to the economic crisis in a clear way. In the case of the US, it seems that Congress has decided to derail any chance of recovery and impose harsh economic conditions on the poor and middle class without any real need to do so. They are preemptively punishing the people and tearing apart the protections our government has offered for generations to the sick, the out of work and the weakest members of our society, all in the name of some deficit reduction which they have not proved needs to be addressed. It seems we are going to let our leaders sanction us while excusing them the need to explain why. Note the comments from James Galbraith, one of our most respected economists, in this short article where he attacks the lack of evidence for deficit fear-mongering. []

I highly recommend this article on misplaced deficit hysteria, as well.

The administration and Congress have signaled what they intend to do and whose side they are on, although they are adept at obfuscating the reasons.

Despite the fact that the wealthy and the big businesses have enjoyed tremendous tax breaks for the past ten years with the Bush tax cuts and that these breaks have NOT resulted in jobs growth and have, in fact, added greatly to the deficit, Congress wants to extend the cuts to those same groups. The Obama administration says it wants to encourage small business growth, yet in practice, over 300 billion worth of federal contracts earmarked for small businesses are being deliberately diverted to some of our largest corporations. []

Small businesses account for 90% of our job market and new hiring. They are not getting the help they were promised, the banks are not lending out the money lavished on them in repeated bail-outs and backstops, and so we do not see any real growth in jobs. Unemployment rose to 9.8% in November – that is the “official” accounting of unemployment. Over 15 million Americans are unemployed, but that number does not include 1.3 million who have completely given up looking for work or those working part time but who want to work full time. 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty. 41 million Americans need to use food stamps to eat. Outsourcing of jobs continues unabated and the Business Roundtable admits that the outsourced jobs are not coming back to this country. However, the Obama administration has found a way to dispel the gloom; they have decided to simply stop counting the outsourced jobs. []

Congress wants to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy as a trade-off for extending unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits average $310/week. This money is poured directly back into the economy as consumer spending (70% of the nation’s economic activity is driven by consumer spending). If the benefits are not extended, the ramifications as expressed by the CBO would be: a drop in annual economic growth of 1/2 to 1%, hundreds of thousands more people falling into poverty, and another one million lost jobs. (Obviously jobs would be lost, since if people had less to spend, they would buy less. Companies would need to lay off workers because they didn’t have a market for as much of whatever they produced. ) This is offered as a “plan” by Congress – a “compromise”. It goes without saying that without the extension of unemployment benefits, more homes will be lost to foreclosure. This is another area where the Obama administration is showing its true colors. As foreclosures mount, an ever increasing array of problems with the paperwork is being exposed. Yet Obama has refused to call a halt to the foreclosures, saying it is a bank problem that the banks are best suited to sort out. These would be the same banks which conned people into faulty loans they couldn’t afford or who wrote deliberately bad loan papers, and who then chopped up the mortgages into tranches to be traded in the derivatives markets. The administration is only going to spend about 12 billion of the promised 50 billion to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, by the way. Obama also remarked that “foreclosuregate” is basically a states’ issue for the various state Attorneys General to solve. Yet the banks themselves formed the MERS bank, now revealing its improper and illegal handling of mortgage and foreclosure paperwork, specifically to avoid state oversight and regulation, apparently escaping the notice of the legal systems in each state to start with. Let the banks handle it? Yet this is what passes as Deep Thought and Reasoned Approach today.

Congress continually talks about “deficit” and “shared sacrifice”, while at the same time rewarding the richest among us. The suggestions coming out of Washington ensure the continuation and intensification of the national debt while asking sacrifice from the poorest. Obama’s deficit commission may not have had its suggestions brought to the floor for a vote (yet – they’ll come up with some new ideas to proffer – give ’em a week/coupladays), but it served its purpose nonetheless. Which was to get people used to the idea that they will pay more and receive less while the financial elite and big businesses continue unaffected as before. The ideas put forth by the commission included lowering the taxes for the wealthiest, more tax breaks for mega-businesses, taking away the Earned Income Credit, reductions to medicare and medicaid, lowered benefits in social security distributions (although SS cannot legally affect the deficit), a 15 cent per gallon tax hike on gasoline, less money for the food stamp program, taking away the deduction businesses now receive for providing health insurance for their employees…these are explicit signals of what is in store. This is obvious class re-alignment and Congress is siding with the rich. Our legislators are starting the discussions at pointless, stupid and regressive. They will not improve the final legislation as they “negotiate” and “compromise” in a “bipartisan fashion”. Improvement is just not what they do. The people of America, as in “we, the people”, are not Congress’ constituency any longer. They work for those that can afford to bribe them. We, the people, can’t.

If Congress truly wanted to fix some of our financial problems they would consider these ideas: get rid of Goldman, Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup. Get out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Pull out of foreign military bases and cut the Pentagon budget by half. Raise taxes on the rich. Force the insurance companies to return to the non-profit models they started with. Allow drug re-importation from Canada and limit the profits allowed to pharmaceutical companies – a significant portion of drug research and development is generated through government subsidized grants – why should the pharmas be allowed to make huge profits on drugs the tax-payers funded in the first place? Strongly re-regulate big business and banks. Stop printing digital money a la QE2. Avoid privatization of the public sector. Rewrite the tax laws so that businesses and the wealthiest aren’t incentivized to hide money overseas or to outsource jobs. Invest in infrastructure in a WPA-style program. Quit giving subsidies to companies like Exxon for research into green projects. (Exxon pays 0 dollars in taxes and yet has the largest profits of any company in the history of the world. Surely, it will fund its own research – and can certainly afford to – as oil supplies dwindle, in order to stay in the energy game.)

What this administration has done instead, using just the energy sector as an example, is to give stimulus money for supposed green or clean energy projects to corporations which are then being given exceptions from the most basic environmental oversight. []

Government has a role to play. Now, however, they are playing the wrong part. They are sending us back to the feudal times of lords and peasants. The country is collapsing and the lines are drawn. Not because there is some big conspiracy, but because the greed of all the involved parties seems to have found opportune alignment at this moment in our history. As we serfs become more restive (and we will), we are gradually being trained to be obedient. We grow more accustomed to the security state we are living in and less alarmed by being scanned, spied upon, put on terror watch lists for joining a peace group or reading certain websites, having our bodies and possessions searched without warrant, and being shocked with electricity for not obeying the authorities quickly enough. Should we get too uppity and insistent on living decent lives, the government and the military/industrial complex have been working on plans to take care of that, too. []

We are living through the denouement of America. The lines are clearly drawn for all to see. The wealthiest, the biggest corporate cartels, and the MIC against the rest of us – and they are going for the jugular. Carpe jugulum.