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Category Archives: Wall St and banks

Trump wins. Thank the Democrats.

Donald Trump has won the 2016 election and the Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate.  

There is no-one to blame but the Democratic party politicians, the DNC, and their big donors. They had a candidate (actually more than one) who could have beat Trump in a landslide, yet they decided they had to do everything in their power, including rigging the primaries and colluding with the media, to give the nomination to a person so universally despised and so obviously corrupt that she couldn’t beat the carnival barker.  Irony of ironies; as the Clinton and DNC emails prove, the Clinton people were pushing for the nomination of Trump as an opponent because they thought he would be easier for her to beat than any other Republican. The fatal flaw of this plan was that the Democratic machine had been rigging everything in favor of the one person who couldn’t beat anyone with enough of a margin to overcome the insurmountable and peculiar electoral college system we use.  [Although they claim she beat Bernie Sanders, running as a fellow Democrat, in the primaries, the evidence of the DNC rigging the primaries is, well, irrefutable at this point and her nomination was cinched by Sanders’ own and finally obvious collusion in merely playing the sheepdog to deliver his innocent flock over to her.]  

Not only that, but the DNC spent all their money – against the party regulations, by the way – on the Hillary Victory Fund instead of spreading it out to the down-ticket Democrats; as a result, they still have a minority in both the House and the Senate. Not to mention that the only down-ticket Democrats that they supported verbally, if not financially, were nothing but ‘Blue Dog’ sell-outs instead of progressives or liberals. Despite losing the hold they had in both houses of Congress and losing state houses all across the country during the 2014 mid-terms, they didn’t bother with getting out the vote, or bother to deal with gerry-mandering issues, or pay any attention whatsoever to what people were telling them – that the economy sucks, people need jobs, Obamacare is really really bad, wealth disparity is dividing the country, Obama didn’t keep any of his promises and people were pissed about it, and everyone is sick of the “bipartisan compromises” that keep making things worse on the ground.  47 million Americans don’t have enough food to eat.  Fully one-third of eligible working-age Americans do not have jobs.  Social Security benefits continue to get cut or remain stagnant despite the fact that people can see with their own two eyes that food, housing and every other expense they routinely have to pay each month continues to increase in price.  Health insurance costs are so high that a family plan now costs more than the average person earns in 6 months.  Wages are effectively lower than they were 20 years ago.  Although the “family income” level was purred over repeatedly by Obama and Clinton on the campaign trail and touted as a sign of how things have improved under Obama, the fact is that according to the reports themselves, family income has not even risen above the level it was in 1999 – 17 years ago.  This is obfuscated by politicians and media pundits who don’t reveal the actual charts, try to equate “household income” with “personal income”, and who never point out the obvious; family income includes the combined incomes of all members of a family living in one household, and we now have the highest number of adult children living with their parents than at any time in our history.  Even if all they have is some measly part-time job at McDonald’s, these young adults contribute to that “household income” number.  Which, despite 1/3 of Americans under the age of 30 having to live with Mommy and Daddy, is still lower than than it was 17 fucking years ago.

I’m just amazed that the political grifters weren’t able to pull off the final fake-out and simply make up the election results like they do the unemployment numbers, economic measurements, or poll numbers and just claim Clinton won; on the other hand, it should occur to everyone that perhaps Trump is just as acceptable to the plutocracy as she is.  Maybe it’s that easy to figure out why they didn’t bother to rig the election – either candidate suffices to get the powers-that-be where they want to be; in total control of all the commons and all the wealth, and so they let the general election play out without interference.   Hell, maybe they did rig it, but didn’t go far enough, underestimating the numbers they needed.  Or – here’s a conspiracy theory for you – maybe Clinton’s health really is so bad that they realized, too late, that they couldn’t let her take office.  It strikes me as odd that she conceded before Trump had officially hit the magic 270 number in the electoral count and well before all the popular votes were in, especially given her determined, bullish, self-righteous pursuit of the office for so many long years.  Or perhaps the investigations into the Clinton Foundation are showing indications that criminal charges are forthcoming; the FBI has not ended those investigations, after all.  However, that will be taken care of by Obama preemptively pardoning Clinton before he leaves the White House so that no charges can ever be filed and the Clinton Foundation’s felonious enterprise will never be publicly exposed.  Perhaps the electoral college will not vote the way it is pledged to, in the end, and Clinton has been told to expect this.  She actually has won the popular vote, after all.  The electoral college does not cast its official vote until Dec. 19.  Supposedly, the electors have to vote the way they are pledged, but they may be convinced to test the system this time on behalf of “DNC primary super-delegate winner” Clinton.  Maybe this election has yet other surprises in store.

The country could have gone either way – more liberal or more conservative – in its presidential decision.  As the results of various ballot measures across the country prove, our societal tendency as a whole is clearly toward the liberal side.  The voters approved measures for legalized marijuana and increased minimum wages in state after state, for example.  It’s the politicians who are trending ever further right.  The Democratic party refused to encourage this social trending and instead offered the most right-wing Democrats they could find.  The voters repudiated that; unfortunately, having been abandoned by the Democrats, voting for Republicans was the only way to voice their discontent.  It wasn’t so much a choice for the conservatives as an un-choosing of the status quo.  In fact, the Republican party can only claim somewhere between 25 and 30% of the voting public as its base.  Clinton, Obama, and her other spokesmen were out there on the campaign trail, however, praising Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger, and Madeleine Albright, for God’s sake.  The Republican big-wigs supported Clinton, as did all the neocons and neoliberals.  She talked about the need for more wars (with Iran, China, and Russia, God help us all) and more Pentagon spending, and the only mention made of liberal ideas were to dismiss them as things that might  be “worked out eventually in a bipartisan fashion”.  It all made anything she said about “supporting progressive promises” and “Democratic ideals” look so phony that, in the end, nobody could believe a damn word of it.  I guarantee you, if the Democrats had run seriously progressive candidates and responded to, heeded the message of, the massive support Sanders got and what it implied, this election would have ended differently. It’s too bad, because Trump’s trickle-down economic ideas won’t do a damned thing for any but the wealthiest Americans and corporate cartels, but the people responded at a gut level. They found him to be authentic in his strange, but ultimately Ayn Randian way, and intuitively knew Clinton was a liar, a warmonger and a Wall Street stooge.  Going with their gut feelings was all they had; the billionaires, corporate elites, whorish media, and political parties have finally managed to so dumb down and confuse the population that all the people had left was unfiltered, inchoate anger and primal survival instinct.  They tossed a Hail Mary pass for the one they felt was at least a political outsider, driven by the devil’s bargain that had been foisted on them by party elites.

I think we are going to lose our Social Security, Medicare, unemployment and food stamps benefits no matter who had won, as both parties have been colluding to that end since Bill Clinton was in office.  Obama formed his “catfood commission” as one of the first things he did during his first term, if you’ll recall.  When Obama took office in 2008, he had a Democratic majority in both houses.  And yet he utterly failed to implement any of the progressive platforms he had run on, instead squandering the opportunity (with no objection from the Democrats in either house, mind you) to end torture, take action against the Bush regime, close Guantanamo Bay, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, punish the Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy, or push for universal health-care.  He brought in Timmeh Geithner and other Goldman Sachs men to run the Treasury and immediately assigned Monsanto people to run the FDA and the USDA, granted permits for even more deep-water drilling, and named a charter-schools promoter to run the Dept. of Education.  Within a few years, he had signed the NDAA giving him the ability to assassinate anyone he chose anywhere on the planet (Trump may love that presidential perq), and expanded our illegal “war zone” to seven countries.  Like the Syriza Party in Greece, Obama and the Democrats took office with false promises and immediately handed the country over to everything the people thought they were voting against.  We were given the discipline of austerity measures, a health “reform” that gave exponentially more profits to the private insurers and pharmaceutical companies, and exposed to the quackery of the Federal Reserve programs.  It is guaranteed that now, at this late date and with the Republicans in charge of both houses and the presidency, there will be no re-regulation of Wall Street, all our tax monies will continue to feed the Pentagon, big corporations will still get governmental subsidies while raking in record profits, there will not be an end to the toxic shit dumped into the water and food, every state will be fracked, and every politician in Washington will continue to ignore the wishes of the people who voted them into office.  Here’s the thing: we weren’t going to get anything good out of this election anyway.  You might not have noticed, but neither party talked about actual policies they might implement.  The media never asked questions along those lines, either.  Climate change was never mentioned in the debates, nor the militarization of the police, nor the legality of the US bombing  multiple countries, none of with whom we are legally at war .  Likewise ignored was civil asset forfeiture, NSA spying, and all the other losses of our civil liberties over the years.  Despite Trump’s promises, the House and Senate won’t spend a dime on infrastructure, jobs, or education, and for sure, climate change or environmental issues are completely dead in the water now (those being not even mentioned by Trump), but at least there isn’t going to be any pretense about who both parties of Congress serve any more. And it isn’t the people of the United States; it’s the plutocracy.  Desperate Trump supporters and the die-hard Clinton supporters may not have figured that out yet, and may never; for we are a supremely fact-free and stupid society now.  

[As an aside, I have to mention that Clinton didn’t even bother to address her faithful in person last night.  She phoned in her concession to Trump, had someone announce to the media that she’d speak publicly in the morning, and just left all those Clinton people deserted in the hall where they’d gathered in the assumption that win or lose, she’d at least grace them with her presence.  She didn’t spare a minute for them, however.  All those sad Clinton supporters, mourning the fact that their very own Caligula had lost the election, were left to catch some rest as best they could in their folding chairs until around noon today, when she gave her official concession speech.  I watched that event live when it occurred.  She had the unmitigated nerve to blather on about how the US “treats everyone equally under the law” and about how “the Constitution” and “rule of law” guides us all and makes us such a great country.  Much to my surprise, a bolt of lightening did not come down from the heavens and strike her dead.]

But whatever happens from here on out, put the blame where it belongs: on the Democrats, who insisted that it was the criminal War-pig’s “turn”, no matter what the voters were saying they wanted.  As it turns out, the fact that she pees sitting down wasn’t a big selling point, and that was the only card they had to play.  What’s the old saying?  Democrats stab you in the back, Republicans stab you in the front.  The Democrats sold us out gradually over the years; from Bill Clinton’s time in office onwards, they turned ever more rightward, leaving behind and deserting the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the unions, and the idea that our society and commons should be the primary recipients of taxpayer monies.  We were at a turning point with this election.  We could have gone more toward the right or toward the left in this choice, as I said.  We had candidates who were clearly more to the left of Clinton, candidates who were kept as hidden as possible by the collaboration of the media and the political parties until it was too late, and the left was deserted.  The Democratic power machine deliberately chose to take the rightward lean, they deliberately chose to ignore what their voter base wanted, and in so doing, deliberately threw away a chance to nudge our society ever closer toward true equality and social uplift.  We will pay the price for a long time and the price will be heavy.  

 

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The incoherent ramblings of a dying empire.

The signs of an empire dying are found both in its foreign policies and in its domestic.  The US is dying as an empire, that is certain, and in its last vain attempts to hang on, there are increasing signs that the end stages will be brutal for Americans and for the world at large.  I would like to think there are enough men of good will to turn the tide away from the angry lashing out of the wounded beast, but I find little to encourage the hope.  We long ago began ceding the country over to the corporate sector and the wealthy oligarchs, and now their ownership is complete.  They run our government at all levels, design the laws, decide our monetary policies, create and control our currency, and hold sway over the highest courts in the land.  We call this “free market capitalism”, a system which most of us defend vociferously despite not having a clue what the words mean, and which we unerringly confuse with “democracy”.  Democracy cannot exist in a capitalistic/corporate system, which constantly accrues control and power through monopoly and money.  This ownership and rule of the many by the wealthiest few individuals and companies successfully kills off all competition.  It might have been possible for the free market idea and true democracy to coexist for awhile, and the argument may be made that this occurred in the US for some time.  However, with the erosion of the independence from corporate influence upon our government that is necessary for such a wedding to result in a long, perhaps uneasy but at least workable, marriage, the inevitable has happened.  There is a divorce, and the corporations and oligarchs have won the whole house in the settlement.

We got here through policies of constant deregulation, corrupt politicians willing to take grift rather than serving the people, the dumbing down of the public, tax policies that unduly favor the rich and punish the poor, and the overt corporate control of the media.  Remember, we were trying to make capitalism work with democracy; this requires that the government act as a control mechanism on the oligarchic tendencies of capitalism so that the welfare of the commons is protected from predation.

This is where the Ayn Rand/ Libertarian viewpoint escapes me.  Get rid of the government, let the monied rule as they will, let the “free market” choose the winners and losers, they say, and all will be right in the land and everyone will be happy.  We are getting a taste of that now, and I have to say in response, “How’s it working out for you?”  We have Bill fucking Gates allowed to design our education policies simply because he is wealthy.  You want to understand why our schools are failing?  I suggest we might find a clue in the fact that under both Bush and Obama, the system has been totally remade in a corporate model.  Our agricultural policies are decided by a cartel of big-ag companies; as a result, everything we eat is drenched in glyphosate, a massive experiment on the population’s ability (or lack thereof) to withstand the constant onslaught of genetic manipulation, food additives, chemicals, and toxins is being undertaken almost completely unchecked by any agency.  The weapons industries run our military and foreign policies.  We have a few big banks, replete with the endless cash they provide themselves through the sham of the Fed, lending this free money back to the government at interest, collected from the taxpayers.  And this was after they intentionally destroyed the global economy.  Here’s your free market: now these same banks, under the guise of the IMF and World Banks, are given the power to demand austerity from pretty much each and every country on the planet, manipulate interest rates, totally rig the commodities markets (driving up food and oil prices), whimsically create new derivatives to the point where currently the derivatives market (you remember that a couple hundred trillion dollars of housing derivatives were the main driver of the crash of ’08, right?) is notionally valued at over 2.3 quadrillion dollars.  That this is an entirely impossible and unrecoverable number eludes the imaginations of our politicians, who call the Dodd-Frank Bill “re-regulation” and claim that the SEC, run by former bankers, is on top of it all.  Who is going to bail out the banks when this mother of all con-games blows up?  Me?  You?  Rwanda?  I think the answer is all the aforementioned.   I could go on, but the point I am making is that according to libertarian, e.g., Koch Brothers, philosophy, these are the terms under which we should be happy to exist.  These monolithic companies are the winners and we shouldn’t complain if we are the losers.  The theory is that we are the losers because we are, well, losers.  Take all this down to the final end of the game and you have Monsanto deciding what you will be allowed to eat, Xe mercenaries deciding where you are allowed to go, Haliburton free to tear up the entire country for natural gas without restraint on the chemicals dumped back into our water and permitted to use up all the fresh water, Shell drilling in all the oceans with no repercussions for accidental toxic spills, and every corporation free to operate without safety regulations, limits on how far down they can drive workers’ wages, how far up they can raise CEO earnings, and no limits on how many hours or under what conditions the employees work.  The libertarian ideal is already failing – I would submit we are already well into that system – and yet they would have us go further.  I simply do not believe that governments per se are bad, but I do believe that this government has sold us out and forgotten what their only duty is; that of seeing to the good of the society it is supposed to serve.  It has reneged on its prime directive and is rife with corruption and shysters.  Of course the empire is dying.  There are no honest statesmen running the place, and the voters are too bamboozled by ideology, too confused by the obfuscation of factual information and propaganda, and too busy trying to hold on to the scraps they have been left with to change the situation.

As America fails, we see ever more outlandish and unlikely statements coming from its leaders and increasingly incoherent and abusive policies taking hold.  Thus, after spending $5 bb taxpayer dollars and sending in our covert agents to provoke a coup in Ukraine and after installing a junta to take the place of a government that was elected there, Obama and John Kerry make complaint about Crimea voting to join Russia as though, yeah, Crimea holding that vote, that was the non-democratic way to do things.  Congress joins the administration to sanction Russia for what they call violations of international law, violations which they aver the US never commits.  This, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, drone-bombings in multiple countries, the use of torture, secret rendition, white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons, and repeatedly orchestrating the overthrow of governments on every continent.

For her part, Russia responded to the US by pointing out that the US has embedded 150 members of the mercenary group Greystone in the country to destabilize Ukraine further.  There are ongoing uprisings in several Ukrainian cities.  Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said that “there is strong evidence that some of these demonstrators were paid.”  He was suggesting, of course and despite evidence to the contrary, that it was Russia who was doing the paying and the infiltrating.
[http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-04-07/russia-accuses-us-mercenaries-inciting-civil-war-ukraine]

Russia is also in the midst of negotiating an oil-for-goods deal with Iran, which will bypass the US dollar and help to negate the sanctions from the US on both countries.  The two US Senators who authored the Iran sanctions bill (Menendez and Kirk) are very pissed off and told Obama that if this Iran/Russia deal goes through, the US should broaden and strengthen the sanctions.  They are overlooking the implications of Iran and Russia, and potentially other countries who might follow their lead, going off the petro-dollar and the effects it would have on the US economy if we lost reserve currency status, but goddamnit, we will sanction every country on the planet if we have to.  Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister pointed out that Russia has the right to reject unilateral US sanctions as having no basis in international law.  Juan Cole recently wrote an article in which he observes that while UN Security Council sanctions are binding on UN members, the US assumes its own sanctions must be binding on everyone.
[http://www.nationofchange.org/russian-sanctions-busting-putin-s-bruited-500k-bd-oil-deal-iran-draws-us-threats-1397224316]

Not content to threaten only Russia, our officials are now threatening our allies in NATO countries.  Turns out the EU is righteously miffed at our NSA spying on everyone and several countries are talking about creating an internet system which would bypass US companies, who, after all, provide data to the NSA.  Because we are so determined to keep our universal spy apparatus in place, the US Trade Representative made swift to threaten the EU with trade penalties for “violating trade laws”.  (This is the same guy who is currently working on the TPP trade negotiations that will give corporations immunity from the laws of all countries who sign the fucker.)  [http://rt.com/news/us-europe-nsa-snowden-549/]

Obama issued an executive order last week placing sanctions on “certain persons” with respect to South Sudan.

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, find that the situation in and in relation to South Sudan, which has been marked by activities that threaten the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan and the surrounding region, including widespread violence and atrocities, human rights abuses, recruitment and use of child soldiers, attacks on peacekeepers, and obstruction of humanitarian operations, poses an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat. I hereby order:

Section 1. (a) All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person (including any foreign branch) of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:

(i) to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have engaged in, directly or indirectly, any of the following in or in relation to South Sudan:
(A) actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan;
(B) actions or policies that threaten transitional agreements or undermine democratic processes or institutions in South Sudan;
(C) actions or policies that have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan or obstructing reconciliation or peace talks or processes;
(D) the commission of human rights abuses against persons in South Sudan;
(E) the targeting of women, children, or any civilians through the commission of acts of violence (including killing, maiming, torture, or rape or other sexual violence), abduction, forced displacement, or attacks on schools, hospitals, religious sites, or locations where civilians are seeking refuge, or through conduct that would constitute a serious abuse or violation of human rights or a violation of international humanitarian law;
(F) the use or recruitment of children by armed groups or armed forces in the context of the conflict in South Sudan; […]

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/03/executive-order-blocking-property-certain-persons-respect-south-sudan

The order does not mention, of course, that South Sudan only even exists because the US interfered in the civil war in Sudan in order to carve out the oil-rich south through referendums we wrote for that purpose.  We continue to pour billions of dollars into the new country, since the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan remains ongoing and vicious.  We have no humanitarian concerns for the people there; our interest is in getting lucrative contracts for US oil companies firmly set into place.  The executive order makes much to-do about the use of child soldiers in South Sudan, which is interesting, given that despite signing the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008,  Obama has signed waivers every year since for several countries that recruit child soldiers, including South Sudan.  The Child Soldiers Act makes it law that we cannot give military aid to any country using children in their armed forces.  In other words, while sanctioning “certain persons” who may be encouraging the use of child soldiers in South Sudan, the US gov’t is itself providing military and other aid to the armed forces in that country.

1 Oct., 2013
The White House on Monday afternoon announced that it had issued blanket waivers to three countries, allowing them to receive military aid despite their ongoing use of child soldiers despite a 2008 law to the contrary.

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CPSA) is meant to bar the United States from providing military assistance to countries who have “governmental armed forces or government- supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit and use child soldiers.” As per the Optional Protocol on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, “child soldiers” include children under 18 who have been forced into service, those under 15 who have volunteered to fight, and and those under 18 who have joined up with any force aside from an army. It also includes those who serve in a “support role such as a cook, porter, messenger, medic, guard, or sex slave.”

A national security interest waiver was built into the law, however, giving the President the authority to override the law should he deem it necessary to do so. That’s precisely what the Obama administration did on Monday, issuing blanket waivers to three countries known to use child soldiers: Yemen, Chad, and South Sudan. Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo received partial waivers as well; this means that they’ll be granted lethal aid only in support of the peacekeeping missions currently ongoing in the country. […]

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/10/01/2704611/child-soldier-waivers/

October 7, 2013
[…]  For the past three years, the Obama administration has routinely waived sanctions on countries subject to withholdings – including in 2010, the first year they were to go into effect.  At that time, the White House failed to inform Congress or the NGO community of its decision in advance, setting off a fierce backlash that has continued since. In February 2013, a United Nations committee further urged the U.S. president to take a tougher stance. […]

http://securityassistancemonitor.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/u-s-approves-withholds-military-aid-to-countries-with-child-soldiers/comment-page-1/

We are also now giving anti-aircraft weapons to members of the “rebel forces” in Syria.  (The US media and political classes don’t want us to confuse this with arming terrorist organizations or trying to overthrow a foreign government, although it is in reality both those things.)
[http://rt.com/usa/us-syria-moderate-opposition-weapons-921/]

On another front, we have some twisted blather from a federal judge regarding the Obama assassination-of-Americans program.  Judge Rosemary Collyer just threw out the lawsuit against the Obama administration for the murder of three US citizens abroad brought on behalf of the now-dead Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman.  Last July, when she heard oral arguments in the case, she repeatedly asked the Obama lawyers, “where is the due process here?” and stated, ““the executive is not an effective check on the executive”.  She has apparently since changed her mind (or had it changed for her) and her decision to dismiss the case is based pretty much on the notion that we have to “trust” any executive decisions on these matters in the interest of national security and that these officials have acted in accordance with the AUMF enacted after 9/11.  Are you digging this?  The president can kill anyone he wants for any reason he wants, without any oversight from, recourse to, or relief available via, the US legal system.  And there goes the heart of the Constitution, based on the Magna Carta, that we have the basic right to be presumed innocent and to have our cases heard in court, swirling right down the toilet.

Here is how a “The New American” article put it:

[…] According to the lawsuit:
The U.S. practice of “targeted killing” has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, including many hundreds of civilian bystanders. While some targeted killings have been carried out in the context of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many have taken place outside the context of armed conflict, in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan, and the Philippines.These killings rely on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence never presented to the courts…. The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all U.S. citizens, including the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law.

All those reasonable arguments are moot now, in light of the court’s tossing of the case. […]

Although Obama administration officials finally admitted that the three men were killed by the United States, they argued to the federal court that national security concerns should preclude the matter from being adjudicated.

While Judge Rosemary M. Collyer refused to accept the concept of the executive branch judging the constitutionality of its own actions, she dismissed the suit.

On the CCR website, the group’s lead attorney, Maria LaHood, commented on the effect of Collyer’s refusal to judge the legality of the murders:
Judge Collyer effectively convicted Anwar Al-Aulaqi posthumously based on the government’s own say-so, and found that the constitutional rights of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi and Samir Khan weren’t violated because the government didn’t target them. It seems there’s no remedy if the government intended to kill you, and no remedy if it didn’t. This decision is a true travesty of justice for our constitutional democracy, and for all victims of the U.S. government’s unlawful killings.

LaHood’s understanding of the constitutional standards for government-sanctioned assassination is accurate. Any killing by the government must conform to the standards established by the Fifth Amendment. That key provision of the Bill of Rights guarantees that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

While every person killed in the name of the United States who has not received the due process the Constitution guarantees is a tragedy and a significant weakening of our moral and constitutional foundation, the case of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki is particularly disturbing and his killing unconscionable. […]

Judge Collyer’s decision to dismiss this historic lawsuit witnesses the era into which our Republic has entered. The president of the United States sits in a chair in the White House rifling through dossiers of suspected terrorists. After listening to the advice of his claque of counselors, it is the president himself who designates who of the lineup is to be killed. As the New York Times explained in 2012:
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

The legal conundrum has apparently now been solved in favor of the president’s power to add names to and subtract them from kill lists worthy of the bloodthirstiest Roman dictators.

http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/18019-federal-court-drone-killing-of-u-s-citizens-is-constitutional

And lest we forget about the economy as we tumble downwards, let us look at some numbers.  No, no, no, not the “official” unemployment number.   The mainstream media, being comprised of willful idiots and outright liars in the time of our decline, was pleased to offer up the happy news last week that the unemployment number was 6.7 % and that we have regained all the jobs lost since ’08.  Okay, first of all, the jobs weren’t “lost”; they were outsourced, taken away to fatten corporate profits, replaced with part-time jobs where the employees are squeezed to produce full-time output, stolen.  Being idiots, none of the reporters mentioned the fact that replacing the 8 million jobs “lost immediately after the downturn” does nothing about the jobs needed to keep up with the population growth which has occurred since.  We need roughly 190,000 new jobs each month to match the number of new people entering the work force.

Let’s look at a more honest number: the labor force participation rate.  A brief explanation of what constitutes the LFPR is offered here:

(CNSNews.com) – The average annual labor force participation rate hit a 35-year-low of 63.2 percent in the United States in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).[…]

The BLS bases its employment statistics on the civilian noninstitutional population, which consists of all people in the United States 16 or older who are not on active duty in the military or in an institution such as a prison, nursing home or mental hospital.  The labor force participation rate is the percentage of people in the civilian noninstitutional population who either had a job or who actively sought one in the previous four weeks.

The 63.2 percent average annual labor force participation rate for 2013 means that in the average month of 2013 only 63.2 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population held a job or actively sought one.

The BLS has been tracking the labor force participation rate since 1947, when it was 58.3 percent. Over five decades, it climbed to a peak of 67.1 percent in 1997–a rate it maintained in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

As the civilian noninstitutional population has increased and the labor force participation rate has dropped, the number of people not in the labor force has climbed to record highs. In 2000, there was an annual average of 69,994,000 Americans not in the labor force. By 2013, there was an annual average of 90,290,000 not in the labor force.

In January 2014, according to BLS, there were 92,535,000 not in the labor force.[…]

In 2013, according to BLS, there was an annual average of 245,679,000 in the civilian noninstitutional population. On average, 155,389,000 (or 63.2 percent) of those people participated in the labor force. Another 90,290,000 (or 36.8 percent) of them did not have a job or actively seek one–and, thus, were not in the labor force. […]

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/ali-meyer/labor-force-participation-2013-lowest-35-years

These numbers are straight-forward and give the accurate reading of unemployment in the US.  The BLS has correctly removed from its count anyone in jail, the military and those who can’t work due to long-term physical or mental disabilities.  What the current number tells us is that more than one third of Americans who are of age and capable of working do not have jobs.  This obviously gives us an unemployment rate of over 33 %.

I will give but two more short vignettes of the nation’s dismal state as it brings on its own collapse.  I offer these as brief examples of how little the current crop of American leaders, both political and industrial, care about the health and welfare of the people.

The first has to do with the radiation leaks at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  This is a facility for storing radioactive waste, located within a salt mine in New Mexico.  Two immediate questions should be: why are we even housing nuclear waste in a salt pit, given that salt is highly corrosive, and: of what materials are the storage containers constructed, given that salt is particularly harsh on metals?  Unfortunately, no-one has asked the questions of anyone who might have the answers.

In any case, the place began leaking radioactive particles in Feb.  At first, we were told that no-one had been affected or sickened.  Now, however, some of the workers are showing signs of radiation sickness.  The site is still leaking.  You can find a number of articles if you ‘google’ “leak at WIPP”; I am only going to give a few unbelievable sentences from a local NM paper.

[…] the DOE is not giving up hope that all radiation particles in WIPP’s south salt mine can be eradicated. […]

Radiation was first detected below ground on the evening of Feb. 14 and traces of americium and plutonium were later found outside the site as far as a half mile away from the nation’s only nuclear repository for transuranic waste. […]

A couple of the plans cleanup crews are considering underground at WIPP include mining some of the salt off the existing wall which is done regularly and using sprayable concrete over the contamination areas to get it off the walls. […]

Scientists will also eventually begin testing the salt mined in the north mine for radiation contamination. WIPP currently sells the salt to local private industry, including for use as salt feed at local dairies. Franco [DOE Field Office manager] said he thinks the DOE should be able to continue selling the mined salt.[…]

http://www.currentargus.com/carlsbad-news/ci_25292180/robot-probe-underground-at-wipp

They have been selling the salt from a radiation storage mine to use as animal feed at local dairies, which provide milk to the area.  Are you fucking shitting me?

Okay, here’s another.   The new food labels, touted by our FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, a month or so ago.  The FDA and the White House have unveiled changes (coming soon to a store near you!  Well, okay, this may take a few years, but we are making an effort here) to the nutrition facts printed on food products, ostensibly made to enhance consumer information.   Mrs. Obama said as she introduced the new labels, “As consumers and as parents, we have a right to understand what’s in the food we’re feeding our families. Because that’s really the only way that we can make informed choices – by having clear, accurate information. Our guiding principle here is simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into a grocery store, pick an item off the shelf, and tell whether it’s good for your family.”  The labeling changes are relatively simple and will affect all packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products.  Calories will appear in larger font. Serving sizes are updated to reflect the amounts Americans actually eat; i.e., since we eat ridiculous amounts of food at one time, the “serving size” will reflect that.  A 20 oz soda, currently listed as 2.5 servings, will be labeled as 1 serving.  A “serving” of ice cream will increase from 1/2 cup to a full cup.  Some serving sizes are (seriously) going to be based on the current, typical container sizes, perhaps so the food industry does not have to retrofit the factory equipment.  So, for example, right now a typical single-serve yogurt container holds 6 oz, but is labeled as less than one serving (the calories, etc. on the label are based on 8 oz being a single serving); rather than change the packaging, the FDA is just going to call 6 oz a single serving.  Other stuff like muffins and toaster pastries (are those still considered real food?) will have the “serving” size doubled to reflect the packaging already used.  We’ll get a new category called “added sugars”, which will show sugars that are not naturally occurring in food.  They are not going to highlight the corn syrup content or give its percentage by volume.  Whether this disastrous ingredient will be listed as “sugars” or “added sugars” is not clarified.  Vitamin D and potassium will be added to the labels, but vitamins C and A are no longer required to be listed.  If you are like most parents, you tend to pick your kids’ juices based on vitamin C content.  That’s going to disappear from the labels.

Despite the estimated $2 bb it will cost them to implement the changes, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups “applaud the announcement” and “look forward to working with the FDA on these updates to the nutrition labels” to “help consumers build more healthful diets for themselves and their families.”

[http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/nutrition-labels-facelift-reflect-reality-122521120–abc-news-health.html?vp=1]

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups are exactly the same entities that claim adding the two words “Contains GMOs” is too costly for them to absorb, that such labeling is unrelated to nutrition and health, and that it is completely unnecessary information.  One of their representatives actually admitted in a printed outburst that labeling GMOs would cause people to avoid those products.

Over 90% of the population wants GMO labeling.  Countries all over the world are fighting the invasion of our GMO crops and consider them dangerous.  Our First Lady, on the other hand, is helping the food industry giants obfuscate the widespread use of GMOs through this deceptive labeling initiative, ostensibly designed to let the public know which food items are “good for their families”, but which does not include any demand for the inclusion of the the number one piece of information that the public needs and wants.  You can be sure that the food industry will use this “new label” ploy to avoid forevermore the idea of displaying GMO content on product labels (or highlighting the amounts of corn syrup, now known to bring its own health risks); they will say that they have just earmarked a tidy sum of money to modernize labels and, by the way, they followed the guidelines offered by the White House.  For his part, Mr. Obama has loaded the FDA, EPA, and USDA with former Monsanto executives and employees.  The Dept. of Agriculture, thanks to pressure from companies like Monsanto, Dow, and Syngenta, is now considering legalizing the usage of the herbicide 2,4-D (the primary ingredient in Agent Orange, for God’s sake) on US food crops, as apparently the vast amount of glyphosate housed within the GMO crap we have been force-fed, not to mention the GMOs themselves, has not been killing us off fast enough.
[http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/03/12-4]

Based on what I see in comment sections, I think more people are beginning to catch on that something is awry, but are very confused about who to trust and what to do, a situation expressly encouraged and largely instigated by the powers that be.  We talk about electing “better politicians” or we idealize one political group or candidate, each promising “the solution” and argue over which is “the best”.  But this country was built by hustlers and is now entirely run by sociopathic con-men.  I doubt there is any changing the trajectory of the fall.  This is the Thunderdome, baby.  There is no hero waiting in the wings to make it all right again.  All I can suggest, if you aren’t one for active revolution, is that you keep your loved ones close, be as kind as you can to those you meet, as they are stuck in this with you, and try to avoid the flying monkeys.

 

The amazing invisible, jobless, benefits-less, low-wage, government assistance-less "recovery".

I dislike posting an article which is mostly quotes from elsewhere, but as the man in the movie said, I have much to do and less time to do it in.  (I think that was said by Cary Elwes in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”.)

At the beginning of January, the talk was all about whether or not Congress would extend long-term unemployment benefits, which had expired on 31 Dec.

3 Jan., ’14

Congress went home for Christmas without extending long-term unemployment insurance, leaving 1.3 million people in the lurch. The damage, however, extends far past these unemployed Americans. State economies lost $400 million in one week thanks to Congressional inaction on unemployment benefits, according to a new report from the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. […]

California lost about $65 million this week. Illinois, Florida, New York, and New Jersey also took eight-figure hits. Texas, which lost nearly $22 million, can thank its senior senator, John Cornyn (R-TX), for blocking a vote to extend benefits twice.

The long-term unemployed already struggle more than others to get back to work, as research suggests prospective employers won’t even look at resumes of people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Even after managing to get hired, the period of unemployment will suppress their earnings for the rest of their lives, as well as hurt their chances at future homeownership.

If unemployment benefits are not restored, the Congressional Budget Office estimates a loss of about 200,000 jobs this year due to reduced consumer spending.

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/01/03/3117251/unemployment-benefits-expire-state-economies-400-million-loss/

Congress brought the issue up for a vote yesterday and sure enough, once again  failed to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.  This was despite the Democrats offering to have everyone in the U.S. form a line and then let the Republicans shoot each fifth person.  Or whatever the hell the Democrat’s concessions were this time around.

The US Senate failed to move forward with a three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits yesterday, leaving 1.7 million long-term unemployed workers without any cash assistance.[…]

Including family members, some 5 million people have been affected already by the December 28 expiration of extended benefits, a number that is growing by close to 1 million every month. […]

The two parties are engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the jobless benefits, including discussions over other social cuts to pay for them and the introduction of changes that will further restrict access. Both parties are carrying out a strategy to use the unemployment crisis to blackmail workers into accepting poverty-level wages.

The proposal that failed in the Senate Thursday would have paid for the estimated $6 billion cost by reducing the amount of money corporations are required to pay into pension plans. This would have the effect of boosting corporate profits and increasing taxable income. The end result would be to short-change corporate pension funds, which would be used to justify pension benefit cuts in future years. This procedure is euphemistically called “pension smoothing.”

After initially putting on a show of opposing the Republican demand that any extension of jobless benefits be paid for elsewhere, the Democrats are now fully committed to balancing an increase in social spending with equal cuts targeting the working class elsewhere.  […]

Any extension will likely include further restrictions in eligibility and a reduction in the duration of benefits for those who qualify.

Also being discussed behind the scenes are proposals to “reform” the unemployment benefit system. In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama referred in passing to the need for “reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy,” without indicating what reforms he was talking about. Various measures are being discussed, including stricter rules to force workers to accept low-paying jobs.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/unem-f07.html

When people say that the jobless need to just go find a job, I would ask, “Where are these imaginary ‘opportunities’ available for the unemployed you speak of?” And by the way, these lay-offs are taking place to boost profits, which are already at all-time highs for the corporate sector.  These companies are making money; they just want to make more money.  Idiotically, the CEOs  don’t seem to be able to figure out that if the population has fewer jobs there will be less money being spent at their stores.

20 Jan., ’14

[…] JC Penney, the department store retailer that operates 1,107 stores across the United States, will eliminate 2,000 jobs and shut down 33 stores between now and May. Additionally the company will move 3,000 workers off a salary system and onto a commission pay system. […]

Penney, however, is just one of many retailers whose sales have been affected by the sharp fall in income and living standards for the majority of Americans. Best Buy, for instance, experienced a 2.6 percent drop in sales in the 2013 holiday season, the period defined by economists as the nine weeks between early November and early January. In this same period Sears experienced a 9.2 percent decline and Kmart a 5.7 percent fall from the previous year. In total, 2013 Thanksgiving weekend sales dropped relative to the year previous for retailers. This was the first time this has happened in seven years.

JC Penney is not alone in its cuts. Just the week before, Macy’s announced that it would be laying off 2,500 workers. Moody’s Investment Services actually suggests that, even though the company has been struggling, Penney might actually have had better sales than many of its competitors. […]

In 2008, 28.2 million people in the US received food stamps. At the beginning of 2013, 47.7 million people received food stamps, an increase of 70 percent. At the same time, there have been major cuts to the food stamps, pushing a sixth of the nation’s population deeper into poverty.

Meanwhile, Intel has announced a “trim” to its 107,600-strong workforce. By the end of the year it aims to rid itself of 5 percent of its workforce, or 5,380 workers. The company says that it does not plan to lay off people directly, instead relying on attrition and other methods. According to CNN, Intel’s spokesman “said the cuts will come as a result of people retiring, redeployments, or people leaving voluntarily.” That being said, Intel has put aside $200 million for restructuring charges, “a portion of which,” the Financial Post claims, “could be earmarked for severance pay.” […]

Intel’s 5 percent workforce reduction comes on top of a factory closure last September in Massachusetts, which led to the layoff of 700 workers. Additionally, Hewlett-Packard Company, another tech giant, will eliminate 34,000 jobs over the course of 2014, 11 percent of its workforce.

Outside of tech manufacturing, call center operator Teleperformance USA announced that it will lay off the entirety of its Ann Arbor, Michigan workforce, 430 employees. Additionally, this past week Citibank announced it would cut 650 positions in Maryland, and Flagstar Bancorp Inc. said it would lay off 600 workers. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/20/cuts-j20.html

 

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it is eliminating 2,300 workers at its Sam’s Club division as it reduces the ranks of middle managers in a bid to be more nimble.

The layoffs, which cut 2 per cent of the membership club’s US employee count of about 116,000, mark the largest since 2010 when the Sam’s Club unit laid off 10,000 workers as it moved to outsource food demonstrations at its stores.

The cuts come as Sam’s Club strives to compete better with Costco Wholesale Corp. and online players like Amazon.com’s Prime membership service.

They also follow layoffs announced by several other major retailers in recent weeks that include Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney and Target Corp.

Bill Durling, a spokesman at Sam’s Club, says that a little less than half of the cuts were aimed at salaried assistant managers.

The cuts are also eliminating some hourly workers. He says that each of the clubs had roughly the same number of workers regardless of how much revenue each store generated. […]

For the year ended January 31, 2013, Sam’s Club generated revenue of $56.4 billion or 12 per cent of Wal-Mart’s net sales of $466.1 billion.

http://m.thehindubusinessline.com/news/international/walmarts-sams-club-to-lay-off-2300-workers/article5620184.ece/

Big profits.  Fewer employees, so even bigger profits.  It only works until it doesn’t any more.   Companies consider this a “win/win” for themselves, the phrase “win/win” having changed its meaning over the years.   “Win/win” used to mean that both sides in an arbitration got something they wanted; i.e., both sides “win” something.  Now it means that one side won everything.   How many regular working stiffs had to lose/lose so these companies could win/win?  I mean, seriously, net/net, think about people losing/losing their only source of income and hopes for future employment so that the already absurdly wealthy CEOs and non-tax-paying corporations could increase their profits/profits.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Private-sector employers started 2014 with slower hiring, missing analysts’ expectations, with unseasonably harsh weather cutting job gains, according to data released Wednesday morning.

Last month the private sector added 175,000 jobs — the lowest result in five months — down from 227,000 in December, Automatic Data Processing Inc. reported. However, longer-term trends show some improvement: over the three months through January, private-sector employment rose by an average of 230,000 jobs per month, slightly up from 220,000 a year earlier.

“Underlying job growth, abstracting from the weather, remains sturdy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which prepares the report with ADP data. “Gains are broad based across industries and company sizes, the biggest exception being manufacturing, which shed jobs, but that is not expected to continue.” […]

Strengthening employment is key to broader economic growth, including a continued rebound in the housing market. [Teri’s note: the “rebounding housing market” is a complete fiction.  The rebound is entirely driven by speculators investing in homes being converted to rental units, at rents that are, in many cases, higher than a mortgage would be.  This is a bubble that is going to burst pretty soon.  The “experts” will be at a loss as to how to explain it.  It will be “totally unforeseen”.]  Although nonfarm employment finished 2013 on a weak note, annual employment gains were steady, with the economy adding 2.19 million nonfarm jobs last year, just about matching 2012’s result, and slightly up from 2011. Despite those gains, the economy has almost 1.2 million fewer jobs than when the recession began at the end of 2007.

Looking at details of ADP’s private-employment report, small businesses added 75,000 jobs in January, medium businesses added 66,000 and large businesses added 34,000. By sector, service providers added 160,000 jobs, while goods producers added 16,000.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/private-sector-starts-2014-with-slower-hiring-2014-02-05?link=MW_latest_news

Look at that final paragraph again:

“Looking at details of ADP’s private-employment report, small businesses added 75,000 jobs in January, medium businesses added 66,000 and large businesses added 34,000. By sector, service providers added 160,000 jobs, while goods producers added 16,000. 

In other words, the jobs creators, you know, the big businesses who get all the subsidies and tax breaks because they need those incentives to provide jobs, only added half as many jobs as the Mom and Pop businesses.  Oh, and all these new jobs are in the services sector.  Janitorial, waitressing, hotel cleaning, and designing web sites to sell some homemade crafts or some such shit.  The big banks, on the other hand, who live on the largesse of the continuing trillions being poured in via the Fed QE4evah and other bailout programs, are slashing jobs right and left.  The big corporations are likewise cutting jobs each quarter.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who works at a bank, but here it is: Banks are still laying people off. A lot of people, actually.

Financial companies announced nearly 61,000 job cuts in 2013, up from 41,000 in 2012, according to a report released Thursday by the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. That was more than any other sector, accounting for 12% of all announced job cuts. […]

Banks like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. have been cutting jobs because they no longer need all the extra workers they hired to deal with foreclosures and troubled mortgages — which might be good news for society, but not for the employees getting pink slips. Banks are also cutting traditional mortgage jobs, as higher interest rates scare away some potential homebuyers. Morgan Stanley last year got rid of (expensive) senior managers, in a bid to raise its return on equity. […]

Going by third-quarter numbers, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley cut a combined 40,000-plus jobs compared to a year ago, or nearly 5% of combined workforces. The bulk was from Bank of America, which cut nearly 25,000 jobs, or 9% of its roster.

Even Wells Fargo & Co., which added jobs year-over-year in the third quarter, won’t keep adding forever. The bank has recently announced that it will cut thousands of mortgage jobs.

http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2014/01/09/help-not-wanted-banks-continue-to-cut-jobs/

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. stepped up the pace of bank cost cutting, setting plans to eliminate 17,000 jobs by the end of next year and reduce expenses by at least $1 billion annually.

The move announced Tuesday by the New York company, the nation’s most profitable bank in 2012 and the biggest U.S. lender by assets, will reduce its staff by 6.5% in one of the most aggressive reductions to date amid widespread financial-industry cutbacks. […]

For 2012, J.P. Morgan reported net income of $21.3 billion, up 12% from a year ago and a company record. […]

J.P. Morgan said it would reduce its global staff by a net 4,000 jobs this year and 13,000 next, primarily in the consumer bank and the unit that handles home loans. The majority of J.P. Morgan’s cuts in 2013 and 2014 will come from its 45,000-person mortgage group. […]  [Teri’s note: how’s that rebound in home sales going again?]

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324338604578327983190210680

[…]  More than one in six men ages 25 to 54, prime working years, don’t have jobs—a total of 10.4 million. Some are looking for jobs; many aren’t. Some had jobs that went overseas or were lost to technology. Some refuse to uproot for work because they are tied down by family needs or tethered to homes worth less than the mortgage. Some rely on government benefits. Others depend on working spouses….

The trend has been building for decades, according to government data. In the early 1970s, just 6% of American men ages 25 to 54 were without jobs. By late 2007, it was 13%. In 2009, during the worst of the recession, nearly 20% didn’t have jobs.

Although the economy is improving and the unemployment rate is falling, 17% of working-age men weren’t working in December. More than two-thirds said they weren’t looking for work, so the government doesn’t label them unemployed….

Economists who had expected the fraction of men working or at least looking for work to be approaching prerecession levels by now are dumbfounded. “It’s looking worse and worse,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Moffett, who has researched the subject. “It’s unexpected.” […]

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/02/1-6-men-prime-working-years-dont-job.html

Mass layoffs hit North America, Europe and Japan

Deep-going job cuts are hitting the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, technology and retail sectors across North America, Europe and Japan.

Despite stagnant revenues, reflecting sluggish economic growth, companies are reporting booming profits. These profit gains are almost entirely due to a relentless assault on jobs, wages and working conditions being carried out by the ruling class.

The layoff of tens of thousands of workers comes amid news of unprecedented compensation packages for the heads of major US corporations. It is combined with ruthless austerity measures in the US and across Europe. As the chasm between rich and poor continues to grow, social programs and benefits upon which millions rely are being gutted.

  • Weatherford International plans to cut its global workforce by 7,000 by mid-2014. The oilfield services company, which currently employs more than 65,000 people, hopes to generate annual cost savings of $500 million with the job cuts.
  • Vehicle maker Volvo announced Thursday that it will lay off 4,400 employees in 2014, including a previously announced reduction of 2,000 jobs. CEO Olof Persson said the layoffs would affect workers worldwide.
  • Chemical maker Ashland Inc. will cut up to 1,000 jobs as part of a restructuring program being carried out under pressure from investors to boost “shareholder value,” i.e., share prices. With revenue remaining flat at $1.9 billion for the quarter ended December 31, Ashland aims to save $150 million to $200 million annually from the restructuring.
  • Swiss drug maker Novartis plans to eliminate or transfer up to 4,000 jobs. The plan will affect up to 6 percent of the company’s workforce and is part of a larger plan to cut costs, including the closure of production sites. Pharmaceuticals are under increasing pressure from investors to restructure in response to expiring drug patents and government efforts to cut health care costs.
  • British-Swedish multinational drug maker AstraZeneca has increased its job-cutting toll to 5,600, raising by 550 last year’s announced layoff of 5,050. The company expects the job cuts, to be completed by 2016, to bring annual savings of $2.5 billion.
  • Japanese tech giant Sony confirmed that it will sell its struggling PC unit to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners and cut some 5,000 jobs in its TV, PC, marketing and other departments.
  • A mass layoff program began this week at Dell Inc., the multinational computer technology company, with over 15,000 people expected to lose their jobs. A source speaking to the Register described the impending job cuts as “a bloodbath.”
  • US tech companies have also announced layoffs. Massachusetts-based EMC Corp. has approved a restructuring plan that will result in layoffs “similar in size” to job cuts of more than 1,000 last year.
  • Several hundred people will be laid off as early as this week at Disney’s Interactive group. The job cuts will come mostly from Disney’s Playdom unit, which produces games for social media platforms.
  • Time Inc., publishers of People, Time, Sports Illustrated and In Style, began job cuts on Tuesday expected to number about 500.
  • North American manufacturers are shedding workers as companies close plants and make across-the-board cuts. Five hundred workers will lose their jobs beginning next week as International Paper shuts down the remaining two paper machines at its plant in Courtland, Alabama and winds down production at the facility.
  • GenCorp announced Tuesday it is eliminating 225 jobs nationwide as it seeks to “eliminate redundancies and achieve efficiencies” following its $550 million acquisition of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.
  • Pittsburgh-based US Steel is laying off nearly a quarter of the non-unionized workforce at its operations in Nanticoke and Hamilton, Ontario—about 175 workers. The steelmaker’s operations in Hamilton, which once employed 15,000, will be trimmed to around 820 workers.
  • Michigan-based Kellogg Co. said Tuesday it will close its Charlotte, North Carolina snack factory by the end of 2014 at a cost of 195 jobs.
  • Retailers in the US and Canada announced major layoffs along with store closures. RadioShack will close 500 of its 4,300 stores.
  • Best Buy in Canada is laying off 950 workers at stores in British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario.
  • Sears Canada announced layoffs Wednesday for the second time this month, eliminating 634 jobs. Two weeks ago, the company said 1,600 positions would go as it moved ahead with plans to close its Canadian call centers and reduce warehouse staff.
  •  United Airlines said last Saturday it would drop its hub in Cleveland, slashing many of its daily flights and eliminating 470 jobs. The hub formerly served Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2010.Even as they continue to attack jobs and wages, the corporations, with the full backing of the Obama administration and governments worldwide, are sitting on massive cash reserves.  US corporations are estimated to be holding a cash hoard of 1.5 trillion.Instead of using this money for productive investment and an expansion of employment, the corporate-financial elite is using it to finance speculative operations and stock buyback programs that drive up share prices and further enrich corporate CEOs and big investors—at the expense of the living standards of billions of people around the world.
  • http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/jobs-f07.html

No job.  No unemployment benefits.  And no food stamps.

7 February 2014

Today, President Obama will sign a bill to cut $8.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, slashing almost $100 per month in benefits for nearly a million households. […]

It is the second cut in three months to a program that provides minimal assistance for the most vulnerable sections of society. The lie that there is simply no money for basic social programs is repeated even as new reports document the unprecedented rise in the wealth of the financial elite.

The cuts in food stamps are part of a broader attack on social programs.

They follow the expiration of extended jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers in the US. The percentage of long-term unemployed receiving cash benefits has fallen from two-thirds in 2010 to one-third today. The new bipartisan budget keeps in place $1 trillion in across-the-board “sequester” cuts over the next decade. The Obama administration has reduced domestic discretionary spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product to its lowest level since the 1950s. […]

In the 1980s, 60 percent of full-time private-sector workers age 25 to 64 in the US had a defined-benefit retirement plan. Now, that number has dropped to about 10 percent.

[…]http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/07/pers-f07.html

If you have a job, fewer benefits.  Blame it on Obamacare.  Although one might notice that the CEO of AOL seems to be offering an odd and fraudulent choice here, considering that 2013 was their most profitable in a decade:  increases in the employees’ share of health insurance costs, or losing some of their 401k benefits.

AOL became the latest company to blame Obamacare for cutting back on employee benefits.

The tech firm will now pay its 401(k) company match only to employees who are active on Dec. 31 of that year, as opposed to in their paychecks throughout the year. So those who leave the company before the end of the year will forfeit the match.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong blamed $7.1 million in additional Obamacare costs the company is facing this year. Had the company not made the change in its 401(k) payments, employees would have seen their health insurance costs increase, he told CNN Thursday.

Armstrong did not provide a lot of specifics about what aspects of Obamacare were pushing up the company’s health care costs, but said it was one factor affecting the 401(k) restructuring.

“The Obamacare Act and some of the changes that happened there had increases in our health care costs,” Armstrong told CNN. “We had to make a choice whether we pass those on or whether we took other benefits and reduce them.”

Some employees will still see their premiums rise, depending on the plan they picked, though AOL “ate a huge piece of the increase.”

The news came on a day when AOL announced 2013 was “its most successful year in the last decade,” reporting revenues of $2.3 billion.

AOL’s move makes it the latest in a string of companies to change their benefits because of Obamacare. A few weeks ago, Target  said it will stop offering health insurance to part-timers and instead help them buy coverage on the state and federal exchanges. Last year, United Parcel Service  and University of Virginia said they are dropping coverage for employees’ spouses that have access to benefits elsewhere because of Obamacare. […]

http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/06/news/economy/aol-obamacare/index.html?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t3

 
9 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Congress, economy, Wall St and banks

 

News Round-up, Week Ending 1/11/14.

Updated below.

It was a tough week to suss out the news.  Not that there hasn’t been any; it’s just that the media is playing hard to get.  I even thought at one point that there was something wrong with my computer.  I kept seeing the same stories day after day, with only slight changes to the headlines – I thought the internet had entered some weird “Groundhog’s Day” where the same news items were being repeated over and over.  And the stories were remarkably devoid of details and full of half-witted statements left unexplained.  However, I tried to take what information was available and piece together some items of interest, mostly by reading dozens of articles on the same subjects – each article containing one little bit of a story  – and putting the pictures together myself.  Maybe that’s the best any of us can do any more – read an article and try to verify it elsewhere before assuming that it is true.  Look around with discernment to find the most truthful news outlets that you can and start there.  Believe me, those places are becoming scarce.  The state of the media is rapidly declining in this country.  One might think the media moguls who run the news operations in the US were deliberately trying to obfuscate things and hinder our ability to access any substantive news.  If you are interested in Kim Kardashian’s butt-cheeks or want to see the latest photos of Miley Cyrus trying to stretch her tongue out far enough to lick her own boobs, you can find any number of articles on that sort of useless nonsense; those articles will be amongst the top ten articles in any of the news compilers’ lists (when I say news compilers, think of yahoo news or google news as examples – each of them more interested in generating ad clicks than in distributing news – and see a link at the bottom of this post for an article regarding google’s ties to the NSA and as military contractors).   NPR (National Public Radio) has become a nationalistic, warrior-centric news forum largely drawing on human interest stories to keep its place in the media market.  Some of the websites I used to count on for actual news news have changed their editorial policies lately.  Each day, I get an e-mail from Alternet with their top stories of the day; for the past six months or so, this “top ten” list has invariably included a sex-tip article.  “How my husband and I revitalized our sex lives by inviting in the family pets.”  “The undervalued – and fun! – female orgasm as shared by lesbians.”  “Size matters: stories from small men and the small-minded women who love them.”  (Yes, I made those titles up; you needn’t bother goggling them.  They are fictitious approximations of how the actual headlines read.)  Really?  Seriously?  I expect this from the Huffington Post, an internet tabloid that has gone so far downhill into the muck at the bottom of the ravine that I haven’t bothered to even look at their front page in at least two years.  Part of the problem is that of revenue generation in the capitalist system under which we live; the media has to find ways to make money and support itself.  The idiotic celebrity coverage and sex stories lead to “ad clicks”, which these companies partially depend on for income.  I don’t know how you get beyond this basic issue of needing to generate financial support and still have truly independent journalism.  It’s always been an underlying conflict in the media – how beholden are the news outlets to their advertisers and sponsors and how does that affect the reporting?  Some internet news companies rely on paywalls (paid subscriptions) for funding, which effectively cuts off a sizable chunk of the population from access.  Some ask for periodic donations from readers – which, as long as the readers who donate aren’t allowed to dictate to the reporters about how to cover the news, may be the “cleanest” way to fund internet news.

The admittedly thorny problem of the relationship between money and news doesn’t account for all the really bad reporting going on now, but it certainly accounts for some of it.  We have fewer and fewer moguls/cartels owning the news and they have a gluttonous need for ever increasing personal income.  Journalistic integrity is being placed in a secondary position.  The fact that most Americans don’t seem to be capable of telling the difference is just a pathetic side note.

Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post [HuffPo] has famously found one way to keep expenses down and retain more money at the top: she just doesn’t pay a lot of the help.

[…] Despite its massive growth and sale to AOL for $315 million, the Huffington Post still relies heavily on the work on unpaid workers, and has refused to sign an agreement with the National Writers Union to pay all of its reporters who are assigned stories or report to editors. The Huffington Post currently has 50 paid reporters and more than 400 other staff employed as editors, photo editors, graphic designers, and business staffers on payroll, according to Huffington Post spokesman Rhoades Alderson. But the majority of its content is still generated by its network of more than 8,000 unpaid bloggers.[…]

However, at the RNC [Teri’s note: Republican National Convention; HuffPo sent several reporters, paid and unpaid, to cover the RNC in 2012], the Huffington Post has shown just how quickly paying people for exposure can spread to professions beyond reporting.

“As part of its presence in Tampa, the Huffington Post offers convention attendees Oasis, a candle lit retreat that’s ‘a reminder to find balance in the hustle and bustle of the conventions,’ ” notes the National Writers Union in a statement. “Among the offerings are yoga classes, massages, mini-facials, and meditation. Like its thousands of citizen journalists and bloggers, the massage professionals are unpaid and working for ‘exposure.’ ” […]

Earlier this summer, the Obama administration enshrined the Huffington Post doctrine of having people work for free in order to gain exposure as an official policy for the unemployed. A new Department of Labor “Bridge to Work” demonstration program would build on Huffington model of working for exposure by allowing up to 10 states to let companies employ workers receiving unemployment compensation without the employer necessarily having to pay those workers. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis wrote on Twitter when announcing the program, “As we explore every avenue to help our workforce recover, #volunteerism is a way job-seekers can do good and become more marketable.”… [Teri’s note: Obama also praised Amazon’s sweatshops as a model of corporate efficiency in one speech.  The problem inherent in using the unemployed as free labor, and this has been pointed out by many observers of the idea in action, is that companies tend to try to use it as a way to get rid of their paid employees and replace them with unpaid “volunteers” and “interns”, whom they not only don’t have to pay, they also have no requirements to provide any benefits.  This is known as “churning the work-force”.]

The reality is that unpaid work such that at the Huffington Post rarely leads to real jobs.

“Unpaid work and volunteerism should not be seen as ‘stepping stones’ to a regular job: after all, today there are more unpaid internships around than ever before, and yet youth unemployment is near its all-time high,” says Ross Perlin, author of the book Intern Nation (which In These Times excerpted). “Unpaid internships and ‘volunteer’ situations (in cases where the person is really anything but) in fact tend to destroy jobs rather than create them, because firms learn that they don’t have to pay for work, they don’t have to hire.” […]

http://shameproject.com/shame-blog/huffpo-america-arianna-huffingtons-unpaid-massage-therapists-obamas-bridge-work-program/

Which brings me to the first item in this week’s round-up.

It seems the billionaires running this country don’t control enough of the media outlets yet.  In some country, somewhere, having only a couple of rich people owning all the news is considered a normal thing.  We might call that country a banana republic or suggest it is run by a fascist elite bent on propaganda.  I’m not sure which of those is happening here, but truly independent reporting is dying out in the US. (Ironically, given that this is the “information age” of the “free internet”.)  If only a few people own all the media outlets, you may have news, and it may be “uncensored” in the respect that we know way more about everyone else’s private parts than any other society in the world, but you end up with news sources trending toward the direction we see more and more now: articles heavily edited to remove factual content, reporters who decline to completely toe the line and follow the owner’s personal political agenda being fired from their jobs, lackadaisical research, gross grammatical errors, and bald lies passed off as news items.

Arianna Huffington is teaming up with some of her rich buddies to start up a new website devoted to the news.  Run by and devoted to the wealthy class, the decisions they are making for the good of the rest of us, and all the news they want us to know.  It will be for-profit, naturally, because as Huffington says, “It has to be profitable to be sustainable.”  (By the way, I wish she would get voice lessons with some of her expendable income if she is going to insist on talking, like, in public and all.  Does she really have no idea how grating her speaking voice is?  She sounds like the whining squeal my screen door made right before it finally fell off the damn hinges altogether and ended up on the front lawn.)  Of course, Bill fucking Gates will be a contributor, because there is simply no end to the items on his bucket list.  (“Things I can meddle in and fuck up for the rest of the world before I shuffle off the mortal coil, assuming I can’t buy my way out of death, too.”)  On the editorial board is Pierre Omidyar, who just recently announced he was starting up a different internet news outlet – presumably for the less well-off than this Huffington do-wop – with Glenn Greenwald.  Guess Omidyar is just covering all the bases.  A rich guy can never have too many news conglomerates, and if some part of the internet gets shuttered with CISPA or through such similar provisions in the TPP, one would not want to be caught with only a single slice of the pie.  Omidyar is an interesting guy; he wants his new media company with Greenwald to be fiercely independent and “capable of challenging some of the most powerful people in the world”, one of whom is, well, himself.

“Omidyar tells Rosen that the site will be a company rather than a nonprofit, but that ‘all proceeds… will be reinvested in the journalism.’  If that’s the case, it will be a sort of quasi-nonprofit: able to sell ads and otherwise act like a publishing company but paying little to no taxes.  Omidyar has made it clear that the organization isn’t a philanthropic hobby.”

http://cjr.org/the_audit/the_extraordinary_promise_of_t.php

Tax avoidance is huge incentive for the upper crust, but I am uncertain that “quasi-nonprofit” is a category recognized by the IRS.  Omidyar also founded (in 2010) and owns the Honolulu Civil Beat, an on-line paper which is decidedly for-profit.  Civil Beat does not take ads, but instead has corporate sponsors and charges a $10/month subscription fee.  The original fee was $20/month, but was later reduced without editorial comment.  Civil Beat took on HuffPo as a partner last year, so the new “elite” publication that Huffington is launching is not the first time Omidyar has joined up with her in a media project.  I will take the trouble here to point out that while I might be critical of Omidyar’s empire building in this arena, as I am of any industry being controlled by a small group of individuals, I have no objection to Civil Beat’s reporting itself; one is allowed to access a few articles a month there for free before hitting the paywall, and the articles I have been able to read in that way do not appear to have any particular hidden political agenda.  I do find Huffington’s business model repugnant and can only speculate as to why he would want her as a partner on any endeavor.  Finally, none of this has anything to do with any journalists, bloggers, or reporters who might work for Omidyar on any of these ventures.

The 1% are about to get their own publication. The digital media titan Arianna Huffington and the billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen on Wednesday announced the launch of World Post, a comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet.

Inevitably, the World Post will be launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this month. Many of its contributors including former British prime minister Tony Blair, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Google’s Eric Schmidt are regulars at the annual jamboree for the world’s most connected people. Many are also advisers to the Berggruen Institute, the billionaire investor’s nonpartisan policy think tank [….]

The publication’s initial editorial board has deep ties to media companies around the world. Alongside Huffington and Berggruen it includes Juan Luis Cebrian, founding editor of El Pais, Dileep Padgaonkar, consulting editor of the Times of India, Yoichi Funabashi, former editor-in-chief of Asahi Shimbun, and Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay and backer of a new investigative reporting organisation, First Look Media, set up with former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.[…]

The launch comes amid a wave of new money going into media ventures. Berggruen said it was clear that traditional news organisations were still struggling and that many more would fail. “I think there will be a few media voices that really have weight and will survive but fewer and fewer,” he said. […]

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jan/08/world-post-news-website-launches-huffington

The second bit of news this week was the contamination of the water supply of nine W Va. counties by a chemical spill from a coal-washing plant.  Roughly 300,000 people cannot use their water for an unknown length of time because to do so would make them sick.

It was only when people began to complain about a peculiar smell in their tap water that the leak of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (Crude MCHM) was discovered coming from Freedom Industry’s (a company which makes chemicals that are used to wash coal) storage tanks and leaking into the Elk River in Charleston.   Freedom Industry had not noticed the leak themselves and could not say how long it had been leaking.  The tank holding the chemical holds 40,000 gallons, although “officials” are sure that no more than 5,000 gallons ended up in the river.  Unfortunately, the W. Va. American Water plant, which treats and provides clean water for the area, is downriver from the leak, and has no means of removing the chemical.  Until the stuff washes through the system on its own (doing God only knows what to the wildlife and groundwater in the meantime), the tap water in these nine counties cannot be used – not even for bathing or washing dishes.  People are having to use bottled water, brought in in emergency vehicles, but are being told to bring their own containers to take that water home.

Freedom Industries not only did not notice the spill in the first place and had no containment measures in place as of Friday (the spill was found on Thursday), they have not been in contact with the water treatment facility.

Obama declared the area a federal disaster so as to provide some emergency relief from the federal government.  I guess Freedom Industries is hoping someone else will deal with the mess and that they won’t have to do more than pay some small fines in a year or two over this incident.  What we need, according to Congress, is fewer regulations on this sort of industry.  Oh, and clean coal.  Just the ticket.

See also:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/11/usa-westvirginia-spill-idUSL2N0KL04J20140111

http://news.yahoo.com/chemical-spill-brings-w-va-capital-standstill-215537896.html

http://www.alternet.org/water/6-most-terrifying-facts-about-chemical-spill-contaminating-west-virginias-drinking-water?akid=11396.201112.pWHJHo&rd=1&src=newsletter945919&t=12

http://www.nationofchange.org/west-virginia-declares-state-emergency-after-coal-chemical-contaminates-drinking-water-1389454225

I have seen some articles about how the Senate has had some Success! in its effort to extend unemployment benefits; i.e., they are somewhat more seriously considering a debate on the issue.  Which may or may not be followed by some sort of vote.  (I actually got an e-mail from some Democratic fundraising site mid-week claiming that the Senate had passed the extension already – an outright lie.  But this site was collecting money to “sway the House”, so I guess we are supposed to overlook this little mishap in their editorial processes.)  Assuming it passes in the Senate, it would then go to the House.  Where it would be killed outright, because ha, ha, ha, there is nothing more amusing to the fuckers in both houses of Congress than starving Americans, unless it is starving Americans freezing to death because they lost their heating aid in the last budget go-round. First of all, the thinking in Congress goes, the jobless – who lost their jobs because they are lazy and not because of trade agreements or corporate greed and down-sizing or because the big banks blew up the economy – have no right to expect handouts when there are wars to be planned and paid for, which is Job Number One for Congress and secondly, we aren’t talking about that many people in the grand scheme of things and thirdly, the Fed is printing money as fast as it can and if you aren’t standing close enough to Jamie Dimon’s urinal to get trickled on, that’s your own lack of foresight and not Congress’ problem, you loser.  The members of Congress have planned for their futures assiduously – they are all going to work for Monsanto or Wall Street or will be regulators in some federal agency after they finish collecting all the grift that’s available to them during their stint in the Hallowed Halls – you should have likewise partaken of the American Dream and thought ahead.  And your lack of humor about the situation has been noted.  Believe that.

The Senate is actually supposed to vote on the unemployment benefits issue today, Monday, if they can get their shit together.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of details involved in the “deal” being worked out that are not being widely reported.

“[…] The Democratic plan would extend the federal program until mid-November. It would also lower the benefits for the unemployed in the hardest-hit states from 47 to 31 weeks, on top of the usual 26 weeks that most states allow for jobless aid. Republicans are opposed to the proposal because they want to offset the cost of the unemployment benefits with other budget cuts. The program has been extended 13 times.[…]”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/economy-added-74000-jobs-in-weak-december-report-jobless-rate-down-to-67percent/2014/01/10/3b2b82c6-7960-11e3-8963-b4b654bcc9b2_story.html

When we see that business about lowering the benefits by numbers of weeks, what is meant is this: before Dec. 28, when the unemployment benefits extension expired, many states offered up to 63-73 weeks of unemployment aid because the federal government helped out with the “extended federal benefits” package which paid for additional weeks of benefits that the states themselves did not have to fund.  After Dec. 28, most states went back to offering the jobless only 26 weeks of benefits, the same amount allowed pre-recession.  The Senate Democrats’ plan for reinstating extended benefits does not suggest bringing the number of weeks of federal participation back up to the 47 weeks of federal aid to the jobless on top of the states’ 26 weeks that had been offered until the end of Dec., but cuts the federal aid down to 31 weeks.  This means that extending the federal aid would not allow the long-term jobless 63 to 73 weeks of benefits, but 57 weeks.  If the measure passes.

“[…] Right now, as a result of the downturn, the average job-hunter takes about 35 weeks to find a new job. So that means many jobless workers will see their benefits cut off before they find work again. All told, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities expects some 4.9 million people to get kicked out of the program before they find a job in the coming year […]”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/01/07/the-senate-is-debating-unemployment-benefits-here-are-seven-things-they-should-know/

The long-term unemployed are dropped, not only from receiving benefits, but from the numbers used to figure overall unemployment.  (Once a person is not eligible for benefits any longer, they “disappear” and are not used in the “official unemployment rate”, currently given as 6.7%.  Well, hell, if everyone dropped out of the “labor force”, the unemployment rate would be 0, now, wouldn’t it?)  One should also bear in mind that even a temporary job lasting a mere three weeks is counted as “employment” by the government and serves to lower the unemployment rate.  Of the 74,000 jobs added in Dec., 40,000 were temp jobs.  Temporary jobs work well for employers, as they don’t have to offer paid vacations or health insurance coverage.

Furthermore, the Democrats propose cutting payments to the jobless who receive disability benefits as well as unemployment benefits.  They are offering to offset the projected $18 bb cost of extended unemployment benefits by keeping the sequester cuts going for an additional year; i.e., until the end of 2024.  They have also reportedly agreed to cut $9 bb of food stamp benefits – this is on top of the $5 bb cut to that program that occurred in Nov.

We have a problem with long-term unemployment which is not being very well addressed.  We are told the recession is over.  However, let’s look at some facts.  Christmas sales this past season were among the lowest they’ve been in decades.  People simply don’t have money.  Macy’s just announced it is cutting 2500 jobs and closing 5 stores to help its profitability – in other words, sales are really down.  Here in Md., an ice cream plant had 1600 people lined up to apply for a couple of dozen job openings.  The six largest banks reduced their workforce by 29,000 people in the first nine months of 2013.  In every sector, there are at least 3 applicants for each job.

“[…] According to the official wage statistics for 2012 http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year=2012 , forty percent of the US work force earned less than $20,000, fifty-three percent earned less than $30,000, and seventy-three percent earned less than $50,000. The median wage or salary was $27,519. The amounts are in current dollars and they are compensation amounts subject to state and federal income taxes and to Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. In other words, the take home pay is less.[…]”

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/01/03/case-missing-recovery-paul-craig-roberts/

“[…] According to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, 5.99 million ‘missing workers’ have dropped out of the labor force over the past five years for economic, not demographic, reasons. If these missing workers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 10.2 percent.  The labor force participation rate fell to 62.8 percent in December from 63.0 percent the month before, hitting the lowest level since 1978. Over the past year, the labor force participation rate has dropped by 0.8 percentage points…

“In another sign of economic weakness, the average private-sector work week fell by a tenth of an hour, to 34.4 hours. […]”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/11/jobs-j11.html

“Combined profit at the six largest U.S. banks jumped last year to the highest level since 2006, even as the firms allocated more than $18 billion to deal with claims they broke laws or cheated investors.  A stock-market rally, cost cuts and a decline in bad loans boosted the group’s net income 21 percent to $74.1 billion, according to analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s second only to 2006, when the firms reaped $84.6 billion at the peak of the U.S. housing bubble. The record would have been topped were it not for litigation and other legal expenses. […]”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-09/big-six-u-s-banks-2013-profit-thwarted-by-legal-costs.html

“Almost a third of the country’s half-million bank tellers rely on some form of public assistance to get by, according to a report due out Wednesday.

“Researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks.[…]”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/low-bank-wages-costing-the-public-millions-report-says/2013/12/03/21a932ee-5bb0-11e3-bf7e-f567ee61ae21_story.html

How much money does the Pentagon spend in one month, thanks to the lavish budget Congress allocates to the “war effort”?  Somewhere north of seventy billion?  But what’s the real number we spend on war?  We don’t know because the Pentagon has never been audited, and other military spending is hidden elsewhere, e.g., DHS, State Dept., etc., or carried out by agencies with no “official” budget at all, e.g., CIA.  The total military/mercenary/materiel expenditures probably dwarf that “official” $70 bb/month number.  How much money is printed up by the Fed and handed to the big banks each month?  Why, I think it is around $80 bb.  Wait, but is that the real number?  No, that’s only the official “on balance sheet” quantitative easing number, and, like the Pentagon, the Fed has never been audited.  The routine (off balance sheet) Fed loan facilities to these banks are estimated to be in the tens of trillions of dollars currently, most definitely dwarfing the “official” $80 bb per month.  That’s some serious jack.  You get the idea.

See also:

http://qz.com/165820/more-than-half-of-the-us-jobs-added-in-december-were-temporary/

http://www.foxbusiness.com/economy-policy/2014/01/09/just-74000-new-jobs-created-in-december/

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/01/caused-crash-labor-participation-rate.html

Obama has announced five areas around the country to be included in his “Promise Zones”.  These are going to be cradle to grave experiments in running every aspect of the lives of the people in the Zones, with corporate investment being the main supplier of funding.  I’m just going to give you Michael Hudson on these Zones, as he seems to have the best understanding of what is going on here.

Deregulation, Privatization, and Cheap Labor

Obama’s Corporate Plantations

by MIKE WHITNEY

The man who promised to restore hope and bring change to America, has announced a plan to open five corporate plantations in the United States. On Thursday, President Barack Obama, whose policies have resulted in the greatest number of public sector job losses in US History (Public sector jobs have declined by 718,000 jobs since Obama took office.) announced the opening of five “Promise Zones” located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. According to an article in USA Today:

“Under the proposed Promise Zones, the federal government plans to partner with local governments and businesses to provide tax incentives and grants to help combat poverty.” (“Obama to name 5 ‘Promise Zones’ for assistance“, USA Today)

‘Combatting poverty’ has nothing to do with it. Obama plans to shower the nation’s biggest corporations–which recorded record profits in the last year and are presently sitting on more than $1.3 trillion in cash–with more lavish subsidies and tax breaks while providing an endless source of cheap slave labor to boost future earnings. The president believes that the wealth generated in these profit zones, er, promise zones will trickle down to the area’s residents, even though–as the Christian Science Monitor notes–”it can be hard to tell whether a program’s benefits reach the poorest people, rather than flowing largely into the hands of the business owners who get the tax credits.”

Here’s more from USA Today:

“Obama said his administration plans “to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, and education, and housing.” (USA Today)

Translation: The Obama administration is committed to assisting the corporate oligarchy whenever possible even if it means further eviscerating the rapidly-diminishing US middle class and reducing millions of hard-working Americans to grinding third world poverty. Deregulation will allow corporations to privatize policing, education and any other lucrative public resource or service. According to the New York Times: “White House officials said the Promise Zones initiative would not provide new money, rather it would be aimed at providing the local governments and agencies “aid in cutting through red tape to get access to existing resources.”

No new money??

How do you like that? So, the man that helped push through the multi-trillion dollar Wall Street bailouts is not going to give one red cent to the nation’s poorest and most needy people. Instead, he is going to do whatever he can to eliminate the rules that keep voracious corporations from feeding at the public trough.

Conservative Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — “praised the proposed Promise Zone for Eastern Kentucky saying:

“I wrote a letter last year supporting this designation because this region has suffered enormous economic hardship over the last several years,” McConnell said in a statement.”

Mitch McConnell likes Obama’s plan. That says it all, doesn’t it?

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive. This is a world in which Obama has done quite well, although he’s had to distance himself from his political base and throw friends under the bus (Jeremiah Wright) in his relentless climb to the top. Even so, selling out has never been an issue for Obama.

Special economic zones are not a new idea, in fact, they’ve been tried in the UK, Australia and other places where the global bank cartel exerts its grip. In Tokyo, last month, right-wing PM, Shinzo Abe announced the launching of his own “Special Economic Zones”. Here’s a short summary of Abe’s plan from an article in the Japan Times:

“Special zones aimed at spurring corporate investment through deregulation and tax incentives are to be created in Tokyo as well as Osaka and central Aichi Prefecture….Other deregulation steps to debut in such zones will let private firms operate public schools, let experts without teaching licenses teach classes, expand the scope of treatment that can be administered by non-Japanese doctors and nurses, facilitate the use of foreign drugs and increase the number of hospital beds.” (Japan Times)

Sound familiar? Deregulation, privatization, and cheap labor; the toxic coctail that has vaporized the US middle class and wiped out a good portion of the developing world.

Obama calls these promise zones. We think corporate plantations is a more fitting moniker.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/10/obamas-corporate-plantations/  

See also:  http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/09/obam-j09.html

Other stories of interest on different topics:

Having now turned Iran into a starving state, thanks to sanctions, the big reveal is that what we really are negotiating for is US and European oil companies’ access to the Iranian sweet, light crude. Who’d a thunk?

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/09/iran-j09.html

Another continuing resolution, stop-gap measure and threat of government shut-down.  Oh, yeah, we kinda forgot the last spending bill was temporary, didn’t we?

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives next week will pass a stop-gap funding measure to prevent a government shutdown for three days as negotiators try to finalize a $1 trillion spending bill, Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Friday.[…]”

http://news.yahoo.com/congress-pass-stopgap-funding-bill-next-week-top-020538787–sector.html

So this guy being nominated by Obama to be vice chair of the US Federal Reserve, which handles monetary policy in the US and which is currently handing $80 bb/month to the big banks, holds dual US/Israeli citizenship, currently works at Citigroup, was a governor of Israel’s central bank from ’05 until last year, and also worked for the IMF and World Bank. There is no word on whether he, like Jack Lew, has been offered a Citigroup bonus for taking a government position.  Or if he is getting a bonus from the Israeli government for obtaining a high position in the US monetary system.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/01/10/obama-nominates-financier-stanley-fischer-as-federal-reserve-vice-chair/

“Biotech titan Monsanto saw its shares surge by more than 2 percent on Wednesday morning after announcing better-than-expected first quarter earnings earlier that day.[…]”   Thanks in large part to surging sales of Round-up, which is sprayed in extraordinary amounts by farmers using GMO seeds.

http://rt.com/usa/monsanto-first-quarter-earnings-322/

Wasn’t the CIA-led coup against Zelaya the first open Obama interference in someone else’s gov’t?  Why, yes, I believe it was, back in ’09.  How gauche of me to remember that.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/01/07/dirty-war-over-clean-fuel-farmers-in-honduras-terrorized-by-u-s-backed-security-forces/

“Google CEO Larry Page has rapidly positioned Google to become an indispensable U.S. military contractor.”

http://dailycaller.com/2014/01/09/googles-robots-and-creeping-militarization/#ixzz2qImYunhk

UPDATE, Wed., 15 Jan.:  In a move that should surprise nobody, the Senate just scuttled the extension of unemployment benefits.  They got mired down in their “procedural votes” and “partisan wrangling” and in general just overwhelmed themselves with the tough work of being assholes.  And now they are off for another long week-end.

” […] For now, senators will likely step back, move on to working on a larger omnibus spending bill that needs to be passed to keep the government running. […]”

That’s their opportunity to further cut food stamps, energy assistance, WIC, etc., so the unemployed won’t have those programs to turn to either.  But they will slip in more money to the Pentagon, because a bill isn’t really a bill unless it has military spending increases in it.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/extension-of-unemployment-benefits-dead-in-senate-for-now/

 
 

News round-up.

Here are some brief notes on a few news items of the past week or two, most of which were overlooked by the mainstream press.  I’ll really try to keep it all brief (though I am not very good at that and am more known for my enthusiastic verbosity), so if you are one of those people who is wrecking the attention span and memory functions of your brain by overusing “twitter” and such shit, you can skim quickly and not have to digest too much at a time.  I won’t use hashtags, though.  One has to draw the line somewhere.

As of November this year, 164 detainees remain at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp without charge or trial; many of them have been held for more than 11 years. Since 2010, 86 detainees have been approved for release by the Administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, yet only 2 have been transfered in the past year.

The U.S. will no longer report to the public any hunger strikes taking place among the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  Disclosure of hunger strikes at the prison are “not in the interest” of the military.  This would be called censoring the news were it to occur in the old USSR or modern North Korea.  Here, we don’t call it anything – we just do it.

MIAMI — The U.S. military will no longer disclose to the media and public whether prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on a hunger strike, a spokesman said Wednesday, eliminating what had long been an unofficial barometer of conditions at the secretive military outpost in Cuba.

Hunger strikes have been employed by men held at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002, and the United States has long disclosed how many are refusing to eat and whether they meet military guidelines to be force-fed.

Officials have determined that it is no longer in their interest to publicly disclose the information, said Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the military’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

“JTF-Guantanamo allows detainees to peacefully protest, but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,” Filostrat said in an e-mail. “The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.” […]

Human rights groups, lawyers and the media had long used the number of hunger strikers as a measure of discontent at the prison. A mass protest over conditions this year peaked in July at 106 detainees.

The Miami Herald reported that as of Monday, when the statistics were apparently released for the last time, 15 men were on hunger strike, up from 11 in mid-November.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/guantanamo-detainees-hunger-strikes-will-no-longer-be-disclosed-by-us-military/2013/12/04/f6b1aa96-5d24-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html

The FDA issued rules pertaining to the removal of antibiotics from animal feed; the overuse of antibiotics in feed has increased drug-resistant strains of infectious diseases amongst both animals and humans in what is being called an epidemic by the medical community.  Naturally, being the present-day FDA, run by former Monsanto employees, the new rules are voluntary, non-binding, and allow a three-year timeframe for phasing out the the use of antibiotics on healthy animals.

In response to concerns about the rise in drug-resistant superbugs worldwide, US regulators Wednesday issued voluntary guidelines to help cut back on antibiotics routinely fed to farm animals.

The plan described by the Food and Drug Administration is not mandatory, and applies only to certain pharmaceuticals that are given to healthy livestock in a bid to grow bigger animals and boost food production. […]

The FDA guidelines set out a three-year timeframe for phasing out the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine for growth uses in farm animals. […]

The World Health Organization says inappropriate use of antimicrobial medicines in farm animals is one the factors underlying the spread of drug-resistant infections in people, including tuberculosis, malaria and gonorrhea. […]

Consumer advocates say 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are destined for use in livestock, so leaving the responsibility in the hands of business is a mistake.

Louise Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, described the FDA’s voluntary guidance as “an inadequate response to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm with no mechanism for enforcement and no metric for success.”

This guidance “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis,” she added in a statement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said there are “several loopholes” in the FDA plan that could undermine its aim.

“Unfortunately it requires the drug companies who profit from sales of their drugs to initiate the process,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. […]

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/11/fda-issues-non-binding-rules-for-removing-antibiotics-from-farms/

We have killed 18 people via drone-bombing in Yemen in just the past week.  In one instance, there were 15 members of a wedding party murdered (what the hell else can you call it?) and a few days before that, three people traveling in a car were assassinated by a drone missile.

(Reuters) – Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.

The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.

“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.

Five more people were injured, the officials said. […]

On Monday, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/12/us-yemen-strike-idUSBRE9BB10O20131212?irpc=932

We adopted the Volker so-called “rule” this week.  However, like Elizabeth Warren’s 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act and John Delaney’s infrastructure bill (see my recent articles on these subjects), the Volker rule has been watered down enough to make it essentially meaningless.  The banks have until 2015 to comply with the “rules”.  The “rules” will be overseen and enforced by the regulatory agencies now peopled largely by former Goldman, Sachs employees.  That there is what we call reform in these United States.

The so-called “Volcker rule,” adopted Tuesday by the main US bank regulatory agencies, is being hailed by the Obama administration as a major reform that will rein in Wall Street speculation and hold bankers accountable. In fact, it is a toothless measure that will do nothing to stop the speculative and fraudulent activities that triggered the financial meltdown of 2008 and have continued unabated since then.

The rule, named after former Federal Reserve chairman and Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker, is among the most contested parts of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul that was signed into law by President Obama in July of 2010. The rule ostensibly bars commercial banks, which benefit from federally guaranteed retail deposits and other government backstops, from speculating with bank funds, including customers’ deposits, on their own account—a practice known as proprietary trading. […]

The document approved Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), spanning 953 pages, nominally restricts proprietary trading. But it incorporates loopholes and exemptions that will enable the banks to continue to make risky bets on stocks, bonds and other securities for their own profit.

The rule delays the date for compliance by the banks to July 2015, three years after the date laid down in the Dodd-Frank law. This is designed to give the banks and their lawyers ample time to devise ways to evade the rule’s provisions and, if they so decide, mount lawsuits to block all or part of the measure. […]

The measure requires bank CEOs to affirm annually that they have established programs to ensure that their firms are complying with the rule’s provisions. However, in another concession to Wall Street, its does not require that the executives attest that their companies are actually in compliance with the rule. […]

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial Wednesday was more blunt. The newspaper wrote: “Rest assured banks will find loopholes. And rest assured some of the Volcker rule-writers will find private job opportunities to help with that loophole search once they decide to lay down the burdens of government service.” […]

As the Wall Street Journal noted on Thursday, “Consultants wasted no time in starting to work with their banking clients on how to put in place the new rules… Law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP last year hired Donald Lamson, who had been a banking regulator at the OCC [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] to help focus on Volcker-rule matters… ‘We’re already getting inquiries from our clients,’ said Robert Cook, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, who until earlier this year was helping write the new financial rules as a lawyer at the SEC.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/13/volc-d13.html

The annual Mayors’ Report has been issued and it is not pretty – in fact, the statistics on poverty and homelessness in our cities are horrible.  This will not stop Congress from stripping federal aid from the poverty-stricken, the working poor, the jobless and the homeless as quickly as possible.  And until the majority of non-military Americans is completely decimated and living on the edges of starvation, I’m pretty sure most of the country has no problem with that – I cannot recall a period in my entire lifetime where so much of the population has had so much animosity and outright hatred toward the less fortunate.  The operative theory here is that giving money to the rich makes them work harder and entices them to “provide jobs”, while giving any amount of aid to the poor makes them stop working altogether.

And the military, via Pentagon funding, will continue to receive the bulk of federal funds so that we can continue in perpetuity the “war on terror”.  (Can I hear a “USA – fuck yeah!”?  I thought so.)

A new report on hunger and homelessness paints a devastating picture of the conditions facing millions of workers and poor people in America. The new US Conference of Mayors’ Task Force annual survey highlights the extent and causes of hunger and homelessness in 25 cities for the year between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013.

The report finds that 83 percent of the cities surveyed reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance over the past year, and 52 percent saw an increase in the total number of people experiencing homelessness. Despite this growing need, mayors in the surveyed cities expect assistance for the hungry and homeless to decrease in the coming year.

This social catastrophe is unfolding as the federal government prepares deeper cuts to the food stamp program, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and Congress allows federal extended jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed to expire after Christmas. […]

All but four of the surveyed cities reported a rise in emergency food assistance requests, and across all cities this need increased by an average of 7 percent. Among those seeking assistance, 58 percent were persons in families, 21 percent were elderly, and 9 percent were homeless. The working poor made up 43 percent of those requesting food assistance.  

The surveyed cities listed unemployment as the leading driver of hunger, followed by low wages, poverty and high housing costs. With unemployment insurance claims jumping to 368,000 in the week that ended December 7, from 300,000 the week before, and the Obama administration and Congress prepared to cut jobless benefits, the need for food assistance is certain to rise even further.

While cities reported a 7 percent average increase in the amount of food distributed during the past year, budgets for emergency food purchases increased by less than 1 percent. As a result, more than one-fifth of those needing emergency food assistance—21 percent—did not receive it. 

In all of the 25 cities surveyed, food pantries were forced to reduce the quantity of food people could receive at each visit, and emergency kitchens had to cut back on the amount of food offered per meal. In two-thirds of the cities, people were turned away due to a lack of resources. […] 

Based on a single-night count in 3,000 US cities and counties, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than 610,000 people were homeless across the US on any given night last year. Of these, 65 percent were living in emergency shelters or transitional housing, while 35 percent were living in unsheltered locations such as under bridges, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. Individuals comprise 64 percent of those experiencing homelessness, while families make up 36 percent.

The number of homeless families increased in 64 percent of the cities included in the mayors’ report. Sixty-eight percent of cities cited poverty as the main cause of homelessness among families, followed by lack of affordable housing (60 percent), unemployment (54 percent), eviction (32 percent), family disputes (28 percent), and domestic violence and low-paying jobs (12 percent each). […]

The surveyed cities were also asked to provide information on the characteristics of their adult homeless populations. The cities reported that, on average, 30 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 19 percent were employed, 17 percent were physically disabled, 16 percent were victims of domestic violence, 13 percent were veterans, and 3 percent were HIV Positive.

Seventeen of the 25 cities surveyed reported that emergency shelters had to turn away families with children experiencing homelessness because there were no beds available, while two-thirds of the cities were forced to turn away homeless unaccompanied individuals. The unmet need for emergency shelter ranged from 25 percent to 50 percent in eight cities. […]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/13/conf-d13.html

The savvy Obama administration has made its usual move of killing the hostages itself before Congress has a chance to.  Immediately after working out a (bogus) interim agreement with Iran, Obama expanded the list of Iranian people and companies included in current sanctions.

In what some charge is a bid to ‘stave off congressional action,’ White House expands list of Iran-linked people and companies subject to financial blockade.

Iranian officials on Friday slammed a U.S. expansion of a sanctions blacklist of companies and people claimed to be linked to Iran’s alleged nuclear program, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declaring it “against the spirit of the Geneva deal.”

“We are evaluating the situation and Iran will react accordingly to the new sanctions imposed on 19 companies and individuals,” Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told the Iranian Fars news agency on Friday.

The late November interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations required Iran to freeze its nuclear program, despite no evidence of nuclear weapons development, in exchange for a slight—and critics charge grossly insufficient—easing of sanctions in a bid to buy time for more talks.

The deal unleashed a wave of hope in Iran that an easing of US-led sanctions would alleviate severe economic hardship and shortages of medical supplies and equipment that hit Iran’s poor and working classes the hardest.

Yet, immediately following the agreement, the U.S. vowed to escalate enforcement of the sanctions that remained, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are calling for more severe sanctions on Iran—a move that critics charge could jeopardize the deal and increase the risk of a regional war with dangerous and unknown consequences. The congressional move appears to be in step with vigorous efforts by both Israel and Saudi Arabia to prevent a deal with Iran.

Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams that the U.S. expansion of the black list is likely a bid on the part of the Obama administration to “stave off congressional action.”

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/13-3

The southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, which despite not yet being officially approved, is beginning to ship oil through.  One might wonder how that is possible, given that it does not have approval yet, but such wonderment is simply the vague musings of a baffled mind.  In this nation of laws, the management is free to overlook said laws.  That’s how it works now. Still confused?  You must hate democracy.

TransCanada has begun pumping oil into the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, a company spokesman announced on Tuesday. However, it remains to be seen whether President Obama will actually approve the project.

The corporation began moving oil into the stretch of pipeline that runs from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast early on Saturday. […]

The completed section of the pipeline will soon be filled with three million gallons of oil, the company said. […]

http://rt.com/usa/oil-pumped-southern-keystone-pipeline-031/

On the tentative budget agreement: it’s atrocious and keeps in place most of the sequester (except for the Pentagon part, which gets a raise).  Not surprising, though.  Once those fuckers in Congress got their cuts to the poor and the public good via the sequester, you knew they wouldn’t open their tightly clenched fists.  Yet as George W. Bush once said, “It’s clearly a budget.  It’s got a lot of numbers in it.”

US House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a budget that will leave in place over a trillion dollars in sequester spending cuts over 10 years, while slashing the retirement benefits of federal workers and military retirees and imposing regressive consumption taxes. 

The brutal character of the bipartisan agreement is underscored by the fact that it makes no provision for the extension of federal extended jobless benefits, threatening over a million unemployed people with the loss of their only cash income the week after Christmas. […]

By the White House’s own figures, failure to extend the unemployment benefits will end cash assistance for 1.3 million people immediately after the holidays and impact an additional 3.6 million people in the first half of 2014. […]

Obama added that “this agreement replaces a portion of the across-the-board spending cuts known as ‘the sequester’ that have harmed students, seniors, and middle class families.”

In fact, the proposed two-year budget restores only a small fraction of the more than $1 trillion in cuts scheduled over the next ten years, and the reduced level of cuts is more than offset by regressive consumption taxes in the form of “user fees,” increased pension costs for federal civilian workers, cuts in retirement benefits for military employees and further reductions in Medicare spending. 

Above all, the deal leaves intact the mechanism of automatic across-the-board cuts in domestic discretionary spending known as sequestration, which took effect last March and has already resulted in $85 billion in cuts, in part through unpaid furloughs affecting hundreds of thousands of federal workers. […] 

Under the proposed budget agreed to on Tuesday, $63 billion in government spending is scheduled to be cut back in 2014 and 2015, or about one third of the total in sequester cuts slated for those years, will be restored. The biggest chunk of restored funds will go to the Pentagon. 

This modest rollback in sequester cuts will be more than offset by an additional $85 billion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. One of the largest cuts, amounting to $12 billion over a decade, will be to retirement benefits for federal civilian workers and military employees.

Beginning January 1st, new federal civilian employees will increase their contributions to their pensions by 1.3 percent, slashing spending by $6 billion. This will come on top of a three-year pay freeze for federal workers and the loss of as much as 15 percent of their income as a result of sequester-related unpaid furloughs.

Military retirees between the ages of 40 and 62 will see their cost-of-living adjustments slashed, adding another $6 billion in deficit reduction.

The budget proposal also adds another $22 billion to the existing sequester cuts by extending cuts to Medicare providers through 2022 and 2023.

The budget will raise $12.6 billion by increasing security fees for airline passengers and another $8 billion by charging higher fees for insuring private-sector pensions. […]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/11/budg-d11.html

 

Further reading:

EU announces token fines on banks caught rigging global rates.  “Token” is accurate, and it is stunning, to say the least, that these cartoonish fines (no criminal prosecutions for this group of economic hitmen) aren’t being broadcast with screaming headlines everywhere.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/07/libo-d07.html

 

An article at vice.com describes how many major liberal news outlets (Mother Jones, Democracy Now) exploits unpaid interns while railing on about how horrible economic inequality is. Here is one nice quote:

“Meanwhile, Democracy Now!, venerable progressive broadcast hosted by journalist Amy Goodman, requires interns at its new, LEED Platinum–certified office in Manhattan to work for free for two months, for a minimum of 20 hours a week, after which ‘a $15 expense allowance is provided on days you work five or more hours.’ ”

http://www.vice.com/read/the-exploited-laborers-of-the-liberal-media

 

Very good essay on the latest re: Fukushima:

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/12/fukushima-radiation-hits-west-coast.html

 

On Obamacare (h/t Kitt):

http://jacobinmag.com/2013/12/socialism-converting-hysterical-misery-into-ordinary-unhappiness/

 

The Greecing of America.

Or, Greece as a role model.

My new (elected 2012) Representative to the House is one John Delaney.  He ran as a Democrat. (Snort.)  Sometimes he was referred to as a “progressive Democrat”, whatever the hell that means, by the media during the election.  To be fair, he won not because this part of Md. suddenly turned into raging liberals (before they gerry-mandered our district, I was in the most Republican district in the state), but because it seems everyone had had enough of old Roscoe Bartlett, who had been in office for ten terms and who had accrued more than a few embarrassing scandals on his tote sheet.  The Republicans gerry-mandered Bartlett out.  Delaney, my new guy, is the 6th wealthiest member of Congress – both chambers.  His net worth is between 47 and 231 million dollars.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Delaney_(Maryland_politician)]

Well, clearly the man is bona fide  – in the way we Americans measure such things.

I’m getting to know him through his e-mailed responses to me when I sign some petition that goes to his office.  For instance, I suggested to Delaney that I support diplomatic solutions to the Iran issue and would kinda like him to, as well.  Just letting him know what one of his constituents thinks.  Using diplomacy – as opposed to bombs and sanctions, which are generally not understood to be “diplomacy” as the word is commonly defined – with a foreign country that has not invaded or threatened another country in several hundred years is not a strange, freaky, or outlandish viewpoint, in my opinion.  And we surely don’t need to get mired down in another war of choice in the Middle East.

This crap is the answer I got from his office:

Dear [friend];

Thank you for contacting me about U.S. policy towards Iran. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.

Iran developing nuclear weapons is one of the most significant foreign policy threats facing our country. A nuclear Iran has the potential to destabilize the Middle East and threatens our allies in the region. To prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, we must continue to impose tough economic sanctions and closely monitor the Central Bank of Iran, so we can prevent the Iranian government from funneling money to its weapons program. It is essential that the U.S. be willing to leave all options on the table.

I am committed to working with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.

I’m only surprised that the whole thing wasn’t written in all capital letters with numerous exclamation points tossed around and about; just to emphasize the Enormous Risks! that our Homeland! faces from the Rogue Nation! that is Iran! which threatens our Purity!, our very Democracy! and our Womenfolk! (not to mention Israel!) on a freaking daily basis!  Hey, there, Mr. Delaney, is anyone monitoring our banks, by the way?  You know, just to make sure we aren’t funneling money into weapons programs and illegal wars or disrupting the financial well-being of the entire globe?  Oh.  Never mind.

Then one day I got an unanticipated e-mail from Delaney.

21 Nov, 2013:

Dear Friend,

I write to you today to update you on my efforts to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure through the Partnership to Build America Act, H.R. 2084. This major bipartisan legislation will finance $750 billion in needed repairs to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, at no cost to the taxpayer. This week, H.R. 2084 gained its 50th cosponsor in the House of Representatives, bringing us one step closer to starting critical work that will update our nation’s infrastructure and keep our economy competitive.

As you know, infrastructure plays a critical role in our country, connecting millions of people with their jobs, families and more. My bill would help to upgrade our country’s aging infrastructure by creating a $50 billion American Infrastructure Fund (AIF), leveraged to $750 billion, through the sale of bonds offering a one percent interest rate. Bonds sold to capitalize the AIF would not be guaranteed by the government, ensuring that the fund does not put taxpayers at risk.

Since its introduction, H.R. 2084 has garnered substantial backing from Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. This week, supporters of infrastructure development won a major victory when my bill received its 50th cosponsor in the House of Representatives, with 25 Republican and 25 Democratic backers. While this progress is encouraging, our focus has now shifted to the introduction of a Senate companion bill that will continue to build on the momentum we have seen in this Congress.

You sent me to Washington to break the partisan gridlock and rebuild our economy, and that spirit has motivated this legislation. As the 113th Congress moves forward, I will continue to support smart, bipartisan efforts to put our economy back on track.

Gosh, bipartisan support and smart and all.  Except that it sounds a bit like the private/public bond deals with the big banks that have been getting so many states and counties in trouble all around the US.  Aren’t some of these states/counties having to renege on their public workers’ pension funds and the like in order to pay back these bond deals when they head south?  And don’t some of these private/public deals result in higher user costs to the public?  (Think of the parking meter deal in Chicago, for example.)  Looking into it further, I saw that it was exactly this sort of thing, with some extra juicy goodness thrown in to entice the private entities.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

This whole idea of the American Infrastructure Fund has multiple layers of corporate and financial sector incentives that don’t square readily with the public interest.  It will create projects, or replace or repair existing projects, with potentially privatized or partially privatized projects requiring user fees to service the debt, with the projects themselves serving as collateral.  The local states or counties act as the governmental sponsors (the “public” part of this deal) rather than the federal government for any such projects; they are on the hook as the ultimate borrower/guarantor.  Now how Delaney sees this as “ensuring that the fund does not put taxpayers at risk” – which he mentions twice so as to really, really reassure us that we aren’t just the patsies in this whole fucked-up carnival game – when most of us have to pay taxes to our states and so would see our local taxes go up should the deals not work out so well, might have an interesting answer should one bother to ask it of him.  No-one has yet.

Here is how his idea works.  A new public/private “bank” type entity, the American Investment Fund (AIF), is set up with $50 billion of private capital and given 15:1 federal fractional reserve (leverage) authority (allowing up to $750 billion in project fundings) for the purpose of making loans to counties or states for county- or state-sponsored infrastructure projects.  The jurisdictions may elect to include private partners in those projects, but AIF is restricted from making a loan on any project lacking state or county sponsorship.

Corporations are incented to provide the initial $50 billion in a number of ways: 1) a nominal interest rate of 1% paid on their investment into the fund (their investment is actually a 50-year loan to the fund, which is often referred to or stated in other terms such as “buying a bond” in the fund);   2) a likely share in the profits and ownership of AIF, which, to be fair, may be minimal because: i) the charter is for AIF to make low interest rate loans; ii) AIF is a public/private entity, though I haven’t seen that expanded on so I’m not sure how (or how much) public ownership there will be in AIF  – and its Board, significantly, is set up to be private sector majority; iii) AIF may even be structured as a non-profit though I’m not sure about that; but, 3) by far the most important incentive and corporate driver is that there is to be a multiplier, set by the auction of the AIF bonds themselves, on the number of dollars that the corporations are allowed to repatriate, tax-free, back into the US, for each dollar they invest in AIF.

Delaney estimates the multiplier will auction out at around $4 of tax-free repatriation for each $1 invested in AIF, which is plenty rich enough already. His math is based on two layers of suspect assumptions, however, and no allowance at all is made for corporate malfeasance (collusion) to pervert the auction process (as is the normal standard in oil and gas lease auctions, etc.), so God only knows how high the tax-free repatriation multiplier will actually be.

Obviously, whatever the final numbers are, the federal government is giving up a lot of potential tax revenue to create this fund, and the actual effective return to the corporate investors will, in any scenario, be quite, shall we say, substantial.

To get comfortable with any of this, you have to buy off on the notion that, absent such vehicles as AIF, they (the corporations) were never going to repatriate those dollars at all. And once you believe that, you must decide that neither the US, the states, nor the counties have the capacity to build or maintain infrastructure without private assistance and/or that private ownership of public use assets is actually desirable.

This bill appears to me to be a way to accomplish both corporate tax avoidance and privatization while conducting infrastructure improvements that would be accomplished more readily and cheaply by the governmental structures already in place. For example, if the US government were to simply fund AIF (or the projects themselves) directly, preferably by: a) generating the money by actually taxing the repatriation of corporate profits; b) generating the money by actually taxing corporations at all, as most of the big corporations currently pay an actual tax rate of zero or less on corporate profits; c) generate the money by repealing the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and then printing the money; d) taking the money from the Pentagon or the CIA or Homeland Security or NSA; or e) generating the money by the usual dumb-shit method of selling treasuries, we would, even in the worst case analysis, be funding those projects at normal Treasury rates, with no user fees required (unless local jurisdictions wanted to create new revenue sources, which we’d hope not because all such consumption taxes are super regressive), and without the odious, sovereignty-destroying, potential privatization of public-use infrastructure assets.  And why would these civic-minded entities be at all inclined to take on projects that serve the public benefit (think libraries, schools, bridges) rather than tollroads, bioweapons labs, new spy agency headquarters, and oil pipelines?

Since Goldman, Sachs, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan are the experts which will get to run the whole shebang, and along with Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed, are the ones with global profits to repatriate at the attractive tax rate of zero, fully tax-free, and they will collectively get all the no-bid infrastructure construction jobs, and they may each or all elect to participate in the initial public/private ownership of those assets, and will receive the interest paid by the jurisdictions on the AIF loans, and will, after jurisdictional default, then own, via their ownership of AIF, all of those assets plus the deficiency still owed by the jurisdiction, what’s not to like?

By my count, that’s a win-win-win-win-win-win-win!  Shit, Delaney is underselling this booger.

Following hard on the heels of this email from him, I saw that Delaney had an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

21 Nov, 2013

John Delaney, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 6th District in the U.S. House.

Washington has gotten so used to political theater that many here have lost the ability to spot real chances to do the right thing. The budget conference is an opportunity for Congress to craft a bipartisan compromise that serves the common good. Despite low expectations, the conference should be taken seriously.

The facts before the conferees are clear: Millions of Americans are out of work, growth remains stagnant, our long-term fiscal trajectory is unsustainable and the American people have said, loudly, that Washington is broken. Policy and political needs are aligned: Washington and the country desperately need a bipartisan, pro-growth compromise.

The conferees ought to consider a bipartisan solution that would create jobs in the short term, improve long-term economic growth and lower barriers for private-sector investment. The Partnership to Build America Act (H.R. 2084) is such a solution. The bill has 25 Republican and 25 Democratic co-sponsors, which may make it the most significant piece of unfinished bipartisan economic-oriented legislation in the House.[…]

My bill would create an American Infrastructure Fund (AIF), a large-scale financing capability that could act like a bond insurer or bank for state and local governments to build transportation, energy, water, communication and educational infrastructure. The fund would be capitalized with $50 billion that could be leveraged 15 to 1 to create a $750 billion infrastructure financing capability. Over 50 years, the AIF could finance $2 trillion worth of infrastructure and create more than 3 million jobs. [Teri’s note: Okay, the whole thing is neoliberal privatization, but seriously?  3 million jobs over 50 years? That’s your hard estimate?  We’ve already lost more jobs than that in just the past 5 years that all need to be replaced, not to mention the number of people who will need jobs over the next 50 freaking years.]

The $50 billion of capital would be funded not by government but by private companies that purchase 50-year bonds at 1 percent interest that are not government-guaranteed. No taxpayer money would support the American Infrastructure Fund. As an incentive to purchase these below-market bonds, buyers would be allowed to repatriate a certain amount of overseas earnings tax-free. The specific ratio would be established by auction, which would encourage interested companies to bid against one another, guaranteeing a fair deal for the government. The winners of the auction would be the companies that bid the lowest exchange ratio. I expect the winning ratio to be in the neighborhood of 4 to 1, based on what companies would be willing to pay as an effective tax. This means that if Company X purchases $1 billion in infrastructure bonds, it would be able to bring back $4 billion in overseas earnings tax-free. If the bonds are worth 20 cents on the dollar to the company, then the cost to Company X is the equivalent of a 13 percent tax.

This would help private and public sectors. Almost $2 trillion of corporate cash is sitting overseas. [Teri’s note: given that this is probably an underestimate of the cash sitting overseas, why don’t you slackers in Congress just demand these companies pay their fucking taxes instead of allowing such outrageous tax-avoidance scams in the first place?] Many large companies would like to bring home some of this money and reinvest it. By tying that repatriation to infrastructure, we guarantee that jobs would be created. [Teri’s note: I have to seriously question the premise that “many large companies” would “like to bring the money home”.  If they wanted to, they would have already.  It is patently obvious by this late date that they have abandoned the US.] […]

If U.S. ports can’t meet the demands of global commerce, jobs will leave our shores. If U.S. schools fall apart, American students will fall further behind. And if U.S. roads remain in disrepair, commutes will grow longer. [Teri’s note: Done, done and done.]  Infrastructure is a good investment; for every $1 spent on infrastructure, the economy receives $1.92 in benefit.

Pro-growth economic policy helps address our national debt in a politically feasible manner. Under current trajectories, we will face extremely tough choices after 2020, when interest on the debt and unreformed entitlement programs will threaten to crowd out our ability to pay for anything else. [Teri’s note: I particularly like the jab at Social Security and Medicare here.  Spoken like a true New Neolib Democrat.]  Economic growth, coupled with additional reforms, would lead to fiscal stability and ensure that the next generation has a chance to live the American dream. […]

Both parties have long called for a budget conference. Now that we have one, we should seize the opportunity to strengthen the economy. Congress has staged enough tragedies this year. Let’s come together and give the American people an ending worthy of our audience. [Teri’s note: I am not certain to which he refers here – the end of the Congressional year or the end of America.] 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/john-delaney-driving-the-economy-forward-with-infrastructure-investment/2013/11/21/15ea1278-5211-11e3-a7f0-b790929232e1_story.html

This opinion piece can be challenged on nearly every front, including the desirability of “lower[ing] barriers for private-sector investment” when that really means “lowering barriers for private sector ownership of public assets”, or the desirability of allowing corporations to invest in and own actual hard assets in lieu of them paying taxes to the government so the government (i.e., the people) can invest in and own the actual hard assets.

Even if we were to accept as a given that the total combined capital equipment and materials costs, e.g., cement, steel, technology, project management, etc., for the infrastructure projects are held to a ridiculous estimate of zero dollars ($0.00), which seems to be what Delaney is suggesting, even though, of course, infrastructure projects are by their nature quite capital intensive, his ambitiously calculated $2 trillion in projects over 50 years can produce 3 million jobs only by paying an un-liveable $11,000 per employee.  So either it creates 3 million permanent – but way below poverty-level jobs – or it creates a much smaller number of part-time or temporary jobs.

For example, someone who worked only once during the entire 50 years, for only a total of 8 months during calendar year 2027 when he was employed to help build the Keystone Pipeline Annex Cul de Sac Coffee Klatch & Homeland Dronewar Heliport (the KPACdSCKHDH) in Bismarck, North Dakota, or one of the KPACdSCKHDH’s built in Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, or Montana (because all those KPACdSCKHDH projects will definitely qualify as necessary infrastructure), will be counted among the 3 million jobs created, even though it might appear to the casual observer that he, more accurately, has been basically wholly unemployed.  (Hope he’s careful with the money he made.)  Do you think perhaps the corporate investors will hire him to serve coffee or maintain the heliport?  Oh, wait.  Robots do those tasks now.  The robots we got for free with all the other free capital materials and equipment we used while putting Delaney’s whole entire budget toward creating those 3 million jobs.

I was interested, after doing my research for this article, to see that the noted economist, Dr. Michael Hudson, had already addressed this private/public infrastructure bank concept way back in July; apparently Obama brought up the idea in a speech he gave at that time.   And I missed it – shoot dang.  I guess Obama gave this particular assignment to Delaney.  (“Hey, you!  New guy!   You been here long enough to screw over any Americans yet?  No?  Okay then, I’m sending my friends Jamie and Lloyd over to your office at lunch to help you write some ‘legislation’, if you get my drift.”)

Dr. Hudson sees it the same way I do, but he is a lot smarter than I am, so I’ll post some excerpts of his article to close with:

25 July, 2013

President Obama chose Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (originally founded by anti-slavery activists in the 1830s) to float the economic program he has been working out with Wall Street investment bankers. His aim is to wrap this program in a democratic rhetoric. The speech’s actual content boils down to: “I’m doing fine and housing prices are recovering. The way to heal the economy faster is to make a Public-Private Partnership (with Wall Street) to finance new infrastructure investment. The government will guarantee a return – and if there’s any loss, we (you taxpayers) will bear it.” His political genius was not to sugar-coat the shady parts of his proposals. […]

The question is, how will infrastructure be financed. The danger that is looming is a giveaway to high finance, such as we have seen in Chicago, where Goldman Sachs and other hedge funds bought the right to install tollbooths on Chicago’s sidewalks with parking meters to squeeze out revenue at the cost of raising the price of driving and transportation in the city.

Most great fortunes in history have been carved out of the public domain. That was the case with America’s colonial land grants, and the railroad land grants after the Civil War. The great question facing Europe as well as America today is whether infrastructure will be provided at a low price – which can best be achieved by public investment – or at a high price as rent-extracting owners turn roads into toll roads, bridges into toll bridges, and so on throughout the economy. This is the looming Wall Street plan, using today’s downturn as an opportunity to cloak a vast new monopoly grab as a “solution” to the economic problem rather than looming as a new threat to price American labor and industry out of global markets.

The same thing is happening in Greece and other Eurozone countries obliged to pay bondholders by selling off infrastructure. In today’s world, privatization means financialization – funding the new construction with debt-financing, building interest and dividend charges into the price of services – and making this revenue tax-free as a result of the tax deductibility of interest. […]

This is essentially what the President proposes to do with mortgages that are still underwater. “I’ve asked Congress to pass a good, bipartisan idea – one that was championed by Mitt Romney’s economic advisor – to give every homeowner the chance to refinance their mortgage and save thousands of dollars a year.”  Under this plan the government will absorb the loss – the writedown – that otherwise would be borne by the banks and other mortgage holders. Taxpayers will foot the bill to pay Wall Street. This is the basic model for Obama’s infrastructure plan to be unveiled in the next few weeks. […]

The basic script is a fairy tale that balancing the budget in the face of the $13 trillion in Wall Street bailouts requires cutting back spending elsewhere in the economy. The Federal Reserve and Treasury were able to create this money for the banks, but pretend to be unable to do the same for the projected $1 trillion in Social Security deficits that may or may not materialize a generation from now. New wars in Syria and elsewhere can be funded by money creation, but not social spending programs – to say nothing of financing public infrastructure costs with public money creation rather than by recourse to Wall Street. This is the great policy asymmetry of the Obama Administration’s plans to use the economic crisis as an opportunity to cut and ultimately privatize Social Security as the capstone of a financialized Public-Private Partnership.

Here’s the problem that President Obama did not address yesterday: Today’s debt deflation and economic shrinkage are pushing federal, state and local budgets into deficit. This is forcing public spending to be cut back proportionally. That cutting will push state, local and federal budgets even further into deficit. This is why we are hearing calls to start selling off public infrastructure – to buyers who will become new customers for Wall Street investment banks.

It is the same phenomenon we are seeing in Europe. The newest economic prize is the right to buy rent-extraction rights to turn public roads into toll roads and similar rentier tollbooth installations. All this increases the cost of living and doing business, making the economy high-cost even as it is being impoverished.

That is not a solution. It bears out the classic principle that the solution to every problem tends to create new, even larger problems. Often these are unforeseen. But today’s problems in the making are all too foreseeable. What is needed is to keep translating the President’s speeches into their subtext.

http://michael-hudson.com/2013/07/obamas-master-class-in-demagogy-101/

Further reading:

Matt Taibbi on bond-rigging scams:

“[…]  The banks [GE, JP Morgan Chase, BoA, UBS, etc.] achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. […] the banks systematically stole […] from virtually every state, district and territory in the United States.[…]”

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-scam-wall-street-learned-from-the-mafia-20120620#ixzz2n5TP3Dfk 

Taibbi’s most excellent 2010 article on the bond deals in Jefferson Co., Ala., “Looting Main Street: How the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece”:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-main-street-20100331

Taibbi, 2011, in a follow-up on Jefferson County, Ala:

“The good times just keep coming for Jefferson County, Alabama […] the city was roped into a series of deadly swap deals by a number of banks, most notably JP Morgan Chase, that left the county billions of dollars in debt. […]”

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/jefferson-county-alabama-screwed-by-wall-street-still-paying-20110407#ixzz2n5VKhbE5

Les Leopold on Greece:

http://www.alternet.org/story/153795/vampire_hedge_funds_are_sucking_greece_dry?page=0%2C2&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Dr. Michael Hudson on Greece; this is one of the best articles on the general topic of the global neoliberal cramdown ever written.  Dr. Hudson has presented a clear and compelling synopsis, readily decipherable, and familiar enough as a description of what is happening right now in the United States.  “Replacing Economic Democracy with Financial Oligarchy”:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/06/michael-hudson-replacing-economic-democracy-with-financial-oligarchy.html

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Congress, corporatocracy, economy, Wall St and banks

 

Elizabeth Warren and the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.

This article was initially posted under a different headline and has been edited for content.  The topic was suggested by a reader.

Don’t you hate the big banks?  The ones that crashed the economy in ’08, only to be bailed out by the government, with our money.  The ones which flourish with record profits today only by the unconscionable abuse of the privilege of ownership, their collective ownership, their literal ownership, of the Federal Reserve.  Don’t we all hate that Fed Bank Cartel?  That hateful collection run by names such as Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, et. nauseum, whose only supposed “Regulator” is the Fed itself (which, did I mention they own, literally). With the revolving-door policy of a U.S. Treasury distinctly disinterested in the Public Interest, this private Fed Bank Cartel has, by law and statute, absolute full control of monetary and currency policy and supply, and by brazen corruption and chutzpa, it has chosen to use those powers to create unto itself, to themselves and directly into their own financial institutions, unlimited amounts of new free, digitally created, zero interest rate money “for the foreseeable future” or until the official (officially manipulated, that is) unemployment rate happens to drop below some arbitrary and flexible benchmark.  Those banks.  Those that used the power of their cartel, the Federal Reserve, to suspend accounting rules so their balance sheets might show solvency and their multi-quadrillion dollar shadow banking universe, their massive inventories of securities fraud, might have time to be laundered into respectability (well, into Money Supply anyway).  Don’t you hate the way they have used all that power and money to create wealth only for themselves, wealth far beyond imagining, all while preying and feasting on us consumers and citizens, taking our properties and our assets, enslaving us to debt and bankruptcy and poverty, pushing for public austerity, more privatization, more taking.  Don’t you?

And don’t you wish you had an advocate within the government, someone you could count on to keep your best interests at heart?  Someone whose whole personal schtick is to represent the consumer.  Hey, how’s about Senator Elizabeth  Warren, D-MA?  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was her brainchild, don’tcha know.  And a solid advocate for friendlier student loan rates she was, rallying behind a plan to tie student loan interest rates to the rate on Treasury Securities, though that one never quite went anywhere either.

In July of this year, as co-author with John McCain, R-AZ, and two other senators (Maria Cantwell, D-WA and Angus King, I-ME), Elizabeth Warren wrote a bill that will end too big to fail and cut those banks down to size!  Just ask her, check out her own website, or read any mainstream coverage you might be able to find about this matter.   Warren and McCain modestly chose not to name it after themselves; instead, they decided to call it the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act”.  I suspect that they are cognizant of the fact that many people, even those not usually conversant with financial lingo, have become  somewhat familiar with the names Glass and Steagall and know that the overturning of this Act during the Clinton administration played a big part leading up to the blatant crime-wave called the “financial meltdown of ’08”.  So this bill, the New Glass-Steagall, must be righteous.  It is now garnering attention from the mainstream press, which is breathlessly touting it as The Answer.  For example, Common Dreams just released this last Friday, “Senator Warren says ‘Pick Up The Slingshot’ Against Too Big To Fail Banks”, by Richard Long.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., says that the problem of “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions has only gotten worse in the years since Congress passed financial reform legislation. That’s why she is calling on activists to step up the pressure on Congress to pass legislation that would erect a wall between retail banking activities and the kind of high-risk financial bets that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

“Today the four biggest banks are 30 percent larger than they were five years ago. And the five largest banks now hold more than half of the total banking assets in the country. Who would have thought five years ago, after we witnessed first-hand the dangers of an overly concentrated financial system, that the ‘too big to fail’ problem would only have gotten worse?” Warren said Tuesday afternoon during a conference sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform and the Roosevelt Institution. “It’s been three years since Dodd-Frank has passed, and the biggest banks are bigger than ever, the risk to the system has grown, and the market disruption has continued.” […]

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/13-6

I read that far and thought – wait, wasn’t she the one who was supposed to oversee the TARP program (“In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Warren served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Warren)?  When she asks, “Who could have foreseen 5 years ago…..?”, one might assume that the question can be most correctly answered with, “Well, you, Elizabeth, you could have.”  Or done something to help.  But better late than never?  Let’s have a look.

Below is the full text of Warren and McCain’s 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, taken from govtrack.  The text matches that available on her website as of the 17th of November, 2013.  http://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/Fact Sheet – 21st Century Glass-Steagall.pdf

Remember that this bill has only been introduced to committee and may be marked up and changed over time.  The text below is as it currently reads.  Govtrack gives the bill only a 6% chance of making it into law.  My notes are bracketed and in red.  Although a bit too long for this article, I encourage you to at least skim it over and check my margin notes (in red).  I’ve reproduced the entire document so there can be no question that this “Bill” resembles the language of an idea more than it does an actual proposed law; an idea that would do very little, an idea with no chance of ending too big too fail or breaking up the corrupt behemoths currently dominating our plutocracy.

113th CONGRESS

1st Session

S. 1282

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

July 11, 2013

Ms. Warren (for herself, Mr. McCain, Ms. Cantwell, and Mr. King) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

A BILL

To reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks’ ability to engage in certain risky activities and limiting conflicts of interest, to reinstate certain Glass-Steagall Act protections that were repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and for other purposes.

[“limiting” as opposed to “terminating”; and “to reinstate certain G-S Act protections”?  We’ll see.]

1. SHORT TITLE

This Act may be cited as the “ 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013 ”.

2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

(a) Findings

Congress finds that—

(1) in response to a financial crisis and the ensuing Great Depression, Congress enacted the Banking Act of 1933, known as the “ Glass-Steagall Act ”, to prohibit commercial banks from offering investment banking and insurance services;

(2) a series of deregulatory decisions by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, in addition to decisions by Federal courts, permitted commercial banks to engage in an increasing number of risky financial activities that had previously been restricted under the Glass-Steagall Act, and also vastly expanded the meaning of the “business of banking” and “closely related activities” in banking law;

(3) in 1999, Congress enacted the “ Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act ”, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act separation between commercial and investment banking and allowed for complex cross-subsidies and interconnections between commercial and investment banks;

(4) former Kansas City Federal Reserve President Thomas Hoenig observed that “with the elimination of Glass-Steagall, the largest institutions with the greatest ability to leverage their balance sheets increased their risk profile by getting into trading, market making, and hedge fund activities, adding ever greater complexity to their balance sheets.”;

(5) the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report issued by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded that, in the years between the passage of Gramm-Leach Bliley and the global financial crisis, “regulation and supervision of traditional banking had been weakened significantly, allowing commercial banks and thrifts to operate with fewer constraints and to engage in a wider range of financial activities, including activities in the shadow banking system.”. The Commission also concluded that “[t]his deregulation made the financial system especially vulnerable to the financial crisis and exacerbated its effects.”;

(6) a report by the Financial Stability Oversight Council pursuant to section 123 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act states that increased complexity and diversity of financial activities at financial institutions may “shift institutions towards more risk-taking, increase the level of interconnectedness among financial firms, and therefore may increase systemic default risk. These potential costs may be exacerbated in cases where the market perceives diverse and complex financial institutions as ‘too big to fail,’ which may lead to excessive risk taking and concerns about moral hazard.”;

(7) the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse”, states that repeal of Glass-Steagall “made it more difficult for regulators to distinguish between activities intended to benefit customers versus the financial institution itself. The expanded set of financial services investment banks were allowed to offer also contributed to the multiple and significant conflicts of interest that arose between some investment banks and their clients during the financial crisis.”;

(8) the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report, “JPMorgan Chase Whale Trades: A Case History of Derivatives Risks and Abuses”, describes how traders at JPMorgan Chase made risky bets using excess deposits that were partly insured by the Federal Government;

(9) in Europe, the Vickers Independent Commission on Banking (for the United Kingdom) and the Liikanen Report (for the Euro area) have both found that there is no inherent reason to bundle “retail banking” with “investment banking” or other forms of relatively high risk securities trading, and European countries are set on a path of separating various activities that are currently bundled together in the business of banking;

(10) private sector actors prefer having access to underpriced public sector insurance, whether explicit (for insured deposits) or implicit (for “too big to fail” financial institutions), to subsidize dangerous levels of risk-taking, which, from a broader social perspective, is not an advantageous arrangement; and

(11) the financial crisis, and the regulatory response to the crisis, has led to more mergers between financial institutions, creating greater financial sector consolidation and increasing the dominance of a few large, complex financial institutions that are generally considered to be “too big to fail”, and therefore are perceived by the markets as having an implicit guarantee from the Federal Government to bail them out in the event of their failure.

[All the above, effectively a preamble, is no more than a reasonably accurate and uncontroversial summary, observations as it were, of the conflicts of interest, consolidations, etc., that have transpired since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which repealed Glass-Steagall, and the other various deregulations enacted by law or policy over the years.]

(b) Purpose

The purposes of this Act are—

(1) to reduce risks to the financial system by limiting banks’ ability to engage in activities other than socially valuable core banking activities;

(2) to protect taxpayers and reduce moral hazard by removing explicit and implicit government guarantees for high-risk activities outside of the core business of banking; and

(3) to eliminate conflicts of interest that arise from banks engaging in activities from which their profits are earned at the expense of their customers or clients.

[The short section above is the complete Stated Purpose of the Bill.  Below are the various provisions.]

3. SAFE AND SOUND BANKING

(a) Insured Depository Institutions

Section 18(s) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act ( 12 U.S.C. 1828(s) ) is amended by adding at the end the following:

(6) Limitations on banking affiliations

(A) Prohibition on affiliations with nondepository entities

An insured depository institution may not—

(i) be or become an affiliate of any insurance company, securities entity, or swaps entity;

(ii) be in common ownership or control with any insurance company, securities entity, or swaps entity; or

(iii) engage in any activity that would cause the insured depository institution to qualify as an insurance company, securities entity, or swaps entity.

[The only actual provision of this entire Bill so far (“Sec. 3. Safe and Sound Banking (a) Insured Depository Institutions”) does no more than state that the FDIC shall not insure financial institutions which hold insurance, securities, or swaps entities or affiliates.  To what, if any, degree this is important to the Fed Bank Cartel banks, aka the “too big to fail’s”, is left to your own imagination, as FDIC is not the regulatory body for those banks, the Federal Reserve is.  Nor have any of them ever relied on the FDIC to reimburse their losses, neither for their own account, nor their depositors or investors. Nonetheless, depository financial institutions which maintain swaps, insurance, and securities business shall, by this Bill, no longer enjoy FDIC protections going forward.]

(B) Individuals eligible to serve on boards of depository institutions

(i) In general

An individual who is an officer, director, partner, or employee of any securities entity, insurance company, or swaps entity may not serve at the same time as an officer, director, employee, or other institution-affiliated party of any insured depository institution.

(ii) Exception

Clause (i) does not apply with respect to service by any individual which is otherwise prohibited under clause (i), if the appropriate Federal banking agency determines, by regulation with respect to a limited number of cases, that service by such an individual as an officer, director, employee, or other institution-affiliated party of an insured depository institution would not unduly influence the investment policies of the depository institution or the advice that the institution provides to customers.

[By virtue of its big “Exception”, the above does nothing.]

(iii) Termination of service

Subject to a determination under clause (i), any individual described in clause (i) who, as of the date of enactment of the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013 , is serving as an officer, director, employee, or other institution-affiliated party of any insured depository institution shall terminate such service as soon as is practicable after such date of enactment, and in no event, later than the end of the 60-day period beginning on that date of enactment.

[This gives 60 days for executives of swaps, insurance, or securities divisions not granted “exceptions” to terminate their roles in the depository (FDIC) division.]

(C) Termination of existing affiliations and activities

(i) Orderly termination of existing affiliations and activities

Any affiliation, common ownership or control, or activity of an insured depository institution with any securities entity, insurance company, or swaps entity, or any other person, as of the date of enactment of the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013, which is prohibited under subparagraph (A) shall be terminated as soon as is practicable, and in no event later than the end of the 5-year period beginning on that date of enactment.

[This establishes an administrative exit 5 years from now from swaps, securities, and insurance business lines for entities wishing to so exit those business lines, but actually imposes no requirements that they do so, except for the dubious objective of maintaining their eligibility for FDIC in their depository business. ]

(ii) Early termination

The appropriate Federal banking agency, after opportunity for hearing, at any time, may order termination of an affiliation, common ownership or control, or activity prohibited by clause (i) before the end of the 5-year period described in clause (i), if the agency determines that—

(I) such action is necessary to prevent undue concentration of resources, decreased or unfair competition, conflicts of interest, or unsound banking practices; and

(II) is in the public interest.

[Gives agencies discretionary power, but no requirement to act on that, to provide for the termination (before the end of 5 years from enactment of the Bill) of those swaps, insurance, or securities activities in a financial institution.]

(iii) Extension

Subject to a determination under clause (ii), an appropriate Federal banking agency may extend the 5-year period described in clause (i) as to any particular insured depository institution for not more than an additional 6 months at a time, if—

(I) the agency certifies that such extension would promote the public interest and would not pose a significant threat to the stability of the banking system or financial markets in the United States; and

(II) such extension, in the aggregate, does not exceed 1 year for any one insured depository institution.

[Sets up language by which agencies may elect to extend, beyond 5 years from enactment of the Bill, the time by which affected financial institutions must exit swaps, insurance, and securities business or face the loss of eligibility to FDIC, i.e., the means by which a “too big to fail” bank may be declared “too big to lose FDIC”.]

(iv) Requirements for entities receiving an extension

Upon receipt of an extension under clause (iii), the insured depository institution shall notify its shareholders and the general public that it has failed to comply with the requirements of clause (i).

[And that’s all the real meat in the Bill.  Can I hear a “Where’s the Beef?” The balance of this Bill is: cursory Definitions pertaining to what constitutes swaps, insurance, securities, and depository banking, and corresponding modifications to certain related pieces of existing legislation; and Limitations (effective 5 years from now) on defined activities for those institutions, if any, which elect to retain FDIC for their depository businesses.]

(D) Definitions

For purposes of this paragraph, the following definitions shall apply:

(i) Insurance company

The term insurance company has the same meaning as in section 2(q) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (12 U.S.C. 1841(q)).

(ii) Securities entity

Except as provided in clause (iii), the term securities entity—

(I) includes any entity engaged in—

(aa) the issue, flotation, underwriting, public sale, or distribution of stocks, bonds, debentures, notes, or other securities;

(bb) market making;

(cc) activities of a broker or dealer, as those terms are defined in section 3(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934;

(dd) activities of a futures commission merchant;

(ee) activities of an investment adviser or investment company, as those terms are defined in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the Investment Company Act of 1940, respectively; or

(ff) hedge fund or private equity investments in the securities of either privately or publicly held companies; and

(II) does not include a bank that, pursuant to its authorized trust and fiduciary activities, purchases and sells investments for the account of its customers or provides financial or investment advice to its customers.

(iii) Swaps entity

The term swaps entity means any swap dealer, security-based swap dealer, major swap participant, or major security-based swap participant, that is registered under—

(I) the Commodity Exchange Act ( 7 U.S.C. 1 et seq. ); or

(II) the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 ( 15 U.S.C. 78a et seq. ).

(iv) Insured depository institution

The term insured depository institution—

(I) has the same meaning as in section 3(c)(2); and

(II) does not include a savings association controlled by a savings and loan holding company, as described in section 10(c)(9)(C) of the Home Owners’ Loan Act (12 U.S.C. 1467a(c)(9)(C)).

(b) Limitation On Banking Activities

Section 21 of the Banking Act of 1933 (12 U.S.C. 378) is amended by adding at the end the following:

(c) Business Of Receiving Deposits

For purposes of this section, the term business of receiving deposits includes the establishment and maintenance of any transaction account (as defined in section 19(b)(1)(C) of the Federal Reserve Act).

.(c) Permitted Activities Of National Banks

Section 24 (Seventh) of the Revised Statutes of the United States (12 U.S.C. 24 (Seventh)) is amended to read as follows:

Seventh. (A) To exercise by its board of directors or duly authorized officers or agents, subject to law, all such powers as are necessary to carry on the business of banking.

(B) As used in this paragraph, the term business of banking shall be limited to the following core banking services:

(i) Receiving deposits

A national banking association may engage in the business of receiving deposits.

(ii) Extensions of credit

A national banking association may—

(I) extend credit to individuals, businesses, not for profit organizations, and other entities;

(II) discount and negotiate promissory notes, drafts, bills of exchange, and other evidences of debt; and

(III) loan money on personal security.

(iii) Payment systems

A national banking association may participate in payment systems, defined as instruments, banking procedures, and interbank funds transfer systems that ensure the circulation of money.

(iv) Coin and bullion

A national banking association may buy, sell, and exchange coin and bullion.

(v) Investments in securities

(I) In general

A national banking association may invest in investment securities, defined as marketable obligations evidencing indebtedness of any person, copartnership, association, or corporation in the form of bonds, notes, or debentures (commonly known as “investment securities”), obligations of the Federal Government, or any State or subdivision thereof, under such further definition of the term investment securities as the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may jointly prescribe, by regulation.

(II) Limitations

The business of dealing in securities and stock by the association shall be limited to purchasing and selling such securities and stock without recourse, solely upon the order, and for the account of, customers, and in no case for its own account, and the association shall not underwrite any issue of securities or stock. The association may purchase for its own account investment securities under such limitations and restrictions as the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System may jointly prescribe, by regulation. In no event shall the total amount of the investment securities of any one obligor or maker, held by the association for its own account, exceed at any time 10 percent of its capital stock actually paid in and unimpaired and 10 percent of its unimpaired surplus fund, except that such limitation shall not require any association to dispose of any securities lawfully held by it on August 23, 1935.

(C) Prohibition against transactions involving structured or synthetic products

A national banking association shall not invest in a structured or synthetic product, a financial instrument in which a return is calculated based on the value of, or by reference to the performance of, a security, commodity, swap, other asset, or an entity, or any index or basket composed of securities, commodities, swaps, other assets, or entities, other than customarily determined interest rates, or otherwise engage in the business of receiving deposits or extending credit for transactions involving structured or synthetic products..

(d) Permitted Activities Of Federal Savings Associations

(1) In general

Section 5(c)(1) of the Home Owners’ Loan Act (12 U.S.C. 1464(c)(1)) is amended—

(A) by striking subparagraph (Q); and

(B) by redesignating subparagraphs (R) through (U) as subparagraphs (Q) through (T), respectively.

(2) Conforming amendment

Section 10(c)(9)(A) of the Home Owners’ Loan Act (12 U.S.C. 1467a(c)(9)(A)) is amended by striking “permitted—” and all that follows through clause (ii) and inserting “permitted under paragraph (1)(C) or (2).”.

(e) Closely Related Activities

Section 4(c) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 ( 12 U.S.C. 1843(c) ) is amended—

(1) in paragraph (8), by striking “had been determined” and all that follows through the end and inserting the following: “are so closely related to banking so as to be a proper incident thereto, as provided under this paragraph or any rule or regulation issued by the Board under this paragraph, provided that the following shall not be considered closely related for purposes of this paragraph:

(A) Serving as an investment advisor (as defined in section 2(a)(20) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 ( 15 U.S.C. 80a–2(a)(20) )) to an investment company registered under that Act, including sponsoring, organizing, and managing a closed-end investment company.

(B) Agency transactional services for customer investments, except that this subparagraph may not be construed as prohibiting purchases and sales of investments for the account of customers conducted by a bank (or subsidiary thereof) pursuant to the bank’s trust and fiduciary powers.

(C) Investment transactions as principal, except for activities specifically allowed by paragraph (14).

(D) Management consulting and counseling activities.;

(2) in paragraph (13), by striking “or” at the end;

(3) by redesignating paragraph (14) as paragraph (15); and

(4) by inserting after paragraph (13) the following:

(14) purchasing, as an end user, any swap, to the extent that—

(A) the purchase of any such swap occurs contemporaneously with the underlying hedged item or hedged transaction;

(B) there is formal documentation identifying the hedging relationship with particularity at the inception of the hedge; and

(C) the swap is being used to hedge against exposure to—

(i) changes in the value of an individual recognized asset or liability or an identified portion thereof that is attributable to a particular risk;

(ii) changes in interest rates; or

(iii) changes in the value of currency; or.

(f) Prohibited Activities

Section 4(a) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (12 U.S.C. 1843(a)) is amended—

(1) in paragraph (1), by striking “or” at the end;

(2) in paragraph (2), by striking the period at the end and inserting “; or”; and

(3) by inserting before the undesignated matter following paragraph (2), the following:

(3) with the exception of the activities permitted under subsection (c), engage in the business of a “securities entity” or a “swaps entity”, as those terms are defined in section 18(s)(6)(D) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act ( 12 U.S.C. 1828(s)(6)(D) ), including, without limitation, dealing or making markets in securities, repurchase agreements, exchange traded and over-the-counter swaps, as defined by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, or structured or synthetic products, as defined in section 24 (Seventh) of the Revised Statutes of the United States (12 U.S.C. 24 (Seventh)), or any other over-the-counter securities, swaps, contracts, or any other agreement that derives its value from, or takes on the form of, such securities, derivatives, or contracts;

(4) engage in proprietary trading, as provided by section 13, or any rule or regulation under that section;

(5) own, sponsor, or invest in a hedge fund, or private equity fund, or any other fund, as provided by section 13, or any rule or regulation under that section, or any other fund which exhibits the characteristics of a fund that takes on proprietary trading activities or positions;

(6) hold ineligible securities or derivatives;

(7) engage in market-making; or

(8) engage in prime brokerage activities..

(g) Anti-Evasion

(1) In general

Any attempt to structure any contract, investment, instrument, or product in such a manner that the purpose or effect of such contract, investment, instrument, or product is to evade or attempt to evade the prohibitions described in section 18(s)(6) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Actsection 21(c) of the Banking Act of 1933paragraph (Seventh) of section 24 of the Revised Statutes of the United Statessection 5(c)(1) of the Home Owners’ Loan Act, or section 4(a) of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as added or amended by this section, shall be considered a violation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, the Banking Act of 1933section 24 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, the Home Owners’ Loan Act, and the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, respectively.

(2) Termination

(A) In general

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a Federal agency has reasonable cause to believe that an insured depository institution, securities entity, swaps entity, insurance company, bank holding company, or other entity over which that agency has regulatory authority has made an investment or engaged in an activity in a manner that functions as an evasion of the prohibitions described in paragraph (1) (including through an abuse of any permitted activity) or otherwise violates such prohibitions, the agency shall—

(i) order, after due notice and opportunity for hearing, the entity to terminate the activity and, as relevant, dispose of the investment;

(ii) order, after the procedures described in clause (i), the entity to pay a penalty equal to 10 percent of the entity’s net profits, averaged over the previous 3 years, into the United States Treasury; and

(iii) initiate proceedings described in 12 U.S.C. 1818(e) for individuals involved in evading the prohibitions described in paragraph (1).

(B) Construction

Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to limit the inherent authority of any Federal agency or State regulatory authority to further restrict any investments or activities under otherwise applicable provisions of law.

(3) Reporting requirement

Each year, each Federal agency having regulatory authority over any entity described in paragraph (2)(A) shall issue a report to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives, and shall make such report available to the public. The report shall identify the number and character of any activities that took place in the preceding year that function as an evasion of the prohibitions described in paragraph (1), the names of the particular entities engaged in those activities, and the actions of the agency taken under paragraph (2).

(h) Attestation

Section 4 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 ( 12 U.S.C. 1843 ), as amended by section 3(a)(1) of this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:

(k) Attestation

Executives of any bank holding company or its affiliate shall attest in writing, under penalty of perjury, that the bank holding company or affiliate is not engaged in any activity that is prohibited under subsection (a), except to the extent that such activity is permitted under subsection (c).

[Directs that permitted or prohibited activities be interpreted within the relevant FDIC or Bank Holding Company Act requirement.]

4. REPEAL OF GRAMM-LEACH-BLILEY ACT PROVISIONS

(a) Termination Of Financial Holding Company Designation

(1) In general

Section 4 of the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (12 U.S.C. 1843) is amended by striking subsections (k)(l)(m)(n), and (o).

(2) Transition

(A) Orderly termination of existing affiliation

In the case of a bank holding company which, pursuant to the amendments made by paragraph (1), is no longer authorized to control or be affiliated with any entity that was permissible for a financial holding company on the day before the date of enactment of this Act, any affiliation, ownership or control, or activity by the bank holding company which is not permitted for a bank holding company shall be terminated as soon as is practicable, and in no event later than the end of the 5-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act.

(B) Early termination

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (in this section referred to as the “Board”), after opportunity for hearing, at any time, may terminate an affiliation prohibited by subparagraph (A) before the end of the 5-year period described in subparagraph (A), if the Board determines that such action—

(i) is necessary to prevent undue concentration of resources, decreased or unfair competition, conflicts of interest, or unsound banking practices; and

(ii) is in the public interest.

(C) Extension

Subject to a determination under subparagraph (B), the Board may extend the 5-year period described in subparagraph (A), as to any particular bank holding company, for not more than an additional 6 months at a time, if—

(i) the Board certifies that such extension would promote the public interest and would not pose a significant risk to the stability of the banking system or financial markets of the United States; and

[Extensions beyond 5 years are possible should that be deemed in the public interest.  TARP and other bailout programs, one may recall, were imposed precisely because Congress did not want to “risk the stability of the banking system or financial markets”.] 

(ii) such extension, in the aggregate, does not exceed 1 year for any one bank holding company.

(D) Requirements for entities receiving an extension

Upon receipt of an extension under subparagraph (C), the bank holding company shall notify its shareholders and the general public that it has failed to comply with the requirements of subparagraph (A).

(3) Technical and conforming amendments

(A) Bank holding company act of 1956

The Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (12 U.S.C. 1841 et seq.) is amended—

(i) in section 2 ( 12 U.S.C. 1841 )—

(I) by striking subsection (p); and

(II) by redesignating subsection (q) as subsection (p);

(ii) in section 5(c) ( 12 U.S.C. 1844(c) ), by striking paragraphs (3)(4), and (5); and

(iii) in section 5 ( 12 U.S.C. 1844 ), by striking subsection (g).

(4) FDIA

The Federal Deposit Insurance Act ( 12 U.S.C. 1811 et seq. ) is amended—

(A) by striking sections 45 and 46 ( 12 U.S.C. 1831v , 1831w); and

(B) by redesignating sections 47 through 50 as sections 45 through 48, respectively.

(5) Gramm-leach-bliley

Subtitle B of title I of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act is amended by striking section 115 ( 12 U.S.C. 1820a ).

(b) Financial Subsidiaries Of National Banks Disallowed

(1) In general

Section 5136A of the Revised Statutes of the United States ( 12 U.S.C. 24a ) is repealed.

(2) Transition

(A) Orderly termination of existing affiliation

In the case of a national bank which, pursuant to the amendment made by paragraph (1), is no longer authorized to control or be affiliated with a financial subsidiary as of the date of enactment of this Act, such affiliation, ownership or control, or activity shall be terminated as soon as is practicable, and in no event later than the end of the 5-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act.

(B) Early termination

The Comptroller of the Currency (in this section referred to as the “Comptroller”), after opportunity for hearing, at any time, may terminate an affiliation prohibited by subparagraph (A) before the end of the 5-year period described in subparagraph (A), if the Comptroller determines, having due regard for the purposes of this Act, that—

(i) such action is necessary to prevent undue concentration of resources, decreased or unfair competition, conflicts of interest, or unsound banking practices; and

(ii) is in the public interest.

(C) Extension

Subject to a determination under subparagraph (B), the Comptroller may extend the 5-year period described in subparagraph (A) as to any particular national bank for not more than an additional 6 months, if—

(i) the Comptroller certifies that such extension would promote the public interest and would not pose a significant risk to the stability of the banking system or financial markets of the United States; and

(ii) such extension, in the aggregate, does not exceed 1 year for any single national bank.

(D) Requirements for entities receiving an extension

Upon receipt of an extension under subparagraph (C), the national bank shall notify its shareholders and the general public that it has failed to comply with the requirements described in subparagraph (A).

(3) Technical and conforming amendment

The 20th undesignated paragraph of section 9 of the Federal Reserve Act (12 U.S.C. 335) is amended by striking the last sentence.

(4) Clerical amendment

The table of sections for chapter one of title LXII of the Revised Statutes of the United States is amended by striking the item relating to section 5136A.

(c) Repeal Of Provision Relating To Foreign Banks Filing As Financial Holding Companies

Section 8(c) of the International Banking Act of 1978 ( 12 U.S.C. 3106(c) ) is amended by striking paragraph (3).

5. REPEAL OF BANKRUPTCY PROVISIONS

Title 11, United States Code, is amended by striking sections 555559560561, and 562.

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s1282/text

I really do not see any way that this proposed bill would end Too Big To Fail, or would slow down or stop the Fed Bank Cartel.  If anything, it ends FDIC.

More specifically, it would after 5 years and any extensions, eliminate FDIC protection for depositors and/or investors in any financial entity that conducts insurance, securities, or swaps business excepting for such activities that are provided on account of its (the institution’s) depositors or its “customers … pursuant to its trust and fiduciary obligations”.  The Comptroller of the Currency would have the authority (but no obligation) to terminate FDIC protection for entities engaged in prohibited activities earlier than 5 years (plus extensions) from enactment of the bill if the Comptroller determined that was in the public interest  – making that another meaningless provision.

Naturally, FDIC could be eliminated entirely or, as has already happened (see: http://www.lifeinthemix.info/2013/04/profile-basel-iii/) could simply redefine depositor to mean investor, making FDIC protection worthless to the individual consumer anyway.  With consumers not protected by FDIC, there would be little of a practical nature to distinguish the risk to the consumer from banks that exclude such activities as securities, swaps, or insurance businesses, from banks that don’t – except that the former would be more likely to screw you for profit for their own account than do the banks that don’t trade for their own account.

Most importantly, this bill does NOT reinstate Glass-Steagall, not by a long shot.  It does not break up any banks, except and unless that bank wants FDIC protection for its depositors, and then only 5 years and possibly a bunch of extensions from now.  It does not in any manner whatsoever stop the Fed Bank Cartel, ever, from their endless self-serving, or stop them, ever, from controlling and dominating global markets as their own playground, or end the practice of banks using the unlimited free monies and free financial facilities created by the Fed Cartel and its Member/Owner Banks for their own accounts and their own benefit.

Frankly, it actually and ironically increases pressure from both the political and the financial sectors to remove or reduce FDIC protections- to take that expensive item away right along with all the OTHER “entitlements” the consuming public has grown accustomed to.  And simultaneously increases the pressure on the Fed Cartel banks to stop handling depository business at all.

Despite its audacious advance billing, this proposed legislation will matter not a whit unless each and all of the following things occur over the next 5 years:  a) FDIC remains a viable consumer/depositor protection;  b) depositors and consumers continue therefore to demand FDIC protection; c) the Fed Cartel decides it even needs actual depositors (why would they?).  Seems a case could be made that this is actually a remarkably anti-consumer bill.  At the very least, this is a totally misnamed bill being deceptively touted by Elizabeth Warren, et.al., and pushed along by our published-as-provided media with dishonest claims that it will accomplish great things, things that it never actually addresses, things such as Too Big To Fail and the great Bankster Fraud we are currently living through.  I have read not one single article that does more than repeat Warren’s claims about the bill, not one article that quotes, much less analyzes, any portion of the bill, by which I can only surmise that none of these writers has actually looked at the bill in question.

But here’s what you’ll be reading elsewhere:

Mother Jones article Nov. 12, 2013:

[…] Instead of relying on regulators to write strict rules, Warren pushed the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, a bill she’s introduced alongside Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other senators that would force commercial financial institutions to wall off standard bank deposits from the riskier activities of investment banking, such as the swaps that sunk the economy in ’08.

“The new Glass-Steagall Act would attack both ‘too big’ and ‘to fail,'” Warren said Tuesday. “It would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits, and providing stability to the system even in bad times. And it would reduce ‘too big’ by dismantling the behemoths, so that big banks would still be big—but not too big to fail or, for that matter, too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big for trial, or too big for jail.”  […]

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/11/elizabeth-warren-dodd-frank-too-big-fail-speech-regulators

We note, however, that simply “walling off” standard bank deposits from riskier activities of investment banking, while still allowing those riskier activities to be conducted within those depository institutions (and allowing those activities to be conducted with money derived from the Federal Reserve) is quite entirely different from the original Glass-Steagall Act which fully forbade such investment and speculative activities from depository banking institutions.  This covered all institutions, not just those enjoying Federal Reserve access (Membership, Ownership, and Discount Window privileges) but all those benefiting from Fractional Reserve lending powers, which was collectively the entire set of Federal Reserve, FDIC, and OTS regulated entities including Banks, Thrifts, S & L’s, and Credit Unions.

The best we can say is that “walling off” the riskiest bank activities from FDIC “protection” accomplishes some small tangential goal, and closes a loophole that had not yet ever been used.  It may be true, probably no doubt is, that the banks are now scheming to use FDIC to reimburse themselves for future speculative trading losses, but let’s more accurately name the bill “FDIC Restrictions in the 21st Century”, not “The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act”.

All the articles on the subject seem written this way – as though this bill were going to break up the banks and restore Glass-Steagall.  Oh yeah, that’s even its name.  Well, it doesn’t.

In fact, Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, like the rest of the status quo parties, Republican and Democrat alike, actually intend to allow the banksters to continue doing whatever risky shit they want to do with the public money.  With as much of that money as they want.  That money was created, of course, in the name of and as a debt obligation of the United States, but in favor of those very private, very self-interested Federal Reserve Cartel of Banks, and at the Fed’s own whim.  They are creating so much money for themselves that those banks will continue to dominate and subvert every market, commodity, and exchange they have any interest in forever.

Elizabeth Warren and John McCain and the rest just want to make a show about not letting the banksters go so openly to the government, to the public till, to us, well, to FDIC, anyway, for reimbursement of their losses, if they ever were to have losses.  AS IF bankster losses were the real problem with this arrangement.

But still.

It’s difficult to bash Warren because, well, how could you not like her?  I used to think she would make a swell President; however, once she began the campaign for her Senate race in 2011, I wondered how well anyone really knew her and over the past year or so, have begun to think that some of her positions are much closer to the Obama/Clinton/ neoliberal views than most people realize.  Or, perhaps, as with Obama, we just don’t want to see what is in front of our faces.

So, prepare yourself, and let’s go back to NakedCapitalism.com in October, 2011:

Elizabeth Warren’s Jobs Plan: War with Iran

As much as your humble blogger still regards Elizabeth Warren as preferable to Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, the evidence from her campaign is that she is no progressive, unless you define “progressive” to mean “centrist/Hamilton Project Democrat willing to throw a few extra bones to the average Joe.”

We’ve warned repeatedly that Warren not being all that left leaning was a real possibility.[…]

Warren: “Our number one responsibility is to protect Americans from terrorism, that’s our job, so being tough on terrorism is enormously important,” said Warren yesterday at a campaign stop in Gloucester.

“We should take nothing off the table, but the facts are still emerging,” the Senate candidate said when asked if she would support military action against Iran.

Huh? Protecting Americans against terrorism is number one? That means it ranks ahead of the rule of law, among other things. And this from a law professor. Glad we got that clear. […]

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/10/elizabeth-warrens-job-plan-war-with-iran.html

Apparently, Warren used to be a Republican:

“I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore,” Warren says. “I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role.”  [Teri’s note: In this interview, by the way, she also takes credit for “creating the intellectual foundation of Occupy Wall Street”.]

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/10/24/elizabeth-warren-i-created-occupy-wall-street.html

“Best supported markets”?  Supported, as opposed to understanding?  As opposed to regulating?  It’s an interesting choice of words.

And she voted “aye” on Jack Lew’s nomination as Treasury Secretary.  Freaking Jack Lew, man.  Never bothered to explain that, although since Bernie Sanders was the only adamant “nay”, she could have safely joined him in protest without changing the already guaranteed outcome.  But she didn’t.  There is an interesting article about her vote on that, along with a few other tidbits, here:

http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/03/progressive-columnist-rips-elizabeth-warren-hyprocrisy-on-jack-lew/

During her Senate race, Elizabeth Warren’s positions on the issues, via votesmart, were as follows:

“Elizabeth Warren refused to tell citizens where she stands on any of the issues addressed in the 2012 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests from Vote Smart, national media, and prominent political leaders.”

http://votesmart.org/candidate/political-courage-test/141272/elizabeth-warren/#.UoiUtN2RMpc

On the votesmart chart, Warren’s positions on every single item had to be inferred (i.e., a guess based on what they thought she was saying in various speeches, articles, etc.).  Well, my stars!

She has her website up and running, though, and some of her stated positions therein are interesting, to say the least.  I gather no-one reads her website, instead relying on the media’s soundbites and opinion pieces.

Elizabeth Warren on Israel:

Since its founding more than 60 years ago, Israel and the United States have been steadfast, trusted, and reliable allies. I unequivocally support the right of a Jewish, democratic state of Israel to exist, safe and secure. I believe that it is a moral imperative to support and defend its existence.

[…] As a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel’s security and success.  I believe Israel must maintain a qualitative military edge and defensible borders. The United States must continue to ensure that Israel can defend itself from terrorist organizations and hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others. I also believe firmly that a two-state solution is in the interest of Israel and the United States.   [Teri’s note: I gather the interests of Palestine have no bearing here.]  Lasting peace, however, requires negotiations between the parties themselves, and although the United States can and should aid in this process, we cannot dictate the terms. Unilateral actions, such as the Palestinians’ membership efforts before the United Nations, are unhelpful, and I would support vetoing a membership application.

Elizabeth Warren on Iran:

Iran is a significant threat to the United States and our allies.  Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, it is an active state sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders have consistently challenged Israel’s right to exist. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable because a nuclear Iran would be a threat to the United States, our allies, the region, and the world.  [Teri’s note: That none of these statements are factual is no deterrent to making them, apparently.]  The United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I support strong sanctions against Iran and believe that the United States must also continue to take a leadership role in pushing other countries to implement strong sanctions as well.  Iran must not have an escape hatch.  [Teri’s note: this last sentence is so blood-thirsty that I am completely aghast at the thought that Elizabeth Warren could have even put that in writing.]

Elizabeth Warren on Homeland Security:

It has now been more than one year since the death of Osama bin Laden [Teri’s note: bought that story whole-hog, did you?], and the President’s assertive operations have eliminated many of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership and weakened its affiliates. But the threat of terrorism remains, and we must remain vigilant. We must continue our political, military, economic, and diplomatic efforts against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we need to continue to support the efforts of our intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and military professionals.

Elizabeth Warren on U.S. Economic Power and the Military:

Our economic power at home is linked to our strength around the world. A strong economy at home enables us to have the best-trained and most advanced military in the world – and the standing in the world such that we don’t always need to use it.  [Teri’s note: That’s the reason for a strong economy?  To support our military adventures?  Really?]  A strong economy at home enables us to export goods to foreign customers. A strong economy at home gives us influence over events occurring all around the world. And a strong economy at home enables us to spread the values of democracy and human rights. We are one of the most powerful countries in the history of the world precisely because we are one of the strongest economies in the history of the world.

As a Senator, I will never forget the link between our economic power and our global power, and I will fight to make sure we build a strong economy, so we can remain a powerful force for good around the world.

http://elizabethwarren.com/issues/foreign-policy

All this hawkish, AIPAC, Israel-first, projecting our power abroad, PNAC crap gets tedious.  It is anti-human and odious.  And if it sounds familiar, that’s because it pretty much sums up the belief system of all our elected officials now, no matter what the results of such belligerence may be.

Et tu, Elizabeth Warren?

Finally, just two days ago, I received an email from Organic Consumers Association that speaks volumes of Elizabeth Warren’s ongoing duplicity on GMO and GMO labeling…

Thanks, Sen. Warren, but . . .

It took 42,000 petition signatures and a visit to her office. But on November 4, noted consumer advocate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) finally took a position in favor  of mandatory labels on food made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when she signed on as a co-sponsor to the Boxer-DeFazio bill.

We’re grateful that Sen. Warren has come around to our side. The only problem is, she’s still also siding with Monsanto  and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)  by asking the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to finalize its guidance for voluntary labeling of GMOs.

How can it be that Sen. Warren is supporting both consumers and the biotech and junk food industries? At the same time?

If the FDA finalizes its 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling, it could mean the end for any state or federal mandatory GMO labeling law. And it could make it impossible for manufacturers of non-GMO products to legitimately claim their products are non-GMO.

– Organic Consumers Assoc.

If you are interested in GMO labeling, also see this for further edification on Warren’s statements, the FDA guidance, and the status of labeling:

“Senators Angle for Monsanto-Friendly FDA Voluntary GMO Labeling ‘Guidance’ ”  http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_28376.cfm

Oh, Elizabeth, we hardly know ye.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Congress, Wall St and banks