Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Food Inflation Nightmare Is About To Hit 40% Of The World's Population

The Food Inflation Nightmare Is About To Hit 40% Of The World's Population

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Overnight, the threat of further Chinese tightening multiplied as a result of food price inflation. A basket of 18 key vegetables saw their prices increase by 62.4%, year-over-year, in the first 10 days of November.

But just how likely is Chinese tightening?

Waverly Advisors feel that it is now a near certainty, based on the political realities within China.

The fact that Premier Wen Jiabo chose a supermarket as the location for a press appearance to comment on anti-inflationary measures today indicated how seriously Beijing is taking the potential disruptive impact of rising cost at the cash register.

But this isn't just a Chinese problem. 40% of the world's population, found in China, India, and Brazil, is seeing their food prices skyrocket as a result of price inflation. Note India's has actually decreased, but remains close to double digit territory.

From Waverly Advisors:

Chart

Commercial Real Estate: The Slow-Motion Cliff Dive Gathers Speed

Commercial Real Estate: The Slow-Motion Cliff Dive Gathers Speed

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With all the hub-bub about the foreclosure crisis in residential real estate, commercial real estate (CRE) has fallen off the radar screen of crises. Don't worry, it's still careening off the cliff; the fall is just in slow motion.

No need for a fancy report to see the signs of decay in CRE. Signs of the ongoing CRE meltdown are everywhere--empty storefronts, mall shops and vacant office complexes abound.

The causes are all too familiar: lending standards went out the window, banks loaned too much, buyers paid too much, lousy deals were avidly securitized, cash flow projections entered Fantasyland and unhealthy speculation fed widespread fraud.

Since boom-and-bust cycles of overbuilding and retrenchment are endemic to commercial real estate, it's tempting to view this as just another post-expansion trough. Since prices have already slipped a staggering 40% from the 2006 peak, those calling this the bottom of the current cycle have some history on their side.

But beneath what appears to be a standard-issue retrenchment--a glut of inventory to work through, lenders avoiding risk instead of embracing it, and so on--structural changes in the U.S. economy are changing the CRE landscape for good--and not in a positive direction.

A long-term structural decline in CRE is not just a real estate industry concern. With some $1.7 trillion in CRE loans needing to be refinanced in the next few years, a continuing decline in CRE values could push the still-fragile banking system into a new crisis and the economy back into recession as early as next year.

The extremes reached in the boom were certainly epic: investors paid $800,000 per resort hotel room and over $500 per square foot for Class A office space, numbers which no terrestrial cash flow could possibly justify. Retail centers sprouted alongside every new exurb subdivision.

retail

By this logic, an unprecedented boom requires an equally unprecedented bust to work through the excesses in price, debt and risk. So far so good, but there is an anecdotal body of evidence which suggests that profound systemic changes are taking place in the U.S. economy which will structurally reduce the demand for commercial real estate--not for a few years, but permanently.

1. A significant portion of CRE growth was the result of the snake eating its own tail: as the FIRE economy (finance, insurance, real estate) expanded in the credit-bubble environment of low interest rates, high leverage, plentiful liquidity and increased risk appetite, then the real estate, financing and construction industries' need for space exploded.

The go-go years also fed a boom in the business-travel hospitality sector, and homeowners flush with the "wealth effect" extracted some $5 trillion in home equity, fueling a prodigious increase in resorts and related high-end retail space.

The net result was a CRE industry which needed the rarified air of an ever-expanding credit bubble to sustain itself--the very pinnacle of unsustainability. Now that the credit bubble excesses are gone, then the industry has no foreseeable foundation for future growth.

2. Out of necessity, the U.S. consumer is retrenching for the long haul. With the home equity cash machine broken, credit tightening, unemployment topping 10% and their wealth reduced by some $11 trillion in the past two years, consumers of all ages are changing their credit-dependent lifestyles.

The 60-million strong Baby Boomer generation is facing the sobering prospects of a much-reduced retirement, or no retirement at all, and the only strategy with any guarantee of success is reducing spending and stashing away as much savings as possible.

This trend change is reflected in falling consumer credit--a change of trend roughly equivalent to the Earth's gravitational field reversing polarity--and plummeting sales tax receipts.

The consequences for the retail sector, and by extension, retail real estate, are dire. If this is not just a garden-variety retrenchment but a real sea change, then retail may be overbuilt for a generation--or if online shopping continues to take market share--permanently.

The old model of 5-year leases is already under pressure. The hot new trend in retail is "pop-up shops" that unload excess inventory for a few weeks and then close. Desperate landlords are accepting the crumbs of a few weeks' rent where they once demanded a multi-year lease. And it isn't just a low-end seasonal phenomenon: The Gap and Toys R Us are successfully using the pop-up model.

Similiar trends are visible in the resort/leisure sector. Constrained consumers are no longer willing or able to plunk down $250 or more a night for an upscale resort room, and once room rates drop below a certain threshold then highly leveraged hotels are no longer financially viable.

3. The built-in problem for all CRE is that as rents/occupancy/room rates decline, cash flow falls even faster. Just because occupancy is down doesn't mean property taxes, mortgages or maintenance costs drop accordingly. Thus the upscale Four Seasons Hualalai hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii saw its annual cash flow fall from $20.6 million in 2007 to $7.9 million in 2009--a massive 62% haircut that was almost double the 35% hit in occupancy rates.

With so many properties leveraged to the hilt, a decline in cash flow sets off a wicked positive feedback loop: plummeting cash flows trigger a wave of forfeitures, foreclosures and bankruptcies which add to a glut of distressed space will only further depress valuations and rents which lead to more foreclosures, and so on. If this were a typical recession, then all this excess property would eventually be absorbed by new enterprises. But if the bubble era of ever-rising consumer credit and spending is over, then that scenario is called into question.

4. The unprecedented access to low-interest credit and leverage fueled a real estate expansion into increasingly marginal locales--distant exurban "new towns" far from jobs and tourist "destinations" without proven drawing power. As consumer credit and spending recede (recall consumer spending is 2/3 of the entire U.S. GDP) then large numbers of properties will be left high and dry with little prospect for salvation. Whatever recovery does occur will begin with proven properties, and there is no guarantee the recovery will ever reach distant marginal properties.

5. The wave of creative destruction unleashed by the Internet has yet to envelop commercial office space--but it's already reached the front steps. Just as online retail has decimated retail sectors such as bookstores, the Web is busy revolutionizing white-collar work, the mainstay of office towers and business parks.

Real work can now be done offsite/remotely at a home office, café, or anywhere but a cubicle at headquarters, and the cost advantages of this flexibility will not be going away. Yes, there are still powerful reasons to meet in person, but there are equally powerful reasons to permanently downsize travel and office costs.

Structural changes in the economy are increasing self-employment and contract labor and shrinking the scale of new enterprises. Millions of well-educated American workers already work at home, and since the average U.S. house has grown in size over the past 50 years, free-lancers and self-employed professionals have plenty of space rent-free.

High-growth companies which once hired hundreds of employees and rented entire floors are increasingly offer highly automated products and services. New-tech juggernaut Twitter recently leased more space in San Francisco as it was expanding its staff to maybe as high as--gasp!--200 employees. Will Twitter be filling that empty office tower near you? No, because its "service" is largely automated software.

6. Global wage arbitrage, a.k.a. offshoring, continues eroding the need for domestic office space. The rising costs of doing business in the U.S. (healthcare goes up 6% a year, rain or shine) drives enterprises to minimize permanent staff--and just as importantly, permanent office space. Back-office staff is moved overseas and "creative" staff is either free-lance (contract) labor or mobile/home office/flex hours workers.

7. Corporate profits depend on slashing costs. With revenues stagnant and/or precariously dependent on foreign exchange arbitrage, the only way to reliably maintain profits is to slash and burn fixed costs--like office leases, utility bills, etc. Now that head counts have been cut, then empty office space which cannot be sublet is the next target to be eliminated as old leases roll over.

These trends reinforce one another. Add them together and you get a downward arc fast gathering momentum.

Chamber to unveil pro-business lobbying effort

Chamber to unveil pro-business lobbying effort

The group plans to announce an agenda that includes attacking regulations covering labor, energy, healthcare and financial services, which it says it hampering the economic recovery.

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After spending a record amount this election season to change the balance of power in Washington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week plans to announce a pro-business agenda that will include attacking federal regulations in four areas: labor, energy, healthcare and financial services.

The business organization's leaders will announce their targets Wednesday, arguing that excessive government regulation is hampering economic recovery.

"American businesses are sinking under its weight," chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said Monday.

"Businesses have long recognized the need for sensible regulations," he said, but the regulatory system imposes a burden on business that is "pervasive, insidious and needs to be exposed."

The effort to reduce government rules and oversight is part of the chamber's multipronged lobbying effort, which also will include an advertising campaign on government regulation and a blueprint for pressing its case with every member of Congress.

The advertising campaign, called "This Way to Jobs," will feature a curved arrow that twists and bends above a list of new rules that are expected to follow passage of the financial services reform bill approved by Congress this year.

The ad also refers to the healthcare bill that sets up what the chamber said are a multitude of new agencies, panels and commissions "with the power to regulate." In addition, the ad attacks some new environmental proposals.

Unions, liberal advocacy groups and many congressional Democrats are expected to defend the new healthcare law and the new financial oversight system, created in the wake of the worst recession in more than half a century. They also are expected to defend efforts to expand worker safety rules.

"The chamber's new campaign is disappointing and may threaten the health and safety of hardworking Americans if successful," said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The chamber's focus on healthcare and financial services is likely to be particularly intense. It led opposition to legislation on both areas, which passed when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate.

Action on the new laws now move to the executive branch for rulemaking and implementation. And the chamber is expected to apply pressure on that process.

In particular, the chamber has pushed for looser interpretation of rules requiring health insurance companies to spend a specified minimum percentage of the premiums they collect from customers on coverage of medical claims starting next year.

It roundly attacked the healthcare initiative during a campaign in which many Republicans called for its repeal. It doesn't appear the chamber will go that far.

Speaking at a meeting of the National Business Coalition on Health, chamber Senior Vice President Randy Johnson acknowledged Monday that repealing the law or eliminating major provisions — such as a new requirement that large employers provide health benefits — would be difficult to achieve.

In the realm of financial services, Tom Quaadman, another chamber executive, said his group also was looking for some relief from new requirements governing derivatives trading by companies not involved in financial services.

He said the chamber also sought some adjustment of the Volcker Rule, a reform named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker that would bar banks that receive federal support from engaging in speculative activity unrelated to basic bank services.

As part of the chamber's effort, each member of Congress will receive a "This Way To Jobs" board game, which shows business executives thwarted by regulations as they try to expand the economy.

An accompanying letter from R. Bruce Josten, the chamber's chief lobbyist, told members that over-regulation played a role in the economic downturn.

"Job creators cannot be sure what the rules of the road will be a week, month or even a year from now, thus they cannot plan for or invest in the future," he wrote.

Land of Plenty? US Hunger Rate Remains Stubbornly High

Land of Plenty? US Hunger Rate Remains Stubbornly High

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Washington - U.S. agriculture officials said Monday that the nation's 15 federal nutrition programs helped keep hunger in check in 2009 even as the number of unemployed Americans soared.

After a record one-year increase from 2007 to 2008, the number of U.S. households facing food shortages increased only slightly last year to roughly 17.4 million, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The share of households with members who went hungry or cut their food intake because of money also held steady in 2009, albeit at the highest levels since the data were first collected in 1995.

That stabilization in the growth of "food insecurity" was the silver lining in the otherwise-bleak report, "Household Food Security in the United States, 2009."

The annual survey found that 85.3 percent of U.S. households had enough food for all their members in 2009, about the same share as in 2008.

But more than 50 million Americans — or 16.6 percent — had problems getting adequate nutrition last year. The rates varied widely across states depending on economic conditions.

Arkansas had the highest percentage of food-insecure households, at 17.7 percent. Texas was next, at 17.4 percent, followed by Mississippi, at 17.1 percent. North Dakota had the lowest rate, 6.7 percent, followed by New Hampshire, at nearly 9 percent, and Virginia, at 9.2 percent.

Of the 50 million food-insecure people, 32.5 million lacked money or resources for meals at some point last year, but few of them reported reduced food intake overall.

But the other 17.7 million food-insecure individuals reported multiple instances of inadequate nutrition and disrupted eating patterns because they couldn't afford meals. These people with "very low food security" were up from 17.3 million in 2008. They account for about 6 percent of all Americans.

Kevin Concannon, the undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the report "further underscores that household food insecurity remains a serious problem across the United States."

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He credited the nation's nutritional safety-net programs with keeping millions of adults and youngsters well-nourished during a time of economic crisis. Fifty-seven percent of food-insecure households were enrolled in one or more federal meal program in 2009, the survey found.

Nationally, the programs "are indeed doing what they're intended to do, that is responding to people," Concannon said.

This year, an additional 1 million youngsters are receiving free school meals, bringing enrollment to more than 31 million, Concannon said. Also, 400,000 more low-income children and women are enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, has grown 58 percent over the last three years and reaches more than 42 million participants. Program benefits were increased last April as part of the economic stimulus bill.

Jim Weill, the president of the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger organization, said the benefit increase was timely and effective.

"The fact that hunger rates did not skyrocket (in 2009) as they did (in 2008) shows just how effective and essential that increase was and still is," he said.

Other findings from the survey of 46,000 U.S. households include:

The typical household without food insecurity spent one-third more on food than the typical food-insecure home of the same size and composition.

Food insecurity rates were substantially higher among low-income, single-parent and African-American and Hispanic households.

Children faced food insecurity in 4.2 million households, about 11 percent of the households with children.

In the final 30-day period the survey covered, the share of households that reported very low food security fell three-tenths of a percentage point. Improvements were most significant among households with children, black non-Hispanic households and households in the Northeast.

On the Web:

USDA report on household food security.

Israel prevents fair trial of Rachel Corrie lawsuit

Israel prevents fair trial of Rachel Corrie lawsuit

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Israeli authorities are working to prevent a fair trial in the civil suit filed against the state of Israel over the unlawful killing of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist run over by an Israeli bulldozer during a protest action in 2003.

Despite this, the suit, brought by Corrie’s family, has exposed something of the lies and cover-up involved in her murder. The case has revealed the role of not just the bulldozer driver in her death, but also that of his commanding officers. It has also laid bare the official indifference to the crime.

Corrie was crushed to death by a bulldozer on March 16, 2003, in Rafah, Gaza, while taking part in a non-violent protest to try to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied Gaza Strip. She was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of Palestinian-led volunteers who were fighting to publicise, protest and stop the destruction of Palestinian homes that lay in the path of Israel’s planned security wall.

The driver claimed that he did not see her. The Israel Defence Force (IDF), which held a token investigation, ruled that her death was an accident, and that no action should be taken against the soldiers involved.

The Corrie family rejects this. They argue that her death occurred either because of intent or the bulldozer driver’s negligence. They also maintain that the recording that documented the incident was deleted. Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy, say that their aim in bringing the suit—“absolutely our last resort”—was to shed new light on the killing of their daughter and demonstrate the responsibility of military authorities.

“We hope this trial will…illustrate the need for accountability for thousands of lives lost, or indelibly injured, by the Israeli occupation and bring attention to the assault on non-violent human-rights defenders,” said Cindy. “My family and I are still searching for justice. The brutal death of my daughter should never have happened. We believe the Israeli army must be held accountable for this unlawful killing.”

The family is seeking $324,000 compensation for specific costs related to Rachel’s death, including the funeral and legal expenses. They are also seeking compensation for the family’s suffering and punitive damages from Israel.

The Corries’ lawyer, Husein Abu Husein, has demanded a new investigation into her death. He said, “The Israeli government is covering this up under the umbrella of combat activity, which absolves soldiers of responsibility”.

The civil suit, which began in Haifa’s District Court last March, has faced obstruction from the beginning. Two of the four key witnesses were at first denied entry into Israel. Ahmed Abu Nakira, a Palestinian doctor from Gaza who treated Corrie and later confirmed her death, was denied permission to attend the trial or provide testimony over a video link.

The driver of the bulldozer that struck and killed Corrie gave his testimony behind a screen to protect his identity. His name was not released. The Corrie family challenged this, arguing that allowing the soldiers to testify behind a screen infringes the right to an open, fair and transparent trial.

But the Haifa District Court upheld the government’s demand. Judge Oded Gershon ruled that both the commander of the unit and the second soldier in the bulldozer that hit Rachel would testify in plain view because their faces were already publicly shown. However, he insisted that other soldiers would be allowed to testify behind a screen. The state’s lawyers provided no evidence that the soldiers’ safety or security were at risk.

Although the family had asked to see the driver even if the public could not, this too was denied. Israel’s Supreme Court backed up the District Court and refused to hear an appeal against the ruling.

The case, despite huge international interest, is being held in a small court with only two long rows of seats. The day that the bulldozer driver gave evidence, nearly half of the seats were occupied for the first time by observers from the State Attorney’s office and Ministry of Defence. This manoeuvre served to prevent scores of journalists, human rights observers and members of the public from attending.

The bulldozer driver’s testimony, although often confused, exposed the lies of the official version of events and the state’s effort to cover up what happened. He stated that after he had driven over Rachel and backed up, she was lying between his bulldozer and the mound of earth that he had pushed. He thereby corroborated both photographic evidence and testimony from international eyewitnesses given to the court in March. As such, his statement conflicted with his own affidavit signed last April. He was unable to remember even the most basic facts about the date and time of Rachel’s killing and repeatedly contradicted his own statements in court and to the military police investigators in 2003. He also contradicted the statements given by his own commander in the bulldozer.

In a particularly telling moment, the driver made it clear that Rachel’s death was not the result of one man’s action but stemmed from the orders of senior commanders. He said he knew about regulations that outlawed work within 10 metres of people. He knew that civilians were present, but said he was given orders to continue working. He said, “I’m just a soldier. It was not my decision.”

Following the driver’s testimony, Cindy Corrie stated, “It was very difficult to hear or detect anything in this witness’ words or voice that suggested remorse. Sadly, what I heard from the other side of the screen was indifference.”

She continued, “While the driver is very important, to me he is not the only person who has responsibility. Responsibility is shared with a lot of people. My focus isn’t entirely on the driver.”

Sarah Corrie Simpson, Rachel’s older sister, said, “Ultimately the individual had the ability to stop that act. However, if you only hold responsible the individual, you’re losing the broader context of what’s going on. You have to look at the chain of command and what sort of orders were being given at that time.”

Shalom Michaeli, then head of the Military Police Special Investigative Unit, who led the investigation into Rachel’s killing, also gave evidence. He told the court that he stood by his 2003 investigation and saw no reason that anyone should have been prosecuted. He has since been promoted.

Michaeli revealed his cavalier attitude to the investigation under cross-examination. He had seen no need for a full transcript of radio transmissions just before the killing. Similarly, he had not bothered to get the tape of the video recording the area until a week after the incident, because senior commanders had taken it. Neither had he questioned the camera operator, who had panned away from the scene only minutes before Rachel was killed because he did not think it was relevant.

He did not go to the site because he said it was dangerous (he admitted he could have gone in an armoured car but chose not to), the terrain had already been altered, and the vehicles removed by the Israeli military. In his written affidavit, he claimed that he found no sign of blood or other evidence that the vehicle had injured anyone, but admitted that the bulldozer could have been washed “or even painted” before he inspected it.

Michaeli’s replies to court questioning confirmed that soldiers and their commanders were allowed to act recklessly and use armoured military bulldozers without regard for civilian safety. He said that bulldozer operators could not be expected to follow the procedures set out in the manuals for low-intensity conflict in this zone. They were not relevant because he believed the Israeli army was “at war” with everyone in the area, including the ISM peace activists.

Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, said, “Today I was struck by the lead investigator’s failures—his failure to look for evidence, to secure evidence, to resolve conflicting evidence, and to turn evidence over to this court. This is not what we and the US government were promised by the government of Israel when Rachel was killed and it is not what we will accept now.”

Several more hearings are due to be held, and a ruling is not expected until next year.

Lame duck US Congress moves to cut taxes for rich, end of benefits for unemployed

Lame duck US Congress moves to cut taxes for rich, end benefits for unemployed

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The Democratic Party-controlled 111th US Congress on Monday entered its final session, with Democratic leaders signaling their willingness to capitulate to Republican demands for an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, most commentators expect that Congress will fail to extend federal benefits for the long-term unemployed when funding expires on November 30.

The “lame duck” session—so-called because it falls between the November elections and the convening of the new Congress in January—will determine whether and for whom the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, set to expire on December 31, will remain in place.

Since their victory in the midterm elections, Republicans have demanded that the tax cuts be made permanent for all taxpayers, including those in the very highest income brackets. Democrats, including President Obama, campaigned on the promise that they would be extended only for households whose income was under $250,000 per year for a married couple or $200,000 per year for an individual.

This opposition from the Democrats was largely for show and has been quickly abandoned, in the first place by Obama, who has in recent days indicated that he would be willing to accept a temporary extension of the tax cuts for the rich, supposedly so that tax cuts for the middle class can be carried on. No serious observer can doubt that this so-called temporary continuation would mean anything less than the tax cuts’ permanent implementation.

In fact, prior to the election the Republican congressional leadership was only seeking a two-year extension, so Obama has effectively capitulated to their position. Two far-right Republicans, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky, appearing on separate Sunday news programs, signaled their willingness to accept such a “compromise.” “If that’s all we can get, that’s better than nothing,” Paul told CBS.

For their part, the Democratic congressional leadership, in the lead-up to the election, maneuvered to stall legislation that would have extended tax cuts only for middle-class families because, they claimed, any tax increase—even for multimillionaires—would be politically unpopular.

Other leading Democrats, for example Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have also proclaimed their willingness to compromise. Schumer recently broached a scheme whereby the tax cuts will be extended for everyone except those making more than $1 million per year, approximately the top two tenths of one percent of US households.

Based on the utter prostration of Obama and Schumer, one might conclude that it is the Republicans and not the Democrats who currently control the presidency and Congress by lopsided margins.

If the tax cuts for the rich are extended—and all indications suggest that they will be—it will be a searing indictment of the entire political order. Under conditions of the worst social crisis since the Great Depression, a tiny stratum of the elite—the same layer whose reckless financial speculation set into motion the economic collapse—are about to receive a windfall estimated at $700 billion over the next decade. This is about the same amount allocated for the now-ending stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (It should be noted that in the Great Depression the high-end tax rate was actually increased from 24 percent in 1929 to 81 percent in 1940.)

The Democrats’ move toward extending tax cuts for the rich is no mistaken policy or political miscalculation, as a number of liberal commentators have suggested. The Democrats, just as much as the Republicans, are servants of the financial aristocracy—a fact underscored this week by Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, whose chairmen proposed tax “reform” that would actually lower the top-end income tax rate by one third, from 35 percent to 23 percent, along with a similar cut in the corporate tax rate. Budget balancing would be entirely at the expense of the working class, through cuts to Social Security and Medicare, new regressive taxes, and cuts in the jobs and pay of government workers.

While the continuation of the tax cuts for the rich appears to be a near-certainty, the extension of special funding for approximately 2 million long-term unemployed American workers is unlikely to be met by the November 30 deadline. This means that benefits will immediately dry up for 800,000 workers, followed by another 1.2 million by the end of December.

According to most media accounts, there is virtually no chance the jobless benefits extension will be acted on by November 30. After that, liberal Democrats may barter away tax cuts for the rich for an agreement on the extension of the long-term benefits until next year, when the program is almost certain to be scrapped. But other Democrats have indicated they might propose a bill that would gradually draw down the benefits. “There is a desire to see that any reduction in weeks be connected to the state of the economy,” a Democratic congressional aide told the Wall Street Journal.

The tale of the two extensions—jobless benefits for the unemployed and tax cuts for the rich—exposes the blatant hypocrisy of the supposed concern in ruling circles over deficit spending. The long-term unemployed benefits would likely cost about $35 billion for six months, the same price tag, on an annualized basis, as the cost of the extension of the tax cuts for the rich.

However, as most economists acknowledge, benefits to the unemployed have an immediate benefit for the economy, as the jobless quickly spend the money on necessary consumer goods.

“When you give a dollar to the unemployed they’re the most likely to spend it,” said Betsey Stevenson, chief economist with the Labor Department. “That’s one where you really do get a lot of stimulus on the economy.” According to Alec Phillips, an economist with Goldman Sachs, expiration of the jobless benefit extensions will cut GDP growth by 0.5 percent. And a new report issued by the economic research firm IMPAQ estimates unemployment benefits saved an average of 1.6 million jobs each quarter during the recession.

Another major piece of legislation to be debated during the lame duck session is the funding of the government itself, which is set to expire on December 3. Democrats favor combining over a dozen separate spending bills into an omnibus package of $1.108 trillion that would determine the budget for much of the next year. Their proposal is less than what Obama requested and modeled on what Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support. House Republicans will instead fight for a short-term spending package that will allow their new majority to enforce a fresh round of cuts to social spending early next year.

A law to repeal the military’s ban against openly gay and lesbian service members is not expected to advance. Neither is the DREAM Act, which would have offered citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants if they enlist in the military or attend college.

Ratification of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia is also expected to fail to emerge from the lame duck session.

US corporate executives back at the trough

US corporate executives back at the trough

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America’s corporate and financial elite has returned to the feeding trough and is collecting huge salaries and bonuses while tens of millions of workers in the US continue to face levels of social misery not seen since the Great Depression.

Annual bonuses rose by 11 percent for executives at the 450 largest US corporations last fiscal year, according to a new survey published by the Wall Street Journal. Overall, median compensation—including salaries, bonuses, stocks, options and other incentives—rose by three percent to $7.3 million in 2009.

The increased payouts were the result of soaring profits at top companies, which doubled from a year earlier, leading to a 29 percent increase in total shareholder returns. This, in turn, was the direct result of the offensive that corporate America has waged against the working class, with the full backing of the Obama administration and both big business parties. Over the course of the last two years companies have slashed payrolls, wages and benefits, replaced full-time workers with temporary and casual workers earning poverty level wages and ratcheted up productivity.

Cost-cutting and streamlining were the principal pursuits of all the CEOs pocketing large pay packages last year. The top five were: (1) Gregory B. Maffei of Liberty Media Corp., who got $87.1 million in compensation last year, four times his 2008 package; (2) Larry Ellison, Oracle’s billionaire founder, who received $68.6 million; (3) Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp., who got $52.2 million; (4) Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, who took in $44.6 million; and (5) Leslie Moonves from CBS, who got $39 million.

With the S&P 500 Index up 7.5 percent so far this year, top executives are expected to see even bigger compensation packages in 2010. “Many companies are beating earnings expectations, stock prices are up and performance is good, so bonuses will be good,” Mark Reilly, a partner with the Chicago-based Compensation Consulting Consortium LLC, told the Journal.

The payouts to the heads of media, energy and Internet firms pale in comparison, however, to the grotesques sums hedge fund managers and private equity traders will be paid when Wall Street issues its year-end bonuses. According to a survey cited in the New York Times, overall compensation in financial services will rise 5 percent in 2010, with employees in some businesses, like asset management, getting increases of 15 percent. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have reportedly set aside $89.54 billion for year-end bonuses.

In an article, entitled, “Wall Street Gets Its Groove Back, And Big Pay, Too,” the Times noted that the lavish watering holes in downtown Manhattan were packed with free-spending traders and investment bankers. John DeLucie, the chef and one of the owners of The Lion restaurant, “one of Greenwich Village’s newest hot spots,” told the newspaper that customers are buying vintage bottles of wine, including a 1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which recently sold for $3,950. “We are seeing a lot of luxury purchases, like vintage Bordeaux, things that we haven’t seen sell well in a few years,” DeLucie told the Times.

Just two years after the financial breakdown that brought American and world capitalism to the brink of collapse, the ruling class is on the offensive against the working class in every part of the world. Arguing that no measures are permissible that undermine the competitiveness and profitability of the corporations and financial markets, capitalist governments in every country are demanding austerity, cost cutting and a reduction in consumption.

From the very beginning of its term in office, despite all the phony talk about reining in CEO pay and regulating the banks, the Obama administration has done everything to secure the fortunes of the financial elite, whose recklessness precipitated the 2008 crash. After handing over trillions to Wall Street, the White House engineered the forced bankruptcy and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, initiating a wave of wage and benefit cuts that has spread throughout the economy. Rejecting any government measures to hire the unemployed, the administration has deliberately kept jobless levels high in order to force workers to accept ever-lower wages.

US corporations—which are sitting on hoards of cash—are insisting they will not hire unless workers accept a permanent reduction in their living standards. In a paper delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta meeting last Friday, University of Chicago economist Robert Shimer complained that wages were not falling fast enough and that only a 3-to-5 percent reduction in wages would result in “significant growth in employment.”

This was echoed by Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein—a liberal supporter of President Obama—whose op-ed piece last month, “Wage cuts hurt, but they may be the only way to get Americans back to work,” hailed the 50 percent pay reduction the United Auto Workers union imposed on half the workforce at GM’s Lake Orion, Michigan plant.

“The fundamental economic challenge facing the United States,” Pearlstein wrote, “is to get what we consume more in line with what we produce after years of living beyond our means.” With “our labor costs too high to be globally competitive,” Pearlstein insisted, “a further reduction in consumption and living standards is necessary to bring the U.S. economy back into balance.”

The Post columnist expressed his exasperation that workers were opposing his advice, noting that GM workers in Indianapolis defied the UAW and overwhelmingly rejected a wage-cutting deal. He insisted that capitalism left workers with no choice but to work for lower wages or not work at all.

In a revealing comment, Pearlstein says, “I’m sure many of you are reading this and thinking that if anyone is forced to take a pay cut to rebalance the economy, surely it ought to be overpaid investment bankers, corporate executives and newspaper columnists. That’s how things would work in a socialist paradise, but not in market economies, which are much better at producing efficiency than fairness.”

Indeed, that is how capitalism works, but it has nothing to do with “efficiency.” What is efficient about condemning millions to joblessness and poverty while society’s most basic needs—for decent housing, health care, education and infrastructure repairs—go unmet?

In all the talk about “over-consumption” the one thing that is never suggested is reducing the consumption of the ruling class, whose bankrupt capitalist system and criminal activities are responsible for the dire conditions facing the majority of the world’s population.

The Coming Sell-Out to the Super Rich and What It Means for the Rest of Us

The Coming Sell-Out to the Super Rich and What It Means for the Rest of Us

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Now that President Obama is almost celebrating his bipartisan willingness to renew the tax cuts for the super-rich enacted under George Bush ten years ago, it is time for Democrats to ask themselves how strongly they are willing to oppose an administration that looks like Bush-Cheney III. Is this what they expected by Mr. Obama’s promise to rise above partisan politics – by ruling on behalf of Wall Street, now that it is the major campaign backer of both parties?

It is a reflection of how one-sided today’s class war has become that Warren Buffet has quipped that “his” side is winning without a real fight being waged. No gauntlet has been thrown down over the trial balloon that the president and his advisor David Axelrod have sent up over the past two weeks to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% for “just” two more years. For all practical purposes the euphemism “two years” means forever – at least, long enough to let the super-rich siphon off enough more money to bankroll enough more Republicans to be elected to make the tax cuts permanent.

Mr. Obama seems to be campaigning for his own defeat! Thanks largely to the $13 trillion Wall Street bailout – while keeping the debt overhead in place for America’s “bottom 98%” – this happy 2% of the population now receives an estimated three quarters (~75%) of the returns to wealth (interest, dividends, rent and capital gains).

This is nearly double what it received a generation ago. The rest of the population is being squeezed, and foreclosures are rising.
Charles Baudelaire quipped that the devil wins at the point where he manages convince the world that he doesn’t exist. Today’s financial elites will win the class war at the point where voters believe it doesn’t exist – and believe that Mr. Obama is trying to help them rather than shepherd them into debt peonage as the economy settles into debt deflation.

We are dealing with shameless demagogy. The financial End Time has arrived, but Mr. Obama’s happy-talk pretends that “two years” will get us through the current debt-induced depression. The Republican plan is to make more Congressional and Senate gains in 2012 as Mr. Obama’s former supporters “vote with their backsides” and stay home, as they did earlier this month. So “two years” means forever in politician-talk. Why vote for a politician who promises “change” but is merely an exclamation mark for the Bush-Cheney policies from Afghanistan and Iraq to Wall Street’s Democratic Leadership Council on the party’s right wing? One of its leaders, after all, was Mr. Obama’s Senate mentor, Joe Lieberman.

The second pretense is that cutting taxes for the super-rich is necessary to win Republican support for including the middle class in the tax cuts. It is as if the Democrats never won a plurality in Congress. (One remembers George W. Bush with his mere 50+%, pushing forward his extremist policies on the logic that: “I’ve got capital, and I’m using it.” What he had, of course, was Democratic Leadership Committee support.) The pretense is “to create jobs,” evidently to be headed by employment of shipyard workers to build yachts for the nouveau riches and sheriff’s deputies to foreclose on the ten million Americans whose mortgage payments have fallen into arrears. It sounds Keynesian, but is more reminiscent of Thomas Robert Malthus’s lugubrious claim (speaking for Britain’s landed aristocracy) that landlords would keep the economy going by using their rental income (to be protected by high agricultural tariffs) to hire footmen and butlers, tailors and carriage-makers.

It gets worse. Mr. Obama’s “Bush” tax cut is only Part I of a one-two punch to shift taxes onto wage earners. Congressional economists estimate that extending the tax cuts to the top 2% will cost $700 to $750 billion over the next decade or so. “How are we going to go out and borrow $700 billion?” Mr. Obama asked Steve Croft on his Sixty Minutes interview on CBS last week.

It was a rhetorical question. The President has appointed a bipartisan commission (right-wingers on both sides of the aisle) to “cure” the federal budget deficit by cutting back social spending – to pay yet more bailouts to the economy’s financial wreckers. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform might better be called the New Class War Commission to Scale Back Social Security and Medicare Payments to Labor in Order to Leave more Tax Revenue Available to Give Away to the Super-Rich. A longer title than the Deficit-Reduction Commission used by media friendlies, but sometimes it takes more words to get to the heart of matters.

The political axiom at work is “Big fish eat little fish.” There’s not enough tax money to continue swelling the fortunes of the super-rich pretending to save enough to pay the pensions and related social support that North American and European employees have been promised. Something must give – and the rich have shown themselves sufficiently foresighted to seize the initiative. For a preview of what’s in line for the United States, watch neoliberal Europe’s fight against the middle and working class in Greece, Ireland and Latvia; or better yet, Pinochet’s Chile, whose privatized Social Security accounts were quickly wiped out in the late 1970s by the kleptocracy advised by the Chicago Boys, to whose monetarist double-think Mr. Obama’s appointee Ben Bernanke has just re-pledged his loyalty.

What is needed to put Mr. Obama’s sell-out in perspective is the pro-Wall Street advisors he has chosen – not only Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke (who last week reaffirmed his loyalty to Milton Friedman’s Chicago School monetarism), but by stacking his Deficit Reduction Commission with outspoken advocates of cutting back Social Security, Medicare and other social spending. Their ploy is to frighten the public with a nightmare of $1 trillion deficit to pay retirement income over the next half century – as if the Treasury and Fed have not just given Wall Street $13 trillion in bailouts without blinking an eye. President Obama’s $750 billion tax giveaway to the wealthiest 2% is mere icing on the cake that the rich will be eating when the bread lines get too long.

To put matters in perspective, bear in mind that interest on the public debt (that Reagan-Bush quadrupled and Bush-Obama redoubled) soon will amount to $1 trillion annually. This is tribute levied on labor – increasing the economy’s cost of living and doing business – paid for losing the fight for economic reform and replacing progressive taxation with regressive neoliberal tax policy. As for military spending in the Near East, Asia and other regions responsible for much of the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit, Congress will always rise to the occasion and defer to whatever foreign threat is conjured up requiring new armed force.

It’s all junk economics. Running a budget deficit is how modern governments inject the credit and purchasing power needed by economies to grow. When governments run surpluses, as they did under Bill Clinton (1993-2000), credit must be created by banks. And the problem with bank credit is that most is lent, at interest, against collateral already in place. The effect is to inflate real estate and stock market prices. This creates capital gains – which the “original” 1913 U.S. income tax treated as normal income, but which today are taxed at only 15% (when they are collected at all, which is rarely in the case of commercial real estate). So today’s tax system subsidizes the inflation of debt-leveraged financial and real estate bubbles.

The giveaway: the Commission’s position on tax deductibility for mortgage interest

The Obama “Regressive Tax” commission spills the beans with its proposal to remove the tax subsidy for high housing prices financed by mortgage debt. The proposal moves only against homeowners – “the middle class” – not absentee owners, commercial real estate investors, corporate raiders or other prime bank customers.

The IRS permits mortgage interest to be tax-deductible on the pretense that it is a necessary cost of doing business. In reality it is a subsidy for debt leveraging. This tax bias for debt rather than equity investment (using one’s own money) is largely responsible for loading down the U.S. economy with debt. It encourages corporate raiding with junk bonds, thereby adding interest to the cost of doing business. This subsidy for debt leveraging also is the government’s largest giveaway to the banks, while causing the debt deflation that is locking the economy into depression – violating every precept of the classical drive for “free markets” in the 19th-century. (A “free market” meant freedom from extractive rentier income, leading toward what Keynes gently called “euthanasia of the rentier.” The Obama Commission endows rentiers atop the economy with a tax system to bolster their power, not check it – while shrinking the economy below them.)

Table 7.11 of the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) reports that total monetary interest paid in the U.S. economy amounted to $3,240 billion in 2009. Homeowners paid just under a sixth of this amount ($572 billion) on the homes they occupied. Mr. Obama’s commission estimates that removing the tax credit on this interest would yield the Treasury $131 billion in 2012.

There is in fact a good logic for stopping this tax credit. The mortgage-interest tax deduction does not really save homeowners money. It is a shortsighted illusion. What the government gives to “the homeowner” on one hand is passed on to the mortgage banker by “the market” process that leads bidders for property to pledge the net available rental value to the banks in order to obtain a loan to buy the home (or an office building, or an entire industrial company, for that matter.) “Equilibrium” is achieved at the point where whatever rental value the tax collector relinquishes becomes available to be capitalized into bank loans.

This means that what appears at first as “helping homeowner” afford to pay mortgages turns out merely to enable them to afford to pay more interest to their bankers. The tax giveaway uses homebuyers as “throughputs” to transfer tax favoritism to the banks.

It gets worse. By removing the traditional tax on real estate, state, local and federal governments need to tax labor and industry more, by transforming the property tax onto income and sales taxes. For banks, this is transmuting tax revenue into gold – into interest. And as for the home-owning middle class, it now has to pay the former property tax to the banker as interest, and also to pay the new taxes on income and sales that are levied to make up for the tax shift.

I support removing the tax favoritism for debt leveraging. The problem with the Deficit Commission is that it does not extend this reform to the rest of the economy – to the commercial real estate sector, and to the corporate sector.

The argument is made that “The rich create jobs.” After all, somebody has to build the yachts. What is missing is the more general principle: Wealth and income inequality destroy job creation. This is because beyond the wealthy soon reach a limit on how much they can consume. They spend their money buying financial securities – mainly bonds, which end up indebting the economy. And the debt overhead is what is pushing today’s economy into deepening depression.

Since the 1980s, corporate raiders have borrowed high-interest “junk bond” credit to take over companies and make money by stripping assets, cutting back long-term investment, research and development, and paying out depreciation credit to their financiers. Financially parasitized companies use corporate income to buy back their stock to support its price – and hence, the value of stock options that financial managers give themselves – and borrow yet more money for stock buybacks or simply to pay out as dividends. When the process has run its course, they threaten their work force with bankruptcy that will wipe out its pension benefits if employees do not agree to “downsize” their claims and replace defined-benefit plans with defined-contribution plans (in which all that employees know is how much they pay in each month, not what they will get in the end). By the time this point has been reached, the financial managers have paid themselves outsized salaries and bonuses, and cashed in their stock options – all subsidized by the government’s favorable tax treatment of debt leveraging.

The attempted raids on McDonalds and other companies in recent years provide object lessons in this destructive financial policy of “shareholder activists.” Yet Mr. Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission is restricting its removal of tax favoritism for debt leveraging only for middle class homeowners, not for the financial sector across the board. What makes this particularly absurd is that two thirds of homeowners do not even itemize their deductions. The fiscal loss resulting from tax deductibility of interest stems mainly from commercial investors.

If the argument is correct (and I think it is) that permitting interest to be tax deductible merely “frees” more revenue to pay interest to banks – to capitalize into yet higher loans – then why isn’t this principle even more applicable to the Donald Trumps and other absentee owners who seek always to use “other peoples’ money” rather than their own? In practice, the “money” turns out to be bank credit whose cost to the banks is now under 1%. The financial-fiscal system is siphoning off rental value from commercial real estate investment, increasing the price of rental properties, commercial real estate, and indeed, industry and agriculture.

Alas, the Obama administration has backed the Geithner-Bernanke policy that “the economy” cannot recover without saving the debt overhead. The reality is that it is the debt overhead that is destroying the economy. So we are dealing with the irreconcilable fact that the Obama position threatens to lower living standards from 10% to 20% over the coming few years – making the United States look more like Greece, Ireland and Latvia than what was promised in the last presidential election.

Something has to give politically if the economy is to change course. More to the point, what has to give is favoritism for Wall Street at the expense of the economy at large. What has made the U.S. economy uncompetitive is primarily the degree to which debt service has been built into the cost of living and doing business. Post-classical “junk economics” treats interest and fees as payment for the “service” for providing credit. But interest (like economic rent and monopoly price extraction) is a transfer payment to bankers with the privilege of credit creation. The beneficiaries of providing tax favoritism for debt are the super-rich at the top of the economic pyramid – the 2% whom Mr. Obama’s tax giveaway will benefit by over $700 billion.

If the present direction of tax “reform” is not reversed, Mr. Obama will shed crocodile tears for the middle class as he sponsors the Deficit Reduction Commission’s program of cutting back Social Security and revenue sharing to save states and cities from defaulting on their pensions. One third of U.S. real estate already is reported to have sunk into negative equity, squeezing state and local tax collection, forcing a choice to be made between bankruptcy, debt default, or shifting the losses onto the shoulders of labor, off those of the wealthy creditor layer of the economy responsible for loading it down with debt.

Critics of the Obama-Bush agenda recall how America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century was an era of economic polarization and class war. At that time the Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan accused Wall Street and Eastern creditors of crucifying the American economy on a cross of gold. Restoration of gold at its pre-Civil War price led to a financial war in the form of debt deflation as falling prices and incomes received by farmers and wage labor made the burden of paying their mortgage debts heavier. The Income Tax law of 1913 sought to rectify this by only falling on the wealthiest 1% of the population – the only ones obliged to file tax returns. Capital gains were taxed at normal rates. Most of the tax burden therefore fell on finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector.

The vested interests have spent a century fighting back. They now see victory within reach, by perpetuating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, phasing out of the estate tax on wealth, the tax shift off property onto labor income and consumer sales, and slashing public spending on anything except more bailouts and subsidies for the emerging financial oligarchy that has become Mr. Obama’s “bipartisan” constituency.

What we need is a Futures Commission to forecast just what will the rich do with the victory they have won. As administered by President Obama and his designated appointees Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, their policy is financially and fiscally unsustainable. Providing tax incentives for debt leveraging – for most of the population to go into debt to the rich, whose taxes are all but abolished – is shrinking the economy. This will lead to even deeper financial crises, employer defaults and fiscal insolvency at the state, local and federal levels. Future presidents will call for new bailouts, using a strategy much like going to military war. A financial war requires an emergency to rush through Congress, as occurred in 2008-09. Mr. Obama’s appointees are turning the U.S. economy into a Permanent Emergency, a Perpetual Ponzi Scheme requiring injections of more and more Quantitative Easing to to rescue “the economy” (Mr. Obama’s euphemism for creditors at the top of the economic pyramid) from being pushed into insolvency. Mr. Bernanke’s helicopter flies only over Wall Street. It does not drop monetary relief on the population at large.

How In The World Did We Get To The Point Where The Federal Reserve Is Printing Money Out Of Thin Air Whenever It Wants?

How In The World Did We Get To The Point Where The Federal Reserve Is Printing Money Out Of Thin Air Whenever It Wants?

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Ben Bernanke and the rest of the folks over at the Federal Reserve did not just wake up one day and decide that they wanted to start printing hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air. The truth is that the economic forces that have brought us to this point have taken decades to develop. In the post-World War 2 era, when the U.S. economy has fallen into a recession, either the Federal Reserve would lower interest rates or the U.S. government would indulge in even more deficit spending to stimulate the economy. But now, as you will see below, both of those alternatives have been exhausted. In addition, we are now rapidly reaching the point where there are simply not enough lenders out there to feed the U.S. government's voracious appetite for debt. So now the Federal Reserve is openly printing hundreds of billions of dollars that will enable them to finance U.S. government borrowing, and (they hope) stimulate the U.S. economy at the same time. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is not amused. Nations such as China, Japan and many of the oil-exporting nations of the Middle East have accumulated a lot of U.S. dollars and a lot of U.S. Treasuries and they are not pleased that those investments are now being significantly devalued.

So how did we get to this point? Why is the Federal Reserve printing money out of thin air in a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy?

Well, the Federal Reserve has more or less exhausted all of the other tools that it has traditionally used to help the economy during an economic downturn. As you can see from the chart below, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates during past recessions. The goal of lowering interest rates is to make it less expensive to borrow money and thus spark more economic activity. Well, as you can see, the Federal Reserve has no place else to go with interest rates. Over the past 30 years, rates have consistently been pushed down, down, down and now they are kissing the floor....

Another way that the U.S. economy has been "stimulated" over the past 30 years is through increased government spending. The theory is that if the government spends more money, that will get more cash into the hands of the people and spark more economic activity. That was the whole idea behind the "economic stimulus packages" that were pushed through Congress. However, increased government spending always comes at a very high cost under our current system. Government debt is now totally out of control. As you can see below, the U.S. national debt has exploded from about one trillion dollars in 1980 to over 13 trillion dollars today. Currently, there is very little appetite in Congress for more government spending to stimulate the economy, especially after the results of the November election.

Most Americans don't realize it, but much of our incredible "prosperity" over the last 30 years has been fueled by the mountains of debt that we have accumulated. Now U.S. government debt is exploding at an exponential rate....

Sadly, the U.S. government has absolutely no self-control when it comes to spending money. Our politicians are absolutely addicted to debt.

The truth is that the U.S. government just can't seem to stop wasting money. One of the most comical news stories of the past few days involved the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, which is a sub-committee of the larger Recovery Accountability and Transparency board. This panel will be holding a meeting on November 22nd to discuss how to prevent "fraud, waste, and abuse" of economic stimulus funds.

So where will this meeting be held?

It is going to be held at the ultra-luxurious Ritz Carlton Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona.

Yes, seriously.

You just can't make this stuff up.

So if the Federal Reserve cannot stimulate the economy through lower interest rates and the U.S. government cannot stimulate the economy by spending even more money, what does that leave us with?

Unfortunately, that leaves us with either doing nothing or with having the Federal Reserve print money out of thin air and shovel it into the economy.

Sadly, even after months of news headlines about quantitative easing, most Americans still do not understand what it is. The following is a short video that is very humorous but that also does a good job of simply explaining what quantitative easing is and why it is bad for the U.S. economy....

For much more on why quantitative easing is so destructive, please see an article that I previously authored entitled "9 Reasons Why Quantitative Easing Is Bad For The U.S. Economy". The truth is that in an all-out effort to give the U.S. economy a short-term boost, the Federal Reserve is putting the entire world financial system in peril.

One group of prominent economists was so alarmed by this new round of quantitative easing that they recently wrote an open letter to Ben Bernanke warning of the dangers that flooding the economy with new money could create. The following is an excerpt from the text of that open letter which was also posted on the website of the Wall Street Journal.....

We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called “quantitative easing”) should be reconsidered and discontinued. We do not believe such a plan is necessary or advisable under current circumstances. The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

We subscribe to your statement in the Washington Post on November 4 that “the Federal Reserve cannot solve all the economy’s problems on its own.” In this case, we think improvements in tax, spending and regulatory policies must take precedence in a national growth program, not further monetary stimulus.

We disagree with the view that inflation needs to be pushed higher, and worry that another round of asset purchases, with interest rates still near zero over a year into the recovery, will distort financial markets and greatly complicate future Fed efforts to normalize monetary policy.

The Fed’s purchase program has also met broad opposition from other central banks and we share their concerns that quantitative easing by the Fed is neither warranted nor helpful in addressing either U.S. or global economic problems.

But it isn't just a few prominent economists that are expressing disapproval for this new round of quantitative easing. The truth is that almost every major industrialized nation has spoken out against all of this money printing by the Fed. Meanwhile, Barack Obama continues to publicly defend Ben Bernanke and this new round of quantitative easing at every opportunity.

That is some "change you can believe in", eh?

Unfortunately, the danger that quantitative easing poses to our financial system is much greater than most Americans realize.

In order for the world financial system to operate smoothly, the rest of the world much have a great deal of faith in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. Treasuries. Ben Bernanke had promised Congress (and the rest of the globe) that the Federal Reserve would not monetize U.S. government debt and that he was going to keep the U.S. dollar strong. But now Bernanke has broken his promises once again. At this point Bernanke has lost a ton of credibility. Unfortunately, Barack Obama and many of the key members of Congress continue to express unwavering support for him.

The rest of the world can see what is going on. They are not stupid. They are not going to keep pouring hundreds of billions into U.S. Treasuries if the Federal Reserve is going to "cheat" whenever economic conditions get a little tough.

If the day arrives when the rest of the globe completely loses faith in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. Treasuries, it is going to create a complete and total financial disaster - especially for the United States.

US Senate bill that would criminalize saving seeds & outlaw backyard garden food production

Senate Bill S 510 Food Safety Modernization Act vote imminent: Would outlaw gardening and saving seeds

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(NaturalNews) Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, has been called "the most dangerous bill in the history of the United States of America." It would grant the U.S. government new authority over the public's right to grow, trade and transport any foods. This would give Big brother the power to regulate the tomato plants in your backyard. It would grant them the power to arrest and imprison people selling cucumbers at farmer's markets. It would criminalize the transporting of organic produce if you don't comply with the authoritarian rules of the federal government.

"It will become the most offensive authority against the cultivation, trade and consumption of food and agricultural products of one's choice. It will be unconstitutional and contrary to natural law or, if you like, the will of God." - Dr. Shiv Chopra, Canada Health whistleblower (http://shivchopra.com/?page_id=2)

This tyrannical law puts all food production (yes, even food produced in your own garden) under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security. Yep -- the very same people running the TSA and its naked body scanner / passenger groping programs.

This law would also give the U.S. government the power to arrest any backyard food producer as a felon (a "smuggler") for merely growing lettuce and selling it at a local farmer's market.

It also sells out U.S. sovereignty over our own food supply by ceding to the authority of both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Codex Alimentarius.

It would criminalize seed saving (http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/20...), turning backyard gardeners who save heirloom seeds into common criminals. This is obviously designed to give corporations like Monsanto a monopoly over seeds.

It would create an unreasonable paperwork burden that would put small food producers out of business, resulting in more power over the food supply shifting to large multinational corporations.

I encourage you to read more about this dangerous bill at the Food Freedom blog on Wordpress: http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/20...

Watch this excellent video on NaturalNews.TV which explains S.510 in more detail:
http://naturalnews.tv/v.asp?v=9209B...

Take action now or lose your right to grow your own food

Sign this petition at Citizens for Health:
http://www.citizens.org/?page_id=2312

Do it today! This is really important.

In addition, the Cornucopia Institute recently sent out an urgent call-to-action email containing the following information: (http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/11/a...)

How to protest Senate Bill 510

1) Go to Congress.org and type in your zip code in the box in the upper right hand corner.

2) Click on your Senator's name, and then on the contact tab for their phone number. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard and ask to be directly connected to your Senator's office: 202-224-3121.

3) Once connected ask to speak to the legislative staff person responsible for agriculture. If they are unavailable leave a voice mail message. Be sure to include your name and phone number.

Give them this message in support of the "Tester Amendment" which would exempt small farms from S.510:

"I am a constituent of Senator___________. I ask that he/she support the Tester Amendment to the food safety bill. The Tester Amendment will exempt the safest, small, owner-operator farms and food facilities and farmers who direct market their products to consumers, stores or restaurants. Food safety legislation should not create inappropriate and costly regulatory barriers to family farms and the growing healthy food movement in the drive to crack down on corporate bad actors. Please support the Tester Amendment and market opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms, and small food processing facilities."

You may also wish to explain that you oppose the Food Safety Modernization Act in its entirety, and it is a destructive, freedom-crushing law that will destroy the future of food in America.

Remember, America has already lost control over its money supply to the Federal Reserve (nearly a hundred years ago). America has lost its health due to the medical industry and its profit-from-sickness agenda. Now we may lose our right to grow our own food and save our own seeds if Senate Bill 510 passes.

This is a dangerous, tyrannical law that would thrust the American people into an age of darkness and malnutrition. It would criminalize many of the very people growing our food and turn food production into yet another corporate monopoly.

Please take the time right now to contact your U.S. Senator and voice your strong opposition to this bill.

White House Says Child Soldiers Are O.K., if They Fight Terrorists

White House Says Child Soldiers Are O.K., if They Fight Terrorists

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“You cannot be completely happy with all these wounds—both in your body and in your mind.”

15 year-old child soldier

The phenomenon of child soldiers, like genocide, slavery and torture, seems like one of those crimes that no nation could legitimately defend. Yet the Obama administration just decided to leave countless kids stranded on some of the world’s bloodiest battlegrounds.

The administration stunned human rights groups last month by sidestepping a commitment to help countries curb the military exploitation of children. Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy reported that President Obama issued a presidential memorandum granting waivers from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to four countries: Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen. The memo instructed Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that it is in our “national interest” to continue extending military aid to those countries, despite their failure to comply with the rules Congress passed and George W. Bush signed in 2008.

A thumbs-up for child soldiers from the pen of President Obama? Whitehouse spokesperson P.J. Crowley explained it was a strategic decision to ease the 2008 law. The rationale is that on balance, it’s more effective for the U.S. to keep providing military assistance that will help countries gradually evolve out of the practice of marshaling kids to the battlefield, rather than isolating them.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Crowley argued, “These countries have put the right policies in place… but are struggling to correctly implement them.” The New York Times reported that administration spokespeople also cited the countries’ crucial role in global counter-terrorism efforts.

Strategically granting certain countries a pass on child rights reflects Washington’s warped attitude toward the global human rights regime. The U.S. has failed to ratify, or simply ignored, numerous human rights protocols, and our ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has languished. Human Rights Watch points out, “Only the United States and Somalia, which has no functioning national government, have failed to ratify the treaty.” (Although we did ratify two optional protocols in 2002, relating to child soldiers and other forms of exploitation.)

Somalia, by the way, is one of just two countries that the White House allowed to be sanctioned under the 2008 law; the second was Burma. Presumably this is because Somalia is not receiving direct military funding, reports the Monitor. Yet the U.S. continues to support Somali government forces as they fight Islamic insurgents—with the help of a large force of child soldiers. (To their credit, Somalia has at least promised the U.N. they”ll stop arming kids eventually, according to the Washington Post).

Maybe you could argue that the U.S. is so “advanced” it needn’t bother with rules about children’s rights to education and whatnot. Obama’s waivers might be seen as realpolitik in areas like Yemen, whose military we support as part of our sprawling counter-terrorism operations. But the bottom line is that the administration has carved out an exception to a law intended to ethically guide the flow of U.S. aid money around the world.

According to the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, which holds America to the same scrutiny that countries like Uganda and DRC routinely face in the media, we benefit indirectly and directly from the exploitation of child fighters:

In 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) registered 59 children in detention during 16 visits to five places of detention or internment controlled by the USA or the UK in Iraq. US soldiers stationed at the detention centres and former detainees described abuses against child detainees, including the rape of a 15-year-old boy at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, forced nudity, stress positions, beating and the use of dogs. Following US troop increases in Iraq in early 2007, US military arrests of children there rose from an average of 25 per month in 2006 to an average of 100 per month. Military officials reported that 828 were children held at Camp Cropper by mid-September, including children as young as 11. A 17-year-old was reportedly strangled by a fellow detainee in early 2007.

In August 2007 the USA opened Dar al-Hikmah, a non-residential facility intended to provide education services to 600 detainees aged 11-17 pending release or transfer to Iraqi custody. US military officials excluded an estimated 100 children from participation in the program, apparently on the grounds that they were “extremists” and “beyond redemption”.

Omar Khadr, the young Canadian detainee at Guantanamo Bay, remains trapped in a Kafkaesque quasi-judicial system without regard to the fact that he was a child when captured. Rights advocates like Monia Mazigh in Ottowa have called for Khadr to be recognized as a child soldier, but the administration seems to think securing a conviction in Kangaroo Court takes precedence over international law. And because Khadr, like the other Gitmo prisoners, is identified with that faceless dark horde the U.S. has branded “terrorists,” Americans aren’t even inclined to see him as a human being, let alone as a juvenile soldier deserving of sympathy.

So America’s hypocrisy on children in war has many layers. Obama condemns the practice in theory, then undermines federal law by issuing waivers for our partners in Africa and the Middle East. And of course, Washington sees no problem with punishing child soldiers as adults when they’re aligned with the terrorists who are bent on destroying America.

UN Treaties alone obviously won’t demobilize all the world’s child soldiers, but their main role is to put down a legal placeholder. And it’s that moral guidepost that the U.S. undermines every time it waives parallel U.S. laws based on the “national interest.”

Obama’s memorandum may look jarring on paper, but it’s grimly consistent with Washington’s agenda of waging war indefinitely, without boundaries, against an enemy we can no longer really define. The U.S. supports warfare that uses children as weapons, warfare that kills civilian children indiscriminately, warfare that ultimately sends our own children to perish on foreign soil. And so America marches on in a world of conflict where the first casualty is innocence itself.

American Hypocrisy: Destruction of the Constitution, Collapse of the Rule of Law

American Hypocrisy: Destruction of the Constitution, Collapse of the Rule of Law

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Ten years of rule by the Bush and Obama regimes have seen the collapse of the rule of law in the United States. Is the American media covering this ominous and extraordinary story? No the American media is preoccupied with the rule of law in Burma (Myanmar).

The military regime that rules Burma just released from house arrest the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The American media used the occasion of her release to get on Burma’s case for the absence of the rule of law. I’m all for the brave lady, but if truth be known, “freedom and democracy” America needs her far worse than does Burma.

I’m not an expert on Burma, but the way I see it the objection to a military government is that the government is not accountable to law. Instead, such a regime behaves as it sees fit and issues edicts that advance its agenda. Burma’s government can be criticized for not having a rule of law, but it cannot be criticized for ignoring its own laws. We might not like what the Burmese government does, but, precisely speaking, it is not behaving illegally.

In contrast, the United States government claims to be a government of laws, not of men, but when the executive branch violates the laws that constrain it, those responsible are not held accountable for their criminal actions. As accountability is the essence of the rule of law, the absence of accountability means the absence of the rule of law.

The list of criminal actions by presidents Bush and Obama, Vice President Cheney, the CIA, the NSA, the US military, and other branches of the government is long and growing. For example, both president Bush and vice president Cheney violated US and international laws against torture. Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union responded to Bush’s recent admission that he authorized torture with calls for a criminal investigation of Bush’s crime.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the ACLU reminded the US Department of Justice (sic) that “a nation committed to the rule of law cannot simply ignore evidence that its most senior leaders authorized torture.”

Rob Freer of Amnesty International said that Bush’s admission “to authorizing acts which constitute torture under international law” and which constitute “a crime under international law,” puts the US government “under obligation to investigate and to bring those responsible to justice.”

The ACLU and Amnesty International do not want to admit it, but the US government shed its commitment to the rule of law a decade ago when the US launched its naked aggression--war crimes under the Nuremberg standard--against Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of lies and deception.

The US government’s contempt for the rule of law took another step when President Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and had the National Security Agency bypass the FISA court and spy on Americans without warrants. The New York Times is on its high horse about the rule of law in Burma, but when a patriot revealed to the Times that Bush was violating US law, the Times’ editors sat on the leak for one year until after Bush was safely re-elected.

Holder, of course, will not attempt to hold Bush accountable for the crime of torture. Indeed, Assistant US Attorney John Durham has just cleared the CIA of accountability for its crime of destroying the videotape evidence of the US government’s illegal torture of detainees, a felony under US law.

Last February Cheney said on ABC’s This Week that “I was a big supporter of waterboarding.” US law has always regarded waterboarding as torture. The US government executed WW II Japanese for waterboarding American POWs. But Cheney has escaped accountability, which means that there is no rule of law.

Vice president Cheney’s office also presided over the outing of a covert CIA agent, a felony. Yet, nothing happened to Cheney, and the underling who took the fall had his sentence commuted by president Bush.

President Obama has made himself complicit in the crimes of his predecessor by refusing to enforce the rule of law. In his criminality, Obama has actually surpassed Bush. Bush is the president of extra-judicial torture, extra-judicial detention, extra-judicial spying and invasions of privacy, but Obama has one-upped Bush. Obama is the president of extra-judicial murder.

Not only is Obama violating the sovereignty of an American ally, Pakistan, by sending in drones and special forces teams to murder Pakistani civilians, but in addition Obama has a list of American citizens whom he intends to murder without arrest, presentation of evidence, trial and conviction.

The most massive change brought by Obama is his assertion of the right of the executive branch to murder whomever it wishes without any interference from US and international law. The world has not seen such a criminal government as Obama’s since Joseph Stalin’s and Hitler’s.

On November 8, the US Department of Justice (sic) told federal district court judge John Bates that president Obama’s decision to murder American citizens is one of “the very core powers of the president.” Moreover, declared the Justice (sic) Department, the murder of American citizens is a “political question” that is not subject to judicial review.

In other words, federal courts exist for one purpose only--to give a faux approval to executive branch actions.

If truth be known, there is more justice in Burma under the military regime than in the USA. The military regime put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in her own home.
The military regime did not throw her into a dungeon and rape and torture her under cover of false allegations and indefinite detention without charges. Moreover, the military “tyrants” released her either as a sign of good will or under pressure from international human rights groups, or some combination of the two.

If only comparable good will existed in the US government or pressure from international human rights groups had equal force in America as in Burma.

But, alas, in America macho tough guys approve the virtual strip search of their wives and daughters by full body scanners and the grouping by TSA thugs of three-year old children screaming in terror.

Unlike in Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi fights for human rights, the sheeple in Amerika submit to the total invasion of their privacy and to the total destruction of their civil liberties for no other reason than they are brain dead and believe without any evidence that they are at the mercy of “terrorists” in far distant lands who have no armies, navies, or air forces and are armed only with AK-47s and improvised explosive devices.

The ignorant population of the “Great American Superpower,” buried in fear propagated by a Ministry of Truth, has acquiesced in the total destruction of the US Constitution and their civil liberties.

Sheeple such as these have no respect anywhere on the face of the earth.