Sunday, March 27, 2011

Household wealth down 23% in 2 years - Fed

Household wealth down 23% in 2 years - Fed

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The average American family's household net worth declined 23% between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

A rare survey of U.S. households, first performed in 2007 but repeated in 2009 in order to gauge the effects of the recession, reveals the median net worth of households fell from $125,000 in 2007 to $96,000 in 2009.

Titled "Surveying the Aftermath of the Storm," the report offers a broad look at how the financial crisis impacted individual households.

It is widely known that the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the vaporization of trillions of dollars in household wealth. But Federal Reserve officials said Thursday the new report offers a look at exactly how hard the recession hit families, and how they reacted.

The numbers paint a stark picture.

Families that owned stock saw their portfolios drop by more than a third to $12,000 from $18,500, on average. The value of primary real estate holdings decreased by an average of $18,700.

And families took on more debt, pushing median total debt levels to $75,600 from $70,300. They also made less money. Media household income dropped from to $49,800 from $50,100.

Interestingly, families below the median national income in 2007 actually saw their earnings increase by 2009. Meanwhile, families that started above the national average in 2007 saw their incomes decline.

Families in the top 10% of net worth in 2007 saw their incomes decline by 13% on average, a phenomenon the Fed attributed to large declines in capital gains and in business, farm or self-employment income.

The report also reveals that some families are doing quite well.

"Although over 60% of families saw their wealth decline over the two-year period, a sizable fraction of households experienced gains in wealth," the report says.

But it's hard to pin down what made those families successful. "Shifts in wealth do not appear to be correlated in a simple way with families' characteristics," the authors write.

The report's authors also make the point that Americans appear to be reacting to the recession in a counterproductive way.

"[F]amilies' behavior may act in some ways as a brake on reviving the economy in the short run," the report says.

The data shows that Americans have increased their savings rate across the board, regardless of how they are weathering the storm. That means less money is being pumped into the economy.

Housing's Double Dip

Housing's Double Dip

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The housing market is now in full retreat. This week, the Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes plunged nearly 17 percent in February to a 250,000 annual pace. That's a record low. At the same time, the median price fell 8.9 percent from February of last year. The news comes on the heels of Monday's equally-dismal report that showed existing home sales dropped 9.6 percent in February. These are Depression era stats and builders know it which is why they're unloading homes as cheaply as possible. It's been 5 years since housing prices peaked in July 2006, and the market is still nowhere near the bottom. In fact, the rate of decline is accelerating. This is shaping up to be the worst spring in history.

If you want to know where the housing market is headed, keep an eye on inventory. That's the whole ball of wax. When inventory balloons, prices go down. At present, inventory is rising (8.9 month's supply) which means that prices have further to fall. But these figures don't include the vast shadow inventory that the banks are holding off-market. Many analysts think there could be another 5 to 6 years of inventory stacked up on bank's balance sheets. The Wall Street Journal's Mark Whitehouse takes an even grimmer view. He thinks the backlog could be in the vicinity of 9 years. Here's a clip from his article in the WSJ:

"Banks' vast pile of foreclosed homes doesn't appear to be diminishing. That's a troubling sign for the future of the housing market.

Back in April, this column tallied up all the foreclosed homes sitting in banks' inventory, as well as the "shadow" inventory of homes in the foreclosure process or on which owners had missed at least two mortgage payments. At the time, we reported that at the current rate of sales, it would take 103 months to unload it all.

Over the past six months, that number has actually risen. Banks managed to pare down the shadow inventory, but largely by taking possession of foreclosed homes. As of September, they owned nearly 994,000 foreclosed homes, up 21% from a year earlier. The shadow inventory stood at 5.2 million homes, down 7% from a year earlier. Grand total: 107 months of inventory.

The numbers aren't exactly comparable to the April analysis, as the providers of data have changed. The inventory data now come from RealtyTrac, the shadow inventory data from LPS Applied Analytics, and the sales data from Core Logic. But no matter how you slice it, the housing market faces almost nine years of foreclosure hangover…..

The mountain of foreclosed homes casts a long shadow." ("Number of the Week: 107 Months to Clear Banks' Housing Backlog", Mark Whitehouse, Wall Street Journal)

If this glut of homes was suddenly dumped onto the market, prices would go into freefall and the banks would be swallowed up by the red ink. That would force the Fed would to initiate another bailout. (which Bernanke definitely does not want) So the banks are releasing homes in dribs and drabs while concealing the number of non-performing loans they're holding from shareholders. It's all a giant coverup.

This is from Bloomberg:

"The number of homes in foreclosure rose to a record 2.2 million in January, according to Lender Processing Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida. About 23 percent of homeowners with mortgages had negative equity in the fourth quarter, meaning their home-loan balances were higher than the value of their properties, CoreLogic Inc. said in a March 8 report."

Prices are falling, home equity is drying up, foreclosures are at record highs, and the incentive to "walk away" and let the bank take the mortgage-loss has never been greater. All of the mortgage modification programs have been a total failure. The Fed purchased $1.7 trillion of garbage mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from the banks, but hasn't lifted a finger to help homeowners. All of the pain from the $8 trillion housing bubble has all been shunted onto the backs of ordinary working people.

Present policy continues the same pattern of relentless class warfare. Since Bernanke announced his bond purchasing program (QE2) in November, the Fed has bought $440 billion of US Treasuries notes from the banks. This has pushed equities up nearly 15 percent which (according to the Fed's flow of funds report) makes it look like consumers are rebounding from the deep losses they experienced during the financial crisis. But the figures are misleading. The wealthiest 5 percent of Americans control more than half of all the nation's financial assets whereas the bottom 50 percent have almost none. So the uptick in stocks doesn't improve their situation nearly as much as a boost in home values. When housing prices go up, homeowners are more apt to spend which increases economic activity and stimulates growth. The New York Fed just released a working paper last week which showed that "Between 2000 and 2007, consumer borrowing added an annual average of about $330 billion to the cash they could spend; by 2009, consumers were diverting $150 billion away from potential spending in order to reduce the debts they had built up. This represents a remarkable $480 billion reversal in cash flow in just two years." (NY Fed)

So housing prices are critical to getting the economy back on track. But in a time when all the gains in productivity are upwardly-transferred to management, workers are more dependent than ever on rising asset values in order to increase their consumption. That's why consumer spending will stay flat until housing prices go up.

Obama's unwillingness to seriously address the housing crisis has extended the period of household deleveraging and added to economic sluggishness. He needs to force the banks to negotiate cramdowns (principle reduction) and keep more people in their homes. That's Job#1. Then he needs to boost fiscal stimulus to lower unemployment and increase demand for housing. The Fed's quantitative easing (QE2) can't fix this problem. It can buoy stocks and lower long-term interest rates, but it can't create jobs, patch household balance sheets, or stabilize housing prices. This week's plunging new home sales proves that Bernanke's strategy is a flop. It's time to move on to Plan B.

Why the Wal-Mart Case Is So Important to Women, Minorities

Why the Wal-Mart Case Is So Important to Women, Minorities

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 29 in the biggest sex-discrimination case in history: Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Many pro-worker advocates are worried that the court—which has made a number of extremely conservative rulings in recent years—will decimate the ability of ordinary people to join together in class actions to sue large, well-financed companies that engage in wrongdoing and discriminate against women and minorities.

To understand more about the case, Nina Martin spoke with NAM contributor Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney who spent almost 15 years as executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, one of the main law firms in the case.

What is this case about?

This is a sex-discrimination case brought by six California women on behalf of female employees at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores across the country. The lead plaintiff, Betty Dukes, started working at the company in 1994 and still works at a Wal-Mart store in the town of Pittsburg, outside San Francisco.

The women’s claims are that: 1) they get paid less than men for doing the same jobs, and 2) the company denies them promotional opportunities even when they are better qualified and have more years of service than male co-workers. One of the things women told us repeatedly is they would train men who started working at Wal-Mart way after they did, and these men would become their supervisors. The women would think, “Wow, how unfair is that.”

Wal-Mart is a company that prides itself on promoting from within. But the women we surveyed reported innumerable obstacles when they tried to move into managerial positions, as well as discrepancies in pay that got wider and wider. At the management trainee level, women earned an average of $22,400, versus $23,200 for men. At the store manager level, it was $89,000 versus $105,000. By the time they reached the regional vice president level, women were earning $279,772, while men were averaging $419,000.

It is neither right nor fair that the nation’s largest employer can get away with widespread discrimination against women, who are the backbone of the business, both as workers and as the primary consumers who shop there.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the lawsuit should be allowed to continue as a class action. Why is this issue so important, in the Wal-Mart case and beyond?

In many instances, problems in a workplace are so widespread that it is not feasible for individuals to bring separate lawsuits. Some situations call for systemic change. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world. It is not a good use of court resources for thousands of separate suits to be brought by women who may have been shortchanged $2,000 a year, not to mention that an individual in that situation would never be able to find a lawyer to represent her. The injustice and violation of law would then persist year in and year out.

But when you bring together the interests of many people into one case—a class action— you’re talking about the possibility of real change, because restitution or back pay is so significant.

In order to be certified as a class, the plaintiffs had to show that Wal-Mart’s practices were widespread and affected large numbers of women. To do this, the legal team gathered evidence from many, many women around the U.S. In 2004, the federal court in San Francisco allowed the suit to proceed on behalf of more than 1 million current and former Wal-Mart employees. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the class certification three times.

This is a case that seems especially important in the current economic climate— people are desperate for work, unions are under siege, and companies have more leverage than ever, especially in nonunion industries or states.

It’s true these are very challenging times for all workers, but especially true of low-wage workers. It used to be that many employees had unions, which collectively could demand fair wages and better treatment of workers. But there are no unions at Wal-Mart, and there, as at most other companies today, employees are on their own.

Wal-Mart started out in a small town in the South, and I think that many of its policies and practices are rooted in its origins. Historically, Wal-Mart’s senior managers embraced the notion that women are not the primary breadwinners. When some of our clients asked why John Doe was paid more than she was, it was not uncommon for her to be told, “Because he has a family to support”—even when the worker was herself the sole breadwinner in her family A number of key people also held the view that women weren’t interested in advancing to management, they were perfectly content to remain in entry-level jobs.

Wal-Mart is an enormously powerful institution. In my hometown of Alice, Texas, for example, many small employers that used to sell office supplies, groceries and housewares don’t exist anymore because of the Wal-Mart effect. Wal-Mart undercuts other businesses because of its sheer size and power in the marketplace. If you’re a small pharmacy in a town of 18,000 people, you cannot compete. That also ends up having an impact on the wages of workers.

Why is this case so important for people of color?

In the current lawsuit, there’s no focus on women of color per se. But this case is important to all low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women of color, because these are the kinds of jobs that women can get without a college education.

Women of color, such as Betty Dukes, often find themselves in a situation when they don’t know if the obstacles they are facing are a result of race or gender. And sometimes it’s because of both.

What is Wal-Mart’s argument against allowing the class action to proceed?

Wal-Mart’s main contention is that women workers across 3,400 stores and 170 different job classifications cannot possibly have enough in common to be treated as a class. But as an interesting aside, Wal-Mart was a lead plaintiff in an antitrust class action brought on behalf of 8 million merchants, suing Visa and MasterCard. In that instance size wasn’t an obstacle to proceeding as a class action.

We don’t know how the Supreme Court will rule. But if the justices say, “No, you can’t have this class as certified below,” it doesn’t means the whole case goes away. The lawyers for the women will continue to fight.

Do you think much has changed in Wal-Mart since the suit was filed in 2001?

One positive effect of litigation is that most defendants immediately begin addressing the problems that are at the root of the lawsuit. Wal-Mart did begin changing some of its practices after the case was filed. It created a promotion system whereby employees can learn about management openings, instead of waiting for a tap on the shoulder from their boss. It created a diversity office and tied compensation for senior managers to meeting diversity goals. It created a global women’s leadership council. And it restructured its overall compensation system, which hopefully has addressed some of the disparities that exist.

We know these things because they are reported in the press. The information collected in the course of the lawsuit itself is now several years old. After the Supreme Court ruling, which is expected in June, the case will go back to the lower courts, there will be more discovery, and we’ll get an accurate picture of how much Wal-Mart has actually changed. Maybe Wal-Mart has gotten better. If so, that’s great. That’s what this lawsuit is all about.

Meanwhile, though, this case has dragged on for nearly 10 years without even getting to the real issues. Despite complaints by big business about too much litigation, not many of these types of cases are actually filed because they take years to resolve, they’re expensive, and the power of the workers, even collectively, is minuscule compared to the power and strength of a big corporation.

Betty Dukes has often said, “We just want our day in court.” The plaintiffs deserve the chance to be heard.

FUKUSHIMA: Reactor Core #3 Is Probably Damaged; Radiation May Increase; Japan Advises Locals To Flee

FUKUSHIMA: Highly Radioactive Water Is Leaking From Three Reactors; Japan Urges Locals To Flee

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fukushima milk

Image: AP

14:50 ET: Some good news regarding the injured workers. Although they suffered "internal exposure," they are expected to be discharged from the hospital on Monday, according to Kyodo.

Also Tokyo's government says tap water is safe for infants again, as radiation levels fall, according to Kyodo.

11:24 ET: TEPCO announced that highly radioactive water is leaking from reactors 1, 2, and 3, according to Kyodo. This will make repairs at the nuke plant significantly harder.

Nonetheless, fresh coolant has been injected into reactors 1 and 3 this evening.

EARLIER: Reactor core #3 is probably damaged, Japan's nuclear safety agency said Friday following the hospitalization of several plant workers yesterday.

Elevated radiation could be coming from a damaged reactor core or from cooling water. Either way radiation could increase.

Spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama told a press conference: ''At present, our monitoring data suggest the (No. 3) reactor retains certain containment functions, but there is a good chance that the reactor has been damaged," according to Kyodo. The government is also considering bailing water out of reactor #3.

The government encouraged Japanese living within 18 miles of the nuclear plant to leave voluntarily.

There have been various reports that Japan is considering upgrading the crisis from 5 to 6 on the nuclear crisis scale.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is expected to address the nation within hours.

Shares of plant-operator TEPKO dropped another 2.4% in Tokyo, after plunging 14% the previous day.

GE, World's Largest Corporation, Paid Zero Dollars in U.S. Taxes Last Year

GE, World's Largest Corporation, Paid Zero Dollars in U.S. Taxes Last Year

How can that be, you ask? Actually, it's pretty simple.

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You know how we've been covering the efforts of U.S. Uncut, the growing campaign to stop corporate tax dodgers from exploiting overseas tax havens? Well here's an excellent example of why such efforts are desperately needed, from the front page of the New York Times:

General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation, had a very good year in 2010.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

How can that be, you ask?

The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm....The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.

If that doesn't make your blood boil, I don't know what would.

Corporations argue that the U.S.'s top corporate tax rate of 35% is prohibitively high and puts them at a disadvantage against foreign companies. But even if you buy that argument (and I do not, because I think corporations should be responsible for paying taxes in countries in which they reap huge profits), it's hard to swallow when the corporation in question -- and not just any corporation, but the biggest in the world -- is claiming a tax benefit. Not only did GE not pay any taxes in the U.S. last year, it effectively got money back from the U.S. government.

But wait, there's more! ThinkProgress dug up a speech given by GE CEO Jeffery Immelt at West Point in 2009. Titled "Renewing American Leadership," the speech contains a rather ironic take-down of corporate greed:

Few of us will ever do what many of you will do for duty, honor and country. But America doesn’t expect heroism from all of us. [...] Wherever our talents lie, and whenever our conscience requires, we must all, to the best of our abilities, help keep America the great face for good it has long been. We are trying to do that at GE. [...]

I think we are at the end of a difficult generation of business leadership, and maybe leadership in general. Tough-mindedness, a good trait – was replaced by meanness and greed – both terrible traits. Rewards became perverted. The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability.

And Immelt dared give that speech to the nation's future military leaders -- a group that knows a thing or two about true sacrifice.

Truth, Propaganda and Media Manipulation

Truth, Propaganda and Media Manipulation

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Never before has it been so important to have independent, honest voices and sources of information. We are – as a society – inundated and overwhelmed with a flood of information from a wide array of sources, but these sources of information, by and large, serve the powerful interests and individuals that own them. The main sources of information, for both public and official consumption, include the mainstream media, alternative media, academia and think tanks.

The mainstream media is the most obvious in its inherent bias and manipulation. The mainstream media is owned directly by large multinational corporations, and through their boards of directors are connected with a plethora of other major global corporations and elite interests. An example of these connections can be seen through the board of Time Warner.

Time Warner owns Time Magazine, HBO, Warner Bros., and CNN, among many others. The board of directors includes individuals past or presently affiliated with: the Council on Foreign Relations, the IMF, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Warburg Pincus, Phillip Morris, and AMR Corporation, among many others.

Two of the most “esteemed” sources of news in the U.S. are the New York Times (referred to as “the paper of record”) and the Washington Post. The New York Times has on its board people who are past or presently affiliated with: Schering-Plough International (pharmaceuticals), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Chevron Corporation, Wesco Financial Corporation, Kohlberg & Company, The Charles Schwab Corporation, eBay Inc., Xerox, IBM, Ford Motor Company, Eli Lilly & Company, among others. Hardly a bastion of impartiality.

And the same could be said for
the Washington Post, which has on its board: Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Warren Buffett, billionaire financial investor, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; and individuals associated with (past or presently): the Coca-Cola Company, New York University, Conservation International, the Council on Foreign Relations, Xerox, Catalyst, Johnson & Johnson, Target Corporation, RAND Corporation, General Motors, and the Business Council, among others.

It is also important to address how the mainstream media is intertwined, often covertly and secretly, with the government. Carl Bernstein, one of the two Washington Post reporters who covered the Watergate scandal, revealed that there were over 400 American journalists who had “secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Interestingly, “the use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence-gathering employed by the CIA.” Among organizations which cooperated with the CIA were the "American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps-Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald-Tribune."

By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.
The CIA even ran a training program “to teach its agents to be journalists,” who were “then placed in major news organizations with help from management.”

These types of relationships have continued in the decades since, although perhaps more covertly and quietly than before. For example, it was revealed in 2000 that during the NATO bombing of Kosovo, “several officers from the US Army's 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN's Atlanta headquarters.” This same Army Psyop outfit had “planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan Administration's Central America policies,” which was described by the Miami Herald as a “vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory.” These Army PSYOP officers also worked at National Public Radio (NPR) at the same time. The US military has, in fact, had a strong relationship with CNN.

In 2008, it was reported that the Pentagon ran a major propaganda campaign by using retired Generals and former Pentagon officials to present a good picture of the administration’s war-time policies. The program started in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003 and continued into 2009. These officials, presented as “military analysts”, regurgitate government talking points and often sit on the boards of military contractors, thus having a vested interest in the subjects they are brought on to “analyze.”

The major philanthropic foundations in the United States have often used their enormous wealth to co-opt voices of dissent and movements of resistance into channels that are safe for the powers that be. As McGeorge Bundy, former President of the Ford Foundation once said, “Everything the Foundation does is to make the world safe for Capitalism.”

Examples of this include philanthropies like the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation providing immense financial and organizational support to Non-Governmental Organizations. Furthermore, the alternative media are often funded by these same foundations, which has the effect of influencing the direction of coverage as well as the stifling of critical analysis.

50,000 Manufacturing Jobs Have Been Lost Every Month Since 2001

How Can America Create Wealth If Our Industrial Base Is Destroyed? 50,000 Manufacturing Jobs Have Been Lost Every Month Since 2001

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Any economy that constantly consumes far more wealth than it produces is eventually going to be in for a very hard fall. Many point to relatively stable GDP numbers as evidence that the U.S. economy is doing okay, but the truth is that we have had to borrow increasingly massive amounts of money to keep GDP numbers up at that level. The U.S. government is going to run an all-time record deficit of about 1.65 trillion dollars this year and average household debt in the United States has now reached a level of 136% of average household income. But borrowing endless amounts of money and consuming massive amounts of wealth with that borrowed money is a road that leads to economic oblivion. The only way to have a healthy economy in the long run is to create wealth. But how can America create wealth if our industrial base is being absolutely destroyed? According to Forbes, the United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Hundreds of formerly thriving industries in the United States are being totally wiped out. China uses every trick in the book to win trade battles. They deeply subsidize their domestic industries, they openly steal technology, they blatantly manipulate currency rates and they allow their citizens to be paid slave labor wages. So yes, the products coming from China are cheaper, but in the process tens of thousands of factories in the U.S. are shutting down, millions of jobs are being lost and the ability of America to create wealth is being compromised.

In 2010, the U.S. trade deficit was just a whisker under $500 billion. Much of that trade deficit was with China.

During 2010, we spent $365 billion on goods from China while they only spent $92 billion on goods from us.

Does a 4 to 1 ratio sound like a "fair and balanced" trade relationship to anyone out there?

Our trade deficit with China in 2010 was the largest trade deficit that one country has ever had with another country in the history of the world.

In fact, the U.S. trade deficit with China in 2010 was 27 times larger than it was back in 1990.

Needless to say, that is not a good trend.

Our industrial base and our ability to create wealth is being wiped out so rapidly that it has now become a very serious threat to our national security.

According to Forbes, there is only one steel plant inside the United States that is still capable of producing steel of high enough quality to meet the needs of the U.S. military, and even that plant has been bought by a European company.

Meanwhile, China produced 11 times as much steel as America did last year.

Not only that, China is now the number one supplier of components that are critical to the operation of U.S. defense systems.

How in the world did we let that happen?

So what happens if we have a conflict with China someday?

But of more immediate concern is the loss of jobs that the destruction of our industrial base is causing.

For example, the Ivex Packaging Paper plant in Joliet, Illinois just announced that it is shutting down for good after 97 years in business. 79 good jobs will be lost. Meanwhile, China has become the number one producer of paper products in the entire world.

But China is not just wiping the floor with us when it comes to things like steel and paper.

The truth is that China has now become the world's largest exporter of high technology products. Back in 1998, the United States had 25 percent of the world’s high tech export market and China had just 10 percent. Ten years later, the United States had less than 15 percent and China's share had soared to 20 percent.

So how is China doing it? Well, as noted above, they are pulling every trick that they can think of.

Most Americans think that we have "free trade" with nations such as China. That is a complete and total lie and anyone that believes that we have "free trade" with China does not know what they are talking about.

China subsidizes their domestic industries to such an extreme extent that many global industries no longer even come close to resembling "free markets" as a recent story in Forbes noted....

According to a story in the January 20, 2009 New York Times, government subsidies so thoroughly disrupted pricing in the global market for antibiotics that many western producers had to either move facilities to Asia or exit the business entirely. The reason this might matter to intelligence analysts is that the last U.S. source of key ingredients for antibiotics — a Bristol-Myers Squibb plant in East Syracuse, New York — has now closed, leaving the U.S. dependent on foreign sources in a future conflict.

Our politicians and our business leaders have pursued economic policies that are so self-destructive that it defies explanation.

How in the world could anyone be so stupid?

Since 2001, over 42,000 U.S. factories have closed down for good. Millions of jobs have been lost. The ability of the once great American economic machine to create wealth has been neutered.

The business environment in America is completely and totally pathetic at this point. The number of small businesses that are being created is also way, way down.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 403,765 small businesses were created in the 12 months that ended in March 2009. That was down 17.3% from the previous year, and it was the smallest number of small businesses created since records began being kept in 1977.

The truth is that the U.S. economy is dying.

We continue to consume about the same amount of wealth that we always have, but our net worth is declining.

According to the Federal Reserve, more than two-thirds of Americans have seen their net worth decline during this economic downturn. In fact, the Fed says that between 2007 and 2009, the wealth of the average American family declined by 23%.

So if it seems like your family and everyone around you is getting poorer, that is because it really is happening.

We really are becoming poorer as a nation.

We can see evidence of this all around us. Just consider a few of the examples that have been in the news in recent days....

*One school district in the Chicago area is laying off 363 teachers.

*The U.S. Postal Service is offering $20,000 buyouts to thousands of workers as they attempt to slash 7,500 good paying jobs.

*The city of Detroit, once a shining example of middle class America, is now a rotting cesspool of economic decline and it saw its population decline by 25 percent over the decade that recently ended.

Americans are not feeling the full impact of America's industrial decline yet because we have been filling the gap in wealth creation with massive amounts of debt.

In the years since 1975, the United States had run a total trade deficit of 7.5 trillion dollars with the rest of the world. That 7.5 trillion dollars could have gone to support U.S. businesses and U.S. workers, but instead it left the country and went into the hands of foreigners that do not pay taxes.

Therefore, the U.S. government, state governments and our local governments have had to borrow massive amounts of money to make up the difference.

Most people do not realize it, but the destruction of America's industrial base has played a very significant role in the government debt crisis we are facing today.

In addition, the millions upon millions of workers that have lost their jobs as America's industrial base has been destroyed are now a drain on the system. Instead of creating wealth and being involved in economically productive activity, millions of American workers are now totally dependent on the U.S. government for survival.

Do you think that it is just some sort of accident that we have 44 million Americans on food stamps?

Don't you think that a large percentage of those people would actually like to have good jobs that would enable them to sufficiently feed their families?

If we continue on the path that we are currently on we are not going to have much of an economy left.

Not that all trade is bad. Certainly not. For example, trade with Canada is generally a very good thing.

However, the horribly unbalanced and unfair trade relationships that we have with nations such as China are ripping our industrial base apart. Our politicians have not been telling us the truth about what the "global economy" will mean for American workers. Most U.S. workers never realized that globalism would mean that they would be competing for jobs with workers willing to work for one-tenth the pay on the other side of the globe.

Those people that believe that we can indefinitely maintain an economy where we consume far more wealth than we create are completely and totally delusional.

Until the American people wake up and start demanding change from our politicians on these issues, 50,000 (or more) manufacturing jobs will continue to fly out the doors every single month and even more Americans will become dependent on government welfare.

Is that what you want?

Radioactive fallout from Fukushima approaching same levels as Chernobyl

Radioactive fallout from Fukushima approaching same levels as Chernobyl

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(NaturalNews) Despite all the desperate efforts by world governments to downplay the severity of the release of radioactive material from Fukushima, world radiation sensors are revealing the ugly truth about the Fukushima catastrophe that the nuclear industry doesn't want you to know: The radioactive fallout is now as much as 73 percent of the daily radiation emitted from Chernobyl following its meltdown disaster. That's the story on Iodine-131, the radioactive iodine isotope that's now spreading across the globe.

Similarly, the amount of caesium-137 being released by Fukushima has now reached 60 percent of that released by Chernobyl (http://www.newscientist.com/article...).

Radiation spreading across oceans and continents

This is the data from the global network of radiation sensors that were originally installed to monitor the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). They were designed to detect illegal nuclear weapons testing events, but now they're proving to be quite effective at picking up the massive release of deadly radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power complex -- which is still burning, by the way.

The monitoring stations are located in Alaska, Hawaii, Montreal and other cities, indicating that the radiation fallout from Fukushima now spans oceans and continents.

Because Fukushima continues to leak radiation into the environment, its total radioactive output may yet exceed that of Chernobyl. There's certainly a lot more fuel at Fukushima than there ever was at Chernobyl: 1,760 tons of nuclear fuel versus just 180 tons at Chernobyl.

So Fukushima has ten times the amount of fresh and spent fuel as Chernobyl. And it's still spewing radiation every second. The food and water in Japan is already contaminated, the oceans are radioactive, the air is radioactive, neutron beams are jetting out of the nuclear facility, it's raining yellow water, workers are being hospitalized with radiation burns, and still the nuclear industry says stop worrying... it's all safe!

Fukushima quickly rising to the top of the list of the world's worst nuclear disasters

It only leads me to wonder: How much worse is this going to get? We were told just this week that the reactors had their power restored, that the crisis was over, remember? The mainstream media has already blown past this story and doesn't express much concern at all over the situation. Yet this Fukushima catastrophe is quickly moving into the top position as the world's worst nuclear power plant disaster -- even as the media plays it down!

Fukushima may yet out-Chernobyl Chernobyl!

So where does all this radiation end up? Well, according to the Japanese and American governments, it all just magically fades away and there's nothing at all to worry about. But NaturalNews readers know better: This radiation ends up in the food, in the water, and circulating throughout the environment. Where will this end? No one knows for sure. But if there's one thing we've all learned from watching Tokyo this past week, it's that the time to get prepared is right now!

ACTION ITEMS:

• Always have at least 10 - 20 gallons of extra fresh water stored in your house or apartment. No matter what! Tokyo residents just found out the hard way that depending on tap water is a risky gambit.

• Always have extra food available, just in case. Next week on NaturalNews, by the way, we will be announcing the launch of a new line of long-term storable superfoods and organic foods packed in #10 steel cans (using BPA-free bags inside the cans).

• If you don't yet have potassium iodide or a source of natural iodine, and you're in an area that could be hit by radiation fallout, it's a wise idea to have some just in case. The NaturalNews Store has potassium iodide back in stock today (as of this writing) and is shipping all orders containing *only* potassium iodide in 1-2 working days: http://store.naturalnews.com/index....

• Don't allow yourself to be caught unprepared by a natural or man-made disaster. Governments lie to you about disasters, almost as a rule. They always wait too long to tell people to do something, and by that time everybody's in a panic. So to avoid all that, get prepared in advance so you're safe, confident and not contributing to the supply shortage problems.

Remember, in any given emergency, the people who prepared in advance are those who help ease the supply lines and ultimately leave more supplies available for others who didn't prepare. So in any given city, the more people who have prepared in advance, the fewer people will panic and the lower the burden will be on emergency supplies.

That's why preparedness makes such obvious sense. Only a fool would tell Americans to avoid being prepared for the unknown -- especially in a time when nuclear power plants are on the verge of catastrophic 'dirty bomb' meltdown events.

Stay safe, folks. Even if it means just getting the basics squared away. If you drink anything out of the 2-liter bottles, just save those bottles and fill 'em with water. That's a start!

Radiation: Nothing to See Here?

Radiation: Nothing to See Here?

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Administration spokespeople continuously claim "no threat" from the radiation reaching the US from Japan, just as they did with oil hemorrhaging into the Gulf. Perhaps we should all whistle "Don't worry, be happy" in unison. A thorough review of the science, however, begs a second opinion.

That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn't as comforting as it seems. The Japanese reactors hold about 1,000 times more radiation than the bombs dropped over Hiroshima.(1) Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China. It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.(2)

The idea that a threshold exists or there is a safe level of radiation for human exposure began unraveling in the 1950s when research showed one pelvic x-ray in a pregnant woman could double the rate of childhood leukemia in an exposed baby.(3) Furthermore, the risk was ten times higher if it occurred in the first three months of pregnancy than near the end. This became the stepping-stone to the understanding that the timing of exposure was even more critical than the dose. The earlier in embryonic development it occurred, the greater the risk.

A new medical concept has emerged, increasingly supported by the latest research, called "fetal origins of disease," that centers on the evidence that a multitude of chronic diseases, including cancer, often have their origins in the first few weeks after conception by environmental insults disturbing normal embryonic development. It is now established medical advice that pregnant women should avoid any exposure to x-rays, medicines or chemicals when not absolutely necessary, no matter how small the dose, especially in the first three months.

"Epigenetics" is a term integral to fetal origins of disease, referring to chemical attachments to genes that turn them on or off inappropriately and have impacts functionally similar to broken genetic bonds. Epigenetic changes can be caused by unimaginably small doses - parts per trillion - be it chemicals, air pollution, cigarette smoke or radiation. Furthermore, these epigenetic changes can occur within minutes after exposure and may be passed on to subsequent generations.(4)(5)(6)

The Endocrine Society, 14,000 researchers and medical specialists in more than 100 countries, warned that "even infinitesimally low levels of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, indeed, any level of exposure at all, may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses."(7) If hormone-mimicking chemicals at any level are not safe for a fetus, then the concept is likely to be equally true of the even more intensely toxic radioactive elements drifting over from Japan, some of which may also act as endocrine disruptors.

Many epidemiologic studies show that extremely low doses of radiation increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birth-weight babies, premature births, infant mortality, birth defects and even diminished intelligence.(8) Just two abdominal x-rays delivered to a male can slightly increase the chance of his future children developing leukemia.(9) By damaging proteins anywhere in a living cell, radiation can accelerate the aging process and diminish the function of any organ. Cells can repair themselves, but the rapidly growing cells in a fetus may divide before repair can occur, negating the body's defense mechanism and replicating the damage.

Busy schedule? Click here to keep up with Truthout with free email updates.

Comforting statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for adults.(10) Small increases in risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate. When low risk is accepted for billions of people, there will still be millions of victims. New research on risks of x-rays illustrate the point.

Radiation from CT coronary scans is considered low, but, statistically, it causes cancer in one of every 270 40-year-old women who receive the scan. Twenty year olds will have double that rate. Annually, 29,000 cancers are caused by the 70 million CT scans done in the US.(11)(12) Common, low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer. Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of thyroid cancer.(13)

Even properly functioning nuclear plants emit a steady stream of radiation into nearby water and atmosphere, which can be inhaled directly or ingested from soil contact, plants or cows milk. Many studies confirm higher rates of cancers like childhood leukemia, and breast and thyroid cancer among people who live in the same counties as nuclear plants, and among nuclear workers.(3)

Beginning with Madam Curie, the story of nuclear power is one where key players have consistently miscalculated or misrepresented the risks of radiation. The victims include many of those who worked on the original Manhattan Project, the 200,000 soldiers who were assigned to eye witness our nuclear tests, the residents of the Western US who absorbed the lion's share of fallout from our nuclear testing in Nevada, the thousands of forgotten victims of Three Mile Island or the likely hundreds of thousands of casualties of Chernobyl. This could be the latest chapter in that long and tragic story when, once again, we were told not to worry.

Footnotes:

1. "Fukushima Daiichi reactors contain radiation equal to a thousand Hiroshima bombs," Vancouver Observer, March 14, 2011; Ira Helfand, Robert Alvarez, Ken Bergeron and Peter Bradford (former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission), on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

2. Rosenthal E. Radiation, "Once Free, Can Follow Tricky Path," The New York Times, March 21, 2011.

3. International Commission on Radiological Protection.

4. Huang YC, Schmitt M, Yang Z, Que LG, Stewart JC, Frampton MW, Devlin RB, "Gene expression profile in circulating mononuclear cells after exposure to ultrafine carbon particles," Inhal Toxicol, 2010 May 27. (Epub ahead of print.)

5. Baccarelli A, Wright R, Bollati V, et al, "Rapid DNA Methylation Changes after Exposure to Traffic Particles." Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med., April 2009; 179: 572 - 578.

6. Zhong Y, Carmella S, Upadhyaya P, Hochalter JB, et al, "Immediate Consequences of Cigarette Smoking: Rapid Formation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Diol Epoxides Chem. Res. Toxicol.," Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/tx100345x publication date (web): December 27, 2010.

7. "Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement," 2009.

8. Bartley K, Metayer C, Selvin S, et al, "Diagnostic X-rays and risk of childhood leukaemia," Int. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 39(6): 1628-1637, first published online October 1, 2010, doi:10.1093/ije/dyq162.

9. Bailey H, Armstrong B, de Klerk N, et al, "Exposure to Diagnostic Radiological Procedures and the Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia," Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, November 2010, 19:2897-2909; Published online first, September 22, 2010.

10. Shuryak I, Sachs R, Brenner D., "Cancer Risks After Radiation Exposure in Middle Age," JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst Volume102, Issue 21, Pp. 1628-1636.

11. Berrington de González A, Mahesh M, Kim K, et al, "Projected Cancer Risks From Computed Tomographic Scans Performed in the United States in 2007," Arch Intern Med, December 14/28, 2009; 169: 2071 - 2077.

12. Smith-Bindman R, Lipson J, Marcus R, et al, "Radiation Dose Associated With Common Computed Tomography Examinations and the Associated Lifetime Attributable Risk of Cancer," Arch Intern Med., 2009; 169(22): 2078-2086.

13. Memon A, Godward S, Williams D, et al, "Dental x-rays and the risk of thyroid cancer: A case-control study," Acta Oncologica, May 2010, Vol. 49, No. 4: 447–453.

Power to strip search passengers claimed by Feds

Power to strip search passengers claimed by Feds

In a breathtaking statement delivered in an official court proceeding, the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims authority to strip search every airline passenger; and to begin such a practice without even soliciting comment from the public.

This outrageous statement recently was delivered to the American people by a DHS lawyer in arguments before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is considering a challenge to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) nude body scanner devices. The suit was brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Currently TSA, which is a component of DHS, claims authority to subject passengers to either an intrusive hand searches or to x-ray scans that reveal a nude image of the passengers’ bodies. Many, including this author and EPIC, consider such searches unconstitutional as violative of the the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution, which prohibits “unreasonable” searches, because they are being conducted without any suspicion at all that such passengers are attempting to bring weapons or explosives on board commercial aircraft.

The U.S. House is scheduled to open hearings today on TSA searches and authorities.

Most observers expect the D.C. Appeals Court to uphold TSA’s current practices. This would leave only the Congress to put a stop to these outrageous, privacy-invasive and unconstitutional searches by the federal government. If TSA and DHS are permitted to continue unchecked, then truly the Fourth Amerndment will have been gutted; and with it, the single most important and effective check on government power enjoyed by the American People for over two centuries.

Billionaires Flourish, Inequalities Deepen as Economies "Recover"

Billionaires Flourish, Inequalities Deepen as Economies "Recover"

The bailouts of banks, speculators and manufacturers served their real purposes: the multi-millionaires became billionaires and the later became multi-billionaires.

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According to the annual report of the business magazine Forbes there are 1,210 individuals – and in many cases family clans – with a net value of $1 billion dollars (or more). There total net worth is $4 trillion, 500 billion dollars, greater than the combined worth of 4 billion people in the world. The current concentration of wealth exceeds any previous period in history; from King Midas, the Maharajahs, and the Robber Barons to the recent Silicon Valley – Wall Street moguls of the present decade.

An analysis of the source of wealth of the super-rich, the distribution in the world economy and the methods of accumulation highlights several important differences with major political consequences. We will proceed to identify these specific features of the super-rich, starting with the United States and follow with an analysis of the rest of the world.

The Super-Rich in the US: Greatest Living Parasites

The US has the most billionaires in the world (413), better than one third of the total, the greatest proportion among the “big countries in the world. A closer look also reveals that among the top 200 billionaires (those with $5.2 billion and more) there are 57 from the US (29%). Over one third made their fortune through speculative activity, predators on the productive economy and exploiters of the property and stock market. This is the highest percentage of any major country in Europe or Asia (with the exception of England). The enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of this tiny parasitical ruling class is one reason why the US has the worst inequalities of any advanced economy and among the worst in the entire world. Speculators do not employ workers, they secure tax loopholes and bailouts and then press for cuts in the social budget, since they do not require a healthy, educated workforce (except for a tiny elite). In 1976 the top 1% held 20% of the wealth; in 2007 they commanded 35% of total wealth. Eighty percent of Americans own only 15% of the wealth. The recent economic crises, which initially reduced the total wealth of the country, did so in an uneven fashion – hitting the majority of workers and employees worse. The Bush-Obama bailout led to the economic recovery, not of the “economy in general”, but was confined to further enhancing the wealth of the billionaires – which explains why the unemployment/under employment rate has hardly moved, why the fiscal debt and trade deficit grows and the state lowers corporate taxes and slashes federal, state and municipal budgets. The “dynamic” sector composed of parasitical capitalists employ few workers, exports no products, pays lower taxes and imposes greater cuts in social spending for productive workers. In the case of the US, billionaires, their wealth is largely accrued via the pillage of the state treasury and productive economy and via speculation in the information technology sector which houses one-fifth of the top billionaires.

BRIC’s: The New billionaires: Exploiting Labor of Nature

The leading emerging capitalist countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) hailed by the mass media for their rapid growth over the past decade are producing billionaires at a faster rate than any bloc of countries in the world. According to the latest data in Forbes (March 2011), the number of billionaires in the BRICs increased over 56% from 193 in 2010 to 301 in 2011, exceeding that of Europe.

The high growth of the BRICs - has led to the concentration and centralization of capital, in every case promoted by state policies which provides low interest loans, subsidies, tax incentives, unrestricted exploitation of natural resources and labor, the dispossession of small property owners and the give-away of publically owned enterprises.

The dynamic growth of billionaires in the BRICs has led to the most egregious inequalities in the world. Among the BRICs, China leads the way with the greatest number of billionaires (115) and the worst inequalities in all of Asia, in sharp contrast to its Communist past when it was the most egalitarian country in the world. An examination of the source of wealth of China’s super rich reveals that it has resulted from the exploitation of labor in the manufacturing sector, speculation in real-estate and construction and trade. China has surpassed the US as the world’s biggest manufacturer in 2011, as a result of the super-exploitation of labor in China and the growth of parasitical financial capital in the US.

In contrast to the US, China’s working class is making significant inroads into the profiteering of its manufacturing and real estate elite.As a result of working class struggle, wages have been growing between 10% and 20% over the past 5 years; protests by farmers and urban households against state sanctioned evictions by real estate speculators have exceeded 100,000 per year.

The wealth of Russian billionaires on the other hand resulted from the violent theft of public resources (oil, gas, aluminum, iron, steel, etc.), developed by the previous Communist regime. The great majority of Russian billionaires depend on the export of commodities, pillaging and devastating the natural environment under a corrupt and deregulated regime. The contrast in living and working conditions between the western oriented billionaires and the Russian working class is largely the result of the siphoning off of wealth to overseas accounts, offshore investments and extraordinary personal luxuries including multi-million dollar real estate. In contrast to China’s industrial elite, Russia’s billionaires resemble the parasitical ‘rentiers’ found among Wall Street speculators and Persian Gulf sheiks.

India’s billionaires are a combination of old and new rich drawing their wealth by exploiting low wage industrial workers, dispossessing slum and tribal peoples, as well as from diversified holdings in real estate, IT and software. India’s billionaires accumulated their wealth through their class-kin linkages to the very corrupt higher echelons of the political class, securing monopolies via state contracts. India’s high growth over the past decade (averaging 7%) and the upsurge in billionaires upward to 55 by 2011, are both linked the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatization and globalization, which have concentrated wealth at the top, undermined small scale producers and dispossessed tens of millions.

Brazil’s billionaire class has expanded rapidly, especially under the leadership of the Workers Party, to 29, up from single digits a decade earlier. Today over two-thirds of Latin America’s billionaires are Brazilians. The centerpiece of Brazil’s super rich wealth is the financial-banking sector which has benefited enormously from the monetary, fiscal and neo-liberal policies of the Lula Da Silva regime. Billionaire bankers have been the principle beneficiaries of the agro-mineral export economy which has flourished over the past decade, at the expense of the manufacturing sector. Despite claims by Workers Party leaders, the class inequalities between the mass of minimum wage workers ($380 per month as of March 2011) and the super-rich continues to be worst in Latin America. An analysis of the source of wealth among Brazilian billionaires reveals that 60% accrued their wealth in the finance, real estate and insurance (FIRE) sector and only one (3%) in the capital or intermediary maufacturing sector. Brazil’s boom in economic growth and billionaires fits the profile of a ‘colonial economy’: heavy in conspicuous consumption, commodity exports and presided over by a dominant financial sector which promotes neo-liberal policies. Over the course of the past decade despite the populist political theatrics and paternalistic poverty-programs sponsored by the “center-left” Workers Party, the major socio-economic outcome has been the growth of a class of “super-rich” billionaires concentrated in banking with powerful links to the agro-mineral sectors. The free-market high growth financial-agro-mineral class has degraded the manufacturing sector, especially textiles and shoes, as well as capital and intermediary goods producers.

The BRICs are producing more,and growing faster than the established imperial powers in Europe and the US but they are also producing monstrous inequalities and concentrations of wealth .The socio-economicconsequences have already manifested themselves in increasing class conflict especially in China and India, as intensive exploitation and dispossession have provoked mass action. The Chinese political elite seems to be the most conscious of the political threat posed by the growing concentration of wealth and is in the midst of promoting substantial wage increases and greater local consumption which seems to be lowering profit margins among some sectors of the manufacturing elite. Perhaps the ‘historical memory’ of the “cultural revolution’ and the Maoist legacy plays a role in alerting the political elite to the political dangers resulting from “capitalist excesses” associated with the high levels of exploitation and the rapid growth of a class of politically connected kinship based billionaires.

Middle East:

Over the past decade the most dynamic country in the Middle East has been Turkey. Led by a liberal democratic regime of Islamic inspiration, Turkey has led the region in GDP growth and in the production of billionaires. The Turkish economic performance has been presented by the World Bank and the IMF as a model for the post dictatorial regimes in the Arab world – ‘high growth’, a diversified economy based on the growing concentration of wealth.Turkey has 35% more billionaires (37) than the Gulf and North African states combined (24). The ‘secret’ of Turkish growth is the high rates of investments in diverse industries and the intensive exploitation of labor. Many Turkish billionaires(14) derive their wealth via ‘conglomerates’, investments in diverse manufacturing, finance and construction sectors. Apart from the ‘conglomerate’ billionaires, there are ‘specialist billionaires’ who have accumulated wealth from banking, construction and food manufacturing. One of the reasons Turkey has rebuked and challenged Israeli power in the Middle East is because its capitalists are eager to project investments and penetrate markets in the Arab world. Apart from the highly Zionized US political system, the ruling elites and publics in Europe and Asia have looked favorably on Turkey’s opposition to Israel’s massacres in Gaza and violation of international law on the high seas. If a modern liberal Islamic regime can grow rapidly through the rapid expansion of a diversified class of the super-rich,so does Israel, a modern neo- liberal-Judaic state based on the rapid growth of a highly diverse class of billionaires. Israel with 16 billionaires is a country with the fastest growing class inequalities in the region-with the highest per-capita billionaires in the world… Israel’s “growth sectors”, software, military industries, finance, insurance and diamonds and overseas investments in metals and mining are led by billionaires and multi-millionaires who have benefited from Zionist induced financial handouts from the US pillage of resources from the ex USSR and transfer of funds by Russian-Israeli oligarchs and though joint ventures with Jewish-American billionaires in software corporations, especially in the “security” sector. Israel’s high percentage of billionaires at a time of sharp cuts in social spending puts the lie to its claim to be a ‘social democracy’ in the midst of Arab ‘sheiksdoms.’ As a matter of record, Israel has twice as many billionaires (16) as Saudi Arabia (8) and more super-rich than the entire Gulf countries (13). The fact that Israel has more billionaires per capita than any other country has not prevented its Zionist supporters in the US from pressing for additional 20 billions in aid over the next decade. Unlike the past,today Israel’s wealth concentration has less to do with its being the biggest recipient of foreign aid ...Israel’s handouts is a political issue: Zionist power over the Congressional purse. Given the total wealth of Israel’s billionaires a five percent tax would more than compensate for any cut off of US foreign aid. But that is not about to happen simply because Zionist power in America dictates that the US taxpayers subsidize Israel’s plutocrats by paying for their offensive weaponry.

Conclusion

The “economic crises” of 2008-2009 inflicted only temporary losses to some (US-EU) billionaires and not others (Asian). Thanks to trillion dollar/Euro/yen bailouts, the billionaires class has recovered and expanded, even as wages in the US and Europe stagnate and ‘living standards’ are slashed by massive cutbacks in health, education, employment and public services.

What is striking about the recovery, growth, and expansion of the world’s billionaires is how dependent their accumulation of wealth is based on pillage of state resources; how much of their fortunes were based on neo-liberal policies which led to the takeover at bargain prices of privatized public enterprises; how state de-regulation allows for plunder of the environment to extract resources at the highest rate of return; how the state promoted the expansion of speculative activity in real estate, finance and hedge funds, while encouraging the growth of monopolies, oligopolies and conglomerates which captured “super profits” – rates above the ‘historical level’. Billionaires in the BRICs and in the older imperial centers (Europe, US and Japan) have been the primary tax beneficiaries of reductions and elimination of social programs and labor rights.

What is absolutely clear is that the state not the market plays a essential role in facilitating the greatest concentration and centralization of wealth in world history, whether in facilitating the plundering of the treasury and the environment or in heightening the direct and indirect exploitation of labor .

The variations in the paths to ‘billionaire’ status are striking: in the US and UK, the parasitical – speculative sector predominates over the productive; among the BRICs – with the exception of Russia diverse sectors incorporating manufacturers, software, finance and agro-mineral billionaires predominate. In China the abysmal economic gap between the billionaires and the working class, between real estate speculators and dispossessed household is lead to increasing class conflict and challenges, forcing significant increases in wages (over 20% the past 3 years) and demands for increased public spending on education, health and housing. Nothing comparable is occurring in the US , EU or in the other BRICs.

The sources of billionaire wealth are , at best,only partially due to ‘entrepreneurial innovations’. Their wealth may have begun, at an earlier phase, from producing useful goods and services; but as the capitalist economies ‘mature’ and shift toward finance, overseas markets and the search for higher profits by imposing neo-liberal policies, the economic profile of the billionaire class shifts toward the parasitical model of the established imperial centers.

The billionaires in the BRICs, Turkey and Israel contrast sharply from the Middle East oil billionaires who are ‘rentiers’ living off ‘rents’ from exploiting oil and gas and overseas investments especially in the FIRE sector. Among the BRICs only the Russian billionaire oligarchs resemble the rentiers of the Gulf. The rest, especially Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Turkish billionaires have taken advantage of state promoted industrial policies to concentrate wealth under the rhetoric of ‘national champions’, promoting their own ‘interests’ in the name of a “successful emerging economy”. But the basic class questions remains: “growth for whom and who benefits?”. So far the historical record shows that growth of billionaires has been based on a highly polarized economy in which the state serves the new class of billionaires, whether parasitical speculators as in the US, rentier pillagers of the state and environment such as Russia and the Gulf states or exploiters of labor such as in the BRICs.

Post Script

The Arab revolt can be seen in part as an effort to overthrow ‘rentier capitalist clans’. Western intervention in the revolts and support of the “opposition” military and political elites is an effort to substitute a ‘neo-liberal’ capitalist ruling class. This “new class”would be based on the exploitation of labor and dispossession of current crony-clan-kin owners of resources Major enterprises would be transferred to multi-nationals and local capitalists. Much more promising are the internal working struggles in China and to lesser degree in Brazil and the rural based Maoist peasant and tribal movements in India which oppose rentier and capitalist exploitation and dispossession.

Yemen shuts down Al-Jazeera

Yemen shuts down Al-Jazeera

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AUTHORITIES in Yemen, which has been hit by two months of anti-regime protests, overnight closed down the offices of Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel said.

The Doha-based television, in a strapline on screen, said its offices in Sanaa were closed and press accreditation withdrawn of its staff in Yemen, which has heavily criticised the channel's coverage of the unrest.

Yemen, which has also accused Al-Jazeera of bias in favour of the demonstrators, last Saturday ordered two Al-Jazeera correspondents to leave the country, saying they were working illegally and had acted unprofessionally.

The order came a day after loyalists of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime gunned down 52 pro-democracy protesters in Sanaa, provoking widespread international condemnation.

Among those shot dead was Yemeni photojournalist Jamal al-Sharaabi, who worked for independent weekly Al-Masdar, media rights groups said.

In March 2010, Saleh's ruling party warned the authorities could shut down Al-Jazeera, accusing the network of lack of objectivity in its coverage of an earlier round of unrest.

The Right to Sue Over Wiretapping

The Right to Sue Over Wiretapping

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Federal authorities have always made it difficult to bring a legal challenge against the government’s warrantless wiretapping enterprise that was set up by the Bush administration in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Because the wiretaps were secret, no one could know for certain if they were being tapped, so the government urged judges to throw out lawsuits for lack of proof of real harm.

That strategy was halted on Monday when a federal appeals court said that civil liberties and journalism groups challenging an eavesdropping law could pursue a suit trying to get the government’s wiretapping declared illegal. In an important ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated a lawsuit that a federal district judge had thrown out in 2009.

The new decision might lead to a significant — and far too long delayed — legal review of the statute.

The law in question, passed in 2008, amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It essentially legalized retroactively President George W. Bush’s outlaw program of wiretapping certain terror suspects without a warrant. It also immunized telephone companies that cooperated in the program.

And it permitted the government to listen to the international phone calls of Americans who are not engaged in criminal activity, and to read their e-mail messages. At great cost to the privacy of innocent people, it reduced the longstanding protections of judicial supervision over these powers.

The law was challenged by human rights, labor and news media organizations, led by the American Civil Liberties Union. They argued that their communications with clients and interview subjects outside the country would almost certainly be monitored under the law, in part because their jobs required conversations with activists and others whose work would be of interest to the government. Some are lawyers representing accused terror suspects in the United States and often need to communicate with the suspects’ family members or acquaintances outside of the country.

The government argued that the plaintiffs had to prove that they were monitored or harmed, but the Second Circuit didn’t buy that defense. The plaintiffs had every reason to believe that they were being monitored, the court said, and some even spent considerable sums to go abroad for meetings to avoid the eavesdropping.

The final outcome of this legal challenge is far from certain; the government, if it follows its pattern, is likely to cite another familiar defense that a full trial would reveal state secrets. But just by allowing this lawsuit to proceed, the Second Circuit has sent an important message: The government cannot count on simplistic legal arguments to avoid scrutiny of its program to spy on civilians. When one challenge is allowed, others will follow.

18 Reasons Why You Can Stick A Fork In The New Home Construction Industry

18 Reasons Why You Can Stick A Fork In The New Home Construction Industry

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If you make your living by building or selling new homes in the United States, you might want to consider taking up a different career for a while. New homes sales in the United States hit yet another new all-time record low in the month of February, and there are a whole lot of reasons why new home sales are going to stay extremely low for an extended period of time. The massive wave of foreclosures that we have seen has produced a giant glut of unsold homes in the marketplace, mortgage lenders are making it really hard to get approved for home loans, unemployment is still rampant and the global economy looks like it may soon plunge into another major recession. None of those things is good news for the new home construction industry. The truth is that we were supposed to have seen new home sales already bounce back by now. If you look at the historical numbers, new home sales in the U.S. always increased significantly after the end of every recession since World War 2. But that did not happen this time. Instead, new home sales have just continued to decline. This is absolutely unprecedented, and economists are puzzled. So what is going to happen if the U.S. economy suffers another major downturn?

New home construction has always been one of the foundational pillars of the U.S. economy. When times were good new home construction would boom, and when times were bad new home construction would falter.

Well, unfortunately the industry is stuck in the midst of a multi-year decline right now. The reality is that you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry in the United States. It is toast. There is going to be no recovery for the foreseeable future.

Not that previously owned homes are doing that much better. According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of previously existing homes in the United States dropped 9.6 percent in February. But at least sales of previously owned homes are not at all-time record lows like new home sales are.

As you can see from the facts posted below, new home sales are absolutely abysmal right now, and there are a lot of indications that things may get even worse. The following are 18 reasons why you can stick a fork in the new home construction industry....

#1 New home sales in the United States set a brand new all-time record low in the month of February.

#2 Only 19,000 new homes were sold in the United States during the month of February. The previous record low for new home sales during the month of February was 27,000, which was set last year.

#3 The "months of supply" of new homes in the U.S. rose from 7.4 months in January to 8.9 months in February.

#4 The median price of a new home in the United States declined almost 14 percent to $202,100 in the month of February.

#5 The median price of a new home in the U.S. is now the lowest it has been since December 2003.

#6 As of the end of 2010, new home sales in the United States had declined for five straight years, and they are expected to be lower once again in 2011.

#7 Now home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.

#8 New home construction starts in the United States fell 22.5 percent during the month of February. This was the largest decline in 27 years.

#9 In February, the number of new building permits (a measure of future home building activity) declined to the lowest level in more than 50 years. In fact, new building permits were 20 percent lower during February 2011 than they were in February 2010.

#10 There is a major glut of foreclosed homes that still need to be sold off. David Crowe, the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, recently told CNN that the constant flow of new foreclosures being put on the market is a huge hindrance to a recovery for new home sales....

"One of the biggest detriments to building new homes is the flow of existing foreclosed homes."

#11 The number of foreclosures just continues to increase. This means that those trying to sell new homes are going to continue to be competing against a giant mountain of foreclosed homes for the foreseeable future. An all-time record of 2.87 million U.S. households received a foreclosure filing in 2010, and that number is expected to be even higher in 2011.

#12 In fact, there are a whole lot of signs that there will be very high levels of foreclosures for years to come. For example, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage payments at this point.

#13 A stunningly high number of Americans are "underwater" on their mortgages right now. This could lead to an increase in the number of "strategic defaults". 31 percent of the homeowners that responded to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey indicated that they are "underwater" on their mortgages, and Deutsche Bank is projecting that 48 percent of all U.S. mortgages could have negative equity by the end of 2011.

#14 The truth is that the U.S. doesn't need a whole lot of new housing at the moment. Right now, 11 percent of all homes in the United States are currently standing empty.

#15 Mortgage lending standards have become extremely tight. Back during the housing bubble, almost anyone that was breathing could get a zero-down mortgage. Today, mortgage lenders have made it extremely difficult to acquire a home loan, and it is quite typical these days for lenders to demand down payments of 20 percent or more. This is dramatically reducing the number of home buyers in the marketplace.

#16 American families cannot buy homes if they do not have good jobs. Unfortunately, it has become extremely difficult to find a job in the United States today. This is especially true if you are looking for a good job. It now takes the average unemployed worker in America about 33 weeks to find a job.

#17 There is not going to be a jobs recovery until the overall economy improves. Unfortunately, the price of oil continues to rise dramatically and economic disasters all over the planet threaten to plunge the global economy into another major recession.

#18 On top of everything else, perceptions regarding home ownership are shifting in the United States. In 1996, 89 percent of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one. Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.