Friday, October 12, 2012

New US-Canada Border Regime: Deep Integration and the North-American Homeland

The Beyond the Border deal announced in December 2011 represents the most significant step forward in U.S.-Canada cooperation since NAFTA. Dual action plans are further transforming trade, regulatory and security relations between both countries. Over the next few years, various cross-border initiatives will be rolled out, with some beginning as pilot programs. The U.S. and Canada have laid the framework for a new border regime which is taking their partnership to the next level and pushing the continent closer to a fully integrated North America security perimeter.

The Department of Homeland Security and Canada Border Services Agency recently announced the Phase I pilot of the Entry/Exit program which is part of the Beyond the Border action plan. It will include collecting and exchanging biographic information of third-country nationals, permanent residents of Canada, and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. at four selected land border ports of entry. A fact sheet stressed how this, “is an important step as both countries move towards a coordinated entry/exit system that will strengthen border and immigration programs, support law enforcement, and accelerate the legitimate flow of people and goods into Canada and the United States and across our common border.” The Canadian government is also advancing plans to use biometrics for immigration and border security that would bring them in line with the U.S. and other countries. The perimeter security agreement called for implementing, “systematic and automated biographic information-sharing capability by 2013 and biometric information-sharing capability by 2014.” A North American biometric identification system could be used to restrict, track and trace our movements.

On October 4, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Transport Canada officials announced the extension of the expedited screening initiative, TSA Pre✓(TM) which will now include lanes for Canadian NEXUS members at 27 participating U.S. airports. Canadian Minister of State For Transport Steven Fletcher explained that, “The Government of Canada and the United States are delivering on commitments to include Canadian NEXUS members in designated TSA Pre✓(TM) lanes as part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan.” He went on to say, “This will mean smarter and faster air travel for Canadian NEXUS members traveling within the U.S., while maintaining a high level of aviation security.” TSA Administrator John Pistole acknowledged that, “The inclusion of Canadian NEXUS members in TSA Pre✓(TM) is an important step in further harmonizing the security screening process between the U.S. and Canada.” Under NEXUS, pre-screened travelers are granted expedited access across the border, by air, land or sea. As part of the perimeter security deal, both countries are expanding and integrating trusted traveler programs.

The Next-Generation pilot project which would permit U.S. agents on Canadian soil is on hold while legal issues are being resolved. The security perimeter agreement stated that both countries would, “create integrated teams in areas such as intelligence and criminal investigations, and an intelligence-led uniformed presence between ports of entry.” The plan which is a land-based version of the Shiprider program was scheduled to be deployed this summer. Allowing U.S. agents to cross the border and pursue suspects into Canada poses a threat to sovereignty and could infringe on personal privacy laws. The pilot project is part of the process of acclimating U.S. policing activities in Canada and could later be expanded.

Last month, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency established apre-clearance initiative pilot project on import re-inspection activities for fresh meat. This is tied to the Beyond the Border deal and is aimed at streamlining meat inspections at the U.S.-Canada border. Just as the joint program was being rolled out, XL Foods in Alberta, Canada announced a massive recall of meat products due to E. coli contamination. This came on the heels of a letter from the Safe Food Coalition to the USDA citing concerns that food safety could be compromised and requesting that the border inspection pilot be halted. Some of the potential tainted meat could have been shipped to at least eight U.S. states. In a press statement, the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter pointed out that, “the Obama Administration and the Harper Government in Canada have been plotting to eliminate the very border inspection program that tipped off authorities that there was a major problem brewing with the products originating from the XL plant.” Plans to further deregulate food safety inspections could lead to more trouble in the future.

In September, Transport Canada and the United States Coast Guard launched a pilot project that will include joint Port State Control inspections of non-Canadian and non-U.S. flagged vessels in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway. Rear Adm. Mike Parks, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District described how, “This initiative is in keeping with President Obama’s and Prime Minister Harper’s Beyond the Border Perimeter Security Initiative protecting the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region, which provides common access to the heart of North America. Our goal is to make vessel inspections more efficient and facilitate American and Canadian business on both sides of our shared border.” The program is outlined in the Regulatory Cooperation Council action plan and establishes a, “safety and security framework for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway that will align the two countries’ regulatory requirements. This pilot project will look for efficiencies in order to reduce duplicate inspections and impediments to trade.” When completed, recommendations will be made on whether to form a permanent binational foreign vessel inspection program.

NAFTA partners, in conjunction with multinational corporations and influential think tanks are pushing for deeper North American integration. As far as the upcoming U.S. election goes, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are both committed globalists and have no intentions of upholding the constitution or protecting what is left of American sovereignty. The notion of real choice is now even more of an illusion. Minus the Democrat and Republican rhetoric, it’s essentially the same policies, same agenda, and the same team. It doesn’t matter who wins the presidency, the path towards a North American Union will continue.

28 Good Questions That The Mainstream Media Should Be Asking

Why is there so little trust in the mainstream media these days?  CNN ratings have been hovering close to record lows over the past few months.  A recent Gallup survey found that 60 percent of all Americans "have little or no trust" in the mainstream media.  That was a record high according to Gallup.  So why is this happening?  Sadly, the truth is that the mainstream media quit telling the truth a long time ago.  The mainstream media has an agenda, and more Americans than ever are beginning to recognize this.  Once upon a time, control of the news in the United States was at least somewhat decentralized.  But now there are just six giant media corporations that control almost everything that we see, hear and watch.  The version of "the news" that they give us is designed to serve the interests of those corporate giants and the other corporate giants that spend billions of dollars to advertise their products through those outlets.  Watching the news on television can be an extremely frustrating experience these days.  Yes, there are little bits and pieces of the truth in there, but you have to wade through an awful lot of "infotainment" to get to those bits and pieces.  That is one of the reasons why the "alternative media" has absolutely exploded in recent years.  The American people are hungry for the truth, and they are increasingly turning to alternative sources of news on the Internet in an attempt to find it. We live at a time when the world is changing more rapidly than ever before.  Just about everything that can be shaken is being shaken, and anyone with half a brain realizes that we are heading for challenges that previous generations never even could have imagined.

There certainly is no shortage of news, but instead of focusing on the terribly important issues that we are facing, the mainstream media feeds us an endless stream of fluff, scandals and celebrities.

Just check out some of the headlines that I found on the front pages of major mainstream news websites today....

"Man Dies After Roach-Eating Contest"

"Ex-NFL Cheerleader Admits To Sex With Minor"

"Facebook Rolls Out Pinterest-Like Tool For Buying Stuff"

"Grumpy Cat Becomes Internet Sensation"

So what should the mainstream media really be talking about today?

The following are 28 good questions that the mainstream media should be asking....

1. Why is the IMF warning that there is an "alarmingly high" risk of a deeper global economic slowdown?

2. Why is Switzerland preparing for "major civil unrest" throughout Europe?

3. If the Spanish financial system completely collapses, what is that going to mean for the rest of Europe and the rest of the globe?

4. Is Turkey about to drag the rest of NATO (including the United States) into a war with Syria?

5. Why aren't people screaming in outrage about the fact that the U.S. national debt increased by more than a trillion dollars for the fourth straight year in 2012?

6. Should we be concerned that the U.S. government added more to the U.S. national debt on the first day of fiscal year 2013 than it did from 1776 to 1941 combined?

7. If temporary refinery problems can cause some gas stations to shut down and cause gas prices in California to skyrocket to all-time highs, what would a real crisis do?

8. Why are some analysts predicting that a "rapid collapse" is coming for the U.S. dollar?

9. Will the U.S. dollar soon lose its status as the primary reserve currency of the world?

10. Why is Marc Faber warning that the wealthy "may lose up to 50 percent of their total wealth"?

11. By keeping interest rates near zero, is the Federal Reserve crushing the retirement dreams of millions of elderly Americans?

12. Why do Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and most members of Congress continue to stand behind the TSA when nearly 400 TSA employees have been fired for stealing from travelers since 2003?

13. Why are nearly half a million employees of the federal government making over $100,000 a year?

14. How in the world can you have a debate about the economy that lasts for an hour and a half and never even mention Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve or quantitative easing?

15. Why are Romney campaign signs being smeared with excrement?

16. British taxpayers spent 57.8 million dollars on the royal family in 2011.  U.S. taxpayers spent 1.4 billion dollars on the Obamas that same year.  How in the world can this be justified?

17. Why does the U.S. government treat our military veterans like garbage?  Many of them have given everything for their country.  Shouldn't we treat them with more respect?

18. Why is the mainstream media ignoring a warning that an international gang of cybercriminals plans "to steal money from the online accounts of thousands of consumers at 30 or more major U.S. banks"?

19. The New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts is warning that rapidly rising global food prices could soon lead to massive food riots all over the planet.  Is this something that we should be concerned about?

20. Why is the United Nations pushing to have the authority to impose "global taxes" on all of us?

21. How did we get to the point where sex trafficking is now at epidemic levels all over the United States?

22. Why are so many young people being arrested?  Should we be concerned that 41 percent of all Americans have been arrested by the time they reach the age of 23?

23. Why are most Americans either overweight or obese or severely obese?

24. How was one Baltimore woman able to accumulate 30 free cell phones all paid for by the federal government?

25. Why are nearly 30 percent of all young adults in the 25 to 34 year old age bracket living at home with their parents?

26. Why has the birth rate in the United States fallen to an all-time low?

27. With the race for president incredibly tight right now, will the side that loses end up accusing the other side of using voter fraud to steal the election?

28. Is the U.S. Supreme Court about to make it illegal to resell our own stuff at yard sales, in thrift stores and on eBay?

Do you have any questions to add to this list?

Children Pumped Full of Speed As Only "Realistic" Way to Do Well in Cash-Strapped Schools

Doctors are prescribing prescription pills like Adderall to low-income kids even if they don't "need" drugs to function because it's often the only realistic way to help them do well in school.

"I don't have a whole lot of choice," one doctor who treats poor families outside of Atlanta, Georgia, told the New York Times [3]. "We've decided as a society that it's too expensive to modify the kid's environment. So we have to modify the kid."

It's easy for those of us without kids struggling to succeed in inadequate schools to act horrified about the way A.D.H.D diagnosis rates are rising as school funding drops — because it is horrifying to imagine a bunch of elementary schoolers hopped up on speed that's doing god knows what to their little brains (well, we know that some reported side effects include growth suppression, increased blood pressure and psychotic episodes; we'll get to that in a second) — but it all depends on how you measure success. Is the end goal a perfectly clear blood stream or good grades against the odds? Some parents (and doctors) would choose the latter.

"We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families," Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children, told the Times. "We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications."

The negative effects on the kids in this story, both emotionally and physically, are heartbreaking. "My kids don't want to take it, but I told them, ‘These are your grades when you're taking it, this is when you don't,' and they understood," said one parent who added that Medicaid covers almost all of her prescription costs. (Too bad they don't cover tutors or therapy instead...) And then there's this terrible anecdote about 11-year-old Quintin, one of five children who take more types of pills (Adderall, Risperdal, Clonidine) than the women inValley of the Dolls:

When puberty's chemical maelstrom began at about 10, though, Quintn got into fights at school because, he said, other children were insulting his mother. The problem was, they were not; Quintn was seeing people and hearing voices that were not there, a rare but recognized side effect of Adderall. After Quintn admitted to being suicidal, Dr. Anderson prescribed a week in a local psychiatric hospital, and a switch to Risperdal.
After that, Quintn's parents flushed all of their pharmaceuticals down the toilet and vowed never to give their kids prescription speed ever again. Just kidding! They actually kept giving their 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son Adderall, to help their grades and because their daughter was "a little blah." Her dad acknowledged that this was a "cosmetic" fix (I'll say; I've heard better justifications from cokeheads), but said, "If they're feeling positive, happy, socializing more, and it's helping them, why wouldn't you? Why not?"

That's exactly how I felt about taking Adderall in college. I'd pop one every few months or so, usually during finals if I had a long paper to write because Adderall made the process so much easier and so much more enjoyable. Every time I took it, I'd eventually get swept up in an inner debate about performance-enhancing drugs (made much more intense from said drugs, of course): if Adderall was so helpful, why didn't I get my own prescription and take it on a more regular basis? Why was to say I didn't need it? What did "need" really mean, anyway?

I never got one, because I hated the way I always eventually crashed after an Adderall-fueled writing session — as productive as those were — and I didn't want to become dependent on something I knew was bad for me and that I could do without. But at least I was a 20-year-old adult at the time able to make my own decisions, not a little kid with a developing brain. That's exactly what Dr. William Graf, a pediatrician and child neurologist who works with poor families, said he was concerned about: the "authenticity of development."

"These children are still in the developmental phase, and we still don't know how these drugs biologically affect the developing brain," he told the Times. "There's an obligation for parents, doctors and teachers to respect the authenticity issue, and I'm not sure that's always happening."

But, again, how can we expect parents whose children are flailing in deficient schools to prioritize the intangible concept of "authentic development" over the quick fix offered by drugs like Adderall? Realistically, we can't.

Growing World Slump Overshadows IMF-World Bank Meeting

The annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank starting in Tokyo today is being held amid growing signs that the world economy is headed for a major downturn.

According to a leaked report, the IMF has lowered its forecast for world growth in 2012 to 3.3 percent, down from the estimate of 3.4 percent in July. The world growth forecast for next year was cut to 3.6 percent, down from the estimate of 3.9 percent three months ago. It predicted that the euro zone economy would shrink by 0.4 percent this year and expand by only 0.2 percent in 2013. It says that “the further cooling of global economic growth this year and next year” will be “accompanied by a significant increase in downside risks.”

The World Bank issued similar forecasts, pointing to the downturn in China and East Asia and giving the lie to the claim that this region could provide a boost to the world economy despite a worsening situation in Europe and the United States. It said China would grow by just 7.7 percent this year, down from 9.3 percent last year, the lowest growth rate this century. Growth in developing East Asia, which excludes Japan and India, would fall to 7.2 percent, down from 8.3 percent in 2011.

The downturn in so-called “emerging markets” extends beyond East Asia. Brazil, which had also been touted as a new centre for growth, is expected to grow by less than 2 percent this year, compared to a growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2010.

In the last month, the world’s major central banks, spearheaded by the US Federal Reserve, have been pumping additional liquidity into the global financial system, claiming that these policies will lift the world economy. But these measures have only provided ultra-cheap money to banks and financial institutions to continue their speculation in financial markets while doing nothing to boost the real economy.

Summarising the outlook for the world economy, the latest data published by the Brookings Institution-Financial Times tracking index pointed to the threat of a global recession. Professor Eswar Prasad of the Brookings Institution warned that “global economic recovery is on the ropes” and that without decisive policy measures “the world economy may soon be down for the count.”

Mounting geopolitical tensions, fueled by the gathering slump, are also having an impact. Tensions between China and Japan, the world’s second and third largest economies respectively, over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea are already having a significant economic impact, as Japanese firms in China cut production.

The dispute spilled into the IMF-World Bank meeting, as Chinese banks decided not to attend the meeting. The boycott involves the country’s four state-owned banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest lender by market value.

An IMF official tried to put the best face on a bad situation, saying it was not unusual for the list of participants to change in advance of the meetings. However, the Chinese boycott is undoubtedly a result of the dispute with Japan. Earlier there were even reports that Chinese government officials might not turn up.

The very location of the IMF-World Bank meeting focuses attention on the historical significance of the ongoing global economic crisis.

The last time Tokyo hosted an IMF meeting was 1964. At the time, the Japanese government showcased the economic recovery that had taken place since the end of World War II, just 19 years earlier. Japan was then in the middle of what later became known as the “miracle decade,” with annual growth rates exceeding 10 percent.

The contrast with today could not be starker. In 1964 Japan’s growth rate was 11.2 percent in real terms, and unemployment was 1.1 percent. Last year the country’s nominal gross domestic product shrank by 2.8 percent, with an official, and understated, unemployment rate of 4.6 percent.

But 48 years ago, though Japanese and world capitalism appeared to be on a path of continuing expansion, the seeds of new crises were rapidly germinating. Just seven years later the Bretton Woods monetary system, created along with the IMF and World Bank in 1944, broke down as President Nixon removed the gold backing from the US dollar.

The processes of economic globalization which resulted from the subsequent deep recessions of 1974-75 and 1982-83 gave a boost to the world economy by providing access to cheap labour around the world, notably in East Asia and, particularly in later years, in China. But globalization did not signify a return to the conditions of the post-war boom. Rather the ever-increasing reliance on financialisation, especially in the US, created the conditions for the development of a series of financial bubbles, culminating in the financial collapse of 2008.

Now the world economy has entered its most serious crisis since the 1930s.

The 20,000 government leaders, IMF and World Bank officials, banking and corporate chiefs gathered in Tokyo have no program to promote “economic recovery.” There is no “reform” of capitalism waiting in the wings, if only governments had the wit and wisdom to introduce it.

But this is not to say that the ruling elites and their governments do not have a strategy. They do. All their policies are aimed at imposing the burdens of the historic crisis of the profit system on to the backs of the working class the world over. This is the meaning of their mantra of the need for “fiscal consolidation” and “structural economic reform”. Social spending must be slashed, all the gains made by the working class in the post-war period destroyed, and wages and working conditions attacked in order to intensify exploitation.

The international working class can only meet this offensive with its own global strategy thought out and fought for to the end, with no less determination than the ruling elites are seeking to impose their agenda. To prevent a social and economic catastrophe, it must undertake a revolutionary struggle to build workers’ governments which will expropriate the banks, financial institutions and major corporations.

Most of Us Will Not Have a Better Life Unless We Turn the Tables on the Super Rich

The following is an excerpt from 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It [3], by Chuck Collins (Berrett-Koehler, 2012).

An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar? It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007—the two years just preceding the biggest downturns. —Robert Reich (b. 1946)

There are many theories about what triggered the 2008 economic meltdown. These explanations focus on bad actors such as the large banks and financial firms, the unregulated “shadow” financial sector, and unethical subprime mortgage pushers.

But there is a missing lens to the story, one that shows how the economic meltdown was caused by excessive income and wealth inequality. The two triggers were consumption by the 99 percent based on borrowing rather than real wage growth, and reckless financial speculation by the 1 percent.

Ingredient 1: Consumption Based on Borrowing, Not Real Wage Growth

Real wages for the bottom 80 percent of households have remained relatively stagnant since the late 1970s. People survived these stagnant wages by working more hours, bringing more family members into the paid labor force, and borrowing more, thanks to easy access to credit. This put enormous stresses on many working families as they got caught on a work-consume-borrow treadmill. But for many, this was the only way to attain or maintain a middle-class standard of living.

Most households stopped being able to save. In 1980, the savings rate—the share of people’s income saved after expenses—was 11 percent. By 2007, the U.S. savings rate had plummeted to less than 2 percent, meaning people were earning only slightly more than they were spending.

Did things appear different? With a median income of roughly $50,000, many people in the United States were living with little surplus. That said, the parking lots at the mall and the Applebee’s restaurant were full. The rising middle class bought new cars, teenagers got smartphones, and families took expensive vacations. These feats of consumption were not a reflection of rising wages. In some cases, increased spending was the result of two or three incomes. But most purchasing was made possible by families taking on more debt. Consumer debt—both credit card and home equity loans—escalated during the decade prior to 2008. The total amount of credit card debt exploded, thanks in part to aggressive “debt pushing.” In 2006, there were 6 billion credit card solicitations sent out.The majority of home financing was for second mortgages, not new home acquisitions. Access to easy credit was the drug that enabled millions to live beyond their means.

Exploding consumer debt was worsened by a shift in the culture, as extensive borrowing became more socially sanctioned. The debt pushers contributed to this, advertising cheap credit and peddling home equity loans as the new normal.

Overwork and debt masked the reality of falling and stagnant wages. If you and your neighbors could still acquire a flat-screen TV and take a Caribbean vacation, then it was hard to feel constrained. But these trends were fundamentally unstable. Underlying these indicators was a growing credit card and housing mortgage bubble. Think of the sound track from the movie Jaws as a shark creeps up on the unsuspecting swimmer.

The entire economy was humming, but it wasn’t based on healthy wage growth and shared prosperity. The consumption engine driving the economic boom between 2000 and 2008 was based on borrowing, not real wage increases.

So when the economy seized up in 2008 and access to easy credit ground to a halt, so did the consumption engine. Millions of people lost their jobs or a significant household income. But they also lost the borrowing lifeline that had eased the gap between inadequate income and spending. Without debt-driven consumer demand, the entire economy froze.

Extremely unequal wages and income contributed to the collapse of consumer buying power. If consumption had been based on a foundation of healthy wage growth, the situation would have been considerably less volatile.

Ingredient Two: Financial SpeculationThe dynamic of debt-based consumption was bad enough. But there was another way that inequality contributed to crashing the economy. At the top of the economic pyramid, those in the top 1 percent were doing their part by taking part in risky gambling. Unfortunately, the gambling was not confined to a casino, where the losses could be contained, but took place at the heart of our whole economy.

In 2007, the richest 1 percent owned 36.5 percent of all the private wealth in the United States and over 42.4 percent of all financial assets. Part of this estimated $20 trillion in wealth was in the form of land, houses, artwork, jewelry, private jets, and other private property. But an enormous fraction of it was in the form of stocks, bonds, and ownership stakes in the world’s corporations.

The 99 percent, when they have money to invest, look to banks, bonds, and mutual funds. But almost everyone in the 1 percent has investment professionals who advise them about allocating their invested wealth. So imagine for a moment that you’re a member of the 1 percent, with $200 million in wealth, and I’m your trusted investment advisor. It’s sometime between 2000 and 2007.

I explain that a typical asset allocation strategy is to park a portion of your wealth in stable investments that are a bulwark against serious market downturns. These include insured deposits in banks and credit unions and bonds backed by local, state, or federal governments. This guarantees that you will always be rich, even in tough times. The problem, I explain, is that these have relatively low rates of return. In fact, in 2005, we’re talking 2–3 percent returns. In other words, real snoozers.

I suggest taking another portion of your $200 million and investing in some long-term growth equities—companies that have been around for a long time. These include Ford, General Motors, and General Electric, the “blue chip” or seemingly stable companies. But it’s the same problem again: very boring and modest returns on investment, maybe 5–6 percent.

With another portion of your funds, we’ll start to increase risk and return, looking for a diversified mixture of small- and large-capitalization new companies outside the stock market. These are more interesting and have the potential for higher returns, in the 7–10 percent range.

Now we pause and take a deep breath. Our hearts start to beat a little faster in anticipation of what comes next. Up until now, we’ve pursued the investment strategy that the super-rich have employed for decades—diversified, sensible, a nice blend of risk and return. We will tweak it based on your age and special needs, but it’s a tried-and-true approach.

There is, however, a new class of investments that are generating very high returns. You’re smiling because this is what brought you in my door. These new investment vehicles are complicated but highly lucrative—dazzling returns of 10 or 15 percent. Some funds have even had 20 percent returns for five years in a row.

To get those returns, however, we have to make speculative, high-risk investments. These include investments in hedge funds, derivatives, and credit default swaps—some of the financial innovations that some very smart young fellows on Wall Street have designed. These are not investments in the “real economy,” in which firms make actual things or provide services that people use. Rather, these are ways to place financial bets on the movement of money and markets. The question for you is, how much are you willing to risk?

Think about your $200 million. If all you had was $20 million, you would be able to live a very wonderful life, meet all your material needs, and guard against most possible problems. You might not be able to buy genuine love or eternal life, though you’ll probably live longer. You’ll be able to go to the Mayo Clinic for whatever medical need you have and enjoy every luxury the planet has to offer. With another $20 million, you will be able to provide the same to your progeny.

So, setting aside that $40 million, you have $160 million you’re willing to gamble with. Wouldn’t it be fun to keep score and watch it multiply? It is, after all, mostly just numbers on a page or screen. So we allocate a large portion—let’s say $80 million—to the new financial instruments.

Now imagine this same conversation playing out in the wood-paneled offices of the 1 percent all across the planet between 1998 and 2007. As a result, huge amounts of wealth shifted into the speculative market.

The speculative funds of the top 1 percent are merged with additional trillions of dollars in sovereign wealth funds—the colossal piles of wealth generated by Middle Eastern oil profits and Chinese exports and held by central governments. Add to this the trillions in cash accumulated by the world’s corporate 1 percent—banks, insurance companies such as AIG, and the finance arms of corporations such as General Electric. That totals trillions of dollars of wealth looking for a home—not in sleepy investments in the real economy, which are incapable of generating such large returns, but in the casino-like speculative economy.

Wall Street drove this process by seeking more and more high-risk deals. One of their favorites was high-interest mortgage debt, known as subprime mortgages. Investment banks and brokers such as Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Bank of America called up mortgage lenders and people who bundled mortgages together and said, “Bring us more of those high-return, high-risk deals!” So trillions of dollars flowed into the shadow financial sector—and the deals became more and more delinked from the fundamentals of the real economy.

By 2007, the speculative bubbles had grown, not just in the housing market but also in other sectors of the economy. Commodity futures rose, pushing up the cost of foodstuffs and triggering food riots across the world. Speculation in oil futures drove up the cost of oil, and a gallon of gas during the summer of 2008 topped $4 a gallon. Americans spent hundreds of billions of dollars more on gas in 2008 than they did the previous year.4 [4] Funds that could have financed a transition to a green economy went to the oil industry, which enjoyed unprecedented profits—in 2008, ExxonMobil set records with profits of $45.2 billion.

Tick, tick, tick. Kaboom!

The extreme inequalities of wealth—stagnant wages and speculative activity—brought the economy to its knees. And here’s the bad news: it hasn’t stopped. As long as the 1 percent has excess money to bet with, they will continue seeking speculative investments.

Too bad it’s not a game in a casino. Unfortunately, it’s a very costly game. And the people paying the price with ruined lives are not in the 1 percent.

The Largest Economy In The World Is Imploding Right In Front Of Our Eyes

A devastating economic depression is rapidly spreading across the largest economy in the world.  Unemployment is skyrocketing, money is being pulled out of the banks at an astounding rate, bad debts are everywhere and economic activity is slowing down month after month.  So who am I talking about?  Not the United States - the economy that I am talking about has a GDP that is more than two trillion dollars larger.  It is not China either - the economy that I am talking about is more than twice the size of China.  You have probably guessed it by now - the largest economy in the world is the EU economy.  Things in Europe continue to get even worse.  Greece and Spain are already experiencing full-blown economic depressions that continue to deepen, and Italy and France are headed down the exact same path that Greece and Spain have gone.  Headlines about violent protests and economic despair dominate European newspapers day after day after day.  European leaders hold summit meeting after summit meeting, but all of the "solutions" that get announced never seem to fix anything.  In fact, the largest economy on the planet continues to implode right in front of our eyes, and the economic shockwave from this implosion is going to be felt to the four corners of the earth. On Friday, newspapers all over Europe declared that Greece is about to run out of money (again).

The Greek government says that without more aid they will completely run out of cash by the end of November.

Of course the rest of Europe is going to continue to pour money into Greece because they know that if they don't the financial markets will panic.

But they are also demanding that Greece make even more painful budget cuts.  Previous rounds of budget cuts have been extremely damaging to the Greek economy.

The Greek economy contracted by 4.9 percent during 2010 and by 7.1 percent during 2011.

Overall, the Greek economy has contracted by about 20 percent since 2008.

This is what happens when you live way above your means for too long and a day of reckoning comes.

The adjustment can be immensely painful.

Greece continues to implement wave after wave of austerity measures, and these austerity measures have pushed the country into a very deep depression, but Greece still is not even close to a balanced budget.

Greece is still spending more money than it is bringing in, and Greek politicians are warning what even more budget cuts could mean for their society.

For example, what Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had to say the other day was absolutely chilling....

"Greek democracy stands before what is perhaps its greatest challenge," Samaras told the German business daily Handelsblatt in an interview published hours before the announcement in Berlin that Angela Merkel will fly to Athens next week for the first time since the outbreak of the crisis.

Resorting to highly unusual language for a man who weighs his words carefully, the 61-year-old politician evoked the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party to highlight the threat that Greece faces, explaining that society "is threatened by growing unemployment, as happened to Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic".

"Citizens know that this government is Greece's last chance," said Samaras, who has repeatedly appealed for international lenders at the EU and IMF to relax the onerous conditions of the bailout accords propping up the Greek economy.
But don't look down on Greece.  They are just ahead of the curve.  Eventually the U.S. and the rest of Europe will go down the exact same path.

Just look at Spain.  When Greece first started imploding, Spain insisted that the same thing would never happen to them.

But it did.

By itself, Spain is the 12th largest economy in the world, and right now it is a complete and total mess with no hope of recovery in sight.

The national government is broke, the regional governments are broke, the banking system is insolvent and Spain is in the midst of the worst housing crash that it has ever seen.

On top of everything else, the unemployment rate in Spain is now over 25 percent and the unemployment rate for those under the age of 25 is now well above 50 percent.

An astounding 9.86 percent of all loans that Spanish banks are holding are considered to be bad loans which will probably never be collected.  Before it is all said and done, probably ever major Spanish bank will need to be bailed out at least once.

Manufacturing activity in Spain has contracted for 17 months in a row, and the number of corporate bankruptcies in Spain is rising at a stunning rate.

Five different Spanish regions have formally requested bailouts from the national government, and the national government is drowning in an ocean of red ink.

Meanwhile, panic has set in and there has been a run on the banks in Spain.  The following is from a recent Bloomberg article....

Banco Santander SA (SAN), Spain’s largest bank, lost 6.3 percent of its domestic deposits in July, according to data published by the nation’s banking association. Savings at Banco Popular Espanol SA, the sixth-biggest, fell 9.5 percent the same month.

Eurobank Ergasias SA, Greece’s second-largest lender, lost 22 percent of its customer deposits in the 12 months ended March 31, according to the latest data available from the firm. Alpha Bank SA (ALPHA), the country’s third-biggest, lost 26 percent of client savings during that period.
Overall, the equivalent of 7 percent of GDP was withdrawn from the Spanish banking system in the month of July alone.

Thousands of Spaniards have become so desperate that they have resorted to digging around in supermarket trash bins for food.  In response, locks are being put on supermarket trash bins in some areas.

But Greece and Spain are not alone in seeing their economies implode.

As I wrote about recently, the number of unemployed workers in Italy has risen by more than 37 percent over the past year.

The French economy is starting to implode as well.  Just check out this article.

The unemployment rate in France is now above 10 percent, and it has risen for 16 months in a row.

It is just a matter of time before things in Italy and France get as bad as they already are in Greece and Spain.

The chief economist at the IMF is now saying that it will take until at least 2018 for the global economy to recover, but unfortunately I believe that he is being overly optimistic.

As I have said so many times before, the next wave of the global economic crisis is rapidly approaching.  Depression is already sweeping much of southern Europe, and it is only a matter of time before it sweeps across northern Europe and North America as well.

Neither Obama or Romney is going to be able to stop what is coming.  The global economy is getting weaker with each passing day.  The central banks of the world can print money until the cows come home, but that isn't going to fix our fundamental problems.

The largest economy in the world is imploding right in front of our eyes and nobody seems to know what to do about it.

If you believe that Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or Ben Bernanke can somehow magically shield us from the economic shockwave that is coming then you are being delusional.

Just because what is going on in Europe is a "slow-motion train wreck" does not mean that it will be any less devastating.

Yes, we can see what is coming and we can understand why it is happening, but that doesn't mean that we will be able to avoid the consequences.

Another Phony Employment Report

October 5. Today’s employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 114,000 new jobs in September and a drop in the rate of unemployment from 8.1% to 7.8%. As 114,000 new jobs are not sufficient to stay even with population growth, the drop in the unemployment rate is the result of not counting discouraged workers who are defined away as “not in the labor force.”

According to the BLS, “In September, 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force.” These individuals “wanted and were available for work,” but “they were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.”

In other words, 2.5 million unemployed Americans were not counted as unemployed.

The stock market rose on the phony good news. Bloomberg’s headline: ““
U.S. Stocks Rise as Unemployment Rate Unexpectedly Drops,”

A truer picture of the dire employment situation is provided by the 600,000 rise over the previous month in involuntary part-time workers. According to the BLS, “These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.”

Turning to the 114,000 new jobs, once again the jobs are concentrated in lowly paid domestic service jobs that cannot be offshored. Manufacturing jobs declined by 16,000.

As has been the case for a decade, two categories--health care and social assistance (primarily ambulatory health care services) and waitresses and bartenders account for 53% of the new jobs. The BLS never ceases to find ever growing employment of people in restaurants and bars despite the rising dependence of the US population on food stamps. The elderly are rising as a percentage of the American population, but I sometimes wonder if employment in ambulatory health care services is rising faster than the elderly population. Whether these reported jobs are real, I do not know.

The rest of the new jobs were accounted for by retail trade, transportation and warehousing, financial activities (primarily credit intermediation), professional and business services (primarily administrative and waste services), and state government education, where the 13,600 reported new jobs seem odd in light of the teacher layoffs and rise in classroom size.

The high-tech jobs that economists promised would be our reward for offshoring American manufacturing jobs and tradeable professional services, such as software engineering and IT, have never materialized. “The New Economy” was just another hoax, like “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” and “Iranian nukes.”

While employment falters, the consumer price index (CPI-U) in August increased 0.6 percent, the largest since June 2009. If the August rate is annualized, it means bad news on the inflation front. Instead of bringing us high tech jobs, is “the New Economy” bringing back the stagflation of the late 1970s? Time will tell.

Growing Crisis For Homeless Children

It is generally assumed, except by the most hardened reactionaries, that governments, even under capitalism, have a responsibility to ensure that children’s basic needs for housing, health care, food and education are met.

However, this basic tenet is being undermined across the U.S., as states cut back essential programs for children, under the pressure of the economic crisis and the greedy 1%.

In New York City, the “richest city” in the country, 20,000 children now live in shelters. This is the largest number of homeless children here since the Great Depression. It is expected only to get worse.

Unemployment, low-wage jobs, combined with exorbitant rents and gentrification of working-class communities by big real estate interests have created the perfect storm underlying growing ­homelessness.

In 2005, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with great fanfare, announced that he would decrease the number of homeless people, 33,000, by two-thirds within four years.

The city then stopped prioritizing homeless families for federal assistance for housing and financial aid, programs which help people stay in permanent homes.

After the administration implemented those cutbacks, the number of homeless families rose. Today, 11,000 families and 46,000 individuals are without homes, the highest levels since the 1930s. African Americans and Latinos/as have been disproportionately impacted.

For the 20,000 homeless children today and those of the future — as there is no end in sight for this catastrophic situation — it’s devastating. It affects their emotional and physical health, their school attendance and achievement, and more.

Exacerbating the crisis further, the city ended all housing assistance for homeless families more than a year ago, forcing more people into shelters. Additionally, Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut $48 million and $65 million, respectively, for programs aiding families in obtaining permanent housing.

Now, the pro-corporate city administration has descended so low as to wrongfully deny even shelter access, so that this year, only 35 percent of applicant families were approved to enter the facilities, say the Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society.

The two organizations said in their testimony at a Sept. 25 New York City Council Committee on General Welfare meeting, “In recent months, the NYC Department of Homeless Services has begun to deny overnight shelter placements to homeless children and families, even during declared weather emergencies.” The doors are shut even to those with serious health problems.

When confronted at the City Council meeting about homelessness, NYC Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond was intransigent. He insisted that there would be no city aid forthcoming to help families get permanent housing.

Bloomberg’s response to the emergency is to open five more homeless shelters.

Bloomberg and Cuomo should be held accountable for their roles in worsening the homeless crisis. The city and state should immediately rescind the budget cuts, and refund and implement all housing assistance programs to enable families to obtain permanent residences. The city should allot a sizable number of its apartments for homeless families, and more.

Homelessness is innate to capitalism. It worsens during an economic decline.Housing for all should be included as part of progressive struggles all over the country.

In a humane, socialist society, where people’s needs are the priority, the necessities of life for all, especially the needs of children, would be guaranteed. Public housing would not be a hot potato for the superrich and their politicians to ignore and evade.

National Bank Of Canada Foreclosing Americans’ Homes Over Credit Card Debt

The National Bank of Canada is attempting to foreclose upon hundreds of American families’ homes in California over old credit card debts, according to a published report.

Bay Citizen reporter Rick Jurgens writes that the bank’s debt collection unit, Credigy Receivables, began filing foreclosure lawsuits recently that take advantage of a loophole in California’s laws that lets them go directly for a debtor’s home even if that property was not offered as collateral for a loan.

Jurgens explained that one of the people targeted by the new legal tactic is 71-year-old Helen Jones, an Oakland resident who lived in her home for 37 years before Credigy sued in 2010 over $1,636 in credit card debt her ex-husband ran up. She claimed the bank offered to settle the debt and drop the foreclosure for $7,000, and that she ultimately paid them $3,800 just to get it all over with.

They can get away with this because California has left the relatively new practice of third parties buying and selling debts virtually unregulated, creating legal space that lets banks go directly after valuable assets that were never offered as security for loans.

California State Sen. Mark Leno (D) filed a bill in 2011 called the “Fair Debt Buyers Practices Act” that sought to make third party collectors log the transactions that led to a consumer’s debts, rather than today’s common practice of purchasing a list of names and numbers without supporting information that proves the debt.

That bill passed the California Senate, but was relegated to a quiet death in an assembly committee after banking industry lobbyists voiced concerns.

The buying and selling of debts on the consumer level arose in the 1990s, after President Bill Clinton agreed with Republicans and signed a banking deregulation bill that allowed the merger of the consumer and investment banking sectors and enabled the creation of credit default trading on Wall Street.

That market was worth $62 trillion in 2008, but it grew to more than $708 trillion by the end of June 2011, according to the Bank for International Settlements, which noted that the total value represented 18 percent growth in just the first half of 2011. The World Bank says the global gross domestic product was $69.97 trillion in 2011, up from $21.9 trillion in 1990.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act sought to address the financial chaos caused when debt-backed derivative bubbles collapse, which was one of the key factors leading to the 2008 financial crisis that nearly put the global financial system into complete gridlock. However, new regulations issued by Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau only seek to limit derivatives speculation in certain industries, like food and oil, leaving many of the president’s own allies — including the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas — to say that the administration’s landmark reforms didn’t go far enough.

In spite of the limited effort, a federal judge in Washington struck the derivatives regulations down just last week, ruling on a lawsuit brought by the financial services industry.

European Workers Take Streets To Resist Austerity

Hardening arteries of a dying system

Money is the lifeblood of capitalism.More and more, the bankers have it locked away in their vaults and don’t know what to do with it. They already face that most irrational feature of capitalism, “overproduction,” which to them means that corporations aren’t expanding because there’s not much of a market for more goods and services, so therefore companies aren’t borrowing money and the bankers are stuck with cash that’s just sitting there, not drawing interest.

Meanwhile, the workers, who have produced everything of value, increasingly find it impossible to scrape up enough cash to live.

Right now, the European banks, principally those backed by German capital, are trying to overcome the crisis that all capitalists are in by lending out money to “debtor” countries in the European Union — especially Spain, Portugal and Greece — at the highest interest rate they can get.

To make sure these governments can pay that interest, the bankers have been demanding draconian cuts in every needed social service won over generations of struggle — pensions, unemployment insur­ance, health care, education, you name it.

These steps are driving the working class, and many in the middle class, into a frenzy of strikes and protests. The bankers don’t even listen to the bourgeois voices warning their class to ease up a bit in their own self-interest.

As long as there is capitalism, capital will flow to where the profit returns are the largest, creating an entire world divided between haves and have-nots. However, after decades of the scientific-technological revolution, the very thing that drives capitalism into crisis — high productivity — provides the basis for quickly rectifying these divisions by reallocating the surplus product to where it is needed the most.

In other words, when the working class breaks the grip of the capitalists over society and sets up a socialist system, bankers in richer countries like Germany won’t be milking the poorer European countries, as they do now.

Besides the massive workers’ struggles detailed below, some 80,000 people assembled Sept. 30 in downtown Paris to protest government cutbacks and tax increases; and across Germany on Sept. 29 some 40,000 people protested social cuts and growing social inequality.

Spanish protesters clash with police, Sept. 26.

Spain: Leftist youth encircle Parliament

By Caleb T. Maupin

A primarily youth-led action called under the slogan “25S: Encircle Parliament,” did exactly that on Sept. 25 and 26. Despite heavy violence-baiting from the regime of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the corporate media, some 25,000 people gathered in Neptune Square to try to stop the center of government from functioning as usual.

The center-right-wing Popular Party has led Spain’s government since November 2011, sharply cutting social spending and laying off thousands of public workers. The social-democratic opposition party, the PSOE, has been complicit in these cuts.

Currently, the Spanish government is seeking an additional bailout from the European Union as it again faces bankruptcy. A new bailout plan will likely demand even more drastic spending cuts. Already, 25 percent of workers in Spain are unemployed, with the situation growing worse daily.

Many working-class families in Spain are being evicted from their homes. Courts processed 58,000 foreclosures in 2011, while 2 million properties stand vacant.

Youth started taking over public spaces in May 2011 and have halted home foreclosures. A lengthy miners’ strike in the Asturias region in response to cuts in mining subsidies led to police attacks that workers stood up to with homemade projectiles. Long marches of thousands of miners moved from Asturias to a triumphal entry into Madrid.

The Indignados — those who began the occupations of the town squares — as well as the more radical sectors of the anarchist and communist movements, and grass-roots unionists led the event. Unleashed by the government, the cops attacked with batons and pepper spray. Cops arrested 35 people and injured 60. Some of the injured suffered wounds from plastic bullets.

Videos made available all over the Internet show youths with their faces covered, bearing large red flags. They are seen confronting lines of police in riot gear. As police violently drag youths away, the shouting crowds come to their rescue, pulling them away from the police.

One extremely popular video first shows a cop brutalizing people. Then, one youth leaps into the air to “drop kick” that same cop, who then falls to the ground where he is accessible to mass anger.

Arguing that the current center-right government is losing control of the country, the social-democratic PSOE promises to implement austerity in a way that would soften unrest. What the movement in the streets is demanding, however, is an end to austerity itself, not a more “responsible” version.

Spain’s labor unions are discussing a general strike in the near future. One held in the Basque Country on Sept. 26 was a big success.

In Spain and elsewhere, these confrontations between the capitalist state and the working-class movements are growing. The rage that millions of people feel toward harsh economic circumstances is translating into more serious actions that challenge the capitalist state.

Greece: Workers march in 70 cities

By Gene Clancy

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the Greek and European ruling classes are facing a major dilemma: They have promised the European Union and the International Monetary Fund nearly $15.5 billion in spending cuts over the next two years. The bulk of these funds is expected to come from cutting wages, pensions and welfare benefits, heaping a new wave of misery on the Greek working class.

Greece is currently in the midst of a deep capitalist economic recession aggravated by previous austerity measures.

At question is how the Greek people will react.

On Sept. 26, tens of thousands of workers participated in militant demonstrations in 70 cities across the country. Millions responded to a call for a 24-hour general strike by PAME, the All Workers Militant Front, the union confederation close to the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).

Riot police used tear gas and pepper spray against demonstrators near the country’s parliament. Protesters set fire to trees in the National Gardens and used hammers to smash paving stones and marble panels to use as missiles against the riot police.

Over 50,000 people joined the march in central Athens. Ships stayed in port, museums and monuments were shut down and air traffic controllers walked off the job. The strike closed the Acropolis, Greece’s most famous tourist site, and halted flights for hours. Train, airline and ferry services were suspended, schools, shops and gas stations were closed, and hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only.

“People, fight! They’re drinking your blood!” protesters chanted as they banged drums. (AP, Sept. 26)

Hospital worker Alkis Betses, who has seen his monthly salary fall from $1,680 to $1,035, says new cuts will bring it down to $775.

“How can you survive on $775 a month, with ever-rising taxes, and continue to pay bills and buy necessary supplies?” he asked. (AP, Sept. 26)

Led by PAME, Greek workers have held more than a dozen general strikes in the past four years. The European and Greek ruling classes have tried to ride over this resistance, but it is now spreading to other European countries.

Unionized workers fill Lisbon, Portugal’s biggest square.

Portugal: Massive rally sets stage for strike

By Chris Fry

Thirty-eight years ago, organized and militant Portuguese workers acted immediately with strikes and demonstrations to back up a revolt within the military, weary of a long colonial war, to overthrow the long-entrenched, U.S.-backed, fascist regime that had ruled Portugal since 1932.

Now, a new generation of workers and youth face the hated “troika” of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which is demanding greater and greater measures of “austerity” from the present right-wing Portuguese government.

On Sept. 29, some 200,000 people marched through the streets of Lisbon, the capital city, and crowded Commerce Square, near the waterfront, with a massive rally. Protesters carried banners carrying the messages: “The struggle continues!” and “Go to hell, Troika! We want our lives back!”

The demonstration was organized by the CGTP-IN, Portugal largest union with 750,000 members (Portugal’s population is 11 million). It came two weeks after other huge nationwide demonstrations against austerity measures that involved over 1 million people and were led by militant youth organizations. The Sept. 29 action was held simultaneously with large demonstrations in Greece, Spain and other European capitals.

Portugal’s workers are enduring record unemployment of over 15 percent. At the behest of imperialism’s banking “troika,” the Portuguese government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, has slashed social benefits and hiked taxes for the workers. The Portuguese economy is mired in a deep recession, with the “contraction” of the gross domestic product expected to total 3 percent for 2012, and a deeper slide is expected in 2013.

To curry favor with and obtain “rescue” funds of $100 billion from the same international bankers who caused Europe’s financial crisis in the first place, and who now want the workers to pay for it, Portugal’s right-wing government has imposed one cutback after another on Portugal’s workers, who are already among the poorest paid in Europe.

The government recently announced plans to raise the workers’ contribution to the country’s social security system by 64 percent while cutting back the business contribution. After the Sept. 15 mass protests, Passos Coelho pulled back — in words. But the mid-October annual budget may call for even harsher cutbacks to satisfy the banks.

More than just a one-day show of force by the country’s trade unions, the CGTP-IN announced that the Sept. 29 demonstration was a prelude to future struggle. On Oct. 3, meetings will be held to prepare a general strike.

16 Critical Economic Issues That Obama And Romney Avoided During The Debate

Did you watch the presidential debate on Wednesday night?  It is absolutely amazing how they can have an hour and a half debate about the economy and say so little.  It seemed like both candidates were falling all over each other wanting to talk about how much they value education, but will more education really solve our problems?  After all, 53 percent of all Americans with a bachelor's degree under the age of 25 were either unemployed or underemployed in 2011.  So perhaps they should just both agree that education is a good thing and start talking about how to create more jobs for all of us.  If you want to grade the debate from a technical standpoint, clearly Romney was the winner of the debate.  Romney was full of energy and was generally sharp with his answers.  Obama looked like he had just popped a couple of antidepressants and was ready for nap time.  As a result, this might have been the worst blowout in the history of presidential debates.  A CNN/ORC International poll that was taken right after the debate found that 67 percent of all Americans that had watched the debate thought that Romney was the winner.  Never before had any presidential candidate crossed the 60 percent mark in the history of their post-debate polling.  So Romney definitely had a big night.  But the reality is that both candidates were telling the American people what they want to hear.  If either Obama or Romney told the truth about what we are facing they would lose votes, and in a race this tight both of them really want to avoid doing that.  Obama and Romney both desperately want to win this election, and the words that are coming out of their mouths have been carefully crafted to appeal to the "undecided voters" in the swing states.  If you actually believe that they can deliver on everything that they are promising, then you must not have been paying much attention to U.S. politics over the past several decades. Perhaps the biggest failure on Wednesday night was debate moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS.  His questions were about as far from "hard hitting" as you could get.

The hour and a half debate was almost entirely about the economy, and yet almost all of the critical economic issues were ignored.

Yes, Obama and Romney have slight differences when it comes to tax rates and regulations, but those small differences are not going to do much to change the direction of this country one way or another.

Meanwhile, there were some really huge issues about the economy that were not addressed at all last night....

1 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the Federal Reserve was not mentioned a single time.

2 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, Ben Bernanke was not mentioned a single time.

3 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, quantitative easing was not mentioned a single time.

4 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the term "derivatives" was not used a single time.  Considering the fact that derivatives could bring down our financial system at any moment, this is an issue that should be talked about.

5 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, there was no mention of the millions of jobs that have been shipped out of the country.  Considering the fact that both Obama and Romney have played a role in this, it is probably a topic they both want to avoid.  Overall, the United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.

6 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, neither candidate mentioned that the velocity of money has plunged to a post-World War II low.

7 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the fact that the rest of the world is beginning to reject the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency was not mentioned a single time, but this has enormous implications for our economy in the years ahead.

8 - The fact that the Social Security system is headed for massive trouble was only briefly touched on during the debate.  At the moment, there are approximately 56 million Americans that are collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to grow to an astounding 91 million.  Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.  When are our politicians going to honestly address this massive problem?

9 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the nightmarish drought the country is experiencing right now was not mentioned a single time.

10 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the financial meltdown in Europe was basically totally ignored.  But considering the fact that Europe has a larger economy and a much larger banking system than we do, perhaps someone should have asked Obama and Romney what they plan to do when the financial system of Europe implodes.

11 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, the student loan debt bubble was only briefly mentioned.

12 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, there was not a single word about the fact that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is now larger than it has been at any point since the Great Depression.

13 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, there was no mention of TARP (which they both supported at the time).  Would they both bail out the big banks if another financial crisis erupted?

14 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, there was no mention of the economic stimulus packages (which they both supported at the time).  Would they both want more "economic stimulus" if we entered another recession?

15 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, neither candidate talked about the fact that most of the jobs our economy is producing now are low income jobs.  In fact, since the end of the last recession, 58 percent of the jobs that have been created are low paying jobs.

16 - In an hour and a half debate about the economy, neither candidate mentioned that more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government or that more than half of all Americans are now at least partially financially dependent on the government.  I can't blame Romney for avoiding this point though - he probably wanted to avoid the phrase "47 percent" at all costs.

Is this really the best that America can do?

Tens of millions of Americans tuned in hoping to become more informed about the candidates, and instead what they got was an hour and a half of tap dancing as Obama and Romney constantly tossed out buzzwords such as "education", "energy independent" and "middle class".

I honestly don't know how you can possibly have a debate about the economy without talking about the Federal Reserve, quantitative easing, the trade deficit, Europe or the decline of the U.S. dollar.

But it just happened right in front of our eyes.

I don't think that I can ever remember another presidential debate that lacked substance as much as this one did.