Monday, August 5, 2013

Companies sitting on cash pile of over $1 trillion

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Corporations are hoarding cash: despite dividends and buybacks, cash is likely to hit another record high.
Cash set a record in the first quarter of 2013 on an absolute basis: $1.093 trillion in the S&P 500. It has set a record for 18 of the last 20 quarters.
With 47 percent of the S&P 500reporting,we are once again on track for record cash levels.
What's going on? The short answer is that companies are not spending as much...they have record earnings, but they are holding on to a lot of the money. Consider the places where they would spend their money:
  1. Capital expenditures have not risen much;
  2. M&A activity has been modest at best;
  3. Buybacks have increased, but they are nowhere near levels before the financial crisis. For example, actual buybacks were $100 billion for the first quarter of 2013. If you go back to Q4 2007, there was $142 billion in buybacks, Q3 2007 there was $172 billion;
  4. Dividends have gone up slightly, but they have gone down as a percentage of earnings. For the S&P 500, the payout ratio (the dollar amount companies are paying out as a percentage of earnings) is currently 36 percent; in Q3 2007 it was 45.8 percent.

Why is this happening? They seem uncomfortable spending the money. Why? The commentary seems to indicate they don't have a lot of visibility or confidence in future growth.
The good news is that with so much cash, companies are likely to at least continue to raise dividends.
By the way: the sector that has the most cash is technology. That sector accounts for 41 percent of all the cash in Q1. Historically, technology also has the highest cash-to-market-value ratio (15.1 percent). And the cash hoard there has been growing fast: it's up 11 percent year over year.
Note: in calculating cash levels for the S&P 500, Standard & Poor's routinely excludes financials, utilities, and transportation, since they are required to maintain high cash reserves as part of their normal operating process.
Consumer Staples are also growing their cash hoard: in the first quarter they increased cash levels by 17.6 percent.

Why NSA Surveillance Should Alarm Labor

If unions are not speaking out against PRISM, it is because they have short memories.
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Today’s ever-expanding surveillance state should strike fear into the heart of organized labor not only because there is opportunity for abuse, but because there is motive.
Contrary to the arguments in Louis Nayman’s somewhat befuddling “In Defense of PRISM,” progressives who criticize the abuses and excesses of the National Security Agency are not “delegitimizing the government.” Rather, as Zaid Jilani rightly points out in his response to Nayman, almost the obverse is true: Indiscriminately defending the government’s actions—merely to avoid providing fodder for the Tea Party—threatens the legitimacy (not to mention the coherence) of the progressive movement. 
Nayman’s defense of the NSA is particularly disturbing coming from a self-identified labor organizer. It’s difficult to imagine a constituency that should have deeper qualms than organized labor about vesting so much surveillance and police power in the hands of the state at a time when the collusion of corporations and government has never been so intimate. Defending PRISM because it “keeps us safe” presumes that the government always operates to preserve the interests and safety of all, equally. But as labor activists know better than anyone, that isn’t true.
Over just the past few years, we’ve seen the government undermine public employee benefitswhile cutting taxes for millionaires and allowing bailed-out bankers to take home multi-million dollar bonuses; rush to the aid of the financial institutions that sunk our economy while allowing millions of working-class homeowners to be foreclosed upon; and fiercely defend corporate “speech rights” while allowing the same corporations to undermine workers’ freedom to speak out and organize themselves for better conditions.
Nayman may be right that “[d]efense of life, freedom and property is a legitimate function of government,” but history loudly testifies to the fact that the state always defends “life, freedom and property” more vigorously for some than for others. Any wholesale defense of the U.S. government’s spying apparatus depends on a disturbing amnesia about the state’s dealings with working people and their organizations, both in the recent and more distant past. And it depends on the assumption that working people and their organizations have never been, and will never be, the targets of surveillance. 
But throughout the 20th century, U.S. domestic spying tended to focus on precisely those individuals and organizations who posed a perceived threat to corporate plutocracy and the hegemony of (white) elites—i.e. radical labor, left-wing advocates for a more just economy, and organizers in the fight for racial justice. As early as 1916, New York police were revealed to havewiretapped the phones of labor organizations in the city. “The police tap the wires of a union as soon as a strike is started,” testified a union official, “as soon as it is known that trouble is brewing.” Information regarding unions’ plans, he said, was then transmitted to the employers, enabling them to block strikes.
A few years later, during the first Red Scare—the years following WWI and the Bolshevik revolution—the Justice Department’s General Intelligence Division spied on union members and labor activists across the country.  Headed by a 24-yr-old J. Edgar Hoover, General Intelligence employed unwarranted surveillance, burglaries, and infiltration—authorized under the Sedition Act of 1918—to identify suspected radicals. In 1920, many thousands were rounded up as part of the Palmer Raids..
Leaders Eugene V. Debs, Emma Goldman, and hundreds more were charged and imprisoned under the Espionage Act of 1917. (It’s not incidental that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act). And in 1920, Goldman and 248 other suspected foreign radicals were loaded onto the USAT Buford—nicknamed the “Soviet Ark” by the press—and hauled off to Soviet Russia.
In the 1950s, McCarthy and his cronies once again focused the surveillance powers of the American state on labor and left-wing organizations.  This time, Hoover’s FBI not only monitored and infiltrated left-wing groups, but enlisted employers to spy on and fire workers with dissident sympathies. Thousands of accused communists lost their jobs, friends, and livelihoods. Among those blacklisted for their political beliefs, was the writer and broadcaster Studs Terkel.
“My crime?” Terkel wrote in 2007, “I had signed petitions. Lots of them. I had signed on in opposition to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes and in favor of rent control and pacifism.”
Out of the McCarthy era grew the FBI’s COINTELPRO, designed to monitor and disrupt labor, the anti-war movement, the black freedom struggle, and their allies, real and perceived. Thousands of activists and organizations were targeted for political surveillance—from Ella Baker to Muhammad Ali to the Quaker American Friends Service Committee.  Following the March on Washington, Attorney General Robert Kennedy infamously authorized the FBI to monitor Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates. In the hopes of linking King to communism, the FBI tapped his phones and broke into his home and office to install hidden tape recorders.
This history, probably familiar to most of us, bears repeating, lest we forget that the U.S. intelligence apparatus has a long and sordid preoccupation with left-wing organizing, and the federal government’s definition of a “threat to society” has been, over the years, extremely capacious—easily accommodating labor, feminist, anti-war and civil-rights activists.
It goes without saying that all of the U.S. government’s 20th century efforts to quash left-wing dissent—from the Palmer Raids to COINTELPRO—would be accomplished with immeasurably increased ease, efficiency and secrecy under the NSA’s Internet and phone spying programs. No need to break into someone’s home to monitor their conversations when the NSA can see their email and instant messages; no need to scour someone’s newspaper subscriptions to determine their political sympathies when the NSA can monitor the websites they visit.
Before we surrender any of our privacy rights to the U.S. intelligence behemoth, we should consider the grave consequences for our sisters and brothers who may find themselves subject to the modern-day equivalent of the Red Squad, The House Un-American Activities Committee or Hoover’s FBI.
For the unpleasant truth is that none of this stuff can be comfortably consigned to history. According to documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCFJ) though a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI coordinated a nationwide intelligence gathering effort to monitor the activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement as recently as 2011—with the apparent intention of passing along “information about activists’ plans to the finance industry.” The documents show the FBI meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the protests as early as August 19, 2011—a full month before the first Occupy action—and warning corporations in early September that they might be the target of an Occupy protest.
Included in the documents is a report issued by the Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC), which the federal government describes as a “strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector.” The report, which discusses Occupy’s West Coast port protests, was intended to “raise awareness concerning this type of criminal activity.” The Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) also reported to DSAC on the relationship between organized labor and Occupy during the port actions.
As PCFJ executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard explained to Democracy Now, “[t]hroughout the materials there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, [and other] American intelligence agencies working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.”
All this points to the fact that today’s ever-expanding surveillance state should strike fear into the heart of organized labor not only because there is opportunity for abuse, but because there is motive. Thanks to Citizens United, the funding of most major political campaigns by the richest fraction of society, and the increasing coziness of Washington and Wall Street, we’re living in a moment in which the interests of the U.S. government and its representatives are increasingly synonymous with the interests of the wealthy, the banks, and major corporations.
Therefore, organized labor and left-wing activists—agitators of Wall Street and corporate America—pose a threat to the aims of the U.S. government. Which is to say that now is an extremely bad time to permit the feds any more power to invade our privacy, as they have throughout American history, to undermine economic justice organizing. Because, frankly—as the collusion between intelligence agencies and the private sector during Occupy Wall Street already attests—they will.
But there’s a less abstract sense in which organized labor, both principally and strategically, should be against mass governmental surveillance. One which almost any worker can appreciate: Surveillance itself is a tool of suppressing workplace dissent.
Anyone who has walked a picket line in the past decade has probably had a smug supervisor point a cell phone camera or flip cam in their direction. And while employers have defended such surveillance—before the NLRB—as a means of recording evidence of labor law violations, the effect is always the same: to make the boss’s presence felt, to make workers feel watched, and to make them fear retaliation for their union activity, even though such retaliation would be illegal.
It’s this element of surveillance that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) recognized at its September 2011 National Convention. A resolution adopted there, entitled Defend Our Civil Liberties, reads, “Bosses try to instill fear in workers during union organizing campaigns—that is the kind of fear that the government has tried to spread across society as a whole.” It continued:
People may avoid anti-globalization rallies if they know they are under government surveillance. A union member will think twice about voicing their outrage on a picket line if they know they could face trumped-up terrorism charges. Fewer people attend organizing meetings if they suspect that someone in the room could be a police agent. 
Ultimately the resolution calls on Congress to “outlaw political spying and disruption by the FBI and other federal agencies, repeal the FISA amendment act, [and] repeal or let sunset regressive parts of the Patriot Act.” As UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend explained recently, the UE will be “sounding the alarm bell” on government surveillance for all of organized labor.
“Our civil liberties must not be lost in the security stampede drummed-up by politicians and corporations,” Townsend wrote. “[S]urveillance tools given to the government can, and will, be used against law-abiding working people.”
It’s this reality—that the NSA’s new spying powers represent an extension of the kind of repression regularly engaged in by union-busting employers across the country—that we hope the rest of the labor movement will come to appreciate. The UE’s leadership on this issue deserves praise. They’ve sounded the bell. Who will hear it?

Collapsing Investment and the Great Recession

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Investment in real inputs—structures and machinery used to boost future output and productivity—is one of the ways that an economy grows over time. In a capitalist economy, such investments are also crucial for macroeconomic stability and full employment because they provide an “injection” of demand to balance the “leakage” caused by personal and institutional savings. The Great Recession that began in 2007 was marked by a collapse of investment unprecedented since the Great Depression, as well as a dramatic drop in overall production and a sharp jump in unemployment. Since 2009, overall output has been growing again, but we have seen a much slower recovery of investment than after other recessions since 1947. The worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the Great Recession came after a long period of declining investment, and a break in the linkage between corporate profits and new investment.

Rising Profits, Falling Investment: The share of national income going to investment (net of depreciation of existing plant and machinery) has been declining since the beginning of the “neoliberal” era, around 1980. Since the start of the Great Recession, net investment as a share of GDP has plummeted to its lowest level since the 1930s. This sharp drop in investment comes despite sharply rising profits.
Figure 1: Net Private Investment and Profits, 1970-2011

Monetary Policy Isn’t Working: The Federal Reserve has helped to shorten past recessions by driving down interest rates to lower the cost of borrowing and so spur investment. During the current crisis, the Fed has conducted an aggressive monetary policy, raising the money supply to lower interest rates. But it has had little effect on investment. While lower interest rates have had only a weak effect on investment in the past, monetary policy has had no discernible effect in the last few years, as investment rates are dramatically lower than would have been expected given the level of interest rates. Substantial excess capacity, weak expectations of future sales, and corporate strategies to shift production outside the United States all may be contributing to the lack of investment demand.
Figure 2: Net Private Investment and Interest Rates, 1946-2011

Low Investment Impedes Recovery: In one respect, the current recession resembles past experience. Low rates of investment are associated with high rates of unemployment, just as in previous economic downturns. The difference is that, three years after the official end of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate remains persistently high, and investment remains dramatically lower than in past recoveries.
Figure 3: Investment and Unemployment, 1947-2011

We Are Still Far from Recovering: During the current “recovery” (2009-present), the unemployment rate has remained higher and investment as a share of GDP has remained lower than the average not only for past recoveries, but even for past recessions (since 1947). No wonder the current situation seems more like a continuation of the Great Recession than a genuine recovery.
Figure 4: What Recovery?

The Broken Link between Profit and Investment: In the past, higher corporate profits were associated with higher rates of investment, as businesses have rushed to take advantage of profitable opportunities. In the current crisis, however, the link between profit and investment has been broken and investment rates have been very low despite high rates of profitability (especially in 2010 and 2011). Businesses are holding back on investing, either because they anticipate continued low levels of demand (perhaps due to high unemployment and low wages) or because they plan to shift more production outside the United States.

Figure 5: Corporate Profits and Investment, 1947-2011

Shocking 'Extermination' Fantasies By the People Running America's Empire on Full Display at Aspen Summit

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Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. “I’ve worked with him and I’ve worked with his predecessors,” Blitzer said of Mattis. “I know how hard it is to run an operation like this.”
Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is “really, really important,” Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: “Let’s give the general a round of applause.”
Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that “it’s fun to shoot some people,” outlined the challenge ahead. The “war on terror” that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the “the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians” during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.
“The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation,” Mattis declared.
Mattis’ remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America’s vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.
Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.
With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.
Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance, promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from participating national security figures like former CIA director John McLaughlin.
Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwater’s third incarnation (it was first renamed “Xe”) since revelations of widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within its ethical guidelines.
'Exterminating People'
John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the “kinetic” approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just “exterminate” them.
“It's not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option,” Ashcroft insisted. “We wouldn't have so many detainees if we'd relied on the ability to exterminate people…We've had a blended and nuanced approach and for the guy who's on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn't see that as a nuance.”
Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, “You have a way with words.”
But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on detainees during long CIA torture sessions: “And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.”
Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obama’s drone assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda havens. “Here's the strategic question,” Hayden said. “People in Pakistan? I think that's very clear. Kill 'em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill 'em.”
“We don’t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I’d support it,” remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush’s Counterterrorism Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge. Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.
Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forum’s participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal question “This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?,” Mudd replied, “They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is rewritten to make us the bad guys.”
The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israel’s occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab mind.
And the wars could go on.
Delusions of Empire
Throughout the three days of the Security Forum, the almost uniformly white cast of speakers were called on to discuss recent geopolitical developments, from "Eye-rak" and "Eye-ran" to Egypt, where a military coup had just toppled the first elected government in the country’s history.
Mattis carefully toed the line of the Obama administration, describing the overthrow of Egypt’s government not as a coup, but as “military muscle saddled on top of this popular uprising.”
Warning that using terms like “coup” could lead to a reduction in U.S. aid to Egypt, where the military controls about one-third of the country’s economy, Mattis warned, “We have to be very careful about passing laws with certain words when the reality of the world won’t allow you to.”
Wolf Blitzer mentioned that Egypt’s new military-imposed foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, had been a fixture in Washington during the Mubarak days. “These are people the West knows, the U.S. knows,” he said of the new cabinet in Cairo. “I assume from the U.S. perspective, the United States is so much more happy with this.”
Later, one of the few Arab participants in the forum, Al Jazeera DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, claimed that the Arab revolts were inspired by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The iconic image of Saddam being pulled out of a hole did something to the dynamic between ruler and ruled in the Arab world,” Foukara claimed.
With the revolts blurring the old boundaries imposed on the Arab world during the late colonial era, former CIA director John McLaughlin rose from the audience to call for the U.S. to form a secret, Sikes-Picot-style commission to draw up a new set of borders.
“The American government should now have such a group asking how we should manage those lines and what should those lines be,” McLaughlin told the panelists, who dismissed the idea of a new Great Game even as they discussed tactics for preserving U.S. dominance in the Middle East.
ABC’s Chris Isham asked Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, why, with a recession on its hands and Middle Eastern societies spiraling out of control, should the U.S. remain militarily involved in the region. Without hesitation, Jeffrey rattled off the reasons: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and “world oil markets.”
“What could we have done better?” Isham asked the ambassador.
“Probably not too much.”
NSA Heroes, Saving Lives of Potential Consumers
While participants in the Security Forum expressed total confidence in American empire, they could not contain their panic, outrage, and fear at the mere mention of Snowden.
“Make no mistake about it: These are great people who we’re slamming and tarnishing and it’s wrong. They’re the heroes, not this other and these leakers!” NSA chief General Keith Alexander proclaimed, earning raucous applause from the crowd.
Snowden’s leaks had prompted a rare public appearance from Alexander, forcing the normally imperious spy chief into the spotlight to defend his agency’s Panopticon-style programs and its dubious mechanisms of legal review. Fortunately for him, NBC’s Pete Williams offered him the opportunity to lash out at Snowden and the media that reported the leaks, asking whether the "terrorists” (who presumably already knew they were being spied on) had changed their behavior as a result of the leaks.
“We have concrete proof that terrorists are taking action, making changes, and it’s gonna make our job harder,” Alexander declared, offering nothing to support his claim.
Alexander appeared in full military regalia, with colorful decorations and medallions covering his left breast. Casting himself as a stern but caring father who has the best interests of all Americans at heart, even if he can't fully disclose his methods, he turned to the crowd and explained, “The bad guys…hide amongst us to kill our people. Our job is to stop them without impacting your civil liberties and privacy and these programs are set up to do that.”
“The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you,” Alexander insisted.
Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft that had been compelled to hand over customer data to the NSA “know that we’re saving lives,” the general claimed. With a straight face, he continued, “And that’s good for business because there’s more people out there who can buy their products.”
So who were the "bad guys” who “walk among us,” and how could Americans be sure they had not been ensnared by the NSA’s all-encompassing spying regime, either inadvertently or intentionally? Nearly all the Security Forum participants involved in domestic surveillance responded to this question by insisting that the NSA had the world’s most rigorous program of oversight, pointing to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts as the best and only means of ensuring that “mistakes” are corrected.
“We have more oversight on this [PRISM] program than any other program in any government that I’m aware of,” Alexander proclaimed, ramming home a talking point repeated throughout the forum.
“I can assure these are some of the judges who are renowned for holding the government to a very high standard,” John Carlin, the Assistant US Attorney General for National Security, stated.
But in the last year, FISA courts received 1,856 applications for surveillance from the government. In 100 percent of cases, they were approved. As for Congress, only two senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, demanded the NSA explain why PRISM was necessary or questioned its legality. Despite the fact that the entire regime of oversight was a rubber stamp, or perhaps because of it, none of those who appeared at the Security Forum to defend it were willing to consider any forum of independent civilian review.
“You have to do [domestic surveillance] within a closed bubble in order to do it effectively,” Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence conceded under sustained grilling from the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, one of the reporters who broke Snowden’s leaks and perhaps the only journalist at the Security Forum who subjected participants to tough scrutiny.
When Gellman reminded Alexander that none of the oversight mechanisms currently in place could determine if the NSA had improperly targeted American citizens with no involvement in terror-related activity, the general declared, “we self-report those mistakes.”
“It can't be, let's just stop doing it, cause we know, that doesn't work,” Alexander maintained. “We've got to have some program like [PRISM].”
The wars would go on, and so would the spying.
Reinstituting Public Confidence
During a panel on inter-agency coordination of counter-terror efforts, Mike Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), suggested that one of the best means of preserving America’s vast and constantly expanding spying apparatus was “by reinstituting faith among the public in our oversight.”
Even as current NCC director Matthew Olsen conceded, “There really are limits in how transparent we can be,” Leiter demanded that the government “give the public confidence that there’s oversight.
Since leaving the NCC, Leiter has become the senior counsel of Palantir Technologies, a private security contractor that conducts espionage on behalf of the FBI, CIA, financial institutions, the LAPD and the NYPD, among others. In 2011, Palantir spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, compiling electronic dossiers intended to smear them. Palantir’s target list included progressive groups like Think Progress, SEIU and U.S. Chamber Watch.
In the friendly confines of the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Leiter did his best to burnish his company’s tarnished image, and do some damage control on behalf of the national security apparatus it depends on for contracts. Like most other participants, Leiter appeared in smart casual dress, with an open collar, loafers, a loose-fitting jacket and slacks.
“Just seeing us here,” he said, “that inspires [public] confidence, because we’re not a bunch of ogres.”

18 Similarities Between The Last Financial Crisis And Today

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If our leaders could have recognized the signs ahead of time, do you think that they could have prevented the financial crisis of 2008?  That is a very timely question, because so many of the warning signs that we saw just before and during the last financial crisis are popping up again.  Many of the things that are happening right now in the stock market, the bond market, the real estate market and in the overall economic data are eerily similar to what we witnessed back in 2008 and 2009.  It is almost as if we are being forced to watch some kind of a perverse replay of previous events, only this time our economy and our financial system are much weaker than they were the last time around.  So will we be able to handle a financial crash as bad as we experienced back in 2008?  What if it is even worse this time?  Considering the fact that we have been through this kind of thing before, you would think that our leaders would be feverishly trying to keep it from happening again and the American people would be rapidly preparing to weather the coming storm.  Sadly, none of that is happening.  It is almost as if they cannot even see the disaster that is staring them right in the face.  But without a doubt, disaster is coming. The following are 18 similarities between the last financial crisis and today...
#1 According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch equity strategy team, their big institutional clients are selling stock at a rate not seen "since 2008".
#2 In 2008, stock prices had wildly diverged from where the economic fundamentals said that they should be.  Now it has happened again.
#3 In early 2008, the average price of a gallon of gasoline rose substantially.  It is starting to happen again.  And remember, whenever the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. has risen above $3.80 during the past three years, a stock market decline has always followed.
#4 New home prices just experienced their largest two month dropsince Lehman Brothers collapsed.
#5 During the last financial crisis, the mortgage delinquency rate rose dramatically.  It is starting to happen again.
#6 Prior to the financial crisis of 2008, there was a spike in the number of adjustable rate mortgages.  It is happening again.
#7 Just before the last financial crisis, unemployment claims started skyrocketing.  Well, initial claims for unemployment benefits are rising again.  Once we hit the 400,000 level, we will officially be in the danger zone.
#8 Continuing claims for unemployment benefits just spiked to the highest level since early 2009.
#9 The yield on 10 year Treasuries is now up to 2.60 percent.  We also saw the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries rise significantly during the first half of 2008.
#10 According to Zero Hedge, "whenever the annual change in core capex, also known as Non-Defense Capital Goods excluding Aircraft shipments goes negative, the US has traditionally entered a recession".  Guess what?  It is rapidly heading toward negative territory again.
#11 Average hourly compensation in the United States experienced itslargest drop since 2009 during the first quarter of 2013.
#12 In the month of June, spending at restaurants fell by the most that we have seen since February 2008.
#13 Just before the last financial crisis, corporate earnings were very disappointing.  Now it is happening again.
#14 Margin debt spiked just before the bubble burst, it spiked just before the financial crash of 2008, and now it is spiking again.
#15 During 2008, the price of gold fell substantially.  Now it is happening again.
#16 Global business confidence is now the lowest that it has been since the last recession.
#17 Back in 2008, the U.S. national debt was rapidly rising to unsustainable levels.  We are in much, much worse shape today.
#18 Prior to the last financial crisis, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured the American people that home prices would not decline and that there would not be a recession.  We all know what happened.  Now he is once again promising that everything is going to be just fine.
Are the American people going to fall for it again?
It doesn't take a genius to see how vulnerable the global economy is right now.  Much of Europe is already experiencing an economic depression, debt levels in Asia are higher than ever before, and the U.S. economy has been steadily declining for most of the past decade.  If you doubt that the U.S. economy has been declining, please see my previous article entitled "40 Stats That Prove The U.S. Economy Has Already Been Collapsing Over The Past Decade".
And the truth is that most Americans already know that we are in deep trouble.  Today, 61 percent of all Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track.
It isn't that so many people are choosing to be pessimistic.  It is just that an increasing number of Americans are waking up to the cold, hard reality that we are facing.
Decades of incredibly foolish decisions have brought us to this point.  We allowed our economic infrastructure to be gutted, we consumed far more wealth than we produced, our politicians kept doing incredibly stupid things but we kept voting the same jokers back into office again and again, and over the past 40 years we have blown up the biggest debt bubble in all of human history.
We have been living so far above our means for so long that most of us actually think that our current economic situation is "normal".
But no, there is nothing normal about what we are experiencing.  We are entering the terminal phase of a colossal debt spiral, and when it flames out the economic devastation is going to be absolutely spectacular.
When the next major wave of the economic collapse comes and unemployment soars well up into the double digits, millions of businesses close and millions of American families lose their homes, I hope that those that are assuring all of us that there will not be an economic collapse will come back and apologize.
There are tens of millions of people out there right now that are not making any preparations at all because they have been promised that everything is going to be okay.  When the next financial crash happens, most of them will be absolutely blindsided by it and many of them will totally give in to despair.
Don't let that happen to you.