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The Obstacles to Real Health Care Reform: Private Insurers and Big PhRMA
By Stephen Lendman
In almost the same breath on August 17, the White House effectively dropped a real public option (that likely never existed) while Obama was telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) that the Pentagon will escalate the Afghanistan/Pakistan war into a long-term conflict that will assure "more difficult days ahead." He did so in defiance of international and Constitutional law, the lives and welfare of American forces, millions in both target countries, and lied at the same time saying: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity" in plain contradiction of the fact that in October 2001, US forces launched a long-planned premeditated attack against a non-belligerent country posing no threat to America.
When does the willful blindness in terms of bank fraud taking place daily in the so-called "marks" on housing-related loans stop?
The Mortgage Bankers Association released its latest update:
The non-seasonally adjusted delinquency rate increased 64 basis points from 8.22 percent in the first quarter of 2009 to 8.86 percent this quarter.
The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans somewhere in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the second quarter was 4.30 percent, an increase of 45 basis points from the first quarter of 2009 and 155 basis points from one year ago. The combined percentage of loans in foreclosure and at least one payment past due was 13.16 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the highest ever recorded in the MBA delinquency survey.
That's right folks. That means that of all mortgage loans 13.16% are not in "accrual" status - that is, they're not performing in that interest and principal are not being paid. This is no longer about "subprime" - it is now all about prime loans; the claim that this was going to be "contained' is now proved false.
That our banks are not being forced to take the marks associated with these delinquencies is an outrage. It is the cause of the FDIC's losses, it is the cause of our credit system remaining locked up, and it is the cause of our continued moribund economy, as without a functioning credit system there can be no actual economic recovery.
These institutions are being protected by our Congress and the willful, intentional blindness of The Federal Reserve, FDIC, OTS and OCC.
These agencies and persons have the same data that is being released to the market. The stock market continues to rally not based on improving economics but based on the federal government and The Federal Reserve continuing to allow institutions to LIE about their financial condition and the expectation that the LIES will be permitted to continue! Read more.
"Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union," by David Swanson is due in stores September 1st, but the publisher has it now and you can get it straight from Seven Stories Press.
I've done a lot of writing about HOAs and the egregious plague they are for whoever is unfortunate enough to find themselves subjugated to their tyranny, but now there is a more pressing problem that has its origins from the same misguided, nefarious source. That, of course, would be healthcare.
In 1889, the Supreme Court decided a case, Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad v.Beckwith, which declared that a corporation is a "person", with regard to due process and equal protection under the Constitution. That is, you, and a stack of contracts, a "paper man" if you will, attained equal standing under the law. What a disaster. This decision set this country on the path that is responsible for the deplorable situation we now find ourselves in.
In effect, we are now a nation of "corporate citizens", who have the power and resources to shape the society in ways that would have been met with skepticism even a generation ago. We are governed by an increasingly isolated and incestuous group of figureheads, who prostitute themselves willingly for even the slightest chance of licking up the crumbs left for them by the corporations. It's "Rollerball" for real.
Obama, who managed to instill a sense of hope the likes of which hadn't been seen for fifty years, turned out to be nothing more than a great orator with almost no capacity for true leadership. Lacking the will to really fight for the things he supposedly believes in, he parades around speaking platitudes about "special interests" and "bipartisan solutions". On closer inspection however it turns out he has surrounded himself with the same cast of corrupt characters, shills for corporate America, who have no real desire to do anything that would truly "... promote the general welfare ...", as stated in the Constitution, for "We The People". To paraphrase Hollywood, in this case "The Best Man", Obama has "no sense of right or wrong, no sense of responsibility to anyone or anything, only to what works. That is a tragedy in a man and a disaster in a president". Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
Bill Clinton was the worst thing to happen to the Democratic Party and to progressives since that racist warmonger Woodrow Wilson won the presidency and dragged the US into the utterly pointless and incredibly bloody First World War.
Clinton, by posing as a progressive, confused and undermined, and ultimately betrayed the liberal/progressive wing of the party, shattering what was left of the New Deal coalition and leaving the American left adrift and riven by the conflict between those who thought the Democratic Party was the only viable vehicle for progressive reform and those who thought it was hopelessly in the grip of corporate interests.
Barack Obama offers the hope of bringing that era of debilitating confusion to an end.
Is there a ticking time-bomb for the US economy? And is the Obama administration, Congress, and the media not paying it sufficient attention? That seems to be the message of a government report released this week that drew not as much notice as it deserves.
This is all about those toxic assets--now euphemistically referred to by the US government as "legacy assets"--that were at the core of the economic meltdown. Though some economic news of late has been not so bad--economic contraction slowing, job losses leveling off, banks passing stress tests--these toxic assets still pollute the nation's financial system and endanger it. Read more.
...Missed payments by consumers, builders and small businesses pushed 72 lenders into failure this year, the most since 1992. More collapses may lie ahead as the recession causes increased defaults and swells the confidential U.S. list of “problem banks,” which stood at 305 in the first quarter....“These numbers are off the charts,” said Blake Howells, an analyst at Becker Capital Management in Portland, Oregon, referring to the nonperforming loan levels at companies he follows. Banks are losing the “ability to try and earn their way through the cycle,”...While 5 percent can be “fatal” for home lenders,...“Once it gets around 10 percent, you’re likely toast.”
More than 150 publicly traded U.S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5 percent or more of their holdings, a level that former regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten its survival.
The number of banks exceeding the threshold more than doubled in the year through June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as real estate and credit-card defaults surged. Almost 300 reported 3 percent or more of their loans were nonperforming, a term for commercial and consumer debt that has stopped collecting interest or will no longer be paid in full. Read more.
Global Depression and Regional Wars - Reviewing James Petras' New Book: Part I
By Stephen Lendman
James Petras is Binghamton University, New York Professor Emeritus of Sociology. Besides his long and distinguished academic career, he's a noted figure on the left, a well-respected Latin American expert, and a longtime chronicler of the region' popular struggles. He's also a prolific author of hundreds of articles and dozens of books, most recently his new one titled, "Global Depression and Regional Wars" addressing America, Latin America and the Middle East.
Part I - Global Depression
Variety's famous October 30, 1929 headline is again relevant: "Wall Street Lays an Egg," or as economist Rick Wolff puts it: "Capitalism hit the fan" following a familiar pattern of boom and bust cycles punctuated by bubbles that always burst. Petras explains it this way:
"All the idols of capitalism over the past three decades have crashed. The assumptions and presumptions, paradigms and prognosis of indefinite progress under liberal free market capitalism have been tested and have failed. We are living the end of an entire epoch (and bearing witness to) the collapse of the US and world financial system."
Grim prospects are ahead:
- a world depression with one-fourth of the labor force unemployed;
- global trade in free fall;
- a proliferation of bankruptcies with General Motors a metaphor for a decaying system;
- free-market capitalism in disrepute; and
- "planning, public ownership, nationalization(s and other) socialist alternatives have become almost respectable" because most sacred cow "truisms" and solutions have failed.
Last week, Deutsche Bank analyst Karen Weaver published a report that shook up the "housing is recovering" crowd. She predicted that, by next year, nearly half of American homeowners with mortgages will be underwater.
Before we go into the details, here's a basic refresher on the US housing market:
- There are approximately 110 million households in the U.S.
- About 75.5 million of these are homeowners.
- Approximately 68% of the 76 million, or 51.6 million, have mortgages.
- 14 million U.S. homeowners, 27% of those with mortgages, were underwater at the end of Q1 (DB estimates)
- DB estimates that nearly half of the 52 million mortgagors will be underwater by the end of next year. Read more.
Gerald Celente - The Revolution is Coming! Part 1
Watch Part 2 by clicking "Read more."
The World needs a breather from the US. And they'll get it sooner than many think
We're making this way too complicated. It's simple really.
The Fed has only one tool at its disposal; to create more money. Typically, the way the Fed adds to the money supply is by lowering interest rates. When the Fed lowers rates below the rate of inflation; they're basically selling dollars for under a buck. That's a good deal, so, naturally, speculators jump on it and trigger a credit expansion. What follows is a frenzy of market activity that ends in a housing, credit, tech or equity bubble. Eventually, the bubble bursts and the economy goes into a tailspin. Then, after a period of digging-out, the process resumes again. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's always the same. The moral is: Cheap money creates bubbles; and bubbles move wealth from workers to rich motherporkers. It's as simple as that. That's why the wealth gap is wider now than anytime since the Gilded Age. The rich own everything.
The Federal Reserve is the policy arm of the big banks and brokerage houses. Period. Ostensibly, its mandate is to maintain "price stability and full employment". Right. Anyone notice how many jobs the Fed has created lately? How about the dollar? Is it really supposed to zig-zag like it has been for the last decade? The central task of the Fed is to shift wealth from one class to another. And it succeeds at that task admirably. The Fed's "mandate" is public relations claptrap. Bernanke hasn't lifted a finger for homeowners, consumers or ordinary working stiffs. "Yer on yer own. Just don't expect a handout. That's socialism!" All the doe is flowing upwards...according to plan. The Fed is a social engineering agency designed to serve as the de facto government behind the smokescreen of democratic institutions. Did you really think a black, two year senator with no background in foreign policy or economics was calling the shots? Read more.
Watchdog Warns Toxic Assets Remain a Major Danger to Financial System
Report by Congressional Oversight Panel Says the Troubled Asset Relief Program Never Bought Any Troubled Assets
By Matthew Jaffe and Charlie Herman | ABCNews
Signs abound that the worst of the recession is over: Stocks have been surging, the rate of job losses has slowed, so it seems that the economic apocalypse has been averted.
Government programs such as the $787 billion stimulus and last fall's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program have so far been successful, the Obama administration says.
Except, the Congressional Oversight Panel warns in its August report, TARP never actually bought any troubled assets.
"It is likely that an overwhelming portion of the troubled assets from last October remain on bank balance sheets today," the panel's report says. Read more.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally requested that Congress raise the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit on Friday, saying that it could be breached as early as mid-October.
"It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations," Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.
A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.
Treasury officials earlier this week said that the debt limit, last raised in February when the $787 billion economic stimulus legislation was passed, would be hit sometime in the October-December quarter. Geithner's letter said the breach could be two weeks into that period, just as the 2010 fiscal year is getting underway.
Losing track of all the money the government is spending to bolster the crashing economy left the nation by George W. Bush? Check out CNN's Economic Rescue Tracker. Each black arrow to the right of the category expands to tell you more.
By Dave LIndorff
As I wrote months ago in an article titled America’s Stupid Health Care Debate: Keeping Some Ideas Off the Table and several subsequent pieces on my website, President Obama and the Democrats who currently run Congress have been hoist on their own collective petard by their craven and gutless refusal to consider adopting a Canadian-style single-payer system to finance health care in the US, or simply to expand Medicare, which is a successful single- payer program, to cover everyone, instead of just people over 65 and the disabled.
A cancer survivor's family is still in their Oakland home after winning a battle so many Americans are now facing. They were going to be foreclosed upon and evicted today. Read more.
OAKLAND, CA - 31JULY09 - Home Defender activists sit in on the steps of the home of Tosha Alberty, her husband, four children and two grandchildren, who were evicted after First Franklin Mortgage Services, owned by Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, foreclosed on the home. Community activists in the Home Defenders campaign of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) sat in on the house steps behind the padlocked gate in an act of civil disobedience, and were arrested for trespassing by the Oakland Police.
Click "Read more" for photos of the action.
By Dave Lindorff
The “happy talk” campaign in the US media and coming from the White House is just that: Happy Talk.
To get a real picture of what is happening with this economy, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Yes, the rate of decline in economic activity has slowed. But that is to be expected. When an economy is going at full tilt, as the US economy was doing in early 2007, a slowdown of any significance yields huge numbers, in terms of falling production, falling factory utilization, falling car sales, or, this time around, falling housing prices.
But once you get to the same period in 2008, you’re already in a deep recession, and there really isn’t that much farther to fall. If, for example, the carmakers have basically shut down by fall of 2008, and are just working off huge inventories, then you are not going to see more factory closings and further reductions in production (how do you reduce production below zero?).
House votes to clamp limits on Wall Street bonuses
By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press | Google
Bowing to populist anger, the House voted Friday to prohibit pay and bonus packages that encourage bankers and traders to take risks so big they could bring down the entire economy.
Passage of the bill on a 237-185 vote followed the disclosure a day earlier that nine of the nation's biggest banks, which are receiving billions of dollars in federal bailout aid, paid individual bonuses of $1 million or more to nearly 5,000 employees.
"This is not the government taking over the corporate sector," Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C, said of the House action. "It is a statement by the American people that it is time for us to straighten up the ship."
Aware of voter outrage about the bonuses, Republicans were reluctant in Friday's debate to push back, even though they voted overwhelmingly against the bill. They said severe restrictions should apply only to banks that accept government aid.
The legislation's ban on risky compensation would apply to any firm with more than $1 billion in assets, including bank holding companies, broker-dealers, credit unions, investment advisers and mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The White House and Senate Democrats haven't fully embraced the measure, leaving its prospects uncertain. The Senate Banking Committee planned to take up the proposal in the fall as part of a broader bill overhauling financial regulations. Read more.
A high-ranking lawmaker has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to prohibit a trading technique that enables some large banks and hedge funds to peek at investors’ stock orders before they are sent to the broader marketplace.
The technique, known as flash orders, gives high-frequency traders using lightning-fast computers an unfair advantage, Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the Senate rules and administration committee, said in a letter to the S.E.C. Mr. Schumer wrote that he intended to introduce legislation barring the technique, if the agency failed to act.
“The hallmark of our markets are that they are open and above board and the little guy has as much of a chance as the big guy,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “This takes a dagger to the heart of that concept.”
The S.E.C. declined to comment on Mr. Schumer’s letter, though some officials acknowledged they were investigating the technique and expected new regulations to be issued by this fall. Read more.
It's been just over three weeks since the July 3rd arrest of former Goldman Sachs IT executive Sergey Aleynikov inadvertently blew the lid off the intricacies of exactly how those great vampire squids on Wall Street manage (no past tense here) to suck Main Street dry.
(Actually, come to think of it, that didn't take long at all.)
The high frequency trading ("HFT") scam on Wall Street is being exposed to the masses as we blog. Read more.
Kucinich Asks ‘Is the Fed Paying Banks NOT to Loan Money?’ | Press Release
Domestic Policy Subcommittee Chair Announces New Probe of TARP
WASHINGTON (JULY 21, 2009) - - Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who has led the effort challenging the use of TARP funds through two administrations, today questioned whether or not “banks are parking a historic amount of taxpayers’ money in the Federal Reserve while the businesses and consumers across America are starved for credit” and whether the Federal Reserve is “paying banks not to make loans.”
Kucinich raised the question in a hearing this morning before the Government and Oversight Committee at which the Special Inspector General for TARP, Neil Barofsky, testified.
Kucinich cited today’s Fed news report on Bloomberg.com:
I woke up one morning late last week to the news that taxpayers, already $149 billion in the hole in the Treasury Department's TARP bailout program, are set to lose even more. As rescued banks now try to extricate themselves from the government's control, they must buy back stock warrants proffered at the time of the bailout, which, as the New York Times described it, offer "the right to purchase shares in each of the companies at roughly the price of their shares at the time of the deals."
As it happens, thanks largely to that taxpayer-funded bailout, bank stocks have risen since last fall's meltdown. Selling those warrants, then, should mean a tidy profit for taxpayers. But no such luck, it seems. Almost a dozen small banks have already bought back their warrants, and for a considerable discount -- a mere 66% of their value -- costing taxpayers upwards of $10 million. If this were to continue when giant firms like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley come up to bat, taxpayers could be out up to $2.1 billion. Think of that as a small potential thank-you note from the banking business to Americans for helping it out of a jam.
Right behind that bit of sprightly news was a report from the Associated Press that the giant insurance firm AIG, almost 80% owned by taxpayers, was now back in consultation with the Obama administration over just how much more it should pay out in further retention bonuses -- this after multi-millions in such bonuses were already paid -- including "about $235 million for employees at AIG's financial products unit." AIG's near collapse, added the AP, "was not due to its traditional insurance operations, but instead risky derivatives contracts written by the financial products division." In addition to those traders, for 40 top execs of the dismally failed company, there is to be a payout of a mere $9 million in further bonuses for 2008. What a comedown!
Of course, who can be surprised by this sort of thing these days? Not, I assume, Barbara Garson, known in the Vietnam era as the author of the satiric play "MacBird," who has since gone on to write books on American work life (All the Livelong Day) and on a single bank deposit as it made its dizzying way around our planet (Money Makes the World Go Around). For TomDispatch, she's written a little mystery story about those financial-products types, what's happened to them, and -- most strikingly -- their possible rebirth. Think of her as this site's equivalent of Miss Marple, set loose on our financially melted-down planet. Tom
The Mystery of the Missing Unemployed Man
On Jobs and Banks
By Barbara Garson
For the book I'm writing about unemployed Americans, I had no trouble finding accountants, brokers, cashiers, or die casters. Admittedly, I had to go out of town to interview the die casters. But when I arrived, alphabetically, at unemployed editors, I had only to look in my address book.
Financiers were further from my life experience than either die casters or editors. Yet the "do you know anyone who…?" method still proved an effective way of turning up unemployed hedge-fund analysts and bank loan officers -- and within a week at that. It was only when I refined my search to ferret out unemployed financiers who had actually handled those infamous "toxic assets" that I hit the proverbial brick wall.
Swiss ready to seize UBS data to stifle Washington
By BALZ BRUPPACHER, Associated Press Writer | Yahoo! News
Switzerland's government said Wednesday it would forbid the Swiss bank UBS AG from complying with any court-ordered transfer of data on tens of thousands of American clients to the U.S. government, and would consider seizing documents to prevent that.
The statement was the strongest yet by Swiss authorities locked in a battle with the U.S. Justice Department over the identities of more than 50,000 American clients at UBS.
The case in the federal district court in Miami has become a focal point of Washington's efforts to crack down on tax evasion and the foreign banks that help wealthy Americans send money overseas. But UBS and the Swiss government say handing over the names would violate Swiss law and subject bank employees to criminal prosecution in Switzerland. Read more.
House Finance Committee Members Took $62.9 Million From Industry Interests
By Sam Stein | Huffington Post | H/T Liam Hughes
Members of the House Financial Services Committee, which is playing a critical role in restructuring the nation's reeling financial, banking and housing sectors, have received nearly $63 million in campaign contributions from the industries they oversee.
A new analysis of campaign finance data by Public Campaign Action Fund, which provided an advance preview to the Huffington Post, shows that financial, insurance and real estate interests donated a combined $62.9 million to the 71 members of the House Financial Services Committee.
The hefty donations reflect the extent to which key companies and individuals of the financial sector have attempted to exert their influence on legislative debates even before the recent economic collapse. For good-government groups, the findings also raise a bevy of questions over just how neutral lawmakers have been in crafting solutions toward getting the financial markets and Wall Street on more stable footing. Read more.
Amazingly, San Francisco Fed Chair Jessica Yellen doesn't think the Fed's policy is dangerous...
Edward Harrison at Naked Capitalism has her recent speech:
Let me now turn to an issue that has lately garnered a great deal of attention—inflation. Just a short time ago, most economists were casting a wary eye on the risk of deflation—that is that prices might drop, perhaps falling into a downward spiral that would squeeze the life out of the economy. Now, though, all I hear about is the danger of an outbreak of high inflation....
I’ll put my cards on the table right away. I think the predominant risk is that inflation will be too low, not too high, over the next several years. I take 2 percent as a reasonable benchmark for the rate of inflation that is most compatible with the Fed’s dual mandate of price stability and maximum employment. This is also the figure that a majority of FOMC members cited as their long-run forecast for inflation, according to the minutes of the committee’s April meeting.
First of all, this very weak economy is, if anything, putting downward pressure on wages and prices. Read more.
Payrolls Fall More Than Forecast, Unemployment Rises
By Shobhana Chandra | Bloomberg
Employers in the U.S. cut 467,000 jobs in June, the unemployment rate rose and hourly earnings stagnated, offering little evidence the Obama administration’s stimulus package is shoring up the labor market.
The payroll decline was more than forecast and followed a 322,000 drop in May, according to Labor Department figures released today in Washington. The jobless rate jumped to 9.5 percent, the highest since August 1983, from 9.4 percent.
Unemployment is projected to keep rising for the rest of the year just as the income boost from the stimulus package fades, undermining prospects for a sustained rebound in household purchases, analysts said. As companies from General Motors Corp. to Kimberly-Clark Corp. cut costs, the lack of jobs will limit any recovery.
“Payrolls will be going down the rest of the year and the unemployment rate will be rising,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “The challenge for the Obama administration is that we’ll have positive economic growth but still no job growth. It’s going to be tough on them.” Read more.
Fannie, Freddie to Refinance Larger Underwater Loans
By Dawn Kopecki | Bloomberg
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will begin refinancing mortgages with loan-to-value ratios of as much as 125 percent as the Obama administration seeks to boost participation in its anti-foreclosure programs.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan made the announcement in a statement today. Currently Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, through President Barack Obama’s Home Affordable program, can refinance mortgages they own or guarantee when the loan is worth as much as 105 percent of the home’s market value.
The continuing slide in home prices has pushed millions of Americans beyond that 105 percent loan-to-value ratio, limiting participation in Obama’s initiative. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have refinanced 80,000 loans under that program, which set out to help as many as 5 million people who may owe more than their homes are worth, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director James Lockhart said at a real estate conference on June 18.
The decision to change the allowable ratio is part of an effort to “adapt to an ever-changing housing market,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in the HUD statement. “By expanding refinance eligibility, we can bring relief to more struggling homeowners more quickly.” Read more.