Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The 20-city S&P Case-Shiller index has posted losses for a staggering 27 months in a row.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Home prices posted another record decline in October, falling 18% compared with a year earlier, according to a closely watched report released Tuesday.
The 20-city S&P Case-Shiller index has posted losses for a staggering 27 months in a row. In October, 14 of the 20 cities set fresh price decline records.
"The bear market continues; home prices are back to their March 2004 levels," says David Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's.
Sunbelt cities suffered the most, but most of the country is watching home values fall. Home prices in Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Francisco all fell more than 30% on a year-over-year basis. Miami, Los Angeles and San Diego recorded year-over-year declines of 29%, 28% and 27%, respectively.
"As of October 2008, the 20-City Composite is down 23.4%," said Blitzer. "In October, we also saw three new markets enter the 'double-digit' club."
Atlanta, Seattle and Portland each reported annual rates of decline of about 10%.
"While not yet experiencing as severe a contraction as in the Sunbelt, it seems the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic South is not immune to the overall demise in the housing market," Blitzer added.
Many of the factors affecting home prices turned strongly negative this fall, according to Blitzer.
"October was really the first month to feel the full brunt of the credit crunch," he said. "Up until the Lehman Brothers [bankruptcy filing on September 15], everyone felt relatively optimistic."
Plus, in many of the free-falling cities the majority of real estate sales consist of distressed properties such as foreclosed homes and short sales. These houses tend to sell at a steep discount to the rest of the market, and when they account for a large proportion of all sales, they can exaggerate the depth of price declines.
Of course, foreclosures continue to be a big problem as well. In October alone, nearly 85,000 people lost their homes to foreclosure, adding vacant inventory to an already overburdened market.
Home sellers should not expect prices to improve any time soon, according to Pat Newport, a real estate analyst for IHS Global Insight.
"I expect it's going to get quite a bit worse over the next couple of months," he said. "Existing home sales reports have really been bad."
Home sales fell 8.6% in November, much more than expected, to an annualized rate of 4.49 million units according to the National Association of Realtors.
And although interest rates are currently extremely low - the 30-year fixed-rate averaged 5.14% during the week of December 24, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500) - that's doing more to help people refinancing existing mortgages than it is to help new home buyers.
"Buyers still have to have a 20% down payment," said Newport, "and, in this environment, it can be hard to meet that criteria."
The latest Case-Shiller numbers provide more ammunition to Washington policy makers who want to do more to fix the housing mess, according to Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with the Stanford Group, the policy research firm.
"These data just add to the tremendous pressure on the president-elect and the Democrats to stimulate housing," he said. "That means more lucrative tax incentives and broad foreclosure prevention. All of this will likely be in the stimulus plan that Congress adopts in January."
Nicholas Retsinas, Director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, agrees. "Housing problems are at the core of our economic problems," he said, "yet, of the government interventions made during 2008, few were focused on housing."
With a new administration and Congress in place next month, he expects to see a renewed interest in stabilizing the housing market. To top of page
It has been said "there are no atheists in foxholes, and there are no libertarians in financial panics / crashes".
"Save us, save us, save us", yell the authors of this huge crash. "We're too rich to be broke or poor" whine the Generals of Capitalism.
Their Ponzi scheme is unraveling -- there will be hell to pay -- BUT, not by us, the Generals of Finance, make the taxpayers bear the burden
Now that the banks have been saved -- even though Wall Street is a mere shadow of its former self -- NO MORE BAILOUTS!! -- after all, we can't have common citizens getting any of this largesse, can't bail out any of the middle class, can we?
So now, when it's our turn for some respite -- LOCK THE DOORS!! Don't let those weary two job working middle class fools get anything -- they might actually like it.
Or, in other words -- "let them eat cake."
Does anyone remember what that led to?
Published: Tuesday December 30, 2008
The divisions taking hold among Republicans are becoming more severe as the party prepares to accuse its outgoing president of embracing "socialism."
The slur that conservatives were so fond of lobbing at Barack Obama during the presidential campaign is now being directed toward President Bush and GOP lawmakers who supported federal bailouts of the banking and auto industries.
At its meeting next month, the Republican National Committee is set to vote on a resolution formally opposing the bailouts, accusing Bush of helping nationalize the banks and taking "another dangerous step closer toward socialism," the Washington Times reports Tuesday.
"We can't be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms," Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of the resolution told the Times.
The resolution reads, in part:
"WHEREAS, the Bank Bailout Bill effectively nationalized the Nation's banking system, giving the United States non-voting warrants from participating financial institutions, and moving our free market based economy another dangerous step closer toward socialism; and WHEREAS, what was needed, and is still needed, to fix the banking industry is not a bailout, but rather a commitment to fiscal responsibility."
Republican leaders in both the House and Senate supported the Wall Street bailout, and GOP presidential candidate John McCain infamously "suspended" his campaign to return to Washington and whip up support for the bill. A Republican-led filibuster blocked the auto industry bailout in the Senate, but Bush decided to use some of the previously approved $700 billion to grant loans to the car companies.
During the campaign, accusations that Obama was a closet socialist proliferated on talk radio, conservative blogs and in McCain/Palin campaign speeches.
For the record, "The resolution also opposes President-elect Obama's proposed public works program and supports conservative alternatives," another co-sponsor told the Times
A ship waits to unload at the Port of Long Beach, Calif. With economies in the USA, Europe and Japan slowing simultaneously, the World Bank says global trade will shrink next year by more than 2%.
By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY
The unstoppable force has stopped.
With economies in the United States, Europe and Japan slowing simultaneously, the World Bank says that global trade will shrink next year by more than 2%. That will mark the first time in more than a quarter century that the seemingly inexorable tide of globalization will be in retreat.
"Trade tends to be extra responsive to changes in income. When the world economy contracts, trade contracts even more rapidly," says economic historian Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College.
The trade slump is both symptom and cause of the current global economic distress. For the U.S. economy, which just a few months ago was getting almost all of its forward momentum from net exports, "Trade will be a substantial drag on … growth," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of High Frequency Economics, told clients in a recent research note.
Compounding the recessionary gloom, trade is being choked by the credit crunch, which is drying up routine export financing. Entering 2009, the open trading system that has delivered low-cost goods to American consumers while lifting tens of millions of people in developing countries out of poverty faces the danger of protectionism in countries such as China, Russia, France and, potentially, the U.S.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: United States | Europe | Japan | Russia | France | New York | China | Brazil | India | World Bank | Institute for Supply Management | Paris-based | High Frequency Economics | Celent | Axel Pierron | Economist Intelligence Unit | International Finance Corp | Hans Timmer
Trade's turnaround has been abrupt. As recently as 2006, global trade was surging at an annual rate of nearly 10%. This year, the total volume is still expected to grow more than 6% to about $14 trillion. But, with the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasting 29 national economies will shrink next year, demand will slump for products worldwide.
"Everything is down significantly, across the board in all sectors," says Peter Keller, president of the North American operations of NYK Line, a 123-year-old Japanese shipping company. "The trenches are ugly."
Until recently, trade was virtually the sole bright spot in the U.S. economy, with net exports responsible for most second-quarter growth. But the global slowdown is taking its toll. In October, U.S. goods exports fell for the third-consecutive month to $120.8 billion, almost 14% below July's level. And there are signs that new orders are melting amid the economic tumult.
Bright spot no more
After 70 consecutive months of expansion, the Institute for Supply Management export index released Dec. 1 showed falling orders in both November and October. A few weeks ago, Keller's ships were mostly full, thanks to orders placed months ago. Then, business tanked. Now there are mounting worries about retailers' plans for post-holiday orders. NYK announced last week that it would defer plans to purchase 60 ships as it seeks to trim capacity.
Trade's rise and fall can be traced on the Baltic Dry index, a measure of shipping demand. The index more than quadrupled from the end of 2005 through May of this year, reaching a high of 11,793 on May 20. Since then, as demand for container vessels and cargo ships evaporated, it has dropped an astonishing 94%.
It's not just slumping demand that explains traders' woes. Exporters are finding it difficult to obtain the letters of credit and insurance needed to ship goods between countries. "The subprime crisis has resulted in a liquidity crunch and, hence, bank finance for trade has decreased," said an October report from Celent, a financial consultancy.
Latin American exporters were the first to feel the chill, in September. In countries such as Brazil, companies found they couldn't obtain financing from New York banks that were feverishly reducing their credit exposure amid the worsening crisis.
Some of the affected trade even involved cases in which the International Finance Corp., the private sector arm of the World Bank, had signed contracts to provide the trade financing. The deals fell through because the money wasn't available from the U.S. banks, according to Hans Timmer, lead economist for the World Bank's global trends unit.
Since then, the problem has spread to other top emerging markets, such as India, according to the World Bank. Even companies in the U.S. and Europe shipping to customers in emerging markets face difficulties. Today's more volatile environment has prompted many companies to move away from so-called open-account or pay-on-delivery trade to the use of letters of credit, in which banks guarantee a customer's payment.
But even as demand for such bank guarantees has surged, the supply has been pinched by the overall credit crunch.
"Now even for corporations with long relationships, trust is not there anymore. … It's affecting almost everyone," says Axel Pierron, Paris-based senior vice president at Celent.
Long a financial backwater, trade finance is drawing increased attention from policymakers: The U.S. Treasury and the Chinese government agreed earlier this month to jointly make available $20 billion to facilitate their companies' sales to emerging markets. That move followed a $3 billion initiative announced last month by the International Finance Corp.
"There's been an aggressive intensification of the crisis over the past five or six weeks. Especially in emerging markets, credit is just drying up," says Harvard University's Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.
The frozen trade credit market is attracting new financial players, Pierron says. A handful of hedge funds, seeing prospects for attractive investment returns elsewhere vanishing, are considering getting involved in trade finance, he says.
Last month, at the Washington summit on financial markets and the world economy, leaders of the Group of 20 nations promised to refrain from erecting new barriers to trade or investment for the next 12 months. Left unsaid was what would happen in the 13th month. The last thing the already enfeebled global economy needs is a trade war.
Many industry representatives are apprehensive about the new year. With unemployment rising, the new Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to be less amenable to new trade agreements than was its predecessor. Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch says the ranks of trade liberalization opponents had a net gain of 28 votes in the House and six in the Senate, figures business community representatives, such as the National Foreign Trade Council, dispute.
Still, there is little argument over the fact that enthusiasm for further trade expansion along the lines of the agreements pursued by both parties in recent years is at low ebb. A trio of bilateral trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, continue to idle in Congress. And the Doha Round of global trade talks sputtered to a halt this month when WTO Director General Pascal Lamy opted not to convene a last-ditch negotiating session in Geneva.
The U.S. recession — the economy is shrinking in the fourth quarter by an estimated 4% to 6% — provides a potentially receptive environment for anti-trade measures. "As time goes on and the jobless rate goes up everywhere, we will see a growing trend toward protectionism," says Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University.
The Doha Round's failure also means countries will be free to impose tariffs that could shrink global trade volumes by $728 billion to $1.7 trillion, according to a new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Countries typically apply lower tariffs than are permitted by the last global trade agreement, the Uruguay Round. They could legally increase them at any time.
Other arguments will come into play. Already one prominent U.S. economist, Dani Rodrik, has pointed out on his blog that the Obama administration's planned economic stimulus would pack a greater punch if the U.S. raised import tariffs to make sure the money is spent here and not on goods from abroad.
A $1 trillion shot of economic adrenaline, for example, would boost gross domestic product by $1.8 trillion, assuming consumers spent 20 cents of every dollar on imports. If tariffs, by raising the price of imported goods, encouraged them to buy only made-in-the-USA goods, the economic gains would rise to $2.8 trillion.
But Rodrik also says a coordinated international effort to stimulate spending would be a better option than raising tariffs, which would invite retaliation by other countries and risk a 1930s-style trade war.
What happened in the '80s
The last time the U.S. faced a severe recession, the early 1980s, it imposed import limits to protect the domestic auto, steel and textiles industries. Will a similar pattern unfold next year?
Not necessarily, Irwin says. The dollar was strong in the early '80s, so there was more pressure on domestic companies from foreign products. And U.S. manufacturers were not as globalized as they are today, with cross-border ownership stakes and supply chains that span the globe.
"Globalization has really defused a lot of protectionist pressures. Stopping trade at the border won't help as it did in the '80s," he said. "Things might be different this time."
Or they might not
Together they are the fault of most of the wars, killings, massacres, and genocides ever perpetrated on the people of this earth.
Of course greed figures in, but it seems most really long, popular, and messy wars are a case of "kill the -------- (fill in favorite group: Jews, Italians, Irish, Protestants, Catholics, Infidels, Muslims, Indians, "ignorant, blood thirsty, savages", Yankees, Johnny Rebs, "TRAITORS", "counter-revolutionaries", anarchists, plutocrats, etc., etc., etc.). Kill those not us. Kill the difference.
I'm afraid that soon there will be a cry to "kill the gays". It will be seen as the only way to rid us of this "divisive force". It will be called the only way to destroy AIDS --- and, hatred of LGBT folks is the only thing RC, Protestant, Jews, and Islam can agree on. Rooting us out, eliminating each new crop that grows up, will keep each "power group" so happy -- they might not have to kill each other.
I guess this is my modest proposal.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Support anything but reality. Equate the normal feelings young people have with your "failure" as a parent. Forget how you snuck around, how you did exactly what your parents forbade you to do.
Yessiree, deny your own childhood. Pretend you were this perfect little asshole, because anything else might lead to progress -- and we can't have that, can we?
"The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.
“Taking a pledge doesn’t seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,” said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. “But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking.” "
“This study again raises the issue of why the federal government is continuing to invest in abstinence-only programs,” said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “What have we gained if we only encourage young people to delay sex until they are older, but then when they do become sexually active—and most do well before marriage—they don’t protect themselves or their partners?”
James Wagoner of the advocacy group Advocates for Youth agreed: ”The Democratic Congress needs to get its head out of the sand and get real about sex education in America.”
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Aside from wars, genocides, attacks, terrorism, the NFL, and new movies -- well, what's there to write about?
Nothing new -- just the same old, same old --- financial collapse (global, local, and national), violent storms (none dare call it 'global warming'), signs of insane greed, creeping poverty, and the total lack of historical knowledge shown by the entire population of the USA -- well, there's nothing to write about.
Madoff's "scheme" totals about three years worth of "conventional" robberies, larcenies, and thefts. But - but - but - it's "white collar crime" -- so what?
Even though it seems quite a few folks really don't "feel sorry" for the rich folks he fleeced -- in spite of the fact they were his "friends" (what a bummer that is) -- the fact he may well have destroyed any lingering trust folks had in the ENTIRE financial sector must be taken into consideration.
I think I'll get some silica gel, coffee cans, and a good shovel.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Also says Atheists can get into heaven.
Most folks support a woman's right to choose, think damn near anyone can get into heaven, and seem to think being a good and decent person is more important than the brand of theological cigarettes you smoke.
Why don't we all wake up and recognize that the Evangelicals are just a CULT. Perhaps a fairly large cult, but still a cult.
As Suzy at Woman Rebel says -- it's a "Lifestyle" -- complete with dress code, and specific rules that limit real contact with the "outside world".
Folks like Rick Warren may have support for the positive message they promote, but , in reality, their anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-gay stance is falling more and more out of favor --- especially after the fruits of these bigoted policies are seen and understood.
The RC, Evan, LDS, "alliance" is already falling apart -- like the Muslims, Orthodox, RC, and Jews in Jerusalem, the only thing they can agree on is their ingrained, total homophobia.
Notice too that the "mainstream" Protestant Religions tend to be silent about all this stuff -- I guess they want to "respect" their co-religionists. Of course, many of them agree with the other homophobes -- they too want to see us dead -- they just want to be "polite" about it.
Obama doesn't get it. Warren is a disgrace. Most folks in the USA, when their beliefs are examined, are far more liberal/progressive than they are claimed to be.
If anything we are a "center-left" nation held back by our almost always right wing "leaders".
The way the economy is going, it would behoove our politicos to get in line with the folks who vote them into office.
Heaven for the Godless?
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: December 26, 2008
In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.
This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.
The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?
So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.
And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.
What on earth does this mean?
One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.
Also, many Christians apparently view their didactic text as flexible. According to Pew’s August survey, only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all. In fact, on the question in the Pew survey about what it would take to achieve eternal life, only 1 percent of Christians said living life in accordance with the Bible.
Now, there remains the possibility that some of those polled may not have understood the implications of their answers. As John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, said, “The capacity of ignorance to influence survey outcomes should never be underestimated.” But I don’t think that they are ignorant about this most basic tenet of their faith. I think that they are choosing to ignore it ... for goodness sake.
People are OUTRAGED! It's NOT FAIR, they say --- but, but, but --- isn't it just the "FreeMarket" at work? Isn't it self-regulating? Isn't it just perfect, etc., etc., etc?
So, why would so many folks get so upset.
I don't really know -- do you?
Another unholy mess created by a message from the Pope
December 27, 2008
The Pope ruined my Christmas.
What is it about the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious tradition that leads so many of its most prominent spokespersons to make hateful, bigoted, life-diminishing and personal security-endangering statements when it comes to human sexuality? Perhaps there was something inherent in the environment and culture of the Fertile Crescent, and of the Middle East in general, that predisposed the religions it brought forth to declare anathema anything other than abstinence and heterosexual behaviour (the latter only in a setting of monogamy or polygyny, not polyandry, of course). Even so, one would have hoped that the civilising influence of Greek and Hellenistic culture would have filtered most of the sexual bigotry out of the European religious mainstream, and out of its offshoots in the former European colonies.
Apparently not. The current Pope, Benedict XVI is right at home in the abhorrent main-stream Christian tradition of sexual intolerance. In his address ‘Christmas greetings to the members of the Roman Curia and Prelature (December 22, 2008)’ (available thus far only in German and Italian from the Vatican website), the Pope makes a number of extremist, bigoted and intolerant statements about homosexuality and transsexuality.
People are responsible for those results of their words and actions that can reasonably be foreseen. Those uttering the statements or carrying out these acts may not have intended these consequences. They may even deplore them. If, however, these consequences could be foreseen even by a bear of very little brain, let alone by a pontiff with, by all accounts, a mass of grey matter between the ears, then the person using these words or engaging in these actions is responsible even for these unintended consequences. This statement by the Pope will lead to more harassment of homosexuals and transgendered persons and to more discrimination against them in a range of activities, including participation in religious worship. It will probably lead to more acts of violence against homosexuals and transsexuals.
In his address, Pope Benedict argues that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is as important as saving the rain forest from destruction. He also urged humanity to listen to the “language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman. Finally, he argued that behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations between a man and woman (married - preferably to each other) was a “destruction of God’s work”.
How a man reputed to be as educated and intelligent as Benedict XVI can confuse the accumulated prejudice of centuries of dysfunctional organised religion with the message of the founder of Christianity is a mystery to me. Christ, as far as we know from the gospels, never said a word about homosexuality - let along about transgender sexuality. We don’t know whether He was single, married or divorced, monogamous or polygamous, straight, gay, or interested in transgender sexuality. We know nothing of Him between His early teens and His early thirties. When He starts His ministry He travels around with 12 male disciples and associates with a number of female camp followers. We know He liked wine - His first miracle was to change water into wine - but know nothing of His other interest, hobbies and vices.
Christ taught us to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself - the two Great Commandments from both the Old and the New Testaments. If my neighbour is gay, lesbian, transgendered or transsexual, God’s glory is revealed in his or her sexuality as much as it is in the sexuality of my heterosexual neighbour or in the voluntary abstinence of the Pope. If my neighbour is an adult and wishes to express his sexuality with another consenting adult, that sexual sharing is blessed by God regardless of whether is it homosexual, transgender or heterosexual, whenever it enhances the humanity of the other. Did God make a mistake when She allowed homosexuality to evolve in the human species, as it has in countless other animals? Or was She only joking?
Surely, whether something qualifies as right or wrong, moral or immoral, righteous or sinful depends on whether the act, the deed or the behaviour is both motivated by and expresses respect and love for all others affected by it? Homosexuality and homosexual behaviour, transgender sexualty and sexual behaviour and any form of sexuality and sexuality that does not hurt or diminish others but confirms and affirms them, cannot possibly contradict the teachings of Christ. His church, unfortunately, is another matter. When the teachings of an institutional expression of Christianity like the Roman Catholic Church are so radically at variance with the fundamental teachings of the founder of the religion, voluntary receivership and liquidation, with the proceeds distributed amongst the wretched of the earth, may be the best solution.
I consider the Pope’s views on sexuality, as expressed in his 22 December statement, to be a violation of everything Christ taught us and stood for. It is deeply un-Christian and must be rejected and fought wherever similar hateful prejudice and bigotry rear their ugly heads.
December 27th, 2008 in Culture, Environment, Ethics, Politics, Religion | Permalink
Friday, December 26, 2008
FUCK YOU, and your FUCKING "War on Christmas". You racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic bastard!
I was raised RC and have attended more dysfunctional Christmas / Easter / Thanksgiving Dinners than I care to remember.
Your strange anti-Christmas, pro-Christmas stance confuses me more than anything else. It's just another way to bitch about people who are not like you (thank goodness).
Billy, bless your little heart, you do need some help.
Public education was working, college was attainable for most, health insurance was still affordable, unions were strong -- for most, life was good.
The ruling class never got over the 60's. The fact so many kids could be so well educated, so prosperous, that they could confront the government on so many policies was frightening to them. When folks talk about the "excesses of the 60's and 70's, they tend to forget -- those "excesses" have led to a huge expansion of civil rights, have made the "American Dream" a little less "white".
In addition, the very fact our conscript army could even think about refusing to be cannon fodder, led to great changes.
Now we seem to have developed a "warrior class". "Professional Soldiers" who would most likely be quite willing to turn on their fellow citizens. In addition, our "local police" (as in "Support Your Local Police")have become ever more militarized, less connected to the overall community, more insular, and far more heavily armed.
College is once again less affordable. Young folks today graduate with a debt load that almost insures they go to work, buckle down, make NO waves -- and pay off that debt. The year taken for "bumming around" is no longer available to middle class kids -- it is once again the province of the well to do (if not just the rich).
If you lived through the 60's, you must remember that it was possible to earn a living almost by accident. I had an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that cost $45.00 per month. It wasn't the best -- but I had lots of room, and money left for other things. Survival was easier.
Our ruling class changed all that. In fact they convinced people that "other folks" having rights was really "bad". They misrepresented the realities of "welfare". They have ruled on FEAR for a long time.
Most (ALL) folks resist change. Many people seem to equate "change" with their reduced abilities caused by aging. Every generation seems to have a "Golden Age", when things were "better". It's usually when they were about 18, young, fresh, and had not been battered by life yet. It is usually self delusion, a lie.
It seems our ruling class used all that stuff to fool the people. We stopped educating our people, we rewrote history, we turned anti-science, anti-thought, and began to use rigid-religious-rules to control people.
It appears the wealthy, the ruling class have outsmarted themselves. Their greed, their desire to control all, has led to this economic, and moral breakdown. Folks are losing everything. Corruption is at very high levels -- we lose literal TONS of cash, and no one gives a damn. To most folks, this is just the way it is.
It wasn't always this way. We were a better, more open, more inviting nation. We were far from perfect -- but we were moving in a positive direction. Not so today.
We can change it.
By James K. Galbraith
May/June 2006 Issue
WHAT IS THE REAL NATURE of American capitalism today? Is it a grand national adventure, as politicians and textbooks aver, in which markets provide the framework for benign competition, from which emerges the greatest good for the greatest number? Or is it the domain of class struggle, even a “global class war,” as the title of Jeff Faux’s new book would have it, in which the “party of Davos” outmaneuvers the remnants of the organized working class?
The doctrines of the “law and economics” movement, now ascendant in our courts, hold that if people are rational, if markets can be “contested,” if memory is good and information adequate, then firms will adhere on their own to norms of honorable conduct. Any public presence in the economy undermines this. Even insurance—whether deposit insurance or Social Security—is perverse, for it encourages irresponsible risktaking. Banks will lend to bad clients, workers will “live for today,” companies will speculate with their pension funds; the movement has even argued that seat belts foster reckless driving. Insurance, in other words, creates a “moral hazard” for which “market discipline” is the cure; all works for the best when thought and planning do not interfere. It’s a strange vision, and if we weren’t governed by people like John Roberts and Sam Alito, who pretend to believe it, it would scarcely be worth our attention.
The idea of class struggle goes back a long way; perhaps it really is “the history of all hitherto existing society,” as Marx and Engels famously declared. But if the world is ruled by a monied elite, then to what extent do middle-class working Americans compose part of the global proletariat? The honest answer can only be: not much. The political decline of the left surely flows in part from rhetoric that no longer matches experience; for the most part, American voters do not live on the Malthusian margin. Dollars command the world’s goods, rupees do not; membership in the dollar economy makes every working American, to some degree, complicit in the capitalist class.
In the mixed-economy America I grew up in, there existed a post-capitalist, post-Marxian vision of middle-class identity. It consisted of shared assets and entitlements, of which the bedrock was public education, access to college, good housing, full employment at living wages, Medicare, and Social Security. These programs, publicly provided, financed, or guaranteed, had softened the rough edges of Great Depression capitalism, rewarding the sacrifices that won the Second World War. They also showcased America, demonstrating to those behind the Iron Curtain that regulated capitalism could yield prosperity far beyond the capacities of state planning. (This, and not the arms race, ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.) These middle-class institutions survive in America today, but they are frayed and tattered from constant attack. And the division between those included and those excluded is large and obvious to all.
Today, the signature of modern American capitalism is neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. Instead, predation has become the dominant feature—a system wherein the rich have come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class. The predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is the defining feature, the leading force. And its agents are in full control of the government under which we live.
Our rulers deliver favors to their clients. These range from Native American casino operators, to Appalachian coal companies, to Saipan sweatshop operators, to the would-be oil field operators of Iraq. They include the misanthropes who led the campaign to abolish the estate tax; Charles Schwab, who suggested the dividend tax cut of 2003; the “Benedict Arnold” companies who move their taxable income offshore; and the financial institutions behind last year’s bankruptcy bill. Everywhere you look, public decisions yield gains to specific private entities.
For in a predatory regime, nothing is done for public reasons. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that “public purposes” exist. They have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest—we’re the prey. Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly, as Halliburton scooped up contracts and Bush hamstrung Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor of Louisiana. The population of New Orleans was, at best, an afterthought; once dispersed, it was quickly forgotten.
The predator-prey model explains some things that other models cannot: in particular, cycles of prosperity and depression. Growth among the prey stimulates predation. The two populations grow together at first, but when the balance of power shifts toward the predators (through rising interest rates, utility rates, oil prices, or embezzlement), both can crash abruptly. When they do, it takes a long time for either to recover.
The predatory model can also help us understand why many rich people have come to hate the Bush administration. For predation is the enemy of honest business. In a world where the winners are all connected, it’s not only the prey who lose out. It’s everyone who hasn’t licked the appropriate boots. Predatory regimes are like protection rackets: powerful and feared, but neither loved nor respected. They do not enjoy a broad political base.
In a predatory economy, the rules imagined by the law and economics crowd don’t apply. There’s no market discipline. Predators compete not by following the rules but by breaking them. They take the business-school view of law: Rules are not designed to guide behavior but laid down to define the limits of unpunished conduct. Once one gets close to the line, stepping over it is easy. A predatory economy is criminogenic: It fosters and rewards criminal behavior.
Why don’t markets provide the discipline? Why don’t “reputation effects” secure good behavior? Economists have been slow to answer these questions, but now we have a full-blown theory in a book by my colleague William K. Black, The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Black was the lawyer/whistle-blower in the Savings and Loan and Keating Five scandals; he later took a degree in criminology. His theory of “control fraud” addresses the situation in which the leader of an organization uses his company as a “weapon” of fraud and a “shield” against prosecution—a situation with which law and economics cannot cope.
For instance, law and economics argues that top accounting firms will protect their own reputations by ferreting out fraud in their clients. But, as with Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom, at every major S&L control fraud was protected by clean audits from top accountants: You hire the top firm to get the clean opinion. Moral hazard theory shifts the blame for financial collapse to the incentives implicit in insurance, but Black shows that the large frauds were nearly all committed in institutions taken over for that purpose by criminal networks, often by big players like Charles Keating, Michael Milken, and Don Dixon. And there’s another thing about predatory institutions. They invariably fail in the end. They fail because they are meant to fail. Predators suck the life from the businesses they command, concealing the fact for as long as possible behind fraudulent accounting and hugely complex transactions; that’s the looter’s point.
That a government run by people rooted in this culture should also be predatory isn’t surprising—and the link between George H.W. Bush, who led the deregulation of the S&Ls, his son Neil, who ran a corrupt S&L, and Neil’s brother George, for whom Ken Lay sent thugs to Florida in 2000 on the Enron plane, could hardly be any closer. But aside from occasional references to “kleptocracy” in other countries, economic opinion has been slow to recognize this. Thinking wistfully, we assume that government wants to do good, and its failure to do so is a matter of incompetence.
But if the government is a predator, then it will fail: not merely politically, but in every substantial way. Government will not cope with global warming, or Hurricane Katrina, or Iraq—not because it is incompetent but because it is willfully indifferent to the problem of competence. The questions are, in what ways will the failure hit the population? And what mechanisms survive for calling the predators to account? Unfortunately, at the highest levels, one cannot rely on the justice system, thanks to the power of the pardon. It’s politics or nothing, recognizing that in a world of predators, all established parties are corrupted in part.
So, how can the political system reform itself? How can we reestablish checks, balances, countervailing power, and a sense of public purpose? How can we get modern economic predation back under control, restoring the possibilities not only for progressive social action but also—just as important—for honest private economic activity? Until we can answer those questions, the predators will run wild.
James K. Galbraith teaches economics at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He previously served in several positions on the staff of the U.S. Congress, including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Suzy, the love of my life, was going to roast a Duck, along with Sweet Potatoes, and assorted veggies.
She has been working very hard this holiday season and I suggested we go out to eat.
She was adamant -- "I'm going to cook, I'm really into it."
Now, I knew she was really tired -- we tried to watch a movie last night and she zonked out almost immediately -- twice.
As the day progressed, it became very clear neither of us wanted to cook.
Where to go?
AH-HA -- CHINESE! That's right, we had a feast of Chinese food -- Crispy Duck; Salty, Peppery, Pork Chops; Orange Beef; Fried Dumplings; mixed veggies - stir fried. Brought home enough to keep me from getting hungry tomorrow.
The restaurant (The Great China) has good food. We are known there. It's usually not that busy.
Tonight was an exception. The place was packed. We got there early, as it was beginning to fill up. Quite a few of the folks there seemed to know each other. There was banter back and forth between a couple of tables, and the crowd seemed very relaxed.
Then a tall, handsome gentleman walked to a table right next to ours and asked a woman seated there, "Is this the Jewish place?" -- then they all laughed.
There was no "war on Christmas" there. There was none of the agonized "what do I say?" -- will they get offended if I say "Happy Holiday"? Is "Happy New Year" good enough?
I'd even bet some folks were celebrating Festivus.
This Chinese Restaurant was a neutral zone. You did not have to self censor. You were not going to offend anyone -- as a result all the folks looked relaxed and happy.
I had a great meal -- and a GREAT Christmas.
Gunman in Santa Suit Kills 3
Published: December 25, 2008
In a bizarre Christmas Eve rampage, a 45-year-old man in a Santa Claus outfit showed up at a party in a Los Angeles suburb and opened fire at a group of revelers, killing three people and injuring at least three others, including two children, the police said on Thursday.
The suspect, identified by witnesses as Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, later killed himself, the police said.
The shooting, which may have been prompted by a marital dispute, occurred just before midnight Wednesday at a two-story home on a cul de sac in Covina, a small town about 22 miles east of Los Angeles.
Investigators said that about 30 people were inside the home celebrating when the costumed man knocked on the door. When a guest opened the door, the man stepped inside the house, pulled out a handgun, and immediately started shooting, Lieut. Pat Buchanan of the Covina Police Department said in a telephone interview.
Officers quickly responded to a burst of 911 calls, and arrived at the house moments later to find that shots were still being fired inside. They also found the house engulfed in flames, but kept firefighters from getting too close until it appeared that the shooting had stopped. The police said there were three bodies inside the house, which have yet to be identified. Three survivors were transported to the hospital, two of whom had gunshot wounds, Lieutenant Buchanan said. They were described only as an 8-year-old, a 13-year-old, and a 16-year-old.
Witnesses said Mr. Pardo stripped off his Santa outfit after the shootings and fled in street clothes. Lieut. Buchanan said he had been having problems with his wife, the homeowner, who may have been a victim and whose name was not made public. It was also unclear what connection Mr. Pardo had to the injured children and the other victims, he said.
“We don’t know if they were residents of the house or not,” Lieutenant Buchanan.
Covina, a suburb that boasts the slogan “One mile square and all there,” sits at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in the San Gabriel Valley. It has become a scenic backdrop for films and shows, including several episodes of the television series “Roswell” and the hit show “Knight Rider.
It's called entering old age. Anyone who says "age is just a number" -- hasn't entered old age.
I still "feel" young, and often "think young" -- I just cannot do some of the things I set out to do.
When I was young, I played sports, was very fit and active. People wondered at how strong I was. Today, some of the "minor injuries" from the past come back to haunt me. Thumbs that were "sprained" now have much less strength, etc., etc., etc.
I've lost a significant amount of muscle mass in the last ten years.
This is what happens. If you continue to work out, and don't have any major bad habits to give up, I think you can push "entering old age" back a few years.
I'm not even sure about that -- many of my current complaints mirror those of my late Mother, a couple my late Father. Perhaps genetics has something to do with it-- no matter what you do.
Some years ago, I worked with an old guy selling cars. When you asked him how he felt -- all he'd say is "thank God I've got my mobility". As you age that phrase becomes more and more meaningful.
One good thing (thank you Martha Stewart) is beginning to accept the changes that come with advancing age. Stay fit, work out, walk, BUT -- do not negate the realities of advancing age. As they say about athletes, "stay within yourself".
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday 23 December 2008
by: Agence France-Presse
Stocks continue to fall worldwide as the IMF warns of another possible "Great Depression" in the US.
Washington - The US economy shrank in the third quarter, official data confirmed Tuesday, as the IMF's top economist warned of a second Great Depression offering no respite from relentless gloom ahead of Christmas.
The abrupt 0.5 percent contraction of gross domestic product (GDP) in the world's largest economy was seen as marking the start of a steep downturn for the United States after GDP growth of 2.8 percent in the second quarter.
Stocks on Wall Street rose in early trading, however, as the contraction had been expected and was unrevised from a previous estimate. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.54 percent and the Nasdaq rose 0.60 percent.
"This report is largely old news," said John Ryding at RDQ Economics, who forecast fourth-quarter data out next month would be far bleaker.
"Given signs that the recession has deepened in the current quarter, we look for around a 6.0 percent drop in real GDP," he said.
Britain's economy also shrank by 0.6 percent in the three months to September compared to the previous quarter, against a previous estimate of 0.5-percent contraction, the Office for National Statistics said.
Britain and the United States will be in recession if their economies contract again in the fourth quarter, according to the traditional definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.
The IMF's top economist, Olivier Blanchard, maintained that governments around the world should boost domestic demand in order to avoid another Great Depression similar to the global downturn that shook the world in the 1930's.
"Consumer and business confidence indexes have never fallen so far since they began. The coming months will be very bad," Blanchard said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde.
"It is imperative to stifle this loss of confidence, to restart household consumption, if we want to prevent this recession developing into a Great Depression," he added.
New data out in France offered some relief, showing that household consumption of manufactured goods - a key growth indicator - rallied 0.3 percent last month after slumping in October.
"It is a first small Christmas present for the French economy," said Alexander Law, an economist at the Xerfi research centre in Paris.
The European Central Bank also issued some heartening pre-Christmas data showing that the eurozone's current account deficit had narrowed to 6.4 billion euros (9 billion dollars) in October from 8.8 billion euros in September.
But elsewhere in Europe the news was more downbeat. Retail sales in Italy went down 0.3 percent in October, Denmark's economy contracted 0.4 percent in the third quarter and the Dutch economy had zero growth, official data showed.
Finland's unemployment rate rose to 6.0 percent in November from 5.8 percent in October and the Polish central bank cut its key lending rate by 75 basis points to 5.00 percent in a bid to fend off a recession.
In Ukraine, thousands of people took to the streets for a union-led protest to demand higher wages and more social protection in the former Soviet republic, which has been hit hard by the global economic crisis.
News of weakening growth also sent the British pound sliding under 1.0550 euros, nearing a record low of 1.0463 reached last week, as dealers bet on more interest rate cuts from the Bank of England and forecast parity with the euro.
The dollar exchange rate also drifted lower against the euro and the yen.
European stocks rose in early afternoon trading after the announcement of US GDP figures, with the FTSE 100 index in London up 0.85 percent, the Frankfurt Dax up 0.73 percent and the CAC 40 in Paris up 0.92 percent.
Asian stocks closed mostly down, with the Hong Kong stock market shedding 2.8 percent and Shanghai sinking 4.55 percent as a smaller-than-expected Chinese interest rate cut failed to boost market sentiment.
Oil prices went up slightly in New York, rising above 40 dollars per barrel.
Energy analysts were also keeping a close eye on a meeting of key world natural gas exporters in Moscow amid fears of a "gas OPEC" similar to the Vienna-based oil cartel that could raise gas prices for Western consumers.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said at the forum that the "era of cheap gas" was coming to an end and Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez argued that gas exporters' group should be based on the "same principles" as OPEC.
He then goes on to compare it all to a huge Ponzi scheme.
It has been looking more and more like that for a while. Even the attempt to blame everything on labor, the unions, seems to be an attempt to deflect blame for what they think will happen.
The concerted efforts to put blame, fault, on anyone but the heads of this outsized Ponzi scheme does not bode well for our collective futures. Please go to:
To read the rest of this.
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By Barry Ritholtz - December 24th, 2008, 3:30AM
I am trying to figure out who is the biggest jerk in this story. It is a challenge, given the collection of utter clowns and ne’er-do-wells that run that office.
First, you have some moron who helped cost the government a hundred large back in the 1980s ($100B). How this idiot ever ended up in a position of responsibility in any regulatory agency again is beyond my comprehension.
for the rest of this post, please go to "The Big Picture"
How they can still claim it's all Clinton's, or Obama's fault is beyond me.
We might just well collapse because of failed ideology. The moral weakness will be that of our "Conservative Ideologues", our "no-government/no-regulation" dreamers -- the ones who built Ayn-Randish-Castles-In-The-Sky -- and actually lived in them for a long time, while bilking the people who work to keep our nation going.
Now we are staring at a collapse, at reduced circumstances -- all because some folks put ideology before performance, reality, nation. These men who called anyone who even asked a question a "traitor", are, themselves traitors. How anyone can continue to follow these crooks is totally beyond me.
They are "economic criminals" -- didn't the old Red Chinese have some "cures" for that condition? I think quite a number of these felons (that's what they are) should be put into some of the "new, improved" Privatized Jails in the "Prison Industrial Complex" -- to enjoy the "fruits" of "enhanced efficiency".
These folks have waged class war against every American Worker.
We really need some change -- real change.
Now I see respected "pundits" saying stuff that would have had folks calling you a fool not that long ago. You would have been told to take off your tin foil hat, etc., etc. In fact, anything said would be dismissed, laughed at, and you might well have been (virtually) spat upon.
Now it has become (almost) "conventional wisdom".
Things ain't good. The Republicans who are trying to prevent any public works, infrastructure, recovery program, had best be sure of their stance. They might just roadblock themselves out of office.
Acknowledging New Realities
A few years ago, it would have been career suicide for a mainstream prognosticator to publicly predict the kind of devastating and wide-ranging financial meltdown that has materialized over the past 18 months.
Now, though, with the world as we know it being turned upside down by the day, a small number of analysts are beginning to forecast social, economic, and geopolitical outcomes like those described in Financial Armageddon, as well as in my soon-to-be-released book, When Giants Fall.
In "The Major Risks for 2009: Tariffs, Wars, Currency, etc.," Paul Kedrosky, publisher of Infectious Greed, highlights one such perspective.
In the spirit of my earlier post about 2008's surprises, etc., what surprises lie ahead in 2009? Here is Merrill Lynch's David Rosenberg on the subject:
We continue to believe that trade protectionism, competitive devaluations and military conflicts are the major risks for investors for 2009 - this is, after all, the most broadly based global recession (according to the IMF, not just us) in the post-WWII era....Since the G20 meeting in Washington in October, five of those countries - Russia, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina - have announced their intentions to raise import tariffs or otherwise restrict trade. Russia has announced plans to raise tariffs on autos; India has already lifted duties on iron, steel and soy; Brazil and Argentina are putting together a case within Mercosur for boosting external tariffs. Vietnam just raised taxes on steel imports to 12% from 8%. The EU said it may reimpose duties of 79% on a paper-binder component in retaliation against China. French President Sarkozy has established a $7.5 bln fund to invest in domestic companies so as to avoid foreign takeovers. China has reinstated export rebates and now we see that US steel, textile and paper markets intend to file complaints against Chinese imports, and did anyone notice that this auto-bailout excludes foreign companies?
I'd add to David's risks sovereign defaults, especially in emerging markets; a potential banking crisis in smaller regional banks and thrifts in U.S.; a bursting of the Treasury bubble (admittedly not much of a surprise, and one that may not happen until 2010), etc.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
RIP Chicago School of Economics: 1976-2008
By Barry Ritholtz - December 23rd, 2008, 7:03AM
Some time ago, I asked if “Milton Friedman was the next economist whose once lauded reputation may soon slide ?”
Turns out it happened much quicker than expected. A long Bloomberg piece, Friedman Would Be Roiled as Chicago Disciples Rue Repudiation, discusses the tarnishment of the Chicago school of thought.
Its long overdue. From the efficient-market theories, to the concept of man as rational profit maximizers, much of the edifice that is was the Chicago school of economics is based on a foundation that is false, disproven or otherwise questionable.
I first encountered the Chicago theory in law school. The Chicagoists somehow read into law a market efficiency component that was never there. I recoiled against it — not because of the libertarianism, which I embraced. Rather, it seemed a backdoor way to circumvent democracy, and force into the legal system rules that were never debated, voted on, or agreed to by a representative government. I found the extremist legal theories of Judges like Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook intellectually repulsive. They were undemocratic, anti-representative government. When I told a professor that the law and economics movement was an attempt at a political coup, he laughed and said, try to stop it.
I disliked the neoclassical price theory. It was authoritarian, a worship of a form of mob rule outside of the usual legal channels. The view that regulation and other government intervention is always inefficient compared to a free market has now been made laughable. Its always the extremists that seem to control a discipline or school of thought. If I have any dogma, its extremism in all forms is undesirable (I know, radical, huh)
If there is one silver lining in the entire collapse, its that this group of intellectual charlatans have been revealed as utterly wanting. Oh, there will be some pushback by the Chicagoans. (Watch the comments for the cute little protests from law students who never practiced a day in their lives, and the biz school kiddies who never executed a single trade).
Anyway, here’s an excerpt from today’s Bloomberg:
“When Friedman’s Platonic ideas of free-market virtues are put into practice, they have too often generated a systemic orgy of competitive greed — whose remedies, ironically, entail countermeasures of nationalization,” Marshall Sahlins, an emeritus professor of anthropology, said during the debate, speaking in a room adorned with murals of female students parading through the campus in medieval gowns. Sahlins, 77, noted a few weeks later socialist and capitalist countries alike are regulating or nationalizing financial institutions in a rebuff to Friedman.
Off campus, the global meltdown is stirring anti-Chicago economists, who were voices in the wilderness during decades of lax government oversight of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, who won one of Columbia’s economics Nobels, says the approach of Friedman and his followers helped cause today’s turmoil.
‘Bears the Blame’ “The Chicago School bears the blame for providing a seeming intellectual foundation for the idea that markets are self- adjusting and the best role for government is to do nothing,” says Stiglitz, 65, who received his Nobel in 2001.
University of Texas economist James Galbraith says Friedman’s ideology has run its course. He says hands-off policies were convenient for American capitalists after World War II as they vied with government-favored labor unions at home and Soviet expansion overseas.
“The inability of Friedman’s successors to say anything useful about what’s happening in financial markets today means their influence is finished,” he says.
Instead, Galbraith, 56, says policy-makers are rediscovering the ideas of his father, Harvard professor John Kenneth Galbraith, and economist John Maynard Keynes of the University of Cambridge. Keynes, who died in 1946, argued that governments should spend to combat the unemployment that free markets tolerate. Galbraith, who died in 2006, rejected mathematical models and technical analyses as divorced from reality.”
That’s the phrase that best sums up the Chicago School: “Divorced from Reality.”
Chicago School repudiation? Good riddance!
Lesbian's brutal gang rape investigated in Calif.
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Dec 23, 12:32 AM (ET)
By LISA LEFF
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.
Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.
"It just pushes it beyond fathomable," he said. "The level of trauma - physical and emotional - this victim has suffered is extreme."
Authorities are characterizing the attack as a hate crime but declined to reveal why they think the woman was singled out because of her sexual orientation. Gagan would say only that the victim lived openly with a female partner and had a rainbow flag sticker on her car.
The 45-minute attack began when one of the men approached the woman as she crossed the street, struck her with a blunt object, ordered her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her on the spot with the help of the other men.
When the group saw another person approaching, they forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building, where she was raped again inside and outside the vehicle. The assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car. Officers found the car abandoned two days later.
The woman sought help from a nearby resident, and she was examined at a hospital. Although the victim said she did not know her attackers, detectives hope someone in the community knows them. One of the men went by the nickname "Blue" and another was called "Pato," according to authorities.
Richmond police are offering a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the attackers.
Gay rights advocates note that hate crimes based on sexual orientation have increased nationwide as of late. There were 1,415 such crimes in 2006 and 1,460 in 2007, both times making up about 16 percent of the total, according to the FBI.
Avy Skolnik, a coordinator with the New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, noted that gay, lesbian and transgender crime victims may be more reluctant than heterosexual victims to contact police.
"Assailants target LGBT people of all gender identities with sexual assault," he said. "Such targeting is one of the most cruel, dehumanizing and violent forms of hate violence that our communities experience."
Skolnik said the group plans to analyze hate crime data to see whether fluctuations may be related to the gay marriage bans that appeared on ballots this year in California, Arizona and Florida.
"Anytime there is an anti-LGBT initiative, we tend to see spikes both in the numbers and the severity of attacks," he said. "People feel this extra entitlement to act out their prejudice."
Associated Press writer Haven Daley in Richmond contributed to this report.
Is ALL of it just a variation on a "Ponzi" scheme?
Monday, December 22, 2008
by CalculatedRisk on 12/22/2008 08:14:00 PM
From the WSJ: OTS Let IndyMac Backdate Infusion
The Treasury Department's inspector general is probing the Office of Thrift Supervision for permitting a backdated capital infusion into IndyMac Bancorp a few months before its collapse in July.This was the culture at the OTS - anything to help the "customers". The OTS competed with other regulators for "customers" (aka banks), and the OTS offered more "flexible" supervision - perhaps even backdating capital infusions!
The infusion allowed the bank to be classified as "well capitalized," instead of "adequately capitalized," at the end of the first quarter. That let IndyMac avoid having to take certain steps with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
A top OTS official, West Region Director Darrel Dochow, was removed from his current duties in connection with the inquiry, according to letters released Monday by the office of Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa). An OTS spokesman said Mr. Dochow wasn't available for comment.
In a letter to Sen. Grassley, Treasury Inspector General Eric M. Thorson said the probe would examine why Mr. Dochow allowed IndyMac to record $18 million in capital as received from its holding company before March 31, 2008, even though the injection occurred after that date.
For a great article on the OTS, see the WaPo: Banking Regulator Played Advocate Over Enforcer
When Countrywide Financial felt pressured by federal agencies charged with overseeing it, executives at the giant mortgage lender simply switched regulators in the spring of 2007.What a weird regulatory structure. And finally, here is the head of OTS taking a chainsaw to regulations in 2003.
The benefits were clear: Countrywide's new regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision, promised more flexible oversight of issues related to the bank's mortgage lending. For OTS, which depends on fees paid by banks it regulates and competes with other regulators to land the largest financial firms, Countrywide was a lucrative catch.
But OTS was not an effective regulator.
|This photo from 2003 shows two regulators: John Reich (then Vice Chairman of the FDIC and later at the OTS) and James Gilleran of the Office of Thrift Supervision (with the chainsaw) and representatives of three banker trade associations: James McLaughlin of the American Bankers Association, Harry Doherty of America's Community Bankers, and Ken Guenther of the Independent Community Bankers of America|
Monday, December 22, 2008
The Problem for Gays with Rick Warren — and Obama
About three years ago, a reporter at Fortune asked Rick Warren, the successful pastor whom the President-elect has asked to pray at his Inauguration, about homosexuality. "I'm no homophobic guy," Warren said. His proof? He has dined with gays; he has a church "full of people who are caring for gays who are dying of AIDS"; he believes that "in the hierarchy of evil ... homosexuality is not the worst sin." So gays get to eat — sometimes even with Rick Warren! Then they get to die of AIDS — possibly under the care of Rick Warren's congregants. And when they go to hell, they won't be quite as far down in Satan's pit as other evildoers.
More recently, Warren told Beliefnet that he thinks allowing a gay couple to marry is similar to allowing "a brother and sister to be together and call that marriage." He then helpfully added that he's also "opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage." The reporter, who may have been a little surprised, asked, "Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?" "Oh, I do," Warren immediately answered. I wish the reporter had asked the next logical follow-up: If gays are like child-sex offenders, shouldn't we incarcerate them?
Rick Warren may occasionally sound more open-minded than Jerry Falwell, another plump Evangelical who once played a prominent role in U.S. politics. But he's not. Gays and lesbians are angry that Barack Obama has honored Warren, but they shouldn't be surprised. Obama has proved himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the nonpedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships. He did throughout his campaign, one that featured appearances by Donnie McClurkin, a Christian entertainer who preaches that homosexuals can become heterosexuals.
Obama reminds me a little bit of Richard Russell Jr., the longtime Senator from Georgia who — as historian Robert Caro has noted — cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, tolerant politician even as he defended inequality and segregation for decades. Obama gave a wonderfully Russellian defense of Warren on Thursday at a press conference. Americans, he said, need to "come together" even when they disagree on social issues. "That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he said. Russell would often use the same tactic to deflect criticism of his civil rights record. It was a distraction, Russell said, from the important business of the day uniting all Americans. Obama also said today that he is a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays, which is — given his opposition to equal marriage rights — simply a lie. It recalls the time Russell said, "I'm as interested in the Negro people of my state as anyone in the Senate. I love them."
Many gays I know gave money to Obama, which mystified me. The favored explanation was that he doesn't "really" believe gays shouldn't be allowed to marry; he just has to say that in order to win. People seemed to feel that once he had won, he would find a way — in his contemplative style — to help convince Americans that gay people really do deserve basic equality. Instead, he has found a way to insult gay people deeply.
In California, some gay activists are planning to put marriage on the 2010 ballot so that Proposition 8 — which (thanks partly to Warren's support) passed last month, banning marriage equality in the state — can be undone. Gays will need to reach older, religious, and African-American voters in order to overturn Prop. 8 (those three groups all voted disproportionately for it). If gays hoped that President Obama would help, they may want to reconsider.
The only piece of good news is that Obama loves to raise money, and he won't want significant gay donors to stop organizing fundraisers for him. Having picked Warren to pray at the Inauguration and Republican Robert Gates to stay on at the Department of Defense (where Gates will likely continue the policy of investigating gay service members — a policy he has the legal power to end with the stroke of a pen), Obama will now have to do something nice for the gays. Today, the Washington Times brings news that some retired military leaders are supporting William White, an openly gay man who is chief operating officer of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, to be Secretary of the Navy. That would be cool. But I'm not getting my hopes up.
Monday, December 22, 2008
cross posted from ataxingmatter
Madoff's ponzi scheme tax losses and union workers' home losses
Wall Street has not had a good year (and of course, the taxpayers have borne the brunt of the resulting chaos). Credit default swaps, for several years the darlings of the industry, have become a giant albatross around taxpayers' necks, especially through the AIG bailout. Stocks have plummeted, as financial institutions' speculative hayday that funded unmerited, oversize executive bonuses (see, e.g., On Wall Street, Bonuses, not Profits, were Real, NY Times, Dec. 17, 2008) has crashed with the shaky mortgages at the foundation of so many CDOs and other securitizations, which of course means many individual homeowners are out in the cold.
And then there's the Madoff scandal--a highly respected figure on Wall Street (he was once on the SEC advisory council) who has admitted to defrauding investors to the tune of at least $50 billion in a ponzi scheme that the SEC was warned about, investigated, and then decided, just a year ago, not to pursue. The SEC has egg on its face (not the first time under Republican-appointed pro-industry commissioners), and investors have pockets with big holes rather than lots of gold coins. See, e.g.,
* SEC Release 2008-293, SEC Charges Bernard L. Madoff for Multi-Billion Dollar Ponzi Scheme, Dec. 11, 2008;
* Berenson & Enriques, SEC Says it Missed Signals on Madoff Fraud Case, NY Times, Dec. 16, 2008;
* Scheer & Westbrook, Madoff 'Tragedy' Said to have Escaped Investigation by SEC, Bloomberg.com, Dec. 16, 2008 (no inspection of books since registration as investment adviser in 2006);
* Neumiester, Fallout over Madoff Ripples through Washington, Wash. Post, Dec. 18, 2008;
* Editorial, Swindle of the Century, Wash. Post, Dec. 17, 2008;
* Haughney, Madoff Scandal Shaking Real Estate Industry, NY Times, Dec. 17, 2008;
* Greenwell, Area Jewish Groups Take a Hit Financially, Wash. Post, Dec. 17, 2008;
* SIPC Chief: Madoff Falsified Books to Hide Losses, AP, Dec. 16, 2008;
* Reuters, FACTBOX: Firms Exposed to Madoff Fraud (lists major firms with losses);
* Reuters, Madoff Bad Omen for Fund of Hedge Funds Industry, Dec. 17, 2008.
And why, pray tell, can a guy who is caught stealing a piece of pizza go to jail for life in California on a "three counts and you are out" rule, while Madoff is not even in jail after stealing $50 billion even though he couldn't put up the bail set by the judge? See Alex Berenson, Authorities Ease Madoff's Bail Terms, NY Times, Dec. 17, 2008).
What's the tax angle (gotta get that in somewhere, haven't I?)? Investors who've lost money to Madoff get a chance for relief under the tax code. See Donmoyer, Madoff's Victims May Recover Losses Through Tax Code, Bloomberg.com, Dec. 18, 2008.
Capital-gains taxes paid by investors [already too low, in ataxingmatter's opinion] may be refundable for 2005 through 2007, lawyers said. In addition, they said investors probably can convince the Internal Revenue Service they are victims of theft, which would let them deduct losses from their income taxes dating back to 2005. Any unused theft losses could be used to reduce tax liabilities for the next 20 years.
In other words, investors--the darlings of the Wall Street world and the darlings of the tax code because of their preferential rate on capital gains and other provisions like the charitable deduction for untaxed value rather than just investment basis--have an existing remedy that will likely provide substantial relief. Another bailout, if you will, through tax code provisions--especially if the IRS permits the "theft" deduction. (Note that theft losses would be deductible against ordinary income, usually taxed for wealthy investors at the top rate of 35%, whereas investors have been paying only the very low preferential rates when they have tax gains--nifty, huh? Should the "theft loss" be able to trump the investment loss provision in this context to provide that benefit? Seems like an answer based on a coherent interpretation of the Code provisions should be "no" in this context.)
Once again, worth pointing out a few things here.
The country has spent a lot of money and a lot of time talking about shoring up Wall Street (oops, the financial system). There are various "escape valves" (such as the loss deduction) that provide relief of some sort for wealthy investors who have, undoubtedly, also lost money as financial institutions and other companies lose market capitalization and even go into bankruptcy. But the country hasn't done much to get at the heart of the problem--providing relief to homeowners with mortgage debt that is driving them out of house and home, letting homeowners modify their mortgage loans in bankruptcy, and setting standards for the TARP money so that banks are not allowed to continue the high-falutin' lifestyle of huge bonuses built on speculative bets in the financial markets but rather are required to modify some loans and use the money to find a way to refinance some loans on better terms for the homeonwers, and, in the cases of subprime loans that were pushed on people who should have been offered better terms, requiring the banks to "eat" the difference and modify the loans to reasonable terms.
For instance, bonuses, not quite as big as before but still extraordinary in scope, are still flowing on Wall Street.
Critics say bonuses never should have been so big in the first place, because they were based on ephemeral earnings. These people contend that Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning. See On Wall Street, above. (I might add--and let the taxpayers take the brunt of the damage in a nifty scheme for privatizing gains and socializing losses.)
Meanwhile, homeowners continue to lose homes. Here's an anecdote to bring this down to the "real people" level. I spoke at length with a union member in Detroit two days ago who told me of a recent meeting of about 1300 union members. Of the 1300, only a handful said they were not in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure! More than half were already in foreclosure. Many were facing imminent default. And the rest were very worried that they would end up defaulting before 12 months passed, including the person with whom I spoke. He'd bought a modest home several years ago, prudently basing his mortgage on his base pay without taking into account the extra pay he often received for overtime. Yet he says most have already seen their take-home go down, and he expects their base pay to go down by at least one-fourth before this is over. And if that happens, he simply won't be able to make his mortgage payments.
Let's hope the new Congress reassesses the TARP program and makes modifications that should have been included in the beginning--harsher terms retroactively, along with much more stringent oversight, for the banks that get the money; much more consideration and problem resolution for the homeowners at the heart of the crisis
According to the optimists, people are smarter and more sophisticated than they used to be. We have better tools and methods for coping with challenges than our ancestors did. Most importantly, we've learned from their mistakes, and will do whatever we can to avoid turning molehills into mountains.
Why then, as the Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports in "Protectionist Dominoes Are Beginning to Tumble Across the World," does it seem like we are poised to endure an ugly déjà vu nightmare all over again?
The riots have begun. Civil protest is breaking out in cities across Russia, China, and beyond.
Greece has been in turmoil for 11 days. The mood seems to have turned "pre-insurrectionary" in parts of Athens - to borrow from the Marxist handbook.
This is a foretaste of what the world may face as the "crisis of capitalism" - another Marxist phase making a comeback - starts to turn two hundred million lives upside down.
We are advancing to the political stage of this global train wreck. Regimes are being tested. Those relying on perma-boom to mask a lack of democratic or ancestral legitimacy may try to gain time by the usual methods: trade barriers, saber-rattling, and barbed wire.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, is worried enough to ditch a half-century of IMF orthodoxy, calling for a fiscal boost worth 2pc of world GDP to "prevent global depression".
"If we are not able to do that, then social unrest may happen in many countries, including advanced economies. We are facing an unprecedented decline in output. All around the planet, the people have reacted with feelings going from surprise to anger, and from anger to fear," he said.
Russia has begun to shut down trade as it adjusts to the shock of Urals oil below $40 a barrel. It has imposed import tariffs of 30pc on cars, 15pc on farm kit, and 95pc on poultry (above quota levels). "It is possible during the financial crisis to support domestic producers by raising customs duties," said Premier Vladimir Putin.
Russia is not alone. India and Vietnam have imposed steel tariffs. Indonesia is resorting to special "licences" to choke off imports.
The Kremlin is alarmed by a 13pc fall in industrial output over the last five months. There have been street protests in Moscow, St Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Vladivostok and Barnaul. Police crushed "Dissent Marchers" holding copies of Russia's constitution above their heads in Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square.
"Russia has not seen anything like these nationwide protests before," said Boris Kagarlitsky from Moscow's Globalization Institute.
The Duma is widening the treason law to catch most forms of political dissent, and unwelcome forms of journalism. Jury trials for state crimes are to be abolished.
Yevgeny Kiseloyov at the Moscow Times said it feels eerily like December 1 1934 when Stalin unveiled his "Enemies of the People" law, kicking off the Great Terror.
The omens are not good in China either. Taxis are being bugged by state police. The great unknown is how Beijing will respond as its state-directed export strategy hits a brick wall, leaving exposed a vast eyesore of concrete and excess plant.
Exports fell 2.2pc in November. Toy, textile, footwear, and furniture plants are being closed across Guangdong, now the riot hub of South China. Some 40m Chinese workers are expected to lose their jobs. Party officials have warned of "mass-scale social turmoil".
The Politburo is giving mixed signals. We don't yet know how much of the country's plan to boost domestic demand through a $586bn stimulus package is real, and how much is a wish-list sent to party bosses in the hinterland without funding.
Shortly after President Hu Jintao said China is "losing competitive edge in the world market", we saw a move towards export subsidies for the steel industry and a dip in the yuan peg - even though China already has the world's biggest reserves ($2 trillion) and the biggest trade surplus ($40bn a month).
So is the Communist Party mulling a 1930s "beggar-thy-neighbour" strategy of devaluation to export its way out of trouble? Such raw mercantilism can only draw a sharp retort from Washington and Brussels in this climate.
"During a global slowdown, you can't have countries trying to take advantage of others by manipulating their currencies," said Frank Vargo from the US National Association of Manufacturers.
It is a view shared entirely by President-elect Barack Obama. "China must change its currency practices. Because it pegs its currency at an artificially low rate, China is running massive current account surpluses. This is not good for American firms and workers, not good for the world," he said in October. The new intake of radical Democrats on Capitol Hill will hold him to it.
There has been much talk lately of America's Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which set off the protectionist dominoes in 1930. It is usually invoked by free traders to make the wrong point. The relevant message of Smoot-Hawley is that America was then the big exporter, playing the China role. By resorting to tariffs, it set off retaliation, and was the biggest victim of its own folly.
Britain and the Dominions retreated into Imperial Preference. Other countries joined. This became the "growth bloc" of the 1930s, free from the deflation constraints of the Gold Standard. High tariffs stopped the stimulus leaking out.
It was a successful strategy - given the awful alternatives - and was the key reason why Britain's economy contracted by just 5pc during the Depression, against 15pc for France, and 30pc for the US.
Could we see such a closed "growth bloc" emerging now, this time led by the US, entailing a massive rupture of world's trading system? Perhaps.
This crisis has already brought us a monetary revolution as interest rates approach zero across the G10. It may overturn the "New World Order" as well, unless we move with great care in grim months ahead. This is where events turn dangerous.The last great era of globalisation peaked just before 1914. You know the rest of the story
Sunday, December 21, 2008
We have been thrown under the bus -- AGAIN!
We've been relegated to "pet" status. Our feelings, needs, have been (once again) pushed aside, then ignored.
It's more important to make common cause with someone who would see us dead rather than affirm our humanity.
It is time to oppose ALL bigots -- even "soft bigots". Those who have gay and lesbian friends, who actually have them over for dinner -- but who cannot even begin to "understand" why we even want "special rights" (IE: EQUAL RIGHTS).
We have an ex-"friend" who, when confronted with the IDEA of "gay marriage" blurted out, "But, you've got to have standards.".
I can no longer look at the man, or his wife (at least she was more honest about her feelings, usually finding an excuse for not getting together).
People like that often use us as a way to "prove" how "liberal" they are. Many of them appear to see us as "pets", or well trained children. They are incapable of seeing us as totally human -- usually due to religion and tradition.
I do not care what they think. I would rather have no one than "friends" like that. All they do is bring you down, destroy any good feelings you have for yourself.
What I do want is simply EQUAL RIGHTS. The same rights of CITIZENSHIP other folks have.
I do not care if 70% of the Black Community votes against me. Nor do I care if a majority of older Whites, Latino folks, etc. oppose my rights.
In a Democratic Republic no ones rights should ever be up for a vote.
Always remember: Majority Rule, Minority Rights".
If you can vote away my rights, I can band together with others -- and vote away yours. It's that simple.