Saturday, March 21, 2015

Buried Story on Clintons/FED Part of Price Letting Banks Get Away with Bank/Citizen Robbery?  (Our Gov't Now Funds Creation of Financial Schemes Instead of Products)  U.S. Orchestrating Color Revolutions Everywhere But U.S.  (and Russia Invasion)  (Who's Pushing That Diplomas Means Jobs?)  Farewell, Danny

Fare thee well, Danny boy.

You fared us well. You always told us the truth when so few other journalists even thought that was a good thing.

We'll miss you.

Danny Schechter, the News Dissector, Dies on Iraq Invasion Anniversary

Greg Palast's tribute to Danny

FAIR Remembrance

Democracy Now Highlights Danny's many achievements and provides links to his interviews

Treat the Financial Crisis as a Crime Story

The Music Of Liberation: Steven Van Zandt And Danny Schechter On ‘Sun City’

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And you thought all those banker deaths were accidental?

Jethro knows there's no such thing as an accident.

Particularly so many convenient accidents.

But Jethro is not here to save the day.

We'll have to depend on the voters.

And you remember how motivated they are.

"Harper’s" six-page article jolts the reader with nugget after nugget unearthed from Citigroup’s unseemly history – facts that both the Clintons and the Fed would no doubt prefer to stay buried.

This epistle to greed and excess and regulatory hubris is written by Andrew Cockburn, "Harper’s" Washington Editor and a man well credentialed to do it justice. Cockburn and his wife, Leslie Cockburn, co-produced the documentary, American Casino, which provided an in-depth look at the players behind the 2008 financial collapse. Cockburn’s father, Claud Cockburn, was on the scene in 1929, covering the epic crash for the "London Times." (His memoir of Black Thursday on Wall Street in 1929 can be read here.)

The "Harper’s" article is subtitled “The Catastrophic Incompetence of Citigroup,” obviously a tongue-in-cheek assessment since Cockburn meticulously documents the serial charges of crimes at Citigroup as a business model.
Cockburn traces the history of how Sandy Weill parlayed Commercial Credit through a series of mergers that, thanks to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by President Clinton, culminated in the too-big-to-fail Citigroup. The banking behemoth replicated the exact model that brought on the 1929 crash and Great Depression by holding savings deposits while being allowed to gamble with the deposits in wild speculations on Wall Street.

. . . Janet Yellen’s Fed can’t be too happy either about the revelations. The Fed just gave Citigroup a clean bill of health last week under its so-called rigorous stress tests and is allowing the bank to spend like a drunken sailor, raising its dividend 400 percent with permission to buy back as much as $7.8 billion of its own stock. The Fed’s qualitative portion of the stress test is said to look at both risk controls and the internal culture of the bank.

Citigroup remains under multiple criminal investigations for money laundering and involvement in rigging currency markets. Apparently, in the Fed’s eyes, this is now de rigueur on Wall Street.

. . . Cockburn neatly captures where today’s Citigroup culture found its roots, writing:

“Weill had recently been eased out from Shearson Lehman/American Express, a financial conglomerate he had helped to build. Eager to get back in the game, he bought a Baltimore firm called Commercial Credit. In the view of Weill and his protégé, Jamie Dimon [now CEO at JPMorgan Chase], their new acquisition was in the beneficent business of supplying ‘consumer finance’ to ‘Main Street America.’ Their office receptionist, Alison Falls, thought otherwise. Overhearing their conversation at work one day, she called out, ‘Hey, guys, this is the loan-sharking business. Consumer finance is just a nice way to describe it.’

“Falls had it right. Commercial Credit made loans to poor people at predatory interest rates. Strapped to pay off their loans, borrowers were encouraged to refinance, with added fees each time. Gail Kubiniec, who was then an assistant sales manager at the company’s branch office in Tonawanda, New York, remembers that the basic aim was to lend money to ‘people uneducated about credit. You could take a five-hundred-dollar loan and pack it with extra items like life insurance — that was very lucrative. Then you could roll it over with more extra items, then reroll the new loan, and the borrower would go on paying and paying and paying.’ ”

Cockburn prints an excerpt from an affidavit that Kubiniec eventually filed with the Federal Trade Commission in 2001 about the practices of Commercial Credit, which had by then changed its name to CitiFinancial:

“I and other employees would often determine how much insurance could be sold to a borrower based on the borrower’s occupation, race, age, and education level. If someone appeared uneducated, inarticulate, was a minority, or was particularly old or young, I would try to include all the coverages CitiFinancial offered. The more gullible the consumer appeared, the more coverages I would try to include in the loan.”

If Kubiniec’s story has a ring of familiarity, it’s likely because you read Alayne Fleischmann’s allegations against JPMorgan Chase concerning the subprime housing bust in Matt Taibbi’s investigative report in the November issue of "Rolling Stone."

Other revelations are equally cringe-worthy. Cockburn writes that Irzen Octa, a Citibank credit card customer in Jakarta, Indonesia, “was beaten to death in 2011 by Citi’s collection agents when he visited a bank branch to discuss his account.”

Cockburn also details how Citigroup this past December succeeded in sneaking a rule to keep trillions of dollars in derivatives held by banks like itself on the books of their FDIC-insured depository bank rather than their investment banking unit – thus guaranteeing that the taxpayer is back on the hook for future derivative implosions. The language was inserted into a must-pass appropriations bill to keep the government running and succeeded in passage, effectively repealing a key provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

Against that backdrop, consider this statement from Michael Greenberger, former Director of Trading and Markets for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1997 to 1999, which appears in the Cockburns’ American Casino:

“On December 15, 2000, around 7 o’clock, Phil Gramm, Republican Senator of Texas, and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, walked to the floor of the Senate and introduced a 262-page bill as a rider to the 11,000 page appropriation bill, which excluded from regulation the financial instruments that are probably most at the heart of the present meltdown.

He not only excluded them from all Federal regulation, but he excluded them from State regulation as well, which is important because these instruments could be viewed as gambling instruments.”
The Clintons and the Fed Are Gasping Over the April Issue of "Harper’s"

Professor Cornell West's history-defining speech at the New York Historical Society was featured on Free Speech TV this week. He's an exceptionally well-educated, gifted scholar who speaks simply and compellingly about the problems afflicting the U.S.

North Carolina was lucky enough to have him speak at UNC-Asheville to an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 several months ago:

Fifty years ago, he noted, 42% of the American economy was from manufacturing; today 42% is in banking and investment. Then, our corporations “produced cars and steel and scores of other products; today Wall Street produces ‘deals.’” As a culture, he said, “We are so obsessed with success that we are willing to be imitators rather than originals.” We buy and sell others’ products and ideas, create second- and third-generation financial products resting not on actual goods and services but on loans and borrowed money.

The U.S. has somehow decided to try to interrupt the peace process being negotiated with Russia by Germany and France, who once were valued allies.

Whom we no longer need it seems.

Russia Under Attack

Paul Craig Roberts

While Washington works assiduously to undermine the Minsk agreement that German chancellor Merkel and French president Hollande achieved in order to halt the military conflict in Ukraine, Washington has sent Victoria Nuland to Armenia to organize a “color revolution” or coup there, has sent Richard Miles as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan to do the same there, and has sent Pamela Spratlen as ambassador to Uzbekistan to purchase that government’s allegiance away from Russia.

The result would be to break up the Collective Security Treaty Organization and present Russia and China with destabilization where they can least afford it. For details go here:

Thus, Russia faces the renewal of conflict in Ukraine simultaneously with three more Ukraine-type situations along its Asian border.

And this is only the beginning of the pressure that Washington is mounting on Russia.

On March 18 the Secretary General of NATO denounced the peace settlement between Russia and Georgia that ended Georgia’s military assault on South Ossetia. The NATO Secretary General said that NATO rejects the settlement because it “hampers ongoing efforts by the international community to strengthen security and stability in the region.” Look closely at this statement.

It defines the “international community” as Washington’s NATO puppet states, and it defines strengthening security and stability as removing buffers between Russia and Georgia so that Washington can position military bases in Georgia directly on Russia’s border.

In Poland and the Baltic states Washington and NATO lies about a pending Russian invasion are being used to justify provocative war games on Russia’s borders and to build up US forces in NATO military bases on Russia’s borders.

We have crazed US generals on national television calling for “killing Russians.”

The EU leadership has agreed to launch a propaganda war against Russia, broadcasting Washington’s lies inside Russia in an effort to undermine the Russian people’s support of their government.

All of this is being done in order to coerce Russia into handing over Crimea and its Black Sea naval base to Washington and accepting vassalage under Washington’s suzerainty.

If Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, and the Taliban would not fold to Washington’s threats, why do the fools in Washington think Putin, who holds in his hands the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, will fold?

European governments, apparently, are incapable of any thought. Washington has set London and the capitals of every European country, as well as every American city, for destruction by Russian nuclear weapons. The stupid Europeans rush to destroy themselves in service to their Washington master.

Human intelligence has gone missing if after 14 years of US military aggression against eight countries the world does not understand that Washington is lost in arrogance and hubris and imagines itself the ruler of the universe who will tolerate no dissent from its will.

We know that the American, British, and European media are whores well paid to lie for their master. We know that the NATO commander and secretary general, if not the member countries, are lusting for war. We know that the American Dr. Strangeloves in the Pentagon and armaments industry cannot wait to test their ABMs and new weapons systems in which they always place excessive confidence.

We know that the prime minister of Britain is a total cipher. But are the chancellor of Germany and the president of France ready for the destruction of their countries and of Europe?

If the EU is of such value, why is the very existence of its populations put at risk in order to bow down and accept leadership from an insane Washington whose megalomania will destroy life on earth.

The right wing has novel ways of looking at data sometimes, and although the following essay has a few zingers, the real zinger is the report on what jobs have been created.


That's not what the right wing usually wants to go with.

Income, Education and Inequality in the “Recovery:”  Prepare to be Surprised

March 20, 2015

by Charles Hugh Smith

Note to the higher education industry:  issuing diplomas doesn’t magically create new jobs in the real world.

By virtually any standard, wealth inequality has soared to historic levels in the six years of “recovery” since the Great Recession of 2008-09.Economist Emmanuel Saez, who has long collaborated with Thomas Piketty, described the recent extremes of wealth inequality in a recent paper Striking it Richer:  The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, which provides an in-depth look at the widening gulf between the top 1% and the bottom 90% from 2009 to 2012.

Here is a chart of the top 10% share of income, based on their research (the note in red marking the beginning of financialization in 1982 is my own):

As author David Cay Johnston noted in an insightful review of Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Trickle-Up Economics:  “The top 1 percent of Americans raked in 95 cents out of every dollar of increased income from 2009, when the Great Recession officially ended, through 2012. Almost a third of the entire national increase went to just 16,000 households, the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent, Piketty and Saez’s analysis of IRS data shows.”

We would naturally expect those with the highest incomes to have fared best in the past six years and those at the bottom to have fared the worst financially – but this (is) not entirely true. Most income analyses, it turns out, do not factor in government-funded social welfare transfers, tax credits and entitlements.

Once these sources of income are added, the bottom 90% saw no decline in income at all from 2007 to 2011, while the top 1% suffered a 27% decline and the top 5% took a 7% hit.

Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis:

“Pretax income for the middle class and poor dropped substantially from 2007 to 2011 – about 10 percent for most groups. Yet including taxes and transfers, incomes fared better:  Average income for the bottom fifth of earners rose 2.6 percent, to $24,100, and the average for the middle fifth fell only 2 percent, to $59,000. Such stagnation is hardly good news, but it’s a lot better than a large decline.”
Taxes on higher-income households have risen on several fronts:  a new tax on high-earners to fund ObamaCare, for example, and a higher tax bracket for the highest-income households.

Social welfare transfers and tax credits/cuts did what they were supposed to do – cushion the blow of recession for lower-income households and transfer more of the tax burden to higher income households. Yes, there are endless debates around the issues of taxes:  for example, if most of the benefits of the Bush-era tax cuts flowed to the top income earners, then recent tax increases for the top income bracket are clawbacks rather than new taxes.

But setting aside the many debates on tax policies and sources of income inequality, another surprising data point has emerged:  Even the Most Educated Workers Have Declining Wages (Economic Policy Institute)

The chart accompanying the article clearly shows less educated workers suffered larger wage declines than their more educated peers.

The year-over-year data shows something else:   “Some commentators are under the false impression that wage inequality is a simple consequence of employers’ demand for increased skills and education — often thought to be driven by advances in technology. But new data from 2014 shows that even college educated workers and workers with advanced degrees are not in demand enough to see their wages rise.”

In other words, wages are declining even in fields where advanced degrees are supposed to inoculate the highly educated from declines in earnings. This is not entirely surprising to anyone who has first-hand knowledge of the tremendous glut in workers with advanced degrees, but it does drive a stake in the heart of the argument that the solution to income inequality is more education.

Ironically, all that minting another 5 million Masters degrees, MBAs, law degrees and PhDs will do is increase the oversupply of highly educated workers and thereby exacerbate the decline in wages paid to these workers.

As I often note, issuing diplomas doesn’t magically create new jobs in the real world.


The corporations push for more allocations of H1B visas, saying the needed skills are not available domestically. I'll believe that when they pay H1B workers higher wages than US citizen workers.

Corporations should be willing to pay a higher wage for the skills they claim are available from foreign workers because their alleged skills will result in higher productivity, thus paying for themselves to the benefit of the corporate bottom line without harming citizen workers.

But corporations, in collusion with the State, conspire to bring lower wage workers into the workforce to suppress the wages of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workers.

I had this conversation with Obama when he was running for Senate; he played dumb or was dumb, and afterwards I decided I could never vote for him purely on that basis (just one reason among so many others).

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