Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart
* BOMBSHELL: PLUTOCRATS BRAZENLY COLLUDE TO HURT STATE ECONOMIES AND SCREW WORKING PEOPLE
By Lynn Parramore, AlterNet
Illinois fatcats discuss plan to sabotage state bond ratings in scheme to destroy pensions.
These days, many Americans walk around feeling like no matter how hard they work, how much they manage to save or how carefully they plan for the future, the game is rigged against them. They suspect that behind closed doors, CEOs and Wall Street honchos are eagerly scheming to rip them off.
Their worst fears of corruption and collusion just came true in Illinois, where corporate titans were caught red-handed in the act of Rigging the Game.
Let’s step inside a recent gathering of the corporate-backed Union League Club of Chicago, where former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner, who now leads a band of plutocrats known as the “Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago,” recently launched into an hour-long diatribe on the evils of state pensions.
Fahner, a top GOP fundraiser, can’t abide the notion that teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public workers in the state of Illinois can still expect a decent retirement. Not a luxurious retirement, mind you — the average pension is $32,000 a year, and most state employees will not receive Social Security. But even a modest retirement for hard-working people is too much for today’s fatcats.
Fahner is part of a virulent strain of public raiders and economic crackpots who have become dominant in the Republican Party (and increasingly among the Democrats, too) who are hell-bent on destroying unions and attacking public employees. Ultimately they wish to privatize everything and reduce their tax responsibilities down to nothing.
That’s why Fahner has declared war on pensions and is promoting a pension crisis in order to justify it. He has called for cost of living cuts, raising the retirement age, capping pension earnings and shifting the cost of the pension obligation of teachers to local school districts, many of which are too poor ever to pay. He styles himself as a savior who wants only to protect the public from debt, when in reality he is a brutal plutocrat who will stop at nothing to line his pockets at public expense and reduce his and his friends’ taxes.
Illinois has real problems. However, Fahner desperately hopes the public will not catch on to the fact that states are having difficulty paying out pensions because of the lack of revenue caused by a Wall Street-driven financial crisis and the deep recession it set off, regressive taxes, and the myriad bond scams financiers have already inflicted on states, cities, towns, and municipalities which have triggered funding crises for pensions and other programs. (See “How Wall Street Fraudsters Plunder Public Finances, And 5 Ways to Fight Back.”)
Fahner has tried a number of dirty tricks to attack pensions in his career. But his most recent admission is absolutely breathtaking in its brazenness: He boasted of working to scam the Illinois bond rating.
During Fahner’s talk to the Union League Club, an unidentified person in the audience suggested that pressuring credit agencies to rig the state bond ratings in order to attack pensions might be a jolly good idea. Fahner gleefully replied that he had already thought about that — and his group has tried it.
Audience member: “Maybe sometimes you gotta be irresponsible to be responsible. If a political solution really doesn’t produce a favorable outcome, maybe you really need a market solution. And a market solution, I don’t mean bankruptcy, I mean actually talking down the state rating even further so the state’s bonds essentially become below investment grade. And it drives up the borrowing cost to the state and all of us to a significant level enough that you really feel the public pressure…”
Fahner: “The Civic Committee, not me, but me and some of the people that make up the Civic Committee… did meet with and call – in one case in person – and a couple of calls to Moody’s and Fitch and Standard & Poors, and say, How in the hell can you guys do this?”
Fahner went on to take credit for downgrades to Illinois credit ratings, saying, “If you watch what happened in the last few years, it’s been steadily down.” […]
* CHICAGO NEXT? WINDY CITY CASH BALANCE PLUMMETS TO ONLY $33 MILLION AS DEBT TRIPLES
By Tyler Durden, zerohedge
While everyone’s attention is focused on the Detroit bankruptcy, and just what assets the city will sell in lieu of raising a DIP loan, perhaps it is time to refocus attention to the city 300 miles west: Chicago. According to the Chicago Sun Times citing year-end audits, Obama’s former right hand man, Rahm Emanuel, closed the books on 2012 with $33.4 million in unallocated cash on hand — down from $167 million the year before — while adding to the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers. In addition to a liquidity problem, Chicago may also be quite insolvent as the city’s total long-term debt soared to nearly $29 billion. That’s $10,780 for every one of the city’s nearly 2.69 million residents. More than a decade ago, the debt load was $9.6 billion or $3,338 per resident. Of course, in a world in which debt is “wealth”, this is great news… at least until debt becomes “bankruptcy.”
Ironically last year, now-retiring City Comptroller Amer Ahmad argued that the city’s debt load was not “troubling” because, “We still have a very strong bond rating. Our fiscal position is getting better every year and we are aggressively managing our liabilities and obligations” (very much awhat the ECB’s Mario Draghi tells the world when he gives the periodic monthly update of European capital markets during the central bank’s press conference). It is ironic because last week, Moody’s downgraded Chicago from Aa3 to A3 in an unprecedented three notch cut in the city’s bond rating, citing Chicago’s “very large and growing” pension liabilities, “significant” debt service payments, “unrelenting public safety demands” and historic reluctance to raise local taxes that has continued under Emanuel.
Moody’s noted that the city’s total fund balance at the close of 2012 was $231.3 million and that Chicago has just $625 million in “leased asset reserves.” Had the city fully funded its $1.5 billion “actuarially required contribution” to its four under-funded city employee pension funds in 2012 alone, “these two reserves would have been entirely depleted,” Moody’s said.
The “unassigned” balance is $33.4 million. Experts recommend a cash cushion of at least $200 million for a budget the size of Chicago’s, according to the Civic Federation. The city ended 2009 with an unallocated checkbook balance of just $2.7 million. […]
* BANKS VERSUS THE PEOPLE: THE UNDERSIDE OF A RIGGED GAME! (PART 1)
By Eric Toussaint, CADTM, London Progressive Journal
Translation: “Snake” Arbusto
Since 2007-2008, the major central banks (the ECB, Bank of England, the “Fed” in the USA, and the Swiss National Bank) have been making it their absolute priority to attempt to avoid a collapse of the private banking system. Contrary to what has been said more or less everywhere, the principal risk threatening the banks is not that a government will suspend payment of sovereign debt |1|.
None of the bank failures since 2007 have been caused by that kind of payment default. None of the bank bailouts organized by the various governments has been made necessary by suspension of payment by an over-indebted State. What has threatened the banks since 2007 is the structured private-debt holdings they have gradually built up since the major deregulations, which began in the late 1970s and culminated during the 1990s. The balance sheets of private banks are still packed with bad assets |2] which range from completely toxic assets – veritable time bombs – to non-liquid assets (meaning they cannot be sold or shifted on financial markets), and include assets of which the value is completely over-estimated in the banks’ balance sheets. The sales and depreciations of assets banks have booked until now in order to reduce the weight of these explosive assets have been insufficient. A significant number of them depend on short-term financing (either provided or guaranteed by the Public Authorities with taxpayers’ money) to stay afloat |3] and handle debts that are themselves short-term. That explains why the Franco-Belgian bank Dexia, which in fact amounts to a very large hedge fund, has been on the brink of bankruptcy three times in four years – in October 2008, in October 2011 |4|, and again in October 2012. During the most recent episode, in early November 2012, the French and Belgian governments provided aid amounting to 5.5 billion euros (53% of which was borne by Belgium) to recapitalize Dexia SA, a moribund financial company whose equity has melted away.
According to Le Soir: “The equity of the Dexia parent company dropped from 19.2 billion to 2.7 billion euros between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011. And at group level, total equity has become negative (-2.3 billion euros on 30 June 2012).” At the end of 2011, Dexia SA’s immediately outstanding debts amounted to 413 billion euros, and the amounts due under derivative contracts stood at 461 billion. Added together, those two figures amount to more than 2.5 times Belgium’s GDP! And yet Dexia’s senior executives, Belgian vice-prime minister Didier Reynders, and the dominant media are still claiming that the problem afflicting Dexia SA is largely caused by the sovereign debt crisis in the southern part of the Euro zone. The truth is that Dexia SA’s holdings in Greece did not amount to more than 2 billion euros in October 2011 – 200 times less than the amount of its immediately outstanding debts. In October 2012, Dexia’s shares were worth approximately 0.18 Euros – 100 times less than in September 2008. Despite this, the French and Belgian governments have decided once again to bail out this uncharitable organization at the cost of increasing the public debt in their own countries. In Spain, the near failure of Bankia was also caused by unsound financial packages, and not by a default on the part of any government. Since 2008, the same scenario has been replayed at least thirty times in Europe and the United States. Each time, the public authorities have come to the aid of the private banks (as they systematically do) by financing their bailouts with government debt.
Return to the beginning of the crisis in 2007
The gigantic private-debt house of cards began to collapse when the speculative real-estate bubble in the United States burst (followed by Ireland, the UK, Spain, etc.). The real-estate bubble burst in the United States when the price of homes, of which there was an oversupply, began to fall because more and more homes were without buyers.
The interpretations given by the mainstream media were dominated by partial – or deliberately fallacious – explanations for the crisis that struck the United States in 2007 and had a tremendous contagious effect, mainly on Western Europe. Regularly in 2007 and during the better part of 2008, it was explained to the public that the crisis had started in the United States because low-income people had gone into too much debt to acquire homes they were not able to pay for. Irrational behavior on the part of the poor was pointed to as the cause of the crisis. But beginning in late September 2008, after the failure of Lehmann Brothers, the dominant narrative changed and the finger was pointed at certain black sheep of the world of finance who had perverted the virtuous operation of capitalism. But the lies and partial explanations continued to circulate. Low-income families were no longer responsible for the crisis; it was the rotten apples in the capitalist class – Bernard Madoff, who put together a 50-billion-dollar swindle, or Richard Fuld, the boss of Lehmann Brothers.
The beginnings of the crisis go back to 2006, when the drop in real-estate prices began in the United States, caused by overproduction, itself caused by the speculative bubble that inflated real-estate prices and drove the construction sector to overheat and increase its activity far in excess of solvent demand. The collapse of real-estate prices is what caused the increase in the number of households unable to meet their payments on subprime mortgages. In the United States, households often refinance their mortgages after 2 or 3 years when home prices are trending upward in order to get more favorable terms (especially since, in the subprime-loan sector, the credit rate for the first two or three years was low and fixed, around 3%, before increasing sharply and becoming variable in the third or fourth year). When real-estate prices began to drop in 2006, households who had contracted subprime loans were no longer able to refinance their home loans favorably, and payment defaults began to multiply greatly starting in early 2007, causing the failure of 84 mortgage companies in the USA between January and August 2007.
As is very often the case, whereas the crisis is explained simplistically by the bursting of a speculative bubble, in reality the cause lies both in the production sector and in speculation. Of course, the fact that a bubble was created and eventually burst only multiplies the effects of a crisis that began with production. The entire rickety structure of subprime loans and structured products that had been under construction since the mid-1990s, collapsed, which had terrible repercussions on production in various sectors of the real economy. Austerity policies then amplified the phenomenon further by leading to the extended period of recession-depression in which the economies of the most industrialised countries are now floundering.
The impact of the real-estate crisis in the United States and the banking crisis that followed has had an enormous contagious effect internationally, due to the fact that numerous European banks had invested massively in US structured products and derivatives. Since the 1990s, growth in the United States and in several European economies had been supported by hypertrophy of the private financial sector and by a huge increase in private debt – household debt |5] and debts of financial and non-financial companies. On the other hand, public debt had tended to decrease between the second half of the 1990s and 2007-2008.
Thus there was a hypertrophy of the private financial sector. The volume of assets of European private banks compared to gross domestic product ballooned extraordinarily beginning in the 1990s to reach 3.5 times the GDP of the 27 member countries of the European Union in 2011 |6|. In Ireland in 2011, banks’ assets amounted to eight times the country’s gross domestic product.
The debts of the private banks |7] in the Euro zone also amounted to 3.5 times the Zone’s GDP. Debt in the British financial sector has reached unheard-of heights in proportion to the GDP – it is 11 times greater, whereas public debt represents approximately 80% of GDP.
The gross public debt of the countries of the Euro zone amounted to 86% of the GDP of the 17 member countries in 2011 |8|.
Greek public debt was 162% of Greece’s GDP in 2011, while debts in its financial sector amounted to 311% of GDP – double the amount of public debt. Spain’s public debt was 62% of GDP in 2011, whereas debts in the financial sector were at 203%, or three times the amount of public debt. […]
* PLUTOCRACY AND CORRUPTION: HARMING THE AVERAGE U.S. CITIZEN
By Margaret Elkis, EconomyInCrisis
In today’s society, plutocracy and political corruption go hand in hand, especially in Washington.
Simply put, plutocracy is a government ruled controlled by wealthy individuals. It is no secret that wealth buys power, and that is exactly what we are seeing today. Unfortunately, with wealth and power often comes corruption. Author J.R. Martin stated in chapter nine of his book, Selling U.S. Out, that political scandal and corruption are not new. They have always existed. Indeed, all one has to do is read the news to learn of the corruption and greed taking place between the big players of our government:
- political parties: Republicans and Democrats
- lobbyists and overpaid consultants
- the mainstream media
Over the past forty years, power, money and greed have corrupted our elected government officials at every level. What’s most alarming is that the blatant corruption has been tolerated and accepted by the American people. Unfortunately, members of both parties act as if their jobs are nothing more than a big political game. They’re so focused on insulting the other side and getting their own agendas passed that they forget they’re supposed to be working for the U.S. public.
As J.R. Martin writes:
“Neither party represents the interests of the American people since both are controlled by foreign and domestic corporations and special interest groups that provide the majority of their funding…both parties practice dishonest, divisive politics aimed at dividing and manipulating public opinion instead of seeking to build an honest national consensus on important issues confronting our nation.” […]
* 44 FACTS ABOUT THE DEATH OF THE MIDDLE CLASS THAT OBAMA SHOULD KNOW
By Michael Snyder, The Economic Collapse blog
As Obama parades around middle-America, promoting hope-and-change amid a “Better-Bargain for the middle-class,” it seemed only appropriate to lay out a few ‘facts’ before his next pronouncement …
What is America going to look like when the middle class is dead? Once upon a time, the United States has the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the world. When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone was “middle class” and it was very rare to hear of someone that was out of work. Of course life wasn’t perfect, but most families owned a home, most families had more than one vehicle, and most families could afford nice vacations and save for retirement at the same time. Sadly, things have dramatically changed in America since that time.
There just aren’t as many “middle class jobs” as there used to be. In fact, just six years ago there were about six million more full-time jobs in our economy than there are right now. Those jobs are being replaced by part-time jobs and temp jobs. The number one employer in America today is Wal-Mart and the number two employer in America today is a temp agency (Kelly Services). But you can’t support a family on those kinds of jobs. We live at a time when incomes are going down but the cost of living just keeps going up.
As a result, the middle class in America is being absolutely shredded and the ranks of the poor are steadily growing. The following are 44 facts about the death of the middle class that every American should know…
1. According to one recent survey, “four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives”.
2. The growth rate of real disposable personal income is the lowest that it has been in decades.
3. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen by 7.8 percent since the year 2000.
4. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.
5. The home ownership rate in the United States is the lowest that it has been in 18 years.
6. It is more expensive to rent a home in America than ever before. In fact, median asking rent for vacant rental units just hit a brand new all-time record high.
7. According to one recent survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
9. The largest employer in the United States right now is Wal-Mart. The second largest employer in the United States right now is a temp agency (Kelly Services).
10. One out of every ten jobs in the United States is now filled through a temp agency.
11. According to the Social Security Administration, 40 percent of all workers in the United States make less than $20,000 a year. […]