Friday, November 29, 2013

Pay hike for Penang reps too, but less drastic

The Penang government is also expected to increase the monthly salaries of its 40 assemblypersons, albeit by 88 percent, and a proposal to amend a related statute may be tabled next week.
The matter is expected to be announced by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng ( left ) when the session ends by Dec 17.
However, to do this, the state legislative assembly must table an amendment to the Members of the Administration and Members of the Legislative Assembly Enactment (Renumeration) 1980.
It is learnt that the statute - dubbed Statute Paper 1 2013 Penang - for the amendment is already in the parcel of documents handed out to all assemblypersons at the start of today's proceedings.
Currently, the basic salary for each state representative is RM4,112.79 basic with a fixed allowance of RM2,000.
The fixed allowance includes RM500 (special allowances), RM500 (entertainment), RM400 (fixed transport allowance) and RM600 (driver).
If the increase is approved, the state representatives' salaries will be increased to RM6,000 (monthly salary) and RM5,500 for allowances, bringing it to a total of RM11,500 for each assemblyperson.
This includes the increase of special allowance from RM500 to RM1,500, entertainment allowance, from RM500 to RM1,000, driver's allowance from RM600 to RM1,500 and transport allowance from RM400 to RM1,000, bringing it to a total of RM5,000.
The proposed amendment would also include RM500 for housing allowance.
During his budget speech today, Lim confirmed the pay hike in basic salary (RM4,112.79 to RM6,000 per month), saying it was in order as salaries have not increased since 2004.
"This is not in line with the amount of work that our state assembly does.
"So we have proposed amendments to the statute and when passed, the pay hike will be effective on Jan 1, next year," he added.
Admist slight table thumping, Lim also announced that the allowance for the opposition leader - currently held by Teluk Ayer Tawar assemblyperson Jahara Hamid - will be increased 100 percent - from RM1,000 to RM2,000.
Lim, however, was silent on the increase in the state reps' allowances from RM2,000 to RM5,500.
Penang follows Selangor's controversial move
Penang's proposed move follows the controversial pay increase by fellow Pakatan-led Selangor government, which will see the salaries of his MB, assemblypersons, exco, speaker and her deputy go up by 87 percent to 373 percent from Jan 1, 2014.
This raised the of several Pakatan Rakyat leaders, including Opposition Leader and PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim ( right ), who deemed it " quite high ".
The Selangor assembly passed a 268 percent pay hike for its speaker, along with pay rises for the menteri besar (RM29, 250 per month), deputy speaker (RM15,750) and assemblypersons (RM11,250).

Japanese switched at birth would like to 'roll back clock'

A 60-year-old Japanese man switched at birth says he would like to "roll back the clock", days after winning a lawsuit against the hospital that mistakenly cast him into a life of poverty.
The man told a packed Tokyo press conference that he was shell-shocked when he learnt the truth, saying his life would have been starkly different.
"I've wondered how on earth could this happen. I couldn't believe it. To be honest, I didn't want to accept it," he told Japanese media late Wednesday. The man was not identified.
"I might have had a different life. I want (the hospital) to roll back the clock to the day I was born."
A Tokyo district court this week ordered the hospital to pay 38 million yen ($374,000) in damages over its 1953 blunder which saw the man switched with another baby boy who was delivered just 13 minutes later.
The court ruled that 32 million yen should go to the man and the remaining six million to his three biological brothers.
It is not clear if the hospital, which has not commented on the bizarre case, will appeal.
The man, an unmarried truck driver, would have grown up as the eldest of four brothers in a wealthy family where siblings enjoyed a lavish lifestyle including private tutors.
Instead, he was raised on welfare by his non-biological mother who also supported older siblings after her husband passed away.
The family had few frills in their one-room apartment except for a radio, according to the man who studied at night school while working in a factory.
"It was like she was born to experience hardship," the man said of the woman he knew as his mother. She is now also dead.
The man has been helping take care of his non-biological brothers, one of whom suffered a stroke.
The decades-old mistake was uncovered when the wealthy family's three younger brothers had DNA testing done on their oldest sibling -- who looked nothing like them -- after their parents died.
They checked hospital records and confirmed the identity of their biological eldest brother last year.
The four are now working on building a relationship to make up for lost time.
But the man switched at birth said he cried daily for several months after learning the truth.
"As I saw pictures of my (biological) parents, I wanted to see them alive. I couldn't hold back tears for months every time I saw their pictures."
One of my brothers "told me that we will have 20 more years to live so we should make up for lost time", he added.
"I was happy to hear that and I want to do it."
The wealthy family's non-biological eldest son runs a real-estate company while his three siblings work for major firms, media reports said.
The trio, along with their genuine older brother, had asked for a much-bigger 250 million yen in damages.
The mothers in both families had seemingly suspected they had been raising the wrong babies.
"I think my foster mother might have sensed it," the man said, noting physical differences from the siblings he grew up with.
His real brothers remember their mother saying her first baby came back from his first bath in hospital wearing the wrong clothes.
"I've heard mother was a person who hated to lose. I have really hated to lose since I was small and was wondering where this characteristic came from," he said.
"When I heard about her, I thought 'that was it'."

Public Banking: Taking Back Power from Finance Capitalists

This week GRTV talks to Ellen Brown, an attorney, author, and president of the Public Banking Institute.
We begin our discussion with an examination of Brown’s recent article on naked shorting and the suppression of the gold price, and we turn our attention to solutions that the people can use to take back power from the finance capitalists.
We finish on a discussion of the state banking solution proposed by the Public Banking Institute.

“I Work At McDonalds, But I Can’t Afford To Eat There”

For Shawndraka Mack, a 100% pay rise from her current $7.60 “would do just fine.” While some employees turn to blood plasma donation, and most are on food stamps (and other benefits), the mother of two teenagers (on Medicaid) told Bloomberg Businessweek, “I love what I do, but I don’t want to work for nothing.” Between the 40 hours a week she works and the benefits, Mack explains, “I work at McDonald’s and I can’t afford to eat there. It’s crazy.” Of course, McDonalds has ‘tips’ for surviving on their state-subsidized wages but once again, despite Harry Reid’s extrapolated charts, the reality of raising the minimum wage is lost on most who never stop to think of where the ‘money’ comes from; and besides employees have little to no leverage as we explained here.
Via Bloomberg Businessweek,
Mack, who is 40, has been working in the fast food business for 18 years. For the past six, she’s been at a McDonald’s in South Carolina, working 40 hours a week and making $7.60 an hour. “I love what I do, but I don’t want to work for nothing. I want to work for something,” she says.

Her fiancé is on disability, and the $600 he receives every month goes toward insurance for her 1990 Honda Accord, the phone bill, and some spending money for the kids. Her salary covers gas for her commute, electricity, and everything else the family needs. The kids are on Medicaid.
The family gets $345 a month in food stamps. Mack says she goes to the grocery store once a month, and whatever she buys has to last until the next trip. She brings her lunch to work every day. “I work at McDonald’s and I can’t afford to eat there. It’s crazy.”

A few weeks ago, Mack joined the effort to raise fast-food workers’ wages to at least $15 an hour. “That would do me just fine,” she says. “I expect to stay at McDonald’s. I just want to get paid more for what I know and what I do. I want to make sure my kids have a better life than I do.”
The harsh reality bottom line is if she wants to be able to afford McDonalds or anything else, she should motivate herself to be something more than a minimum wage food service worker. Because the sad reality for her and millions of other minimum wage, zero leverage workers like her is that the robots are finally coming, and they don’t demand food… or a wage.
With permission

Distributed by RINF Alternative News

As Wal-Mart Workers Plan Record Black Friday Protests, Study Says Retail Giant Can Afford Higher Pay - As Black Friday approaches, Wal-Mart workers and activists are planning another round of protests and strikes at the nation’s largest employer on the biggest shopping day of the year. The Black Friday protests come at a time of heightened scrutiny for the company. It made headlines last week when a photo surfaced online of a sign made by workers at one of its stores in Ohio. The sign was taped to a table and read: “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner.” Wal-Mart says the food drive shows the company tries to help its workers. But critics say it reveals the low wages Wal-Mart pays them. The National Labor Relations Board also ruled last week that Wal-Mart violated the rights of striking workers. We are joined by Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos who co-authored the new report, “A Higher Wage is Possible: How Wal-Mart Can Invest in Its Workforce Without Costing Customers a Dime.” We also speak with Barbara Collins, a former Wal-Mart employee fired after last year’s Black Friday strike. Collins speaks to us from Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart’s headquarters is located. She has been protesting there since Friday as part of a group of eight fired workers who are demanding their jobs back after the NLRB’s ruling that their firing was unfair.

Ry on Awake Radio second half Bill Still joins in

Npower to axe 1,460 call centre staff just before Christmas as it sends customer service jobs to India

  • Job cuts have been slammed by unions
  • German firm says it will result in 'improved customer service'
  • Npower currently receives 202.5 complaints for every 100,000 customers
By Daily Mail Reporter and Lee Boyce

Npower has announced it is axing almost 1,460 call centre staff as it outsources some of its back office operations to India.
Just weeks before Christmas, the energy giant has decided to close some of its British call centres.
The move was condemned by the GMB and Unison unions, who called for a public inquiry into the way Npower is being run.
Jobs cut: Npower has come under fire for pulling resources from the UK
Jobs cut: Npower has come under fire for pulling resources from the UK
Npower's offices in Stoke on Trent will close, affecting about 550 employees, and one of three offices in Oldbury will close, making 400 workers redundant.
There will also be a number of redundancies at npower's sites at Rainton Bridge, Sunderland, affecting around 430 employees, and in Leeds, affecting 80 workers.
A site in Thornaby will close but employees will relocate to npower's head office in Rainton.

Npower is owned by RWE of Germany, which has just dumped a project to build a vast wind farm in the Bristol Channel. Work will be outsourced to Capita and Tata Consultancy Services.
Colin Smith, of the GMB, said: ‘It is an absolute scandal that a company like Npower can operate as a cartel player in a captive market, while jobs are placed offshore.’
Matthew Lay of Unison said: ‘If the company goes ahead with this disastrous plan, it will backfire badly, damaging their already tarnished reputation for service.’
Npower said it ‘has been undertaking a major review of sites, operations and people across the UK to improve.'
It added that it is aimed to deliver a more ‘efficient, flexible and improved customer experience’.
The energy firm also said its customers would continue to be served on the phone by people based in UK call centres, with back-office functions outsourced to India.
Over the next eight months, about 1,460 posts will be made redundant subject to a 60 day consultation programme which Npower will now be undertaking with all affected employees.
Enhanced redundancy terms are being offered and there will also be a full package of on-site advice and support, said the company.
Npower receives 202.5 complaints for every 100,000 customers – five times more than the best energy supplier.
Its poor record on complaints, a 10.2 per cent price rise and its failure to pay tax have angered many customers.
Npower, is one of the UK's big six gas and electricity suppliers and currently employs 9,600 people in the UK.

$1,000 For One Ounce of Silver? …Don’t Laugh! — Andy Hoffman

Andy Hoffman from Miles Franklin joins us to for a clarion call about the true, real world value of PHYSICAL SILVER. With the market value of all available Bitcoins now more than $5 BILLION, compared to around $21 Billion for all investable PHYSICAL silver, Andy says “What we’re seeing is a speculative mania.”
Andy reminds us that the Chinese are fed up, and have now publicly drawn a line in the sand AGAINST the US Dollar, “The Chinese just made this incredible announcement that they no longer want to accumulate currency reserves. That is probably the most bullish thing I have heard for precious metals in my twelve years of watching this. They have $3.6 TRILLION of currency reserves and they want OUT. There’s only $100 billion of gold mined in a single year, worldwide. And $15 Billion of silver. The point is that gold and silver are way undervalued compared to the amount of buying that’s going to be coming into them.
Back to Bitcoin, I ask Andy, if $1,000 USD is possible for a single Bitcoin, what is one ounce of physical silver really worth? Andy says, “Alternative currencies are a viable concept… but Bitcoin doesn’t have intrinsic value, whereas silver for instance is the second most used commodity on earth, in fact three quarters of ALL production is used for things other than investment.
As for concrete value for an ounce of physical silver, Hoffman’s take is this: “My long standing price target, if it weren’t rigged, I would say it should be $1,000 – $4,000 an ounce right now. And that’s simply using the math of how much money the government SAYS has been printed and how much gold they SAY they have in reserve. And of course they have printed a lot more than they say and they have a lot less gold than they say.

Stock Market Rally the Biggest Case of “Financial Engineering” in History?

Source: Market Oracle

Michael Lombardi writes: Key stock indices are roaring higher each day. The S&P 500 is breaking through to new records; the Dow Jones Industrial Average sits above the 16,000 level, and the NASDAQ Composite Index trades at a level not seen since the Tech Boom. Sadly, as all of this happens, the one fundamental that has historically driven stock prices higher—corporate earnings—is missing from the equation.
In these pages, I have often harped on about how companies in key stock indices are buying back their shares at a record pace. I consider this “financial engineering,” because at the very core, what a stock buyback does is make corporate earnings per share look better.
This week, my research team took a look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average companies and how many were buying back their shares. Their findings reveal 28 out of the 30 companies on the index bought back shares over the past 12 months.
From the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, Dow Jones Industrial Average companies collectively bought an outstanding 2.33 billion of their own shares. Effectively, they removed over two billion shares from the market!
What did these stock buybacks do to the companies’ corporate earnings?
Because of the stock buybacks, 70% of all the companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average were able to show better per-share corporate earnings. For example, for the third quarter of this year, AT&T Inc. (NYSE/T) reported a net income of $0.72 per share, an improvement of 14.3% from the same quarter in 2012. But if AT&T didn’t reduce its share count during that period via its stock buyback program, corporate earnings per share would have been $0.66 in the third quarter of 2013, only 4.7% higher than last year. (Source: AT&T Inc. web site, last accessed November 26, 2013.)
AT&T is just one example where “financial engineering” to prop up per-share corporate earnings has been successful. There are may other cases.
But the trick of buying back stock to push per-share corporate earnings higher is running out of steam. (After all, how much stock can a company buy back before there is no stock left?) Going forward, the stage for key stock indices doesn’t look very stable. As of November 22, 89 companies on the S&P 500 have issued negative guidance about their corporate earnings for the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, only 12 have issued positive guidance. (Source: FactSet, November 22, 2013.)
If there is even a single investor out there who believes the fundamentals are no longer important—that corporate earnings growth isn’t needed for the stock market to rise—they are fooling themselves. At this point, the house of cards can fall at any time.
This article Biggest Case of “Financial Engineering” in History? is originally published at Profitconfidential
Michael Lombardi, MBA for Profit Confidential

70 percent of Americans fear another government shutdown in January when the money runs out

A disconcerting reminder: The federal government is only funded for the next 49 days. The money runs out exactly seven weeks from Wednesday, on Jan. 15 to be exact. But no one is thinking about this as holiday time bustles in - or are they?
The public is poised for the worst, apparently: 70 percent of Americans now believe it is “likely” that the government will shut down again, according to a new Harris poll released Tuesday. Republicans are more apt than Democrats to agree with this, 79 percent to 64 percent, respectively.
Memories of national parks and historic monuments unceremoniously shuttered for the duration of the the last shut down must be still fresh.
No one has forgotten that pesky debt ceiling, either. Fifty percent of the respondents say it should not be raised again, while one-quarter disagree.
“There is a huge partisan difference here,” reports Regina Corso, senior vice president at Harris, who notes that 72 percent of Republicans believe the debt ceiling should not be raised compared to 32 percent of Democrats.
“While another government shutdown appears likely to Americans, defaulting does not,” Ms. Corso adds. “Almost half of Americans - 46 percent - say it is not likely that the government will default and not raise the debt ceiling, while one-third say it is likely the U.S. will default. Nineteen percent are not sure.”

The World Is Heading Towards A Huge Collapse Of Its Fiat Currency System With Hyperinflation As An Inevitable Result

…Mike Maloney explains this in detail in his newest video, When Money Is Corrupted – Episode 5: Hidden Secrets Of Money.  Maloney goes on to describe how Hitler first came to power after the Weimar hyperinflation in the early 1920?s and then later took full control of the Germany…. its people, their rights and most of Europe in the following decade.
One of the very important aspects of this video and ongoing message by Maloney is the correct labeling of our present money as “Currency.” I still make the mistake of calling Federal Reserve Notes as money.  I have to go back and edit my articles by taking out the word money and inserting currency.  It may sound like a petty thing, but the public has been trained to believe worthless fiat currency is money… and it’s not.

Exxon sells controversial Iraq oil stake to PetroChina

Signs outside a Virginia Exxon station via AFP
American energy giant Exxon Mobil on Thursday sold part of its controversial stake in a massive Iraqi oilfield to PetroChina and Indonesia’s Pertamina amid a long-running row with Baghdad.
The sale of the stake in the West Qurna-1 field in south Iraq, one of the country’s largest, marks a key step towards resolving the dispute with the central government over Exxon’s contracts with the autonomous Kurdish region.
“The agreement was signed for Exxon Mobil to sell part of its 60 percent stake,” oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told AFP.
“Representatives of all the companies signed the deal today with the Iraqi government in the ministry.”
PetroChina takes a 25 percent stake in the oilfield, while Pertamina will hold 10 percent, thereby reducing Exxon’s share to 25 percent.
Anglo-Dutch giant Shell will retain its 15 percent stake, while the Iraqi government holds the remaining 25 percent.
Asked whether the sale resolved the dispute between Baghdad and Exxon, Jihad replied: “We do not have problems with international companies who respect their promises to the Iraqi government, and we respect all efforts towards investing in the oil industry in Iraq.”
In January 2010, Iraq completed a deal with Exxon and Anglo-Dutch giant Shell to develop production at the field, which has proven reserves of 8.5 billion barrels of oil.
In October 2011, however, Exxon signed an oil exploration deal with the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq covering six areas, including two that are claimed by both Baghdad and Kurdistan.
The Kurdish deal infuriated Baghdad, which says all oil contracts must go through the central government and regards any that do not do so as illegal.
Iraq has repeatedly given an ultimatum to Exxon to either sell its stake in West Qurna-1 or give up its Kurdish deals, but has never set a deadline or outlined any potential consequences.
The American energy firm nevertheless told Baghdad a year ago that it was looking to sell its stake.
Iraq is heavily reliant on oil production for state revenues, and is looking to dramatically ramp up crude output in the coming years to fund much-needed reconstruction of its conflict-battered economy.
The Exxon dispute is one of several between Baghdad and the Kurdish region — the central government also regards other contracts signed by the Kurds to be illegal because they were not approved by the federal ministry.
The two sides also disagree over claims to a swathe of territory stretching between Iraq’s eastern and western borders, as well as the apportioning of federal oil revenues.
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Detroit: The Conspirators Behind the Largest Municipal Bankruptcy Proceeding in US History

Two weeks of testimony in the Detroit bankruptcy case have exposed the premeditated character of the July 18 decision by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to initiate the largest municipal bankruptcy proceeding in US history. The bankruptcy, which is being backed by the Obama administration, was not necessitated by financial imperatives; instead it was a political decision—long in preparation—which was aimed at setting a precedent for the ripping up of the wages, pensions and benefits of city workers, and selling off of public assets like the masterpieces of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The evidence presented in the testimony brought to light the extent to which, starting with its January 2011 inauguration, the administration of Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder gathered around it a virtual shadow government of law firms, private consultants, investment bankers and top officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Their plan was to use the state’s anti-democratic emergency manager law to install an unelected financial dictator in Detroit who would use the bankruptcy courts to override every obstacle to the wholesale looting of the city by the big banks and corporations.
Part one of the “Who’s Who” of the main players in the Detroit bankruptcy included profiles of Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and former State Treasurer Andy Dillon. Part two profiled Snyder’s top political aide Richard Baird, US bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes and Detroit Mayor David Bing. The third and final installment describes the role of top trade union officials in the bankruptcy.
Al Garrett, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 25 president
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, led in Detroit by AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett, is the largest public sector union in the city. In the years leading up to the bankruptcy and the months that have followed AFSCME has not organized a single significant demonstration, let alone strike, to defend city workers or public services.
Allied with the Obama administration and the Democrats on the national and local level, AFSCME has joined in the effort to force workers to pay for the financial crisis produced by decades of pro-corporate policies overseen by subsequent Democratic-controlled city administrations.
AFSCME blocked any fight against Mayor David Bing and his predecessor Kwame Kilpatrick as they reduced the municipal workforce from 18,000 in 2005 to less than 10,000 in 2013. Instead they have collaborated in the imposition of savage wage and benefit concessions, which have reduced labor costs by a third over the last five years alone. In February 2012, in an effort to persuade Republican Governor Rick Snyder to postpone his plans to install an emergency manager in the city, AFSCME led a coalition of 30 unions, which offered to impose $180 million in concessions on their members.
When resistance by workers broke out—including the October 2012 strike by hundreds of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department workers against the outsourcing of 80 percent of their jobs—Garrett and other AFSCME leaders moved quickly to suppress it. Amid shouts of “back-stabber” and “sellout” by rank-and-file workers, Garrett showed up at the picket line with a court injunction telling workers they would be fired if they continued to strike and the union would do nothing to defend them. AFSCME Local 207 leadership immediately shut down the strike, leaving dozens of workers victimized.
Under the guise of opposing the appointment of an emergency manager Garrett joined with sections of the black Democratic Party political establishment in Detroit—including Councilwoman Joanne Watson—and Al Sharpton’s National Action Coalition to denounce the state intervention as “racist.” Opposing any genuine struggle to unite the working class throughout the metro Detroit area to fight the imposition of a bankers’ dictatorship, Garrett proclaimed that the continued rule of bought-and-paid for politicians like Mayor Bing and the City Council represented “self-determination” for the people of Detroit.
During the bankruptcy proceedings attorneys for AFSCME bitterly criticized Michigan State Treasurer Andy Dillon for nixing the unions’ concessions proposal in February 2012, and they have argued that Orr refused to hold “good faith” negotiations with them before declaring bankruptcy. Garrett’s special assistant, Ed McNeil—who also sits on a committee appointed by the court to represent 21,000 retired city workers—has been the most vocal advocate of selling off the artwork of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
McNeil infamously said, “You can’t eat art” and claimed money from the sale of artwork would go to pay off the unfunded pensions of retirees and their families. In fact, Orr is determined to loot the artwork and destroy pensions in order to pay off the banks and bondholders who hold the city’s debt.
Moreover, far from defending the rights of pensioners, AFSCME has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to gut retiree benefits as long as it continues to have a “seat at the table” with Orr. In his November 5 testimony during the bankruptcy eligibility trial, Steven Kreisberg, AFSCME director of collective bargaining, acknowledged that the tentative agreement proposed by the unions in February granted the city the right to change pensions, including ending additional payments to accrued pensions and setting up a defined contribution retirement plan for current employees to replace the employer-paid plan. He said the union did not believe this violated the clause in the state constitution that prohibits any reduction in public employee pensions.
Bob King, UAW president
Bob King is the president of the United Auto Workers. While the UAW represents only a couple hundred municipal workers and retirees in the city it has played a central political role in the Detroit bankruptcy.
A fixture in the Democratic Party establishment, King epitomizes the transformation of the labor “bureaucracy” into a affluent layer of businessmen who manage multi-billion dollar investment funds and function as cheap labor contractors for management. The son of a industrial relations director at Ford, King worked his way up the career ladder of the UAW apparatus by selling out one struggle of auto workers after another—from Rouge Steel to Ford—and dutifully serving the interest of the auto bosses. In a 2010 speech, he declared, “the 21st-century UAW no longer views these managements as our adversaries or enemies, but as partners” sharing a common goal of “flexibility, innovation, lean manufacturing and continuous cost improvement.”
King has said the Obama administration’s forced bankruptcy and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 should be a model for Detroit. “If we restructure the city just like we restructured the auto industry, there’s hope that Detroit, too, can see a turnaround,” King told In These Times magazine. Pointing to the $180 million concessions package proposed by AFSCME and the UAW, he said, “We agreed that the unions should collaborate with the city and try to make these savings happen.”
In the restructuring of the auto industry, the UAW agreed to White House demands for the halving of wages of new hires, the elimination of the eight-hour day, the gutting of health care benefits and the wiping out of tens of thousands of jobs. In exchange for selling out its members, the UAW was rewarded with control of a multi-billion dollar retiree health care trust fund—known as a Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association or VEBA—and a substantial ownership stake in the Detroit Big Three automaker, including 40 percent of Chrysler’s corporate shares.
By helping reduce labor costs by a staggering 30 percent over the last five years, the UAW paved the way for the auto companies to make huge profits, including $12 billion in 2012 alone. The “turnaround” of the auto industry hailed by King, however, has not led to any amelioration of the social misery or the financial crisis in Detroit. On the contrary, the only ones who have benefited are the corporate executives like Ford CEO Alan Mulally—who pocketed $30 million in 2011—big Wall Street investors and the UAW officials themselves.
In his November 12 testimony in the bankruptcy hearings, Michael Nicholson, the general counsel for UAW International, said the UAW had a long and friendly relationship with the Jones Day law firm—dating back to various bankruptcy negotiations, including at auto supplier Dana, which resulted in “well-funded VEBAs.”
Nicholson said King authorized him to offer the Jones Day attorneys representing the city a similar cost-cutting deal, which would sharply reduce retiree health care costs by dumping these obligations into a VEBA trust fund controlled by the unions.
Class actions suits by retirees, Nicholson testified, were necessary to gain legal authority for the unions to negotiate reductions in benefits “on behalf of retired workers,” he said. “I told lawyers for Jones Day on July 11 that the UAW was willing to engage in class action to try to resolve the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) issue, and take leadership on this because we have done more of this than anyone in the country.”
“We told them we got this done quickly at GM, Ford and Chrysler,” Nicholson said, adding regretfully, “Orr never responded.”
Published with permission
World Socialist Web Site

Distributed by RINF Alternative News

Why Is Debt the Source of Income Inequality and Serfdom? It’s the Interest, Baby

Governments cannot reduce their debt or deficits and central banks cannot taper. Equally, they cannot perpetually borrow exponentially more. This one last bubble cannot end (but it must).”
I often refer to debt serfdom, the servitude debt enforces on borrowers. The mechanism of this servitude is interest, and today I turn to two knowledgeable correspondents for explanations of the consequences of interest.
Correspondent D.L.J. explains how debt/interest is the underlying engine of rising income/wealth disparity:
If we use $16T as the approximate GDP and a growth rate of, say, 3.5%, the total of goods and services would increase one year to the next by about $500B.
Meanwhile, referencing the Grandfather national debt chart with the USDebtClock data, the annual interest bill is $3 trillion ($2.7 trillion year-to-date).
In other words, those receiving interest are getting 5-6 times more than the increase in gross economic activity.
Using your oft-referenced Pareto Principle, about 80% of the population are net payers of interest while the other 20% are net receivers of interest.
Also, keep in mind that one does not have to have an outstanding loan to be a net payer of interest. As I attempted to earlier convey, whenever one buys a product that any part of its production was involving the cost of interest, the final product price included that interest cost. The purchase of that product had the interest cost paid by the purchaser.
Again using the Pareto concept, of the 20% who receive net interest, it can be further divided 80/20 to imply that 4% receive most (64%?) of the interest. This very fact can explain why/how the system (as it stands) produces a widening between the haves and the so-called ‘have nots’.
Longtime correspondent Harun I. explains that the serfdom imposed by debt and interest is not merely financial servitude–it is political serfdom as well:
As both of us have stated, you can create all of the money you want, however, production of real things cannot be accomplished with a keystroke.
Then there is the issue of liberty. Each Federal Reserve Note is a liability of the Fed and gives the bearer the right but not the obligation to purchase — whatever the Fed deems appropriate. How much one can purchase keeps changing base on a theory-driven experiment that has never worked. Since the Fed is nothing more than an agent of the Central State, the ability to control what the wages of its workers will purchase, is a dangerous power for any government.
If a Federal Reserve Note is a liability of the central bank, then what is the asset? The only possible answer is the nations productivity. So, in essence, an agent of the government, the central bank, most of which are privately owned (ownership is cloaked in secrecy) owns the entire productive output of free and democratic nation-states.
People who speak of liberty and democracy in such a system only delude themselves.
Then there is the solution, default. That only resolves the books, the liability of human needs remain. Bankruptcy does not resolve the residue of social misery and suffering left behind for the masses who became dependent on lofty promises (debt). These promises (debts) were based on theories that have reappeared throughout human history under different guises but have never worked.
More debt will not resolve debt. The individual’s liberty is nonexistent if he does not own his labor. A people should consider carefully the viability (arithmetical consequences) of borrowing, at interest, to consume their own production. The asset of our labor cannot simultaneously be a liability we owe to ourselves at interest.
Thank you, D.L.J. and Harun. What is the alternative to the present system of debt serfdom and rising inequality? Eliminate the Federal Reserve system and revert to the national currency (the dollar) being issued by the U.S. Treasury in sufficient quantity to facilitate the production and distribution of goods and services.
Is this possible? Not in our Financialized, Neofeudal-Neocolonial Rentier Economy; but as Harun noted in another email, Governments cannot reduce their debt or deficits and central banks cannot taper. Equally, they cannot perpetually borrow exponentially more. This one last bubble cannot end (but it must).
What we are discussing is what will replace the current system after it self-destructs.

Veterans Are Being Threatened and Silenced by the US and UK Militaries

Chris Vassey (right). Photos by Merle Jothe
After this month's Remembrance Day parade, I repaired to a central London boozer with fellow veterans to stew my brain in ale. Pinned to chests all around me were glinting banks of medals. A statistically improbable number of airborne maroon and commando green berets were on display. Groups of veterans bunched together, slurring war stories.
The soldierly clique is cultural. While trained to be aggressive we are also taught to be quiet, keeping dark deeds and informed opinions “in-house.” If spoken aloud to outsiders, our stories would make us appear—and for some, leaving the heroic fantasy intact allows one to continue living at the center of it. To break that tribal silence carries risks.
Many people say we have fought for freedom and democracy. Given this consensus one might think veterans are as entitled as anybody to contribute to the political discourse, as serving senior officers regularly do. Not so.
The American and British militaries clamped down on social media in the mid-2000s—on the grounds of security, they claim. The Canadian military currently is trying to stop wounded veterans from criticizing the military in public. There is only one hymn sheet in the military, and it is decided upon on high.
I was gagged by a military court in 2009 even though I had spilled no secrets. All I did was claim the Afghanistan occupation was an illegitimate, shambolic disaster. The keenest soldiers I know say the same, but I said it on television rather than in the regimental bar. I spent five months in a military jail over a banality. Others have faced similar or worse treatment.

Ben Griffin.
Ben Griffin was the quintessential British paratrooper, an SAS soldier and a founder of Veterans for Peace UK. He left the army after refusing to return to Iraq and later blew the whistle on war crimes being carried out in Baghdad. He was gagged in the high court and promised jail time if he ever spoke about UK involvement in rendition again. "I knew I would get in trouble for speaking about our activities in Iraq,” he told me, “but I felt then and now that the public needs to be told about the true nature of war.” Kidnapping and handing over non-combatants to the Americans while knowing they’d be tortured is fine; telling the public about it is criminal.
Recently, when I visited Toronto to help start a new project called Front Lines International, I met soldiers facing long prison sentences for speaking out. For me, Jules Tindungan, 26, and Chris Vassey, 27, were virtually impossible to tell apart from the average Canadian, but both of them are American soldiers on the run and applying for asylum in Canada.
They were experienced, door-kicking infantrymen in the US 82nd Airborne when they went to Afghanistan. After 15 months they returned home changed men. Both of them believed they had been involved in war crimes nad fled to Canada—Jules first, then Chris—where they would be able to speak out. Men like these do not refuse lightly.
Chris told me that whenever his patrol took incoming in Afghanistan "it was no holds barred... the day after, when people come to your base saying you shot up their home, tractor, farm… all we would say was, 'Well, the enemy was on the run... don’t let them fire at us from your backyard and this won’t happen again,' as if they had condoned it." He saw Afghan national army soldiers "butt-stroke" local women in the face with their rifles during raids. It was, he was told, how thing were done in Afghanistan.
Jules explained that after one firefight his platoon recovered remains—bodies and body parts. These were strapped "to the hoods of trucks and driven through local towns as a sort of warning."
Both men have been vocal in the Canadian antiwar movement. They will suffer for their words if deported. “Dudes who speak out get harsher punishments," Jules told me. "Statements made to the media, as well as in social media, are used as evidence against you when you are sentenced."
Jules also told me that one soldier who ended up back in the US phoned him from military prison, warning him to clear his Facebook posts and emails of any criticism of the military or the war. “They compiled a very thick docket of his Facebook statements and emails as evidence against him,” Jules said.
Chris is now an ironworker but easily slips back into telling expletive-filled soldier stories about his long months spent doing “illegal shit” in “A-stan.” He confirmed what Jules had said about the risks of speaking out: “Video or audio of you speaking out is used against you—usually guaranteeing a stiffer sentence.”
Soldiers who just go AWOL are often simply “shit-bagged” (discharged) from the army, but those who speak out like Chris and Jules get longer sentences. One got a 25-month sentence after the prosecution at his court martial “showed the videos of his public speeches.” But it’s not just war resisters like Chris and Jules who face threats.

Heather Linebaugh.
Heather Linebaugh came to Canada from the States a few weeks later, joining us at a rural veterans' retreat. Heather served in the US Air Force in drone intelligence from 2009 to 2012 and was honorably discharged. She was good at her job, earning the nickname “Harbinger of Death” from her comrades. Not every assignment went smoothly, though: “One mission in particular, I remember that we were told to keep quiet about, and to this day, I can still not discuss it.” Like Chris and Jules she fled to Canada, a place she felt safe to speak out from.
Heather says she challenged an officer of more senior rank on the issue. She asked what would happen if people spoke out about “sloppy strikes.” She was taken to her commander and warned about “talking recklessly” and asking “stupid questions.”
In her unit there was a watchword used to keep people quiet: Manning. “If we spoke out about certain missions to the general public, and definitely the media, we would 'end up like Bradley Manning.'" The effort to instil fear was being ramped up around the time she was leaving the military. "I saw quite a few posters going up with an image of the typical soldier sitting in a jail cell in handcuffs."
Heather still honors the non-disclosure agreement that came with her security clearance. Having been involved in numerous kills she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she says that she cannot claim the veteran’s benefits she is entitled to because she can't detail to doctors the missions that saw her develop the condition. If she does, she risks jail. Heather is 24 years old.

Nick Velvet.
I approached older vets, wondering if today’s silencing tactics were novel. Nick Velvet fought in Vietnam. He rebelled against the war and went on to help found the Old School Sappers, a radical antiwar group made up of veterans. The Sappers endure. For a new kid like me, they are a kind of elder council.
I asked how the military silenced soldiers back during the Vietnam era, and he explained that Vietnam vets were harder to silence because they had the advantage of numbers. Military prisons were overflowing and the government simply didn't have enough resources to clamp down on all of the antiwar veterans. Some organizers went to prison or were given bad discharges, but when his own subversive activities came to the attention of his commanders, Nick laughed in the Army’s face. He would have “welcomed a court martial” because he had “keen movement lawyers who would relish [fighting] the case, gratis.” Nick got away with it because he had support. He fears for the new generation of rebel soldiers. “I wasn't alone,” he says. “These guys are.”
Freedom and democracy are rights that extend to veterans only conditionally. If we speak ill of the war, we are ignored and sometimes we are silenced. The military and—I personally suspect—a percentage of the population in countries like the UK and the US derive comfort and a perverse sense of gratification from praising us. But, as Jules suggests, they flinch at the idea of soldiers “thinking critically about the global impact of what we are doing.” Nothing can be allowed to puncture the war dream and woe must betide those who stray from the script.
Joe Glenton is a writer, journalist and Afghanistan veteran. His book Soldier Box: Why I Won't Return to the War on Terror, is out now from Verso Books.

Watch: ObamaScare: Our Entire Economy is About to Get Hit With a Sledgehammer *Micro Documentary*

With the Patient Affordable Care Act now actively being integrated into American society, many still have no clue what its after-effects will actually be.
Here’s the reality: The pain is coming and if you have yet to experience it in the form of higher insurance premiums, you can be assured that you’re going to feel it very soon in one way or another.
Our entire economy is about to get hit with a sledgehammer.
The following must share micro-documentary from Everything Investments details many of the changes to come, and despite what the mainstream media wants us to believe, or what those who are receiving free health care think they are getting from their government, the fact is that a dark cloud of economic malaise is going to descend upon our country.
Obamacare is turning America into a part time workforce… companies all across the nation are reducing many workers to less than 30 hours a week… this includes local and state governments.
Obamacare also has job killing mandates and other penalties on business, increasing tax burdens on smaller companies.
…Costs all around are going to rise.
Watch ObamaScare and learn just how this is going to affect our economy and YOU within a few months time:
(For More Informative Videos and Resources visit Everything Investments)
Other than Congressional members and those companies which received “special” exemptions from the health care bill because of backroom deals, these new mandates are going to put so much pressure on individuals and businesses that the destruction of America’s economy is now a foregone conclusion.
We can pretend “free” health care is free, or we can realize that the government just nationalized 1/6th of our country’s economy and they are confiscating the wealth of an entire nation in an effort to make it work.
As we noted previously there is no fix to this debacle and we can fully expect the entire system – and that includes Obamacare and our domestic economy –  to detonate within one year’s time.
Buckle up, it won’t be pretty.
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Venezuela Denies Goldman’s Gold Deal As Inflation Tops 54%

Today’s AM fix was USD 1,241.75, EUR 913.11 and GBP 760.45 per ounce.
Yesterday’s AM fix was USD 1,250.75, EUR 923.88 and GBP 773.69 per ounce.
Gold fell $4.10 or 0.33% yesterday, closing at $1,236.33/oz. Silver slid $0.17 or 0.86% closing at $19.68/oz. Platinum fell $19.20, or 1.4%, to $1,352.70 an ounce and palladium fell $2.50, or 0.4%, to $715.95 an ounce.
Venezuela Gold Reserves In Million Fine Troy Ounces (1995 to Today)
Gold is higher today as huge demand from China is believed to be supporting prices.
China has seen a notable pick up in demand this week due to lower prices. Traded volumes of 99.99 percent purity gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange hit 18.3 tonnes overnight, their highest since October 8, according to Reuters data.
China’s net gold bullion imports from Hong Kong climbed to their second highest on record in October as the country bought more than 100 tonnes of gold for a sixth straight month to meet unprecedented demand.
VENEZUELA HAS DENIED that it is considering a proposal from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that would allow the government to mortgage its gold reserves to Goldman.
A Venezuelan central bank official, requesting anonymity in keeping with bank policy, said that she had no information about the proposal. The nation’s finance ministry declined to comment according to Bloomberg.
The denial came after media reports of a peculiar gold deal being hatched by Goldman Sachs. The deal is meant to provide Venezuela with $1.68 billion in cash, providing they post $1.85 billion of Venezuela’s gold reserves, documents obtained by Bloomberg News show.
$1.85 billion is equal to some 47 tonnes of gold at today’s prices. Venezuela has nearly 366 tonnes of gold.
Venezuela’s economy is struggling with low economic growth and inflation surging to near hyperinflation levels at over 54%.
Venezuela National Consumer Price Index (CPI) YoY%
At the very least stagflation appears to be taking hold in Venezuela as its economy expanded by just 1.1% in the third quarter, less than half the pace that analysts forecast.
Imports plunged 18%, the central bank said Nov. 26 and its bonds have been sold in recent months resulting in much higher interest rates on its debt.
Yields on the country’s $4 billion of bonds due 2027 have jumped 4.15 percentage points this year to 13.48%, almost three times the average increase in emerging markets.
Venezuela’s foreign reserves sank to a nine-year low of $20.7 billion this month, limiting the supply of dollars in a country that imports about 75 % of the goods it consumes. Some analysts say that the shortage is also exacerbating inflation that reached 54.3% last month, the fastest in the world.
Two weeks ago, government oil producer Petroleos de Venezuela SA sold $4.5 billion of debt to fund currency auctions and food imports from Colombia in the first sale by a state-owned entity since May 2012.
“When I’m hearing that they might sell gold to raise cash, that strikes me as pure desperation,” Robert Abad, who helps oversee $53 billion in emerging-market debt at Western Asset Management Co., said in a telephone interview from Pasadena, California. “How bad can it get until I as a foreign investor have to start worrying about payment capacity?”
Goldman Sachs’s total-return swap would bear interest of 7.5% plus the three-month London interbank offered rate, for $818 million in estimated financing costs over seven years, the documents show.
Michael DuVally, a spokesman at New York-based Goldman Sachs, declined to comment on the proposal. Analysts questioned if the deal made sense and one analyst said that “a seven-year deal does not make any sense, much less at a 7.5% spread when there is collateral involved.”
Goldman’s proposal re Venezuela’s gold is interesting as it comes at a time when Goldman have been extremely vocal about its negative outlook for gold and has predicted loudly that gold is a “slam dunk” sell today and in 2014. Goldman’s crystal ball gazing and price predictions have not been particularly accurate in recent years and many investors have lost money by following their gold price predictions.
“Dictatorship Of The Dollar”
About 70% of Venezuela’s foreign reserves are in gold. Former President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March, secured Venezuela’s patrimony by repatriating its gold reserves from the Bank of England. The move was believed to be an effort to move away from what he called the “dictatorship of the dollar.”
From 1999, Chavez’s first year in office, through 2012, Venezuela bought 75.3 metric tons of gold, according to data on the International Monetary Fund’s website. Those purchases cost $1 billion based on average annual gold prices and would be valued at $3.03 billion at today’s price of $1,251.96 an ounce, meaning the additions would have made $2.03 billion. The country also sold 13.1 tons of bullion during that period, the IMF data show.
“It’s The Economic Reserve For Our Kids”
Venezuela’s gold reserves total 367.6 tons, making it the 14th largest holding by country, according to the World Gold Council. Gold accounts for 70% of the nation’s foreign reserves, compared with 7.6% for Argentina and less than 1% for Brazil.
“It’s our gold,” Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist who nationalized hundreds of companies and imposed curbs on currency trading, said on state television in November 2011.
“It’s the economic reserve for our kids. It’s growing and it’s going to keep growing, both gold and economic reserves.”
Venezuela’s currency board, known as Cadivi, sells greenbacks at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar. The government, which devalued the bolivar by 32% in February, has failed to stem the currency’s slide on the black market, where companies and people not authorized to use the official rate pay about 60 bolivars per dollar.
Average prices of Venezuelan crude exports, responsible for 95 percent of the nation’s foreign-currency earnings, fell to a 16-month low this month and ended last week at $93.98 a barrel.
Each $1 dollar decline in a barrel of oil costs Venezuela about $700 million per year, according to estimates from PDVSA, as the state-owned company is known.
President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, seized electronics retailer Daka and warned other businesses to cut prices to “fair” levels earlier this month to tame the highest inflation in 16 years.
“Basic-goods deficits are starting to affect even the poor population”
“We are very negative on the country’s debt,” Marco Aurelio de Sa, the head of fixed-income trading at Credit Agricole SA’s Miami brokerage unit, said in a telephone interview. “Basic-goods deficits are starting to affect even the poor population, and when things get to this point, this type of populist government loses support. You have to analyze the fixed-income market through the political spectrum.”
Francisco Rodriguez, chief Andean economist at Bank of America, said that the decline in imports is helping boost Venezuela’s current-account surplus, bolstering the nation’s ability to service debt.
The government said Nov. 26 that the current-account surplus rose by $1.8 billion from a year earlier to $4.1 billion.
National Gold Reserves
“The country’s ongoing external adjustment is leading to a stabilization of its capacity to service external debt obligations,” Rodriguez said in a report published the same day.
Goldman is suggesting that the proposal is meant to allow Venezuela to keep its national gold reserves, with the nation posting gold bullion or cash to a margin account if the price falls and Goldman posting dollars if it rises, the documents show.
Gold in U.S. Dollars – 5 Year
President Maduro is likely to be reluctant to engage in sales of Venezuela’s gold. He may not want to reverse the strong pro-gold stance of this mentor Chavez and he may realise the importance of gold reserves in protecting countries from systemic and currency collapse.
Venezuela may also be reluctant to do such a deal after seeing the appalling state that Greece and indeed the EU has been left in. This is partly due to Goldman’s ‘creative’ financial wizardry which helped disguise Greece’s debt allowing it to join the European Monetary Union. This action contributed to Greece’s economic collapse.
An important question is what exactly is Goldman’s motivation for the peculiar gold deal? Does it wish to have access to Venezuela’s gold reserves? There are many other innovative ways that Goldman could help Venezuela with its current economic travails that do not involve gold. Were Venezuela to default on the bonds would Goldman become the beneficial owner of Venezuela’s gold reserves?
Venezuela is suffering from inflation at 54%. Given the risks posed to the U.S. dollar and other paper currencies due to currency debasement today, rather than pawning its gold reserves in some debt deal with Goldman, Venezuela would be better served adding to its gold reserves at this time as gold will protect the country from a systemic crisis or currency collapse.
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