Monday, December 23, 2013

New health law frustrates many in middle class

Ginger Chapman and her husband, Doug, are sitting on the health care cliff.
The cheapest insurance plan they can find through the new federal marketplace in New Hampshire will cost their family of four about $1,000 a month, 12 percent of their annual income of around $100,000 and more than they have ever paid before.
Even more striking, for the Chapmans, is this fact: If they made just a few thousand dollars less a year — below $94,200 — their costs would be cut in half, because a family like theirs could qualify for federal subsidies.
The Chapmans acknowledge that they are better off than many people, but they represent a little-understood reality of the Affordable Care Act. While the act clearly benefits those at the low end of the income scale — and rich people can continue to afford even the most generous plans — people like the Chapmans are caught in the uncomfortable middle: not poor enough for help, but not rich enough to be indifferent to cost.
"We are just right over that line," said Ms. Chapman, who is 54 and does administrative work for a small wealth management firm. Because their plan is being canceled, she is looking for new coverage for her family, which includes Mr. Chapman, 55, a retired fireman who works on a friend's farm, and her two sons. "That's an insane amount of money," she said of their new premium. "How are you supposed to pay that?"
An analysis by The New York Times shows the cost of premiums for people who just miss qualifying for subsidies varies widely across the country and rises rapidly for people in their 50s and 60s. In some places, prices can quickly approach 20 percent of a person's income.
Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income. By that measure, a 50-year-old making $50,000 a year, or just above the qualifying limit for assistance, would find the cheapest available plan to be unaffordable in more than 170 counties around the country, ranging from Anchorage to Jackson, Miss.
A 60-year-old living in Polk County, in northwestern Wisconsin, and earning $50,000 a year, for example, would have to spend more than 19 percent of his income, or $9,801 annually, to buy one of the cheapest plans available there. A person earning $45,000 would qualify for subsidies and would pay about 5 percent of his income, or $2,228, for an inexpensive plan.
In Oklahoma City, a 60-year-old earning $50,000 could buy one of the cheapest plans for about 6.6 percent of his income, or about $3,279 a year with no subsidy. If he earned $45,000, with the benefit of a subsidy, he would spend about $2,425.

While the number of people who just miss qualifying for subsidies is unclear, many of them have made their frustration known, helping fuel criticism of the law in recent weeks. Like the Chapmans, hundreds of thousands of people have received notices that their existing plans are being canceled and that they must now pay more for new coverage.

In an effort to address that frustration, the Obama administration announced on Thursday that it would permit people whose plans had been canceled to buy bare-bones catastrophic plans, which are less expensive but offer minimal coverage. Those plans have always been available to people under 30 and to those who can prove that the least expensive plan in their area is not affordable. But the announcement does not address the concerns of those who would like to buy better coverage, yet find premiums in their area too expensive.

David Oscar, an insurance broker in New Jersey, another high-cost state, said many of his clients had been disappointed to learn that the premiums were much more expensive than they had expected.

"They're frustrated," he said. "Everybody was thinking that Obamacare was going to come in with more affordable rates. Well, they're not more affordable."

Many of the biggest provisions of the Affordable Care Act are aimed squarely at the poorest of Americans. Under the law, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to a larger pool of people with the lowest incomes. To those earning more, the law provides subsidies to people earning up to four times the federal poverty level, or $45,960 for an individual and $62,040 for a couple.

Ninety percent of the country's uninsured population have incomes that fall below that level, according to one recent analysis. As a result, the subsidies "are well targeted for people who are uninsured or underinsured," said Sara R. Collins, an executive with the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that finances health policy research. "That is really where the firepower of the law is focused."

Federal assistance is based on the cost of premiums for the second-cheapest silver, or midlevel, plan in a person's geographic area and are set so the amount the person must pay for coverage does not exceed a certain percentage of income, ranging from 2 to 9.5 percent.

Even before the announcement on Thursday giving people with canceled plans the option of buying catastrophic coverage, the law permitted people to select such plans if the price of premiums in their area exceeded 8 percent of their income. The catastrophic plans are often less expensive and include three doctor visits and free preventive care, but require someone to pay almost all of the medical bills up to a certain amount, which is usually several thousand dollars.

That is the option that the Chapmans say they are likely to choose when their current insurance plan, which costs $665 a month, expires in September. Anthem is the only insurer offering plans in the marketplace in New Hampshire, and prices there are higher than in many other parts of the country.

Howard Dean: Long-term ACA good deal for all
Howard Dean, former Democratic National Committee Chairman, and Robert Zirkelbach, AHIP, address the latest policy shift in the Affordable Care Act. Dean says this was an unpleasant surprise, but in the long run it's a good deal for insurers, the government and consumers.
Some experts dismissed the varying effects of the income cutoff, saying the law's main elements benefit most of those who could not previously buy insurance.

"I think that job one was to make sure that the people who clearly have the greatest difficulty affording premiums receive the greatest help," said Ron Pollack, the founding executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that favored the law.

To avoid creating such steep cliffs, federal officials would have had to spend more money on the subsidies, said Larry Levitt, an executive with the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group that is closely following the health care law. Subsidies would have been higher, and could have been more gradually phased out, he said. The design "was largely driven by budgetary decisions," Mr. Levitt said.

The subsidy cutoff can seem especially arbitrary to people whose incomes vary from year to year, even if they stand to benefit from the law.

Christian Johnsen, a bakery owner who lives with his wife and two children in Big Sky, Mont., and has an income of about $88,000, will probably be eligible for subsidies next year. As a result, the family could buy a midlevel insurance plan for about $697 a month.

But if the bakery does better next year, the family could be asked to pay a lot more. Without any subsidy, the same plan would cost $822.

Mr. Johnsen, who is 47, said he would like to buy insurance for his family. They have gone without it for the last two years, paying out of pocket on rare visits to the doctor. But he said it is hard to justify those prices to prevent an unforeseen catastrophe when so many real-world expenses demand his attention first.

"I know absolutely that I'm going to need a new car in two years, but I don't know that I'm going to have a catastrophic accident," he said. "That's the kind of debate that happens in our house."

Pots, Pans and Other Solutions (Documentary): "Let's meet the Icelanders that the media refuse to talk about."

There has been a documentary film made about the revolution in Iceland which has not gotten near the attention it deserves. It's called Pots, Pans and Other Solutions - full movie and is available for free on youtube. Supporters are encouraged to donate to the filmmakers if they see fit. [ link here]

Bob Hoye–Collapse Of Central Banking Is On The Way 12.Dec.13 presents
Kerry Lutz talked with Bob Hoye today. He believes that the long awaited collapse of central banking will soon be here. The end of the bull market of centralized control is coming. The government will no longer be able to inflate credit to create currency to pay the costs of its control apparatus. This can only be a plus for humanity. He believes it will also cause the end of the fraud of man made global warming, which based on the recent weather in New York and across the nation seems to be false, or as Bob said, “Is complete bull.”
Henry Swieca is a money man. The New York-based billionaire made his fortune by co-founding Highbridge Capital Corp., a hedge fund that boasted clients like the American International Group.
In 2009, the banking giant JP Morgan Chase, another client of Highbridge, fully took over the flagship hedge fund. Swieca went on to play a role at two more hedge funds: Talpion Fund Management, which he launched, and Clearline Capital, which Swieca joined as a startup investor in February 2013.
Alex Kane
Swieca, whose net worth is $1.2 billion as of September 2013, is well-known as a financial guru. His every move is covered by the financial press. But he’s less known for what his foundation pours money into: right-wing, pro-Israel causes. Along with a host of charitable groups and domestic Jewish centers, the Swieca Family Foundation, which he runs with his Israeli-American wife Estee, has poured tons of cash into pro-Israel groups–including to religious extremist groups that operate in the most sensitive of holy places. Swieca did not return requests for comment on his donations.
According to tax records reviewed by AlterNet, Swieca, an Orthodox Jew, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the American Israel Education Foundation, the non-profit offshoot of the powerful lobbying group called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He’s also handed over cash to groups like the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces; the right-wing, anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center; and the Hebron Fund, a Brooklyn-based organization that funnels American money into illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron, a big city in the West Bank that has the most intense regime of settler violence and enforced segregation in the occupied Palestinian territories.
But perhaps most alarmingly is Swieca’s funding of the Temple Institute, an organization that promotes the building of the Third Temple on the third most holy site for Muslims. In early December, the Washington Post disclosed that Swieca and his wife funded the Jerusalem-based Temple Institute’s move to “to a large, renovated space in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, overlooking the Western Wall.” The move put the institute just a short walk away from the place where they hope the Third Temple arises.
The religious extremists who run the Temple Institute have their sights set on the Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary in English, which is also the Temple Mount for Jews. “Our short-term goal is to rekindle the flame of the Holy Temple in the hearts of mankind through education,” the Temple Institute says on their website. “Our long-term goal is to do all in our limited power to bring about the building of the Holy Temple in our time.”
In the middle of the Noble Sanctuary sits the Dome of the Rock, a shrine whose gold dome is a fixture on the Jerusalem skyline. The Noble Sanctuary is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, thought to be the place where the Prophet Muhammad was transported to from Mecca and is the third holiest site to Muslims around the world. At the same time, it is a site deeply revered by Jews, since it is the place thought to be where the First and Second Temples stood. The Second Temple was famously destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans, who then sent Jews into exile. The Temple Institute says that “the Temple Mount has to be cleared of the Dome of the Rock and the mosques which are presently located upon it before the physical rebuilding of the Holy Temple can begin.”
Both Judaism and Islam have competing claims to the site, making it the most contested piece of real estate on earth. In 2000, a provocative visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Noble Sanctuary set off clashes that many say sparked the Second Intifada. It continues to be a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli authorities.
With permission

Economic Problems & the Rise of Dictators | Mike Maloney & James Turk

Bill Moyers Essay: The End Game for Democracy

Gigantic $633 Military Spending Bill to Finance Global Warfare

Kate Randall
The US Senate voted Thursday night to authorize nearly $633 billion in military spending. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, which provides $552.1 billion for the regular military budget and $80.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations (OCO).
The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes spending for the fiscal year that began October 1. It is the 52nd consecutive year that Congress has passed such legislation, and represents a minimal reduction from the $643 billion authorized for fiscal year 2013.
To put these expenditures into perspective, the budget for all of fiscal year 2013 for food stamps, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), was $76.4 billion, only 12 percent of the figure designated for the military in 2014. A Republican proposal in the Farm Bill, which Congress has yet to pass, would cut $39 billion over the next decade from this vital nutrition program.
Some 1.3 million Americans will lose their sole income at the end of this month when the federal government ends extended unemployment benefits. The $25.6 billion spent on these benefits in 2013 is dwarfed by the massive spending on the military apparatus and its destructive weaponry slated for fiscal year 2014.
The Senate voted 84-15 to pass the Pentagon spending bill, and the US House approved similar legislation last week in a 350-69 vote. The bill’s passage demonstrates the overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress for the continued US presence in Afghanistan and other acts of military aggression across the globe. The legislation covers combat pay, ships, aircraft and military bases, as well as providing a 1 percent pay raise to military personnel.
The bill also includes measures in response to the widespread instances of sexual assault in the US military and their cover-up and deliberate disregard and mishandling by the military brass. The Pentagon estimates that at least 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year alone, and that thousands more victims did not come forward for fear of inaction or retribution.
The legislation would strip commanders of their ability to overturn military jury convictions and would also require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case. Any individual convicted of sexual assault would also face dishonorable discharge or dismissal.
The legislation does not include a proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat of New York) that would give victims of sexual assault an independent route to pursue prosecutions of their attackers outside the military chain of command.
The Congressional authorization of close to $81 billion to fund the continued occupation of Afghanistan stands in sharp contrast to deep popular opposition to the 13-year-old war, in which 2,289 US troops have died and more than have been 19,000 wounded.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,005 US adults conducted December 12-15 shows that 66 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, and a record 50 percent now “strongly” believe that the war has not been worth the cost.
A separate Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday shows that 57 percent of Americans think the US did “the wrong thing” in going to war in Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died as a result of airstrikes, house-to-house raids, as well as a consequence of displacement, starvation and disease, and lack of medical treatment. The US government has refused to sign a security agreement with the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai—which would keep 8,000-10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014—guaranteeing a halt to US military raids on civilian homes.
The NDAA not only authorizes the stationing of US troops in Afghanistan and at bases and other locations around the world, but covers the cost of weapons programs and military construction projects. The measure also authorizes $17.6 billion for nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy.
The Pentagon is authorized to buy this year’s installment of 29 F-35 Lightning II jets, capable of performing ground attack and reconnaissance with stealth capability. Produced by Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, Maryland, the fighter jet is the military’s costliest weapons program, with an overall projected cost of $391.2 billion for a fleet of 2,443 aircraft.
The measure authorizes $1.3 billion for multiyear procurement contracts for Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance plane, and would also prohibit the Pentagon’s plan to retire Northrop’s Global Hawk Block 30 drone.
The bill also authorizes $90 billion to continue upgrades performed by General Dynamics in Ohio of the M1A2 tank. It also provides $178 million in funding that was not requested by the Pentagon for M-1 Abrams tanks.
The cost ceiling has been raised to $12.9 billion on the USS Gerald R. Ford, being built by Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Virginia, making the vessel the most expensive US warship in history. The NDAA will require quarterly reports from the Navy on its cost estimates for the USS John F. Kennedy, the next in the new class of aircraft carriers.
The NDAA authorizes $284 million to boost Israel, the US ally in the Middle East in its pursuit of control over the oil rich region and its targeting of Iran, Syria and other nations. This includes $33.7 million to improve the Arrow Weapon System and $117 million for the Short-Range Missile Defense Program. Another $22 million is pegged for development of the Arrow-3 upper-tier interceptor, a joint development project of Chicago-based Boeing Co. and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.
World Socialist Web Site
With permission

Britain’s Youth Unemployment Crisis

UK youth unemployment in the UK now stands at 21 percent, or nearly 1 million people.
More than 650,000 young people are classified as NEETs (not in education, employment, or training), or 9 percent of the total. The number of under-25s in work has fallen rapidly since 2008, reaching 49.9 percent in recent months, the lowest figure since records began in 1992.
Joe Mount
Long-term unemployment is also rising. The number of workers aged 18 to 24 and unemployed for over two years trebled since the start of the recession to 115,000—the highest figure since July 1994, according to government figures. A third of those unemployed, a quarter-million youth, have been jobless for more than a year. The Princes’ Trust youth charity said the number of long-term unemployed youth seeking their help has risen by at least a third since 2010.
The jobs situation is more difficult for youth than older workers. The unemployment rate for under-25s is 3.7 times higher than for adults and has increased over the past year, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Current levels of youth unemployment are predicted to cause widespread poverty in old age, as most youth can’t afford retirement savings, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
They also attribute this to the undermining of state pensions. Successive governments have promoted private saving schemes with monthly contributions that are neglected during periods of unemployment, creating pension shortfalls. Some are linked to the stock market, placing pensions in further jeopardy.
This threatens youth with poverty. The report notes that “pension reforms made during the past two decades lowered the pension promise for workers who enter the labour market today. Working longer may help to make up part of the reductions, but every year of contribution toward future pensions generally results in lower benefits than before the reforms.
“In 2010, the average poverty rate among the elderly was 12.8%. In many OECD countries, the risk of poverty is higher at younger ages.”
Long-term youth unemployment also raises the threat of life-long social scarring, with disadvantaged youth facing a future of insecure, low-wage work or NEET status.
Aside from poverty, homelessness and mental illness, there is a devastating impact on young people’s physical health, as highlighted by a recent World Health Organisation study. Leading researcher Professor Michael Marmot warned that “persistent high levels of youth unemployment are a public health time bomb waiting to explode.”
Youth unemployment is pushing increasing numbers into further education or training, with the number of full-time students up 10 percent since the onset of recession. These youth must shoulder a huge student debt burden and face a stagnant job market upon graduation. The public sector, the biggest graduate employer, is shedding jobs at a record pace due to the austerity agenda of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
This means that most graduates cannot find work commensurate with their skills, with 47 percent of recent graduates in unskilled jobs, up from 39 percent in 2007 and 27 per cent in 2001, according to official figures.
Graduates are squeezing unqualified youth out of the labour market, with more than 50 graduates competing for each entry-level position, according to the Adzuna jobs site, an official UK government data source. Britain‘s graduates are repeating the experience of Japan’s, who have largely been trapped in precarious, unskilled jobs since that country’s economic stagnation began in the early 1990s.
Although a degree retains a clear economic benefit, graduate earnings are falling. Current graduates are paid 12 percent less in real terms than their counterparts before the financial crash, according to the Student Loans Company. This is three times greater than the fall in average pay for all full-time workers since 2007. The figures exclude the 28 percent of recent graduates who earn below the loan repayment threshold or the 17 percent who are unemployed.
The student debt burden has increased 60 percent during the same period, as the tuition fee cap was almost tripled last year to £9,000. Universities now charge an average of £8,400 per year, in addition to living expenses.
The government has also announced plans to privatise the student loan book, selling it to investors at giveaway prices. Investors are now free to profit from student debt and ramp up interest repayments to commercial rates. These changes will be retrospective, also applying to past graduates.
These appalling social conditions and the bleak prospects facing youth in the UK are symptomatic of the protracted decay of British capitalism. Five years after the 2008 financial crash, the economy is stagnant. Despite some GDP growth, the number of unemployed is still at 2.5 million, according to official estimates.
All the major parties are fully committed to enacting devastating austerity measures. They aim to make the working class pay for the world economic crisis, while enriching themselves by gutting the welfare state through extensive privatisation. As part of this, the ruling class is stepping up its attacks on the existing, inadequate social provisions for young people.
The government’s own advisors admit that its Youth Contract has failed. Launched last year, the government claimed the £1 billion scheme would provide more than 160,000 work placements and apprenticeships for those out of work for six months or more. In reality, it is a wage subsidy to businesses that has created only 4,700 placements over the past year, according to official figures. Only 2,070 payments were made to firms that employed youth for the full 26-week placement.
Workfare schemes, where the unemployed are forced to work for free to receive benefits, are rapidly proliferating. Chancellor George Osborne used his Autumn Statement address to blame youth for their situation. He threatened that all long-term unemployed youth aged 18 to 21 would be forced into unpaid work schemes or lose their benefit payments.
Earlier, the Conservative Party conference heard Prime Minister David Cameron insisting on “tough love” for NEETs. In reality, his plans for the elimination of housing and unemployment benefit for under-25s will condemn hundreds of thousands to complete parental dependency or homelessness.
World Socialist Web Site
With permission

PBS Drops a Bombshell on the Federal Reserve’s 100th Birthday Party

By Pam Martens: December 22, 2013
James Grant Appearing on PBS to Discuss the Power of the Federal Reserve, December 20, 2013
PBS promised a “debate” this past Friday night on the “benefits and dangers” of the Federal Reserve as the Fed marks its 100 years of existence tomorrow. Instead of a debate, two famous stock market historians made the same stunning announcement – that the Fed has decided its job is to push up the stock market.
Consuela Mack’s Wealthtrack program on PBS had invited James Grant, Editor and Founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and Richard Sylla, the Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at NYU’s Stern School of Business. The opening scene for the program shows Sylla in a party hat lighting the candles on the Fed’s birthday cake while Grant snuffs them out – suggesting that Sylla would be making pro-Fed statements while Grant would take the opposing view.
What happened during the program, however, was that both men made the candid and bold accusation that the Federal Reserve, for the first time in its history, has assigned itself the job of propping up the stock market.
Grant had this to say: “New thing – it is in the business of talking up the stock market…The Fed is manipulating prices, especially on Wall Street.” To another question from Mack, Grant says: “The Fed has presided over the decay of finance.”
Professor Sylla adds more fuel to the fire, stating: “The Fed seems to have, I think almost deliberately, is trying to push the stock market up. I’ve watched this stuff for 40, 50 years now and this is the first time in my memory when it seemed to be official U.S. government policy that the stock market goes up. And the Fed likes this because it thinks that when the stock market goes up, people who own stocks feel richer, they’ll go out and spend more money, and the unemployment rate will come down.” You can watch the full program here.
Richard Sylla on PBS, Discussing the Federal Reserve's Policies, December 20, 2013
Is it possible that the Federal Reserve, with its economic wizards and differential equations, doesn’t know that the more it props up the stock market and Wall Street, the more it is undermining Main Street and exacerbating wealth inequality in America?
As brilliantly laid bare by producer Martin Smith on another PBS program on April 23 of this year, Wall Street has become an institutionalized wealth transfer mechanism, moving the savings of the little guy into the pockets of the very rich.
The program, The Retirement Gamble, showed how if you work for 50 years and receive the typical long-term return of 7 percent on your 401(k) plan and your fees are 2 percent, almost two-thirds of your account will go to Wall Street. Under a typical 2 percent 401(k) fee structure, almost two-thirds of your working life will go toward paying obscene compensation to Wall Street; a little over one-third will benefit your family – and that’s before paying taxes on withdrawals. The dirty secret is the negative impact that Wall Street fees subtract from compounded interest over long blocks of time.
In the program, Smith pulls up a compounding calculator on his laptop. On air, he shows the viewer the results:
Smith: “Take an account with a $100,000 balance and reduce it by 2 percent a year. At the end of 50 years, that 2 percent annual charge would subtract $63,000 from your account, a loss of 63 percent, leaving you with just a little over $36,000.”
You can prove the point to yourself. Pull up a compounding calculator on line. Assume an  account with a $100,000 balance and compound it at 7 percent for 50 years. That would give you a return of $3,278,041.36. Now change the calculation to a 5 percent return (reduced by the 2 percent annual fee) for the same $100,000 over the same 50 years. That will deliver a return of $1,211,938.32. That’s a whopping difference of $2,066,103.04 – the same 63 percent reduction in value in Smith’s example.
Approximately 70 percent of Americans who have a retirement plan at their place of work have a 401(k) plan rather than a pension plan (defined benefit plan) that would deliver a fixed sum at retirement. Not everyone is paying 2 percent in 401(k) fees. Some workers are paying more and others are paying less – sometimes much less if using passively managed index mutual funds.
But the point is, by making propping up the stock market a goal of monetary policy, the myopic Federal Reserve is ignoring the fact that the majority of stock market wealth is ending up in the hands of the top 10 percent, doing very little to create jobs or stimulate the economy for the other 90 percent of Americans.

Who Owns Your Congressman?

Who Owns Your Congressman?

Italy's pitchfork movement - waking the world up to a new reality

Peter Koenig, former World Bank economist speaks to the Voice of Russia and shares his views on the Pitchfork movement in Italy, the crisis in Ukraine and the economic reasons for Europe's social problems.
Reality Check: It seems that the economic crisis in Europe creates the perfect environment for popular discontent. For instance, the Pitchfork movement in Italy clearly shows that the poor strata of Italian society won't tolerate the government's economic policies. Are the economic austerity policies the main driver behind such popular movements?
Peter Koenig: The Pitchforkmovement started in December 2012 in the South of Italy by farmers protesting against higher taxes, higher fuel and fertilizer prices due to Mario Monti’s (then PM), imposed austerity program – which is in turn imposed by Monti’s countryman, Mr. Draghi, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) and – what many want to ignore – former Goldman Sachs executive. The same austerity imposed on other Southern European countries, like Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland – causing unspeakable human misery, unemployment, close to 30% in Greece and Spain (Spain – 57% youth unemployment!), widespread famine, increasing mortality rates in children – especially in Greece, where a third of the population can no longer afford privatized health insurance, therefore their children are no longer routinely vaccinated.
In addition under Draghi, the chief European Central Banker, the infamous troika – International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU) and ECB – loaded these countries with debt - which generations to come may be burdened to repay.
Reality Check: Western media likes to blame the people of Greece, Spain and Italy for their countries' economic woes, but the European Commission and the ECB should shoulder at least a part of the blame. Their economic policies have poured gasoline in the fire of the European economic crisis. Their measures strangle the economy, without giving those countries a possibility to quit the Eurozone and regain their competitiveness.
Peter Koenig: These are typical draconian pro-cyclical measures that no ‘rich’ OECD country would accept. It is a means by the Gods of Money to continue keeping the pressure on Europe, on the euro, to salvage their worthless currency, the dollar.The Gods of Money are the masters of Wall Street, the US Fed (Federal Reserve), and the BIS (Bank for International Settlement) – the central bank of central banks; i.e. the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and JP Morgans of this world. They control the (Western) gold and monetary markets by keeping the pressure on Europe – and the euro.
This is but a nutshell summary of what’s at stake, and what’s at the origin for so much misery and so many ‘liberation’ movements, such as the Italian Pitchfork crusade, currently timidly making its way from Sicily up north – and hesitantly into some newspapers.
Reality Check: Do you think that the Pitchfork movement has the potential to become something bigger and threaten the political status quo?
Peter Koenig: Originally Pitchforkwas heavily Sicily centered – a protest of Italy’s separated South against the elitist Rome. In the meantime the movement is growing in strength and has reached Rome, where it is clashing with police. The farmers are being joined by truck drivers and worker unionists – and eventually by people from the street. It is still weak in numbers, has the potential to grow, but the media shun it, don’t talk about it, ignore it. The elite controlling the media know that if and when the knowledge about the crusaders spreads, it could become a dangerous avalanche throughout Europe; it could grow almost infinitely – it could mean the end of the dominating class. Unhappiness is everywhere.
Reality Check: Pitchfork movement is unlikely to be the first of its kind. Do you recall similar movements in other countries?
Peter Koenig: Pitchfork reminds of the May 15 or M15 movement that originated on 15 May 2012 in Madrid, Spain, with protests against Rajoy’s austerity measures. It followed the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’, OWM, that began on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park of New York’s Wall Street financial district, as a modern sit-in against the banksters abuses at home and abroad.
While Wall Street was a novelty and caught initial media attention, it grew in visibility and was emulated throughout the world – it was henceforth the strongest nonviolent movement for justice and against the Western boundless banking greed on humanity and the planet.
All of these strong-willed nonviolent protests of the people for the people against a merciless elite have an enormous potential of changing the social landscape of the Western world. But - the media have purposely and miserably failed them. Social movements need media attention in order to propagate. But largely ignored by the media, they gradually fade into oblivion.
Reality Check: The mainstream media don't cover the movements and the protests disliked by the Western political class. Actually, if the mainstream media cover and show sympathy for a 'popular' movement it can serve as a conclusive proof that the movement is not grassroots, but pure astroturf. Do you think that Ukraine is a good example of American "astroturfing"?
Peter Koenig: A completely different media scenario presents the Ukraine, where President Viktor Yanukovych is facing pro-Europe mass protests, since he is backing away from a trade agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych is questioning the honesty of the treaty. Against a compensation of at least 20 billion euros – the estimated amount his country would lose with the deal – he might reconsider. Fair enough, since it is clear that so called ‘free’ trade agreements are always slanted in favor of the stronger. Finally this is a question of local sovereignty. Yet the world media zoom in and make believe that Ukraine’s President is acting against the people’s will, never analyzing the size of the protests, where they come from and who pays for them.
Reality Check: It is obvious that signing the Association agreement would have killed the Ukrainian economy. The EU demands modernization and strict compliance with the European technical standards, but is not going to pay for modernization and compliance, implying that a big of the Ukrainian industry must simply disappear in order to let European exporters conquer the Ukrainian market. For Yanukovich, signing the deal with the EU would have been a political disaster.
Peter Koenig: In the case of Ukraine there is even more at stake than an unfair trade deal. If linked with the US puppet, called Europe, NATO will not be far. Imagine – NATO at Russia’s doorstep – and 50% of the US Naval fleet already in the Pacific, surrounding China's East Coast. – Imagine US reaction, if Russia were to build up missile bases in the Caribbean – and China’s naval flotilla would cruise up and down the California Coast!
But the protests in Kiev get plenty of media attention. Media attention of protests against elected governments fuels the Western greed economies, when these governments second-guess, for good reasons, a pro-western stance. Protests which aren’t even genuine. They are ‘implanted’ cells, like those that triggered the so-called Arab Spring. Or those that marched against Mr. Putin’s election in different Moscow parks.
They are infiltrated, trained and paid by US conservative think tanks (sic) which receive hundreds of millions from the State Department for precisely that purpose – to train demonstrators to cause unrest in countries where ‘regime change’ is desired. Media coverage will make sure that the complacent and blinded Western public at large will take position; increasing the pressure on Mr. Yanukovych and Mr. Putin. The US – via the arch-reactionary and hawk, senator McCain – is even threatening with sanctions if Yanukovych should renege on his ‘commitment’ towards Europe. --- And, not surprisingly, nobody within a blinded Western populace asks what business of Washington this may be.
But the media is there. Playing up a lie. They are not reporting the Pitchfork and other movements throughout Southern Europe, fighting for sheer survival of the people in their artificially but effectively destroyed economies – social systems built up by the people, sucked empty by banksters with the help of the criminal troika – IMF, ECB and EU Commission.
Reality Check: Recent events show that American-controlled 'revolutions' are not the ultimate geopolitical weapon and that such 'revolutions' can be stopped. Do you see any hope for Ukraine?
Peter Koenig: There is still hope. Russia and China are not going to be intimidated. If the media are not covering peoples’ movements for sheer existence – they will have no choice but to cover the consequences of Russia’s and China’s actions, when these and other nations will drop the dollar as reserve currency, when they start trading hydrocarbons in their local currencies, when they are proceeding with the “de-americanization” of the world – in China’s words.
China has already shown its muscle by decisively harassing a US missile cruiser in the South China Sea and by enforcing their air space vis-à-vis Washington’s military and civil aviation. – And what’s more – China has already declared to no longer purchase US Treasury Bonds, alias US debt – and is quietly shedding its huge – US$ 1.7 trillion – dollar holdings.
No doubt, the disastrous consequences of these actions for the Western greed economies will get media attention.
Reality Check: What is the future of the real popular movements? What happens when the fake revolutionaries run out money and the real grassroots movements that demand social justice become more powerful?
Peter Koenig: The Pitchforks, M15 and OWM --- and all those peaceful social movements that fight for their rights and justice and for their people’s sovereignty across the globe --- will eventually be vindicated, when the world wakes up to a new reality – when the imposed debt and austerity programs will be wiped out by new governments run by the people and for the people – and when the police and soldiers awaken to the fact that they are brothers and sisters of the people they have been ordered to fight.
Imagine – the lame mainstream media – they would be at a loss of explaining what happens when the paradigm shifts from the haves to the 99.99%!
Source: Voice of Russia, 20 December 2013

Spanish banks' "bad loans" balloon to 50-year high

Spanish banks' bad loans hit the highest level for 50 years in October, data showed on Wednesday, despite the sector getting good marks from creditors as it exits its bailout programme.
The level of bad loans — ones judged highly unlikely to be repaid — rose to 13 percent of all outstanding credit from 12.68 percent in August, figures from the Bank of Spain showed.
It was the highest rate since current records began in 1962.
The value of the risky loans, mostly linked to the collapsed property sector, climbed by €3 billion euros from the previous month to €190.97 billion ($263 billion) in September.
Last year, the eurozone offered a loan of up to €100 billion to shore up the balance sheets of Spain's banks, swamped in bad loans since a property bubble imploded in 2008 plunging the country into a recession.
Source and full story: The Local (Spain), 18 December 2013

Stocks Hit Record High! But REAL Economy is GONE

US stocks finish higher on the week, with Dow and S&P at recordsDJIA Sets Inflation-Adjusted Record HighU.S. Growth Reading Is Better-than-ExpectedFed’s Taper Will Have Negligible Impact On EconomyU.S. third-quarter growth raised to 4.1%
Consumer spending, business investment faster than initially estimatedSources:…………

10 Companies Vying for 2013 Corporate Hall of Shame: What’s Your Pick for the Worst Offender?

There is tight competition this year, time to get your vote in.
 By Tara Lohan
Monsanto is a tough act to follow. When it comes to despised companies, it’s set the bar pretty high. Last year the company claimed the top prize in Corporate Accountability International’s Corporate Hall of Shame. That may have had something to do with Monsanto evangelizing toxic chemicals, bullying small farmers and steamrolling GMO right-to-know legislation.
Corporate Accountability International has spent decades working to hold law-flouting companies accountable for their environmental, health and human rights abuses. The organization has taken on the tobacco lobby, water privatization and junk food behemoths that target children with relentless advertising. In 1992 they launched their Corporate Hall of Shame. Recent winners include Monsanto in both 2012 and 2010 and Koch Industries in 2011. In 2007 and 2008 they picked three winners: Exxon, Halliburton and Wal-Mart (2007) and Blackwater, Archer Daniels Midland, and Wal-Mart (2008).
“Of note, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Corporate Accountability International used the Hall of Shame to not only identify corporate abuse but also launch campaigns to successfully challenge those corporations’ behaviors,” said Corporate Accountability International’s Kara Kaufman. “For instance, Waste Management significantly reduced lobbying and campaign contributions after grassroots efforts following the corporation’s induction into the Hall of Shame in 1996. In 1998, Columbia/HCA was inducted into the Hall of Shame, prompting a three-year campaign to challenge its practice of taking over nonprofit and community-owned hospitals, dumping patients without insurance, and using its political clout to get away with these abuses. In 2000, Columbia/HCA altered its policies and practices to limit its political role, dramatically reducing its lobbying force and halting its election contributions.”
Below are CAI’s top 10 picks for 2013. Cast your vote for the worst offender here.
1. Walmart
It’s been tough year for Walmart, what with tens of thousands of people protesting against the corporation at 1,500 events on Black Friday. But it’s been an even worse year for its workers who have had to risk arrest and their jobs for engaging in civil disobedience to expose Walmart’s low wages and dehumanizing corporate culture.
“By pioneering tactics to cut labor costs and avert labor organizing, and instigating imitation among suppliers, subcontractors, competitors and admirers across industries, Walmart is hastening a transformation in U.S. work, toward an ever-more-present future in which workers—whether fast food cashiers or adjunct professors—lack living wages, workplace democracy, job security or even legal recognition as employees,” wrote Josh Eidelson.
2. ExxonMobil
The oil giant has a big mess to clean up after its Pegasus pipeline gushed a minimum of 5,000 barrels of heavy crude from the Canadian tar sands all over a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood in March. Nine months later the community is still reeling.
“Nearly half of them have put their houses up for sale in search of a fresh start they never wanted,” wrote Sam Eifling and Zahra Hirji for Inside Climate News about the affected residents. “Some people were forced to sell because oil settled in their homes’ foundations, where removing it is nearly impossible. Others chose to leave because of fears about potential health effects and the marketability of their properties. Those who are staying aren’t necessarily doing so by choice: Many don’t have enough equity to afford a down payment on a new home in another suburb, according to local real estate brokers.”
3. Koch Industries
Where to begin? The Koch brothers have spent nearly $50 million funding climate deniers and blocking action on climate change according to a report by Greenpeace. And the privately held company operates in a shroud of secrecy.
“Few Americans have likely heard of Koch, even though it operates crude oil refineries and pipelines across North America and owns such well-known consumer brands as Dixie cups, Brawny and Quilted Northern paper products, Stainmaster carpet, CoolMax and Lycra,” wrote Brendan DeMelle on Huffington Post. “Koch Industries has bankrolled Americans for Prosperity to the tune of over $5 million since 2005. AFP—known primarily for its role in organizing the Tea Party movement in the U.S.—brought notorious climate denier Lord Christopher Monckton to the Copenhagen climate summit as its guest speaker.”
4. Proctor and Gamble
P&G makes cosmetics, personal care products and cleaning products. It’s been lambasted for failing to remove ingredients from products that may cause cancer or reproductive harm, although it did consent earlier this year to removing the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane from Tide and other laundry detergents. Was the baby step big enough?
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Decatur Herald-Review: ADM, subsidiaries fined in Ukrainian bribery case

(L-R) Archer Daniels Midland President and CEO Patricia Woertz, Merck President and CEO Ken Frazier and Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Douglas Oberhelman arrive at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama and other business leaders Nov. 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.
DECATUR — Archer Daniels Midland Co. and its subsidiaries will pay more than $54 million in U.S. criminal and regulatory penalties related to the bribery of Ukrainian government officials.
Alfred C. Toepfer International Ukraine LTD., known as ATCI Ukraine which is a majority-owned subsidiary of ADM, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The subsidiary agreed to pay $17.8 million in criminal fines to resolve charges it paid bribes through vendors to Ukrainian government officials to obtain value-added tax refunds.
 Read the story here