Thursday, July 9, 2009

Peter Schiff: Gold and gold stocks are the best bets

Gaza: A Story

They lived in a place called Peace. But then came the tanks and the guns. So they left, the white flag waving in the air.

Nestled in the north of Gaza, close to the Israeli border, Hay As-salaam (Peace Neighborhood) was in nature as in name: A quiet area outside the city. The land owned by a wealthy Palestinian (extended) family, the Abu Eida family. Their 10 family houses gave life to the neighborhood. All were new and large and beautiful, the oldest only built in the early 2000‘s.

Surrounding these beautiful villas were about 400,000 square meters of farm and orchards. Lambs grazed the land. Chickens pecked the ground. Throngs of varied trees stood tall all round: nuts and palms, citrus and orange–some over a hundred years old. Just down the lane were the family factories. These concrete mixing factories included the first and oldest ones in the Gaza Strip.

Situated as it was, on the border, Peace Neighborhood was one of the first places the Israeli army occupied during the December-January Massacre of 2009. Until that point of the Massacre, the families stayed in their homes, afraid to leave–as all in Gaza were.

On the 12th of January, Jihad Abu Eida received a phone call from his brother, telling him that the Israelis would let them leave their houses if they held up the white flag. So Jihad collected his wife and six young children and they left carried nothing with them but the clothes on their back and, naturally, the white flag.

They waited out the next week of terror, away from home and anxious to return. When the day of relief finally arrived, Jihad once again gathered up his family, this time with uplifted spirits, for they were headed home.

But home was never to be found again.

They returned to a graveyard. The entire land all around, as far as the eye could see, lay flattened. It was as if a giant plow came through and raked everything through.

“This was my home,” Jihad tells me as we stand in front of a heap of rubble. I look around, trying to detect some of the beauty he described. I see nothing. Just destruction. Not one tree still stands. There are heaps of rubble that used to be houses. Only the elevator shafts still stand in some.

One house stands, however. It is quite a handsome house. Or rather I can tell it used to be handsome, despite the broken brick walls and bullet holes, despite the broken pillars and crumbling balcony.

“The Israelis used it as a command post,” Jihad explains. That is why it remained standing. They were considerate enough, however, to leave their mark before they departed. The walls on the inside of the house are covered with maps of the area. They are also trashed with swear words and vulgarities. It was ransacked and looted of all valuables.

“They took all our gold and money and valuables before they bombed them,” Jihad explains as we walk around his “house.” Jihad picks out a bent and torn text book.

“That was one of my engineering books,” he says, fingering it delicately. And I wonder vaguely at the horrible misconception people back home have of the people here whose lives our money has destroyed.

Jihad studied engineering in San Diego, CA in the late 80‘s and 90‘s. He is an avid Lakers fan until now (he is still rooting for them to win now!). And he even named his oldest son Kareem after Karim Abdul Jabbar. This is the kind of person who American media vilifies.

“That was my driveway,” Jihad says as we walk on some rubble. I see bits of beautiful tile among the debris. A little way off I spot chunks of engraved columns.

“We have nothing left. Not one photo. Not my diplomas. Nothing. Everything is gone,” he says as we walk slowly among the destruction,

“That was my uncle’s house,” he points to another mount of rubble.

“Remember,” says a friend who is with him, “remember when we had breakfast their that time?” They laugh at the personal memory. I smile weakly, wondering at the their ability to still laugh amid the ruin.

Our media gets worse and worse by the minute here in Gaza. What sort of military “defense” bombs, with F-16, residential homes? Do people who supposedly fear for their safety occupy a house, loot it, desecrate its wall and shell it with tanks when done? Do they shoot and kill the harmless livestock and chickens? Do they uproot hundred-year-old trees? (Environmentalists, do you care?)

I watch in numb disbelief as Jihad tells me of that dreadful day they returned. This middle aged man’s voice shakes with grief. He was overcome with shock when he saw the place. They, none of them, could believe it. It was absolutely devastating. He thought he was going to have a heart attack from the horror. And all the family there with him. It was awful, he kept saying.

He never thought they would destroy the place at all, let alone destroy everything so completely. Because they are on the border, Jihad explains, the Israelis came to their place three or four times before in the past few years. Just last year they came and forced his family to stay in one room while they used the rest of the house.

“When they left, the only thing they destroyed were the fences,” he says. This time, he thought, it would be like that. But he was wrong. The destruction was total. The family lost everything. For the Israelis not only destroyed their places of residence and farms and orchards and animals, but also all their factories.

Jihad told me the estimate of their loss is 15 million dollars. That, I am sure, is an extremely conservative estimate. He said others are saying it is over 20 million and I think that is closer to the mark. But he holds 15 million, for he knows that for sure it is that much that is lost.

“It’s the tax we pay for being Palestinian,” he says. A heavy tax, indeed.

“We are fine with them are our neighbors,” he told me when I asked about the Israelis, “let us live together! But they don’t want us as neighbors. They are trying to drive us out. They want the land and not the people.”

When I asked him if this terrible loss made him want to leave Gaza. He just looked at me and stated simply, “Gaza is the only place for me. I have no other place.”

We visited one of the factories. Heaps of rubble and metal are scattered around. Jihad said it is much cleaner now than it was. They are trying to rebuild. But it is a slow process because of the siege. I asked him why they are rebuilding after this absolute loss.

“We must rebuild,” he said, “and if they come and destroy again. We must rebuild. We cannot just sit and cry and think about the past. We must look to the future.”

After touring the destruction of the once-upon-a-greener-time factory, we sit with his father and brothers and nephews and have tea. The talk is light and happy. I don’t understand how it could be so, with the signs of their grief all around. But they are a strong people, and inclined toward optimism. So we drink and talk and laugh.

As we get up to leave the “factory” and go back home, Jihad shakes hands with his father. When we get into the car and head out, he remarks on his parting.

“You see how I shook hands with my father just now to go home?” he asks. “I never had to do that before. We lived in the same house. But now he lives here and I live in middle of the crowded city. In a small, rented flat.”

The desolate land goes by in a blur. It wasn’t just the loss of property, and fortune, and future, I think to myself. They ripped the family asunder.

What is the excuse, I ponder now in the silence of a Gazan night, what is the excuse for a people who destroyed that place called peace?

The Secret Plan for Citigroup

Why won’t the government put Citi out of its misery and let it fail? Sources tell Charlie Gasparino the feds have a new strategy to leave the bank in a coma.

Is Citigroup being given another lease on life?

The “financial supermarket” created by Sandy Weill and Bob Rubin during the boom years of the 1990s was supposed to revolutionize banking with a model that offered just about every service imaginable. Consumers could cash a check and walk to the corner of the branch and buy a mutual fund. Corporations didn’t have to borrow money from one bank, and issue debt through another. Citi could do it all.

By leaving Citi comatose, it could still trigger a run as consumer confidence in the bank diminishes over time.

It sure could, including (nearly since the day the firm was created) putting its customers in great peril through questionable sales practices, and later by taking such excessive risks in trading bonds that it needed government assistance that could cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. The bailout couldn’t repair Citigroup (that would be a near impossibility given the size and scope of its losses) but it was enough to keep the company on life support so it could avoid a bankruptcy and liquidation that would have made the market fallout following Lehman’s look tame.

Once Citi received bailout money, the Weill experiment was supposed to be over. The supermarket was dead and would be disbanded, finally, by its current CEO Vikram Pandit. Prodding the company along in this direction was its new owner, the federal government. All those billions came with a price; though the feds are Citigroup’s single largest shareholders, and they were said to want the company broken up into its more profitable pieces, something investors had been demanding for years.

Now comes word from sources close to the bank that the government—namely the Federal Reserve and Treasury, which basically run the bank after bailing it out—isn’t looking to put Citigroup out of its misery as some investors and even FDIC chief Sheila Bair had hoped. According to these people, the plan is to let Citigroup linger, half-dead and half-alive because in its current, near-vegetative state as its stock price falls below $3 a share and it‘s trading and investment-banking departments fall far behind Wall Street rivals, Citigroup propped up by guarantees and bailout money can’t do much harm.

This decision has given Pandit another burst of life as head of the bank. Just a few weeks ago, Pandit, who consistently defended Citigroup’s business model in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, seemed like a goner. Bair even leaked to the press she wanted him out. But as top officials in the Treasury have begun leaning toward not immediately dismantling Citigroup, but allowing it sit and rot they’ve also come to the conclusion that they need a “caretaker,” said one high-ranking Wall Street executive who regularly deals with government officials on banking matters. Pandit is as good as anyone for the job, because as this person put it, “the feds are just happy to watch Citi linger.”

I can understand the feds’ logic even if I don’t agree with it. The billions of guarantees, direct cash infusions, and stock jammed into Citigroup since the dark days of the financial crisis last fall seems to have taken a major worry off the table--Citigroup’s implosion, which with its nearly $1 trillion in deposits and a balance sheet bigger than many governments, would have set off a global bank run of immense proportions.

Now that Citigroup has been stabilized, regulators can turn their attention to another troubled bank, Bank of America, which is burdened by much of the same problems facing Citi (subprime exposure and consumer loans that will likely crater as unemployment rises to 10 percent), not to mention bad assets inherited from its purchase of Merrill Lynch last year that led to its own need for a government bailout.

This Is Your War on Drugs

AMONG OUR LEADERS in Washington, who's been the biggest liar? There are all too many contenders, yet one is so floridly surreal that he deserves special attention. Nope, it's not Dick Cheney or Alberto Gonzales or John Yoo. It's a trusted authority figure who's lied for 11 years now, no matter which party held sway. (Nope, it's not Alan Greenspan.) This liar didn't end-run Congress, or bully it, or have its surreptitious blessing at the time only to face its indignation later. No, this liar was ordered by Congress to lie—as a prerequisite for holding the job.

Give up? It's the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the drug czar, who in 1998 was mandated by Congress to oppose legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize marijuana, or redirect anti-trafficking funding into treatment. And the drug czar has also—here's where the lying comes in—been prohibited from funding research that might give credence to any of the above. These provisions were crafted by Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and pushed for by then-czar Barry McCaffrey, best remembered for being somewhat comically obsessed with the evils of medical marijuana. A few Dems complained that the bill, which set "hard targets" of an 80 percent drop in the availability of drugs, a 60 percent decrease in street purity, and a 50 percent reduction in drug-related crime and ER visits, all by 2004—whoops!—was "simplistic" and "designed to achieve political advantage." Though the vote count was not recorded for history, it got enough bipartisan support to be signed into law by Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton.

If this tale strikes you as the kind of paranoid fantasy you'd expect from someone who's taken one too many hits off the joint, consider that it isn't the most bizarre, hypocritical, counterproductive moment in our nation's history with drugs. Not by a long shot. Consider that Prohibition came about when progressives got into bed with the Ku Klux Klan, but was rolled back once they'd had enough of the Mob. Or that the precursor to today's drug czar supplied morphine to Sen. Joe McCarthy because he worried about the national security consequences—not of the red-baiter's habit, but of its potential exposure. Or that drug war progenitor Richard Nixon ordered a comprehensive study on the perils of marijuana, and then ignored the study once he learned it recommended decriminalization.

But then, the drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we've been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who've seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.)

What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on "hard" drugs, but make enforcement fair (no more traffickers rolling on hapless girlfriends to cut a deal. No more Tulias). And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn't a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos. (Watch Clara discuss the Doritos theory at the 00:12:54 mark of this video, and see "The Patriot's Guide to Legalization.")

So why don't we have a rational drug policy? Simple. Forget the Social Security "third rail." The quickest way to get yourself sidelined in serious policy discussion is to stray from drug war orthodoxy. Even MoJo has skirted the topic for fear of looking like a bunch of hot-tubbing stoners. Such is the power of the culture wars, 50 years on.

There is some hope. We have, at long last, a post-boomer president, one who confidently admits he partook back in the day. And while Barack Obama has said he's not interested in overhauling drug policy, his administration has made moves toward honesty—acknowledging that US demand fuels overseas production, that federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries are a waste of time and money, and that treatment should be our top priority; the Pentagon has even said that Mexico rivals Pakistan atop the list of states most likely to fail. There are other signs of a thaw: Those noted hippies at The Economist and Foreign Policy have called for ending "prohibition at any cost." Drug warrior Bob Barr is lobbying for the Marijuana Policy Project. And Joe Biden—who helped create the 100:1 crack-vs.-coke sentencing disparity—has finally issued a mea culpa.

Meanwhile, the new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske—the first since moralizer-in-chief William Bennett not to hold Cabinet-level status—has even dared suggest that the phrase "War on Drugs" be retired. But Kerlikowske still remains bound by the 1998 mandate prohibiting him from speaking the truth. If we want a sensible drug policy, ditching the liar's law would be a good start.

Since 1998, the drug czar has been mandated to lie to the American people. So what would a fact-based drug policy look like?

Where in the World Are the Federal Trade Commissioners?

Does winter weather get you down? Would you rather spend chilly days at the beach in Cancun or skiing in Quebec rather than sitting behind a desk? Well, maybe you should become a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission. FTC commissioners are charged with managing the affairs of the federal government's premier consumer protection agency-a job that seems to entail a significant amount of foreign travel, some of it legitimate, some of it a bit questionable.

On the questionable side: In January 2007, the American Bar Association's antitrust section held its annual midwinter leadership meeting in Aruba at the swank new Hyatt Regency hotel and casino. It was an exclusive group, mostly private defense lawyers who represent some of the nation's biggest companies. But joining the white-shoe attorneys at the beach were two FTC commissioners, Pamela Jones Harbour and William Kovacic, who delivered a private briefing. The group, whose members tend to oppose the agency's regulatory agenda, subsidized the commissioners' travel.

The Aruba trip kicked off a busy travel year for the commissioners, who each made at least one foreign trip in 2007, according to FTC records released to Mother Jones through a Freedom of Information Act request. Here's a sampling from their itineraries (these numbers represent a rough estimate and may include days where a commissioner only spent part of the time traveling):

  • William Kovacic: After Aruba, Kovacic headed to Johannesburg for five days for a meeting of the South African Competition Tribunal in early February. Then, after a short stop in DC, Kovacic was off to Paris, Ottawa, and Brussels. Other highlights that year included visits to Istanbul, Moscow, Zurich, Sydney, Kazakhstan, Lima, Singapore, Seoul, Luxembourg, Barcelona, Toulouse, and multiple visits to Brussels. Total days abroad: 123.
  • Pamela Jones Harbour: After soaking up some Aruba sunshine, Jones Harbour dashed off to Sydney. Later, she visited Mexico City; Australia; Whistler, British Columbia, and attended meetings on e-commerce in Tokyo and Hanoi. She flew back and forth to Asia, business class, to the tune of $10,000. Total days abroad: 46.
  • Deborah Majoras: She jetted off to Davos for a week at the World Economic Forum, and attended conferences or gave speeches in Zurich, Bucharest, Moscow, Lisbon, Brussels, and Brazil, where she provided technical assistance to the Brazilian government's competition office. Total days abroad: 38.
  • John Rosch: He gave speeches to legal groups in Zurich, Florence, and Venice. Days abroad: 26.
  • Jon Leibowitz: The new FTC chairman is the least traveled commissioner, but he did manage to escape Washington's summer for the ABA antitrust section meeting in Whistler, Canada, in August 2007. Total days abroad: 11.

While 2007 was a busy year for the commissioners, these itineraries aren't atypical-especially for Kovacic, whom FTC staffers have christened "Commissioner Magellan" for his globe-trotting ways. Since President George W. Bush appointed Kovacic to a Republican slot in 2006, he has averaged nearly 100 days of foreign travel a year. So far in 2009, he has been abroad for more than 60 days. (He spent the end of June in Taiwan, Rome, and London, and celebrated July 4th in China at a conference on competition law.)

All this jetting about appears somewhat out of sync with the commission's largely domestic role. The FTC's wide-ranging mandate includes everything from enforcing used car sales regulations to ensuring that clothing manufacturers properly instruct consumers whether or not to put their shirts in the dryer. It runs the "do not call" registry to keep telemarketers at bay and cracks down on bogus weight loss cures. The agency also shares responsibility with the Justice Department for overseeing mergers and acquisitions of big companies and enforcing antitrust laws.

Referring to Kovacic's 2007 itinerary, Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says, "A hundred and twenty three days in one year at first blush does seem excessive. It's not the international trade commission." But Jon Leibowitz, the new FTC chairman, approves. "Bill is wonderfully dedicated. He's like a rock star on the international antitrust circuit...The work he's done internationally has been very helpful to the commission and he's never missed a meeting."

The FTC's broad mission does require some foreign travel. For instance, an FTC member represents the United States at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), whose meetings are usually abroad. The FTC also participates in various international consumer protection and competition networks to facilitate law enforcement. In recent years, these issues have become more global in scope, creating a need for greater international cooperation. And with encouragement from Congress, the FTC has worked to shore up other countries' antitrust enforcement mechanisms, hoping that increased competition will open markets and ultimately reduce poverty.

But some of the commissioners' trips seem less than critical. For instance, in 2006, Jones Harbour attended a New York State Bar Association meeting in Shanghai, an outing that cost the FTC about $1,869. The association arranged a "pre-meeting" excursion around Beijing, including tours of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, which Jones Harbour participated in. She paid for her own lodging and meals on those days, but during the 10 days or so she was in Asia, her official work consisted of giving just one speech to the Shanghai conference plus an off-the-record presentation, according to the FTC.

In February 2007, Kovacic appeared on a panel at a Brussels conference hosted by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, an American advocacy group linked to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and funded largely by big telecom companies, whose mergers and other business practices the FTC often monitors. The foundation picked up the tab for Kovacic's trip from Paris to Brussels for the day. Kovacic says he also conducted official business in Brussels, meeting with European Commission representatives as well as with members of the US mission to the European Union.

The FTC commissioners' visits to ABA antitrust section meetings are also potentially problematic. The antitrust section largely consists of lawyers who get paid handsomely to advise big companies on how to stay out of trouble with the FTC or to defend them when they do. Their business meetings, like those in Aruba in 2007, are closed to reporters and the public; the FTC doesn't list them on its public calendar. The ABA says the meetings are closed because they simply involve dull association business. Yet three out of the five commissioners journeyed to Cancun in January 2008 for the ABA's gathering-including Majoras, who quit the FTC to work for Proctor & Gamble several weeks later.

In fact, the ABA frequently pays for some of the commissioners' travel to resort locations. Federal rules allow the ABA to pick up the tab because it is a nonprofit entity, and also because it isn't regulated by the commission. However, the commission does regulate many of the companies represented by the lawyers who run the antitrust section. Its leadership includes Kovacic's wife, Kathryn Fenton, a partner at the Jones Day law firm who represents big companies in antitrust cases.

And on antitrust issues, the ABA is hardly a neutral voice: It has taken public positions on legislation and other issues that conflict with those of the FTC. For instance, the commission has long opposed big drug companies paying manufacturers to delay producing a generic drug. The ABA thinks this practice is fine. Another example: Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) recently introduced legislation that would reverse a Supreme Court decision loosening restrictions on corporate price fixing. At a May hearing, the ABA advocated against the bill; the FTC testified in its favor.

When FTC commissioners attend private ABA meetings, they are giving exclusive briefings to representatives of the companies they regulate. "It's too damn cozy. It's held in places that people would consider exotic and it's away from the press," says Art Amolsch, publisher of FTC:WATCH, who has unsuccessfully sought access to the meetings. Amolsch, who worked in the FTC's public affairs office during the Nixon and Ford administrations, says that telling corporate lawyers what the government intends to do is a cheap form of regulation, because the lawyers then advise their clients to follow the law. But when the commissioners travel to swanky resorts and meet privately with corporate attorneys, he adds, "The scandal is in the secrecy."

Max Blecher, a prominent California antitrust lawyer who represents plaintiffs, says, "I think the regulators should keep their distance from the regulated." He believes FTC rules should not allow the ABA to cover the commissioners' travel tabs. "That should be a conflict. I don't think they should be guests of a group that is really anti-antitrust," he says.

FTC chairman Leibowitz, who has attended some ABA meetings and says he will probably attend more, disagrees. He argues that the meetings "give them some insight into what we're doing. If we abandoned the field, that would be worse."

Most FTC watchers contacted for this story were surprised to hear how much time the commissioners spent abroad, particularly Kovacic. Whether the travel is appropriate depends on whom you ask. People who know Kovacic describe him as a hard worker, an expert who has spent most of his career spreading the gospel of antitrust regulation and helping foreign governments set up enforcement regimes. Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a nonprofit group devoted to supporting antitrust regulation, believes that Kovacic's travel provides value to the American public. "He gets an enormous amount of work done. He's not a guy to take junkets or enjoy himself on these trips. I don't think the taxpayers are getting shortchanged," he says.

Consumer advocates are somewhat less charitable. Silverglade of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says it's useful for Americans to learn from other countries. But during the Bush administration, at least, that wasn't all that FTC commissioners did. Silverglade cites a 2006 meeting in Brussels that he attended of the EU's Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Representatives of many Eastern European countries were desperate for information about how to protect consumers from the hard edges of capitalism. But then-FTC chair Majoras instead delivered a speech on the beauties of self-regulation in food marketing.

Kovacic defends the commission's record (and his own travel), noting that the FTC was far more aggressive on the antitrust front than the Justice Department during the Bush administration. But given that the Bush DOJ went seven years without bringing a single monopolization case, that's not saying much. The Europeans and other Asian governments have been much more proactive in enforcing antitrust laws. Take Intel, the world's largest computer-chip manufacturer, which has been accused of engaging in shifty practices to shut down its only major competitor. Last year, Korea fined the company $25 million for antitrust violations, and on May 13, after probing Intel for more than a decade, the EU fined the company a record $1.45 billion and ordered it to change its practices. The FTC only opened an investigation into Intel last year. (Some observers expect the agency to become more aggressive under Leibowitz, a proponent of tougher antitrust enforcement.)

It's also hard to point to a specific regulation or policy development that stems directly from any of the commissioners' work abroad, a point that Kovacic acknowledges. Much of what he does overseas, says Kovacic, is create the infrastructure for pursuing global investigations and enforcement actions. He also says that part of his job has been to correct the impression that the US no longer enforces its antitrust laws. Kovacic argues that if Justice had been doing its job, he wouldn't need to spend so much time on the road. "A major part of what I try to do in these presentations is to say we're doing our damn jobs," he says.

Ultimately, says Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the propriety of the commissioners' travel should be weighed against the FTC's performance record, and like many consumer advocates, he finds that record wanting. "The FTC could have done a lot," he says. "Maybe if they didn't spend so much time at the beach we'd have better consumer protection law."

July 8th, 2009 - Senator DeMint on Glenn Beck with Napolitano

No Gravatar

Marc Faber Recommends Diversifying from Dollar Assets

No Gravatar

Wednesday, July 8th - Rand Paul on Glenn Beck

No Gravatar

Banks Build Better Mousetrap

Is there truly any reason to trust financial institutions these days?

Developments within the credit card space have exposed the true colors of these institutions . . . not that there was ever any doubt. Recall how consumer outrage at rapidly rising interest rates on credit cards pressured Washington to rein in the usurious business practices of the financial industry.

New legislation was badly needed as banks clearly utilized abusive business practices. The Wall Street Journal highlighted these developments in writing on May 21st, Credit-Card Fees Curbed:

“Credit cards are a tremendously valuable and useful tool for consumers, providing them with relief during critical moments,” said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd. “This is a very important industry….We just want it to work better.”

The legislation marked a major defeat for the credit-card industry, as lawmakers complained that consumers are being hit with tricks and traps on their cards.

Well, while the legislators were in the front room having the photo ops, the bankers were in the back room building a new and better mousetrap, at least from their perspective.

The Los Angeles Times sheds light on how Credit Card Firms Try End Run Around New Federal Rules:

Banks are quietly changing the terms of millions of credit card accounts as they brace for a tough new law that will limit rate hikes.

The law would restrict interest rate increases unless a credit card has a variable rate. So at least two major lenders are switching their cards with fixed rates to — you guessed it — variable rates.

“It’s completely unfair,” said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for Consumer Action. “It’s an end run around the intent of the new law.”

That law is the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which President Obama affixed with his signature in May. Its various provisions will be phased in between next month and February.

Who are these two major lenders? Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase. Given the size of their operations, watch every other credit card issuer set the same trap.

How exactly does the trap work? The banks try to baffle consumers with bull*%!# while sticking their hands ever deeper into our wallets. The Los Angeles Times highlights:

Los Angeles resident Victoria Afonina received a letter from Bank of America the other day informing her that “as a result of a change in our business practices, your annual percentage rate will use a variable rate formula based on the U.S. prime rate.”

“If the prime rate changes,” it said, “your APR will vary accordingly.”

Afonina, 44, told me she had to read the letter several times to understand what BofA was saying.

She said she’d been a cardholder with the bank for about five years and had enjoyed a relatively low fixed rate of 9.9% any time she carried a balance.

“When I finally understood what they were saying, and that my rate could change every month, I was shocked,” Afonina said. “I’m a good customer. Why are they treating me like that?”

Good question.

“The change from fixed to variable rates allows us to better manage our business as market conditions change,” said Betty Riess, a BofA spokeswoman.

And those new federal rules. . . ?

“Legislative and regulatory changes that limit our ability to re-price for risk were a factor in our decision,” Riess acknowledged.

How could Washington possibly write legislation which allows banks to set these traps and negate the very spirit of the law? Are they that stupid? Are the bank lobbying efforts that strong? Are legislators more concerned with the photo op and headlines than truly protecting consumer interests?

Yes, yes, and yes.

In the meantime, Sense on Cents strongly encourages you to pay down your credit card balances as quickly as possible so you will not be subject to this usury!!

CIA director admitted lying to Congress, say Democrats

Revelation contained in letter about director Leon Panetta's secret testimony but Republicans say accusation is smokescreen

The head of the CIA has admitted concealing "significant actions" from the US Congress over the past eight years, according to several Democrat members of the House intelligence committee.

Leon Panetta's testimony was made behind closed doors, but yesterday the details of a letter written by Democrats to the intelligence chief discussing his committee appearance said the CIA had "misled members".

Rush Holt, one of the signatories, would not identify the classified matter the CIA has been accused of lying about but said: "We wouldn't be doing this over a trivial matter."

The CIA has been accused in recent times of lying over its extraordinary rendition programme – grabbing suspects from other countries without formal extradition.

In May the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, accused the agency of intentionally misleading her by not telling her in a 2002 briefing about its use of waterboarding against a terrorism suspect. That allegation provoked a furious row. CIA documents were subsequently released including notations that suggested Pelosi may have been told about waterboarding at a briefing. Republicans accused her of not being upfront about her knowledge of the interrogation technique, widely condemned as torture.

The 26 June letter to Panetta from the members of the House intelligence committee said the misleading of Congress over the classified matters was "similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods".

In a separate letter obtained by the Associated Press, the committee chairman, Silvestre Reyes, accused the CIA of having lied outright in one case.

"These notifications have led me to conclude that this committee has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to," he wrote to Peter Hoekstra, the committee's senior Republican. Reyes said in the letter that he was considering opening a full investigation.

George Little, a CIA spokesman, said: "It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. This agency and this director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta's actions back that up."

Reyes said in a later statement: "I believe that CIA has, in the vast majority of matters, told the truth. But in rare instances, certain officers have not adhered to the high standards ... Both director Panetta and I are determined to make sure this does not happen again."

The release of the committee's letter came ahead of a scheduled House debate on an intelligence billtoday, where the debate about how much Pelosi knew of waterboarding is set to reignite.

Republicans on the intelligence committee have accused the Democrats of making accusations to try to stifle the debate about Pelosi. Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Republicans on the committee, said the letters were of a "blatantly political nature".

Barack Obama is threatening to veto the bill if it includes a Democrat-written provision – opposed by Republicans – requiring the president to tell the whole intelligence committees in their entirety about covert CIA activities.

Under current law, the president is only obligated to notify the top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the senior Democratic and Republican members on each chamber's intelligence committee.

The White House is concerned that briefing more politicians might compromise the most sensitive US intelligence operations.


















(新加坡)新加坡金融管理局的調查發現,10家售賣與雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)相關結構票據的金融機構,銷售過程都有疏漏之處。

當局因此從7月1日起,禁止這些金融機構售賣新結構票據(structured notes)至少半年到至少2年。




荷蘭銀行(ABN Amro)、展 銀行(DBS)、馬來亞銀行(Maybank)、德意志摩根建富證券(DMG&Partners)以及大華繼顯(UOB Kay Hian)在至少半年內不准出售結構票據。金英證券(Kim Eng)、輝立證券(Philip Securities)、聯昌國際(CIMB)和華僑證券(OCBC Securities),則被禁售一年。


豐隆金融(Hong Leong Finance)的處分最為嚴重,被令禁止出售新結構票據至少2年。
























































針對這個個案,精神科醫生洪永元受訪時表示,男子患上戀物癖(Sexual fetism),也是一種性癖好障礙(Sexual Preference disorder)。


他也指出,少婦的老公不但拿女性內褲來聞,將內褲隨身攜帶,甚至穿在身上,可見他的戀物癖已經到了相當嚴重的程度。與此同時,他還有洗刷女性內褲的行為,極有可能也已經患上了強迫症(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)。














Canadian Doctor: H1N1 Vaccination a Eugenics Weapon for Mass Extermination

Canadian doctor Ghislaine Lanctôt, author of the Medical Mafia, has underscored the lawsuit recently filed by Austrian journalist Jane Bürgermeister against the WHO, the UN, and several high ranking government and corporate officials. Bürgermeister has documented how an international corporate criminal syndicate plans to unleash a deadly flu virus and institute a forced vaccination program.

“I am emerging from a long silence on the subject of vaccination, because I feel that, this time, the stakes involved are huge. The consequences may spread much further than anticipated,” writes Lanctôt, who believes the A(H1N1) virus will be used in a pandemic concocted and orchestrated by the WHO, an international organization that serves military, political and industrial interests.

1979 CBS 60 Minutes episode concerning the 1976 swine flu “pandemic” in the U.S.

Lanctôt warns that the elite and their minions will introduce a compulsory vaccination that will contain a deadly virus and this will be used specifically as a eugenics weapon for “massive and targeted reduction of the world population.” Moreover, a pandemic will also be used to further establish martial law and a police state, according to Lanctôt, and activate concentration camps “built to accommodate the rebellious” and eventually transfer power from all nations to a single United Nations government and thus fulfill the sinister plans of the New World Order.

In her book The Medical Mafia, Lanctôt writes about the ineffectiveness and dangers of vaccination. “Because of my professional status, my words weighed significantly in the public eye. The Medical Board’s reaction was immediate and strong. Its leaders demanded that I resign as a physician. I answered that I would do so as long as they could prove that what I had written was false. The Medical Board replied with a call for my expulsion,” she writes. “As I witnessed the disproportionate reaction of the Medical Board, I realized that, for the health establishment, the subject of vaccination was taboo. Unknowingly, I had opened a Pandora’s box. I discovered that, despite official claims, vaccines have nothing to do with public health. Underneath the governmental stamp of approval, there are deep military, political and industrial interests.”

During her trial in 1995, Lanctôt used an episode from the March 11th, 1979, 60 Minutes TV show covering the massive vaccination program foisted on the American public supposedly in response to the 1976 swine flu outbreak. It was later established by the CDC that the virus originated out of Fort Dix in New Jersey. “The Fort Dix outbreak may have been a zoonotic anomaly caused by introduction of an animal virus into a stressed population in close contact in crowded facilities during a cold winter,” note Joel C. Gaydos, Franklin H. Top, Jr, Richard A. Hodder, and Philip K. Russell.

It was also characterized “a rare example of an influenza virus with documented human to human transmission,” according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. The virus is “thought to be a direct descendant of the virus that caused the pandemic of 1918,” explained Richard Krause, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the time.

“Public health experts, fearing a possible replay of the 1918 pandemic, engaged in an intense debate about how to respond. Eventually they launched a nationwide vaccination campaign, which was announced by President Gerald Ford in March. By the end of the year, 48 million people had been vaccinated,” write Robert Roos and Lisa Schnirring of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy. “But the feared pandemic never materialized.”

Instead, numerous people came down with Guillian-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing neurologic illness, after receiving the government-hyped vaccination.

More than 33 years later, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board certified neurosurgeon, “we are hearing the same cries of alarm from a similar lineup of virology experts. The pharmaceutical companies are busy designing a vaccine for the swine flu in hope that this administration will make the vaccine mandatory before another vaccine-related disaster can ruin their party…. Like SARS and bird flu before it, this swine flu scare is a lot of nonsense. Just take your high dose vitamin D3 (5000 IU a day), eat a healthy diet and take a few immune boosting supplements (such as beta-1, 3/1, 6 glucan) and you will not have to worry about this flu.”

According to a source known to former NSA official Wayne Madsen, “A top scientist for the United Nations, who has examined the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa, as well as HIV/AIDS victims, concluded that H1N1 possesses certain transmission “vectors” that suggest that the new flu strain has been genetically-manufactured as a military biological warfare weapon.

In April, Army criminal investigators were looking into the possibility that disease samples went missing from biolabs at Fort Detrick. “Chad Jones, spokesman for Fort Meade, said CID is investigating the possibility of missing virus samples from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases,” the Frederick News Post reported. “Obviously, in light of the current swine flu scare, and the new strain’s possible synthetic origin, the fact that virus samples may have gone missing from the same Army research lab from which the 2001 anthrax strain was released is extremely disturbing,” Paul Joseph Watson wrote at the time.

Jane Bürgermeister “charges that the entire ’swine flu’ pandemic business is premised on a massive lie that there is no natural virus out there that poses a threat to the population,” writes Barbara Minton for Natural Health News. “She presents evidence leading to the belief that the bird flu and swine flu viruses have, in fact, been bioengineered in laboratories using funding supplied by the WHO and other government agencies, among others. This ’swine flu’ is a hybrid of part swine flu, part human flu and part bird flu, something that can only come from laboratories according to many experts.”

Minton continues:

Using the “swine flu” as a pretext, the defendants [in Bürgermeister's lawsuit] have preplanned the mass murder of the U.S. population by means of forced vaccination. They have installed an extensive network of FEMA concentration camps and identified mass grave sites, and they have been involved in devising and implementing a scheme to hand power over the U.S. to an international crime syndicate that uses the UN and WHO as a front for illegal racketeering influenced organized crime activities, in violation of the laws that govern treason.

Obama’s Bilderberg Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — and Bilderberg member — wants to make it easy for kids to get their toxin-laden eugenicist “swine flu” vaccine this fall. “Schoolchildren may be first in line for swine flu vaccine this fall — and might even be able to get the shot right at school,” the Associated Press reported on June 16.

As we noted last month, the government appears to be planning a mandatory flu vaccination program. In a recent article on the unfolding economic collapse, Rep. Ron Paul warns that the hysterically hyped H1N1 flu “pandemic” may result in the government requiring mandatory flu vaccinations. “Nearly $8 billion will be spent to address a ‘potential pandemic flu’ which could result in mandatory vaccinations for no discernible reason other than to enrich the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccine,” writes Paul.

Considering the track record of the global elite, the government-mandated vaccination program now in the works — as Ghislaine Lanctôt and Jane Bürgermeister warn — will serve the eugenicist plan to depopulate the planet. A contrived pandemic will also set the final stage for the implementation of martial law and a high-tech surveillance and police state grid.

Mid South Bank’s CEO Rusty Clouthier Drops “Truth Bomb” on Wall Street (CNBC Clip)

Did you happen to catch Mid South Bank President and CEO R.J. “Rusty” Clouthier on CNBC’s Squawk Box a few weeks ago?

This 5 minute and 21 second clip may contain more practical wisdom about the roots of the banking crisis than would an entire semester at the Wharton School of Business.

Clouthier who served six years on the Fed’s board, said that unless we break up the big banks that pose systemic risk and get back to sound banking, we’re just going to re-live this again.

CNBC’s Joe Kernen asked Clouthier if he had any of these esoteric mortgage, or derivative products and problems in his bank, and asked him if he saw this banking crisis coming?

Clouthier replied that he did not have any toxic mortgage products, and added that he knew the banking crisis was coming as soon as Gramm-Leach-Bliley was passed in 1999.

Clouthier went on to place much of the blame for this crisis squarely on the shoulders of Alan Greenspan. He went on to say that Greenspan actually approved the Citi - Travelers merger when it was illegal and told them to just go and get the law changed, which they did by repealing key components of Glass-Steagall with Gramm Leach Bliley.

Thank you Rusty Clouthier for speaking the truth.

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has also gone on record as citing the roots of the crisis with Gramm Leach Bliley. And another Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, went as far as to call Senator Phil Gramm “the father” of the financial crisis.

And let’s not forget the role that Wendy Gramm played in Gramm Leach Bliley. Here’s a great article on the “Mother of Enron” Wendy Gramm…

It amazes me that Alan Greenspan has not had to go into hiding in exile, or that another “Father” of the crisis - Hank “The Extortionist” Paulsonhasn’t been run out of the country, all the way to China.

Paulson of course, was the architect and chief lobbyist while CEO at Goldman, instrong-arming the SEC to allow the investment banks to self-regulate and to lift the SEC’s limits on their leveraging of capital from 12:1 to 30-40-50:1.

You can thank Hank for the resulting failures of Lehman and Bear Stearns, the rescue of Merrill, and the bailout of Goldman and Morgan Stanley.

Here’s two excellent articles detailing Paulson’s role as one of the chief architechts of the financial crisis.

Break up the banks now too big to fail. Limit the leveraging of capital. Get rid of unregulated derivatives. And return to the sound banking principles of the Rusty Clouthier’s of the banking world.

Almost too simple isn’t it?

Of course it is. So now we’re turning over near “dictatorial” powers to the privately owned Federal Reserve, and expanding it’s powers outside the banking system.

Instead of sending the looters to prison and reforming the system, we’ve just handed them the keys to the entire US economy.

America - WAKE UP!

This isn’t reform, this is the final Coup d’Etat.

Six months later, no reconstruction in Gaza

Mahmoud Abu al-Anzain and his wife, Umm Naim, and their three children used to live in a two-room, cement-roofed house. It wasn't a palace, but it was a home. The house was completely destroyed by Israeli army fire during last January's assault on the Gaza Strip.

Since that day, al-Anzain, 32, and his family have lived in a tent in al-Rayan refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. "As you can see, under the heat of the July sun, and with the fear of mosquitos and snakes, we have lived in this tent for six months with no one taking care of us," said al-Anzain, as he reclined on a mattress on the ground.

Al-Anzain's is one of 10 displaced families from the northern Gaza Strip living in al-Rayan refugee camp, recently erected by local nongovernmental organizations with a total of 93 tents. Other families sleep there at night, and others still come during the day, each according to its own circumstances caused by the Israeli assault. The al-Rayan refugee camp houses families from three areas in the northern Gaza Strip: Jabaliya refugee camp, Beit Lahiya and Sheikh Zayed.

"I used to live in Block 1 in the Jabaliya refugee camp, before my house was destroyed by Israeli shells," al-Anzain explained. "I don't have work, I only take compensation payment of 750 Israeli shekels monthly [$190 dollars]." This amount, provided by a Palestinian society that assists those injured during the conflict, is insufficient to rent a house and cover his family's other needs. "I am forced to stay in this tent, despite difficult conditions," said al-Anzain, serving Pepsi out of disposable cups, since he felt they could offer better hospitality to his guests than the glasses he keeps in the tent.

To make matters even more difficult, Umm Naim is about to deliver a baby, and one of the couple's children recently had to be taken to the hospital for an infection that came on top of other health complications. "What care can I provide for my new baby?" al-Anzain said. "Even dogs could not bear such a life!"

The al-Anzain's tent has two main parts: a "living room" where the family sits and sleeps, and a "bedroom" where they pile up their mattresses, blankets and clothes. Just near the living room, there is a small corner used as kitchen, with a kerosene stove, a frying pan and a pot for cooking. Opposite the living room, a "bathroom" consists of a small basin.

Umm Naim, sitting in the bedroom holding a broom, and finding little relief from the midday heat, spoke of the difficulty of caring for her children in a tent. "The place is not clean at all, there is dust everywhere inside and out," she complained. "I often can't get enough water even to wash the kitchen utensils." She expressed the constant fear that her children, her husband or herself might be bitten by a snake. "Life in this tent is unbearable," she said.

With a deep sigh, Umm Naim uttered an old Palestinian proverb: "What forces you to bear something bitter? Only that which is more bitter."

Umm Abdallah Abu Eita sat in her own tent in al-Rayan camp, where she has lived since the Israeli army destroyed her home in Block 3 of Jabaliya refugee camp. In her early sixties, she is old enough to have survived the original displacement from historic Palestine to refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere. Indeed, the erection of six new refugee camps in Gaza, each of about 100 tents, recalls the 1948 Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes in what became Israel, and sought refugee in "temporary" camps such as these. Eighty percent of the Palestinians in Gaza are refugees from the Nakba or their descendants.

Each morning, Umm Abdallah comes to the camp and spends time with a friend, Umm Khamis, whose tent is next to hers, and they cook and chat. By sunset they leave their tents and head to relatives' houses where they sleep.

Abu Nimer Hasan, 53, welcomed this reporter into his tidy tent where he spends the night along with his four children.

"My house was hit by an Israeli shell on 17 January at 3am, in Beit Lahiya residential neighborhood," Hasan said. "My two-story building was completely burned."

Hasan and his children stay in the tent because they have no place else: "I have a married son who lives with his in-laws, while my wife sleeps at her parents' house."

"This is the most difficult time I have ever gone through in my life," Hasan said. "Can you imagine? On the weekends, we all gather from the different places we are scattered in, just to see each other and talk."

Twelve people used to live in Hasan's house. "We had many things and furniture, but everything was burned," he said. The tent now contains all their belongings: a few pieces of furniture provided by local charities, and a few plates and kitchen utensils.

His face reddening, Hasan added, "Can you imagine, I have even been deprived of my own basic human right to live with my wife under one roof for the past six months."

Khaled Abu Ali, who as a member of a local higher committee in charge of services for al-Rayan camp, says it is increasingly difficult to care for the residents who enjoy little privacy or space: "Financial support has eroded considerably, but the displaced people have no choice but to be steadfast."

According to local and international estimates, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza remain displaced after the Israeli attack there. A more than two-year-long blockade has prevented building supplies from entering the territory, thus internationally-pledged reconstruction efforts have yet to even begin.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a lengthy report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The report described woresning conditions six months after the Israeli attacks on the coastal territory.

"The objective of this report is to raise awareness, and to call on Israel and others to take all possible measures to reopen the crossing points so that the population of Gaza stops paying the price for this conflict," Antoine Grad, head of ICRC Gaza sub-delegation, told The Electronic Intifada. "What I can say is if the situation continues, the people of Gaza will get poorer and poorer, and more and more people will fall into poverty and misery."

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.