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The Angry Rich

Monday, September 20th, 2010

The Angry Rich

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

Read more at: The New York Times


{Photography by Thomas Hawk}

How GM Made $30 Billion Appear Out of Thin Air

Friday, September 10th, 2010

How GM Made $30 Billion Appear Out of Thin Air

It will be a long time before General Motors Co. can shake the stigma of being called Government Motors. Here’s another nickname for the bailed-out automaker: Goodwill Motors.

Sometimes the wackiest accounting results are the ones driven by the accounting rules themselves. Consider this: How could it be that one of GM’s most valuable assets, listed at $30.2 billion, is the intangible asset known as goodwill, when it’s been only a little more than a year since the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection?

That’s the amount GM said its goodwill was worth on the June 30 balance sheet it filed last month as part of the registration statement for its planned initial public offering. By comparison, GM said its total equity was $23.9 billion. So without the goodwill, which isn’t saleable, the company’s equity would be negative. This is hardly a sign of robust financial strength.

Read more at: Bloomberg


{Photography by GM Europe}

Malaysian Muslims Go for Gold, But It’s Hard to Make Change

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Malaysian Muslims Go for Gold, But It's Hard to Make Change

Umar Vadillo bounds into a hotel room here in northern Malaysia with several stacks of gold and silver coins in his hands and slaps them down on a coffee table. “This,” Mr. Vadillo says, “is what it means to be free.”

A quarter century ago, this Spanish-born Muslim convert set to work with other European Muslims to find a substitute for the U.S. dollar and other paper currencies.

Pricing goods in greenbacks, they argued, was unfair. Many countries earn their income from finite resources like oil and other minerals, they said, while the U.S. and other countries can crank up their printing presses to pay for them—especially after Richard Nixon helped break the Western world’s historical dependence on gold as a measure of value by taking America off the gold standard in 1971.

Last month, Mr. Vadillo’s solution took shape when the local Muslim-led government in Malaysia’s Kelantan state joined forces with Mr. Vadillo to introduce Islamic-style gold dinar coins as alternative currency.

Read more at: The Wall Street Journal


{Photography by Mykl Roventine}

Karzai urges Afghans not to panic as bank withdrawals accelerate

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Karzai urges Afghans not to panic as bank withdrawals accelerate

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – As depositors thronged branches of Afghanistan’s biggest bank, President Hamid Karzai told Afghans on Thursday not to panic shortly after his brother, a major shareholder in the beleaguered Kabul Bank, called for intervention by the United States to head off a financial meltdown.

“Kabul Bank is safe,” Karzai said at a joint news conference at the presidential palace in Kabul with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “People need not panic, need not be worried.”

Earlier in the day, Mahmoud Karzai voiced concern over Kabul Bank’s ability to withstand an onslaught of depositors demanding their money back. “America should do something,” he said in a telephone interview. He suggested that the Treasury Department guarantee the funds of Kabul Bank’s clients, who number about 1 million and have more than $1 billion on deposit with the bank.

The rush to withdraw funds from Kabul Bank, which handles salary payments for soldiers, police and teachers, began Wednesday, a day after news that Afghanistan’s Central Bank had removed the bank’s top two executives and installed a Central Bank official as chief executive.

Depositors withdrew $85 million Wednesday and $109 million Thursday, leaving Kabul Bank with about $300 million in liquid cash, said the bank’s ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood.

Read more at: The Washington Post


{Photography by Gnuckx}

Are Toilet Paper Sales Signaling A Strong Recovery?

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Are Toilet Paper Sales Signaling A Strong Recovery?

For much of the last several months the attention of U.S. investors has been directed across the Atlantic, where various austerity plans, debt auctions, and credit downgrades have dominated the financial headlines and given direction to global equity markets. While the fiscal health of Europe has gradually deteriorated, several positive data releases over the last month have given investors hope that the U.S. recovery will remain on track; factory activity appears to be on the rise, signs of job creation (albeit temporary job creation) are emerging, and tame inflation reports have given increased flexibility to the Federal Reserve.

But perhaps a more telling forward indicator has popped up from a most unlikely source: demand for two-ply and “luxurious” toilet paper is on the rise, after plummeting in recent years as consumers slashed discretionary items from their budget. According to research provider RISI, industrywide tissue production is up 13% this year. In a recent earnings call, Proctor & Gamble noted that the high-end Charmin brand has seen strong sales growth, boosting the company’s earnings this year. And Georgia-Pacific’s new Quilted Northern Ultra Plush bath tissue recently earned the honor of “pacesetter” status from marketing research firm Symphony IRI Group after generating $125 million in sales in its first year.

Read more at: RFTdb


{Photography by *musica* (est Bleu2007)}

Vulgar voicemails force debt collector to pay $1.5 million

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The harassing and threatening voicemail messages left on Allen Jones’ mobile phone are nothing short of vulgar.

“This shouldn’t be tolerated,” he said. “Nobody should have to experience what I had to experience.”

Debt collectors from Advanced Call Center Technologies, LLC left eight messages for Jones in August 2007 trying to collect what it said he owed on a credit card.

Most messages were laced with profanity and spewed racial slurs:

“This is your mother******* wake-up call you little lazy a** b****,” a collector said on one. “Get your mother******* n****r ass up and go pick some mother******* cotton fields.”

Jones is African-American.

“If we did not have tapes, no one would ever believe that this happened,” Mark Frenkel, one of Jones’ attorneys said.

Read more at:


Personal Bankruptcies Hit a High and May Keep Rising

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Personal Bankruptcies Hit a High and May Keep Rising

In the fourth-floor courtroom of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of California, which serves San Diego and Imperial counties (pop. 3.4 million), Chief Judge Peter W. Bowie’s docket is overflowing. Bowie has 77 Chapter 13 bankruptcies on his Tuesday calendar, one of which is the case of Juan Flores.

Flores, 55, is the owner and sole proprietor of a local business, Carpet Care 4 Less. Throughout 2007, he saw his income plummet along with the national economy. “My business dropped off by 50%,” he says. As his client roster evaporated, Flores started drawing on credit cards and took out a second mortgage to the tune of $57,000 in order to stay afloat. In 2009, out of options and under threat of losing his home of 10 years, Flores filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy — a reorganization filing under which consumers agree to a plan to make payments of past-due debts to creditors for a three- to five-year period. But now he is behind on his payments again, and Wells Fargo Bank wants to restart foreclosure proceedings.

Read more at: TIME


{Photography by Ed Yourdon}

The Latest Gold Fraud Bombshell: Canada’s Only Bullion Bank Gold Vault Is Practically Empty

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

The Latest Gold Fraud Bombshell: Canada's Only Bullion Bank Gold Vault Is Practically Empty

Continuing on the trail of exposing what is rapidly becoming one of the largest frauds in commodity markets history is the most recent interview by Eric King with GATA’s Adrian Douglas, Harvey Orgen (who recently testified before the CFTC hearing) and his son, Lenny, in which the two discuss their visit to the only bullion bank vault in Canada, that of ScotiaMocatta, located at 40 King Street West in Toronto, and find the vault is practically empty. This is a relevant segue to a class action lawsuit filed against Morgan Stanley, which was settled out of court, in which it was alleged that Morgan Stanley told clients it was selling them precious metals that they would own in full and that the company would store, yet even despite charging storage fees was not in actual possession of the bullion. It appears that this kind of lack of physical holdings by all who claim to have gold in storage, is pervasive as the actual gold globally is held primarily in paper or electronic form. Lenny Organ who was the person to enter the vault of ScotiaMocatta, says “What shocked me was how little gold and silver they actually had.” Lenny describes exactly how much (or little as the case may be) silver was available – roughly 60,000 ounces. As for gold – 210 400 oz bars, 4,000 maples, 500 eagles, 10 kilo bars, 10 one kilogram pieces of gold nugget form, which Adrian Douglas calculates as being $100 million worth, which is just one tenth of what the Royal Mint of Canada sold in 2008, or over $1 billion worth of gold. As Orgen concludes: “The game ends when the people who own all these paper obligations say enough and take physical delivery, and that’s when the mess will occur.”

Read more at: Zero Hedge


{Photography by Covilha}

10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who've Been Screwing You

Tired of getting pushed around by faceless big business? Here are 10 ways to push back!

The New Year is nearly here, and so much has happened. Wait, what’s that? Nothing major at all has happened, you say? Oh right, we’ve been stuck in neutral since dumping the toxic trash of the Republican Bush administration and embracing Democratic promises of hope and change, neither of which have blossomed.

A year of our collective life has flown by and our global culture is still rife with schemers, screw jobs and sorry excuses for solutions. And we just sit back and take it, year after year. But no more. When you make that hefty list of New Year’s resolutions, drop some of these bombs. Then duck. You’ll get your change faster than you can say, “Teabag this!”

1. Mortgage underwater? Just walk away from it. Even academia says it’s OK. Move to the city and rent.

“Homeowners should be walking away in droves,” University of Arizona law school professor Brent T. White told the Los Angeles Times. “But they aren’t. And it’s not because the financial costs of foreclosure outweigh the benefits. One can have a good credit rating again — meaning above 660 — within two years after a foreclosure.”

In a scholarly paper called “Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis,” White tells cash-jacked homeowners that they can return the screw.

We’ve been championing that course for years, with reports on walkaways and trashouts, as well as violent homeowner blowback. Hell, we called the Great Recession before most did, and we’re still calling it another Great Depression in the making. So trust us. And if not us, then take it from the professor, who will soon be joined by a chorus of similarly credentialed whistleblowers as the financial crap truly hits the fan in the years to come. Go ahead, move back to the city and rent. You’ll end up there anyway when your suburb runs out of water and malls.

Read more at: AlterNet


{Photography by Shoothead}

Like it or not, here comes more stimulus

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Like it or not, here comes more stimulus

There’s a push to extend some expiring provisions from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But it will be done in bits and pieces.

You won’t see it all in one neat package. And you won’t hear the White House call it stimulus.

But there’s a good chance lawmakers will decide to extend some of the stimulus measures included in the $787 billion economic recovery package passed in February and possibly create some new ones as well.

On Wednesday, House Democrats are convening a forum of economists to debate the state of the economy, with a specific focus on job creation. And lawmakers are convening hearings on Capitol Hill this week to discuss the economic outlook and the state of the housing market.

A number of ideas on the table are lifeline measures, while some are flat-out incentives to spur economic activity.

Here’s a rundown of what’s under consideration, estimates of what the provisions might cost and where they stand currently in the legislative process.

Unemployment benefits extension

By year-end, an estimated 1.3 million jobless workers will have run out of unemployment benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project.

It’s expected that lawmakers won’t let that happen.

The House has already approved an extension and the Senate has amended it but not yet voted on it. Both parties say they want to extend benefits but they disagree over how to pay for it and how to handle amendments to the bill.

In the Senate proposal, unemployment benefits would be extended by up to 14 weeks in every state and then another six weeks on top of that in states where the unemployment rate tops 8.5%.

Read more at: CNN


{Photography by Nick Starr}