Thursday, November 20, 2014

Goldman Sachs, JPMC, Morgan Stanley rigging of the commodities markets

Did Goldman Sachs rig the commodities markets? - Nov. 20, 2014

"Goldman Sachs has been trying to distance itself from the "vampire
squid" image it developed during the financial crisis. The findings of a
Senate investigation into commodities market rigging probably won't

According to the report, Wall Street banks may have manipulated commodity prices in recent years, raising costs on consumers. The investigation looked into the holdings and dealings of Goldman (GS), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) in physical commodities.

Banks have long been involved in trading commodities, but recently
they've become major players in the transport and storage of commodities
like aluminum, copper, and uranium

The report found that in
some cases, the banks "used their physical commodity activities to
influence or even manipulate commodity prices."

Market jamming: The
probe zeroed in on Goldman's ties to aluminum, a key metal involved in
everything from soda and beer cans to manufacturing cars and jets.

Goldman encouraged its clients to move aluminum around for one
warehouse to another, the report said. The bank even went as far as
offering cash incentives to do so.

The deals, referred to as
"merry-go-round" transactions by the report, helped cause unprecedented
backlogs. Some metal owners to wait up to about two years to get their
metal out of storage, the report claimed.

The long lines drove
prices higher and made it harder for aluminum buyers to hedge their
price risks. Some industrial aluminum users claimed the dysfunction
inflated aluminum costs by $3 billion, the report said."


"Bailout risk: As if possible manipulation wasn't
bad enough, the Senate probe found that these banks' physical commodity
activities put them at risk of needing another taxpayer-funded bailout.

That's because the firms failed to protect themselves against the risk
of a catastrophic event like an oil spill or mine explosion that could
leave them on the hook for serious liabilities, similar to what happened
with "toxic assets" during the financial crisis of 2008.

is needed to safeguard the U.S. financial system and protect taxpayers
from being forced to bailout large financial institutions involved with
physical commodities," the report found."

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Some notes on Technology/Automation and its effect on Jobs

The following is from Economist:
“Yet some now fear that a new era of automation enabled by ever more powerful and capable computers could work out differently. They start from the observation that, across the rich world, all is far from well in the world of work. The essence of what they see as a work crisis is that in rich countries the wages of the typical worker, adjusted for cost of living, are stagnant. In America the real wage has hardly budged over the past four decades. Even in places like Britain and Germany, where employment is touching new highs, wages have been flat for a decade. Recent research suggests that this is because substituting capital for labour through automation is increasingly attractive; as a result owners of capital have captured ever more of the world’s income since the 1980s, while the share going to labour has fallen.
At the same time, even in relatively egalitarian places like Sweden, inequality among the employed has risen sharply, with the share going to the highest earners soaring. For those not in the elite, argues David Graeber, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, much of modern labour consists of stultifying “bullshit jobs”—low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use. Keeping them employed, Mr Graeber argues, is not an economic choice; it is something the ruling class does to keep control over the lives of others.”
And this is from MIT Technology Review Article:
Even some of the area’s biggest technology boosters are appalled. “You have people begging in the street on University Avenue [Palo Alto’s main street],” says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and at Singularity University, an education corporation in Moffett Field with ties to the elites in Silicon Valley. “It’s like what you see in India,” adds Wadhwa, who was born in Delhi. “Silicon Valley is a look at the future we’re creating, and it’s really disturbing.” Many of those made rich by the recent technology boom, he adds, don’t seem to care about “the mess they’re creating.”

The anger in Northern California and elsewhere in the United States springs from an increasingly obvious reality: the rich are getting richer while many other people are struggling. It’s hard not to wonder whether Silicon Valley, rather than just exemplifying this growing inequality, is actually contributing to it, by producing digital technologies that eliminate the need for many middle-class jobs. Here, technology is arguably evolving faster than anywhere else in the world. Does the region really portend a future, as Wadhwa would have it, in which a few very rich people leave the rest of us hopelessly behind?
“My reading of the data is that technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequality. It’s the biggest factor,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School.
Brynjolfsson lists several ways that technological changes can contribute to inequality: robots and automation, for example, are eliminating some routine jobs while requiring new skills in others. But the biggest factor, he says, is that the technology-driven economy greatly favors a small group of successful individuals by amplifying their talent and luck, and dramatically increasing their rewards.
For much of the population, incomes have stagnated or even shrunk, and technology is one of the leading culprits. Simply put, as we getter better at automating routine tasks, the people who benefit most are those with the expertise and creativity to use these advances. And that drives income inequality: demand for highly skilled workers rises, while workers with less education and expertise fall behind.
This is from Pew research report:
Some 1,896 experts responded to the following question:
The economic impact of robotic advances and AISelf-driving cars, intelligent digital agents that can act for you, and robots are advancing rapidly. Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?
Half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.
The other half of the experts who responded to this survey (52%) expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025. To be sure, this group anticipates that many jobs currently performed by humans will be substantially taken over by robots or digital agents by 2025. But they have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs -
And finally, workers are complaining about automation right now:

Stop ROBOT exploitation, cry striking Foxconn workers - HP downturn and automation eroding overtime on China's production lines -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slump in mortgage rates fails to rally home buyers

Slump in mortgage rates fails to rally home buyers - Yahoo Finance

More proof that low mortgage rates are not the key to home ownership:
Rates dropped to their lowest level in nearly 18 months last week,
causing an 11.6 percent rise in applications, the Mortgage Bankers
Association reported Wednesday. The gains, however, were driven entirely
by refinances, just as they have been for several weeks.

applications jumped a whopping 23 percent week-to-week on a seasonally
adjusted basis; volume was at the highest level since November. Mortgage
applications to purchase a home saw no boost at all from lower rates,
falling 5 percent from the previous week and 9 percent from a year ago.
concerns about weak economic growth in Europe and a few U.S. economic
indicators that came in below expectations caused a flight to quality
into U.S. Treasurys last week, leading to sharp drops in interest
rates," said Mike Fratantoni, the MBA's chief economist. "Mortgage rates
have fallen close to 30 basis points over the last four weeks."
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages
with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.1
percent, the lowest level since May 2013, from 4.2 percent, according to
the MBA. Some lenders are now offering rates below the psychologically
significant 4 percent line, but only to their highest credit-worthy
customers. The average loan balance for refinance applications increased
to $306,400, the highest level in the MBA survey's history, suggesting
that wealthier homeowners are benefiting most from the drop in rates.
Sales of existing homes did increase in September by just over 2
percent from August, according to the National Association of Realtors;
however, they are weaker than a year ago, when investors were competing
for distressed homes and pushing prices ever higher. The NAR's chief
economist, Lawrence Yun, said sentiment among real estate agents was at
its lowest level of the year, suggesting that sales may be weaker going
"It's turned into
what I think is really a classic buyers' market," said Sherry Spinelli,
a real estate agent with Long and Foster in Northern Virginia. "More
days on market, prices are coming down, the offers are even lower and
there are just a lot of houses out there, so it's a challenge for
sellers. I think you have to lower the price in order to sell it." 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Libyan Investment Authority - Goldman Took Us For 'A Complete Ride'

Libyan Investment Authority Goldman Sachs - Business Insider

The Libyan
Investment Authority, a government-managed sovereign wealth fund, is
suing Goldman Sachs for $1 billion and claims that the bank "took them
for a complete ride," according to a report by the 
Financial Times.

In the lawsuit, LIA
claims that Goldman exploited the fund and "encouraged" it to pursue 9
extremely risky and ultimately unsuccessful investments worth over $1
billion in 2008, according to the
FT's report.

But by 2011, these trades were "worthless."

The LIA claims that Goldman took advantage of the LIA's (allegedly) financially illiterate staff in order to make money, and that Goldman seduced its staff with fancy gifts and — for lack of a more politically correct term — bribes.

The LIA claims that they "completely trusted Goldman" and believed
that its former head of north Africa, Youssef Kabbaj was "their very
close friend."

Apparently, Kabbaj took the LIA staff members on a "lavish trip to
Morocco" that included "heavy drinking and girls." The trip was expensed
entirely on Kabbaj's Goldman corporate credit card.

And there's much more where this came from, including "expensive nights out" in London.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Secret Goldman Sachs tapes show regulators still respect bankers too much

Secret Goldman Sachs tapes show regulators still respect bankers too much - The Washington Post

The problem with Wall Street's cops is that, before the crisis, they didn't actually fall asleep on the job.

knew the big banks were taking big risks, and had the power to do
something about it. But they didn't. It's worse than outright neglect,
since it's not as obvious how to fix it. And now, thanks to 46 hours of secret audio tapes
from inside the New York Federal Reserve, we can hear that they're
still having trouble fixing it. The problem isn't that regulators don't
have the tools they need. It's that they won't use the tools they have,
because they respect the bankers too much.


This is where you need to go to This American Life, who, in conjunction with Jake Bernstein
of ProPublica, put together the highlights of Segarra's 46 hours of
audio recordings. You have to hear how obsequious the supervisors sound
when they talk to Goldman's executives, almost apologetic for not-quite
doing their jobs. The best example of this came during a deal between
Goldman and the Spanish banking behemoth Banco Santander in 2012. "We're
looking at a transaction that's legal but shady," Segarra's boss Mike
Silva said, and "I want to put a big shot across their bow on that."
Specifically, Goldman was making it look like it was taking assets from
Santander without really doing so — for a fee, of course — all so
Santader could avoid having to raise more capital. This was regulatory
arbitrage of the worst kind: It was potentially destabilizing. But the
term sheet said the deal wouldn't go ahead unless the New York Fed
explicitly signed off on it. Until, that is, Goldman just went ahead
without it.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Americans Continue to Say a Third Political Party Is Needed

Americans Continue to Say a Third Political Party Is Needed - Gallup

A majority of U.S. adults, 58%, say a third U.S. political party is
needed because the Republican and Democratic parties "do such a poor
job" representing the American people. These views are little changed
from last year's high. Since 2007, a majority has typically called for a third party.

Americans' Opinions of a Need for a Third U.S. Political Party
The results are based on Gallup's Sept. 4-7 Governance poll. The
first time the question was asked in 2003, a majority of Americans
believed the two major parties were adequately representing the U.S.
public, which is the only time this has been the case. Since 2007, a
majority has said a third party is needed, with two exceptions occurring
in the fall of the 2008 and 2012 presidential election years.

The historical 60% high favoring a third party came in a poll
conducted during the partial federal government shutdown last October.
At that time, 26% of Americans said the parties were doing an adequate
job. That figure is up to 35% now, but with little change in the
percentage calling for a third party.

Americans' current desire for a third party is consistent with their generally negative views of both the Republican and Democratic parties,
with only about four in 10 viewing each positively. Americans' views
toward the two major parties have been tepid for much of the last
decade. However, even when the party's images were more positive in the
past, including majority favorability for the Democrats throughout 2007
and favorability for the GOP approaching 50% in 2011, Americans' still
saw the need for a third party.

Independents Maintain Solid Preference for Third Party

Political independents, as might be expected given a lack of
allegiance to either major party, have shown a far greater preference
for a third political party than those who identify as Republicans or
Democrats. Currently, 71% of independents say a third party is needed,
on the upper end of the trend line. That compares with 47% of Democrats
and 46% of Republicans who say the same.

Support for a Third Major U.S. Political Party, by Political Party Affiliation
For most of the past 11 years, Republicans and Democrats were about
equally as likely to favor a third party. From 2003 to 2006 -- when
Republicans had control of the presidency and both houses of Congress --
Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see the need for a third
party. And in 2011, after the rise of the Tea Party movement,
Republicans were a bit more inclined than Democrats to see a third party
as necessary.


Although Americans express a desire for a viable alternative to the
Democratic and Republican parties, third political parties have had
little success in American politics. The U.S. political system makes it
difficult for third parties to hold elected office given the Electoral
College system of electing presidents and election of members of
Congress from individual states and districts based on the candidate
getting the most votes. Such a system generally favors two parties -- a
center-right and a center-left party -- that have the ability to
assemble a winning plurality or majority in districts and states across
the country. Also, some states have restrictive laws on ballot access
that make it difficult for third-party candidates to appear on the

Third parties have had success in other countries when they had
strong support in a particular region, or if members of the legislature
were allocated proportionately to the nationwide vote each party
received. This allowed third parties to hold seats with national vote
shares usually well less than 30%.

Given the U.S. political system, those whose ideology puts them to
the left of the Democratic Party or the right of the Republican Party
are better served trying to work within a major political party than
establishing their own party. Supporters of the Tea Party movement
generally took this approach, with some success, by trying to get their
preferred candidates nominated as Republicans in the last few election
cycles. But as with most U.S. third parties historically, the Tea
Party's influence appears to be waning as the movement did not play a
pivotal role in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and was less
successful in defeating more moderate Republican candidates in the 2014
congressional primaries than in 2010.

Though the desire for a third party exists, it is unclear how many
Americans would actually support a third party if it came to be.
Americans' preference for a third party may reflect their frustration
with the way the Republican and Democratic parties are performing, as
well as the idea that the system ought to be open to new parties,
regardless of whether this is viable in practice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Recovery That Left Out Almost Everybody

The Recovery That Left Out Almost Everybody - WSJ -Yahoo Finance

According to a Pew Research
Center report released this month, only 21% rate current conditions as
excellent or good, versus 79% fair or poor. Only 33% say that jobs are
readily available in their communities; when asked about good jobs, that
figure falls to 26%. Only 22% believe the economy will be better a year
from now; 22% think it will be worse, while fully 54% think it will be
the same.

More than five years after the
official end of the recession, the Public Religion Research Institute
finds, only 21% of Americans believe the recession has ended.
Two recent reports help explain
the disconnect between the official jobs numbers and the economic
experience of most Americans. Every fall, the U.S. Commerce Department
issues a detailed analysis of trends in income, poverty and health
insurance. Although economists have some technical quibbles with the
Commerce data, the broad trends are unmistakable.
This year's report found that
median household income was $51,939 in 2013, 8% lower than in 2007, the
last year before the recession. Households in the middle of the income
distribution earned about $4,500 less last year than they had six years
earlier. No wonder 56% of Americans told the Pew Research Center that
their incomes were falling behind the cost of living.
The Federal Reserve's triennial
Survey of Consumer Finances confirms these findings. Between 2010 and
2013, the Fed reports, median family income fell by 5%, even though
average family income rose by 4%. This is, note the authors, "consistent
with increasing income concentration during this period." Only families
in the top 10%, with annual incomes averaging nearly $400,000, saw
gains during these three years. Families headed by college graduates
eked out a gain of 1%, while those with a high-school diploma or less
saw declines of about 7%. Those in the middle—with some postsecondary
education—did the worst: From 2010 to 2013, their annual incomes
declined to less than $41,000 from $46,000—an 11% plunge. Families
headed by workers under age 35 have done especially badly—even when the
heads of those young families have college degrees. The economic
struggles of the millennials are more than anecdotal.
What's going on? The Census
report offers a clue. The median earnings for Americans working
full-time year round haven't changed much since 2007. But more than five
years into the recovery, there are fewer such workers than before the
recession. In 2007, 108.6 million Americans were working full time,
year-round; in 2013 only 105.9 million were doing so. Although jobs are
being created, too many of them are part-time to maintain growth in
household incomes.
This is not by choice. About
the same number of Americans were employed last month as in December
2007. But during that period, according to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, the number of Americans working part time who wanted a
full-time job jumped to 7.2 million from 4.6 million. Not only are
hourly wages stagnating; America's families want more hours of work than
the economy is providing.
Although the Great Recession
was the most severe since World War II, in many ways it underscored
trends that have been under way for decades. Adjusted for inflation,
median earnings of men working full time, year-round are no higher than
they were in 1980. Median household income is almost $5,000 lower than
it was in 1999, and no higher than it was it 1989.
The modest income increases of
the past two generations have occurred because women have surged into
the paid workforce—and because their real wages have grown at a compound
annual rate of 0.8%. But both these trends peaked in 2000. Not
surprisingly, the years after the 2001 recession witnessed the only
postwar recovery in which median incomes failed to regain their previous

Friday, September 19, 2014

How 1% shelter hundreds of millions in IRA accounts

How to shelter hundreds of millions in an IRA account - MarketWatch

The GAO report shows that the top 1% have saved $1 trillion in their IRAs, 22% of the total.

It’s no surprise that rich people have a large share of wealth, but it is a bit surprising that they own such a large percentage of IRA assets, which were designed to help middle-class people save a few hundred thousand, not to help billionaires save a few hundred million.

The IRA is not supposed to be a giveaway to millionaires. But that’s what it’s become.

have been raised that tax benefits accrue primarily for higher-income
individuals,” the GAO says in its usual monotone.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon used stronger language at a hearing at the Senate Finance Committee this week.

“Something is out of whack,” Wyden fumed. “The IRA was never intended to be a tax shelter for millionaires.”

millionaires take advantage of “sweetheart deals” to avoid taxes, the
typical American has saved only about $59,000 for retirement, Wyden
pointed out. A third of Americans can’t save anything.

Recall that during the 2012 election, Romney released tax documents
showing that he had between $20.7 million and $101.6 million in his IRA
accounts. It became a minor campaign issue, not just because it put the
spotlight on Romney’s wealth but also because it revealed just how easy
it is for the wealthy to take advantage of tax loopholes to amass even
more wealth.

The GAO report shows that Romney was a piker when it came to avoiding taxes on his millions.

of 2011, 314 multi-millionaires had more than $25 million saved in
their IRA, with average holdings of $258 million, the GAO reported.
About 9,000 taxpayers had at least $5 million in their IRA, with average
holdings of $16 million.

All told, 630,000 millionaires — about 1% of all IRA savers —
cumulatively had more than $1 trillion in IRA accounts, accounting for
22% of all IRA assets.

Meanwhile, the other 99% — the 42 million
taxpayers whose IRAs held less than $1 million — had average savings of
just under $100,000.

There are two main ways to accumulate assets
in an IRA: 1. Contribute up to the maximum each year. 2. Roll over a
distribution from a defined-contribution pension — such as a 401(k) — or
from a defined-benefit pension plan.

It would be nearly
impossible to accumulate $5 million in an IRA using those two methods,
the GAO found. If a couple contributed the maximum every year since 1975
(when the IRA was invented), they would have about $350,000 today if
they had invested it all aggressively in the S&P 500 Index

A couple who rolled over the
maximum from another pension could have earned about $4 million if they
invested 100% in stocks.

But only a few people contribute the
maximum to an IRA or defined-contribution plan in any year, the GAO
says. So it’s extremely unlikely that many people contributed the
maximum for 35 years.

If it’s nearly impossible to accumulate $5
million, then how did those 314 taxpayers accumulate an average of $258
million? Perhaps they were very fortunate in their investments, buying

at the bottom and riding them to the top.

maybe they took advantage of a trick Romney used to fund his IRA:
putting undervalued non-publicly traded assets in his IRA to stay under
the maximum contribution limits, and then watching those investments
turn into gold.

According to the Wall Street Journal,
that’s what Romney and others at Bain Capital were able to do to
achieve astronomical returns in their IRAs. Bain took over companies and
allowed its employees to invest in those deals. After turning the
companies around, Bain sold them, and the employees who invested earned
returns averaging 50% to 80% annually, the Journal reported.

But that wasn’t enough.

“Bain added a couple of unusual twists
that made co-investing even more rewarding,” Mark Maremont of the
Journal reported. “It allowed employees to co-invest via tax-deferred
retirement accounts, and to do so by buying a special share class that
cost little but yielded much larger gains than other shares when deals
proved successful.”

In essence, Bain would value the special,
riskier shares at pennies on the dollar. In one deal, employees invested
about $23,000 in their IRAs. When the takeover target went public,
those shares were worth about $14 million, and were worth about $23
million they finally sold the shares. That’s a 100,000% return.

are the kind of “sweetheart stock deals” that Wyden complained about.
They may be legal, but they violate the spirit of the law, which is to
limit contributions so that middle-class families can get most of the
benefits of the tax breaks.

Taxpayers spend $140 billion a year
subsidizing retirement savings, with about $20 billion going to the top
1% of earners. If we’re going to subsidize savings, let’s help those who
really need it, not millionaires and billionaires.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Census: Nearly 1 in 5 Children in U.S. in Poverty

Census: Nearly 1 in 5 Children in U.S. in Poverty | Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Nearly one in five children in the United States lived in poverty
last year, with a much higher proportion of poverty among
African-American and Hispanic children, new U.S. Census figures released Tuesday show.

Overall, the number of children living in poverty declined slightly
from 21.8 percent of all children, or 16.07 million, in 2012 to 19.9
percent, or 14.66 million, in 2013, the new figures show.

Nearly 37 percent of African-American children and just over 30
percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2013, determined by the
income of their household.


Childhood poverty in Britain declined more than 50 percent during 1999-2009 while America’s child-poverty rate
rose by 20 percent during the same period.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

America's Poor, Deeper in Debt Than Ever

America's Poor, Deeper in Debt Than Ever - Bloomberg View:

Fresh data from the Federal Reserve shows that millions of the poorest families are still very deep in the hole -- and might be getting deeper.

The triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, released by the Fed last
week, confirms an overall improvement in the state of U.S. household
finances. The average debt burden for all families stood at about 105
percent of pretax income in 2013, down from about 125 percent in 2010
and the lowest level since the 2001 survey.

A closer look at the Fed data, however, suggests that the financial
improvement is far from evenly distributed. The least wealthy families
have made the least progress, and by some measures are in worse shape
than ever.

As of 2013, the debts of the quarter of families with
the lowest net worth stood at about 156 percent of pretax income,
according to the Fed data. That's more than in 2007, before the
financial crisis hit. It's also more than any of the wealthier groups --
something that hadn't happened before 2010.

The poorest quartile of families is the only group that owes
more than it owns. Thanks to declines in the value of assets, the
group's average leverage ratio -- debt as a percent of assets --
increased to 137.5 percent in 2013, the highest on record since the
survey started in 1989.

More ominous is a steady increase in installment debt, a category
that includes both student and auto loans -- areas that have recently
seen a lot of questionable lending to lower-income borrowers.

Whatever the drivers, the data suggest that the 2008 crisis
and subsequent economic malaise have left a troubling legacy: A group of
the poorest families, numbering roughly 14 million, whose precarious
finances make them vulnerable to shocks and limit their ability to
contribute to future growth. That's hardly a strong foundation for a
healthy recovery.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Fed Says Growth Lifts the Affluent, Leaving Behind Everyone Else -

Fed Says Growth Lifts the Affluent, Leaving Behind Everyone Else -

growth since the Great Recession has improved the fortunes of the most
affluent Americans even as the incomes and wealth of most American
families continues to decline, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

the most affluent 10 percent of American families, average incomes rose
by 10 percent from 2010 to 2013. For the rest of the population,
average incomes were flat or falling.
least affluent families had the largest declines. Average incomes
dropped by 8 percent for the bottom 20 percent of families, the Fed
reported in its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, one of the most comprehensive sources of data on the financial health of American families.
new report, broadly consistent with other data on the aftermath of the
Great Recession, underscores why so many Americans think the economy
remains in poor health. While the pie has grown, most people are getting
smaller slices.
result is that wealth also is increasingly concentrated. While overall
wealth barely changed during the survey period, the money sloshed from
the bottom toward the top. For the top 10 percent of families, ranked by
income, estimated average wealth increased by 2 percent to $3.3
million. For the bottom 20 percent of families, average wealth sharply
declined by 21 percent to $65,000.
is growing evidence that inequality may be weighing on economic growth
by keeping money disproportionately in the hands of those who already
have so much they are less inclined to spend it.
President Obama last year described
income inequality as “the defining challenge of our time.” The Fed’s
chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, said earlier this year it was “one of the
most important issues and one of the most disturbing trends facing the
the trend so far has provoked little more than public outrage and
political debate, in part because there is no agreement about the
causes, let alone potential remedies. Some economists point to the
impact of mechanization and foreign competition. Others say that legal
changes have undermined the bargaining power of workers. Still others
think the economy is suffering from a drought of lucrative innovations.
The French economist Thomas Piketty argued in his recent book that wealth concentration is a natural tendency in market economies.
Fed’s report said the widening income gap represented a reversion to a
long-term trend that was disrupted by the recession. It said that the
top 3 percent of families collected 30.5 percent of all income in 2013,
up from 27.7 percent in 2010, but still slightly below their 31.4
percent share in 2007.
concentration of wealth continued without interruption, albeit at a
slower pace during the recession. The Fed said that the top 3 percent of
families held 44.8 percent of wealth in 1989, then 51.8 percent in 2007
and 54.4 percent in 2013.
signal of the growing divide is a decline in the share of families that
hold assets. The share of families that directly own stock fell to 13.8
percent from 15.1 percent, the Fed found. The share of families with
retirement accounts, savings bonds and life insurance also declined.
Likewise, the share of families that owned homes, owned rental
properties or had a stake in a business declined.
a more positive trend, debt burdens also fell. The debts of the average
American family continued to exceed its annual income, but the ratio
declined to 105 percent of income in 2013 from 125 percent of annual
income in 2010. Importantly, the share of Americans probably struggling
to pay those debts has also declined. Just 8.2 percent of households
devoted more than 40 percent of income to debt payments in 2013, the
lowest rate since the 1990s."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Malaise: 70 Percent Of Americans Believe Recession Is Permanent

Malaise: 70 Percent Of Americans Believe Recession Is Permanent - Science20

"Though the rich get richer and the stock market is booming, which has
led to claims by the administration that things are fine, the American
public hasn't been this pessimistic about the future since Jimmy Carter
was president. Pessimism has instead leaped 40% higher since 2009, when
the Great Recession was in full swing.

The protracted and uneven hints of recovery, where the only sector with
low unemployment is government, has led most Americans to conclude that
the U.S. economy has undergone a permanent change for the worse,
according to a new national study at Rutgers. 70 percent now say the
recession's impact is permanent, up from half in 2009 when the Obama
administration says the recession officially ended, according to the
John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

Among key findings in "Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in
the Aftermath of the Great Recession," the center's latest Work Trends
report, are:

  •  Despite some job growth and lower levels of employment, most
    Americans do not think the economy has improved in the last year or that
    it will in the next.

  •  Only around 16 percent of Americans believe that job opportunities
    for the next generation will be better than for theirs; five years ago,
    40 percent held that view.

  •  Roughly 80 percent of Americans have little or no confidence that
    the federal government will make progress on the nation's most important
    problems over the next year. 

Much of the pessimism is rooted in direct experience, according to
Heldrich Center Director and Professor Carl Van Horn, co-author of the
report. Most people don't work for the government, which only ever had 2
percent unemployment while the bulk of America had unemployment levels
in the teens.

  "Fully one-quarter of the public says there has been a major
decline in their quality of life owing to the recession, and 42 percent
say they have less in salary and savings than when the recession began,"
Van Horn said. "Despite five years of recovery, sustained job growth
and reductions in the number of unemployed workers, Americans are not
convinced the economy is improving."

He added that only 33 percent think the U.S. economy has gotten better
in the last year, only 25 percent think it will improve next year.

The Heldrich Center conducted its survey between July 24 and Aug. 3 with a nationally representative sample of 1,153 Americans.

The Work Trends analysis summarizes the effects of the Great Recession
by classifying Americans into one of five categories based on how much
impact the recession had on their quality of life and whether the change
was temporary or permanent. It reveals that:

  • 16 percent of the public, or 38 million people, were "devastated"
    because they experienced a "major, permanent" change in the quality of
    their life

  • 19 percent, or 46 million, were "downsized" due to "permanent but minor" changes in standards of living

  • 10 percent, or 24 million were "set back," experiencing "major, but temporary" changes in their quality of life

  • 22 percent, or 53 million, were "troubled" by the recession and endured only a "minor and temporary" change

  • Only one in three of the nation's 240 million adults reported that they were completely "unscathed" by the recession.

Professor Cliff Zukin, co-director of the Work Trends surveys with
Van Horn, said, "Looking at the aftermath of the recession, it is clear
that the American landscape has been significantly rearranged. With the
passage of time, the public has become convinced that they are at a new
normal of a lower, poorer quality of life. The human cost is truly

Characteristics of the American worker

The public paints an extremely negative picture of the American
worker as unhappy, underpaid, highly stressed, and insecure about their
jobs. Asked to describe the typical American worker, using a list of a
dozen words or phrases, just 14 percent checked off happy at work and
only 18 percent believe they are well paid. Two-thirds say that American
workers are "not secure in their jobs" and "highly stressed." Just one
in five say the average American worker is well educated or innovative;
just one in three checked off ambitious or highly skilled. And perhaps
the most surprising, just one in three checked off that the average
American worker is "better than workers in other countries."

Financial and long-term effects

One of the reasons the public does not see the economy as having
gotten better is that many remain under tremendous financial stress. Six
in 10 Americans describe their financial condition negatively as only
fair (40 percent) or poor (19 percent). One-third report being in good
shape; just 7 percent describe themselves as being in excellent
financial health. Many report significant losses in the Great Recession.
Just 30 percent say they have more in salary and savings than they did
before the recession started, less than a third have the same, leaving
42 percent who report having less today than five years ago.

Americans view the recession as causing fundamental and lasting
changes in a number of areas of economic and social life. Three in five
believe the ability of young people to afford college will not return to
prerecession levels, which is significant given the role that education
has historically played as a key to upward mobility. Other fundamental
areas where a large segment of the public sees permanent changes are:
job security (53 percent), the elderly having to find part-time work
after retiring (51 percent) and workers having to take jobs below their
skill level (44 percent).

Pessimistic about the Future

Americans are also pessimistic about the future. Only a quarter
think economic conditions in the United States will get better in the
next year, and just 40 percent believe their family's finances will get
better over the next year. Consequently, most do not see themselves
getting back to where they were any time soon.

"Despite nearly five years of job growth and declining unemployment
levels, Americans remain skeptical that the economy has improved and
doubt that it will improve any time soon," said Van Horn. "The slow,
uneven, and painful recovery left Americans deeply pessimistic about the
economy, their personal finances, and prospects for the next

The report found the public sharply critical of Washington
policymakers. More disapprove than approve of the job President Obama is
doing by a margin of 46 percent to 54 percent. Even fewer approve of
the job Congress is doing – 14 percent. A plurality of 43 percent say
they trust neither the president nor Congress to handle the economy.
Finally, should Republicans win control of Congress in November, only 26
percent say this will help lower the unemployment rate. Thirty percent
say this would make unemployment worse while 44 percent say it would
make no difference."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Desmon Tutu's plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine

Desmon Tutu - My plea to the people of Israel: Liberate yourselves by liberating Palestine - Haaretz

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in an exclusive article for Haaretz, calls for a global boycott of Israel and urges Israelis and Palestinians to look beyond their leaders for a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land.

"If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens ... as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation."

"Over the past few weeks, more than 1.6 million people across the world have signed onto this movement by joining an Avaaz campaign calling on corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and/or implicated in the abuse and repression of Palestinians to pull out. The campaign specifically targets Dutch pension fund ABP; Barclays Bank; security systems supplier G4S; French transport company Veolia; computer company Hewlett-Packard; and bulldozer supplier Caterpillar.

Last month, 17 EU governments urged their citizens to avoid doing business in or investing in illegal Israeli settlements.

We have also recently witnessed the withdrawal by Dutch pension fund PGGM of tens of millions of euros from Israeli banks; the divestment from G4S by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the U.S. Presbyterian Church divested an estimated $21 million from HP, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

It is a movement that is gathering pace.

Violence begets violence and hatred, that only begets more violence and hatred.

We South Africans know about violence and hatred. We understand the pain of being the polecat of the world; when it seems nobody understands or is even willing to listen to our perspective. It is where we come from.

We also know the benefits that dialogue between our leaders eventually brought us; when organizations labeled “terrorist” were unbanned and their leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were released from imprisonment, banishment and exile.

We know that when our leaders began to speak to each other, the rationale for the violence that had wracked our society dissipated and disappeared. Acts of terrorism perpetrated after the talks began – such as attacks on a church and a pub – were almost universally condemned, and the party held responsible snubbed at the ballot box.

The exhilaration that followed our voting together for the first time was not the preserve of black South Africans alone. The real triumph of our peaceful settlement was that all felt included. And later, when we unveiled a constitution so tolerant, compassionate and inclusive that it would make God proud, we all felt liberated.

Of course, it helped that we had a cadre of extraordinary leaders.

But what ultimately forced these leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa, economically, academically, culturally and psychologically.

At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits.

The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo.

Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.

Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.

Ultimately, events in Gaza over the past month or so are going to test who believes in the worth of human beings.

It is becoming more and more clear that politicians and diplomats are failing to come up with answers, and that responsibility for brokering a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land rests with civil society and the people of Israel and Palestine themselves.

Besides the recent devastation of Gaza, decent human beings everywhere – including many in Israel – are profoundly disturbed by the daily violations of human dignity and freedom of movement Palestinians are subjected to at checkpoints and roadblocks. And Israel’s policies of illegal occupation and the construction of buffer-zone settlements on occupied land compound the difficulty of achieving an agreement settlement in the future that is acceptable for all.

The State of Israel is behaving as if there is no tomorrow. Its people will not live the peaceful and secure lives they crave – and are entitled to – as long as their leaders perpetuate conditions that sustain the conflict.

I have condemned those in Palestine responsible for firing missiles and rockets at Israel. They are fanning the flames of hatred. I am opposed to all manifestations of violence.

But we must be very clear that the people of Palestine have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom. It is a struggle that has the support of many around the world.

No human-made problems are intractable when humans put their heads together with the earnest desire to overcome them. No peace is impossible when people are determined to achieve it.

Peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognize the human being in themselves and each other; to understand their interdependence.

Missiles, bombs and crude invective are not part of the solution. There is no military solution.

The solution is more likely to come from that nonviolent toolbox we developed in South Africa in the 1980s, to persuade the government of the necessity of altering its policies.

The reason these tools – boycott, sanctions and divestment – ultimately proved effective was because they had a critical mass of support, both inside and outside the country. The kind of support we have witnessed across the world in recent weeks, in respect of Palestine.

My plea to the people of Israel is to see beyond the moment, to see beyond the anger at feeling perpetually under siege, to see a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist – a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign.

It requires a mind-set shift. A mind-set shift that recognizes that attempting to perpetuate the current status quo is to damn future generations to violence and insecurity. A mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism. A mind-set shift that begins at home and ripples out across communities and nations and regions – to the Diaspora scattered across the world we share. The only world we share.

People united in pursuit of a righteous cause are unstoppable. God does not interfere in the affairs of people, hoping we will grow and learn through resolving our difficulties and differences ourselves. But God is not asleep. The Jewish scriptures tell us that God is biased on the side of the weak, the dispossessed, the widow, the orphan, the alien who set slaves free on an exodus to a Promised Land. It was the prophet Amos who said we should let righteousness flow like a river.

Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support.

Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free.

He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.  "

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top 1 Percent Is Even Richer Than Surveys Say, ECB Paper Finds

Top 1 Percent Is Even Richer Than Surveys Say, ECB Paper Finds - Yahoo Finance

The oft-cited line that the top 1
percent of U.S. households lay claim to 30 percent of all wealth is
probably an understatement, according to a European Central Bank working
"missed" data on rich households pushes the share of wealth held by top
earners up to between 35 percent and 37 percent, wrote Philip Vermeulen,
a senior economist at the ECB. That's higher than the 34 percent
suggested by the 2010 U.S. Survey of Consumer Finances data from the
Federal Reserve.