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  1. Atypical is offline
    03-21-2015, 10:51 AM #191
    5 Powerful Shifts Transforming America Society into an Unrecognizable and Frightening Future

    A new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Let's stop pretending it’s not happening.

    By Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch March 20, 2015

    Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

    And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

    Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of "we the people."

    Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

    1. 1% Elections

    Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests. (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

    Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper. A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election. He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present. Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.” It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future. (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

    Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

    The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice. So the early primaries -- this year mainly a Republican affair -- are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

    Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat. By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

    In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below -- and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

    2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

    In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

    Cont'd Below
    Last edited by Atypical; 03-21-2015 at 11:10 AM.

  2. Atypical is offline
    03-21-2015, 10:54 AM #192
    Cont'd From Above

    However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which -- even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred -- should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

    Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11. Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country. Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization. The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting. Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden -- intelligence gathering and spying. You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

    All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy. And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

    Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

    3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

    On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall. In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%. (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.) The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%. All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

    It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself. Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

    What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing? Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing. They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president's Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this. They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

    The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy. It is, in fact, neither. It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

    In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state. The Republican Party -- its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats -- seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security. As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state. A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like. While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

  3. Atypical is offline
    03-21-2015, 10:57 AM #193
    Cont'd From Above

    4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

    One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight. Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment. But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon -- the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government -- gets remarkably little attention. In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own. Its growth has been phenomenal. Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians. The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

    Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering. Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame. That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor. As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

    New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state. In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China). Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones. Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that "mimics a cellphone tower." This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to "the homeland," is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces. And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

    News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives. Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

    This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure. And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it's doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know. Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

    5. The Demobilization of the American People

    In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them. In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

    After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes. Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

    The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military. It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era. In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs. Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

    Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

    Cont'd Below

  4. Atypical is offline
    03-21-2015, 11:05 AM #194
    Cont'd Below (Starts at post 191)

    The Birth of a New System

    Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of -- to use Fraser’s word -- “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

    While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

    Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

    http://act.alternet.org/go/59165?t=3...7.38018.CUjA5L

    _________________________________________

    This is an outline. The details are even more frightening.

    There are many links in the original article that provide references and additional information.

    There is overwhelming evidence from other sources that support the premises. Now, what will those of us who know (and care) what this predicts do about it?
    Last edited by Atypical; 03-21-2015 at 11:13 AM.

  5. Atypical is offline
    05-23-2015, 02:51 PM #195
    Insurers Backed Obamacare, Then Undermined It; Now They're Profiting From It

    Saturday, 23 May 2015 00:00
    By Wendell Potter, Center for Public Integrity | Op-Ed

    Anyone who still thinks the Affordable Care Act was a “government takeover of health care” should consider this headline from the news pages of last Thursday’s Investor’s Business Daily:

    UnitedHealth Profit Soars On Obamacare, Optum—April 16, 2015

    That’s from a Wall Street publication whose editorial writers have rarely missed an opportunity to bash the health care reform law. Here are a few other headlines, these from IBD’s editorial page, just since the first of this year.

    More Phony ObamaCare Numbers From The White House—March 16, 2015

    Shock Poll: Half The Uninsured Want Obamacare Repealed—March 3, 2015

    Democrats Keep Running Away From ObamaCare—February 2015

    CBO Now Says 10 Mil Will Lose Employer Health Plans Under ObamaCare—January 27, 2015

    It wouldn’t surprise me if UnitedHealth Group executives helped shape the opinions of those editorial writers during the reform debate. One of the things I did in my old job as head of PR for one of the country’s other big for profit-insurers was arranging for my CEO to have “desk side chats” with bigwigs at important publications like Investor’s Business Daily. We would often leave those meetings with an invitation to submit an op-ed, as was the case several years ago when Ed Hanway, Cigna’s CEO at the time, and I visited with then Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann and Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    The CEOs of the largest for-profit health insurance corporations were very wary of Obamacare as it was being drafted on Capitol Hill. They didn’t really say so publicly—in fact they had their chief lobbyist, America’s Health Insurance Plans’ Karen Ignagni—claim to support reform.

    “You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year,” Ignagni told President Obama during a March 5, 2009, meeting at the White House.

    But insurers were playing a duplicitous game. Later that year, Ignagni’s group began secretly funneling tens of millions of dollars to allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to finance anti-Obamacare PR and ad campaigns. The big for-profit insurers, which gave AHIP the lion’s share of the secret money, arguably are more responsible than any other special interest in turning the public’s attitudes against reform.

    Although the insurers stood to gain financially from a law that would require Americans to buy coverage from them, many Wall Street financial analysts and investors worried that some provisions of the law might cut into insurers’ profit margins.

    Analysts and investors in particular didn’t like the section of the law that would require insurers to spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on health care. Before the law, many insurers routinely spent 60 percent or less of their revenues on patient care. The less spent on care, the more available to reward shareholders.

    Wall Street also didn’t like the provision that would have created a government-run public option to compete with commercial insurers, and they didn’t think the penalties on Americans who refused to buy coverage were harsh enough.

    Partly because of the anti-reform advertising blitz insurers financed in late 2009 and early 2010, Congress capitulated and gave up on the public option. And lawmakers agreed to make the penalty for not buying insurance more painful with every passing year.

    But despite the worry, it turns out that the law the insurance industry’s shills demonized has been awfully good to insurance company investors.

    Here’s how IBD’s Vance Cariage reported UnitedHealth Group’s first quarter 2015 earnings report last Thursday:

    “UnitedHealth Group delivered its best quarter in years Thursday as it benefited from new Obamacare customers, another strong Optum-platform showing and tame medical expenses. The nation’s No. 1 health insurer also raised its full-year 2015 sales and earnings guidance.” (Optum is a fast-growing division of the company that provides data and other services to its health plan division as well as to employers and other insurers.)

    UnitedHealth Group’s revenues grew an eye-popping 13 percent, from $31.7 billion in the first quarter of 2014 to $35.8 billion in the first quarter of 2015. Net earnings on a per share basis were even more impressive, growing 33 percent, from $1.10 to $1.46 per share.

    One reasons for the glowing results was the fact that UnitedHealth added 570,000 new customers during the first quarter of 2015 from the Obamacare exchanges. And contrary to conventional wisdom, that the formerly uninsured Obamacare customers would overuse medical services, UnitedHealth executives said that wasn’t the case.

    In fact, the company’s CEO, Stephen J. Hemsley, said that even with the new Obamacare enrollees, the company “improved” its medical loss ratio, which measures the percent of revenues spent on medical care, from 82.5 to 81.1 percent. He used the word “improved” because, as I noted, Wall Street loves it when insurers spend less on medical care.

    That decrease was viewed as a very positive development by investors. By the end of Thursday, they had bid up the company’s share price by 3.6 percent, to $121.60, just shy of the all-time high of $123.76 set on March 30.

    I can’t wait to see how IBD’s editorial writers spin UnitedHealth’s Obamacare success. I’ll let you know if and when they weigh in. But don’t hold your breath.

    http://org2.salsalabs.com/dia/track....Gxl0873Cp4zI9C

    __________________________________________________ ____

    Wendell Potter was a PR executive in the healthcare industry for approximately twenty years before resigning due to his disgust with their practices.

    Single-payer is the best system for healthcare but Obama sold out to the insurance industry, one of his biggest contributors. Obamacare is essentially a Heritage Foundation (Conservative) blueprint and was written by the insurance industry. Yet, as the article shows, it has been viciously attacked. As usual, the criticism from the right-wing was BS! It, and most everything else, is used as leverage against the administration - nothing more. This article is only one example.

    There are many links in the article for additional information.
    Last edited by Atypical; 06-04-2015 at 10:13 PM.

  6. Atypical is offline
    06-04-2015, 10:10 PM #196
    A Closer Look At Goldman Sachs' Stance On Share Buybacks

    By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 4, 2015

    Maybe we’re thinking about today’s stock market all wrong. As the largest corporations in America take on more and more debt to buy back their own shares and boost dividends to dress up their earnings and attract more investors, the stock market is looking more and more like a bond market in drag as equity. Bonds are backed by debt of the company; common stock represents equity in the business operations. But the business operations are now taking a backseat to the binge of stock buybacks.

    Jody Lurie, a credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott was quoted at Bloomberg News this week with this observation on the buyback phenomenon: “Companies have said, ‘We don’t have an ability to grow organically, so we can distract shareholders instead. When they buy back shares, all it does is optically make earnings per share look better.”

    The media frenzy this week over buybacks was fueled by a research note released by Goldman Sachs which likened today’s buybacks at high market multiples to the bad investment decisions on buybacks that corporate CFOs made just before the market crashed in 2008. Goldman noted in its research release that:

    “Exhibiting poor market timing, buybacks peaked in 2007 (34% of cash spent) and troughed in 2009 (13%). Firms should focus on M&A [mergers and acquisitions] rather than pursue buybacks at a time when P/E [price to earnings] multiples are so high.”

    In September of last year, the Harvard Business Review published its own study on buybacks titled “Profits Without Prosperity.” The findings are outlined as follows:

    “Corporate profitability is not translating into widespread economic prosperity. Five years after the official end of the Great Recession, corporate profits are high, and the stock market is booming. Yet most Americans are not sharing in the recovery. While the top 0.1% of income recipients—which include most of the highest-ranking corporate executives—reap almost all the income gains, good jobs keep disappearing, and new employment opportunities tend to be insecure and underpaid. The allocation of corporate profits to stock buybacks deserves much of the blame.”

    There, in five plain English sentences, is your Doctoral thesis in who’s benefitting from stock buybacks. If you haven’t guessed by now just who it is that is driving this trend, the Harvard Business Review fills in more details:

    “Why are such massive resources being devoted to stock repurchases? …in the short term buybacks drive up stock prices. In 2012 the 500 highest-paid executives named in proxy statements of U.S. public companies received, on average, $30.3 million each; 42% of their compensation came from stock options and 41% from stock awards. By increasing the demand for a company’s shares, open-market buybacks automatically lift its stock price, even if only temporarily, and can enable the company to hit quarterly earnings per share (EPS) targets.”

    According to data from Birinyi Associates, for calendar years 2006 through 2013, corporations authorized $4.14 trillion in buybacks of their own publicly traded stock in the United States. Bloomberg News, citing research from Goldman Sachs, reports that companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 “will dole out more than $1 trillion, or two-thirds of their cash, buying back stocks and repaying dividends this year.” According to Goldman, that $1 trillion eclipses the $921 billion the same firms will spend running their business and on research and development.”

    The debt these companies are taking on to work this alchemy could prove to be a future time bomb in the making. In 2013 alone, corporations authorized $754.8 billion in stock buybacks while simultaneously borrowing $782.5 billion from credit markets.

    Data compiled by Bloomberg shows that “Investment-grade non-financial companies issued $366 billion in bonds in the past two quarters. The $194.6 billion they sold in the first quarter was the most in history.”

    According to data released by FactSet.com on March 16, Apple was the largest spender in the S&P 500 during the last quarter of 2014, making $6.1 billion in share repurchases. The study showed that on a trailing 12-month basis, Apple had spent the highest amount on buybacks, $57 billion, of all companies in the S&P 500 index.

    Another concern is who is conducting these share repurchase programs for the corporation and is it being done in an opaque manner. Dark Pools owned by the big Wall Street firms, also known as ATS or Alternative Trading Systems, frequently conduct stock buyback programs. Barclays, the firm that was charged last year by the New York State Attorney General with falsifying data to customers about what was really going on in its dark pool, told Traders Magazine in September 2013 that its Dark Pool pitches its execution franchise to corporations with buyback programs:

    “…when companies buying back shares meet with institutions in the firm’s alternative trading system, both sides of the transaction benefit. Having corporate buybacks handled by the electronic trading side of the firm gives Barclays an advantage over competitors…”

    Last month, Barclays, along with Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Royal Bank of Scotland pleaded guilty to one felony count each for engaging in a criminal conspiracy to rig foreign currency markets. UBS pleaded guilty to engaging in a conspiracy to rig the Libor interest rate benchmark. More investigations of market rigging are underway.

    Last year, Wall Street On Parade conducted a study of trading in Apple stock in Dark Pools for the weeks of May 26 through June 23. (Until last year, data on Dark Pool trading had not been available to the public.) During that period, Dark Pools traded over 103.6 million shares of Apple stock. The heaviest week was the week of June 9, 2014 when 39.9 million shares traded in dark pools. Goldman Sachs was responsible for trading 2,444,350 shares of Apple that week in its Dark Pool, Sigma-X, and has been in the top tier of dark pools trading Apple stock in all subsequent weeks of our review period. (On July 1 of last year, the self-regulator, FINRA, administered a minor wrist slap to Goldman for what was clearly very serious pricing irregularities in its dark pool.)

    Cont'd Below

  7. Atypical is offline
    06-04-2015, 10:12 PM #197
    Cont'd From Post 196

    Goldman Sachs has also been an enabler to Apple taking on debt to finance its stock buybacks. Goldman Sachs was the co-lead manager with Deutsche Bank in April of 2013 when Apple launched a $17 billion corporate debt offering in order to buy back its shares and increase its dividend. Apple’s $17 billion debt deal was the largest in corporate history at that point. Goldman was also Apple’s advisor in 1996 when the company was warding off bankruptcy and Goldman managed its $661 million convertible debt offering.

    Could taking on debt and buying back shares become an addiction? One year after the April 2013 $17 billion debt deal by Apple, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank co-led another $12 billion debt offering for Apple in April of 2014. So far this year, Apple has issued $6.5 billion in debt in February and another $8 billion on May 6. Goldman Sachs & Co., Bank of America Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan were involved in Apple’s May offering, which was specifically earmarked for share buybacks and dividends.

    As we write this column, Apple is offering approximately $2 billion in yen-denominated bonds to Japanese and international investors today. The deal is being underwritten by Goldman Sachs and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial.

    For all of its advice to corporations to halt share buybacks, Goldman certainly seems to still have both feet in the game.

    http://wallstreetonparade.com/2015/0...hare-buybacks/

    __________________________________________

    As usual, especially within the world of "high finance," nothing is what it seems.
    Last edited by Atypical; 06-04-2015 at 10:22 PM.

  8. Atypical is offline
    06-15-2015, 03:42 PM #198
    Chris Hedges talks about his book Wages of Rebellion, in which he looks at stories of rebels from around the world and throughout history to illuminate the causes of revolution and resistances.


    http://www.c-span.org/video/?325856-...ages-rebellion


    ___________________________________

    A serious, compelling and accurate take on the state of our country and what must be done to stop, or at least slow, its decline.
    Last edited by Atypical; 06-15-2015 at 03:50 PM.

  9. Atypical is offline
    08-18-2015, 06:57 PM #199
    Greed Dies Hard in a Poisoned Land

    Tuesday, 18 August 2015

    By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout


    When Arizona Sen. John McCain met with the Navajo Nation's tribal government on Saturday at their capital in Window Rock, Arizona, after arriving in a big black SUV, he believed he would be spending the day observing the commemoration of Code Talkers Day. This was not the case. A group of Navajo activists, incensed at the damage done to the Animas River by a toxic chemical spill from an abandoned mine, confronted the senator. Rather than address their concerns, McCain scuttled out a side door, dove into his SUV and sped down the road with the activists sprinting after him shouting, "Get off our land!"

    Activists from the Navajo Nation are furious over the Animas River spill, and for good damn reason. The EPA, while attempting to evaluate the toxicity of the long-abandoned Gold King mine, inadvertently released three million gallons of hideously polluted water into the river, turning it a sickly orange color. The lead level of the released water was at least 12,000 times higher than normal, and also contained extremely high levels of beryllium, mercury, cadmium, iron, copper, zinc and arsenic. The people of the Navajo Nation rely on the river for drinking water, farming, livestock and medicine. It is a lifeline, and now it is dangerous to the touch.

    The impact of the spill is not just being felt by the people of the Navajo Nation. That three million gallon orange slick of poison wended its way down the Animas River for some 300 miles until it arrived at and entered Lake Powell, a large reservoir that feeds into the Colorado River, and is a source of drinking water for many cities in the Southwest, including Las Vegas. The EPA and other government agencies are desperately deploying a "Be calm, all is well" argument, but a "team" has been formed to monitor the ongoing damage. Cold comfort indeed.

    Also over the weekend, a chemical spill on the south side of Terre Haute, Indiana, had residents fleeing with the taste of acid in their mouths and a harsh burning sensation in their throats and lungs. The Hydrite Chemical Company managed to spill an unknown quantity of sulphur dioxide. However much it was, it was enough to cause an evacuation, and residents near the spill are not allowed to return to their homes yet.

    Spectators at a local racetrack ran away with clothes over their faces to try and staunch the burning once it started to settle in. Some 20 people were reportedly hospitalized, and first responders on the scene were scrubbing down the affected on large blue mats. Sulphur dioxide is the base chemical in the making of sulfuric acid, and is also used in the processing of metal. It is profoundly toxic in every respect, a fact Terre Haute has learned the very, very hard way.

    Back east in North Carolina, researchers and engineers at UNC-Charlotte are scrambling to figure out a way to properly deal with 264 billion pounds - that's 264,000,000,000 pounds, for clarity - of highly toxic coal ash which has accumulated in the state, all of which belongs to Duke Energy. The ash is currently being stored in 32 large holes in the ground, but these holes were constructed without liners, which means the poisons from this terribly bounty - chromium and arsenic top the list - are finding their way into the water table.

    Maybe they can move it to safer, lined storage basins. Maybe they can utilize other chemicals to stop the threat of the current chemicals. The situation has become a political and industry football in North Carolina, and while the lawmakers butt heads with the business magnates, while the researchers and engineers labor to find a fix, the water around those 264 billion pounds of awful gets dirtier, and dirtier, and dirtier.

    Despite all this, some 15 states are currently petitioning in Federal court to thwart President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants within the next 15 years. These states include West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Some of these states, such as West Virginia, are heavily reliant on the coal industry. Others simply don't like the federal government.

    The leadership in those states dismiss the hard reality of climate change, and likely won't believe in it until the rain turns to ashes and the seas swallow the coasts ... and perhaps, not even then. Greed dies hard, even when the rivers have turned to soot and the tap water catches fire.

    All this, along with all the other spills and explosions, the ravages of fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline with its gruesome tar sands oil augurs toward an irrefutable truth: We are killing ourselves with coal, with chemicals, with carelessness and with greed. The people behind all this don't care, and won't care until they are made to. Navajo Nation activists literally chased a sitting US senator down the road and off their lands in an attempt to force the issue.

    What will you do?

    http://org2.salsalabs.com/dia/track....VOPvhc0YIs36ld

    ____________________________________________

    This is a very common situation in the corporate world: Get the money - hide the problems - FIGHT anyone who dares to accuse us of doing anything wrong and tell lies at will. Corporate indifference to people's right to live in the way they want, free of any dangers to health, property or privacy is rampant, and, is responsible, in many cases, for sickening and killing people.

    Here is a comment from the thread by a reader that provides an additional perspective.

    tibetan cowboy • 3 hours ago
    Let's be clear as to who is at fault for the Gold King Mine disaster. The culpable party is Silverton, Colorado's commissioners and leaders. Today, here in the Cortez Journal newspaper (I live in Cortez, 50 miles west of Durango), a long article describes how Silverton has blocked these dangerous mine remediations to avoid all tourist / publicity impact to the town's bottom line. The fools in Silverton are trashing the EPA for this mess when the reality is that the Silverton leaders have blocked the mines from designation as Superfund Sites for over 20 years. IF they had not blocked the EPA from remediating these mines, the mines would be cleaned up and safe by now. The EPA is not really at fault here, even though they tried to remediate this mine without it being designated Superfund status. Read for yourself the article on the Cortez Journal website, under "Local News". Do not incriminate the EPA in this mess. The mess is due to the greed of Silverton citizens, for this mine and several others around Silverton which are likely to cause the same disasters unless they give the EPA permission to clean them up. The governor of Colorado has sided with Silverton instead of the EPA on this. The entire state is at fault here. Not the EPA. Almost all river life, fish etc., is gone from the Animas River downstream from this mine, due to Silverton's greed for some 20 years now.

  10. Atypical is offline
    09-06-2015, 09:52 AM #200
    I Used to Work as a Scientist with GMOs—Now I'm Having Serious Second Thoughts About The Risks
    I believe that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks.

    By Jonathan Latham, PhD / CounterPunch September 2, 2015

    By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.

    I was not, at the outset, concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.

    Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.

    Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods (e.g. chips, breakfast cereals, sodas) are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, because they are often made from corn or soy. Most agricultural crops, however, are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes and beans.

    For meat eaters the nature of GMO consumption is different. There are no GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been pending FDA approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in factory farms or for fish farming, is likely to be GMO corn and GMO soybeans. In which case the labeling issue, and potential for impacts on your health, are complicated.

    I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks. In broad outline, the reasons for this belief are quite simple. I have become much more appreciative of the complexity of biological organisms and their capacity for benefits and harms. As a scientist I have become much more humble about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as scientists we understand less and less.

    The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment

    Some of my concerns with GMOs are “just” practical ones. I have read numerous GMO risk assessment applications. These are the documents that governments rely on to ‘prove’ their safety. Though these documents are quite long and quite complex, their length is misleading in that they primarily ask (and answer) trivial questions. Furthermore, the experiments described within them are often very inadequate and sloppily executed. Scientific controls are often missing, procedures and reagents are badly described, and the results are often ambiguous or uninterpretable. I do not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is accidental. It is common, for example, for multinational corporations, whose labs have the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies. When the results show what the applicants want, nothing is said. But when the results are inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the limitations of the antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which applicants claim safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the experiment was performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.

    To any honest observer, reading these applications is bound to raise profound and disturbing questions: about the trustworthiness of the applicants and equally of the regulators. They are impossible to reconcile with a functional regulatory system capable of protecting the public.

    The Dangers of GMOs

    Aside from grave doubts about the quality and integrity of risk assessments, I also have specific science-based concerns over GMOs. I emphasise the ones below because they are important but are not on the lists that GMO critics often make.

    Many GMO plants are engineered to contain their own insecticides. These GMOs, which include maize, cotton and soybeans, are called Bt plants. Bt plants get their name because they incorporate a transgene that makes a protein-based toxin (usually called the Cry toxin) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Many Bt crops are “stacked,” meaning they contain a multiplicity of these Cry toxins. Their makers believe each of these Bt toxins is insect-specific and safe. However, there are multiple reasons to doubt both safety and specificity. One concern is that Bacillus thuringiensis is all but indistinguishable from the well known anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). Another reason is that Bt insecticides share structural similarities with ricin. Ricin is a famously dangerous plant toxin, a tiny amount of which was used to assassinate the Bulgarian writer and defector Georgi Markov in 1978. A third reason for concern is that the mode of action of Bt proteins is not understood (Vachon et al 2012); yet, it is axiomatic in science that effective risk assessment requires a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of any GMO transgene. This is so that appropriate experiments can be devised to affirm or refute safety. These red flags are doubly troubling because some Cry proteins are known to be toxic towards isolated human cells (Mizuki et al., 1999). Yet we put them in our food crops.

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    Last edited by Atypical; 09-07-2015 at 04:16 AM.

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