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Jim Hightower - Wall Street hogs still running wild

Wall Street is a beast. And proud of it! In fact, a pair of animals are the stock market's longtime symbols: One is a snorting bull, representing surging stock prices; the other is a bear, representing a down market devouring stock value.
But I recently received a letter from a creative fellow named Charles saying that we need a third animal to depict the true nature of the Wall Street beast: a hog. Not just a little piggy, writes Charles — but a HOG, a really big one.
Yes! And we could name it "Jamie." Jamie Dimon — I mean the multimillionaire, silver-haired, golden-tongued CEO of JPMorgan Chase, America's biggest bank.
For years, Dimon has wallowed in the warm glow of America's financial, political and media limelight, hailed as a paragon of sound management and banker ethics. He's been publicly lauded by President Obama, celebrated by The New York Times and courted by leaders of both parties.
But, suddenly last summer, a big "oink" erupted from Chase, and Jamie's inner hoggishness was revealed. It started when one of Chase's investment arms went awry and lost $2 billion. At first, Dimon haughtily dismissed this as "a tempest in a teapot." But the loss of investors' money soon grew to a staggering $6 billion dollars. Criminal probes began, investors squirmed, media coverage grew testy, and then came the revelation that took all the glitter off of Dimon.
On March 14, a U.S. Senate committee issued a scathing 300-page report documenting that the loss was not a mere "trade blunder" by Chase underlings, but the product of a systemic corporate culture of recklessness, greed and deception. An internal e-mail from Jamie himself, with the words "I approve," traced the stench all the way to the top. Not only did Dimon know what was going on, he enabled it.
JPMorgan's mess stems from the same dangerous combo that rocked America's financial system in 2007 and crashed our economy: ethical rot in executive suites, sycophantic politicians and reporters and willfully blind regulators. Meanwhile, Jamie is still Boss Hog at the giant bank and still drawing millions of dollars in annual pay and perks.
Also, only one week after the Senate report came out, he was even given a media award for best 2012 performance by a CEO facing a corporate crisis. E-I-E-I-O!
For a better performance on containing banker narcissism, our lawmakers might look to Europe. I know that it's considered un-American to like anything those "namby-pamby" European nations do, but still: Let's hear it for the Swiss!
In a March 3 referendum, the mild-mannered, pacifist-minded Swiss people rose up and hammered their corporate executives who've been grabbing rip-off pay packages, despite having made massive financial messes. Two-thirds of voters emphatically shouted "yes" to a maverick ballot proposal requiring that shareholders be given the binding say on executive pay. Violators of the new rules would sacrifice up to six years of salary and face three years in jail. That's hardly namby-pamby.
Indeed, America's lawmakers and regulators are the ones who've been squishy-soft on banksterism. Jamie is not the only one being coddled — none of the Wall Street titans whose greed wrecked our economy have even been pursued by the law, much less put in jail.
It's no surprise, then, that those bankers have gone right back to scamming — and gleefully enriching themselves. Hardly a week goes by without another revelation of big-bank fraud, yet the banks simply pay an inconsequential fine and the culprits skate free.
Forget about too-big-to-fail, banks have become "too big to jail." Our nation's top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Holder, recently conceded that finagling financial giants are being given a pass: "It does become difficult for us to prosecute them," he told a Senate subcommittee, "when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy."
Meanwhile, just four giants — Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo — put nearly $20 million into last year's elections, mostly to back Republicans promising to weaken the few feeble restraints we now have on banker thievery. With such Keystone Kops overseeing them, why would any Wall Streeter even think of going straight? Nothing will change until officials gut it up, go after lawless bankers and bust up the banks that are too big to exist.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:17

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Pat Buchanan - Cypress: is this such a bad thing?

"Government is theft." The old libertarian battle cry came to mind when the news hit, two weeks ago, that Cyprus was about to confiscate 7 percent of all the insured deposits in the island's two biggest banks. Nicosia also planned to siphon off 10 percent of uninsured deposits, those above 100,000 euros ($130,000), and use that cash as well to finance Cyprus' share of a eurozone bailout.
The reaction was so scalding that the regime had to back off raiding insured deposits. The little people of Cyprus were spared. Not so the big depositors, among whom are Cypriot entrepreneurs and thousands of Russians. Their 10 percent "haircut" has now become an amputation.
Large depositors in the Bank of Cyprus, the island's largest, face confiscation of 60 percent of their capital. In Laika, the No. 2 bank, which is to be euthanized, the large depositors face losses of up to 80 percent. All of Laika's bondholders will be wiped out, and all employees let go.
When the Cypriot banks opened again on March 28, capital controls had been imposed. Only 300 euros may be withdrawn daily from a bank. Folks leaving Cyprus may take only 1,000 euros.
What has this crisis to do with us? More than we might imagine.
Last week, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the eurozone's finance ministers, let the cat out of the bag. The bail-in of big depositors and bondholders, who are being forced to eat a huge slice of the Cypriot bailout, may serve as a model for future bailouts. The hot money that came into Cyprus, said Dijsselbloem, either to be laundered or hidden from taxes, or to seek a higher rate of return, was wagered money. And when bets go bad, government is not obligated to made the gamblers whole again. The former eurozone policy of protecting senior bondholders and uninsured depositors, said the Dutch conservative, is history. If money comes from Northern Europe to bail out the Club Med, Club Med bank bondholders and big depositors will be "bailed in."
Translation: Uninsured savings in Spain, Italy and Slovenia may be raided and bondholders liquidated to bail out their troubled banks. To Malta, Luxembourg, Latvia and other banking centers, the handwriting is on the wall: What happened in Cyprus could happen here.
So great was the shock from Dijsselbloem's remarks, by day's end he was backtracking, declaring Cyprus was not a template but a "specific case" with unique circumstances. None too soon. For as Barclay's bank noted, "The decision to bail in senior bank debt and large depositors will likely have a price impact on equity and credit instruments of those euro area banks that are perceived as the weakest."
Barclay's was saying that bondholders and big depositors in banks of other troubled eurozone countries may take a second look at where they have stashed their cash and whether their assets may be subject to sudden confiscation. And the monied class may decide, in the wake of the Cyprus slaughter, that security of principal is preferable to a higher rate of return in a risky institution. When capital controls are lifted in Cyprus, why would any depositor, who had been scorched in the inferno, risk leaving any major deposit in a Cypriot bank? Nicosia's days as a banking center, where total bank deposits exceeded seven times its gross domestic product, are over.
And facing a dramatic contraction in their economy, what do Cypriots do now?
The effect across Europe is likely to be a gradual selloff of bonds in Italian and Spanish banks and transfers of cash out of these banks into U.S. and European banks where the interest rate offered may be lower but the principal is more secure. Nor is this an unhealthy development. If taxpayers in Northern Europe have to rescue mismanaged Club Med banks, why should not bank bondholders be wiped out, just as they were at Lehman Brothers? And ought not uninsured depositors who stuffed cash into these banks to get higher rates of return or evade taxes or launder dirty money get burned as well?
From Asia to Europe, people concerned about the safety of their money are looking at Cyprus, with many surely saying, "There, but for the grace of God, go I!" And they likely hear in the anguished cries of Russian, British and Cypriot depositors, who got no warning and failed to get out in time, a fire bell in the night for themselves.
If this persuades depositors to seek security first for their income, pensions and savings, and to transfer funds out of risky banks into more solid institutions, is that such a bad thing?
If Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings, who arrived on Cyprus in March with their terrible swift sword, are back in charge, is this not better than having Western taxpayers forever securing the deposits and investments of the rich and feckless?
Those Russian depositors wiped out in the Cyprus slaughter may not have died in vain.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Susan Estrich - Even with Obamacare, no such thing as a free lunch

Those of us who live in California woke up to some pretty scary headlines on morning last week. According to a new report, Obamacare could result in increases of 30 percent in health care premiums. Thirty percent!
Of course, even without Obamacare, premiums have been going through the roof. But 30 percent for the same health care you've been getting? It's enough to send chills down the backs of even the staunchest Obama supporters.
Except that it isn't quite right. It isn't just the devil that's in the details.
First of all, the numbers only apply to the 2 million folks who buy health care as individuals or will when the law goes into effect, not the 19 million people covered by their employers. Everyone agrees that the impact on plans covering large groups of employees will be much less.
Second, those who make less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($46,000 for individuals, $94,000 for a family of four) will actually pay about 47 percent less for coverage because of federal subsidies.
Third, 30 percent is the headline, not the real number. The new plans will offer people more and better benefits with lower deductibles, which means that families will actually save more and get more for their coverage. Those who are paying 30 percent more in premiums will be saving one-third of that because of better coverage and lower deductibles.
As many of us know, there's health insurance, and there's health insurance. I have many friends who could only find (not to mention afford) the skimpiest of policies, which exclude everything from prescription drugs to mental health. In order to comply with new federal requirements, everyone is entitled to "essential health benefits," which even many who are insured don't get today.
Fourth, a big factor in the increase is that people who, for all intents and purposes, can't even buy insurance today, let alone good insurance, will be able to do so.
That brings sicker people into the system, rather than leaving them in line at the emergency room — which, by the way, is not only the most expensive place to get care, but also one the rest of us pay for in other ways.
When I asked a friend to explain what looked to me like an outrageous hospital bill, including charges for everyday items I could have bought for half as much at the drug store, the answer was simple: The cost of "my" supplies effectively included the cost of services and supplies for those who could never pay for them.
Fifth, the cost of care is going up anyway. Without Obamacare, healthier folks who can buy insurance (as opposed to those with pre-existing conditions who are turned away) would be paying about 10 percent more in premiums anyway. And that's with no guarantee of prescription drug coverage or mental health services and the like.
Sixth, and most important, the issue here is not just money; it's also values.
I have told this story before and have heard similar ones countless times from friends, acquaintances and folks in line at the market. Some years ago, I went out to buy health insurance for the woman who has, for the past 25 years, taken care of my children, my dogs and me. I insisted that she be covered. All I can say is thank God for Kaiser. No one else would take my money. Why? Because she had gastritis. Seriously. Because they aren't looking to add 50-somethings to their books — because they might get sick. Of course. And she did, years later, get sick, and frankly, without insurance, good insurance, doctors who gave her world-class treatment, she would not be here.
Of course we should be cost-conscious. Of course changes will have to be made. There will be problems — as there are with any new program — and we should be ready for them.
But the bottom line, for me anyway, is this: There is no such thing as a free lunch. Providing good health care for every American is not something we can do for free. But it is something we should do. And we will. And once we do, as was true of Medicare, it will be difficult to imagine that it ever could have been otherwise.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 11:04

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Roy Sanborn - Great time to be out house hunting

Hey, if you are looking for home bargains in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire they just keep coming on the market! What a great time it is to be out house hunting. With extremely low prices and historically low mortgage interest rates it really is one of the best times ever to buy a home. A quick spin around the MLS revealed some new residential listings that appear to be pretty good deals... at least on paper.
Down in the big city of Tilton at 91 Winter Street there is a solid, 1925 vintage, New Englander with "lots of potential in a nice area." This six room, three bedroom, 1-1/2 bath home has 1,674-square-feet of living space with an appealing kitchen, large living room, a dining room with hardwood floors, a large 24' x 11' master bedroom, a walk up attic, and a wrap-around porch. The home has had some extensive winterization work done to it in 2009 and received a new furnace, spray foam insulation on the basement walls, and new basement windows. It sits on a .28-acre lot within walking distance to schools and downtown. This property in being offered as a short sale at $84,900 which is 52 percent of the tax assessed value which would seem to make it a great deal for buyers willing to go through the process!
Another older property at 142 Garfield Street in Laconia could be a good investment and is billed as "a diamond in the rough." That always scares me a little, but you gotta go check it out to find out for sure! This is a 1912 vintage New Englander that sits on a .21 acre lot and has 1,326-square-feet of living space, three bedrooms, 1-1/2 baths, hardwood and softwood floors, and a two car attached garage. The listing says it needs some TLC but at only $79,900 and a tax assessment of $130,200 there could be some good upside here for an investor or first time buyer. And, you won't bother the neighbors at the Union Cemetery if you have to stay up late working on the place.
There's a couple of nice single level homes that just popped up that should be of interest to some buyers. The first is at 44 Highcrest Drive in Belmont. This is a five room, three bed, two bath ranch built in 1993 and has 1,424-square-feet of living space. It has an open floor plan, hardwood floors, a stone wood burning fireplace, cathedral ceiling with skylights, an oversized master bedroom suite, a farmer's porch, and a detached two car garage. Exterior renovations have been completed with interior updating being left for the new owner. It is kind of hard to tell from the pictures how much needs to be done because, well, there just aren't any pictures there. That can be scary, too! But the house is listed at $179,000 which is 76 percent of the assessed value of $238,200. Let's go look and see if we are surprised.
There's another ranch style home on a 12.66 acre lot at 89 Threshing Road in Sanbornton. This one, however, is a manufactured home built in 1999 with 1,792-square-feet of living space and features an open floor plan, large living room with fireplace, formal dining room, four bedrooms including the large master suite, two full baths, sunroom, and deck. It also has central air, a new roof, a 14' x 10' shed, and a detached two car garage. This home is priced at $177,500 and has a tax assessed value of $237,700.
Another good residential value appears to be at 585 Union Road in Belmont. This home is a 1,981-square-foot cape built in 1989. It has an open floor plan, a living room with wood cathedral ceilings, eat in kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths, fully finished basement with an office and family room, and an attached two car garage. It sits back from the road on a 1.22 acre lot providing great privacy. This home is priced at $239,900 which is 83 percent of the tax value of $289,500. Good deal? Go check it out and see!
These are just a sampling of the many potentially good bargains that are currently on the market. Contact a REALTOR® today and begin your new home search. The time is right to make your move.
Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Roche Realty Group and can be reached at 603-677-8420

Last Updated on Friday, 29 March 2013 10:42

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Jim Hightower - Drones overhead are a danger, no matter their color

In a recent senatorial dustup, Sen. John McCain called Republican colleague Rand Paul one of "the wacko birds" of Congress.
McCain (who sometimes appears not too tightly wrapped himself) was giving Sen. Paul a tongue-lashing for having mounted a 13-hour, old-fashioned, stand-alone filibuster over the possibility that murderous drones could be used for targeted assassinations of Americans right here at home.
McCain said that the Kentucky senator's talk-a-thon had veered into the "realm of the ridiculous," adding, "I don't think (it) is helpful to the American people."
I hate to interrupt when one Republican solon is hammering another, but I'm siding with Paul. While I do think that plenty of the tea party senator's extreme right-wing stands are wacko, this isn't one of them. Unfortunately for America, powerful corporate interests are eager to reap billions in profit from the spread of drones across our land, and police agencies at all levels are drooling at the prospect of adding fleets of surveillance drones — including ones that will be weaponized to their arsenals. Indeed, what's really ridiculous is that so many other congress-critters have not been paying attention, speaking out and taking action.
Call it grandstanding if you want, but at least Paul took an actual stand. And, contrary to McCain's opinion, his stand was quite helpful to the American people. Thanks to Paul's attention-getting combination of principle, ego and chutzpa, the great majority of Americans heard for the first time that these inherently invasive, liberty-busting and potentially deadly drones are on the verge of being deployed domestically.
That's why the Congressional Progressive Caucus and such alert Democrats as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon have joined in sounding the alarm and demanding a full public debate. As Paul says, "At least we need to know what are the rules." Before we let profiteers unleash this technology on Americans, bring the discussion into the open so the people can grasp the danger that these "Orwellian gnats" pose to our democracy.
Sen. Rand Paul is not the only speed bump slowing down the push by government contractors, police authorities and politicians of both parties to litter our nation's airspace with up to 30,000 of these surreptitious unmanned aircraft by year 2020. Inevitably, many of these will be used to spy on, invade the constitutional rights of and even fire on American citizens.
While the senator's outrage raised the drone issue to a new level of public awareness, opposition had already been percolating across the country, uniting such diverse constituencies as the ACLU and the tea party. Indeed, from city halls to Congress, many officials are working to ban or at least restrict drone deployment in our Land of the Free.
Clearly, the drone-industrial complex has a growing political problem. But, hey, in Corporate America, where there's a way, there's plenty of will. We're talking extremely big dollars here.
As reported by The New Republic, drone pushers at an industry confab (ominously titled "The Reapers Come Home") decided that theirs is merely an image problem, starting with the off-putting d-word itself.
"That term 'drone' kills us every time," moaned a police official who's been advocating the proliferation of the devices in police departments from coast to coast. Another pusher suggested to conferees that the menacing black color of the weapons is the problem. He noted that Seattle's police chief tried to get city officials there to okay drone use by making them appear less threatening. He had a black Dragon Flyer X6 repainted and rechristened it as "Soft Kitty 2000."
That didn't work in Seattle, but still, the droner-complex can be expected to launch a PR campaign that'll make you want to hug one of their machines. Already, the peddlers are describing a sky full of drones over your city as "a nice safety blanket." Good luck living under that.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 310

 
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