Saturday, February 22, 2014

Today's Links

1---(Must read) "The Pig In The Python Is About To Be Expelled": A Walk Thru Of China's Hard Landing, And The Upcoming Global Harder Reset, zero hedge

2---4 signs of economic slowdown in China, sober look

3---The Fed Was Hopelessly 'Behind The Curve' During The Financial Crisis, New Transcripts Show, Mark Gongloff

Repeatedly throughout the first month of 2008, Fed officials described themselves as "behind the curve." And yet they seemed to forget that lesson later in the year.

The most egregious example came during its policy meeting on Sept. 16, 2008, when the Fed decided not to cut interest rates to help the economy, even though Lehman Brothers had just collapsed and insurance giant AIG was in the grips of a crisis that threatened to bring down the whole financial system.

At that time, many Fed officials were far more worried about inflation risks than about the risk of an economic collapse and depression. The word "inflation" occurs 129 times in the Sept. 16 transcript; the word "recession" was uttered just five times. ("Laughter" is noted in the transcript 22 times.)

Even current Fed Chair Janet Yellen -- who was then the president of the San Francisco Fed and had frequently been prescient about the growing risks to the economy -- argued for standing pat on Sept. 16. She did so despite the fact that she still saw signs of growing economic weakness, including a slowdown in demand for plastic surgery in wealthy San Francisco neighborhoods....

Between January and October, the Fed often failed to appreciate what was happening to the economy and the financial system. In April, for example, not long after the collapse of Bear Stearns, Bernanke gave himself a gentle high-five.
"Let me first say that I think we ought to at least modestly congratulate ourselves that we have made some progress," he said. "Our policy actions, including both rate cuts and the liquidity measures, have seemed to have had some benefit. I think the fear has moderated. The markets have improved somewhat."

4---Half of U.S. Farmland Being Eyed by Private Equity, ips news

Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before,” the report states...

An estimated 400 million acres of farmland in the United States will likely change hands over the coming two decades as older farmers retire, even as new evidence indicates this land is being strongly pursued by private equity investors.

Mirroring a trend being experienced across the globe, this strengthening focus on agriculture-related investment by the private sector is already leading to a spike in U.S. farmland prices. Coupled with relatively weak federal policies, these rising prices are barring many young farmers from continuing or starting up small-scale agricultural operations of their own.
"This is no longer necessarily about food at all, but rather is a way to reap financial profits." -- Anuradha Mittal

In the long term, critics say, this dynamic could speed up the already fast-consolidating U.S. food industry, with broad ramifications for both human and environmental health.
“When non-operators own farms, they tend to source out the oversight to management companies, leading in part to horrific conditions around labour and how we treat the land,” Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. watchdog group focusing on global large-scale land acquisitions, told IPS

5---Fascism's Ugly Face in Ukraine, Stephen Lendman

In late January, Ukrainian leaders, civic groups and religious organizations wrote Washington, EU officials and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

They condemned neo-Nazi support. They said in part:

"You should understand that in supporting the actions of the guerrillas in Ukraine…you...are directly protecting, inciting and egging on Ukrainian neo-Nazis and neo-fascists."

"None of these oppositionists (Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, and Tyahnybok) hide that they are continuing the ideology and the practices of the OUN-UPA." 

"Wherever the Euromaidan people go in Ukraine, they disseminate, besides the slogans mentioned above, neo-Nazi, racist symbols." 

"Also confirming the neo-Nazi nature of the Euromaidan is the constant use of portraits of the bloody executioners of our people, Bandera and Shukhevych - agents of the (Nazi military intelligence) Abwehr."

"Have the UN, the EU, and the USA ceased to recognize the Charter and Verdict of the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremburg, where the Hitlerite Nazis and their henchmen were convicted?" 

"Have human rights ceased to be a value for the countries of the EU and the world community?" 

7---"Clueless", Dean Baker on Fed transcripts

The transcripts tell a story where the FOMC is seeing the economy collapse around it and is largely clueless to what is taking place. In fairness, there was little it could do to prevent the collapse at that point, but it is still hard to believe that people who are so ignorant of the economy are able to get paid for this work.

As far as the Post coverage of the release, the piece tells readers in reference to the September meeting near the peak of the financial crisis:
"Even so, Bernanke thought the Fed had probably done enough, according to newly released transcripts. So he recommended that the central bank leave its key interest rate unchanged — a move the Fed would come to regret."
Really, the Fed came to regret not lowering the federal funds rate in September of 2008? .....

...the release of the 2008 transcripts of the meetings of the Fed's Open Market Committee (FOMC) once again show a group of people that is frighteningly ignorant of the economy. The housing market was already in a full-fledged collapse by the end of 2007 with prices falling at the rate of 1.5 percent a month. That translates into a loss of $300 billion in household wealth every single month. Yet the transcripts show the Fed debating whether the economy would see a recession until well into 2008. (The pace of decline eventually accelerated to 2.0 percent a month.)

In the transcript of an early January phone call Dave Stockon presented an update of the Fed's forecasts which included this line:

"House prices have come in a touch lower than we had forecast. We have also lowered our projection on the level of house prices about 1 percentage point in this forecast. Taken together, those lower equity prices and the lower house prices take 0.1 off growth in 2008 and 0.2 off GDP growth in 2009."
Yeah, a touch lower, and reducing growth by 0.1 percentage point in 2008. This is pretty amazing stuff. It's almost as though they didn't have access to the data showing that house prices were already plunging.


Meanwhile, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a conforming loan balance increased to 4.50% from 4.45%, while the 30-year, FRM with a jumbo loan balance jumped to 4.45% from 4.40%

9--2014 Housing Market: Where Is Everyone?, Redfin

But growth in demand among Redfin homebuyers has been very weak, which reflects a broader decline in the market. In January, applications for new mortgages across the U.S. were about 15 percent lower than last year. Meanwhile, sales across 19 markets in January hit the lowest point in at least four years, falling 9.9 percent year over year.
Signing Offers
Redfin agents say the downturn in demand is

10---US support for regime change in Venezuela is a mistake, guardian

The US push to topple the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro once again pits Washington against South America...

Of course we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don't really try to hide it: there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current US statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change...

It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the US in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April's presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington's support for regime change in Venezuela.

Yes, we may have access to basic information about what the NSA has been up to, but remind me: What exactly do you know about the doings of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, with its 16,500 employees, which has in recent years embarked on “an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the CIA in size”? How about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, with its 16,000 employees, its post-9/11 headquarters (price tag: $1.8 billion) and its control over our system of spy satellites eternally prowling the planetary skies

12---Amid Controversy, FCC Ditches Newsroom ‘Study’ antiwar         

Study Will No Longer Grill Outlets Over Editorial Decisions

13---Obama’s Silent Coups, antiwar

An analogous silent coup could be happening in Ukraine. Seamus Milne says in the Guardian that the Ukrainian protest is being "played out through the western media according to a well-rehearsed script. Pro-democracy campaigners are battling an authoritarian government." But, he adds: ". . . it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality." Though Viktor Yanukovych is often portrayed in the media as a dictator flown in by Russia, the man the protestors are trying to remove on the streets was elected in the polls in 2010 by a full 48.9% of the people in elections declared fair by international observers.

Not only does the western media view of the president "bear only the sketchiest relationship to reality," so does the western view of the opposition. In order to make the script work, the media not only omits the inconvenience of the democratic polls that put the president in power, the western media also omits that at the head of the mass opposition in the streets is the far right nationalist Svoboda Party, complete with all their fascist and anti-Semitic tendencies. And the Svoboda Party is joined by the even more extreme Right Sector. This "sometimes overtly neo-Nazi" group has been active in the protest from the very beginning....

So the current protests in both Venezuela and Ukraine seem to fit the pattern. A group too small to win in the polls looks much larger in the streets. The U.S. media amplifies their voice, creating the deception of a mass democratic movement. The U.S. government then supports the opposition in the streets and contributes to the delegitimization of the democratically elected government, clearing the way for the government that is more palatable to the U.S. and to the minority of voters who lost in the polls. And so, a silent coup that looks like a domestic democratic movement is born.

14---California home sales, prices dropped in January     , C valley business

January California single-family home and condominium sales fell 18.7 percent from December 2013 and are down 11.8 percent in the past 12 months, according to figures compiled by PropertyRadar Inc., a Truckee-based real estate information company.
“Those worried about another housing bubble in the California real estate market are ignoring the fact that in each of the past six months, California real estate sales have posted year-over-year declines,” says Madeline Schnapp, director of economic research for PropertyRadar. “Increasing borrowing costs, elevated levels of negative equity, tougher borrowing standards and historically low inventory continue to exert a drag on market activity.”
According to PropertyRadar:
• In January, the median sale price of a California home fell $17,500 or 4.8 percent, to $345,000 from $362,500 in December 2013, the largest monthly decline since January 2013....

In January, cash sales fell 11.1 percent for the month and are down 21.2 percent from January 2013.
• January flipping (reselling a property within six months) fell 19.8 for the month and down 15.3 percent from a year ago.
• Institutional investor purchases continue to trend lower and in January were 52.1 percent below their December 2012 peak. Rising prices have reduced the return on investment making homes less attractive as an investment option.
• California Notices of Default and Notices of Trustee sale gained 12.9 and 6.0 percent, respectively in January over the prior month. Notices of Default, the first step in the foreclosure process, are up 52.9 percent from a year ago while Notices of Trustee Sale are down 35.7 percent for the year. Foreclosure sales gained 1.9 percent for the month but fell 48.1 percent for the year. Despite recent gains, foreclosure activity is below pre-housing crisis levels.

15---Revolt of the 1 percent, Eva Golinger

The youth taking to the streets today in Caracas and other cities throughout the country, hiding their faces behind masks and balaclavas, destroying public buildings, vehicles, burning garbage, violently blocking transit and throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at security forces are being driven by extremist right-wing interests from Venezuela’s wealthiest sector. Led by hardline neoconservatives, Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles and Maria Corina Machado – who come from three of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, the 1% of the 1% – the protesters seek not to revindicate their basic fundamental rights, or gain access to free healthcare or education, all of which are guaranteed by the state, thanks to Chavez, but rather are attempting to spiral the country into a state of ungovernability that would justify an international intervention leading to regime change....

in Venezuela from 1958-1998, before the nation’s transformation into a participatory democracy under Chavez, thousands of Venezuelans were disappeared, tortured, persecuted and assassinated by state security forces. None of their rights were guaranteed and no one, except the majority excluded poor, seemed to care. International Human Rights organizations showed little interest in Venezuela during that time, despite clear and systematic violations taking place against the people.
Those in power during that period, also referred to in Venezuela as the “Fourth Republic”, represented an elite minority – families that held the nation’s wealth and profited heavily from the lucrative oil reserves....

Leading efforts to overthrow Chavez were the very same three who today call for their supporters to take to the streets to force current President Nicolas Maduro from power. Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles were both mayors of two of Caracas’ wealthiest municipalities during the 2002 coup – Chacao and Baruta, while Maria Corina Machado was a close ally of Pedro Carmona, the wealthy businessman who proclaimed himself dictator during Chavez’s brief ouster. Lopez and Machado signed the infamous “Carmona Decree” dissolving Venezuela’s democratic institutions, trashing the constitution. Both Capriles and Lopez were also responsible for persecuting and violently detaining members of Chavez’s government during the coup, including allowing some of them to be publicly beaten, such as Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, former Minister of Interior in 2002.

All three have been major recipients of US funding and political support for their endeavors to overthrow Chavez, and now Maduro. The US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) provided start-up funds for Machado’s NGO Sumate, and Capriles’ and Lopez’s right-wing party Primero Justicia. When Lopez split from Primero Justicia in 2010 to form his own party, Voluntad Popular, it was bankrolled by US dollars....

Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channeled more than $100 million dollars to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change...

Lopez, who has publicly stated his pride for his role in the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, continues to call on his supporters to rally against the Venezuelan “dictatorship”....

even this year Obama included $5 million in the 2014 Foreign Operations Budget for opposition groups in Venezuela – is a ongoing sign of their weakness. As a State Department cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, published by Wikileaks, explained in March 2009, “Without our continued assistance, it is possible that the organizations we helped create…could be forced to close…Our funding will provide those organizations a much-needed lifeline”.

During the past decade in Venezuela, poverty has been reduced by over 50%, healthcare has become free and accessible to all, as has quality education from primary through graduate school. State subsidies provide affordable food and housing for those who need it, as well as job training programs and worker placement. Media outlets, especially community media, have expanded nationwide, giving more space for the expression of diverse voices. Internet access has increased significantly and the state also built hundreds of public infocenters with free computer and Internet access throughout the country. Students are given free laptops and tablets to use for their studies. The government has raised minimum wage by 10-20% each year leading Venezuela to have one of the highest minimum wages in Latin America. Pensions are guaranteed after only 25 years of work and those who work in the informal economy are still guaranteed a pension from the state

CFR propaganda video goes viral

Most city workers will have their pensions cut by up to 34 percent, while police and firemen will face a 10 percent cut. In addition, cost of living increases for all pensioners will be eliminated for at least a decade, meaning that the real value of payouts will steadily decline.
Orr is also planning on paying out less than one third of what it owes in retiree health care liabilities in order to fund a union-controlled Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA). The unions, which have functioned as co-conspirators throughout the bankruptcy process, would be tasked with slashing benefits or eliminating coverage.

With most pensioners already at or near the poverty threshold (pensions range between $19,000 and $34,000 per year), the cuts will drive a substantial portion of the city’s 24,000 retirees into destitution. Tens of thousands of workers who gave their lives to the city, and were legally promised money for a secure retirement, are being kicked to the curb.
Speaking on Friday, Orr said these cuts were “very fair.”

18--The social chasm in America’s cities, wsws

In the name of “growth” and “job creation,” vast resources are being taken from social programs and services that benefit working and poor people as well as the wages and pensions of public workers to provide tax abatements and other windfalls for corporations. There is really no mystery as to why such economic “growth” goes hand in hand with increasing economic inequality.

In the state of New York, whose major metropolis is the sixth most unequal city in the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is running a national advertising campaign offering tax-exempt status for ten years to any business that starts up in the state.

Increasingly, the enrichment of the ruling class takes the form of outright theft, as revealed by the Detroit Workers Inquiry, held February 15, which exposed the criminal conspiracy to drive Detroit into bankruptcy in order to gut workers’ pensions and seize the city’s assets, including the artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

19-- Venezuela is now ... at the top, of the Western mafia-style hit list, ANDRE VLTCHEK, counterpunch

I have worked in almost one hundred and fifty countries. And I have seen the horrors of those places that fell into the hands of Western usurpers: directly or indirectly. I have worked in places as diverse but broken as Paraguay, Honduras, Egypt, Bahrain, Kenya, Uganda, Philippines, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Marshall Islands.....

Those who are opposing you will not stop – they will go all the way, if allowed. They have been engaged in a disinformation campaign, suspiciously similar to the one before the “9/11” in Chile, 1973. The ‘strikes’ and ‘insecurity’ are also similar to those provoked in Chile and Indonesia before their coups. And like elsewhere, in Venezuela there is also a group of ‘economists’ and ‘business people’, ready to reverse the course of the country, immediately, were the counter-revolution to succeed....

The West likes it when such despots hold the reins of power. They like people like Duvalier, Trujillo, Videla and Pinochet – and their equivalents – on all the continents and in every country.
In Thailand they are now supporting the ‘opposition’, as they supported the ‘opposition’ in Chile before 1973 or in China before Tiananmen Square. As they are right now supporting ‘the opposition’ in Venezuela! Everything that can damage or destroy a rebellious country, Communist or non-aligned, goes!
It does not matter how many millions will die in the process. As long as a rebellion, or a fight for independence, can be crushed, Western imperialism and neo-colonialism will sacrifice any amount of human lives, especially the lives of those ‘un people’, just to borrow from the Orwellian lexicon....

Mr. President, your country – Venezuela – is much more than a beautiful place inhabited by brave people. It is also a symbol of hope, and as Eduardo Galeano once told me in Montevideo: “To take away hope is worse than murdering a person.”
Do not allow them to choke this hope: the hope of the Venezuelan people, and the hope of millions all over the world.
If you have to fight, please fight! And we will join you; many of us will. Because what your predecessor and friend, Hugo Chavez, started, is what billions all over the world desire and dream of

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