Monday, March 31, 2014

Today's Links

1--The market is rigged, Bloomberg

“The United States stock market, the most iconic market in global capitalism, is rigged,” Lewis, whose books “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short” highlighted Wall Street excesses, said during the interview. The new book comes out today. “It’s crazy that it’s legal for some people to get advance news on prices and what investors are doing,” he said.

2--Another Debt-Fueled Spending Spree?, House of Debt

New auto purchases have driven the consumer spending recovery to a large degree. The chart below shows the spending recovery for new auto sales and for all other retail spending. We index both series to be 100 in 2009, so the percentage change from any year to 2009 can be seen by taking the value for that year and subtracting 100.

From 2009 to 2013, spending on new autos increased by 40% in nominal terms. All other spending increased by only 20%. Further, excluding autos, 2013 saw lower growth in nominal retail spending than 2012. As we’ve mentioned before, the spending cycle tends to be amplified when it comes to auto purchases, so the strong performance of autos shouldn’t be surprising. But at this point we are seeing stronger growth in auto purchases even four years after the recession ended.
Here is year-over-year spending growth on autos and other retail goods for 2012 and 2013. Spending has increased between 7% and 9% in these years. For other goods, spending increased by 5% in 2012 and only 3% in 2013. Without autos, 2013 spending looks a lot worse than 2012. ...
Here is year-over-year spending growth on autos and other retail goods for 2012 and 2013. Spending has increased between 7% and 9% in these years. For other goods, spending increased by 5% in 2012 and only 3% in 2013. Without autos, 2013 spending looks a lot worse than 2012. If you want these in real terms, you can subtract off 2% to get a pretty close estimate.

we know that the recovery in employment and income has been pretty weak in 2012 and 2013. Do we think that income growth justifies the large increase in auto debt? Who exactly is getting these loans? Are they borrowers who are seeing their income and employment fortunes improve? Will lenders continue to lend if risk-free rates rise?

By 2030, based on the current trend of widening income inequality, close to 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.....

Going back to the 1980s, never have whites been so pessimistic about their futures, according to the General Social Survey, a biannual survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Just 45 percent say their family will have a good chance of improving their economic position based on the way things are in America.....

Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend....

Hardship is particularly growing among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families' economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy "poor."...

While racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty, race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s, census data show. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government's poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press.

The gauge defines "economic insecurity" as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

Marriage rates are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones......

Nationwide, the count of America's poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population, due in part to lingering high unemployment following the recession. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white.

More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation's destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.....

In 2011 that snapshot showed 12.6 percent of adults in their prime working-age years of 25-60 lived in poverty. But measured in terms of a person's lifetime risk, a much higher number -- 4 in 10 adults -- falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives......

4---Earl Grey, the brew that could tackle heart disease: Scientists say bergamot found in the tea could be as effective as statins in controlling cholesterol,  Mail online

5---Prosecuting mortgage fraud not a priority, Delaware online

6---Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret, antiwar

7--More BS: No Russian build up on Ukrainian Border, NBC
8---New Snowden documents detail political and corporate espionage by US, UK, wsws

With the US mounting aggressive operations against allied imperialist governments and against the US Congress itself, there can be no doubt that domestic political opponents and militant elements in the US working class are subject to even more far-reaching measures.....

documents also show that GCHQ targeted three German firms in complex operations that involved infiltration of their computer systems and surveillance of employees.
IABG, a security and communications firm with ties to the German state, and similar firms Stellar and Cetel, were apparently targeted for surveillance because they provide communications services to German corporations engaged in lucrative operations such as diamond mining and oil drilling around the world.
“The document notes that GCHQ hoped to identify ‘access chokepoints’ as part of a wider effort alongside partner spy agencies to ‘look at developing possible access opportunities’ for surveillance,” the Intercept reported.

“In other words, infiltrating these companies was viewed as a means to an end for the British agents. Their ultimate targets were likely the customers. Cetel’s customers, for instance, include governments that use its communications systems to connect to the Internet in Africa and the Middle East. Stellar provides its communications systems to a diverse range of customers that could potentially be of interest to the spies—including multinational corporations, international organizations, refugee camps, and oil drilling platforms,” the Intercept wrote.

These are only the latest revelations showing that the NSA’s surveillance activities have targeted Germany’s leadership. As of yet, Germany has been hesitant to mount a legal challenge to the operations, as such a move could exacerbate already growing tensions between US and German imperialism. “The launch of legal proceedings against GCHQ agents or NSA employees would quickly become a major political issue that would further burden already tense trans-Atlantic relations,” Der Spiegel wrote.

The documents also show that the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO), which oversees the agency’s “corporate partnerships” with US telecommunications companies including Google, Microsoft, Verizon and AT&T, received an open-ended FISA court authorization in 2013 to conduct surveillance against targets in Germany.
According to Der Spiegel’s report, the FISA court has granted similar authorizations for blanket surveillance operations against Mexico, Venezuela, Yemen, Brazil, Guatemala, Bosnia, Russia, Sudan and China.

9---White House ally reveals anti-working class agenda behind Obamacare, wsws

Emanuel’s book is a confirmation, “from the horse’s mouth,” of the analysis of Obamacare developed since the program’s origins by the World Socialist Web Site. As the WSWS wrote last year: “The essential aim of the ACA is rapidly emerging. Behind the talk of providing coverage for the uninsured, Obamacare was devised from the outset as a means of dismantling the employer-based system of health insurance that for decades guaranteed a basic level of health care for tens of millions of workers in the US.”

From the start, Obamacare was based on cutting costs for the government and employers while boosting the profits of the health care industry, first and foremost, the insurance conglomerates. The concerted attack on health care in the US demonstrates the incompatibility of the basic needs of working people, on the one hand, and private ownership of the health care infrastructure and its subordination to corporate profit, on the other.

In his new book, Reinventing American Health Care, Ezekiel J. Emanuel outlines how the ACA lays the groundwork for the virtual elimination of employer-sponsored health insurance in America over the next decade.
Emanuel is a close ally of President Barack Obama, having served from January 2009 to January 2011 as a special adviser on health care reform to the White House. As we wrote in 2009, “An examination of Emanuel’s vision of health care restructuring reveals that Obama’s proposals have been informed by many of its guiding principles. Key among them are the defense of a health system based on private profit and the delivery of class-based, rationed medical care for the majority of Americans.”

In a section near the end of his book, titled “The End of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance,” Emanuel explains that before Obamacare, some 150 million people—close to half of the US population—received their health insurance through their employer or a relative’s employer. This was despite the fact that no “employer mandate” existed requiring businesses to do so.

“The ACA changes all of that,” Emanuel writes approvingly. He states categorically: “By 2025 few private-sector employers will still be providing health insurance.” He predicts that traditional employer-sponsored coverage will be replaced by a combination of defined contributions to employees to purchase coverage on private exchanges, basically vouchers, or the elimination of insurance coverage altogether.
What is posed is a sea change in the way Americans receive health insurance, with devastating implications for working people.....

In the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, the ruling class is determined to shed its share of the cost of health care for workers by ripping up the postwar system and forcing workers to buy insurance on the private market on an individual basis, leaving them completely at the mercy of the giant insurance firms.
Enter the Obama administration and its so-called health care “reform.” Emanuel explains how Obamacare creates the framework for this massive shift.
One of the biggest incentives for employers to drop insurance is the “Cadillac tax” imposed under the ACA, which will kick in after 2018. Under this tax, companies will be taxed at a 40 percent rate for benefits paid to individuals in excess of $10,200, and for families above a threshold of $27,500. Emanuel writes that this tax will make it undesirable for employers to continue to offer lavish health insurance ” (emphasis added).

10--Double Data Whammy For Japan As PMI Tumbles & Industrial Production Misses By Most Since Abenomics, zero hedge

11---salaries have dropped 15 percent over the past 15 years, and even with companies now enjoying strong profits thanks to the weaker yen, many lack the confidence to offer significant raises to their workers. , businessweek

(consumer spending slams into reverse sooner than expected.)

“The real risk it that the consumption tax will exacerbate the central problem with Abenomics—a blow to household wealth and spending power as price rises accelerate ahead of income,” writes Orlik. Abe has succeeded in conquering deflation: Consumer prices jumped at an annual 1.5 percent rate last month. But with the tax increase making prices even more expensive, Japanese consumers can’t keep up. “The problem is that tepid increases in wages have left households with falling real income.”

With inflation returning to Japan but companies not offering workers much in the way of salary increases, Japanese consumers are already cutting back on their spending. On Friday, the government announced household spending in February fell 2.5 percent. That drop was the first in six months and came as a surprise: With the consumption tax going up in April, Japanese consumers were supposed to do their spending now, while the tax rate was still at 5 percent. Instead, consumer spending went in reverse, a lot earlier than expected.

Are there signs of decline already? One ominous clue: Industrial production last month fell 2.3 percent compared with January. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had been expecting a 0.3 percent gain. Still, the bad news now may turn out to be good news later, since the drop in manufacturing shows that companies are already adjusting for a drop in demand and so won’t have to make major cutbacks in the months ahead. “The fall off in the second quarter should be modest,” Kiichi Murashima, Citigroup’s (C) chief economist in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

12--Foreign capital flees Japan, Bloomberg video   

13--Abe Names Special Strategic Zones in Bid to Boost Japan’s Allure, bloomberg

Greater Tokyo aims to become the easiest international city in the world to do business, and the plan included loosened building regulations and revised labor conditions for global companies. The Kansai area plan included promoting medical and health-care innovation including regenerative medicine, and also revised labor conditions for venture capital and global companies.

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