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Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
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Desperate Chinese Investors Flood US, Canadian Housing Markets, But Real Numbers Are Taboo

Desperate Chinese Investors Flood US, Canadian Housing Markets, But Real Numbers Are Taboo
by Wolf Richter • March 24, 2016

In Vancouver, 33% of sales are to Chinese investors (National Bank)

Buying a home in the US or Canada has been an effective way for foreign residents to launder some money and get their wealth out of harm’s way. In the trophy markets on the US West Coast and in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto, rumors of a massive influx of Chinese money have swirled with growing intensity for years.

The Chinese economic elite are worried about a devaluation of the yuan. They’re worried about getting rolled up by their own government. They’re worried about markets collapsing. They’re worried about pollution. They’re worried about a million things. They have one foot out the door. If push comes to shove, they’re ready to make the move.

So capital flight from China has turned into a tsunami. And this money has to go somewhere.

The meme is this: These desperate buyers prefer a higher price because it’s more efficient for them to get their money out. This pumps up prices. Which impresses other Chinese investors, and they flock in ever greater numbers to those markets. American-Chinese businesses have sprung up to cater to them with special packages that take care of everything, including travel arrangements.

The real estate industry, benefiting from higher prices and higher unit sales, has largely downplayed this trend. Realtors and sellers love moneyed buyers and are not inclined to ask too many questions. ................(more)


Trump's Popularity and the Rise of Authoritarian Capitalism

Trump's Popularity and the Rise of Authoritarian Capitalism

Wednesday, 23 March 2016 00:00
By Jamil Khader, Truthout | News Analysis

The rise of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a clear symptom of the catastrophic normalization of authoritarian capitalism around the world. Many recent debates about his popularity, however, have missed this point: They are being framed in post-ideological terms that obscure the relation between Trump's rise and the deepening contradictions of the global capitalist system.

In its recent worldwide restructuring process, global capitalism has forcefully embraced authoritarian values that promise to sustain capitalist growth. This results in disastrous consequences to personal freedoms and economic security and justice for large unemployable segments of the population. Trump's brand of populist, protectionist and isolationist economic policies resonate with the current sharpening of the contradictions of the hegemonic global capitalist system, revealing how US neoliberal capitalism is in imminent danger of a transformation into authoritarian capitalism.

Trump's objection to outsourcing, rejection of free trade treaties and his call for more government economic intervention are all symptoms of the fact that neoliberal economic policies and the democratic values associated with them can no longer drive capitalist growth. As a result, the crisis of global capitalism today is driving nations worldwide toward new forms of politico-economic organization -- namely authoritarian capitalism.

Many critics have lashed out against Trump's fascist rhetoric, coded Nazi gestures and incitement to violence, but in truth these are merely the tip of the iceberg.

The Authoritarianism Debate

In a recent national study that received wide attention, political researcher Matthew MacWilliams concluded that the strongest measure of voters' support for Trump in the South Carolina Republican primary was their authoritarian attitudes. He identified various common behaviors to which these voters seem to be disposed: They enforce conformity and stability, have zero tolerance for deviance, maintain social norms, scapegoat the Other, obey aggressive and violent leaders and fear the threat of terrorism. MacWilliams thus warns that such attitudes usher in "America's Authoritarian Spring" and serve as a clear indication that "rising authoritarian attitudes playing a newly significant role in American politics." .................(more)


Bogota’s Bus Rapid Transit System Eyed By U.S. Urban Planners

(KPBS) Cities in the southwest such as Albuquerque and Houston are pinning the future of mass transit on a system known as Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. San Diego and Los Angeles already have BRT while in Phoenix, passage of Arizona Proposition 104 includes money for a technology called BRT Lite.

BRT replicates light rail and underground subways —with dedicated lanes and rail-like stations—at far less cost. And that is why BRT is a technology that U.S. urban planners are studying at a time of stressed public budgets. And the system that is often cited by mass transit advocates is the BRT in Bogotá, Colombia, one of South America’s major metropolises.

In any public policy discussion, such as where to deploy tax dollars, the story begins with money. Studies compiled by the U.S. federal government suggest ballpark numbers that appear to favor BRT over a technology called light rail and traditional underground metros or subways.

A mile of subway can cost $250 million to build. Light rail can cost from $20 million to $50 million per mile. With BRT the conversation starts at $7 million to $15 million per mile. There are variables such as the cost of real estate needed to create dedicated lanes that BRT buses travel through, the cost of labor and regulatory fees. ...................(more)


Bank Earnings Get Mauled by “Leveraged Loan” Time Bomb

Bank Earnings Get Mauled by “Leveraged Loan” Time Bomb
by Wolf Richter • March 23, 2016

Distress ratio spikes to Financial Crisis level.

Banks have a few, let’s say, issues, among them: a source of big-fat investment banking fees is collapsing before their very eyes.

S&P Capital IQ reported today that there was an improvement in the “distress ratio” of junk bonds, after nearly a year of brutal deterioration that had pushed it beyond where it had been right after Lehman’s bankruptcy. The recent surge in oil prices seems to have lifted all boats for a brief period. But not “leveraged loans.” Their distress ratio spiked to the highest levels since the Financial Crisis!

Leveraged loans are the loan-equivalent to junk bonds. They’re issued by junk-rated companies to fund M&A, special dividends to the private equity firms that own the companies, or other “general corporate purposes.” They form an $800-billion market and trade like securities. But the SEC, which regulates securities, considers them “loans” and doesn’t regulate them. No one regulates them. This gives banks a lot of leeway.

But they’re too risky for banks to keep on their balance sheet. Instead, they sell them to loan mutual funds or ETFs, or they slice and dice them and repackage them into Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLO) to sell them to institutional investors, such as mutual-fund companies.

Regulators have been exhorting banks to back off. Banks can get stuck with them when markets get woozy just when the loans blow up, as they did during the Financial Crisis – or as they’re doing right now…. (more)


Making College Free Could Add a Million New Black and Latino Graduates

from Dissent magazine:

Making College Free Could Add a Million New Black and Latino Graduates
Mark Paul, Alan Aja, Darrick Hamilton, and William Darity, Jr. ▪ March 21, 2016

In the march toward the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, the role of the voting “millennial” has already proved critical. Earlier this month, The Nation reported on the group’s potential influence in particular primaries, and so far, from Colorado to Michigan, the now largest generation in the country hasn’t disappointed. Political scientist Corey Robin recently weighed in on this “millennial effect,” arguing that it isn’t an unrealistic, “naïve idealism” that has driven many young people to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders, but rather a rational response to the economic inequality and disenfranchisement many millennials face. Among the issues most pertinent to young people, and perhaps driving them to the polls, are the increasing cuts, costs, and debt associated with higher education.

Millennials have shown great interest in Sanders’s platform, fueling his surprisingly strong challenge to what was almost unanimously pronounced “Hillary’s turn.” The vision of government Sanders espouses under the banner of “democratic socialism”—one with free public higher education, strict banking regulation, living wage statutes (for the employed, at least), single-payer health care, campaign finance reform, and other social policies—offers a resounding egalitarian alternative to an increasingly unequal, supposedly “meritocratic” United States. Sanders’s proposed policies would promote the kinds of structural support created under the New Deal and by the postwar policies that fostered the American middle class. Only this time, the policies and their implementation will be inclusive of all racial and gender groups—groups those earlier policies deliberately wrote out.

One notable debate between Sanders and rival Hillary Clinton has been over higher education. Clinton’s current plan preserves a means-tested, competitive, accountability-based approach, complemented by a No Child Left Behind–style expansion of higher education. Her New College Compact uses the conventional rhetoric of improving education by awarding grants to qualifying institutions that meet federal criteria. Her plan does include welcome features such as an increase in Pell Grants to low-income Americans and proposed regulation of predatory loan companies. Yet, to ensure there are no “free lunches,” as South Carolina Congressman and Clinton supporter James Clyburn put it, the plan also requires that students “do their part by contributing their earnings from working 10 hours a week.” And consistent with this supposedly meritocratic frame, Clinton’s policy provides no mechanism to ensure students can find an adequate job, nor one on campus.

Sanders is unabashedly critical of this neoliberal approach, rejecting “performance-based” criteria for education. His plan is not based in market-based solutions for higher education; instead, it proposes a universal strategy to anchor education as a right rather than a privilege. His College for All Act, introduced to Congress in May, would rid public higher education of tuition and fees at once, while significantly reducing student debt burdens. Unlike Clinton’s plan, which includes a tuition-free model for two-year community colleges, Sanders’s plan would eliminate tuition and fees at all public colleges and universities. While both candidates claim they will cut interest rates on student debt, only Sanders provides the details: cutting interest rates on student loans almost in half, allowing new borrowers to save tremendous sums on extracurricular costs (housing, food, books) or on tuition should they opt for private colleges, and allowing previous borrowers to escape usurious rates through refinance options. Free public higher education, coupled with Sanders’s proposed cut in interest rates, would stop the federal government from raking in billions of dollars in revenue from student loans at these colleges. ...........(more)


TYT: Hillary's "enemies" list

Published on Mar 21, 2016

Hillary Clinton keeps a list of her political friends and enemies. She does this so her staff can quickly decide who to reward and who to punish when favors are asked. Basically it’s for streamlining corruption. Cenk Uygur, host of the The Young Turks, breaks it down. Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

"For months they had meticulously updated a wall-size dry-erase board with color-coded symbols, letters and arrows to track which lawmakers were leaning toward endorsing Hillary and which were headed in Obama’s direction. For example, the letters “LO” indicated that a lawmaker was “leaning Obama,” while “BD” in blue denoted that he or she was a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition on Capitol Hill.

As one of the last orders of business for a losing campaign, they recorded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet the names and deeds of members of Congress. They carefully noted who had endorsed Hillary, who had backed Obama, and who had stayed on the sidelines—standard operating procedure for any high-end political organization. But the data went into much more nuanced detail. “We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” a member of Hillary’s campaign team said, “and of those who endorsed us, who went the extra mile and who was just kind of there. And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are (Congressional Black Caucus) members or Illinois members. And then, of course, those who endorsed him but really should have been with her … that burned her.””*

Bernie Sanders Giving The Establishment A Headache

Fools or Liars on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Fools or Liars on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Monday, 21 March 2016 00:00
By Dean Baker, Truthout | Op-Ed

Given the recent flood of op-eds and editorials on the wonders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Obama administration must be about to present the deal to Congress for approval. Otherwise, it's hard to see why so many pieces would spontaneously appear on the TPP. Since there is real money at stake, we can expect the debate to get pretty low and nasty, with the pro-TPP forces liberally substituting ad hominems and claims to expertise for serious arguments.

My favorite on the lack of argument side is the exciting news that if the TPP is approved it will eliminate 18,000 tariffs on US exports to the countries in the deal. That sounds like a huge boon to trade, right? Public Citizen looked up the 18,000 tariffs that would be eliminated. If found that the United States is not currently exporting in more than half of the categories in which these tariffs apply. Included in the list of tariffs to be removed are Malaysia's shark fin tariffs, Vietnam's whale meat tariffs and Japan's ivory tariffs.

The overwhelming majority of these tariffs are of little consequence in very narrow product categories, like Brunei's tariff on ski boots. So when the proponents of the TPP tout the 18,000 tariffs is this because they have no clue what they are talking about, or are they deliberately trying to deceive the public?

But this is just the beginning of the fun when it comes to the TPP. The very pro-TPP Peter Peterson Institute for International Economics produced a study showing that the deal will add 0.5 percentage points to GDP when its effects are fully felt in 2030. While this projection is supposed to convince people of the huge benefits of the TPP, taken at face value it means we will be as rich on January 1, 2030 as we would otherwise be on March 15, 2030.

But even this limited projected gain is dubious. The model used to project this result explicitly assumes that the TPP cannot increase unemployment. If people are concerned that the TPP will lead to a further rise in the US trade deficit, which would cost jobs, the Peterson Institute model has nothing to tell them on the topic. It rules out this possibility by assumption. ...........(more)


Drones, Drugs and Death

Drones, Drugs and Death

Monday, 21 March 2016 00:00
By Esther Kersley, openDemocracy | News Analysis

In April 2015, USA TODAY broke a story with the headline: "US secretly tracked billions of calls for decades." At first glance, it appeared to be yet another Edward Snowden revelation implicating the National Security Agency (NSA), mass surveillance and the 'war on terror.' But it actually concerned a mass surveillance operation that had taken place a decade earlier, not by the NSA, but by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It was not aimed at identifying terrorists, but rather the detection of drug traffickers.

"It's very hard to see as anything other than the precursor to the NSA's terrorist surveillance," former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker said of the similarities between the two operations. The now-discontinued DEA operation that began in 1992 was the government's first known effort to gather data on Americans in bulk, sweeping up records of telephone calls made by millions of US citizens, regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime. For over two decades, the Justice Department and the DEA amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking in order to track drug cartels' distribution networks in the US.

Like the NSA's mass surveillance programme, the operation has been criticised for its threat to privacy and its lack of independent oversight. It was halted in September 2013 amid the fallout from the Snowden revelations. The DEA mass surveillance programme, however, serves as a reminder of how methods associated with the 'war on terror' are not unique to it. Running almost parallel to it, and at times borrowing from it, the US is increasingly dependent on covert methods of warfare in its other long-standing war, its 'war on drugs.'

A New Method of Warfare

'Remote control' warfare describes the global trend towards countering threats at a distance without the need to deploy large military force. Pervasive, yet largely unseen, it minimises its engagement and risk while extending its reach beyond conflict zones. Remote warfare includes not only mass surveillance techniques, but also the use of drones, 'special forces' and private military and security companies (PMSCs). .................(more)


Where Would Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland Stand on Labor Issues?

(In These Times) Despite hardline Senate Republican opposition to meeting with, let alone voting on, any potential replacement for recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, on Tuesday, President Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia after his recent, unexpected death.

Garland is a highly qualified, well-respected judge, first appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton to the D.C. Circuit Court and confirmed by a vote of 76 to 23 in the Senate. Garland has been under consideration for a seat on the Supreme Court previously; he has a reputation for judicial restraint (quite unlike Scalia’s highly ideological attempt to use the Supreme Court to re-write the nation’s law).

It’s hard to give him a clear political label, but Garland does not seem to be as progressive on workers’ rights issues as Scalia was reactionary. In 2010 Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog, wrote that Garland was “essentially the model, neutral judge. He is acknowledged by all to be brilliant. His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements.” On criminal law (and cases involving Guantanamo detainees), Goldstein wrote, Garland leaned a bit conservative, on first amendment, environmental and “open government” issues, a bit liberal. One consistent thread seems to be deference towards regulatory agencies, letting them make decisions without the Supreme Court always second-guessing or rewriting the law.

That sentiment may be important for labor issues before the Supreme Court, which has frequently acted to restrain the National Labor Relations Board and crimp worker rights in decades past. Scalia’s vote was crucial in the many 5-4 decisions by the Supreme Court that weakened rights and protections for American workers. His death, for example, seemed to have eliminated (for the moment) a likely 5-4 court decision in the Friedrichs case, which would have prevented public employee unions from charging non-members of the union a fee that paid for the benefits of union bargaining and grievance representation that union by law must provide. ..................(more)


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