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Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Home country: USA
Member since: Thu Sep 25, 2003, 01:04 PM
Number of posts: 85,373

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CITIBANK: Dead since....2008

I wanted to illustrate with a zombie image...but frankly, they are too gruesome.

And reports of Citi's insolvency predate 2008...this is just the latest relapse in the game.

February 13, 2009
Where Citi Is, Trouble Soon Follows
Posted by James Surowiecki


As I argued in my last post, we need to be careful about extrapolating from history, particularly when the historical record is short. That’s one reason why I’m not convinced that nationalizing most of our major banks is the best solution to our current financial problems. But I will say that if the recent history of our financial system tells us anything, it’s that it’s a miracle (and not in the good sense) that at least one bank—Citigroup—hasn’t already been taken over. This is a bank that was, by most accounts, technically insolvent in the early nineteen-eighties, as a result of the Latin American debt crisis. It was in serious trouble again in the early nineteen-nineties—Congressman John Dingell actually gave a speech in 1991 saying it was insolvent. And it’s been a major player in, and cause of, our current financial crisis, with a chorus of analysts declaring that, once again, its liabilities are greater than its assets. It does make you wonder how many lives it has, and it also makes you wonder why, after its earlier woes, regulators ever allowed it to get this big.

Why Taxpayers Will Bail Out the Rich When the Next Storm Hits By Bill Dedman


As homeowners around the nation protest skyrocketing premiums for federal flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has quietly moved the lines on its flood maps to benefit hundreds of oceanfront condo buildings and million-dollar homes, according to an analysis of federal records by NBC News.

The changes shift the financial burden for the next destructive hurricane, tsunami or tropical storm onto the neighbors of these wealthy beach-dwellers — and ultimately onto all American taxpayers.

In more than 500 instances from the Gulf of Alaska to Bar Harbor, Maine, FEMA has remapped waterfront properties from the highest-risk flood zone, saving the owners as much as 97 percent on the premiums they pay into the financially strained National Flood Insurance Program.

NBC News also found that FEMA has redrawn maps even for properties that have repeatedly filed claims for flood losses from previous storms. At least some of the properties are on the secret "repetitive loss list" that FEMA sends to communities to alert them to problem properties. FEMA says that it does not factor in previous losses into its decisions on applications to redraw the flood zones....


Edward Snowden on TED by Robot Speaks

Weekend Economists Putin on the Ritz March 28-30, 2014

Here it is, another weekend already. I don't know where the time goes! Partly it was birthday frenzy (the Kid turns 31 on Monday). Partly it was Condo Frenzy (Board elections in May, 5 major projects coming to a boil...) And partly it was the unspeakable weather....

Vladimir Putin Cuddles With A Puppy Seen On www.coolpicturegallery.us
And yes, this is very real. Vladimir Putin was presented with a Bulgarian Shepherd puppy after he signed a deal with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov to provide Bulgaria with cheaper oil.

Let's consider the Russian President Vladimir Putin, since he has been featured in the news of late. Who is he? Where did he come from? Where does he want to go and will Russians follow? And if delving into whatever is known about Tovarisch Putin takes us to delving into Russian history, so much the better. All the demonization going on makes me a bit crazy. If it weren't for President Wilson, I might have been born Russian, too!

Prominent Russians: Vladimir Putin

Born October 7, 1952

At the stroke of the 21st century, Vladimir Putin became one of the worlds’ most well-known politicians. Today his name is associated worldwide with Russia’s rise from the ashes – both economically and politically. But the second Russian President’s career had a rather humble beginning. Vladimir Putin’s parents could hardly have imagined that their beloved son would one day take the helm of their vast country when he was born on 7 October 1952 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). His mother, Maria Ivanovna Shelomova, was a factory worker and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, a conscript in the Soviet Navy, where he served in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s.

The family lived in a small communal apartment when 8-year old Vladimir started school number 193, just across the street from his home. Putin’s first teachers remember him as a rowdy pupil. By 5th grade he was the only one in his class not to be a member of the Pioneers movement (a popular youth movement of the Soviet era) – largely because young Putin often misbehaved. All this changed, however, when he reached 6th grade and began practicing sports – namely martial arts like judo. In his autobiography, “Ot Pervogo Litsa” (“In the First Person”), Vladimir Putin wrote that back then his main motivation for taking up martial arts was a wish to emulate the intelligence officers portrayed on Soviet screens by actors like Vyacheslav Tikhonov.

Having graduated from high school in 1970, Putin entered the International Law Branch of the Law Department of Leningrad State University. He became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and got acquainted with the man who was destined to change his fate later on – Leningrad’s future mayor Anatoly Sobchak. After graduating from University, Putin decided to realize his childhood aspiration to work in the intelligence field. In 1975 he underwent training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where his duties included monitoring foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad.

In 1985 his KGB career took a new twist – a fluent German speaker, Putin was sent to Dresden in East Germany, where Soviet troops were stationed at the time. He still remembers those years with special delight, which he confirmed in an interview on the on the anniversary of the troops’ pullout. After Soviet troops left East Germany, Putin returned to Leningrad where, in June 1991, he assumed the position of surveillance officer with the International Affairs section of Leningrad State University. But the stint was short-lived – Putin formally resigned from the state security services on 20 August 1991, during the KGB-supported coup d’etat against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Nevertheless, his work at Leningrad State University got him re-acquainted with Anatoly Sobchak, then mayor of the city. It was Sobchak who brought Vladimir Putin into politics.

On 28 June 1991 Putin was appointed Head of the Committee for External Relations of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's Office. He was responsible for promoting international relations and foreign investments, as well as registering foreign business ventures in Saint Petersburg. Putin remained in this position until 1996. Nowadays, even his current political critics say that back then Putin was famed for his resistance to the temptation of corruption – self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky is often cited by the media as saying, “Putin never took bribes during his time in the office.”

The future president’s career in St. Petersburg ended with that of his patron. In 1996 Sobchak lost a mayoral vote and Putin lost his job. But his talent didn’t go unnoticed and he was summoned to Moscow to work in President Boris Yeltsin’s Administration. Just a year later, in 1998, Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin to head the Russian security services – the FSB. Yet again, his career at this post lasted for only a year – on 9 August 1999 Vladimir Putin was appointed Russia’s prime minister. In those years of political uncertainty, he became the country’s 5th head of government in less than eighteen months. Few expected Putin, who was virtually unknown to the general public, to last any longer than his predecessors. Moreover, his first premiership came amid a worsening crisis in the North Caucasus, where militants from Chechnya had invaded the neighboring Dagestan Republic – that’s when Putin said his memorable phrase about his “firm intention to kill militants even when they’re in a toilet.”

The Chechen military campaign and Putin’s tough stance against it forged his image in – and outside – Russia, and despite hard-fought campaigns by other candidates for the presidency, Putin's hard-line politics, his law-and-order image and his unrelenting approach to the crisis in Chechnya soon propelled him to victory over all his rivals. Just hours before the clock marked the New Year in 2000, Boris Yeltsin unveiled a big sensation – in a televised address to the nation he announced his early retirement and recommended Vladimir Putin as his successor - another career change in less than a year. Putin was now a stand-in president of the Russian Federation – a status that changed to acting president after a presidential election in March 2000 that Putin won in the first round with 52.94 percent of the vote.

Vladimir Putin’s first chapter as Russia’s president could be better described as “an up-and-down period in modern Russian history.” Russia’s economy was booming and Putin implemented major changes to the country’s power structure. He also made sure that influential tycoons of the Yeltsin-era, sometimes called oligarchs, would no longer control politics in their favor. Such steps were greeted with support from Russians, most of whom blamed the wealthy businessmen – not always with legitimate backgrounds – for the severe economic crisis of the late 1990s. But amid a growth in the quality of living, Russia went through a difficult and violent time dealing with Chechen terrorists. On several occasions – like the Moscow theater siege, bombings of metro and apartment buildings in the Russian capital and the hostage taking in a Beslan school – the militants made it clear that they were willing to take the Chechen war beyond the republic’s borders. The whole country was gripped by fear. In these circumstances, Putin had to react with tough measures. His hard-line policies towards building security in the country were sometimes criticized by the Western media, but after the militant movement in the Northern Caucasus was suppressed and Chechnya finally saw peace, the Russian public openly declared their loyalty to Vladimir Putin. At the start of his second presidential term (which he again won in the first round with 71 percent of the vote), he enjoyed his all-time highest approval rating of more than 80 percent.

As the country continued its vast economic growth during Putin’s second term, which started in 2004, Russia’s foreign policy came into the spotlight. Despite being strongly criticized by the Western media during his second term for what it called “autocracy” and “strangling the freedom of the press,” Putin managed to mend the greatest drawback of the Yeltsin-era – Russia finally had its voice heard in the international arena and became an important player in the global decision-making processes. Putin was strongly critical of US foreign policies. In 2007 he gave a memorable speech during a security conference in Munich, where the Russian leader lashed out at Washington’s attempts to govern the whole planet and called for the creation of a democratic multi-polar world, with the rule of international law.

As the Russian constitution didn’t allow the president to run for a third consecutive term, at the end of 2007 – several months ahead of the presidential vote – Vladimir Putin announced that he would support Dmitry Medvedev as his successor. Medvedev, in return, said that should he win the election, he would appoint Putin as prime minister. The result of the vote spoke for itself – having come practically out of the blue, Medvedev won in the first round as well with 70.28 percent of the vote, signaling the non-diminishing support for Putin’s way of controlling Russia’s policies. On 8 May 2008, Vladimir Putin began his second spell as Russia’s prime minister – a post he has successfully occupied ever since.


There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says By Spencer Ackerman


You think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden says it’s worse than you know.

Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. Wyden (D-Oregon) says that powers they grant the government on their face, the government applies a far broader legal interpretation — an interpretation that the government has conveniently classified, so it cannot be publicly assessed or challenged. But one prominent Patriot-watcher asserts that the secret interpretation empowers the government to deploy ”dragnets” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

“We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden told Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation...

American Psychosis: What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?




The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.

Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors...

"Paid-what-you’re-worth" Is a Dangerous, fundamentally misleading meritocracy myth By Robert Reich


It’s often assumed that people are paid what they’re worth. According to this logic, minimum wage workers aren’t worth more than the $7.25 an hour they now receive. If they were worth more, they’d earn more. Any attempt to force employers to pay them more will only kill jobs...According to this same logic, CEOs of big companies are worth their giant compensation packages, now averaging 300 times pay of the typical American worker. They must be worth it or they wouldn’t be paid this much. Any attempt to limit their pay is fruitless because their pay will only take some other form.

"Paid-what-you’re-worth" is a dangerous myth.

Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker got paid $35 an hour in today’s dollars. Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, and the typical Walmart workers earns $8.80 an hour.
Does this mean the typical GM employee a half-century ago was worth four times what today’s typical Walmart employee is worth? Not at all. Yes, that GM worker helped produce cars rather than retail sales. But he wasn’t much better educated or even that much more productive. He often hadn’t graduated from high school. And he worked on a slow-moving assembly line. Today’s Walmart worker is surrounded by digital gadgets — mobile inventory controls, instant checkout devices, retail search engines — making him or her quite productive. The real difference is the GM worker a half-century ago had a strong union behind him that summoned the collective bargaining power of all autoworkers to get a substantial share of company revenues for its members. And because more than a third of workers across America belonged to a labor union, the bargains those unions struck with employers raised the wages and benefits of non-unionized workers as well. Non-union firms knew they’d be unionized if they didn’t come close to matching the union contracts. Today’s Walmart workers don’t have a union to negotiate a better deal. They’re on their own. And because fewer than 7 percent of today’s private-sector workers are unionized, non-union employers across America don’t have to match union contracts. This puts unionized firms at a competitive disadvantage. The result has been a race to the bottom.

By the same token, today’s CEOs don’t rake in 300 times the pay of average workers because they’re “worth” it. They get these humongous pay packages because they appoint the compensation committees on their boards that decide executive pay. Or their boards don’t want to be seen by investors as having hired a “second-string” CEO who’s paid less than the CEOs of their major competitors. Either way, the result has been a race to the top. If you still believe people are paid what they’re worth, take a look at Wall Street bonuses. Last year’s average bonus was up 15 percent over the year before, to more than $164,000. It was the largest average Wall Street bonus since the 2008 financial crisis and the third highest on record, according to New York’s state comptroller. Remember, we’re talking bonuses, above and beyond salaries. All told, the Street paid out a whopping $26.7 billion in bonuses last year. Are Wall Street bankers really worth it? Not if you figure in the hidden subsidy flowing to the big Wall Street banks that ever since the bailout of 2008 have been considered too big to fail.

People who park their savings in these banks accept a lower interest rate on deposits or loans than they require from America’s smaller banks. That’s because smaller banks are riskier places to park money. Unlike the big banks, the smaller ones won’t be bailed out if they get into trouble. This hidden subsidy gives Wall Street banks a competitive advantage over the smaller banks, which means Wall Street makes more money. And as their profits grow, the big banks keep getting bigger. How large is this hidden subsidy? Two researchers, Kenichi Ueda of the International Monetary Fund and Beatrice Weder di Mauro of the University of Mainz, have calculated it’s about eight tenths of a percentage point. This may not sound like much but multiply it by the total amount of money parked in the ten biggest Wall Street banks and you get a huge amount — roughly $83 billion a year. Recall that the Street paid out $26.7 billion in bonuses last year. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a Wall Street banker to see that the hidden subsidy the Wall Street banks enjoy because they’re too big to fail is about three times what Wall Street paid out in bonuses. Without the subsidy, no bonus pool. By the way, the lion’s share of that subsidy ($64 billion a year) goes to the top five banks — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo. and Goldman Sachs. This amount just about equals these banks’ typical annual profits. In other words, take away the subsidy and not only does the bonus pool disappear, but so do all the profits. The reason Wall Street bankers got fat paychecks plus a total of $26.7 billion in bonuses last year wasn’t because they worked so much harder or were so much more clever or insightful than most other Americans. They cleaned up because they happen to work in institutions — big Wall Street banks — that hold a privileged place in the American political economy. And why, exactly, do these institutions continue to have such privileges? Why hasn’t Congress used the antitrust laws to cut them down to size so they’re not too big to fail, or at least taxed away their hidden subsidy (which, after all, results from their taxpayer-financed bailout)? Perhaps it’s because Wall Street also accounts for a large proportion of campaign donations to major candidates for Congress and the presidency of both parties....According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the $26.7 billion of bonuses Wall Street banks paid out last year would be enough to more than double the pay of every one of America’s 1,085,000 full-time minimum wage workers. The remainder of the $83 billion of hidden subsidy going to those same banks would almost be enough to double what the government now provides low-wage workers in the form of wage subsidies under the Earned Income Tax Credit. But I don’t expect Congress to make these sorts of adjustments any time soon.

The “paid-what-your-worth” argument is fundamentally misleading because it ignores power, overlooks institutions, and disregards politics. As such, it lures the unsuspecting into thinking nothing whatever should be done to change what people are paid, because nothing can be done.

Don’t buy it.

Robert Reich: Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock" and “The Work of Nations." His latest, "Beyond Outrage," is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

Five Signs Solar Power is Taking Over the World By Juan Cole


This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

Burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) is putting 32 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere. Since CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun on earth and prevents it radiating back out to space, this unprecedented human output is causing climate disruption, a process that will accelerate over the next few decades and will prove extremely costly to human society (if the latter can even survive).

The only energy source that has a hope of fixing this problem and of resolving the coming energy crisis is solar. The cost of solar panels is falling rapidly, raising the hope that we can put in enough panels quickly enough to avoid the very worst scenario of carbon-induced climate disruption. (I put in 16 Enphase microinverter panels at my place this winter and they generated 120 kilowatt hours in the past week; my house and electric car averaged 150 kilowatt hours usage per week last month; and that is in Michigan at the tail end of winter).

Here are some promising signs with regard to solar power that have recently been in the news:

1. Cheaper solar panels and more efficient wind turbines now produce so much energy that they pay for themselves quickly even if you add the cost of storage into the mix, and they also pay for the cost of adding more wind and solar. The Scientific American writes that Charles Banhart, a post-doc at Stanford’s Global Clmate and Energy Project, told them: “What we’re saying is that theoretically, it is now theoretically possible to have this perfect world that’s just based on wind and solar.” It adds, “Rather than using existing “stock” fuels like fossil fuels, he said, renewables put out enough excess energy to fuel their own expansion.”

2. The price of electricity generated by solar panels in India has fallen so much that solar is now competitive with coal. India wants to add 22 gigawatts of solar by 2022, but is already looking like it will do at least 3 times that because of falling costs. In twenty years, India will be the country generating the most new demand for electricity in the world, surpassing China.

3. Ghana has started work on a $400 million, 155 megawatt solar utility plant, the largest so far in Africa and the 6th largest in the world. It will be completed in 2015.

4. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe introduced a feed-in tariff 18 months ago, with dramatic results. Installed solar capacity in the past year and a half has gone from about 2 and a half gigawatts to a whopping 7.5 GW. In an encouraging sign for the Japanese economy, nearly half the photovoltaic panels shipped were manufactured in Japan. Since the tsunami disaster at the Daichi Fukushima nuclear complex, Japan has scrambled to replace the electricity generating capacity of its nuclear reactors. A majority of days in the year are sunny in Japan, but the solar panels generate at least some electricity even when it is overcast. The number of sunny days each year in Japan is comparable to that in Germany, where solar now accounts for 5 percent of German electricity production, a proportion expected to increase rapidly over the next decade.

5. American hip-hop artist Akon (who grew up in Senegal) is promoting affordable solar energy kits for African villagers that are cheaper than kerosene. He aims to bring power to a million Africans this year.


They talk like that would be a "bad thing"

IF we keep the infrastructure and the human capital, and squeeze out the profiteering and corruption, we will be a better nation for it.

If, on the other hand, we continue to rape and pillage the infrastructure and humans, to grow the profiteering and corruption, we will perish utterly.

Koch Power Raised Gasoline Prices By 40 Cents A Gallon Overnight


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