2/4/09 News Radar

by JASON | 6:25 AM in |

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- A record 19 million U.S. homes stood empty at the end of 2008 and homeownership fell to an eight-year low as banks seized homes faster than they could sell them.

The number of vacant homes climbed 6.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the same period a year ago, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report today. The share of empty homes that are for sale rose to 2.9 percent, the most in data that goes back to 1956. The homeownership rate fell to 67.5 percent, matching the rate in the first quarter of 2001.

California today was branded the worst credit risk of all 50 states, after Standard & Poor’s cut its rating on the state’s debt because of the budget impasse.

S&P lowered its rating on the state’s $46 billion in general obligation bonds to "A" from "A-plus," citing "the state's inability to reach an agreement on a mid-year budget revision and its rapidly eroding cash position."

Until now, California and Louisiana had been tied for last place, at "A-plus," on S&P’s state ratings list. Most states are rated either "AA" or "AAA."

What’s more, S&P warned, "Despite what we consider the state's strong longer-term economic fundamentals, we judge prospects for an imminent or brisk economic and revenue recovery to be unlikely."

The ratings firm also wasn’t swayed by potential help from Washington in the fiscal-stimulus package for the economy that Congress now is debating.

Despite its money woes, California can't arbitrarily decide to default on its debts; the state Constitution mandates that debt principal and interest must be paid as promised.

Welcome to debtors prison!

Out of money, the eighth-largest economy in the world halted $3.5 billion worth of payments on Monday. The years of plenty are clearly over. Now, for thousands of Californians, the famine years have arrived. California has begun stiffing its citizens.

With the economy contracting, record numbers losing their homes, and 13.8 percent more people on food stamps than were last year, the state’s decision could hardly have come at a worse time.

Taxpayers, contractors, social service agencies and counties across the state are currently dealing with the news that government checks will not be arriving—at least for now. Instead, the state has chosen to continue funding its school system and making its debt payments to its domestic and foreign creditors.

Taxpayers are angry. The $2 billion in personal income tax refunds being held up does not even really belong to the state. This is money that in many cases was overpaid. Additionally, $515 million in payments belonging to state vendors is being blocked, along with $280 million more that goes to help people with developmental disabilities. Other public assistance agencies are also left waiting for hundreds of millions more.

Already horribly in debt, California is facing a budget deficit of approximately $42 billion through 2010. To fix this gargantuan overspending tab, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to slash spending by $17.4 billion, increase taxes by $14.3 billion, and borrow the rest (around $10 billion).

What do you call a government that steals from its citizens?

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- China’s manufacturing shrank for a fourth month as exports fell because of the global recession and companies ran down stockpiles of steel, textiles and autos, a government-backed survey showed.

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Kazakhstan’s central bank devalued the tenge by 18 percent, joining Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in abandoning attempts to prop up exchange rates as currency reserves dwindle.

Central Asia’s largest energy producer will keep its currency at about 150 tenge to the dollar from Feb. 4, the Almaty-based National Bank of the Republic of Kazakhstan said in a statement. It may fluctuate about 3 percent either side of that rate. The tenge fell 15 percent to 143.98 on the Kazakhstan stock exchange, from 122.32 per dollar yesterday.

Kazakhstan is devaluing its currency as local banks and companies struggle to refinance debt and a recession looms. The nation, holder of 3.2 percent of the world’s oil reserves according to BP Plc, is slowing after a decade-long boom during which the economy expanded an average of 10 percent a year. The government now predicts expansion of 1 percent this year.

The most serious charge against the stimulus package is that it does not pack enough punch. Two different camps have been making this argument over the last few weeks. Publicly, the Obama administration hasn’t really answered either one.

The first camp says that the stimulus is simply too small. The recession is likely to idle almost $2 trillion of resources — buildings, equipment and people — this year and next, yet the current stimulus will fill only $700 billion of the hole. Several liberal economists, the forecasters at Goldman Sachs and Mark Zandi (an economist whose forecasts the administration has used) all argue for a bill of at least $1 trillion.

The second camp says that, dollar for dollar, the current package is not as effective as it should be. The public face of this group is Martin Feldstein, a longtime adviser to Republicans. Rather than across-the-board tax cuts, he is calling for targeted tax cuts that people will receive only by spending money, on a new house or other items. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/business/04leonhardt.html?_r=1&ref=business

Interesting argument. The trick is getting the money to the little guy so he can start spending again. If you give the money to the banks it will only work if you can get the little guy to borrow more money - despite being leveraged to the hilt. The other avenue is lower the little guys taxes so he might spend - but he may choose to retire debt instead which won't help the economy.

I'd say we are at the end of the rope!

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Camden Fine’s nightmare is a Bank of America or Citibank branch on every corner.

“Do we really want to create more cycloptic monsters stomping around the country ruining people’s lives?” asks Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. He says he fears new U.S. financial regulation might include a merger of agencies favoring big banks over his 5,000 members.

Real fear as it looks to me like a roll-up strategy is being implemented.

Annualised US car sales slipped below 10m last month in spite of steep discounts offered by carmakers and government efforts to ease lending.

General Motors’ monthly sales of cars and light trucks fell by 49 per cent last month, Chrysler’s by 55 per cent and Ford Motor’s by 40 per cent, including vehicles made by Volvo, its Swedish premium brand.

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) - The auto industry's historic meltdown showed no signs of relenting in January, with Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler on Tuesday posting U.S. sales declines of more than 40% -- below even the lowest of Wall Street targets.

Let's call it Tucker's Revenge!

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday pushed the cost of the economic stimulus package above $900 billion by adding billions for medical research and tax breaks for car buyers.

Angling to spur automobile sales as part of the economic stimulus package, the Senate voted to add an $11 billion provision to the bill that will allow most Americans to claim a tax deduction for the sales tax and any loan interest on the purchase of a new car between Nov. 12, 2008, and the end of 2009.

A couple in California, required by law to have their dog implanted with a microchip in order to take him camping, swallowed their objections … and watched their Chihuahua named Charlie Brown bleed to death from the procedure.

President Obama has expressed his belief the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted through the lens of current events and now he's apparently preparing to install as a senior official at the U.S. Justice Department a lawyer who goes one step further, advocating for constitutional protections for abortionists, pornographers and protesters.

"Ogden is an abortion-on-demand absolutist. He opposes common sense restrictions on abortion, including policies that have significant support from the American people, such as parental notification by minors," the organizations said in a report today.

Also, "Ogden is an absolutist on pornography and obscenity. He opposes common sense restrictions on the ability of pornography peddlers to sell their products. He believes pornography users have a constitutional right to view pornography at a public library."

Additionally, "He believes private property owners' right to exclude protesters from their property must yield to the protesters' free speech right."

And he "supports a 'living Constitution' that changes to fit the latest fad of the intelligentsia," the report said.

WND is announcing a plan starting immediately to submit questions to President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, via the technology
of the Internet and e-mail, since his news briefings at the White House
so far have been dominated by a select few reporters to the exclusion of the majority.

For example, at a briefing earlier this week there were 79 in attendance, most raising their hands to ask questions. Only 19 were allowed to ask their questions, and several of those were given four or even five opportunities to ask questions.

A lesbian couple who fought for the legalization of same-sex unions in Massachusetts has filed for divorce after four years of "marriage." The relationship between international "gay" icons Hillary and Julie Goodridge lasted exactly half the duration of average straight marriages that end in divorce. However, a 2006 Boston Globe report revealed that the two lesbians confirmed their separation after only two years and "amicably lived apart."

"Obviously, they don't hold the institution in very high esteem."

A similar scenario took place in California after its Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on May 15, 2008. Theresa Ramirez and Adelita Guajardo of Fresno County, Calif., "married" the following month. However, they filed for divorce only three days later, citing "irreconcilable differences."

A Union Flag at a police station was replaced by a gay rights flag in a move that has triggered a fresh row over political correctness. The rainbow flag was hoisted outside Limehouse police station in East London to mark Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender history month in February.

2009 Intelligence Overview


A proposal to scan the driver licenses of bar patrons and keep it on file in a state law enforcement database is a good start, says Senate President Michael Waddoups, but he wants to see the program go further.

Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, says he wants to see the database idea start with private clubs, but extend to restaurants that serve diners beer and liquor.

That would greatly expand the scope of the data collection and create a new requirement for restaurants, which are not required to have people sign up as members in order to serve beer and liquor. There are fewer than 400 clubs and taverns and nearly 1,100 restaurants licensed to serve alcohol.

Bar owners pitched the idea of doing away with Utah's unique requirement that all patrons be members of a private club, replacing it with the use of electronically scannable driver licenses to prevent underage drinking.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who wants to eliminate Utah's private club laws to make the state more tourist-friendly, is amenable to the idea.

But the governor and bar owners have expressed concern toward a bill that Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is crafting. He would store the information in a central database that law enforcement could access for accident investigations or in the event of a traffic stop.

Big brother - Utah style!

As previously noted in Pawns of the Global Elite, Barack Obama was groomed for the presidency by key members of the Trilateral Commission. Most notably, it was Zbigniew Brzezinski, co-founder of the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller in 1973, who was Obama's principal foreign policy advisor.

The pre-election attention is reminiscent of Brzezinski's tutoring of Jimmy Carter prior to Carter's landslide election in 1976.

For anyone who doubts the Commission's continuing influence on Obama, consider that he has already appointed no less than eleven members of the Commission to top-level and key positions in his Administration.

According to official Trilateral Commission membership lists, there are only 87 members from the United States (the other 337 members are from other regions). Thus, in less than two weeks since his inauguration, Obama's appointments encompass more than 12% of Commission's entire U.S. membership.

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The government that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero put together with cash is coming unglued.

The Socialist’s parliamentary alliances are breaking down as the worst recession in half a century makes handouts to regional allies unaffordable. The Catalans have already bolted his coalition; the Basques are threatening to do the same.

“The government depends on nationalist votes, but it is getting increasingly difficult to retain them,” said Ken Dubin, a professor of political science at Carlos III University in Madrid. “I’m not sure the finances will enable him to hold this baby together.”

Spain’s deteriorating condition means Zapatero can’t make good on promises fueled by a housing boom that delivered a record budget surplus in 2007 and helped him win re-election last year. Now, eight votes short of a majority in the 350-seat parliament, he’s facing legislative paralysis or even the demise of his government.

The power of mass media to shape minds is a power well proven. One only has to view presentations such as Media War—produced by a genuine seeker after truth, photojournalist Russel Gordon, revealing the powerfully deceitful media machine’s biased portraits of the Balkan wars resulting in the demonizing of the Serbs—to be appalled at the degree to which public opinion can be swayed by the mass media.

Goebbels was one who knew his trade well. During the Nazi era, Hitler’s minister for propaganda seized on the power of the new media technology of the day, radio, to peddle the Nazi message to the masses. Of the experience of living in a totalitarian state, subject to a continual barrage of state-controlled propaganda, journalist William Shirer observed, “[T]he steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda” (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).

Tel Aviv - Three-and-a-half years ago, Israeli reserve Gen. Doron Almog was forced to flee Britain just after landing in London. He had been tipped off about a surprise warrant for his arrest issued by a British magistrates court. The charge: war crimes.

Now, as the recent Gaza war stirs up more accusations of offenses, the Jewish state and international human rights advocates are gearing up for more potential criminal cases against military officers and political leaders in Europe and possibly elsewhere.

But instead of international tribunals or the Israeli justice system, the main venue for the cases is expected to be European domestic courts that cite a legal approach known as "universal jurisdiction" that allows for the trial of cases of heinous acts, torture, or war crimes that allegedly occur outside their own borders.

Israelis consider the threats part of an ongoing political witch hunt. Palestinians and humanitarian activists, on the other hand, see the domestic courts as the only forum to argue whether war crimes were committed.

"The systems in place across a number of countries will be tested.... We have legal teams working across and beyond European countries" on behalf of Palestinian plaintiffs claiming war crimes, says Daniel Machover, an Israeli-born British lawyer who works in coordination with the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights and pushed for Mr. Almog's arrest in 2005. "There's no other way a country under occupation or a land under occupation can seek justice."

EL ATATRA, Gaza Strip: The phosphorus smoke bomb punched through the roof in exactly the spot where much of the family had taken refuge - the upstairs hall away from the windows.

The bomb, which international weapons experts identified as phosphorus by its fragments, was intended to mask troop movements outside. Instead, it blew its storm of fire and smoke into Sabah Abu Halima's hallway, releasing flaming chemicals that clung to her husband, three small children and her baby girl, burning them to death.

Where do jurisdictions begin and end?

Tashkent, Uzbekistan - Desperate for a new military supply route into Afghanistan, the US is quietly rebuilding ties with leaders of this Central Asian nation, despite its grim human rights record.

The need for a more reliable land link was underscored Tuesday after Taliban militants cut the existing major coalition supply route by blowing up a bridge in northwest Pakistan's Khyber Pass region.

Coalition forces are not in danger of running out of supplies, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan said. But with 80 percent of all supplies flowing through this largely lawless region of Pakistan and with attacks on convoys increasing, Washington has been moving fast to repair relations with Afghanistan's neighbors.

Yep gotta keep those drugs moving - demand is only intensifying. Who cares about the human rights record? We are talking about billions in cold hard cash!

MOSCOW: A day after the president of Kyrgyzstan announced plans to close a key U.S. military base in his country, potentially jeopardizing NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, American diplomats and military officials in the region said Wednesday the base was still operating and negotiations on its future were continuing.

But news reports said the Kyrgyz government submitted a draft law to parliament on Wednesday to close the base. If approved, the law would rescind the agreement permitting the base to operate, the reports said.

President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the facility on Tuesday during a visit to Moscow to seek financial support. The American base at Manas has served as an air hub and refueling and transit point for NATO efforts in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials have several times intervened when Kyrgyz officials considered shutting it.

Korea's financial authorities appear increasingly skeptical about creditor bankers' ability and commitment to drive forward much-needed corporate restructuring.

Rep. Yim Tae-hee, chief policymaker of the ruling Grand National Party, expressed disappointment at the overall outcomes of the restructuring process.

"The bank-led restructuring has not been fruitful. As the market-driven renovation revealed limitations, the government needs to take the lead in the remaining process," the lawmaker told reporters.

North Korea has moved what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile to its old launch site on the east coast for possible test-firing, a South Korean source said yesterday.

South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities spotted a train loading a cylinder-shaped substance at the Musudan-ri test site, the source said, correcting previous information that the train was heading to a new launch base at Dongchang-ri near the North's western coast.

The intelligence organs had recently noticed the substance believed to be a Taepodong-2 missile was moving by train from a munitions factory in Pyongyang.

"The train has arrived not at the Dongchang-ri site, but at the Musudan-ri base," the source said on condition of anonymity. "We guess it is because a construction of the Dongchang-ri site has not yet been completed."

U.S. satellite has lost the trace of the train for a while due to inclement weather in the North, which led to a wrong judgment on the train's final destination, the source said.

The United States Forces Korea commander yesterday called on North Korea to refrain from further provocations following the latest intelligence reports indicating Pyongyang is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile.

Asserting that the forces are "prepared for any contingency," Gen. Walter Sharp urged Pyongyang to "stop the provocations that have been going on, whether it is declaring old agreements to be no longer valid or missile technology that they continue to develop."

SEOUL - NORTH Korea may be preparing to use the site of its previous ballistic missile launches on the east coast to fire its longest range missile, possibly toward Japan, news reports said on Wednesday.

The missile reports follow threats directed at Seoul and Washington, which analysts said are meant to intimidate conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and grab the attention of new US President Barack Obama.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination as the health and human services secretary on Tuesday. His statement of withdrawal came just hours after Nancy Killefer withdrew her nomination as chief performance officer. Daschle’s nomination has been wrought with controversy since he failed to pay more than $120,000 in income taxes between 2005 and 2007.

Killefer withdrew her nomination as chief performance officer on similar grounds. The Associated Press disclosed that in 2005 she had a $946.69 tax lien on her property for failing to pay unemployment compensation tax on household help. In a letter sent to President Obama on Tuesday, Killefer stated her request for withdrawal, which has also been accepted.

“I recognize that your agenda and the duties facing your Chief Performance Officer are urgent,” wrote Killefer in her letter. “I have also come to realize in the current environment that my personal tax issue of D.C. Unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of distraction and delay those duties must avoid. Because of this I must reluctantly ask you to withdraw my name from consideration.”

While the world economy collapses the American dollar continues to strengthen its position in the world, to little wonder – it’s getting back to its basics as the backup currency on every continent except Antarctica.

Yet since the U.S. has debts two times exceeding the world’s GDP one cannot help but ask oneself – what’s next?

The web is flooded with lots of theories and rumours about what would happen to the American currency whether, when and where it would fall – or what else. Some of them look like senseless fantasies, others resemble futurologist’s predictions, but the conspiracy theories of all kinds and colours are firmly on top of all.

“Dollar will crash soon”, “U.S. will change currency”, “Dollars will be sold by weight” – as some smart Russian blogger put it – who creates such buzz and is there a rational reason for the slightest of anxieties?

Well, there is a fact that poses a question, with a big Q. Dollar monetary stock worldwide has grown two-fold over the last half-year and this printing press does not seem to be slowing down.

Would this financial pyramid eventually collapse (since these lots of green paper are not based neither on gold or something equally solid nor collateralized to be collateral)? No one from the U.S. Federal Reserve System so far has intelligibly explained what they are planning to do with the paper, and this mystery probably holds the key answer to the question posed above.

The unimaginable trillions of dollars of national debt make the currently realised $US 700 billion bailout plan look pale in comparison – as well as the $US 850 billion next one currently being discussed.

The truth is that all this money just does not exist. You can print banknotes but you cannot necessarily call them “money”. Imagine this money distributed equally among every living person and fancy what would happen if they all decided to buy goods simultaneously – there’d not be enough goods on this planet. What’s next? Guess for yourself.

US President Barack Obama is going to offer Russia an unexampled arms reduction plan. The plan stipulates an 80-percent reduction of the nuclear arsenal for the two countries, whereas the amount of nuclear warheads is to be cut to 1,000 both with the United States and Russia, The Times wrote.

The US president will entrust the talks to a special committee under the chairmanship of Gary Samore, who used to serve as a non-proliferation negotiator in the Clinton administration. The US State Department with Hillary Clinton at the head will supervise the talks.