Saturday, December 20, 2008

That's All For Now Folks

Well thats it folks, I am outta here until the new year. Moving into my new house, setting up, cleaning the old place up. And my internet access will be limited until the new year. So till then have a Happy Holiday.Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Merry Yule Happy Hanuaka and Happy New Year.

Two Tier Alberta Redux

The Stelmach government made several announcements this week concerning seniors. All of them are about their plan to end universality and create a two tier system of seniors service.
Alberta seniors who can afford it to be able to buy extra care
Ironically one of those announcements backfired.
Seniors won't pay for braces, artificial limbs
seniors earning more than $21000 were going to be required to pay part of the cost of the devices that had been free.
And while the government quickly backtracked claiming that it was all a miscommunication, it wasn't. The government is giving with one hand and taking away with another.
Alberta opening doors to for-profit drug providers for seniors
As of January 2010, the Stelmach government will eliminate its universal Alberta Blue Cross benefit for the province’s elderly and replace it with a new income-based system that opens the door to “private, for-profit health insurance companies,” says Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE).
So despite the backpedaling on one miscommunication, the reality is that the government does not have a leg to stand on when it says it is improving seniors care in the province. It is introducing two tiered seniors care. And with that can two tiered health care be far behind?
David Eggen, executive director for Friends of Medicare, said the government's move to charge well-off seniors jeopardizes the universality of health care. "We're very concerned about all the Albertans targeted for increases," Eggen said. "Seniors should be upset after they have been paying into the system their entire lives and then the rules change."
And while the government is claiming wealthy seniors can pay for more care services the reality is that in B.C. such programs have hurt those who cannot afford it. B.C. like Alberta has promoted P3's.
PORT ALBERNI — On Wednesday of this week it was reported that the former residents of Cowichan Lodge are now paying more at the P-3 Sunridge Place. When the Government fired all the workers at Cowichan Lodge and forced the residents to leave a publicly funded facility and move into Sunridge Place, VIHA and the Government promised no extra fees and better service. The extra costs are reported by one patient to be approx $300 per month. This is how the private part of the partnership makes money. They have to charge for “extras” that used to be covered in the main costs at the publicly funded facility. The government may be still paying the same amount per patient, but the company can’t make a profit on that unless they slash wages, lower services and increase “user fees.” This equals less care and more costs for our retired elderly workers and their families. Is this what we want for our parents or ourselves? With many seniors’ loss of assets due to the market downturn these extra charges are even more mean spirited than usual.

Two Tier Alberta
Medicare Calgary Style

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Caanda's Economic Engine Runs Out Of Oil

The overheated Alberta economy has screeched to a halt. And it does not look like the 'engine of Canada's economy' will be saving the country from recession anytime soon. So while manufacturing declines in Ontario, especially auto manufacturing, the result will mean even further decline in the need for gas and oil.
Opp's didn't plan for that did we. Of course not Alberta politicians provincially and federally oppose any concept of 'economic planning'.
And its not like we haven't been through all this before! Alberta Oil Jobs Evaporating
Despite the provincial governments head in the sand approach to oil development Albertans are speaking out, even as the oil economy bottoms out. Petro-Canada's planned pipeline bad for Alberta
And once again Alberta comes calling to Ottawa to bail it out!!! And of course the Alberta based Harpocrites are only to willing to oblige. But don't worry this is typical Conservative hype, they are simpy reannouncing previous commitments to capital investment.

Crisis forces Alberta to consider red ink
Opposition parties have been warning for years that the Tory government's spending was out of control, and that it was not doing enough to save the eye-popping surpluses it was reaping from soaring oil and natural-gas royalties. This year's surplus is expected to be $2-billion, down from the record of $8.6-billion in 2005-06.In 2007, the finance minister of the day, Lyle Oberg, speculated a deficit was possible if the province could not rein in its runaway spending. Since 2005-06, total government spending has jumped at least 32 per cent and per capita spending has been higher than that of any other provincial government.

Energy prices blamed as Alberta faces first deficit in 15 years

Alberta's decelerating energy sector can no longer be relied on to be the sole engine driving the province's economy, says a report issued yesterday by the Royal Bank of Canada. "While our new forecast for the provincial economy still reflects some degree of vigour, it does show a fair amount of steam seeping out of Alberta's engine," said Provincial Outlook, penned by economists Robert Hogue and Paul Ferley. The most visible example of the fading vigour is the delay or outright cancellation of several upgrader projects worth approximately $45 billion, as well as plans to scale back drilling because of low natural gas prices, the reports says. RBC has revised its GDP forecast to 2.1% for next year, down from a previous estimate of 3%.

Alberta inflation takes breather at 2.1 per cent
ATB Financial senior economist Todd Hirsch attributed the price jump in fruits and veggies in part to a weaker Canadian dollar."Alberta's inflation figures are being swept lower by falling commodity prices, especially crude oil and gasoline, but also by softer consumer demand," he said. Still, Canada's inflation was two per cent in November, the first time in two months that Alberta's inflation edged higher than the nation's.

Nearly across the board, oil companies have begun cutting spending. A survey by Barclays Capital found 2009 capital budgets were 12% lower than 2008 spending plans, and some believe they might head lower. Budgets in the U.S. and Canada are being cut the most, as projects in the high-cost oil-sands and unconventional natural-gas fields now make less economic sense. Companies such as Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips have delayed announcing budgets to spend more time assessing the market.

Alberta projects get$1B boost
PM commits gas tax funds to rebuilding infrastructure
A day after announcing it would sink deep into the red, the Harper government waved around a lot of green Friday in Conservative Alberta.On the heels of declaring it would run deficits totalling tens of billions of dollars over the next few years, Ottawa announced about $1 billion worth of previously committed infrastructure funding for projects in Wild Rose Country.The capital dollars come from earlier federal funding pledges, including $100 million to twin the Trans-Canada Highway near Lake Louise--with construction officially commencing today --and a promise by the Harper government to permanently allocate gas tax dollars to infrastructure.

Ottawa to give Alberta nearly $800-million
Calgary -- In a bid to keep Albertans working and help municipalities keep up with growing infrastructure demands, Ottawa announced yesterday it will pump more than $798-million into the province between 2010 and 2014.The extension to the federal gas-tax funding agreement could see cash earmarked for projects involving public transit, roads, water and waste disposal. Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose said the money will provide a "strong stimulus for the economy."

Alberta Loses Billions
Recession Hits Alberta
Capitalism Caps Tarsands Expansion

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Harper and Flaherty's Conversion

Ottawa faces up to reality of deficits Here is the real reason that Harper and Flaherty had their economic conversion on the road to Damascus.

OTTAWA - Canada's parliamentary budget officer is publicly questioning the projected budget surpluses of the Conservative government's recent economic statement and is asking for evidence to back up the predictions.
Kevin Page asked Finance Deputy Minister Rob Wright to turn over details on the projected spending reductions in departments and asset sales that the government has said will generate $10 billion in savings over five years. These are seen as key to the maintenance of a federal surplus.
Page's letter, sent on Dec. 3, has now been posted on the budget office's website. It asks for a reply this week.
He also asked for economic data and assumptions used for the 2008 budget and recent economic statement. Finance refused to give the data for the 2008 budget even though the numbers are routinely turned over to Bay Street forecasters. The assumptions, key to estimating the impact of economic volatility, used to be published by previous governments.
In his economic statement, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty projected a budget surplus of $100 million for 2009-10 based on the sale of about $2 billion in assets that he didn't identify.
Page tabled his office's assessment of Flaherty's economic statement last week, but the report got lost in the storm of the political crisis sparked by the Liberal-NDP coalition's attempt to topple the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative minority.

But as usual they will use a red herring to distract us from their complete failure to address this crisis earlier. Just as they used the opposition coalition as a red herring to seize power in Ottawa.

Canada's banks are being set up.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has misplayed the financial crisis from the start. The lack of political leadership in this country is staggering. Now Mr. Harper – who dictates lines to his Finance Minister – has finally woken up to the fact 2009 will be one grim year for the domestic economy. '10 doesn't look too hot either. Someone will wear responsibility for a deep recession. The Conservatives are skating hard as they prepare to pin this one on the banks. The politicians will claim the banks hoarded capital, and refused to lend, and that sent consumers and corporations over the cliff. It's nasty, it's cynical, it's destructive and it doesn't happen to be true. But that's clearly going to be Mr. Harper's line.
And despite Flaherty threatening the banks, the Harpocrites have not addressed the increased service charges on credit cards the banks have made, the fact that interest on credit cards is as high as it was during the recession in the eighties, and that banks still charge usury rates on ATM fees.
Feeling the crunch
Rising card transaction fees may mean higher prices, retailers say
Suddenly the issue raised by the NDP is no longer pie in the sky. However unlike Stelmach, the NDP called for the elimination of ATM fees, not just a cap. And we need to see a reduction in usury interest on credit cards. Banks loaning millions to capitalist enterprizes will have less effect than reducing /eliminating service charges, reducing credit card interest and eliminating ATM fees.
New Brunswick Senator Pierrette Ringuette is calling for a federal probe and stronger regulations on fees charged by credit card companies .Canadians hold 64.1 million credit cards, and 80 per cent of them are issued by the two main players in the industry, Visa and MasterCard. Consumers already pay an average of over 24 per cent interest.Visa and MasterCard have about 80 per cent of the national credit card market. Credit card companies are, therefore, extremely wealthy and powerful. Is this a 'collusion' situation because of this 'quasi monopoly' situation?" Ringuette also raised the concern felt by business and retail lobby groups that rates for debit card transactions could increase. There has been concern that the Interac Association, the non-profit group which administers debit and direct payment, could change to a "for-profit" organization. If this happens, the retail council is concerned that the private corporation could be purchased by the credit card companies and therefore create an even greater monopoly over plastic in Canada.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said it would tighten credit card lending through 2009, as it announced its fourth-quarter profit fell by 50 per cent from the same quarter in 2007 — mainly because of higher credit card delinquencies. Some banks have also raised credit card interest rates by five percentage points for customers who are late with their payments. Art Thornton, a bankruptcy trustee in Ottawa, says the changes will mean more business for him."It's going to increase the interest rates noticeably to people who can ill-afford to pay, and it's going to render them — in many cases — insolvent."
And this NOT the issue that Flaherty or Mark Carney are addressing when they challenge the banks to free up credit after bailing them out and reducing the Bank of Canada rate.

Hyer Questions Gov't on Credit Card Processing Fees
Friday, 28 November 2008
Ottawa, ON -- Thunder Bay Superior North MP Bruce Hyer was up in Question Period on Thursday. Hyer was questioning the government over the cost of credit card processing fees.Here is the transcript of the exchange in the House of Commons:
Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, NDP): Mr. Speaker, small businesses create a huge percentage of all the job growth in Canada. We should be helping them, not hurting them.The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is demanding that this government act before the big banks' next big cash grab. Our small businesses are facing a 10,000% increase in their Visa and MasterCard merchant fees. Is this fair?Does the government believe that it is not its problem, or that it can just not do anything about it? Which is it?
Hon. Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism), CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member raises an issue of real importance to small business. As he knows, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been speaking with the players about this issue. The fact of the matter is that the banks in this country are competitive. They are free to put forward products to all of the customers they have, including small business.The Minister of Finance has written to the banks about this issue asking them to deal with it. We are awaiting their responses momentarily, and we believe we can work on it together.
Canadian consumer-banking profit rose 20 percent to C$344 million from a year earlier as personal loans rose 21 percent and it added more mortgages. Commercial loans and credit-card revenue also rose from a year earlier.
Canadian Banking net income was $2,662 million, up 5% or $117 million from last year, reflecting solid volume growth across all businesses and effective cost management, partially offset by margin compression and increased provisions for credit losses. Net income was up 13% over last year, excluding the impacts of a $326 million ($269 million after-tax) gain related to the Visa Inc. restructuring and a $121 million ($79 million after-tax) credit card customer loyalty reward program liability charge recorded in the fourth quarter of 2007.
Canadian Banking's average assets grew by $21 billion or 14%, primarily in mortgages. There was also strong growth in personal revolving credit and other personal loans, as well as in business lending to both commercial and small business customers. Card revenues were a record $397 million in 2008, an increase of 8% from last year. International card revenues increased 11% due to strong growth in Peru, the Caribbean and Mexico. Canadian revenues were up 6% year over year, due mainly to higher transaction volumes. Credit fees of $579 million were $49 million or 9% higher than last year. There were higher acceptance fees in Canada, from both corporate and commercial customers.
A recovery in consumer spending will have to wait until Canadians pay down the excess credit card and mortgage debt accumulated in the past decade. Total personal debt nearly doubled between 2002 and the first half of 2008, when it stood at $1.2-trillion. The ratio of debt to disposable income rose from 98 per cent to 130 per cent over that period, while interest payments as a share of available income were virtually unchanged.
Canadians were besieged with advertising messages that promoted borrowing over those years. With credit so cheap and housing prices surging ahead, households took on a lot of risk. Now debt burdens look much too high.
We can take some comfort from the fact that the loans outstanding here are nowhere near as risky as mortgages in the United States. According to the Canadian Housing Observer, Canada has “a negligible subprime mortgage sector; [and] it is characterized by prudent underwriting.” And in Canada, mortgage insurance to protect the lender is mandatory for high-ratio loans.
But there is no insurance to protect the borrower when housing values decline or when someone in the family loses their job. If you ask people living in homeless shelters what sent them on a downward spiral, the common theme is a combination of losing their job, being unable to work because of injury or illness, and then losing their home.
This is a terrible price to pay for doing what was advertised as the smart thing to do.
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High Tech Capitalism Crashes

I always like to remind folks of the boistorous boom minded pro capitalist ideology espoused by the high tech futurist guru's at Wired magazine. Of course they said this just before their own boom busted.

The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980 - 2020 By Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden
We're facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world. You got a problem with that?

Today we see that the exuberient predictions of high tech capitalisms endless growth are slapped down by a dose of good old capitalist reality.Capitalism is crisis prone, anyone got a problem with that?

From The Times
December 20, 2008
Electronic Arts cuts 1,000 jobs as sales of games stall

In this case EA has bought up successful Canadian companies and is now closing them. Thanks to NAFTA and intellectual property rights, we all suffer the same fate when America crashes. And when in doubt lie about your intentions. Which has always been EA's modus operendi.

EA cuts jobs, moves Black Box studio
Earlier today (December 19), the Georgia Straight reported that Electronic Arts has announced that it is vacating a facility in downtown Vancouver. The news comes a week after the video-game developer and publisher revealed it was not going ahead with plans to open a new studio in the city’s Yaletown district. During its period of fastest growth, EA was often criticized for buying smaller development studios primarily for their intellectual property assets, and then producing drastically changed games of their franchises. For example, Origin-produced Ultima VIII: Pagan and Ultima IX: Ascension were developed quickly under EA's ownership, over the protests of Ultima creator Richard Garriott and these two are considered by manyas not up to the standard of the rest of the series.

And of course it's all about the bottom line, lining the bosses pockets. After all capitalism is not about production for use value, or even exchange value, its about making a profit for the boss, at any cost. Whether it is high tech or not.

EA Sacrifices Workforce For Income
Videogame maker is trimming staff and secondary titles to bolster profitability.

John Riccitiello is aiming to boost his bottom line at the expense of the top and at the expense of a good chunk of the staff of the company he leads, Electronic Arts. Mr. Riccitiello, age 48, has served as Chief Executive Officer and a director of EA since April 2007. Prior to re-joining EA, he was a co-founder and Managing Partner at Elevation Partners, a private equity fund.

High tech nerds, and high tech pundits and promoters who ignored the reality that high tech capitalism was still just plain old capitalism, thought they were different from the high tech wage slaves working in silicon virtual factories. They learned that under high tech capitalism they too wer wage slaves, the factories were offices with cappacino bars, beds, basketball courts etc. But a sweat shop is a sweat shop regardless if it is air conditioned or not.

In 2004, Electronic Arts was criticized for employees working extraordinarily long hours—up to 100 hours per week— and not just at "crunch" times leading up to the scheduled releases of products. The publication of the EA Spouse blog, with criticisms such as "The current mandatory hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.—seven days a week—with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behaviour (at 6:30 p.m.)". The company has since settled a class action lawsuit brought by game artists to compensate for "unpaid overtime".The class was awarded $15.6 million. As a result, many of the lower-level developers (artists, programmers, producers, and designers) are now working at an hourly rate. A similar suit brought by programmers was settled for $14.9 million

Again nerds and factory workers get sold out by private equity, hedge funds, and the rest of the ponzi crew. 25 year boom my ass. Once again these predicitons of how capitalism has developed a 'new economy; that will boom and not bust are the dreams of those who sold us tulips and the south sea bubble.

Super Bubble Burst
Monopoly Capitalism in Cyberspace

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Friday, December 19, 2008

I Can Be A Senator

Finally I qualify for the Senate. And the news is that Harper is planning to appoint 18 new senators.

Eligibility to Be a Canadian Senator
To be appointed to the Canadian Senate, a person must be
at least 30 years old
be a resident of the province or territory they represent own property worth at least $4000 in the province and have a personal net worth of at least $4000.

My partner and I bought a house this summer, which has been a harrowing yet exciting experience. One of the reasons I wasn't blogging regularly, and the reason this blog will be offline for the next week over Xmas. I am finally moving into my house.

We bought the house when the market went down. Our landlord decided, too late, to sell his house and it was way out of our price range. We decided that it was time to buy a house, after all a house has value, and our mortgage was just slightly more than what we pay in rent, and rent always increases.

And I discovered we were able to scrap together the 5% downpayment to get CHMC backed mortgage.

The house we bought is not on the southside, which is where I was born and preferred to live but the Old Strathcona area is way overpriced.

So we got a house in the Centre of the city by Commonwealth Stadium. So I move from one NDP riding; Edmonton Strathcona to another NDP riding; Edmonton Highlands.

We were supposed to take possession in the middle of October but due to the owners not leaving in time we got it at the begining of November. And for the past month and a half we have been renovating it.

And that is a tale in itself. But for another day.

Suffice it to say that I am over 30, and now qualify as a property owner to be a Senator. It's the Alberta dream, well the dream for some Albertans like my old nemisis Link Byfield.

If Harper appoints me to the Senate I promise to continue to fight for its abolition.

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Canada's Constant Gardner

The recent kidnapping in Niger of a Canadian Diplomat assigned to the UN reminded me of John LeCarre's novel; The Constant Gardner, which opens with the disappearance and subsequnet murder of a British Diplomats wife. In fact the senarios are very close.

In this case however the culprits are not global pharmaceutical companies but global mining companies as the article in the Globe and Mail (reprinted below) points out. Ironically while uranium mining is Niger's chief source of development funding, dominated by French corporartions, Canada's friendly imperialism is in promotion of gold mining.

Envoys visited Niger mine on day they vanished
Diplomats ate lunch at the site with employees and left in the afternoon without incident, company spokesman says

And of course we all know Niger from it's apparent role in justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq because of its uranium.

The vesitages of French colonialism and in the case of other West African countries now in conflict, Belgium colonialism, are the real reason for the so called tribal wars that rage across that contient. The current wars are the old wars of the colonial age. Wars over resources in particular mining interests.The so called atrocities committed in the Congo, Darfur, Rawanda,etc. like the cutting off of hands and mass extermination of ethinic minorities, are not tribal traditions, but modern horrors introduced by European colonial powers. It was European Imperialism at the turn of last century that picked winners and losers and the losers are still fighting back.

However in the case of Niger, the losers are the vestiges of an earlier colonialism, that of Islam and its economy of slavery. This is often overlooked by the apologists for Islam, who attempt to white wash its own role in the development of Africa as a slave colony before the coming of Europeans. Before the European slave trade developed it was preceded by the Arab/Islamic slave trade, which it adapted to its colonial needs to build the new world.

Slavery is the result of patriarchical caste societies, who rely on it as an economic base for production. Caste societies are made up of warriors, merchants and priests and someone has to do the work, which results in the enslavement of those who are out-caste.

Today the small African countries that occasionally make it into the news, like Niger or Chad, are being fought over again for their resources, uranium, gold, copper, heavy metals, and oil. The so called tribal conflicts are localized wars on behalf of modern Imperialist nations, including not only America and Europe but China and yes Canada. Development in Africa remains 'resource' development for global corporations, not sustainable economies for Africans. The result is the mass migration from Africa to Europe of the dispossessed and the genocidal internecine conflicts that make the news like the situation today in Niger.

Because Globe and Mail opinion pieces disappear behind subscriber only walls I am reprinting it here in full.

Caught in the crossfire of two historical forces
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
December 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM EST
The disappearance of two Canadian diplomats in the predominantly Muslim West African country of Niger - there is speculation their apparent abduction is related to a complex conflict involving the Niger government, rebel groups and international mining companies - is part of a much wider game: the struggle for political and economic power in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Niger is a nation of high infant-mortality rates. Slavery is still widely practised, with some sources suggesting that 8 per cent of the population live a life of bondage. Niger is also a nation plagued by periodic drought. It cannot grow enough food to feed itself, and it is dependant on donors. It has been democratic for less than a decade and it has experienced periodic rebellions by its northern ethnic groups.
The latest round of fighting began last year. This could be the fifth or the 10th "Tuareg revolt" of the past 100 years, depending on who's counting. Quite simply, there is a power struggle going on for who controls, and benefits from, Niger's meagre resources, a struggle that is being directed by the elites of two coalitions of ethnic groups - one largely African and agricultural that is based in the southern part of the country, the other largely Berber and nomadic pastoral that is based in the north. It is a struggle that has been going on for centuries, and it is a conflict as old as Jacob and Esau.
The southern, smallest and most densely populated part of the country is close to the Niger River where the Hausa, Djerma-Songhai and Gourmantche peoples sustain themselves through subsistence agriculture. These people are the dark-skinned descendants of the great sedentary Sahelian Muslim kingdoms that arose during the Middle Ages and to whose French-educated elites the former French colonialists gave the reins of power, when Niger became independent in the 1960s.
The largest groups of northerners are the Tuareg, light-skinned nomadic camel herders, former slave traders and raiders who were once the masters of the Saharan gold trade. During colonial times, they were the most resistant to modernization, education and change. They were, and to some degree remain, predatory warriors and smugglers who roam the desert caravan routes, taking what they want by sword or gun.
During colonial times, their elites did not send their sons to France, so they did not master the "means of administration." Ever since the southerners took control of the state and the army after independence, they have been at a distinct disadvantage.
Since then, their grazing lands have been restricted, their slave raiding and slaves have been declared illegal, their elites have not been represented in the government and, most galling to them, they have not shared in any of the wealth that has emerged from the uranium mines that supply Niger with 70 per cent of its export earnings and that are located in the desert wastelands of their traditional grazing lands.
Until recently, French companies had a monopoly on the mining and exportation of uranium from the deserts of northern Niger. In the past two years, however, the Niger government has considered allowing other companies to invest, including Canadian firms that are also involved in the development of gold mines. Through their periodic rebellions, the Tuareg are trying to tell both the government and foreign investors that they want a piece of the pie. And since it has been their historical custom to take what they want, they most likely kidnapped the two Canadians - Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, both of whom were representing the United Nations - in the hope that the Canadian government could help them put pressure on the Niger government and thus gain the pair's release.
UN negotiators have dealt with this kind of situation before, and one sincerely hopes they will find a way to negotiate the release of Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay. Meantime, Canadians should recognize that Niger and the other states of the Sahel are one extended battleground between northerners and southerners. In Niger, Mali, Chad and Sudan, one must take great care not to get caught in the crossfire between these two opposing historical forces.
Geoffrey Clarfield is a Toronto-based anthropologist.

Somali Eco Disaster Bred Pirates
Congo's Ghosts
A Contient of Children
History Of Slave Ships
The New Imperial Age
Mobile Capitalism
Our Jean
The Pentacost of Poverty
Your Breakfast Cup of Coffee

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Criminal Capitalists:Madoff and Zell

Once again as financial markets collapse they reveal the truth that all capitalism is basically a ponzi scheme.

Madoff put under house arrest as celebrities, charities, banks disclose exposure

It befits the close of one of the most bizarre years in international finance to look at the collapse of one of its most extraordinary villains, Bernard Madoff, a former chairman of the Nasdaq sharemarket and a Wall Street titan.The crisis in the world financial system has its roots in excessive greed, stupidity, poor regulation and disappearing capital, and the story of Madoff's downfall and a $US50 billion sting bears many of the same hallmarks.

When Enron and World Com collapsed it was revealed that they were in cahoots with their accounting firms, who not only checked their books, but helped them cook those books in order to avoid taxes and to make it appear they were more profitable than they really were. And at the same time the SEC was not doing its job in fact as this recent scandal reveals they acted not as regulators but enablers of Mr. Madoffs criminal scheme.

SEC investigators discovered Madoff violations in 2006: WSJ

We should be surprised by this I think not, after all capitalism began as a joint effort between merchant bankers, pirates and private mercenaries. Why should it be any different four hundred years later.

Bernard Madoff 's $50 billion Ponzi scheme was so breathtaking that investors have been left speechless. But the alleged crook -- universally described as "charming" -- would not have succeeded were it not for the unbelievable gullibility of supposedly sophisticated investors.Madoff knew that just because people were rich it did not not make them smart -- that was the source of his success. All you have to do is talk about an investment philosophy that is vague but sounds really authoritative. Give people nonsensical statements that they glance at quickly. Make sure that the statements indicate steady returns of 10% to 13% a year. Many CFOs, CIOs and portfolio managers were amazed that Madoff produced such steady returns for so long. They were mathematically impossible. Barron's raised questions in 2001 about whether Madoff was "front-running" trades, an allegation he denied. Still, Madoff's rich buddies stood by his side.Maddoff somehow managed to convince a slew of banks and hedge funds, billionaires such as Mets owner Fred Wilpon, Yeshiva University along with charities associated with Steven Spielberg and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel that the laws of investing do not apply to them. The odds of anyone getting double-digit returns year after year are laughably small. They, of course, understood that, but figured why fix something that ain't broke. By turning a blind eye to fiscal reality, these victims showed almost as much greed as Madoff.

Madoffs clients are a who's who of the very financial institutions that lined up at the trough to be bailed out, and who claimed if they failed capitalism would collapse. In fact the whole collapse of America's financial market reveals that it was all a ponzi scheme.

After all, Madoff’s scheme -- at least in spirit, if not in its nefarious intent -- wasn’t much different than the business models at some of the nation’s largest failed financial institutions.
Back in May, four months before it collapsed, American International Group Inc. increased its dividend at the same time it unveiled plans to raise $12.5 billion in capital. Later, when its cash ran out, AIG got a government bailout, the size of which has expanded to about $150 billion.
Whether you call that a Ponzi scheme or something less sinister, AIG was paying old investors with money raised from new investors. The same could be said of many banks that blew through billions of dollars in freshly raised capital the past couple of years, continuing to pay large dividends even as their balance sheets quietly imploded. So why have other Ponzi-esque operators emerged scot-free (so far) with taxpayer bailouts, while Madoff gets pinched?

And one of these financial institutions caught up in the Madoff affair is UBS the Swiss banking company recently indited for using its banks in Canada to hide U.S. billionares fortunes offshore in its banks acounts top avoid taxes, which is itself illegal, but just another case of business as usual until we are caught.

Howewver while Mr. Madoff's actions have been declared illegal, another capitalist billionaire Sam Zell is able to do the same thing legally!!! And there really is no difference between them.

Sam Zell, Tribune's billionaire CEO, but rather the thousands of Tribune employees whose stock ownership plan was jerry-rigged to fund the company's buyout last year. Mr. Zell was the architect of the deal, but put up only around $300-million of his own money as a kind of option to later buy financial control of the company for as little as $500-million more. Under the mind-boggling structure Mr. Zell and his advisers came up with, the Tribune ESOP owns 100 per cent of the shares. What happens to them? The Chicago Tribune said it most starkly, quoting an employee conference call with Mr. Zell: “The ESOP, which Mr. Zell said a year ago offered employee “owners” the chance to share richly in Tribune Co.'s eventual success, could be wiped out, leaving thousands of Tribune Co. employees with no company retirement plan besides what they elect to save in a 401(k).”

Tribune’s Chapter 11 filing likely means a court delay for six current and ex-L.A. Times employees who are trying to oust billionaire owner Sam Zell from the board of directors. But in the meantime, they can point to Zell’s bankruptcy-protection filing as Exhibit A in the court of public opinion. “The sort of critique we made in the lawsuit has been borne out,” says plaintiff Henry Weinstein, the Times’ former legal affairs writer and now a professor at UCI’s new law school. In addition to the Times, Tribune’s assets include KTLA-TV, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs. In late 2007 Zell took the company private by putting up $315 million and borrowing $8 billion. The class-action suit, filed in September, accused Zell of orchestrating a scam and burying the company in debt. Zell called the suit “a distraction that’s unnecessary.” Says Weinstein: “We are certainly going to try to be heard in the bankruptcy court. There are all sorts of employee interests” ...

The following is an official statement from Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa.
"When billionaire Sam Zell took Tribune private in an overleveraged, doomed deal that swiftly brought down the 161-year-old media giant, the risks involved were placed squarely on the shoulders of Tribune workers. Now, as Tribune's creditors head to bankruptcy court for payback, these workers should go directly to the front of the line.
By transferring 100 percent ownership of the company and some $13 billion of debt to an S-Corp Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in the buyout, Zell insulated himself from tax responsibilities and mortgaged the future retirement savings of Tribune employees. Despite owning 100 percent of the company, employees were given no voice in the governance of the company or in the plan itself. They've had no say in the terms of their own debt obligations or decisions related to how best to service that debt.
Tribune contributions to employee retirement savings for employee-owners changed from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan structured as the ESOP. Employees participating in the ESOP can't diversify their holdings until they reach age 55.
The first of the company's contributions to the ESOP was expected to happen in the first quarter, but now -- with the Tribune mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy -- it's unclear whether that will happen or whether those shares will have any value.
Not everyone lost on the deal. Tribune executives made millions, including CEO Dennis FitzSimons, who engineered the deal with Zell and raked in $17.7 million in severance and other payments and cashed in his stock for $23.8 million. Shareholders traded in stock rated deep into junk territory for cash representing a 21 percent premium over the stock price just before the transaction. The banks that lent Tribune the money shared some $47 million in fees.
Citigroup and Merrill Lynch who advised Tribune on the deal received $35.8 million and $37 million respectively. And billionaire Zell, who put up only $315 million in the deal, is expected to stand ahead of employees in the creditors' line at bankruptcy court.

Unfortunately Mr. Zell will not be sharing a cell with Mr.Madoff nor with another Chicago paper baron; Lord Black. Though he should.

Super Bubble Burst
Hedge Funds, Junk Bonds, Ponzi Schemes

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Danny Boy Nationalizes AbitibiBowater

Newfoundland seizes assets of AbitibiBowater
Bravo Danny Williams, now one more step to take to really be a socialist, put the AbitibiBowater Inc., mill and hydro plant under worker/community control. Of course the usual media whiners are comparing Danny to Hugo Chavez, however when capital abandons its community responsibilities then the state has the right to take over the real capital (production facilities) in order to insure they are not sold off or removed. Danny Williams has nationalized not only the money losing side of the operation but the profitable hydro plant, that is what really hurts Abitibibowater. However lets understand that the Newfoundland's nationalization of the AbitibiBowater Inc., facilities does not mean they will actually end up under public ownership of the community and workers. In fact the state could sell them off to the highest bidder. The union and community needs to publicly lobby for worker control and public ownership.

Revisiting his campaign theme of "no more giveaways," Mr. Williams wished the company well, but said it will leave the province with the same resource rights it had on arrival: none.
"The legislature in Newfoundland and Labrador is paramount in this jurisdiction and we stand by that," he told the CBC.
"If Abitibi wants to launch any legal challenge, then that's up to them; we have no control over that. I'm sure, though, they will get legal opinions that indicate that our legislature has full authority to do what it's done."
The legislation gives the provincial cabinet the authority to set compensation for the company's physical assets. Mr. Williams said his government will try to hammer out a deal with AbitibiBowater, but will set its own figure if an agreement cannot be reached.
He also said that the "honourable thing" would have been for the company to have handed over its assets "free of charge."
Robert Leckey, an expert in constitutional law at McGill University in Montreal, noted that provinces have broad authority to expropriate.
"It sounds perfectly permissible to me," he said. "The legislature has the power to state in the legislation that it can offer no compensation."

That being said cudo's to Danny Boy for doing the right thing.

There is no indication that the government's plan will save any of the jobs that will be lost in Grand Falls-Windsor since AbitibiBowater announced earlier this month it was closing the mill after workers rejected concessions.
Mr. Williams said he is looking for a new owner, but acknowledged the lumber industry is currently enduring tough times.
Gary Healey, the national representative representing unionized workers at the mill, applauded the government's move.
"It certainly sends a message to any corporation that wants to operate in Newfoundland that they must behave and act in a responsible way and develop the resources for the people who actually live in the province," Mr. Healey said.
"The days of acting like carpet-baggers are over."

Now lets do that to other industries demanding bail outs. Like Chrysler, which is threatening to shut down productive plants in Ontario, as well as in the U.S. and Mexico. Over to you Dalton McGuinty.

Danny Millions State Capitalist
Chrysler Black Mail

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Socialism or Barbarism

It is obvious to all of us that capitalism is once again in crisis, a crisis it created but failed to predict. While it was historically predictable and inevitable, it is the nature of capitalism.
And so the only solution is not band aid bail outs but for us, the proletriat to take over capitalism, which cannot exist without our labour, and which has produced an artifical boom of credit which we as proletarians were sold as consumers. Crediting the working class and the those who had no equity so that capital could continue to make record profits is what had kept America and its NAFTA allies going.
The public secret that is known to all of us, including capital, the state and the unions is that we the workers create real capital, production of goods which need to be consumed. All other capital, investments, the stock market, bonds, hedge funds, private equity, is all surplus value created by workers producing real value. The current crisis of capitalism is that finance, fictious capital, that produces no real value that is real objects we can consume, is now dominating the productive market. We the workers are not consuming the value we create.
And we now spiral into the real historic crisis of capitalism which is over production. And the solution to this crisis historically has been either war or revolution.
Unfortunately for the Trade Unions and the Social Democratic left the latter is not on their agenda. But for capital the former is a solution they are willing to use, by enabling counter revolutionary nationalism; fascism.
We live in interesting times once again. The phoney stability of consumer capitalism has its facade ripped away daily as its chief clowns; the politicians try to assure us all is fine with capitalism and there is no alternative, when they know full well the alternative is the historic reality of socialism or barbarism.

In 1848 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued in the Communist Manifestothat the historic fight between the oppressor and oppressed ended 'either ina revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin ofthe contending classes'. Engels said that 'bourgeois society stands at thecrossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism'.Later Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish revolutionary working in Germany at the endof the First World War, raised the slogan: 'Socialism or Barbarism'!

The fact is that the elephant in the room is another form of barbarism, that which could result from the climate crisis created by mass industrialization. Instead of looking at the decline in production as an opportunity to create an ecological socialist society, the same old cries of more work, more jobs, more consumption is echoed by the capitalists, the unions and the social democrats. It's not that 'There Is No Alternative', rather the alternative is as clear as the nose on their faces, they just don't want to face it. Their political solutions are as bankrupt as the system they are trying to bail out.

Drought means workers hungry in U.S. produce capital
By TRACIE CONE Associated Press Writer
Posted: Dec. 12, 2008
MENDOTA, Calif. — Idled farm workers are searching for food in the nation's most prolific agricultural region, where a double blow of drought and a court-ordered cutback of water supplies has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
This bedraggled town is struggling with an unemployment rate that city officials say is 40 percent and rising. This month, 600 farm families depleted the cupboards of the local food bank, which turned away families - more than 100 of them - for the first time.
"We're supposed to supply the world," said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva, "and people are starving."
The state's most dire water shortage in three decades is expected to erase more than 55,000 jobs across the fertile San Joaquin Valley by summer and drive up food prices across the nation, university economists predict.
"People being thrown out of work are the ones who can least afford it," said Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at the University of California-Davis, who estimates that $1.6 billion in agriculture-related wages across the valley will be lost in the coming months because of dwindling water.

There Is An Alternative To Capitalism

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Mike Fluffy

CTV's paunchy pundit Mike Duffy has become a political puffball with his interviews with Harpocrite ministers. He throws them softballs and lets them anwser with their spin message with no challenge offered. As the ad's say' ya gotta talk to Duff' cause he will let you spin. It was particularly bad during the political crisis of last week, when he sided with the government against the coalition calling them the three stooges, and mimicking the party line of the PMO.

Of course he isn't the only one, Greg Weston of the Sun has called the coalition members that and further yesterday on Duff's show he called the coalition an attempted coup. Which of course it was anything but. It was perfectly parlimentary process, however the Harpocrite spin message has sunk deep into the mainstream media, especially amongst the pundits who repeat the talking points in their articles and commentaries.

Mike Duffy now spins the party line for the public, while chastising his guests if they raise issues he doesn't approve of. Case in point the NDP strategist dared to point out that the Bank of Canada was predicting dire times and Mike chimed in that in fact foreclosures in Canada were very small. A point made earlier by an economist he interviewed. However what he missed is that bankruptcies are on the rise again.

At other times Mike has fawned over the Calgary School lads over the military operations in Afghanistan, without so much as a critical comment.

At least Don Newman over at CBC Politics, Duffy's comptetition in the same time slot, asks hard questions of his guests, Mike spoon feeds them an opening to give the party line.

Sexism Duffy Style
Mike Duffy Makeover
CTV/G&M Showing Conservative Bias
Duffy Slaps Out Duffy
Ezra's Petard

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Right Wing Echo Chamber

Last week the right wing thunk tank and taxpayer funded lobby group the Fraser Institute discovered corporate welfare. And sure enough their political lobby arm the Canadian Taxpayers Federation echos their masters voice;

Mr. Gaudet said the collapse of the auto industry remains inevitable despite this latest surge of public cash. "There is no evidence in the past that corporate welfare works," he said. This bailout will only lead other financially struggling companies and industries in this tough economic time to also expect a government shell-out, Mr. Gaudet warned. "The government can't bail them all out," he said. "It's hard to justify to a laid-off Nortel worker why his or her tax dollars should go to support artificially inflated salaries in the auto industry."

Which Nortel workers are those? The ones left working in China?

My goodness but this is funny to hear the CTF speak on behalf of workers. This political lobby of business types, who are not taxpayers, whose association does not speak for workers but a small self interested right wing business lobby, whose association is not democratic and has no elected officials simply employed self appointed spokesmen.

But as the article goes on to point out actually the last time Chrysler was bailed out they paid back their debt. However it seems ominous that this apologist for the capitalist class is telling us the Big 3 are doomed. Of course as usual they blame workers salaries and production costs for being uncompetitive. However as usual they never let the facts get in the way of their rhetoric. In Canada the wages and benefits paid to Toyota workers who are not unionized are competitive with CAW wages and benefits. Not less but competitive. Yet no one is telling Toyota workers to take a wage cut.

And like the Big 3 Toyota is cutting back on production as well. The crisis of overproduction has hit automakers around the globe, thanks of course to globalization.

We are facing a two fold crisis in capitalism, the fiancial market meltdown and the crisis of overproduction and underconsumption. Nothing new in that it is just the same old same old as Marx pointed out 150 years ago.


Bail Out Is Not Job Security

Chrysler Black Mail

There Is An Alternative To Capitalism

Auto Solution II

We Own GM

Auto Solution

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