Saudi Arabia Passes New Law that Declares Atheists “Terrorists”

Nothing like being close allies with one of the most despotic, Medieval and backwards societies on planet earth.

Never forget, the USA brings democracy to the world!

With the exception of puppet governments sitting on billions of barrels of oil reserves and disturbing ties to the 9/11 attacks. Those governments we love.

From the UK Independent:

Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

In a string of royal decrees and an overarching new piece of legislation to deal with terrorism generally, the Saudi King Abdullah has clamped down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”.

Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

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Neo-Con Republicans Make Pilgrimage to Vegas to Kiss the Ring of Oligarch Sheldon Adelson

Oligarchs are ruining America. They are ruining the economy through their rampant theft and corporate welfare handouts. They are ruining our social structure with their billions used to buy and sell politicians as well as entire Presidential elections. They represent an existential threat to the Republic and the cancer needs to be addressed at once.

Oligarchs now control both phony political parties. On the Democratic side, we have Warren “tax loophole” Buffett and George Soros. On the Republican side, we must become increasingly aware of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who boasts an estimated net worth of around $37 billion.

For those still daydreaming that the GOP may nominate a more libertarian-leaning candidate in 2016, rather than the typical big government, warmongering neo-con, the biggest obstacle in your way is Sheldon Adelson and his billions. This threat was on clear display this past weekend in Vegas when Chris Christie, Paul Walker and Jeb Bush all made the pilgrimage to “kiss his ring.”

The serious threat to our political system posed by Adelson was covered by both “left-leaning” and “right-leaning” commentators (although I hate those terms). First, Juan Cole writes at Bill Moyers that:

A series of pro-corporation Supreme Court decisions and the latter’s disingenuous equation of money with speech, including Citizens United, have turned the United States from a democracy to a plutocracy. It is not even a transparent plutocracy, since black money (of unknown provenance) has been allowed by SCOTUS to flood into elections. These developments are not only deadly to democracy, they threaten our security. It is increasingly difficult to exclude foreign money from US political donations. We not only come to be ruled by the billionaires, but even by foreign billionaires with foreign rather than American interests at heart.

The perniciousness of this growing plutocracy was on full display on Saturday, as GOP governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich trekked off to Las Vegas in an attempt to attract hundreds of millions in campaign donations from sleazy casino lord Sheldon Adelson. Since Adelson is allegedly worth $37 billion, he could fund the Republican side of a presidential election (which costs $1 billion) all by himself. In the last presidential election he is said to have donated $100 million.

One important thing he thing he failed to mention was that Jeb Bush was also there, featuring prominently at a private dinner with Adelson and others.

The case of Adelson exhibits all these issues of corruption and eccentricity. Much of his current fortune is recent and derives from the Macao casino, and Adelson has admitted to “likely” breaking Federal rules against using bribes to do business in other countries. (A reference to allegations that his company was involved in rewarding legislators of the Chinese Communist Party for supporting his Macao project.) There was a time when this admission alone would put the donor off limits for mainstream politicians.

 Adelson has a right to vote and advocate for his candidates. But the idea that he and his like should choose the next president is too awful to contemplate. One person, one vote isn’t one person, $100 million worth of votes. That isn’t democracy…

CBS has also chimed in with some interesting commentary:

Both Christie and Bush are cut from the same mainstream Republican cloth: well liked by the donor class and viewed suspiciously by conservative activists. If they both compete in 2016 — and to be clear, neither has decided on a bid — they’ll be fighting for the roughly same slice of the Republican pie, and perhaps more importantly, many of the same donors.

But as Christie stumbled, Bush soared. The former governor was feted at a private dinner on Thursday to kick off the weekend. The dinner was held at Adelson’s private airplane hangar.

Bush delivered brief remarks at the dinner, and after one attendee urged him to run for president, the crowd of donors burst into applause, according to a report in the Washington Post.

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Buy-to-Rent is Officially Dead in California

I’ve chronicled the saga of “buy-to-rent” for well over a year now. From some of its most exuberant phases to its now epic retreat (investment firm property purchases are now down 70% year-to-date).

It seems as if the pullback of private equity and hedge funds from this asset class is even more brutal in certain regions, with Blackstone now reporting its purchases in California down a staggering 90% this year.

Not to worry, I’m quite certain unemployed and deeply indebted recent college graduates will soon pick up the slack due to the anticipated resurgence of subprime lending.

From the LA Times:

This time last year, investment firms raced to buy dozens of single-family homes in neighborhoods from Fontana to South Los Angeles to lease them out, transforming the mom-and-pop rental business into a Wall Street juggernaut.
  
But now the firms themselves have all but stopped buying in Southern California, the latest evidence that home prices have hit a ceiling. The professional investors no longer see bargains here.
 

The real estate arm of Blackstone Group, the largest buyer, has cut its California purchases 90% over the last year, a spokesman said. Santa Monica company Colony Capital reports a similar retreat. Oaktree Capital of Los Angeles, meanwhile, is looking to cash out by selling its portfolio of more than 500 homes, many of them in Southern California.

But prices have since been flat in Southern California. Many families are taking a pass on the more expensive homes. And the math doesn’t work on Wall Street either.

“Prices have gotten to the stage where we cannot buy a house, renovate it, rent it and still make a reasonable return,” said Peter Rose, a spokesman for Blackstone, which owns roughly 41,000 rental houses nationwide. “There was a moment in time where it made sense.”
 

On Wednesday, some of the bigger players launched a trade group, the National Rental Home Council, to advocate for their interests in Washington.

Yep, just what we need.
 

“People want to live here, whether they buy or rent,” said Gary Beasley, chief executive of Oakland company Starwood Waypoint Residential Trust.

“Most of the low fruit has been harvested, but there’s still plenty of fruit in the tree,” Beasley said. “And we’ve got fruit pickers.”

Seriously, where do they find these people…

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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Top Obama Advisor Travels to Hollywood to Encourage “Obamacare” Mentions in Movie Scripts and TV Shows

Just when you thought the Truman Show that is the U.S. these days couldn’t get any more ridiculous, a headline like this comes along to shock you back into dazed incredulity.

Hollywood shenanigans aren’t a focus of this website, but I have covered them previously. The most recent example was almost exactly a year ago with my post: How Hollywood Became “Propagandist in Chief” by John Pilger.

Now from the Weekly Standard:

A top of advisor to President Barack Obama is in Los Angeles to try to get Obamacare written into scripts of TV shows and movies. Valerie Jarrett explained in an appearance on Top That! on PopSugar.com:

“That’s the cool thing,” a host said to the presidential advisor. “You’ve been reaching out to people that are, you know, outside of the norm of what the president might work with. Who else are you working with? Like celebrities, personalities, things like that?”

“You name it,” said Jarrett. “That’s part of why I’m in L.A. I’m meeting with writers of various TV shows and movies to try to get it into the scripts.” When Jarrett says “it into the scripts,” she’s referring to getting references to Obamacare, the president’s signature legislation, into the scripts of TV shows and movies.

This is what America has devolved into. Now watch the clip itself.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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Where Does the Real Problem Reside? Two Charts Showing the 0.01% vs. the 1%

While I always supported the overall message and energy that encompassed the Occupy Wall Street movement, I never backed the slogan of the 1% vs. the 99%. From my own personal experience, it is entirely clear that the actual problem is a far smaller group within the 1%, the 0.1% or the 0.01% (although I recognize “We Are the 99.9%” isn’t catchy).

This is why you’ll never hear me demonize “the 1%”, rather I always try to use the term oligarch, which refers a small handful of people who benefit most disproportionately from Federal Reserve handouts, D.C. corruption, tax code loopholes and the destructive trend of financialization generally.

This is is also why I became so disgusted by Sam Zell’s ignorant and destructive comments on Bloomberg television earlier this year that decided to pen an open letter to him.

Thanks to The Atlantic, we now have two charts that show what I have been writing about for many years now. It is not the 1% that is the problem, it’s actually a much smaller slice within that group that is thieving and pillaging at will from the rest of American society.

From The Atlantic:

I’ve written, over and over, that the most important divide in our wealth disparity was between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. For example, when I compared the evolution in investment income since the late 1970s, I often imagined a graph like this from the Economic Policy Institute, showing the 1 percent flying away from the rest of the country.

It turns out that that graph is somewhat misleading. It makes it look like the 1 percent is a group of similar households accelerating from the rest of the economy, holding hands, in unison. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A few weeks ago, I shared this graph (from the World Top Incomes Database) showing how the top 0.01 percent—that’s the one percent of the 1 percent—was leaving the rest of the top percentile behind.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 9.23.25 PM

It’s even more egregious than that. An amazing chart from economist Amir Sufi, based on the work of Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, shows that when you look inside the 1 percent, you see clearly that most of them aren’t growing their share of wealth at all. In fact, the gain in wealth share is all about the top 0.1 percent of the country. While nine-tenths of the top percentile hasn’t seen much change at all since 1960, the 0.01 percent has essentially quadrupled its share of the country’s wealth in half a century.

houseofdebt_SaezZucman21

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My Latest Interview with Financial Survival Network – Creating a Decentralized World

Creating an ever connected, yet increasingly decentralized world is no easy task. Nevertheless, it is something I believe humanity must do in order to traverse the current challenging times and come out the other side better off than before.

Yesterday, I highlighted what I believe is an extremely important article on the worker co-op movement. Earlier in the week, I sat down with Kerry Lutz of Financial Survival Network to discuss everything from Bitcoin and crony capitalism, to marijuana legalization and local food.

You can listen to the interview here. Enjoy!

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The Co-Op Movement – A Decentralized Solution to Solving Inequality and Avoiding Serfdom?

Or take the right to vote. In principle, it is a great privilege. In practice, as recent history has repeatedly shown, the right to vote, by itself, is no guarantee of liberty. Therefore, if you wish to avoid dictatorship by referendum, break up modern society’s merely functional collectives into self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups, capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government.

-Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World Revisited (1958) 

As readers of this website are well aware, the entrenched power structure has proven itself unwilling to address any of the extreme fraud, crony capitalism and corruption that plagues the U.S. economy. As such, it has become increasingly clear to myself and countless others that the solutions we need must be grassroots and decentralized. I have personally made it a point to encourage people to take matters into their own hands, using whatever tools they have available to make the communities in which they live better for their families and their neighbors.

Of course, in a world in which power is ever increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very unenlightened egomaniacal handful of oligarchs, this seems like a daunting and near impossible task to many. Because so many Americans are simply consumed with making ends meet and putting food on the table, the concept of changing the world appears entirely unrealistic if not downright impossible.

The message I want to convey is that this is not the case. Whether it be decentralized competing currency systems, states rights initiatives such as legalizing marijuana (some pot convictions can now be overturned in Colorado), neighborhood farms, independent energy systems, the path toward localized solutions is the one I firmly believe we must follow.

To that end, I want to highlight this encouraging article from the New York Times titled, Who Needs a Boss?, which explores possibilities worker co-ops provide for workers everywhere. Not only is the pay far better, not only is work engagement considerably more robust, but it restores a sense of community and power to those involved. I think this is a model we should greatly expand upon, rather than looking for centralized solutions, which are merely band-aids placed upon a cancer.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times:

If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery. But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag.

Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son.

Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

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The New York Times Covers “Oligarch Welfare” – Tax Breaks for Private Planes, Yachts and More…

I’m pleased to say that the topic of oligarch and corporate welfare finally seems to be getting the much needed attention it deserves. While billionaires like Sam Zell (read my open letter to him) continue to spout nonsense about how the poor just need to be more like the rich, objective folks are catching on to the joke.

Ironically, the biggest welfare queens in America are the oligarchs and multinational corporations themselves, yet many of them constantly like to blame growing inequality on the supposed character deficiencies of the lower classes.

Earlier this week, I wrote a very well received post titled, A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare, as well as the post, Walmart Admits in its Annual Report that its Profits Depend Heavily on Corporate Welfare.

The New York Times has now thrown its hat in the arena with an article titled: A Nation of Takers?

Here are some excerpts:

In the debate about poverty, critics argue that government assistance saps initiative and is unaffordable. After exploring the issue, I must concede that the critics have a point. Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes. The United States offers three kinds of subsidies to tycoons with private jets: accelerated tax write-offs, avoidance of personal taxes on the benefit by claiming that private aircraft are for security, and use of air traffic control paid for by chumps flying commercial.

I worry about those tycoons sponging off government. Won’t our pampering damage their character? Won’t they become addicted to the entitlement culture, demanding subsidies even for their yachts? Oh, wait …

Second, welfare subsidies for yachts. The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to encourage a home-owning middle class. But it has been extended to provide subsidies for beach homes and even yachts.

In the meantime, money was slashed last year from the public housing program for America’s neediest.

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The PBOC and Bundesbank Sign Pact to Turn Frankfurt into Yuan Hub….Meanwhile Obama Heads to Saudi Arabia

I haven’t paid too much attention as of late to agreements between China and other nations intended to expand the use of the yuan (renminbi) internationally, because the near-term implications always seem to be exaggerated by many market commentators. That said, this deal between the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and Germany’s Bundesbank seems quite significant given the importance of Germany within the global economy generally and the E.U. specifically.

From Bloomberg via BusinessWeek:

Germany’s Bundesbank and the ™People’s Bank of China agreed to cooperate in the clearing and settling of payments in renminbi, paving the way for Frankfurt to corner a share of the offshore market.

The central banks signed a memorandum of understanding in Berlin today, when Chinese President Xi Jinping met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Frankfurt-based Bundesbank said in an e-mailed statement.

Germany’s financial capital prevailed over Paris and Luxembourg in a euro-area race to win trade in renminbi, which overtook the euro to become the second-most used currency in global trade finance in October, according to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The U.K. Treasury said on March 26 that the Bank of England would sign an initial agreement with the PBOC on March 31 to clear and settle yuan transactions in London.

“Frankfurt is one of Europe’s foremost financial centers and home to two central banks, making it a particularly suitable location,” said Joachim Nagel, a member of the Bundesbank’s executive board. “Renminbi clearing will strengthen the close economic and financial ties between Germany and the People’s Republic of China.”

China was Germany’s third-biggest foreign trade partner last year, with 140 billion euros in turnover passing between the two countries, according to the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden. China ranks fifth among importers of German goods and is the second-biggest exporter to Germany.

German companies including Siemens AG, the country’s biggest engineering company, and Volkswagen AG are embracing the renminbi internally as a third currency for cross-border trade settlements.

“The potential is vast,” said Stefan Harfich, the Siemens Financial Services manager, who steered the introduction of the yuan at the Munich-based company in October. “The introduction of the renminbi as an official company currency will therefore have a big impact on Siemens’s business in the coming years.”

Daimler AG, the Mercedes manufacturer that sold 235,644 autos in China last year, issued 500 million yuan of one-year notes in Asia’s largest economy on March 14, in the first so-called panda bond by an overseas non-financial company.

With all that in mind, let’s not forget that Obama is currently in Saudi Arabia trying to restore ties with the Medieival Kingdom, i.e., he is trying to figure out a way to arm al-Qaeda in Syria without the American public finding out about it.

From the Wall Street Journal:

RIYADH—Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday marks a bid to warm relations that the Saudis hope will result in commitments by the U.S. president to boost the supply of sophisticated weapons to Syrian insurgents.

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American Feudalism – Obama Travels to Brussels with a 900 Person Entourage

Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Brussels for the E.U. summit, but he was not alone. In fact, he is reported to have traveled with an entourage of 900 people, no doubt leaving a gaping expense for U.S. taxpayers. Brussels itself also took at major hit, with the city spending over $10 million on security compared to the usual expense of roughly $700,000 for E.U. summits.

Of course feudal trips are nothing new to 21st Century American Presidents. As The Washington Post notes, George W. Bush took 700 people with him on a trip to London in 2003.

Oh, and if you think these trips don’t cost much, let’s not forget that the Obama family trip to sub-Saharan Africa was projected to cost the U.S. government anywhere from $60 million to $100 million.

From The Washington Post:

As President Obama and his entourage, which The Guardian estimated at 900 people, arrived in Brussels for the E.U. summit Tuesday, the Belgian capital braced for the significant expense of hosting him.

Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told The Guardian his city will spend $10.4 million to ensure Obama’s security during the president’s 24-hour visit. Hosting an E.U. summit typically costs the city about €500,000 ($690,000), the newspaper reports. “But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20,” Mayeur said.

Obama’s security needs are not unique. When his predecessor, President George W. Bush, traveled abroad, he didn’t pack light. In November 2003, just months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush brought 700 people with him on a visit to London, which The Guardian at the time described as “worthy of a travelling medieval monarch.” The British government expected to spend around £5 million to protect Bush over his four-day London stay.

Not only do these trips require host cities to shell out considerable capital, they also come at a hefty price to American taxpayers. The Washington Post reported in June 2013 that the Obama family trip to sub-Saharan Africa was projected to cost the U.S. government anywhere from $60 million to $100 million.

Meanwhile, still barely a peep can be heard from the peasants.

Full article here

Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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