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Friday, August 28, 2015


English: Wall Street sign on Wall Street
English: Wall Street sign on Wall Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
by Mike Whitney | August 28, 2015 - 10:53am
Corporations are taking the retirement savings of elderly public employees and using them to inflate their stock prices so wealthy CEOs and their shareholders can enrich themselves at the expense of their companies. And it s all completely legal. Under current financial regulations, corporate bosses are free to repurchase their own company s shares, push stock prices into the stratosphere, skim off a generous bonuses for themselves in the form of executive compensation, and leave their companies drowning in red ink.
Even worse, a sizable portion of the money devoted to stock buybacks is coming from massively underfunded public pension funds that retired workers depend on for their survival. According to Brian Reynolds, Chief Market Strategist at New Albion Partners, Pension funds have to make 7.5%, so they are putting their money in these levered credit funds that mimic Long-Term Capital Management in the 1990s. Those funds, in turn, buy enormous amounts of corporate bonds from companies which put cash onto company balance sheets and they use it to jack their stock price up, either through buybacks or mergers and acquisitions It s just a daisy chain of financial engineering and it s probably going to intensify in coming years. ( How a Public Pension Crisis Is Driving an Epic Credit Boom , Financial Sense)
So, once again, ordinary working people are caught in the crosshairs of a corporate scam that could blow up in their faces and leave them without sufficient resources to muddle through their retirement years.
The amount money that s being funneled into buybacks is simply staggering. According to Dave Dayen at the Intercept:
Last year, companies spent $553 billion to repurchase outstanding shares, just short of the record $589.1 billion in 2007. Large companies like Apple, General Motors, McDonald s, Pfizer, Microsoft and more have engaged in buybacks in recent years.
Returning profits to shareholders through buybacks and dividends accounted for 95 percent of all earnings in 2014. As a result, each additional dollar of corporate earnings now translates to under 10 cents of reinvestment, according to a study by J.W. Mason of the Roosevelt Institute.
(SEC Admits It s Not Monitoring Stock Buybacks to Prevent Market Manipulation , Dave Dayen, Intercept)
This explains why business investment (Capex) is at record lows. It s because the bulk of earnings is being recycled into buybacks, over $2.3 trillion dollars since 2009 to be precise. And it s all connected to the Fed s zero rate policy. Zero rates have created an environment in which corporations no longer look for ways to grow their businesses, expand operations, hire more employees or improve productivity. Instead, they look for the quick fix, that is, load up on debt, buy more shares, goose the stock price, and walk away with a bundle.
It s all about incentives. The Fed has created incentives that encourage financial engineering and stock manipulation as opposed to growth and productivity. And keep in mind that repurchasing shares is a form of margin buying, the same type of margin buying that triggered Stock Market Crash of 1929.
According to Dayen: Prior to the Reagan era, executives avoided buybacks due to fears that they would be prosecuted for market manipulation. But under SEC Rule 10b-18, adopted in 1982, companies receive a safe harbor from market manipulation liability on stock buybacks if they adhere to four limitations.
We won t go over the regulations now because, as you can see, they obviously don t work or these corporations wouldn t be $2 trillion in the hole. But it is interesting to note that, at one time, policymakers saw how destructive buybacks were and were prepared to prosecute offenders for manipulation. I doubt that any of our regulators today would even dream of bringing a case against these corporate behemoths, after all, they pretty much own the whole show lock, stock and barrel.
The real danger of this buyback phenom, is that the corporations have piled on so much debt that any sharp decline in the market could push one or two of these giants into default. That, in turn, could quickly take down other counterparties touching off another financial crisis. So, the question regulators should be asking themselves, is how much red ink are these corporations hiding on their balance sheets and what are the risks to the public if they re unable to repay their debts. According to Henry Blodget at Business Insider:
As corporations have borrowed more and more money, the level of corporate debt relative to the size of the economy has continued to increase. As the chart below shows, this ratio is now at its highest level ever even higher than it was in 2007, before the last debt-fueled economic implosion. Importantly, corporate net debt the amount of debt that corporations are carrying minus the cash they have on hand (green line below) is also at its highest level ever as a percent of the economy.

Now It s Time To Think About What Will Happen When Companies Stop Buying Back So Much Stock , Business Insider)
Let s summarize:
1. Buybacks are driving the stock market higher.
2. Corporations purchase buybacks with credit.
3. The level of corporate debt relative to the size of the economy is now at its highest level ever.
What can we deduce from these three observations?
First, that stock prices are a bubble and, second, that a significant stock market shakeout could leave some of the nation s biggest corporations teetering towards insolvency.
Of course, none of this is going to stop corporations from engaging in the same risky behavior. Heck, no. In fact, CEOs are actually looking for ways to speed up the buyback process. I m not kidding. Check clip from yesterday s Wall Street Journal:
Companies are increasingly turning to accelerated share repurchase agreements to return cash to shareholders and secure an immediate boost to per-share profits ..But these turbo-charged stock buybacks can backfire, especially when a steep market plunge such as the 5.3% drop in the markets over the past two trading days. That s because a steep plunge in stock prices can force the companies to potentially pay more to buy the shares through an ASR than what they would pay if they purchased the shares over time on the open market. Things can go wrong, said Robert Leonard, head of specialty equity transactions at Citigroup Inc . ( Accelerated Buybacks Less Favorable During Market Swoons , Wall Street Journal)
You re darn right, they can go wrong, but who gives a rip? Not America s insatiable CEOs, that s for sure. They re just looking for faster ways to cash in, that s all that matters to them. These guys aren t even thinking about the health of their companies, let alone their customers. Making widgets for the masses, is for suckers , right? Corporate honchos have bigger fish to fry, like leveraging up their whole operation to its eyeballs, skimming the cream off the top, stuffing the moolah in an unmarked Caymans account, and slipping out the backdoor before the whole rickety structure comes crashing to earth. That s modern-day capitalism in a nutshell. Slash and burn, Baby, just like big boys at the Pentagon.
One last thing: Just to show the extent to which these corporate mandarins will go to enrich themselves at their company s expense, check out this blurb from this 2014 article at Bloomberg:
International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is reducing stock buybacks after an $8.2 billion first-quarter splurge IBM said last week it won t sustain its rate of share repurchases in the first quarter, when buybacks more than tripled from a year earlier to the most since 2007. The company plans to spend less than $5.8 billion total in the final nine months of this year . . IBM s sales have fallen from a year earlier for eight straight quarters Declining sales and rising buybacks have squeezed IBM s free cash flow The repurchases, meanwhile, have taken a toll on IBM s balance sheet. Total debt climbed to $44 billion in the first quarter, up from $33.4 billion a year ago . During the first quarter, IBM issued $4.5 billion of new bonds, clearly used to fund buybacks, Black said . The company tapped the bond market five different times last year, then you have a pretty sizable February issuance, Black said in the interview. I feel like there is investor fatigue on the name. ( IBM End to Buyback Splurge Pressures CEO to Boost Revenue , Bloomberg)
Okay, let s translate this into English: IBM spent $8.2 billion in first-quarter on stock buybacks, even though sales have dipped from a year earlier for eight straight quarters ; even though declining sales and rising buybacks have squeezed IBM s free cash flow ; even though buybacks have taken a toll on IBM s balance sheet ; and even though Total debt climbed to $44 billion in the first quarter, up from $33.4 billion a year ago.
Unbelievable, right? And that s not even the best part. The best part is the fact that The company tapped the bond market five different times last year. In other words, they went to the bond market with cup in hand and appealed to gullible investors to lend them more money to pay their lavish executive bonuses, to shower more dough on their worthless, do-nothing shareholders, and to keep this whole ridiculous farce going on a bit longer.
Talk about balls!
Tell me this, dear reader, when can we stop referring to this activity as buybacks and call it by its real name; looting?

Saturday, August 22, 2015


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administratio...
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 NOAA's July world temp. report is startling indeed! It seems  JULY 2015 was the warmest month globally in its 136 yrs. of record keeping. What does this mean? 

U.S. Gov’t. Says: 'July 2015 was warmest month ever recorded for the globe’
by Eric Zuesse | August 22, 2015 - 7:49am
To global-warming-deniers such as the Koch brothers and Exxon/Mobil, the news that was reported on 20 August 2015 must be just a ‘coincidence,’ but the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported then that July 2015 was “the all-time highest monthly temperature” in this planet’s entire scientifically recorded record, which started in 1880.
Furthermore: "Global oceans record warm for July; January-July 2015 also record warm.”
The more detailed version of the report says:
The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2015 was the highest for July in the 136-year period of record, at 0.81°C (1.46°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.08°C (0.14°F). As July is climatologically the warmest month of the year globally, this monthly global temperature of 16.61°C (61.86°F) was also the highest among all 1627 months in the record that began in January 1880. The July temperature is currently increasing at an average rate of 0.65°C (1.17°F) per century. …
For the oceans, the July global sea surface temperature was 0.75°C (1.35°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), the highest departure not only for July, but for any month on record. The10 highest monthly departures from average for the oceans have all occurred in the past 16 months (since April 2014).
Back on June 4th, NOAA had reported, in a refereed article published in the leading scientific journal, Science (which is published by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science), that:
an updated global surface temperature analysis ... reveals that global trends are higher than those reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, especially in recent decades, and that the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a “slowdown” in the increase of global surface temperature.
As is typical for academic scientific articles, this one understated what was actually found. What was actually found is simply inconsistent with the notion of a ‘slowdown’ in the increase of global surface temperature.
Here is how the NOAA research-team itself summarized their findings in a press release from NOAA on June 4th, which was titled, “Data show no recent slowdown in global warming”:
A new study published online today in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or "hiatus" in the rate of global warming in recent years. …
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, released in stages between September 2013 and November 2014, concluded that the upward global surface temperature trend from 1998­­-2012 was markedly lower than the trend from 1951-2012.
Since the release of the IPCC report, NOAA scientists have made significant improvements in the calculation of trends. …  The calculations also use improved versions of both sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature datasets. One of the most substantial improvements is a correction that accounts for the difference in data collected from buoys and ship-based data.
Science is constantly improving its methods, and, consequently, the accuracy of its observations. These changes in the findings are not the result of errors; they are the result of progress — progress (improvements) in the methodology.
As I had noted on August 20th, headlining "The Latest Science on Global Warming,” the latest findings on global warming are “bleak.” The heat-up of this planet has been consistently under-estimated by scientists; it has consistently turned out to be at the extreme high end of the Bell curve of likelihoods of where we are heading. We are heading into catastrophe faster than has been projected by scientists.
People who deny that global warming even exists are a combination of liars and their suckers, because the scientific evidence on the question is clear and overwhelming. And people who speculate that global warming will be good not bad are insane. Increased desertification, increased hurricanes and flooding downpours washing away topsoil, warmer and more acidic oceans, underwater coastal cities, surging migrations from equatorial regions toward the more-polar regions, record die-offs of existing species of plants and animals, and collapsing agriculture, are not good; they are horrific.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


    Having decided he can't even trust his own people anymore deeply unpopular Gov. Christie decided to do what he does best CHEAT. His political standing in NJ is so weak now he couldn't even stack the Pine Lands Commission with enough trustworthy cronies to get the vote he wanted on the proposed SJGAS pipeline through the Pines. So, instead of trusting anyone he did the next best thing he made the Executive Director of the Pinelands declare that she could approve the Pipeline without any more due process. In effect , the Gov. just moved the goal posts so he could win. This is what it is, a desperate attempt to go around the LAW and the Gov.  knows it.  He and his flunky monkey Nancy Wittenburg the so called Executive Director of the Pinelands have decided that all that was needed all along was to Orwellian style just use some Newspeak to approve of this blatantly illegal project. They should now expect what's to follow  lawsuits. This Gov. although a lawyer by trade  has shown absolutely nothing but utter contempt for the law and worse the legal process itself. He thinks he was elected GOD or at-least KING and he acts that way day in and day out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Harlem Globe


won't play longtime opponents Washington Generals anymore
The Harlem Globetrotters won't have the Washington Generals to kick around anymore.
To be more accurate, the Globetrotters won't have the Generals to pants anymore. Or hide the ball from on the way to the basket. Or soak in water. Or to fool with any number of crazy trick plays.
Most significantly, they won't have the Generals to beat anymore. It's the end of an era.
The Globetrotters have parted ways with the opposing team they lost to only once in well over 1,000 games. John Ferrari, who ran the Generals with his wife, Jody, said he was informed of the decision over the phone last month.
"I got a call about a month ago, and they just told me that that was it," Ferrari said. "I turned to my wife and just said to her, in disbelief, 'It's over.'"
The Generals were formed 63 years ago when Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein asked Red Klotz, Ferrari's late father-in-law, to put together an opponent for his team. Klotz named them after President Eisenhower.
The Generals -- occasionally wearing the jerseys of other teams just for variety -- went on to become arguably America's best-known and most beloved losers. Every now and then they would play a team other than the Globetrotters, leading to a handful of victories through the years.
One of those wins actually came against the Globetrotters in 1971, when Klotz himself hit the winning shot at the end of the game.
Their job was not to lose to the Globetrotters. The Generals players were actually trying to win -- but they weren't exactly playing on an even field. The Globetrotters had all those trick plays ... they were also the referees' employers.
The Generals played the Globetrotters for the last time on Aug. 1, a 90-88 loss.
"All great rivalries come to an end, and as we get set to celebrate our 90th anniversary, we are excited to take on a new opponent," Globetrotters legend Sweet Lou Dunbar, currently a team coach, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to building a new great rivalry as we entertain families worldwide for years."
Ferrari said: “Our job was to make people laugh. That’s pretty good. I would tell our players, ‘Hey, you’ll forget the white-out in South Dakota that kept us from getting out, and you’ll forget the time the plane landed late so that you didn’t eat for 24 hours, and you’ll forget all those small specific things that were hard. You’ll never forget what you did. You’ll never forget the laughter.’”
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Monday, August 10, 2015

SOUTH JERSEY is Back in Action!!

   Below is a letter from the local Chairmen of the Int'l Environmental group

Hi South Jersey 350 members & friends

After a hiatus, we are getting back in the climate change arena in South Jersey. Our first event is at the Board of Public Utilities ( BPU)  hearing on New Jersey's Energy Master Plan. This hearing will take place in a week on Monday, August 17, from 1:00 to 5:00 in the Campus center at Stockton college. ( Some of us will be by the SJ350 banner and some inside testifying at the hearing. This will be a low key affair for us- bring signs if you have them and testify (about a 1-3 minute statement) if you are so inclined. Our basic position is that NJ needs to focus on renewables in the master plan and not fossil fuels. 

Our first meeting will be next month in the third week of September at Stockton College (date and time TBA). We will be discussing local events and campaigns that national has planned. We would love to see you there. If you have any questions, contact Ron Hutchison (609)865-4654.

Your team

Saturday, August 08, 2015


speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Trump and the Koch-heads

Posted: Updated: 

The debate season is starting, and there is no doubt that it is entertaining. The media's obsession with Trump will not be diminished by last night's debate, as both the moderators and the other candidates in both the prime time and happy hour debates circled around the persona of Trump as the planets circle the sun. The run-up to the debate over the last week has been all-Trump-all-the-time, and there's no reason to think that will stop anytime soon.
Ultimately, though, I firmly believe that Donald Trump will not be the Republican presidential nominee- and I don't think it will be because he blows himself up with an outrageous comment, as he has already proved that making outrageous comments only adds to his appeal. What will finally defeat Trump is not likely to be the Donald himself, but the combined might of the people who control the Republican party: mainly the Koch brothers and those, both politicians and other big money players, who trail in their wake. As Congressman Tim Ryan said last night, "What's happening this evening is an audition for the billionaires, the Koch brothers." What they were auditioning for was to be the anti-Trump candidate the Kochs will muscle through the nomination process.
I noted at the time how true McConnell's words were:
In fact, McConnell does know where his Republican Party would be without the Kochs and their network of millionaire and billionaire donors -- nowhere. Saddled with a deeply unpopular economic and social agenda, locked down by a primary electorate that won't allow even occasional forays into moderate policy or rhetoric, crippled by demographic trends that are making their voting base smaller and smaller, Republicans have lost the popular vote six of the last seven presidential elections. Without the Koch money, there would have been no tea party movement or 2010 tidal wave. Without the Koch money, the 2012 presidential race wouldn't have even been competitive... The only thing keeping the Republicans in the game is the Kochs and their big-money friends dumping hundreds of millions of dollars ($290 million this cycle according to some accounts, $500 million according to at least one source) into the pot, and McConnell and other party leaders know it.
This cycle, the Kochs and their billionaire friends have pledged $900 million to help the Republicans win -- and that doesn't include the hundreds of millions they are investing in think tanks, academic institutions, PR, and other ways of influencing the broader political narrative. Closely allied to McConnell and most of the other party leaders, they dominate the party's thinking on climate change, taxes, the federal budget, regulatory policy, education policy, and a host of smaller behind-the-scenes issues.
The Kochs run the Republican show, and they will not let someone outside of their orbit like Trump get his hands on the prize. The Kochs are playing the long game -- they have been happy to accept short-term losses to keep their hands on the controls of the party. So if Trump decides to blow up the Republican chances this year by running as an independent, they will take that hit.
It is important to understand why this is such a serious development for the future of our democracy. These are bad people, not because they are conservative, not because they throw around a lot of money, and not only because they blatantly act in their own self-interest. I have seen all of that before in spades. I've been in politics a long time, been involved in presidential campaigns since 1984, worked in a White House and on two transition teams, and believe me I have seen, and faced off against, all kinds of naked self-interest and big money, for decades. But no one in my lifetime, or in American politics over the last hundred years, has had as much power as the Kochs, and no one has abused that power so egregiously.
I will come back to the big picture in a minute, but first let me tell you about one of the Kochs' closest associates, a man named Kevin Gentry. Gentry has two big titles in Koch world, simultaneously serving as vice president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and as vice president of special projects at Koch Industries. Gentry served as the emcee of the secret Koch conference held last year, speaking more on the tapes Lauren was given than any other person at the conference.
And Kevin Gentry is a thug. I don't say this lightly, as I respect most of my political opponents and believe in treating them with dignity. But the VP of Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation roughly grabbed two young women at their conference this last weekend, twisting the arm of one of them so much that paramedics were called. Read Lauren Windsor's harrowing account of the incidenthere.
This wasn't some rogue security guard, some junior level staffer that lost it and went out of control. This was one of the Kochs' very top people, and I think you can be guaranteed he will not be fired for this incident. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that people with such raw power and Ayn Rand-like political views feel like they can commit assault and battery without blinking an eye. In Gentry's case, he actually laughed about it.
Meanwhile, their political agenda as spelled out very clearly at their secret meetings last year, is another form of assault and battery. I wrote at the time:
In a series of big ideological speeches given the first day of their retreat (which Mitch McConnell called "very inspiring"), Charles Koch, his "grand strategist" Richard Fink, and the Charles Koch Institute's VP for Research and Policy, Will Ruger, laid out a vision of government and society that would be pretty terrifying to anyone this side of Ayn Rand: The minimum wage (which leads to Nazi-ism) should be abolished; homeless people should be told to "get off [their] ass and work hard like we did"; and government should get out of the business of anything except the police force, military, and judicial system -- no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, student loans, clean air or water rules, national or state parks, food safety, Wall Street oversight.
This would be assault and battery on everyone in America outside of the top 1%, so you can be sure that when Kevin Gentry manhandles two women, the Kochs won't blink an eye. These are the people with an iron grip on the throat of the Republican Party, and I guarantee you they will not let the party or its political leadership out of their control. Donald Trump is a fun, fascinating, thoroughly entertaining sideshow, but the real action was behind the scenes in Orange County last weekend.


Trump’s Triumph: Billionaire Blowhard Exposes Fake Political System
by Mike Whitney | August 8, 2015 - 8:24am

Last night’s FOX News GOP Presidential Debate Extravaganza featured the most riveting two minute political exchange ever heard on national television. During a brief colloquy between Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Fox moderator Brett Baier, the pugnacious casino magnate revealed the appalling truth about the American political system, that the big money guys like Trump own the whole crooked contraption lock, stock, and barrel, and that, the nation’s fake political leaders do whatever they’re told to do. Without question, it was most illuminating commentary to ever cross the airwaves. Here’s the entire exchange direct from the transcript:
FOX News Brett Baier (talking to Trump): Now, 15 years ago, you called yourself a liberal on health care. You were for a single-payer system, a Canadian-style system. Why were you for that then and why aren’t you for it now?
TRUMP: As far as single payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland. It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.
What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state. I have a big company with thousands and thousands of employees. And if I’m negotiating in New York or in New Jersey or in California, I have like one bidder. Nobody can bid.
You know why?
Because the insurance companies are making a fortune because they have control of the politicians, of course, with the exception of the politicians on this stage. (uneasy laughter) But they have total control of the politicians. They’re making a fortune.
Get rid of the artificial lines and you will have…yourself great plans…
BAIER: Mr. Trump, it’s not just your past support for single-payer health care. You’ve also supported a host of other liberal policies….You’ve also donated to several Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton included, and Nancy Pelosi. You explained away those donations saying you did that to get business-related favors. And you said recently, quote, “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
TRUMP: You’d better believe it.
BAIER: — they do?
TRUMP: If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.
TRUMP: I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?
TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why?
She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.
BAIER: Hold on…..We’re going to — we’re going to move on.” (Transcript:Read the Full Text of the Primetime Republican Debate, Time)
There it is, two glorious minutes of pure, unalloyed truth on national television. How often does that happen?
How often does a fatcat billionaire-insider appear on TV and announce that the whole system is a big-fat scam run by crooks and patsies?
Never, that’s when. But that’s what Trump did last night. And that’s why the clatter of ruthless miscreants who run the system behind the smokescreen of fake politicians are sharpening their knives right now before Manhattan’s rogue elephant does even more damage to their precious system.
Just think about what the man said. He not only explained that the whole system is rigged (Baier: “And when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”…TRUMP: “You’d better believe it.”), he also said that the politicians will do whatever they’re told to do. (TRUMP: Well, …with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding. You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave.”)
Doesn’t that confirm your darkest suspicions about the way the system really works, that money talks and that elections are just a way to get the sheeple to rubber-stamp a corrupt, fraudulent system?
Of course, it does.
So, let’s summarize: Moneybags capitalist loudmouth explains to 80 million dumbfounded Americans watching prime time TV, that the system is a total fraud, that the big money runs everything, and that even he thinks the system is broken.
How do you beat that? Seriously, my wife and I were laughing and high-fiving and like we just won the lottery.
Thanks for that, Don. We owe you one.