The continuing problem of Mexico

Shelby County, Alabama had the wake up call from hell this week, when they found five dead men in a stash house just outside of Birmingham, in Alabama’s wealthiest county.

Victims of the Gulf Cartel, these men were bound, gagged, tortured and finally killed. And before the assassins left, they slit the dead men’s throats. All because money came up missing.

Five illegal, Mexican immigrants and the now arrested perpetrators, all in the Shelby County Jail charged with capital murder.

Nice.

The Associated Press reported that the Atlanta DEA chief said, “One reason for that shift is the ability these days to “blend in in plain sight,”…. The flood of Hispanic immigrants into American communities to work construction and plant jobs helped provide cover for traffickers looking to expand into new markets or build hubs in quiet suburbs with fewer law officers than the big cities.”

These poor men apparently did not come here and find a better life. Neither the deceased nor the arrested. No, their lives are pretty much over.

But for the Sheriff of Shelby County, the nightmare has just begun. The Associated Press reports the sheriff believes, “”This is not an isolated incident. It is a standard business practice with this group of people, and it is simply going to be repeated,” he says. “I can’t predict whether it’s going to be repeated here or not, but it’s going to be repeated in communities throughout the United States whenever these disagreements occur.””

Shelby County, Alabama had the wake up call from hell this week, when they found five dead men in a stash house just outside of Birmingham, in Alabama’s wealthiest county.

Victims of the Gulf Cartel, these men were bound, gagged, tortured and finally killed. And before the assassins left, they slit the dead men’s throats. All because money came up missing.

Five illegal, Mexican immigrants and the now arrested perpetrators, all in the Shelby County Jail charged with capital murder.

Nice.

The Associated Press reported that the Atlanta DEA chief said, “One reason for that shift is the ability these days to “blend in in plain sight,”…. The flood of Hispanic immigrants into American communities to work construction and plant jobs helped provide cover for traffickers looking to expand into new markets or build hubs in quiet suburbs with fewer law officers than the big cities.”

These poor men apparently did not come here and find a better life. Neither the deceased nor the arrested. No, yjeir lives are pretty much over.

But for the Sheriff of Shelby County, the nightmare has just begun. The Associated Press reports the sheriff believes, “”This is not an isolated incident. It is a standard business practice with this group of people, and it is simply going to be repeated,” he says. “I can’t predict whether it’s going to be repeated here or not, but it’s going to be repeated in communities throughout the United States whenever these disagreements occur.””

On another note – there’s the flu.

The first cases of the new flu strain surfaced in Mexico in March, but the government believed it was just cases straggling at the end of the flu season. Then in April, more cases popped up in Mexico City and three other regions. When people began dying from it, Mexico realized it had a problem.

April 2, there was a 15% increase in flu cases in Veracruz, Mexico. Still no outreach for assistance from WHO or CDC.Characteristics of this flu were gastroenteritis and upper respiratory disease. There were also increases in pneumonia.

By April 6, according to Veratect, a biosurveillance company,

La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico. Sources characterized the event as a “strange” outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases. According to a local resident, symptoms included fever, severe cough, and large amounts of phlegm. Health officials recorded 400 cases that sought medical treatment in the last week in La Gloria, which has a population of 3,000; officials indicated that 60% of the town’s population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. No precise timeframe was provided, but sources reported that a local official had been seeking health assistance for the town since February.

It has only gotten worse since then. As widely reported, over 1400 cases have been detected in four regions of Mexico. Tourists returning from Mexico to the United States, Spain and New Zealand, are now showing signs of this new flu, which is a combination of swine, avian, and human flu.

In Mexico over 86 people have died.

Proactive Latin American countries are stopping travelers from Mexico and the United States in the airports and refusing entry to anyone with flu-like symptoms or fevers.

We are not doing that. Our “legal” border crossings with Mexico are in full swing. We are told not to worry, though there are people affected in five states here – Ohio, Kansas, Texas, California and New York. In at least three of these states, at least one infected individual had been to Mexico, some as tourists, one on business.

Though the CDC has now raised the health alert, the WHO has not yet banned travel to Mexico. No one in the U.S. has died yet, but it seems cases keep cropping up.Seems to me if you are a tourist or a businessman,  you shouldn’t catch the flu from the locals unless it is really easy to catch.

If Mexico’s first cases were in March and early April, could spring break travel have anything to do with their reluctance to seek help? Why are we not being more proactive, not politically correct?

For a timeline, visit the blog Biosurveillance and read why residents at the center of the outbreak, believe a local pig farm owned by Smithfield, is at the heart of the matter.

I have emailed the CDC and WHO to ask if it is wise to have the immigrant march on May 1 go through as planned, considering tens of thousands will be in close contact with one another, and the vast majority, at least in Chicago, are Mexican.

Updates if I hear from them.

You can go to the CDC website, the World Health Organization or the Pan American Health Organization to read the differing opinions which are nothing more than spin. WHO seems to be the most honest.

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Do you ever feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone?

Financial news is getting more bizarre by the day. Take today’s new for example.

Citibank’s stock price soared over news that it didn’t lose as much money Wall Street expected it to. The quarterly loss was only $966 million and revenue doubled to $24.79 billion.

Is the $45 billion we gave them since October counted in this?

I know it includes the 13,000 jobs cut in the first quarter and the dumping of $116 billion of assets.

The more entertaining part of this news, was their decision to “delay a proposed exchange of billions of dollars of preferred shares into common stock until the U.S. government completes its “stress tests” of large banks to gauge which might need more aid,” as reported by Reuters.

That seems kind of underhanded to me or am I just being sensitive.

Wasn’t the point of the stress tests to identify banks who will be in more trouble if the economy worsens? How can it be a valid test if they are delaying a major exchange of stocks?

Then there’s the report that the Senate candidates are still raising tons of money for the 2010 campaigns.

Now this is a good one, because despite the horrifying economic situation, the candidates last year raised enough cash to bail out at least one bank.

Are institutions getting bailout money allowed to contribute? I don’t see why they should be able to.

Reid has already raised $2.2 million, several Democratic candidates, according to Reuters, have already raised over $1 million, Spector raised almost $2 million and already has 6 million in the bank. Clinton’s replacement has raised over $2 million, but the Reuters story
didn’t total all the millions.

We’re getting thrown out of our homes, dumped from our jobs, surviving without health care and unable to educate our children, yet these people “governing” us, have millions in their campaign “war chests.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

The final irony to today’s news, is the story that “Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s auto task force, was one of the investment firm executives involved with payments now under scrutiny in a state and federal investigation into an alleged kickback scheme at New York state’s pension fund,” reported Reuters.

The Treasury Department, when asked if they knew about this when Rattner was appointed, said that Rattner informed them about the pending investigation but refused to comment further.

One would think that treasury would be reluctant to put someone with an investigation into kickbacks, at the head of such a high profile and crucial task force. But no, they apparently saw no problem with it because there he is.

The scarier thought is that maybe Geithner, the tax cheat, has a suspicion that no matter who you appoint from the investment bank industry, they are likely to come under scrutiny for one shady practice or another, and therefore you hire either the one with the least chance of an investigation or the one who is most likely to survive the investigation without being imprisoned.

Either way, I am leaning more and more towards the folks that chant HEY HEY HO HO THE FEDERAL RESERVE HAS GOT TO GO!

Add to that the investment banks, nationally chartered banks, etc. etc. etc.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has his work cut out for him.

I now have to wonder if it was the New Yorkers that were the frauds and the Chicago financial institutions were all above board, or if Cuomo is a pro-active Attorney General and Lisa Madigan is simply remiss in not investigating the Chicago Board of Trade, Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Options Exchange.

Time will tell.

Congo forces leaders to pay taxes – ours?

The Democratic Republic of Congo, faced with a fiscal crisis, is now forcing their leaders to pay taxes. Reuters reports

Amid a growing budget shortfall, the government is under pressure to cut costs and boost tax revenues.

Budget Minister Michel Lokola told Reuters that last month’s decision to tax government salaries at source, rather than rely on employees to pay taxes after receiving their salaries, had already raised roughly $1 million.

“They just weren’t paying. The government ministers we replaced, the MPs, the senators, they didn’t pay,” said Lokola, who entered the government last October in a cabinet shake-up that saw his predecessor Adolphe Muzito named prime minister.

Lokola said the move was partly aimed at setting a good example, adding that Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s government salary was also subject to the measure.

“He is aware of this, and he approves of it … I don’t see how we can expect the private sector to pay their taxes if we don’t pay ourselves,” he said.

So even a country we look upon with derision, the Congo, has realized the benefit of taxing the elite of their country. As we have seen, politicians in this country appear to have an aversion to paying their taxes, and can’t even comprehend the tax code that they wrote, as evidenced by Tom Daschle, who didn’t know the limo was taxable.

So will Geithner, considering the fiscal crisis we, ourselves, are facing, implement a program of ferreting out government tax cheats and garnishing their taxpayer-paid wages?

I doubt it.

He’s a tax cheat.

Nothing like the fox guarding the hen house.

America by the numbers – updated

1 in 10 Americans are on food stamps – average benefit – $112.82 per person

1 in 50 American children are homeless

3,000,000 Americans have been out of work 27 weeks or longer

5,000,000 Americans have lost their jobs since the “recession” started

8,600,000 American workers are underemployed

5,300,000 Americans are on unemployment, the highest number since 1967

Only 37% of unemployed workers qualify for unemployment benefits

Approximately 1 out of 3 homeless men are veterans

1 in every 466 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing in January

13,000,000 Americans are jobless

7 percent of homeowners with mortgages were at least 30 days late on their loans in February, up more than 50 percent from 2008

Banks closed 8 million credit card accounts in February

4.5 percent of total balances on bank-issued credit cards were at 60 days past due in February, up 32.7 percent from 2008

Welcome to the richest country in the world………

Once again – Obama dodges marijuana legalization question

In the first ever virtual town hall meeting from the White House, President Obama answered questions posed to him by the American people on the White House website. According to the website, 92,932 people have submitted 104,093 questions and cast 3,606,268 votes.

The moderator chose the most popular question, one from each of 11 categories, and asked the President who gave thoughtful, and for the most part, lengthy answers.

With the exception of one repeatedly answered question. Would you legalize marijuana, end the war on drugs, and allow states to benefit from the revenue.

Though over 7,000 people asked this question in four different categories, and it was the top question in each, the answer was flippant, and the answer was no, we will not grow our way out of this problem.

Tom Amianao, an assemblyman from San Francisco, has proposed AB390,


not only to address California’s growing economic crisis but, more importantly, to begin a rational public policy discussion about how best to regulate the state’s largest cash crop, estimated to be worth roughly $14 billion annually. Placing marijuana under the same regulatory system that now applies to alcohol represents the natural evolution of California’s laws and is in line with recent polls indicating strong support for decriminalizing marijuana.

To understand the reasoning behind AB390, it is helpful to understand how we got here. The state first prohibited marijuana in 1913. When Congress later passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, marijuana was temporarily labeled a “Schedule I substance” – an illegal drug with no approved medical purposes.

But Congress acknowledged that it did not know enough about marijuana to permanently classify it as Schedule I, so it created a presidential commission to review the research. In 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse advised Congress to remove criminal penalties on the possession and nonprofit distribution of marijuana.

“Neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety,” concluded the commission, led by then-Gov. Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania. President Richard Nixon and Congress ignored the report. Since then, more than 14 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges and marijuana has remained listed as a Schedule I substance – actually treated by federal law as more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine.

Here in California, enforcement costs for marijuana offenses had become so high by 1975 that the Legislature decriminalized possession of small quantities in the Moscone Act, saving the state $100 million each year. In 1990, the California Research Advisory Panel urged further decriminalization, noting that “an objective consideration of marijuana shows that it is responsible for less damage to society and the individual than are alcohol and cigarettes.” By 1996, the medicinal benefits of marijuana had been well documented and California voters legalized the medical use of marijuana by passing Proposition 215. Thirteen states across the nation have since followed suit.

With U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announcing last week that the federal government will end raids on marijuana dispensaries in California and other states with medical marijuana laws, it is clear that the tide is turning. Fact regarding marijuana is finally overcoming fiction.

There may be disagreements about what direction to take, but it is clear to everyone involved that our current approach is not working. Regulation allows common-sense controls and takes the marijuana industry out of the hands of unregulated criminals.

I find Obama’s stance puzzling. This is the second time it was the top question, the first was during the transition, and the same thing happened then. Thoughtful answers to every question, but a terse, President Obama does not advocate legalization of marijuana.

Is this a democracy? Really?

Read the whole editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Bailing out investors won’t help the economy

Reuters led the story of yesterday’s stock market rally with the following:

Stocks rose on Wednesday, with the benchmark S&P 500 index attempting the first two-day advance in a month, as investors held out hope that Washington would restore confidence in banks by relieving them of money-losing assets.

This is a rather disingenuous conclusion to derive from the rally message. Investors don’t care about confidence in the banking system, they care about their toxic investment making money again.

Those that did not see this debacle coming, and did not get out of these investments in time, are hoping that the bailout will be big enough to allow then to recoup their losses.

Geithner is working on a plan to relieve the banks of their bad assets – at taxpayer expense of course.

But, according to Reuters, Geithner “promised action within weeks and said he was moving deliberately to minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.”

Minimize risks of losses for taxpayers.

And conversely maximize the potential of gains for investors?

Bailing out these insolvent big banks by buying their bad debt with our money, while leaving the current management in place that not only created the problem but grew filthy rich while they did it,  is just a crime.

I would say he has no vision of the future, when we the taxpayers have to pay for this, but then, he’s not a taxpayer, so why would he care?

Can you say depression, boys and girls?

Clinton, Rubin and Summers, Graham, Leach and Bliley – thank you

In the early 1900’s, commercial banks began to establish security affiliates that floated bond issues and underwrote corporate stock issues. (In underwriting, a bank guarantees to furnish a definite sum of money by a definite date to a business or government entity in return for an issue of bonds or stock.)

Then the stock market crashed.

In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market, FDR closed the banks for four days, 4000 failed permanently, and Congress created the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, then amended it in the Banking Act of 1933.

The act forced a separation of commercial and investment banks by preventing commercial banks from underwriting securities, with the exception of U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities, and municipal and state general obligation securities.

More specifically, the act authorizes Federal Reserve banks to use government obligations and commercial paper as collateral for their note issues, in order to encourage expansion of the currency. Banks can also offer advisory services regarding investments for their customers, as well as buy and sell securities for their customers. However, information gained from providing such services cannot be used by a bank when it acts as a lender.

Likewise, investment banks cannot engage in the business of receiving deposits.

A bank is defined as an institution organized under the laws of the United States, any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, any territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, or the Virgin Islands, that both accepts demand deposits (deposits that the depositor may withdraw by check or similar means for payment to third parties or others) and is engaged in the business of making commercial loans (12 U.S.C.A. § 1841 (c)(1) [1988]).

Investment banking consists mostly of securities underwriting and related activities; making a market in securities; and setting up corporate mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring. Investment banking also includes services provided by brokers or dealers in transactions in the secondary market. A secondary market is one where securities are bought and sold subsequent to their original issuance.

It also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect depositors in the future.

The Act was passed because it was largely believed, after hearings in Congress, that commercial banks were being too speculative in the pre-Depression era, not only because they were investing their assets but also because they were buying new issues for resale to the public. Thus, banks became greedy, taking on huge risks in the hope of even bigger rewards. Banking itself became sloppy and objectives became blurred. Unsound loans were issued to companies in which the bank had invested, and clients would be encouraged to invest in those same stocks.

Enter the Clinton Era and the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, the act which ultimately repealed the Glass-Steagull Act. The final bi-partisan version passed in the Senate 90-8-1 and in the House: 362-57-15. Without forcing a veto vote, this bipartisan, veto proof legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 12, 1999, though most of his Democratic colleagues voted against it, initially (Senate 54-44, House 343-86).

The Graham-Leach-Bliley Act sought to “modernize” financial services–that is, end regulations that prevented the merger of banks, stock brokerage companies, and insurance companies. It nullified all prior acts that strictly regulated those who stored your money such as the Bank Holding Company Act that prohibited a bank from controlling a non-bank company which passed in 1956 and the 1982 amendment that further forbid banks from conducting general insurance underwriting or agency activities.

Why is this related to today? According to the Online Law Encylopedia,

The expansion of commercial banks into securities underwriting was substantial until the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent Depression. In 1930 the Bank of the United States failed, reportedly because of activities of its security affiliates that created artificial conditions in the market.

As a result of the bank closings and already devastated economy, public confidence in the U.S. financial structure was low.

Is this sounding at all familiar? It should be.

The Glass-Steagull Act made all of that history, GLBA repealed it and history, my friends, is repeating itself.

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Fast forward to October 2011 – With unemployment remaining steadily at over 9 percent for the last several years, foreclosures at an all time high and banks squeezing the dimes out of people with fees for everything but walking in the door, groups around the country are occupying financial districts, parks, banks and anywhere they believe they will have an impact. In New York occupiers shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and in Chicago they have been camped out for a couple of weeks on a corner that conveniently houses the Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Bank of America down the street. A recent rally joined by four other groups including several labor unions, shut down Monroe Street between Michigan and Columbus — ironically on Columbus Day.

Sources GLBA, Glass-Steagull(1), Glass-Steagull(2)

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