Sunday, March 31, 2013

JP MORGAN, the UN and the US, and 243,000 Jobs

JPMORGAN Chase and Credit Suisse recently agreed to settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission totaling $417 million over their packaging and sale of troubled mortgage securities to investors. The settlements are the latest major penalties extracted by the agency in a broad-reaching investigation into how Wall Street firms bundled mortgages into complex investments in the run-up to the financial crisis. Check this out: JPMorgan Chase has a net income of $3.7 billion for the fourth quarter of 2011, compared with $4.8 billion for the fourth quarter of 2010. Credit Suisse's net income attributable to shareholders is $1,953 million; total revenue, $41.9 billion.

IN 2006, the United Nations asked the United States how it would meet its obligations under a treaty to enforce the international law against torture. The State Department said American law provides redress, including by allowing plaintiffs to sue “federal officials directly for damages under provisions of the US Constitution.” These obligations, however, were rendered null as a US appeals court rules weeks ago that American civilians who are tortured by the American military cannot recover damages from the people responsible. The paradox is, foreign citizens can sue foreign officials under American law. Americans can sue foreign officials. But in the Seventh Circuit, covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Americans are the only citizens who have no remedy under American law against American officials allegedly responsible for torture.

THE Labor Department has recently trumpeted a net 243,000 jobs added to the market, dropping unemployment rate to 8.3 percent. Good news? About 43 percent of the nation's nearly 13 million unemployed have been without work for more than six months. But then, few days after, Washington announced that unemployed workers would no longer be able to claim 99 weeks of benefit checks by this summer under a deal being worked out in Congress. So people—get off the couch, and start looking for those 243,000 jobs before they all fly away to Guangzhou province…

THE number of trackers collecting data on users' activities on the most popular Web sites in the US has significantly increased in the last five months, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley, called the "Web Privacy Census." This comes at a time of fierce debate among federal regulators, advertising associations and consumer advocates over how best to regulate online tracking. The irony is, the more humanity gets paranoid about meeting people offline and engage in eye-to-eye or “primitive” manner of interaction, the more we bare ourselves to the world online. Employers, government agencies, jealous partners, and plain hackers tracking us down come as mild.
NATIONWIDE polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans want to know if the food they are purchasing contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms). California’s Proposition 37, which would have provided for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, recently failed 45 to 55 percent... Makes me think. Ponder. Most “health” food companies are now being devoured—or bought out—by “unhealthy” food companies... Hence recent “researches” sort of rationalize certain chemically-induced food products as “healthy”--which is a no-brainer since these studies are funded by the same giant food manufacturers. So what is there to believe in? We all go back to gut level, we don't rely on the next person what we should put in our mouths. We should know, it's our body. Common sense.
IN the first three months of 2012, the number of borrowers of student loans age 60 and older was 2.2 million, a figure that has tripled since 2005. These borrowers owed $43 billion, up from $8 billion seven years ago. Almost 10 percent of the borrowers over 60 were at least 90 days delinquent on their payments during the first quarter of 2012. These older borrowers were either taking out loans for their own education or that of their children. Whatever the case, it is sad to know that education in the world's most powerful nation is hard to come by—while many countries boast free college and/or post-secondary education to citizens. Some of these “free education” countries include Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Greece, and Norway, and even poor nations like Sri Lanka and Kenya.

THERE will be a time when all corporations are owned by probably two rival conglomerates. Yes, just like a sci-fi movie... With the way things are going, that “future” may come sooner as we probably envisioned it. Mergers and buy-outs are prevalent in the past 15 years. Locally, there's Wells Fargo gobbling up Wachovia via bail-out money. Then PNC Bank taking over RCB, and made client service worse... A month ago, Kayak Software has been devoured by its main rival,, a travel company from an earlier Internet age—for $1.8 billion in cash and stock. Heard of a new idealistic organic, handcrafted, or environmentally-sensitive outfit? Wait till the Big Dude snap them up!

ACCORDING to Lester Brown's book, "Full Planet, Empty Plates," we're on the verge of producing too little food to feed the planet. He cited these reasons: Falling water tables, particularly in the three biggest food producers: the United States, India and China; global warming-driven increases in temperatures and drought that reduce crop yield, as was dramatically the case here in the United States this summer; slowdown in grain-productivity increases derived from technology breakthroughs, as new advances appear less powerful than the previous round; growing population in the poorer countries; soil erosion, in large part from overgrazing; the conversion of food stocks -- largely corn -- into biofuel for cars; rising grain demand as people around the globe move up the food chain to middle-class diets with more meat and poultry; and overfishing of many of the world's fisheries. All true. But Mr Brown failed to cite another huge reason: We waste a lot of food.

DESPITE the fact that President Barack Obama has lauded entrepreneurship, innovation and “job creation,” his government hasn't made comprehensive immigration reforms, so far... Some 70 million immigrants have come to America since the first colonists arrived. Their labor has played a huge role in economic development... Three most important architects at the beginning of America's road to prosperity were immigrants: Alexander Hamilton, from St. Croix, then part of the Danish West Indies; Robert Morris, born in Liverpool, England; and Albert Gallatin of Geneva. These days, a huge number of Asian and Hispanic immigrants are leading the development of fields like movies and information technology: the Hollywood studios MGM, Warner Brothers, United Artists, Paramount and Universal; the Silicon Valley companies Intel, eBay, Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems.

FREE market capitalism—an economic system that includes private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income etc—is a hallmark of American democracy. It is also, in so many ways, western capitalism’s conscience… One time, I watched an Anderson Cooper show that featured people who sell murder/murderers’ stuff and things online in deference to victims and their families’ emotional well-being. Most resist this blatant insensitivity to human pain, but how do we stop it? Free enterprise apparently disregards human sensitivity on its way to "accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange, and wage labor."

FLOWING fire pits, glass portholes, vanishing edges, lawn sprinklers, and Bellagio’s dancing fountains. We in America use an average of 147 gallons of water each day. In Las Vegas, it’s 227 gallons per person—in one of the most water-scarce metro areas of the US. When I spent time in a village in India, water was sacred. Water feed the earth that feeds us. When I was a kid, I used to gather rainwater and then boil them for bathing and washing dishes… Hoover Dam’s reservoir Lake Mead supplies water to millions of Americans and another million acres of farmland. Question: When will Lake Mead go dry? Climate scientist David Pierce says there’s a 50-50 chance it will happen by 2021.

FOR the first time in many years, North Carolinians’ garbage disposal rate dropped from 322,738 tons in 2006-07 to 224,529 tons last year. We are getting more environmentally conscious, looking for ways not to land-fill materials… However, the bigger picture is—domestic overproduction and over-importation of goods and stuff. The percentage of consumers acquiring more outnumbers those who recycle or under-consume. The utmost concern—is how to lessen carbon footprints or greenhouse gas emissions from production and consumption of food, fuels, goods, materials etc. Are we ready to sacrifice a week of not using a vehicle, or shut off electricity for 24 hours straight?

AFGHANISTAN, a dark patch of dense geography? Could be—it is also wealthy. The country generates about $10 billion per year from its mineral deposits. For starters, 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil, 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Last year, China struck a deal with the Afghani to explore three oil fields there. The country is also one of the world’s top exporters of opium poppy, main ingredient to produce heroin, morphine etc. Hence, pharma giants Mallinckrodt, Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Sanofi Aventis, Shionogi, and Macfarlan Smith maintain interests there. Rich nations invade purportedly weaker and backward nations to help them get by? Really?

CAR SHARING is a hallmark of community connectedness: mutual neighborhood trust. Such trade-off vis-à-vis money paid works for many people—until business comes in. Car-sharing outfits—like Getaround, RelayRides and JustShareIt—link car owners with renters. The companies use different formulas, but owners receive about two-thirds of the rental proceeds. An owner of a midsize, late-model sedan who rents out a car for 10 hours a week could expect $3,000 profit a year. This isn’t so bad, considering current financial woes—but it also negates “good neighbor” initiatives in us. Car sharing is still cheaper than car rentals, but then… Do you have good credit, dear neighbor?

THE people elect leaders whom they expect to work as one to bail them out of misery. Yet it seems a political imperative that leaders undermine each other to advance partisan ego—instead of fixing the situation as a collective. Recent example: Republicans are using consumer angst about the rising cost of oil and gas to condemn President Obama’s energy programs and reinforce their argument that his economic policies suck. Truth is, the major cause of the oil price hike is Iran’s recent warnings of a disruption in the global oil trade, which pushed the price of a barrel of domestic oil to more than $103, a six-month high. Will the GOP alter Obama’s policy on Iran? I don’t think so.

A LAS VEGAS STORY: As I hang out at a Bellagio’s café, waiting for a Manny Pacquiao fight that I was assigned to cover, an elderly Filipino woman approached me. She flew from New York on the occasion of the boxing event. She could have stayed in her son’s LA house and watched on cable. But she reasoned: “I’d like to pray nearer Manny so he wouldn’t get hurt and not hurt his opponent so much. I don’t want to see people hurting each other. But I want Manny to fight and win. His victory will earn more money to help feed his people.” So with a rosary, she stayed on a corner of the café, monitored the fight via cellphone updates, c/o her grandson whom he paid to watch the duel live.

BRANDING is all about celebrity careers marketed as brands. The idea that anyone can be a fashion designer is now part of culture shock. Celebs are aiming for the glittered firmament that once belonged to Diane von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld and Vera Wang… Of course, no one imagined that Kanye West was actually sketching designs, cutting and stitching outfits. Well, the Kardashians employ tiny Chinese hands, so… As long as the public suck them up, no prob to profit. Anyways, taste is relative, right? Now, can Geoffrey Beene and Coco Chanel match up with P. Diddy’s gangsta cool or Lady Gaga’s bombastic kitsch? What about Zac Posen gears over Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua aerobics ensemble?

A analysis avers that China’s adoption of Japan’s Asian development model will be its downfall: State-controlled low wage scale that sparks export growth and industrialization via hefty investments. I beg to disagree. Truth is, the Japanese standard has fuelled East Asia’s rapid-growth economies, due to the region’s modifications. However, I believe, what will bring down China’s manufacturing machine are the SOEs (state-owned enterprises), which are no different from Wall Street. SOEs are now favored over small factories that jumpstarted China’s ascent to economic lordship in mid-80s. Now, they are hobbled by high interest rates, etc. With SOEs at the helm, expect economic collapse soon…

BASED on recent studies, US marriage rates, have hit a historic low. Nuptials are down from 72 percent in the 1960s. The intrigue is—despite people’s lesser interest in wedlock, majority of the unmarried, 61 percent, still hope to get hitched. Until, oh well—not really, we’re just daydreaming… Last Valentine’s Day, consumer expenditures reached $18 billion. Meantime, romantic fiction accounts for more than $1 billion annually in US sales. Harlequin—the brand name alias for romance novels—sells more than four books each second. Many are still gasping over Stephenie Meyer’s silly vampires in love? That’s okay. Everybody’s in love with love, until Cher slaps us in the face: “SNAP OUT OF IT?!?”

A FREE AGENT, much like in sports, is a person who does not have any commitments that restrict his/her actions. In 2011, the number of free agents had grown to 44 million as Americans desired more freedom, flexibility and ways to get paid for professional skills. Could be good… Problem is, the “free agent” psyche has relegated emotional depth to the background. We give up relationships like giving up a job that are not economically viable, or commitment is a bygone response since there are other more pressing issues to pursue. Feels like Ayn Rand’s objectivism: Love and sex are mere conditions of temporal intellectual bliss—for personal gain and pleasure.

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