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State of the Union: Hopes are Dashed

“A new poll from WSJ/NBC finds a high level of dissatisfaction with the President, the U.S. political system, and the economy, and a stunning number of respondents see a grim future for their children.

Just 40% of respondents approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, a level that matches an all-time low. On the matter of foreign policy — which is in the news a lot lately due to Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, and Gaza — the President’s approval is at a mere 36%, also at an all-time low.

And though the stock market remains close to record highs, while unemployment has dropped considerably, widespread pain is still being felt economically. Sixty-four percent of respondents still say they are feeling the effects of the economic collapse, and nearly half believe the economy is still in recession.

But perhaps the worst stat shows the extent to which Americans have lost faith….”

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1 in 3 Americans are in Financial Ruin

“Americans have a debt problem.

An estimated 1 in 3 adults with a credit history — or 77 million people — are so far behind on some of their debt payments that their account has been put “in collections.”

That’s a key finding from a new Urban Institute study.

It examined non-mortgage debt, including credit card bills, car loans, medical bills, child support payments and even parking tickets.

The debt in collections ranged from as little as $25 to a whopping $125,000. But the average amount owed was $5,200.

Geographically, no area of the country is untouched.

Among the states, Nevada had the highest percentage of residents with debt in collections — 47% – as well as the highest average amount owed – $7,198. That was helped in part by the Las Vegas metro area, where 49% of residents had debt in collections.

By contrast, North Dakota had the lowest percentage of residents with debt in collections at just 19%, while the District of Columbia had the lowest average dollar amount owed per person at $3,547.

‘It’s too expensive to go to school’

At least with credit cards, debt won’t go into collections unless it’s more than 6 months past due. But time frames can differ from place to place when talking about debt like parking tickets and medical bills.

Once it is categorized as in collections, however, it can follow one of three courses, according to the Urban Institute report. The creditor can charge it off and sell it to a debt buyer, put the account into default, or seek to collect what’s owed through an in-house department or a third-party debt collector.

In any of those cases, however, the cost to the consumer is high and long-lasting…..”

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The Week Ahead: Q2 GDP, Fed Decision, July Payrolls, ISM, ….

“WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Get ready for 48 hours — and a little more — of the most intense outpouring of information on the U.S. economy you’re likely to ever see.

The schedule between Wednesday and Friday includes second-quarter GDP, a Federal Reserve decision, July payrolls, the July Institute for Supply Management manufacturing report and July car sales.

Yes, we mean “includes,” because there are eight other scheduled releases as well.

So if you’re going to focus on just one number…

“It’s got to be the unemployment rate,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers in Philadelphia. He says there’s a slight chance that the unemployment rate could fall below 6% — “which means, by the end of this year, we’ll be sitting on top of full employment.” The unemployment rate, at 6.1% in June, has fallen from a peak of 10% after the recession.

Full employment refers to the lowest rate at which unemployment can go without sparking inflation. The latest projections from the Fed show central bank officials believe that is between 5.2% and 5.5%.

An economy at full employment could cause wage growth to accelerate — and possibly, inflation. That makes the unemployment rate the number to focus on. “It’s even more important than jobs growth, unless you get 300,000 or more or 200,000 or less,” Naroff says…..”

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Your Data is Not Safe, Full Stop

“Companies can’t keep your data safe. It’s that simple.

When Target lost data on some 110 million customers, it sent them to credit bureau Experian for “identity theft protection.”

Think you’re in better hands? Think again.

Sometime before the Target (TGT) hack, Experian had its own data leak — via a subsidiary. It unknowingly sold the personal data of millions of Americans — including Social Security numbers — to a fraudster in Vietnam. That guy then sold the personal information to identity thieves around the globe.

It wasn’t until U.S. Secret Service agents alerted Experian that the company stopped.

That data leak got plugged before Target sent victims to Experian. But it shows that even those entrusted with our most sensitive data don’t know how to protect it…..”


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Refis Help Out Mortgage Applications

“Mortgage rates didn’t move at all last week, but more borrowers made applications to refinance their home loans.

A weekly measure of loan volume by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed a 2.4 percent gain in total applications week-to-week, with a 4 percent jump in refinances leading the charge.

Refinancing has been languishing for more than a year, after rates jumped a full percentage point in the spring of 2013. Refinance application volume is still down over 40 percent from a year ago, despite slightly lower rates currently.

America’s 10 worst states to live in

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Loan applications to purchase a home are still languishing, up just 0.3 percent week-to-week, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the MBA. They are down 15 percent from a year ago. This as the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) remained unchanged at 4.33 percent. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 54.4 percent of total applications, the highest level since March 2014…..”

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State of the Union: The Criminalization of Homelessness


“An American activist warns about the growing problem of homelessness in the United States, saying a larger degree of people are to lose their homes in the coming years due to wrong economic policies adopted in the country.

“The problem of homelessness in the United States is going to be a growing problem for various reasons,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of Pan-African News Wire in an interview with Press TV Sunday.

He described the massive foreclosure crisis which coincided with the so-called great recession which began in 2007-2008 as one of the reasons.

“Millions upon millions of residents of the US lost their homes as the result of predatory lending by the banks. Of course these lending schemes were backed up by some of the larger insurance companies and bond holders.”

This trend threatened the US economy and consequently the world capitalist economy in general with collapse, added Azikiwe who is also an organizer of the Workers World Party in Detroit.

According to Azikiwe, the US economic decision makers failed to stabilize the country’s economy despite approving bailout packages through extending of liquidity by the US Federal reserve bank.

“This of course is causing an increase in evictions and resulting in a greater degree of homelessness for people inside the United States.”

He made the remarks as more American cities are criminalizing sleeping in public places including parks and even in personal vehicles.”

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More on the criminalization of homelessness

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Foreclosure Activity Crawls to an 8 Year Low

“Foreclosure activity has been falling steadily for the past few years as the housing market recovers, but the latest reading shows it has hit a new milestone.

According to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure sales and analytics company, 107,194 U.S. properties had a foreclosure filing in June—the lowest level since July 2006, before the housing price bubble burst.

“Over the next six to nine months, nationwide, foreclosure numbers should start to flat line at consistently historically normal levels,” said RealtyTrac’s Daren Blomquist in a release.

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Improvement, however, does not mean the level of distressed housing is back to normal; not by a long shot. There continues to be a wide discrepancy between states that require a judge in the foreclosure process and those that do not…..”

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BRIC Nations to Create $100bn Development Bank

“The leaders of the five Brics countries have signed a deal to create a new $100bn (£583m) development bank and emergency reserve fund.

The Brics group is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The capital for the bank will be split equally among the five participating countries.

The bank will have a headquarters in Shanghai, China and the first president for the bank will come from India.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rouseff, announced the creation of the bankat a Brics summit meeting in Fortaleza, Brazil on Tuesday.

A new player

At first, the bank will start off with $50bn in initial capital.

The emergency reserve fund – which was announced as a “Contingency Reserve Arrangement” – will also have $100bn, and will help developing nations avoid “short-term liquidity pressures, promote further Brics cooperation, strengthen the global financial safety net and complement existing international arrangements”.

The creation of the Brics bank will almost surely create competition for both the World Bank and other similar regional funds….”

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The New Plague:Ransomware Malware

“Ransomware, a particularly annoying breed of computer virus, is spreading like the plague. This malware locks you out of your computer files until you pay up — and it is proving incredibly difficult to exterminate.

A major ransomware operation called Cryptolocker was supposedly halted by the FBI in May. Not so fast, security experts say. It’s only a setback.

Cryptolocker used a massive network of hijacked computers called a “botnet” to spread the virus. The FBI, foreign law enforcement and private security companies teamed up to cut off communication between that botnet and victims’ devices. They seized Cryptolocker’s servers and replaced them with their own.

But as antivirus maker Bitdefender points out, all that accomplished was to stop Cryptolocker’s virus delivery system. Cryptolocker lives on, and its criminal masters just need to find a new botnet to start delivering viruses to new computers once again.

If the criminals tweak the virus’ code and find a different set of servers, law enforcement is back at square one….”

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Your Tax Dollars at Work: Forgive and Forget

“WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security has awarded a $190 million contract to the company accused of methodically defrauding the government while carrying out background checks on millions of people, including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services hired US Investigations Services LLC to help operate the nation’s immigration system.

USIS was able to win the contract because regulations require agencies to follow strict procurement procedures unless a bidder has been suspended or barred by the government from contracts. Despite questions about its work on background checks, USIS was never blocked from federal work.

Unless a company is suspended or barred, “by law and policy, we have to go with the lowest bidder,” said an official with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Department of Homeland Security said it takes “allegations of wrongdoing against its workforce and contractors extremely seriously,” but “at this time there is no conduct that has resulted in suspension or debarment of USIS.” The agency said the contract decision came after an 18-month review.

The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees background-check investigations, indicated that USIS had addressed concerns raised by the fraud allegations. “At this time we are satisfied with the steps taken by USIS to deal with actions by their employees and previous leadership,” the agency said.

USIS, based in Falls Church, Va., declined to comment on the contract award or its work with the U.S. government. After the fraud allegations, which were brought to the government’s attention in 2011 by a company whistleblower, USIS overhauled its management team and said the accusations were inconsistent with the company’s values.

The new contract, disclosed late Tuesday, is the first major federal award USIS has won since it became the focus of scrutiny last summer over its practices as the government’s largest provider of background checks for security clearances.

The Justice Department has accused USIS in a civil suit of cutting corners while conducting investigations of people seeking clearance for sensitive government jobs. Among those it screened was Mr. Snowden, the former NSA contractor who sought sanctuary in Russia after leaking classified U.S. government secrets.

Federal officials alleged that USIS carried out a flawed 2011 background check of Mr. Snowden before he secured an NSA job in Hawaii, where he collected top-secret documents and later gave them to journalists.

USIS also did a 2007 background check of Aaron Alexis, a military contractor who used his security clearance to bring a gun into the Washington Navy Yard last fall and kill 12 people before being shot dead by security officers.

USIS has defended its work investigating Mr. Snowden and Mr. Alexis and noted that the company provides information to government officials who have the final say over who gets security clearance.

In January, the Justice Department joined a whistleblower lawsuit against USIS and accused the company of defrauding the government. In addition, a federal grand jury launched an investigation last summer into USIS practices, according to people familiar with the situation, while some lawmakers have suggested the company be barred from government work….”

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$BX to Start a Concentrated Bet Style Hedge Fund

Blackstone Group BX -0.30% LP is quietly laying plans to start a hedge fund that will make big, bold bets, an effort it hopes will eventually rival some of the largest firms in the business, according to people familiar with the plans.

The private-equity firm will fund several teams of traders with hundreds of millions of dollars to place a relatively small number of large, highly concentrated wagers, the people said. The strategy is notable now as many hedge funds are shying away from making such outsize bets.

Combined, the teams’ investments will form a multistrategy hedge fund to be pitched to wealthy clients. New York-based Blackstone is confident the firm can hedge the overall risks, according to people familiar with the firm’s plans.

Blackstone is aiming to rival powerhouses such as Millennium Management LLC, which has $23 billion under management; Chicago-based Citadel LLC, which has $22 billion; and the $45 billion Och-Ziff Capital Management OZM +0.22% LLC in New York.

The move fills a gap for the $272 billion-asset manager, which already boasts a lineup of private-equity funds and mutual funds. Blackstone already has the world’s biggest collection of so-called funds of funds that invest in other firms’ hedge funds and is the biggest investor in hedge funds…..”

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Dark Cesspool: Will We Ever Clean Up Walls Street ?

Barclays Plc (BARC) was so bent on lifting its private trading venue to the upper ranks of Wall Street dark pools that it lied to customers and masked the role of high-frequency traders, according to New York’s attorney general.

Barclays falsified marketing materials to hide how much high-frequency traders were buying and selling, according to acomplaint filed today by Eric Schneiderman. Barclays runs one of Wall Street’s largest dark pools, a private trading venue where investors can trade stocks mostly anonymously.

Schneiderman has taken a leading role in seeking to reform how equities trade in the $23 trillion U.S. stock market, examining whether exchanges and dark pools give unfair perks to high-frequency traders. His suit against Barclays says clients such as institutional investors were the losers, led to believe they were safe from predators on a trading venue where aggressive trading strategies were in fact encouraged….”

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Study: 26% of Americans Have No Emergency Savings, Most are Asset Rich and Cash Poor

“About 26% of Americans have no money saved to handle emergencies, according to a new poll that showed households making little progress over the past year in their ability to deal with financial trouble.

The Bankrate.com survey results released Monday also found that two-thirds of respondents said they have less than the recommended six months’ worth of readily available savings to cover living expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, utility bills and food costs, in case of a lost job or other difficulties.

Both figures were only slight improvements from Bankrate.com’s survey last year, which found that 27% of respondents had no emergency savings and that 71% didn’t have enough to last six months.

“Americans continue to show a stunning lack of progress in accumulating sufficient emergency savings,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for the financial information website.

About a third of respondents — 34% — said they were less comfortable with their savings than they were a year ago. Just 18% said they were more comfortable.

The struggle to build an emergency fund came even though the personal savings rate calculated by the Commerce Department has doubled from a record low of 2% in 2005 during the subprime housing market boom to 4% in April….”


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Move Along, Nothing to See Here: Business as Usual in America

“WASHINGTON, DC – From the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the Puget Sound, industrial facilities dumped more than 206 million pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways in 2012, according to a new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center. The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of critical waterways across the nation – a move bitterly opposed by the lobbyists for corporate agribusiness, including the American Farm Bureau.

“America’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Ally Fields, clean water advocate with Environment America Research and Policy Center. “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters. The first step to curb this tide of toxic pollution is to restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

Based on data submitted by polluting facilities themselves, the group’s report uses information from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012, the most recent data available. Major findings of the report include:

• Our nation’s iconic waterways are still threatened by toxic pollution – with polluters discharging huge volumes of chemicals into the watersheds of the Great Lakes (8.39 million pounds), the Chesapeake Bay (3.23 million pounds), the Upper Mississippi River (16.9 million pounds), and the Puget Sound (578,000 pounds) among other beloved waterways.
• Tyson Foods Inc. is the parent-company reporting dumping the largest discharge of toxic chemicals into our waterways, with a total of 18,556,479 lbs – 9 percent of the nationwide total of toxic discharges. Of the top ten parent-companies by total pounds of toxics released, four are corporate agribusiness companies (Tyson Inc., Cargill Inc., Perdue Farms Inc, and Pilgrims Pride Corp.).
• Corporate agribusiness facilities, the report also finds, were responsible for approximately one-third of all direct discharges of nitrates to our waterways, which can cause health problems in infants and contribute to “dead zones” in our waters. For example, pollution in the Mississippi River watershed has contributed to the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico….”

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G77 Advances Global Currency and Governance With Anti West Sentiment to Boot

“A collection of over 100 of the world’s communist, Islamist, and socialist tyrants, along with some elected but mostly corrupt Third World regimes, gathered in Bolivia at the G77 plus China summit to demand what they called a “New World Order to Live Well.” United Nations boss Ban Ki-moon joined the anti-American, anti-freedom, anti-national sovereignty, anti-free market festivities, calling on the assembled rulers — the biggest bloc at the UN — to keep pushing “sustainable development” and global-warming alarmism with the goal of foisting global governance on humanity. Despite its significance, the historic 50th anniversary G77 summit went largely unnoticed in the establishment press.

In their final declaration, signed by more than 130 rulers from around the world, the regimes called for what amounts to global tyranny, central planning, and massive wealth redistribution from Western taxpayers to oppressive Third World governments. Everything must be in “harmony” with “Mother Earth” under a “sustainable” UN “international climate change regime,” they said. From a stronger UN better able to implement its “mandates” to empowering the UN General Assembly as an “emblem of global sovereignty” and advancing aglobal reserve currency run by the IMF, the radical screed demands a dramatic planetary transformation.

“We fully respect the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, particularly as they relate to equality among States,” the regimes said in the final agreement, calling for the “strengthening” of the UN for a wide variety of purposes. “We recognize that the United Nations needs to improve its capabilities and capacities to fully implement its mandates and to ensure the effective delivery of its programs in the social and economic development fields.” The agreement, dubbed the “Declaration of Santa Cruz: For a New World Order for Living Well,” also called for empowering the despot-dominated UN General Assembly to be a sort of veto-proof planetary legislature…..”

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