June 30, 2009

Mortgage Rates Climb; Gas Prices Still Climbing; Americans May Never Retire

Millions of Mortgages Will Ratchet Upward Soon

June 12, 2009

MoneyNews - Zacks Research analyst Dirk van Dijk warns that another major mortgage crisis lies ahead as huge numbers of homeowners who have been making only minimum payments on their “pick a payment” mortgages have to start paying in full.

This can cause huge jumps in the monthly payment, with increases of over 50 percent not uncommon, van Dijk says, making these the ultimate “exploding mortgages.”

The number of these recasts is relatively small right now at $1 billion per month but will grow dramatically over the next few years, exceeding $8 billion per month in the fall of 2011.

“If the equity in your house is gone and your monthly mortgage payment suddenly jumps from $2000 per month to over $3000 per month, what do you think is going to happen?” van Dijk asks.

The next wave of foreclosures is going to have much higher average loan balances, so each foreclosure will hurt banks more than subprime foreclosures did...

Mortgage Rates Climb

June 11, 2009

CNN Money - Home mortgage rates jumped in the most recent week, pulled higher by skyrocketing Treasury yields. The average 30-year fixed rate soared to 5.95% from 5.45% last week, according to a weekly national survey from Bankrate.com.

The 30-year rate is often influenced by the benchmark 10-year bond's yield, which has increased steadily to hover around 4% recently. The yield was 2% just six months ago. Investors worry that this has re-ignited inflation fears and threatens the potential for economic recovery.

In an effort to cap mortgage rates, the Federal Reserve in March revealed a campaign to buy back $300 billion in Treasurys in hopes that it will spark demand and keep yields -- and therefore, mortgage rates -- in check.

Mortgage rates fell as refinancings abounded. But those benefits seem to have worn off, as rates have been on a tear in recent weeks. Although mortgage rates continue to rise, they remain much lower than last year, when the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 6.48%.

Adjustable-rate mortgages: Those rising rates have made it difficult for many homeowners to refinance, but ARMs are an option, the Bankrate report noted. Adjustable-rate mortgages were higher last week, with the average 1-year ARM rising to 5.16% and the 5-year ARM jumping to 5.49%.

"Bankers say ARMs got a bad rap in the mortgage debacle," the report continued, adding that the riskiest loans in the housing bubble --"subprime, low down payment, interest-only, negative amortizing and stated income" -- tended to be adjustable-rate mortgages.

But the meltdown happened "because those loan features were layered on top of ARMs," the report said, meaning that it was not the adjustable rates that caused people to default. Rather, home buyers put no money down and "exaggerated their earnings when they applied for stated-income loans."

A few months ago, only about 1% of mortgage applications were for ARMs. Last week, it was 3.4%, the report added. Other rates: The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage jumped to 5.37% from 5.06% the week prior. The average jumbo 30-year fixed rate ticked up to 6.96% from 6.68%. Loans are considered "jumbo" when they are too large to be purchased or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500). They carry higher rates than smaller "conforming" loans, which do have guarantees.

Tough Workouts for Mortgage Borrowers

CNN Money - Lenders all say they want to help mortgage borrowers stay in their homes. But when homeowners contact lenders in search of mortgage modifications, they often find getting help very difficult. Here are some stories from readers who struggled to find solutions...

Gas Prices Still Climbing

June 17, 2009

Richmond Times-Dispatch - Gas prices have climbed nationally for almost 50 straight days as speculation about an economic recovery seems to have trumped market fundamentals. The national average rose a half-cent yesterday to $2.674 per gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service

The average price for regular self-serve in the Richmond area was $2.53 yesterday morning, according to a daily survey of retailers by AAA. That is up from $2.18 a month ago but far below the $3.98 average from a year ago.

Nationally, gas prices have jumped about 65 percent this year. In the Richmond area, prices are up nearly 69 percent. They have risen about 66 percent in Virginia...

Dream Deferred: Americans May Never Retire

June 15, 2009

Live Science - The retirement plans of many Americans went out the window in the past year due to the economic downturn, a new survey finds. A lot of folks now are looking at Plan B, and Plan B means working more and working later in life.

It's not unlike what our great-great grandparents planned for, back before the concept of retirement came into vogue...

No surprise, but about three-quarters of adults in the so-called threshold generation (ages 50-64) have seen the value of their investments — mutual funds, individual stocks or retirement accounts such as 401(k)s — decline in the past year, according to the national survey of 2,417 Americans conducted Feb. 23 to March 23 by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project.

About half of all working adults in this age group say they may delay their retirement, and 16 percent say they expect to never stop working, the survey found.

Overall, some 37 percent of all full-time working adults of all ages say they have thought in the past year about postponing their retirement. Women are more likely to feel this way (46 percent) than men (31 percent). And whites have thought about delayed retirement (40 percent) more than blacks (32 percent) and Hispanics (34 percent), the Pew survey found.

Investment advisor Art Dinkin sees this trend, too. His clients at retirement age are not retiring.
"No one says it's their ideal solution," said Dinkin, CFP®, an investment advisor representative of Ameritas Investment Corp., member FINRA/SIPC. "We've all bought into this dream of retire at 65, get your gold watch and then living the life of leisure. But the dream isn't as strong as we thought it was..."

Nowadays, workers hang on like a dog to a bone to the concept of retirement. Meanwhile, each of the three legs of the retirement stool — pensions and/or 401(k)s, social security and personal savings — are getting wobbly.

In fact, the only true security for a retiree today is their own savings and investments, Dinkin said. Neither the government nor corporate pensions can be relied upon as the foundation of a stable retirement, he adds...

Stimulus Watch: $25 Check May Cost You Food Stamps

June 15, 2009

AP - When President Barack Obama increased unemployment benefits as part of his economic stimulus, he also made some Americans ineligible for hundreds of dollars a month in food stamps.

Under the economic recovery plan, laid-off workers have seen a $25 weekly bump in their unemployment checks as part of a broad expansion of benefits for the poor. But the law did not raise the income cap for food stamp eligibility, so the extra money has pushed some people over the limit.

Laid-off workers and state officials are only now realizing the quirk, a consequence of pushing a $787 billion, 400-page bill through Congress and into law in three weeks.

And for people hurt by the change, there's no way around it.

"Everybody tells you, 'Yeah, I can understand why you're frustrated. It doesn't sound right.' But nobody knows where to go," said Mark Milota, 47, of Marietta, Ga., who was laid off in November from his job at a medical billing company.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources explained in a letter to him last month that, because of the stimulus, he was ineligible for food stamps. He now makes $1,538 a month — $21 too much for a family of two to qualify.

"We have to pay him that $25 a week," said Brenda Brown, assistant commissioner at the Georgia Department of Labor. "And he doesn't have the option not to accept it."

Milota said he was told that, without the stimulus money, he would have received about $300 a month in food stamps.

"I'm doing things I've never done before: I'm going to food pantries. I've gone to places for assistance on bills," Milota said. "Some bills are just not being paid. I'm three months behind on my mortgage."

Unemployment benefits vary by state and the income cap for food stamps also varies based on family size, so it's impossible to say for certain how many people are hurt by the change. Government officials believe it is only a small fraction of the record 6.8 million people on unemployment. Many more people will benefit from a stimulus law that expanded unemployment and food stamp benefits.

"We've gotten some questions about this. Not tons and tons, but we have been getting questions about this," said Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, which overseas the food stamp program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

When cases like Milota's began popping up in Iowa recently, officials called Washington, asking what to do.

"We were told we were interpreting the food stamp regulations correctly," said Roger Munns, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. "Once you're over the income limit, regardless of the reason, you're no longer eligible."

Once handed out as paper vouchers, food stamps are now delivered to people near the poverty level through debit cards that they can use to buy food. A record 32.5 million people participate in the program. Once the government determines someone is eligible, officials use a formula to calculate the monthly benefit, which ranges from $16 to $588. The average is about $111.

Because those close to the income limit tend to get less money in food stamps, Munns said most people who are bumped out of the program by the extra $100 in unemployment benefits each month will break even or fare just slightly better. But the stimulus checks were intended to ease the effects of the recession, not simply cancel out another government assistance program.

Lawmakers crafting the stimulus knew this would become a problem, said Stacy Dean, director of food assistance policy at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. They could have headed it off by raising the income tax or declaring that the $25 stimulus checks would not affect food stamp eligibility. Both were expensive options that could have forced states to reprogram their computer systems.

But more importantly, hashing out those details would have taken time.

"People were aware of this but, as you recall, the stimulus was moving along and then it was passed in about a day," Dean said. "There was not a lot of policy discussion on this."

Milota said he had never been on food stamps before and resisted applying for months, believing he would find a job. But that has proved difficult. When he applied for a customer service job recently, he said the company told him there were 1,000 applicants.

The stimulus law was intended not just as a jolt to the economy but also to ease the burden on people in Milota's situation. Besides unemployment benefits, the law also increased food stamp benefits — just not the income cap. "I truly believe when it came out, they felt it was to help people, and they never wanted to hurt people," said Milota, who says he leans Republican but voted for Obama.

Officials in Washington say they're aware of stories like this. Changing things, however, requires changing the law. States could do this one by one, or Congress could do so.

"This is not something the president or this agency could do independently," Daniel, the Agriculture Department spokeswoman, said.

Homes: Almost 20% Cheaper

May 26, 2009

CNNMoney.com - The home price slide accelerated during the first three months of 2009, according to a report issued Tuesday. The S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price index, a bellwether of real-estate market direction, plunged a record 19.1% during the quarter compared with the first three months of 2008. That followed an 18.2% drop last quarter.

The Case-Shiller 20-city index dropped 18.7% year-over-year, also a record. It fell 18.5% during the last three months of 2008. This index has plummeted 32.2% from its July 2006 peak and has fallen 32 straight months.

The national index covers almost all homes sold throughout the United States and is reported quarterly, while the 20-city index reports sales in 20 major metro areas and represents a cross section of the national market. The 20-city index comes out every month.

"Declines in residential real estate continued at a steady pace into March," said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor's in a prepared statement. "All 20 metro areas are still showing negative annual rates of change in average home prices with nine of the metro areas having record annual declines."

The ugly report was somewhat unexpected, according to Mike Larson, a real estate analyst for Weiss Research. "The market was anticipating better results," he said. "There had been some signs of increased sales in post-bubble markets."

But that sales increase has not translated into higher prices. Bargain hunting - bottom fishing really - for foreclosures and other distressed properties has driven sales volume up while further depressing prices.

The foreclosure sales, which many appraisers used to ignore when they evaluated home prices because they represented outliers rather than typical sales, now have to be accounted for.

"These used to be anomalies," said Larson. "Now, when sales are dominated by foreclosures, where they represent 50% or more of [transactions], they are the market."

The market plague has burst far beyond its Sun Belt epicenter, as the latest month's data reveals. In March, Minneapolis recorded the largest monthly price loss of any metro area in the 20-city index, losing 6.1% compared with February. That is the biggest single-month decline for a city in index history.

Sun-Belt cities still had the largest year-over-year declines in March, with Phoenix prices down 36%, Las Vegas off 31.2% and San Francisco dropping 30.1%.

Two cities have now have fallen more than 50% from their peak prices: Phoenix is down 53% since June 2006 and Las Vegas is off 50.4% from its August 2006 high. Dallas prices suffered the smallest loss from peak, just 11.1% since June 2007...

Early Retirement Claims Increase Dramatically

May 24, 2009

Los Angeles Times - Instead of seeing older workers staying on the job longer as the economy has worsened, the Social Security system is reporting a major surge in early retirement claims that could have implications for the financial security of millions of baby boomers.

Since the current federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, claims have been running 25% ahead of last year, compared with the 15% increase that had been projected as the post-World War II generation reaches eligibility for early retirement, according to Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.

Many of the additional retirements are probably laid-off workers who are claiming Social Security early, despite reduced benefits, because they are under immediate financial pressure, Goss and other analysts believe.

The numbers upend expectations that older Americans who sustained financial losses in the recession would work longer to rebuild their nest eggs. In a December poll sponsored by CareerBuilder, 60% of workers older than 60 said they planned to postpone retirement.

Goss said it remained unclear whether the uptick in retirements would accelerate or abate in the months ahead. But another wave of older workers may opt for early retirement when they exhaust unemployment benefits late this year or early in 2010, he noted.

The ramifications of the trend are profound for the new retirees, their families, the government and other social institutions that may be called upon to help support them.

On top of savings ravaged by the stock market decline and the loss of home equity, many retirees now must make do with Social Security benefits reduced by as much as 25% if they retire at age 62 instead of 66.

"When the recession ends and the economy bounces back, there may be a band of people for whom things will never be the same again. They'll still be paying the price for 10, 20, 30 years down the road," said Cristina Martin Firvida, director of economic security for AARP, the nation's largest membership organization for people 50 and older.

For Herman Hilton, 66, of Jacksonville, Fla., a lean 6-foot-2 electrician with a bushy gray beard, the decision to lay down his pliers and screwdriver was born of frustration. For at least the last 10 years, as he wired new buildings, he was looking toward retiring as soon as he hit 66 and qualified for full benefits. And last fall, like millions of other older workers, Hilton put his "golden years" plan on hold when his 401(k) lost more than a third of its value.

Then last month, his life took another unwelcome turn: Hilton's foreman pulled him aside to tell him that he was being laid off. For several weeks, Hilton collected unemployment insurance. But he soon decided to call it quits and file for Social Security. "I can live on what I have," Hilton said. "But it's not what I planned on. I won't have the comfort factor of as much of a safety cushion."

That cushion is important. As Americans live longer, the elderly are increasingly at risk of outlasting their financial assets. That's a serious problem for them and their families, who are often called upon to provide assistance.

Because benefits are reduced for people who retire early, the surge in retirements should not have any long-term effect on the solvency of the Social Security system, although it will probably add to the near-term budget deficits confronting the Obama administration, Social Security's Goss said.

The full consequences of retirement decisions made in hard times will become apparent when people who retired early begin to exhaust their savings. "As they get into their 70s and 80s, it will be increasingly inadequate," said Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

The most severe effect will probably fall on the unemployed widows of workers who retire early, Munnell said. Survivors' benefits also take a deeper cut when people retire early -- reduced as much as 30% for retirement at 62. Because women tend to live longer than men, that leaves them more vulnerable to running out of money as expenses for assisted living and other costs rise in advanced old age.

Significant numbers of workers have long chosen to retire early. In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 42% of men and 48% of women began collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, the first year of eligibility.

The current recession, the worst since the Depression, is striking when older workers are by historical standards unusually vulnerable. Though older workers in previous recessions were less likely than their younger counterparts to be laid off, that advantage has eroded in recent years, said Munnell, who analyzed more than two decades of Labor Department data on layoffs.

Fewer workers are now protected by union contracts that require newer employees to be laid off first. And older workers now typically have less of a seniority advantage in a workforce that more frequently switches jobs...

The Gradual, Insidious Destruction of Our Liberties

British Woman Arrested, Imprisoned for Asking Cop for Badge Number

June 21, 2009

Guardian - Emily Apple was arrested, pinned to the ground for asking a surveillance officer his badge number at the Kingsnorth climate camp last year...

It is Now Illegal to Photograph Buildings in America

June 17, 2009

Washington Post - If you happen by 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington and decide you have a sudden craving for a photograph of a generic suburban office building, and you point your camera at said structure, you will rather quickly be greeted by uniformed security folks who will demand that you delete the image and require that you give up various personal information.

When Keith McCammon unwittingly took a picture of that building, he was launched on an odyssey that has so far involved an Arlington police officer, the chief of police and the defense of the United States of America.

McCammon could not have been expected to know when he wandered by the building that it houses the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a low-profile wing of the Defense Department that conducts all manner of high-tech research that evolves into weapons systems and high-order strategery.

DARPA's presence at 3701 N. Fairfax is hardly a government secret--Google finds nearly 10,000 pages listing the agency's use of the building. But there's no big fat sign on the building, so how was McCammon to know that this was a building he dared not photograph? And why would the government care if anyone took a picture of the exterior of an office building? This is as silly and hypersensitive as the now-common harassment of people who innocently take pictures of random federal buildings in the District.

McCammon decided to fight back. He demanded to know why he had been stopped, why the government needed his personal information, and why any record of the incident should be kept in government records. He got quick, polite responses from Arlington officials.

"I hope that you would agree that the security of any such building is of great importance and every law enforcement officer is duty bound to investigate all suspicious activity," wrote Arlington Acting Police Chief Daniel Murray. "I am certainly not implying that a person taking photographs is inherently 'suspicious,' but when the appearance is that the subject of a photograph is a government installation, officers have a duty to ensure the safety of the occupants of this structure."

Hmmm. Any government installation? This overly broad approach to security is why we end up with ridiculous horror stories about innocent tourists getting hassled for taking photos of the Lincoln Memorial or the Department of the Interior. The good news here is that Arlington police didn't take a report or create a file on McCammon. The bad news is that they did pass his information along to "the internal security agency for this installation." Which means that somewhere in the vast security apparatus that we have constructed since 9/11--utterly ignoring the fact that the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its own paranoid security apparatus--there is now a report on Keith McCammon, photographer.

The bottom line is that McCammon was caught in a classic logical trap. If he had only known the building was off-limits to photographers, he would have avoided it. But he was not allowed to know that fact. "Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped," McCammon wrote. "Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22."

The only antidote to this security mania is sunshine. Only when more and more Americans do as McCammon has done and take the time and effort to chronicle these excesses and insist on answers from authorities will we stand a chance of restoring balance and sanity to the blend of liberty and security that we are madly remixing in these confused times.

Woman Cuffed, Arrested for Not Holding Escalator Handrail

May 20, 2009

The Globe and Mail (Montreal, Canada) — Anyone who has ridden an escalator and bothered to pay attention has seen - and likely ignored - little signs suggesting riders hold the grimy handrail. In Montreal’s subway system, the friendly advice seems to have taken on the force of law, backed by a $100 fine.

Bela Kosoian, a 38-year-old mother of two, says when she didn’t hold the handrail Wednesday she was cuffed, dragged into a small holding cell and fined. “It was horrible, disgusting behaviour [by police],” said Ms. Kosoian, a 38-year-old student of international law. “I did nothing wrong. They should go find the guys who stole my tires off the balcony.”

Ms. Kosoian, who studies at the Université du Québec à Montreal, was riding an escalator down to catch a 5:30 p.m. subway from the suburb of Laval to an evening class downtown when she started rifling through her backpack looking for a fare.

Ms. Kosoian, who grew up in Georgia when it was still part of the Soviet Union, says she didn't catch the officer's instruction to hold the rail when he first approached. When he told her again to hang on, she says she replied, “I don't have three hands.” Besides, she had been sick and feared catching a new bug. That's when the officer demanded identification so he could write her ticket, she said.

Ms. Kosoian started arguing. The officers handcuffed her and threw her into a small holding cell. The officers searched her bag and gave her a $100 ticket for failing to hold the banister and another $320 ticket for obstruction.

The handcuffs bruised Ms. Kosoian's wrists and an officer's boot scraped skin off the top of her foot. She intends to fight the tickets. Société de transport de Montréal regulations say “it is forbidden for all persons to disobey a directive or a pictogram posted by the Société.”

At the top of the escalator in the Montmorency station, a small sign indeed shows a stick man holding a railing with the words, “Hold the handrail.” Montreal's metro system is policed by transit inspectors and local police departments.

Isabelle Tremblay, a spokesperson for the STM, seemed relieved to establish late yesterday that Laval police stopped Ms. Kosoian. “We were quite surprised to hear about this, we don't give fines for such things,” Ms. Tremblay said.

Laval police were unable to provide an explanation yesterday...

Biometric ID and Immigration Reform

ID Cards for India: 1.1 Billion Citizens Will Go into Second Largest Citizens' Database

June 28, 2009

Daily Mail - India is planning to provide its 1.1 billion-plus citizens with ID cards. Entrepreneur, Nandan Nilekani has been chosen to lead the ambitious project which will be the second largest citizens' database in a democracy, with China being the biggest.

The government believes the scheme, which will be finalised over three years, will aid the delivery of vital social services to the poorest people who often lack sufficient identification papers. It also sees the scheme as a way to tackle increasing amounts of identity fraud and theft and, at a time of increased concern over the threat of militant violence, to boost national security and help police and law officials.

Like Britain's £5billion ID cards plan, due to roll out in 2011/12, India's scheme is not without controversy. Observers have raised questions including how the cards will actually improve the delivery of services and also concerns that the scheme could be disruptive.

In an interview in The Independent today, associate fellow of the Asia programme at Chatham House, Charu Lata Hogg, said: 'It cannot be denied that the system of proving identity in India is complicated and confusing. But a system of national ID cards can technically introduce a new route to citizenship. 'This could be used as a security measure by the government which leaves migrant workers, refugees and other stateless people in India in limbo without access to public services, employment and basic welfare.'

Bill Gates working with India on identity card project

NSA’s New Data-Mining Facility

June 21, 2009

San Antonio Current - ...America’s top spy agency has taken over the former Sony microchip plant and is transforming it into a new data-mining headquarters — oddly positioned directly across the street from a 24-hour Walmart — where billions of electronic communications will be sifted in the agency’s mission to identify terrorist threats.
“No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas,” writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. “Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world...”

Today We’re All Prisoners in the USA

June 2, 2009

Papers, Please! - As of today, June 1, 2009, even U.S. citizens are officially prisoners in the USA, or exiles barred from entering our own country without the government’s permission.

We are now forbidden by Federal regulations from leaving or entering the USA, anywhere, by any means — by air, by sea, or by land, to or from any other country or international waters or airspace — unless the government chooses to issue us a passport, passport card, or “enhanced” drivers license (any of which “travel documents” are now issued only with secretly and remotely-readable uniquely-numbered radio tracking beacons in the form of RFID transponder chips), or unless the Department of Homeland Security chooses to to exercise its standardless “discretion” to decide — in secret, with no way for us to know who is making the decision or on what basis — to issue a (one-time case-by-case) “waiver” of the new travel document requirements...

EU Security Proposals are ‘Dangerously Authoritarian’

June 15, 2009

Daily Telegraph - The European Union is stepping up efforts to build an enhanced pan-European system of security and surveillance which critics have described as “dangerously authoritarian.”

Europe’s justice ministers will hold talks on the “domestic security policy” and surveillance network proposals, known in Brussels circles as the “Stockholm programme,” on July 15 with the aim of finishing work on the EU’s first ever internal security policy by the end of 2009...

Critics of the plans have claimed that moves to create a new “information system architecture” of Europe-wide police and security databases will create a “surveillance state.” Tony Bunyan, of the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN), has warned that EU security officials are seeking to harness a “digital tsunami of new information technology without asking political and moral questions first... An increasingly sophisticated internal and external security apparatus is developing under the auspices of the EU,” he said.

Mr Bunyan has suggested that existing and new proposals will create an EU ID card register, internet surveillance systems, satellite surveillance, automated exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading biometrics, and risk profiling systems.
“In five or 10 years time when we have the surveillance and database state people will look back and ask, ‘what were you doing in 2009 to stop this happening?’” he said.
Civil liberties groups are particularly concerned over “convergence” proposals to herald standardise European police surveillance techniques and to create “tool-pools” of common data gathering systems to be operated at the EU level.

Under the plans the scope of information available to law enforcement agencies and “public security organisations” would be extended from the sharing of existing DNA and fingerprint databases, kept and stored for new digital generation ID cards, to include CCTV video footage and material gathered from internet surveillance.

The Lisbon Treaty, currently stalled after Ireland’s referendum rejection last year, creates a secretive new Standing Committee for Internal Security, known as COSI, to co-ordinate policy between national forces and EU organisations such as Europol, the Frontex borders agency, the European Gendarmerie Force and the Brussels intelligence sharing Joint Situation Centre or Sitcen.

EU officials have told the Daily Telegraph that the radical plans will be controversial and will need powers contained within the Lisbon Treaty, currently awaiting a second Irish vote this autumn. “The British and some others will not like it as it moves policy to the EU,” said an official.
“Some of things we want to do will only be realistic with the Lisbon Treaty in place, so we need that too.”

Radio Chip Coming Soon to Your Driver's License?

Homeland Security seeks next-generation REAL ID

February 28, 2009

WorldNetDaily - Privacy advocates are issuing warnings about a new radio chip plan that ultimately could provide electronic identification for every adult in the U.S. and allow agents to compile attendance lists at anti-government rallies simply by walking through the assembly. The proposal, which has earned the support of Janet Napolitano, the newly chosen chief of the Department of Homeland Security, would embed radio chips in driver's licenses or "enhanced driver's licenses." "Enhanced driver's licenses give confidence that the person holding the card is the person who is supposed to be holding the card, and it's less elaborate than REAL ID," Napolitano said in a Washington Times report.

REAL ID is a plan for a federal identification system standardized across the nation that so alarmed governors many states have adopted formal plans to oppose it. However, a privacy advocate today told WND that the EDLs are many times worse...

Government Vaccination Programs Provide Huge Profits to Big Pharma

Canada Plans to Vaccinate Entire Population

June 21, 2009

Windsor Star - Five-to-40-year-olds and Canada's aboriginal communities should be the first to get vaccinated against human swine flu, experts say as Canadian officials decide who gets priority for the flu shots.

Under Canada's official pandemic plan, the entire population would ultimately be immunized against the H1N1 swine flu. But the vaccine will become available in batches, meaning the entire population can't be vaccinated at once. It might take four or five months to get all the vaccine we're going to get, during which time a second wave of swine flu may well be underway.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is working on a priority list, deciding where the first batches should go, and who should get the injections first. All provinces and territories would be expected to follow the national prioritization scheme.

Unlike normal seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus appears to be disproportionately infecting older children and young adults. So far the largest number of confirmed cases have occurred in people between the ages of five and 24. "It doesn't mean they're all getting sick and need to be hospitalized, but they're getting significant illness," said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a leader in pediatric infectious diseases and a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

British researchers reported last week that targeting children first would protect not only them, but also unvaccinated adults. "Even if you are concerned about the elderly, who are often mentioned as another risk group, their main connection to the big pool of infection is often their grandchildren," said Dr. Thomas House of the University of Warwick.

But adults older than 64 don't appear to be at increased risk of H1N1-related complications so far in the outbreak. It's possible they have some antibodies against the virus.

As well, children "are known to be really important for transmitting flu," said Earl Brown, executive director of the Emerging Pathogens Research Centre at the University of Ottawa. "They're important for the cycle of infection. They tend to be naive as far as not having flu antibodies in their system before. And really young kids, their immune systems aren't fully mature. "Children tend to be hit, and they can be hit harder," Brown said. By immunizing children first, "you get to try to block spread, and protect a vulnerable group."

Gymnasiums would be used for mass school-based vaccination programs but experts say the harder to reach group will be the 18-to-30-year-olds. "Some of them are in school, a lot of them are not," MacDonald said. "They're very much living in the moment and don't necessarily see themselves as being at risk. We need some fast thinking about how to reach those people."

She suggested booths could be set up outside bars for information and immunization. "You've got to be creative about this and really think out of the box."

Canada's aboriginal communities also appear to be getting more serious infections. Crowded, poorly ventilated housing and poor access to high-quality running water and sanitization are some of the factors being blamed. Aboriginals also have higher rates of asthma, chronic lung disease, obesity and diabetes — the very diseases early data suggests puts people at higher risk of life-threatening complications from swine flu.

The H1N1 vaccine will be a separate vaccine from the regular, annual flu shot. People will require two jabs, and possibly three, depending on how effective the vaccine is in producing immunity. The Public Health Agency of Canada says that no decisions have yet been made about who would get priority first.

One of the challenges will be getting people to agree to the shots. There will be limited information about any vaccine's safety before immunization campaigns are rolled out across the country.

"We usually do research in healthy adults before we do it in children, because this is a new vaccine, and you want to be sure that it's safe and effective before you give it to vulnerable populations, or populations who don't have full capacity to make an informed decision about getting it or not," said Dr. Joanne Langley, of Health Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

"There are pros and cons to putting (children) first." Babies under six months of age are not vaccinated against flu.

Sweden prepares for mass vaccinations
Italy plans mass vaccination for swine flu
Australia braces for mass swine flu vaccination
Norway Plans Mass Vaccination Against Flu
Sarkozy's Secret Plan for France's Mandatory Swine Flu Vaccination
Scotland to Stockpile Any New Swine Flu Vaccine for Entire Population
New Mexico Department of Health Prepares for Influenza Mass Vaccination Clinics
Germany Prepares for Mass Flu Vaccinations

FDA Threatens to Seize All Natural Products that Dare to Mention H1N1 Swine Flu

June 18, 2009

Natural News - In an effort to censor any online text that might inform consumers of the ability of natural products to protect consumers from H1N1 influenza A, the FDA is now sending out a round of warning letters, threatening to “take enforcement action… such as seizure or injunction for violations of the FFDC Act without further notice.”

“Firms that fail to take correction action,” the FDA warns, “may also be referred to the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations for possible criminal prosecution for violations of the FFDC Act and other federal laws.”

The message is crystal clear: No product may be described as protecting against or preventing H1N1 infections unless it is approved by the FDA. And which products has the FDA approved? Tamiflu (the anti-viral drug that most people will never have access to), and soon the new H1N1 vaccine that’s being manufactured at a cost of one billion dollars (paid to Big Pharma by the taxpayers). This vaccine, of course, will be utterly useless because H1N1 will undoubtedly mutate between now and the time the vaccine is ready, rendering the vaccine useless.

In other words, according to the tyrants at the FDA, the only products that may be marketed alongside the term “H1N1″ are those products that either don’t work or aren’t available to most people. Anything that really works to prevent influenza infections — such as natural anti-virals, medicinal herbs, etc. — is banned from even mentioning H1N1 without the threat of being criminally prosecuted.

Should Immunization Be Compulsory?

June 3, 2009

The Guardian - Former chairman of the British Medical Association says Britain should follow the example of Australia and Germany, which require mandatory immunization for school entry...

Morgellons: Terrifying New Disease Reaching Pandemic Status
Americans Exposed to Atomic Bomb Levels of Radiation through CT Scans, Mammograms
Live Avian Flu Virus Placed in Baxter Vaccine Materials Sent to 18 Countries
Biotech Firm Admits Flu Product Contained Live Bird Flu Virus
‘Accidental’ Contamination of Vaccine With Live Avian Flu Virus Virtually Impossible
U.S. Approves Test for Human and Bird Flu
Military and Homeland Security Dictate Who Lives And Who Dies in a Pandemic
Roche Urging Stockpile of Tamiflu In Case of Flu Pandemic
Mutant Flu Virus Is Found That Resists Popular Drug
Indonesia Accuses U.S. in Bird Flu Plot
Arizona State University Tests Pandemic Flu Plans
Bird Flu Detection Chip Unleashed
Tamiflu Toxic, Causes Mental Disorders in Teenagers
Flu Strain Proves Resistant to Tamiflu
Experimental Virus Mistake Alarms Europe
Pharmaceuticals Found in Fish Across U.S.
Proposed Law Would Require Flu Shots for Preschoolers
FEMA Suppressed Warnings on Toxic Trailers

Swine Flu & Other Pandemics

Swine Flu Pandemic Caused By “Accidental Leak” From Laboratory

June 30, 2009

Daily Mail - The swine flu pandemic may have been caused by an accidental leak from a laboratory three decades ago, scientists have claimed.

An investigation into the genetic make-up of flu viruses claims the pandemic may not have occurred, had it not been for the accidental release of the same strain of influenza virus from a research lab in 1977.

The Independent reported that researchers believe this strain of the virus had been extinct in the human population for more than 20 years until it was unwittingly reintroduced by scientists.

The study in The New England Journal of Medicine said: ‘Careful study of the genetic origin of the (1977) virus showed that it was closely related to a 1950 strain, but dissimilar to influenza ‘A’ (H1N1) strains from both 1947 and 1957. ‘This finding suggested that the 1977 outbreak strain has been preserved since 1950. The re-emergence was probably an accidental release from a laboratory source.’

The strain is thought to be behind the pandemic in 1977 which began in Russia and China.

Shanta Zimmer from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania said: ‘We cannot actually pinpoint which lab had it or accidentally released it, but the re-emergence of H1N1 in 1977 made it potentially a man-made pandemic. ‘It’s a reminder that we need to be continually vigilant in terms of laboratory procedures.’

The release of the 1950s virus may have occurred after a laboratory worker became infected accidentally and then infected family and friends. Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital said the accidental release of the 1950s strain of H1N1 in 1977 is a plausible theory.

Brit Health Authorities Told to Set Up H1N1 Drug Distribution Centers

June 22, 2009

Independent - Primary care trusts are to set up anti-viral drug distribution centres and swine flu testing clinics amid fears that the infection could spread out of control...

WHO: Up to Two Billion People Might Get Swine Flu

May 7, 2009

AP - The World Health Organization said Thursday that up to 2 billion people could be infected by swine flu if the current outbreak turns into a pandemic. The agency said a pandemic typically lasts two years.

WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said the number wasn't a prediction, but that experience with flu pandemics showed one-third of the world's population gets infected.

"If we do move into a pandemic then our expectation is that we will see a large number of people infected worldwide," Fukuda said. "If you look at past pandemics, it would be a reasonable estimate to say perhaps a third of the world's population would get infected with this virus..."

As Swine Flu Spreads, Conspiracy Theories of Laboratory Origins Abound

April 27, 2009

Natural News - Perhaps due to the genetic makeup of the fast-spreading H1N1 strain of influenza -- which includes genetic elements from bird flu, swine flu and human flu spanning three continents -- there is considerable speculation that the origins of this virus are man-made.

It's not an unreasonable question to ask: Could world governments, spooked by the prospect of radical climate change caused by over-population of the planet, have assembled a super-secret task force to engineer and distribute a super virulent strain of influenza designed to "correct" the human population (and institute global Martial Law)?

Technically, it's possible. The U.S. military, all by itself, has the know-how to engineer and unleash such a virus. That doesn't mean they've done so, however. It would be an astonishing leap into crimes against humanity to intentionally unleash such a biological weapon into the wild.

Then again, governments of the world have routinely engaged in crimes against humanity, haven't they? The U.S., for example, dropped nuclear bombs on civilian populations in Japan. Israel rained white phosphorous on Palestinians, Hitler exterminated countless Jews, and Americans fired millions of rounds of depleted uranium rounds into targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unleashing a viral biological weapon in Mexico City is no great leap beyond what governments have already done to achieve their goals.

Throughout human history, virtually all the great crimes against humanity have been carried out by governments -- mostly in the name of peace, prosperity and security, by the way. So let's be clear about one thing: Governments are certainly capable of doing this if properly motivated. Let there be no question about that.

Is there any hard evidence of laboratory origins?
As of this moment, I have not personally seen any conclusive evidence of laboratory origins for this H1N1 swine flu. I am open to the possibility that new evidence may emerge in this direction, however, and I am suspicious of the genetic makeup of the virus as one possible indicator of its origins.

I am not a medical specialist in the area of infectious disease, but I have studied microbiology, genetics and a considerable amount of material on pandemics. What seems suspicious to me is the hybrid origin of the viral fragments found in H1N1 influenza. According to reports in the mainstream media (which has no reason to lie about this particular detail), this strain of influenza contains viral code fragments from:

• Human influenza
• Bird Flu from North America
• Swine flu from Europe
• Swine flu from Asia

This is rather astonishing to realize, because for this to have been a natural combination of viral fragments, it means an infected bird from North America would have had to infect pigs in Europe, then be re-infected by those some pigs with an unlikely cross-species mutation that allowed the bird to carry it again, then that bird would have had to fly to Asia and infected pigs there, and those Asian pigs then mutated the virus once again (while preserving the European swine and bird flu elements) to become human transmittable, and then a human would have had to catch that virus from the Asian pigs -- in Mexico! -- and spread it to others. (This isn't the only explanation of how it could have happened, but it is one scenario that gives you an idea of the complexity of such a thing happening).

Baxter To Develop Swine Flu Vaccine Despite Bird Flu Scandal

April 27, 2009

Infowars - A U.S. based pharmaceutical company that just weeks ago was involved in a scandal involving vaccines tainted with deadly avian flu virus has been chosen to head up efforts to produce a vaccine for the Mexican swine flu that has seemingly migrated into the U.S. and Europe.

Baxter confirmed over the weekend that it is working with the World Health Organization on a potential vaccine to curb the deadly swine flu virus that is blamed for scores of deaths in Mexico and has emerged as a threat in the U.S., reports the Chicago Tribune.

Baxter has previously worked with governments all over the globe to develop and produce vaccines to protect against infectious disease or potential threats from bioterrorism. After 9/11 Baxter helped supply stockpiles of a smallpox vaccine and in 2003 the company was contracted to develop a vaccine to combat the SARS virus. In 2006 the UK Government announced plans designed to inoculate every person in the country with Baxter’s vaccines in the event of a flu pandemic.

However, Baxter has a very recent and most disturbing connection to flu vaccines. As reported by multiple sources last month, including the Times of India, vaccines contaminated with deadly live H5N1 avian flu virus were distributed to 18 countries last December by a lab at an Austrian branch of Baxter.

It was only by providence that the batch was first tested on ferrets in the Czech Republic, before being shipped out for injection into humans. The ferrets all died and the shocking discovery was made.

Czech newspapers immediately questioned whether the events were part of a conspiracy to deliberately provoke a pandemic, following up on accusations already made by health officials in other countries.

Initially, Baxter attempted to stonewall questions by invoking “trade secrets” and refused to reveal how the vaccines were contaminated with H5N1. After increased pressure they then claimed that pure H5N1 batches were sent by accident.

Since the probability of mixing a live virus biological weapon with vaccine material by accident is virtually impossible, this leaves no other explanation than that the contamination was a deliberate attempt to weaponize the H5N1 virus to its most potent extreme and distribute it via conventional flu vaccines to the population who would then infect others to a devastating degree as the disease went airborne.

The fact that Baxter mixed the deadly H5N1 virus with a mix of H3N2 seasonal flu viruses is the smoking gun. The H5N1 virus on its own has killed hundreds of people, but it is less airborne and more restricted in the ease with which it can spread. However, when combined with seasonal flu viruses, which as everyone knows are super-airborne and easily spread, the effect is a potent, super-airbone, super deadly biological weapon.

Indeed, some have already suggested that the current scare could represent the use of such a weapon.

Now it has been announced that Baxter is seeking a sample of the potentially lethal never before seen form of swine/avian/human flu virus in order to assist the World Health Organization in developing a new vaccine, reaping billions in the process.

Why should Baxter be trusted, when they have already been proven to be at the very least criminally negligent, and at worst a prime suspect in attempting to carry off one of the most heinous crimes in the history of mankind?

The company has already put the safety of the entire human race at risk, and now, just a few weeks later, we’re expected to invest our confidence in them and take their shots with a smile and a still tongue?

As Mike Adams of Natural News has commented, “If you mail an envelope full of anthrax to your Senator, you get arrested as a terrorist. So why is Baxter — which mailed samples of a far more deadly viral strain to labs around the world — getting away with saying, essentially, ‘Oops?’”

WHO officials are reportedly still closely monitoring the investigation into Baxter’s contaminated flu vaccines, seemingly they are not too concerned. Perhaps we should be.

Virus Mix-Up By Lab Could Have Resulted in Pandemic

March 6, 2009

Times of India - It's emerged that virulent H5N1 bird flu was sent out by accident from an Austrian lab last year and given to ferrets in the Czech Republic before anyone realised. As well as the risk of it escaping into the wild, the H5N1 got mixed with a human strain, which might have spawned a hybrid that could unleash a pandemic.

Last December, the Austrian branch of US vaccine company Baxter sent a batch of ordinary human H3N2 flu, altered so it couldn't replicate, to Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, also in Austria. In February, a lab in the Czech Republic working for Avir alerted Baxter that, unexpectedly, ferrets inoculated with the sample had died. It turned out the sample contained live H5N1, which Baxter uses to make vaccine. The two seem to have been mixed in error.

Markus Reinhard of Baxter says no one was infected because the H3N2 was handled at a high level of containment. But Ab Osterhaus of Erasmus University in the Netherlands says: "We need to go to great lengths to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen."

Accidental release of a mixture of live H5N1 and H3N2 viruses could have resulted in dire consequences. While H5N1 doesn't easily infect people, H3N2 viruses do. If someone exposed to a mixture of the two had been simultaneously infected with both strains, he or she could have served as an incubator for a hybrid virus able to transmit easily to and among people.

U.S. Air Force Study Proposed 2009 Influenza Pandemic in 1996

March 5, 2009

Infowars - On June 17, 1996, the U.S. Air Force released Air Force 2025, “a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.” In the unclassified study, the College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama posed several “fictional representations of future situations/scenarios” likely to arise.

In 2009, according to a figure in the Air Force 2025 report, influenza kills 30 million people.

In Chapter 5, the authors present a timeline figure representing “plausible history.” In 2009, according to the figure, influenza will kill 30 million people. “A similar influenza pandemic occurred in the past,” a footnote explains, making a reference to the influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919, described as “one of the worst human catastrophes on record. It has been estimated that more than 20 million people around the world died during the epidemic, and of the 20 million people who suffered from the illness in the United States, approximately 850,000 died...”

June 29, 2009

EU to Revive Mediterranean Union

EU to Revive Mediterranean Union

June 17, 2009

Prophecy in the News - The French Foreign Ministry has announced that the Union for the Mediterranean, a project aimed at boosting ties between the European Union and Mediterranean states, is to be formally revived at the end of this month. The announcement follows a meeting of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who jointly hold the presidency of the new bloc.

The project, which was first proposed by then EU President Nicolas Sarkozy and came into being this time last year, has been fraught with difficulties. Northern European countries disliked the idea of EU funds being spent on a grandiose scheme that would show favouritism to southern members of the union. So membership was increased to accommodate the entire European Union.

Arab nations also signalled their unwillingness to join the union due to Israel's inclusion in the group, fearing their participation might lend legitimacy to Israel's right to exist. But Arab opposition to the project was overcome when the EU offered the Arab League observer status within the new organization. The EU also sweetened the deal for Israel, increasing its representation within the group. Libya refused to join the union over Israel's inclusion, and instead was granted observer status until Gaddafi changes his mind.

And it seems that the recent thaw in relations between Libya and Italy may pave the way for Libyan membership in the Mediterranean Union. Operation Cast Lead, launched against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last year, was used as an excuse by Arab nations not to participate in the EU project, even though it was the breaking of the Hamas ceasefire that precipitated the fighting.

But now with a new American administration in power that is seeking to repair its reputation in the Muslim world, the EU is aiming to revive its Mediterranean project with a goal to kick-starting the peace process and expanding its sphere of influence over the region.

At the end of May the head of Egyptian diplomacy in France, Ahmed Abul Gheit, had told AFP that the meeting would take place on June 25 in order to "re-activate" the Union, whose work was stopped since the Israeli attack to Gaza Strip at the end of 2008... The French Minister for Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner on Wednesday will go to Sweden--which is taking over the EU presidency from the 1st of July--to discuss with his counterpart Carl Bilt the proposal to link the EU presidency with the Union's governance, which so far is jointly held by France and Egypt.

Following Obama's address to the Muslim world in Cairo at the beginning of the month and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech last Sunday, the European Council released a statement of its own in regards to the Middle East peace process. The Council, of whom Javier Solana is the Secretary-General, reiterated its commitment to the establishment of an "independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state," reminding us of how Judah and Israel itself may be carved in two because of concessions by the international community to the Palestinian Authority.

The Council also backed Obama's call for an immediate end to all "settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem and including natural growth," in contrast to Netanyahu's demand that Jerusalem remain undivided and accessible to people of all religions. And the EU reaffirmed its support of the Middle East peace process through tools such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean.
"10. A comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires a regional approach, covering the political, security and economic dimensions. Encouraged by enhanced US engagement, and convinced that tangible benefits regarding economic development and security would facilitate achieving agreement on the various political tracks, the EU stands ready to use all instruments at its disposal, such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean. Through numerous agreements with partners in the region, the EU is uniquely placed to work with the parties on key issues of regional development. In light of further developments at the political level and on the ground, the EU will carefully assess how its policies and programmes can promote concrete and early results on the path of a comprehensive settlement of the conflict."
As we saw at its inception, far from being a political project aimed at merely increasing peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean region, Sarkozy's vision of the Union for the Mediterranean is nothing less than a revival of the old Roman Empire itself.
The French President claimed in February 2007: "Within every man and woman who lives on the shores of the Mediterranean sleeps the memory, nostalgia for the unity lost 15 centuries ago." He added that he wanted to be "the president of a France that will set the Mediterranean on the path of its reunification after 12 centuries of division."
That vision of a revival of the order of the old Roman Empire is also shared by other politicians involved in the European Union project.
Last year European Commission President Manuel Barroso, when questioned on exactly what the European project hoped to achieve, claimed that the EU was the world's first "non-imperial empire."

Belgian politician Paul-Henri Spaak, who famously called for a man, "be he god or devil," to lift the nations out of the economic morass into which they were sinking, was a signatory to the Treaty of Rome which established the institutions of the European Union. When asked how he felt when signing the treaty, he said, "We felt like Romans on that day... We were consciously recreating the Roman Empire once more."
Sarkozy's 'Club Med' summit challenges EU
Irish Times (July 12, 2008) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called tomorrow's Paris Summit for the Mediterranean "The best news for peace in the Middle East." Before the summit even started, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner declared the gathering "a historic success". Speaking in Egypt, Ireland's foreign minister Micheál Martin called the meeting "an important initiative, and one we support strongly." For the first time, all states with a Mediterranean shoreline will gather, along with the EU 27, under the glass dome of the Grand Palais in central Paris. Forty-one of the 44 heads of state and government who were invited will attend - itself no small feat. The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert will sit in the same room with Arab leaders, who may nonetheless refuse to be photographed with him.

Mediterranean summit hailed as 'best news for peace in the Middle East'
Prophecy in the News (July 12, 2008) - French President Nicholas Sarkozy has hailed tomorrow's Paris summit as the "best news for peace in the Middle East." Mediterranean Summit Forty-one of the forty-four heads of state invited to the summit have agreed to attend. The list of participants include Albania, Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Palestinian Authority, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will co-host the event. But it is the presence Syrian President Bashar Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that is expected to steal the show. Both countries have been involved in indirect peace negotiations since May, and have signalled their readiness to move to direct talks.

43-Nation Mediterranean Union Created

Originally Reported July 13, 2008

AP — French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the disparate and conflicted countries around the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday to make peace as European rivals did in the 20th century, as he launched an unprecedented Union for the Mediterranean...

"The European and the Mediterranean dreams are inseparable," Sarkozy told leaders from more than 40 nations in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. "We will succeed together; we will fail together... We will build peace in the Mediterranean together, like yesterday we built peace in Europe," Sarkozy said. He insisted the new body would not be "north against south, not Europe against the rest ... but united."

The union Sarkozy championed as a pillar of his presidency brought together around one table for the first time dignitaries such rival nations as Israel and Syria, Algeria and Morocco, Turkey and Greece. Coping with age-old enmities involving their peoples and others along the Mediterranean shores will be a central challenge to the new union encompassing some 800 million people.

Sarkozy went to special efforts to bring Syria into the international fold for the summit: Assad met Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, separately, both for the first time. And he met Sarkozy, after years of chill between their countries.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, co-presiding the summit with Sarkozy, said: "We are linked by a common destiny." He said the union has better chances of success than a previous cooperation process launched in Barcelona in 1995 because the new body focuses on practical projects parallel to efforts toward Mideast peace.

Mubarak called on the new union to tackle reducing the wealth "gap" between north and south, and cited other southern Mediterranean "challenges" as education, food safety, health and social welfare. "The success of the Union will depend on... reforms and durable development," Mubarak said.

A draft declaration obtained by The Associated Press shows that summit participants will announce "objectives of achieving peace, stability and security" in the region. The six firm measures it names include a region-wide solar energy project, a cross-Mediterranean student exchange program, and a plan to clean up the polluted sea.

The draft declaration says the Union for the Mediterranean is to be operational by the end of this year, and unlike any previous body, it will be jointly run by all its members. It will have a dual presidency, held jointly for rotating terms by one country within the European Union and one country on the Mediterranean shore.

The draft also speaks of democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms--values Western critics have accused such union members as Syria of violating.

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he hoped the union would make it easier for North Africans to receive visas for Europe. "Our common Sea should bring us closer together, not separate us," the president said in an interview with official Algerian news agency APS. He also questioned whether the union would have enough money to get things done and whether "the EU really wants to contribute to bringing southern Mediterranean countries up to speed."

Germany's Merkel said, though, that the project would have about US$20.6 billion that has not yet been spent by the Barcelona Process--the forerunner of the Mediterranean union. Merkel, who pushed to expand Sarkozy's idea to include all 27 EU nations, called Sunday's meeting "a very good start" and said it could help the Middle East conflict.

The Union for the Mediterranean is Sarkozy's brainchild and was timed to coincide with the French presidency of the European Union. Paris holds the rotating post until the end of this year. But Sarkozy's ambitious plan overlapped with EU projects already in progress, and it was melded into EU efforts and expanded to include 27 members of the European Union, not just those on the Mediterranean coast.

Sunday's meeting was seen as more significant for the bodies gathered than for any immediate progress it is expected to achieve.

Israel's Olmert said: "We are closer than ever to a possible (peace) agreement today" with the Palestinians--and said he hoped for direct contacts "soon" with enemy Syria.

Earlier Sunday, France's foreign minister urged the countries to unite to deal with global warming, growing migration and shrinking water and energy resources. "To do nothing would be a risk. We are fragile. Our world is fragile. Latent tensions and growing disparities are too dangerous for this unstable epoch. We have everything to gain by reinforcing our ties," Bernard Kouchner said.

On Sunday morning, Sarkozy met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had shown reticence about coming to the summit. The leadership of the mostly Muslim country fears that the Mediterranean grouping is designed to keep Turkey out of the full EU membership that it seeks.

The Mediterranean gathering will be capped Monday with more than dozen leaders attending France's national Bastille Day military parade as special guests.

The new union is to include at least 43 nations, nearly all of which sent a president or prime minister to the summit. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi objected to the whole idea and refused to come.

According to Herman Hoeksema, Behold He Cometh, © 1969:
The deception of the devil must work out till the bitter end. At the time near the end of this dispensation, the heathen nations indeed shall be awakened out of their prolonged slumber, becoming conscious of their power and quickly adopting the anti-Christian civilization.

In other words, the heathen nations shall be civilized and they shall become conscious of their power; and they shall, for a time, join forces with the beast and the false prophet to form one great world empire. Nevertheless, they shall remain pagan in every respect, and though they give their power to the beast for "one hour," for "a little season," this cannot possibly last.

The future combined one-world power of the nominally Christian nations and heathen nations cannot last, because ultimately the ten kings shall hate the whore and shall make her desolate and naked and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire (Revelation 17:16). Therefore, shortly before the end of this world, the devil's final deception of the nations shall take place.

The heathen nations and the nominally Christian world will ultimately gather as separate forces for the last war, which will be a world war in the strictest sense of the word. Looking upon the nominally Christian world, which in fact will be an anti-Christian civilization, the heathen nations shall do as the nations of the old dispensation did with respect to Jerusalem; that is, they shall say: "Let us go up to Jerusalem; let Zion be defiled; let our eye look upon Zion!" And again the Lord will use the hostile spirit of the heathen nations to destroy the anti-Christian power and eat the flesh of the great whore.

In Revelation chapters 16 and 17, there mention is made of ten kings who as yet have received no kingdom, but shall receive power as kings for one hour with the beast: their dominion shall last but "one hour" with the beast; that is, "a little season." In Revelation chapter 20, the reference is evidently to the same going forth of the devil to the nations, the kings of the whole world that live on the four quarters of the earth, to deceive them and gather them for battle.

It is especially Gog and Magog that look upon all Christendom, no matter how apostate, as the beloved city, even as the heathen nations in the old dispensation considered earthly Jerusalem to be the city of God no matter how apostate and wicked it had become. The nations of Gog and Magog, in compassing about and coming to battle against Christendom in its widest sense, certainly intend to destroy "the beloved city," the cause of Christ, and to make paganism supreme in the world. In this, they reveal their wickedness and become ripe for the judgment. God nevertheless uses them to inflict His judgments upon the anti-Christian world.

The final result of this anti-Christian influence will be that the nations thus affected will unite their forces for war, the last war that shall ever be fought on earth. However, they will never touch the camp of the saints: the people of God shall look for the coming redemption, which shall then be very near.

June 28, 2009

Bank Failures in the U.S.

Problem Bank List Tops 300

May 27, 2009

CNNMoney - The government's list of troubled banks swelled in the first quarter, climbing to its highest level in nearly 15 years, regulators said Wednesday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said that the number of lenders on its so-called "problem bank" list jumped to 305 during the first three months of 2009, from 252 in the fourth quarter of last year. This is the highest level of troubled institutions since 1994.

Banks deemed troubled by regulators typically face difficulties with their finances or have operational or management issues that pose a threat to their existence. Lenders that land on the list are considered the most likely to fail, although few actually reach that point. On average, just 13% of banks on the FDIC's problem list have failed.

Regulators never disclose the names on the list out of fear that depositors at those institutions may prompt a so-called "run on the bank." They do, however, provide the number of assets controlled by those institutions. In the first quarter, that number climbed to $220 billion, up from $159 billion as of the end of last year.

The sharp increase in asset size for troubled banks could be attributed to the inclusion of BankUnited (BKUNA), a Florida-based lender which oversaw nearly $13 billion in assets. Regulators shuttered the thrift last Thursday, and immediately sold much of its assets to a group of private equity firms.

So far this year, 36 banks have failed, including BankUnited. It is widely expected that many more banks will fail this year as banks of all sizes cope with rising loan losses as a result of the ongoing recession.

Even as the pace of failures quicken, it would be hard to match what happened during the savings & loan crisis two decades ago. More than 1,900 financial institutions went under during 1987-1991, peaking with the failure of 534 banks in 1989.

In the event of a failure, the FDIC fully insures individual accounts up to $250,000 for single accounts. But the recent uptick in bank failures has taken a toll on the fund the FDIC uses to backstop consumer and corporate bank accounts...

Despite setting aside $61 billion for future loan losses, the more than 8,200 firms that make up the nation's banking industry managed to stay profitable in the first quarter. The FDIC said banks collectively reported a net profit of $7.6 billion, compared to a loss of $26.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008...

Florida's BankUnited Fails, Will Cost FDIC $4.9B

May 21, 2009

AP - The federal seizure of struggling Florida thrift BankUnited FSB is expected to cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $4.9 billion, representing the second-largest hit to the FDIC's insurance fund since the financial crisis began felling banks last year.

The costliest was last year's seizure of California lender IndyMac Bank, on which the bank insurance fund is estimated to have lost $10.7 billion.

The Office of Thrift Supervision, a Treasury Department agency, said Thursday that BankUnited FSB reported $1.2 billion in losses last year as defaults on loans piled up. The thrift "was critically undercapitalized and in an unsafe condition to conduct business," the agency said in a statement.

Coral Gables, Fla.-based BankUnited FSB is the 34th federally insured institution to be closed this year, and the biggest. Florida's largest banking institution with about $13 billion in assets as of May 2 was sold for $900 million to an investor group led by former North Fork Bancorp Chairman and CEO John Kanas. It will reopen as a newly chartered savings bank called BankUnited on Friday, with Kanas at the helm.

The investor group includes several prominent firms: the Blackstone Group, the Carlyle Group, Centerbridge Partners, and WL Ross & Co., the private-equity firm run by billionaire investor Wilbur Ross.

The new bank will assume $12.7 billion in assets and $8.3 billion of its total $8.6 billion in deposits. In addition, the FDIC and the new bank agreed to share losses on about $10.7 billion in assets. Deposits will be insured by the FDIC, and customers can continue to use BankUnited FSB checks, ATM cards and debit cards, the FDIC said.

The failed bank's parent was BankUnited Financial Corp. It had 1,083 employees and 85 branches, all in Florida, mostly located along the state's southeast coast.

The 34 bank failures this year in the U.S. compare with 25 in 2008 and just three in 2007. As the economy nationwide has soured, amid rising unemployment, tumbling home prices and soaring loan defaults, bank failures have cascaded and sapped billions out of the deposit insurance fund. According to the most recent data available, the fund now stands at its lowest level in nearly a quarter-century — $18.9 billion as of Dec. 31, compared with $52.4 billion at the end of 2007.

The FDIC expects that bank failures will cost the insurance fund around $65 billion through 2013.

The FDIC has planned to impose a new emergency fee on U.S. banks to replenish the fund. Legislation passed by Congress this week boosts the FDIC's authority to borrow from the Treasury Department if needed from $30 billion to $100 billion, allowing the agency to reduce the amount of the insurance fees.

The failure of IndyMac, which had $32 billion in assets, was the second-largest last year, trailing only the September collapse of Washington Mutual Inc.

Thrifts have been the most troubled regulated institutions during the financial crisis and among the most spectacular failures. By law, they must have at least 65 percent of their lending in mortgages and other consumer loans — making them particularly vulnerable to the housing downturn. Seattle-based thrift Washington Mutual was the biggest bank to collapse in U.S. history, with around $307 billion in assets. It was later acquired by JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $1.9 billion.

Two More Banks Fail, Lifting This Year's Tally to 23

April 10, 2009

AP - ...This year's tally of 23 bank failures is nearing the total for all of 2008, when 25 U.S. banks were seized by regulators. Two of the nation's largest savings and loans failed that year: Washington Mutual Inc. and IndyMac Corp.

A growing number of banks are becoming insolvent as home prices fall and unemployment rises, causing more individuals and businesses to default on their debt.

The FDIC estimated that the closure of Cape Fear Bank will reduce the federal deposit insurance fund by $131 million, and that the closure of New Frontier Bank will lower it by another $670 million.

As of the end of 2008, the insurance fund stood at $18.9 billion - the lowest level in nearly a quarter-century, and down from $52.4 billion at the end of 2007. The FDIC expects that bank failures will cost the insurance fund about $65 billion through 2013.

The FDIC fund operates by charging financial institutions, not with federal tax dollars. The agency has been increasing fees and premiums in an effort to replenish the fund.

At the end of 2008, the FDIC had 252 banks and thrifts on its list of troubled institutions, up from 171 in the third quarter of last year.

June 27, 2009

Climate Bills and a Green Economy

House Passes Global Warming Bill

Sweeping Legislation Calls for First-Ever Limits On Pollution Linked to Climate Change

June 26, 2009

CBS/AP - House Democrats narrowly won a key test vote Friday on sweeping legislation to combat global warming and usher in a new era of cleaner energy. Republicans said the bill included "the largest tax increase in American history."

The vote was 217-205 to advance the White House-backed legislation to the floor, and 30 Democrats defected, a reflection of the controversy the bill sparked.

The legislation would impose limits for the first time on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, factories and refineries. It also would force a shift from coal and other fossil fuels to renewable and more efficient forms of energy. Supporters and opponents agreed the result would be higher energy costs, but disagreed widely on the impact on consumers.

President Barack Obama has made the measure a top priority of his first year in office. The president, along with White House aides and House Democratic leaders, scrambled for the votes to assure passage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has pledged to get the legislation passed before lawmakers leave on their July 4 vacation.

The Senate has yet to act on the measure, and a major struggle is expected.

In the House, the bill's fate depended on the decisions of a few dozen fence-sitting Democrats, mainly conservatives and moderates from contested districts who feared the political ramifications of siding with the White House and their leadership on the measure.

Democrats left little or nothing to chance. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., confirmed by the Senate on Thursday to an administration post, put off her resignation from Congress until after the final vote on the climate change bill.
"The bill contains provisions to protect consumers, keep costs low, help sensitive industries transition to a clean energy economy and promote domestic emission reduction efforts," the White House in a statement of support for the legislation.
Republicans saw it differently.
This "amounts to the largest tax increase in American history under the guise of climate change," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.
While the bill would impose a "cap-and-trade" system that would force higher energy costs, Republicans for weeks have branded it an energy tax on every American.
But Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said there was a "moral imperative to be good stewards of the earth."
The legislation, totaling about 1,200 pages, would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and about 80 percent by the next century.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are rising at about 1 percent a year and are predicted to continue increasing without mandatory caps.

Under the bill, the government would limit heat-trapping pollution from factories, refineries and power plants. It would distribute pollution allowances that could be bought and sold, depending on whether a facility exceeds the cap or makes greater pollution cuts than are required.

CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports that the bill starts off slowly, but over the next few decades would have a dramatic impact, aiming to reduce greenhouses gasses by 80 percent by 2050. The caps on carbon emissions will start out generously, and with subsidies to prevent any big jumps in utility bills, but over time will increase energy costs and force utilities and factories to turn to cleaner sources of energy.

Obama on Thursday called it "a vote of historic proportions ... that will open the door to a clean energy economy" and green jobs.
"It will create millions of new jobs," Pelosi insisted.
Both Obama and Pelosi preferred to focus on the economic issues rather than on what environmentalists view as the urgency of reducing carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

The Rust Belt coal-state Democrats who have been sitting on the fence worry about how to explain their vote for higher energy prices to people back home - and how the vote might play out in elections next year.

Republicans have been quick to exploit those concerns.
"Democratic leaders are poised to march many moderate Democrats over a cliff ... by forcing them to vote for a national energy tax that is unpopular throughout the heartland," Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said.
There was widespread agreement that under this cap-and-trade system, the cost of energy would almost certainly increase. But Democrats argued that much of the impact on taxpayers would be offset by other provisions in the bill. Low-income consumers would qualify for credits and rebates to cushion the impact on their energy bills.

Two reports issued this week -- one from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the other from the Environmental Protection Agency -- seemed to support that argument.

The CBO analysis estimated that the bill would cost an average household $175 a year; the EPA put it at between $80 and $110 a year.

Republicans questioned the validity of the CBO study and noted that even that analysis showed actual energy production costs increasing $770 per household. Industry groups have cited other studies showing much higher cost to the economy and to individuals.