Thinking Caps On Please – It’s Quiz Day!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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July is almost a week old and we haven’t had a quiz.

But we are about to rectify that right now.

Another twenty questions to wrap your brain around.

As usual, if you get stuck, you can find the answers waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down below, but please NO cheating!

Enjoy and good luck.

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Quiz 9

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Q.  1.  What is the world’s biggest island?

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Q.  2.  In a speech on 5 March 1946 what did Winston Churchill say had descended over Europe?

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Q.  3.  What city is known as ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’ ?

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Q.  4.  What is the official diameter of the center circle on a soccer pitch?

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Q.  5. What does the term ‘SAS’ refer to in terms of British Army Regiments?

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Q.  6.  What famous American painter and illustrator’s best-known works include the ‘Willie Gillis’ series, ‘Rosie the Riveter’, ‘The Problem We All Live With’, ‘Saying Grace’, and the ‘Four Freedoms’ series?

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Q.  7.  Where were the 2014 Winter Olympics held?

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Q.  8. Where will the 2016 Summer Olympics be held?

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Q.  9. Whose first novel was titled ‘Carrie’ ?

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Q. 10.  What was the name given to the prosperous peasants in Russia who were violently repressed by Stalin?

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Q. 11.  The famous ‘Stella Artois’ beer was originally brewed in which country?

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Q. 12.  After World War Two (WWII) ended into how many sectors was the city of Berlin divided? (A point for the correct answer and bonus points if you can correctly name the countries in charge of the sectors.)

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Q. 13.  What is the common name of the small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user’s web browser?

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Q. 14.  In the well-known saying, what do ‘birds of a feather’ do?

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Q. 15.  What fruit is a cross between a grapefruit, tangerine and orange?

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Q. 16.  What is the name for the Eskimo people of Canada?

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Q. 17.  We all know to our cost about the recent ‘financial crisis’, but in what year was the infamous ‘Wall Street Crash’ ?

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Q. 18.  What are the two movies for which Jack Nicholson received the Best Actor Oscar?

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Q. 19.  What is ‘blood sausage’ better known as in places like the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador?

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Q. 20.  Who was ‘The Country Girl’ who after ‘High Noon’ went on to ‘Dial M for Murder’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’ before entering ‘High Society’ ?

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ANSWERS

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Q.  1.  What is the world’s biggest island?

A.  1.  Greenland.

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Q.  2.  In a speech on 5 March 1946 what did Winston Churchill say had descended over Europe?

A.  2.  An Iron Curtain.

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Q.  3.  What city is known as ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’ ?

 A.  3.  Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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Q.  4.  What is the official diameter of the center circle on a soccer pitch?

A.  4.  20 yards (18.3 metres).

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Q.  5. What does the term ‘SAS’ refer to in terms of British Army Regiments.

A.  5.  Special Air Service.

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Q.  6.  What famous American painter and illustrator’s best-known works include the ‘Willie Gillis’ series, ‘Rosie the Riveter’, ‘The Problem We All Live With’, ‘Saying Grace’, and the ‘Four Freedoms’ series

A.  6.  Norman Rockwell.

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Q.  7.  Where were the 2014 Winter Olympics held?

A.  7.  In Sochi, Russia.

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Q.  8. Where will the 2016 Summer Olympics be held?

A.  8.  The 2016 Summer Olympics, commonly known as Rio 2016, will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Q.  9. Whose first novel was titled ‘Carrie’ ?

A.  9.  Stephen King.

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Q. 10.  What was the name given to the prosperous peasants in Russia who were violently repressed by Stalin?

A. 10.  Kulaks.

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Q. 11.  The famous ‘Stella Artois’ beer was originally brewed in which country?

A. 11.  Belgium.

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Q. 12.  After World War Two (WWII) ended into how many sectors was the city of Berlin divided? (A point for the correct answer and bonus points if you can correctly name the countries in charge of the sectors.)

A. 12.  There were four sectors, American, British, French and Soviet.

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Q. 13.  What is the common name of the small piece of data sent from a website and stored in a user’s web browser?

A. 13.  It is called a ‘cookie’.

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Q. 14.  In the well known saying, what do ‘birds of a feather’ do?

A. 14.  They ‘flock together’.

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Q. 15.  What fruit is a cross between a grapefruit, tangerine and orange?

A. 15.  The ‘Ugli fruit’.

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Q. 16.  What is the name for the Eskimo people of Canada?

A. 16.  They are known as ‘Iniut’.

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Q. 17.  We all know to our cost about the recent ‘financial crisis’, but in what year was the infamous ‘Wall Street Crash’ ?

A. 17.  1929.

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Q. 18.  What are the two movies for which Jack Nicholson received the Best Actor Oscar?

A. 18.  They were ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘As Good As It Gets’.

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Q. 19.  What is ‘blood sausage’ better known as in places like the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador?

A. 19.  It is better known as ‘Black Pudding’.

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Q. 20.  Who was ‘The Country Girl’ who after ‘High Noon’ went on to ‘Dial M for Murder’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’ before entering ‘High Society’ ?

A. 20.  Grace Kelly.

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The Greeks Can’t Afford To Bear Gifts These Days

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Greek financial crisis

I used to love listening to George W Bush when he talked about the ‘Grecians’. He was an idiot, but unlike some holders of his post I think he secretly knew it.

But, enough of that, let’s concentrate on the Grecians.

Their financial crisis is deepening and they’ve shut down all their banks. They’ve also imposed what are called ‘capital controls’, in other words what you can and cannot do with your own money –  assuming you could get to it in the first place.

Several Western countries, including the US and Britain, have issued travel warnings for Greece. Not a warning about the place being very dangerous, just a warning to have enough cash to be able to pay for things now that the banks are shut and presumably their ATMs as well.

queue at Greek ATM

This recent activity by the Greek government is because of the breakdown of talks between Athens and the European Union concerning the Grecians’ enormous debt that they clearly can’t afford to pay back. EU finance ministers rejected Athens’ request to prolong a financial assistance program.

It is also about a bit of timely government blackmail.

The Greek government has so far been unable to formulate any meaningful plans to curtail their spending significantly. The Greek people likewise have become used to living beyond their means and are reluctant to tighten their belts. The people are blaming the government and the government is blaming the people and nothing is really getting resolved.

So Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, shut the banks and said they would stay shut until July 6, conveniently the day after a nationwide referendum on whether to accept the bailout terms proposed to Greece by its creditors.

Some commentators also think that the banks may have been shut because they don’t have enough cash left. The Greek people think the same and are panicking to get their money out of the banks. Runs on banks inevitably lead to disaster.

As Greece is part of the Euro zone it does not have control of its own monetary system. In other words, unlike America which can simply print more money if and when it needs it, the Grecians have to rely on the European Central Bank giving them cash. and it has refused to give them any more Euros.

That decision could prompt Greece to default which would probably lead to it being kicked out of the Euro zone and possibly out of the EU itself, which would be an historic first and something that would be done very reluctantly.

Greek financial crisis cartoon

The rulers of the EU are in what is known as a ‘tight spot’. If they don’t take a tough line on the Grecians they can be sure other poor countries in the EU will follow suit. If they do take a tough line, then the upheaval will undoubted have an impact on the Euro currency.

A Greek default would also be another kick in the greedy teeth of the big financial institutions who own a good part of the massive €300 billion debt – you see there are positives in every situation if you look hard enough.

So it looks like emergency meetings and frantic discussions all over the place in Europe.

Despite the fact that Dubya is long gone from the political scene, I don’t think we’ve heard the last about the Grecians just yet.

By the way, Happy Independence Day to all my American visitors, bet you’re glad you’re not part of Europe these days.

Happy 4th July USA

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Jobs, Jobs, And More Jobs

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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jobs under the magnifying glasss

This post is about jobs.

You might have guessed that from the title.

Not the late Steve, the other kind.

During the past months America has been creating approximately 200,000 jobs. At least that’s what the official figures are saying. It has helped to indicate the underlying strength of the economy, led to official unemployment figures of 5.5% and propped up the USD on the foreign exchange markets.

And no one is questioning any of it.

It’s as if it’s really real.

Again it’s all a question of what you do with the numbers.

unemployment

The May 2015 figure for the labor force is 157.5 million. That is the figure the government uses to calculate it’s unemployment rate of 5.5%.

That’s what they call the ‘U3’ number. U3 is the official unemployment rate.

But there is also a ‘U5’ number that includes discouraged workers and all other marginally attached workers; and a ‘U6’ number that adds on those workers who are part-time purely for economic reasons.

Don’t ask me what happened to ‘U1’ or ‘U4’ because I don’t know. However ‘U2’ is a very successful pop group from Dublin, Ireland.

u2 image

The problem is that the “official” unemployment rate (U3) does not count discouraged workers who have settled for part-time jobs or have given up looking altogether because they believe there are no jobs out there for them.

There are about another 7.5 million or so people who were not considered ‘unemployed’ because they were employed part-time for economic reasons. Those people are also called involuntary part-time workers – working part-time because their hours were cut back or because they were unable to secure a full-time job.

If you include those individuals, (the U6 number), you get a very different figure for the nation’s unemployment rate. Unlike other jobs figures, the U6 rate actually got worse in June.

So the real unemployment rate is well in excess of 12%, more than double the official figure.

But it is even worse than that.

The economy is growing, BUT it is growing slowly, and it is growing from a very low base caused by the financial crisis that the banksters brought upon us with their fraud and greed.

In that light, an increase of 200,000 jobs or so each month is basically just replacing some of the millions of jobs lost during the bank-caused recession, not creating ‘new’ jobs as such. In other words we’re just slowly getting back to where we were.

The forecasts aren’t optimistic either. If and when the workers laid off during the recent recession find new jobs and we get to what the government calls full employment, the labor force is forecast to grow at a rate of only 0.5% for the rest of this decade. At 0.5%, we grow at a rate of about 66,000 a month — nowhere near 200,000. Next decade it’s even worse, at 0.2%.

government bureaucrats

Add to that the fact that a great number of the jobs being created are government bureaucratic jobs that cost the country money, not real jobs that produce wealth for the country and you can see that there is little for the politicians to crow about.

As I noted in my post on Wednesday, with statistics you can ‘prove’ anything. Take any government figures with a great big pinch of salt.

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The Conservatives Win The UK General Election!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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UK General Election 2015

 

Like the last election in the UK, this one was a close run thing – but nowhere near as close as the pollsters predicted. At least this time there is an outright winner, the Conservative Party, with David Cameron still as Prime Minister.

No hung Parliaments, no dodgy coalitions between parties that obviously did not really like each other, and no more general elections for another five years.

Stability is always good.

Indeed the Conservative victory is already being seen as a positive step for the UK economy, with both shares and the pound sterling rising in value.

But during the next five years, although a degree of stability has been achieved, the UK is still in for challenging times economically.

Like the Unites States, the UK has been living well beyond its means for far too long. Eventually these delusions end in harsh reality. America will find this out too, but not until after their election next year.

austerity measures sign

 

At the start of the campaigning there was an unexpected degree of sense in being shown the two main parties. Election messages were warning of the need to cut spending, that Britain was still living beyond its means, and that there would be ‘difficult’ choices ahead.

However, as the election campaign progressed and the pollsters warned how tight the result was likely to be, all the political parties regressed into doing what they do best, regardless of what country they are in. In their desperation to get votes they ignored reality once again, started hiding the truth from their voters, and promised more goodies that the country can’t afford.

You know the sort of thing, better education, better health service, more jobs, etc., and to pay for it all less taxes.

Huh?

Yes, elections are full of ‘spend more and collect less’ promises.

In the non-political world we call them lies, because that’s what they are.

The smaller parties never suffered from the same restraints. Even from the beginning of their campaigns small parties like the Scottish SNP promised massive spending. They knew they would never be in a position to have to follow through on these boasts, but their message got out and, as always happens, many voters fell for it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) had a landslide victory in Scotland, winning 56 of the 59 seats – and all they promised was extra £180 billion ($280 billion) more spending over the next five years.

The two main parties soon countered with their own promises – the Conservatives talking about things like 30 hours of free child care a week for parents of 3 & 4-year-olds, no tax for people earning the minimum wage, an extra £8 billion (US$12 billion) for the National Health Service, free access to a doctor seven days a week, and a freeze rail ticket price increases for five years.

debt

 

On the face of it, the past five years have seen the UK economy growing, unemployment down below 6% and a booming housing market, particularly in the South East of the country. All part of the reason why the Conservatives have their victory.

But, returning to reality for a moment, Britain is now in the most debt it has been in, relative to its economy, since 1967. The financial crisis hit the UK hard. From 2009 to date, British government borrowing has been at a higher level than at any time since World War II.

The scariest part is that, whilst the governments all talked about “cuts” and “austerity”, not a penny of this money has been paid back.

And like American politicians, and others, they use deliberate deceit to cover their lack of progress. Well-worn phrases like “cutting the deficit” are designed to make people think that the government is paying back its debt, but in fact all that has been happening is that they have been borrowing a little less money this year than they did the year before.

If you are any good at math at all, you will know that in reality this means that the debt burden is increasing, not decreasing. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that Britain would, in all probability, not even begin to pay back its debts until sometime after 2020 – and that was even before all these new election promised of spending more!

eu referendum in uk

 

In addition to all that, one of the fundamental platforms that helped the Conservative Party to get elected was the promise of a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. The result of that will have its own impact economically too.

Personally if I were them I’d drop the EU like a hot poker. For more than forty years Britain has been paying more into Europe than they have got out, a situation that is likely to continue as rafts of the poorer European nations continue to join.

So the next five years are shaping up to be very interesting for both Britain and America.

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I Spy With Your Little ‘i’ – A Free And Open Internet?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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internet surveillance

When the internet was born it was a tool of the military establishment.

Then it broke out of that stranglehold and escaped into a world of freedom of expression and communication for everyone.

Never before had a system like this been available to the general public. Never before had it been so easy to find information, search for friends, communicate with groups with similar interests, etc. Its popularity was assured.

The world wide web developed at break neck speed, much too quick for the people who hate and detest freedom. They were confounded.

It was a free and open internet.

world wide web

So how could it ever go wrong?

Well, as with the financial crisis, when you dig down a bit you find the Clinton administration again as the culprit.

During the 1990s, when the World Wide Web was first being woven into social and cultural life, internet companies and corporate advertisers lobbied the Clinton administration to minimize privacy restrictions, so that they could re-engineer the Web to enable commercial surveillance of internet users.

The warnings of public interest groups were ignored as social networks, search engines, service providers and advertisers lobbied hard against even the smallest of efforts at data protection. Motivated by greed, they ensured that commercial surveillance would be pervasively integrated online. They are still at it today, that’s really what cloud computing services are all about.

A few thousand giant corporations, like Google, have become able to capture information every minute, of every hour, of every day, from everyone who uses the internet. And they can’t stop because their profit strategies totally rely on accumulating user data.

google for profit surveillance

Thus began the surveillance society. The government saw how easy this could now be done and began to catch up fast. If there was snooping to be done, they were not to be left out in the cold.

Until Edward Snowden, who had been a computer consultant working for a subcontractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA), copied several hundred thousand classified documents relating to surveillance programs being conducted by the US and its allies in the name of the war on terror, and sent them to journalists, nobody really understood the level of snooping that was going on.

Most of it was unnecessary, intrusive, unproductive and immoral, and after Snowden’s revelations nobody believed the United States government was totally innocent of any wrongdoing.

ennesssseh

Further revelations published since have helped to reveal a surveillance system that intrudes into almost every facet of our private lives. Privacy in fact is a thing of the past, unless you have the time, resources and knowledge to try to circumvent it.

If the government was only spying on the communications of foreign countries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, and if it was confined to what could be termed ‘unfriendly’ nations and their agents throughout the world, then I don’t think anyone would mind so much. It’s a necessary evil in today’s world.

But unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Friendly nations and heads of state, European institutions, the UN headquarters, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to name but a few, have all also come under the snooper’s gaze.

This has not only shown up the irresponsibility and arrogance of those in charge of the snoopers, and their lack of common sense and ethics, but it has also created even more ill will against the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an ally of the United States, was a victim of the snoopers. As a result of that revelation, the German government protested publicly its outrage. It also terminated its longstanding telecommunications service contract with Verizon, directing its business to Deutsche Telekom instead. Two weeks after that it expelled the head of US intelligence in Germany.

The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, also took public stands against US privacy invasions. He, like Merkel, had also personally been a victim of the US snoopers.

Then the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to affirm online privacy as a human right, and in June 2014, responding to the EU, the US Justice Department had to promise to send legislation to Congress that would grant European citizens many of the (inadequate) privacy protections accorded to US citizens.

Bad enough not trusting your supposed ‘allies’, but US intelligence agencies have gone even further. Now they don’t even trust the decent, honest, hard-working citizens of America who have never broken any laws, nor have any intention of doing so.

prism

The Prism program, for example, allows the NSA to collect data from your emails, telephone conversations, contacts, videos, etc., from major US digital companies including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The XKeyscore program uses several hundred servers distributed across the world to store information on the activities of every Internet user, including your emails, internet searches, the websites you visit, what you post on social networks, and blogs like this. (Whoops!)

The list goes on and on.

After Snowden’s revelations, commercial firms like Google, Facebook and others scrambled to distance themselves by professing outrage. Their protestations had little to do with political principle but a lot to do with ensuring they continued to make fortunes by collecting data on us.

The US Internet companies went on a public relations offensive, and also raced to reorganize their overseas operations, to reassure worried foreign customers that they were complying with local data protection measures.

IBM, for example, committed over a billion dollars to building additional data centers overseas, hoping to ease customer fears that their data was not safe from the US government’s surveillance. But then the US authorities demanded that Microsoft, which deploys more than a million computers in over 40 countries, hand over emails stored on its servers in Ireland. Data is not safe and private anywhere it seems.

Last week I wrote a post about the Facebook/US Army experiment in trying (successfully) influence how people thought. (Click here if you want to read it.)

And so it continues.

Personally I think it is a pity that the powers that be are able to devote time, energy and money against people who have done nothing wrong, yet seem unwilling to remove child pornography and other evils from the world wide web. But the latter would require a decree of decency and morals that is sadly lacking in those who direct such matters for the government.

The US has lost the moral authority to talk about a free and open Internet, because that free and open internet has already been destroyed.

No doubt there is worse to come.

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Okay, I Give Up – Show Me The Money!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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money

I know it isn’t quiz day today, but this is just a short post to ask one very pertinent question – one that deserves an answer.

Quantitative Easing ended on Wednesday past.

QE was the media tag given to the process whereby the US Federal Reserve has printed $3.6 trillion over the past few years.

Quantitative Easing

The Bank of England did it in Britain too, and so did the European Central Bank for the European Union.

So where did all that money go?

I didn’t get any of it.

Did you?

But it must have gone somewhere.

Someone must have got it.

So where is it now?

If you know the answer please do tell. I, and I am sure many other people, would be interested in the answer.

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Come On Obama, Stick Them In The Slamma!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Around this time last month I wrote a post about the explosion of sub-prime credit for people seeking automobile loans they couldn’t afford. Here’s a link if you missed it – click here. 

They say that if you don’t learn from what happened in the past you are doomed to repeat it. And it is clear the banksters have learned nothing, mainly because the government was not man enough to teach them a lesson when they almost brought the country to its knees. Their greed was excused and rewarded, not punished in any meaningful and lasting way.

So now we have the auto loans credit explosion, which is another mini sub-prime disaster in the making. And again it is being egged on by the stupidity and greed of Wall Street who just can’t pass on the chance to reap big profits from those people silly enough to take their high interest loans.

greedy banksters

This time, however, it turns out some of the people in positions of power are beginning to recognize that this is becoming a big problem.

The regulators and prosecutors are starting to worry about the level of lending abuses. Not only that but they are also recognizing the similarities with the home loans fiasco that eventually resulted in the financial crisis.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has recently fined subprime auto lender First Investors Financial Services Group Inc. $2.75 million for knowingly providing inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies for at least three years. It was a “computer error” don’t you know, and, of course, they paid the fine but without admitting any liability – perish the thought!

It should come as no surprise that First Investors Financial Services Group is owned by a prominent New York private equity firm.

And like the mortgage sub-prime fraud, the banksters and other money men are not only screwing the people who take out the loans, but once again they are re-packaging them up as “good investments” for their richer clients too.

A United States attorney in Manhattan, has already begun an investigation into whether lenders have sold questionable auto-loan investments to investors, and has sent subpoenas to General Motors Financial and Santander Consumer USA, to try to find out whether the lenders fully disclosed to investors the creditworthiness of borrowers whose loans made up the complicated securities.

sub prime loans

Last time they got away with it. Will this time be any different? You have a lot more faith in the system than me if you think it will. All that is happening so far is tokenism. They need a lot more than a slap on the wrist.

In China or Vietnam and some other locations banksters committing fraud are stood up against a wall a shot. That’s maybe a little harsh, but at the very least some serious jail time is in order.

The fact is the banksters are doing it again because they think that they can get away with it again. And if they get away with it this time, then they’ll do it yet again in the future. All the time racking up fortunes for themselves and leaving the other poor sods, who didn’t know any better than to take out their loans or buy their toxic investments, a lot poorer.

the expendables

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