The gentlemen farmers of Wall Street: How the profit motive has seized America’s farmland – Jim Hightower SUNDAY, FEB 26, 2017 05:00 AM PST

Financial trusts snatch up valuable U.S. acreage, then convert into fast-buck investments for global speculators

The gentlemen farmers of Wall Street: How the profit motive has seized America's farmland

John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” Woody Guthrie’s ballad “Deportees.” Edward R. Murrow’s documentary “Harvest of Shame.” Every decade or so, the public is shocked by yet another discovery that migrant farmworkers are being horribly abused by the wealthy masters of the corporate food system. And here we go again.

Last November The New York Times reported that the workers who grow and harvest the cornucopia of fruit and veggies in the rich fields of California’s Salinas Valley live in a constant crisis of poverty, malnutrition and homelessness. Toiling in “America’s salad bowl,” they literally cannot afford to eat the fresh, nutritious edibles they produce.

The valley is a gold mine of groceries, generating billions of dollars in sales that have enriched landowners and corporate executives and turned Salinas Valley into farm country with Silicon Valley prices. Unable to afford good food, the workers eat poorly — with 85 percent being overweight or obese and nearly 6 out of 10 diagnosed with diabetes, while many more, uninsured and unable to afford testing, go undiagnosed. Especially appalling, about one-third of elementary schoolchildren in the Salinas City district are homeless. They sleep with their families in tents, abandoned buildings, toolsheds, chicken coops or on the ground, next to the rows of crops they tend.

Allowing such abject poverty in our fields of abundance is more than shameful: It’s an oozing sore on our national soul that’s made even more immoral by the fact that our society throws 40 percent of our food into the garbage. But outrageous treatment of farmworkers is not limited to Salinas. You can likely find it down some rural road near you.

When we find it, let’s act on it. Yes, donate money and time to food banks, but it’s even more important to join with farmworkers in local, state and national political actions to stop this gross, un-American inequity.

Adding to the inequality that has affected so many farmworkers is the fact that Wall Street has our nation’s farmland.

Our nation’s farms conjure up Americana, the old homeplace and our rich, rural culture. Less bucolic, however, is the assortment of financial trusts and hedge fund hucksters that are buying up these farms and converting them into fast-buck investment packages for superrich global speculators. One of these Wall Street investment schemes is called Farmland Partners. It’s run by a couple of slicks trained in mergers and acquisitions as executives at the investment powerhouse Merrill Lynch. Rather than being sodbusters, Farmland Partners are tax busters, using a legalistic plow called a real estate investment trust (or REIT) to obtain enormous tax breaks to subsidize their scheme. With this special subsidy, Farmland Partners has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors to buy up farms and ranches — who now own 295 agricultural properties covering 144,000 acres in 16 states including California’s Salinas Valley.

One of Wall Street’s biggest memes of the last decade is here – Akin Oyedele December 2016

The elusive great rotation from bonds to stocks is finally happening.

About a decade ago, investors started a big shift in their asset allocations away from bonds and into stocks. That prompted calls that bond funds would experience an even greater exodus that would end the bull market.

But the long-term rally in bonds kept going for several years until, arguably, the 2016 US election. Bond yields rose to multi-year highs and their prices fell as investors bet that President-elect Donald Trump’s administration would begin a shift towards fiscal stimulus, and reduce the Federal Reserve’s need for aggressive monetary policy.

The promised fiscal stimulus was expected to be reflationary for the US economy, reducing the attractiveness of bonds.

At the same time, investors’ bets on a lower regulatory burden and corporate tax reform pushed stocks, notably those in the financials sector, to all-time highs.

And the chart that Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Sløk shared in a note on Tuesday titled “Great rotation from bonds to stocks is here” captures this shift.

slok great rotation COTDDeutsche Bank

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Chicago’s Struggling Schools Made Wall Street $110 Million From $763 Million in Bonds – By  Matt Wirz and  Heather Gillers Updated Oct. 2, 2016 11:31 p.m. ET

Francis Parkman School in Chicago was closed in 2013 because of low enrollment and low resources. PHOTO: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS `

Francis Parkman School in Chicago was closed in 2013 because of low enrollment and low resources. PHOTO: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS

J.P. Morgan, Nuveen invest in school board’s bonds at big profit

The Chicago school system needed money—fast. Two Wall Street players saw an opportunity to invest.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Chicago-based Nuveen Asset Management have made realized and paper profits exceeding $110 million on purchases this year of $763 million in Chicago Public Schools bonds. The school system has said it needed the money to replenish its dwindling coffers before the new school year and to build and repair facilities.

The terms of the bond sales highlight the choices the school district faces after years of pension shortfalls and relying heavily on borrowing. The 397,000-student school district struggled to sell municipal bonds in February until Nuveen bought about one-third, and the district decided in July to borrow directly from J.P. Morgan for fear that investors might balk again, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Board of Education said.

“CPS did not have the luxury of waiting longer to demonstrate to the market that the progress we were making was real,” said Ronald DeNard, the school district’s senior vice president of finance, in an emailed statement about the bonds purchased in July by J.P. Morgan.

J.P. Morgan, the country’s largest bank by assets, made a 9.5% profit on $150 million in bonds it bought in July and sold in September, or 82% annualized. Nuveen, an investment firm managing $160 billion, has bought $613 million in bonds since February for a total return, including price gains and interest payments, of about 25%. That is almost 50% on an annualized basis, an especially large gain at a time of near-zero interest rates.

The school system’s bonds are a favorite for John Miller, Nuveen’s co-head of fixed income, who said the firm bought when the market feared a default, a concern he called overblown. “At the end of day, this school system is critically important to Chicago—to the whole country really,” he said.

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Are we living through another 1930s? | Paul Mason – Monday 1 August 2016 07.39 EDT

As daunting events come thick and fast amid increasing public racism and xenophobia, the similarities with the buildup to the second world war are real, but we can take hope from a few key differences

Labourers queue for work at the London docks in 1931.

Things are happening with machine-gun rapidity: Brexit, the Turkish coup, Islamist massacres in France, the surrounding of Aleppo, the nomination of Donald Trump. From the USA to France to post-Brexit Britain, the high levels of public racism and xenophobia, reflected now in the outpourings of politicians with double-digit poll ratings, have got people asking: is it a rerun of the 1930s?

On the face of it, the similarities are real. Britain’s vote to leave the EU parallels its panicked decision to quit the gold standard in September 1931 – the first major country to quit the global economic system. Labour’s incipient split mirrors the one that left the party out of power for 14 years. And of course the economic background – a depression and a banking crisis – has echoes in the present situation.

But a proper study of the 1930s reveals our situation today to be better and more salvageable in many ways, although in one respect worse.

Following the Wall Street crash of 1929, the economic downturn took hold in 1931, with the failure of banks on both sides of the Atlantic, the imposition of austerity measures on already-weak economies, the resort to tariffs, currency blocks and economic nationalism. The fact that elites advocated mass unemployment, as a downward pressure on wages, created the firewood; overtly militarised and genocidal fascist groups lit the spark. It took just two years from Hitler’s first electoral breakthrough in 1930 for the Nazi party to score 37% in an election.

Then you get the million-strong far-right demonstration in Paris in 1934; the rising of the Asturian miners in Spain, put down by the army; German rearmament beginning in 1935. The Spanish civil war starts in 1936 – while, in the same year, workers in both France and the US stage mass occupations of factories, and Stalin begins the great purge.

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How the Feds Pulled Off the Biggest Insider-Trading Investigation in U.S. History – By Patricia Hurtado & Michael Keller June 1, 2016

For more than seven years, the U.S. government has relentlessly prosecuted Wall Street traders who used inside information to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

Federal prosecutors in New York have racked up 91 convictions and collected almost $2 billion in fines. In the latest action on May 19, the government looked beyond Wall Street, accusing a legendary Las Vegas gambler of profiting from insider tips.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at what happens when the Feds get serious about insider trading.Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at Jun 1, 2016 3.47

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Economic inequality, the toil of work and Wall Street power: Our capitalist society is like “The Matrix”

We live in a dystopia worthy of a Hollywood sci-fi movie, and most people don’t even realize it

Economic inequality, the toil of work and Wall Street power: Our capitalist society is like "The Matrix"

Our lives seem normal. Just like in the beginning of “The Matrix,” the classic sci-fi movie from 1999 starring Keanu Reeves. Not great or anything, but fine. We get up every morning and repeat our programmed daily grind.

But is this all life has to offer? Or is there more to it than this? Some larger, hidden force controlling us and our society that we don’t recognize or understand?

What is the Matrix?

In the movie, the main character, Neo, was presented with a choice as to whether he wished to learn the reality about the hidden forces.

And now, dear reader, you are presented with the same choice. Do you really wish to know? But the reality of the truth might be more painful and difficult than the illusion of your current existence.

If you take the blue pill by stopping here and reading no further, then you will be safely returned to your current life, resume your daily grind, and be none the wiser.

If you take the red pill by reading on, however, there is no turning back. The reality of the truth will forever change your understanding of the hidden forces that are acting upon you.

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