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Monday, December 12, 2011

Regional War on the Horizon

Lunar eclipse observed over Israel

A total eclipse of the moon was observed in Israel on Saturday, peaking at 4:30 P.M. and lasting just under half an hour. The moon remained partially eclipsed until about 6:18 P.M.. The eclipse was unusual because it took place at sunset.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes behind the earth, so that the moon, earth and sun are aligned; the earth blocks the sun's rays from striking the moon. The moon is completely darkened during a total eclipse, but due to the refraction of sunlight by the earth's atmosphere, the moon does not completely disappear as it passes through the earth's shadow. Instead it is lit by a pale shade of orange-red.

Lunar eclipe over Modiin.Gil Cohen-Magen

A total lunar eclipse usually occurs three times a year. Saturday’s eclipse took place while the moon was rising and the sun was setting, an extremely rare event. The last total lunar eclipse was observed in Israel about six months ago.


U.N. Global 'Climate Court' to Enforce Emissions Rules

United Nations climate envoys have proposed the creation of a global "climate court" that would be responsible for enforcing a sprawling set of rules requiring developed countries to cut emissions while compensating poorer countries in order to pay off a "historical climate debt."

The proposals are contained in a draft document pieced together for the climate conference in Durban, South Africa. Representatives at the conference are struggling to come up with a compromise that negotiators from 194 nations can agree on.

But the draft document, one of many floating around the conference, gives a glimpse into the long-term vision some nations hold for the creation of an international legal framework on climate change.

In the bowels of the document is a provision calling for "an international climate court of justice."

The proposal is meant to "guarantee the compliance of Annex I Parties with all the provisions of this decision."

Annex I countries are mostly developed countries, covering the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and much of Europe -- including countries that are struggling financially such as Greece and Portugal.

The rules of the road the court would presumably enforce are based on the view that these developed countries owe developing countries a "debt" over climate change, and must provide financial aid in addition to taking major steps toward cutting emissions.

In one section, the document calls for developed countries to help poorer countries with "finance, technology and capacity building" so they can "adapt to and mitigate climate change" while helping eliminate poverty. Another section provides that developing countries should receive an amount of money equal to the amount "developed countries spend on defense, security and warfare."

Yet the document also calls for a guaranteed end to warfare altogether -- for the sake of curbing climate change.

One section, noting that "conflict-related activities emit significant greenhouse gas emissions," calls on all parties to "cease destructive activities" like warfare -- and then channel the money that would have been spent on war and other defense projects toward "a common enemy: climate change."

The document also asserts the "rights of mother earth," a concept that environmental activists have been pushing for.

The draft report, which strings together proposals from various working groups, quickly raised alarm among climate change skeptics.

Marc Morano, a former aide to U.N. agitator and Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, told FoxNews.com the document shows the climate talks are intended to create more "taxing and regulatory authority."

"This is the true U.N. agenda unmasked in this draft report," he said. Morano now runs the ClimateDepot blog, which also reported on the draft document.

However, the idea of a climate court anytime soon -- particularly one that the United States and other big carbon emitters would agree to -- may be far-fetched. One environmental law expert, professor Jonathan Verschuuren at The Netherlands' Tilburg University, wrote in an online column that the court "will certainly not materialize."

Instead, representatives at the Durban conference reportedly are still trying to figure out how and whether to extend the Kyoto protocol, whose emission requirements expire next year. Some industrial nations want a new agreement that would ask more of developing countries.

According to The Associated Press, the U.S. and India have backed down a bit on their objections, while China continues to put up resistance.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/10/un-floats-global-climate-court-to-enforce-emissions-rules/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+foxnews/politics+(Internal+-+Politics+-+Text)&utm_content=Google+Reader#ixzz1gLokaXAS

MP Warns of Tough Military Response to Violation of Iranian Airspace

TEHRAN (FNA)- If the United States' spy drone that was recently downed by the Iranian Armed Forces in the Eastern parts of the country had been a jet fighter, we would have hit all the US military bases throughout the world, a senior Iranian lawmaker warned on Friday.

"If this had been a fighter jet, the conditions would have been different now as we would have pounded all the US military bases on the planet," Vice-Chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Esmayeel Kowsari told FNA.

"We have repeatedly said and we caution again that in case our country's borders are violated, we will not confine our response to geographical borders," he added.

Iran has repeatedly warned that it would target Israel and its worldwide interests in case it comes under attack by the Tel Aviv. It has also warned that in case of an attack by either the US or Israel, it will target 32 American bases in the Middle East and close the strategic Strait of Hormoz.

The MP further said that Iran proved to the world that the US is not an invincible power after it downed the highly sophisticated drone through hacking its systems.

The legislator rapped the international bodies for their silence on the case, and warned, "If another US spy plane violates the Iranian airspace, we will give a frightening response to the Americans."

Iran announced on Sunday that its defense forces had downed the aircraft through a sophisticated cyber attack.

The drone is the first such loss by the US. US officials have described the loss of the aircraft in Iran as a setback and a fatal blow to the stealth drone program.

The US media revealed on Thursday that Pentagon and the CIA considered several options on how to retrieve or destroy the drone, including sending a cross-border commando raid and delivering an air strike to destroy it.

However all were deemed too risky, since Tehran would consider such an operation an act of war, should it be discovered.

"No one warmed up to the option of recovering it or destroying it because of the potential it could become a larger incident," an unnamed official told the Washington Post on Thursday.

The RQ-170 has special coatings and a batwing shape designed to help it penetrate other nations' air defenses undetected. The existence of the aircraft, which is made by Lockheed Martin, has been known since 2009, when a model was photographed at the main US airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The unmanned surveillance plane lost by the United States in Iran was a stealth aircraft being used for secret missions by the CIA, US officials admitted earlier this week.

The aircraft is among the highly sensitive surveillance platform in the CIA's fleet that was shaped and designed to evade enemy defenses.

Current and former Washington defense officials said even the US military cannot use such a highly sophisticated stealth aircraft as the country is in relatively short supply and is only flown by the CIA.

The Iranian state broadcaster Thursday evening released the first images of the highly advanced US stealth spy drone.

Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh appeared on TV last night to explain how Iranian forces downed the United States' highly advanced radar-evading spy drone last week.

"Recently, our collected intelligence and precise electronic monitoring revealed that this aircraft intended to infiltrate our country's airspace for spying missions," the General said, and added, "After it entered the Eastern parts of the country, this aircraft fell into the trap of our armed forces and was downed in Iran with minimum damage."

"The wing-to-wing width of the RQ-170 Sentinel drone is around 26 meters with a length of 4.5 meters and height of 1.84 meters."

"The drone is equipped with highly advanced surveillance, data gathering, electronic communication and radar systems," he continued.

"As far as its platform and coating are concerned, this kind of plane has been designed to evade radar systems and from the view point of technology it is amongst the most recent types of advanced aircraft used by the US," the IRGC commander added.

"The technology used in this aircraft had already been used in B2 and F35 planes," Hajizadeh said, and added, "This aircraft is controlled and guided through satellite link and land stations in Afghanistan and the Untied States."

"Military experts are well aware how precious the technological information of this drone is," he reiterated.

Among the United States' main concerns is that Iran could use an intact aircraft to examine the vulnerabilities in stealth technology and take countermeasures with its air defense systems. Another is that China or other US adversaries could help Iran extract data from the drone that would reveal its flight history, surveillance targets and other capabilities.

The drone was programmed to destroy such data in the event of a malfunction, but it failed to do so. The blow has been so heavy that the US officials do not still want to accept that Iran brought down the plane by a cyber attack. Instead, explanations have focused on potential technical failures. The aircraft cover great distances and depend on satellite links. A lost connection or other malfunction could cause them to turn back home or start automatic explosion.

Iran will definitely strike Turkey if attacked'

Iranian official reiterates anger over Turkish agreement tohouse NATO facilities, threatens "grave consequences."

An Iranian security official said that Iran would "definitely" strike NATO positions in Turkey if it were attacked, according to a Monday report by the Turkish daily Hurriyet.

“We are closely monitoring the relations with Turkey in the National SecurityCommission of the parliament. Iran has warned Turkey before that the deployment of the system will have grave consequences." said Hossein Ibrahimi, vice-chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission.

Ibrahimi also referenced a similar threat made at the end of November by Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace division. "General Hajizadeh’s remarks are entirely true and when we are attacked, it is our natural right to defend ourselves,” Hurriyet quoted Ibrahimi as saying.

Tehran has made clear its displeasure at Turkey's September decision to deploy a NATO missile early warning system, which Iran sees as a US ploy to protect Israel from any counter-attack should the Jewish state target Iran's nuclear facilities.

Once-warm relations between Iran and Turkey have been strained this year due to the missile shield and Ankara's outspoken criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown on popular unrest.

Turkey and Iran, the Middle East's two major non-Arab Muslim states, are vying for influence in the post-Arab Spring region and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's military adviser accused Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of setting its foreign policy to please Washington.

Jerusalem Post

Pakistan's new defence policy empowers military to hit US drones

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani military will shoot down any US drone that intrudes the country's airspace under a new defence policy in which troops have been given greater liberty to respond to incursions by Nato and allied forces inAfghanistan, according to a media report.

"Any object entering into our airspace, includingUS drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down," a senior unnamed Pakistani military official was quoted as saying by NBC News.

The defence policy was changed after a Nato air strike on two military border posts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26.

Following the air strike, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a communique that gave troops in the field full liberty to respond to any future attacks without consulting their superiors.

Kayani issued multiple directives since the November 26 attack, including orders to shoot down US drones, senior military officials said.

Times of India

Report: Syria arms missiles with chemical warheads

The Syrian regime, which has endured nine months of civil unrest spurred by the Arab Spring as it swept across the Middle East, has armed its medium-range missile arsenal with chemical warheads.

According to a report published by the Sabah daily Sunday, Damascus armed 600 one-ton chemical warheads to use in the event of a foreign military intervention. Furthermore, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the deployment of 21 missile launchers along its border with Turkey. Syria’s medium-range missiles that can be equipped with chemical warheads have a range of up to 1,300 kilometers and would include the southern and central provinces of Turkey.

According to the daily, the Syrian military keeps its stockpile of chemical warheads in secret facilities in and around the capital city of Damascus. In mid-November, President Assad held a special meeting with top commanders of the Syrian army and argued over how to respond to a possible military intervention by the international community. Additionally, Russia, which stood by the Assad regime’s defiance of international pressure on Damascus, sent 3 million gas masks to the troubled country. Most of those masks will be distributed to the regime’s loyalists, the families of soldiers and Baath supporters. The distribution of the masks is set to be completed by the end of December, according to the daily.

Syria is believed to have had a chemical weapons arsenal for more than three decades. Following heavy defeats against Israel in conventional warfare, international defense sources believe that following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Hafez al-Assad, the former general of the Syrian Air Force, decided to bolster Syria’s strategic position through the development of ballistic missiles to counter Israel’s superiority in conventional warfare. The unchallenged superiority Israeli air forces led Syrian generals to push for other means to protect the regime. From then on, Syria has launched clandestine efforts to develop chemical warheads with ballistic missile delivery systems.

Todays Zaman

Italy Banning Cash Transactions Over €5,000 As Latest European Austerity Package Revealed

As part of its new austerity package, any cash transactions over 5,000 euros ($6,188) will be banned in an effort to crack down on tax evasion, a government source said on Monday, reports Reuters. "Reducing the ceiling on cash transactions, which currently stands at 12,500 euros, forms part of the package of public sector hiring and wage reductions and spending cutbacks being prepared by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, the source said. The limit will also apply to cashiers' cheques." Yet another insolvent banking system comes to light, as all major transactions must occur within confines of Italy's financial institutions. We are confident this "simple" toggle will promptly fill Italy's empty tax coffers. 
Or not.

Reuters reports on what the Austerity package will likely look like via a draft it has obtained:

Italy's austerity budget to be approved on Tuesday will cut public sector hiring and pay, temporarily block those set to retire and reduce funding to local government, according to a draft obtained by Reuters.

The budget draft says only 20 percent of those who leave the public sector in 2011 to 2013 will be replaced, and it cuts transfers to municipal and regional authorities by 2 billion euros in 2011 and 3.8 billion in 2012.

Those who would have earned the right to retire in mid-2011 and at the end of 2011, according to the so-called retirement "windows", must remain at work for a further six months.

The budget, which aims to cut the deficit by around 13 billion euros in 2011, also makes cuts in the politically sensitive area of health spending, trimmed by 0.4 billion euros next year and 1.1 billion in 2012.

Spending by government ministries, including pay, is reduced by 8-10 percent per year in 2011 to 2013.

Other policies in the draft are a 10 percent cut from 2011 in the pay of government ministers and a 10 percent cut in the pay of public sector employees earning more than 75,000 euros.

The austerity package is still being hotly debated within the government and all the measures could be subject to change before final approval. The pay cuts for high earners is being resisted particularly fiercely by some ministers.

The government aims to cut the budget deficit from 5.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2009 to 2.7 percent in 2011.

The budget launches a crackdown on false claimants for invalidity benefits, announcing 100,000 checks per year in 2010-2012.

Among the victims of Italy's austerity plans is publicly funded think-tank ISAE, which conducts closely-watched surveys on Italian consumer and business confidence.

In future the functions carried out by ISAE will pass directly to the economy ministry, the draft says.

Zero Hedge

France may now be downgraded, says ratings agency

Nicolas Sarkozy's political triumph in Brussels may be fast overshadowed by growing economic grief, experts warned yesterday. The spectre of France losing its much cherished triple-A credit rating loomed larger as the dust settled on the Brussels summit.

The ratings agency Standard and Poor's (S&P) warned that France and other eurozone members faced possible downgrades. Money markets are also expected to pass an unsparing verdict on the deal this week when a number of eurozone governments have bond sales. Experts said Italy is expected to face punishing interest rates.

"I have no doubt that France's rating will be lowered," said Charles Wyplosz, professor of international economics at Geneva's Graduate Institute. "If I were Standard and Poor's, I would decide right away. In reality, France lost its triple-A a long time ago," he said. "There will be debt restructuring, which won't be voluntary. Banks will collapse, including possibly a number of French banks that are very exposed to Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain."

A downgrade would reopen the question of the need for new austerity measures after two belt-tightening plans unveiled by the French government since the summer.

The money markets, which expressed cautious optimism after the Brussels deal, will be closely watching key European government bond sales this week, particularly those of Italian and Spanish government bonds. Short-term debt auctions on Monday and Tuesday by Italy, France and Spain will provide a first indication of true market sentiment before the more challenging bond sales. Analysts warned the price Rome will have to pay to ensure its bonds sell is likely to rise close to the unsustainable 7 per cent level.

"The market is hopeful the politicians are coming up with a solution which supports Italian bonds," said Michael Leister, of the German bank WestLB. "We are cautious because, after previous summits, we have seen relief and a risk-rally, but the mood has subsequently worsened. We have Spain and Italy coming up next week, so that will be carefully watched, and the bonds will react depending on how well they go," he said.

Governments in the eurozone have to repay more than €1.1trn (£939bn) of long- and short-term debt in 2012.

While share prices rose after the announcement, analysts expressed caution. "An all-mighty sell-off in the markets is brewing," said Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy. "EU leaders have patently failed to deal with the issue that investors care most about: shoring up eurozone sovereign debt."

His view was supported by Werner Faymann, the Austrian Chancellor, in a newspaper interview yesterday. Chancellor Faymann said: "A firewall was created, but it is not strong enough or large enough to have a big deterrent effect on speculators and financial markets in the coming years. The decisions taken lack the necessary firepower to have a sustained effect."
The Independent

Eurozone the worry is growing that a major bank could collapse within weeks.

The eurozone banking system is on the edge of collapse as major lenders begin to run out of the assets they need to keep vital funding lines open.

Senior analysts and traders warned of impending bank failures as a summit intended to solve the European crisis failed to deliver a solution that eased concerns over bank funding.

The European Central Bank admitted it had held meetings about providing emergency funding to the region's struggling banks, however City figures said a "collateral crunch" was looming.

"If anyone thinks things are getting better then they simply don't understand how severe the problems are. I think a major bank could fail within weeks," said one London-based executive at a major global bank.

Many banks, including some French, Italian and Spanish lenders, have already run out of many of the acceptable forms of collateral such as US Treasuries and other liquid securities used to finance short-term loans and have been forced to resort to lending out their gold reserves to maintain access to dollar funding.

"The system is creaking. There is a large amount of stress," said Anthony Peters, a strategist at Swissinvest, pointing to soaring interbank lending rates.

Credit Sights' weekly funding report said the ECB had effectively become the central clearer for the region's banks as lenders are increasingly distrustful about funding one another.

Bank deposits with the ECB now stand at their highest level since June 2010 at €905bn (£772bn) as lenders withdraw deposits held with their peers and put them into the central bank. At the same time, banks in major eurozone countries such as France and Italy have become increasingly reliant on central bank funding. This follows the trend seen in smaller countries like Ireland where lenders have effectively becomes taxpayer-funded "zombie" banks.

Alastair Ryan, a banks analyst at UBS, said there would be "no Lehman moment" – or single catastrophic event – for the European banking sytem, but added that without a full backstop of bank liabilities by governments the system would "struggle to finance itself in the next year in a durable way".

"The system at the moment hasn't got funding of a duration that allows it to function, so it's failing," he said.

Others think the eurozone banks are heading for a catastrophe and the worry is growing that a major bank could collapse within weeks.

The results of the fourth round of European Banking Authority (EBA) stress tests conducted in just under 18 months pointed to a €115bn capital shortfall in the eurozone financial system, with German banks showing the most notable deterioration in their core capital ratios.

Moody's on Friday downgraded France's three largest banks, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale in light of what the US rating agency said were "liquidity and funding constraints". The banks' downgrade came despite Moody's acknowledging the three lenders could depend on a higher level of French taxpayer support in future.

Two weeks ago, rumours abounded that it was the near failure of a major French lender that had been the trigger for a massive co-ordinated intervention by the world's largest central banks to shore up the banking system.

The fear is the European authorities do not have the financial firepower to deal with the banks' problems. Analysts at BarCap say that even if the European rescue funds were able to raise €1 trillion of funding this would only meet the needs of the Italian and Spanish government and banks.

The European banking sector's problems are being exacerbated by a wave of asset sales as lenders look to dramatically shrink their balance sheets. UBS estimates eurozone banks could sell off between €3.7 trillion and €4.5 trillion of assets in the next three years.
The Telegraph

Pakistan blockage of Nato convoys 'may last weeks'

Pakistan may continue its blocking of Nato convoys into Afghanistan for several weeks, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has told the BBC.
Pakistan stopped the convoys in protest at US air strikes which killed 24 of its troops at two checkpoints on the Afghan border last month.
Mr Gilani refused to rule out closing Pakistan's airspace to the US.
He also denied rumours President Asif Ali Zardari had suffered a stroke and the army was trying to oust him.
Mr Gilani said Mr Zardari was making a rapid improvement in hospital in Dubai, but would need two weeks' rest before returning home.
Credibility gap
The air strikes on 26 November marked a low point in relations between Washington and Islamabad, which have long been strained by the US-led military campaign against militants in Afghanistan.
In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Mr Gilani said Pakistan and the US needed to trust each other better.

US-Pakistan downturn

  • 30 Sept 2010: Nato helicopters kill two Pakistani soldiers, prompting nearly two-week border closure in protest
  • 22 April 2011: Supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan halted for three days in protest over drone attacks
  • 2 May: US announces Bin Laden's death and says Pakistan not warned of raid
  • 2 June: Top US military chief Adm Mike Mullen admits "significant" cut in US troops in Pakistan
  • 10 July: US suspends $800m of military aid
  • 22 Sept: Outgoing US Adm Mullen accuses Pakistan of supporting Haqqani militant group in Afghanistan; denied by Pakistan
  • 26 Nov: Nato air strikes on checkpoints on the Afghan border kill 24 Pakistani troops
"Yes there is a credibility gap, we are working together and still we don't trust each other," Mr Gilani said.
"I think we have to improve our relationship so that... we should have more confidence in each other."
Nato forces in Afghanistan rely significantly on overland supply routes from the Pakistani sea port of Karachi, which enter Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass.
Hundreds of lorries have been camped out next to border crossings, waiting for the crisis to blow over.
Asked about the state of health of Mr Zardari, Mr Gilani denied that the president had written a letter of resignation, as claimed by a source in Dubai.
"Why should he write?" asked Mr Gilani. "He has the backing and support of the entire parliament."
Dismissing speculation about a quiet coup, he said: "Rumours are rumours."
The Pakistani prime minister also denied a Pakistani Taliban claim that it was engaged in peace talks with his government.
But he added: "Whosoever surrenders and denounces violence, they are acceptable to us."
Base vacated
Nato has apologised for the air strikes, calling them a "tragic unintended incident".
In the aftermath, Pakistan also demanded the US leave the Shamsi air base in Balochistan.
Pakistani officials have confirmed that US forces have now vacated the base, meeting a deadline.
US officials could not be reached immediately for comment about the report.
A US helicopter takes off from Shamsi air base (archive image from 2002)US forces used Shamsi base for years
Shamsi was widely believed to have been used in covert CIA drone attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in north-west Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but correspondents say it had not been used to launch drones for some time.
Vacating Shamsi is not expected to significantly curtail drone attacks in Pakistan, according to an Associated Press news agency report.
Mr Gilani also said he would investigate the blocking of the BBC's international news TV channel, BBC World News, by Pakistani cable television operators. Operators say the move is in response to a documentary broadcast by the channel entitled Secret Pakistan.
A BBC spokesperson said: "We welcome the prime minister's support of free speech and promise to investigate this ban. We call on the government to carry out an investigation rapidly and for BBC services to be restored in Pakistan.

Shocking Charts And Statistics That Prove That America Is No Longer A Wealthy Nation

How do you decide whether you are wealthy or not?  Do you determine that by how much money you spend at the stores?  Of course not.  You can tell if you are wealthy or not by comparing your assets (the money in your bank account, equity in your home, etc.) to your liabilities (your mortgage, credit card debt, student loan debt, etc.).  Well, a lot of Americans seem to believe that just because a lot of money is circulating in our economy that it must mean that we are a wealthy nation.  But that is simply not true.  To tell whether or not America is a wealthy nation, you need to look at the balance sheet numbers.  And when you look at the balance sheet numbers, a very sobering story emerges.  Over the past three decades, government debt, business debt and household debt have absolutely exploded, but our assets have not.  That means that we are getting poorer as a nation.  Hopefully the shocking charts and statistics in this article will help a lot of Americans to wake up.  Yes, we once were the wealthiest nation on earth, but today America is no longer a wealthy nation.
Household Wealth
We live during a time when U.S. households are becoming poorer.  This week the Federal Reserve announced that the total net worth of U.S. households declined by 4.1 percent in the 3rd quarter of 2011 alone.
That is a staggering decline.  The total net worth of U.S. households plummeted by $2.2 trillion during those three months.  When you break that down, it comes to approximately $7,800 for every single U.S. citizen.
But this is not the first time we have seen a huge decline in U.S. household wealth in recent years.
A recent article posted on CNN detailed the stunning drop in U.S. household wealth that we saw from 2007 to 2009....
Household wealth plunged $16.3 trillion in the two years from early 2007 to the first quarter of 2009, and has slowly been climbing since then. But with the drop in the third quarter of this year, households find their net worth still $9.4 trillion, or 14%, below the high they hit in early 2007, before the bursting of the housing bubble.
So right now the total net worth of U.S. households is $9.4 trillion below what it was back in 2007.
That certainly is not good news.
But not only is the total net worth of U.S. households going down, our incomes are going down as well.
Since December 2007, median household income in the United States has declined by a total of 6.8% once you account for inflation.
Not that incomes were rising very quickly prior to that time either.
Between 1979 and 2007, income growth for the bottom 90 percent of all U.S. income earners was only about 5 percent for that entire time period.
Meanwhile, household debt was absolutely skyrocketing.  Take a look at the following chart which shows what total U.S. household debt has done over the last three decades....
So income growth has been pretty much flat over the past three decades but household debt has been rising at an exponential pace for most of that time.
Yes, there has been a little bit of deleveraging during this economic downturn, but there are now signs that the deleveraging is rapidly coming to an end.
According to a recent CNN article, credit card use in the United States is experiencing a major upswing once again....
Purchases made with credit cards rose 8.2% in the first quarter of 2011, 9% in the second quarter and 10.6% in the third quarter, according to First Data.
That is not good news.
The truth is that U.S. households owe way, way too much money already.  According to a recent study conducted by the BlackRock Investment Institute, the ratio of household debt to personal income in the United States is now 154 percent.
We are up to our eyeballs in debt, and our incomes are not keeping up.
In addition, we have seen massive amounts of home equity wiped out in recent years.
An unusual thing has happened during this economic downturn.  For the first time in U.S. history, the banks have more equity in our homes than we do.  If you do not believe this, just check out this chart.
The truth is that the American people are not becoming wealthier.  They are becoming poorer.
And a shocking number of Americans are falling into poverty.  In 2010, 2.6 million more Americans fell into poverty, which set a new all-time record for a single year.
But this is not a new thing.  This is a trend that we have seen building for many years.  Back in the year 2000, 11.3% of all Americans were living in poverty.  Today, 15.1% of all Americans are living in poverty.
So obviously U.S. households are not doing well.
But what about the government?
Government Debt
The U.S. national debt is completely and totally out of control.  Right now it is sitting at $15,046,397,725,405.16.  That means that it is nearly 15 times higher than it was just 30 years ago.  Just check out this almost unbelievable chart....
So is our ability to pay these debts 15 times greater than it was back then?
Of course not.
Our liabilities are exploding at an out of control rate but our assets are not.
Whether you are a running a family or running a government, that is a recipe for financial disaster.
The U.S. government has been running budget deficits of over a trillion dollars for several years now, and there is no sign that these trillion dollar deficits are going to stop any time soon.
So how much money is a trillion dollars?
If right this moment you went out and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.
Yet somehow the U.S. government has accumulated a debt that is well over 15 trillion dollars.
The Bush administration was a nightmare when it came to running up debt, but they have definitely been outclassed by the Obama administration....
*During the Obama administration, the U.S. government has accumulated more debt than it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that Bill Clinton took office.
*The U.S. national debt has been increasing by an average of more than 4 billion dollars per day since the beginning of the Obama administration.
*Since Barack Obama was sworn in, the share of the national debt per household has increased by $35,835.
And most U.S. government spending does not do a thing to build real wealth for this country.  For example, the total compensation that the federal government workforce brought in during 2010 is estimated to be about 447 billion dollars.
So did federal workers create 447 billion dollars of real wealth last year?
Of course not.
The truth is that our bloated federal government is a massive drain on our society.
But the federal government is not the only one with a debt problem.
State and local governments all over America are also drowning in debt.  In fact, state and local government debt in America is now sitting at an all-time high of 22 percent of U.S. GDP.
Total Debt
The following chart from the Federal Reserve combines government debt, business debt and consumer debt.  As you can see, America is swimming in an ocean of more than 50 trillion dollars of debt....
To get an idea of how bad that is, just look at where total debt was at back in 1970 or 1980.
Over the last three decades we have seen an orgy of debt that has been absolutely unprecedented.
Meanwhile, we are bleeding national wealth at a staggering rate.
Every single month, tens of billions of dollars more goes out of this country than comes into it.
In fact, it is being projected that the U.S. trade deficit for 2011 will be 558.2 billion dollars.
This represents a transfer of wealth that is so vast that it is almost impossible to believe.
Our dependence on foreign oil is greatly contributing to this.  It is being projected that for the first time ever, the OPEC nations are going to bring inover a trillion dollars from exporting oil this year.  Their biggest customer is the United States.
When we send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas, that is hundreds of billions of dollars that does not go into the pockets of American business owners or American workers.
The United States has had a negative trade balance every single year since 1976, and since that time the United States has run a total trade deficit of more than 7.5 trillion dollars with the rest of the world.
For a moment, imagine a giant map of the world.  Then imagine a pile of 7.5 trillion dollars sitting on the United States of America.
That looks pretty good, eh?
Well, then start taking big chunks of that money and start exchanging it for oil and for cheap plastic products until the entire pile is gone.
Are you starting to understand?
We burn up the foreign oil in our cars and most of the cheap plastic products end up being discarded fairly quickly.
But our loss of national wealth is permanent.
Meanwhile, we are facing national financial obligations in the years ahead that are absolutely nightmarish.
According to Boston University Professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff, the U.S. government is facing a "fiscal gap" of $211 trillion in the decades ahead.  The following comes from an article that Kotlikoff wrote for CNN earlier this year....
The government's total indebtedness -- its fiscal gap -- now stands at $211 trillion, by my arithmetic. The fiscal gap is the difference, measured in present value, between all projected future spending obligations -- including our huge defense expenditures and massive entitlement programs, as well as making interest and principal payments on the official debt -- and all projected future taxes.
If you went out and liquidated all of the assets owned by all American citizens, all U.S. businesses and all levels of government in America, it would only cover about a third of that bill.
Are you starting to get the picture?
America is no longer a wealthy nation.
We are like that family down the street that is always throwing around tons of money but that is always on the verge of bankruptcy.
So when they tell you that the economy "grew" by 1 or 2 percent, please don't think that means that America is becoming wealthier.
The truth is that our debts are growing at a far, far faster rate than our assets are.
That means that we are getting poorer.
Is there anyone out there that disagrees with that?

Foreclosures jump 7% in October from September

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Foreclosure activity rose 7% in October compared with September, a sign that lenders are picking up the pace after foreclosure processing problems caused delays, RealtyTrac said Thursday.

Last month, foreclosure filings were reported on 230,678 U.S. properties, according to RealtyTrac data. Filings include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions.

In the past, appraisals rarely disrupted a home sale. But real-estate agents and housing experts say new requirements and a difficult housing market are doing just that.

Activity is down 31% in October compared with a year ago.

“The October foreclosure numbers continue to show strong signs that foreclosure activity is coming out of the rain delay we’ve been in for the past year as lenders corrected foreclosure paperwork and processing problems,” said James Saccacio, chief executive of RealtyTrac, in a news release.

“However, recent state court rulings and new state laws keep changing the rules of the foreclosure game on the fly, creating more uncertainty in the housing market and threatening to prolong the road to a robust real-estate recovery.”

In October, after 22 months in a row as the city with the highest foreclosure rate, Las Vegas finally ceded that standing to Stockton, Calif., according to RealtyTrac’s ranking of metropolitan areas with populations of 200,000 or more.

Nationwide, default notices were filed for the first time on 77,733 properties last month. That’s a 10% increase from the prior month, but a 23% drop from October 2010.

In Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana, default notices ticked up more than 25% in October, compared with September.

Foreclosure auctions rose 8% in October, compared with the prior month; auctions were scheduled on 85,321 properties. Scheduled auctions were down 38% from a year ago. But again, the number of scheduled auctions was up even more in select states: They increased more than 35% in Florida, Minnesota and Illinois in October, compared with September.

In October, 67,624 properties were repossessed by lenders, a 4% increase from September and a 27% drop from October 2010. In Michigan, Oregon, New Jersey and Indiana, repossessions were up 40% or more in October, compared with the prior month.