John Lawrence

Thumbnail image for The Gun Death Capital of the World – United States of America

The Gun Death Capital of the World – United States of America

by John Lawrence 12.16.2014 Government

By John Lawrence

The US leads the world in deaths from firearms. Countries like Great Britain and Japan, which outlaw guns, have hardly any gun related deaths.

These countries don’t have the “freedom” to own a gun. We Americans are free to own a gun and free to go bankrupt from medical debts. In countries like Britain and Japan they are not free to go bankrupt from medical debt because they have national health care systems which prevent that from happening.

Freedom is relative isn’t it, and open to interpretation. One person’s freedom is another person’s bondage. As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”

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Thumbnail image for Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 2

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe – Part 2

by John Lawrence 12.09.2014 Business

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence / Part 1 can be found here

We are lucky to have advanced to a stage that scientists can determine the relationship between the rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into the atmosphere, the absolute value in tons of CO2 already in and projected to be in the atmosphere, the rate of increase of CO2 emissions and the relationship between amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface temperatures.

If we didn’t have this science, we might go right ahead destroying the earth’s environment to the point of extinction of human life without even understanding what was happening to us.

As it is, even though scientists have spelled it out for us, many people are not convinced the threat from global warming is even real or, if it is, that moderate methods that don’t disrupt current economic relationships will be sufficient to keep the problem at bay.

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Thumbnail image for Judy Finally Goes To the Dentist In Tijuana

Judy Finally Goes To the Dentist In Tijuana

by John Lawrence 12.08.2014 Culture

By John Lawrence

Judy hadn’t seen a dentist in some time and she needed to go. I tried to persuade her to go to my dentist, Dr. Miguel Garcia in Tijuana, but she had a fear of crossing the border. I had been going to Dr Garcia for 10 years or more, and I told her she had nothing to fear.

Everybody in Dr Garcia’s office spoke perfect English. They had the latest, most modern equipment and the best training. My friend Olof who had been going to Dr Garcia for years on my recommendation also tried to persuade Judy that there was nothing to be afraid of. She would be in good hands.

Finally, Judy agreed to go. I had assured her I knew the way by heart, and we could drive right into the building to park. Then it was just a short walk to the elevator. We’d be on the fourth floor and in the Baja Oral Center in no time.

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Thumbnail image for Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe

Conversion to Renewable Energy is Going Too Slow to Avoid Catastrophe

by John Lawrence 12.02.2014 Environment

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence

Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series

“Will we be the first species we know that precipitated its own extinction as well as the extinction of however much of the biosphere we take with us – and watched it happen before our eyes and continued to do exactly what we know was causing it?” _ Anonymous

Introduction

A facile denial of reality sits in the DNA of human nature – and climate change is no exception. The inbred fantasy-culture of endless growth, technology, and a throwaway consumeristic lifestyle fueled by exploiting pollutive fossil fuels has reinforced the illusion that we can do so without destroying the environment and even life itself. The threat to human life and the planet seems to need to be truly imminent before we humans can change our course. By then, however, it will be too late … most of us will be dead.

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Thumbnail image for Two Cheers for President Obama. Bronx Cheers for Congressional Republicans

Two Cheers for President Obama. Bronx Cheers for Congressional Republicans

by John Lawrence 11.25.2014 Politics

By John Lawrence

Finally, President Obama has found the balls to stand up to Congress.

He signed an historic agreement regarding climate change with the Chinese. He has taken executive action on immigration that will put 5 million people’s minds at ease, and he would have but didn’t need to veto the Keystone pipeline. He has also taken a stand in favor of internet neutrality.

All of this despite howls of protest from Republicans in Congress. He’s realized the futility of “cooperating” with Congress because they have done nothing but try to intimidate, bully, humiliate and badger him from Day 1 of his administration. He finally realizes that hoping to cooperate with them to “get something done” is a fool’s errand and a wild goose chase.

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Thumbnail image for Wall Street Criminals Walk Free After Inflicting Enormous Damage on American Citizens

Wall Street Criminals Walk Free After Inflicting Enormous Damage on American Citizens

by John Lawrence 11.18.2014 Business

Wall Street Fraud on a Massive Basis

By John Lawrence

In an article in Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi lays out the case involving massive fraud on the part of JP Morgan Chase, one of Wall Street’s biggest and un-finest banks, considered too big to fail and, evidently, too big to prosecute for the massive criminality it is guilty of. It has been well documented what they and other Wall Street banks did that caused the financial crisis of 2008.

First, their counterparts lured everyone with a beating heart into their offices and gave them a mortgage regardless of their credit score, regardless of whether or not they were working, regardless of whether they could even afford to make a mortgage payment. Countrywide is the prime example of the predatory recruitment of low income people in order to turn them into homeowners despite their inability to pay.

As soon as they had signed on the dotted line and Countrywide had collected their commissions, they offloaded the mortgages to JP Morgan Chase and others so that they could be collectivized with other mortgages, securitized and given triple A ratings by credit rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, then sliced and diced into tranches and sold off as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) to pension funds, retirement funds, insurance companies and other unsuspecting dupes.

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Thumbnail image for The US Military is a Major Contributor to Global Warming

The US Military is a Major Contributor to Global Warming

by John Lawrence 11.14.2014 Environment

The US Military: Protecting Our Freedom While Destroying Our Planet

By John Lawrence

The impact of the US military on climate change is enormous due to its excessive consumption of fuel oil. The US must spread its influence across the oil producing parts of the world in order to protect its supply of oil.

The US military consumes huge amounts of oil so that it may preserve strategic access to oil in order to get the oil it needs to preserve strategic access to oil and so on in a never ending loop. Insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.

The US military is the largest single consumer of energy in the world. If it were a country, the Department of Defense (DoD) would rank 34th in the world in average daily oil use, coming in just behind Iraq and just ahead of Sweden.

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Thumbnail image for Extreme Weather Watch: October 2014 – Drought in Australia and Brazil

Extreme Weather Watch: October 2014 – Drought in Australia and Brazil

by John Lawrence 11.12.2014 Editor's Picks

By John Lawrence

Australia experienced its second warmest October on record. A number of records were set during the month in particular for the warmest October day on record for Australia as a whole. Nationally-averaged rainfall during October was 59% below the long-term mean which made October 2014 Australia’s seventh-driest October on record.

Large parts of Australia continue to be affected by drought. Drier than normal conditions from October to December are forecast for broad areas of Eastern, Central and Northern Coastal areas of Australia. Temperatures over 50C or 120F are forecast as Australia heads into its summer.

Australian farmers are feeling less confident as prices for wool, grains, dairy products and beef go down. A quarter of farmers expect conditions to deteriorate, around 20% expect the performance of their farm business to worsen and 25% expect their farm income to fall.

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Thumbnail image for What’s Not to Like: Gas Prices Down, Solar Energy Production Up

What’s Not to Like: Gas Prices Down, Solar Energy Production Up

by John Lawrence 11.04.2014 Economy

By John Lawrence

Gas prices have dropped below $4.00 a gallon for the first time in several years.

Every one-cent drop in gas prices means a $1 billion annual decline in energy spending by Americans. Consumers can use the savings to eat out more often, buy more goods or pay down debt. That’s good for US motorists and consumers, but that’s not the whole story.

Part of the story has to do with the fact that solar energy is getting as cheap as coal and natural gas for the production of electricity. As solar prices drop even further, electricity costs for homeowners should come down. That would mean that electric cars powered off of home outlets should have a greater comparative advantage over gas powered vehicles.

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Thumbnail image for The Alaska Permanent Fund: Socialism in a Republican State

The Alaska Permanent Fund: Socialism in a Republican State

by John Lawrence 10.28.2014 Business

By John Lawrence

Alaska is a land of rugged individualists – Republicans all the way. However, a little known fact is that Alaska taxes the oil and gas corporations operating there and distributes the proceeds on an annual basis equally among every man, woman and child living in the state.

The biggest farce of all is that Tea Party touter, Governor Sarah Palin, slapped an excess profits tax on the state’s oil companies in 2008, the year she ran for vice-President alongside John McCain, so that every person in Alaska received a dividend of $3269 that year. That was a pretty good haul for a family of four: $13,076. For Palin’s family – husband Todd, sons Track and Trig and daughters Bristol, Willow and Piper – it came to an even better haul – $22,883!

Let me be clear. I am totally in favor of institutions like the Alaska Permanent Fund and think they should be extended to the entire US which would guarantee every American citizen a basic income which would come from things we all own in common like oil and mineral deposits, the electromagnetic spectrum and the air we breathe. But someone like Palin, who presided over a plan that taxed corporations and distributed the proceeds to each citizen of Alaska while at the same time taking humungus speaking fees to egg on the Tea Party with anti-tax, anti-socialist and free market rhetoric, is nothing but a super hypocrite, someone beyond the pale – in.

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Wall Street’s Latest Scam: Subprime Auto Loans

by John Lawrence 10.21.2014 Business

By John Lawrence

unnamedWall Street needs to get people into debt. That’s one way they make their money – by collecting interest on people’s debts. They had a field day with subprime mortgages, and then those government bailouts were the sweet icing on the cake. Then they moved on to student loans.

Now they are making a killing off of subprime auto loans. Anyone can buy a used car, even those with no credit, the same way you used to be able to get a mortgage. They are also called liar loans which is the appropriate name for them because loan applications are falsified in the same way that mortgage loan applications were falsified.

It would seem that Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, knows no other way of keeping the economy humming or even getting it moving than to shove zero-interest money at the big banks in the hopes that they will loan it out making a profit off the spread.

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Thumbnail image for The Co-Op Movement – Democratizing the Ownership of Wealth One Step at a Time

The Co-Op Movement – Democratizing the Ownership of Wealth One Step at a Time

by John Lawrence 10.14.2014 Business

By John Lawrence

It has finally dawned on the American consciousness that wealth is being concentrated among fewer and fewer people. In fact just 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 180 million taken together.

Thomas Piketty in his ground breaking book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, shows the dynamic behind this dramatic rise in wealth among the upper echelon of society while everyone else, in particular the middle class, is being left in the dust.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Labor saving devices and later computers and automation were supposed to create a virtually utopian society in which everyone could work less and have an ever increasing standard of living.

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Extreme Weather Watch: September 2014 – Fires in CA, Cabo San Lucas Destroyed by Hurricane

by John Lawrence 10.07.2014 Environment

By John Lawrence

Extreme Weather WatchAs many as 6000 firefighters battled blazes in northern California during the month of September.

The King Fire, which was deliberately set, devoured nearly 120 square miles of timber and vegetation about 60 miles east of Sacramento. The blaze in steep terrain forced the evacuation of 2800 people and burned multiple structures in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines. Firefighters dropped record amounts of retardants – more than 203,000 gallons in a single day.

Altogether more than a half-million gallons of retardant were used. The retardant called red slurry is composed of a mixture of water, fertilizer and red dye. Firefighters have used retardant since the 1950s to slow the advance of wildfires, but the practice is controversial because of its potential effect on wildlife. The Forest Service recently adjusted its retardant rules after two lawsuits that alleged the drops were killing fish, damaging watersheds and harming endangered species.

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Thumbnail image for Student Loan Debt: The Only Debt You Can’t Discharge in Bankruptcy

Student Loan Debt: The Only Debt You Can’t Discharge in Bankruptcy

by John Lawrence 09.30.2014 Business

John Lawrence

Today’s students are being crushed with John Bunyan’s proverbial burden on their backs – student loan debt. Until relatively recently this debt could have been discharged in bankruptcy.

Then all that changed when Sallie Mae, the Student Loan Marketing Association, was privatized in 2004. Albert Lord, the new CEO, and his lobbyists went to work to change the laws so that student loans could not be discharged in bankruptcy. Today the cumulative student loan debt is more than $1 trillion.

While a generation ago a high school diploma was considered sufficient for a decent middle class entry level job, today it’s a college diploma even if the job itself could be easily accomplished by a person with just a high school education.

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Thumbnail image for Questioning San Diego County Pension Fund’s Excessive Risk

Questioning San Diego County Pension Fund’s Excessive Risk

by John Lawrence 09.23.2014 Economy

By John Lawrence

According to the Wall Street Journal, San Diego County’s pension fund manager is using an extreme amount of risky leverage to make up for a shortfall in funding.

This is equivalent to the gambler who makes riskier bets to make up for the bad bets he’s made in the past. Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Fitzpatrick called San Diego County’s investment methods “one of the most extreme examples yet of a public pension using leverage – including instruments such as derivatives – to boost performance.”

We have seen this kind of risky behavior before. Some jurisdictions like Orange County, CA and Jefferson County, Alabama along with the cities of Detroit, San Bernardino and Stockton, CA have gone bankrupt. The strategy being used by San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) is drawing a lot of criticism. The pension fund manages about $10 billion on behalf of more than 39,000 active or former public employees.

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Thumbnail image for Corporate Deserters Seek to Continue Doing Business in the US While Paying Taxes to Foreign Governments

Corporate Deserters Seek to Continue Doing Business in the US While Paying Taxes to Foreign Governments

by John Lawrence 09.16.2014 Business

By John Lawrence

Corporations are relentless about setting up tax avoidance schemes and finding new and improved ways of getting out of paying taxes.

One method is to set up a corporate subsidiary in the Cayman Islands which doesn’t require any taxes to be paid. This works well for collecting royalties on patents because the patents can just be transferred to the subsidiary, and, voila, no taxes need be paid at all. Other companies which do a great deal of selling abroad have money piling up in foreign jurisdictions.

US law requires them to pay taxes on this money when they bring it back into the US. So these companies like Microsoft, Apple and Qualcomm are always lobbying for a “tax holiday”, which would allow them to bring this poor, lonely money home without paying taxes on it. Corporations are people, remember, and money is their Mother’s Milk.

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Extreme Weather Watch: August 2014 – Southwest US May Face Megadrought

by John Lawrence 09.09.2014 Environment

By John Lawrence

Extreme Weather WatchThree new studies do not bode well for the future of the American southwest. California is in the midst of the worst drought in recorded history. However, this may be just the beginning. There have been megadroughts before. And scientists are now 99.99% certain that climactic changes responsible for this extreme weather condition are caused by human activity which spews greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

And as the drought continues in California, record amounts of groundwater are being pumped by corporations which are bottling and selling it in other states. Due to crippling drought in California, there’s been a crackdown on watering lawns and washing cars. Yet Nestle has continued its bottling operations, adding to the national debate over corporate right and common good.

Farmers in the Central Valley are also pumping record amounts to make up for the lack of water from above ground sources. Recently a bill was passed which Governor Jerry Brown is expected to pass regulating groundwater for the first time.

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Thumbnail image for The Fishiness of Mayor Kevin’s Tax Giveaway to Illumina Corporation

The Fishiness of Mayor Kevin’s Tax Giveaway to Illumina Corporation

by John Lawrence 09.02.2014 Business

By John Lawrence

San Diego’s Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently signed a deal with Illumina Corporation that was supposedly designed to keep the corporation from jumping ship and landing in another state or jurisdiction.

The City of San Diego agreed to rebate $1.5 million in sales and use taxes. In return Illumina promised to keep a number of jobs in San Diego for the term of the agreement. But the deal the City has entered into with Illumina is fishy on several levels.

With revenue of just over $1 billion last year, Illumina sells machines that sequence the human genome. The company leases 6 buildings in San Diego totaling over 560,000 sq. ft. and currently has 1500 employees.

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Thumbnail image for Ocean Acidification Could Cause Many Species To Go Extinct

Ocean Acidification Could Cause Many Species To Go Extinct

by John Lawrence 08.26.2014 Editor's Picks

By John Lawrence

As the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere continues to increase, a certain portion of that gets absorbed by the oceans. This year alone some two and a half billion tons of CO2 will be absorbed by the oceans. That represents seven pounds pumped into the seas by every American.

Oceans cover seventy percent of the earth’s surface, and everywhere the oceans and the atmosphere come into contact there is an exchange of gases. When this exchange is in balance, there is no problem. But when the atmosphere’s gaseous composition has been changed, which it has since the industrial revolution, the exchange becomes lopsided. More COgoes into the ocean than comes out.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels to add 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has added another 180 billion tons. Each year we add another nine billion tons or so, and that amount has been increasing 6 percent annually. Today the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is 400 parts per million (PPM). This is higher than it has been at any time in the last 800,000 years.

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Thumbnail image for How San Diego’s P100 Program Screwed Diego and Anna

How San Diego’s P100 Program Screwed Diego and Anna

by John Lawrence 08.19.2014 Editor's Picks

By John Lawrence

San Diego’s P100 program involves intrusive, invasive home searches by law enforcement officials from the DA’s office for everyone that applies for welfare benefits.

These searches are unannounced and the potential welfare beneficiary must be at home whenever the investigator chooses to come or else they will be denied benefits. This makes it difficult for someone who has even a part time job.

When the investigator comes, as we reported last time, he will look for any evidence that the applicant has lied on her application. That could be a pair of work boots in a single mother’s closet or a pair of sexy panties in her underwear drawer, evidence of a boyfriend who could help her pay bills.

Some of these situations approach the Kafkaesque as stifling bureaucracy is combined with clueless non sequiturs on the part of the DA’s office to produce epidemic frustration and humiliation for poor people applying for a modest amount of help. Such was the case for a Latino couple, Diego and Anna Alvarez, who jumped through seemingly impossible hoops while trying to get a little help. The following is freely adapted from Matt Taibbi’s book, The Divide.

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Thumbnail image for Is the Obama and EU Face-Off With Putin a New Cold War? What Forces Are Driving the Confrontation?

Is the Obama and EU Face-Off With Putin a New Cold War? What Forces Are Driving the Confrontation?

by John Lawrence 08.14.2014 Politics

By Frank Thomas and John Lawrence

Part 1

Some History (J. Lawrence)

Obama and Putin are locked in a dance reminiscent of the Cold War. But their maneuverings don’t represent a Cold War not even a cool one. In fact it’s more about placing themselves in the most noticeable positions on the world stage, something that each of their constituencies find familiar and even sentimental. Every world leader likes to lead the news, and Obama and Putin are no exceptions.

But first some history. Catherine the Great, one of the supposedly “enlightened despots” of Europe who hobnobbed with the French philosophes, nevertheless expanded the Russian Empire in a quest to attain a warm water port in the Crimea. Her armies fought a war with the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) for control of the Black Sea. Peter the Great had opened Russia up to the Baltic Sea, founding St. Petersburg on the Baltic Coast, but Catherine was determined to expand her southeastern frontier and develop a permanent Russian presence on the Black Sea.

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Thumbnail image for Extreme Weather Watch: July 2014 –  Record Flames, Record Drought

Extreme Weather Watch: July 2014 – Record Flames, Record Drought

by John Lawrence 08.04.2014 Editor's Picks

By John Lawrence

On the last day of July in California, Exceptional Drought – the highest category of drought – which covered 36% of the state the previous week, covered 58% of the state as August began.

With water reserves being at all time lows, a water main broke in LA spewing 20 million gallons of water into the UCLA campus, submerging 400 cars in an underground parking structure and flooding Pauley Pavillion so bad that a new floor has to be put in.

How ironic such a massive waste of water happened right in the middle of a colossal drought. But it goes to show how America’s infrastructure problems are related to climate change. If the hundred year old pipes had been replaced on a timely basis, this waste of water would not have happened much less the financial losses due to the flooding of cars and campus.

Negligence of infrastructure repair combined with exceptional lack of water led to a scenario where precious water resources were not only wasted, but did millions of dollars of damages in the process of being wasted. But do you suppose any lesson has been learned from this? Are they going to start replacing hundred year old water mains? I doubt it.

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San Diego’s P100 Program Targets the Poor and Vulnerable While Letting the Rich and Powerful Off the Hook

by John Lawrence 07.29.2014 Culture

By John Lawrence

black-mom-3-kids-250x250[1]Since 1997, San Diego County has required all families applying for California’s version of welfare called CalWORKs to submit to warrantless, suspicionless, unannounced home searches and interrogations by District Attorney investigators.

As of June 2013 about 150,000 families, or about 9,300 families each year, have been subject to these searches. This policy, called Project 100% or P100, diverts money away from the poor and has not been shown to be effective at detecting or preventing fraud.

San Diego is the only place in the whole nation which has such an intrusive, untargeted policy making it America’s finest city – NOT – for the poor and vulnerable. These searches are a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids “unreasonable searches” of peoples’ homes.

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Thumbnail image for San Diego For-Profit Universities Making Tons of Money Handing Out Worthless Degrees

San Diego For-Profit Universities Making Tons of Money Handing Out Worthless Degrees

by John Lawrence 07.21.2014 Business

Ashford University and University of Phoenix Worst Offenders Targeting Returning Vets

By John Lawrence

Everyone wants to better themselves, right, by getting a college education. Most of all the Iraq and Afghanistan vets transitioning into civilian life. To that end our politicians in Washington have crafted a GI Bill that allows them to do just that at taxpayer expense.

Problem is most of that money is being gobbled up by for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and Ashford University which don’t even qualify for state financial aid. These universities attract and recruit students by advertising heavily and “selling” them on the value of one of their degrees.

When many of the students graduate, they can’t get a job based on a degree which potential employers say is worthless. And despite the GI bill, many of them take on additional student loan debt.

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Thumbnail image for Does the Federal Reserve Print Money?

Does the Federal Reserve Print Money?

by John Lawrence 07.15.2014 Economy

The Federal Reserve is America’s Central Bank

By John Lawrence

The Fed doesn’t actually “print” money in the sense of ink on paper hundred dollar bills. But what it can do is create money with a few keystrokes on a computer.

Money so created is called “fiat money” since it’s not backed by gold or anything else. The Fed currently prints the money to purchase $40 billion in mortgage backed securities and $45 billion in government bonds each month. The rationale for doing this is that it keeps interest rates low which is thought to be necessary to keep the economy humming.

Before the financial crisis of 2008-09, the Fed managed to keep interest rates low by adjusting the interest rate at which banks borrow overnight. But after the financial crisis, the Fed needed a more robust policy which is called Quantitative Easing or QE. This policy is mainly a giveaway to the big Wall Street banks to augment their reserves. The lack of sufficient reserves is thought to have been the problem that caused the financial crisis.

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