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The Animal Spirits Page: How monetary policy drives foreign policy

The Animal Spirits Page: How monetary policy drives foreign policy.

It should now be evident that America’s foreign policy is to an extent being driven by our banking mess. Again and again, we see Washington, including Wall Street’s handmaiden, the Fed, exporting monetary chaos implicitely in order to weaken the status of potentially competing reserve currencies:

  • Wall Street sent a tsunami of bad AAA-rated mortgage debt to Europe, much to Germany, the locus of power for the Euro (and again, implicit admission of guilt is seen in the apparent fronting of billions of bailout dollars to the European banks by the Fed after the crisis);
  • Washington has apparently fomented or supported a coup in the Ukraine that increases the likelihood of war in Europe dramatically therefore sending the gigantic pools of liquid financial assets in the world scurrying into the greenback and US Treasuries, which the Chinese have stopped gobbling up;
  • the other factor is that the military-industrial complex needs war to get its funding, and when drone-bombing rag-heads can’t provoke a serious attack, destabilizing a former Eastern bloc nation and provoking a somewhat justifiably paranoid Russian leader into military action guarantees at least a shot in the arm of crisis funding.

Russia has repeatedly stated over the past decades that an EU move on the Ukraine crosses a red line. The EU ignored the warning, and with the US’s help and the ire of Ukrainians sick of a corrupt government crossed Putin’s red line. What the Ukrainians want is democracy and relief from their corrupt plutocrats (see previous post’s article by Paul Craig Roberts).

The US has no compelling strategic interest in the Ukraine, or in the Crimea remaining part of the Ukraine. Yes, the Ukraine has been looted by its oligarchs, just as Russia was, and just as the US is being looted by its oligarchs right now; incomes of a majority of American households are falling so the banks can collect on bad debts. It would be nice for people everywhere if they could break the grip of the plutocrats over their livelihoods. In the Ukraine, to substitute debt servitude to Western banks for the domination of the oligarchs would only accelerate the collapse of the EU. And it’s not clear the EU, if it offers help, won’t be ripped off by the oligarchs as well. The new government in the Ukraine has already increased the power of the oligarchs by giving them provinces to rule, so it’s not clear the Western “rescuers” are even able to help solve the fundamental problem at all, and might end up losing their shirts again, as they have in Greece, Portugal, et al.

Until democratic governments around the world become strong enough to counteract the power of the plutocratsby taxing them, both their income and their wealth (as Sweden does) the revolving looting of sovereign governments and demolition of middle classes by the plutocrats and their corporations will continue.

A couple of posts ago I said the scariest thing I’ve heard recently was Catherine Anne Fitts saying what the world needs now is a global debt for equity swap. I should say I generally like Ms. Fitts’ analysis and suspect she may even have misspoken when she made this comment. Such a move would concentrate ownership of the world’s assets sufficiently to create even more of a Plantation Earth than we have currently.

She identified the problem, but not the solution. What the world needs now is a global jubilee, debt forgiveness. The debt that the Fed is shoving under the carpet via QE is what is known in banking circles as “bad debt.” It is loans that never should have been made because they will never be repaid. In honest not crony capitalism such debts come out of the profits (as losses) of the banks that made them. In crony capitalism, with a central bank controlled by the banks, such debts are “paid back” by being monetized and put on the backs of the taxpayers either directly or through inflation.

The austerity programs Europe has put in place so that Wall Street and European banks can be paid back bad debts have destroyed more than one economy and more are probably yet to fall. (The idea promoted ten plus years ago of “convergence” of interest rates in the EU between periphery and core caused me to gag at the time.) Debt slavery to Western banks is not the answer. (China is apparently making similar mistakes; it will be interesting to see what they do with the bad debt. I suspect their strong central government will tell the bankers to go stuff it.) Ms. Fitts suggests that sooner or later the plutocrats will destroy the banks in order to buy them cheap and collect the rents themselves, canny suggestion indeed.

Chaos in the world = a strong dollar. Until it doesn’t. Chaos has a way of being unpredictable.

Capitalism has killed democracy. “Free” markets dominated by monopolies and oligopolies are not what Adam Smith had in mind. It’s time for democracy to be reborn. There are degrees of economic inequality that are simply immoral and destructive and humankind has the right to reject them. When the top 85 families own as much as the bottom 3.5 billion people, as recently reported, we have reached such a point.

My letter to the NY Times re: The Lawless Fed – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada

My letter to the NY Times re: The Lawless Fed – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada.

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 by 

Re: Fed’s Aid in 2008 Crisis Stretched Worldwide

Dear Sirs:
Your article about the Fed’s actions in 2008 to lend $580 billion in so-called “swap lines” to central banks internationally sounds a note of triumphalism that is completely unwarranted.  The Fed had no authority to lend to these entities, despite its attempts to justify its action as lending against collateral.  In any regard, if the collateral against which the Fed lent dollars was so strong and, as your article states, the American taxpayers actually made money on the deal, why did the Fed need to get involved at all?  The obvious answer is that the Fed took an illegal risk that fortunately worked out.  New York Fed President Timothy Geithner’s chest puffing statement that “the privilege of being the reserve currency comes with some burdens” is especially troubling in that we may assume that in the future the Fed will engage in similar risky adventures.  One final note…what caused the 2008 crisis in the first place?  Your article identifies it perfectly: “The root cause of the problem was this: Global banks did lots of business in dollars–buying up United States mortgaged-backed securities,…”  And what initiated the massive issuance of these soon-to-be-worthless mortgaged-backed securities?  Fed money printing.  So, please, let’s not call the Fed a hero, when it really caused the crisis that led to its illegal actions.

Patrick Barron is a consultant to the banking industry. He teaches Austrian school economics at the University of Iowa and Bank Managemant Simulation for the Graduate School of Banking, University of Wisconsin. Visit his blog. Send him mail.

China Folds On Reforms – Bails Out 2nd Shadow-Banking Default After “Last Drop Of Blood” Threats | Zero Hedge

China Folds On Reforms – Bails Out 2nd Shadow-Banking Default After “Last Drop Of Blood” Threats | Zero Hedge.

As we showed over the weekend, it is abundantly clear that for all the talk of reform, Chinese authorities have found the gap between words and deeds uncrossable. First, Chinese authorities bailed out the relatively small CEG#1 Trust (for fear of contagion); second, the PBOC injects CNY 375 bn into short-term repo to save banks from a liquidity crisis at year-end; third, total social financing rose by the largest amount on record in January (despite all the talk of deleveraging following the Plenum); and now, fourth, thanks to a CNY 2bn loan (to an entirely insolvent coal company), Chinese authorities have bailed out a 2nd wealth-management product – this time even smaller.

We noted the “technical default” of Jilin Trust last week, and despite its de minimus size, China Development Bank loaned CNY 2bn to the verge-of-bankruptcy Liansheng coal company, and thus bailed out investors in the trust –  piling on the moral hazard.

The Jilin Trust default, as we noted last week, was the second notable ‘technical’ default among Chinese wealth management products recently and caused consternation among investors:

Investors in the Jilin Trust product are demanding that CCB also take responsibility for compensating investors, 21st Century Business Herald reported on Friday.

Bankers have warned that China’s lenders are exposed to vast swathes of loans extended by their non-bank partners and sold to bank clients as off-balance-sheet wealth management products. Though banks are not legally responsible for repaying investors in such cases, they may face pressure to do so in order to maintain their reputations and uphold social stability.

“A few days ago, we went looking for CCB. CCB’s leader in Shanxi still says it’s not his responsibility. In the end, if they really don’t take responsibility, we’ll go to CCB and fight a war to the last drop of blood,” the paper quoted an unnamed product investor as saying.

Investors told the paper that all paperwork and fund transfers related to their purchase of the Jilin Trust product had occurred on CCB’s premises and CCB sales staff had verbally assured investors that the product carried no risk. They also said their willingness to invest was based on their confidence in CCB as a large state-owned bank.

And so what do the Chinese authorities do? Instead of letting a small trust face actual losses, they do what JPMorgan warned would “amplify future losses”

Via Bloomberg,

China Development Bank lent 2b yuan to coal company Shanxi Liansheng, which owes almost 30b yuan to lenders including banks, trusts and asset management firms, 21st Century Business Herald reports, citing unidentified people.

The policy bank is the co.’s largest creditor, with 4.51b yuan in outstanding loans, the report says

The loan will be used to repay maturing trust products sold to retail investors: report

Three local firms will also pay 3b yuan to buy 50 percent of Liansheng, which is based in the northern province of Shanxi, the report says, without identifying cos buying stake

Funds from the stake sale will also be used to repay maturing trust products: report

Repayment of bank loans and single trusts will be delayed

Liansheng, the largest private coal miner in Shanxi, is owned by Chinese entrepreneur Xing Libin, according to the report

Liansheng borrowed more than 5b yuan through 6 Chinese trust firms including Jilin Province Trust and Chang’an Trust, China Securities Journal reports separately, citing unidentified people.

As a reminder, this is what one analyst said of the Chinese coal industry that just got yet another bailout:

Shares of China’s biggest listed coal producers have dropped to their lowest valuations on record as falling fuel prices make it harder to repay debt.

China’s coal industry is “dead,” said Laban Yu, a Jefferies Group LLC analyst in Hong Kong with an underperform rating on all three stocks. “There are 10,000 producers in China. A lot of them are taking on debt. It gets harder and harder to service debts when coal prices keep falling.

Of course, it’s not over yet – as the following chart shows, there are a lot more “maturing” trusts to come in the next 3 months alone…

Allowing investors to be bailed out merely exacerbates the risk-taking mentality and solidifies a belief in a government back-stop (to 10%-yielding highly risky loans to an insolvent industry!!)…

As we previously noted,

…borrowers are facing rising pressures for loan repayments in an environment of overcapacity and unprofitable investments. Unable to generate cash to service their loans, they have to turn to the shadow-banking sector for credit and avoid default. The result is an explosive growth of the size of the shadow-banking sector (now conservatively estimated to account for 20-30 percent of GDP).

Understandably, the PBOC does not look upon the shadow banking sector favorably. Since shadow-banking sector gets its short-term liquidity mainly through interbanking loans, the PBOC thought that it could put a painful squeeze on this sector through reducing liquidity. Apparently, the PBOC underestimated the effects of its measure. Largely because Chinese borrowers tend to cross-guarantee each other’s debt, squeezing even a relatively small number of borrowers could produce a cascade of default. The reaction in the credit market was thus almost instant and frightening. Borrowers facing imminent default are willing to borrow at any rate while banks with money are unwilling to loan it out no matter how attractive the terms are.

Should this situation continue, China’s real economy would suffer a nasty shock. Chain default would produce a paralyzing effect on economic activities even though there is no run on the banks. Clearly, this is not a prospect the CCP’s top leadership relishes.

So the PBOC’s efforts are merely exacerbating the situation for the worst companies…

Deutsche Bank: “We’ve Created A Global Debt Monster” | Zero Hedge

Deutsche Bank: “We’ve Created A Global Debt Monster” | Zero Hedge.

Two observations on the latest thoughts by Jim Reid (DB’s best strategist by orders of magnitude):

  1. He is far more concerned by what is going on in China than any of the other noise around the world. And rightfully so. As we first showed a few months ago, the money creation in China puts what all the other global central banks do to shame. Any slowdown in this credit creation and the wheels have no choice but to fall off, which also explains why even the tiniest default in this $9 trillion economy will be bailed out as it would risk an outright “flow” collapse.
  2. The Fed came, saw, and after realizing the mess it created with tapering – which can never be priced in now that the market is terminally addicted to the Fed’s liquidity injections – will soon do what we have said since the May 2013 “taper tantrum” would happen – untaper, and resume bailing out everyone.

Full note from Reid:

From all the stories that broke while I was away the most fascinating surely revolves around the Chinese Trust product that in the end wasn’t allowed to be at the mercy of market forces.For me it’s a microcosm of the fragility still present in global financial markets that a $9.0 trillion dollar economy – that will be the biggest in the world within the time frame of most of our careers – struggles to allow a $500 million investment product to default without there being market fears of it igniting panic in financial markets. This has now been a theme for the best part of 10-15 years in global financial markets particularly in the developed world but more recently the EM world since the GFC. We’ve created a global debt monster that’s now so big and so crucial to the workings of the financial system and economy that defaults have been increasingly minimised by uber aggressive policy responses. It’s arguably too late to change course now without huge consequences. This cycle perhaps started with very easy policy after the 97/98 EM crises thus kick starting the exponential rise in leverage across the globe. Since then we saw big corporates saved in the early 00s, financials towards the end of the decade and most recently Sovereigns bailed out. It’s been many, many years since free markets decided the fate of debt markets and bail-outs have generally had to get bigger and bigger.

 

This sounds negative but the reality is that for us it means that central banks have little option but to keep high levels of support for markets for as far as the eye can see and defaults will stay artificially low. As such we remain bullish for 2014. However it’s largely because we think the authorities are trapped for now rather than because the global financial system is healing rapidly. So as well as EM being very important for 2014, we continue to think the Fed taper pace is also very important. If the US economy was the only one in the world then maybe they could slowly taper without major consequences. However the world is fixated with US monetary policy and huge flows have traded off the back of QE and ZIRP so it does matter. We have suspicions that the Fed may have to be appreciative of the global beast they’ve helped create as the year progresses.

In other words: bullish… because the system will continue to collapse and need more bailouts. The Bizarro world Bernanke created truly is an exciting place.

On the Other Side of Collapse: Notes from the Island of Cyprus

On the Other Side of Collapse: Notes from the Island of Cyprus.

by Lakis Polycarpou, originally published by City of the Future  | TODAY

This is an interview with my cousin, Sofia Matsi. Sofia is a health campaigner, artist, permaculture designer and sustainability activist. She lives in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Last year, Sofia witnessed first hand the near complete collapse of the island’s economy–an event which culminated in a highly controversial bailout plan that included an unprecedented confiscation of up to 10 percent of customer bank deposits and the dismantling of the country’s banking industry.

The deal was the fifth Eurozone bailout in recent years–after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain–that was orchestrated by the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB), together called “the Troika” in Greek and Cypriot slang.

Cyprus has been de facto partitioned since 1974, when Turkey invaded and forced Greek Cypriots out of the northern part of the island. In 2004, Cyprus joined the Eurozone, in part as a way to protect the island from further Turkish aggression.

In this interview, Sofia talks about her experience of the crisis, her efforts to develop her father’s land as a permaculture site, and her work to help build “The Movement of Life,” an organization that promotes ecological sustainability, resilience and economic self-reliance for Cypriots.

LP:  Can you tell me about the situation right now in Cyprus? What is the mood of the people now? How has that changed in the past year?

SM:  Well, almost exactly a year ago we gave our first presentation as The Movement of Life here in Cyprus. At that time, those of us in the movement were aware of the danger of a financial crisis; there were new elections coming up, and along with that was the threat of committing Cyprus to the Troika plan.  And that was going to happen with the elections in mid-February.

So we were rushing around, trying to figure out what was going to happen, what the outcome would be. What eventually ended up happening is that we were told as a nation to listen to what Troika was saying. And what Troika was proposing was a huge loan, and we wouldn’t really understand where would that end.

So that brought us to the bailout announcements in March. Some people were surprised, but those of us in the Movement of Life, were already talking about these things.

After that, though, the bailout gave a big push to many, many groups in Cyprus who wanted to to be more independent and self-sufficient. It gave power to groups that were already thinking of working in this direction, like people who were saving seeds, people who had always wanted to start organic farming.

So things started popping up from this — lectures were happening all summer long, lectures on how to create your own organic farm, worm composting, and stuff like that. As a team, we decided to get more practical, and stop just lecturing people, and demonstrating how to. How to compost, how to do worm composting, how to do the seed saving.

What we observed is that before the bailout announcements, people were not so interested. People were like, “yeah, oh well, you’re saying what you’re saying, but I don’t think it affects me, and I don’t think it matters.”

But then after, we saw increased interest from people. People wanted more, wanted to be more independent and self-sufficient. Again, there’s a huge segment of the population who don’t really realize, even now, that there’s a tremendous need to be more independent as Cypriot citizens, and we cannot depend on the lifestyles we had before. Plenty of people keep going with that same lifestyle, but I think the majority, if not all of us, realize that we are in a very tight situation, financially at least.

What’s been the impact of the financial crisis on you and your family?

Well, that’s … a bit strange also. I don’t know if others from the States have heard my family’s news, but what changed for us was that we started realizing — personally, I started realizing–that we cannot maintain the same lifestyle as before.

When the bailout announcement was made, the banks were closed for 10 days. That meant that cash flow got very tight, there were fewer and fewer products at the supermarket, so we started wondering, what does it mean to be sustainable? We couldn’t produce anything at home. Personally, that filled me with panic at that point. Because I realized, I don’t have anything to eat, I don’t produce anything, and I can’t trade anything with anyone.

So that made me want to be more resilient, more independent. And talking to my parents, they also slowly started understanding what was behind this idea of becoming more independent, so permaculture came into the mix. Permaculture was in my life as a concept, but at that point it became more of a need, to learn practically more about permaculture, because it seemed like a very good answer for many of the problems.

So I started searching for workshops [for a permaculture design course], I found one, I talked to you, we narrowed down some options, and I ended up taking a course in Greece. My dad did the same; after I came back, he was convinced that this was a very good solution for the future, because we decided that the land that we have as a family, could be utilized. And why not start very well from the beginning?

Just to be clear, this is land that from your father’s side of the family, in the foothills …

And my mom. My mom has a field in Vysakia. So that land is sitting there, nobody’s using it. There are people who’s biggest problem is that they don’t have the land. So at least we don’t have that challenge. We only have the challenge of getting started!

So yeah, we understood — I personally realized — that we cannot maintain the same lifestyles as before.

And it’s not random. If I had a big job, if I had a big career job, then I would probably not be thinking that way. But I’ve been back from [graduate school in] the US for the three years, and I have been doing like three jobs in order to survive and it’s been exhausting. And I realized, there is no potential. And this was before the crisis. I don’t see any potential in big career jobs for us at this point. It doesn’t matter how many Ph’ds or how many Masters you have. That won’t get you anywhere. I’ve asked for a job, I’ve sent my CV out repeatedly. Every time the semester changed, I would send my CV to local colleges and universities and ask for an art position job, but things weren’t moving. And I realized that must be for a reason also.

Sofia and crew with their recently built greenhouse
Sofia and crew with their recently built greenhouse

So how’s it going with the land? What have you done so far? What do you plan to produce?

Ideally, we would like to produce as many things as we can fit on that land. That would be like a food forest, seasonal vegetables — and because we have space, we would like to make an income out of that. We would ideally like to live off of what we make.

Do you know how much land it is?

It’s 7.5 hectares (about 18 acres).

That’s a good sized piece of land. I imagine a lot of people in Cyprus have some land. In the last generation, both of your parents grew up in villages where people farmed a lot as part of their livelihood. So people in Cyprus do have land. Maybe not everybody.

Yeah, I think most of families have at least a piece of land that they can use. It’s not like other countries where people live in the city and they have no contact with an open piece of land that they can use. That’s not the case with us in Cyprus.

Sofia’s father Alexis working the compost pile
Sofia’s father Alexis working the compost pile. Photo by Sofia Matsi.

So in a way, something like permaculture is particularly useful in Cyprus.

I think so, yeah! I think that it actually makes sense on a big scale. Of course permaculture could make sense in a cityscape too because you can do more collaborative projects in urban spaces. But it actually makes a lot of sense here, because there’s a lot of land that it could be applied to.

I have a lot of memories of  Cyprus, from when we used to go back to visit. There are certain traditional attitudes and  practices there that we’re trying to rediscover in the United States, like the importance of local food, and planting productive trees — I remember the one time our grandparents came to the United States, our grandfather wondered why no one planted  productive trees. In Cyprus people plant olive trees, they plant lemon trees, it’s part of the culture. Do you think that permaculture and other sustainability ideals have an easier sell in a place like Cyprus?

I would say yes. I would say compared to other countries, we are very close to what our grandparents used to do. So functional is a part of our daily life. We have lemon trees and olive trees right down in front of the house over here. What I was sadly observing today though was that I passed by many neighborhoods and I kept seeing unpicked mandarins. It was all over the place, mandarins, mandarins, or orange trees, and they were full of fruit. That’s not a good sign! At least the fruit should be disappearing a bit, every time I pass by, but it seems like it’s the same! So the functional tree is there, but people don’t really care about it.

At least it’s there. Because it takes a lot of years to grow a tree.

Definitely. But that is also a sign that we’re don’t yet have serious hunger problems. That’s why those trees are full of fruit. Slowly, if we really had a problem, those would be utilized.

Last week you were telling me about the impact of the crisis on people’s lives– that at the beginning the media presented it  like a horror movie, but after the bailout there was almost a news blackout, even as people were losing their jobs.

It seems really strange. At the beginning they told us if we didn’t sign the Troika agreement, we were gonna, you know, go without food, we wouldn’t have anything to sustain our country, we would lose everything. And so, they said, we needed to sign those agreements in order to survive.

Now we’ve signed those agreements, and taken steps toward those “logical” solutions. And people have been losing their jobs, ever since, continuously. Nothing has improved on that side. We do have food, now of course. The tragic scenario of not having food because everything is imported in Cyprus, that we don’t produce almost anything, that we cannot sustain our country — those threats were, thankfully, solved, at least in some peoples’ minds.

But actually the situation has another face, that’s slowly leading us in that direction. We are losing our jobs at this point, and we don’t even know what to do with our spare time, because we’re not trained. We’re not trained to use the land, we’re not trained to survive. And we’re not told that that’s something that would be good to do.

The government is not really supporting … even though I have seen that the government now at least has a sponsorship for young farmers. So that’s good news at this point. Pushing that way, at least. No more lawyers, teachers, all of these people who are now unemployed. We need people who know how to do useful things.

Can you tell me about the heirloom seed movement?

We have a local group, it’s called Kyprianou Sporoi, which means Cypriot Seeds. And they are active in saving heirloom seeds from their grandparents, uncles, whoever wants to offer seed to them. They first check whether the seeds are valid–they do it with this test of repeating cycles of growth, and when the product comes out the same two consecutive times, then they know it’s traditional.

seedsaving
Traditional seed saving and exchange. Photo by The Movement of Life

They’ve been active with this silently, but after last year, they came out much stronger, with more focus on creating collective gardens, community gardens in schools, showing people how to be more independent. And they always use their own seeds. They never use hybrid seeds.

We are lucky that we had the chance to collaborate with the largest heirloom seed group in Greece, Peliti. They came and gave us a good solid knowledge of the importance of saving seeds. Because we knew it was important but we didn’t have enough knowledge.

In the past, other local teams had planted community gardens, but with no thought of the seeds they were using; they were just buying plants, ready-made, from nurseries. Now, at least, all of the teams admit that it was a mistake to use all of those hybrids, now we know that we need to return to our traditional seeds. We actually had a meeting today and we talked about how important it is to start finding traditional seeds in Cyprus, saving them and learning how to reproduce them.

So, yeah, it’s an effort, and it’s a whole campaign to convince people — not to convince, but more to make them more sensitive on this part.

To raise awareness.

It’s only a matter of realizing how important it is to not be taken advantage of by the big corporations that sell you seeds to keep you dependent on them. I think it only takes an hour or so for people to understand how urgent this matter is. I think we have made a huge step in making people more sensitive about this.

Winter lettuce in the greenhouse. Photo by Sofia Matsi
Winter vegetables in the greenhouse. Photo by Sofia Matsi

Can you tell me more about the Movement of Life?

I was involved in activating the movement. It’s like, say, the Transition Movement, which is a good theory, it says a lot on the need to change, but if someone doesn’t actually do something about it in their own towns, you can’t really grasp what is the Transition Movement about.

So that’s what we did in Cyprus. The Movement of Life was a good concept, it had a good goal, but nothing was happening, so we felt the need to activate it. We started with a few lectures, and then we started being more practical, with workshops and stuff.

What was the movement’s initial goal?

The original goal was to fight for food for all, water for all, energy for all, sustainable energy, unpatented water; food for all means organic, safe food, non genetically modified, so it’s all those matters that we’re worried about …

I guess what I’m getting at is: Was that connection between financial problems sustainability always there in the movement?

As a concept it was. And we know that we’re not the only movement, and that’ s not the goal, anyway. We just try to act through an organized structure. And then from there on we join other movements so we can have our job done. So we can learn more things. We bring specialists in so they can talk to us about such and such, and I think they also appreciate our more organized action here in Cyprus.

Do you have any last thoughts?

I believe that — what I personally understand, at this point–is that the power to change things is in the hands of each individual. We have the power. Before I was panicking and thinking “it’s all about our politicians, it’s all about the decision makers.”

But at this point, I really feel that we can shift things around. And we have the power. Each individual has the power to control and to change and to demand things. I believe that tools such as permaculture can give you the knowledge and confidence to demand changes.

I do really believe that while we might be unemployed as young people here in Cyprus, while we might be ignored, while we might not have the funds for the desired lifestyle that our parents started living …  I believe that’s also a blessing.

I have been observing Greece a lot lately, and I’ve felt really fortunate to see how many young people react to this crisis in Greece. Many of them stick around Athens, they stick around, living miserable, routine lives, with no cash and working all day long.

But at the same time, you observe these professionals, very hard working young people creating societies from scratch, like the Free and Real. They made an entire community out of nothing. They make their own buildings, they’re engineers, designers, yoga instructors, all the specialties, and they all now live together very professionally and they thrive! They thrive without money, they thrive without anyone having to give them employment! So I feel very optimistic that this crisis/opportunity is actually a gift to us young people who actually want to change things. Because if things were given to us comfortably and with luxury, I don’t think we would easily comprehend the need for change. So, yeah, I think it’s a gift, at this point!

Russia Threatens With Pulling Bailout As Ukraine Government Resigns | Zero Hedge

Russia Threatens With Pulling Bailout As Ukraine Government Resigns | Zero Hedge.

Mykola Azurov, the prime minister of Ukraine, (and his cabinet) has resigned. The move comes as the government faced losing a no confidence vote and being stripped off their power. It seems the opposition (pro-Europe) are gaining momentum once again as the Ukraine also repealed the controversial anti-protest laws that created more tension last week. The Russians are not amused and have warned that they may reconsider the $15 billion bailout offer if the current government is removed. The Ukrainian Hryvnia is continuing its collapse on this news and has dropped towards record lows (though bonds are rallying).

The opposition is clearly gaining momentum…

Mykola Azarov, the prime minister of Ukraine, submitted his resignation on Tuesday hours before he risked being stripped of his powers in a vote of no confidence in Parliament.His offer to quit was the latest sign of the building momentum of the opposition in the ongoing crisis.

In another concession to the opposition, the pro-government political party in Parliament, the Party of Regions, voted together with the opposition to repeal most of the laws in a package of rules limiting free speech and assembly the lawmakers had passed just a week earlier.

One elderly woman in a kerchief giddily told the Ukrainian channel 5 television after Mr. Azarov’s resignation, “Thank God you heard us!”

But the Russians are not happy (via WSJ):

Russia may reconsider its $15 billion bailout offer to Ukraine if the current government is removed, a senior official said Tuesday, hours after Ukraine’s prime minister offered his resignation in an effort to calm a growing protest movement. “There is no decision yet, but it is self-evident,” that further distributions of the loan would be reviewed if the government of Mykola Azarov was to be dissolved, the official said speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, this is far from over…

Opposition leaders have so far called the president’s concessions “too little too late,” and appear to be in no mood to compromise with him as protesters have seized government buildings in the west and center of the country.

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Bailout Architect Runs For California Governor; World Laughs | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

I want to apologize for this space being blank for quite some time. I actually spent the bulk of the last two days on a long blog post about the “Dr. V.” story in Grantland. But then I got all the way to the end, and realized I was completely wrong about the entire thing.

So, I spiked my own piece. Now I’ve been in Talk Radio-style “This is totally dead air, Barry” territory for about two weeks. I could swear I saw a cobweb when I logged on this morning.

So thank God for Neel Kashkari, and the news that this goofball footnote caricature of the bailout era has decided to run for Governor of California. Never in history has there been an easier subject for a blog post.

If you don’t remember Kashkari’s name, you might be excused – he was actually better known, in his 15 minutes of fame five years ago, as “The 35 year-old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars.”

Now you remember. That guy! Neel Kashkari when he first entered the world of politics was a line item, usually the last entry in a list of ex-Goldman employees handed prominent government and/or regulatory positions, as in, “. . . and, lastly, Neel Kashkari, the heretofore unknown Goldman banker put in charge of the TARP bailout program . . .”

Kashkari was not just a former Goldman banker handed a high government post – he was a former Goldman banker handed a high government post by a former Goldman banker, in this case former Goldman CEO and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

Neel was also the human parallel to the original TARP proposal written by Paulson, which was famously just three pages long.

Paulson’s TARP proposal was essentially the last, unaired episode of Beavis and Butthead,with the three pages of script just containing a single scene in which Butthead walks into the U.S. Senate and says, “Can you, uh, like, give us 700 billion dollars? Uh-huh-huh.”

Kashkari then was more or less an equally blank slate, a little-known tech banker from Goldman’s San Francisco office who somehow ended up being Paulson’s choice to administer a bailout that Paulson wanted to feature no oversight whatsoever. The original three-page proposal specified no review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

It never came to that, not exactly – Paulson had to expand his three-page proposal – but it’s worth remembering now that the Treasury’s original plan for the bailout was to give literally unlimited powers to distribute $700 billion of taxpayer money to a low-level banker that prior to 2006, even Hank Paulson had never heard of.

So Kashkari takes the job as bailout czar and starts hurling fistfuls of cash at the banks, in a fashion that turned out later to have been beyond haphazard. Critically, even though the Treasury promised only to give out TARP funds to institutions that were “healthy” and “viable,” Kashkari had no protocol in place to even decide whether a bailout recipient was solvent or not.

They forked over billions in cash to failing institutions and then failed to enforce crucial provisions, like for instance measures put in place to prevent executives from bailout-out companies from giving themselves huge bonuses.

This latter failure was what led to one of Kashkari’s more infamous public appearances, in which Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings raked Kashkari over the coals for allowing AIG executives to give themselves $503 million in bonuses. “I wouldn’t want to be asking my friend for some money to stay afloat,” hissed Cummings. “Then my friend, who can barely afford to go to McDonald’s, sees me in a restaurant costing $150 a meal. There’s absolutely something wrong with that picture!” He added:

I’m just wondering how you feel about an AIG giving $503 million worth of bonuses on the one hand, and accepting $154 billion from hard-working taxpayers. You know, because I’m trying to make sure you get it. What really bothers me is all these other people who are lined up. They say, well, is Kashkari a chump?

After this “chump” episode, and others, Kashkari apparently became despondent. He and his wife reportedly were particularly upset by a snickering item in GawkerThe item read, “Financial Crisis Taking a Toll on Our Favorite Asshole Banker,” and made the neatly cruel observation that that Kashkari, who was a fit/lean/bald banker of Paulsonian persuasion when he arrived in Washington, had begun “putting on classic stress-related weight under his chin.”

The item featured before and after photos. The “after” photo was shot from just below chin level. It was brutal.

Now, a lot of people have been ripped in Gawker. I think everyone with a Q rating above 0.00003 has been ripped in Gawker. I personally remember having to Google-image Peter Beinart because Gawker described me as looking like the computer-generated love child of Beinart and Ashton Kutcher. It’s an Internet-age rite of passage and they give great service – I mean, Gawker’s insults are almost always really good. Probably most people who get ripped on the site flip out at first, and then laugh about it later.

Not Kashkari. He was so mortified by items like the Gawker bit that he literally disappeared into the woods like Ted Kaczynski and committed himself to a vengefully ascetic fitness regimen, apparently determined to return someday to society and have the last word.

This is not a joke. The Washington Post actually tracked Kashkari down in the woods after the bailouts. They photographed the tiny shed he’d built for himself in Nevada County, California. They were shown the incredible list-of-things-to-do he’d written on his way out of Washington. I have to keep repeating this, but this isn’t a joke:

1. buy shed
2. chop wood
3. lose twenty pounds
4. help with Hank’s book

The Post was then invited to watch as Kashkari lived out his hilarious homage to Rocky IV,getting in shape by his lonesome in the woods, fiercely splitting log after log with an ax, recalling a past slight with each blow:

Kashkari raises his ax.

“It felt like I got jumped.”

“Like three guys beat the crap out of me.”

Whack, whack.

The massive block of sugar pine breaks, the crack bouncing off the mountain.

Kashkari is recalling his testimony before Congress, while splitting logs to feed the stove for the winter. He is down to his last two chain-sawed trees.

“Members of Congress will tell you they agree with you, and then in public they blast you. I understand their anger, but the playing at politics when so much was at stake — ”

Whack. The ax blade flies off its wooden handle.

After enough of this, there was no more stress-related neck-jelly, no sir!

Kashkari, in shape again, soon-re-entered the finance world, taking a high-profile job with the bond fund PIMCO, run by notorious Wall Street insider Bill Gross.

The new choice of employer was significant because as numerous critics havesubsequently pointed out, PIMCO was one of the major beneficiaries of the government’s rescue of Wall Street. In December 2008, the Fed hired PIMCO to be one of four investment firms put in charge of managing a Fed program to buy up the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were threatening to tank the economy at the time.

Gross, at the time, warned that the government would have to “open up the balance sheet of the U.S. Treasury” (i.e. the state would need to cough up taxpayer money) in order to prevent “continuing asset and debt liquidation” (to prevent Wall Street jerks from being blown up by their own bad bets). Conveniently, Bill Gross and PIMCO happened to be sitting on $500 million of mortgage-backed holdings at the time. Which meant, as Babson College professor Peter Cohan put it:

Bill Gross, who manages $830 billion, has convinced the U.S. Treasury to use your taxpayer dollars to bail him out of his bad investments.

So Neel Kashkari was the administrator of the biggest corporate welfare program in history, took shit for it (“Beating on the Hill,” he would pencil for certain times in his calendar), went into the wilderness to get his mind and body right after the experience, then re-emerged to take a high-paying job with a company that was a significant beneficiary of government largesse.

While at PIMCO, Kashkari dipped a little toe in the lake of politics once again by penning aneditorial for the Post (“No more me-first mentality on entitlements,” July, 2010) denouncing government aid programs. He argued – and again, this is no more a joke than the Rocky-IV-cabin-in-the-woods thing was – that even though we have an economy successfully founded on self-interest, accepting government benefits, by which one assumes he means things like Medicare, is the wrong kind of selfish:

Our belief in free markets is founded on the idea that each individual acting in his or her self-interest will lead to a superior outcome for the whole. The financial crisis has reminded us that free markets are not perfect — but they do allocate capital better than any other system we know. A “me first” mentality usually makes markets more efficient.

But this “me first” mentality can also lead to shortsighted political decision making . . .

Kashkari’s solution? People who accept government benefits should take the long view and just say no:

Cutting entitlement spending requires us to think beyond what is in our own immediate self-interest. But it also runs against our sense of fairness: We have, after all, paid for entitlements for earlier generations. Is it now fair to cut my benefits? No, it isn’t. But if we don’t focus on our collective good, all of us will suffer.

Again, this came from a guy who handed out hundreds of billions of dollars of welfare to Wall Street companies, effectively subsidizing the massive compensation packages of Wall Street executives. This same person then went to work for a company that got a fat government contract to help other Wall Street investors unload their bonehead investments on the taxpayer.

Then, after all that rescue money disappeared, Kashkari made the interesting observation that there was not enough left over to pay benefits for other people. So, he effectively said to Americans on benefits, stop being so selfish. Tighten your belts. All of us will suffer otherwise.

This is the person who has now decided to run for Governor of California. It seems Jerry Brown has become his own personal Dolph Lundgren. A friend of mine sent me the news by email and suggested I say nothing at all about his decision, other than to post the headline above the following clip:

Kashkari’s platform seems to be centered around restoring jobs and schools, but also seems targeted at waste – he called Jerry Brown’s $68 billion high-speed rail project a “crazy train” and said it reflected “misplaced priorities.”

Humorously, and predictably, Kashkari’s campaign has already sprouted serious leaks. It turns out he has a somewhat spotty voting record (I do, too, to be honest, but I’m not running for governor), and he’s already had to acknowledge publicly that he has not always voted – although, he says, “I believe voting is very important.”

The Kashkari story is a perfect little allegory about the arrogance and cluelessness of the people who run the American economy. Kashkari talks passionately about free markets, forgetting that he was the individual who was actually in charge of the biggest-in-American-history government program to subvert the free market, bailing out countless institutions that should otherwise have gone out of business due to their own incompetence and corruption.

He talks about how the “free markets” allocate capital better than any system we have, but then again he was the person who had to step in when that system failed and institute a different system of capital allocation, one in which public treasure was unorganically re-allocated from taxpayers to private companies. His complaints about “misplaced priorities” are almost beneath comment – there’s just not much to say about someone who committed public funds to million-dollar bonuses but believes regular people accepting government benefits have a “me-first” mentality.

Anyway, having this guy run for public office is like a gift from the blogging gods. How funny will this get? Will this one go to 11?  I’m taking the over.

THE RETAIL DEATH RATTLE « The Burning Platform

THE RETAIL DEATH RATTLE « The Burning Platform.

“I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” ― Emile Gauvreau

 

 

If ever a chart provided unequivocal proof the economic recovery storyline is a fraud, the one below is the smoking gun. November and December retail sales account for 20% to 40% of annual retail sales for most retailers. The number of visits to retail stores has plummeted by 50% since 2010. Please note this was during a supposed economic recovery. Also note consumer spending accounts for 70% of GDP. Also note credit card debt outstanding is 7% lower than its level in 2010 and 16% below its peak in 2008. Retailers like J.C. Penney, Best Buy, Sears, Radio Shack and Barnes & Noble continue to report appalling sales and profit results, along with listings of store closings. Even the heavyweights like Wal-Mart and Target continue to report negative comp store sales. How can the government and mainstream media be reporting an economic recovery when the industry that accounts for 70% of GDP is in free fall? The answer is that 99% of America has not had an economic recovery. Only Bernanke’s 1% owner class have benefited from his QE/ZIRP induced stock market levitation.

 

 

The entire economic recovery storyline is a sham built upon easy money funneled by the Fed to the Too Big To Trust Wall Street banks so they can use their HFT supercomputers to drive the stock market higher, buy up the millions of homes they foreclosed upon to artificially drive up home prices, and generate profits through rigging commodity, currency, and bond markets, while reducing loan loss reserves because they are free to value their toxic assets at anything they please – compliments of the spineless nerds at the FASB. GDP has been artificially propped up by the Federal government through the magic of EBT cards, SSDI for the depressed and downtrodden, never ending extensions of unemployment benefits, billions in student loans to University of Phoenix prodigies, and subprime auto loans to deadbeats from the Government Motors financing arm – Ally Financial (85% owned by you the taxpayer). The country is being kept afloat on an ocean of debt and delusional belief in the power of central bankers to steer this ship through a sea of icebergs just below the surface.

 

The absolute collapse in retail visitor counts is the warning siren that this country is about to collide with the reality Americans have run out of time, money, jobs, and illusions. The most amazingly delusional aspect to the chart above is retailers continued to add 44 million square feet in 2013 to the almost 15 billion existing square feet of retail space in the U.S. That is approximately 47 square feet of retail space for every person in America. Retail CEOs are not the brightest bulbs in the sale bin, as exhibited by the CEO of Target and his gross malfeasance in protecting his customers’ personal financial information. Of course, the 44 million square feet added in 2013 is down 85% from the annual increases from 2000 through 2008. The exponential growth model, built upon a never ending flow of consumer credit and an endless supply of cheap fuel, has reached its limit of growth. The titans of Wall Street and their puppets in Washington D.C. have wrung every drop of faux wealth from the dying middle class. There are nothing left but withering carcasses and bleached bones.

 

The impact of this retail death spiral will be vast and far reaching. A few factoids will help you understand the coming calamity:

  • There are approximately 109,500 shopping centers in the United States ranging in size from the small convenience centers to the large super-regional malls.
  • There are in excess of 1 million retail establishments in the United States occupying 15 billion square feet of space and generating over $4.4 trillion of annual sales. This includes 8,700 department stores, 160,000 clothing & accessory stores, and 8,600 game stores.
  • U.S. shopping-center retail sales total more than $2.26 trillion, accounting for over half of all retail sales.
  • The U.S. shopping-center industry directly employed over 12 million people in 2010 and indirectly generated another 5.6 million jobs in support industries. Collectively, the industry accounted for 12.7% of total U.S. employment.
  • Total retail employment in 2012 totaled 14.9 million, lower than the 15.1 million employed in 2002.
  • For every 100 individuals directly employed at a U.S. regional shopping center, an additional 20 to 30 jobs are supported in the community due to multiplier effects.

 

The collapse in foot traffic to the 109,500 shopping centers that crisscross our suburban sprawl paradise of plenty is irreversible. No amount of marketing propaganda, 50% off sales, or hot new iGadgets is going to spur a dramatic turnaround. Quarter after quarter there will be more announcements of store closings. Macys just announced the closing of 5 stores and firing of 2,500 retail workers. JC Penney just announced the closing of 33 stores and firing of 2,000 retail workers. Announcements are imminent from Sears, Radio Shack and a slew of other retailers who are beginning to see the writing on the wall. The vacancy rate will be rising in strip malls, power malls and regional malls, with the largest growing sector being ghost malls. Before long it will appear that SPACE AVAILABLE is the fastest growing retailer in America.

 

The reason this death spiral cannot be reversed is simply a matter of arithmetic and demographics. While arrogant hubristic retail CEOs of public big box mega-retailers added 2.7 billion retail square feet to our already over saturated market, real median household income flat lined. The advancement in retail spending was attributable solely to the $1.1 trillion increase (68%) in consumer debt and the trillion dollars of home equity extracted from castles in the sky, that later crashed down to earth. Once the Wall Street created fraud collapsed and the waves of delusion subsided, retailers have been revealed to be swimming naked. Their relentless expansion, based on exponential growth, cannibalized itself, new store construction ground to a halt, sales and profits have declined, and the inevitable closing of thousands of stores has begun. With real median household income 8% lower than it was in 2008, the collapse in retail traffic is a rational reaction by the impoverished 99%. Americans are using their credit cards to pay their real estate taxes, income taxes, and monthly utilities, since their income is lower, and their living expenses rise relentlessly, thanks to Bernanke and his Fed created inflation.

The media mouthpieces for the establishment gloss over the fact average gasoline prices in 2013 were the second highest in history. The highest average price was in 2012 and the 3rd highest average price was in 2011. These prices are 150% higher than prices in the early 2000′s. This might not matter to the likes of Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine, but for a middle class family with two parents working and making 7.5% less than they made in 2000, it has a dramatic impact on discretionary income. The fact oil prices have risen from $25 per barrel in 2003 to $100 per barrel today has not only impacted gas prices, but utility costs, food costs, and the price of any product that needs to be transported to your local Wally World. The outrageous rise in tuition prices has been aided and abetted by the Federal government and their doling out of loans so diploma mills like the University of Phoenix can bilk clueless dupes into thinking they are on their way to an exciting new career, while leaving them jobless in their parents’ basement with a loan payment for life.

 

The laughable jobs recovery touted by Obama, his sycophantic minions, paid off economist shills, and the discredited corporate legacy media can be viewed appropriately in the following two charts, that reveal the false storyline being peddled to the techno-narcissistic iGadget distracted masses. There are 247 million working age Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. Only 145 million of these people are employed. Of these employed, 19 million are working part-time and 9 million are self- employed. Another 20 million are employed by the government, producing nothing and being sustained by the few remaining producers with their tax dollars. The labor participation rate is the lowest it has been since women entered the workforce in large numbers during the 1980′s. We are back to levels seen during the booming Carter years. Those peddling the drivel about retiring Baby Boomers causing the decline in the labor participation rate are either math challenged or willfully ignorant because they are being paid to be so. Once you turn 65 you are no longer counted in the work force. The percentage of those over 55 in the workforce has risen dramatically to an all-time high, as the Me Generation never saved for retirement or saw their retirement savings obliterated in the Wall Street created 2008 financial implosion.

 

To understand the absolute idiocy of retail CEOs across the land one must parse the employment data back to 2000. In the year 2000 the working age population of the U.S. was 213 million and 136.9 million of them were working, a record level of 64.4% of the population. There were 70 million working age Americans not in the labor force. Fourteen years later the number of working age Americans is 247 million and only 144.6 million are working. The working age population has risen by 16% and the number of employed has risen by only 5.6%. That’s quite a success story. Of course, even though median household income is 7.5% lower than it was in 2000, the government expects you to believe that 22 million Americans voluntarily left the labor force because they no longer needed a job. While the number of employed grew by 5.6% over fourteen years, the number of people who left the workforce grew by 31.1%. Over this same time frame the mega-retailers that dominate the landscape added almost 3 billion square feet of selling space, a 25% increase. A critical thinking individual might wonder how this could possibly end well for the retail genius CEOs in glistening corporate office towers from coast to coast.

 

This entire materialistic orgy of consumerism has been sustained solely with debt peddled by the Wall Street banking syndicate. The average American consumer met their Waterloo in 2008. Bernanke’s mission was to save bankers, billionaires and politicians. It was not to save the working middle class. You’ve been sacrificed at the altar of the .1%. The 0% interest rates were for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein. Your credit card interest rate remained between 13% and 21%. So, while you struggle to pay bills with your declining real income, the Wall Street bankers are again generating record profits and paying themselves record bonuses. Profits are so good, they can afford to pay tens of billions in fines for their criminal acts, and still be left with billions to divvy up among their non-prosecuted criminal executives.

Bernanke and his financial elite owners have been able to rig the markets to give the appearance of normalcy, but they cannot rig the demographic time bomb that will cause the death and destruction of our illusory retail paradigm. Demographics cannot be manipulated or altered by the government or mass media. The best they can do is ignore or lie about the facts. The life cycle of a human being is utterly predictable, along with their habits across time. Those under 25 years old have very little income, therefore they have very little spending. Once a job is attained and income levels rise, spending rises along with the increased income. As the person enters old age their income declines and spending on stuff declines rapidly. The media may be ignoring the fact that annual expenditures drop by 40% for those over 65 years old from the peak spending years of 45 to 54, but it doesn’t change the fact. They also cannot change the fact that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day for the next sixteen years. They also can’t change the fact the average Baby Boomer has less than $50,000 saved for retirement and is up to their grey eye brows in debt.

 

With over 15% of all 25 to 34 year olds living in their parents’ basement and those under 25 saddled with billions in student loan debt, the traditional increase in income and spending is DOA for the millennial generation. The hardest hit demographic on the job front during the 2008 through 2014 ongoing recession has been the 45 to 54 year olds in their peak earning and spending years. Combine these demographic developments and you’ve got a perfect storm for over-built retailers and their egotistical CEOs.

The media continues to peddle the storyline of on-line sales saving the ancient bricks and mortar retailers. Again, the talking head pundits are willfully ignoring basic math. On-line sales account for 6% of total retail sales. If a dying behemoth like JC Penney announces a 20% decline in same store sales and a 20% increase in on-line sales, their total change is still negative 17.6%. And they are still left with 1,100 decaying stores, 100,000 employees, lease payments, debt payments, maintenance costs, utility costs, inventory costs, and pension costs. Their future is so bright they gotta wear a toe tag.

The decades of mal-investment in retail stores was enabled by Greenspan, Bernanke, and their Federal Reserve brethren. Their easy money policies enabled Americans to live far beyond their true means through credit card debt, auto debt, mortgage debt, and home equity debt. This false illusion of wealth and foolish spending led mega-retailers to ignore facts and spread like locusts across the suburban countryside. The debt fueled orgy has run out of steam. All that is left is the largest mountain of debt in human history, a gutted and debt laden former middle class, and thousands of empty stores in future decaying ghost malls haunting the highways and byways of suburbia.

The implications of this long and winding road to ruin are far reaching. Store closings so far have only been a ripple compared to the tsunami coming to right size the industry for a future of declining spending. Over the next five to ten years, tens of thousands of stores will be shuttered. Companies like JC Penney, Sears and Radio Shack will go bankrupt and become historical footnotes. Considering retail employment is lower today than it was in 2002 before the massive retail expansion, the future will see in excess of 1 million retail workers lose their jobs. Bernanke and the Feds have allowed real estate mall owners to roll over non-performing loans and pretend they are generating enough rental income to cover their loan obligations. As more stores go dark, this little game of extend and pretend will come to an end. Real estate developers will be going belly-up and the banking sector will be taking huge losses again. I’m sure the remaining taxpayers will gladly bailout Wall Street again. The facts are not debatable. They can be ignored by the politicians, Ivy League economists, media talking heads, and the willfully ignorant masses, but they do not cease to exist.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

 

Bailed-Out Euro Nations Expect Painful Challenges to Remain – Bloomberg

Bailed-Out Euro Nations Expect Painful Challenges to Remain – Bloomberg.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
Adjustment in Greece, after four years of cuts and efforts to make the economy more competitive, has come at “an extremely high socioeconomic cost,” Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said.

Bailed-out euro-area countries are facing “painful” challenges with worse-than-anticipated consequences of economic adjustment, including high unemployment and slow growth, central banks and finance ministries said.

Officials and ministers from Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, in responses to European Union lawmaker questions published yesterday, described how their countries’ emergency aid had been followed by social hardship and continuing economic difficulties.

The bailout program had a “worse-than-expected impact on both output and employment,” Portugal’s finance ministry said. The program in Cyprus was “rigorous and painful,” according to the island’s central bank. Adjustment in Greece, after four years of cuts and efforts to make the economy more competitive, has come at “an extremely high socioeconomic cost,” Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said.

The testimonies come three-and-a-half years after Greece became the first euro-area country to be bailed out, using EU and International Monetary Fund loans. Since then the German-led path of aid in return for reforms and debt cuts has seen 396 billion euros ($538 billion) committed to the region’s four most fragile economies, with an additional 100 billion euros pledged for Spain’s banking sector. The bloc has endured the longest recession in its history and unemployment has reached record levels.

Bond Rally

Government bonds in the euro-area’s most indebted nations have rallied this year, pushing Portugal and Ireland’s 10-year yields to the lowest since 2010 and 2006 respectively, as recovery sign’s in the region have boosted demand for higher-yielding debt.

Portugal expects to restart bond auctions in the first half of 2014, its debt agency said yesterday, after selling one-year bills at the lowest yield since November 2009. Greece’s Stournaras said last week that the government may sell five-year notes in the second half of the year, for the first time since being shut out of the bond markets in 2010. It would follow Ireland, which sold bonds last week for the first time since completing its bailout program.

Greek 10-year yields have dropped 68 basis points this year to 7.74 percent, after touching 7.53 percent on Jan. 13, the lowest since May 2010. The yield on similar-maturity Portuguese securities reached the lowest since August 2010 at 5.07 percent yesterday.

More Accountability

EU lawmakers questioned whether the so-called troika, comprising the European Commission,European Central Bank and IMF, which sets conditions for the countries receiving bailouts and monitors their progress, should have been more accountable and could have prevented the most painful effects of austerity. The European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee is today discussing the responses received about the troika’s work.

European lawmakers will continue to work to make the troika more accountable, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Twitter yesterday. Schulz is a member of Germany’s Social Democrats, the junior partner in the country’s coalition government.

While finance ministries and central bankers said that the hardships associated with the bailout conditions could not be ignored, they said they backed the process.

Inevitable Program

“The program, although rigorous and painful, is the only way that will enable the country’s exit from the crisis,” Cyprus’s central bank said in its letter to the 28-nation European Parliament.

Portugal’s finance ministry said that it “remained convinced” a bailout program had been inevitable and that “on the whole it remains a suitable and rational response to the crisis of credibility threatening our country.”

Ireland’s bailout-program exit last month and its return to financial markets “confirms that our strategy of providing assistance to euro-area countries that requested it in return for strict conditionality is working,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of his 17 euro-area counterparts, said in his letter to EU lawmakers.

He said that while growth is returning to the euro area and the economic outlook is improving “a number of important challenges remain, most importantly unacceptably high levels of unemployment.”

Ireland’s bailout program can be considered a success, Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister, said in his response to the parliament. Even so, unemployment is still high, economic growth has returned more slowly than predicted and the country’s overall level of debt remains elevated, with a peak of slightly over 120 percent of gross domestic product expected this year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ian Wishart in Brussels at iwishart@bloomberg.net;Rebecca Christie in Brussels at rchristie4@bloomberg.net

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Resolution #1: Let’s Call Things What They Really Are in 2014

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Resolution #1: Let’s Call Things What They Really Are in 2014.

The Status Quo system is failing. Its collapse will be messy. Starting to call things what they really are is a necessary first step to working with this reality.

Longtime correspondent Harun I. has offered a refreshing resolution for 2014: let’s start calling things what they actually are, rather than continue using officially sanctioned half-truths and misdirections. Language defines the context, meaning and agenda–in other words, everything. If we continue using Orwellian language, we get an Orwellian world of officially sanctioned deceptions passing as reality.

Here are Harun’s suggestions should we accept the value of Calling Things What They Really Are. This may well be one of the most insightful explanations of our financial system you will ever read:


“Let’s start off the new year by resolving to call things exactly what they are with words a 5th grader would understand.

Bank Deposit: An unsecured personal loan. The bank can do whatever it wishes with the money. The money may not be returned (ironically, people pay for this “service”).

Fractional Reserve Banking (Lending): Leverage. A bank has only a fraction of what it owes to its depositors. In a 10% fractional reserve system, the bank is only required to have ten cents of every dollar in its vaults.

The IMF is suggesting a 10% default by European banks. In a 10% reserve system, this is a reversal. Effectively, one person is going to get their money back and nine others are not. This may reset the banking system but the economic consequences due to the loss of purchasing power at such a scale will be significant.

Bank Bailout: The bank has lost its depositors money and thence government forces the public to borrow money they have a) already earned, b) from the very banks that supposedly have no money, and c) do so at interest (which must be borrowed). Effectively it is a failure and therefore a default.

Bank Bail-in: Every dollar placed at a bank is a dollar it owes to someone (liability). When the bank has lost all or a portion of its depositors’ money, it cannot return what it owes. Rather than forcing the people that are owed money by the bank to borrow money to put back in their accounts, the bank merely points out that it doesn’t have the money. This is a default.

Default = Default.

Money: Has no other purpose than to allow people to trade things they have worked to make or services they have performed. Holding on to it may allow one to trade for more or less of a particular good or service in the future. Money is a promise but not a guarantee that it will be exchangeable for something in the future. It is credit and debt.

Without a tangible good or service to trade money is worthless. If I have made a fine overcoat and you, with your skills in carpentry, have made an exquisite chair, we can trade these things directly. In this case money is worthless. It does not work the other way around. Goods and services do not become worthless in the absence of money. My coat will still have value even if I choose to wear it to keep warm. Your chair will have value even if you just choose to sit in it.

This is a critical distinction — and it has been completely lost on just about everyone. We have become completely divorced from the goods and services we make and provide and the money we use to trade these goods and services. At the core of this divorce is Fractional or zero Reserve Banking.

Let’s propose that you and I traded our goods and we deposited our goods in a bank. The bank immediately pledges my chair and your coat to ten other people. Some time later I engage in a redecoration of my home and want my chair. Winter comes and you want your coat. Immediately there is a problem. The bank owes our goods to ten other people. The only way for them to resolve this situation is to either get everyone to accept a fraction of the coat and chair, which of course isn’t very practical, reduce their liability by giving one person the chair and one person the coat and the other ten people get nothing (bail in), or get you and I to bail them out by producing eleven more chairs and coats (10 plus interest).

You see, if in the definitions of bailout and bail in we simply substitute the word money with the words goods and services, the situation loses its ambiguity. When we understand internally what money represents, then we understand what the term Bank backstops really mean. A bank can only be backstopped, bailed out or bailed in, by labor because that is the only thing that “money” represents.

If we understand the definition of money then when we discuss the Federal Reserve’s leverage, e.g. 72 to 1, we immediately understand that for each unit of labor performed 72 are owed. If for each hour of labor 72 is owed, how is this ever make that up? The clever person would pipe up and say, I’ll just work for 72 hours straight. But for each of those 72 hours he has worked he now owes 72. When we understand this, we understand that it is an event horizon.

We then understand that every bit of QE (quantitative easing) is a pledge of labor someone must perform at some point in time and that the rate of performance required is impossible.

If we now understand money and leverage and are to propose debt forgiveness then we must embrace rather than bemoan austerity because austerity is the necessary result of 10 other people not getting a chair to sit in or a warm coat for the winter.

With these concepts firmly in tow we begin to see that all of this hand wringing over paying off the $17 trillion in debt is, at best, a fools errand. Yes, in public politicians try to sooth us by appearing concerned. But behind closed doors, the Fed, Treasury, the Congress and the Executive, are all trying to figure out how we are going to borrow more so that over the next doubling period (about 10 years) debt will expand to a necessary $34 trillion.

Some additional clarification may be needed to explain leverage and work. At 72 to 1 the other option is to create 72 units in the time it takes to make one. In other words, if it took you and I one month to create our goods, we must create 72 coats and chairs in that one month. Broken down into hours, if we worked at full capacity 8 hours per day to create one coat and chair, we must do enough work in that 8 hours to create 72 coats and chairs.

Ultimately, work is nothing more than an exchange of energy, and the equation for any exchange of energy is quantifiable and finite (the equation must always balance). If we measured labor output in calories instead of money, the deception disappears. People may not be willing to expend 10 calories for 1. We would also understand that 1 calorie cannot create 10.

These concepts (thermodynamics) are esoteric to the point a 5th grader would have trouble understanding. But what is easily understandable is that if we all did the same work everyday but got less food because of an increase of incoming workers, yes, we would all have food – and we would all soon become malnourished or starved.

How would people react if the Fed said that for every loaf of bread it takes out of the system 72 loafs of bread will disappear?

We must also understand that a lever transmits torque, it does not create more torque.

It is at this point of awareness that it becomes clear that to balance the equation, it is unavoidable that people are not going to get most or all of what they have been promised (austerity). It is at this point that the sober realization arises that we have to dramatically change our expectation of the future.

Credit: Allows trade of something for a promise. Regardless of whatever expectation that may exist, something has been traded or given for no service performed or product yet created. Simply, something has been traded for nothing.

Federal Reserve System: A group of secretly privately owned banks (which, logically were among those who lost all of their depositors money and most certainly compose the primary dealers), that control the global money supply by making more or less credit/money available. It is also supposed to regulate banks within its system.

Even if this system functioned as designed rather than what it has morphed into, it still reads: a subsidiary formed but not funded by member banks and sanctioned by government to lend money to corporations and member banks (to themselves) against strong collateral (which no other bank would touch). Meaning the assets they own are good, but nobody wants them (i.e. the assets are worthless). In essence, this gets those great and wonderful assets off corporation’s and member bank’s books at full value.

Today this subsidiary of the member banks (the banks that own the Fed), loans money to its parent banks to buy all sorts of debt (mostly government debt), then goes about removing that debt (asset) from its parent bank’s balance sheet by buying it from them at full price, regardless of what it would have fetched in the market place.

At the most cursory glance, one begins to see how this farcically incestuous relationship would open the door to cronyism, political capture, monetary dominance, and serious abuses of public trust. Whether there is an awakening on the part of of the public is irrelevant. This system is failing. Its collapse will be messy.

There is no need to fret over debt or the monetary system, or the Feds economic and monetary “models”. There is no need to grouse about their manipulations. These things are destined to fail and are already doing so. What we will do in the aftermath of their complete failure, however, is probably of utmost importance.”


Thank you, Harun, for an excellent start in Calling Things What They Really Are. Off the top of my head, here are two more:
Capitalism: in the U.S. and global economy, this is a cover-word for crony/State capitalism, in which the Central State (rather than the marketplace) chooses the winners and losers.

Growth: Heavily manipulated statistics that reflect the increasing dominance of crony/State capitalism, passed off as “growth” in the real, lived-in economy. Those crony cartels that are receiving the Federal Reserve’s “free money” from quantitative easing (QE) are “growing,” and everything that isn’t receiving the Fed’s “free money” is stagnating.

I am sure you can add your own list of “calling things what they really are.”

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