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A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare | A Lightning War for Liberty

A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare | A Lightning War for Liberty.

Posted on March 26, 2014

One of the primary topics on this website since it was launched has been the extremely destructive and explosive rise of crony capitalism throughout the USA. It is crony capitalism, as opposed to free markets, that has led to the gross inequality in American society we have today. Cronyism for the super wealthy starts at the very top with the Federal Reserve System, which consists of topdown economic central planners who manipulate the money supply and hence interest rates for the benefit of the financial oligarch class. It then trickles down through lobbyist money into the halls of Washington D.C., and ultimately filters down to local governments and then the average person on the street gaming welfare or disability.

As such, we now live in a culture of corruption and theft that is pervasive throughout society. One thing that bothers me to no end is when fake Republicans focus their criticism on struggling people who need welfare or food stamps to survive. They have this absurd notion that the whole welfare system doesn’t start with the multinational corporations and Central Banks at the top. In reality, it is at the top where the cancer starts, and that’s where we should focus in order to achieve real change.

That’s where a new report from Open the Books on corporate welfare comes in. In a preview of the publication, the organization notes:

If Republicans are going to get truly serious about cutting government spending, they are going to have to snip the umbilical cord from the Treasury to corporate America.  You can’t reform welfare programs for the poor until you’ve gotten Daddy Warbucks off the dole. Voters will insist on that — as well they should.

So why hasn’t it happened? Why hasn’t the GOP pledged to end corporate welfare as we know it?

Part of the explanation is that too many have gotten confused about the difference between free-market capitalism and crony capitalism.

Federal_Contract_Spending_Spirals

And part of the problem is corporate welfare that is so well hidden from public view in the budget that no one has really measured how big this mountain of giveaway cash to the Fortune 500 really is. Finding out is like trying to break into the CIA.

Until now. Open the Books, an Illinois-based watchdog group, has been scrupulously monitoring all federal grants, loans, direct payments and insurance subsidies flowing to individuals and companies.

It’s an attempt to force federal agencies to release information on where the $4 trillion budget is really spent — and Open the Books will release a new report on corporate welfare payments to the Fortune 100 companies from 2000 to 2012.

Over that period, the 100 received $1.2 trillion in payments from the federal government.

That number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in housing, bank and auto company bailouts in 2008 and 2009, because those payments and where they went are kept mostly invisible in the federal agency books.

As suspected, the biggest welfare queens in the U.S. are the super wealthy themselves, but they’d rather you focus on some single mother on welfare simply trying to survive.

The full report can be downloaded here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

Putin Targets America's Achilles Heel: "He's Going to Destroy the Stock Markets"

Putin Targets America’s Achilles Heel: “He’s Going to Destroy the Stock Markets”.

Mac Slavo
March 5th, 2014
SHTFplan.com

Putin-Target-Americas-Achilles-Heel

In 2012 an elite insider claimed that on or around March 4, 2014 the doomsday clock would ring, the effect of which would be a complete collapse of the U.S. economy. How former Vice Presidential adviser Grady Means came to this conclusion with a specific target date may forever remain clouded in secrecy. But given the state of current affairs around the world today, one can’t help but consider that maybe Grady Means was on to something. With the fight over political and resource control in the Ukraine heating up, is it possible the Means was referring to this very set of circumstances?

We know the U.S. economy is literally on the brink of a collapse. All we need now is a triggering mechanism.

Contrarian investor and commentator Greg Mannarino thinks it could be happening right now, and he explains his highly viable theory in the broadcast below.

In essence, Mannarino warns that Russia’s Vladimir Putin may be using the current geo-political climate to position his pieces on the grand chessboard with the end game being a total wipe out of domestic equity markets and the U.S. dollar itself .

Given the horrid economic fundamentals in the U.S., mounting and un-serviceable debt levels, and the fact that China is now moving lock-step with their Russian counterparts, could we be seeing the final stages of a coordinated strike on U.S. economic and financial interests?

A few more moves and it could be Checkmate:

Putin understands the Achilles heel is this hyperinflated stock market… this man is brilliant.

Since we realize all warfare is based on deception, this backing off of troops here is  a part of the play.

When he re-introduces those troops and makes his move here it’s going to crush the U.S. equity markets and take trillions of dollars out of this market and a lot of peoples’ pockets.

Vladimir Putin is not in any way going to back down to Barack Obama or any of the Western powers. He has no reason to do that. He understands where this going and what he needs to do to make this work here.


(Video via Steve Quayle / Watch at Youtube)

So this is the set up in my opinion.

He’s allowing cash to flow back into the world markets, more specifically into the U.S. equity market. He’s going to re-introduce his troops almost in a Blitzkrieg type fashion and he’s going to destroy the stock markets.

We also know this… Vladimir Putin has been betting against the U.S. dollar for years by acquiring gold, just like you should be doing.

… The debt of the United States is in the biggest bubble in the history of the world. He knows all this.

This relief rally here… I can’t imagine that it’s going to last because he’s going to re-introduce troops here. It’s going to destroy this relief rally and then some.

We’re going to get panic selling… I think it can happen pretty soon.

Vladimir Putin is pulling a huge bluff on everyone right now allowing equities on a global scale to rise, only to reverse this move and crush equity markets which will destroy the United States economy.

The wealth effect that the Fed has created… Vladimir Putin knows that it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And he’s going to take advantage of that.

Make no mistake. Vladimir Putin strives to make Russia a global super power. China wants the same. In order for that to happen the United States of America must be crushed, and that starts with destroying our economy. And if that means a temporary destruction of global equity markets then that’s what Russia and China will do. Unlike President Obama, who bases his decisions on political surveys and half baked short-term platitudes, these nations operate with stratagems spanning decades.

For all we know, it was Putin himself who orchestrated the Ukranian coup. He’s a former KGB operative, a brilliant strategist and he comes from the ‘old school’ of Russian thought. Every move is carefully calculated and executed. While President Obama plays checkers, Putin is executing a Réti Maneuver designed to confuse and frustrate his opponent while leaving multiple pathways for the fait accompli.

The majority of informed readers understand that the collapse of America as we know it today is inevitable. It has always only been a question of “when.”

Perhaps Vladimir Putin will soon give us an answer.

Putin Targets America’s Achilles Heel: “He’s Going to Destroy the Stock Markets”

Putin Targets America’s Achilles Heel: “He’s Going to Destroy the Stock Markets”.

Mac Slavo
March 5th, 2014
SHTFplan.com

Putin-Target-Americas-Achilles-Heel

In 2012 an elite insider claimed that on or around March 4, 2014 the doomsday clock would ring, the effect of which would be a complete collapse of the U.S. economy. How former Vice Presidential adviser Grady Means came to this conclusion with a specific target date may forever remain clouded in secrecy. But given the state of current affairs around the world today, one can’t help but consider that maybe Grady Means was on to something. With the fight over political and resource control in the Ukraine heating up, is it possible the Means was referring to this very set of circumstances?

We know the U.S. economy is literally on the brink of a collapse. All we need now is a triggering mechanism.

Contrarian investor and commentator Greg Mannarino thinks it could be happening right now, and he explains his highly viable theory in the broadcast below.

In essence, Mannarino warns that Russia’s Vladimir Putin may be using the current geo-political climate to position his pieces on the grand chessboard with the end game being a total wipe out of domestic equity markets and the U.S. dollar itself .

Given the horrid economic fundamentals in the U.S., mounting and un-serviceable debt levels, and the fact that China is now moving lock-step with their Russian counterparts, could we be seeing the final stages of a coordinated strike on U.S. economic and financial interests?

A few more moves and it could be Checkmate:

Putin understands the Achilles heel is this hyperinflated stock market… this man is brilliant.

Since we realize all warfare is based on deception, this backing off of troops here is  a part of the play.

When he re-introduces those troops and makes his move here it’s going to crush the U.S. equity markets and take trillions of dollars out of this market and a lot of peoples’ pockets.

Vladimir Putin is not in any way going to back down to Barack Obama or any of the Western powers. He has no reason to do that. He understands where this going and what he needs to do to make this work here.


(Video via Steve Quayle / Watch at Youtube)

So this is the set up in my opinion.

He’s allowing cash to flow back into the world markets, more specifically into the U.S. equity market. He’s going to re-introduce his troops almost in a Blitzkrieg type fashion and he’s going to destroy the stock markets.

We also know this… Vladimir Putin has been betting against the U.S. dollar for years by acquiring gold, just like you should be doing.

… The debt of the United States is in the biggest bubble in the history of the world. He knows all this.

This relief rally here… I can’t imagine that it’s going to last because he’s going to re-introduce troops here. It’s going to destroy this relief rally and then some.

We’re going to get panic selling… I think it can happen pretty soon.

Vladimir Putin is pulling a huge bluff on everyone right now allowing equities on a global scale to rise, only to reverse this move and crush equity markets which will destroy the United States economy.

The wealth effect that the Fed has created… Vladimir Putin knows that it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And he’s going to take advantage of that.

Make no mistake. Vladimir Putin strives to make Russia a global super power. China wants the same. In order for that to happen the United States of America must be crushed, and that starts with destroying our economy. And if that means a temporary destruction of global equity markets then that’s what Russia and China will do. Unlike President Obama, who bases his decisions on political surveys and half baked short-term platitudes, these nations operate with stratagems spanning decades.

For all we know, it was Putin himself who orchestrated the Ukranian coup. He’s a former KGB operative, a brilliant strategist and he comes from the ‘old school’ of Russian thought. Every move is carefully calculated and executed. While President Obama plays checkers, Putin is executing a Réti Maneuver designed to confuse and frustrate his opponent while leaving multiple pathways for the fait accompli.

The majority of informed readers understand that the collapse of America as we know it today is inevitable. It has always only been a question of “when.”

Perhaps Vladimir Putin will soon give us an answer.

Let’s You and Him Fight | KUNSTLER

Let’s You and Him Fight | KUNSTLER.

So, now we are threatening to start World War Three because Russia is trying to control the chaos in a failed state on its border — a state that our own government spooks provoked into failure? The last time I checked, there was a list of countries that the USA had sent troops, armed ships, and aircraft into recently, and for reasons similar to Russia’s in Crimea: the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, none of them even anywhere close to American soil. I don’t remember Russia threatening confrontations with the USA over these adventures.

The phones at the White House and the congressional offices ought to be ringing off the hook with angry US citizens objecting to the posturing of our elected officials. There ought to be crowds with bobbing placards in Farragut Square reminding the occupant of 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue how ridiculous this makes us look.

The saber-rattlers at The New York Times were sounding like the promoters of a World Wrestling Federation stunt Monday morning when they said in a Page One story:

“The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin?”

Are they out of their chicken-hawk minds over there? It sounds like a ploy out of the old Eric Berne playbook: Let’s You and Him Fight. What the USA and its European factotums ought to do is mind their own business and stop issuing idle threats. They set the scene for the Ukrainian melt-down by trying to tilt the government their way, financing a pro-Euroland revolt, only to see their sponsored proxy dissidents give way to a claque of armed neo-Nazis, whose first official act was to outlaw the use of the Russian language in a country with millions of long-established Russian-speakers. This is apart, of course, from the fact Ukraine had been until very recently a province of Russia’s former Soviet empire.

Secretary of State John Kerry — a haircut in search of a brain — is winging to Kiev tomorrow to pretend that the USA has a direct interest in what happens there. Since US behavior is so patently hypocritical, it raises the pretty basic question: what are our motives? I don’t think they amount to anything more than international grandstanding — based on the delusion that we have the power and the right to control everything on the planet, which is based, in turn, on our current mood of extreme insecurity as our own ongoing spate of bad choices sets the table for a banquet of consequences.

America can’t even manage its own affairs. We ignore our own gathering energy crisis, telling ourselves the fairy tale that shale oil will allow us to keep driving to WalMart forever. We paper over all of our financial degeneracy and wink at financial criminals. Our infrastructure is falling apart. We’re constructing an edifice of surveillance and social control that would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels turn green in his grave with envy while we squander our dwindling political capital on stupid gender confusion battles.

The Russians, on the other hand, have every right to protect their interests along their own border, to protect the persons and property of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, not long ago, were citizens of a greater Russia, to discourage neo-Nazi activity in their back-yard, and most of all to try to stabilize a region that has little history and experience with independence. They also have to contend with the bankruptcy of Ukraine, which may be the principal cause of its current crack-up. Ukraine is deep in hock to Russia, but also to a network of Western banks, and it remains to be seen whether the failure of these linked obligations will lead to contagion throughout the global financial system. It only takes one additional falling snowflake to push a snow-field into criticality.

Welcome to the era of failed states. We’ve already seen plenty of action around the world and we’re going to see more as resource and capital scarcities drive down standards of living and lower the trust horizon. The world is not going in the direction that Tom Friedman and the globalists thought. Anything organized at the giant scale is now in trouble, nation-states in particular.  The USA is not immune to this trend, whatever we imagine about ourselves for now.

Let’s You and Him Fight | KUNSTLER

Let’s You and Him Fight | KUNSTLER.

So, now we are threatening to start World War Three because Russia is trying to control the chaos in a failed state on its border — a state that our own government spooks provoked into failure? The last time I checked, there was a list of countries that the USA had sent troops, armed ships, and aircraft into recently, and for reasons similar to Russia’s in Crimea: the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, none of them even anywhere close to American soil. I don’t remember Russia threatening confrontations with the USA over these adventures.

The phones at the White House and the congressional offices ought to be ringing off the hook with angry US citizens objecting to the posturing of our elected officials. There ought to be crowds with bobbing placards in Farragut Square reminding the occupant of 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue how ridiculous this makes us look.

The saber-rattlers at The New York Times were sounding like the promoters of a World Wrestling Federation stunt Monday morning when they said in a Page One story:

“The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin?”

Are they out of their chicken-hawk minds over there? It sounds like a ploy out of the old Eric Berne playbook: Let’s You and Him Fight. What the USA and its European factotums ought to do is mind their own business and stop issuing idle threats. They set the scene for the Ukrainian melt-down by trying to tilt the government their way, financing a pro-Euroland revolt, only to see their sponsored proxy dissidents give way to a claque of armed neo-Nazis, whose first official act was to outlaw the use of the Russian language in a country with millions of long-established Russian-speakers. This is apart, of course, from the fact Ukraine had been until very recently a province of Russia’s former Soviet empire.

Secretary of State John Kerry — a haircut in search of a brain — is winging to Kiev tomorrow to pretend that the USA has a direct interest in what happens there. Since US behavior is so patently hypocritical, it raises the pretty basic question: what are our motives? I don’t think they amount to anything more than international grandstanding — based on the delusion that we have the power and the right to control everything on the planet, which is based, in turn, on our current mood of extreme insecurity as our own ongoing spate of bad choices sets the table for a banquet of consequences.

America can’t even manage its own affairs. We ignore our own gathering energy crisis, telling ourselves the fairy tale that shale oil will allow us to keep driving to WalMart forever. We paper over all of our financial degeneracy and wink at financial criminals. Our infrastructure is falling apart. We’re constructing an edifice of surveillance and social control that would make the late Dr. Joseph Goebbels turn green in his grave with envy while we squander our dwindling political capital on stupid gender confusion battles.

The Russians, on the other hand, have every right to protect their interests along their own border, to protect the persons and property of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, not long ago, were citizens of a greater Russia, to discourage neo-Nazi activity in their back-yard, and most of all to try to stabilize a region that has little history and experience with independence. They also have to contend with the bankruptcy of Ukraine, which may be the principal cause of its current crack-up. Ukraine is deep in hock to Russia, but also to a network of Western banks, and it remains to be seen whether the failure of these linked obligations will lead to contagion throughout the global financial system. It only takes one additional falling snowflake to push a snow-field into criticality.

Welcome to the era of failed states. We’ve already seen plenty of action around the world and we’re going to see more as resource and capital scarcities drive down standards of living and lower the trust horizon. The world is not going in the direction that Tom Friedman and the globalists thought. Anything organized at the giant scale is now in trouble, nation-states in particular.  The USA is not immune to this trend, whatever we imagine about ourselves for now.

The “Ukraine Situation” Explained In One Map | Zero Hedge

The “Ukraine Situation” Explained In One Map | Zero Hedge.

Sadly, everything you need to know about the crisis in Ukraine in one worrisome map which summarizes all the relevant “red lines.”

Given this – is there any doubt this will not end with peaceful resolution.

As Martin Armstrong warned this morning:

BOTH the USA and EU will now fund the rebels as Russia will fund Yanukovych. At the political level, Ukraine is the pawn on the chessboard. The propaganda war is East v West. However, those power plays are masking the core issue that began with the Orange Revolution – corruption. Yanukovych is a dictator who will NEVER leave office. It is simple as that. There will be no REAL elections again in Ukraine. This is starting to spiral down into a confrontation that the entire world cannot ignore.

h/t JS

JPMorgan Vice President’s Death Shines Light on Bank’s Close Ties to the CIA | Global Research

JPMorgan Vice President’s Death Shines Light on Bank’s Close Ties to the CIA | Global Research.

Global Research, February 13, 2014
wallstreet

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

The nonstop crime news swirling around JPMorgan Chase for a solid 18 months has started to feel a little spooky – they do lots of crime but never any time; and with each closed case, a trail of unanswered questions remains in the public’s mind.

Just last month, JPMorgan Chase acknowledged that it facilitated the largest Ponzi scheme in history, looking the other way as Bernie Madoff brazenly turned his business bank account at JPMorgan Chase into an unprecedented money laundering operation that would have set off bells, whistles and sirens at any other bank.

The U.S. Justice Department allowed JPMorgan to pay $1.7 billion and sign a deferred prosecution agreement, meaning no one goes to jail at JPMorgan — again. The largest question that no one can or will answer is how the compliance, legal and anti-money laundering personnel at JPMorgan ignored for years hundreds of transfers and billions of dollars in round trip maneuvers between Madoff and the account of Norman Levy. Even one such maneuver should set off an investigation. (Levy is now deceased and the Trustee for Madoff’s victims has settled with his estate.)

Then there was the report done by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the London Whale episode which left the public in the dark about just what JPMorgan was doing with stock trading in its Chief Investment Office in London, redacting all information in the 300-page report that related to that topic.

Wall Street On Parade has been filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Federal government in these matters, and despite the pledge from our President to set a new era of transparency, thus far we have had few answers coming our way.

One reason that JPMorgan may have such a spooky feel is that it has aligned itself in no small way with real-life spooks, the CIA kind.

Just when the public was numbing itself to the endless stream of financial malfeasance which cost JPMorgan over $30 billion in fines and settlements in just the past 13 months, we learned on January 28 of this year that a happy, healthy 39-year old technology Vice President, Gabriel Magee, was found dead on a 9th level rooftop of the bank’s 33-story European headquarters building in the Canary Wharf section of London.

The way the news of this tragic and sudden death was stage-managed by highly skilled but invisible hands, turning a demonstrably suspicious incident into a cut-and-dried suicide leap from the rooftop (devoid of eyewitnesses or  motivation) had all the hallmarks of a sophisticated covert operation or coverup.

The London Evening Standard newspaper reported the same day that “A man plunged to his death from a Canary Wharf tower in front of thousands of horrified commuters today.” Who gave that completely fabricated story to the press? Commuters on the street had no view of the body because it was 9 floors up on a rooftop – a rooftop that is accessible from a stairwell inside the building, not just via a fall from the roof. Adding to the suspicions, Magee had emailed his girlfriend the evening before telling her he was finishing up and would be home shortly.

If JPMorgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, needed a little crisis management help from operatives, he has no shortage of people to call upon. Thomas Higgins was, until a few months ago, a Managing Director and Global Head of Operational Control for JPMorgan. (A BusinessWeek profile shows Higgins still employed at JPMorgan while the New York Post reported that he left late last year.) What is not in question is that Higgins was previously the Senior Officer and Station Chief in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, a component of which is the National Resources Division. (Higgins’ bio is printed in past brochures of the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation, where Higgins is listed with his JPMorgan job title, former CIA job title, and as a member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors for 2013.)

According to Jeff Stein, writing in Newsweek on November 14, the National Resources Division (NR) is the “biggest little CIA shop you’ve never heard of.” One good reason you’ve never heard of it until now is that the New York Times was asked not to name it in 2001. James Risen writes in a New York Times piece:

[the CIA’s] “New York station was behind the false front of another federal organization, which intelligence officials requested that The Times not identify. The station was, among other things, a base of operations to spy on and recruit foreign diplomats stationed at the United Nations, while debriefing selected American business executives and others willing to talk to the C.I.A. after returning from overseas.”

Stein gets much of that out in the open in his piece for Newsweek, citing sources who say that “its intimate relations with top U.S. corporate executives willing to have their companies fronting for the CIA invites trouble at home and abroad.” Stein goes on to say that NR operatives “cultivate their own sources on Wall Street, especially looking for help keeping track of foreign money sloshing around in the global financial system, while recruiting companies to provide cover for CIA operations abroad. And once they’ve seen how the other 1 percent lives, CIA operatives, some say, are tempted to go over to the other side.”

We now know that it was not only the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Treasury Department’s FinCEN, and bank examiners from the Comptroller of the Currency who missed the Madoff fraud, it was top snoops at the CIA in the very city where Madoff was headquartered.

Stein gives us even less reason to feel confident about this situation, writing that the NR “knows some titans of finance are not above being romanced. Most love hanging out with the agency’s top spies — James Bond and all that — and being solicited for their views on everything from the street’s latest tricks to their meetings with, say, China’s finance minister. JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sach’s Lloyd Blankfein, one former CIA executive recalls, loved to get visitors from Langley. And the CIA loves them back, not just for their patriotic cooperation with the spy agency, sources say, but for the influence they have on Capitol Hill, where the intelligence budgets are hashed out.”

Higgins is not the only former CIA operative to work at JPMorgan. According to aLinkedIn profile, Bud Cato, a Regional Security Manager for JPMorgan Chase, worked for the CIA in foreign clandestine operations from 1982 to 1995; then went to work for The Coca-Cola Company until 2001; then back to the CIA as an Operations Officer in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East countries until he joined JPMorgan in 2011.

In addition to Higgins and Cato, JPMorgan has a large roster of former Secret Service, former FBI and former law enforcement personnel employed in security jobs. And, as we have reported repeatedly, it still shares a space with the NYPD in a massive surveillance operation in lower Manhattan which has been dubbed the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center.

JPMorgan and Jamie Dimon have received a great deal of press attention for the whopping $4.6 million that JPMorgan donated to the New York City Police Foundation. Leonard Levitt, of NYPD Confidential, wrote in 2011 that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “has amended his financial disclosure forms after this column revealed last October that the Police Foundation had paid his dues and meals at the Harvard Club for the past eight years. Kelly now acknowledges he spent $30,000 at the Harvard Club between 2006 and 2009, according to the Daily News.”

JPMorgan is also listed as one of the largest donors to a nonprofit Foundation that provides college tuition assistance to the children of fallen CIA operatives, the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation. The Foundation also notes in a November 2013 publication, the Compass, that it has enjoyed the fundraising support of Maurice (Hank) Greenberg. According to the publication, Greenberg “sponsored a fundraiser on our behalf. His guest list included the who’s who of the financial services industry in New York, and they gave generously.”

Hank Greenberg is the former Chairman and CEO of AIG which collapsed into the arms of the U.S. taxpayer, requiring a $182 billion bailout. In 2006, AIG paid $1.64 billion to settle federal and state probes into fraudulent activities. In 2010, the company settled a shareholders’ lawsuit for $725 million that accused it of accounting fraud and stock price manipulation. In 2009, Greenberg settled SEC fraud charges against him related to AIG for $15 million.

Before the death of Gabriel Magee, the public had lost trust in the Justice Department and Wall Street regulators to bring these financial firms to justice for an unending spree of fleecing the public. Now there is a young man’s unexplained death at JPMorgan. This is no longer about money. This is about a heartbroken family that will never be the same again; who can never find peace or closure until credible and documented facts are put before them by independent, credible law enforcement.

The London Coroner’s office will hold a formal inquest into the death of Gabriel Magee on May 15. Wall Street On Parade has asked that the inquest be available on a live webcast as well as an archived webcast so that the American public can observe for itself if this matter has been given the kind of serious investigation it deserves. We ask other media outlets who were initially misled about the facts in this case to do the same.

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: After Seven Lean Years, Part 2: US Commercial Real Estate: The Present Position and Future Prospects

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: After Seven Lean Years, Part 2: US Commercial Real Estate: The Present Position and Future Prospects.

The fundamentals of demographics, stagnant household income and an overbuilt retail sector eroded by eCommerce support only one conclusion: commercial real estate in the U.S. will implode as retail sales and profits weaken.

 
The first installment of our series on U.S. real estate by correspondent Mark G.focused on residential real estate. In Part 2, Mark explains why the commercial real estate (CRE) market is set to implode.
 

In the early stages of the sub-prime mortgage crisis it was widely believed that US commercial real estate (CRE) would manage to dodge the bullets. In the end CRE was found to be as vulnerable as anything else.
© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

These three graphs of relative prices show that in CRE the “core” is doing better than the “periphery”. The gap in relative price performance of major metro CRE over smaller cities and towns has approximately doubled from where it was in 2008.

And as with residential real estate, some CRE sub-sectors and cities are obtaining far greater benefit from bailout, stimulus and quantitative easing programs than other areas:


© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

Commercial real estate has a more complex structure than residential real estate. There is greater specialization in function. For instance strip shopping centers and indoor malls are generally not exchangeable with warehouse facilities.

We can simplify this a bit by classifying CRE by consumer sector and function. Industrial real estate will not be considered in detail. Current industrial construction spending is near a record high. But the value of current industrial CRE can still be depressed due to existing plant obsolescence and rapid shifts in activity location.

This leaves us to consider consumer retail and consumer service CRE.

Consumer Retail Spending & Retail CRE

The value of commercial real estate is driven by the revenues and profits earned by the businesses occupying CRE. This relationship is similar to the relationship between residential real estate prices and average household income.

The Two Drivers of Consumer Spending: Population Size and Average Household Income:

These two parameters show continuously increasing population size and declining average household incomes. The subsequent data shows this is resulting in a small increase in total consumer spending and also large shifts in spending patterns.

Real inflation adjusted total retail spending has increased slightly over its peak in 2007.



Essentially all of this increase has occurred in food spending. (A smaller portion has gone into clothing). And this is the only reasonable expectation given the twin conditions of an increasing total population and a declining average income per consumer. We can also note that “food” is a minuscule part of eCommerce. The retail food trade occurs almost entirely in neighborhood groceries, markets and convenience stores. The other non-food retail sectors are flat to declining. But within these sectors there is a large zero-sum game being played out between eCommerce and local bricks ‘n mortar stores:

The Rise of eCommerce

Since 2008 eCommerce retail sales have nearly doubled. But as we just saw, the entire increase in total consumer spending since 2008 is accounted for by the increased food sales which occur at local markets. “eCommerce” is therefore taking sales away from other local retail sectors. And the biggest single loser is:

Local Retail Department Stores

This macroeconomic data is well-supported by the current financials of both Sears and JC Penney. Sears’ trailing twelve month (ttm) earnings per share are – $14.11. This loss will increase once Sears reports its fourth quarter earnings at the end of February, 2014. Sears is widely expected to lose one billion dollars in 2014. J.C. Penney meanwhile is currently reporting ttm losses of -$7.32 per share.

One or both of these chains will be in bankruptcy by 2015 even if the current “recovery” continues. And outright liquidation of one or both companies is at least as likely as reorganization. There is little reason to believe either of these companies would be more viable following mere debt reduction.

The third major department store chain is Macy’s, which is still reporting profits. Oddly enough Macy’s management celebrated their 2013 holiday season by announcing 2,500 permanent layoffs from their local retail department stores. This was paired with a mid-December announcement of an increase of 1,500 employees in a new eCommerce fulfillment center in Oklahoma.

In these circumstances it is unsurprising that retail CRE prices are showing weak recovery.


© 2014 Real Capital Analytics, Inc. All rights reserved. Source: Real Capital Analytics and Moody’s Investors Service. http://www.rcanalytics.com Used by permission.

The Coming Implosion of the Regional Indoor Shopping Mall
(and adjacent strip shopping centers)


There are approximately 1,100 indoor shopping malls in the USA. Sears has about 2,000 stores. JC Penney’s has almost exactly 1,100 stores. There are very few malls that don’t have at least one of these chains. The vast majority of malls have both as major anchor stores. Macy’s is typically the third major anchor now. A regional department store chain or two round out the large anchor stores.

A virtual stroll down the typical mall concourse will reveal plenty of other money losing chain retailers with names like Radio Shack et al. Adjacent strip shopping centers
This should not be surprising. The regional indoor mall is a middle class income institution. It grew up with the post-WWII rise in average incomes. As middle class incomes now disappear so are the former favorite shopping venues of the middle class.

Every time a mall store closes shoppers lose another reason to go to the mall. “Dead mall” syndrome will soon afflict most of this sector.

In addition to decaying tenant revenues the mall owning Real Estate Investment Trusts are dangerously overleveraged with low-cost to free ZIRP and QE funding. Now that the Federal Reserve is tapering QE their financing costs will be rising as commercial balloon mortgages come due and have to be rolled over. And since the typical commercial mall mortgage does carry a large balloon payment at the end they have to be refinanced. Assuming honest loan underwriting a higher risk premium will also be attached due to the deteriorating retail fundamentals of the tenants.

General Growth Properties (GGP) is probably in the best condition. This is because GGP just exited a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2010. It was placed into involuntary bankruptcy in 2009 by two mortgagors holding matured recourse balloon mortgages. GGP was understandably unable to refinance these balloons in the spring of 2009.

This entire sector will collapse when the next recession appears.

And since history hasn’t ended, the next recession will appear at some point. It may be appearing already. At the beginning of October, 2013 the analyst consensus for retail profit growth for the strongest October – December holiday quarter was 5.5%. At the beginning of the reporting cycle in January expectations were down to 0.5% profit growth. That is a 90% reduction in analyst expectations in just three months.

Barring a turnaround, many retail chains still reporting profits will be reporting quarter-on-quarter profit declines in April. And by the end of the third quarter more will start reporting outright losses.

Part 3 will examine the other major part of local consumer oriented CRE. These are consumer services like neighborhood banking, investment, insurance and other services. Experience to date demonstrates that in the next few years the internet, expert software systems and robotics/automation will eliminate 50% and more of the jobs formerly associated with these businesses. These same trends will also shift most of the surviving positions away from the traditional storefront strip center and local office park locations.


 
Thank you, Mark, for this comprehensive analysis. We look forward to reading Part 3.

Stiglitz: Worry! | ToTheTick™ToTheTick™

Stiglitz: Worry! | ToTheTick™ToTheTick™.

Joseph Stiglitz, in an interview with CNBC has said what we are all probably thinking right now. Even President Obama can’t be foolhardy and ostrich-like with his head buried in the sand to imagine that the US economy is picking up. Hope against hope and all the rain dancing you can do won’t get the economy moving because the wrong decisions have been taken by the people that thought that they had the ultimate solution to the world’s woes. Joseph Stiglitz is right when he says that the economy is not in recovery mode and hasn’t been.

Talk as much as we might wish about growth, it just hasn’t materialized. The lackluster growth with the highest growth rate in the third quarter of 2013 (the highest since 2011, which is nothing in itself to write home about) has not even dented the US economy let alone kick-started it into 2014. We have everything to be still worried about as the problems are just stagnating there as the people at the top take the decisions that are going to bring the economy further down into the doldrums. Just how far can we go?

Stock

The US stock market has hardly had a good start to the year. Just about the only thing that is doing well is the banking sector. As usual, some might say. The correction that has been promised now for months looks set to be rearing its ugly head at any moment now. Equities have fallen already almost 2% since the start of this year. Those that had somehow foolishly believed that the only way was up or that the sky was the limit look as if they are going to be in for a rough ride.

The market hasn’t corrected itself now for the last 28 months. The longer the wait, the bigger it will be. Statistics show that there is a correction of the market roughly every 18 months that is in the region of 10%. Yesterday was the worst session for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It fell 1.1% at the close, down 1.9% for the start of 2014. The S&P 500 is down 1.6% and the NASDAQ has fallen by 1.5% so far this year.

Employment

The US employment situation is far from good. Jobs haven’t and just aren’t been created these days whatever the government has been telling us. We get people rejoicing over a few thousand jobs that are created, when we need literally hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. Data from last week showed that 74, 000 jobs had been created in December. We we’re expecting 200, 000.

It doesn’t create uncertainty; it just leaves the bitter pessimistic taste of failure in your mouth, Mr. President.

The participation rate in the US hasn’t been this low since 1978. It stands at just 62.8% for December. The number of people that are actively looking for work or in work hasn’t been lower now for more than 35 years. Stiglitz stated: “We have millions who have given up looking for a job. They’ve looked and looked and there are no jobs…more and more Americans have said there’s no future”.

QE

All of that just brings on the same old story about the Federal Reserve’s decision ti cut the Quantitative Easing and shut down the printing presses after injecting $3 trillion into the US economy to keep it floating. All the bailing out that you can do is not going to plug the hole in the bottom of the boat, is it?

Stiglitz believes that it’s fiscal stimulus that will get the economy moving again and certainly not throwing bad money after even worse money. No amount of printing the greenback will have little if any effect on the economy. They might as well just go, get down on their knees and start praying in Washington. Nothing else will happen.

Fourth-quarter growth for 2013 looks as if it will be mediocre at best. Profits growth for S&P 500 is predicted to reach an increase of 7.7% in comparison with December 2012.

Robust growth, let alone any growth at all, is certainly not on the cards this year. According to Stiglitz, we should start worrying (or at least continue).

Forecast 2014 — Burning Down the House | KUNSTLER

Forecast 2014 — Burning Down the House | KUNSTLER.

      Many of us in the Long Emergency crowd and like-minded brother-and-sisterhoods remain perplexed by the amazing stasis in our national life, despite the gathering tsunami of forces arrayed to rock our economy, our culture, and our politics. Nothing has yielded to these forces already in motion, so far. Nothing changes, nothing gives, yet. It’s like being buried alive in Jell-O. It’s embarrassing to appear so out-of-tune with the consensus, but we persevere like good soldiers in a just war.

Paper and digital markets levitate, central banks pull out all the stops of their magical reality-tweaking machine to manipulate everything, accounting fraud pervades public and private enterprise, everything is mis-priced, all official statistics are lies of one kind or another, the regulating authorities sit on their hands, lost in raptures of online pornography (or dreams of future employment at Goldman Sachs), the news media sprinkles wishful-thinking propaganda about a mythical “recovery” and the “shale gas miracle” on a credulous public desperate to believe, the routine swindles of medicine get more cruel and blatant each month, a tiny cohort of financial vampire squids suck in all the nominal wealth of society, and everybody else is left whirling down the drain of posterity in a vortex of diminishing returns and scuttled expectations.

Life in the USA is like living in a broken-down, cob-jobbed, vermin-infested house that needs to be gutted, disinfected, and rebuilt — with the hope that it might come out of the restoration process retaining the better qualities of our heritage. Some of us are anxious to get on with the job, to expel all the rats, bats, bedbugs, roaches, and lice, tear out the stinking shag carpet and the moldy sheet-rock, rip off the crappy plastic siding, and start rebuilding along lines that are consistent with the demands of the future — namely, the reality of capital and material resource scarcity. But it has been apparent for a while that the current owners of the house would prefer to let it fall down, or burn down rather than renovate.

Some of us now take that outcome for granted and are left to speculate on how it will play out. These issues were the subjects of my recent non-fiction books, The Long Emergency and Too Much Magic (as well as excellent similar books by Richard Heinberg, John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov, and others). They describe the conditions at the end of the cheap energy techno-industrial phase of history and they laid out a conjectural sequence of outcomes that might be stated in shorthand as collapse and re-set. I think the delay in the onset of epochal change can be explained pretty simply. As the peak oil story gained traction around 2005, and was followed (as predicted) by a financial crisis, the established order fought back for its survival, utilizing its remaining dwindling capital and the tremendous inertia of its own gigantic scale, to give the appearance of vitality at all costs.

At the heart of the matter was (and continues to be) the relationship between energy and economic growth. Without increasing supplies of cheap energy, economic growth — as we have known it for a couple of centuries — does not happen anymore. At the center of the economic growth question is credit. Without continued growth, credit can’t be repaid, and new credit cannot be issued honestly — that is, with reasonable assurance of repayment — making it worthless. So, old debt goes bad and the new debt is generated knowing that it is worthless. To complicate matters, the new worthless debt is issued to pay the interest on the old debt, to maintain the pretense that it is not going bad. And then all kinds of dishonest side rackets are run around this central credit racket — shadow banking, “innovative” securities (i.e. new kinds of frauds and swindles, CDOs CDSs, etc.), flash trading, insider flimflams, pump-and-dumps, naked shorts, etc. These games give the impression of an economy that seems to work. But the reported “growth” is phony, a concoction of overcooked statistics and wishful thinking. And the net effect moves the society as a whole in the direction of more destructive ultimate failure.

Now, a number of stories have been employed lately to keep all these rackets going — or, at least, keep up the morale of the swindled masses. They issue from the corporations, government agencies, and a lazy, wishful media. Their purpose is to prop up the lie that the dying economy of yesteryear is alive and well, and can continue “normal” operation indefinitely. Here are the favorites of the past year:

  • Shale oil and gas amount to an “energy renaissance” that will keep supplies of affordable fossil fuels flowing indefinitely, will make us “energy independent,” and will make us “a bigger producer than Saudi Arabia.” This is all mendacious bullshit with a wishful thinking cherry on top. Here’s how shale oil is different from conventional oil:

PP Oil 2

  • A “manufacturing renaissance” is underway in the US, especially in the “central corridor” running from Texas north to Minnesota. That hoopla is all about a few chemical plants and fertilizer factories that have reopened to take advantage of cheaper natural gas. Note, the shale gas story is much like the shale oil story in terms of drilling and production. The depletion rates are quick and epic. In a very few years, shale gas won’t be cheap anymore. Otherwise, current talk of new manufacturing for hard goods is all about robots. How many Americans will be employed in these factories? And what about the existing manufacturing over-capacity everywhere else in the world? Are we making enough sneakers and Justin Beiber dolls? File under complete fucking nonsense.
  • The USA is “the cleanest shirt in the laundry basket,” “the best house in a bad neighborhood,” the safest harbor for international “liquidity,” making it a sure bet that both the equity and bond markets will continue to ratchet up as money seeking lower risk floods in to the Dow and S & P from other countries with dodgier economies and sicker banks. In a currency war, with all nations competitively depreciating their currencies, gaming interest rates, manipulating markets, falsely reporting numbers, hiding liabilities, backstopping bad banks, and failing to regulate banking crime, there are no safe harbors. The USA can pretend to be for a while and then that illusion will pop, along with the “asset” bubbles that inspire it.
  • The USA is enjoying huge gains from fantastic new “efficiencies of technological innovation.” The truth is not so dazzling. Computer technology, produces diminishing returns and unanticipated consequences. The server farms are huge energy sinks. Online shopping corrodes the resilience of commercial networks when only a few giant companies remain standing; and so on. Problems like these recall the central collapse theory of Joseph Tainterwhich states that heaping additional complexity on dysfunctional hyper-complex societies tends to induce their collapse. Hence, my insistence that downscaling, simplifying, re-localizing and re-setting the systems we depend on are imperative to keep the project of civilization going. That is, if you prefer civilization to its known alternatives.

Notice that all of these stories want to put over the general impression that the status quo is alive and well. They’re based on the dumb idea that the stock markets are a proxy for the economy, so if the Standard & Poor’s 500 keeps on going up, it’s all good. The master wish running through the American zeitgeist these days is that we might be able to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever.

The truth is that we still have a huge, deadly energy problem. Shale oil is not cheap oil, and it will stop seeming abundant soon. If the price of oil goes much above $100 a barrel, which you’d think would be great for the oil companies, it will crash demand for oil. If it crashes demand, the price will go down, hurting the profitability of the shale oil companies. It’s quite a predicament. Right now, in the $90-100-a-barrel range, it’s just slowly bleeding the economy while barely allowing the shale oil producers to keep up all the drilling. Two-thirds of all the dollars invested (more than $120 billion a year) goes just to keep production levels flat. Blogger Mark Anthonysummarized it nicely:

…the shale oil and gas developers tend to use unreliable production models to project unrealistically high EURs (Estimated Ultimate Recovery) of their shale wells. They then use the over-estimated EURs to under-calculate the amortization costs of the capital spending, in order to report “profits”, despite of the fact that they have to keep borrowing more money to keep drilling new wells, and that capital spending routinely out paces revenue stream by several times… shale oil and gas producers tend to over-exaggerate productivity of their wells, under-estimate the well declines…in order to pitch their investment case to banks and investors, so they can keep borrowing more money to keep drilling shale wells.

As stated in the intro, these perversities reverberate in the investment sector. Non-cheap oil upsets the mechanisms of capital formation — financial growth is stymied — in a way that ultimately affects the financing of oil production itself. Old credit cannot be repaid, scaring off new credit (because it is even more unlikely to be repaid). At ZIRP interest, nobody saves. The capital pools dry up. So the Federal Reserve has to issue ersatz credit dollars on its computers. That credit will remain stillborn and mummified in depository institutions afraid of lending it to the likes of sharpies and hypesters in the shale gas industry.

But real, functioning capital (credit that can be paid back) is vanishing, and the coming scarcity of real capital makes it much more difficult to keep the stupendous number of rigs busy drilling and fracking new shale oil wells, which you have to do incessantly to keep production up, and as the investment in new drilling declines, and the “sweet spots” yield to the less-sweet spots or the not-sweet-at-all spots… then the Ponzis of shale oil and shale gas, too will be unmasked as the jive endeavors they are. And when people stop believing these cockamamie stories, the truth will dawn on them that we are in a predicament where further growth and wealth cannot be generated and the economy is actually in the early stages of a permanent contraction, and that will trigger an unholy host of nasty consequences proceeding from the loss of faith in these fairy tales, going so far as the meltdown of the banking system, social turmoil, and political upheaval.

The bottom line is that the “shale revolution” will be short-lived. 2014 may be the peak production year in the Bakken play of North Dakota. Eagle Ford in Texas is a little younger and may lag Bakken by a couple of years. If Federal Reserve policies create more disorder in the banking system this year, investment for shale will dry up, new drilling will nosedive, and shale oil production will go down substantially. Meanwhile. conventional oil production in the USA continues to decline remorselessly.

The End of Fed Cred

It must be scary to be a Federal Reserve governor. You have to pretend that you know what you’re doing when, in fact, Fed policy appears completely divorced from any sense of consequence, or cause-and-effect, or reality — and if it turns out you’re not so smart, and your policies and interventions undermine true economic resilience, then the scuttling of the most powerful civilization in the history of the world might be your fault — even if you went to Andover and wear tortoise-shell glasses that make you appear to be smart.

The Fed painted itself into a corner the last few years by making Quantitative Easing a permanent feature of the financial landscape. QE backstops everything now. Tragically, additional backdoor backstopping extends beyond the QE official figures (as of December 2013) of $85 billion a month. American money (or credit) is being shoveled into anything and everything, including foreign banks and probably foreign treasuries. It’s just another facet of the prevailing pervasive dishonesty infecting the system that we have no idea, really, how much money is being shoveled and sprinkled around. Anything goes and nothing matters. However, since there is an official consensus that you can’t keep QE money-pumping up forever, the Fed officially made a big show of seeking to begin ending it. So in the Spring of 2013 they announced their intention to “taper” their purchases of US Treasury paper and mortgage paper, possibly in the fall.

Well, it turned out they didn’t or couldn’t taper. As the fall equinox approached, with everyone keenly anticipating the first dose of taper, the equity markets wobbled and the interest rate on the 10-year treasury — the index for mortgage loans and car loans — climbed to 3.00 percent from its May low of 1.63 — well over 100 basis points — and the Fed chickened out. No September taper. Fake out. So, the markets relaxed, the interest rate on the 10-year went back down, and the equity markets resumed their grand ramp into the Christmas climax. However, the Fed’s credibility took a hit, especially after all their confabulating bullshit “forward guidance” in the spring and summer when they couldn’t get their taper story straight. And in the meantime, the Larry-Summers-for-Fed-Chair float unfloated, and Janet Yellen was officially picked to succeed Ben Bernanke, with her reputation as an extreme easy money softie (more QE, more ZIRP), and a bunch of hearings were staged to make the Bernanke-Yellen transition look more reassuring.

And then on December 18, outgoing chair Bernanke announced, with much fanfare, that the taper would happen after all, early in the first quarter of 2014 ­— after he is safely out of his office in the Eccles building and back in his bomb shelter on the Princeton campus. The Fed meant it this time, the public was given to understand.

The only catch here, as I write, after the latest taper announcement, is that interest on the 10-year treasury note has crept stealthily back up over 3 percent. Wuh-oh. Not a good sign, since it means more expensive mortgages and car loans, which happen to represent the two things that the current economy relies on to appear “normal.” (House sales and car sales = normal in a suburban sprawl economy.)

I think the truth is the Fed just did too darn much QE and ZIRP and they waited way too long to cut it out, and now they can’t end it without scuttling both the stock and bond markets. But they can’t really go forward with the taper, either. A rock and a hard place. So, my guess is that they’ll pretend to taper in March, and then they’ll just as quickly un-taper. Note the curious report out of the American Enterprise Institute ten days ago by John H. Makin saying that the Fed’s actual purchase of debt paper amounted to an average $94 billion a month through the year 2013, not $85 billion. Which would pretty much negate the proposed taper of $5 billion + $5 billion (Treasury paper + Mortgage paper).

And in so faking and so doing they may succeed in completely destroying the credibility of the Federal Reserve. When that happens, capital will be disappearing so efficiently that the USA will find itself in a compressive deflationary spiral — because that’s what happens when faith in the authority behind credit is destroyed, and new loans to cover the interest on old loans are no longer offered in the non-government banking system, and old loans can’t be serviced. At which point the Federal Reserve freaks out and announces new extra-special QE way above the former 2013 level of $85 billion a month, and the government chips in with currency controls. And that sets in motion the awful prospect of the dreaded “crack-up boom” into extraordinary inflation, when dollars turn into hot potatoes and people can’t get rid of them fast enough. Well, is that going to happen this year? It depends on how spooked the Fed gets. In any case, there is a difference between high inflation and hyper-inflation. High inflation is bad enough to provoke socio-political convulsion. I don’t really see how the Fed gets around this March taper bid without falling into the trap I’ve just outlined. It wouldn’t be a pretty situation for poor Ms. Janet Yellen, but nobody forced her to take the job, and she’s had the look all along of a chump, the perfect sucker to be left holding a big honking bag of flop.

We’re long overdue for a return to realistic pricing in all markets. The Government and its handmaiden, the Fed, have tweaked the machinery so strenuously for so long that these efforts have entered the wilderness of diminishing returns. Instead of propping up the markets, all they can accomplish now is further erosion of the credibility of the equity markets and the Fed itself — and that bodes darkly for a money system that is essentially run on faith. I think the indexes have topped. The “margin” (money borrowed to buy stock) in the system is at dangerous, historically unprecedented highs. There may be one final reach upward in the first quarter. Then the equities crater, if not sooner. I still think the Dow and S &P could oversell by 90 percent of their value if the falsehoods of the post-2008  interventions stopped working their hoodoo on the collective wishful consciousness.

The worldwide rise in interest rates holds every possibility for igniting a shitstorm in interest rate swaps and upsetting the whole apple-cart of shadow banking and derivatives. That would be a bullet in the head to the TBTF banks, and would therefore lead to a worldwide crisis. In that event, the eventual winners would be the largest holders of gold, who could claim to offer the world a trustworthy gold-backed currency, especially for transactions in vital resources like oil. That would, of course, be China. The process would be awfully disorderly and fraught with political animus. Given the fact that China’s own balance sheet is hopelessly non-transparent and part-and-parcel of a dishonest crony banking system, China would have to use some powerful smoke-and-mirrors to assume that kind of dominant authority. But in the end, it comes down to who has the real goods, and who screwed up (the USA, Europe, Japan) and China, for all its faults and perversities, has the gold.

The wholesale transfer of gold tonnage from the West to the East was one of the salient events of 2013. There were lots of conspiracy theories as to what drove the price of gold down by 28 percent. I do think the painful move was partly a cyclical correction following the decade-long run up to $1900 an ounce. Within that cyclical correction, there was a lot of room for the so-called “bullion banks” to pound the gold and silver prices down with their shorting orgy. Numerous times the past year, somebody had laid a fat finger on the “sell” key, like, at four o’clock in the morning New York time when no traders were in their offices, and the record of those weird transactions is plain to see in the daily charts. My own theory is that an effort was made — in effect, a policy — to suppress the gold price via collusion between the Fed, the US Treasury, the bullion banks, and China, as a way to allow China to accumulate gold to offset the anticipated loss of value in the US Treasury paper held by them, throwing China a big golden bone, so to speak — in other words, to keep China from getting hugely pissed off. The gold crash had the happy effect for the US Treasury of making the dollar appear strong at a time when many other nations were getting sick of US dollar domination, especially in the oil markets, and were threatening to instigate a new currency regime by hook or by crook. Throwing China the golden bone is also consistent with the USA’s official position that gold is a meaningless barbaric relic where national currencies are concerned, and therefore nobody but the barbaric yellow hordes of Asia would care about it.

Other nations don’t feel that way. Russia and Switzerland have been accumulating gold like crazy at bargain prices this year. Lat year, Germany requested its sovereign gold cache (300 tons) to be returned from the vaults in America, where it was stored through all the decades of the cold war, safe from the reach of the Soviets. But American officials told the Germans it would take seven years to accomplish the return. Seven years ! ! ! WTF? Is there a shortage of banana boats? The sentiment in goldville is that the USA long ago “leased” or sold off or rehypothecated or lost that gold. Anyway, Germany’s 300 tons was a small fraction of the 6,700 tons supposedly held in the Fed’s vaults. Who knows? No auditors have been allowed into the Fed vaults to actually see what’s up with the collateral. This in and of itself ought to make the prudent nervous.

I think we’re near the end of these reindeer games with gold, largely because so many vaults in the West have been emptied. That places constraints on further shenanigans in the paper gold (and silver) markets. In an environment where both the destructive forces of deflation and inflation can be unleashed in sequence, uncertainty is the greatest motivator, trumping the usual greed and fear seen in markets that can be fairly measured against stable currencies. In 2014, the public has become aware of the bank “bail-in” phenomenon which, along with rehypothication schemes, just amounts to the seizure of customer and client accounts — a really new wrinkle in contemporary banking relations. Nobody knows if it’s safe to park cash money anywhere except inside the mattress. The precedent set in Cyprus, and the MF Global affair, and other confiscation events, would tend to support an interest in precious metals held outside the institutional framework. Uncertainty rules.

Miscellany

I get a lot of email on the subject of Bitcoin. Here’s how I feel about it.
It’s an even more abstract form of “money” than fiat currencies or securities based on fiat currencies. Do we need more abstraction in our economic lives? I don’t think so. I believe the trend will be toward what is real. For the moment, Bitcoin seems to be enjoying some success as it beats back successive crashes. I’m not very comfortable with the idea of investing in an algorithm. I don’t see how it is impervious to government hacking. In fact, I’d bet that somewhere in the DOD or the NSA or the CIA right now some nerd is working on that. Bitcoin is provoking imitators, other new computer “currencies.” Why would Bitcoin necessarily enjoy dominance? And how many competing algorithmic currencies can the world stand? Wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose of an alternative “go to” currency? All I can say is that I’m not buying Bitcoins.

Will ObamaCare crash and burn. It’s not doing very well so far. In fact, it’s a poster-child for Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong). I suppose the primary question is whether they can enroll enough healthy young people to correct the actuarial nightmare that health insurance has become. That’s not looking so good either now. But really, how can anyone trust a law that was written by the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry? And how can it be repealed when so many individuals, groups, companies, have already lost their pre-ObamaCare policies? What is there to go back to? Therefore, I’d have to predict turmoil in the health care system for 2014. The failure to resolve the inadequacies of ObamaCare also may be a prime symptom of the increasing impotence of the federal government to accomplish anything. That failure would prompt an even faster downscaling of governance as states, counties, communities, and individuals realize that they are on their own.

Sorry to skip around, but a few stray words about the state of American culture. Outside the capitals of the “one percent” — Manhattan, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, etc. — American material culture is in spectacular disrepair. Car culture and chain store tyranny have destroyed the physical fabric of our communities and wrecked social relations. These days, a successful Main Street is one that has a wig shop and a check-cashing office. It is sickening to see what we have become. Our popular entertainments are just what you would design to produce a programmed population of criminals and sex offenders. The spectacle of the way our people look —overfed, tattooed, pierced, clothed in the raiment of clowns — suggests an end-of-empire zeitgeist more disturbing than a Fellini movie. The fact is, it simply mirrors the way we act, our gross, barbaric collective demeanor. A walk down any airport concourse makes the Barnum & Bailey freak shows of yore look quaint. In short, the rot throughout our national life is so conspicuous that a fair assessment would be that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished.

Elsewhere in the World

Globalism, in the Tom Friedman euphoric sense, is unwinding. Currency wars are wearing down the players, conflicts and tensions are breaking out where before there were only Wal-Mart share price triumphs and Foxconn profits. Both American and European middle-classes are too exhausted financially to continue the consumer orgy of the early millennium. The trade imbalances are horrific. Unpayable debt saturates everything. Sick economies will weigh down commodity prices except for food-related things. The planet Earth has probably reached peak food production, including peak fertilizer. Supplies of grain will be inadequate in 2014 to feed the still-expanding masses of the poor places in the world.

The nervous calm in finance and economies since 2008 has its mirror in the relative calm of the political scene. Uprisings and skirmishes have broken out, but nothing that so far threatens the peace between great powers. There have been the now-historic revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and other Middle East and North African (MENA) states. Iraq is once again disintegrating after a decade of American “nation-building.” Greece is falling apart. Spain and Italy should be falling apart but haven’t yet. France is sinking into bankruptcy. The UK is in on the grift with the USA and insulated from the Euro, but the British Isles are way over-populated with a volatile multi-ethnic mix and not much of an economy outside the financial district of London. There were riots in — of all places — Sweden this year. Turkey entered crisis just a few weeks ago along with Ukraine.

I predict more colorful political strife in Europe this year, boots in the street, barricades, gunfire, and bombs. The populations of these countries will want relief measures from their national governments, but the sad news is that these governments are broke, so austerity seems to be the order of the day no matter what. I think this will prod incipient revolts in a rightward nationalist direction. If it was up to Marine LePen’s rising National Front party, they would solve the employment problem by expelling all the recent immigrants — though the mere attempt would probably provoke widespread race war in France.

The quarrel between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands is a diversion from the real action in the South China Sea, said to hold large underwater petroleum reserves. China is the world’s second greatest oil importer. Their economy and the credibility of its non-elected government depends on keeping the oil supply up. They are a long way from other places in the world where oil comes from, hence their eagerness to secure and dominate the South China Sea. The idea is that China would make a fuss over the Senkaku group, get Japan and the US to the negotiating table, and cede the dispute over them to Japan in exchange for Japan and the US supporting China’s claims in the South China Sea against the other neighbors there: Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The catch is that Japan may be going politically insane just now between the rigors of (Shinzo) Abenomics and the mystical horrors of Fukushima. Japan’s distress appears to be provoking a new mood of nationalist militarism of a kind not seen there since the 1940s. They’re talking about arming up, rewriting the pacifist articles in their constitution. Scary, if you have a memory of the mid-20th century. China should know something about national psychotic breaks, having not so long ago endured the insanity of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-71). So they might want to handle Japan with care. On the other hand, China surely nurtures a deep, deadly grudge over the crimes perpetrated by Japan in the Second World War, and now has a disciplined, world-class military, and so maybe they would like to kick Japan’s ass. It’s a hard one to call. I suspect that in 2014, the ball is in Japan’s court. What will they do? If the US doesn’t stay out of the way of that action, then we are insane, too.

That said, I stick by my story from last year’s forecast: Japan’s ultimate destination is to “go medieval.” They’re never going to recover from Fukushima, their economy is unraveling, they have no fossil fuels of their own and have to import everything, and their balance of payments is completely out of whack. The best course for them will be to just throw in the towel on modernity. Everybody else is headed that way, too, eventually, so Japan might as well get there first and set a good example.

By “go medieval” I mean re-set to a pre-industrial World Made By Hand level of operation. I’m sure that outcome seems laughably implausible to most readers, but I maintain that both the human race and the planet Earth need a “time out” from the ravages of “progress,” and circumstances are going to force the issue anyway, so we might as well kick back and get with the program: go local, downscale, learn useful skills, cultivate our gardens, get to know our neighbors, learn how to play a musical instrument, work, dine, and dance with our friends.

As it happens, the third in the series of my World Made By Hand novels, set in upstate New York in the post-collapse economy, will be published in September by the Atlantic Monthly Press. It’s a ripping yarn. Whether anyone will have enough money to buy a copy, I can’t predict. Happy 2014, Everybody!
New Features this week at kunstler.com:
Jim’s Garden Report, 2013
Jim’s New Paintings, 2011-2013

Published as an E-book for the first time!

The 20th Anniversary edition

With an entertaining new introduction by the author

 

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