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The fifth anniversary of Zero Hedge is just around the corner, and so, for the fifth year in a row we continue our tradition of summarizing what you, our readers, found to be the most relevant, exciting, and actionable news of the year, determined objectively by the number of page views. Those eager for a brief stroll down memory lane of prior years can do so at their leisure, by going back in time to our top articles of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. For everyone else, without further ado, these are the articles that readers found to be the most popular posts of the past 365 days.
- In 25th place, with just over 100k reads, was the extended profile of the puppetmaster of the biggest geopolitical event of 2013, the false flag-driven Syran conflict which nearly escalated into the world’s first YouTube “justified” world war pitching the US-led west against the Russia-led east, the Saudi intelligence chief: Prince Bandar, exposed in “Meet Saudi Arabia’s Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind The Syrian War.” The war was avoided with a last minute gambit by Putin, which lead to a historic detente between the US and Iran, as well as an unprecedented breakdown in US relations with its long-time middle east allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Look for the Middle East to make geopolitical headlines in the new year since the underlying issue – Europe’s dependence on Gazprom – remains entirely unresolved.
- The 24th most popular article hardly needs an explanation: “The Chinese Don’t Want Dollars Anymore, They Want Gold” – London’s Gold Vaults Are Empty: This Is Why.” The only comment here is that like above, the trend of gold’s transfer from West to East, started in earnest in late 2012, and peaking in 2013, is sure to continue in 2014 when the liquidation of paper gold in Western capital markets will afford Chinese buyers with ever more attractive prices at which to purchase physical gold
- In 23rd spot an “Unidentified Navy Officer summed it all up” when he said that “I didn’t join the navy to fight for Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.” It is understandable why over 106,000 people agreed with the message
- The 22nd most popular article looked at “What Happened The Last Time We Saw Gold Drop Like This?” which compared the fall in the price of gold in 2013 to previous historic occasions, most notably the months just before the collapse of Lehman. For now, courtesy of the $170 billion in liquidity injected by the Fed and the BOJ, “this time has proven different.” But with the Fed now tapering, how much longer will the illusion persist? We, like everyone else, look to 2014 for the answer.
- With 108k views, the 21st most read post of 2013 revealed the “Photos And Video Of the Boston Bombing Suspects“, culminating the most violent terrorist event in years, and one which brought back vivid memories of the events from September 11
- It may seem like a distant memory now, but the shocking announcement from mid-March in which Cypriot deposits were confiscated without a warning, reverberated across Europe and all insolvent banking systems, especially since it is now the blueprint of how banks will impair depositors going forward. Then again, with over 112k reads of our summary “For Everyone Shocked By What Just Happened… And Why This Is Just The Beginning” we reminded our readers that the deposit confiscation event of 2013 was predicted on these pages nearly two years earlier, and explained why, indeed, this is just the beginning of the great balance sheet rebalancing. For now Europe has managed to hide its hundreds of billions in bad loans under the couch; 2014 will be a different story. Look for the Cyprus “blueprint” to see a much wider acceptance in the coming year.
- In 19th spot, mother nature reminded everyone with a “Stunning Time-Lapse Video Of 2-Mile Wide Oklahoma Tornado” that despite their sense of omnipotence, the central planners better pray each and every day that in a world priced to beyond perfection, that there are no material natural disasters. Because 10 out of 10 times, a liquidity tsunami generated from a central bank’s printer is powerless to withstand a natural one, as the Fukushima catastrophe reminds us each and every day with headlines of its ever deteriorating radiation “containment.”
- A long-time favorite of readers, Kyle Bass’ Japan thesis came one step closer to fruition when earlier this year Japan went all in on its great reflation experiment, described in “Kyle Bass Warns The ‘AIG’ Of The World Is Back“, a presentation seen by over 114K readers. So far Abenomics has been a failure with wages contracting, import food and energy prices soaring, a record trade deficit (yes, Abenomics was supposed to boost net exports), and of course Fukushima in the background, but for now everyone has a rampaging Nikkei to be easily distracted by. With Abe’s popularity finally tumbling, will his second tenure as Prime Minister be cut short, and would his departure finally force Japan to cross the event horizon of no return? This is but another question which we hope 2014 will answer.
- In 17th spot, we revealed some very disturbing trends in US energy consumption with “These Charts Better Not Reflect The True State Of The US Economy.” Because while the shale revolution may have revealed a (transitory) marginal source of oil, what remains unknown is why demand for energy in the US economy is tumbling in parallel. Unless, of course, the narrative about a US recovery has been a lie from the beginning…
- With 121k reads, in the 16th top spot another post that needs no explanation was “Stunning Images From China: Ten Thousand People Waiting In Line To Buy Gold“. Perhaps the only article that could beat this one is “Ten thousand hedge fund managers waiting in line to sell GLD”
- There are stereotypes about others, and then there are stereotypes about America. Which perhaps explains why over 121k people eagerly read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” We can only hope they learned something.
- It may be forgotten now, but the biggest story of early 2013 was the Bundesbank’s shocking announcement in mid-January that it would proceed to repatriate some 700 tons of its gold held in central bank vaults in New York and Paris. Of course, the events described in “It Begins: Bundesbank To Commence Repatriating Gold From New York Fed” and read by 127k people, could be seen coming by Zero Hedge readers from a mile away: after all it was this website that repeatedly warned in late 2012 about the trials and tribulations that had surrounded the official German gold hoard. We can only hope that we were in some part responsible for the Buba’s correct decision to repatriate its gold. Then again, as we updated last week, having collected only 37 tons of gold in one year (out of 700), Germany will really have to pick up the pace if it hopes to have recourse to its hard currency before it is no longer a matter of convenience but one of survival.
- The 13th top article of the year was the release of the list with “132 Names Who Pulled Cyprus Deposits Ahead Of “Confiscation Day.” It appeared the Cyprus deposit confiscation was not a complete secret to everyone, but then again the Animal Farm “new normal” justice in which some are more equal than others is hardly a surprise to anyone these days.
- And speaking of confiscation, the 12th most read article of 2013, with 131k views was “Poland Confiscates Half Of Private Pension Funds To “Cut” Sovereign Debt Load.” It would appear that wealth transfer, first voluntary and then, not so much, will be an increasingly prevalent theme of the “recovery”…
- But the biggest stunner in this category was the impromptu announcement itself when on March 16, “Europe Does It Again: Cyprus Depositor Haircut “Bailout” Turns Into Saver “Panic”, Frozen Assets, Bank Runs, Broken ATMs.” Don’t worry though: Europe is now fixed, it is recovering, and, if one believes the continent’s unelected leaders, all shall forever be well. We are confident 2014 will show otherwise.
- The 10th most read article in 2013 dealt with the bedrock of the New Normal – the dollar’s reserve currency status, and rather, its gradual disintegration as China increasingly makes itself heard. It made itself heard loud and clear to the 142k readers who clicked on “Thanks, World Reserve Currency, But No Thanks: Australia And China To Enable Direct Currency Convertibility.” The loss of USD-reserve status will be yet another theme to keep a close eye on in 2014 and onward.
- Showing just how reliant on welfare the US has become was top article #9 in which a leaked USDA memo hinted of a “Foodstamp Program Shutdown Imminent” which grabbed the attention of 148k readers. For now SNAP as it is better known has been merely “tapered”, not fully shut down, although ensuing Walmart stampedes driven by EBT card glitches provided a glimpse of just had bad things could be if indeed nearly 50 million Americans suddenly found themselves without government backstops
- The troubles of the poor were hardly an issue for the 8th most popular article of 2013 in which we asked if “The Russians Have Already Quietly Withdrawn All Their Cash From Cyprus?” Once again it was the middle class that got shafted, while those who could fly in and out on private jets appear to have gotten away unscathed. This is certainly the prevailing theme of the past five years and one which will accelerate into the future.
- 152k people read the breaking news from April when “Large Explosions Reported At Boston Marathon; Numerous Injuries And Casualties.” The focal point of all watercooler talk for the next several weeks, the analogies to terrorist attacks in the past were unavoidable even if the motivations behind the attacks turned out to be far less nefarious and organized than initially feared.
- 2013 was the year in which the largest US city (to date) filed bankruptcy. However it was “25 Facts About The Fall Of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head” that was read by 154k people, that made this the 6th most popular article of 2013.
- 2013 was also the year in which the stock market finally took out its previous, 2007 highs, driven entirely by the unprecedented expansion of both the Fed’s and the Bank of Japan’s balance sheets. What over 163k found curious, however, were the other economic comparisons to “The Last Time The Dow Was Here…” Needless to say, there is nothing in the economy that would justify a market at the current levels, or even levels far lower, if it were only up to the economy. Luckily, there Fed is always there to lend a helping hand. And what can possibly go wrong…
- 2013 was not only the year of the Fed’s QEternity: it was also the year in which Japan went all in with its own reflation experiment. However, all will be for nothing unless the troubling facts revealed in “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” remain unresolved. Because at its core, Japan’s crisis is a demographic one, and at the current pace of social aging, there will be no Japan left in several decades. Unfortunately for Kuroda, he can’t print babies.
- The third most popular article of 2013 was posted almost exactly a year ago, when it “Put America’s Tax Hike In Perspective.” Over 171k people realized just how meaningless in the grand scheme of things was America’s grand bargain achieved last year at this time, over much stock market huffing and puffing. Then again, the fact that all major decisions in the US are put in the can that is later kicked down the street is also no news to anyone. The only thing in the here and now is theatrics, theatrics and more theatrics…
- The second most popular post of 2013, with nearly 200k reads, was our succinct summary of the US “recovery” laid out in “People Not In Labor Force Soar By 663,000 To 90 Million, Labor Force Participation Rate At 1979 Levels.” We are happy that by now everyone has finally understood that plunging unemployment at the expense of a collapsing work force is nothing to be proud about.
- And in the top spot, with nearly 300k reads, our most read article was the satirical, sarcastic look at the Egyptian counterrevolution titled “Egyptians Love Us For Our Freedom.” Turns out…they don’t. But they certainly appreciate the irony of two-faced, hypocritical US foreign policy which was humiliated and left in tatters both in Egypt and in every other place around the globe where either Hillary Clinton or John Kerry came, saw and promptly departed in the past year.
So what to make of the world as we enter 2014?
With nearly $2 trillion in emergency liquidity pumped by the world’s two largest central banks – more than has been injected ever before – the entire world is floating on an ocean of excess liquidity, which for now has succeeded in masking just how ugly the truth beneath the calm surface is. Sooner or later, the tide comes out, as it always does, and the naked are revealed for all to see. However, this time it will be the very final backstoppers of the status quo regime, the central banking emperors of the New Normal, who are finally exposed as wearing absolutely nothing. What happens then, and when that happens, is anyone’s guess. We, however, will be there to document every aspect of it.
Finally, and as always, we wish all our readers the best of luck and success in 2014, and leave everyone with a promise of what we can be 100% sure of: Zero Hedge will be there each and every day helping readers expose, unravel and comprehend the fallacy, fiction, fraud and farce that the system is reduced to (ab)using each and every day just to keep the grand tragicomedy going for at least one more day.
Though still a week shy of its centennial anniversary, the US Federal Reserve will hold a celebration this afternoon in Washington DC.
(They’re even live-streaming it… http://www.ustream.tv/federalreserve)
Just imagine the scene– a bunch of current and former central bankers slapping each other on the back, congratulating one another for a job well done over the last 100 years.
Of course, you and I know this is total nonsense… as is the concept of our modern monetary system in which we award total control of the money supply to a tiny central banking elite.
Human beings are fallible. We are not gods. Yet we practically deify central bankers and entrust them with the power to manipulate markets, control prices around the world, and effectively dominate the economy.
This system has proven to be foolish and destructive.
While the Fed engages in its self-aggrandizement this afternoon, there is another far more important anniversary today– the Boston Tea Party.
It was this day in 1773 that dozens of men dumped 342 chests of tea from 3 ships into the water. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that it started with bankers.
In 1771, London banker Alexander Fordyce of the banking house Neal, James, Fordyce and Down thought himself infallible too.
Fordyce had made a fortune as a speculator, and he enjoyed his opulent wealth. He held magnificent estates in Surrey, Roehampton, and Scotland, and once blew 14,000 pounds (several million dollars today) running for parliament.
There was only one problem: Fordyce began making his bets using other people’s money. And when his bet on the East India Company didn’t work out, Fordyce’s bank used customer deposits to cover their losses.
By June 1772, the bank could no longer keep up the charade. And within days their collapse caused a cascade of other bank failures as far as Edinburgh and Holland.
With a crisis unfolding, the government forced the central bank to intervene in a way that was eerily similar to the 2008 financial crisis.
Just like 2008, too-big-to-fail companies got bailed out… including the East India Company itself. The East India Company was a bit like General Motors a few years ago– it was obvious they were in financial straits.
And as part of the bailout, the British parliament soon passed the Tea Act– an attempt to flood the colonies with the East India Company’s stockpiles of excess tea.
The Tea Act had another purpose, though– to assert parliament’s right to tax the colonies. And this is what ultimately led to the Tea Party on December 16, 1773.
John Adams wrote in his diary that the destruction of the tea was ‘daring’ and ‘intrepid’, and that to ignore the Tea Act would be like submitting “to Egyptian taskmasters, to [burdens], Indignities, to Ignominy, Reproach and Contempt, to Desolation and Oppression, to Poverty and Servitude.”
Britain’s harsh reaction to the Tea Party further escalated tensions with the colonists, and it wasn’t long afterward that the first shots were fired.
Given the prominent role of bankers and bailouts in the American Revolution, it’s ironic that the Federal Reserve has chosen to hold its centennial celebration today.
And as they all slap each other on the back today extolling the Fed’s ‘successes’, one can only hope that the arrogance and pomposity of the current system will lead to a new revolution– this time a revolution of the monetary system and a return to the principles of sound money.
This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt, who is also the author of the brief introduction.
• ♦ •
Two Saturdays ago, I was walking with a friend in a park here in New York City. It was late January, but I was dressed in a light sweater and a thin fall jacket, which I had just taken off and tied around my waist. We were passing a strip of bare ground when suddenly we both did a double-take. He looked at me and said, “Crocuses!” Dumbfounded, I replied, “Yes, I see them.”
And there they were, a few clumps of tell-tale green shoots poking up from the all-brown ground as if it were spring. Such a common, comforting sight, but it sent a chill through me that noticeably wasn’t in the air. Even the flowers, I thought, are confused by our new version of weather.
Later that same week, as temperatures in the Big Apple crested 60 degrees, I was chatting on the phone with a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts. I was telling him about the crocuses, when he suddenly said, “I’m looking out my window right now and for the first time in my memory of January, there’s not a trace of snow!”
Of course, our tales couldn’t be more minor or anecdotal, even if the temperatures that week did feel like we were on another planet. Here’s the thing, though: after a while, even anecdotes add up — maybe we should start calling them “extreme anecdotes” — and right now there are so many of them being recounted across the planet. How could there not be in a winter, now sometimes referred to as “Junuary,” in which, in the United States, 2,890 daily high temperature records have either been broken or tied at last count, with the numbers still rising?
Meanwhile, just to the south of us, in Mexico, extreme anecdotes abound, since parts of the country are experiencing “the worst drought on record”. Even cacti are reportedly wilting and some towns are running out of water (as they are across the border in drought-stricken Texas). And worst of all, the Mexican drought is expected to intensify in the months to come.
And who can doubt that in Europe, experiencing an extreme cold spell the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades — even Rome had a rare snowfall and Venice’s canals were reported to be freezing over — there are another set of all-too-extreme anecdotes. After all, in places like Ukraine, scores of the homeless are freezing to death, pipes are bursting, power cuts are growing, and maybe even an instant energy crisis is underway (at a moment when the European Union is getting ready to cut itself off from Iranian oil).
That’s just to begin a list. And yet here’s the strange thing. At least in this country, you can read the “freaky” weather reports or listen to the breathless TV accounts of unexpected tornadoes striking the South in January and rarely catch a mention of the phrase “climate change”. Given the circumstances, the relative silence on the subject is little short of eerie, even if worries about climate change lurk just below the surface. Which is why it’s good to have TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, take a clear-eyed look at American denialism and just what it is we prefer not to take in.
– Tom Engelhardt
• • •
The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the fossil fuel industry fights so hard
By Bill McKibben
If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.
In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.
It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The US and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western US is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”
In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded US history”. Indeed, it followed in 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” The nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”
In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.
Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”
Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.
And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.
It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.
Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.
In ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of fossil fuel reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil.
Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.
Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.
When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.
If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.
Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).
If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead. To take just one example, last month the boss of the US Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.
The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions.
What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.
Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.
Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.
- The Conservatives’ economic stability message becoming a myth: Tim Harper (thestar.com)
- Robert Reich: The Myth of the “Free Market” (economicpolicyjournal.com)
- What economic recovery (politicaltrashtalk.com)
- Waiting for the Next Recession (dailyfinance.com)
- A False Recovery (blogs4victory.wordpress.com)
- Bias & The Abuse Of Economic Data (realclearmarkets.com)
- ZeroHedge: The Great Plunge is Coming (silveristhenew.com)
- ZeroHedge: Guest Post: Central Bankers Still Don’t Get It (silveristhenew.com)
- Lessons From The 1930s: The Stock Market And The Economy Are Not The Same (rvnewstoday.com)
- Rich are ‘hardest hit by recession’ (telegraph.co.uk)