Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 1:03 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Two monkeys 1562

 

And there we go again. Another IPCC report, and they all keep getting more alarming than the previous one. And then nothing substantial happens. Until the next report is issued and makes everybody’s headlines for a day, or two. Rinse, spin and repeat. “Now we really have to do something!”. “World leaders have a moral obligation to act!”.

Oh boy. To start with that last bit, world leaders don’t act because of moral obligations. They act to stay in, or get in, power. And they all know that to achieve that goal they must keep their people happy, even if dictators do this differently from ‘democratically elected’ leaders.

The first tool they have for this is control of the media, control of the narratives that define -or seem to- their societies. If a society is in bad shape, they will control the media to show that it is doing fine. if it’s actually doing fine, they will make sure all the praise for this is theirs and theirs alone.

So what makes their people happy? One thing far ahead of anything else is material comfort. If leaders can’t convince people that they’re comfortable, their power is in danger. Once enough people are miserable or hungry, a process is set in motion that threatens to push leaders aside in favor of someone who promises to make things better. There’s never a shortage of those.

 

Leaders, politicians, think short-term. They may see further into the future than the next election, but that is not useful information. If they enact measures aimed at 10 years from today or more, they risk being voted out in 2 years, or 4. It’s not even their fault, it’s how the system works. It is different for dictators, but not even that much.

The general notion is clear. But that means we can’t rely on our leaders to act against the climate change the IPCC keeps warning of. because is has a -much- longer time window than the next elections -or the next coup in dictator terms. Even if every IPCC report depicts a shorter window than the last one, it’s still not inside those 4-year election cycles (numbers vary slightly, 4 is typical).

A typical ‘response’ to the climate threat are the COP meetings and agreements. I have fulminated plenty against COP21, the Paris accord, even named it CON21. Because that was signed by those very leaders tied down in their election cycles. Completely useless. That most of the other signees were business leaders who represent oil companies, airlines and Big Tech with huge server parks seals the reality of the deal.

These are not the people who will solve the problems. They have too much interest in not doing so. The CEO’s have their profits to think about, the politicians their elections. They should be kept out of the decision-making process. But they’re the only ones who are in it.

I still think the issue was never better epitomized than in the December 2016 piece in the Guardian by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney entitled “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” , about which I said at the time:

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution?

This week’s IPCC report says the efforts to keep warming at acceptable levels (1.5ºC) will cost many trillions of dollars every year. But a billionaire publisher and a central bank head want to make a profit?! Hey, perhaps they can, as long as you and I pay… But they won’t solve a thing. if only because not doing that will be too profitable. Still, while they’re at it, maybe they can do us a favor.

You see, what is hardly ever mentioned, let alone acknowledged, is that we have more than one major existential problem, and they exist in such a form of symbiosis that solving only one doesn’t make much difference.

We have a changing climate, we have accelerating species extinction, we have plastics in our fish, and we have a global economy that’s about to topple over. The common thread in all these is an overkill in energy use and therefore an overkill in waste. Thermodynamics, 2nd law. Waste kills. By raising temperatures, finishing off wildlife, plugging rivers and oceans with plastics, making increasing amounts of people economically miserable.

But as I wrote a while ago, our economies exist to produce waste, it’s not just a by-product -anymore-. If we stop making things we don’t need, and things that do harm to our world and our lives, our economies will collapse. We must continue on our path or see our lifetstyles plummet. They will anyway, we’re just delaying the inevitable, but we’re stuck.

And politicians are utterly useless and utterly unfit in situations like this. But ask yourself: are you any better? If you were told that in order to ‘save the planet’, you’d have to cut your energy use in half, which would take away many of your comforts and luxuries, would you do it?

A better question yet is, if you would agree to do that, and then see that your neighbor does not, would you still cut your driving and flying and electricity? That’s hard enough on an individual level, but how about if one nation does, while another refuses? Or when nations that have much lower per capita energy consumption tell the West: you go first?

 

What do you think the odds are that we’ll find a global solution, approach, before the 2030 cutoff date the IPCC provides in its latest report? While the likes of Bloomberg and Carney still talk about climate change as a profit opportunity? I know what I think.

The report says we need to drastically ‘reform’ our economies and lifestyles. Cutting our energy use in the West in half won’t be enough, if only because billions of people demand more energy at their disposal. Will you cut into your lifestyle, will your children, when they see their neighbors increasing their energy use, when they see entire nations increase theirs?

We don’t have ‘leaders’ that can stop species extinction or a warming planet or an economic collapse, because they either are clueless or they will be voted out of power if they tell the truth. Extend and pretend is a term that’s used to describe economic policies a lot, but it actually paints an accurate picture of everything we do.

“Free”, surplus, energy can come in the shape of sugar in a petri dish full of bacteria, or of stored carbon on planet earth. In both cases, the outcome is as predictable as can be. Can we, with our billions of cars and billions of miles flown every year, and billions of phones and computers, return to the energy use of only 100 years ago? Don’t think so.

On the contrary, we’re constantly increasing our energy consumption. Just like the bacteria do in the petri dish. Until they no longer can, until reality, physics, thermodynamics, sets a limit. One of my favorite themes is that we are the most tragic species ever because we can see ourselves doing things that we know are harmful to us, but we can’t stop ourselves from continuing.

The best we can hope for is that tomorrow morning everything will be the same again as where we started today. But no, that’s not sufficient, either, many of the things we’ve unleashed have 20+ year runtimes, and they’re already baked into the cake of our futures. We can’t start afresh every morning, no Groundhog Day for us. Every morning the alarm goes off things have gotten worse. And we can’t stop that.

 

 

Oct 132017
 
 October 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt Old man with a beard 1630

 

“The Cost of Missing the Market Boom is Skyrocketing”, says a Bloomberg headline today. That must be the scariest headline I’ve seen in quite a while. For starters, it’s misleading, because people who ‘missed’ the boom haven’t lost anything other than virtual wealth, which is also the only thing those who haven’t ‘missed’ it, have acquired.

Well, sure, unless they sell their stocks. But a large majority of them won’t, because then they would ‘miss’ out on the market boom… Some aspects of psychology don’t require years of study. Is that what behavioral economics is all about?

And it’s not just the headline, the entire article is scary as all hell. It reads way more like a piece of pure and undiluted stockbroker propaganda that it does resemble actual objective journalism, which Bloomberg would like to tell you it delivers. And it makes its point using some pretty dubious claims to boot:

 

The Cost of Missing the Market Boom Is Skyrocketing

Skepticism in global equity markets is getting expensive. From Japan to Brazil and the U.S. as well as places like Greece and Ukraine, an epic year in equities is defying naysayers and rewarding anyone who staked a claim on corporate ownership. Records are falling, with about a quarter of national equity benchmarks at or within 2% of an all-time high.

If equity markets in places like Greece and Ukraine, ravaged by -in that order- financial and/or actual warfare, are booming, you don’t need to fire too many neurons to understand something’s amiss. Some of their companies may be doing okay, but not their entire economies. Their boom must be a warning sign, not some bullish signal. That makes no sense. Stocks in Aleppo may be thriving too, but…

“You’ve heard people being bearish for eight years. They were wrong,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James, which oversees $500 billion. “The proof is in the returns.” To put this year’s gains in perspective, the value of global equities is now 3 1/2 times that at the financial crisis bottom in March 2009.

If markets crash by, pick a number, 20-30-50% next week, will Mr. Saut still claim “The proof is in the returns”? I doubt it. Though this time he might be right. As for the ‘value’ of global equities being 250% (give or take) higher than in March 2009, does that mean those who were -or still are- bearish were wrong? Or is there some remote chance that the equities are part of a giant planetwide bubble?

Aided by an 8% drop in the U.S. currency, the dollar-denominated capitalization of worldwide shares appreciated in 2017 by an amount – $20 trillion – that is comparable to the total value of all equities nine years ago. And yet skeptics still abound, pointing to stretched valuations or policy uncertainty from Washington to Brussels. Those concerns are nothing new, but heeding to them is proving an especially costly mistake.

$20 trillion. That’s a lot of dough. It’s what all equities in the world combined were ‘worth’ 9 years ago. It’s also, oh irony, awfully close to the total increase in central bank balance sheets, through QE etc. Might the two be related in any way?

 

 

Clinging to such concerns means discounting a harmonized recovery in the global economy that’s virtually without precedent – and set to pick up steam, according to the IMF. At the same time, inflation remains tepid, enabling major central banks to maintain accommodative stances.

‘Harmonized recovery’ is a priceless find. But you have to feel for anyone who believes it. And it’s obviously over the top ironic that central banks are said to be ‘enabled’ to keep rates low precisely because they fail to both understand and raise inflation. Let’s call it the perks of failure.

“When policy is easy and growth is strong, this is an environment more conducive for people paying up for valuations,” said Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley. “The markets are up in line with what the earnings have done, and stronger earnings helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.”

Oh boy. He actually said that? What have earnings done? He hasn’t read any of the warnings on P/E (price/earnings) for the (US) market in general –“the Shiller P/E Cyclically Adjusted P/E, or CAPE, ratio, which is based on the S&P 500’s average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, is above 30 when its average is 16.8”– or for individual companies (tech) in particular?

The CAPE ratio has been higher than it is now only twice in history: right before the Great Depression and during the dotcom bubble, when tech companies didn’t even have to be able to fog a mirror to attract billions in ‘capital’. And the chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley says markets are in line with earnings? Again, oh boy.

No, it’s not earnings that “..helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.” Cheap money did that. Central banks did that. As they were destroying fixed capital, savings, pensions.

 

 

The numbers are impressive: more than 85% of the 95 benchmark indexes tracked by Bloomberg worldwide are up this year, on course for the broadest gain since the bull market started. Emerging markets have surged 31%, developed nations are up 16%. Big companies are becoming huge, from Apple to Alibaba.

Look, emerging markets and developed economies have borrowed up the wazoo. Because they could. Often in US dollars. That may cause a -temporary- gain in stock markets, but it casts a dark spell over the reality of these markets. If it’s that obvious that a substantial part of your happy news comes from debt, there’s very little reason to celebrate.

Technology megacaps occupy all top six spots in the ranks of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization for the first time ever. Up 39% this year, the $1 trillion those firms added in value equals the combined worth of the world’s six-biggest companies at the bear market bottom in 2009. Apple, priced at $810 billion, is good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500.

To cast those exact same words in a whole different light, no, Apple is not ‘good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500’. Yes, you can argue that Apple’s ‘value’ has lifted other stocks too, but this has happened in a time of zero price discovery AND near zero interest rates. That means people have no way to figure out if a company is actually doing well, so it’s safer to park their cash in Apple.

Ergo: Apple, and the FANGs in general, take valuable money out of the stock market. At the same time that they, companies with P/E earnings ratios to the moon and back, buy back their stocks at blinding speeds. So yeah, Apple may be ‘good’ for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500, but at the same time it’s not good for that value at all. It’s killing companies by sucking up potential productive investment.

And Apple’s just an example. Silicon Valley as a whole is a scourge upon America’s economy, hoovering away even the cheapest and easiest money and redirecting it to questionable start-up projects with very questionable P/E ratios. But then, that’s what you get without price discovery.

 

 

Overall, U.S. corporate earnings are expected to rise 11% this year, on track to be the best profit growth since 2010. And after years of disappointments, European profits are set to climb 14% in 2017, Bloomberg data show. The expectations for both regions are roughly in line with forecasts made at the beginning of the year, defying the usual pattern of analysts downgrading their estimates as the months go by.

Come on, the European Central Bank has been buying bonds and securities at a rate of €60 billion a month for years now. How can it be any wonder that officially stock markets are up 14%? Maybe we should be surprised it’s not 114%. Maybe the one main point in all of this is that the ECB is still buying at that rate, and thereby signaling things are still as bad as when they started doing it.

Meanwhile, Asia is home to some of the world’s steepest rallies, led by Hong Kong stocks that are up 29% this year. Shares in Tokyo also hit fresh decade highs this week, bolstered by investor confidence before the local corporate earnings season and a snap election this month. “Asia will benefit from continued improving regional growth, stable macroeconomic conditions and undemanding valuations,” said BNP Paribas Asset Management’s head of Asia Pacific equities Arthur Kwong. Any pullback in Asian equities after the year-to-date rally presents a buying opportunity for long-term investors, he wrote in a note.

In Japan, so-called investor confidence is based solely on the Bank of Japan continuing to purchase anything that’s not bolted down. In China, the central bank buys the kitchen sink as well. How, knowing that, can you harp on about increased investor confidence? As if central banks taking over entire economies either isn’t happening, or makes no difference to economies? Buying opportunity?

Global economic growth has been robust in most places, with Europe finally joining the party and the euro-area economy on track for its best year since at least 2010. The region’s steady recovery has eclipsed worries about populism, which a few years ago would have been enough to derail any stock market rally.

No, global economic growth has not been ‘robust’. Stock market growth perhaps has been, but that’s only due to QE and buybacks. Still, stock markets are not the economy.

“I’ve never been so optimistic about the global economy,” said Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “Ten years after the financial crisis, Europe is recovering and we have synchronized economic growth around the world. Even if we get it wrong on a country or two, it doesn’t change the big picture, which is positive for the equity markets.”

Oh man. And at that exact moment the ECB announces it wants to cut its QE purchase in half by next year.

Nowhere is the shifting sentiment more pronounced than in Europe, where global investors began the year with a election calendar looming like a sword of Damocles. Ten months later, the Euro Stoxx 50 Index is up 10%, Italy’s FTSE MIB Index is up 17% and Germany’s DAX Index is up 13%. The rally is even stronger when priced in U.S. dollars, with the Euro Stoxx 50 up 23% since the start of the year.

Sure, whatever. I don’t want to kill your dream, and I don’t have to. The dream will kill itself. You’ll hear a monumental ‘POP’ go off, and then you’re back in reality.

 

 

Note: Rembrandt painted the portrait above when he was just 23-24 years old.

 

 

Jun 282015
 
 June 28, 2015  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Red Cross Motor Corps, Washington, DC 1917

Just another normal morning at the Automatic Earth. Shaking off the local drink – when in Rome.. – and perusing a thousand views and pieces, many on the inevitable topic of ‘Da Referendum’. And I got to say, I can’t even tell whether it’s just me, but there is this huge divide between what a simple vote can and should be, and how it is perceived and presented.

And no, it’s not my ouzo-riddled stupor, it’s what common sense I have left that has me wondering what causes the divide. Case in point, Bloomberg has a piece called “Tsipras Asking Grandma to Figure Out If Greek Debt Deal Is Fair”. The implied connotation being that asking grandma about anything other than knitting patterns and souvlaki recipes is asking for trouble. What does she know? Politics should be decided by politicians. Well, and bankers of course. And Bloomberg editors. Did I mention economists?

Tsipras Asking Grandma to Figure Out If Greek Debt Deal Is Fair

Economists with PhDs and hedge-fund traders can barely stay on top of the vagaries of Greece’s spiraling debt crisis. Now, try getting grandma to vote on it. That’s what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is doing by calling a snap referendum for July 5 on the latest bailout package from creditors.

The 68-word ballot question namechecks four international institutions and asks voters for their opinion on two highly technical documents that weren’t made public before the referendum call and were only translated into Greek on Saturday. Worse, they may no longer be on the table. IMF chief Christine Lagarde told the BBC late on Saturday that “legally speaking, the referendum will relate to proposals and arrangements which are no longer valid.”

Tsipras’s decision means everyone from fishermen to taxi-drivers and factory workers will have to form an opinion on the package, with their country’s economic future hanging in the balance. A rejection of the bailout terms could lead to an exit from the euro area and economic calamity; accepting them would probably keep Greece in the euro, but with more austerity.

“Usually in democracies, it’s the technocrats and the politicians who take care of the details, while voters are asked about broader issues and principles,” said Philip Shaw, the chief economist in London at asset manager Investec. “This is a transfer of responsibility from parliament to the voters.”

Now, we all know that when and where democracy was born, and I’m quite literally at a stone’s throw from the very spot it was, as I write this, grandma had precious little say. But grandpa did, and repeatedly, the idea was that people would vote on all big decisions to be made, instead of having them decided by some power-happy individual.

We all, or most of us, think to this day that that was a good, and indeed world-changing, initiative. We talk about democracy all the time like it’s a good thing. So where does Bloomberg come from belittling the concept to the point where they put the word ‘Grandma’ in their headline, in an obvious attempt at making the entire thing look ridiculous?

They could instead have said ‘grandpa’ (big difference already) or ‘cab driver’ or ‘unemployed person’ or, get ready for this, ‘the people’. “Tsipras Asking The People to Figure Out If Greek Debt Deal Is Fair”. Sounds completely different, doesn’t it? Really, we cannot talk about democracy anymore without trying to ridicule it, Bloomberg?

Greece’s own Mr Piggy, Evangelos Venizelos, who bears a lot of blame for what Greece goes through today from his stint as finance minister, and is still PASOK’s go-to guy, though they were almost voted out of existence in January, tried a nice take. He claimed that the referendum was unconstitutional, something to do with fiscal matters not being allowed to be out before the people.

As if Syriza were too stupid to have read the law before letting Tsipras call the July 5 vote.

I’m thinking there’s not a shade of doubt that we will see the craziest claims and reports and theories. From Greek opposition parties, from ‘respectable media’, from US and European spin doctors offering ‘help’ to the likes of Venizelos and Samaras et al.

But that Bloomberg thing sure sets the tone. We have lost even the most basic principle and notion of what democracy means: a vote by the people on matters that concern the people. As Yanis Varoufakis tweeted yesterday:

Democracy deserved a boost in euro-related matters. We just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds!)

What else can we say? Let’s keep it at this: we’ve come a long way. We can’t even talk about democracy anymore without ridiculing it.

Oh, and the title of this piece? Blame Virgil, Roman poet, well over 2000 years ago.

Jun 162015
 
 June 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Conductor picks up message from operator on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 1943

While I’m on the Greece topic again today, I can’t help but pointing out some of the changes in tone I’ve noticed in the press recently, shifting towards outright oftentimes vicious if not ridiculous antagonism vs Greece. Remember, there is an agenda, there are pre-cooked narratives galore, and these people are not your friends.

I won’t be able to cover all the things I would like to right now, let’s start with just the one. And I’m warning you: it might get philosophical.

This is from Marc Champion for Bloomberg yesterday:

Tsipras Isn’t on the Side of Democracy

Recently, I asked whether the Greek government actually wants to strike a deal on its debt, or if its increasingly erratic approach to negotiations might reflect a determination to ensure that Greeks blame their creditors, not their government, for a coming meltdown. [..] Here’s what Tsipras said in a statement about the abortive talks and current bailout:

“One can only suspect political motives behind the fact that the institutions insist on further pension cuts, despite five years of pillaging via the memoranda. The Greek government has been negotiating with a specific plan and documented proposals. We will wait patiently till the institutions adhere to realism.

Those who consider our sincere wish for a solution as well as our efforts to bridge the gap as a sign of weakness, should have in mind the following: We are not only carrying a historical past underlined with struggles. We are carrying our people’s dignity as well as the aspirations of all Europeans. We cannot ignore this responsibility. It is not a matter of ideological stubbornness. It has to do with democracy.”

Tsipras’s proposition that he’s championing the hope of downtrodden masses across Europe is nonsense. Germans may be wrong and unfair to prefer losing the loans they made Greece to taking a haircut, but they have a democratic right to believe they’re correct.

Really, Champion? Where do I start? How about “its increasingly erratic approach to negotiations”? At the very least, that doesn’t sound like a subjective view at all. It’s also completely off, but that’s another matter.

Syriza has stuck to what it said all along: negotiations are possible, but not about everything. Not about making a desperate people even more desperate. Not only is that useless and harmful to all parties involved in the talks, it’s also immoral. Granted, ‘immoral’ may be considered a subjective view too. Then again, it shouldn’t be.

But how sticking to your convictions qualifies as ‘erratic’, I simply don’t know. I presume that’s a subjective interpretation of what the author reads in the press. Maybe he never realized there were convictions in play, maybe he figured it was all just another political barter trade, two goats for a cow. It’s not.

Then, “championing the hope of downtrodden masses across Europe” is merely a frankly pretty stupid interpretation of Tsipras’ words. Who talks about “our people’s dignity” and “the aspirations of all Europeans”. Oh, and “democracy”. Why that needs to be translated as ‘downtrodden masses’ reveals a lot about who Champion is, but nothing about Tsipras. It’s just not what he says.

The last point is more interesting, and more cantankerous at the same time. Champion contends that Germans have the right to insist on Greek haircuts before they take losses on loans they made to Greece. And the right to “believe they’re correct” about whatever it is they believe.

Is that an attempt to turn democracy into a religion, or is it just me?

First off, Germans made no such loans to Greeks, not in the way they are consistently presented. Instead, their government insisted in 2010 on bailing out their own banks and have the Greek people pay for that bailout when it was crystal clear the Greeks wouldn’t be able to, let alone should.

If that is still not obvious, here’s the thing: it’s why we are where we are. If Merkel and Sarkozy had simply told their people what was really going on, we wouldn’t be in this mess. And they might have lost their office.

Bailouts of French banks were even more costly. Costly not to the French, but to the Greeks. And I’ll repeat myself again: that is and was a political decision, not an economic one. Which is the pivotal point in the entire Greek saga.

Thing is, this was never explained to the German or French people. Their media, and their politicians, have always persisted in maintaining the less-than-honest version. That is it was wasteful Greeks who were to blame, not German and French greedy well-connected bankers and their losing wagers.

Which leads to the question: if Germans have been consistently misled about the whole Greece issue, what exactly is the value of their “democratic right to believe they’re correct”? A phrase that sounds pretty absurd to begin with, mind you, if you read it more than once.

Is it that being lied to in and of itself is a ‘democratic right’, or is this about the right to draw -inevitably faulty- opinions based on those lies? How does that work? Honest, I don’t get it.

Do Bloomberg’s mostly American readers, after reading Champion’s obvious distortions of what Tsipras said, spiced with the author’s personal ‘opinions’, then also have a democratic right to judge Greece based on those words? I’m going to have to guess so.

But let’s get real: What does any of this have to do with democracy anymore? And, more importantly, where does it leave the democratic rights of the Greek people? Do they need to be fed lies too to participate in this game?

The Greek people have had no say in how Berlin and Paris presented the bailouts of their domestic banks to their respective homebase(s). All they have a say in is how Tsipras and Syriza stand up for them. That right there defines, and limits, their democratic rights. That’s all they got -left-. They have the right to elect a government that promises to take care of their interests, better than umpteen governments before them who didn’t.

How does that compare with the Germans’ alleged right to “believe they’re correct”? When all they’ve been fed is a greatly distorted version of what actually went down?

I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to.

I think what Champion says is that people have a democratic right to be wrong. But do they then also have the right to hurt others while exercising that ‘right’?

Doesn’t this put the onus on their governments and media? Do they have a democratic right to spread distorted information? If so, what is democracy, exactly? What is left of it if all that is valid?

I suggest you and I revisit this, and in the meantime I’m curious to see what you have to say about it. How do lies, distortions and subjective opinions relate to democracy? Is lying and distorting a democratic right, for politicians and journalists?

Apr 112015
 
 April 11, 2015  Posted by at 7:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Inauguration of air mail service, Washington, DC 1918

That title may be a bit much, granted, because never is a very long time. I might instead have said “The American Consumer Won’t Be Back For A Very Long Time”. Still, I simply don’t see any time in the future that would see Americans start spending again at a rate anywhere near what would be required for an economic recovery. Looks pretty infinity and beyond to me.

However, that is by no means a generally accepted point of view in the financial press. There’s reality, and then there’s whatever it is they’re smoking, and never the twain shall meet. Admittedly, my title may be a bit provocative, but in my view not nearly as provocative, if not offensive, as Peter Coy’s at Bloomberg, who named his latest effort “US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough”.

I know, sometimes they make it just too easy to whackamole ’em down and into the ground. But even then, these issues must be addressed time and again until people begin to understand, and quit making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. People have a right to know what’s truly happening to their lives, and their societies. And they’re not nearly getting enough of it through the ‘official’ press. So here goes nothing:

US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough

People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending.

The first problem with Coy’s thesis is that even if people open their wallets, far too many of them will find there’s nothing there. And Bernanke simply doesn’t understand what savings are. His ideas through the past decade+ about a Chinese savings glut were always way off the mark, and his global – or American – savings glut theory is, if possible, even more wrong. In the minds of the world’s Bernankes, there’s no such thing as people opening their wallets to find them empty. If they don’t spend, they must be saving. That there’s a third option, that of not having any dollars to spend, is for all intents and purposes ignored.

The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.

The little man inside, when I read things like that, tells me this is nonsense. So I decided to look up how the US personal savings rate is calculated. Turns out, it’s another one of those whacky goal-seeked government numbers. At least, that’s what I make of it. Mainly, though not even exclusively, because of things like this, from a site called Take A Smart Step:

[The personal savings rate in] November 2012 was 3.6%, this is not even close to where we need to be for financial health. This savings rate barely gives us enough to handle emergencies, and makes us as a nation weaker. The government calculates the personal savings rate as the difference between the after tax income and consumption of Americans. So they include not only retirement savings, but debt repayments, college savings, emergency fund savings, anything that was not spent.

Making paying off your debt (i.e. money you’ve already spent) count towards your savings is a practice fraught with questionable consequences. But useful for economists, and accountants alike, no doubt. The problem with it is that it hides reality behind a veil. Because debt repayments are not really savings at all; people are not free to spend what they put into paying off debt, on something else, like iPads, cars or trinkets. Not even on hookers or crack cocaine, for that matter.

For the vast majority of what is paid off in debt, there’s no such thing as free choices. People pay off debt because they must. Or, to look at it from another, wide lens, angle, Americans would have to stop servicing their debt payments if they want to ‘start spending’ again.

Going through the numbers from various sources, I can see that the US personal savings rate is presently some 5.8% of pre-tax income, and debt repayment is close to 10% of disposable -after tax – income. I’m still trying to make those stats rhyme. But no matter how you read and interpret them, it should be clear that debt repayments are a large part of ‘official’ savings. Even if they really shouldn’t be counted as such.

Of what remains in real savings, retirement/pension savings must necessarily be a substantial percentage, and it would be weird to call those things ‘saving like there is a tomorrow’, if only because they are about, well, tomorrow. But that seems to be the new normal: creating the impression that saving any money at all is somehow detrimental to the economy. A truly crazy notion, if you ask me. Let’s get back to Bloomberg’s Coy:

There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket.

In someone else’s pocket, but no longer in yours. Why would that be so great? It’s only great if that someone has added value to something by doing productive work, not if you simply swap paper assets.

If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development.

That notion of ‘the financial system is supposed to’ refers to theories such as those that Bernanke and his ilk ‘believe’ in. Theories that have no practical value. What is normal for many everyday Americans is crippling debt levels, and no such thing is recognized in these theories. After all, according to them, whatever amount of dollars you get in, you either spend or save them. And if you use them to pay off previously incurred debt, you’re supposedly actually saving, even though you no longer have possession of the money in any way, shape or sense, nor a choice of what to spend it on.

But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called ‘U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping’. While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017.

Oh sweet lord. Now a falling savings rate has become a beneficial thing, even when and where savings are very low. Not saving will allegedly save the economy. How did that happen? If we may presume that debt repayments will continue virtually unabated, and there seems to be little reason to think otherwise, this means that by 2017 there will be just about nothing saved at all anymore in America. Which means there’d be very little left of the ‘If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment’.

The only ‘growth’ perspective America has left is to grow its debt levels continually, continuously and arguably exponentially.

Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.

They got deeper into debt, and this is a sign they’re not ‘retrenching’? A coiled spring? Really?

According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the first reason to think consumers will resume spending is that their incomes are rising. Annual growth in average hourly earnings has averaged about 2% since 2010, which isn’t great but does exceed inflation. With more people working as well, aggregate payroll outlays are up 4.9% from the past year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The rises in stock and home prices should make consumers more willing to live a little, say the Deutsche Bank authors. They calculate that households’ net worth is almost 6.5 times consumers’ disposable personal income. That’s the highest ratio since before the housing crash.

But that last bit is arguably all due to QE induced asset bubbles. Not an argument the author would make, I know, but nevertheless. Coincidentally, another Bloomberg article published the same day as the one we’re delving in here is called:Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think. Perhaps the respective authors should have a sit down.

No question, the high savings rate depresses spending in the short run. Purchases of durable goods, from cars to couches, remain well below their 60-year average share of GDP. But all that saving helps consumers get their finances in order, which will allow them to satisfy pent-up demand for that sweet new Ford F-150.

No no no: they just paid off part of their debts. How can that possibly mean they’ll go out and get a new F-150? In real life, they spent their money instead of saving it. Either way, they don’t have it any longer to spend on a F-150. It would mean they need to get into new debt. On top of what they still have left over even AFTER paying down part of it.

Fed data show that financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases are about their lowest in comparison to disposable income since 1981.

Hmm. According to Wikipedia, “Household debt as a % of disposable income rose from 68% in 1980 to a peak of 128% in 2007, prior to dropping to 112% by 2011.” It’s about 105% today. So that’s just a very weird statement. Someone’s wrong, very wrong, and I think I know who that would be. Maybe Peter Coy conveniently ignores mortgage payments when he talks about “financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases”?!

When consumers are ready to borrow more, it won’t hurt that, according to the Fed’s survey of banks’ senior loan officers, banks are easing lending standards.

See? That’s what I said: they can only spend if they acquire new debt. They’re just getting rid of the last batch, and it’s going mighty slowly at that. Lest we forget, when debt as a percentage of income falls, that is due to quite an extent to people failing to make any debt payments at all, and losing their homes and cars. This is a dead economic model. This model is pining for the fjords.

These factors add up to an optimistic consumer.

Oh, c’mon. What is that statement based on? That ‘sky high’ savings rate that is really just poor slobs paying off what they can in debt repayments so they won’t get hit with even more fees and fines?

What I think these factors add up to, is a delusional reporter. There is no excess saving. It’s ludicrous. As far as people have any money at all, they’re using it to pay down their previously incurred debts. And that gets tallied into their savings rate by the government’s creative accounting methods. That’s all there is to the whole story. But it will, regardless, induce a few more poor souls to sign up for more mortgages and car loans and feel like happy American consumers on their way down into the maelstrom.

It’s sad, it really is. Maybe we should first of all stop referring to the American people as ‘consumers’. That might help.

Mar 142015
 
 March 14, 2015  Posted by at 2:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Launch of freighter Howard L. Shaw, Wyandotte, Michigan 1900

I think I should accept that I will never in my life cease to be amazed at the capacity of the human being to spin a story to his/her own preferences, rather than take it simply for what it is. Your run of the mill journalist is even better at this than the average person – which may be why (s)he became a journalist in the first place -, and financial journalists are by far the best spinners among their peers. That’s what I was thinking when I saw another Bloomberg headline that appealed to my more base instincts, which I blame on the fact that it shows a blatant lack of any and all brain activity (well, other than spin, that is).

Here’s what Bloomberg’s Craig Torres and Michelle Jamrisko write: “American Mystery Story: Consumers Aren’t Spending Even In a Booming Job Market”. Yes, it is a great mystery to 95% of journalists and economists. Because they have never learned to even contemplate that perhaps people can be so deep in debt that they have nothing left to spend. Instead, their knowledge base states that if people don’t spend, they must be saving. Those are the sole two options. And so if the US government reports that 863,000 underpaid new waiters have been hired, these waiters have to go out and spend all that underpayment, they must consume. And if they don’t, that becomes The American Mystery Story.

For me, the mystery lies elsewhere. I’m wondering how it ever got to this. How did the capacity for critical thinking disappear from the field of economics? And from journalism?

American Mystery Story: Consumers Aren’t Spending Even In a Booming Job Market

It’s an American mystery story: More people have jobs and extra pocket money from lower gas prices, but they aren’t buying as much as economists expected. The government’s count of how much people shelled out at retailers fell in February for a third consecutive month. Payrolls are up 863,000 over the same period. The chart below shows retail sales and payrolls generally move in the same direction, until now. The divergence could portend lower levels of economic growth if Americans’ usually reliable penchant to spend is less than what it once was.


YoY growth in U.S. retail and food services sales (red) against year-over-year change in non-farm payrolls (blue).
Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Inevitably, when faced with such a mystery, Bloomberg’s scribblers dig up a household savings graph. Et voilà, problem solved:

“The expenditures that add up to gross domestic product are coming in a lot softer than employment,” said Neil Dutta at Renaissance Macro Research. “Why would retailers be hiring if sales are falling? Why would they be boosting hours if sales are falling and why would they be paying more?” Also, take a look at the household saving rate. It’s gone up as gas prices fell:

And why are all those crazy American waiters hoarding all that cash they, as per economists, just got to have lying around somewhere? You knew it before I said it: it was cold! Crazy cold!

Ben Herzon at Macroeconomic Advisers isn’t that worried yet. As usual, the data is quirky. First, he notes, “it was crazy cold in February.” Aside from stocking up on milk in the snowstorm, staying indoors was probably a more attractive option for most shoppers.

And it gets better. How about this for a whopper?

Herzon notes that lower gas prices also depressed the count in prior months. The government is adding up dollars spent, so fewer dollars to fill a gas tank results in lower sales.

Let’s see. Gas was cheaper, so people spent less on that. And that drove down retail sales. But wasn’t it supposed to drive them up? Wasn’t that the boost the economy was predicted to get? You mean to tell me that lower gas prices actually function to drive spending down? That our newfound platoon of waiters took all that newfound money and spent it on .. nothing at all? Not to worry. March will be much better or “Our story would be wrong…” And how likely is that, right?

That even bleeds into narrower measures of retail sales because grocery stores such as Safeway, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club also sell gasoline. Herzon is counting on a March rebound. There won’t be the weather to blame anymore, and gas prices have rebounded off their lows of late January and early February. “Payroll employment has been great, and it is generating a lot of labor income that you think would be spent,” Herzon said. “March should be a rebound. Our story would be wrong if it doesn’t happen.”

Halle-bleeping-lujah. Is this creativity on the part of the writer and interviewee, or is it just a knee-jerk reaction? Don’t they understand because they don’t have the appropriate grey matter, or don’t they simply want to?

And Bloomberg takes us from mystery to surprise (I’m guessing that’s one level lower on the What? scale), The surprise is that the US has not lived up to what Bloomberg and its economists had dreamt up all by themselves.

Surprise: US Economic Data Have Been the World’s Most Disappointing

It’s not only the just-released University of Michigan consumer confidence report and February retail sales on Thursday that surprised economists and investors with another dose of underwhelming news. Overall, U.S. economic data have been falling short of prognosticators’ expectations by the most in six years. The Bloomberg ECO U.S. Surprise Index, which measures whether data beat or miss forecasts, fell to the lowest since 2009, when the nation was in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. There’s been one notable exception to the gloom, and it’s a big one: payrolls. The economy added 295,000 jobs in February and 1.3 million over four months, a reflection of a healthier labor market in which the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest in almost seven years.

Most everything else? Blah. This month alone, personal income and spending, manufacturing as measured by the Institute for Supply Management, auto sales, factory orders, and retail sales have all come in a bit weak. Citigroup keeps economic surprise indexes for the world, and its scoreboard shows the U.S. is most disappointing relative to consensus forecasts, with Latin America and Canada next, as of March 12. Emerging markets were supposed to be hurt by falling oil prices but are now delivering positive surprises. U.S. policymakers frequently talk about weakness in Europe and China, though both are exceeding expectations.

In short, Bloomberg and its economists were once again embarrassingly off target. Though they prefer to use different terminology:

And there’s one rub. The surprise shortfall in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean the world’s largest economy is in dire straights. It’s just falling short of some perhaps overly elevated expectations.

Perhaps? What do you mean perhaps? US data are the biggest disappointment of all of your numbers. There’s no perhaps about it. Just admit you get it wrong all the time.

Maybe they are mystified because of data like the following, coming from the Fed, no less.

Fed: US Household Net Worth Hits Record $83 Trillion In Q4 2014

Household net worth rose by $1.5 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year to a record $83 trillion, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday. The gains were driven by a surging real estate market. Household real estate holdings rose to their highest level since 2007. Real estate equity levels also hit a 2007 high. Household stock holdings also rose with the broader markets.

Since those 683,000 waiters would only qualify for subprime loans, you can bet that only a few of them profited from this ‘surging real estate market’. Household net worth may have hit a record, but that has nothing to do with the lower rungs of society. Which we can prove by looking at the second part of the piece:

But at the same time, the central bank reported debt was on the rise. Total debt – including households, governments and corporations – rose 4.7% , the most since 2012.

No doubt that this additional debt can be made to show up somewhere as a positive thing. How about: look, consumers feel confident enough to take on more debt again.

Nomura’s Richard Koo elegantly lays bare the global – and American – economic conundrum in just a few words: “When no one is borrowing money, monetary policy is largely useless..”

Why We’re At Risk Of A QE Trap: Koo (CNBC)

The problem with central banks’ massive bond-buying programs is that if consumers and businesses fail to borrow money to stimulate economic growth, the policy is rendered mostly “useless,” one Nomura economist said Friday. The U.S. and U.K. embarked on asset-purchase, or QE programs, following the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. Japan joined the QE club in 2013 and the ECB began its €1 trillion bond-buying stimulus this week. “Both the U.S. and Europe are facing the same problem– which is that we are in a situation where the private sector in any of these economies is not borrowing money at zero interest rates or repairing balance sheets following what happened in the crisis,” Richard Koo, Chief Economist at Nomura, told CNBC on the side lines of the Ambrosetti Spring Workshop in Italy.

“When no one is borrowing money, monetary policy is largely useless,” he added. In the run-up to the launch of QE in the euro zone, loans to the private sector, which are a gauge of economic health, contracted. Data published late last month showed that the volume of loans to private firms and households fell by 0.1% on year in January, compared with a 0.5% drop in December. According to Koo, major central banks are holding reserves far in excess of levels they need because of the monetary stimulus. This has not led to a rise in private sector spending because big economies are struggling with a balance sheet recession – a situation where companies are focused on paying down debt rather than spending or investing – increasing the risk of QE trap.

“In a national economy if someone is saving money, you need someone to borrow money and this is the part that is missing. They [central banks] are pumping money but no one is borrowing, so you get negative interest rates and all sorts of distortions,” Koo said. He added that instead of looking to raise interest rates, the U.S. Federal Reserve should first focus on reducing its balance sheet which stands at over $4 trillion. The Fed, which meets next week, is widely expected to raise rates this year against a backdrop of improving economic data. “They [Fed policy makers] should not rush into a rate rise; they should reduce the balance sheet when people are not worried about inflation,” Koo said.

That’s all you need to know, really. Americans don’t spend, and they don’t borrow. That makes all QE measures useless for the larger economy, and a huge windfall for the upper echelons of society.

You could also say QE is a criminal racket, but I’m pretty sure journalists, economists, central bankers and politicians alike will only admit to stupidity, not to being accomplices in such a racket. Or perhaps not even stupidity; they’ll just claim nobody could have foreseen this, like they always do when they run into room size elephants.

Still, you have to love a piece like the following by Thad Beversdorf:

The Fed Gives A Giant F##k You to Working Class Americans

I was shocked today by the absolute gaul of the Fed releasing a statement about Net Worth in America reaching record levels. Now I get that they are under extreme pressure to sell the story that everything is rainbows and butterflies. But surely they understand that working class Americans are going along with the story because they really don’t have any say in our nation’s policies anymore. That doesn’t mean they want it thrown in their faces that the Fed has spent 6 years now inflating the wealth of the top 10% so much that it actually lifts the total wealth of the nation’s citizens to record highs. The ugly reality is that the bottom 80% of Americans experienced none of that gain. That’s right: a big ole goose egg.

And so when the Fed via its ass pamper boy, Steve Liesman, start banging on about the fact that some sliver of society is being handed extraordinary wealth while the working class has lost 40% of their net worth since 2007, well a big fuck you right back at ya bub! The Fed is very aware that the bottom 80% of Americans own less than 5% of US equity markets. And so the Fed is very aware that its manipulation of stock prices such that it creates immense unearned wealth to those in the markets doesn’t reach the bottom 80%. So why celebrate the results of the stock market price manipulation?? It is embarrassing that our policymakers are either that inconsiderate or that stupid to celebrate such a brutal dislocation between the haves and have nots.

I don’t know what one can even say about the Fed making a celebratory statement like that today. It is somewhat beyond words. And really paints the picture as to how little thought goes into the lives and well being of the bottom 80%. Just to give you something to compare and contrast the situation of the bottom 80% here in the US to counter the Fed’s celebration today. I want you to think about how lucky we are not being in one of the PIIGS nations of Europe. These are the nations that are essentially bankrupt and just hanging on by the kindness of the Troika.

So there it is. While the average net worth of Americans is 4th in the world pulled up by the top 10%, the median net worth of Americans comes in the 19th spot. Yep, behind Spain, Italy and Ireland so 3 of the 5 PIIGS nations. Meaning the bottom 80% in these broke ass barely hanging on nations have more wealth than the bottom 80% of us here in America. So I’d like to ask the Fed, is it that you just hate the working class here in America and thus like to torment them or are you truly that stuck up your own asses that you just cannot see the light?

Rest assured, Thad, the Fed has seen the light. And they don’t actually hate working class America, they just don’t give a flying f#ck about them.

Imagine the founding fathers looking down on all of this. Hell imagine those who fought on the beaches of Normandy looking down at what America has become. Knowing that they sacrificed everything just to hand the nation over to a group of foreign sociopaths. Imagine those men having to see that Americans no longer have any sense of dignity other than to yell loudly that “we are still great”[..]. How incredibly disheartening it would be for those WWII soldiers to see us now.

Plenty of those guys are still alive. So we could ask them. But the gist is clear, and all those who died on those beaches can no longer speak for themselves, so we need to do it for them. Is this the world they died for? Is this the freedom they gave their lives for, the freedom to turn America into a nation of debt slaves?

There is no mystery anywhere to be found in the fact that US retail sales don’t follow the jobs trend. Not if you look at what kind of jobs they are, let alone at all the other made up and manipulated numbers that are being thrown around about the US economy.

The only mystery is why everyone persists in talking about a recovery. That recovery will never come, simply because all 90% of Americans do is pay for the other 10% to get richer. There are many other factors, but that all by itself makes a recovery a mathematical mirage.

Mar 062015
 
 March 6, 2015  Posted by at 4:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing US Weather Bureau kiosque, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 1921

See, by now you would think that anyone who reads that all 31 US banks that were tested have passed the Fed stress test, knows this says absolutely nothing about the banks, but all the more about the test. You would think. But the media try – and succeed – to cram it down the public’s throat as a success story anyway.

There’s simply a very strong feeling, if not conviction, in the western media, that they’ve won the propaganda battle. They have no adversary other than the blogosphere, and since they reach a thousand times more people, who are to a (wo)man more complacent and gullible than any of your typical interwebs readers, Bob’s their uncle.

But come on guys, are we really going to let this happen without raising our voices or even batting as much as one of our eyes? We’re drowning in nonsense here, and we’re prepared to just die without even trying to swim?

Look, I find real fun in reading that the UK House of Lords issues a report that claims 150,000 jobs will be created by 2050 in the ‘drone industry’, and at the same time clamors for a ‘personal drone registry’. I mean, these guys are way too old to even know how to spell ‘drone’. But that’s just mindless ‘journalism’, and to a point innocent.

What is not is the two portraits of US girl power in Ukraine from the Guardian and Bloomberg that appeared over the past two days. That’s not innocent, that’s vile and bastardly lies. Victoria Nuland and Natalie Jaresko should not be praised by the western media, they should be taken apart bone by bone, because the roles they play are far too shady to stand up to our alleged democratic principles.

Bloomberg is, well, Bloomberg, but why the Guardian gets involved in this sort of apologetic feel-good ‘reporting’ is beyond me. Other than: how much does it pay?! I mean, who needs a brain when you have a keyboard? Nuland and her hubby Robert Kagan – and don’t you even try and make me picture them in bed together plotting fresh invasions – are the flashing neon signs for everything neocon in America today.

She has – more or less voluntarily – admitted to staging the year-old Kiev coup and installing US puppet Yatsenyuk as Ukraine PM, as well as pushing $5 billion in US taxpayer funds to various Ukraine ‘charities’ to make it happen.

And then the Guardian has the gall to present her as your average American girl next door? Nuland creates wars, and misery, and bloodshed, and she does so fully convinced she’s serving some deity’s purpose. She should have long since been removed from any and all offices, but she’s still in place, which paints a damning enough picture of US politics all by itself.

Yeah, sure, let’s make Victoria look normal, right, Guardian?

Victoria Nuland: Russia’s Actions In Ukraine Conflict An ‘Invasion’

Assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland has admitted the US considers Russia’s actions in Ukraine “an invasion”, in what may be the first time a senior American official has used the term to describe a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people. Speaking before the House committee on foreign affairs, Nuland was asked by representative Brian Higgins about Russia’s support of rebels in eastern Ukraine, through weapons, heavy armor, money and soldiers: “In practical terms does that constitute an invasion?”

Nuland at first replied that “we have made clear that Russia is responsible for fielding this war,” until pressed by Higgins to answer “yes or no” whether it constitutes an invasion. “We have used that word in the past, yes,” Nuland said, apparently marking the first time a senior official has allowed the term in reference to Russia’s interference in eastern Ukraine, and not simply its continued occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Obama administration officials across departments have strenuously avoided calling the conflict an invasion for months, instead performing verbal contortions to describe an “incursion”, “violation of territorial sovereignty” and an “escalation of aggression”. In November Vice-President Joe Biden, who has acted as one of Obama’s primary liaisons with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, rapidly corrected himself after breaking from the White House’s careful language on CNN, saying “When the Russians invaded – crossed the border – into Ukraine, it was, ‘My god. It’s over.’”

But that’s nothing compared to today’s Bloomberg portrait of Natalie Jaresko, the US stooge installed late last year to run Ukraine’s economy into the ground as finance minister. This is something else altogether. The first thing that comes to mind is: ‘have you no shame?’, but then you realize it’s Bloomberg. The subtitle is: Why Natalie Jaresko Is As Important As The Country’s Generals. I kid you not. In days of old, the CIA would have had to look through the Yellow Pages, but this time around I’m pretty sure they used Facebook to find Americans with Ukie blood ties. They then pumped her full of dollars, 100s of millions of them, and then she was ready to go. Mind you, she was picked way ahead of the regime change a year ago. The whole thing was planned well in advance. 10 years or so in advance.

C’mon, the first paragraph alone should be profoundly sickening to any functioning neuron:

The American Woman Who Stands Between Putin and Ukraine

Ukraine is a nation at war, which is why Natalie Jaresko, the minister of finance, has traveled 20 miles from Kiev to the town of Irpin, a settlement of 40,000 on the edge of a pine forest. She’s here to visit a rearguard army hospital and to console convalescing veterans of recent battles against Russian forces and their proxies in the Ukrainian east. “Where did you serve?” she asks, moving slowly from room to room. “How were you wounded?” She may be from Chicago’s West Side, but she speaks Ukrainian fluently, and if anyone notices her American accent, no one seems to care. Jaresko tells the soldiers they’re heroes, the country’s national accountant handling a job for generals. The crisis has thrust people into unlikely roles.

Three months ago, Jaresko, 49, left the private equity firm that she co-founded in Ukraine in 2006 to join the government of Petro Poroshenko. At the time, Jaresko didn’t even have Ukrainian citizenship. Now, as the country’s top economic official, she’s Ukraine’s liaison to the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Tax reform is hers. So is the treasury.

The country’s bankrupt. So much so that no amount of IMF funding can change that. Besides, a substantial amount of whatever funding will be made available, will need to go to what is still called an army, lest Kiev loses out completely against the rebels it has tried to annihilate for a year now. But it can get worse, just read this bit:

[..].. whether Ukraine succeeds as an independent democratic nation arguably depends as much on the efforts of Jaresko and her colleagues as it does on the military battles. Together they must rebuild a shattered economy and restore international confidence in Ukraine while confronting the corruption and cronyism that have haunted the country since the fall of communism. And they must somehow do so as state-owned banks teeter on the brink of collapse, the national treasury counts its last foreign notes, and inflation is at 28% and rising. The longer the war carries on and reforms are delayed, the more hostile Ukrainians will become to their government and its Western supporters, leaving the country even more vulnerable to Vladimir Putin.

Uh-uh. The people will turn against the US and EU, but they don’t really know what’s good for them do they? Even if they hate the heebees out of us, we must still protect them from Vlad the Impaler. Sorry, it’s for your own good…

Jaresko, 5 feet 6 inches tall, wears her dark hair at chin length. As she continues through the Irpin hospital, she’s solemn, respectful. More soldiers receive her, cramped two and three to closetlike rooms, jammed into beds sized for children. They discuss their lack of firepower in the field: Why don’t we have modern weapons? How does the enemy know where we are all the time? Jaresko listens. She knows better than any general that Ukraine doesn’t have the funds to better arm itself. She asks the soldiers what they plan to do once they’ve recovered. To a man, they say they’ll return to the front lines.

Ex-f##king-cuse me, but since I know anywhere between half a million to over a full million men have fled the country just to escape serving in the Kiev army, I’m wondering what lengths Bloomberg’s Brett Forrest and his new-found Mother Teresa went through to find a hospital where defeated soldiers, to a man no less, claimed they’d go back if only they could. Who believes this shit? And who needs it to begin with?

Yada yada, Jaresko life story, Ellis Island, Chicago, yada yada, and then this:

In the mid-1990s, Ukraine endured hyperinflation of 10,000%. A few years later came the shock waves of Russia’s financial crisis. The Ukrainian economy showed its first signs of growth only in 2000, after almost a decade of decline. Then, in 2004, came the Orange Revolution. While the country entered a new period of uncertainty, international institutional investors began to arrive. Two years later, Jaresko and three partners opened investment management firm Horizon Capital. It managed the Western NIS Enterprise Fund and eventually raised two more. When she left last December, it had roughly $600 million of Ukrainian investments under management.

I don’t think that’s Ukrainian investments, I’m thinking it’s western investments in Ukraine. Jaresko was set up very well, financially. From the $5 billion VIctoria Nuland admitted the US had spent to change the regime. She’s a well paid stooge. You do have to wonder what’s left of Jaresko’s riches now that Kiev’s as broke as a wino in the dead of winter.

Last year’s regime change, Jaresko says, represented a real turning point—a chance to finally end kleptocratic rule. “Anyone close to Ukraine understood that this was an incredible moment to take Ukraine forward in a way that it hadn’t gone quickly enough over the past 22 years,” she says. “That there had been a radical change in civil society, and that civil society’s expectations could no longer be put on the back burner by anyone.”

‘Forward’ in this case apparently means into war and bankruptcy, that’s all that’s been accomplished. Yeah, sure, Nuland’s neocons understood that ‘this was an incredible moment to take Ukraine forward in a way that it hadn’t gone quickly enough over the past 22 years..’ Just read that sentence again knowing it comes from that woman, and knowing she’s helped bring down the entire nation. It gives it a whole other meaning.

Yada yada, headhunting firm happenstanced upon an American CEO in Kiev (there’s so many of them it’s hard to keep track ;-)). “They played hard on my patriotism..” “I sometimes wonder what my father would think..” Please hand me a bucket!

Then some to and fro about how the state is too weak to fight Russia – which they’re not, they’re fighting their own citizens -, and paragraphs of financial blubber and outright lies, culminating in:

…economics minister Abromavicius saying his office projects a 5.5% reduction in the economy this year. That doesn’t take into account Putin’s future actions in the east. We work under the assumption that there will be peace very soon, he says. This conflict is misguided. The Russian leadership is misguided about Ukraine in general. They just don’t understand Ukraine. This country wants to be left alone. This country wants to make its own decisions.

‘This country wants to make its own decisions?’ Well, you should have made sure you didn’t go broke then. Because from here on in, you’ll never again make any decision you can call your own, and that includes choosing the color of toilet paper in your government offices. The US will do that for you. That’s why Jaresko is where she is. Ukraine had a lot more freedom before Maidan.

As the young government’s leaders and supporters tirelessly point out, the war with Russia has so far been contained to less than 10% of Ukraine’s territory.

First, there is no war with Russia, only with Ukrainian citizens. And if it’s less than 10% of the territory, that’s only because the rebels have no claim on anything but their own land. They don’t want Kiev, they just want Kiev to leave them alone and stop killing their women and children. But if it won’t, the rebels will take more territory, just so Kiev can’t use it to attack them anymore.

But it must be convenient to be able to hang an entire country’s demise on one person, no matter what happens. I just read that US House Speaker Boehner sent a letter to Obama claiming that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a ‘grotesque violation of international law’. If that is so, what does that say about America’s actions in Ukraine?

The US must withdraw Nuland and Jaresko from their respective positions starting yesterday morning. But they won’t, they have achieved exactly what they were aiming for: a nation so shattered it’s dependent on US and IMF money just to survive, just to pay for the ink needed to draw its borders on a map.

From here on, it’s just a matter of waiting for Putin to get so sick of all this he decides he can’t let Kiev go down any further, lest all that’s left is neonazis and neocons, and they start aiming their US and/or UAE supplied ‘lethal defensive’ weapons eastward. And then they’ll get what they’ve wanted all along, Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko and Nuland and Jaresko: They’ll get War. But it won’t come the way they envisioned it. Putin’s way too smart for that.

Anyway, what a shameless depiction of Ukraine we get here. It’s all-out propaganda, no prisoners taken. I’m getting tired of getting angry about it, but someone has to.