May 042020

Steve Schapiro Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) with mini gloves, Louisville, KY 1963



There was another comment at the Automatic Earth yesterday questioning the function and wisdom of various lockdowns. I thought I’d explain this in more detail.


Ilargi if you or anyone else could explain what the exit strategy is from a lockdown I’d be interested in hearing it. As it is, this lockdown I repeat is no different than financial QE – everyone comes out weaker than they were before treatment. Financial QE covers up her problem just like lockdown does, but makes it worse in the long run. The only exit strategy I can see is to keep lockdown until a vaccine or effective treatment, neither of which are on the horizon.

If you are arguing that even healthy economies can survive indefinite closure, with intermittent re-openings I don’t know what to tell you. The suggestion is made that Sweden has a huge vested interest in understating fatalities. It is also certainly true that the rest of the world has an even greater vested interest in criticizing the Swedish approach because it demonstrates how useless the total lockdowns are. BTW the reported differences in fatalities between Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia are not statistically significant. Playing with numbers and not understanding how things may not be as they seem.


First, let’s re-establish that no lockdown would have been needed if and when politicians and scientists had done what’s in their job descriptions. That does not mean that no lockdown was called for once they did fail. Indeed, it’s the failure to act at the very beginning, say January 31, when the WHO sent out its first warning, that made lockdowns inevitable.

I don’t say that to exonerate the WHO in any way, because it subsequently, for weeks on end, kowtowed to China’s refusal to allow its teams entry into the country, and followed that up by waiting and hesitating another full 6(!) weeks, until March 11, to declare a pandemic.

Second, a lockdown and the way it’s executed are not the same thing. The decisions to lock down their societies may be the only thing(s) the Little Manager politicians have gotten right, but they still did get it right. And sorry, but you cannot use their ginormous failures made both before and during the lockdowns, to argue that the lockdowns themselves are a failure. These are separate issues, don’t let’s get them mixed up.

Lockdowns in and of themselves, when properly executed, cannot NOT work, simply because of the way viruses spread. Yes, we need to know exactly how they do, but not knowing this in the present case is exactly why we need a lockdown, why we need to keep people, who are all potential hosts AND spreaders, away from each other. Until we know precisely how the virus spreads and/or until we know that the people involved are not virus carriers.

Terms such as “indefinite closure” don’t come from me, so please have the courtesy not to suggest I want one. Questioning the principle of a lockdown is not terribly helpful or smart, and neither is suggesting that Sweden is doing well. If only because such questions and suggestions, if you follow their “logic”, seek to deny the very way viruses spread, if not the existence of a virus in the first place.

Which is one of the few things we do know about COVID19: we know it exists and we know it spreads. We may get distances – between people- and timing – of various stages of infection- wrong, but the principle stands.


The lockdown is useful, make that inevitable, because it prevents further spread of a deadly virus from one host to another. Our ancestors understood this well before they even knew what viruses were, and I don’t understand why we would today no longer possess that wisdom.

The knowledge we have gained since times of old also allows us to understand that if a virus cannot spread to a new host for an x amount of time, it will die off. Which may sound a tad curious because science does not consider viruses to be microbes or “living organisms”, but that’s not really the issue at hand.

However, the NOT spreading will have to happen in as many instances as you have potential hosts, i.e. infected people, to make it work at a societal level, obviously. And that’s why lockdowns are inevitable: it’s all about numbers.

The “good news” is that the very reason lockdowns are useful already signifies that lockdowns don’t have to last until there is a “vaccine or effective treatment”; no “indefinite closure” is needed. You don’t necessarily have to eradicate a virus to inhibit it from jumping from host to host; you can also put distance and other barriers between (potential) hosts.

And there’s more good “news”. I think it was Nassim Taleb who said a while back that the answer to people saying a lockdown is a bad thing because it also isolates healthy people is: we need a lockdown precisely because we don’t know who is healthy or not.

If we do know who is healthy, however, we don’t need a lockdown. Ergo: testing, testing, testing. Certainly in the beginning, we must test people every 24 hours or so, test them for the virus. test them for antibodies, improve our tests, add more tests, test still more, we can all fill in the rest. And no, that is not an indefinite thing either. Testing will tell us to a much higher degree than we know today, when and where to distance people from each other.

Someone who has tested negative every 24 hours for days or weeks on end can be treated differently from someone who has not. And such a person will be, certainly initially, more careful in interacting with people. Take it from there, and you will in the end actually be rid of the virus, because it will not find enough new potential hosts.

That also means you don’t absolutely need a vaccine. Which is a good thing, because no coronavirus vaccine has ever been “discovered”, and because we have no idea what it would contain. Whenever I hear grand theories about grand bad plans elites or whoever are supposed to have with the virus, I first think: what would the virus need to propagate?

And I always come back to the same answer: it only needs our continuing incompetence: other than lockdowns and face masks, we have given it all the space and opportunity it has needed. It doesn’t need any help from 5G radiation or glyphosate (though both should be subject(ed) to the precautionary principle), or anything people come up with in the extra time their lockdown allows for. All it needs is for us to continue doing what we have: not test.

And opening up our societies again without mass testing, of course, will be the biggest gift we can offer it. This doesn’t mean I deny the possible existence of some plan, or that I want to claim to have knowledge of where the virus originated. It only means that from where I’m sitting, the virus doesn’t need any assistance to do what it has done so far, not that it may or may not have gotten any. Still, door A is factual, and door B is purely hypothetical. And we don’t have seas of time to debate this, we have lives to save.


It’s early May, and there no longer are any excuses for anyone in the western world not wearing face coverings in public, and neither are there excuses for countries lacking the capacity to test their citizens appropriately. Still, in most countries, we are nowhere near that capacity. That is inexcusable. Social distancing is not.

What shuts down societies today is not the virus, not the lockdowns, but the failure to adhere to basic principles with which to approach all potentially epidemic microbes or viruses. The failure to be properly prepared -at all times-, because some thirteen-a-dozen politician elected in a popularity contest considers it too expensive, or too much work. Even if warnings about a next epidemic had been sounded for many years.

The exit strategy is testing while Big Pharma looks for a vaccine. Good thing we don’t have to wait for the latter, because, yes, that would risk an indefinite closure. Testing will get us out once our “leaders” resolve to make it a priority. They should all be voted out of office for not having done that yet, and take their scientific advisers with them. And that’s after we may or may not forgive them for their initial failures.

We may need to overhaul a whole bunch of things to make sure no such perfectly preventable failures happen ever again. But you know how people are. And anyway, we’re in a bit of a bind at the moment.

It’s been 125 days since that first WHO warning, and there are still even many rich countries that can’t manage to test their medical and care workers, let alone the rest of their people.

And you want to argue that the problem here is lockdowns?






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Mar 132020

Earl Theisen Walt Disney oiling scale model locomotive at home in LA 1951


Coronavirus Can Survive in the Air For Up To 3 Hours (GR)
Clinical Course, Risk Factors For Mortality Of Adults In Wuhan (Lancet)
Coronavirus May End By June If Countries Take Action – China Adviser (RT)
Policymakers Ramp Up Support As Coronavirus Shreds Markets (R.)
Ohio Health Official Estimates 100,000 People In State Have Coronavirus (Hill)
Many More Families Are Going To Lose Loved Ones Before Their Time (Ind.)
I’d Rather Be in Italy Than US for the Coronavirus Pandemic (IC)
Fed Rolls Out Fastest Money Printer Ever, up to $4.5 Trillion in 4 Weeks (WS)
Fed To Pump In More Than $1 Trillion Into Markets In Dramatic Move (CNBC)
Market Turmoil Sparked By Coronavirus Fears Worse Than 2008 – Bianco (CNBC)
Apple Reopens All Its Branded Stores In China (R.)
US Excludes Some Chinese Medical Products From Tariffs (R.)
Iran Asks IMF For $5 Billion Emergency Funding To Fight Coronavirus (R.)
Greening Our Way to Infection (CJ)
Two Angry Old Men Yelling at Each Other in Arizona (FPM)
Monsanto’s Secret Funding For Weedkiller Studies (G.)
Migrants On Greek Islands To Be Offered €2,000 To Go Home (G.)
Judge Orders Immediate Release Of Chelsea Manning (Ind.)



Over 9,000 new cases in a single day. It’s been a while, if it ever happened. New deaths are also crawling up. And in most places, we’re just getting started. Things like travel, public gatherings will soon be halted all over. There is no other choice. This virus can survive airborne for 3 hours, and patients can remain contagious for up to 37 days.

Get some extra vit.C, vit.D3 while you can, boost your health, wash more often. And prepare to hunker down for as much as 2 months. It’ll be a different world for a while. Get used to that while you can, while it’s voluntary.

And as you’re settling in, also prepare for a godalmighty financial crash. The Fed yesterday paid a nice round trillion for a 10% fall in stocks. Well, at least Chelsea Manning is free, albeit still in hospital.


Cases 135,809 (+ 9,165 from yesterday’s 126,644)

Deaths 4,990 (+ 351 from yesterday’s 4,639)


Apart from China, there are just 2 other countries left in this list that have less than 100 new cases.

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)



From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)



From Worldometer (NOTE: mortality rate is back up to 7%!)



From (This site is playing with its formats while expanding, now over 200 global contributors)





“We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1 exhibited similar half-lives in aerosols, with median estimates around 2.7 hours. ”

Coronavirus Can Survive in the Air For Up To 3 Hours (GR)

Scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have released a study on Wednesday according to which the novel form of coronavirus can survive in the air for several hours. Federally funded tests conducted by the scientists indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air “up to 3 hours post aerosolization,” while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days. “Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for 42 multiple hours and on surfaces up to days,” reads the study’s abstract.

The test results suggest that humans could be infected by the disease simply carried through the air or on a solid surface, even if direct contact with an infected person does not occur. That finding, if accepted, would come in stark contrast to previous media reports that suggested the virus was not easily transmittable outside of direct human contact.

Read more …

I couldn’t find the 37-day figure this Twitter comment mentions, in the report (didn’t copy the writer). That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Study in the Lancet finds that #COVID19 viral shedding can be UP TO 37 DAYS, with an average of 20 DAYS. *Patients may still be contagious during that time* VERY BIG DEAL because current guidelines recommend only a 14 day (2 week) isolation time. This means patients may remain contagious well after they’re no longer symptomatic. And it means current guidelines (14 day isolation) may lead to additional propagation post quarantine.

Check the graph for hospital beds per 1,000 people in your country.

Clinical Course, Risk Factors For Mortality Of Adults In Wuhan (Lancet)

The level and duration of infectious virus replication are important factors in assessing the risk of transmission and guiding decisions regarding isolation of patients. Because coronavirus RNA detection is more sensitive than virus isolation, most studies have used qualitative or quantitative viral RNA tests as a potential marker for infectious coronavirus. For SARS-CoV, viral RNA was detected in respiratory specimens from about a third of patients as long as 4 weeks after disease onset. Similarly, the duration of MERS-CoV RNA detection in lower respiratory specimans persisted for at least 3 weeks, whereas the duration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection has not been well characterised.

In the current study, we found that the detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisted for a median of 20 days in survivors and that it was sustained until death in non-survivors. This has important implications for both patient isolation decision making and guidance around the length of antiviral treatment. In severe influenza virus infection, prolonged viral shedding was associated with fatal outcome and delayed antiviral treatment was an independent risk factor for prolonged virus detection. Similarly, effective antiviral treatment might improve outcomes in COVID-19, although we did not observe shortening of viral shedding duration after lopinavir/ritonavir treatment in the current study.

Click for larger version in new tab

Read more …

When Zhong Nanshan said in late January that the China epidemic would be over in max 10 days, I said he sounded like a Beijing propagandist. He’s still at it.

Coronavirus May End By June If Countries Take Action – China Adviser (RT)

The deadly outbreak may be over by the start of summer, provided that all countries mobilize themselves against the pandemic, said Chinese government adviser in charge of tackling the coronavirus. Zhong Nanshan, Chinese coronavirus adviser and the epidemiologist who discovered Severe Acute respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, made the prediction while speaking to journalists on Thursday. He noted, however, that the breakthrough is heavily dependent on how World Health Organization’s (WHO) members are dealing with the crisis. Some countries still don’t take the situation very seriously and fail to aggressively contain the Covid-19, Zhong said. In this case, the epidemic might be prolonged even despite the summer heat that makes viral stains relatively inactive, the doctor warned.

His remarks come shortly after China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported a decline in new Covid-19 cases across the mainland. “Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.” As of Wednesday, the NHC recorded 15 new cases, about half as many as Tuesday’s figure. China has been leading a swift response to the disease, locking down whole provinces, canceling public events and even postponing key sessions of parliament. To contain Covid-19, Beijing dispatched around 42,000 medics who flocked to Hubei province – the epicenter of the epidemic – from all across the country. Academics, leading infectionists, and intensive-care specialists were all called in.

Read more …

“According to a survey of epidemiologists the coronavirus outbreak probably won’t peak before May, meaning it will be getting worse and worse and worse over the next two months, and for much of that time, presumably, exponentially worse.”

Policymakers Ramp Up Support As Coronavirus Shreds Markets (R.)

Governments and central banks readied more emergency measures to tackle the economic impacts of the coronavirus on Friday as Asian markets suffered their worst weekly crashes since the 2008 financial crisis. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie was among several thousand people newly diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory disease that has now infected almost 135,000 and killed more than 4,900 worldwide. Experts warn that due to a lack of testing and unreported cases, many more people may be affected by the outbreak that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Major sporting events were canceled or postponed, large public gatherings restricted or banned and schools closed. “There is a sense of fear and panic,” said James Tao, an analyst at stockbroker Commsec in Sydney, where phones at the high-value client desk rang non-stop.

“It’s one of those situations where there is so much uncertainty that no-one quite knows how to respond … if it’s fight or flight, many people are choosing flight at the moment.” Japan’s Nikkei was in freefall, dropping 10% on Friday, after Wall Street stocks slumped around 10% in their worst day since the 1987 “Black Monday” crash. Travelers in Europe rushed to board flights to the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from the continent, a decision that angered European leaders and frightened investors. Trump also suggested that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be delayed by a year. “Maybe they postpone it for a year … if that’s possible,” Trump told reporters. “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place.”

Read more …

Simple math: “ the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today,” Acton said. “We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000.”

Ohio Health Official Estimates 100,000 People In State Have Coronavirus (Hill)

A top health official in Ohio estimated on Thursday that more than 100,000 people in the state have coronavirus, a shockingly high number that underscores the limited testing so far. Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said at a press conference alongside Gov. Mike DeWine (R) that given that the virus is spreading in the community in Ohio, she estimates at least 1 percent of the population in the state has the virus. “We know now, just the fact of community spread, says that at least 1 percent, at the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today,” Acton said. “We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000. So that just gives you a sense of how this virus spreads and is spreading quickly.”

She added that the slow rollout of testing means the state does not have good verified numbers to know for sure. “Our delay in being able to test has delayed our understanding of the spread of this,” Acton said. The Trump administration has come under intense criticism for the slow rollout of tests. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top National Institutes of Health official, acknowledged earlier Thursday it is “a failing” that people cannot easily get tested for coronavirus in the United States. Not everyone with the virus has symptoms, and about 80 percent of people with the virus do not end up needing hospitalization, experts say.

Read more …

Boris Johnson doesn’t understand the simple math that Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, above, does. But he still gets vilified for saying that not 500,000 (at the very least!), but just 10,000 are infected.

Maybe it just takes time to sink in?!

Boris also gets vilified for not closing schools, just like Dutch PM Rutte. Which is indeed a little odd: you ban gatherings of more than 100-200 people, but 1500-2000-pupil schools remain open. On the other hand, where would all those children go?

Here’s a thought: Will their phone addictions now save their lives? Kids these days are perfect isolationists. All they need is a screen.

Many More Families Are Going To Lose Loved Ones Before Their Time (Ind.)

Up to 10,000 people in the UK probably have coronavirus, officials have said, as they announced they were stepping up Britain’s response to the outbreak with new actions designed to delay its spread. Anyone showing cold or flu-like symptoms is being told to isolate themselves for seven days from Friday onwards – a measure brought forward by at least a week. They should then stay at least two metres, or “about three steps”, away from anyone else, sleep alone and ask for help “to get the things you need”. “Stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions as much as possible,” the new advice reads.

Schools have been ordered to cancel all foreign trips, and elderly people or those with underlying health conditions are advised not to go on cruise ships. However, ministers have stepped back from immediate closures and sporting events will still go ahead, with fans allowed into stadiums. Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the true number of infections was “likely” to be between 5,000 and 10,000 – many times higher than the current figure of 590. “We are in a period when we have got some, but it hasn’t yet taken off,” he told a press conference. The warning came as Boris Johnson sought to prepare the public for tougher times to come, saying: “This is the worst public health crisis for a generation.”

He dismissed comparisons to seasonal flu: “Because of the lack of immunity, this disease is more dangerous and it’s going to spread further. “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” Explaining the decision not to move to more draconian restrictions now, unlike almost all neighbouring countries, Mr Johnson said: “The most dangerous period is not now but some weeks away, depending on how fast it spreads. He hinted at a likely shift to banning fans from sporting events, saying: “We are not saying ‘No’ to that sort of measure, of course not – we are keeping it up our sleeve.”

Read more …

“I just can’t shake the terror that the United States, my adopted country, is fundamentally unequipped to handle what lies ahead.”

I’d Rather Be in Italy Than US for the Coronavirus Pandemic (IC)

I have spent the last week looking for flights from New York to Italy — not because of coronavirus-inspired flash sales, but because I would rather go home to a country that’s currently in the grip of one of the worst outbreaks in the world than stay in the United States, where life is about to get infinitely worse. More than 15,000 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Italy, more than 1,000 have died, and hospitals are at a breaking point. Hundreds of medical staff have been infected, and overwhelmed doctors are reporting having to choose which patients to treat. They are begging the rest of the world to take this virus more seriously. The entire country — 60.5 million people — has been on lockdown for almost a week.

In the U.S., meanwhile, where some are just starting to realize the enormity of the crisis and far too many remain in denial, confusion reigns, largely aided by our top officials’ inept response. Last night, after President Donald Trump abruptly announced he was blocking travel from Europe to the U.S. — though officials later retracted and clarified much of that statement — people in Europe raced to airports, reportedly paying as much as $20,000 to try to catch flights out. And still I am trying to figure out how to make the opposite trip. Even as the death toll back home continues to climb and the lockdown gets stricter by the day, I would much rather weather this pandemic in Italy than here. I just can’t shake the terror that the United States, my adopted country, is fundamentally unequipped to handle what lies ahead.

[..] It is a tragic irony that a public health emergency unlike anything we have seen in generations would come as Americans are constantly told that the idea of health care as a fundamental right is entitled, radical, crazy talk. What is crazy, to anyone outside the United States, is that it’s even a question. Back in Italy, people are worried they’ll get themselves or their loved ones sick, they are angry at directives that came late, they are even scared that hospitals won’t be able to keep up. But there are more hospital beds and doctors per capita in Italy than there are in the U.S. The Italian government’s harsh restrictions are in part an effort to stop the virus from spreading to the south, where the health care system is weaker. But for all their fears, Italians don’t have to worry that tests won’t be available, or that they’ll have to pay for those tests, or for any of their care. They don’t have to fear that if they seek help now, they’ll get a surprise bill later or that medical costs will bankrupt them.

Read more …

Could we fix health care with that? How much is that per American?

Fed Rolls Out Fastest Money Printer Ever, up to $4.5 Trillion in 4 Weeks (WS)

Thursday early afternoon, during the chaos when the S&P 500 was down nearly 9%, what would turn into the worst single-day stock market sell-off since the 1987 crash, the Fed rolled out its fastest mega money-printer yet, after its smaller money-printers malfunctioned. It’s not going to be a long-drawn-out QE – though there is a component that is just that – but it’s going to be trillions of dollars, essentially all at once, front-loaded, starting today, though today fizzled already. This is the Fed’s latest effort to bail out Wall Street, the cherished asset holders that are so essential to the Fed’s “wealth effect,” all repo market participants, the banks, and the Treasury market that suddenly has gone haywire. Lots of things have gone haywire as the Everything Bubble unwinds messily.

Last week, the 10-year Treasury yield had plunged toward zero during the stock market sell-off, which was crazy but in line with the logic that investors were all piling into safe assets, and early Monday morning it fell to an unthinkable all-time low of 0.38%. But then, the 10-year yield more than doubled from 0.38% at the low on Monday to 0.88% at the highpoint on Thursday. That the 10-year yield spikes during a stock market crash is somewhat of a scary thought. It means that both stocks and long-dated Treasury securities are selling off at the same time. And that probably made the Fed very nervous. For stocks, Thursday was the 16th trading day since the S&P 500 peak, and in those 15 trading days, the index has crashed nearly 27%.

Read more …

Inject a trillion, see markets lose 10%. Never a better moment to end the Fed.

Fed To Pump In More Than $1 Trillion Into Markets In Dramatic Move (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve stepped into financial markets Thursday for the second day in a row and the third time this week, this time dramatically ramping up asset purchases amid the turmoil created by the coronavirus. “These changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” the New York Fed said in an early afternoon announcement amid a washout on Wall Street that was heading toward the worst day since 1987. Stocks were off their lows following the announcement though some of the gains were pared as the market digested the moves.

One part of the announcement saw the Fed widen the scale for its $60 billion worth of money the Treasury purchases, which to now had been confined to short-term T-bills. Under the new regime, the Fed will extend its purchases “across a range of maturities” to include bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and other instruments. The central bank will begin purchasing coupon-bearing securities, something market participants have been clamoring for since late 2019. The purchases start Thursday and will continue through April 13.

The second part of the new operations will see the New York Fed desk offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation and a one-month operation. The offerings will happen on a weekly basis through the remainder of the program. In addition, the Fed will continue to offer at least $175 billion in overnight repos and $45 billion in two-week operations. Repos are short-term operations in which financial institutions provide high-quality collateral in exchange for cash reserves they use to operate.

Read more …

“This is their tool. They’ve used it. It should be working”…

Market Turmoil Sparked By Coronavirus Fears Worse Than 2008 – Bianco (CNBC)

Market researcher James Bianco calls the Federal Reserve’s move to pump $1.5 trillion into the market the “nuclear option” to calm investors gripped by coronavirus fears. Only, it didn’t work Thursday. Instead, stocks saw their worst day since the 1987 Black Monday market crash. “Financial markets are not recovering. It’s incredible to think that a trillion dollars can’t get these markets moving,” the Bianco Research president told CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “We’re at a critical time — unlike anything I’ve seen in my career even counting 2008.” On Thursday, the Fed attempted to stabilize the markets by massively boosting asset purchases in the market. It came five days before its policy meeting on interest rates.

“What the Fed did was they restarted QE, and they essentially announced that in the next two days they’re going to do more QE than they did in the last five years combined,” added Bianco. “The reason they’re doing it is because the financial markets have stopped functioning properly. There’s no liquidity. There’s hardly any trading.” Stocks initially rebounded, but failed to hold on to gains. The Dow sank 2,352 points or 10% to 21,200 while the S&P 500 fell 261 points or 9.5% to 2,480. The Dow and S&P are deep in bear market territory, off 28% and 27%, respectively, from their all-time highs. “This is their tool. They’ve used it. It should be working”, said Bianco.

According to Bianco, Wall Street may still be in shock due to the magnitude of the Fed’ s move. Plus, he suggests there may be logistical issues. [New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo just announced that any gathering of over 500 people in New York State is banned. So, these big dealer desks are now going to have to figure it out from home, he said. “If financial markets don’t start moving, and if a trillion dollars cannot get them off the lows of the day of $500 billion today, $500 billion tomorrow, then we’re going to have to start worrying that a panic is going to set in… and we’re going to see a lot more losses as we go forward,” Bianco said.

Read more …

I love you long time.

Apple Reopens All Its Branded Stores In China (R.)

Apple has reopened all 42 of its branded stores in China, more than a month after they were shut due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak, the iPhone maker’s Chinese website showed on Friday. Apple’s China website has listed the opening time for all stores, which vary from 10:00 am to 11:00 am local time. The website had previously carried an advisory saying not all stores were open. China placed curbs on travel and asked residents to avoid public places in late January, just ahead of the Lunar New Year festival, a major gift-giving holiday. Those restrictions stayed largely in place through most of February. The company sold fewer than half a million iPhones in China in February, government data showed on Monday, as the outbreak halved demand for smartphones. Apple had announced the shuttering of its branded stores in early February.

Read more …

Something tells me prices may have just gone up.

US Excludes Some Chinese Medical Products From Tariffs (R.)

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it granted on Thursday exclusions from import tariffs for some medical products imported from China, including face masks, stethoscope covers and blood pressure cuff sleeves. The exclusions were granted as the United States grapples with a coronavirus outbreak that threatens to strain its healthcare system. Earlier this month, USTR granted exclusions for other Chinese medical products, including hand sanitizing wipes and examination gloves.

The products were included in a fourth round of tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 1, 2019, amid heated U.S.-China trade negotiations. The tariff rate on the medical products was initially set at 15%, but was lowered to 7.5% on Feb. 15 as part of the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade agreement. The deal leaves in place tariffs on about $370 billion worth of imports from China, including 25% duties on goods valued at around $250 billion.

Read more …

IMF meets sanctions x world health.

Iran Asks IMF For $5 Billion Emergency Funding To Fight Coronavirus (R.)

Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funding to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak that has hit the Islamic Republic hard, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday. The escalating outbreak in Iran – the worst-affected country in the Middle East – has killed 429 people and infected 10,075. The outbreak has damaged Iranian businesses and is bound to hit its non-oil exports after many neighboring countries and trade partners shut their borders. The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 (coronavirus) will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately”, Zarif said in a tweet.

Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati wrote on his Instagram page that “in a letter addressed to the head of IMF, I have requested five billion U.S. dollars from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus”. Iran’s economy was already battered by U.S. sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year, analysts have said. As Iran’s clerical rulers struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Tehran has blamed the United States and its “maximum pressure” policy for restricting Iran’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.

Read more …

Bit right wing for me, but interesting.

Greening Our Way to Infection (CJ)

The COVID-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the COVID-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store. Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the New York State Senate, has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials. The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses. The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health.

The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus. After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

Read more …

I admit, included for the headline.

Two Angry Old Men Yelling at Each Other in Arizona (FPM)

Bernie’s got a problem. He’s struggling in the delegate count and Florida and New York are unlikely to help. He’s got one way to reverse the tide, and that’s destroy Biden in a debate. Destroying Biden is not so hard. He’s a confused and shambling wreck. Even Kamala Harris was temporarily able to pick up some of his voters that way. The trouble is Bernie is nearly as much of a mess. If his people weren’t complete psychos, they might have been able to build an alliance with Elizabeth Warren. Instead, all the bridges were burned, and Sanders benefited little from her dropping out. But Warren, staying in, could have served as Bernie’s hatchet woman. So might Tulsi Gabbard, though she last served as Biden’s hatchet woman.

But considering that she’s polling at nothing, there’s no pretext that could get her into the debate. And Bernie is a poor debater. Not as much as Biden, but close enough. All he can do is respond to every question with an angry rant about corporations and medical care. That’s not going to win anything. After Biden’s victory speech, it’s clear that the current brains behind his campaign have been able to get him to memorize his own speeches and deliver them in an angry tone that passes for energy. That’s Bernie’s shtick. And it’s probably not a coincidence. So the Arizona debate will consist of two old men angrily yelling at each other with stump speeches. Sounds like a winner.

Read more …

Upside down world: “..the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment..”

Monsanto’s Secret Funding For Weedkiller Studies (G.)

Monsanto secretly funded academic studies indicating “very severe impacts” on farming and the environment if its controversial glyphosate weedkiller were banned, an investigation has found. The research was used by the National Farmers’ Union and others to successfully lobby against a European ban in 2017. As a result of the revelations, the NFU has now amended its glyphosate information to declare the source of the research. Monsanto was bought by the agri-chemical multinational Bayer in 2018 and Bayer said the studies’ failure to disclose their funding broke its principles. However, the authors of the studies said the funding did not influence their work and the editor of the journal in which they were published said the papers would not be retracted or amended. Glyphosate is sold by Bayer as Roundup and is the world’s most widely used weedkiller.

The World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015 but several international agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Last year courts in the US ordered Monsanto to pay damages of up to $2bn to individuals with cancer and faces many more lawsuits. Bayer said it “stands fully behind its glyphosate-based products”. The new revelations centre on studies published in 2010 and 2014 by researchers at ADAS, an agricultural and environmental consultancy in the UK. The analyses concluded “the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment”. They suggested a 20% fall in wheat and rapeseed production.

Read more …

You blow up their home and then you toss them a handout to go back to that home.

Migrants On Greek Islands To Be Offered €2,000 To Go Home (G.)

Migrants on the Greek islands are to be offered €2,000 (£1,764) per person to go home under a voluntary scheme launched by the European Union in an attempt to ease desperate conditions in camps. The amount is more than five times the usual sum offered to migrants to help them rebuild their lives in their country of origin, under voluntary returns programmes run by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM). The offer will last one month, as the commission fears an open-ended scheme would attract more migrants to Europe. It will not apply to refugees who have no homes to return to, but is intended to incentivise migrants seeking better living standards to leave the islands.

The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the scheme was “a window of opportunity for a targeted group”, adding that the IOM would run the scheme with the EU border agency Frontex. “Refugees will not return, of course, they can’t return, but economic migrants that maybe know they will not get a positive asylum decision could be interested in doing that,” she told a small group of reporters. The scheme, she said, could be a quick way to relieve the pressure on camps on the Greek islands, where conditions are “totally unacceptable”. The commission said it hoped 5,000 people will take up the offer, although it acknowledged it lacked statistics on how many people on the Greek islands were “economic migrants”, rather than refugees.

Migrants on the Greek mainland were likely to be offered extra money to leave – much less than €2,000, but higher than the usual resettlement sum of €370. Since 2016, 18,151 people have chosen to return home from Greece under a voluntary returns programme funded by the EU and run by the IOM. Only about one-fifth of them (3,927) were on the islands. [..] More than 20,000 people are living at the Moria camp on Lesbos, up from 5,000 last July. About 85% of last year’s arrivals were refugees, with most coming from Afghanistan and Syria, but also from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. More than 18,300 Moria residents were living in a facility designed for 2,200, while others were living in nearby olive groves.

Read more …

” Judge Anthony Trenga did not waive the $256k in penalties levied against her.”

Judge Orders Immediate Release Of Chelsea Manning (Ind.)

A US judge has ordered the immediate release of Chelsea Manning, the former American army officer who was remanded to prison after refusing to testify against WikiLeaks. The ruling states that it is no longer necessary for her to testify and follows her attorneys’ announcement that she had recently tried to kill herself while imprisoned. She is reportedly recovering in hospital. Ms Manning spent seven years in a military prison after leaking thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks before Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. Last year, she was held in contempt of court after refusing to testify before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. She has been jailed since May.

In his ruling on Thursday, Judge Anthony Trenga did not waive the $256k in penalties levied against her. The ruling says that enforcement of the “accrued, conditional fines would not be punitive but rather necessary to the coercive purpose” of the court’s contempt order. She was scheduled to appear at a hearing in a Virginia federal court today. That appearance has been cancelled.

Read more …




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Jul 162019

Gustave Moreau Orpheus at the Tomb of Eurydice 1891


“Don’t Take The Bait”, said 4 young congresswomen yesterday in a press conference in Washington DC. They were referring to comments Donald Trump had made about them earlier. However, just the simple act of calling the press conference meant they were … taking the bait.

Yes, Trump was out of line, way out of left field territory out of line. But he did that on purpose, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, were voluntarily following him into that same left field.

I’ve been saying for over 3 years now that the role of Trump is to expose the -inherent and longtime- failures of the US political system. But when I see things like that press-op, how can I possibly think the system has learned anything at all?

If Trump’s role is to reveal the failures of the system, and that same system turns around and blames Donald Trump for all of those failures, how are we ever supposed to take the next step out of here?


Trump has been especially vicious against the 4 women, and it’s simply not enough to put that down to his racism or anything like that. There’s something else going on; how obvious would you like it?

What is happening here is not Trump pandering or virtue-signalling to his base -that’s just an added feature. The reality is that Trump, in say (re-)election mode, sees a divide within the Democratic party, drives a wedge into that divide, and twists it.

His strong if not vicious attacks on the 4 women are aimed straight at Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, plus all the rest of the centrist Dems. Trump is calling them out. So they will have to either end up supporting AOC and co, or they will not.

If they don’t the Dems are seriously split. They might have been anyway, but Trump makes it impossible for them to keep hiding that. He forces Pelosi et al to either stand behind AOC et al, or to leave her alone, as Nancy was sort of trying to do last week by saying (paraphrased) that “they are just four women”.

And then these girls take the bait to the extent that they call a press conference, which gets tons of attention, but not because they are so newsworthy, as I’m sure they believe, but because Trump is, as anything Trump still is.

It is Pelosi’s worst nightmare. The most vocal members of her party are the furthest removed from the picture she wants to present of the party. But she has to deal with it, with them. She talks about unity all the time, and for good reason.

And Pelosi is smart enough to understand what Trump is doing. She sees the big divide within the Dems and she sees how the divide could make her party lose in 2020. And she sees how Trump uses that.


But what can she do? Tell AOC to shut up for the good of Joe Biden’s chances? The last big shot the Dems have at redemption is next week’s 5 hour Mueller hearing on Capitol Hill. And if that doesn’t work out, where are they going to go? Is it perhaps not the greatest idea to keep people with such different ideas in one party?

Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all, as allegedly do AOC and Elizabeth Warren. AOC wants a Green New Deal, whatever shape that may take, and so on and so on. But if they ever agree on one candidate to run against Trump in 2020, will this person (m/f) run on that platform too?

Or will they go for a center kind of like candidate who’s totally out of line with the four women Trump is aggressively railing against, who thinks US healthcare only needs to be tweaked in minor fashion, Biden-style?!

By now, it’s all good by Trump, because he understands how divided the Dems are, and he’s had time to prepare for using that division.

And he also understands that the main thing the Dems are going to run on, because they have nothing else, is that they are not Donald Trump. They’re not going to agree on Medicare for All or absolving all student debt or any grand plans like that, because they’re too divided to do it.

What unites them is Donald Trump. And then he has them where he wants them.

Please note this is not what I prefer, I think America needs a strong Democratic Party, or perhaps by now more than two parties. It’s just that I think -as I have since 2016- that Trump is the ultimate challenge to the US political sytem, and the system is failing miserably in its response.





Mar 272019

Robert Frank Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina 1955



Bit unusual, but why not. I was reading British press earlier, trying to figure out what the fcuk is going on in London two days before March 29, and in an article in the Guardian I saw this comment, and thought it should be saved for posterity.

Since the article is/was one of those live updates ones, which tend to get very long, and moreover at the point I read it it already had well over 11,000 other comments, posting it here seemed to be the way to go to achieve that.

It was posted by someone who named themselves Tintenfische (German for squid, octopus?!), and that’s all I know about this person(s), who imagines a speech someone should stand up and deliver in the house. I think it says exactly what needs to be said, what politicians should say, in Britain where civil unrest is much closer than anyone wants to see, in the US where very similar scenarios are playing out, and in many other countries.

The failure of party politics is everywhere to be seen.



Tintenfische: Speech I wish someone would have the courage to give.


As I stand in Parliament today I see the faces of friends and colleagues I’ve worked alongside, struggled alongside, triumphed and lost alongside. Good men and women all from both sides of the house.

We and the parties we represent have fought for our beliefs and battled for our constituents for centuries. We’ve done what we believed to be right, we’ve fought battles we believed should be fought and shown the people across the globe how democracy when at its best is the only route to freedom. In this place too I’m confronted with history. It was here that our predecessors decided to stand up to fascism, where we ended slavery and wrote into law that no man or woman, no matter their race, colour, who they fall in love with or who they pray to is less than any other of us. We declared as a house that injustice must be fought, that evil opposed and democracy triumphed. 

Great things have been done in this place, great things by great men, great women and even greater parties. However my friends that legacy is now at an end.

We have failed.

We have failed and our failure has broken this house and the institution we love. We have failed and with that too comes the failure of party politics.

None of us can run from that reality, none of us can hide, deny or challenge that reality. We have through partisan means on both sides of this house broken government of this once united nation. I could list the decisions, the politics, the loyalties which delivered this rupture. I could name names, point out lies and tell of moments when through advantage, greed or idiocy we decided to do what was best for our parties rather than our country, what was best for us rather than our constituents. I could list all those many many occasions when we as servants of the people failed the people, but what would be the point?

The truth is none of us are innocent, none of us escape blame. We as the leaders of this country could have stopped a collapse but we all chose this place and control over it as being more important than those outside. We chose ourselves and our parties ahead of our people.

But what else could we do? We could have stood up, we could have protested, we could have denied our own leaders but to what end? We all believe that we and the parties we represent are best placed to do what is right for this country. We all think that the shared policies, morals and ethics of ourselves and our parties are the right way for a country to be run. If we didn’t believe we knew best we wouldnt be here. But there’s the problem, circumstance has shown this not to be the case. Now we stand atop of a divided, fractured nation one which may never be able to be reformed and that has happened because of us. It is our fault. By following those certainties of righteousness and rightness both of ourselves and of our parties we have precipitated this collapse. We are now the problem.


So what’s to be done? We could just carry on, we could just continue down this same path which every day makes this country more divided, more ungovernable, more leaderless. We certainly could do that and looking around this room it’s easy to see so many of us already resigned to the path of destruction. Resigned to a rapid decline because we’re all too Cowed too timid to say no.

But we could also say no. We could as one house say to the country “I’m sorry but no. We can’t make these decisions, we’re not good enough. We can’t do anything but fail you or your future from here on in”. The people elected us to represent them it is true but we’re no longer capable of that, our parties are no longer capable of that. It is no longer in the national interest that we continue to represent the people when we can’t even govern ourselves.

We need to change ladies and gentlemen, we need to be better. We need to be greater than the sum of our parts. Each and everyone of us needs to decide who and what we our, who we represent. We need to turn away from the saftey and comradeship of party loyalty and act and vote on what we believe to be right, what we believe to be in the best interests of our nation, not what our leaders tell us is best because if we’ve failed then our leaders are double damned by their double failure. 

What I’m asking is extreme, I’m asking you my fellow members to destroy the parties you all represent. I’m asking you for the sake of the nation to walk away from rosette loyalty and remember your oaths. I’m asking you to do the right thing.

We are no longer able to govern, we cannot lead and we cannot decide. We must return the question of our place in the world back to the people and once that’s done we must dissolve this house and our parties and a new slate be mined because right now not one of us is fit to stand in this place and claim leadership of this disunited kingdom.



Sep 262016
 September 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Family of rural rehabilitation client, Tulare County, CA 1938


It’s over! The entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived, is over! That’s why there’s Trump.

There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty hollow sunshiny S&P stock market numbers propped up with ultra cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.

These false growth numbers have one purpose only: for the public to keep the incumbent powers that be in their plush seats. But they could always ever only pull the curtain of Oz over people’s eyes for so long, and it’s no longer so long.

That’s what the ascent of Trump means, and Brexit, Le Pen, and all the others. It’s over. What has driven us for all our lives has lost both its direction and its energy.

We are smack in the middle of the most important global development in decades, in some respects arguably even in centuries, a veritable revolution, which will continue to be the most important factor to shape the world for years to come, and I don’t see anybody talking about it. That has me puzzled.

The development in question is the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.

In the same way it will be the end of -almost- all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!)

This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.

Tons of smart and less smart folks are breaking their heads over where Trump and Brexit and Le Pen and all these ‘new’ and scary things and people and parties originate, and they come up with little but shaky theories about how it’s all about older people, and poorer and racist and bigoted people, stupid people, people who never voted, you name it.

But nobody seems to really know or understand. Which is odd, because it’s not that hard. That is, this all happens because growth is over. And if growth is over, so are expansion and centralization in all the myriad of shapes and forms they come in.

Global is gone as a main driving force, pan-European is gone, and whether the United States will stay united is far from a done deal. We are moving towards a mass movement of dozens of separate countries and states and societies looking inward. All of which are in some form of -impending- trouble or another.

What makes the entire situation so hard to grasp for everyone is that nobody wants to acknowledge any of this. Even though tales of often bitter poverty emanate from all the exact same places that Trump and Brexit and Le Pen come from too.

That the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.

And of course it’s confusing that the protests against the ‘old regimes’ and the growth and centralization -first- manifest in the rise of faces and voices who do not reject all of the above offhand. That is to say, the likes of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage may be against more centralization, but none of them has a clue about growth being over. They don’t get that part anymore than Hillary or Hollande or Merkel do.

So why these people? Look closer and you see that in the US, UK and France, there is nobody left who used to speak for the ‘poor and poorer’. While at the same time, the numbers of poor and poorer increase at a rapid clip. They just have nowhere left to turn to. There is literally no left left.

Dems in the US, Labour in the UK, and Hollande’s ‘Socialists’ in France have all become part of the two-headed monster that is the political center, and that is (held) responsible for the deterioration in people’s lives. Moreover, at least for now, the actual left wing may try to stand up in the form of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, but they are both being stangled by the two-headed monster’s fake left in their countries and their own parties.

Donald Trump, and I say this mere hours before the first debate, may still lose the election, but it doesn’t truly matter. He’s just the figure head -dare we say bobble head?- for a development, even a revolution, that he doesn’t control any more than you and I do. He’s got a role to play but he didn’t write it.

If he wins, his program too, like all the others, will be targeted towards more growth, and there’s no such thing available. And while in a no-growth scenario it’ll be a good thing for America to bring jobs back home, as is trump’s message, they won’t spell anything that even comes close to growth.

‘Leaders’ such as Trump and Le Pen can only be seen as intermediate figures necessary for nations, and indeed the world, to adapt to an entirely different paradigm. One that is at best based on consolidation, on trying not to lose too much, instead of trying to conquer the world.

But also one that is likely to lead to warfare and mayhem, because nobody’s been willing to address even the possibility of no more growth, and therefore everyone will be looking to squeeze growth out of any available place, starting with their neighbors, and the globe’s weakest. It’s the Roman empire all over again, where the core strangled the periphery ever harder until the Barbarians and the Visigoths decided it was enough and then some.

That is the meaning of Donald Trump, and of Brexit. You’re not going to understand these things without taking a few steps back, and without looking at history, and especially without acknowledging the possibility that, in economics, perpetual growth may indeed be what physics has always said it was: an impossible pipedream.

Trump has a role to play in this whether he wins the election or not. He’s the big red flashing American warning sign that the increase in poverty that has so far been felt only among those who it has hit, will shake the familiar political landscape on its foundations, and that this landscape will never return.

Look at European political parties established for decades and you see the exact same thing. Only there you often have other ‘escape valves’, because new parties are easier to form and get onto national forums. But it’s still the same thing.

Centralization, globalization, UN, NATO, IMF, all these ‘principles’ and organizations will see their influence and support dwindle, and rapidly. It’s really over. Debt did it. Or rather, our doomed mission to hide our downfall behind a veil of ever more debt did.

And Donald Trump has a role to play in that. If Hillary wins, it’ll only be more, and ever more, and spastically more, attempts to convince everyone that more globalization is the way to go, and that going to war with Putin and sending young Americans into battle in fields lost before they enter is the way of the future.

Both will be failures. All we really get to do is try to decide who may be the lesser failure.

But anyway, that’s where Trump comes from, and he doesn’t understand the half of it. Trump is there because everything else failed. And he will fail too, win or lose.



Feb 032015
 February 3, 2015  Posted by at 12:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  9 Responses »

Harris&Ewing House-Capitol tunnel, Washington, DC Feb 3 1939

It’s all still about Greece, and that makes sense, if nothing else Syriza is a breath if not a tornado of fresh air. But those too pass. The question at the end remains: did anything really change? It’s quite possible, don’t get me wrong, but Tsipras and Vanoufakis are busy looking out for the people who voted for them, not the rest of the Europe, or the world for that matter. And neither should they.

They’ve already gotten good response from Obama, from France and Britain, and if only for that reason they will get more. But you have to understand what they are trying to do: getting a better life for their own people, and that’s hard enough all by itself. The best they can do for now, hopefully, is that. But Greece is merely a symptom of something bigger and deeper that is going wrong.

There’s an ideological battle happening between money and wellbeing, between people and banks. Western leaders have so far chosen to protect money and banks, instead of people and their wellbeing, and that’s why we find ourselves where we do. Choosing money before people can only end in the demise of the system that makes such a choice. That, however, is apparently terribly hard to comprehend.

And that got Greece where it is. That’s why Europe set up a ‘union’ that shares a currency but that has no provisions to transfer funds from – even temporarily – weak regions from stronger ones. Even the US has that, or it would have imploded long ago. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if maybe the EU wasn’t set up from the start so Germany could exploit the Mediterranean.

But even that is not the core issue. It’s money over people that is. And Brussels should not just be ashamed for what they’ve done to Greece, they should be driven out of town with tar and feathers. That’s not how they see it, though. Brussels, in the voice of Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem, when he met with new Greek FinMin Varoufakis, had the audacity – and stupidity, his job is up for grabs – to point out that much progress had been made. As the troika demands have turned Greece into a third world nation. That’s known as progress.

If you think about it, it’s not much different from how US policies have turned Detroit, and many other places, into semi-hellholes. It’s fine if there’s a difference between West Virginia and the Hamptons, it’s just about how big that difference gets.

It all comes down to a system that is failing spectacularly. Failing, that is, even if it’s intentional: there are plenty Darwinists and neo-liberals who would swear the poor only get what they deserve. Just as Brussels apparently saw the Greeks: let ’em bleed, let ’em suffer, let ’em die, it’s only because they borrowed too much.

I can’t seem to figure out the logic there: if they borrowed so much, why are they unemployed and miserable and without health care? The answer to that of course is that they didn’t, it’s 90%+ money that flowed into western banks to make up for their gambling losses. It should by now be a non-issue, because it’s so glaringly obvious, but the narrative is strong.

This is not about Greece, this is about ideology, about economics as a belief system, a system so blind it sacrifices real people and proclaims that is a good thing: ‘much progress had been made’. Some people are saying: you need to help these people who end up on the wrong side of the economic tracks, while others invoke Darwin.

But you need to ask how they got where they are, or you’ll never solve the issue, you’ll just need up murdering people. And whether they deserve it or not, murder is not legal, Mr. Dijsselbloem. And neither is using your job to put people into misery, not even if your economic beliefs say that’s alright.

In the US, a lot of people complain about how the country has turned into a socialist bastion. And even taking into account that the word has a very different connotation stateside than it does in Europe and other parts of the world, it’s simply not correct, it doesn’t fit.

The US, like western Europe, is in the midst of a massive failure of its brand of capitalism. There are no free markets, no price discovery, there are asset bubbles being blown with money that belongs to our grandchildren as people are thrown into despair, while others attain unparalleled riches, and the whole grossly distorted movie is fed to everyone by a well-oiled spin machine.

Yes, 40 million Americans are on food stamps, 100 million are not even officially in the labor force, and perhaps as much as most Americans are receiving some sort of government assistance, but that doesn’t make it socialism. It makes it a failed capitalist system. Socialism is supposed to be about a society that cares, and that’s not what those US government handouts are about. They’re about keeping people quiet in a failed system.

Europe understands the ‘caring society’ definition of socialism much better. Or it used to. Now it has to face the ‘New Greeks’, elected to stand up against a Europe that does not care one bit. That only wants Greece to obey its budget and bailout rules, over the bodies of its own people. The Greeks have democratically voted not to take that anymore.

Can you imagine what would happen in the US if the government pay-outs were halted? If there were no more foodstamps? The epic failure of the economic system would come to light in too many ways to mention. But one thing’s for sure, it would create one big mess of chaos and unrest that would sweep across the streets of the country like a tidal wave.

Nothing to do with socialism, that’s a political ideology, like capitalism is. There’s not much between them, once you put people first in either.

Still, for now, we all live in a failed economic system, and we refuse to admit it, edged on by our self-serving leaders and media. But how is it not obvious? It is in Greece, after all.

Dec 062014
 December 6, 2014  Posted by at 10:39 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  25 Responses »

Arthur Rothstein Interior of migratory fruit worker’s tent, Yakima, Washington Jul 1936

We’re in dire need of fresh blood and smart new ideas to clean up the mess the present ideologies and their puppets and puppetmasters have created. The present crew has made a neverending series of ‘mistakes’, intentional or not, and they are dead set on making more, if only because they refuse to change the tack that led to all these ‘mistakes’.

I say mistakes because that’s what they are from the point of view of all those who live in the real economy, not because I think the puppetmasters are mistaken from their own point of view. After all, all they do, literally all they do, is take care of their own interests. Where they will find themselves mistaken is down the line, when there is no longer a functioning real economy, and they will of necessity end up going down with it.

However, even though you wouldn’t say it to look at America and Europe these days, we don’t need to be puppets to any masters. I know, I know, most of you don’t even recognize yourselves as puppets – yes, you -. You believe most of what you read, or at least enough to keep going on the beaten track. And they’re good at making you believe. They’ve gotten a lot better at it ever since you were born, whenever you were born.

You only need to listen to things like this week’s US jobs report, which has the media falling over each other and themselves to declare victory. But which, when you take a good look, declares no such thing. And we’ve been going on this road for many years now, a road defined by debt on one side and propaganda on the other, and we stick to it because we are promised on a 24/7 basis that it will lead to growth, which is always just around the corner. Growth is the magic word.

But why do we need growth, and do we even need it at all? That is a question which is considered blasphemous anathema by the current class of economists and leaders. Still, and maybe especially for that reason, it is a question that needs to be asked, perhaps THE question. Because the past 10, 20 or even 40 years have not actually delivered any growth, once you look beyond the propaganda, and the added debt.

And when you add that debt to the equation, they’ve brought the real economy the opposite of growth, while handing the puppet masters unequaled riches. In a nutshell, the past 40 years or so have given us added layers of gadgets at the price of unaffordable education and health care, the price of a deteriorating real economy. And that is just the start of the way down.

Growth is a topic I’ve written a lot about over the years, too much to even try and find it all back again. Here are a few samples. From November 14 2011:

The Growth Paradigm Has Become An Embarrassment

It’s high time to come clean, to stop the incessant lying. To stop pretending things are a bit hard right now, but otherwise just fine. They’re not. Extend and pretend works only so long. Then it snaps back in your face with a vengeance. That’s why the bond markets are so successful in bringing down Italy and Greece. Not because the ECB doesn’t step in, since that would only serve to cover up reality for a little bit longer, but because they’ve both lied for so long about their real predicaments.

No, just stop lying. The consequences and challenges will be formidable, but they’ll be that anyway. You can’t cover up the debt and the losses forever. And the chances of growing your economies out of the cesspit are zero, if not below.

One thing no more lying will achieve is this: it will re-establish confidence in the markets -or what’ll be left of them-. And isn’t that what you guys always say you want to accomplish? Well, I can assure you, it’s the only way to do it: cut the fairy tales. Take a breath of fresh air and get to work. Do something real and rewarding for a change, and for a living.

Oh, and one other thing that must stop something urgent: stop talking about economic growth. There ain’t none, and we need to wonder hard and loud why we still and always unquestioningly assume and accept that we need it. No, the Greek economy will not grow its way out of its misery. Neither will Italy’s, or France’s or America’s. There’s too much debt to grow out of.

But perhaps this is hard to fathom without resorting to more philosophical questions. For those of you who’ve never read or heard Professor Albert Bartlett’s work on exponential growth (since that is what we’re talking bout), get moving. Bartlett is a physicist. That means he’s an actual scientist, and capable of understanding the inevitable endgame of exponential growth. People like Papademos and Monti, as well as just about any political and economic leader on the planet, don’t understand the science involved. Either that or they’re willfully blind to it.

And there’s another layer to the question, one that goes beyond the easy to understand impossibility of endless and eternal growth. That is, when we look around our respective places on the planet, why do we think we need to grow more? Why do we feel we haven’t grown enough? And perhaps more quintessential: what is it that we want to grow into? At what point, if we do want more growth, will it be enough for us? Have we even thought about that?

We are fed the constant growth story because it is indeed a necessity in our present system. When all money issued carries interest i.e. is issued as debt, you will need to grow your GDP at least as much as that interest rate to play even. Just as easy to understand as the exponential growth conundrum. Or so you would think.

But that doesn’t mean that you can always keep issuing enough money to meet your interest payment requirements. Not when a huge part of it is issued as for instance mortgage loans, but very few people buy homes. Not when money is created when banks issue fresh credit to industries, but industries find no market for their products and instead contract.

In other words: if we don’t grow, we will shrink. And that, we are told, is the very definition of armageddon. But why couldn’t we shrink a little and still be comfortable? In theory we could perhaps, but first of all the human mind isn’t made for shrinkage, and second the money we create as credit is virtual, and can disappear as fast as it was created, and into the same nothingness.

If we would for instance consciously choose to shrink by 5%, we’d run a very real risk that we would cause 50% of the money to vanish. The system based on credit will have the tendency to go down like so many dominoes. It has very little resilience and is thus enormously fragile, something we don’t pay attention to when we have growth, and are therefore not prepared for when we no longer do.

And from April 22, 2013:

What Do We Want To Grow Into?

The only good thing about all this is that if and when it becomes clear that there is no growth left in the system, all its one-dimensional advocates, from both the Spend! and the Cut! parties, will disappear into a great void. They have no idea what to do without growth. There is no economics class that teaches them, and they don’t have the brains to come up with an answer themselves.

Indeed, perhaps it’s even true that a “not necessarily growth” situation, simply of its own accord, selects for other “leaders”. That power hungry psychopaths, in all the various degrees to which they float to the top of the dungheap, are wiped out and alienated by such a situation.

That could be a very good thing. It’s on the way there, however, that we will see unimaginable damage, mayhem and bloodshed. The forever and always growth classes have an iron grip on everyone’s lives. If only because everyone believes them. Still, just because they can’t change their ways and views doesn’t mean you can’t. You can see quite easily that, in a material sense, you have more than enough already.

And many of you have clued in to the destruction ever more growth brings to your children’s living world (not to mention their brains). Unfortunately, quite a few then fall for the “more growth, but more greener” delusion. Or some steady state one (we don’t do steady, we don’t stand still).

When you get down to the heart of it, the only reason we need more growth is to pay off our debts. Which we owe largely to the same small group of rich, psychopathic and powerful that incessantly repeats the “need for growth” message, and makes sure it’s the only message available out there. But we will have to have the discussion some day, and it won’t be initiated by the people and powers that rule our societies today; that one’s up to us.

It’s a very simple discussion. You can start it today with Krugman or one of his alleged adversaries: Why do you advocate economic growth? Why do you see a period of non-growth or shrinkage as a necessary evil that needs to be brought down to its knees at – quite literally – all cost?

And what is it you want to grow into? Can you explain that? I’ve never seen that properly defined. Isn’t it perhaps true that if you don’t know the answer to that question, you are by definition blindly chasing a mirage? If you don’t know where you’re going, or why you’re going there, why go at all? Or is that still the sort of issue that can easily be swept under the carpet as “commie”?

So it’s refreshing to see this week a German economist and banker, Dr. Ulrich Salzer, thanks to Tyler Durden, going down that same line of questioning. These questions are long overdue. It’s not just one school of economics or the other failing us, it’s the entire field. Any field that refuses to ponder its most essential questions is per definition dead and useless.

Physicists can explain any time of day why we need Newton’s gravity and Einstein’s relativity in order to make sense of the world, and if anyone can prove them wrong, they’d be welcomed. Economists cannot explain we we need growth, it’s simply assumed to be a given.

Deficit Spending And Money Printing: A German Point Of View

The leading macroeconomic Nobel-Laureates, the Central Bankers as well as most Politicians have reduced their economic judgment on how to get the economies in Europe and Japan back to sustainable growth on just two recipes: public investments in infrastructure to be financed by additional public debt and, second, an expansive money market policy based on printing more money and reducing interest rates to zero or even beyond zero to negative rates!

And if the capital markets don’t swallow additional public debt, then the Central Banks will step in eagerly as Investors – regardless if this is in line with their statutes!

The expected results, backed by the leading macroeconomic wisdom, should be to kick-start economic growth, to induce private industry to invest and banks to lend to private investors, and thereby to reduce unemployment, and get deflationary tendencies back to an inflation rate that is now officially regarded as ideal if it oscillates around 2 % p.a. When and why this “two-percent” benchmark was introduced for the first time I can’t remember, but everybody today takes it for granted and repeats it like as an undisputed target of Central Bank’s money market policy. Included in this assumption is ever more public debt as the guarantor for lasting GDP-growth!

I never understood why macroeconomics should be regarded as an academic discipline if it is in practice reduced to these rather simple theories of how to handle a recession or even deflation! Maybe Alfred Nobel was just as clear-sighted as I am, and consequently never introduced a Nobel-prize for economics. That was done after his death by the Central Bank of Norway, which also contributed the required funds. It still does so, and not the Nobel foundation!

My personal advice is to stop handing out any more Nobel-prizes for economics to any more American professors on any new theory how to steer economic development and sustainable economic growth, because none of them has ever worked.

There is a lot of blame offloaded onto Maynard Keynes by critics of the present ruling opinion of more deficit spending by governments. But I don’t believe that Keynes would approve any of today’s Nobel-Laureates who saw no other way out of recession than by money printing in unlimited amounts and years of deficit spending by already over-indebted economies. According to Keynes public investment on deficit could be regarded as an “ultima ratio” to re-kick-start a slow economy, but he would never have advised any government that is already highly indebted to increase this debt even more!

In his theory, deficit-spending should be a limited action in time and amounts, and directly afterwards this debt should be repaid by the additional tax income from the stronger revenues of industry and private individuals who have profited from the intervention of the State.

But what our economists and central bankers are recommending nowadays is completely different from “short-term-kick-starts” – our systems are so full of the sweet drug of government deficit spending that (like a drug-addict) it constantly needs heavier doses of the same drug!

It was not long ago that the American Treasury Secretary publicly blamed Germany for not using its remaining credit standing for another round of deficit-spending in order to help Italy, France and other Southern European countries. As if more public debt and burning straw in Germany would have any impact on the southern countries’ economies without any serious political and economic reforms in those countries themselves to fight the weakness at its real source!

As long as our “economy doctors” don’t know anything better than to prescribe more drugs instead of getting the patient off the needle and help him to abandon the ever increasing drug doses, we will never get our economies “back to normal”!

We should never forget that at least the European economies had no real problem as long as the public debt to Gross National Product ratio remained within the Maastricht limits of 60% and before liquidity in the banking sector was multiplied without limit, thereby creating big bubbles in the financial assets of the banks which finally led to the financial crisis of 2008.

Japan is the very best example to prove that the therapy of deficit spending and money printing is dangerously wrong: it is now 25 years since Japan has adopted this cure. If anybody needs proof that the prescription was unprofessional and ineffective, he should look at the results to the Japanese economy and its public debt. Although hundreds of billions of Dollars have been spent during this period on programs to stimulate the Japanese economy the effect was that Japan fell from one recession into the next depression and the public debt ratio to GNP has meanwhile reached the astronomic bench mark of 230% (!!), which is double that of Greece and four times higher than the Maastricht criterion!

I am certain that Maynard Keynes would turn in his grave if he knew to what extent his theory was misinterpreted and misused! Of course it’s a big temptation for every politician to utilize the sweet but toxic medicine of deficit spending and more public debt rather than to introduce hard reforms on public budgets, on social spending and other benefits to their voters.

It’s also a big mistake that European governments have disregarded the traditional role of the European Central Bank as the watch-dog against inflation. In creating the ECB, Germany never consented that it should have more responsibilities and more authority than the Deutsche Bundesbank ever had.

It’s just like with deficit spending Keynes had recommended under certain conditions: it may be acceptable if the Central Bank acts as “Lender of last resort” in case of actual liquidity crisis. But this should be strictly on short-term basis. What we experience today is completely contrary to the German (maybe not the U.S.) understanding of the role of the Central Bank. The ECB has now assumed a role not only to protect the value of our common currency against inflation but also to take action as if it is responsible to create economic growth and full employment with instruments like money printing, zero interest rates and unlimited investments in bonds which the free market is rejecting.

We pay a high price for the chimera that we need constant economic growth and that it is a stigma if our GDP-growth is only 1.5% p.a. Can’t we accept that after 50 years of undisturbed peace and continuous prosperity we have reached a certain degree of personal satisfaction where we don’t need a new car every year, another cell-phone, additional furniture, more TV-sets, more laptops etc, etc. Why do we insist upon economic growth, if we don’t actually need the products which are additionally produced every year?

Is it really worth it to increase the already heavy burden of public debt, which our children must service someday, by accepting even more debt in a vain effort to increase public demand? Let’s instead be happy with zero GDP growth, zero inflation and zero growth of public debt! That could be a more rational solution. Why don’t we consider it?

You almost have to step outside of economics, even out of the financial world as a whole, to pose what is the most elementary question about our economy today. That can’t be right.

The most elementary question is not how we can achieve growth, it’s whether we need growth, and what we would need it for that is important enough to destroy our entire societies and economies for. As Salzer says: “Why do we insist upon economic growth, if we don’t actually need the products which are additionally produced every year?” The most elementary question is as simple as that.

I can finish this the way I started it: we need new ideas, new paradigms, to replace the ones that have gotten us the cesspool we find ourselves in, despite the false signals debt and propaganda provide us with. We’re in dire need of fresh blood and smart new ideas to clean up the mess the present ideologies and their puppets and puppetmasters have created.

Nov 252014
 November 25, 2014  Posted by at 10:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »

Taylor Deluxe Kauneel auto trailer, Bay City, Michigan May 1936

“We Are Starting To Break Down”: Why So Many Americans Feel Traumatized (Salon)
Buy the All Time High (James Howard Kunstler)
The Dismal Economy: 148 Million Government Beneficiaries (Lance Roberts)
The Mystery Of America’s “Schrodinger” Middle Class (Zero Hedge)
Overvalued, Overbought, Overbullish, Extremely Vulnerable Markets (Hussman)
Canada Moving Toward American-Style Inequality (CTV)
Oil Seen Dropping Another $30 by ICAP on Commodity, Dollar Cycle (Bloomberg)
Market Manipulation Of Oil Prices Backfires On Those That Start It: Putin (RT)
Global Growth To Get $200 Billion Kick From Oil Price Crash (Telegraph)
How The Fed Has Boxed US Into An Easy-Money Corner (Satyajit Das)
The Week That Shook the Fed (Gretchen Morgenson)
Eurozone Yields Hit Record Lows: Is ECB Trumping Reality? (CNBC)
Bundesbank’s Weidmann Warns Of ‘Legal Limits’ On Further Moves By ECB (Reuters)
German Bond Yields To Trump Japan As ECB Battles Deflation (AEP)
Greece Bailout Talks Resume Amid Concerns Over Exit (Reuters)
Britain’s EU Retreat Means German Hegemony Warns Prodi (AEP)
BOJ Minutes Show Bazooka Is All About The Message (CNBC)
Kuroda Tells Japan Inc. to Stop Hoarding Cash as Costs to Rise (Bloomberg)
Hedge Funds Lose Money for Everyone, Not Just the Rich (Bloomberg)
Dudley Defense Leaves Senators Unimpressed as Fed Scrutiny Rises (Bloomberg)
Even Brazil’s President Is Involved In The Petrobras Scandal (CNBC)
Summit of Failure: How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine (Spiegel)
In Wake Of China Rejections, GMO Seed Makers Limit US Launches (Reuters)

An absolute must read by Lynn Stuart Parramore.

“We Are Starting To Break Down”: Why So Many Americans Feel Traumatized (Salon)

Recently Don Hazen, the executive editor of AlterNet, asked me to think about trauma in the context of America’s political system. As I sifted through my thoughts on this topic, I began to sense an enormous weight in my body and a paralysis in my brain. What could I say? What could I possibly offer to my fellow citizens? Or to myself? After six years writing about the financial crisis and its gruesome aftermath, I feel weariness and fear. When I close my eyes, I see a great ogre with gold coins spilling from his pockets and pollution spewing from his maw lurching toward me with increasing speed. I don’t know how to stop him. Do you feel this way, too?

All along the watchtower, America’s alarms are sounding loudly. Voter turnout this last go-round was the worst in 72 years, as if we needed another sign that faith in democracy is waning. Is it really any wonder? When your choices range from the corrupt to the demented, how can you not feel that citizenship is a sham? Research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page clearly shows that our lawmakers create policy based on the desires of monied elites while “mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” Our voices are not heard.

When our government does pay attention to us, the focus seems to be more on intimidation and control than addressing our needs. We are surveilled through our phones and laptops. As the New York Times recently reported, a surge in undercover operations from a bewildering array of agencies has unleashed an army of unsupervised rogues poised to spy upon and victimize ordinary people rather than challenge the real predators who pillage at will. Aggressive and militarized police seem more likely to harm us than to protect us, even to mow us down if necessary. Our policies amplify the harm. The mentally ill are locked away in solitary confinement, and even left there to die. Pregnant women in need of medical treatment are arrested and criminalized. Young people simply trying to get an education are crippled with debt. The elderly are left to wander the country in RVs in search of temporary jobs. If you’ve seen yourself as part of the middle class, you may have noticed cries of agony ripping through your ranks in ways that once seemed to belong to worlds far away.

[..] A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair. We are starting to break down.

Read more …

Brilliant piece by buddy Jim: “All of these evil systems have to go and must be replaced by more straightforward and honest endeavors aimed at growing food, doing trade, healing people, traveling, building places worth living in, and learning useful things.”

Buy the All Time High (James Howard Kunstler)

Wall Street is only one of several financial roach motels in what has become a giant slum of a global economy. Notional “money” scuttles in for safety and nourishment, but may never get out alive. Tom Friedman of The New York Times really put one over on the soft-headed American public when he declared in a string of books that the global economy was a permanent installation in the human condition. What we’re seeing “out there” these days is the basic operating system of that economy trying to shake itself to pieces. The reason it has to try so hard is that the various players in the global economy game have constructed an armature of falsehood to hold it in place — for instance the pipeline of central bank “liquidity” creation that pretends to be capital propping up markets.

It would be most accurate to call it fake wealth. It is not liquid at all but rather gaseous, and that is why it tends to blow “bubbles” in the places to which it flows. When the bubbles pop, the gas will tend to escape quickly and dramatically, and the ground will be littered with the pathetic broken balloons of so many hopes and dreams. All of this mighty, tragic effort to prop up a matrix of lies might have gone into a set of activities aimed at preserving the project of remaining civilized. But that would have required the dismantling of rackets such as agri-business, big-box commerce, the medical-hostage game, the Happy Motoring channel-stuffing scam, the suburban sprawl “industry,” and the higher ed loan swindle.

All of these evil systems have to go and must be replaced by more straightforward and honest endeavors aimed at growing food, doing trade, healing people, traveling, building places worth living in, and learning useful things. All of those endeavors have to become smaller, less complex, more local, and reality-based — rather than based, as now, on overgrown and sinister intermediaries creaming off layers of value, leaving nothing behind but a thin entropic gruel of waste. All of this inescapable reform is being held up by the intransigence of a banking system that can’t admit that it has entered the stage of criticality. It sustains itself on its sheer faith in perpetual levitation. It is reasonable to believe that upsetting that faith might lead to war.

Read more …

The numbers are getting insane.

The Dismal Economy: 148 Million Government Beneficiaries (Lance Roberts)

.. the Federal Reserve has stopped their latest rounds of bond buying and are now starting to discuss the immediacy of increasing interest rates. This, of course, is based on the “hopes” that the economy has started to grow organically as headline unemployment rates have fallen to just 5.9%. If such activity were real then both inflation and wage pressures should be rising – they are not. According to the Congressional Budget Office study that was just released, approximately 60% of all U.S. households get more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes.

Roughly 70% of all government spending now goes toward dependence-creating programs. From 2009 through 2013, the U.S. government spent an astounding 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs. In fact, today, the percentage of the U.S. population that gets money from the federal government grew by an astounding 62% between 1988 and 2011. Recent analysis of U.S. government numbers conducted by Terrence P. Jeffrey, shows that there are 86 million full-time private sector workers in the United States paying taxes to support the government, and nearly 148 million Americans that are receiving benefits from the government each month.

Yet Janet Yellen, and most other mainstream economists suggests that employment is booming in the U.S. Okay, if we assume that this is indeed the case then why, according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation conducted by the U.S. Census, are well over 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government. Importantly, that figure does not even include Social Security or Medicare. (Here are the numbers for Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare: More than 64 million are receiving Social Security benefits, more than 54 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare and more than 70 million Americans are enrolled in Medicaid.) Furthermore, how do you explain the chart below? With roughly 45% of the working age population sitting outside the labor force, it should not be surprising that the ratio of social welfare as a percentage of real, inflation-adjusted, disposable personal income is at the highest level EVER on record.

Read more …

This is how you can pretend to have a recovery.

The Mystery Of America’s “Schrodinger” Middle Class (Zero Hedge)

On one hand, the US middle class has rarely if ever had it worse. At least, if one actually dares to venture into this thing called the real world, and/or believes the NYT’s report: “Falling Wages at Factories Squeeze the Middle Class.” Some excerpts:

For nearly 20 years, Darrell Eberhardt worked in an Ohio factory putting together wheelchairs, earning $18.50 an hour, enough to gain a toehold in the middle class and feel respected at work. He is still working with his hands, assembling seats for Chevrolet Cruze cars at the Camaco auto parts factory in Lorain, Ohio, but now he makes $10.50 an hour and is barely hanging on. “I’d like to earn more,” said Mr. Eberhardt, who is 49 and went back to school a few years ago to earn an associate’s degree. “But the chances of finding something like I used to have are slim to none.” Even as the White House and leaders on Capitol Hill and in Fortune 500 boardrooms all agree that expanding the country’s manufacturing base is a key to prosperity, evidence is growing that the pay of many blue-collar jobs is shrinking to the point where they can no longer support a middle-class life.

In short: America’s manufacturing sector is being obliterated: “A new study by the National Employment Law Project, to be released on Friday, reveals that many factory jobs nowadays pay far less than what workers in almost identical positions earned in the past.

Perhaps even more significant, while the typical production job in the manufacturing sector paid more than the private sector average in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, that relationship flipped in 2007, and line work in factories now pays less than the typical private sector job. That gap has been widening — in 2013, production jobs paid an average of $19.29 an hour, compared with $20.13 for all private sector positions. Pressured by temporary hiring practices and a sharp decrease in salaries in the auto parts sector, real wages for manufacturing workers fell by 4.4% from 2003 to 2013, NELP researchers found, nearly three times the decline for workers as a whole.

How is this possible: aren’t post-bankruptcy GM, and Ford, now widely touted as a symbol of the New Normal American manufacturing renaissance? Well yes. But there is a problem: recall what we wrote in December 2010: ‘Charting America’s Transformation To A Part-Time Worker Society:”

.. one of the most important reasons for lower pay is the increased use of temporary workers. Some manufacturers have turned to staffing agencies for hiring rather than employing workers directly on their own payroll. For the first half of 2014, these agencies supplied one out of seven workers employed by auto parts manufacturers. The increased use of these lower-paid workers, particularly on the assembly line, not only eats into the number of industry jobs available, but also has a ripple effect on full-time, regular workers. Even veteran full-time auto parts workers who have managed to work their way up the assembly-line chain of command have eked out only modest gains.

Read more …

“QE only misallocates capital toward more speculation and low-quality debt .. ”

Overvalued, Overbought, Overbullish, Extremely Vulnerable Markets (Hussman)

.. iwhen concerns about default are rising, default-free, low-interest rate money is not considered to be an inferior asset, and as a result, its increased availability does not provoke risk-seeking behavior. If we observe narrowing credit spreads and stronger uniformity in market internals, we will be able to infer a shift toward risk-seeking (and in turn, a greater likelihood that monetary easing will provoke further speculation). That won’t make stocks any cheaper, and downside risk will still need to be managed, but our immediate concerns would be less dire. At present, current market conditions and the lessons of history encourage us to be aware that very untidy market outcomes could unfold in very short order. [..] QE only misallocates capital toward more speculation and low-quality debt (primarily junk and leveraged loan issuance), without much impact on real growth. [..]

The upshot is this. Quantitative easing only “works” to the extent that default-free, low interest liquidity is viewed as an inferior holding. When investor psychology shifts toward increasing risk aversion – which we can reasonably measure through the uniformity or dispersion of market internals, the variation of credit spreads between risky and safe debt, and investor sponsorship as reflected in price-volume behavior – default-free, low-interest liquidity is no longer considered inferior. It’s actually desirable, so creating more of the stuff is not supportive to stock prices. We observed exactly that during the 2000-2002 and 2007-2009 plunges, which took the S&P 500 down by half in each episode, even as the Fed was easing persistently and aggressively. A shift toward increasing internal dispersion and widening credit spreads leaves risky, overvalued, overbought, overbullish markets extremely vulnerable to air-pockets, free-falls, and crashes.

Read more …

It hurts to see Canada become so much like the US in so many ways.

Canada Moving Toward American-Style Inequality (CTV)

A prominent U.S. political economist says Canada is moving toward American-style inequality, and believes austerity economics and tax cuts for corporations are making the problem worse. Robert Reich, the secretary of labor during Bill Clinton’s presidency, now writes extensively on income equality and was in Canada this week speaking at an event for the Broadbent Institute. “The United States economy and the Canadian economy are going on parallel courses,” Reich said in an interview on CTV Question Period. With Japan moving into an official recession and much of Europe still mired in a slowdown, there’s still an idea that countries need to cut government spending during the recovery.

That kind of thinking, Reich says, has the effect of worsening the ratio of debt to the total economy. “Austerity economics does not work,” Reich said. “If you slow down the economy because government is cutting down so much that there’s not enough demand to keep the economy going, then you end up with a worse ratio of debt to GDP.” The U.S. and Canadian economies are growing too slowly, he says. And many wealthy people or corporations, he said, are putting their money in places where they can get the highest return – but that kind of investment isn’t what creates jobs. “Without customers, businesses are not going to create jobs,” he said.

Read more …

“The long-term cycle points to the dollar moving higher and the euro declining into 2016, while commodities move lower through 2016 and 2017.”

Oil Seen Dropping Another $30 by ICAP on Commodity, Dollar Cycle (Bloomberg)

New York-traded crude oil will probably drop another $30 in the next two years as long-term cycles in commodities and currencies converge, no matter what happens at this week’s OPEC meeting and Iran nuclear talks, according to brokerage United-ICAP. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, has collapsed five times since the contract’s introduction in 1983, said Walter Zimmerman, chief technical strategist for United-ICAP in Jersey City, New Jersey. The plunges in 1986, 1991, 1998, 2001 and 2008 coincided with an OPEC price war, recessions and financial crises, and were also tied to cycles in commodities or the dollar, said Zimmerman, who was calling for a drop in oil prices as early as April. “This time we have both.”

“Crude is heading lower, with the high $40s or low $50s being touched by 2017,” Zimmerman said. The long-term cycle points to the dollar moving higher and the euro declining into 2016, while commodities move lower through 2016 and 2017, he said. The average drop during the previous five major declines was about 62%, according to Zimmerman. Oil prices have dropped 32% from the year’s high in June amid slower economic growth and surging production in the U.S. and OPEC members. The Bloomberg dollar index is up 10% since the low in May and the euro is down 12%. The Bloomberg Commodity Index dropped 17% to a five-year low this month.

Read more …

“What is the profitability of this production like? It’s from $65 to $83 per barrel. Now when the price of a barrel of oil has fallen below $80, shale gas production becomes unprofitable.” said Putin.”

Market Manipulation Of Oil Prices Backfires On Those That Start It: Putin (RT)

The modern world is interdependent and there is no guarantee that sanctions, a sharp fall in oil prices, or the depreciation of the ruble won’t backfire on those who provoked them, says Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If undercharging for energy products occurs deliberately, it also hits those who introduce these limitations. Problems arise, they will continue to grow, worsening the situation, and not only for Russia but also for our partners, including oil and gas producing countries,” said Putin in an interview to TASS. The Russian leader suggested that the fall in oil prices is due to the sharp increase in the production of shale oil and gas by the United States, but questioned its commercial viability. “What is the profitability of this production like? It’s from $65 to $83 per barrel. Now when the price of a barrel of oil has fallen below $80, shale gas production becomes unprofitable.” said Putin.

The President said he sees objective reasons for the decline in oil prices. “The supply has increased from Libya, surprising as it may seem it produces more, Iraq as well, despite all the problems … ISIS sell oil illegally at $30 per barrel on the black market, Saudi Arabia increased its production and consumption decreased due to a period of stagnation or, say, a decrease compared with the forecasts of global economic growth,” he said. Talking about the Russian economy and the weakening ruble, Putin said the situation with oil prices doesn’t hit the budget as hard as expected. “…we are confident in solving social issues. Including the ones of the defense industry. Russia has its own base for import substitution,” he said. “Thank God, we’ve received a lot from previous generations, and that we’ve done much to modernize the industry over the past decade and a half. Does it damage us? Partly, but not fatally,” Putin concluded.

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SocGen is way off target here, any benefits will vanish along the way. The biggest problem all around today is deflation. Lower oil prices will exacerbate the problem, not solve it. People are simply not going to drive twice as much.

Global Growth To Get $200 Billion Kick From Oil Price Crash (Telegraph)

Global economies are set for a lift of more than $200bn (£127.4bn) within the next year, thanks to a “once in a generation downturn” in oil prices. Brent – an oil classification that serves as a global benchmark – has already plummeted by as much as 30pc from a peak of $115 a barrel in June. The decline of oil, and the effect that has on lower energy costs, will serve to boost growth and keep inflation contained, according to French bank Societe Generale. The lender’s economists have calculated that a $20 a barrel fall in oil prices could increase global output by an extra 0.26 percentage points after the first year of the shock, with producers in North America and Asia reaping much of the benefit.

This decline in oil has been “a major correction” said Michael Haigh, head of commodities research at the French bank. The downturn differs from previous falls because of its root cause – an oversupply of oil that “is not temporary in nature”, Mr Haigh argued. “We believe that we’re in the middle of a very fundamental change in the oil markets – the type of change that only happens every decade or two”, he added. Oil’s recent fall to around $80 a barrel has been driven “by both weak demand and increased supply”, said Michala Marcussen, Societe Generale’s global head of economics. A marked increase in Libyan oil production alongside a structural rise in US volumes, as a result of the shale boom in North America, have contributed to higher supply. With energy accounting for approximately 9pc of global inflation, a reduction in oil prices should also result in more subdued price growth.

If Brent Crude fell as low as $70 a barrel, this would reduce Societe Generale’s forecast for UK inflation by 0.3 percentage points for the whole of next year. But gains from weaker prices are unlikely to act as a panacea for nations suffering from lower growth. “Policy makers hoping that low oil prices will salvage growth should think twice,” Ms Marcussen cautioned. “In particular euro area leaders would do well to act resolutely on the European Central Bank’s calls for structural reforms at an accelerated pace.”

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” .. a 3% increase in government bond rates would result in a change in the value of outstanding government bonds ranging from a loss of around 8% of GDP for the U.S. to around 35% for Japan.”

How The Fed Has Boxed US Into An Easy-Money Corner (Satyajit Das)

Despite the Federal Reserve ending its purchases of Treasury bonds, U.S. monetary policy remains accommodative — and will be for a long time to come. The downside is too great. Withdrawing fiscal stimulus would slow economic activity. Reduction in government services and higher taxes hits disposable incomes, especially when wage growth is stagnant. In turn, this leads to a sharp contraction in consumption. Slower growth, exacerbated by high fiscal multipliers, makes it difficult to correct budget deficits and control government debt levels. Accordingly, the Fed’s ability to reverse an expansionary fiscal policy is restricted, at best, corroborating economist Milton Friedman’s sarcastic observation: “There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.”

The Fed is basically stuck. Its ZIRP and QE policies are difficult to change. Normalization of interest rates, reducing purchases of government bonds, and the reduction of central bank holdings of securities, all risk risks higher rates and reduced available funding for economic expansion. Low rates, meanwhile, allow overextended companies and nations to maintain or increase borrowings. Central banks also cannot sell government bonds and other securities held on their balance sheet. The size of these holdings means that disposal would lead to higher rates, resulting in large losses to the central bank as well as commercial banks and investors. The reduction in liquidity would tighten the supply of credit, destabilizing a fragile financial system.

In 2013, the Federal Reserve’s tentative “taper,” in effect a slight reduction in bond purchases, triggered market volatility. Resulting higher mortgage rates slowed the rate of refinancing of existing mortgages and the recovery of the housing market. A 1% rise in rates would increase the debt-servicing costs of the U.S. government by around $170 billion. A rise of 1% in G-7 interest rates would increase the interest expense of the G-7 countries by around $1.4 trillion. Higher interest rates would also affect indebted consumers and corporations. In the U.S., for example, a 1% increase in interest rates, according to a McKinsey Global Institute Study, would increase household debt payments collectively to $876 billion from $822 billion, a rise of 7%. According to the Bank of International Settlements, a 3% increase in government bond rates would result in a change in the value of outstanding government bonds ranging from a loss of around 8% of GDP for the U.S. to around 35% for Japan.

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“But it was a good week for anyone interested in understanding how this secretive institution works. Or doesn’t.”

The Week That Shook the Fed (Gretchen Morgenson)

The Federal Reserve Board prefers to operate in a shroud of secrecy, and its officials really don’t like having to answer to anybody. So it was fascinating to learn last week that the Fed is embarking on a soul-searching campaign. Its inspector general will take up the astonishing questions of whether the Fed’s big-bank examiners have what they need to do their jobs and whether they receive the support of their superiors when they challenge bank practices. Or, as the Fed put it, whether “channels exist for decision-makers to be aware of divergent views” among the Fed’s bank examination teams. Asking such questions is an about-face for the Fed, whose officials have long maintained that it is the most sophisticated and enlightened of financial regulators. And given that the Fed received extensive new regulatory powers under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, it is troubling indeed that it may not be certain that its bank examiners have what they need to do their jobs.

The Fed announcement looks an awful lot like damage control. It came late Thursday afternoon, directly after one Senate hearing that was critical of Fed practices and before another on Friday. It also came after a bill proposed by Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, that would change the way the head of the most powerful of the 12 district banks — the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — is appointed. Currently, the president of the New York Fed is selected by its so-called public board members — those not affiliated with financial institutions. Senator Reed’s proposal would give the president of the United States, with Senate approval, responsibility for naming the president of the New York Fed. Clearly, last week was not a good one for the Fed. But it was a good week for anyone interested in understanding how this secretive institution works. Or doesn’t.

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The periphery is loaded with zombies.

Eurozone Yields Hit Record Lows: Is ECB Trumping Reality? (CNBC)

It’s hard to believe it’s just a few years since countries like Ireland and Spain had to go cap-in-hand to international lenders – at least if you look at their bond yields. Ireland’s 10-year bond yield, usually reflective of a country’s economic performance, hit a record low of 1.477% Monday, while Spanish 10-year bond yields fell below 2% for the first time ever. Ireland is expected to have one of the strongest economic rebounds in the euro zone, with 3.7% growth in GDP this year, according to Deutsche Bank forecasts. Yet it is also facing plenty of headwinds. There are increasing concerns that the current administration may not last for its maximum five-year term, as disputes over water charges and the recording of phone calls to police stations have destabilized the coalition.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael party would get just 22% of the vote now, down from 36% in the 2011 elections, according to a Red C/Sunday Business Post opinion poll published at the weekend. Polls suggest a large swing towards Sinn Fein, formerly better known as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army but now a growing voice of dissent from the main parties in Dublin. Independent candidates, often campaigning in direct opposition to a single government policy, have also been boosted by the waning popularity of the two traditionally dominant parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and ECB, who bailed-out Ireland and its banks during the credit crisis, warned on Friday that its current budget “makes less progress than desirable” towards reducing its budget deficit – and that its recovery is at risk if there is a further slowdown in the euro zone.

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“This would be a radical change in the structure of the global financial system.”

German Bond Yields To Trump Japan As ECB Battles Deflation (AEP)

German bond yields are to fall below Japanese levels and plumb depths never seen before in history as Europe becomes the epicentre of global deflationary forces, according to new forecast from the Royal Bank of Scotland. “We are seeing `Japanification’ setting in across Europe,” said Andrew Roberts, the bank’s credit strategist. “We expect 10-year Bund yields to cross the 10-year Japanese government bond and we are amply positioned for such an outcome.” Mr Roberts said it is a “weighty win-win” situation for investors. If the European Central Bank launches full-blown quantitative easing, it will almost certainly have to buy large amounts of German Bunds, and these are becoming scarce. “Net supply in Germany is zero since they are in budget surplus this year and next, and they have written a balanced-budget amendment into their constitution. There are simply fewer and fewer Bunds to buy, and everybody wants them,” he said.

It is assumed that if the ECB buys sovereign bonds, it will have to buy them evenly in accordance with its capital “key”. This implies that 28pc would have to be German debt. Yet if the ECB fails to deliver on hints that it will expand its balance sheet by €1 trillion, the damage would be so enormous that Europe would be sucked into a depressionary vortex, according to the bank. Bund yields would fall for different reasons, as debt markets began to reflect a Japanese-style deflation trap. The bank’s credit team is betting that the ECB will act more quickly and on a greater scale than widely assumed, launching purchases of corporate bonds as soon as early December and full sovereign QE in February once the European Court has ruled on a previous debt rescue plan (OMT). “We think Germany will be dragged to the table, kicking and screaming all the time,” said Mr Roberts.

Japanese yields are just 0.45pc, which is steeply negative in real terms now that ‘Abenomics’ is driving up Japan’s inflation rate. This is a deliberate strategy to whittle away a public debt that has reached 245pc of GDP. German yields are 0.78pc. RBS expects the two bonds to cross as Japanese yields rise while German yields fall. This would be a radical change in the structure of the global financial system.

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Some German court at some point will strike Draghi down.

Bundesbank’s Weidmann Warns Of ‘Legal Limits’ On Further Moves By ECB (Reuters)

The European Central Bank could encounter “legal limits” if it pursued additional steps to combat low inflation, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank said on Monday, calling for a focus on growth rather than any government bond buying. “Instead of focusing on the purchasing program, we should focus on how you find growth,” Jens Weidmann told an audience in Madrid, when asked about the possibility of the ECB buying government bonds, a step known as quantitative easing. He warned that it would be difficult to pursue such steps to tackle low inflation. “Of course there are other measures which are more difficult, because they are untested, because they are less clear … and of course they hit the legal limits of what you can do,” said Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s Governing Council. “This is why discussions are so intense,” he added.

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There is nothing good left for Greece in the eurozone. It’s as simple as that.

Greece Bailout Talks Resume Amid Concerns Over Exit (Reuters)

Greece’s government will resume stalled talks with EU/IMF lenders in Paris on Tuesday, as Athens pushes to conclude a crucial review by inspectors so it can make an early exit to an unpopular bailout programme. Athens had set a 8 December deadline to complete the review. But talks floundered over a projected budget gap for next year and EU/IMF inspectors did not return as expected to Athens this month, leading to concerns that a delayed review would derail Greece’s plan to quit its bailout by the end of the year. The two sides will meet in Paris “to advance the review and examine the framework for the day after”, the bailout ends, the Greek Finance Ministry said in a statement. A ministry official declined to say if the talks would continue beyond Tuesday, but said the bailout would not be extended past the end of the year.

Greece’s government has staked its own survival on abandoning the €240bn (£190bn) bailout programme, which has entailed unpopular austerity measures, ahead of schedule. Prime minister Antonis Samaras needs to push through his candidate in a presidential vote in February to avoid being forced to call early elections; he is is hoping that leaving the bailout will help win him enough support to survive the vote. But the final bailout review, like most reviews before it, has struggled amid rows over reforms and austerity cuts. Athens and its foreign lenders have been at loggerheads over the projected deficit for next year, with the lenders arguing Greece will miss the target of 0.2% of gross domestic product because of a new payback plan for austerity-hit Greeks who owe money to the state. The Greek government, however, has so far resisted changes demanded by the inspectors, going so far as to submit its 2015 budget to parliament last week without the approval of lenders.

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You guys

Brexit or Grexit, if one leaves more will follow.

Britain’s EU Retreat Means German Hegemony Warns Prodi (AEP)

Britain is already a lame duck within the EU’s internal governing structure and is losing influence “by the day” in Brussels, even before David Cameron holds a referendum on withdrawal. This self-isolation has upset the European balance of power in profound ways, leading ineluctably to German hegemony and a unipolar system centred on Berlin. It is made worse by the near catatonic condition of France under Francois Hollande. Smaller states no longer form clusters of alliances around a three-legged diplomatic edifice made up of Germany, France, and Britain. They are instead scrambling to adapt to a new European order where only one state now counts. So too is the EU’s permanent civil service and the institutional machinery in Brussels and Luxembourg. Such is the verdict of Roman Prodi, the former Italian premier and ex-president of the European Commission.

I pass on his thoughts because the Brexit debate in the UK invariably dwells on what the consequences might or might not be for Britain, while taking it for granted that Europe itself would somehow sail on sedately as if nothing had changed. But everything would change, and we can already discern it. “France is ever more disoriented and Britain is losing power by the day in Brussels after its decision to hold a referendum on EU membership,” he said. “All the countries that previously maintained an equilibrium between Germany, France, and Britain (from Poland, to the Baltic States, passing through Sweden and Portugal) are regrouping under the German umbrella,” he told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero. “Germany is exercising an almost solitary power. The new presidents of the Commission and the Council are men who rotate around Germany’s orbit, and above all there is a very strong (German) presence among the directors, heads of cabinet and their deputies. The bureaucracy is adapting to the new correlation of forces,” he said. [..]

The EU is either a treaty club of democracies and equals, or it is nothing.

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As Abe said at some point last year: all it takes for Abenomics to succeed is for people to believe in it. Well, they don’t. So now what, Shinzo?

BOJ Minutes Show Bazooka Is All About The Message (CNBC)

Latest minutes from the Bank of Japan (BOJ) released Tuesday reveal that the central bank’s surprise move in October to expand its already-massive stimulus program was about sending the message that it will do whatever it takes to “conquer deflation.” “The BOJ intended to send a strong message, beyond the financial markets, to jolt the wider economy,” said Shun Maruyama, Chief Japan Equity Strategist at BNP Paribas. “Consumer and business leaders remain unmoved by monetary policy.” Consumer inflation looks set to stall at around 1%, half of the BOJ’s stated target, he added, noting capital investments are picking up but not by enough to boost economic growth.

The BOJ’s commitment to pull the country out of two decades of deflation remains “unshakable”, according to the minutes from its policy meeting on October 31, when the central bank expanded its asset purchase program by 30 trillion yen to 80 trillion yen. “If no policy action was taken at this meeting, this could be understood as a breach of the commitment (to achieve its inflation target of 2%), thereby possibly impairing the Bank’s credibility significantly,” said one board member. The members that supported further monetary easing argued that the BOJ needed to “convey the bank’s unwavering resolve to conquer deflation.” In a tight ballot, five members backed the latest measures, and four voted against.

The BOJ kept its goal to boost the inflation rate to 2% by next year, but falling oil prices could put the target in question. When stripped of the effect of April’s consumption tax hike, Japan’s core inflation rate rose 1% in September from the year-ago period, its lowest pace in nearly a year. “The year-on-year rate of increase in the CPI (all items less fresh food) was likely to be at around 1% for some time, mainly due to the effects of the decline in crude oil prices,” board members said.

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The hoarding meme in economics is a red flag. Bernanke’s Asian ‘savings glut’ all over again.

Kuroda Tells Japan Inc. to Stop Hoarding Cash as Costs to Rise (Bloomberg)

Bank of Japan chief Haruhiko Kuroda urged business leaders to use profits more productively, saying hoarding cash will become costly as the central bank stamps out deflation. Companies could boost investment in facilities and jobs, taking advantage of a weaker yen, Kuroda said today in a speech in Nagoya. At the same time, the BOJ will continue to spur price gains, adjusting its unprecedented easing policy as needed to achieve its inflation goal, he said. Japanese companies are headed toward their highest profits ever as a weaker yen resulting from the BOJ’s stimulus boosts Toyota and other exporters. Japan Inc. holds near-record cash while capital spending in the second quarter was more than 50% lower than a peak in the first three months of 2007. “Kuroda is making it clear it’s companies’ turn to act,” said Mari Iwashita, an economist at SMBC Friend Securities.

“Capital spending, wages and price settings are all vital for the BOJ but are out of its hands. Kuroda must convince companies the economy will get better and deflation will end.” Kuroda last week secured a wider board majority for easing that the BOJ boosted on Oct. 31, and warned the central bank’s key gauge of inflation could fall below 1% after the world’s third-largest economy slid into recession. Falling prices over two decades of stagnation made holding cash a viable option for companies looking for safety and real returns on capital. The BOJ has been making steady progress in shaking a “deflationary mindset,” Kuroda said. Kuroda called on business leaders to take “action” that looks toward an economy that has overcome deflation. “As a corporate strategy, using their profits in a more productive manner is imperative,” Kuroda said. “I have great interest in developments in wages and price settings through spring of next year.”

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“Guess what the hedge fund firms are doing now? Hunting for new, less skeptical customers.”

Hedge Funds Lose Money for Everyone, Not Just the Rich (Bloomberg)

When Douglas Kobak was an adviser at a large brokerage firm, he suggested his wealthiest clients buy a hedge fund promising to be “a very conservative alternative to bonds.” Then the credit crisis hit in 2008, the fund imploded and investors got 45 cents on the dollar — as long as they promised not to sue. Since then, mediocrity is more common than blow-ups. Hedge funds have lagged behind stocks while still charging fees of up to 2% of assets and 20% of gains. For the rich and their advisers, “the sex appeal of hedge funds has worn off,” says Kobak, now head of Main Line Group Wealth Management. Guess what the hedge fund firms are doing now? Hunting for new, less skeptical customers.

While only those with at least $1 million are allowed to invest in hedge funds, anyone can buy a mutual fund with a hedge fund strategy. Unfortunately, these “alternative” funds come with the same disadvantages hedge funds have: high fees, inconsistent performance and strategies that take a PhD to decipher. By starting alternative funds, mutual fund companies get a chance to bring in revenue they’re losing to cheap index funds and exchange-traded funds. In a deal announced Nov. 18, Blackstone Alternative Asset Management is coming up with hedge-fund-like products for mutual fund company Columbia Management. They’ll join 11 other U.S. mutual funds and ETFs classified by Bloomberg as “alternative,” which together hold $68 billion in assets. One in five of those assets is held by the largest fund, the MainStay Marketfield Fund. Started in 2007, it’s one of the oldest alternative funds, and one of the most disappointing.

After a good start from 2007 to 2009, the fund mostly matched the stock market in 2010 and 2011, and then lagged behind it in 2012 and 2013. This year, it has dropped almost 11%, a mirror image of the S&P 500’s 11.6% gain. Unreliable and disappointing performance is getting to be as common among alternative funds as among hedge funds. The Bloomberg Global Aggregate Hedge Fund index is up 2% year-to-date. The average return of an alternative fund open to all investors is 1.1%, behind the inflation rate. High-quality corporate bonds have returned 70% more than the median alternative fund over the last three years. The stock market has brought in eight times as much as alternatives. And these blah results don’t come cheap. The MainStay Marketfield Fund has been losing money while charging an expense ratio of 2.6% per year. That’s pricier than 99% of all funds, though it’s not as extreme among alternative funds. They charge an average of 1.74% per year, 20 times as much as the cheapest index funds.

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“Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street bank where Dudley was chief U.S. economist for a decade.”

Dudley Defense Leaves Senators Unimpressed as Fed Scrutiny Rises (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William C. Dudley’s defense of his record on financial supervision is unlikely to appease lawmakers seeking to tighten their oversight of the central bank. In a tense exchange with Senator Elizabeth Warren at a Nov. 21 hearing, Dudley rejected her assertion that there had been a “long list” of regulatory failures at the New York Fed. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, suggested that if Dudley doesn’t fix a “cultural problem” at the bank, “we need to get someone who will.” While the Senate doesn’t have the authority to appoint or remove Fed presidents, the exchange was a sign of growing frustration among Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans, who have been critical of the Fed’s loose monetary policy, will take control of the Senate in January, adding to pressure on the Fed from Democrats who see the central bank as too close to the Wall Street banks it supervises.

“The Fed is as vulnerable as any time since the 1980s,” when then-Chairman Paul Volcker drew the ire of politicians for driving up interest rates to levels that threw the country into a recession, said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics. The next Congress will be “really challenging for the Fed.” Last week’s hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee was prompted by allegations made by a former New York Fed bank examiner, Carmen Segarra, who said her colleagues were too deferential to Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street bank where Dudley was chief U.S. economist for a decade.

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She headed the board of directors as the money laundering and organized crime (those are the charges) were going on. And of course now says she had no idea. Which makes one wonder what she has no idea of now she leads the government. Ignorance doesn’t come high on a president’s list of job qualifications.

Even Brazil’s President Is Involved In The Petrobras Scandal (CNBC)

Energy giant Petrobras is engulfed in a corruption scandal that could prove to be Brazil’s biggest, threatening to engulf the country’s most senior politicians—including its president. Even the company is not downplaying the events. In a news release last week to explain why it had delayed its upcoming financial report, Petrobas said it was “undergoing a unique moment in its history, in light of the accusations and investigations of the “Lava Jato Operation” (Portuguese for “Operation car wash”) being conducted by the Brazilian Federal Police, which has led to charges of money laundering and organized crime.” CNBC takes a look at the facts behind the scandal and the implications for other oil companies and Brazil itself. [..]

Petrobras executives are alleged to have paid politicians for contracts, using money skimmed from company profits. The head of the country’s budget watchdog, Joao Augusto Nardes, has said the kickbacks may total as much as 4 billion Brazilian reais ($1.6 billion), according to the WSJ. The company has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations. It has hired independent auditors to investigate further, in addition to the official investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police. The country’s most senior politicians are implicated, including recently re-elected President Dilma Rousseff, who previously headed the Petrobras board of directors.

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Der Spiegel provides a lengthy history of how failure decided the future of Ukraine, and the German magazine doesn’t spare Merkel.

Summit of Failure: How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine (Spiegel)

One year ago, negotations over a Ukraine association agreement with the European Union collapsed. The result has been a standoff with Russia and war in the Donbass. It was an historical failure, and one that German Chancellor Angela Merkel contributed to.

Only six meters separated German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as they sat across from each other in the festively adorned knight’s hall of the former Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. In truth, though, they were worlds apart. Yanukovych had just spoken. In meandering sentences, he tried to explain why the European Union’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius was more useful than it might have appeared at that moment, why it made sense to continue negotiating and how he would remain engaged in efforts towards a common future, just as he had previously been. “We need several billion euros in aid very quickly,” Yanukovych said. Then the chancellor wanted to have her say. Merkel peered into the circle of the 28 leaders of EU member states who had gathered in Vilnius that evening. What followed was a sentence dripping with disapproval and cool sarcasm aimed directly at the Ukrainian president.

“I feel like I’m at a wedding where the groom has suddenly issued new, last minute stipulations.” The EU and Ukraine had spent years negotiating an association agreement. They had signed letters of intent, obtained agreement from cabinets and parliaments, completed countless diplomatic visits and exchanged objections. But in the end, on the evening of Nov. 28, 2014 in the old palace in Vilnius, it became clear that it had all been a wasted effort. It was an historical earthquake. Everyone came to realize that efforts to deepen Ukraine’s ties with the EU had failed. But no one at the time was fully aware of the consequences the failure would have: that it would lead to one of the world’s biggest crises since the end of the Cold War; that it would result in the redrawing of European borders; and that it would bring the Continent to the brink of war. It was the moment Europe lost Russia.

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Even Reuters cheerleading can’t prevent this.

In Wake Of China Rejections, GMO Seed Makers Limit US Launches (Reuters)

China’s barriers to imports of some U.S. genetically modified crops are disrupting seed companies’ plans for new product launches and keeping at least one variety out of the U.S. market altogether. Two of the world’s biggest seed makers, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences, are responding with tightly controlled U.S. launches of new GMO seeds, telling farmers where they can plant new corn and soybean varieties and how can the use them. Bayer CropScience told Reuters it has decided to keep a new soybean variety on hold until it receives Chinese import approval. Beijing is taking longer than in the past to approve new GMO crops, and Chinese ports in November 2013 began rejecting U.S. imports saying they were tainted with a GMO Syngenta corn variety, called Agrisure Viptera, approved in the United States, but not in China.

The developments constrain launches of new GMO seeds by raising concerns that harvests of unapproved varieties could be accidentally shipped to the world’s fastest-growing corn market and denied entry there. It also casts doubt over the future of companies’ heavy investments in research of crop technology. The stakes are high. Grain traders Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, along with dozens of farmers, sued Syngenta for damages after Beijing rejected Viptera shipments, saying the seed maker misrepresented how long it would take to win Chinese approval. In the weeks since Cargill first sued on Sept. 12, Syngenta’s stock has touched a three-year low. ADM in its lawsuit last week alleged the company did not follow through on plans for a controlled launch of Viptera corn. Syngenta says the complaints are unfounded.

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