Mar 072017
 
 March 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Edward Steichen Marlene Dietrich 1932

 

The World Economy Can’t Handle Even One US Rate Hike (CNBC)
Wall Street Investors Make $3 Trillion Since Trump Election Victory (Ind.)
China Banking System Overtakes Eurozone To Become Biggest In The World (Ind.)
The Finance Curse (Renegade)
Money and the Government – Ann Pettifor (Vogue)
Great Expectations -Not- (Jim Kunstler)
Manufacturing Consent: The Movie – Journalism Cannot Be A Check On Power (RS)
66 Of Government’s 100 Largest Contractors Violated Federal Labor Laws (Ibt)
UK Housing Benefit Cuts ‘Put Young People At Risk Of Homelessness’ (G.)
Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Much Narrower – And Possibly Courtproofed (Vox)
America Has Locked Up So Many Black People It Warps Our Sense Of Reality (WaPo)
Greek Economy Performed Even Worse Than Expected At The End Of 2016 (BI)
US Ambassador Pyatt Concerned About “Accident” Between Greece And Turkey (KTG)
War-Scarred Syrian Children May Be ‘Lost To Trauma’ (AFP)

 

 

What comes after the bubble. Overblown?

The World Economy Can’t Handle Even One US Rate Hike (CNBC)

Even one small interest rate increase by the Fed could have a sweeping impact on U.S. and world economies, Komal Sri-Kumar told CNBC on Monday. “I think they are going to hike” on March 15, Sri-Kumar said on “Squawk Box,” echoing a theory shared by many analysts. “But that is going to prompt capital outflows from the euro zone, especially with the political risk. It is going to increase the capital outflow from China, and the U.S. economy will feel the impact.” These moves would strengthen the dollar against other currencies, putting downward pressure on the euro, said Sri-Kumar, president of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies. He acknowledged that some of that pressure “is probably good for the European economy from a trade perspective” because European exports would become cheaper to foreign partners.

“The problem is in terms of capital outflows,” he said, cautioning that divestment in Europe could raise risk in overseas markets. “These economies, despite some positive numbers, … they are not in strong enough shape to take an increase in interest rates on the part of the United States.” The reason for this weakness in global markets stems from a long period of liquidity, or market price stability, according to Sri-Kumar. “We have had too long a period of excessive liquidity,” he said. “The markets have been distorted. The bond yields are very, very low, much lower than they would have been in the absence of quantitative easing and zero interest rate policy.” As a result, small changes in the U.S. economy reverberate worldwide, Sri-Kumar said, adding that had the Fed started hiking rates as the country emerged from the 2008 financial crisis, the United States may have been better off.

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That’s going to hurt. Who’s going to be bailed out?

Wall Street Investors Make $3 Trillion Since Trump Election Victory (Ind.)

Wall Street investors have cashed in big on US President Donald Trump’s election victory. Stocks have added nearly $3 trillion to their paper value since Mr Trump’s election as measured by the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index. The index, made up of more than 3,000 stocks, including an assortment of big companies, mid-sized businesses and small ones, has gained about 12% since the election. This means the overall increase in market capitalisation of all the US companies in the index jumped $3 trillion between 8 November through 3 March. Mr Trump’s unexpected victory has prompted the steepest rally from election day to inauguration for a first-term president since John F. Kennedy won the White House in 1960.

Last week, the Dow pierced the 21,000 mark for the first time ever after Mr Trump’s measured tone in his first speech to Congress lifted optimism and reassured some investors who had been disconcerted by his aggressive tone and divisive policies. It was just over one month ago that the index surpassed the 20,000 milestone for the first time in its history. The three main stock indexes surged more than 1.3% after the 1 March speech to close at record highs, according to Reuters data. Bank stocks have enjoyed particularly dramatic gains, but other sectors have rallied hard too, spurred by hopes of major tax cuts, regulatory roll-backs and bumper infrastructure spending. Neil Wilson, a market analyst at ETX Capital, last week said that this is the fastest time ever in which the Dow index has risen 1,000 points after a Presidential election.

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As measured in ‘assets’.

China Banking System Overtakes Eurozone To Become Biggest In The World (Ind.)

China’s banking system is now the biggest in the world, new analysis has shown. The country’s banks have more assets than those of the eurozone for the first time, the Financial Times found. China’s GDP surpassed that of the EU’s economic bloc in 2011 but its banks have taken more time to catch up, helped by a huge explosion in lending since the 2008 global financial crisis. Beijing launched a vast programme of fiscal stimulus in order to combat the effects of economic slowdown, but this has caused concern among some economists that a dangerous debt bubble has formed.

“The massive size of China’s banking system is less a cause for celebration than a sign of an economy overly dependent on bank-financed investment, beset by inefficient resource allocation, and subject to enormous credit risks,” Eswar Prasad, economist at Cornell University and former China head of the IMF, told the FT. Some analysts have said the stimulus has led to wasteful investments, overcapacity in certain industries and unsustainable debt levels. Chinese local governments have financed large infrastructure projects, mostly through debt. Three of the world’s four largest banks by assets are now Chinese. The total assets of the country’s banking system were $33 trillion at the end of 2016; more than the eurozone’s $31 trillion for the eurozone and more than double the US’ $16 trillion. The value of China’s banking system is more than 3.1 times the size of the country’s annual economic output, compared with 2.8 times for the eurozone and its banks, the FT said.

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Excellent Richard Werner, especially the 2nd part, from 16:00 min on. How do banks create money? And how do you solve the problems that rise from that?

“The City of London is not part of the UK. The Queen can’t enter withour permission.”

The Finance Curse (Renegade)

For many years, we’ve been told that finance is good and more finance is better. But it doesn’t seem everyone in the UK is sharing the benefits. On this program, we ask a very simple question – can a country suffer from a finance curse? Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by City veteran David Buik and the man who coined the term Quantitative Easing, International Banking and Finance Professor Richard Werner.

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“A well-managed economy has the means to fund any priority it holds dear.”

Money and the Government – Ann Pettifor (Vogue)

Let’s start with the obvious question: What is money?As the economist Joseph Schumpeter said, money is nothing more than a promise, a promise to pay. It’s a social construct. Coins, checks, the credit card you hand over at the till—they’re representative of those promises. We’re trained to think of money as a commodity, something there’s a limited supply of, that you can either spend or save, but in fact we’re creating money all the time, by making these promises. When you use a credit card, you’re not handing over your card to the shopkeeper or the waiter to keep, you’re just showing them a piece of plastic that says, “this person can be trusted.” We make myriad uses of these arrangements every day. And there’s far more of those promises in circulation at any given time than there is hard money sitting in vaults, or in people’s wallets, or wherever.

And what does understanding money-as-promise have to do with feminism? Most orthodox economists would have you think of money as finite, like a commodity. Which makes it very easy for politicians to say, when you come asking for paid maternity leave, or government-subsidized childcare, Sorry, ma’am, there’s no money in the budget for that. But you’ll note that they don’t reach for that excuse when they have other priorities—when they want $54 billion for military spending, for instance, or a trillion dollars to bail out the banks, suddenly the money is magically available. A well-managed economy has the means to fund any priority it holds dear.

But surely the government runs a budget, and the government we elect sets priorities for how to spend the money that it has. And some governments prioritize military spending, and others prioritize childcare . . . I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When the Federal Reserve decided to bail out AIG in 2008, a lot of journalists were asking Ben Bernanke: Hey, are you spending taxpayer money on this? And his answer was, no, we’ve just entered this $85 billion into their account. In exchange, AIG had to put up collateral, as you do when you take out a mortgage, but fundamentally, all the Fed was doing was typing some numbers into a computer that said: This belongs to AIG. Where taxpayers come into this is the Fed’s ability to make sure that $85 billion loan is backed by the money people pay to the U.S. government in taxes. Not what the government has on hand now, but what it anticipates taking in next year, five years, 100 years from now.

And there you have two issues: The issue of a well-managed economy, and the issue of how a government is different from an individual or a family where budgets are concerned. Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

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“..around June sometime the country won’t be able to pay invoices, issue salaries, send out entitlement checks, or do anything, really. It means pure government paralysis.”

Great Expectations -Not- (Jim Kunstler)

Halloween’s coming super-early this year and it will be a shocking surprise to those currently busy looking for Russians behind every potted plant in Washington DC. First, accept the premise that your country has lost its mind. This is what happens when societies (and individuals) can’t face the true quandaries of a particular moment in their history. All of their attention gets channeled into fantasy: spooks, sexual freakery, conspiracies, persecution narratives, savior fairy tales. It’s been quite a cavalcade of unreality for the past six months, with great entertainment value for connoisseurs of the bizarre — until you’re reminded that the fate of the nation is at stake. The questions Americans might more profitably ask ourselves: can we continue living the way we do? And by what means?

These matters of home economics have been sequestered in some forgotten storage unit of the collective mind for at least a year while a clock ticks in the time-bomb that sits on the national welcome mat. That bomb is made of financial plutonium and it’s getting ready to blow. When it does, all the distracting spookery and freakery will vaporize and the shell-shocked citizens will have a clear view of the bleak, toxic, devastated landscape they actually inhabit. March 15 is when the temporary suspension of the national debt ceiling — engineered in a 2015 deal between Barack Obama and then House Speaker John Boehner — finally expires, meaning the government loses its authority to continue borrowing money. The chance that congress can pass a bill raising the debt ceiling to enable further borrowing is about the same as the chance that Xi Jinping will send every American household a dim sum breakfast next Sunday morning by FedEx.

The US treasury will then be left with around $200 billion in walking-around money, at a burn rate of about $90 billion a month — meaning that that around June sometime the country won’t be able to pay invoices, issue salaries, send out entitlement checks, or do anything, really. It means pure government paralysis. It means no infrastructure spending jamboree, no “great” wall, no military shopping spree, none of the Great Expectations sewn into the golden fleece of Trumptopia. Meanwhile, over the next few weeks, Janet Yellen and her crew of economic astrologasters at the Federal Reserve will have to put up or shut up vis-à-vis raising the interest rate on the basic overnight lending rate. The Las Vegas odds of it being raised currently stand at around 95%.

So, they will be running that play around the time that the debt ceiling issue materializes into a live-action event. Of course, the Fed could welsh on its carefully-scripted previous hints and utterances and do nothing. But that option would probably extinguish the last remaining shreds of the Fed’s credibility, since they’ve been jive-talking about raising rates since they began “tapering” the QE bond-buying spree in the spring of 2013, i.e., a long time ago. The Fed’s credibility is synonymous with the dollar’s credibility. Look out below.

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“Democracy is staged with the help of media that work as propaganda machines.”

Manufacturing Consent: The Movie – Journalism Cannot Be A Check On Power (RS)

Nearly 30 years before President Trump’s press gaggle last Friday, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman authored ‘”Manufacturing Consent“, a book that radically redefined mass media’s relationship with the state. Now, in the age of fake news and alt facts, Democracy Now! co-founder Amy Goodman and animator Pierangelo Pirak have teamed up to give new life to the world renowned linguist and media analyst’s famed work. “Propaganda,” Goodman begins in her narration of the cartoon. “Many use the word when talking about countries like North Korea, Kazakhstan, Iran, Countries viewed as authoritarian through the lens of the western media. ‘Press freedom’. ‘Freedom of thought’. People use those terms when talking about countries like the United States, France, Australia. ‘Democracies’.”

In 1988, “Manufacturing Consent” “blasted apart the notion that media acts as a check on political power,” Goodman explains as a myriad of mouthy orange villains murmur ominously in a machine-like universe. “That media inform the public, serve the public so that we can better engage in the political process,” Goodman continues. “In fact, media manufacture our consent. They tell us what those in power need them to tell us … so we can fall in line. Democracy is staged with the help of media that work as propaganda machines.”

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This happened in 8 years of Obama. Calling on Trump now seems a bit strange in that light. First ask yourself: why did Obama fail so badly?

66 Of Government’s 100 Largest Contractors Violated Federal Labor Laws (Ibt)

Federal contractors, who employ about 20% of all American workers and receive $500 billion in taxpayer funds annually, have been stealing wages and endangering workers despite Obama administration policies designed to protect workers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in releasing a report Monday. The report comes as the Trump administration prepares to slash regulations, and the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on repealing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order issued by former President Barack Obama, which would make it easier for federal contractors to hide labor law violations and make it harder for companies following the rules to do business with the government, Warren said. “All Americans deserve a safe workplace and fair pay for a day’s work,” Warren, D-Mass., said. “But too often, federal contractors break labor laws while continuing to suck down millions in taxpayer dollars.

Instead of making it easier for companies to cheat their employees or threaten workers’ health and safety, President Trump and Republicans in Congress should join Democrats in standing up for the hardworking Americans who do important jobs for our country.” The report indicates 66 of the largest 100 federal contractors have violated federal wage and hour laws, and a third of the largest penalties levied since 2015 were imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Some violations have been fatal, including four in a single year at Goodyear. [..] The employer with the most wage and hour violations nationwide was AT&T with nearly 30,000, the report said. Another major violator was private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, with more than 21,000 violations. When it came to federal contracts specifically, Manpower Group racked up the most violations with 19,838, followed by USProtect Corp. with 7,263 and Management & Training Corp. with 5,519.

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The UK as a caring society does not exist anymore. The sick, the old, the young, all the most vulnerable groups are targeted.

UK Housing Benefit Cuts ‘Put Young People At Risk Of Homelessness’ (G.)

The government’s move to exclude young people from receiving housing benefit could bar most of them from the private rental market, a landlords’ association has warned, as charities said the decision could leave thousands at risk of homelessness. Amid widespread anger among charities at the decision to strip housing benefit entitlement from single people aged 18 to 21, the National Landlords Association (NLA) said one effect would be to put off most of its members from housing young tenants on benefits. “The message that will go out from these changes is that 18- to 21-year-olds don’t have automatic entitlement to housing benefit,” said Richard Lambert, the NLA’s chief executive. “Yes, there are all these exceptions in the actual policy, but the nuances won’t cut through. I wouldn’t go as far to say young people will be totally excluded, but they’re going to find it very, very difficult.”

The change, first mooted under David Cameron in 2012 and outlined in the 2015 Conservative party manifesto, was pushed through without fanfare in a ministerial directive to parliament late on Friday. It means that from 1 April, new single claimants aged 18 to 21 will not be entitled to the housing element of universal credit unless they fall into certain categories. The exceptions include people with children, or those where to continue living with their parents would bring a “serious risk to the renter’s physical or mental health” or would otherwise cause “significant harm”. While such categories are broad, homelessness charities warned that to prove such potential harm would be so difficult that many young people would instead opt to sleep rough or sleep on friends’ sofas instead.

“As we’ve seen before, the bureaucracy of the welfare state is not good at capturing people in delicate situations,” said Kate Webb, head of policy for Shelter. “This is particularly so if we’re talking about 18- or 19-year-olds who have suffered really unpleasant, very personal things at home, and don’t want to disclose that to someone.” Webb said that even those who wished to claim the exception would struggle to find a landlord willing to take them on. “If you’re a landlord now, every 18- to 21-year-old is a risk,” she said. “You have no reason to believe that someone will be eligible for an exemption. The idea this is going to work in practice is fanciful. “It’s a real worry – there is no way this isn’t going to lead to an increase in rough sleeping.”

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Good and detailed overview. It’s going to be a legal fight every step of the way.

Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Much Narrower – And Possibly Courtproofed (Vox)

The first version of President Donald Trump’s refugee and visa ban — the one he signed on January 27, in place for only a week before federal courts put it on hold — was an ambitious disaster. It attempted, literally overnight, to prevent people who had already bought plane tickets from entering America. It posed a substantial problem for people currently living in the US who might want to travel abroad. And it turned preference for “persecuted religious minorities” into a cornerstone of US refugee policy. The latest version of the executive order, signed by Trump Monday, does none of those things. It all but admits that the administration overreached the first time, provoking a legal and political backlash that could have been avoided.

What it offers, instead, is a much more narrowly tailored and thoughtfully considered version of the ban — one that’s much more likely to stand up in court. The administration has done basically all it can to judgeproof the new executive order. It was a foregone conclusion that immigration advocates and Democratic prosecutors would sue to stop the 2.0 executive order just as they stopped the first one, but it’s a lot less clear that they’ll succeed this time around. The first version of President Donald Trump’s refugee and visa ban — the one he signed on January 27, in place for only a week before federal courts put it on hold — was an ambitious disaster. It attempted, literally overnight, to prevent people who had already bought plane tickets from entering America. It posed a substantial problem for people currently living in the US who might want to travel abroad.

And it turned preference for “persecuted religious minorities” into a cornerstone of US refugee policy. The latest version of the executive order, signed by Trump Monday, does none of those things. It all but admits that the administration overreached the first time, provoking a legal and political backlash that could have been avoided. What it offers, instead, is a much more narrowly tailored and thoughtfully considered version of the ban — one that’s much more likely to stand up in court. The administration has done basically all it can to judgeproof the new executive order. It was a foregone conclusion that immigration advocates and Democratic prosecutors would sue to stop the 2.0 executive order just as they stopped the first one, but it’s a lot less clear that they’ll succeed this time around.

If Trump officials could only make everyone forget that the first version of the executive order existed at all, they’d be golden. Unfortunately for them, they can’t. Between the chaos of the first executive order and the internal tussles over the drafting of the second, “travel ban 2.0” is already associated in the public mind with its more aggressive predecessor. And federal judges may be similarly disinclined either to forgive or forget.

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Obama had 8 years to do something about this. What happened?

“America has locked up so many people it needs to rethink how it measures the economy…”

“Black Americans are twice as likely as whites to be out of work and looking for a job — the same ratio as in 1954..”

America Has Locked Up So Many Black People It Warps Our Sense Of Reality (WaPo)

For as long as the government has kept track, the economic statistics have shown a troubling racial gap. Black people are twice as likely as white people to be out of work and looking for a job. This fact was as true in 1954 as it is today. The most recent report puts the white unemployment rate at around 4.5%. The black unemployment rate? About 8.8%. But the economic picture for black Americans is far worse than those statistics indicate. The unemployment rate only measures people who are both living at home and actively looking for a job. The hitch: A lot of black men aren’t living at home and can’t look for jobs — because they’re behind bars. Though there are nearly 1.6 million Americans in state or federal prison, their absence is not accounted for in the figures that politicians and policymakers use to make decisions. As a result, we operate under a distorted picture of the nation’s economic health.

There’s no simple way to estimate the impact of mass incarceration on the jobs market. But here’s a simple thought experiment. Imagine how the white and black unemployment rates would change if all the people in prison were added to the unemployment rolls. According to a Wonkblog analysis of government statistics, about 1.6% of prime-age white men (25 to 54 years old) are institutionalized. If all those 590,000 people were recognized as unemployed, the unemployment rate for prime-age white men would increase from about 5% to 6.4%. For prime-age black men, though, the unemployment rate would jump from 11% to 19%. That’s because a far higher fraction of black men — 7.7%, or 580,000 people — are institutionalized. Now, the racial gap starts to look like a racial chasm. (When you take into account local jails, which are not included in these statistics, the situation could be even worse.)

“Imprisonment makes the disadvantaged literally invisible,” writes Harvard sociologist Bruce Western in his book, “Punishment and Inequality in America.” Western was among the first scholars to argue that America has locked up so many people it needs to rethink how it measures the economy. Over the past 40 years, the prison population has quintupled. As a consequence of disparities in arrests and sentencing, this eruption has disproportionately affected black communities. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of white men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes. For some high-risk groups, the economic consequences have been staggering. According to Census data from 2014, there are more young black high school dropouts in prison than have jobs.

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A Greek recovery is not possible. All this is theater. Tsipras said Greece was back to growth, about half an hour before this report came out.

Greek Economy Performed Even Worse Than Expected At The End Of 2016 (BI)

Greece’s economy performed much worse than forecast in the final quarter of 2016, according to the latest data from the country’s statistical service Elstat. GDP shrank 1.2% in Q4 of 2016 — marking the worst quarterly performance for the stricken southern European economy since the heart of its debt crisis in the summer of 2015. A previous first estimate of GDP in the quarter suggested that the economy shrunk just 0.4%, but the final figure is significantly worse. The data comes just days after the country’s central bank governor Yannis Stournaras said that international lenders should lower the country’s fiscal targets from 2021 onwards to help boost its growth potential.

“The easing of the primary surplus targets, together with the implementation of the agreed structural reforms, would put the necessary conditions in place for a gradual lowering of tax rates, with positive multiplier effects on economic growth,” Stournaras said at an event over the weekend. Greece is in the middle of a major tug of war between its creditors over how its current bailout packages are handled. A second review of its bailout has dragged on for months, mainly due to differences between the EU and the International Monetary Fund over Greece’s fiscal targets in 2017, when its current bailout programme expires. The IMF favours a softer approach to fiscal conditions, saying in a report in February that additional austerity measures and spending cuts would not improve Greece’s financial prospects in the longer term.

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Never trust Pyatt.

US Ambassador Pyatt Concerned About “Accident” Between Greece And Turkey (KTG)

US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt expressed concern about the possibility of an “accident” between Greece and Turkey due to the increased activity in the Aegean Sea in recent weeks. At the same time, Pyatt praised the Greek government’s responsible attitude at a time of heightened tension and for the financial contributions of the indebted state to the NATO. Pyatt made these remarks speaking to a journalist at the side of the Delphi Economic Forum over the weekend. Regarding on the Cyprus issue, meanwhile, he said the new U.S. administration will continue its efforts for a solution. Turning to economic affairs and the role of the IMF, the ambassador said that he had not observed any change in the attitude of the new U.S. leadership, expressing U.S. support for growth in Greece.

Pyatt also referred to the importance of transatlantic relations, with emphasis on NATO and bilateral ties. “I want to see Greece play an even greater role as a pillar of regional stability,” he added. “Economic stability and prosperity are important elements of any effort to broaden Greece’s role in this region and in Europe. And, therefore, my number one priority is to sustain the U.S. effort to spur growth and support economic recovery in Greece,” the ambassador said, “As Greece demonstrates its commitment to reform and builds additional trust with its creditors, I am convinced that new investments, both by foreign investors and domestic ones, will buoy the economy and create new jobs,” he added. Pyatt said that the U.S. government was eager to see U.S. companies expand existing investments and invest in new ventures in Greece.

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“Children wish they were dead and that they would go to heaven to be warm and eat and play..”

War-Scarred Syrian Children May Be ‘Lost To Trauma’ (AFP)

Syrian children terrified by shelling and airstrikes are showing signs of severe emotional distress and could grow up to be a generation “lost to trauma,” Save the Children warned Monday. Interviews with more than 450 children and adults showed a high level of psychological stress among children, with many suffering from frequent bedwetting or developing speech impediments. At least three million children are estimated to be living in Syria’s war zones, facing ongoing bombing and shelling as the conflict heads into its seventh year. Two-thirds of those interviewed by the aid organization have lost a loved one or had their house bombed or shelled, or suffered war-related injuries themselves.

“After six years of war, we are at a tipping point,” said the report entitled “Invisible Wounds” on the war’s impact on children’s mental health. “The risk of a broken generation, lost to trauma and extreme stress, has never been greater,” it said. A staggering 84% listed bombing and shelling as the number one cause of stress in children’s daily lives. About 48% of adults reported that children had lost the ability to speak or developed speech impediments since the start of the war. Some 81% of children have become more aggressive while 71% suffer from frequent bedwetting, according to the research. Half of those interviewed said domestic abuse was on the rise and one in four children said they don’t have a place to go or someone to talk to when they are scared, sad or upset.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, cited instances of attempted suicide and self-harm. In the besieged town of Madaya, six teenagers – the youngest a 12-year-old girl – have attempted suicide in recent months, said Khush. The report quoted a teacher in Madaya who said children there were “psychologically crushed and tired.” “They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” “Children wish they were dead and that they would go to heaven to be warm and eat and play,” said Hala, another teacher in Madaya.

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Nov 252014
 
 November 25, 2014  Posted by at 9:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


John Vachon Rain. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Jun 1941

US Q3 GDP was revised up by the BEA to 3.89%, but that’s no longer what financial markets react to. They sit and wait for more QE somewhere on the planet to be doled out. Will Americans, if they see this at all, take those numbers, add them to the sweet drop in prices at the pump and spend what they save on more holiday purchases? I’m not saying I know, but I do see that US consumer confidence is down, as is global business confidence – the latter at a five year low.

The Case/Shiller index reports a “broad-based slowdown” for US home prices, and that in the rear view mirror that looks at Q3. So that’s not where those 3.89% came from, it wasn’t housing (wonder what it was). The Gallup Christmas survey lost 8% of exuberance in one month. What this adds up to is that Americans may not spend all of that saved gas money, and that means there’s a real danger of deflation coming to America too – as if Japanese and European attempts to export their own were not enough yet.

While the media continue to just about exclusively paint a picture of recovery and an improving economy, certainly in the US – Europe and Japan it’s harder to get away with that rosy image -, in ordinary people’s reality a completely different picture is being painted in sweat, blood, agony and despair. Whatever part of the recovery mirage may have a grain of reality in it, it is paid for by something being taken away from people leading real lives. US unemployment numbers are being massages three ways to Sunday, as is common knowledge, or should be; the amounts of working age people not working, and not being counted as unemployed either, is staggering.

But there’s a very large, and growing, number of people who do work, but find it impossible to sustain either themselves or their families on their wages. That’s how the recovery, fake as it even is, is paid for. And this will have grave consequences for many years, if not decades, to come.

If a government would come clean with its citizens, explain the overwhelming debt situation a nation is in, that everyone will have to do with less at least for a while, and then openly start restructuring the debts, those consequences would be much less damaging. But all governments choose to talk about only recovery and growth, and to let their people suffer the consequences of the policies enacted to achieve these goals, even if after 6-7 years of crisis and dozens of trillions in stimulus, we’re no closer to either. Quite the contrary. We’re not in ‘drive’, we’re stuck in ‘reverse’. We’re backing up. We’re moving backwards.

Lance Roberts at StreetTalkLive provides stats on how many Americans have been made dependent on some sort of handout:

The Dismal Economy: 148 Million Government Beneficiaries

.. 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.

Tyler Durden addresses deteriorating wages in America with a great metaphor:

The Mystery Of America’s “Schrodinger” Middle Class, Which Is Either Thriving Or About To Go Extinct

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.

And that’s not some isolated incident, as the Guardian makes clear, it’s the same thing in Britain.:

Record Numbers Of UK Working Families In Poverty Due To Low-Paid Jobs

Insecure, low-paid jobs are leaving record numbers of working families in poverty, with two-thirds of people who found work in the past year taking jobs for less than the living wage, according to the latest annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The research shows that over the last decade, increasing numbers of pensioners have become comfortable, but at the same time incomes among the worst-off have dropped almost 10% in real terms. Painting a picture of huge numbers trapped on low wages, the foundation said during the decade only a fifth of low-paid workers managed to move to better paid jobs. The living wage is calculated at £7.85 an hour nationally, or £9.15 in London – much higher than the legally enforceable £6.50 minimum wage.

As many people from working families are now in poverty as from workless ones, partly due to a vast increase in insecure work on zero-hours contracts, or in part-time or low-paid self-employment. Nearly 1.4 million people are on the controversial contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours, most of them in catering, accommodation, retail and administrative jobs. Meanwhile, the self-employed earn on average 13% less than they did five years ago, the foundation said. Average wages for men working full time have dropped from £13.90 to £12.90 an hour in real terms between 2008 and 2013 and for women from £10.80 to £10.30.

Poverty wages have been exacerbated by the number of people reliant on private rented accommodation and unable to get social housing, the report said. Evictions of tenants by private landlords outstrip mortgage repossessions and are the most common cause of homelessness. The report noted that price rises for food, energy and transport have far outstripped the accepted CPI inflation of 30% in the last decade. Julia Unwin, chief executive of the foundation, said the report showed a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. “We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.

And it’s even worse in Greece and Spain and Italy, all so northern Europe and the Brussels politicos can keep alive the idea that Germany and Holland are doing well, and overall growth is almost at hand. That southern Europe must suffer for that idea has been justified away for years now, and it’s not even an issue deemed worth discussing anymore.

And that attitude will blow up in their faces, it’s inevitable that it will. Very few people understand how dangerous the games are that our governments and central banks play. And when the effects do play out, they will be blamed on other causes. Debt and propaganda rule our world supreme.

Excellent writer and great friend Jim Kunstler shows how simple the entire facade is to fathom, and how the next step away from the mess we’re in is so painfully obvious: downscale.

Buy the All Time High

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.

But that’s not yet where we are, though Ferguson sure looks close to that war Jim talks about. Our leading classes will not let us downscale, no matter how much sense that makes for the ‘lower’ 95% of the population, because that would risk their leading positions. And so we’ll have to deal with a lot more misery before the whole edifice finally blows up, and we’ll end up with huge swaths of traumatized people. In a great article, Lynn Stuart Parramore describes how that works:

So Many People Are Badly Traumatized by Life in America: It’s Time We Admit It

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.

When our alarm systems are set off too often, they start to malfunction, and we can end up in a state of hyper-vigilance, unable to properly assess the threats. It’s easy for the powerful to manipulate this tense condition and present an array of bogeymen to distract our attention, from immigrants to the unemployed, so that we focus our energy on the wrong enemy. Guns give a false sense of control, and hatred of those who do not look like us channels our impotent rage. Meanwhile, dietary supplements and prescription painkillers lure us into thinking that if we just find the right pill, we can shut off the sound of the sirens. Popular culture brings us movies with loud explosions that deafen us to what’s crashing all around us.

The 21st century, forged in the images of flames and bodies falling from the Twin Towers, has sputtered on with wars, financial ruin and crushing public policies that have left us ever more shaken, angry and afraid. At each crisis, people at the top have seized the opportunity to secure their positions and push the rest of us further down. They are not finished, not by a long shot.

Trauma is not just about experiencing wars and sexual violence, though there is plenty of that. Psychology researchers have discussed trauma as something intense that happens in your life that you can’t adequately respond to, and which causes you long-lasting negative effects. [..] trauma comes with a very high rate of interest. The children of traumatized people carry the legacy of pain forward in their brains and bodies, becoming more vulnerable to disease, mental breakdown, addiction, and violence. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, emphasizes that it’s not just personal.

Trauma occupies a space much bigger than our individual neurons: it’s political. If your parents lost their jobs, their home or their sense of security in the wake of the financial crisis, you will carry those wounds with you, even if conditions improve. Budget cuts to education and the social safety net produce trauma. Falling income produces trauma. Job insecurity produces trauma.

There’s much more at the link, and every word is worth reading. The mental consequences of the gutting of our societies by governments and the financial industry does not get nearly enough scrutiny. We act, or politicians and media do, as if millions of people losing their jobs, and over half of young people in certain nations never having had a chance of a job, is just a matter of numbers, of mere statistics.

And then all sorts of ‘experts’ claim it’s all just the price to pay for technological progress, that will make everything so much better for everyone some sunny day soon. But that sunny say will never come, the techno happy ideal version of the future has already died with the debt incurred to facilitate it. We need to take a step backwards, or we’ll continue to drive backwards. Or be driven, to be more precise, since we’ve handed over the steering wheel to people who have no intention of taking us where we want to, and should, go. They are only intent on taking us where they can squeeze us most.

Thing is, there’s precious little left to squeeze. And they know that much better than most of us do. That’s why it’s imperative that we should get rid of these clowns, or there’ll be a whole lot more trauma. We can organize our societies, and we can even organize ways to downscale them peacefully . But not with those at the helm who see us only as mere entities to draw blood from.

We need to be a whole lot more assertive about this; we shouldn’t want to be surrounded by traumatized friends and family members and neighbors There’s nothing good for us in that. It’ll be used against us in increased surveillance and clampdowns and all that comes with it.

We can have good jobs for everyone, all it takes is to have what we need, produced in our own communities and societies, instead of having it shipped over from China. It’s not rocket science. It’s just that there’s a certain segment in society, which unfortunately happens to be the most powerful one, that doesn’t want us to do that. They want more and bigger, not smaller and better.

Until we solve that issue, things will keep getting worse. And not just a little bit. We need to find leaders that actually represent us, our needs and desires and ideas, and we need to find ways to elect them. If we don’t, we face a very bleak future in which there won’t be much left for us to choose. Or enjoy. We live in a pivotal moment in time, but we don’t recognize it for what it is. We seem to think it’s all some minor hiccup. We are dead wrong.