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All the world’s a stage

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by Peter Tchir
of TF Market Advisors
Posted December 5, 2011

I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL THAT WE ARE WATCHING A PERFORMANCE THIS WEEK. It feels like the actions, the meetings, and the statements are all very scripted. It seems reasonably clear which ending they are going for, but many of their actions also fit the “alternative” ending so it remains imperative to be cautious.

Roles for “bit” players have been cut

Last week, for the first time, the EU seemed to be able to muzzle the minor players and even limit the lines of the big players. The Finance minister summit was a failure. Nothing useful came out of it. EFSF was a total flop. The bank backstop plans are at a national level and revolve around the idea of getting banks to borrow even more in the short term and not extend their maturities.

In spite of the obvious failure, there were relatively few comments. Rather than getting headlines of disputes, or even headlines of bigger and better ways to leverage, they seemed to let it die a relatively calm death and move on. This was a chance for every finance minister to get their quotations in the news, but they seemed reasonably constrained. There were far fewer comments about the ECB or even from ECB members. To me, it seems that the big players (Merkozy and Draghi) have taken control of the play and are trying to get it to the ending they want.

The “Script”

Germany took great pains last week to distance themselves from ECB decisions. The speeches made it clear that the ECB should be “independent”.  This has been taken as a sign that Germany is relenting on letting the ECB print. By affirming the ECB’s independence, Germany can, in theory, explain that it wasn’t responsible for the printing. There is also a chance that this is a way to take the blame off of Germany if the ECB decides not to print.  That seems less likely, but not everyone, especially at the ECB, believes printing is a solution, so this could be a way for them to take the focus off of Germany’s “nein”.

According to the script, Merkel and Sarkozy will become the Merkozy again tonight so that they can ride into this week’s summit with a “renewed joint focus”, blah, blah, blah. There is no way that they don’t act as though they have some agreement (even if they don’t). We won’t know what is discussed, we won’t know how much time is spent working out plans for a summit failure, all we will get is another handholding moment meant to encourage the market. I suspect that more time “off screen” will be spent discussing preparations for a failed summit, but all we will see is smiling confident faces.

At this point, I will give the politicians some credit. For the first time in months they seem to be writing the script. They aren’t just taking whatever script Wall Street hands them, and trying to act that out. The Wall Street scripts haven’t worked and have been unbelievable. The  politicians are finally taking control and trying to develop their own plan, and selling Wall Street on how viable it is. Since they are politicians, they are actually trained at figuring out what can get done and selling it to the people.  It probably won’t work, but at least they are doing what they are good at, and it would be hard to do worse than listening to another round of self-serving Wall Street advice.  On a refreshing note, at least we have agreement on something, Wall Street and politicians now both think the other group doesn’t understand anything and has no sense of timing.

The “puppets” are pushing through austerity in Italy and Greece. They can be held up as shining examples to other countries of what needs to be done. They aren’t the heroes of the story, but are there so that the Merkozy can point them out and show that i) it can be done, and ii) when it is done, the EU and IMF will come through with additional funds.  The “it” they got done won’t be well defined (but this is a movie, not the real world anyways) but the reward those good countries receive will be highlighted.

So the meeting will have Merkozy telling the smaller and problematic countries what a great future lies ahead for the eurozone. They will talk about the sacrifices they are making to ensure the viability of the future. There will be no criticism of the plan as only “friends and family” reports will get the inside scoop, and the “trailer” will be played over and over as part of the advertising campaign. We, the audience, will suspect that all the best parts of the play are in the “trailer” but we won’t be able to dig deep enough to argue against it.

The puppets will tell the other countries how happy they are that they have finally adopted austerity with growth to move forward and that they are excited about this opportunity to be part of the renewed commitment to the eurozone. Anyone who tries to figure out how austerity and growth work together, or where the money is coming, or any other details, will be escorted from room, and will be Clockwork Oranged into reading “fringe blogging websites” until they accept that details are bad, and only vague notions and slogans can “solve” anything.

At the end of the day, any holdouts will get invited to special meetings with the Merkozy. This is where they will be asked what they want to get in order to support the agreement, and reminded, that it is only an agreement in principle so they might as well say yes now, and they can always reject it later. These dark little meetings where the bribes are given and the futility of the agreement are discussed will only be available on the director’s cut, but will make people cringe when they realize what went on.

So in the end, according to script, everyone will get a chance for a joint communiqué and photo up where they talk about their commitment to implement these progressive changes. Every person who truly thinks about it for more than a minute, will know that it is a sham. They will see what has gone on, but it won’t matter. The “critics” will fall all over themselves to proclaim the success of the summit and that we are witnessing the birth of a new and better Euro. For a few days at least, the airwaves will be filled with the excitement that the “great leadership” exhibited by the Merkozy, and the diligence of the puppets, has led to such a monumental agreement. The future will be so bright, some might even “wear shades” when they discuss what has been accomplished.  Tears wouldn’t even shock me.

Then before anyone can complain that the positive reviews were bought, or that the script is flimsy, we will see the next wave of activity. This will be like a giant publicity machine, trying to turn a horrible movie into an Oscar winner through the sheer strength of publicity and graft.

The ECB will cut rates by 50 bps. The ECB will announce further participation in the secondary markets and hint at the ability and willingness to print money. The IMF will announce some new programs. The EFSF will start participating in the primary market. Even the Fed might hint at future QE (if not actually doing anything).

Then the leaders can sit back and hope their magic works.  Hope that their story has been bought and that the markets can take off and that they won’t actually have to implement much.  Yes, I think this is the key here.  They know that the treaty agreement changes are unlikely to be implemented.  They know the ECB has limits, that the IMF is going to struggle to do what people seem to believe they can do, they just hope that this is enough to give the markets so much confidence that they don’t have to do anything.  A market that can swing 6% on a 50 bp rate cut, might be manipulated into going so high that confidence is regained, long enough to buy time.

The “alternative ending”

So far, the directors have rejected the alternative ending. They don’t think that America in particular is ready for a non Hollywood ending, but they are filming some scenes just in case.  Fortunately many of the scenes are exactly the same as in the preferred ending. In the alternative ending, Merkozy and the puppets can’t convince everyone to go along with the communiqué. They can’t convince them that it is really meaningless so there is no point to disagree. Somehow the summit ends without the decision to move forward.

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Your New American Dream

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by James Howard Kunstler 
Posted November 28, 2011

IT’S REALLY SOMETHING TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY THAT DOESN’T KNOW what it is doing in a world that doesn’t know where it is going in a time when anything can happen. I hope you can get comfortable with uncertainty. If there’s one vibe emanating from this shadowy zeitgeist it’s a sense of the total exhaustion of culture, in particular the way the world does business. Everything looks tired, played out, and most of all false. Governments can’t really pay for what they do. Banks have no real money. Many households surely have no money. The human construct of money itself has become a shape-shifting phantom. Will it vanish into the vortex of unpaid debt until nobody has any? Or will there be plenty of worthless money that people can spend into futility? Either way they will be broke.

The looming fear whose name political leaders dare not speak is global depression, but that is not what we’re in for. The term suggests a temporary sidetrack from the smooth operation of integrated advanced economies. We’re heading into something quite different, a permanent departure from the standard conception of economic progress, the one in which there is always sure to be more comfort and convenience for everybody, the economy of automatic goodies.

A big part of the automatic economy was the idea of a “job.” In its journey to the present moment, the idea became crusted with barnacles of illusion, especially that a “job” was a sort of commodity “produced” by large corporate enterprises or governments and rationally distributed like any other commodity; that it came with a goodie bag filled with guaranteed pensions, medical care to remediate bad living habits, vacations to places of programmed entertainment, a warm, well-lighted dwelling, and a big steel machine to travel around in. Now we witness with helpless despair as these illusions dissolve.

The situation at hand is not a “depression,” though it may resemble the experience of the 1930s in the early going. It’s the permanent re-set and reorganization of everyday life amidst a desperate scramble for resources. It will go on and on until there are far fewer people competing for things while the ones who endure construct new systems for daily living based on fewer resources used differently.

In North America I believe this re-set will involve the re-establishment of an economy centered on agriculture, with a lot of other activities supporting it, all done on a fine-grained local and regional scale. It must be impossible for many of us to imagine such an outcome – hence the futility of our current politics, with its hollow promises, its laughable battles over sexual behavior, its pitiful religious boasting, its empty statistical blather, all in the service of wishing the disintegrating past back into existence.

This desperation may be why our recently-acquired traditions seem especially automatic this holiday season. Of course the “consumers” line up outside the big box stores the day after the automatic Thanksgiving exercise in gluttony. That is what they’re supposed to do this time of year. That is what has been on the cable TV news shows in recent years: see the crowds cheerfully huddled in their sleeping bags outside the Wal Mart… see them trample each other in the moment the doors open!

The biggest news story of a weekend stuporous from leftover turkey and ceremonial football was a $6.6 billion increase in “Black Friday” chain-store sales. All the attention to the numbers was a form of primitive augury to reassure superstitious economists – more than the catatonic public – that the automatic cargo cult would be operating normally at this crucial testing time. The larger objective is to get through the ordeal of Christmas.

I don’t see how Europe gets through it financially. The jig is up there. Lovely as Europe has become since the debacles of the last century – all those adorable cities with their treasures of deliberately-created beauty – the system running it all is bankrupt. Europe is on financial death-watch and when the money stops flowing between its major organs, the banks, the whole region must either go dark or combust. Nobody really knows what will happen there, except they know that something will happen – and whatever it is portends disruption and loss for the worlds largest collective economy. The historical record is not reassuring.

If Europe’s banks go down, many of America’s will, too, maybe all of them, maybe our whole money system. I’m not sure that we will see a normal election cycle here in 2012. A few bank runs, bank failures… gasoline shortages here and there… the failure of some food deliveries to supermarkets in some region… these are the kinds of things that can bring down a political system drained of once-ironclad legitimacy. All that is left now is the husk of ritual – witness the failure of the senate-house “super-committee.” The wash-out was so broadly anticipated that it was greeted with mere yawns of recognition. It would be like pointing at the sky and saying, “air there.”

This holiday season spend a little time musing on what the re-set economy will be like in your part of the country. Think of what you do in it as a “role,” or a “vocation,” or a “trade,” or a “calling,” or a “way of life,” rather than a “job.” Imagine that life will surely go on, even civilized life, though it will be organized differently. Add to this the notion that you are part of a larger group, a society, and that societies evolve emergently according to the circumstances that their time and place presents. Let that imagining be your new American Dream.

Things that make you go hmmm…

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by Grant Williams
25 October 2011
With deference to European readers, I have removed (most of) the original baseball references. Please forgive, Grant!! – Aurick

“Everyone needs the ECB to step up to the plate. The ECB has no excuse not to act. In trying to keep its monetary virginity intact, the bank threatens to destroy the Euro Zone. If that happens, nobody will be able to profit from its virginity.”
– Paul de Grauwe

“Simple Math:

The total overall cap [of the ESM] is 500 billion Euros

160 billion Euros has been spent

340 billion Euros remains

340 billion Euros + zero Euros = 940 billion Euros“

– Mike Shedlock, on the latest European ‘Masterplan’ to merge the EFSF + ESM

“The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine”
– Abraham Lincoln

Right now, the team comprising the ECB, EU and the various parliaments that make up that fractured and faltering alliance are sending, in baseball parlance, pitcher after pitcher to the mound (sometimes in groups of two or three) trying to combine for the perfect game that they NEED in order to escape the debt trap they have backed themselves into.

Being in a situation where you lose unless you can pull something off against odds of multiple-thousands to one and pitch a ‘perfect game’ is a ridiculous spot in which to find yourself, but as this month has rolled by, it has become ever-more apparent that that is precisely where the Brussels Eurocrats now find themselves. It appears as though, as the pressure has ratcheted up this week, we are now in the ninth inning.

Personally, my own belief (as regular readers are by now well aware) is that the very best the Eurocrats can hope for is to extend the game by an inning or two, but their arms are tired, their bullpen is empty and, at some point, we are going to see an absolute avalanche of runs scored against them as the whole thing finally topples under its own weight.

This past week has been nothing short of farcical as the tension has built towards a crescendo that seemed at first to be willfully engendered in order to generate just enough sense of impending crisis to enable a resolution to be forced through in a similar fashion to that which preceded Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke’s now-infamous closed-doors fright-fest (hyphenation alert!) that led to the passing of the TARP in late 2008.

Obviously, any and all capitulation towards outright bailouts (or ‘QEU’) must at least be seen to be against the will of the Germans and that proviso goes a long way towards explaining the raft of headlines that have flooded the Reuters and Bloomberg screens of investors all around the world this week. We have seen misdirection, scaremongering, u-turns and abject incompetence as well as the kinds of ‘leaks’ that are, frankly, laughable – the prime example being the ‘leaked’ draft copy of the Euro Summit statement which was printed, in its entirety, in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday – coincidentally at the precise moment when things were starting to come unglued as it became clear that this Sunday’s Summit would NOT produce the magic bullet required.

The statement itself is priceless. It begins with a bit of back-slapping for the passing of the EFSF (after no less than six months of wrangling and an eleventh-hour drama in Slovakia):

The strategy we have put into place encompasses determined efforts to ensure fiscal consolidation as well as growth, support to countries in difficulty, and a strengthening of euro area governance. At our 21 July meeting we took a set of major decisions. The ratification by all 17 Member States of the euro area of the measures related to the EFSF significantly strengthen our capacity to react to the crisis.

The agreement on a strong legislative package within the EU structures on better economic governance represents another major achievement. The euro continues to rest on solid fundamentals

It then moves on to more familiar ground; an agreement to display their strong determination to fix things. Nothing concrete, of course, but they sure as hell are determined:

The crisis is, however, far from over, as shown by the volatility of sovereign and corporate debt markets. Further action is needed to restore confidence. That is why today we agree on additional measures reflecting our strong determination to do whatever is required to overcome the present difficulties.

The rest of the text, should you want to read it, is here, but allow me to summarise it through a few select phrases that will save you the trouble of doing so:

“blah, blah, blah… All Member States are determined, blah, blah, blah… We want to reiterate our determination, blah, blah, blah… We reaffirm clearly our unequivocal commitment that, blah, blah, blah… All other euro area Member States solemnly reaffirm their inflexible determination, blah, blah, blah… The euro area Heads of State or Government fully support this determination, blah, blah, blah… All tools available will be used in an effective way to ensure financial stability in the euro area, blah, blah, blah… We fully support the ECB, blah, blah, blah… “

See. I told you they were determined.

But, buried deep in the draft are (amazingly enough) some specific measures that will surely help solve the crisis:

• There will be regular Euro Summit meetings bringing together the Heads of State or govern­ment (HoSG) of the euro area and the President of the Commission. These meetings will take place at least twice a year

• The President of the Euro Summit will be designated by the HoSG of the euro area at the same time the European Council elects its President

• The President of the Euro summit will keep the non euro area Member States closely informed of the preparation and outcome of the Summits

• As is presently the case, the Eurogroup will ensure ever closer coordination of the economic policies and promoting financial stability.

• The President of the Euro Summit will be consulted on the Eurogroup work plan and may invite the President of the Eurogroup to convene a meeting of the Eurogroup, notably to prepare Euro Summits or to follow up on its orientations

• Work at the preparatory level will continue to be carried out by the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG)

• The EWG will be chaired by a full-time Brussels-based President. He/she should preferably also chair the Economic and Financial Committee

…and my personal favourite:

• Clear rules and mechanisms will be set up to improve communication and ensure more con­sistent messages.

It’s at this point that the non-Europeans amongst you are possibly finally beginning to get the joke that anybody caught in the tractor beam of ineptitude that is ‘Europe’ (and by ‘Europe’ I mean the bureaucratic construct rather than the land mass) has understood for years.

THIS IS HOW EUROPEAN BUREAUCRACY WORKS, PEOPLE!!!!

Millions of Euros spent on days of‘talks’ to come up with solutions that fail to address any REAL problems.

Don’t believe me?

Article 47 of the Common Fisheries Policy will ensure that every fish caught by an angler is notified to Brussels so that it can be counted against that countries quota. If you go out for a day’s fishing and catch a couple of cod or mackerel you will now be required to notify the authorities or face a heavy fine.

There are EU regulations on the greenness of the person on the pedestrian crossing lights.

There are 3 separate EU directives on the loudness of lawnmowers.

Regulation (EC) 2257/94 – a great read, by the way – stated that bananas must be ‘free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers’. It also contained stipulations about ‘the grade, i.e. the measurement, in millimetres, of the thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicularly to the longitudinal axis’ …

And then there are cucumbers:

Under regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 cucumbers are only allowed a bend of 10mm for every 10cm of length.

Do you think any of those were drawn up in ten minutes on a single piece of paper?

No. (Actually, in fairness to Europe, they don’t have a monopoly on silly legislation: there IS a law in Alaska that makes it illegal to push a moose out of a moving aircraft.)

The Brussels bureaucracy has always been something of a laughing stock amongst the people of Europe – since long before the final creation of the EU, in fact. Way back in 1955, with a European union freshly on the drawing board ten years after the end of WWII, Russell Bretherton, an English Civil Servant was dispatched to Brussels to inform European ministers what Britain thought of plans for an ambitious new European treaty. Upon arrival, he had these words of wisdom for those assembled:

“Gentlemen, you’re trying to negotiate something you will never be able to negotiate. If negotiated, it will not be ratified. And if ratified, it will not work”

Three years later, the Treaty of Rome was signed, establishing the European Economic Community and from that day to this, the degree of meddling, interference and sheer bureaucracy has increased year after year until we find ourselves here.

Europe is broken and the people charged with trying to fix it are clearly not up to the job. There are way too many vested interests, too many national peccadillos and way too many good, old-fashioned egos in play for it to come down to anything but a last-ditch solution when they are forced into it – and that solution WILL be the printing of money in some shape or form which will help to magically inflate the debt away. The other alternatives are either just too painful (default/ forgiveness) or plain unworkable (growth).

A look at a selection of newsflashes that hit screens this week shows just how ridiculous things have become as everybody involved in trying to sort out the mess that is Europe attempts to get themselves in front of a microphone in order to let the world know just how important they are. Some of these appearances, it would seem, are stage-managed for maximum effect on markets – others are simply self-important politicians who just can’t bring themselves to utter the words “no comment”:

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Central scam artists downgraded: Greenspan – Bernanke – Federal Reserve

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GoldSilver.com
Posted August 8, 2011

It seems Alan Greenspan, the Ex-Chairman of the US Federal Reserve and mentor of his protege in crime, current Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, should get their fables straight before they appear on television.  Check out how brazenly dangerous Alan Greenspan conducted himself this past Sunday morning on NBC’s Meet The Press:

 The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money…
Alan GreenspanAugust 7, 2011


Wait a second, perhaps Alan should check with Ben on their story because according to Ben’s interview late last year on CBS’ 60 Minutes, the US is not printing money and the monetary base is not expanding all that much:

One myth that is out there is that what we are doing is printing money. We are not printing money… The money supply is not changing in any significant way. –Ben Bernanke, December 5, 2010


It looks like Alan and Ben need to get on the same page when it comes to money printing and what is officially happening to the monetary base of the US dollar:

Finally there is the instant classic of Ben Bernanke’s recent denial of historical facts, common sense, and basic economic laws. Check out Ben’s ridiculous retort when asked by Ron Paul on July 13, 2011 as to whether or not gold is money:


Central bankers and the lies they tell are the antithesis of gold. When they blurt moronic statements in large public forums like the aforementioned examples, gold, the true money of mankind tends to explode to the upside. The central scam artists can say whatever they want.  The fact is that the dollar, euro, yen, franc, pound, peso etc. are and will continue to bow to true free market monies, gold and silver.

For this reason we continue to convert our paper debt based cash and fiat currencies into physical gold and silver bullion long-term. With central bankers like these, it is making the inevitable wealth exchange happen at breath taking speed with a real possibility of the move going parabolic. Are you ready?

You want to fix the U.S. economy? Here’s a start…

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by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted July 19, 2011
on Of Two Minds 

A SIMPLE 8-POINT PLAN WOULD RESTORE BOTH THE BANKING and the real estate sectors, and end the political dominance of the parasitic “too big to fail” banks. Craven politicos and clueless Federal Reserve economists are always bleating about how they want to fix the U.S. economy and restore “aggregate demand.” OK, here’s how to start:

1. Force all banks to mark all their assets to market at the end of each trading day, including all derivatives of all types, including over-the-counter instruments.

2. Allow citizens to discharge all mortgage and student loan debt in bankruptcy court, just like any other debt.

3. Banks must mark all their real estate to market weekly as defined by “last sales of nearby properties” adjusted for square footage and other quantifiable measures (i.e. like Zillow.com).

4. Require mortgage servicers and all owners of mortgage-backed securities to mark every asset within each pool to market weekly.

5. Any mortgage, loan or note which was fraudulently originated, packaged and sold, including the misrepresentation of risk, the manipulation of risk ratings, fraudulent documentation by any party, etc., will be discharged as uncollectable and the full value wiped off the books and title records without recourse by any of the parties.

If a bank fraudulently originated a mortgage and the buyer misrepresented material facts on the mortgage documents, then both parties lose all claim to the note and the underlying asset, the house, which reverts to the FDIC for liquidation, with the proceeds going towards creditors’ claims against the bank.

6. Any bank which misrepresents marked-to-market asset values will be fined $10 million per incident.

7. Any bank which is insolvent at the end of a trading day will be closed and taken over by the FDIC the following day, and liquidated in an orderly manner via open-market auctions of all assets, including REO (real estate owned).

8. All derivative positions held by the insolvent bank will be unwound immediately, and counterparties who fail to make good on their claims will also be closed, given to the FDIC and liquidated.

You know what this is, of course: a return to trustworthy, transparent accounting.
And you know what the consequences would be, too: all five “too big to fail” banks would instantly be declared insolvent, and most of the other top-25 big banks would also be closed and liquidated.

At least $3 trillion in impaired residential mortgage debt would be written off, maybe more, and $1 trillion in impaired commercial real estate would also be written down. Derivative losses are unknown, but let’s estimate it’s at least $1 trillion and maybe much more.

If $5.8 trillion of fantasy “value” is wiped off the nation’s books, that’s only a 10% reduction in net household and non-profit assets, which total $58 trillion. Even an $11 trillion hit would only knock off 20%. If that’s reality, if that’s what the assets are really worth in the real world, then let’s get it over with. Once we’ve restored truthful accounting and stopped living a grand series of debilitating lies, then the path will finally be clear for renewed growth.

The net result would be the destruction of the political power of the “too big to fail” banks, the clearing of the nation’s bloated, diseased real estate market, and the restoration of trust in institutions which have been completely discredited.

Bank credit would flow again, and we could insist on a healthy competitive system of 250 small banks instead of a corrupting system of 5 insolvent parasitic monsters and 20 other bloated but equally insolvent financial parasites.

Those who lied would finally get fried. At long last, those who misprepresented income, risk, etc. would actually pay some price for their malfeasance. Criminal proceedings would be a nice icing on the cake, but simply ending the pretence of solvency would go a long way to restoring banking and real estate and ending regulatory capture by TBTF banks.

What’s the downside to such a simple action plan? Oh boo-hoo, the craven politicos would lose their key campaign contributors. On the plus side, the politicos could finally wipe that brown stuff off their noses.

Debt Ceiling Drama

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by Dr. Ron Paul
Posted July 19, 2011

THE DEBT CEILING DEBATE IS PROVIDING PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY for political theater in Washington. Proponents of raising the debt ceiling are throwing around the usual scare tactics and misinformation in order to intimidate opponents into accepting more debt and taxes. It is important to distinguish the truth from the propaganda.

First of all, politicians need to understand that without real change default is inevitable. In fact, default happens every day through monetary policy tricks. Every time the Federal Reserve engages in more quantitative easing and devalues the dollar, it is defaulting on the American people by eroding their purchasing power and inflating their savings away. The dollar has lost nearly 50% of its value against gold since 2008. The Fed claims inflation is 2% or less over the past few years; however economists who compile alternate data show a 9% inflation rate if calculated more traditionally. Alarmingly, the administration is talking about changing the methodology of the CPI calculation yet again to hide the damage of the government’s policies. Changing the CPI will also enable the government to avoid giving seniors a COLA (cost of living adjustment) on their social security checks, and raise taxes via the hidden means of “bracket creep.” This is a default. Just because it is a default on the people and not the banks and foreign holders of our debt does not mean it doesn’t count.

Politicians also need to acknowledge that our debt is unsustainable. For decades our government has been spending and promising far more than it collects in taxes. But the problem is not that the people are not taxed enough. The government has managed to run up $61.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities, which works out to $528,000 per household. A tax policy that would aim to extract even half that amount of money from American families would be unimaginably draconian, and not unlike attempting to squeeze blood from a turnip. This is, unequivocally, a spending problem brought about by a dramatically inflated view of the proper role of government in a free society.

Perhaps the most abhorrent bit of chicanery has been the threat that if a deal is not reached to increase the debt by August 2nd, social security checks may not go out. In reality, the Chief Actuary of Social Security confirmed last week that current Social Security tax receipts are more than enough to cover current outlays. The only reason those checks would not go out would be if the administration decided to spend those designated funds elsewhere. It is very telling that the administration would rather frighten seniors dependent on social security checks than alarm their big banking friends, who have already received $5.3 trillion in bailouts, stimulus and quantitative easing. This instance of trying to blackmail Congress into tax increases by threatening social security demonstrates how scary it is to be completely dependent on government promises and why many young people today would jump at the chance to opt out of Social Security altogether.

We are headed for rough economic times either way, but the longer we put it off, the greater the pain will be when the system implodes. We need to stop adding more programs and entitlements to the problem. We need to stop expensive bombing campaigns against people on the other side of the globe and bring our troops home. We need to stop allowing secretive banking cartels to endlessly enslave us through monetary policy trickery. And we need to drastically rethink government’s role in our lives so we can get it out of the way and get back to work.

Where is the recovery? I cannot seem to find it

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by Tony Pallotta of Macro Story
Originally posted June 13, 2011

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

POSSIBLY THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN HAVING a serious problem on your hands is when you clearly do not understand the problem.  You ignore the data and find an easy scapegoat for why the problem is temporary and will pass. The slowdown in the US economy is not transitory as the Fed chairman states. Hopes for 3-4% GDP growth in the second half of 2011 are simply that, hope.

The earthquake in Japan, the third largest economy, occurred two months before US economic data began slowing sharply. It is easy to say that must be the cause. It is far harder to blame failed policies for that involves being honest with oneself. Accepting failure is everyone’s Achilles’ heel.  Something few can overcome.

What is most disturbing about the failed policies of the Federal Reserve and Federal Government are the millions of Americans suffering when they do not have to. With one in seven Americans on food stamps, one in five unemployed or under employed, 28% of mortgages underwater, do leaders truly think we are this naive and that recovery is underway?

In a recent survey 48% of Americans feel we are already in a depression, forget recession. Regardless of what the NBER says or measures of real GDP, something easily manipulated through the deflator, it feels and therefore it is a depression. Food prices are rising. It costs more to fill up our gas tank. Walmart and countless other low cost stores bare witness to the modern day bread line.

If the US government reduced spending by 40% today, right this second, we still could not put a dent in a $12 trillion national debt, closer to $70 trillion when factoring in unfunded liabilities. The government nearly shut down in May as leaders tried to agree on 1% in budget cuts later found to be a pure accounting scheme. All is not well in the US economy and a recovery is not and has not begun. Trillions have been spent since 2008 and we have nothing to show for it.

Ask a child wearing a red shirt what color their shirt is. They will shout red. Ask that same question to an adult and they will hesitate, afraid to answer the most obvious question out of fear they are being set up. As adults we seem to lose the ability to see the obvious. We live in constant fear of being wrong, being judged by others for our inadequacies. Rather than focus on the task at hand we focus on the failure. The safety of going along with the group outweighs the truth we see with our own eyes.

Ask a fund manager with $5 billion in assets under management (AUM) if the economy is recovering and they will say yes. They will say this soft patch is transitory, it is a function of Japan and the revolution in MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa). They will tell you Greece is contained.  They will tell you housing is bottoming. They will tell you stocks are cheap.

Do they believe that? Aside from group think I certainly hope not but if the group says that red shirt you are wearing is in fact blue, well dammit, that shirt is blue. No one believes they are a lemming, that they are part of the herd. The word sheeple does not include them. Then why does history always show the majority to be wrong?

As the market rolls over investors are beginning to question the color of that shirt. Perhaps it is red after all. The Federal Reserve has a horrible record at economic forecasting, absolutely horrid yet with each new forecast we are expected to believe “this time it is different.”  With each passing day more data tells us they are wrong yet again. As investors we must be diligent in our work, diligent in understanding the issues. We must think for ourselves, beyond the noise, beyond the pressure to conform. Now is the time to have courage in our convictions.

When I listen to Bernanke speak what scares me most is not his forecasts of 3-4% economic growth but his complete lack of comprehension of the problems:

  • His apparent belief that this soft patch will pass.
  • That QE was successful.
  • That with more time structural changes in our economy will fix themselves.
  • That the answer to debt is more debt.
  • In the words of Helen Keller his sight makes him a very dangerous man.

Bonds forecast, equities confirm. Bonds have spoken. Equities are finally listening.