Category Archives: Economy

American Pay-to-Play Fascism Is Financial Tyranny

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Don’t ask me what I want it for
If you don’t want to pay some more
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman…
And you’re working for no one but me.
— George Harrison, “Taxman”

We’re not living the American Dream. We’re in the grip of a financial nightmare.

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“We the people” have become the new, permanent underclass in America.

(John Whitehead) We get taxed on how much we earn, taxed on what we eat, taxed on what we buy, taxed on where we go, taxed on what we drive, and taxed on how much is left of our assets when we die, and yet we have no real say in how the government runs, or how our taxpayer funds are used.

Case in point: Lawmakers across the country have been acting as fronts for corporations, sponsoring more than 10,000 model laws written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Make no mistake: This is fascism disguised as legislative expediency.

As a recent investigative report by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity points out, these copycat bills have been used to “override the will of local votersand advance the agendas of the corporate state. “Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called ‘model’ bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them.”

In this way, laws that promise to protect the public “actually bolster the corporate bottom line.”

For example, “The Asbestos Transparency Act didn’t help people exposed to asbestos. It was written by corporations who wanted to make it harder for victims to recoup money. The ‘HOPE Act,’ introduced in nine states, was written by a conservative advocacy group to make it more difficult for people to get food stamps.”

Talk about Orwellian.

So we have no real say in how the government runs, or how our taxpayer funds are used, but that doesn’t prevent the government from fleecing us at every turn.

This is true whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

We’re being forced to pay for endless wars that do more to fund the military industrial complex than protect us, for misguided pork barrel projects that do little to enhance our lives, and for the trappings of a police state that serves only to imprison us within its walls.

All the while the government continues to do whatever it likes — levy taxes, rack up debt, spend outrageously and irresponsibly — with little thought for the plight of its citizens.

We’re being played as easy marks by hustlers bearing the imprimatur of the government.

Truly, if there is an absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the taxpayers — who fuel the nation’s economy and fund the government’s programs — always get ripped off.

Examples abound of wasteful government spending.

$28 million for a camouflage pattern for the Afghan National Army’s uniforms that had to be discarded because it clashes with the desert; $80 million to corral wild horses that would fare better unpenned; $5 million for a study to conclude that fraternity and sorority members drink more than their peers; and more than $1 billion worth of small arms, mortars, Humvees, and other equipment that has gone “missing” in Iraq.

If Americans managed their personal finances the way the government mismanages the nation’s finances, we’d all be in debtors’ prison by now.

Still, the government remains unrepentant, unfazed and undeterred in its money grabs.

Because the government’s voracious appetite for money, power and control has grown out of control, its agents have devised other means of funding its excesses and adding to its largesse through taxes disguised as fines, taxes disguised as fees, and taxes disguised as tolls, tickets and penalties.

With every new tax, fine, fee and law adopted by our so-called representatives, the yoke around the neck of the average American seems to tighten just a little bit more.

Everywhere you go, everything you do, and every which way you look, we’re getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

The overt and costly signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; armed drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies such as the IRS, Dept. of Education, the Smithsonian and others with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Meanwhile, the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the agencies under their command—Defense, Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, etc.—have switched their allegiance to the Corporate State with its unassailable pursuit of profit at all costs and by any means possible.

We are now ruled by a government consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

While we’re struggling to get by, and making tough decisions about how to spend what little money actually makes it into our pockets after the federal, state and local governments take their share (this doesn’t include the stealth taxes imposed through tolls, fines and other fiscal penalties), the police state is spending our hard-earned tax dollars to further entrench its powers and entrap its citizens.

If you want to know the real motives behind the government’s agenda, follow the money trail.

When you dig down far enough, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being surveilled, fined, scanned, searched, probed, tasered, arrested and imprisoned are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons, equipment and prisons used by the American police state.

It gets worse.

Americans have also been made to pay through the nose for the government’s endless wars, subsidization of foreign nations, military empire, welfare state, roads to nowhere, bloated workforce, secret agencies, fusion centers, private prisons, biometric databases, invasive technologies, arsenal of weapons, and every other budgetary line item that is contributing to the fast-growing wealth of the corporate elite at the expense of those who are barely making ends meet—that is, we the taxpayers.

Those football stadiums that charge exorbitant sums for nosebleed seats? Our taxpayer dollars subsidize them.

Those blockbuster war films? Yep, we were the silent investors on those, too.

This isn’t freedom.

You’re not free if the government can seize your home and your car (which you’ve bought and paid for) over nonpayment of taxes.

You’re not free if government agents can freeze and seize your bank accounts and other valuables if they merely “suspect” wrongdoing.

And you’re certainly not free if the IRS gets the first cut of your salary to pay for government programs over which you have no say.

If you have no choice, no voice, and no real options when it comes to the government’s claims on your property and your money, you’re not free.

As former Congressman Ron Paul observed, “The Founding Fathers never intended a nation where citizens would pay nearly half of everything they earn to the government.”

Unfortunately, somewhere over the course of the past 240-plus years, democracy has given way to kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves), and representative government has been rejected in favor of a kakistocracy (a government run by the most unprincipled citizens that panders to the worst vices in our nature: greed, violence, hatred, prejudice and war) ruled by career politicians, corporations and thieves—individuals and entities with little regard for the rights of American citizens.

The American kleptocracy continues to suck the American people down a rabbit hole into a parallel universe in which the Constitution is meaningless, the government is all-powerful, and the citizenry is powerless to defend itself against government agents who steal, spy, lie, plunder, kill, abuse and generally inflict mayhem and sow madness on everyone and everything in their sphere.

This dissolution of that sacred covenant between the citizenry and the government — establishing “we the people” as the masters and the government as the servant — didn’t happen overnight.

It didn’t happen because of one particular incident or one particular president.

It has been a process, one that began long ago and continues in the present day, aided and abetted by politicians who have mastered the polarizing art of how to “divide and conquer.”

By playing on our prejudices about those who differ from us, capitalizing on our fears for our safety, and deepening our distrust of those fellow citizens whose opinions run counter to our own, the powers-that-be have effectively divided us into polarized, warring camps incapable of finding consensus on the one true menace that is an immediate threat to all of our freedoms: the U.S. government.

We are now the subjects of a militarized, corporate empire in which the vast majority of the citizenry work their hands to the bone for the benefit of a privileged few.

Adding injury to the ongoing insult of having our tax dollars misused and our so-called representatives bought and paid for by the moneyed elite, the government then turns around and uses the money we earn with our blood, sweat and tears to target, imprison and entrap us.

All of those nefarious government deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started.

Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please.

Once again, we’ve got a judicial system insisting we have no rights under a government which demands that the people march in lockstep with its dictates.

And once again, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll keep marching or break stride and make a turn toward freedom.

But what if we didn’t just pull out our pocketbooks and pony up to the federal government’s outrageous demands for more money?

What if we didn’t just dutifully line up to drop our hard-earned dollars into the collection bucket, no questions asked about how it will be spent?

What if, instead of quietly sending in our tax checks, hoping vainly for some meager return, we did a little calculating of our own and started deducting from our taxes those programs that we refuse to support?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if we don’t have the right to decide what happens to our hard-earned cash, then we don’t have any rights at all.

After all, the government isn’t taking our money to make our lives better.

Source: by John Whitehead | The Rutherford Insititute

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Cyberattacks, Solar Storms, & EMP Weapons: US Power Grid Extremely Vulnerable, Extended Blackout Is Inevitable

A lot of Americans are mocking Venezuela right now, but the truth is that what has happened to them could also happen to us very easily. 

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(Michael Snyder) As you will see below, DARPA is so concerned about the possibility of a cyberattack taking down our power grid that they held an extended exercise recreating such a scenario late last year.  And even though scientists tell us that it is inevitable that a “solar tsunami” will absolutely devastate our power grid at some point, our leaders on the federal level refuse to spend the money that it would take to protect our basic electrical infrastructure.  In addition, Russia, China, North Korea and others have developed extremely advanced EMP weapons, and we have absolutely no protection against them.  One way or another, an extended blackout will eventually happen in the United States, and so we should try to learn some lessons from what is going on in Venezuela right now.

And without a doubt, life is hell in Venezuela at this moment.  The following comes from NPR

Signs of the crisis are everywhere you look in the Venezuelan capital. “Drive around Caracas, and you see long lines of cars waiting for hours at the few gas stations still operational,” NPR’s Philip Reeves reported from the city.

“Motorists park on highways, cell phones aloft, searching for a signal. The rich have taken refuge in luxury hotels. The poor stand in lines in the street,” Reeves added.

The power outage has affected water pumps in some Caracas neighborhoods, meaning that people are waiting to fill water bottles at public locations such as springs.

As food supplies run out, people are becoming increasingly desperate, and desperate people do desperate things.

Hundreds of stores are being looted, and the overwhelmed police are instructing store owners to fend for themselves

Looters smashed shop windows and made off with merchandise in more than 300 businesses across the state along the border with Colombia, the Zulia chapter of business organization Fedecamaras said in a statement.

“About 100 people came into the store and took all the food, the point of sale terminals,” said Maria Centeno, 29, the owner of a store selling food and furniture that was looted on Sunday. “They were people from the community. The police came by and they told me to sort it out myself.”

Of even greater concern is the fact that many people are dying from a lack of medical care.

Without power, there is little that the doctors are able to do, and one mother was forced to actually carry the body of her dead daughter through the streets to a morgue after the local hospital was unable to help her

A severely malnourished 19-year-old girl died in her mother’s arms after doctors in Venezuela were forced to turn her away because a massive blackout shut down a hospital.

Heartbroken mother Elizabeth Díaz was forced to carry her daughter’s body, which weighed just 22 pounds, through the streets to a morgue.

A lot of Americans are mocking what is going on in Venezuela, but the truth is that the exact same thing could happen here too.

Many believe that the extended blackout in Venezuela was caused by a cyberattack, and unfortunately the truth is that the U.S. power grid is also quite vulnerable if someone decided to attack us in the same manner.

Last November, DARPA held a seven day exercise that simulated what would happen if a massive cyberattack suddenly took down our grid…

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency exercise, which took place from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, was fictional, but it was designed to mimic all the hurdles and uncertainty of a real-world cyberattack that took out power across the nation for weeks on end–a scenario known as a “black start.”

To add realism, the exercise took place on Plum Island, a federal research facility off the north fork of Long Island, where DARPA researchers were able to segregate a portion of the island on its own electric grid.

Over the course of the seven-day exercise, more than 100 people gathered on the island, filling every necessary role to mimic an actual black start.

Of course that is not the only way our power grid could go down for an extended period.

Our sun is capable of producing a “solar tsunami” that could absolutely cripple our electrical grid at any time.  Earlier this week, I came across an article about a gigantic solar tsunami that hit out planet approximately 2,700 years ago

Roughly 2,700 years ago, an unusually powerful solar storm swept past the Earth, scientists announced in a new study. Though it had little to no impact on people in that long ago, pre-industrial and pre-technological world, such an event today would cause widespread power outages along with potentially disastrous communication and navigation failures.

The solar storm in 660 B.C. was about 10 times stronger than any known event in the past 70 years, study lead author Raimund Muscheler said.

But we don’t have to go back that far to find the kind of solar storm that I am talking about.

In 1859, an absolutely enormous solar storm known as “the Carrington Event” hit the United States…

The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event)[1] was a powerful geomagnetic storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington (1826–1875) and Richard Hodgson (1804–1872). The now-standard unique IAU identifier for this flare is SOL1859-09-01.

A solar storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid.[2][3] The solar storm of 2012 was of similar magnitude, but it passed Earth’s orbit without striking the planet, missing by nine days.[4]

If such a storm hit us right now, electronic devices would be fried from coast to coast and the power grid would be down for the foreseeable future.  Life would dramatically change for all of us, and chaos would be unleashed all across this nation.

This is just one of the reasons why I so strongly encourage people to get prepared, because our government is most definitely not preparing for this kind of threat.

Lastly, I want to also mention that Russia, China and North Korea have been developing highly sophisticated “Super-EMP weapons” that we have no defense for.  The following is from the Washington Free Beacon

Several nations, including China and Russia, are building powerful nuclear bombs designed to produce super-electromagnetic pulse (EMP) waves capable of devastating all electronics—from computers to electric grids—for hundreds of miles, according to a newly-released congressional study.

A report by the now-defunct Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, for the first time reveals details on how nuclear EMP weapons are integrated into the military doctrines of China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

For much more on the threat that we are facing, please see my previous article entitled “Amerigeddon: Are You Ready For The Chaos That Will Ensue When The Power Grid Is Brought Down?”

Sadly, most Americans do not understand how vulnerable we are, and when the power suddenly goes out someday they will have no idea what is happening.

So keep a close eye on Venezuela right now, because the exact same things that are happening there will eventually happen here too.

It is just a matter of time.

Source: ZeroHedge

US Cities Face “Moment Of Reckoning” As China Halts Trash Imports

In the Trump era, the American garbage business is changing in ways that Tony Soprano never could have anticipated. And it’s creating serious problems for American cities, who might soon find themselves with nowhere to turn to export their trash and recyclables (most of which have almost no value above rubbish due to contamination, and are typically disposed of in the same fashion).

And while an unrelenting river of garbage with nowhere to go might be a mafioso’s dream, small towns like Chester City, PA., a small town in Delaware County that is best known as Philly’s waste pit, is demanding that something be done since China’s sleeper ban on recycling imports – which arose from Beijing’s desire “not to be the world’s landfill” – has led to a host of new deadly contaminants polluting the impoverished town’s air as its incinerators now burn more of the plastics that China will no longer accept.

As we explained last year, since 1992, China and Hong Kong have taken in approximately 72% of global plastic waste according to a study in the journal Science Advances. However, since January 2018, Beijing stopped accepting most paper and plastic waste in accordance with new environmental policies.

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What they do still accept: cardboard and metal, now has an extremely low contamination threshold of just 0.5% – a level far too low for current US recycling technology to handle. Where China used to take 40% of the US’s paper plastics and other trash, that trade has now ground to a halt.

It is “virtually impossible to meet the stringent contamination standards established in China”, according to a spokeswoman for the Philly city government. Because of this, the city’s garbage problem has become a “major impact on the city’s budget”, at around $78 a ton. Now, half of the city’s recycling is going to the Covanta plant.

Making matters worse is that US waste handlers believe that China is on track to close its doors to all recycled materials by 2020, an impossibly short deadline to build new incinerators or find somewhere else to dump America’s garbage (other than the ocean).

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Since China implemented the ban last year, about 200 tons of recycling material are incinerated every day at the Covanta plant in Chester, according to the Guardian.

The incinerator’s impact on public health in Chester is already staggering: Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher. And community activists worry that could get worse: Experts believe the burning of the “recyclable” plastics could unleash a new fog of toxic dioxins in to the town’s air.

So they’re organizing to do something about it, as one local told the Guardian.

“People want to do the right thing by recycling but they have no idea where it goes and who it impacts,” said Zulene Mayfield, who was born and raised in Chester and now spearheads a community group against the incinerator, called Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.

“People in Chester feel hopeless – all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”

Of course, this dilemma isn’t unique to Philly and Chester. The problem of what to do with the growing backlog of American waste is playing out across the country.

Contrary to the common wisdom that recycling will save the sea turtles, the reality is that most of the recyclables collected in the US are incinerated or thrown in a landfill (sorry, turtles).

Ironically, while China has a reputation for being inundated with pollution and smog according to the American popular perception, now that the Chinese aren’t taking our trash, we have no idea what to do with it.

“The unfortunate thing in the United States is that when people recycle they think it’s taken care of, when it was largely taken care of by China,” said Gilman. “When that stopped, it became clear we just aren’t able to deal with it.”

To make waste disposal in the US more palatable for small towns, incinerators will need to be reengineered to meet higher environmental standards, and the whole US recycling system will need to be overhauled.

There isn’t much of a domestic market for US recyclables – materials such as steel or high-density plastics can be sold on but much of the rest holds little more value than rubbish – meaning that local authorities are hurling it into landfills or burning it in huge incinerators like the one in Chester, which already torches around 3,510 tons of trash, the weight equivalent of more than 17 blue whales, every day.

“This is a real moment of reckoning for the US because of a lot of these incinerators are aging, on their last legs, without the latest pollution controls,” said Claire Arkin, campaign associate at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “You may think burning plastic means ‘poof, it’s gone’ but it puts some very nasty pollution into the air for communities that are already dealing with high rates of asthma and cancers.”

If a solution isn’t found soon, garbage will continue to eat up a larger share of city budgets, pushing them further toward financial instability.

Or towns like Chester might follow the example set by Sopranos antagonist Richie Aprile.

Source: ZeroHedge

Billionaire Club’s Fear Of The Next Downturn Is Likely Understated

Eddie, Iron Maiden

“What scares me the most longer term is that we have limitations to monetary policy — which is our most valuable tool — at the same time we have greater political and social antagonism.” –Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates

Dalio made the remarks in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on Tuesday where he reiterated that a limited monetary policy toolbox, rising populist pressures and other issues, including rising global trade tensions, are similar to the backdrop present in the latter part of the Great Depression in the late 1930s.

Before you dismiss Dalio’s view, Bridgewater’s Pure Alpha Strategy Fund posted a gain of 14.6% in 2018, while the average hedge fund dropped 6.7% in 2018 and the S&P 500 lost 4.4%.

The comments come at a time when a brief market correction has turned monetary and fiscal policy concerns on a dime. As noted by Michael Lebowitz yesterday afternoon at RIA PRO

“In our opinion, the Fed’s new warm and cuddly tone is all about supporting the stock market. The market fell nearly 20% from record highs in the fourth quarter and fear set in. There is no doubt President Trump’s tweets along with strong advisement from the shareholders of the Fed, the large banks, certainly played an influential role in persuading Powell to pivot.

Speaking on CNBC shortly after the Powell press conference, James Grant stated the current situation well.

“Jerome Powell is a prisoner of the institutions and the history that he has inherited. Among this inheritance is a $4 trillion balance sheet under which the Fed has $39 billon of capital representing 100-to-1 leverage. That’s a symptom of the overstretched state of our debts and the dollar as an institution.”

As Mike correctly notes, all it took for Jerome Powell to completely abandon any facsimile of “independence” was a rough December, pressure from Wall Street’s member banks, and a disgruntled White House to completely flip their thinking.

In other words, the Federal Reserve is now the “market’s bitch.”

However, while the markets are celebrating the very clear confirmation that the “Fed Put” is alive and well, it should be remembered these “emergency measures” are coming at a time when we are told the economy is booming.

“We’re the hottest economy in the world. Trillions of dollars are flowing here and building new plants and equipment. Almost every other data point suggests, that the economy is very strong. We will beat 3% economic growth in the fourth quarter when the Commerce Department reopens. 

We are seeing very strong chain sales. We don’t get the retail sales report right now and we see very strong manufacturing production. And in particular, this is my favorite with our corporate tax cuts and deregulation, we’re seeing a seven-month run-up of the production of business equipment, which is, you know, one way of saying business investment, which is another way of saying the kind of competitive business boom we expected to happen is happening.” – Larry Kudlow, Jan 24, 2019.

Of course, the reality is that while he is certainly “spinning the yarn” for the media, the Fed is likely more concerned about “reality” which, as the data through the end of December shows, the U.S. economy is beginning to slow.

“As shown, over the last six months, the decline in the LEI has actually been sharper than originally anticipated. Importantly, there is a strong historical correlation between the 6-month rate of change in the LEI and the EOCI index. As shown, the downturn in the LEI predicted the current economic weakness and suggests the data is likely to continue to weaken in the months ahead.”

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Limited Monetary Tool Box

As Dalio noted, one of the biggest issues facing global Central Banks is the ongoing effectiveness of “Quantitative Easing” programs. As previously discussed:

“Of course, after a decade of Central Bank interventions, it has become a commonly held belief the Fed will quickly jump in to forestall a market decline at every turn. While such may have indeed been the case previously, the problem for the Fed is their ability to ‘bail out’ markets in the event of a ‘credit-related’ crisis.”

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“In 2008, when the Fed launched into their “accommodative policy” emergency strategy to bail out the financial markets, the Fed’s balance sheet was only about $915 Billion. The Fed Funds rate was at 4.2%.

If the market fell into a recession tomorrow, the Fed would be starting with roughly a $4 Trillion dollar balance sheet with interest rates 2% lower than they were in 2009. In other words, the ability of the Fed to ‘bail out’ the markets today, is much more limited than it was in 2008.”

But it isn’t just the issue of the Fed’s limited toolbox, but the combination of other issues, outside of those noted by Dalio, which have the ability to spur a much larger.

The nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security released a study in March stating that nearly 40 million working-age households (about 45 percent of the U.S. total) have no retirement savings at all. And those that do have retirement savings don’t have enough. As I discussed recently, the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of consumer finances found that the mean holdings for the bottom 80% of families with holdings was only $199,750.

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Such levels of financial “savings” are hardly sufficient to support individuals through retirement. This is particularly the case as life expectancy has grown, and healthcare costs skyrocket in the latter stages of life due historically high levels of obesity and poor physical health. The lack of financial stability will ultimately shift almost entirely onto the already grossly underfunded welfare system.

However, as for those with financial assets heading into retirement, after two major bear markets since the turn of the century, weak employment and wage growth, and an inability to expand debt levels, the majority of American families are financially barren. Here are some recent statistics:

  1. 78 million Americans are participating in the “gig economy” because full-time jobs just don’t pay enough to make ends meet these days.
  2. In 2011, the average home price was 3.56 times the average yearly salary in the United States. But by the time 2017 was finished, the average home price was 4.73 times the average yearly salary in the United States.
  3. In 1980, the average American worker’s debt was 1.96 times larger than his or her monthly salary. Today, that number has ballooned to 5.00.
  4. In the United States today, 66 percent of all jobs pay less than 20 dollars an hour.
  5. 102 million working age Americans do not have a job right now.  That number is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.
  6. Earnings for low-skill jobs have stayed very flat for the last 40 years.
  7. Americans have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.
  8. In the United States today, the average young adult with student loan debt has a negative net worth.
  9. At this point, the average American household is nearly $140,000 in debt.
  10. Poverty rates in U.S. suburbs “have increased by 50 percent since 1990”.
  11. Almost 51 million U.S. households “can’t afford basics like rent and food”.
  12. The bottom 40 percent of all U.S. households bring home just 11.4 percent of all income.
  13. According to the Federal Reserve, 4 out of 10 Americans do not have enough money to cover an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing the money or selling something they own. 
  14. 22 percent of all Americans cannot pay all of their bills in a typical month.
  15. Today, U.S. households are collectively 13.15 trillion dollars in debt.  That is a new all-time record.

Here’s the problem with all of this.

Despite Central Bank’s best efforts globally to stoke economic growth by pushing asset prices higher, the effect is nearly entirely mitigated when only a very small percentage of the population actually benefit from rising asset prices. The problem for the Federal Reserve is in an economy that is roughly 70% based on consumption, when the vast majority of American’s are living paycheck-to-paycheck, the aggregate end demand is not sufficient to push economic growth higher.

While monetary policies increased the wealth of those that already have wealth, the Fed has been misguided in believing that the “trickle down” effect would be enough to stimulate the entire economy. It hasn’t. The sad reality is that these policies have only acted as a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy and created one of the largest “wealth gaps” in human history.

The real problem for the economy, wage growth and the future of the economy is clearly seen in the employment-to-population ratio of 16-54-year-olds. This is the group that SHOULD be working and saving for their retirement years.

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The current economic expansion is already set to become the longest post-WWII expansion on record. Of course, that expansion was supported by repeated artificial interventions rather than stable organic economic growth. As noted, while the financial markets have soared higher in recent years, it has bypassed a large portion of Americans NOT because they were afraid to invest, but because they have NO CAPITAL to invest with.

To Dalio’s point, the real crisis will come during the next economic recession.

While the decline in asset prices, which are normally associated with recessions, will have the majority of its impact at the upper end of the income scale, it will be the job losses through the economy that will further damage and already ill-equipped population in their prime saving and retirement years.

Furthermore, the already grossly underfunded pension system will implode.

An April 2016 Moody’s analysis pegged the total 75-year unfunded liability for all state and local pension plans at $3.5 trillion. That’s the amount not covered by current fund assets, future expected contributions, and investment returns at assumed rates ranging from 3.7% to 4.1%. Another calculation from the American Enterprise Institute comes up with $5.2 trillion, presuming that long-term bond yields average 2.6%.

The massive amount of corporate debt, when it begins to default, will trigger further strains on the financial and credit systems of the economy.

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Dalio’s View Is Likely Understated. 

The real crisis comes when there is a “run on pensions.” With a large number of pensioners already eligible for their pension, the next decline in the markets will likely spur the “fear” that benefits will be lost entirely. The combined run on the system, which is grossly underfunded, at a time when asset prices are dropping will cause a debacle of mass proportions. It will require a massive government bailout to resolve it.

But it doesn’t end there. Consumers are once again heavily leveraged with sub-prime auto loans, mortgages, and student debt. When the recession hits, the reduction in employment will further damage what remains of personal savings and consumption ability. The downturn will increase the strain on an already burdened government welfare system as an insufficient number of individuals paying into the scheme is being absorbed by a swelling pool of aging baby-boomers now forced to draw on it. Yes, more Government funding will be required to solve that problem as well. 

As debts and deficits swell in the coming years, the negative impact to economic growth will continue. At some point, there will be a realization of the real crisis. It isn’t a crash in the financial markets that is the real problem, but the ongoing structural shift in the economy that is depressing the living standards of the average American family. There has indeed been a redistribution of wealth in America since the turn of the century. Unfortunately, it has been in the wrong direction as the U.S. has created its own class of royalty and serfdom.

The issue for future politicians won’t be the “breadlines” of the 30’s, but rather the number of individuals collecting benefit checks and the dilemma of how to pay for it all.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that the next “crisis,” will be the “great reset” which will also make it the “last crisis.”

Eddie, Iron Maiden

Source: ZeroHedge

Authored by Lance Roberts via RealInvestmentAdvice.com,

Naked Money Grabs

The Unprofitably Incompetent, by Robert Gore

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Those who can’t do, demand.

Profit propels civilization. When a producer can make an item or provide a service at a cost lower than a customer values that item or service, and the customer has the means and the freedom to buy, the difference between what’s paid over cost is profit. That profit is the producer’s incentive to produce, and in turn funds the producer’s consumption, savings, and investment, which creates other producers’ profits. Profit is the necessary prerequisite for consumption, savings, investment, and consequently, progress.

Many of us profit every day. We offer services and provide goods, supporting ourselves at a cost that is lower than what we’re paid. We’re profitably competent, engaging in honest production and peaceful, voluntary exchange. The only alternatives to profitable competence are living off of someone else’s profitable competency via inheritance or charity, or criminality—theft via fraud or violence.

Criminals cloak their thefts in all sorts of justifications, some of which, like socialism, become full-blown political doctrines. Ironically, a larcenous litany of demands and rationalizations are efflorescing at a time when whatever is left of the overall profit pool has been drained. It has been mortgaged multiple times, just as hordes of the unprofitably incompetent, who had no hand in producing it, clamor for their “fair share.” They’ll insist the profitably competent figure out how to pay for it, but the fair share of nothing is nothing, political promises to the contrary notwithstanding.

“Your means, my ends; I wish, you fulfill,” is the foundational fantasy of modern governance. The favored groups shelter in their safe spaces—government and its rackets, crony corporations, academia, the media, and Hollywood—living on the delusion that there will always be someone who will produce, without question or protest, for their benefit. Upon that foundation they’ve constructed a phantasmagorical edifice of illusory constructs and passages to nowhere.

As the foundational fantasy totters, the fantasies it supports become more fantastical. The profit pool exhausted, you would think everything possible would be done to succor the profitably competent who are supposed to replenish it. Instead, that illustrious group is demonized at every turn, and the demands on them become ever more absurd. They are guilty because they’re productive, and must expiate their guilt by producing for the unproductive, whose incompetence makes them morally superior.

The most “toxic” trait often associated with masculinity may be competence. It’s not exclusively masculine, but whether its possessors are male or female it has certainly become toxic, depriving them of any right to what they produce and any right to criticize those who steal it from them. Twits who can’t replace a light bulb demand free schooling and medical care, guaranteed jobs and incomes, trips to Mars, and who knows what else. Those who are to fund it all are to cheerfully regard doing so as a privilege.

The notion of reparations won’t die. Anyone with money (the only people who can pay) supposedly owe the descendants of various victim classes reparations for the supposed sins of their ancestors. To hold individuals guilty of crimes they couldn’t have committed is a moral obscenity. The demands for retribution are simply another naked money grab.

The rhetoric grows increasingly hateful. The slave class can be openly disparaged, denigrated, and deplored based on their race, gender, geographic location, religion, politics, the way they smile at a Native American, or any other characteristic the masters don’t like. But woe to the slaves who utter anything the tyrannical cult deems offensive or incorrect. Transgressors are put through social media hell, ostracized, ruined, and coming soon, incarcerated.

If you’ve found your safe space and you’re incapable of producing marketable value that exceeds its cost of production, you’re dependent on the profitably competent, but their very existence is a constant reproach, a reminder of your own inadequacy. So where gratitude would be appropriate, you instead hate, mock, and abuse your meal tickets. This isn’t PhD in psychology material—spoiled children have been abusing their parents for centuries. Interestingly—at least for psychology PhDs—the dependent get more abusive as they get more dependent.

Their safe spaces require little or nothing in the way of competency. They have become havens for personal predilections and peccadilloes that were once socially unacceptable, virtually free from any standards of comportment or dress, and citadels of venomous, self-serving ideologies.

One month into the partial shutdown of the largest safe space, it’s obvious that not only has the sky not fallen, but unsurprisingly, America is doing just fine without those 800,000 furloughed workers that even the government considers nonessential. Which elicits the question: What were they doing when they were on the job?

“Not much” is not necessarily the right answer. The 100,000 plus pages of the Federal Register and the tax code suggest that they’ve been spending a lot of time gumming up the works for and extracting money from the profitably competent many of them despise. The furlough may accomplish the first step of breaking America’s addiction to government: realizing that most of it is not only useless, but harmful. We’ll see if it leads to the next steps: getting rid of personnel, programs, agencies, and entire departments, and changing policy accordingly (we can dream). If things change in that direction, expect the denizens of what are no longer safe spaces to become increasingly vitriolic.

You can’t reach a point where dependents openly denigrate those who support them without the latter’s tacit or explicit consent. Parents who spoil their children and endure the brats’ abuse get what they deserve. Ayn Rand had it right. The people who make America go could bring it to a shuddering stop simply by stockpiling their resources and walking off their jobs for a month or two. An added turn of the screw would be withdrawing their funds from the banking system (see “The Yellow Vests Get it Right,” SLL).

It’s time to stop funding the abusers, time to stop excusing them with “they mean well, but…”, time to reject their claims to moral superiority, time to stop building safe space sanctuaries, time to stop apologizing for profitable competence, and time to recognize its moral value and reclaim the right to its profits. If it takes a strike to hurl the brats into the maw of their own incompetence and upend the tyrannical cult, so be it. The biggest crime hasn’t been that of the brats and the cult, it’s been the failure of those who haven’t defended what’s rightfully theirs.

Source: by Robert Gore | Straight Line Logic

Massive Truckers’ Strike Exposes Political Chaos as Brazil Gears Up for Elections in October

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It’s rush hour in Brazil’s largest cities. But the traffic, which is nearly always chaotic, is flowing smoothly. It’s as if the inhabitants have fled some lethal epidemic: The main universities are closed; basic items like eggs and tomatoes can’t be found in grocery stores; and nearly half of the city buses sit idle in their garages. Worse yet, most of the gas stations in the country have no fuel to sell — the shortage prompts the closing of 10 major airports. In a country that exports more beef than any other, only two of the 109 meat-packing plants with export licenses are operating.

On May 21, a Monday, disorder seized Brazil, owing to a work stoppage by the country’s truckers, who were protesting the high price of diesel fuel. A large part of the fleet of 1.6 million tractor trailers, responsible for moving more than 60 percent of the goods transported throughout the country, were parked at 600 strategic locations on federal highways. Trucks blocked lanes and prevented the any type of cargo vehicle from making it through. Meat, eggs, and vegetables went undelivered. Organ transplants went unperformed. And livestock reportedly died in the fields after the feed ran out.

The strike that paralyzed the nation’s economy forced average Brazilians to pay attention to what was previously a high-level political affair: the battle over the oil company Petrobras, Brazil’s largest state-operated corporation. During the administration of President Dilma Rousseff, which ended in her impeachment and removal from office in August 2016, the oil giant was used as a means of controlling inflation. Fuel prices were subsidized, and although the price of a barrel of oil increased on the international market, the Brazilian government did not allow that increase to be fully reflected in the pump prices in the country.

The artificially low prices for gasoline and diesel put the company in debt and depleted its coffers, causing it to lose market value. The state of affairs after the subsidies compounded the effects of the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption scandal — which revealed a multibillion-dollar kickback scheme within Petrobras, benefiting executives and politicians from several parties — that has plagued its reputation and put a wrench in its operations since 2014.

https://theintercept.imgix.net/wp-uploads/sites/1/2018/06/brazil-truckers-strike-shortage-1527885972.jpg?auto=compress%2Cformat&q=90&w=1024&h=683View of the empty Brazilian family farmers’ stall at Brasília’s Central Food Supply, CEASA, on May 25, 2018. CEASA is supplied daily by more than 3,000 trucks, but due to the nationwide truckers’ strike, it is receiving less than 50 trucks per day, causing severe food shortages in Brasília, as well as the rocketing in the prices of fruits and vegetables in some places up to 400 percent.Photo: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

After Rousseff’s removal, her vice president Michel Temer assumed office and rewrote the rules — one of many radical, pro-market changes he implemented. Temer established a new pricing policy for Petrobras that allowed international market fluctuations to dictate pump prices in Brazil. The company’s stock rallied on the São Paulo and New York exchanges, which thrilled investors. However, the change also resulted in the price of diesel changing 121 times in just two years — previously, readjustments had been made on a monthly basis, which provided transporters with greater predictability when negotiating contracts. In the month leading up to the truckers’ strike, the price of diesel changed 16 times and rose by 38.4 percent.

A few weeks ago, Temer declared himself triumphant on Twitter: “Two years ago, I took the helm of the Brazilian government with a tough mission: to rescue the country from its most severe recession, to stamp out unemployment, to return to fiscal responsibility, and to maintain social programs. In fact, I have done all of that.” But to the majority of Brazilians, Temer lives in a parallel universe. The economy has shown statistical signs of recovery — but a weak one, much slower than after past crises. Yet the shifts have yet to materialize in the lives of ordinary people. Temer even tried to sell new data showing an increase in the unemployment rate as a positive, but was contradicted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau. With political disillusionment and economic anxiety raging, the high price of fuel was merely the spark that ignited a powder keg.

Forty-eight hours after the protests began, the price of food had already created an enormous crisis. Two weeks ago, the price of a sack of potatoes was less than $11. By Thursday last week, it had reached nearly $80 in some places. By the third day of the strike, potatoes began to disappear from markets because they could not be transported from the countryside to the cities.

https://theintercept.imgix.net/wp-uploads/sites/1/2018/06/brazil-truckers-strike-military-1527885958.jpg?auto=compress%2Cformat&q=90&w=1000&h=667Soldiers take part in an operation to clear highway Regis Bittencourt, about 20 miles from São Paulo, on May 30, 2018, as a truckers’ strike against rising fuel costs in Brazil that has left much of the country paralyzed is now over. Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

The government cannot claim to have been taken by surprise by the truckers’ strike. Last Friday, The Intercept Brasil published a document proving that Temer and six of his ministers had been alerted at least a week in advance that truck drivers were planning a strike to begin on May 21 if their concerns weren’t addressed. The drivers called for an emergency meeting with the president to avoid the chaos that would inevitably ensue, but the government ignored them. So they shut off their engines.

The strike has a novel component for Brazil: Rather than being led by union representatives crowded into trucks with bullhorns leading the marches, the strike emerged out of a haphazard process organized through WhatsApp groups. In those groups, interspersed with self-help messages and pornography, political videos began to appear that inflamed protesters’ sentiments, sometimes offering hearty helpings of “fake news,” upping the octane of the revolt. Eventually, marching orders began to appear, and the protest movement emerged from the digital chats into the real world.

Journalists gained access to the WhatsApp groups in an attempt to make sense of the movement’s structure. They found few real leaders and instead, got a peek into a movement with disputes in every corner of the country — as if some strikers attempted to settle petty feuds while watching Rome burn. Despite a lack of clear leadership, the picket lines were ruthlessly enforced: Truckers that tried to ignore the blockades risked being beaten, some trucks were pelted with rocks or even set on fire.

The federal government reacted with panic. Officials tried to corral the discontent by handing some measure of political power to unions and businesspeople in the trucking sector, with whom they tried to negotiate. But fewer than 10 percent of the truckers belong to a union; no labor leader reigns over the WhatsApp republic. The government and the unions drew up two truces that never materialized.

The strike saw the redrawing of some of the traditional lines between labor and management and an alliance rarely seen in movements in Brazil emerged. Bosses and employees seem to have joined forces to call for a reduction in the price of diesel — a type of coordinated work stoppage considered a lockout and prohibited by law. Federal authorities quickly began investigating this supposed collusions, and one businessperson was arrested and charged. The precariousness of the workers in the industry — who are often owner-operators that bear the cost of fuel, tolls, repairs, and heavily financed vehicles — helped make that possible.

Outside pressure groups leveraged the popularity of the strike — a survey conducted by the Datafolha Institute last Tuesday showed that 87 percent of Brazilians supported the truckers, and 56 percent believed that the strike should continue — to try to call attention to unrelated interests. The image of a mass of useful, desperate people with reasonable demands and relatable complaints was too good to pass up. The most visible of these outside interests was the seemingly growing minority of Brazilians who long for the return of the military regime, which have tried to hitch a ride on the popular support for the strike. Those pushing a military coup had the support of some truckers, but how much of the movement would back a putsch remains unclear.

https://theintercept.imgix.net/wp-uploads/sites/1/2018/06/brazil-truckers-strike-military-intervention-1527886272.jpg?auto=compress%2Cformat&q=90&w=1024&h=683Members of the Brazilian Military Police and São Paulo’s traffic police stand beside a truck with its windscreen reading “military intervention” during an operation to clear blocked “Rodoanel Mrio Covas” Road, on May 26, 2018, in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, some 15 miles from São Paulo, Brazil, on the sixth day of a truckers’ strike protesting rising fuel costs. Photo: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

After a week, the truckers lost control of the situation. The strike had ballooned into a full-blown political crisis.

The militarists were quick to seize onto the chaos. A contingent of merchants, businesspeople, professionals, and middle-class people — long fed up with corruption, high taxes, ineffective governance, and rampant crime — saw in the tumult a golden opportunity to take to the streets and demand the army to seize power. That the army had subjected the country to a 20-yearlong military dictatorship — during which it tortured and killed hundreds of people and censored any news about its own rampant corruption — seemed a barely perceptible background fact.

While the militarists flung themselves headlong into the crisis to make their fine-tuned propaganda points, national politicians seemed to do the opposite. Normally garrulous types who seek attention at almost any cost, Brazilian politicians fell mute — flitting in any direction that would allow them to avoid taking a firm position. Without clearly defined enemies to attack, members of Congress bravely absconded from Brasília, some within the first days of the strike, fearing that a shortage of jet fuel would isolate the city and force them to take public positions at the insistence of journalists.

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who leads the polls for the upcoming presidential election despite being in prison on a controversial conviction for corruption — has long been known as an astute political observer. Yet he declared himself “perplexed” by the strike, according to politicians who visited him in his prison cell in Curitiba. Jair Bolsonaro, the reactionary Army Reserve captain who polls second, behind Lula, initially called for the people to take to the streets, inciting protesters and declaring his support for the stoppage. Days later, frightened, he radically changed his position and said that it was “time to end” the revolt.

The anemic state of Lula’s Workers’ Party was the same as that of other candidates of the Brazilian left, who also failed to capitalize on the protest. The Workers’ Party, which historically had the ability to speak to the masses, hardly garnered any notice. With no ties to the truckers, the party seemed to be speaking to itself on social networks. The same was true of other candidates who have tried to pass themselves off as moderates but are, in fact, representatives of conservatism, such as Geraldo Alckmin, the establishment’s main contender for the presidency.

The politicians’ temerity has recent precedent: protests against bus fare hikes in June 2013. State and local governments were slow to react to discontent and a protest movement popped up, led by small groups initially focused on public transportation fares. The movement quickly blossomed into gigantic popular demonstrations that, when the government realized they could not be contained, were met with police violence. In the wake of 2013, new extremist movements emerged and haven’t left the streets since. These groups, like the Free Brazil Movement, were instrumental in bringing down Rousseff.

https://theintercept.imgix.net/wp-uploads/sites/1/2018/06/brazil-truckers-strike-gasoline-1527885947.jpg?auto=compress%2Cformat&q=90&w=1024&h=683Days after concessions from the federal government brought a partial end to the strike, drivers await the arrival of fuel to supply motorcycles and cars during the truckers’ strike on May 29, 2018 in São Paulo, Brazil. Queues to fuel vehicles stretched for kilometers as tanker trucks trickled into the major cities. Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

Last Sunday, during the country’s highest-rated television show, Fantástico, Temer announced a series of measures to appease the protesters. Among them, he pledged to lower the price of diesel and repeal the international price policy he had created — without saying who was going to cover the multibillion-dollar losses for Petrobras. Truckers began to start up their rigs again. But many were unable to get off the road, hindered by violent groups who had, by then, taken over many of the roadblocks. Temer called on the military and the police to disperse the holdouts.

Last week, even after their demands were met by the government, some truckers were still blocking highways. Worse yet, those who wanted to go home were not allowed to leave. One trucker who tried to cross the picket line was stoned to death.

Journalists covering tensions in various parts of the country brought grim reports. The escalating violence had been promoted by groups that the government is calling “infiltrated militias.” These militia members, authorities say, are not truck drivers and are threatening the dissidents. However, the television program Profissão Repórter showed that many of them are, in fact, truck drivers. Those who manage to get out of the demonstrations say that the pickets have become havens of banditry and violence.

So even if vegetables are back in the supermarkets and the gas stations have been replenished, the strike continues, more or less. The government says the strike has ended, but trucker WhatsApp groups are abuzz trying to build support for a new stoppage this week.

It’s still not clear what is keeping the violent protesters on the streets and if they are acting alone or at the behest of more powerful interests. The social and economic impact remains a mystery. Will we remember this moment as the flashpoint that provoked an enormous change or just a temporary panic? What is clear, however, is that the truckers’ strike has shed light on several Brazilian realities: the palpable and almost universal rancor toward the government; the fragility of the supply chain and democratic system; the ineffectiveness of the entire political class; the fraud of the supposed economic recovery Temer tries to hock every change he gets; and the fear and despair that permeates a society that, panicked, even clamors for a return to the tragedy of a military government.

Brazil’s elections will take place in October. Until then, it will be a long and winding road, semi-trucks or not.

Source: by Leandro Demori & Piero Locatelli | The Intercept