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01.20.17 – Trump And A New Gold-Backed Dollar
- On August 15, 1971, President Nixon killed the last remnants of the gold standard.
- Since then, the dollar has been a pure fiat currency, allowing the Fed to print as many dollars as it pleases.
- Removing the US dollar’s last link to gold eliminated the main motivation for foreign countries to store large dollar reserves and to use the dollar for international trade.
- At this point, demand for dollars was set to fall… along with the dollar’s purchasing power. So the US government concocted a new arrangement to give foreign countries another compelling reason to hold and use the dollar.
- The new arrangement, called the petrodollar system, preserved the dollar’s special status as the world’s reserve currency.
- In short, the US government made a series of agreements with Saudi Arabia between 1972 and 1974, which created the petrodollar.
- The Saudis would use their dominant position in OPEC to ensure that all oil transactions would only happen in US dollars. And the US would guarantee the House of Saud’s survival.
- It worked… for a while.
- The petrodollar filled the void after the US severed the dollar’s last link to gold as the main prop to the dollar’s status as the world’ premier reserve currency.
- So far, the petrodollar has lasted over 40 years. However, the glue is losing its stick.
- I think we’re on the cusp of another paradigm shift in the international financial system, a change at least as fundamental as what happened in 1971 when Nixon severed the dollar’s last link to gold.
- The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US hit historic lows in 2016. I only expect it to get worse. Trump is the first president since the petrodollar system was enacted to be openly hostile toward the Saudis.
- The death of the petrodollar system is my No. 1 black swan event for 2017.
- It raises the question: What will fill the void when the petrodollar inevitably dies?
- When that happens—and it may be imminent—something has to replace it. I think there are only two options.
- Naturally, the global elite want to centralize more power into global institutions. In this case, that means the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
- The IMF issues a type of international currency called the “Special Drawing Right,” or SDR.
- The SDR is nothing new. The globalists have been slowly building it up since 1969. In the near future, it could be used as the premier international currency—the role the dollar has played since the end of World War 2.
- The SDR is simply a basket of other fiat currencies. The US dollar makes up 42%, the euro 31%, the Chinese renminbi 11%, the Japanese yen 8%, and the British pound 8%.
- It’s a fiat currency based on other fiat currencies… a floating abstraction based on other floating abstractions.
- The SDR is not based on sound economics or the interests of the common man. It’s just another cockamamie invention of the economic witch doctors in academia and government.
- The SDR is dangerous. It gives the government—in this case, a global government—more power. It’s a bridge to a powerful global monetary authority, and eventually a global currency.
- Most decent people would consider this a bad thing. That’s why the global elite cloud their scheme with dull and opaque names like “Special Drawing Right.”
- It’s an old trick. Governments have used it for eons.
- The Federal Reserve is an excellent example. After two failed central banking experiments in the 1800s, anything associated with a central bank became deeply unpopular with the American public. So, central bank advocates tried a fresh branding strategy.
- Rather than call their new central bank the Third Bank of the United States (the previous two were the First and Second Banks of the United States), they gave it a vague and boring name. They called it “the Federal Reserve” and managed to hide it in plain sight from the average person.
- Nearly 100 years later, most Americans don’t have the slightest clue what the Federal Reserve is, what it does, or how it has eroded their standard of living.
- I think the same dynamic is at work with the IMF’s “Special Drawing Right.”
- The breakdown of the petrodollar is the perfect excuse for the globalists to usher in their SDR solution.
- So that’s the first option. It’s the global elites’ preferred outcome. It would be a very bad thing for personal and economic freedom. It means more fiat currency, more centralization, and less freedom for the individual.
- The second option is to simply return to gold as the premier international money. Here’s how it could happen…
- Trump might play along with the globalists’ schemes, but I doubt it. He’s the first president who’s openly and sincerely hostile toward globalism. He’s denounced it repeatedly.
- Trump recently said, “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.”
- In my view, there’s only one way Trump could fight the global elites and their SDR plan: return the dollar to some sort of gold backing.
- Trump has said favorable things about gold in the past. So have some of his advisers.
- It wouldn’t be easy. He’d face one hell of a struggle with the globalists. And winning would be far from certain.
- No matter what, the death of the petrodollar, just like the end of the dollar’s link to gold, will be very good for the dollar price of gold and gold mining stocks.
- When Nixon took the dollar off gold in 1971, gold skyrocketed over 2,300%. It shot from $35 per ounce to a high of $850 in 1980. Gold mining stocks did even better.
- Gold is still bouncing around its lows. Gold mining stocks are still very cheap. I expect returns to be at least as great as they were during that paradigm shift in the international monetary system.
- All this is why what happens after Trump’s inauguration could change everything… in sudden, unexpected ways.
- Reports have been rolling in all evening of vicious mobs of violent protesters around Washington DC attacking Donald Trump supporters in town for the inauguration, including people on their way to and from tonight’s pre-Inauguration “Deploraball” celebration, held at the National Press Club building. Over 1000 guests were invited to the event organized by Mike @Cernovich and the pro-Trump MAGA3X organization.
- As Fox News reports
Some of the hundreds of protesters sprayed Mace, while others were peaceful as law enforcement officers lined the streets to monitor the chaotic scene. At least one passer-by reported bottles were being thrown as he showed off a gash in his head.
- One of the victims was 21 year old Trump supporter and Youtube Journalist James Allsup of Seattle, who was harassed and then punched on camera by members of the “Antifa” protest organization featured in the recent Project Veritas undercover sting.
- After the cameras were off, Allsup was hit on the back of the head with a flagpole requiring a trip to the ER for some staples.
“I was wearing my ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, and a white male came up behind me and swung at me with a flagpole – I kind of blacked out for a minute,” Allsup told Foxnews.com. “Before I knew it my head was gushing blood—there’s blood on my Trump hat.”
- Here is footage of the first encounter in which Allsup is punched:
- Followed by Allsup’s account over Twitter of what took place:
- And to prove it wasn’t staged, here’s the ER report:
- It’s easy to be tough guys when you’re hiding behind balaclavas and greatly outnumber two Trump supporters. It might not go so well next time depending on who these amateur anarchists fuck with next…
- Billionaire investor George Soros spoke to Bloomberg TV in Davos, and said the euphoria among stock investors since the victory of President-elect Donald Trump will end as uncertainty takes over.
- Talking his book, Soros said that “uncertainty is at a peak and actually uncertainty is the enemy of long-term investment,” The chairman of Soros Fund Management added “I don’t think the markets are going to do very well. Right now they’re still celebrating but when reality comes it will prevail.”
- “When reality comes, it will hurt markets” he warned.
- As a reminder, the WSJ reported last week that Soros lost nearly $1 billion as a result of the stock-market rally spurred by Trump’s surprise win in November. Soros became more pessimistic immediately after Trump’s election. But stocks rallied on expectations that Trump’s policies will boost corporate earnings and the overall economy.
- The key highlight of the Soros interview, however, was his vicious slam of his nemesis, Donald Trump, saying “I have described him as an impostor and con man, and a would be dictator” and said that “I’m personally convinced he’s going to fail” because the “the policies that guide him are inherently self-contradictory.”
- He said that “Trump would be a dictator if he could get away with it” but believes that the Constitution of the United States is strong enough to prevent Trump from taking too much power.
- As a reminder, Soros was one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest donors, and has spent millions to prevent Trump from entering the White House.
- He also said that it’s impossible to predict exactly how Trump will act because he hasn’t actively thought it through, he was surprised when he won. He added that he only started thinking seriously about what he would do after he was elected.
- Some other notable quotes via Forexlive:
- Trump stands for a government that’s the opposite of an open society, something like a dictatorship or a mafia state
- Trump believes his ideas are the will of the people so anyone who is against him is against the people
- Markets will falter as uncertainty takes over
- Speaking about Europe and the UK, he said that Europe is in the process of disintegration, and the process must be reversed: “EU has become too complicated and people are alienated.” He believes that he has overstated the dangers of European disintegration and says that the continent is “not going to disintegrate”, as neither Putin nor China want that outcome.
- The CIA is under pressure from a lot of individuals and groups that question the agency’s relevance in today’s world, even Jack Ma dropped the comment at Davos that $14 Trillion was ‘wasted’ on wars over the years. As we explain in Splitting Pennies – Understanding Forex – The CIA has been a currency manipulator and agency-employee for the banks, since inception. Now, we have the evidence. Due to overwhelming public pressure, the CIA released 13 Million files online which are more than 25 years old, you can search this treasure trove here: Access CIA Crest archive by clicking here.
- Bear in mind that, this is a view ‘back in time’ in an age before computers, we can only surmise based on facts and evidence how the agency is involved in FX operations today. Notably, they were the hand twisting the Swiss arm in 2011 that led to the final destruction of the world’s only ‘real’ currency that had any value intrinsically; the Swiss Franc. Now let’s go back to 1957 to examine our first case example:
- This entire document can be seen here in PDF. Although the operation here seems benign, the controlling of a client-state assets can be key in acheiving whatever goals set out, whether intelligence goals or economic ones. In the case of Egypt, part of the ‘non-aligned’ movement during the post WW2 and Cold War period, in question was mostly their dealings with the Sino-Soviet Bloc, not their internal problems per se. This is interesting as it follows a theme relevant today, that of blocking Russia’s economic success in order to gain a global advantage politically.
- As explained in this groundbreaking book exposing the CIAs banking operations, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the CIA has a simple plan to control the wealth of a nation, first sending in the ‘economists’ offering loans and various economic incentives – if that doesn’t work they send in the ‘jackals’ or CIA hitsquad and finally, when all else fails, they bomb the country into oblivion.
- In this example, the CIA is ‘concerned’ that Egypt will ‘settle debts’ with ‘discounted goods’ purchased from western countries. Sounds like a reasonable deal – but the CIA doesn’t play fair. It’s the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach, it’s OK for the CIA to topple foreign leaders and seize the assets of foreign countries, but if another country does it, they are accused of ‘aggression.’ This double standard has been an old CIA trick since the days of spying and confidence tricks began. It also was the beginning of the CIAs ‘banks not tanks’ approach to foreign policy which was used for the greater part of the last 70 years since WW2. For example, if the CIA could control the assets of a foreign country and thus crippling them, it was akin to invading their most critical city successfully. Although this is a no-brainer (so it seems today) in previous times such methods were not feasible to implement. But the CIA grew and evolved in a time of modern communications leading to where we are today, in a flat world based on instant electronic communication around the world.
- For a more modern example, here’s the smoking gun regarding Iraq:
A bizarre political statement by Saddam Hussein has earned Iraq a windfall of hundreds of million of euros. In October 2000 Iraq insisted on dumping the US dollar – ‘the currency of the enemy’ – for the more multilateral euro. The changeover was announced on almost exactly the same day that the euro reached its lowest ebb, buying just $0.82, and the G7 Finance Ministers were forced to bail out the currency. On Friday the euro had reached $1.08, up 30 per cent from that time. Almost all of Iraq’s oil exports under the United Nations oil-for-food programme have been paid in euros since 2001. Around 26 billion euros (£17.4bn) has been paid for 3.3 billion barrels of oil into an escrow account in New York. The Iraqi account, held at BNP Paribas, has also been earning a higher rate of interest in euros than it would have in dollars.
- So now that the CIA has released 13 Million files and will continue to release more every year on the Crest archive, it will provide investors, historians, authors, academics, bankers, and others the evidence they need to research and confirm what we already knew: The CIA is an agency-employee that works for international banks first, and US Citizens second.
- U.S. B-2 bombers carried out airstrikes on two ISIS camps in Libya overnight, defense officials said Thursday, part of an operation targeting militants driven out last year from their coastal stronghold. The stealth bombers struck jihadis 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte, located halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi.
A map showing location of Sirte, Libya.
- A U.S. official told NBC News that “several dozen” militants were believed to have been killed in the strikes
- According to Reuters the mission was coordinated with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The Pentagon added that many of the targets had previously been inside Sirte until it was liberated from ISIS late last year.
ISIS was believed to have about 5,000 fighters in the area at the height of its influence, according to estimates from the head of the United States Africa Command. However, that number is now believed to be around 2,000.
US Precision airstrikes in support of Libyan government forces against ISIS were launched in August 2016.
- Below is the statement released shortly after the bombing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on Airstrikes in Libya:
In conjunction with the Libyan Government of National Accord, the U.S. military conducted precision airstrikes Wednesday night destroying two ISIL camps 45 kilometers southwest of Sirte. The ISIL terrorists targeted included individuals who fled to the remote desert camps from Sirte in order to reorganize, and they posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests. While we are still evaluating the results of the strikes, the initial assessment indicates they were successful. This action was authorized by the President as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL control. The United States remains prepared to further support Libyan efforts to counter terrorist threats and to defeat ISIL in Libya. We are committed to maintaining pressure on ISIL and preventing them from establishing safe haven. These strikes will degrade ISIL’s ability to stage attacks against Libyan forces and civilians working to stabilize Sirte, and demonstrate our resolve in countering the threat posed by ISIL to Libya, the United States and our allies.
- Following the strikes, GNA officials said they would continue to clear the territories around Sirte of IS jihadists. The GNA mission to drive out IS militants from Sirte has frequently been aided by US airstrikes.
- Islamic State gained a foothold in Libya after the country plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
- As President Obama held his last press conference this afternoon, basking in the warm afterglow of an over-sampled poll showing his favorability near record highs, it would appear he (and the press corps) forgot to mention that for most Americans – the 80% in production and nonsupervisory roles – this morning’s data showed real wages actually dropping for the first time since 2013.
- Bloomberg’s Vincent Cignarella notes “Costs are rising, while pay isn’t: is the U.S. on the road to stagflation?”Disposable income for U.S. consumers, as measured by real average earnings, took another turn lower in December as we noted earlier with headline inflation rising above 2% for the first time in more than two years.
- As The Wall Street Journal reports, for several years now, wages have become a key barometer not only on the recovery, but on how much of the recovery is filtering down to the working class.
Companies have been reluctant to invest in their business without clearer signs of consumer demand, the key ingredient in crafting a organically strong economy. Wages and consumer demand trends underlie every valuation bet being placed in the markets right now. Understanding what is and isn’t happening is critical.
The inflation numbers get netted out against wage growth, to produce the “real,” or inflation-adjusted, wage rates. Average hourly wages, as per the December jobs report, rose 2.9% from a year ago. So, if you just compare that number to the inflation number, real average hourly earnings rose 0.8%.
A deeper dive, though, reveals that for many Americans, their wages are not outpacing inflation at all. For all production and nonsupervisory employees – a group that comprises 80% of all jobs in america – total average weekly earnings in December rose to $732.48 (about $38,000 a year) from $718.79 – up 1.9%. That rate is below this morning’s inflation numbers.
So, again according to the BLS, average weekly earnings fell 0.1%.
- That’s right. For 80% of American workers, their weekly paycheck, adjusted for inflation, fell in 2016.
- This could be trouble for the Federal Reserve and lead to a more dovish stance, especially if Trump’s economic promises come up short.
- As Bloomberg’s Cignarella notes, if the Fed cuts its rate hike expectations because of stagnant wages as inflation keeps accelerating, it could continue to erode real U.S. earnings and lead to a lower dollar as it has in the past.
- This decline in disposable income may be the reason retail sales, while generally positive, have been trending lower during the same period.
- This could lead to slower economic growth, while prices continue to rise: stagflation.
- The Trump reflation trade may be the only thing that stands in the way, but details are scant.
- Lack of clarity on fiscal spending will continue to restrain capital spending, which some argue has been restricted by excess regulation. A reluctant consumer along with miserly business investment would certainly change the Fed’s rate hike projections.
- The overall story remains, there is excess supply and mild demand.
- With capital expenditure new orders trending sideways and retail sales and real wages declining, the ground for stagflation has already been laid.
- * * *
- Not exactly the rosy picture of economic growth being spun by the media as Obama transitions to Trump.
01.18.17 – Does A Rogue Deep State Have Trump’s Back?
- Rather than being the bad guys, as per the usual Liberal world-view, the Armed Forces may well play a key role in reducing the utterly toxic influence of neocon-neoliberals within the Deep State.
- Suddenly everybody is referring to the Deep State, typically without offering much of a definition.
- The general definition is the unelected government that continues making and implementing policy regardless of who is in elected office.
- I have been writing about this structure for 10 years and studying it from the outside for 40 years. Back in 2007, I called it the Elite Maintaining and Extending Global Dominance, which is a more concise description of the structure than Deep State. Going to War with the Political Elite You Have (May 14, 2007).
- I’ve used this simplified chart to explain the basic structure of the Deep State, which is the complex network of state-funded and/or controlled institutions, agencies, foundations, university research projects, media ties, etc.
- The key point here is you can’t separate these network nodes: you cannot separate DARPA, the national labs (nukes, energy, etc.), the National Science Foundation, DoD (Department of Defense), the National Security State (alphabet soup of intelligence/black budget agencies: CIA, NSA, DIA, etc.), Silicon Valley and the research universities: they are all tied together by funding, information flows, personnel and a thousand other connections.
- For the past few years, I have been suggesting there is a profound split in the Deep State that is not just about power or ideology, but about the nature and future of National Security: in other words, what policies and priorities are actually weakening or threatening the long-term security of the United States?
- I have proposed that there are progressive elements within the sprawling Deep State that view the dominant neocon-neoliberal agenda of the past 24 years as a disaster for the long-term security of the U.S. and its global interests (a.k.a. the Imperial Project).
- There are also elements within the Deep State that view Wall Street’s dominance as a threat to America’s security and global interests. (This is not to say that American-based banks and corporations aren’t essential parts of the Imperial Project; it’s more about the question of who is controlling whom.)
- So let’s dig in by noting that the warmongers in the Deep State are civilians, not military. It’s popular among so-called Liberals (the vast majority of whom did not serve nor do they have offspring in uniform–that’s fallen to the disenfranchised and the working class) to see the military as a permanent source of warmongering.
- (It’s remarkably easy to send other people’s children off to war, while your own little darlings have cush jobs in Wall Street, foundations, think tanks, academia, government agencies, etc.)
- These misguided souls are ignoring that it’s civilians who order the military to go into harm’s way, not the other way around. The neocons who have waged permanent war as policy are virtually all civilians, few of whom served in the U.S. armed forces and none of whom (to my knowledge) have actual combat experience.
- These civilian neocons were busily sacking and/or discrediting critics of their warmongering within the U.S. military all through the Iraqi debacle. now that we got that straightened out–active-duty service personnel have borne the brunt of civilian planned, ordered and executed warmongering–let’s move on to the split between the civilian Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the DoD (Department of Defense) intelligence and special ops agencies: DIA, Army Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, etc.
- Though we have to be careful not to paint a very large agency with one brush, it’s fair to say that the civilian leadership of the CIA (and of its proxies and crony agencies) has long loved to “play army”. The CIA has its own drone (a.k.a. Murder, Inc.) division, as well as its own special ops (“play army” Special Forces), and a hawkish mentality that civilians reckon is “play army special forces” (mostly from films, in which the CIA’s role is carefully managed by the CIA itself: How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood (The Atlantic)
- Meanwhile, it’s not exactly a secret that when it comes to actual combat operations and warfighting, the CIA’s in-theater intelligence is either useless, misleading or false. This is the result of a number of institutional failings of the CIA, number one of which is the high degree of politicization within its ranks and organizational structure.
- The CIA’s reliance on “analysis” rather than human agents (there’s a lot of acronyms for all these, if you find proliferating acronyms of interest), and while some from-30,000-feet analysis can be useful, it’s just as often catastrophically wrong.
- We can fruitfully revisit the Bay of Pigs disaster, the result of warmongering civilians in the CIA convincing incoming President Kennedy that the planned invasion would free Cuba of Castro’s rule in short order. There are many other examples, including the failure to grasp Saddam’s willingness to invade Kuwait, given the mixed signals he was receiving from U.S. State Department personnel.
- Simply put, if you are actually prosecuting a war, then you turn to the services’ own intelligence agencies to help with actual combat operations, not the CIA. This is of course a sort of gossip, and reading between the lines of public information; nobody is going to state this directly in writing.
- As I have noted before:
- If you want documented evidence of this split in the Deep State–sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Nobody in the higher echelons of the Deep State is going to leak anything about the low-intensity war being waged because the one thing everyone agrees on is the Deep State’s dirty laundry must be kept private.
- As a result, the split is visible only by carefully reading between the lines, by examining who is being placed in positions of control in the Trump Administration, and reading the tea leaves of who is “retiring” (i.e. being fired) or quitting, which agencies are suddenly being reorganized, and the appearance of dissenting views in journals that serve as public conduits for Deep State narratives.
- Many so-called Liberals are alarmed by the number of military officers Trump has appointed. Once you realize it’s the neocon civilians who have promoted and led one disastrous military intervention (either with U.S. Armed Forces or proxies managed by the CIA) after another, then you understand Trump’s appointments appear to be a decisive break from the civilian warmongers who’ve run the nation into the ground.
- If you doubt this analysis, please consider the unprecedentedly politicized (and pathetically childish) comments by outgoing CIA director Brennan against an incoming president. Even if you can’t stand Trump, please document another instance in which the CIA director went off on an incoming president– and this after the CIA spewed a blatant misinformation campaign claiming a hacked Democratic Party email account constituted a successful Russian effort to influence the U.S. election–a surreal absurdity.
- Let me translate for you: our chosen Insider lost the election; how dare you!
- A number of observers are wondering if the CIA and its Deep State allies and cronies will work out a way to evict Trump from office or perhaps arrange a “lone gunman” or other “accident” to befall him. The roots of such speculations stretch back to Dallas, November 1963, when a “long gunman” with ties to the CIA and various CIA proxies assassinated President Kennedy, an avowed foe of the CIA.
- Setting aside the shelfloads of books on the topic, both those defending the “lone gunman” thesis and those contesting it, the unprecedented extremes of institutionally organized and executed anti-Trump campaigns is worthy of our attention.
- Given my thesis of a profound disunity in the Deep State, and the emergence of a progressive element hostile to neocons and neoliberalism (including Wall Street), then it’s not much of a stretch to speculate that this rogue Deep State opposed to neocon-neoliberalism has Trump’s back, as a new administration is pretty much the only hope to rid the nation’s top echelons of the neocon-neoliberal policies that have driven the U.S. into the ground.
- Rather than being the bad guys, as per the usual Liberal world-view, the Armed Forces may well play a key role in reducing the utterly toxic influence of neocon-neoliberals within the Deep State.
- If you have wondered why academics like Paul Krugman and the CIA are on the same page, it’s because they are simply facets of the same structure. Krugman is a vocal neoliberal, the CIA is vocally neocon: two sides of the same coin. I invite you to study the chart above with an open mind, and ponder the possibility that the Deep State is not monolithic, but deeply divided along the fault lines of Wall-Street-Neocons-Neoliberals and the progressive elements that rightly view the dominant neocon-neoliberals as a threat to U.S. national security, U.S. global interests and world peace.
- We can speculate that some of these progressive elements view Trump with disdain for all the same reasons those outside the Deep State disdain him, but their decision tree is simple: if you want to rid America’s Deep State of toxic neocon-neoliberalism before it destroys the nation, you hold your nose and go with Trump because he’s the only hope you have.
- British education group, and the world’s largest education company, Pearson PLC lost a quarter of its market cap in an instant this morning after it issued a dire warning about the state of the textbook business, cut profit forecast, and warned of an “unprecedented” decline in its North American business. It also put its stake in the iconic Penguin Random House book business for sale in a bid to raise cash, not long after selling the Financial Times to the Nikkei.
- In an unscheduled update ahead of its full-year results in March, the former owner of the Financial Times said it was revising down its prior operating profit goal for 2017 and rebasing its dividend this year after a sharp slump in an arm of its American business. Pearson said its North American courseware market was “much weaker than expected”, with net revenues falling 30 per cent in the fourth quarter, taking the overall yearly decline to 18 per cent. Operating profit in 2017 will be 570 million pounds to 630 million pounds, the London-based company said in a statement, below the average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg of 702.9 million pounds. The world’s largest education company withdrew its profit goal for 2018 after sales of materials for U.S. higher education dropped 30 percent in the fourth quarter.
- “Whereas we had previously anticipated a broadly stable North American higher education courseware market in 2017, we now assume that many of these downward pressures will continue”, the company said. Furthermore, while Pearson said it expected 2016 operating profit in line with guidance, it scrapped its 2018 profit goal.
- Chief executive John Fallon said Pearson was taking “more radical action to accelerate our shift to digital models, and to keep reshaping our business”.
- “The education sector is going through an unprecedented period of change and volatility. We have already taken significant steps on restructuring, reducing our cost base by £375m last year”, said Mr Fallon.
- The stunned market reacted quickly, and the company lost about a quarter of its market cap in minutes at the start of Wednesday trading. The shares were then halted on volatility after continuing their decline as analysts peppered executives with questions about their business and the industry on a conference call that extended past an hour. The company’s enrollment projections were too aggressive, Chief Financial Officer Coram Williams said on a conference call. Pearson sank to 585.5 pence in early trading in London, cutting the company’s market value to 4.81 billion pounds ($5.9 billion)
- Pearson’s sudden capitulation contrasts with months of optimistic statements CEO John Fallon about the challenges Pearson faces in the U.S., where college enrollments and its testing business are down, and textbook sales unexpectedly declined, Bloomberg reports.
- “It’s a difficult time for Pearson,” Fallon said on the call. The company is seeking to build a more sustainable and growing digital business, he said. “We’ll manage our balance sheet so we can sustain the company through this challenging transition.”
- Despite record amount of student loans in the US, fewer older students are enrolling, community college admissions also are dropping, and more students are renting textbooks.
- The company will also issue an exit notice over its 47% stake in publisher Random House to JV Bertelsmann, Europe’s largest media group by sales, “with a view to selling our stake or recapitalising the business and extracting a dividend”. The Penguin stake may raise as much as 1.2 billion pounds, according to Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum Capital. Pearson will use it to strengthen its balance sheet and return excess capital to shareholders, the company said.
- The dividend, which amounted to 52 pence a share for 2016, will be cut beginning this year to reflect the lower earnings guidance. The current dividend equals 6.4 percent of Pearson’s share price, the highest yield among companies in the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE-100 Index.
- As Bloomberg adds, analysts have been questioning the health of Pearson’s education business since last year. Neil Campling, an analyst at Northern Trust Securities, called the announcement “the warning we’ve been expecting,” in a note on Wednesday. “The higher education business declined further and faster than the company expected in 2016 although in light of the plethora of negative data points we have highlighted throughout the year we are not surprised,” Campling wrote. “The North American higher-education courseware market essentially collapsed in the critical fourth-quarter back-to-school season.”
Pearson combined Penguin with Bertelsmann’s Random House in 2013, leaving the British company owning just under half of the venture, which publishes books from writers including John Grisham, Ken Follett and George R. R. Martin. In 2015, it generated revenue of 3.7 billion euros ($3.95 billion) and operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of 557 million euros.
Random House, the world’s largest book publisher. The German company is open to increasing its stake in the venture “provided the terms are fair,” CEO Thomas Rabe said in a statement. “Strategically this would not only strengthen one of our most important content businesses, it would also once further strengthen our presence in the United States, our second largest market,” Rabe said.
- Pearson gets almost all its profit from education after already selling the Financial Times and its half of the Economist Group. The company announced a reorganization last year as it seeks to address sluggish demand in its main business
- The recent blow-up of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System was entirely predictable. Whilst it is tempting to blame unusual circumstances for the recent lock-up of redemptions and likely substantial reductions to pensions for those still in the fund, many other American pension funds are heading down the same road. The combination of overpriced financial markets, inadequate contributions and overly generous pension promises mean dozens of US local and state government pension plans will end up in the same situation. The simple maths and political factors at play mean what happened at GM, Chrysler, Detroit and now Dallas will happen nationwide in the coming decade. So, what’s happened in Dallas and why will it happen elsewhere?
- Background to the Dallas Pension Fiasco
- The Dallas pension scheme has been underfunded for many years with the situation accelerating recently. As the table below shows, as at 1 January 2016 the pension plan had $2.68 billion of assets (AVA) against $5.95 billion of liabilities (AAL), making the funding ratio (AVA/AAL) a mere 45.1%. Despite equity markets recovering strongly over the last seven years, the value of the assets has fallen at the same time as the value of the liabilities has grown rapidly. The story of how such a seemingly odd outcome could occur dates back to decisions made long before the financial crisis.
Source: Dallas Police and Fire Pension System
- In the late 1990’s, returns in financial markets had been strong for years leading many to believe that exceptional returns would continue. In this environment, the board that ran the Dallas plan decided that more generous pension terms could be offered to employees and that these could be funded by the higher expected returns without needing greater contributions from the Dallas municipality and its taxpayers. Exceptionally generous terms were introduced including the now notorious DROP accounts and inflated assumptions for cost of living adjustments (COLA). These changes meant that pension liabilities were guaranteed to skyrocket in future years, whilst there was no guarantee that investment returns and inflation levels would also be high. Dallas police and fire personnel were being offered the equivalent of a free lunch and they took full advantage.
- In the 2000’s the pension plan made some unusual investment decisions. A disproportionate amount of plan assets were invested in illiquid and exotic alternative investments. When the financial crisis struck these assets didn’t decline as much as the assets of other pension plans. However, this was merely a deferral of the inevitable write downs which came in the last two years after a change in management.
- Recent Events
- Throughout 2016 the pension board, the municipality and the State government bickered over who was responsible and who should pay to fix the mess. The State government blamed the municipality for the poor investment decisions. The municipality blamed the State government for creating a system that it could not control but was supposed to be responsible for. It also blamed the pension board for the overly generous changes they implemented. The pension board recognised the huge problem but offered only minor concessions arguing that plan participants were entitled to be paid in full in all circumstances. They asked the municipality for a one-off addition of $1.1 billion, equivalent to almost one year’s general fund revenue for the municipality.
- As the funding ratio plummeted during 2016, plan participants became concerned that their generous pension entitlements might not be met. In other pension plans the employer might increase its contributions when these circumstances occurred, but in Dallas the municipality was already paying close to the legislative maximum. Police officers with high balances retired in record numbers, pulling out $500 million in four months in late 2016. Those who withdrew received 100% of what was owed, with those remaining seeing their position as measured by the funding ratio deteriorate further.
- In November, when faced with $154 million of redemption requests and dwindling liquid assets, the pension board suspended redemptions. The funding ratio is now estimated to be around 36% with assets forecast to be exhausted in a decade. Litigation has begun with some plan participants suing to see their redemption requests honoured. The municipality has indicated it wants to claw back some of the generous benefits accrued since the changes in the 1990’s, though this is likely to only impact those who didn’t redeemed. The State has begun a criminal investigation. Everyone is looking to blame someone else, but not everyone has accepted that drastic pension cuts are inevitable.
- The Interplay of Political Decisions and Financial Reality
- The factors that led to Dallas pension fiasco are all too common. Politicians and their administrations often make decisions that are politically beneficial without taking into account financial reality. A generous pension scheme keeps workers and their unions onside, helping the politicians win re-election. However, the bill for the generosity is deferred beyond the current political generation, with unrealistic assumptions of future returns enabling the problem to be obscured. As financial markets tend to go up the escalator and down the elevator it is not until a market crash that the unrealistic return assumptions are exposed and the funding ratio collapses.
- This is when a second political reality kicks in. In the case of Dallas, there are just under 10,000 participants in the pension plan compared to 1.258 million residents in the municipality. Plan participants therefore make up less than 1% of the population. If the Dallas municipality chose to fully fund the pension plan it would be require an enormous increase in taxes from the entire population in order to fund overly generous pensions for a very small minority of the population. For current politicians, it is far easier to blame the previous politicians and the pension board for the mess and see pensions for a select group cut by half or more than it is to sell a massive tax increase.
- The legal position remains murky and it will take some time to clear up. The municipality is paying 37.5% of employee benefits into the pension plan, the maximum amount required by state law. Without a change in state legislation, it seems likely that the pension plan will have to bear almost all of the financial pain through pension reductions. If state legislation was changed to increase the burden on the municipality years of litigation could ensue with the potential for the municipality to declare bankruptcy as a strategic response. The appointment of an administrator during bankruptcy could see services reduced and/or taxes increased, but pension cuts would be all but a certainty.
- Dallas Isn’t the First and Won’t be the Last
- It’s tempting to see the generous pension structure and bad investment decisions in Dallas as making it a special case. Detroit was seen by many as a special case when it went into bankruptcy in 2013 as it had seen its population fall by 25% in a decade. This depopulation left a smaller population base trying to fund the debt and pensions obligations incurred when the population was much larger. Growing debt and pension obligations are signs of what is to come for many local and state governments who have been living beyond their means for decades.
- As well as building up pension obligations many US governments have been accruing explicit debt. The two are intertwined, with some governments issuing debt to make payments into their pension plans, often to close the underfunding gap. This is very much a short-term measure, as whether it is pension contributions or debt repayments both will either require high taxes and/or lower spending on government services in the future in order for these payments to be met.
- Pew Charitable Trusts research estimates a $1.5 trillion pension funding gap for the states alone, with Kentucky, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and California going backwards at a rapid rate. Using a wider range of fiscal health measures the Mercatus Center has the five worst states as Kentucky, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The table below shows the five state pension plans in Illinois, with an average funded ratio of just 37.6%.
Source: Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability
- For cities, Chicago is likely to be the next Detroit with the city and its school system both showing signs of financial distress. Chicago is trying to stem the bleeding with a grab bag of tax and other revenue increases but in the long term this makes the overall position worse.
- Default is Almost Inevitable as the Weak get Weaker
- The problem for Chicago and others trying to pay their debt and pension obligations by raising taxes is that this makes them unattractive destinations for businesses and workers. Growth covers many sins, as growth creates more jobs and drags more people into the area. This increases the tax base and lessens the burden from previous commitments on those already there. Well managed, low tax jurisdictions benefit from a positive feedback loop.
- For states and municipalities in decline, their best taxpayers are the first to leave when the tax burden increases. Young college educated workers with professional jobs generate substantial income and sales tax revenue but require little in the way of education and healthcare expenditure. This cohort has many options for work elsewhere and can easily relocate. Chicago and Illinois are bleeding people, with the flight of millionaires particularly detrimental on revenues.
- Those who own property are caught in a catch 22; property taxes and declining population have pushed property prices down, potentially creating negative equity. But staying means a bigger drain on the household budget as property taxes are the most efficient way to raise revenue and therefore become the tax increased the most. If too many people leave property prices plummet as they have in Detroit, making it even more difficult to collect property taxes as these are typically calculated as a percentage of the property valuation. Bankruptcy becomes inevitable as a poorer and older population base that remains simply cannot support the debt and pension obligations incurred when the population base was larger and wealthier.
- Pensions Will be Reduced, but Bondholders Will Fare Worst
- The playbook from the Detroit bankruptcy is likely to be used repeatedly in the coming decade. When a bankruptcy occurs and an administrator is appointed a very clear order of priority emerges.
- Firstly, services must be provided otherwise voters/taxpayers will leave or revolt. There may need to be cuts to balance the budget but if there is no police force, water or waste collection the city will cease to function.
- Secondly, pensions will be reduced to match the available assets quarantined to meet pension obligations and the ability of the budget to provide some contribution. If the budget doesn’t have capacity or the legal obligation to contribute more to pension funding, pensioners should expect their payments to be cut to something like the funding percentage. For Dallas and the pension plans in Illinois this means payments cut by more than half.
- Third in line are financial debtors. Bondholders and lenders don’t vote and they are seen as a bunch of faceless wealthy individuals and institutions who mostly reside out of state. They effectively rank behind pensioners, who are people who predominantly reside in the state and who vote, even though the two groups technically might rank equally. This makes state and local government debt a great candidate for a CDS short as the recovery rate for unsecured debt is usually awful in the event of default.
- The Next Crisis Will Trigger an Avalanche
- At the risk of being labelled a Meredith Whitney style boy who cried wolf I expect that the next financial crisis will trigger a wholesale revaluation of the creditworthiness of US state and local government debt. I have no crystal ball for when this will happen, but it is almost certain that the next decade will contain another substantial decline in asset prices. This will impact state and local governments and their pension obligations in two major ways.
- Firstly, asset prices will fall causing underfunded pensions to become even more obviously insolvent. Most US defined benefit pension funds are using 7.50% – 8.00% as their future return assumption. Using a 7.50% return assumption for a 60/40 stock/bond portfolio, with ten year US treasuries at 2.50%, implies equities will return 10.8% every year going forward. In a low growth, low inflation environment this might be achievable for several years, but an eventual market crash will destroy any outperformance from the good years. The continued use of such high return assumptions is unrealistic and is being used to kick the can further down the road. The largest US public pension fund, Calpers, has recognised this and is reducing its return expectations from 7.50% to 7.00% over three years. This still implies a 10% return on equities for a 60/40 portfolio.
- Secondly, downturns cause a reassessment of all types of debt with the highest risk and most unsustainable debt unable to be renewed. State and local governments with a history of increasing indebtedness and no realistic plan for reducing their debts may become unable to borrow at any price. This will force them to seek bankruptcy or an equivalent restructuring process. Once this happens for one mainland state (Illinois looks likely to be the first) lenders will dramatically reprice the possibility that it could happen elsewhere. Those who think states cannot file for bankruptcy should watch the process occurring in Puerto Rico, it will be repeated elsewhere. Barring a federal bailout, an overly indebted state or territory has no alternative other than to default on its debts. Raising taxes or cutting services will see the city or state depopulated. Politicians and voters are strongly incentivised to default.
- Chronic budget deficits, growing indebtedness, excessive pension return assumptions and pension underfunding all set the stage for a wave of state and local government pension and debt defaults in the coming decade. As Detroit has shown this century, once an area loses its competitiveness its financial viability spirals downward. As taxes increase and services are cut the wealthiest and highest income earners leave slashing government revenues and increasing the burden on the older and poorer population that remains.
- The next substantial fall in asset prices will sharpen the focus on budget deficits and pension underfunding, with the most indebted and underfunded states likely to find they are unable to rollover their debts at any price. Remaining residents will be negatively impacted, pensioners will see their payments slashed and bondholders will recover little, if any, of their debt. As there is virtually no political will to take action to avoid these problems investors should position their portfolios in expectation that these events will happen.
- We’ve all been eagerly waiting to see them: Venezuela’s crisp,brand new yet soon to be hyperinflated with many more zeros banknotes, and finally, after various failed attempts to deliver the new bills to Caracas (which according to Maduro were at least partially aborted due to pesky CIA meddling) they have arrived. And they are vertical.
A new bank note of 500 Bolivars held outside a bank in Caracas. Jan. 16, 2017.
A new bank note of 5,000 Bolivars outside a bank in Caracas. Jan. 16, 2017.
- Eager to get their hands on the new currency, AP writes that Venezuelans stood in long ATM lines Monday to take out new, larger-denominated bills “that President Nicolas Maduro hopes will help stabilize the crisis-wracked economy.” Of course, they will do no such thing as the pieces of paper in circulation have absolutely no bearing on the underlying economy, or its hyperinflation, but it will take at least several more shipments of new banknotes before the Maduro figures this out.
- As a reminder, in taking a page out of the Indian demonetization playbook, Maduro last month said he was scrapping circulation of the most used bill, the 100-bolivar note, and replacing it with new bills ranging from 500 to 20,000 bolivars.
- The local were appalled. Residents in Caracas expressed shock at seeing bills with so many zeros — a sign of how worthless the bolivar has become amid triple-digit inflation and a collapse in foreign exchange reserves that has led to severe food shortages.
- Our advice: get used to it – the fun is only just starting. Ask Zimbabwe.
“I never thought I’d have such a big bill in my hands,” Milena Molina, a 35-year-old sales clerk, said as she inspected crisp, new 500-bolivar notes she had just withdrawn. “But with the inflation we’re suffering, the notes we had weren’t worth anything and you always had to go around with huge packages of bills.”
- The Weimar Republic agrees.
- Monday’s rollout of the first batch of imported notes came weeks later than the government had originally promised. Maduro last month ordered the 100-bolivar note to be withdrawn from use well before the replacement bills were ready, leading to widespread chaos as Venezuelans rushed to spend the bills before they were taken out of circulation. With cash running out, looting and protests were widespread – although they were widespread before the currency exchange too, so there wasn’t much of a difference – and Maduro had to backtrack. On Sunday, he extended for the third time, until Feb. 20, the deadline for the 100-bolivar note to remain legal tender.
- While the new denominations should make cash transactions easier the relief may be short-lived: since the largest, 20,000-bolivar note is worth less than $6 on the widely used black market, Maduro already has to order a fresh batch with at least one more zero. With inflation forecast by the International Monetary Fund to hit four digits this year, few economists expect the currency to rebound any time soon.
- Seeking to combat the black market, the government on Monday inaugurated four currency exchange houses near the border with Colombia where Venezuelans will be able to purchase Colombian pesos at a favorable exchange rate of 4 pesos per bolivar. The bolivar currently is worth just a quarter of that amount at exchange houses over the border in Colombia.
- And while on the surface this risk-free arbitrage guaranteeing 400% returns would be a slam-dunk trade, there are two problems.
- First, while Gov. Jose Vielma Mora of Tachira state said the Venezuelan central bank has at its disposal a large amount of pesos to meet what is expected to be strong demand for hard currency, purchases would be capped at between $200 and $300. A second, and bigger proble, is that it was hard to find anyone Monday who had managed to buy pesos.
- Opponents of Maduro said that in trying to set an exchange rate for pesos, authorities are paving the way for corruption, saying only certain individuals and companies close to the government will be able to purchase them at the official rate. They are, of course, right.
01.17.17 – Part II: Plot to Chain the Trains & Shut Down DC During Inauguration
- Because the rise in popularity of alternative and populist candidates in Germany and elsewhere around the world can’t possibly by a legitimate rejection of politicians who simply skewed policies too far to the left over the past decade, Germany and Facebook have announced an accelerated effort to crack down on “Fake News” (i.e. anything that is deemed critical of Angela Merkel) ahead the country’s elections in September. Just like in the U.S., Facebook’s crackdown in Germany will enlist the support of 3rd-party “fact checkers” who will flag stories as “disputed” if they’re found to include “fake” or “misleading” content. The Financial Times:
German users of the social network will now be able to report a story as fake and it will be sent to Correctiv, a third-party fact checker. If the fact checker discovers it is fake, the story will be flagged as “disputed”, with an explanation. Disputed stories will not be prioritised by the news feed algorithm and people will receive a warning if they decide to share it.
Facebook said it had been in discussions with German media and publishing groups and was working to get more partners on board. “Our focus is on Germany right now but we’re certainly thinking through what countries will unveil next,” he said.
- Of course, as we pointed out a few weeks ago, similar efforts to enlist the help a third-party, “independent” fact checker in the U.S., Poynter, drew some scrutiny after a quick google search revealed that they are funded by none other than George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, which can be accused of many things, but political impartiality is not one of them. From our previous post:
A quick review of Poynter’s website reveals that the organization is funded by the who’s who of leftist billionaires including George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network. Well that seem fairly bipartisan, right?
- As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Germany is actively considering a number of laws that could impose fines of up to €500,000 and 5 years in jail for the distribution of “fake news” with justice minister Heiko Maas saying that “social networks have a duty” to censor “lies and hate campaigns.”
The German government announced last month it was planning a law that would impose fines of up to €500,000 on Facebook for distributing fake news. Angela Merkel, chancellor, has warned there are signs that online attacks and misinformation coming from Russia could “play a role in the election campaign”.
In an interview with Welt Am Sonntag on Sunday, Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, warned that fake news posed a “danger to our culture of debate”, and added that, in extreme cases, those responsible could face up to five years in jail.
“But social networks also have a duty,” he said. “It can’t be in Facebook’s interest that its platform is misused in order to spread lies and hate campaigns. Criminal content should be deleted immediately once it has been reported. And it must be easier for users to report fake news.”
Germany’s Justice Ministry will draft a bill that will include a “catalog of fines” for violations, Volker Kauder, Merkel’s top lieutenant in parliament, told reporters Saturday. Thomas Oppermann, his counterpart in the Social Democratic Party, Merkel’s coalition partner, last month told Der Spiegel that the penalties could reach 500,000 euros ($532,000), and that sites like Facebook should also be required to publish corrections after removing criminal posts.
The fines “have to hurt, otherwise they won’t work,” Kauder said.
- And while many would say this is yet another unprecedented attempt of the left to collude with the mainstream media in an effort to censor their political opposition, Merkel’s CDU party would like for you to rest assured that their “fake news” crusade is simply intended to “protect Germany’s democratic process against manipulation.”
“Social networks take too long to remove insults before they spiral out of control,” said Stephan Harbarth, a senior lawmaker of Merkel’s CDU party. “There are clear limits to freedom of speech in the real world that aren’t yet applied online and that needs to change. This is about hate posts as well as fake news.”
Harbarth said he would like to see the law enacted before this year’s national election, expected to be held in September. He insists it’s not intended to boost the CDU’s chances in the ballot, but rather to protect Germany’s democratic process against manipulation.
- But, if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that Putin and his army of hackers will not be stopped. If they can single-handedly topple the Clinton dynasty then Merkel doesn’t stand a chance.
- Just one week after thousands of US troops arrived in Poland to “support NATO’s Anti-Russian buildup” across Eastern Europe, 300 U.S. Marines from Camp Lejeune landed in Norway on Monday for a six-month deployment, marking the first time since World War II that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there, in a deployment breaking with decades of tradition by Norway not to host foreign forces, and angering Norway’s Arctic neighbor Russia, according to Reuters.
- After leaving North Carolina aboard a chartered 747 on Sunday evening, the troops landed at 10am CET on Monday with their luggage and weapons at the Vaernes airport near Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, television footage showed. The Marines will be hosted at the Vaernes base of the Norwegian Home Guards near Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city.
- The US soldiers, which will stay in Norway for a year with the current batch of Marines being replaced after their six-month tour is complete. Until now, the US has had large quantities of military materiel pre-positioned in tunnels dug into Norway’s mountains, but no troops.
- A spokesman for the Norwegian Home Guards, who will host the Marines at the Vaernes military base, about 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian border, said the U.S. troops will learn about winter warfare. “For the first four weeks they will have basic winter training, learn how to cope with skis and to survive in the Arctic environment,” said Rune Haarstad, a Home Guard spokesman. In March, the Marines will take part in the Joint Viking exercises, which will also include British troops, he added.
- As the deployment coincides with the U.S. sending several thousand troops to Poland to beef up its Eastern European allies worried about Moscow’s assertiveness, Russia has been understandably concerned. However, both Norway and the US deny the notion that the deployment is meant to “irk” Russia as part of NATO’s wider campaign to oppose what it calls “Russian aggression” in Europe, by sending additional troops and weapons closer to the Russian border. A spokeswoman for Norwegian Ministry of Defence also said the arrival of U.S. Marines had nothing to do with concerns about Russia.
- “It has nothing to do with Russia or the current situation” Haarstad doubled down.
- Moscow disagrees. While the Russian Embassy in Oslo did not immediately reply to a request for comment by Reuters on Monday, it previously questioned the need for such a move and when the rotational deployment of US Marines in Norway was confirmed last year, Russia said it was puzzled by it.
- “Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so … willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?” it told Reuters at the time.
- This “for sure won’t make better (the) security situation in Northern Europe,” a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Oslo, Maxim Gurov, told AFP in an October email.
- Norway, which is a founding member of NATO, has pledged not to host foreign forces to allay Moscow’s concerns that it could serve as a platform for a surprise attack. According to RT, for decades the Scandinavian country stashed massive stockpiles of weapons in preparation for a possible conflict, but only allowed in other allies’ troops for training purposes. Oslo dismisses the notion that the deployment goes against the old commitment, saying that American troops would be rotated rather than stationed permanently. NATO routinely applies the same reasoning to all its deployments in Eastern Europe as a way to circumvent the alliance’s agreement with Russia, which bans permanent deployments of “significant” forces near Russia.
- Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps touted the practical benefits of a full-time deployment as the reason for the move. “We’ve been going to Norway for 25 years. So I don’t really know what the hype is about,” Maj. Gen. Niel Nelson, commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, told Military.com ahead of the deployment. “We’re just doing our job, from a more economical standpoint. I don’t put a lot of stock in people pointing back and forth.”
- “By putting Marines in Norway and above the Arctic Circle for 30-60 days at a time, that’s a whole different environment,” Nelson added. “You not only learn to survive, you are surviving. It’s a harsh environment; it takes a lot of tough lessons and we reinforce that by the length of time.”
- Norway and Russia share a small land border far in the north. The Vaernes base is located 1,500km from any part of Russia, but the Arctic training program involves traveling closer to it. We anticipate that the inevitable retaliatory Russian deployment of troops in proximity to the Norwegian border, will be promptly dubbed by NATO, and western media, as a provocative act.
01.16.17 – Undercover Investigation Exposes Groups Plotting To Disrupt The Inauguration
“The problem with police officers and firefighters isn’t a public-sector problem; it isn’t a problem with government; it’s a problem with the entire society. It’s what happened on Wall Street in the run-up to the subprime crisis. It’s a problem of people taking what they can, just because they can, without regard to the larger social consequences. It’s not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans. Alone in a dark room with a pile of money, Americans knew exactly what they wanted to do, from the top of the society to the bottom. They’d been conditioned to grab as much as they could, without thinking about the long-term consequences.”
― Michael Lewis, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
- Though it may not be instantly clear, in the above quote Michael Lewis is talking about public sector pensions and how over the course of several decades, mayors and governors across the US have colluded with police, firefighter and teachers unions to promise outrageously-generous benefits and then failed to put aside enough money to pay for them.
- As a consequence two things are happening. In dozens if not hundreds of cities and towns, services are being cut to the bone to pay for ballooning pension benefits, and – when even these cuts prove inadequate – pensions are being drastically reduced.
- Which in turn means two other things. First, life isn’t nearly as easy or pleasant as it used to be in a lot of places, as library hours are cut, trash piles up and police response times lengthen. And second, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who expected to retire comfortably are staring at major lifestyle shrinkage.
- To which a reasonable person might yawn and say, sure the numbers look grim. But they’ve looked that way for a long time and outside of Chicago, American life is still pretty good by Greek, Venezuelan or Russian standards. So go away until something tangible actually happens.
- Point taken. But this might be that time. Beginning with Dallas, where the city is actually taking money back from plan recipients…
The city has agreed to put in an additional billion dollars over 30 years, but they’re proposing a series of bitter pills to make up the rest of the nearly $4 billion shortfall.
The bitterest pill: A proposal to take back all of the interest police and firefighters earned on Deferred Option Retirement accounts, or DROP. That would amount to an additional billion dollars saved. The city is calling it an “equity adjustment.” Retirees call it an illegal “claw back.”
The city is also seeking to “equity adjustment” on cost of living increases. The city says that pension checks are about 20 percent higher than they would have been if increases had been tied to inflation.
The city’s proposing to freeze cost of living increases until it catches up to the inflation index.
- …and moving on to Kentucky, where if a funding level of 16% for the state employees fund isn’t an imminent crisis, then nothing is:
Things are if anything even bleaker in the private sector:
(Forbes) – There is an emerging financial crisis among multiemployer pension plans in America. These plans are a subset of private sector defined benefit pensions covering 10 million workers and retirees. Most critical are the projected bankruptcies of the Teamsters Central States and the United Mineworkers of America plans, making front page news for the last several months.
Multiemployer plans are insured by the US Federal Government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). But PBGC is itself in danger of going broke. Set up in 1974 to “encourage the continuation and maintenance of voluntary private defined benefit pension plans [and] provide timely and uninterrupted payment of pension benefits,” the plan uses the ultimate backstop to provide those guarantees: the U.S. taxpayer.
In the fiscal year 2015, PBGC paid out nearly $6 billion in benefits to participants of failed pension plans, increasing the agency’s deficit to $76 billion. The PBGC now has $164 billion in obligations and just $88 billion in assets.
When this was reported to Congress, it passed the Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, allowing pension plans to ask permission to cut benefits to its plan participants. Prior to 2014 those plans weren’t allowed to do so. But actuaries looking into the PBGC reported that unless something was done, the PBFC itself would be broke in less than a decade.
The door is now open for other pension plans facing similar shortfalls to apply for permission to cut benefits to their participants. The ripple effect could be enormous: PBGC is the ultimate backstop for some 22,000 single-employer pension plans and another 1,400 multi-employer pension plans covering 40 million participants.
- Some other relevant headlines:
- CalPERS Cuts Pension Benefits For First Time
- Ohio workers face precedent-setting pension and retiree health cuts
- Teamsters’ Pension Plans Seek Massive Cuts to Retirees to Stay Solvent
- Chicago’s massive unfunded pension deficit could swallow the city
- And this, remember, is happening at the tail end of a 30-year bull market in bonds and a 7-year bull market in stocks, which took the main asset classes held by pension funds to record valuation levels. So the rubber truly meets the road during the next recession when stocks will, if history is a reliable guide, drop by 20% or more. The current gaps in thousands of pension funds will become gaping holes, and the experience of Teamsters and Dallas cops will be replicated across the country.
- Spain’s biggest banks, it seems, will never learn — not even when the highest court of the land, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), rules against their dodgy practices.
- The ECJ ruled just before Christmas that Spain’s major banks would have to refund all the billions of euros they had surreptitiously overcharged borrowers as a result of the so-called “mortgage floor-clauses” that were unleashed across the whole home mortgage sector in 2009 [A Nightmare Before Christmas for Spanish Banks].
- These floor clauses set a minimum interest rate, typically of between 3% and 4.5%, for variable-rate mortgages, which are a very common mortgage in Spain, even if the Euribor dropped far below that figure. In other words, the mortgages were only really variable in one direction: upwards! While this is not illegal, most banks failed to properly inform their customers that the mortgage contract included such a clause.
- The ECJ’s ruling was an emphatic victory for the almost 1.4 million borrowers who had been fleeced out of thousands of euros, many of whom have spent years trying to recoup the funds through Spain’s creaking legal system. Yet even now, the banks, many of which are struggling against a backdrop of negative interest rates and tightening margins, seem loath to part with the cash.
- The president of Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Josep Oliu, today called the ruling against the bank’s floor clauses an “attack against the banks,” likening claimants to “roguish swindlers.” His bank, Sabadell, has been accused of pressuring its mortgage customers to sign a “pact of silence,” by which the customers, knowingly or not, pledge never to speak publicly about the conditions of their mortgage — not even to their lawyers — and in return the bank removes the floor clause from the mortgage, without reimbursing a single cent of what it owes.
- Even today, with the law firmly on the borrowers’ side, “poisoned offers” continue to proliferate, warns consumer association Facua-Consumidores en Acción.
- “It was entirely predictable that the same entities that had shafted consumers out of millions with their abusive mortgage contracts would try to do the same despite the fact that the European Court of Justice has ruled that they must reimburse absolutely all the money they have overcharged customers,” said Facua’s spokesperson, Rubén Sánchez.
- Some banks are pressuring customers to sign documents seemingly designed to strip them of their rights to take the banks to court while reimbursing just part of the money they’re owed.
- As usual, the banks have the Rajoy government firmly on their side. At first his coalition government considered passing a law that would have forced all the banks to reimburse all the money they had overcharged customers, as the ECJ had ruled. Unsurprisingly, such an approach was firmly opposed by the banking sector and was duly shelved.
- The government then came up with a much more bank-friendly offer that included a voluntary, non-binding arrangement, which all big banks tend to love. However, the proposal was deemed too lenient by the coalition government’s “socialist” faction, which fears being seen by voters as coming down too softly on the banking sector, especially at a time when social-democratic parties are fading into irrelevance all over Europe.
- In the latest offering, which could be enacted by Royal Decree as early as Saturday, the banks are not obligated to reimburse affected customers, but merely to enter into bilateral negotiation with them. The two sides will have a maximum period of three months (well over double the initial 36 days tabled) to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement.
- If, after that time, the customer is still unsatisfied, he or she can launch legal action against the bank. However, if in the end the amount awarded is less or equal to the amount initially offered by the bank, it is the customer that must cover the legal costs.
- The problem with such an approach is that it treats the banks and their customers as equals, says Fernando Herrero, the secretary general of Adicae, an association representing financial end users. It’s a ludicrous proposition given the vast gulf in financial knowledge and expertise of the two sides, not the mention the fact that for the banks “negotiating means flagrantly deceiving the consumer, signing away his or her rights.”
- The new proposed legislation has two main goals: to prevent the collapse of a major, cash-strapped bank (such as, say, this one) from the pressure of having to reimburse all its customers all at once, while also reducing the strain on Spain’s already over-burdened judicial system. According to Herrera, the government hasn’t even bothered to contact consumers or their representatives; “it only liaises with the banks.”
- And it tells: the government’s new proposal will allow banks to repay customers not only in cash, which will be the most heavily taxed option available, but also by any other “equivalent means.” That apparently includes offering customers “financial products” (subordinated bank bonds, anyone?) of the equivalent value of the money owed, or the possibility of reducing the interest or principal payable on the mortgage, which will have a much less destructive short-term impact on the bank’s balance sheets.
- Banks will also be able to offer to swap a customer’s variable mortgage (with floor clause) for a fixed rate one. The consumer association OCU has advised consumers to reject these types of offers, many of which include clauses preventing signatories from undertaking future legal action against the bank in question.
- Whatever happens in the coming months, one thing is certain: regardless of what EU law may hold, the banks will do whatever they can to ensure that they refund as little as possible of the billions of euros they surreptitiously overcharged their customers. And they will have the government’s consent throughout. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
- The bank-bailout business rages on
- Is there a coup underway, while America is in the transition period, and before Trump swears in as the 45th president of the United States?
- How real is the clash between the rogue Manhattan billionaire and the intelligence gang behind the throne? Who will win the struggle for power over foreign policy? These are serious times and require serious considerations.
- The U.S. sent an entire armored brigade to the Russian border, and Vladimir Putin is preparing as if for war. Missile defense systems are raised; tall claims and serious charges have been leveled; diplomatic relations have chilled to a permafrost. Several Russian diplomats have turned up dead recently, including one murdered in front of cameras during a dramatic assassination in Turkey. Russia has bucked U.S. order in the Middle East, and carved out a potential peace deal in Syria without their consultation.
- Things are reaching a flashpoint, and the system is concerned about controlling President-elect Trump given his rumored friendliness with Putin and plans to drop sanctions.
- Will there be a “shock” designed to correct Trump’s foreign policy, and set-off the ticking time bomb between East and West into all-out hostilities?
- Though these two world powers have clashed repeatedly in recent years, there several key factors that make this round extra alarming – and put a peaceful transition into question of exploding into total war, and an undermining force from within the deep state, CIA and shadow government:
- Until Donald Trump swears in and settles into the White House, the U.S. remains in a strange air, with an open window for a coup to take place, or a major unforeseen disruption (including something like a terrorist attack). If the deep state wants to start a war which President Trump will be forced to finish, they can. If the deep state wants that same war to block Trump from taking power, or from making major decisions, they will.
- With claims that Russia hacked the U.S. election, foreign policy has never been more warlike. Despite lacking evidence, and a politically-heavy spin on events, the powers-that-be intend to drive home the narrative that Putin crossed the line, while Trump is his puppet, and the alternative media his mesmerized “fake news” cheerleaders. This narrative is false, but could fan the flames for war. The new Cold War has been solidified; the aggressive rhetoric in Washington, and highly militarized movements such something big is coming down the pipeline. Though there may not be all out war, tensions will be very high; people will be placed under suspicion; nuclear war and other highly deadly scenarios are on the table like never before. The stage is set for world war three.
- Leftists and angry Hillary supporters are revolutionary, if severely misguided. Rosie O’Donnell was only the latest celebrity figure to call for martial law in order to postpone the inauguration, and put Trump on trial. The deep state crew that tags along with Hillary are also quite dangerous – the CIA and shadow advisor types. It is possible that some of these figures are involved in assassinating diplomats, chauffeurs and personal aides close to Putin and his network.
- In his final week in office, lame duck Obama could lay an egg that hatches the war. Or, intelligence community figures could go rouge; black ops, a false flag or a successful provocation/antagonization event could trigger a massive kick off to war that no president could simply stop with the stroke of a pen. There is the distinct possibility that if things go hot in a very short span of time, national emergency and outright war will put all other considerations behind them. Gear up for major conflict could be the only way to reset the devastating economic conditions, and the debt bomb that the federal government and federal reserve are prepared to drop on us.
- Defensive measures, including setting up anti-missile defense shields has moved inward, encircling Moscow, and those being used in the Ukraine, in Syria and elsewhere along the grand chessboard suggest extremely pugnacious diplomatic gestures – since true diplomacy has frozen up after repeated insult from Washington.
- via the Daily Mail:
Russia has deployed anti-aircraft missile systems around Moscow to protect the capital from attack in the latest sign Vladimir Putin is preparing for war.
The s-400 Triumph air defence system has been providing air cover for Russian forces in Syria since November, and is now being deployed on home soil.
It is capable of hitting moving airborne targets including planes and incoming missiles and has a range of 400km.
The news has emerged the day the US sent more than 3,000 troops to Poland in response to Nato’s concern Russia was becoming more aggressive.
- via Russia Insider:
A US armored brigade (3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division) is on the move to Russia’s Baltic border. After its equipment begun arriving in Europe last week so now have its soldiers.
The move is so big it will require 37 trains and over one thousand rail cars to transport from Germany to Poland.
A US armored brigade fields over 400 tracked and over 1300 wheeled vehicles including 80 62-ton Abrams tanks, 140 Bradley armored fighting vehicles and 400 humvees.
- There is always saber-rattling and hyperbolic claims of war, but right now is a critical time that will decide the next several decades of U.S. world power.
- Probably, they aren’t going to take any chances, and as desperate as they are, are looking to reignite public support for U.S. struggles abroad – by any means necessary.
- Beware these next few weeks, and remember that the continuity of government “Doomsday” command-and-control planes were brought out after the election as a public show of power to Trump and the American people. The shadow government is real, and for now, maintain dominance.
- This is not the time for games. Constitutional government is in jeopardy; war provocations and assassinations are taking place, and the duly-elected next president of the United States should be very carefully protected, watched over and pray for a peaceful transition.
- We are at risk of entering a very difficult and dangerous time.
- Having learned previously both the identity of the former British intelligence officer who compiled the “Trump dossier”, revealed by the WSJ earlier this week as former MI-6 staffer Christopher Steele, currently director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence, and that John McCain was the person who delivered the report to the FBI, one question remained: who commissioned the original report meant to uncover a material,i.e., campaign-ending, weakness in Donald Trump’s past.
- We now have an answer, or least a partial one. But first, a brief detour into just how Steele allegedly went about compiling his data.
- In a report in Mother Jones, David Corn, who first broke the story that a former Western counterintelligence official had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump, writes about Steele’s experience shortly after being retained in June by a “private research firm” to look into Trump’s activity in Europe and Russia. Steele recalls that “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” One question for him, he said, was, “Are there business ties in Russia?”
- Corn then writes that the former intelligence official went to work and contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere.
He soon received what he called “hair-raising” information. His sources told him, he said, that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 (when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest) or earlier and that there was an “established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He noted he was “shocked” by these allegations. By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.
The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.
- Corn writes that the FBI’s response to Steele’s information, was “shock and horror.”
fter a few weeks, the bureau asked him for information on his sources and their reliability and on how he had obtained his reports. He was also asked to continue to send copies of his subsequent reports to the bureau. These reports were not written, he noted, as finished work products; they were updates on what he was learning from his various sources. But he said, “My track record as a professional is second to no one.”
- Perhaps, although it does not explain either why the FBI took no action when presented with this “hair-raising”, “shocking” information, despite his “track record as second to none”, nor why McCain had possession of the document, and then also supposedly handed it off to the FBI. Steele told Corn that he “believed this material was important, and he was unsure how the FBI was handling it. Certainly, there had been no public signs that the FBI was investigating these allegations. (The FBI at the time refused to tell me if it had received the memos or if it was examining the allegations.)“
- Maybe the reason why the FBI had taken no action is because they knew data was fake, and that Steele himself was the subject of a hoax, one either perpetrated by 4Chan as the message board has claimed, or he was the victim of a counter-disinformation campaign by Russian “sources” (yes, Russian spies don’t always tell the truth to UK spies) who meant to discredit Steele by providing him with purposefully wrong material.
- Corn then tries to further validate the credibility of his source: “A senior US administration official told me that he had worked with the onetime spook and that the former spy had an established and respected track record of providing US government agencies with accurate and valuable information about sensitive national security matters. “He is a credible source who has provided information to the US government for a long time, which senior officials have found to be highly credible,” this US official said.” Yet he himself also admits that “I also was able to review the memos the former spy had written, and I quoted a few key portions in my article. I did not report the specific allegations—especially the lurid allegations about Trump’s personal behavior—because they could not be confirmed.”
- So if the actual underlying allegations – the very basis of the report – could not be confirmed, what if any was the story? This is how Corn spins it:
The newsworthy story at this point was that a credible intelligence official had provided information to the FBI alleging Moscow had tried to cultivate and compromise a presidential candidate. And the issue at hand—at a time when the FBI was publicly disclosing information about its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of her email at the State Department—was whether the FBI had thoroughly investigated these allegations related to Russia and Trump. I also didn’t post the memos, as BuzzFeed did this week, because the documents contained information about the former spy’s sources that could place these people at risk.
- That’s not the end of it: now that his identity has been revealed, there is little downside to pushing forward, and Steele now says that “these allegations deserved a “substantial inquiry” within the FBI. Yet so far, the FBI has not yet said whether such an investigation has been conducted. As the former spy said to me, “The story has to come out.“
- Of course, the implied allegation is that Trump, was not only controlled by Putin due to the “kompromat” the Russian secret services had on him, but was also being protected by the FBI, which withheld this “shocking” report from the public.
- There is just one problem. Others had it too… and here we go back to the original question: who commissioned the anti-Trump report in the first place?
- Curiously, according to Steele, this spy whose “track record is second to none”, has no idea. Says Corn, “the former spy said he was never told the identity of the client.“
- Well, that’s not exactly true. He does know that the private research firm from the US “was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one.“
- In other words, while Steele didn’t know the identity of the actual source of funds, he did know their ideological leanings.
- However, someone who did seem to know the identity emerged on Wednesday, when BBC News’ Paul Wood reported that “the opposition research firm that commissioned the report had worked first for a superpac – political action committee – supporting Jeb Bush during the Republican primaries.”
- The interview in which the Jed Bush connection emerged, was the following, in which Ted Malloch, a Trump insider, said the following:
Let me tell you what the British intelligence told me this morning. [Christopher Steele] was also an FBI asset at one point in time so he has an intelligence background, but he was paid for people that were working for Jeb Bush in order to discredit him. The democrats took over the contract. He kept adding to the dossier and using information given to him by the FSB in Russia, most of it fabricated, the more he put into the dossier, the more he got paid. So e made a sensationalist dossier, as fat as possible just like your lawyer charges you more billable hours in order to get paid more.
- Almost as soon as the BBC report and interview hit, Charlie Spies, an attorney for Right to Rise USA, which had supported Bush’s presidential candidacy, disputed it. “Right to Rise categorically denies the BBC reporter’s made up report and will be demanding that he retract the made up allegation,” Spies told TPM. “Other than enjoying James Bond movies, the PAC had nothing to do with British Intelligence officers.” He also proceeded with a rejection on Twitter.
This is categorically false. Working on cease & desist letter to BBC radio to stop making up fake news. https://twitter.com/dyshor/status/819258568809598982 …
- The head of the PAC, Mike Murphy, also tweeted a denial:
- Naturally, good luck proving either side of the allegations.
- As the WSJ explained in its initial report, “no presidential campaigns or super PACs reported payments to Orbis in their required Federal Election Commission filings. But several super PACs over the course of the campaign reported that they paid limited liability companies, whose ultimate owners may be difficult or impossible to discern.”
- Just as was intended, and surely no self-respecting spy would allow a SuperPac to pay him directly… or for that matter publicly.
- So where do we stand now?
- After a series of back and forths, Jeb Bush has been accused of funding the report, with his own SuperPAC immediately denying it, as it would of course, since there is no definitive evidence (yet?) of Bush’s involvement.
- However, courtesy of Corn’s report, who is writing on behalf of Steele, we do know without dispute, that “the American firm was conducting a Trump opposition research project that was first financed by a Republican source until the funding switched to a Democratic one.“
- And all this happened after a British spy was being worked by the FSB, who provided him with fake intel, including the glorious Golden Shower scene (hopefully the impact of 4Chan will eventually emerge somewhere here) to stuff the report, and ask for even more cash from his client; a report which was so incredibly not even the FBI could do anything with it.
- Could the Republican source have been Jeb Bush? Certainly: after all, the Republican funding stopped at one point – perhaps when Jeb dropped out of the primary – only to be replaced with a Democrat source. Incidentally, we also have very good sense of who the “Democratic source” funding Steele’s research may have been.
- We are confident we will know more soon. After all, none other than Trump earlier today promised his own Russia hacking report in 90 days when he lashed out at “sleazebag” Democrats and Republicans.
- But the real point here is not who is behind it, but who had this report before it was finally released by Buzzfeed on Monday. And according to the latest information, not only the FBI, but also at least one Republican and one Democrat source had it. And yet nobody went public with it to “crush” the Trump campaign; instead the best “compromising” thing that could be dug up was the tape of Trump “grabbing women by the pussy.”
- It goes without saying that if there was indeed some Trump-crushing fact in the report, it would have emerged long ago, and if not by the FBI, then certainly by Trump’s immediate competitors, both Republican and Democrat… unless they too were “compromised” by Russia.
- Which is why, no matter how this story ends, it should be clear by now that nothing contained in the “Trump report” was in any way actionable, or else it would have seen the light of day long ago.
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