Copula

CHANGE?

CHANGE?

The 2016 presidential election has brought about widely anticipated changes in fiscal policy actions. First, tax reductions for both the household and corporate sectors along with a major reform of the tax code have been proposed. In conjunction, a novel program of tax credits to the private sector has been discussed to finance increased outlays for infrastructure. Second, provisions have been suggested to incentivize domestic corporations to repatriate $2.6 trillion of liquid assets held overseas. Third, there is talk of regulatory reform along with measures to increase domestic production of energy. Finally, various measures related to international trade have been discussed in an effort to reduce the current account deficit.

Judging by sharp reactions of U.S. capital and currency markets, success of these proposals has been quickly accepted. Such was the case with the fiscal stimulus package of 2009, as well as with Quantitative Easings 1 and 2; initially there were highly favorable market reactions. In these cases the rush to judgment was misplaced as widespread economic gains did not occur, and the U.S. experienced the weakest expansion in seven decades along with lower inflation. It could be that the fundamental analytical mistake now, like then, is to assume that the economy is “an understandable and controllable machine rather than a complex, adaptive system” (William R. White, in his 2016 Adam Smith Lecture “Ultra-Easy Money: Digging the Hole Deeper?” at the annual meeting of the National Association of Business Economists). While many of the aforementioned proposals include pro-growth features, it appears that there is an underestimation of the negative impact of delayed implementation and other lags. Additionally, the risks of unintended adverse consequences and outright failure are high, especially if the enacted programs are heavily financed with borrowed funds and/or monetary conditions continue to work at cross purposes with the fiscal policy goals.

Tax Cuts and Credits

Considering the current public and private debt overhang, tax reductions are not likely to be as successful as the much larger tax cuts were for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Gross federal debt now stands at 105.5% of GDP, compared with 31.7% and 57.0%, respectively, when the 1981 and 2002 tax laws were implemented. Additionally, tax reductions work slowly, with only 50% of the impact registering within a year and a half after the tax changes are enacted. Thus, while the economy is waiting for increased revenues from faster growth from the tax cuts, surging federal debt is likely to continue to drive U.S. aggregate indebtedness higher, further restraining economic growth.

The key variable to improve domestic economic conditions is to cut the marginal household (middle income) and corporate income tax rates. Due to the extremely high level of federal debt, if the deleterious impact of higher debt on growth is to be avoided, then these tax cuts must be expenditure-balanced to the fullest extent possible along with reductions in federal spending (which has a negative multiplier).

Providing tax credits to the private sector to build infrastructure should be more efficient than the current system, but this new system has to first be put into operation and firms with profits must decide to enter this business. Moreover, all the various rights of way, ownership and environmental requirements suggest that any economic growth impact from the infrastructure proposal is well into the future.

However, if the household and corporate tax reductions and infrastructure tax credits proposed are not financed by other budget offsets, history suggests they will be met with little or no success. The test case is Japan. In implementing tax cuts and massive infrastructure spending, Japanese government debt exploded from 68.9% of GDP in 1997 to 198.0% in the third quarter of 2016. Over that period nominal GDP in Japan has remained roughly unchanged (Chart 1). Additionally, when Japan began these debt experiments, the global economy was far stronger than it is currently, thus Japan was supported by external conditions to a far greater degree than the U.S. would be in present circumstances.

Tax Repatriation

One of the tax proposals with wide support gives U.S. corporations a window to repatriate approximately $2.6 trillion of foreign held profits under the favorable tax terms of 10% or 15%. There is a catch, however. To ensure that all funds are brought home, the tax is due on all of the un-repatriated funds even if only a portion is brought back to the United States.

Several considerations suggest there is no guarantee that these funds will actually be invested in plant and equipment in the United States. First, the fact that they are currently liquid suggests that physical investment opportunities are already lacking. Second, the bulk of the foreign assets are held by three already cash-rich sectors – high tech, pharmaceutical and energy. The concentrated and liquid nature of these assets suggests that after an estimated $260 billion to $390 billion in taxes are paid, the repatriated funds will probably be shifted into share buybacks, mergers, dividends or debt repayments. Putting funds into financial engineering will improve earnings per share, further raising equity valuations for individual firms; however, such transactions will not grow the economy. Finally, the basic determinants of capital spending have been unfavorable, and they worsened in the fourth quarter. Capacity utilization was only 75% in November 2016, well below the peak of just under 79% reached exactly two years earlier. The U.S. Treasury’s corporate income tax collections for the twelve months ended November 2016 were 13.1% less than a year earlier, suggesting corporate profits eroded considerably last year.

A possible additional negative result of the repatriation is that those assets denominated in foreign currency, estimated to be 10% to 30%, will need to be converted into U.S. dollars. This will place upward pressure on the dollar, reinforcing the loss of market share of U.S. firms in domestic and foreign markets. Tax repatriation was tried on a smaller scale during the Bush 43 administration in 2005-2006 with limited success. A much smaller amount of funds were repatriated, and the dollar showed strength.

Regulatory Reform

Regulatory reform could create increased energy production which would clearly boost real economic activity. This is accomplished by shifting the upward sloping aggregate supply curve outward and thereby lowering inflation. When the aggregate supply curve shifts, it will intersect with the downward sloping aggregate demand curve at a lower price level and a higher level of real GDP. The falling prices are equivalent to a tax cut that is not financed with more federal debt. Regulatory reform is a strong proposal and will benefit the economy greatly, in time, by making the U.S. more efficient and better able to compete in world markets. However, these benefits are likely to build slowly and accrue over time. Without question, the regulatory reform is the most unambiguously positive aspect of the contemplated fiscal policy changes since it will produce faster growth and lower inflation. Since bond yields are very sensitive to inflationary expectations, this program would actually contribute to lower interest costs as the disinflationary aspects of the program become apparent.

International Trade Actions

Proposals to cut the trade deficit by tariffs or import restrictions would have the exact opposite effect of the regulatory reforms and increased energy production. They would shift the aggregate supply curve inward, resulting in a higher price level and a lower level of real GDP. Any improvement in the trade account would reduce foreign saving, which is the inverse of the trade account. Since investment equals domestic and foreign saving, the drop in saving would force consumer spending and/or investment lower. Any improvement in the trade account would be limited since the dollar would rise, undermining the first round gains in trade. The more serious risk is that other countries retaliate. From the mid-1920s until the start of WWII this process resulted in what is known as “a deflationary race to the bottom”.

IMPEDIMENTS TO GROWTH

Over the past few months interest rates and the value of the dollar have risen sharply, and monetary policy’s quantitative indicators have contracted. These monetary restrictions have worsened the structural impediments to U.S. economic growth that existed before the election and continue today. These impediments include: (1) a record level of domestic nonfinancial sector debt relative to GDP and further increases in federal debt that are already built-in for years to come; (2) record global debt relative to GDP; (3) weak and fragile global economic growth resulting from the debt overhang; (4) adverse demographics; and (5) exhaustion of pent-up demand in the domestic economy.

Monetary Restrictions

If monetary conditions are tightened and interest rates continue to rise, economic growth from tax reductions are likely to prove ephemeral. Monetary conditions have turned more restrictive in the broadest terms over the past year and a half. The monetary base and excess reserves of the depository institutions have been reduced by $668 billion (16.4%) and $910 billion (33.7%), respectively, from the peaks reached in 2014 or as the Fed was ending QE3 (Chart 2). This reduction in reserves is in fact an overt tightening of monetary policy, which will restrain economic activity in a meaningful way in the quarters ahead.

While maintaining the existing large portfolio of treasury and agency securities, the Federal Reserve has engineered contractions in the base and excess reserves by taking advantage of swings in other components of the base. The decrease in the reserve aggregates since 2014 reflects the following developments: (a) the substantial shift in Treasury deposits from depository institutions into the Federal Reserve Banks; (b) an increase in reverse repurchase agreements; (c) a shift from currency in the vaults of depository institutions to nonbanks (i.e. the households and businesses); and (d) a rise in required reserves as a result of higher bank deposits. These changes were necessitated by the Fed’s decision to raise the federal funds rate by 25 basis points in December of both 2015 and 2016. The Fed had the power to offset the reserve-draining effects of the shifting Treasury balances as well as the need for more currency and required reserves, but they chose not to do so. The cause of the sharp drop in monetary and excess reserves is immaterial, but the effect is that monetary policy became increasingly more restrictive as 2016 ended.

Monetary policy has become asymmetric due to over-indebtedness. This means that an easing of policy produces little stimulus while a modest tightening is very powerful in restraining economic activity. The Nobel laureate Milton Friedman held that through liquidity, income and price effects, (1) monetary accelerations (easing) eventually lead to higher interest rates, and (2) monetary decelerations (tightening) eventually lead to lower rates. (In the near-term monetary accelerations will lower short-term rates and decelerations will raise short-term rates…”the liquidity effect”.) Friedman’s first proposition becomes invalid for extremely indebted economies. When reserves are created by the central bank, even if the amounts are massive, they remain largely unused, rendering monetary policy impotent. That is why M2 growth did not respond to the increase in the monetary base from about $800 billion to over $4 trillion. Plummeting velocity, which reflects too much counterproductive debt, further emasculated the central bank’s effectiveness. Thus, the efficacy of monetary policy has become asymmetric. Excessive debt, rather than rendering monetary deceleration impotent, actually strengthens central bank power because interest expense rises quickly. Therefore, what used to be considered modest changes in monetary restraint that resulted in higher interest rates now has a profound and immediate negative impact on the economy. This is yet another example of the adaptive nature of economies possibly unnoticed by federal officials.

Friedman’s second proposition is clearly in motion. While monetary decelerations may initially lead to higher interest rates the ultimate trend is to lower yields. The Fed’s operations raised short- and intermediate-term yields in 2016. Although Treasury bond yields are mainly determined by inflationary expectations in the long run, the Fed contributed to the elevation of these yields in the second half of 2016 as well as a flattening of the yield curve. Working through both interest rate and quantitative effects, the Fed added to the strength in the dollar, which was further supported by international debt comparisons that favor the United States. The Fed stayed on the tightening course during the fourth quarter as the economy weakened. This suggests that the Fed contributed to both the rise in interest rates and the stronger dollar. More importantly, in view of policy lags, the 2016 measures by the central bank will serve to ultimately weaken M2 growth, reinforce the ongoing slump in money velocity, weaken economic growth in 2017 and accentuate the other constraints previously discussed.

(1) Impediments to Growth: Unproductive Debt

At the end of the third quarter, domestic nonfinancial debt and total debt reached $47.0 and $69.4 trillion, respectively. Neither of these figures include a sizeable volume of vehicle and other leases that will come due in the next few years nor unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually be due. The total figure is much larger as it includes debt of financial institutions as well as foreign debt owed. The broader series points to the complexity of the debt overhang. Netting out the financial institutions and foreign debt is certainly appropriate for closed economies, but it is not appropriate for the current economy. Much of the foreign debt resides in countries that are more indebted than the U.S. with even weaker economic fundamentals and financial institutions that remain thinly capitalized.

A surge in both of the debt aggregates in the latest four quarters indicates the drain on future economic growth. Domestic nonfinancial debt rose by $2.6 trillion in the past four quarters, or $5.00 for each $1.00 dollar of GDP generated. For comparison, from 1952 to 1999, $1.70 of domestic nonfinancial debt generated $1.00 of GDP, and from 2000 to 2015, the figure was $3.30. Total debt gained $3.1 trillion in the past four quarters, or $5.70 dollars for each $1.00 of GDP growth. From 1870 to 2015, $1.90 of total debt generated $1.00 dollar of GDP.

We estimate that approximately $20 trillion of debt in the U.S. will reset within the next two years. Interest rates across the curve are up approximately 100 basis points from the lows of last year. Unless rates reverse, the annual interest costs will jump $200 billion within two years and move steadily higher thereafter as more debt obligations mature. This sum is equivalent to almost two-fifths of the $533 billion in nominal GDP in the past four quarters. This situation is the same problem that has constantly dogged highly indebted economies like the U.S., Japan and the Eurozone. Numerous short-term growth spurts result in simultaneous increases in interest rates that boost interest costs for the heavily indebted economy that, in turn, serves to short circuit incipient gains in economic activity.

(2) Impediments to Growth: Record Global Debt

The IMF calculated that the gross debt in the global non-financial sector was $217 trillion, or 325% of GDP, at the end of the third quarter of 2016. Total debt at the end of the third quarter 2016 was more than triple its level at the end of 1999. In addition to the U.S., global debt surged dramatically in China, the United Kingdom, the Eurozone and Japan. Debt in China surged by $3 trillion in just the first three quarters of 2016. This is staggering considering that the largest rise in nonfinancial U.S. debt over any three quarters is $2.3 trillion, and China accounts for 12.3% of world GDP compared with 22.3% for the U.S. (2016 World Bank estimates). Thus, the $3 trillion jump in Chinese debt is equivalent to an increase of $5.4 trillion of debt in the U.S. economy. Extrapolating this calculation, Chinese debt at the end of the third quarter soared to 390% of GDP, an estimated 20% higher than U.S. debt-to-GDP. This debt surge explains the shortfall in the Chinese growth target for 2016, a major capital flight, a precipitous fall of the Yuan against the dollar and a large hike in their overnight lending rate.

William R. White (as previously cited) describes the debt risks causally, fully and yet succinctly. By pursuing the monetary and fiscal policies in which debts are accumulated worldwide, spending from the future is brought forward to today. “As time passes, and the future becomes the present, the weight of these claims grows ever greater.” Accordingly, such policies lose their effectiveness over time. He quotes Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek (1933): “To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about.” White reinforces this view later when he says, “Credit ‘booms’ are commonly followed by an economic ‘bust’ and this has indeed been the case for a number of countries.”

(3) Impediments to Growth: Weak Global Growth

Based on figures from the World Bank and the IMF through 2016, growth in a 60-country composite was just 1.1%, a fraction of the 7.2% average since 1961. Even with the small gain for 2016, the three-year average growth was -0.8%. As such, the last three years have provided more evidence that the benefits of a massive debt surge are elusive.

World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992. When world trade and economic growth are stagnant, and one group of currencies loses value relative to another group, market share will shift to the depreciating currencies. However, this shift does not constitute a net gain in global economic activity, merely redistribution. Thus, gains in economic performance of those parts of the world provide little or no information about the status of global economic conditions.

(4) Impediments to Growth: Eroding Demographics

Weak population growth, a baby bust, an aging population and an unprecedented percentage of 18- to 34-year olds living with parents and/or other family members characterize current U.S. demographics, and all constrain economic growth. Moreover, real disposable income per capita is so weak that these trends are more likely to worsen rather than improve (Chart 3).

In the fiscal year ending July 1, 2016, U.S. population increased by 0.7%, the smallest increase on record since The Great Depression years of 1936-1937 (Census Bureau) (Chart 4). The fertility rate, defined as the number of live births per 1,000 for women ages 15-44, reached all time lows in 2013 and again in 2015 of 62.9 (National Center for Health Statistics). The average age of the U.S. reached an estimated 37.9 years, another record (The CIA World Fact Book). Population experts expect further increases for many years into the future. For the decade ending in 2015, 39.5% of 18-to 34-year olds lived with parents and/or other family members, the highest percentage for a decade since 1900, with the exception of the one when new housing could not be constructed because the materials were needed for World War II.

Over time, birth, immigration and household formation decisions have been heavily influenced by real per capita income growth. Demographics have, in turn, cycled back to influence economic growth. If they are both rising, a virtuous long-term cycle will emerge. Today, however, a negative spiral is in control. In the ten years ending in 2016, real per capita disposable income rose a mere 1%, less than half of the 50-year average and only one-quarter of the growth of the 3.9% peak reached in 1973. In view of the enlarging debt overhang, which is the cause of these mutually linked developments, economic growth should continue to disappoint. There will likely be intermittent spurts in economic activity, but they will not be sustainable.

(5) Impediments to Growth: Exhausted Pent-Up Demand

In late stage expansions, pent-up demand is exhausted as big-ticket items have already been purchased. At the start of 2017, the current expansion reached its 79th month, more than 20 months longer than the average since the end of World War II. At this stage of the cycle, setting new records is a reason for caution, not optimism. With regard to pent-up demand, the economy is in the opposite condition of a recession or an early stage expansion. The lack of such demand makes the economy susceptible to either slower growth or to the risk of an outright recession. Numerous signposts of this late cycle risk include low factory use, weakness in new and used car prices as well as most discretionary goods, a rising delinquency rate on the riskiest types of vehicle loans and a fall in office and apartment vacancy rates.

Bond Yields

Our economic view for 2017 suggests lower long-term Treasury yields. Considering the actions of the Federal Reserve to curtail the monetary base and excess reserves, M2 growth should moderate to 6% in 2017, down from 6.9% in 2016. In the fourth quarter, on a 3-month annualized basis, M2 growth already decelerated below the 6% pace anticipated for 2017. This is unsurprising given the fall in excess reserves and the monetary base. Velocity fell an estimated 4% in 2016 on a year ending basis. We assume there will be a similar decline for 2017, although in view of the huge debt increase and other considerations, velocity could be even weaker. On this basis, nominal GDP should rise 2% this year, which means inflation and real growth will both be very low. A 2% nominal GDP gain for 2017 points to a similar yield on the 30-year in time, meaning that the secular downward trend in Treasury bond yields is still intact.

Elizabeth Warren ‘Silenced’ Again After Video Surfaces Of MLK’s Wife Thanking Senator Sessions

 After being silenced last night on the Senate floor during her desperate racial stunt to read disparaging remarks about now-confirmed Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, we suspect Senator Elizabeth Warren is lost for words as video surfaces of Coretta Scott King thanking Senator Sessions at the launching of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.

The racially-divisive stunt that Senator Warren tried to pull last night – by  quoting a letter from the late Coretta Scott King, civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote in 1986, during Sessions’ failed confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship, that he “had used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” as a U.S. attorney in Alabama – ended with her being silenced by Senate vote.

Tonight, we suspect she will choose to silence herself as more recent video of Coretta Scott King surfaces destroying her warrant-less claim was that King’s wife’s words framed Sessions as a bigot, as she thanks Senator Sessions for his help in the construction of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum…

As far as Senator Warren is concerned, even MLK’s niece lambasted her for playing the race card…

Still what would one expect, when all you have is an ‘identity politics’ hammer, every ‘problem’ is a nail.

The One Chart That America’s Corporate Elite Don’t Want You To See

The message from America’s ruling elite is, as always – “do as I say, not as I do” – and nowhere is that more evident in the following chart. Simply put, follow the money!

As we detailed last week, as US financial stocks have soared in the post-election Trumphoria, so bankers have been dumping over $100 million in personal stock holdings…

 

But, as Barron’s details, it’s not just the bankers that are bailing out of US stocks (just as the corporate elite and their mainstream media lackeys cajole you and your hard-earned retirement funds back into the most-expensive market ever), it’s everyone!!

 

The massive spike in insider-selling (relative to buying) is broad-based…

 

Still – listen to CNBC, buy some more NFLX or TSLA or the latest Biotech stock, we have reached a new permanantly high plateau…

Ex-WSJ Reporter Finds George Soros Has Ties To More Than 50 “Partners” Of The Women’s March

Former WSJ reporter Asra Nomani asks in the NYT’s “Women In the World” section what is the link between one of Hillary Clinton’s largest donors and the Women’s March? Her answer: “as it turns out, it’s quite significant.

Here is what else she discovered.

Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington

In the pre-dawn darkness of today’s presidential inauguration day, I faced a choice, as a lifelong liberal feminist who voted for Donald Trump for president: lace up my pink Nike sneakers to step forward and take the DC Metro into the nation’s capital for the inauguration of America’s new president, or wait and go tomorrow to the after-party, dubbed the “Women’s March on Washington”?

 The Guardian has touted the “Women’s March on Washington” as a “spontaneous” action for women’s rights. Another liberal media outlet, Vox, talks about the “huge, spontaneous groundswell” behind the march. On its website, organizers of the march are promoting their work as “a grassroots effort” with “independent” organizers. Even my local yoga studio, Beloved Yoga, is renting a bus and offering seats for $35. The march’s manifesto says magnificently, “The Rise of the Woman = The Rise of the Nation.”

It’s an idea that I, a liberal feminist, would embrace. But I know — and most of America knows — that the organizers of the march haven’t put into their manifesto: the march really isn’t a “women’s march.” It’s a march for women who are anti-Trump. 

As someone who voted for Trump, I don’t feel welcome, nor do many other women who reject the liberal identity-politics that is the core underpinnings of the march, so far, making white women feel unwelcomenixing women who oppose abortion and hijacking the agenda

To understand the march better, I stayed up through the nights this week, studying the funding, politics and talking points of the some 403 groups that are “partners” of the march. Is this a non-partisan “Women’s March”?

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, a march “partner,” told me his organization was “nonpartisan” but has “many concerns about the incoming Trump administration that include what we see as a misogynist approach to women.” Nick Fish, national program director of the American Atheists, another march partner, told me, “This is not a ‘partisan’ event.” Dennis Wiley, pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, another march “partner,” returned my call and said, “This is not a partisan march.”

Really? UnitedWomen.org, another partner, features videos with the hashtags #ImWithHer, #DemsInPhily and #ThanksObama. Following the money, I poured through documents of billionaire George Soros and his Open Society philanthropy, because I wondered: What is the link between one of Hillary Clinton’s largest donors and the “Women’s March”?

I found out: plenty.

By my draft research, which I’m opening up for crowd-sourcing on GoogleDocs, Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s “partners,” including “key partners” Planned Parenthood, which opposes Trump’s anti-abortion policy, and the National Resource Defense Council, which opposes Trump’s environmental policies. The other Soros ties with “Women’s March” organizations include the partisan MoveOn.org (which was fiercely pro-Clinton), the National Action Network (which has a former executive director lauded by Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett as “a leader of tomorrow” as a march co-chair and another official as “the head of logistics”). Other Soros grantees who are “partners” in the march are the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. March organizers and the organizations identified here haven’t yet returned queries for comment.  

On the issues I care about as a Muslim, the “Women’s March,” unfortunately, has taken a stand on the side of partisan politics that has obfuscated the issues of Islamic extremism over the eight years of the Obama administration. “Women’s March” partners include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has not only deflected on issues of Islamic extremism post-9/11, but opposes Muslim reforms that would allow women to be prayer leaders and pray in the front of mosques, without wearing headscarves as symbols of chastity. Partners also include the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which wrongly designated Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer, an “anti-Muslim extremist” in a biased report released before the election. The SPLC confirmed to me that Soros funded its “anti-Muslim extremists” report targeting Nawaz. (Ironically, CAIR also opposes abortions, but its leader still has a key speaking role.)

Another Soros grantee and march “partner” is the Arab-American Association of New York, whose executive director, Linda Sarsour, is a march co-chair. When I co-wrote a piece, arguing that Muslim women don’t have to wear headscarves as a symbol of “modesty,” she attacked the coauthor and me as “fringe.” 

Earlier, at least 33 of the 100 “women of color,” who initially protested the Trump election in street protests, worked at organizations that receive Soros funding, in part for “black-brown” activism. Of course, Soros is an “ideological philanthropist,” whose interests align with many of these groups, but he is also a significant political donor. In Davos, he told reporters that Trump is a “would-be dictator.”

A spokeswoman for Soros’s Open Society Foundations, said in a statement, “There have been many false reports about George Soros and the Open Society Foundations funding protests in the wake of the U.S. presidential elections. There is no truth to these reports.” She added, “We support a wide range of organizations — including those that support women and minorities who have historically been denied equal rights. Many of whom are concerned about what policy changes may lie ahead. We are proud of their work. We of course support the right of all Americans to peaceably assemble and petition their government—a vital, and constitutionally safeguarded, pillar of a functioning democracy.”

Much like post-election protests, which included a sign, “Kill Trump,” were not  “spontaneous,” as reported by some media outlets, the “Women’s March” is an extension of strategic identity politics that has so fractured America today, from campuses to communities. On the left or the right, it’s wrong. But, with the inauguration, we know the politics. With the march, “women” have been appropriated for a clearly anti-Trump day. When I shared my thoughts with her, my yoga studio owner said it was “sad” the march’s organizers masked their politics. “I want love for everyone,” she said. 

The left’s fierce identity politics and its failure on Islamic extremism lost my vote this past election, and so, as the dawn’s first light breaks through the darkness of the morning as I write, I make my decision: I’ll lace up my pink Nikes and head to the inauguration, skipping the “Women’s March” that doesn’t have a place for women like me.

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com or on Twitter.

In Stunning Last Minute Power Grab, Obama Designates Election Systems As “Critical Infrastructure”

In a stunning last minute power grab by the Obama administration with just 14 days left in his Presidency, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement this evening officially declaring state election systems to be “critical infrastructure.”  The statement from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson defines “election infrastructure” as “storage facilities, polling places, centralized vote tabulations locations, voter registration databases, voting machines” and all “other systems” to manage the election process…so pretty much everything.

I have determined that election infrastructure in this country should be designated as a subsector of the existing Government Facilities critical infrastructure sector. Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law.

 

I have reached this determination so that election infrastructure will, on a more formal and enduring basis, be a priority for cybersecurity assistance and protections that the Department of Homeland Security provides to a range of private and public sector entities. By “election infrastructure,” we mean storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of state and local governments.

Of course, it’s likely not a coincidence that the DHS made this announcement just hours after the “intelligence community” declassified their “Russian Hacking” propaganda which basically noted that RT has a very effective social media distribution platform while once again providing absolutely no actual evidence.

Johnson’s statement goes on to note that while many “state and local election officials are opposed to this designation” he went ahead with his decision anyway because that’s just what the Obama administration does.

Prior to reaching this determination, my staff and I consulted many state and local election officials; I am aware that many of them are opposed to this designation. It is important to stress what this designation does and does not mean. This designation does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country. This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.

 

The designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure subsector does mean that election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. It also enables this Department to prioritize our cybersecurity assistance to state and local election officials, but only for those who request it. Further, the designation makes clear both domestically and internationally that election infrastructure enjoys all the benefits and protections of critical infrastructure that the U.S. government has to offer. Finally, a designation makes it easier for the federal government to have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive vulnerability information.

 

Particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do.

Of course, one of the most vocal opponents of this move has been Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp who recently told Politico it is nothing more than an attempt to “subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security.”

During an earlier interview with the site Nextgov, Kemp warned: “The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security.” Kemp told POLITICO he sees a “clear motivation from this White House” to expand federal control, citing Obama’s health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation and the increased role of the Education Department in local schools.

 

To some election officials, this sounds like the first stage of a more intrusive plan.

 

“I think it’s kind of the nose under the tent,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat. “What I think a lot of folks get concerned about [is] when the federal government says, ‘Well, look, we’re not really interested in doing that, but we just want to give you this,’ and then all of a sudden this leads to something else.”

Meanwhile, Kemp continued on by noting that “this administration only has 15 days left in its term” and to make such a critical decision during the 11th hour “smacks of partisan politics.”

But we’re sure it’s nothing, Obama doesn’t really strike us as the type to play the “partisan politics” game.

The New Normal ‘Safety Net’: Surging Disability Benefits Claims

If you’ve paid into Social Security, become injured or sick, and can no longer earn more than $1,130 a month, you can get a monthly subsidy from the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. As Bloomberg notes, in 1990 fewer than 2.5% of working-age Americans were “on the check;” by 2015 the number stood at 5.2%, with geographical “disability belts” appearing across America.

Something changed in 2000…

 

That growth has left the fund in periodic need of rescues by Congress – most recently in 2015, when the Bipartisan Budget Act shifted money from Social Security’s old-age survivors’ fund to extend the solvency of the disability fund to 2023.

“None of us should be surprised that the cost of the program was rising,” says Stephen Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary.

 

He says the program’s growth is mostly a consequence of demographic change. Older workers are more likely to get sick, and as women have entered the workforce, they too have become eligible for benefits.

In 1956, when the disability insurance fund was created, qualification was based on a list of accepted medical conditions. In 1984, Congress broadened the criteria, giving more weight to chronic pain and mental disorders. The qualification process also became more subjective. Now, rather than check diagnostic conditions against a list, the process determines whether applicants are able to perform work that’s available. “It’s not as if you go to the doctor, the doctor says, ‘I’m sorry, son, you’ve got disability,’ ” Autor says. “It’s a social construct, because it’s about whether you can work.”

Source: Bloomberg

The geographic distribution of people on disability tells a different story to the government’s “it’s a demographic/aging issue” argument: Workers who might have endured pain for a physical job apply for disability when jobs disappear.

This has created what some economists call “disability belts” – rural areas in Appalachia, the Deep South, and along the Arkansas-Missouri border.

Source: Bloomberg

In a 2013 paper, David Autor, an economist at MIT, and his co-authors wrote that Social Security disability insurance was the single biggest source of federal transfers into areas that had been directly affected by trade with China and Mexico. Dan Black, now at the University of Chicago, found in a 2004 paper that growth in disability claims in Appalachia dramatically outpaced those in the rest of the country. Although it’s not designed to, Autor says, Social Security disability benefits function as unemployment insurance.

In the coming Congress, Republican Representative French Hill, who represents Van Buren County, plans to reintroduce a disability insurance reform bill he wrote after hearing Autor, the MIT economist, present his analysis of the program—a talk that echoed things Hill had heard from folks back home. The bill would require more frequent reviews of disability recipients with nonpermanent conditions.

Georgia Confirms Homeland Security Attempted To Hack Election Database 10 Separate Times

Last week we noted a letter from Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, to the Department of Homeland Security questioning why someone with a DHS IP address (216.81.81.80) had attempted to hack into his state’s election database on November 15, 2016 at 8:43AM.  Now, according to WSB-TV in Atlanta, we learn that Georgia’s election systems were actually the target of hacking by DHS on 10 separate occasions.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office now confirms 10 separate cyberattacks on its network were all traced back to U.S. Department of Homeland Security addresses.

 

In an exclusive interview, a visibly frustrated Secretary of State Brian Kemp confirmed the attacks of different levels on his agency’s network over the last 10 months. He says they all traced back to DHS internet provider addresses.

 

“We’re being told something that they think they have it figured out, yet nobody’s really showed us how this happened,” Kemp said. “We need to know.”

 

Kemp told Channel 2’s Aaron Diamant his office’s cybersecurity vendor discovered the additional so-called vulnerability scans to his network’s firewall after a massive mid-November cyberattack triggered an internal investigation.

Meanwhile, Kemp pointed out that all of the attempted hackings occurred around critical registration and voting deadlines calling into question whether “somebody was trying to prove a point.”

The Secretary of State’s Office manages Georgia’s elections, and most concerning for Kemp about the newly discovered scans is the timing.

 

The first one happened on Feb. 2, the day after Georgia’s voter registration deadline. The next one took place just days before the SEC primary. Another occurred in May, the day before the general primary, and then two more took place in November, the day before and the day of the presidential election.

 

“It makes you wonder if somebody was trying to prove a point,” Kemp said.

Of course, the Obama administration, a pillar of “transparency” for sure, has confirmed the attacks originated at the DHS but has refused to provide a straight story on why the attempted hackings occurred.  Furious with the lack of answers, Kemp has now written a letter to the Trump administration asking for a formal review after his inauguration next month.

Last week, the DHS confirmed the large Nov. 15 attack traced back to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection internet gateway. But Kemp says the DHS’ story about its source keeps changing.

 

“First it was an employee in Corpus Christi, and now it’s a contractor in Georgia,” Kemp said.

 

Unsatisfied with the response he got from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson this week, Kemp fired off a letter Wednesday to loop in President-elect Donald Trump.

 

“We just need to ask the new administration to take a look at this and make sure that we get the truth the people of Georgia are deserving to know that and really demanding it,” Kemp said.

 

Kemp says several of those scans came around the same time he testified before Congress about his opposition to a federal plan to classify election systems as “critical infrastructure,” like power plants and financial systems.

As we’ve said before, despite all the media attention on “Russian hackers,” this cyberattack, originated from within our own Department of Homeland Security, is the only actual confirmed case of hacking related to the 2016 election.

 

* * *

For those who missed it, here is what we wrote last week after the initial hacking was discovered.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is anxiously wondering, as are we, why someone with a Department Of Homeland Security IP address would try to hack into his State’s voter registration database.  Even though DHS offered cyber security help to states prior to the election, the Wall Street Journal notes that Georgia was one of the states that specifically denied assistance.

The secretary of state of Georgia is asking the Department of Homeland Security to explain what appears to be an attempted breach of the state’s voter registration database by someone in the federal government.

 

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson dated Thursday, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp said the state had discovered an unsuccessful attempt to breach the firewall of state computer systems. That attempt was linked to an IP address associated with DHS, he said.

 

“At no time has my office agreed to or permitted DHS to conduct penetration testing or security scans of our network,” wrote Mr. Kemp, a Republican. “Moreover, your department has not contacted my office since this unsuccessful incident to alert us of any security event that would require testing or scanning of our network.”

 

The alleged attempted intrusion by the federal government on a state computer system responsible for election security was detected by a third-party security firm working for the state of Georgia. The attempt was unsuccessful, according to the state. The computers also house information about company incorporations.

According to a letter written by Kemp to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, the attempted intrusion occurred 1 week after the election on November 15, 2016 at 8:43AM and came from an IP address associated with DHS (216.81.81.80).

GA

 

Of course, since the hacking a state’s election database it technically illegal, even for DHS, Kemp had some fairly pointed questions for Johnson on who authorized the scan and how many other states were scanned without authorization.

GA

 

Meanwhile, the potential hacking followed threats from Jeh Johnson leading up to election day to declare election systems “critical infrastructure” which would have given the federal government more authority over state databases.

The Department of Homeland Security made a major push in advance of November’s elections to help states secure election systems against possible hacking, as fears of foreign interference in the U.S. election process reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Election Day.

 

The department also considered declaring election systems “critical infrastructure,” which would have given the federal government additional authority to protect the systems. DHS didn’t take that step, however, as many states expressed concern about additional federal authority over their election systems and said the constitution provided states the right to run their own elections.

 

As a result of some of the concerns, the department clarified that assistance on election-related security matters was voluntary and encouraged states to take advantage of DHS resources and expertise to help secure state election systems.

 

“DHS assistance is strictly voluntary and does not entail regulation, binding directives, and is not offered to supersede state and local control over the process,” Mr. Johnson, the DHS chief, said in September.

 

Georgia was one of the states that had declined the federal government’s assistance for election security, citing state sovereignty. “Right now, we’re just demanding answers,” said David Dove, a top aide to the Georgia secretary of state. “My boss, Secretary Kemp, has been a very vocal critic of the Department of Homeland Security declaring election systems critical infrastructure.”

After all the talk about Russian hackers, wouldn’t it be just perfect if it turns out that the Obama administration was the only group to actually attempt to illegally hack into a state election database?  That said, we won’t hold our breath waiting for Jill Stein and disaffected Hillary supporters to express their outrage over this incident.

 

Brian Kemp’s full letter can be viewed below:

Meet The Real “Fake News”

In its attempt to redirect the public’s attention from its historic failure to deliver unbiased, objective, factual reporting in the context of the presidential election in which virtually every single mainstream media outlet was revealed (courtesy of the hacked Podesta emails) and acted as a Public Relations arm for the Clinton campaign, said media has opened a new can of worms by ushering in the topic of “fake news” – a purposefully vague, undefined term meant to deflect and scapegoat by “exposing” propaganda websites, which in the latest incarnation of the narrative, are now allegedly serving to further Russian propaganda in the US.

As we reported earlier, none other than the Washington Post – a company owned by Jeff Bezos, who for the past year has been involved in a famous media spat with president-elect Donald Trump – pounced on a list created by a website that was created (according to its whois profile) on August 21 using godaddy.com as registrar and had its first tweet on November 2, and which among others, lists Drudge Report and Zero Hedge as representatives of “Russian propaganda.” This is how the “scientists” at the Goebbels-esque “PropOrNotdescribe their qualifications in determining and recommending which websites are fit to be burned (starting with a plea for investigations by the Obama administration) in a post “fake news” world:

PropOrNot is an independent team of computer scientists, statisticians, national security professionals, journalists, and political activists dedicated to identifying propaganda – particularly Russian propaganda targeting a US audience. We collect public-record information connecting propaganda outlets to each other and their coordinators abroad, analyze what we find, act as a central repository and point of reference for related information, and organize efforts to oppose it.

 

We work to shine a light on propaganda in order to prevent it from distorting political and policy discussions, to strengthen our cultural immune systems against hostile influence, and to improve public discourse generally.

 

Many of our contributors wish to stay anonymous, in light of possible Russian retaliation, as has happened in Finland and elsewhere.

In other words, while attacking the anonymity of so-called “Russian propaganda” websites (websites which chose to remain anonymous knowing this kind of retaliation was inevitable), the public servants and experts devoted to rooting out Russian propaganda in the US opt, themselves, to remain anonymous.

To be sure, we have no interest in uncovering who may be behind this particular organization (which conveniently stepped in after a similar list was floated last week by a discredited liberal professor, who likewise defined Zero Hedge as “fake news”). We do, want, however to warn readers about who the real source of documented fake news in the US traditionally has been. The US government itself, through its vast espionage and counterespionage apparatus.

But please don’t take our word for it.

Back in 1975, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities found in 1975 that the CIA submitted stories to the American press and that as part of the CIA’s playbook was the usage of disinformation tactics against America’s own population:

Question: “Do you have any people being paid by the CIA who are contributing to a major circulation — American journal?”
Answer: “We do have people who submit pieces to American journals.”

Question: “Do you have any people paid by the CIA who are working for television networks?”
Answer: “This I think gets into the kind of uh, getting into the details Mr. Chairman that I’d like to get into in executive session.”

 

Question: “Do you have any people being paid by the CIA who are contributing to the national news services — AP and UPI?”
Answer: “Well again, I think we’re getting into the kind of detail Mr. Chairman that I’d prefer to handle at executive session.”

One can imagine what was said later during the “executive session.” Then-CBS President Sig Mickelson goes on to say that the relationships at CBS with the CIA were long established before he ever became president, and that “entirely in order for correspondents to make use of CIA station chiefs and other members of the executive staff of CIA as sources of information.”

“I thought that it was a matter of real concern that planted stories intended to serve a national purpose abroad came home and were circulated here and believed here because this would mean that the CIA could manipulate the news in the United States by channeling it through some foreign country,” Democratic Idaho Senator Frank Church said at a press conference surrounding the hearing. Church chaired the Church Committee, a precursor to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was responsible for investigating illegal intelligence gathering by the NSA, CIA and FBI.

This exact tactic — planting disinformation in foreign media outlets so the disinfo would knowingly surface in the United States as a way of circumventing the rules on domestic operations — was specifically argued for as being legal simply because it did not originate on U.S. soil by none other than CIA Director William Casey in 1981.

Former President Harry S. Truman, who oversaw the creation of the CIA in 1947 when he signed the National Security Act, later wrote that he never intended the CIA for more than intelligence gathering. “I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations,” Truman penned in 1963 a year after the disastrous CIA Bay of Pigs operation.

Of course, there was also the whole “Operation Mockingbird” fiasco:

“After 1953, the network was overseen by Allen W. Dulles, director of the CIA. By this time, Operation Mockingbird had a major influence over 25 newspapers and wire agencies. The usual methodology was placing reports developed from intelligence provided by the CIA to witting or unwitting reporters. Those reports would then be repeated or cited by the preceding reporters which in turn would then be cited throughout the media wire services. The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was funded by siphoning off funds intended for the Marshall Plan [i.e. the rebuilding of Europe by the U.S. after WWII]. Some of this money was used to bribe journalists and publishers.”

As contributor “George Washington” adds,  In 2008, the New York Times wrote:

During the early years of the cold war, [prominent writers and artists, from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to Jackson Pollock] were supported, sometimes lavishly, always secretly, by the C.I.A. as part of its propaganda war against the Soviet Union. It was perhaps the most successful use of “soft power” in American history.

A CIA operative told then-Washington Post owner – yes, ironic – Philip Graham the following, in a conversation about the willingness of journalists to peddle CIA propaganda and cover stories:

You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.

Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein wrote in 1977:

More than 400 American journalists … in the past twenty?five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters.

 

***

 

In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.

 

***

Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were [the heads of CBS, Time, the New York Times, the Louisville Courier?Journal, and Copley News Service. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include [ABC, NBC, AP, UPI, Reuters], Hearst Newspapers, Scripps?Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald?Tribune.

 

***

 

In November 1973, after [the CIA claimed to have ended the program], Colby told reporters and editors from the New York Times and the Washington Star that the Agency had “some three dozen” American newsmen “on the CIA payroll,” including five who worked for “general?circulation news organizations.” Yet even while the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding its hearings in 1976, according to high?level CIA sources, the CIA continued to maintain ties with seventy?five to ninety journalists of every description—executives, reporters, stringers, photographers, columnists, bureau clerks and members of broadcast technical crews. More than half of these had been moved off CIA contracts and payrolls but they were still bound by other secret agreements with the Agency. According to an unpublished report by the House Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Representative Otis Pike, at least fifteen news organizations were still providing cover for CIA operatives as of 1976.

 

***

 

Those officials most knowledgeable about the subject say that a figure of 400 American journalists is on the low side …. “There were a lot of representations that if this stuff got out some of the biggest names in journalism would get smeared” ….

How ironic that in the end it was the Washington Post itself which would get smeared.

* * *

An expert on propaganda testified under oath during trial that the CIA now employs THOUSANDS of reporters and OWNS its own media organizations. Whether or not his estimate is accurate, it is clear that many prominent reporters still report to the CIA.

A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques.

Former Newsweek and Associated Press reporter Robert Parry notes that Ronald Reagan and the CIA unleashed a propaganda campaign in the 1980’s to sell the American public on supporting the Contra rebels, utilizing private players such as Rupert Murdoch to spread disinformation. Parry notes that many of the same people that led Reagan’s domestic propaganda effort in the 1980’s are in power today:

While the older generation that pioneered these domestic propaganda techniques has passed from the scene, many of their protégés are still around along with some of the same organizations. The National Endowment for Democracy, which was formed in 1983 at the urging of CIA Director Casey and under the supervision of Walter Raymond’s NSC operation, is still run by the same neocon, Carl Gershman, and has an even bigger budget, now exceeding $100 million a year.

* * *

Perhaps the most damning evidence, as highlighted by @pierpont_morgan, can be found inside the Final report of the abovementioned Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, published in Aptil, 1976, in which several sections stand out.

One admits explicitly how the press had been extensively captured by the CIA and how dozens of American journalists collaborated with the CIA to fabricate, create and distribute fake news:

The Committee has also found a small number of past relationships that fit this category. In some cases the cover arrangement consisted of reimbursing the U.S. newspaper for any articles by the CIA  agent which the paper used. In at least one case the journalistic functions assumed by a CIA staff officer for cover purposes grew to a point where the officer concluded that he could not satisfactorily serve the requirements of both his (unwitting) U.S. media employers and the CIA, and therefore resigned from the CIA. He maintained contact, however, with the CIA and continued, very occasionally, to report to the CIA from the countries in which he worked.

 

(2) Of the less than ten relationships with writers for small, or limited circulation, U.S. publications, such as trade journals or newsletters, most are for cover purposes.

 

(3) The third, and largest, category of CIA relationships with the U.S. media includes free-lance journalists; “stringers” for newspapers, news magazines and news services; itinerant authors; propaganda writers; and agents working under cover as employees of U.S. publishing houses abroad. With the exception of the last group, the majority of the individuals in this category are bona fide writers or journalists or photographers. Most are paid by the CIA, and virtually all are witting; few, however, of the news organizations to which they contribute are aware of their CIA relationships.

 

(4) The fourth category of covert relationships resembles the kind of contact that journalists have with any other department of the U.S. Government in the routine performance of their journalistic duties. No money changes hands. The relationships are usually limited to occasional lunches, interviews, or telephone conversations during which information would be exchanged or verified. The difference, of course, is that the relationships are covert. The journalist either volunteers or is requested by the CIA to provide some sort of information about people with whom he is in contact. In several cases, the relationship began when the journalist approached a U.S. embassy officer to report that he was approached by a foreign intelligence officer ; in others, the CIA initiated the relationship.

Another section of the report focuses on how the CIA co-opted academics, reporting that “the Central Intelligence Agency is now using several hundred American academics who in addition to providing leads and, on occasion, making introductions for intelligence purposes, occasionally write books and other material to be used for propaganda purposes abroad.Beyond these, an additional few score are used in an unwitting manner for minor activities.

These academics are located in over 100 American colleges, universities, and related institutes. At the majority of institutions, no one other than the individual concerned is aware of the CIA link. At the others, at least one university official is aware of the operational use made of academics on his campus. In addition, there are several American academics abroad who serve operational purposes, primarily the collection of intelligence.

There is also the admission that the CIA used books explicitly for propaganda purposes:

The Committee has found that the Central Intelligence Agency attaches a particular importance to book publishing activities as a form of covert propaganda. A former officer in the Clandestine Service stated that books are “the most important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda.” Prior to 1967, the Central Intelligence Agency sponsored, subsidized, or produced over 1,000 books; approximately 25 percent of them in English…. The Committee found that an important number of the books actually produced by the Central Intelligence Agency were reviewed and marketed in the United States.

Oh, the CIA particularly enjoyed using the NYT and Washington Post for “repeat propaganda” (from page 200 of the report):

CIA records for the September-October 1970 propaganda effort in Chile indicate that “replay” of propaganda in the U.S. was not unexpected. A cable summary for September 25, 1970 reports:

 

Sao Paulo, Tegucigalpa, Buenos Aires, Lima, Montevideo, Bogota, Mexico City report continued replay of Chile theme materials. Items also carried in New York Times,  Washington Post. Propaganda activities continue to generate good coverage of Chile developments along our theme guidance. . .

And so on, and on, for over 670 pages of details how it was the CIA – not Russia, not Putin – that has been the primary creator and distributor of misleading, propaganda material in the US, also known as “fake news.”

* * *

Of course, all of the above remains largely under the radar; it will never be branded “fake” news in a polite setting. Meanwhile, anyone who dares to challenges the status quo – as we have seen in recent days – is immediately labeled a purveyor of “fake news”, or worse – a servant of the Kremlin.

Contributor “George Washington” has some topical thoughts on this particular issue, noting that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of the press from censorship by government. Indeed, the entire reason that it’s unlawful for the government to stop stories from being printed is because that would punish those who criticize those in power.

Why? Because the Founding Father knew that governments (like the British monarchy) will always crack down on those who point out that the emperor has no clothes.

But the freedom of the press is under massive attack in America today. For example, the powers-that-be argue that only highly-paid corporate media shills who will act as stenographers for the fatcats should have the constitutional protections guaranteeing freedom of the press.

A Harvard law school professor argues that the First Amendment is outdated and should be abandoned. When financially-savvy bloggers challenged the Federal Reserve’s policy, a Fed official called all bloggers stupid and unqualified to comment. And the government is treating the real investigative reporters like criminals … or even terrorists:

  • The government admits that journalists could be targeted with counter-terrorism laws (and here). For example, after Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge
  • In an effort to protect Bank of America from the threatened Wikileaks expose of the bank’s wrongdoing, the Department of Justice told Bank of America to a hire a specific hardball-playing law firm to assemble a team to take down WikiLeaks (and see this)

* * *

With the (failing) mainstream media now desperate to focus the public’s attention to the fake “fake media” to divert attention from the real “fake media“, those Washington Posts and New York Times who have traditionally served as vessels for the government apparatus to brainwash the public, expect an even greater backlash as the American population realizes that none of this is actually new, and that it has always been the US government that was directly responsible for the blanket propaganda that has covered the US for decades: something which the government itself has confirmed on countless occasions in the past – one just needs to do the effort of stepping away from the information they are spoon-fed, and do their own research and analysis.

Which, incidentally, is what this latest round in the eternal war for information and influence, is all about.

Reflections On Recession Are A Very Real Affair

Where are we in history when the avowed Socialist (capital “S”) from Vermont is the only voice of reason for the Democratic Party in the aftermath of last week’s election? I don’t intend to make this some kind of political screed against one party or the other; I am on record numerous times claiming the America we live in of 2016 is a massive bipartisan scandal. But having seen the final margin of victory swing to Donald Trump from among a solid rust best collection of states cannot be lost on anyone, let alone Democrats as they begin to question what went wrong.

This is more than the Presidency, as populism makes its way on all levels of government and not just in the United States. But so far the response from that side has been predictably lamentable, with the epithets of racist, sexist, and especially xenophobia filling out too many score cards. And so it is left to Sanders to sound the voice of reason to try to register in what should have been easy to see and understand all along:

It is not good enough to have a liberal elite. I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people from where I came from.
It’s not a question of what happens in the last week. The question is that she should have won this election by ten percentage points. The question is, why it is that millions of white working class people, who voted for Obama, turned their backs on the Democratic Party, and I think a lot of people do not think the Democratic Party is standing with them. That has got to change.

I would criticize Sanders for a lot of things, but he at least in this instance is standing for clarity and fact. On the other end are people like Paul Krugman who, in his emotional state, actually claims to be the spokesperson for not just the left but also now, suddenly, the center and right (some of).

So what do we do now? By “we” I mean all those left, center and even right who saw Donald Trump as the worst man ever to run for president and assumed that a strong majority of our fellow citizens would agree.

He goes on to argue that the US is doomed because of Trump, listing all of the ways in which he is absolutely sure (it’s math) that America just became irredeemable. Krugman even writes without any self-awareness, “we could see a slightly covert form of Jim Crow become the norm all across America.” Though he apparently has a crystal ball with which to soothsay the entire future of this country now set in stone, what also makes his list? The economy.

What he writes on that subject though is all future tense, with a little less emotion since last Tuesday. “My own first instinct was to say that Trumponomics would quickly provoke an immediate economic crisis, but after a few hours’ reflection I decided that this was probably wrong.” What Sanders, the socialist, knows that Krugman, the Nobel Laureate, clearly does not, indeed cannot, is that there is already an extendedeconomic crisis and it is the one that put Mr. Trump in the White House. There is no need to scare Americans about what Trump would do to the economy when it is clear to them it has already been done.

abook-nov-2016-payrolls-emply-pop-final-sales

To Krugman and the legions in the media like him, this election was the failure of their opinions to sway voters to see the vast future of goodness that they have in store for everyone (at least for those who vote the “right” way). That has been the problem all this time, the economists who cry recovery at every instance who now wonder why voters don’t just vote the way they are told. For every grand economic scheme and plan, there is a Hollywood ending out there in the future, one in which the math is absolutely sure about – yet can’t ever seem to calculate the date of its arrival. The rest of America, and the world, has to eat and can’t cash a check delivered backward in time from some unscheduled future growth path.

It isn’t even as much a problem of projections as it is a steadfast refusal to account for our reality since 2007. Nine years is more than enough for whatever that will work should have long before now. From my perspective, the American people have been unbelievably patient, giving first Ben Bernanke the benefit of the doubt that he so clearly (to me anyway) had not earned and in fact should have led directly to his dismissal on the spot for 2008. The problem is and remains Economics (capital “E”).

In very basic ways it starts with very basic concepts. Still referring to the Great “Recession” as a recession is one of the first facets that must change. A recession is a temporary interruption in economic growth, a fact that almost every layperson easily understands with no need for formal regression mathematics. But even Economics has insidiously redefined recession so that the current definition no longer fits the word. Very quietly, behind the scenes, every orthodox institution from the IMF to the Fed to the CBO has pared back economic “potential” such that it is a literal fraction of its former path.

abook-oct-2016-retail-sales-pluckabook-oct-2016-retail-sales-pluck2ABOOK August 2016 Potential CBO LastABOOK August 2016 Productivity Hours Worked

To an economist like Krugman, that is a mathematical result that only changes the formula for how to produce a recovery; for people like Sanders and Trump, it is a very real disaster that because of the mainstream redefinitions goes undiscovered and certainly unexamined. Economists and the politicians who rely upon them keep saying it will get much better if everyone just lets it play out when even their math says the people are right.

This is far more than semantics about the word recession; it even goes deep within markets, including some places where the agents that operate within them should know better. Some months ago I presented a chart from a presentation given by Larry Summers earlier this year that even now when I see it I cannot help but still be astounded by it. It shows the forward OIS curve and its history throughout the aftermath of the “recession.”

ABOOK June 2016 Secular Stagnation Summers OIS

The best that can be said of what you see above is how markets may be fully efficient, but in order to reach that conclusion it would mean these markets were betting over and over on just how stupid and wrong the FOMC and economists would be.

What the history of the OIS curve shows is that what happened in 2008 was clearly not a recession, but that insisting it was had very real and distortive effects that still reverberate in important ways (stocks). It has the practical effect of shutting off the necessary inquiry into what is really wrong here, which is what the OIS curve actually displays in all its damning detail. As I wrote back in June:

It speaks directly to the idea of “efficient markets”; how can money markets, the very basis of the wholesale financial system, continue to be so wrong? The answer is that QE and the view of bank reserves as money for use in the real economy is and has always been mistaken. Therefore, the upward sloping OIS curve (the one that finds normalization “always” 6 to 9 months into the future) is a bet on bank reserves as money; the eventual shriveling of it is the same as we find everywhere else, from German bunds to US treasuries to eurodollar futures – monetary contraction.

But that leaves us with another contradiction that can only continue so long as the word “recession” remains the primary description. In other words, Dr. Summers wrote that it was “aggressive” policy action on the part of the Fed especially that saved us all from a 1929 repeat; but then later in his same presentation he shows another chart where the current economy is on track in just a few years down the road to underperform the 1930’s! They saved us at the one end, but we are doomed anyway at the other?

ABOOK June 2016 Secular Stagnation Summers Great Depression comp

And the response from the likes of Paul Krugman is “just give it some more time” without, apparently, appreciating that time is not just the X-axis on these charts, it is a huge cost that accumulates exponentially. The clock struck down to zero long ago.

The word “recession” does not apply, and removing it from the vocabulary of current economics (small “e”) will have the effect of what the American people demanded of this campaign – the start toward honest answers. Everything about the last decade has been monetarily screwed up, starting with “subprime is contained.” Economists have been making these promises at every important juncture but still do not ever account for failing to deliver. “Trust us” is no longer a workable arrangement and no amount of “it’s for your own good” will restore such faith.

abook-nov-2016-wholesale-sales-depressionabook-nov-2016-wholesale-sales-total-cost

Ridding ourselves of the Great Recession is actually a step in the right direction, as small and pedant as it sounds. It would announce what a majority of Americans already know to economists who won’t so long as they define all our terms. In my view, socialism would be an even greater disaster (Europe anyone?), but at least the socialists are more advanced than the economists. They at least know what the problem is and seek to exploit it; economists can’t even be honest about it, as if we let them down somehow by not blindly accepting their view. After all, their dynamic equilibrium models check for heteroscedasticity and you likely don’t even know what that is. But while they narcissistically preen over their elegant creations, you don’t need to know what it is because you already know quite well it is wholly, irredeemably useless.

This is why the recovery is political. So long as politicians turn to Krugman and Janet Yellen for answers because they sound technically proficient, we will never get any. They still think the problem is the “right” mix of “stimulus” to overcome hysteresis or whatever demographic linearity they spit out of their regressions. Meanwhile in the real world, Americans are under no such illusions. They have to take care of their families, and they are fed up waiting for Paul Krugman to be right about how all his numbers remain so certain.  The only number that truly matters is -$2.2 trillion, and that is the lower bound (below) cost of technocratic incompetence.

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The Inconvenient Truth Behind Donald Trump’s Victory

Following the BREXIT vote in late June and passionate support for the Bernie Sanders campaign, the Presidential election of Donald Trump provided yet another sign that the American people, as well as many around the world, are increasingly demanding a new economic path. This piece is not written to opine on the election or the merits of Donald Trump. The intent is to highlight, through the use of a few charts, that the nation’s economic policy for the last 30 years has failed greatly and hollowed out the middle class. The consequences have been accumulating for years but have been camouflaged by ever increasing, but unsuccessful attempts to reignite economic growth.

The graphs below provide evidence that despite the narratives of the Federal Reserve, media pundits and most policy wonks, the economy is failing most Americans. While there are many ways to show the deterioration of the U.S. economy and the consequences endured by its citizens, we selected charts we deem to be the most telling.

We hope that no matter who you voted for, you study these graphs to better understand the impetus behind Trump’s victory. More importantly, we hope this helps everyone better grasp why economic policy must change before the consequences become dire.

As a supplement to these charts, we highly recommend reading or re-reading our important article “The Death of the Virtuous Cycle”. In that piece we identify and diagnose what we consider the most significant issue facing the United States and other developed market economies.

Income and Debt

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Real Median Household Income is at the same level today as it was in 1998.

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The ten-year average growth of wages has been declining for over 35 years.

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Personal consumption (PCE), accounting for approximately 70% of GDP growth, has grown heavily reliant upon debt and transfer payments as wages are not sufficient to meet consumers demands. Transfer payments are payments from the government to its citizens. (Note: The numbers above do not add to 100% as there are other sources of consumption and wages are not entirely consumed.)

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Secular economic growth (GDP) per capita has been in decline for the better part of the last 40 years. This helps explains the weakness in consumers’ wages and the increased dependency on credit and transfer payments.

Labor

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Almost 95 million eligible workers are currently out of work. As a result the labor force participation rate has decreased over the last 16 years to levels last seen in the 1970’s.

Productivity

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The productivity (TFP) growth rate (black line) has been declining since the 1970’s and will likely turn negative in the next year or two. A lack of productivity growth results in weaker economic growth, a heavy price inordinately borne by employees.

Trade Deals

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Trade deals, such as NAFTA (1994), make it easier for U.S. corporations to outsource jobs to foreign nations offering cheaper labor. As a result, the U.S. has lost millions of manufacturing jobs and significantly worsened the annual current account deficit.

Wealth and Income Inequality

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Years of poorly designed economic and monetary policy have resulted in the redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the so-called “1%”.

We summarize with an apt tweet from Binyamin Applebaum of the New York Times:

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The data for all graphs was courtesy of the Federal Reserve unless otherwise noted.