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Big Europe Makes The Move…Hopelessly

This weekend, the Eggs Benedict Presidency himself, Mr. Francois Hollande, is calling for a new government to unite all of Europe. This is the last ditch effort of redlining welfare states to avoid change. If they can create a unified government, the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and French can have a fair shot of papering over their floundering social nets without being forced to undertake any meaningful reforms.

And they have no chance of pulling it off. The mood has decidedly swung against “Europe”. Plus Germany isn’t that stupid.

But it’s quite amazing that we’ve gotten to this point at all and it’s worth spending a few minutes talking about the progression itself. Because just fifty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an elected leader of a European country to call for full integration of the continent.

It’s worth starting the narrative after the end of World War 2; mostly because so many people were dead at that point that it was essentially a complete reset of the culture anyway. History before World War 2 exists as a sort of odd, discolored picture in time…one who’s inhabitants are almost forgotten.

And as Europe began to pick up the pieces, ghastly images began to emerge of a culture that did unspeakable acts. The death and carnage was so pervasive that it had the almost singular effect of destroying one of the more popular scientism movements – eugenics – practically overnight. As word of the concentration camps that the Axis had erected spread, very uncomfortable associations between our own work with forced sterilizations and gene and culture control here at home began to creep up, and almost instantaneously no one had ever believed in eugenics (despite it being almost blasphemy to argue against it just years early). Michael Crichton had a very excellent speech on this subject and if you haven’t read it, I recommend it in its full form.

And a major knock off effect of this self reflection was a Europe which had become more afraid of its own citizens than ever. I recently read another article (I couldn’t track it down, leave a link if you know the one) that I feel convincingly argued that much of the current EU form was erected to overrule democracy in favor of technocratic decision making by an “enlightened” class. If you want an example of how this plays out, consider that in the UK upwards of half of all new laws originate from Brussels. Lawmaking of this variety clearly denies basic rights of representation; and indeed that is the whole point.

Per this argument, the EU’s terror of its own citizens – which is at the heart of the EU rule making process – is a cultural development in response to the acts of populist movements across Europe in the prior generation.

But this is something of a contradiction. It wasn’t exactly democratic actions that committed those atrocities. Certainly a very vocal and nationalist undercurrent of supporters set those things in motion. But talking to the survivors of those years, one fairly consistent theme is that the common citizens that formed the backbone of the democracies had almost no idea of what was going on.

Rather, it was the very same form of technocrats, withholding information and utilizing propaganda, that had carried out the worst human rights violations. A lack of information stifled the ability of democracy to react, until much later, after the veil of ignorance was lifted by warfare, and the sights and accounts were allowed to flow through the populace.

And so it is also worth considering that it would be exceedingly difficult for any atrocity on the scale of the early 20th century to happen again in our history, so long as the information sharing which is reshaping our society is allowed to spread unhindered. With so much access to free information, even unwilling participants accessory to such crimes would be able to anonymously spread the word.

Which leaves the EU in its current form of stifling, undemocratic processes. And one has to wonder, “what’s the point of this?”

The EU is predominantly about the euro, which is the second layer of trouble. The modern welfare state also evolved in response to the end of the World Wars; a period of time when starvation and economic poverty was running rampant across war torn nations and when modern political movements were asking how they could avoid letting events like that ever replay themselves. The proposed solution was to directly aid citizens, which would have the secondary effect of giving everyone an incentive not to participate in forms of political upheaval or risk losing those benefits.

But the heart of the welfare state is a type of nationalism; open borders and free moving populations make for trouble when trying to run national benefits.

Which makes it so odd that welfare states in the 90’s decided to adopt a common currency that they have no direct control over. The welfare state de facto playbook is to address any inevitable economic stagnation, recession or depression with new economic equilibrium, rather than economic reform. The entire point of practical political welfare is to entrench interests of a political majority and avoid challenges. The other guys get to deal with economic variability. See public sector labor unions for an idea of how that works.

By switching to the euro, perhaps unknowingly, the welfare state model sold out its most powerful tool to achieve that outcome. Modern problems are very much a product of adopting the euro. Pro-welfare commentators in the media take it a step further by pinning the fault of those problems on the euro as well. That belies a bias towards a welfare model of government. You could easily argue that the welfare model is itself the problem and that the euro was just a monumentally stupid strategic move on the part of the major players. In either case, the common currency without political union is causing fissures to form across Europe, for the better part of 5 years now. We’ve sort of beat this theme to death by now, so I’ll cut more commentary short here.

And so now, in 2015, we have the president of France actually considering a political union with old cultural enemies Germany and the UK, and Greece immediately trying to undo the effects of a referendum they themselves wanted to have. It’s almost preposterous, if not for the desire to preserve the welfare programs. That’s the only driving force holding this thing together at this point.

So on a warm weekend in July, Francois Hollande is making a last ditch and desperate appeal that amounts to selling out everything French about France, just to avoid the discomfort of some relatively modest cuts and the bravery required to trust his own citizens.

You have to wonder if even Friedman would have seen that coming.

In short order, as the euro collapses towards dollar parity, this call will be picked up by the globalists here in the US as well. It will be their one chance, for perhaps hundreds of years, to stitch the US into the European framework. God willing we crush them without much trouble when that happens.

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A Global Power Shift Is Emerging

Short term cautions not withstanding, we are on the precipice of something great.

The entire structure of the global economy is shifting, slightly and slowly. But like all great change, the most striking of the movement comes all at once, at the end.

The United States is driving this assault of the balances of power, globally, as the energy revolution progresses on our shores. This country is set to become the biggest oil producer in the world – and we are now slowly removing the export restrictions that are the last remaining barrier to this end.

This isn’t just about US trade balances and deficits. Those numbers games matter, but they always matter less than you think.

This game is about power. Oil has been the source of power to our enemies for too long. Russia and the Middle East have fed well on global consumption of this product, erecting their cartels around the flow oil to global industry. It has made them powerful and a threat.

The move by the US to become the world’s largest producer of oil and gas can be viewed through a different lens than financial gain alone: this is also going to completely upend our adversaries. What wars and weapons and diplomacy and cooperation could not possibly have accomplished, given the entrenched interests we faced, this one mighty push on our part will quickly bring about.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You must get invested in it, and stay invested in it. All US leadership sees the goal, and no one objects to it. The days of getting beat about by monarchies in Saudi Arabia, needing to cut backroom deals that undermine our own morals with foreign militant groups, having to sit through endless meetings while Russian oligarchs threaten our allies with gas supply shortages…these days are coming to an end.

As the US increasingly becomes energy independent, the argument to even have relations with half these villains becomes non sequitur. We can marginalize them while circling around our true allies and real friends.

I can’t see everything that is going to come from this. Naturally US power will follow. And the North and South American continents should improve, swinging towards democracy and capitalism. Outside of that, while I think US energy independence is a good thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if war also follows. Revolutions surely, but also open war between foreign, former energy exporters who find themselves being boxed into a corner. The Saudi’s days are surely numbered, in particular.

My bet is that Russia will not change much, but they will also have to cut less lucrative deals with China to make it. So at least they will be a less powerful, less interfering Russia. Good riddance there.

Suffice to say, this is unpredictability at its best. While I think I see the theme, I do not yet hear the notes. But I’ll take my chances with it anyway. The old order of things was repulsive. I won’t be crying any tears for OPEC, or for Russia.

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Monetary Policy Remains Overwhelmingly Accommodative (And Outlook)

The fed decision to test the waters with a taper while I was away did surprise me, somewhat. Yet it did not phase me much and so I elected to remain on vacation, silent on the issue.

I would state now in hindsight that a $5B per month taper (with as much as another $5-10B in the works) would still put the Federal Reserve on path to add another ~$800B to its balance sheet in 2014. This remains colossal and would have the Fed assets outstanding at just under $5 Trillion by 2015.

They may very well have tapered by $5B/month just because they were running out of things to buy…(laughter)

If I were to state things that concern me as potential impediments to the US economy and growth, they would list (1) consumer slowdown from budget impacts (pension, healthcare costs, rents/mortgage, increased retirement contributions, etc), (2) foreign existential shocks (EU breakup, Asian crisis, similar collapse that disrupts foreign trade) – where exactly did the EU government debt go and why is it now suddenly not an issue? Who is buying it (ECB, Fed, banking scheme, inter-government trade imbalances, etc)? And what stops non-payment concerns from popping up again in the future? and (3) the election of a Republican majority

But banking solvency just isn’t on that list right now. Neither is inflation, really, although long term prospects of an uncontrollable outbreak of inflation remains a viable possibility. With credit expansion in this country limited to growth of government balance sheets, deflationary pressure is set to commence…until it doesn’t. In the meantime, another ~$1 Trillion of free money to those closest to the trough will keep a major disruption of financial assets here at home as a low probability outcome. Of course, this bodes ill for the “wealth equality” lot, but they’re too dumb to call the system out on that, so we maintain the course.

Concerns aside, I am optimistic. Recessions don’t last forever, and my concerns are outweighed by hope in outlook. I am very long (no margin) and prepared to reap the rewards of economic growth. It’s been almost six years; the system has been on a hyperactive outlook for problems which greatly reduces the likelihood that a real “Black Swan” manages to crop up. It could still happen of course, but with hundreds of thousands of financial professionals calling bubbles as quickly as problems crop up, and a full time central banking staff armed with an unlimited supply of money attacking them at first sight, how exactly is a crisis supposed to materialize from all of this?

The only room for crisis in the US is rampant commodity/asset appreciation, which remains benign. That or an elsewise major shock to the consumer. Financial assets and liquidity issues are covered.

Now, that being said, historically we haven’t had a period longer than 10 years without a recession since at least 1789 (and probably not since long before that either – I just lack records to verify a more robust claim). I’d say the expectation of a correction since the Great Depression is 5-10 years with occasional 1-3 year shocks intermittently. We’re past the small shocks phase, which would put the expectation at right about where we’re at.

These times are unprecedented and the support the Fed is willing to lend the markets (unlike any time in recorded history) makes me think we blow through the averages. I want to say this ship will have the wind to sail to years seven, eight or nine, uninterrupted. We may even match the record holder of 10 or above.

However, it would be foolhardy to doubt another recession will most likely crop up before 2020. The ever growing levels of margin debt to buy equities may well be the first sign of the beginning of the final run before that. Of course it could be nothing.

My belief then is that a long commitment remains the way to go. I have been positively surprised by recent developments that have overridden prior comments on wanting to have a larger cash position by about this time (end of 2013) that I made late last year. However, as gains are taken, a portion should begun to be set aside, starting sometime mid 2014 to early 2015. This should create a reserve build-up of steadily marching intervals (10-20%, with a 1-2% increase every month topping out at around 40-50% of ones account value) sometime around late 2015 to early 2016.

At such time, a second hard look should be had. Earlier and exceptional strength should trigger a reassessment of these statements. Casual to quality growth does not necessarily change them. A major weakness (such as a shock of a GOP majority and fear of monetary policy interference) of course may necessitate a sudden course change.

My most hated places to invest are land/real estate (excluding multifamily or renting derived), oil companies (excluding natural gas predominated), and retail (excluding facilitation to the ultra-rich).

My favorite places center around natural gas production expansion, uranium, coal, multifamily REITs, and I remain interested in holding physical precious metals in a full position in the event an inflation shock from significant expansion in credit hits the economy.

I’m indifferent to the insurance market – especially health insurance. It could swing either way; they crawled into bed with the devil so it’s all political at this point. On the one hand, the entire market is shifting in wild and unpredictable ways. On the other, the feds are rigging the game in the insurance companies favor. Just stay away.

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Following Up Last Night, I’d Like A Word With The Tea Party Please

In the aftermath of this one sided game of chicken, I’m opting to take a minute to veer directly into the heart of politics. You see, I am a political zealot at my core. And while most of the time (sans elections) I do my best to keep it to a dull roar, this compels a direct response.

You see, when I go to the voting booth, I cast a straight Republican ticket. The first time I have ever voted for a Democrat occurred in the last election cycle, interesting enough, when I marked the ballot for one President Barrack Obama.

Mind you, I didn’t vote for him because I thought he would do a good job. To the contrary, I voted for him precisely because I knew he would do a bad one.

And in that respect, he has not disappointed. His management style is soft and lacks executive interest. His underlings run amok. The men and women he entrusts with delicate tasks are incompetent and generally corrupt. And because of that, less than a year after the last elections, we’re up to our necks in scandals that would have otherwise broken quietly out of the view of the public.

And then, just a few weeks ago, the federal ACA exchanges were rolled out; and it has been nothing shy of a complete disaster.

To put it bluntly, I voted for Obama to stack a Royal Flush for the GOP next cycle.

But there was one element of this plan I could not foresee. The Tea Party.

There was going to be a point in time when the GOP was supposed to go all in. That goes without saying. I just would have liked them not to go all in on the first bet. But as tasteless as that choice was, the Tea Party’s other major blunder is just inexcusable.

The Tea Party were dealt a Royal Flush, you jackasses. You had one job to do – one God damned job – show up, and keep your heads down. So what did you do?

You were dealt an unbeatable hand, so you burned the ace!?

Sure, I mean, why not introduce some help for everyone else at the table? That makes perfect sense. It’s not like Obama was so roiled by scandals his presidency had basically come to a screeching halt. It’s not like the exchange launch was the culmination of failure that, if left undisturbed, would have been a launching point as evidence of all the criticism government run healthcare has been receiving up until now.

No, it made complete sense to interrupt the entire process and distract everyone from these legitimate criticisms just so you could remind the entire planet what a stupid bunch of schmucks you are.

And who knows, maybe you’ll even be dealt a same suited ace? That would give you a Royal Flush. That’s an unbeatable hand!

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Sure Let’s Default. I’m All In

Alright, it seems like the benevolent Tea Part folk have decided to share their complete inability to grasp simple concepts with the world, by forced contrition on the populace. It is time to eat our peas. Following the line of Obama’s hatred for those damn jet plane flying 1%-ers, the Tea Party have chosen to one up him, by destroying the 1% in its entirety. An unfortunate and slight side effect may be to destroy the other 99% of the country in the process, but hey…sometimes sacrifices must be born for the good of everyone. So making moves for the ill of everyone is the only logical course of action.

In an attempt to honor Argentina’s dim witted socialist president Fernández de Kirchner for her blood clot, the Tea Party have magnanimously extended a show of us revisiting that countries darkest moment, a point from which it has never recovered: elective default.

Remember that one time the global economy nearly collapsed because a single line of business for US banks bet large sums of money that non-creditworthy citizens would default at abnormally low rates in exchange for paper thin margins on those loans?

Well the entire global economy and all of finance has bet gargantuan sums of money that this non-creditworthy country will never default for no fucking margins.

By all means, how do you think this ends?

Frankly, I don’t care anymore, and am all in. Lay your neck under the axe, and taunt these pussies with all your hatred. See if they have the sack to swing.

What’s the alternative? You can turn all short doubling your money with the end of civilization, just in time to burn it to stay warm? You can barter that paper desperately for some precious metals that aren’t for sale? You can get shot by rioters and have it taken off your corpse?

Because if we actually default, it’ll be to late to go out and prepare. Just think of all the mechanisms that are tied to treasuries. There will be bank failures. And a slow, agonizing process as US spending on interest careens towards $1 trillion annually.

In the meantime, staying in our means would require we basically slash in half one of the following:

The entire defense budget OR
The entire non-defense budget

The point of the matter is that if we default, this place is going to get so screwed up anyway, what does it matter? At some point if the decision were not reversed, the man you know as Cain Hammond Thaler would simply cease to exist. His 9th floor office would be deserted; the only clue that he was ever there at all being an empty safe that used to house his silver and firearms and row upon row of cleaned out bookshelves.

I would simply take up my favorite pocket watch and walking stick, and slip away into the night…never to be heard from again.

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Michigan Putting Detroit Back On The Map

I for one have had more than enough of the Great Tragedy that is Detroit. Back in the days of Billy Durant, JP Morgan, and Rockefeller, Detroit was a beacon of the Industrial Revolution. The New Paris, it was a destination of distinguished and refined people the world over. Wealth flowed up and down the lakes of Michigan, and Her pride could not be measured.

Today, Detroit is a shit heap.

That last sentence is both succinct and proper – dilapidation deserves few words. Detroit is a terrible place because her residents are stupid people. Every bad judgement that can be exercised has been exercised in Detroit. If you can come up with a horrible idea, Detroit has tried that idea, sometimes multiple times in a row.

Today, the first steps towards the revitalization of this historical city have been made.

Kevin Orr, hand picked general of Rick Snyder (may his pimp hand always be strong), destroyed the gates of the city and entered her walls. The terror of the unwashed masses was great, as any man foolish enough to have lent Detroit money was lead into the public square for prompt execution.

Hail Caesar!

Less the populace think they would get off unscathed for their part in Detroit’s dishonorable rot, Orr then turned his war machine on the cushy public sector jobs and retiree benefits, battering them to ashes. A clear message was sent shivering through the public body: if you are going to choke out a city…nay, a culture…in an attempt to grant yourself her treasury, your claims will not be honored, and you will be left by the wayside.

The entire structure of public unions, city workers, and culture of corruption has been put on notice in a single, fell swipe.

To summarize the exact actions taken today:

If you are owed money by Detroit, you are done
If you are owed benefits by Detroit, you are done
If you receive an excessive salary from Detroit, you are done
If you held any amount of power or sway in Detroit, you are done
If you are keeping Detroit from revitalizing her public services and spaces, you are done
If you are the source of the sprawling blight in Detroit, you are done
If you are a voice keeping taxes high in Detroit, you are done
If you are one of the people generally creating racial tensions to the detriment of the city, you are done
If you are an obstacle to Detroit, you are done

The deal Orr put forward was so byzantine…I positively love it. It’s time to clean out the dead wood, by purging fire. A lesson must be taught: when you let yourself fall sucker to lies and deceit and false promises, no one will be coming to save you. Anyone who let themselves be tricked into thinking those empty promises of pensions, benefits and payments from a defunct body were subject to protections or guarantees by the rest of the state has felt the first shot across the bow today.

Rick Snyder (may his pimp hand always be strong) has heard the demands from those who elected him clear and distinctly. Anyone tangled in Detroit’s corruption is to be cut down at the knees.

Michigan has had quite enough of the Renaissance City’s oxymoron for one lifetime.

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