Category Archives: Economic collapse
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 1, 2016
According to Forbes, Ken Griffin, CEO and founder of the hedge fund, Citadel, has a net worth of $7.6 billion. But unbeknownst to most Americans, Citadel received a windfall boost from the taxpayers’ pocketbook sometime between September 18 to December 12, 2008. That was during the Wall Street crash when the U.S. government had taken over the big insurer, AIG, and decided to pay 100 cents on the dollar on AIG’s obligations to Wall Street banks and hedge funds.
Did the U.S. government have to pay 100 cents on the dollar when AIG was unable to pay what it owed. Absolutely not. It could have negotiated prudently on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, it doled out at least $93.2 billion as payment in full to banks and hedge funds, of which Citadel received at least $200 million. We say, at least, because all U.S. taxpayers are allowed to know in this matter by their government is what happened during that brief window of September 18 to December 12, 2008.
When it comes to Citadel, there is plenty more the government won’t tell the public. In 2014 the Securities and Exchange Commission refused our Freedom of Information Act request to learn how the dark pool operated by Citadel functions. What we did learn during our investigation is that Citadel has a history of fines over charges of serious trading violations. Read our in-depth report here.
We also know from media reports that in 2006, two years before Citadel got $200 million of what was effectively a taxpayer bailout, Griffin and his former wife paid $80 million for a Jasper Johns painting titled “False Start.” We also know that as of this past January, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, Griffin cashed out one of his full-floor condominiums in the Waldorf Astoria in Chicago for $16 million but still owns another full-floor condo there. The newspaper also reveals that Griffin additionally owns: “two full-floor units in the Park Tower [Chicago] — both the 67th floor and the full-floor, 66th-floor unit, which Griffin bought in 2012 for $15 million. He also owns homes in Aspen, Colo., Hawaii and Florida. Topping all of this is his recently reported, $200 million purchase of three full floors of a luxury condo tower under construction at 220 Central Park South in midtown Manhattan.”
Ken Griffin has bounced back nicely from the 2008 crash on Wall Street – unlike millions of other Americans who did not get a bailout and lost the single home they owned to foreclosure and robo-signed fake documents.
One of the reasons that Ken Griffin’s net worth has more than doubled from $3.7 billion in 2008 to today’s $7.6 billion, is that he pays taxes on his hedge fund winnings at a tax rate lower than that paid by plumbers and nurses. The tax dodge is respectably called “carried interest.” Economist Dean Baker has written an understandable article on the topic at Huffington Post, in which he crystallizes the tax dodge as follows:
“Many issues in tax law are complicated; the fund managers’ tax break is not. It’s just a good old-fashioned rip-off of ordinary taxpayers for the benefit of the wealthy. The basic point is very simple. The fund managers’ tax break allows managers of hedge funds, private equity funds, and various other investment funds to have much of their pay taxed at the capital gains tax rate rather than the tax rate applied to wage income.”
How does such a tax ripoff continue in an economy that can’t get out of a subpar two percent or less growth rate and a nation crippled under a $19 trillion debt load, which in no small part results from the 2008 Wall Street crash, bailouts and stimulus packages? When you’re a billionaire, subsidized by the wage-earning taxpayer, you have lots of money to throw around in the world of politics.
According to Mother Jones, Ken Griffin’s name appeared on the 2014 list of the movers and shakers that had private meetings scheduled with the Koch brothers to plot how to make sure the 2014 midterm elections came out to their liking.
And, of course, it also helps to have the quintessential bailout king on your payroll just in case another crisis occurs. Last April, Citadel issued a press release announcing that former Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, would move to the payroll of Citadel as an outside Senior Advisor. Bernanke presided over the largest secret bailout of Wall Street and foreign banks in U.S. history, requiring Bloomberg News to fight for years in court to uncover at least some of the truth.
Fortune Magazine had previously reported that Citadel was holding secret meetings with the Federal Reserve during the Wall Street crisis, writing on December 9, 2008 that “Then there was the most damaging rumor of all: Griffin had been holding ‘secret meetings’ with the Federal Reserve, looking for a bailout.”
We wanted to find out just whom it was that Bernanke had met with during the crisis. We filed a Freedom of Information Act request and waited. When we received Bernanke’s daily appointment calendar in 2014, six long years after the peak of the crisis, it was still heavily redacted, with a whopping 84 meetings between January 1, 2007 and the collapse of Bear Stearns on the weekend of March 15-16, 2008 blacked out.
The anger of the American voter, reflected in their antipathy to anything and anyone considered “establishment,” has been fueled in no small part by an increasingly secret government and a one percent class that has been able to keep it that way.
By Bill Bonner Of Bonner And Partners
Literally, Your ATM Won’t Work…
While we were thinking about what was really going on with today’s strange new money system, a startling thought occurred to us.
Our financial system could take a surprising and catastrophic twist that almost nobody imagines, let alone anticipates.
Do you remember when a lethal tsunami hit the beaches of Southeast Asia, killing thousands of people and causing billions of dollars of damage?
Well, just before the 80-foot wall of water slammed into the coast an odd thing happened: The water disappeared.
The tide went out farther than anyone had ever seen before. Local fishermen headed for high ground immediately. They knew what it meant. But the tourists went out onto the beach looking for shells!
The same thing could happen to the money supply…
There’s Not Enough Physical Money
Here’s how… and why:
It’s almost seems impossible. Hard to imagine. Difficult to understand. But if you look at M2 money supply – which measures coins and notes in circulation as well as bank deposits and money market accounts – America’s money stock amounted to $11.7 trillion as of last month.
But there was just $1.3 trillion of physical currency in circulation – about only half of which is in the US. (Nobody knows for sure.)
What we use as money today is mostly credit. It exists as zeros and ones in electronic bank accounts. We never see it. Touch it. Feel it. Count it out. Or lose it behind seat cushions.
Banks profit – handsomely – by creating this credit. And as long as banks have sufficient capital, they are happy to create as much credit as we are willing to pay for.
After all, it costs the banks almost nothing to create new credit. That’s why we have so much of it.
A monetary system like this has never before existed. And this one has existed only during a time when credit was undergoing an epic expansion.
So our monetary system has never been thoroughly tested. How will it hold up in a deep or prolonged credit contraction? Can it survive an extended bear market in bonds or stocks? What would happen if consumer prices were out of control?
Less Than Zero
Our current money system began in 1971.
It survived consumer price inflation of almost 14% a year in 1980. But Paul Volcker was already on the job, raising interest rates to bring inflation under control.
And it survived the “credit crunch” of 2008-09. Ben Bernanke dropped the price of credit to almost zero, by slashing short-term interest rates and buying trillions of dollars of government bonds.
But the next crisis could be very different…
Short-term interest rates are already close to zero in the U.S. (and less than zero in Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden). And according to a recent study by McKinsey, the world’s total debt (at least as officially recorded) now stands at $200 trillion – up $57 trillion since 2007. That’s 286% of global GDP… and far in excess of what the real economy can support.
At some point, a debt correction is inevitable. Debt expansions are always – always – followed by debt contractions. There is no other way. Debt cannot increase forever.
And when it happens, ZIRP and QE will not be enough to reverse the process, because they are already running at open throttle.
The value of debt drops sharply and fast. Creditors look to their borrowers… traders look at their counterparties… bankers look at each other…
…and suddenly, no one wants to part with a penny, for fear he may never see it again. Credit stops.
It’s not just that no one wants to lend; no one wants to borrow either – except for desperate people with no choice, usually those who have no hope of paying their debts.
Just as we saw after the 2008 crisis, we can expect a quick response from the feds.
The Fed will announce unlimited new borrowing facilities. But it won’t matter….
House prices will be crashing. (Who will lend against the value of a house?) Stock prices will be crashing. (Who will be able to borrow against his stocks?) Art, collectibles, and resources – all we be in free fall.
The NEXT Crisis
In the last crisis, every major bank and investment firm on Wall Street would have gone broke had the feds not intervened. Next time it may not be so easy to save them.
The next crisis is likely to be across ALL asset classes. And with $57 trillion more in global debt than in 2007, it is likely to be much harder to stop.
Are you with us so far?
Because here is where it gets interesting…
In a gold-backed monetary system prices fall. But the money is still there. Money becomes more valuable. It doesn’t disappear. It is more valuable because you can use it to buy more stuff.
Naturally, people hold on to it. Of course, the velocity of money – the frequency at which each unit of currency is used to buy something – falls. And this makes it appear that the supply of money is falling too.
But imagine what happens to credit money. The money doesn’t just stop circulating. It vanishes. As collateral goes bad, credit is destroyed.
A bank that had an “asset” (in the form of a loan to a customer) of $100,000 in June may have zilch by July. A corporation that splurged on share buybacks one week could find those shares cut in half two weeks later. A person with a $100,000 stock market portfolio one day could find his portfolio has no value at all a few days later.
All of this is standard fare for a credit crisis. The new wrinkle – a devastating one – is that people now do what they always do, but they are forced to do it in a radically different way.
They stop spending. They hoard cash. But what cash do you hoard when most transactions are done on credit? Do you hoard a line of credit? Do you put your credit card in your vault?
No. People will hoard the kind of cash they understand… something they can put their hands on… something that is gaining value – rapidly. They’ll want dollar bills.
Also, following a well-known pattern, these paper dollars will quickly disappear. People drain cash machines. They drain credit facilities. They ask for “cash back” when they use their credit cards. They want real money – old-fashioned money that they can put in their pockets and their home safes…
Let us stop here and remind readers that we’re talking about a short time frame – days… maybe weeks… a couple of months at most. That’s all. It’s the period after the credit crisis has sucked the cash out of the system… and before the government’s inflation tsunami has hit.
As Ben Bernanke put it, “a determined central bank can always create positive consumer price inflation.” But it takes time!
And during that interval, panic will set in. A dollar panic – with people desperate to put their hands on dollars… to pay for food… for fuel…and for everything else they need.
Credit may still be available. But it will be useless. No one will want it. ATMs and banks will run out of cash. Credit facilities will be drained of real cash. Banks will put up signs, first: “Cash withdrawals limited to $500.” And then: “No Cash Withdrawals.”
You will have a credit card with a $10,000 line of credit. You have $5,000 in your debit account. But all financial institutions are staggering. And in the news you will read that your bank has defaulted and been placed in receivership. What would you rather have? Your $10,000 line of credit or a stack of $50 bills?
You will go to buy gasoline. You will take out your credit card to pay.
“Cash Only,” the sign will say. Because the machinery of the credit economy will be breaking down. The gas station… its suppliers… and its financiers do not want to get stuck with a “credit” from your bankrupt lender!
Whose credit cards are still good? Whose lines of credit are still valuable? Whose bank is ready to fail? Who can pay his mortgage? Who will honor his credit card debt? In a crisis, those questions will be as common as “Who will win an Oscar?” today.
But no one will know the answers. Quickly, they will stop guessing… and turn to cash.
Our advice: Keep some on hand. You may need it.
The big global banks have begun to warn clients that the blistering rally in oil and industrial commodities in recent weeks has run far ahead of economic reality, raising the risk of a fresh slump in prices over the summer.
Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank have all issued reports advising investors to tread carefully as energy and base metals fall prey to unstable speculative flows in the derivatives markets.
Oil has jumped 40pc since January even as the US, China and the world economy as a whole have been sputtering, falling far short of expectations.
“Watch out: this rally may not last. The risks for a reversal in recent commodity price trends are growing,” said analysts at Barclays.
“There is a huge disconnect between the price action in physical markets where differentials are signalling over-supply and the futures markets where all looks rosy.”
Miswin Mahesh, the bank’s oil strategist, said a glut of excess oil is emerging in the mid-Atlantic, with inventories rising at a rate of 1m barrels a day. Angola and Nigeria are sitting on 80m barrels of unsold crude and excess cargoes are building up in the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
Morgan Stanley echoed the concerns, warning that speculators and financial investors have taken out a record number of “long” positions on Brent crude on the futures markets even though the world economy keeps falling short of expectations. “We have growing concerns about crude fundamentals in the second half of 2015 and 2016,” it said.
Shale producers in the US are taking advantage of the artificial surge in prices to hedge a large part of their future output, more or less guaranteeing that the US will continue to pump 10m b/d and wage a war of attrition against high-cost producers in the rest of the world.
A comparable dynamic is playing out in the copper market, where net long positions have jumped 60pc since the start of the year and helped power the longest rally in copper prices since 2005, even as industrial output grinds to a halt in China.
The warnings come as a draft report from OPEC painted a gloomy picture of energy industry, predicting that oil wouldn’t touch $100 in the next 10 years.
The mini-boom in energy and metals has taken on huge significance since it is being taken as evidence that global recovery is under way and that the dangers of a deflationary spiral have abated. Barclays said that this in turn is a key factor driving up global bond yields, and therefore in repricing the cost of global credit.
If the commodity rally is being driven by investor exuberance in the derivatives markets – rather than a genuine recovery in the world economy – it is likely to short-circuit before long and could even lead to a relapse into deflation. It is extremely difficult for central banks to navigate these choppy waters, raising the risk of a policy mistake.
Fresh data suggest that the US economy may have contracted in the first quarter, and is currently growing at a rate of just 0.8pc, below the US Federal Reserve’s stall speed indicator.
Deutsche Bank has also warned that the energy rally is showing “signs of fatigue”, with near-record inventories in the US, and little likelihood of further stimulus from central banks at this stage to keep the game going. “We see fresh downside risks to crude oil prices heading into the summer,” it said.
Durable oil rallies are typically driven by OPEC cuts but this time the cartel has boosted supply by 500,000 b/d to 31m as Saudi Arabia tries to drive marginal drillers out of business across the world.
Contrary to expectations, America’s shale producers have yet to capitulate. The rig count has fallen by more than half but output has held up longer than expected. While a few drillers have gone bankrupt, others are already signalling plans to crank up production.
Houston-based EOG said it expects to boost output in the third quarter at the Eagle Ford basin in Texas, benefiting from dramatic gains in technology that are cutting shale costs at an astonishing speed. Devon Energy has raised its growth target to 25pc to 35pc this year, having cut its production costs by a fifth in the first quarter.
Tactical stockpiling of crude oil by China and other countries has masked the scale of oversupply but oil analysts say this effect may be fading. The deep economic slowdown in resource-hungry emerging markets has snuffed out the commodity supercycle. There is little sign yet of a durable rebound.
China is still slowing as President Xi Jinping deliberately engineers a deflation of the country’s investment bubble.
A series of cuts in the reserve requirement ratio and interest rates – including a 25pc reduction over the weekend – merely offsets “passive tightening” caused by capital outflows and rising real borrowing costs.
It is not yet a return to ‘”stimulus as usual”.
Not everybody is willing to throw in the towel on crude oil.
Michael Wittner, from Societe Generale, said US output will decline in the coming months as the delayed effects of lower investment start to bite, ultimately vindicating the Saudi’s shock strategy of flooding the market.
Crude stockpiles tend to build up from March to May. This is the “window of greatest vulnerability for a crude price correction”, Mr Wittner said. That window will be closing within weeks.
Tuesday, 27 January 2015 05:24 Brandon Smith
My theme for 2015 has been the assertion that this will be a year of shattered illusions; social, political, as well as economic. As I have noted in recent articles, 2014 set the stage for multiple engineered conflicts, including the false conflict between Eastern and Western financial and political powers, as well as the growing conflict between OPEC nations, shale producers, as well as conflicting notions on the security of the dollar’s petro-status and the security and stability of the European Union.
Since the derivatives and credit crisis of 2008, central banks have claimed their efforts revolve around intervention against the snowball effect of classical deflationary market trends. The REAL purpose of central bank stimulus actions, however, has been to create an illusory global financial environment in which traditional economic fundamentals are either ignored, or no longer reflect the concrete truths they are meant to convey. That is to say, the international banking cult has NO INTEREST whatsoever in saving the current system, despite the assumptions of many market analysts. They know full well that fiat printing, bond buying, and even manipulation of stocks will not change the nature of the underlying crisis.
Their only goal has been to stave off the visible effects of the crisis until a new system is ready (psychologically justified in the public consciousness) to be put into place. I wrote extensively about the admitted plan for a disastrous “economic reset” benefiting only the global elites in my article ‘The Economic End Game Explained’.
We are beginning to see the holes in the veil placed over the eyes of the general populace, most notably in the EU, where the elites are now implementing what I believe to be the final stages of the disruption of European markets.
The prevailing illusion concerning the EU is that it is a “model” for the future the globalists wish to create, and therefore, the assumption is that they would never deliberately allow the transnational union to fail. Unfortunately, people who make this argument do not seem to realize that the EU is NOT a model for the New World Order, it is in fact a mere stepping stone.
The rising propaganda argument voiced by elites in the International Monetary Fund and the Bank For International Settlements, not to mention the ECB, is not that Europe’s troubles stem from its ludicrous surrender to a faceless bureaucratic machine. Rather, the argument from the globalists is that Europe is failing because it is not “centralized enough”. Mario Draghi, head of the ECB and member of the board of directors of the BIS, tried to sell the idea that centralization solves everything in an editorial written at the beginning of this year.
“Ultimately, economic convergence among countries cannot be only an entry criterion for monetary union, or a condition that is met some of the time. It has to be a condition that is fulfilled all of the time. And for this reason, to complete monetary union we will ultimately have to deepen our political union further: to lay down its rights and obligations in a renewed institutional order.”
Make no mistake, the rhetoric that will be used by Fabian influenced media pundits and mainstream economic snake-oil salesmen in the coming months will say that the solution to EU instability as well as global instability is a single global governing body over the fiscal life of all nations and peoples. The argument will be that the economic crisis persists because we continue to cling to the “barbaric relic” of national sovereignty.
In the meantime, internationalists are protecting the legitimacy of stimulus actions and banker led policy by diverting attention away from the failure of the central planning methodology.
Mario Draghi has recently announced the institution of Europe’s own QE bond buying program, only months after Japan initiated yet another stimulus measure of its own, and only months after the Federal Reserve ended QE with the finale of the taper.
I would point out that essentially the moment the Fed finalized the taper of QE in the U.S., we immediately began to see a return of stock volatility, as well as the current plunge in oil prices. I think it should now be crystal clear to everyone where stimulus money was really going, as well as what assumptions oblivious daytraders were operating on.
The common claim today is that the QE of Japan and now the ECB are meant to take up the slack left behind in the manipulation of markets by the Fed. I disagree. As I have been saying since the announcement of the taper, stimulus measures have a shelf life, and central banks are not capable of propping up markets for much longer, even if that is their intention (which it is not). Why? Because even though market fundamentals have been obscured by a fog of manipulation, they unquestionably still apply. Real supply and demand will ALWAYS matter – they are like gravity, and we are forced to deal with them eventually.
Beyond available supply, all trade ultimately depend on two things – savings and demand. Without these two things, the economy will inevitably collapse. Central bank stimulus does not generated jobs, it does not generated available credit, it does not generated higher wages, nor does it generated ample savings. Thus, the economic crisis continues unabated and even stock markets are beginning to waver.
As demand collapses due to a lack of strong jobs and savings, it pulls down on the central bank fiat fueled rocket ship like an increase in gravity. The rocket (in this case equities markets and government debt) hits a point of terminal altitude. The banks are forced to pour in even more fiat fuel just to keep the vessel from crashing back to Earth. No matter how much fuel they create, the gravity of crashing demand increases equally in the opposite direction. In the end, the rocket will tumble and disintegrate in a spectacular explosion, filled to capacity with fuel but unable to go anywhere.
Oil markets have expressed this reality in relentless fashion the past few months. Real demand growth in oil has been stagnant for years, yet, because of stimulus, because of the real devaluation of the dollar, and because of market exuberance, prices were unrealistically high in comparison. The crash of oil is a startling sign that the exuberance is over, and something else is taking shape…
The disconnect within banker propaganda could be best summarized by Mario Draghi’s recent statements on the ECB’s new stimulus measures. When asked if he was concerned about the possibility of European QE triggering currency devaluation and hyperinflation, Draghi had this to say:
“I think the best way to answer to this is have we seen lots of inflation since the QE program started? Have we seen that? And now it’s quite a few years that we started. You know, our experience since we have these press conferences goes back to a little more than three years. In these 3 years we’ve lowered interest rates, I don’t know how many times, 4 or 5 times, 6 times maybe. And each times someone was saying, this is going to be terrible expansionary, there will be inflation. Some people voted against lowering interest rates way back at the end of November 2013. We did OMP. We did the LTROs. We did TLTROs. And somehow this runaway inflation hasn’t come yet.
So the jury is still out, but there must be a statute of limitations. Also for the people who say that there would be inflation, yes When please. Tell me, within what?”
Firstly, if you are using “official” CPI numbers in the U.S. to gauge whether or not there has been inflation, then yes, Draghi’s claim appears sound. However, if you use the traditional method (pre-1990’s) to calculate CPI rather than the new and incomplete method, inflation over the past few years has stood at around 8%-10%, and most essential goods including most food items have risen in price by 30% or more, far above the official 0%-1% numbers presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But beyond real inflation numbers I find a very humorous truth within Draghi’s rather disingenuous statement; yes, QE has not yet produced hyperinflation in the U.S. (primarily because the untold trillions in fiat created still sit idle in the coffers of international banks rather than circulating freely), however, what HAS stimulus actually accomplished if not inflation? Certainly not any semblance of economic recovery.
Look at it this way; I could also claim that if international bankers lined up on a stage at Davos and danced the funky-chicken, hyperinflation would probably not result. But what is the point of dancing the funky chicken, and really, what is the point of QE? Stimulus clearly has about as much positive effect on the economy as jerking around rhythmically in tight polypropylene disco pants.
Japan and the ECB are in fact launching sizable stimulus measures exactly because the QE of the Federal Reserve achieved ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except the purchase of 5-6 years without total collapse (only gradual collapse). And what is the real cost/benefit ratio of that purchase of half a decade of fiscal purgatory? When the breakdown of debt and forex markets does occur, it will be a hundred times worse than if the Fed had done nothing at all. Which brings me to our current state of affairs in 2015, and the IMF plan to take advantage…
IMF head Christine Lagarde put out a press release this past week, one which was probably drafted for her by a team of ghouls at the BIS, mentioning the formation of what she called the “New Multilateralism”.
Lagarde begins with the same old song about accommodative monetary policy:
“Besides structural reforms, building new momentum will require pulling all possible levers that can support global demand. Accommodative monetary policy will remain essential for as long as growth remains anemic – though we must pay careful attention to potential spillovers. Fiscal policy should be focused on promoting growth and creating jobs, while maintaining medium-term credibility.”
Of course, as we have already established, monetary policy does nothing to inspire demand. So, what is a global syndicate of bankers to do? Promote maximum interdependency! Lagarde laments the impediments of the sovereign attitude:
“No economy is an island; indeed, the global economy is more integrated than ever before. Consider this: Fifty years ago, emerging markets and developing economies accounted for about a quarter of world GDP. Today, they generate half of global income, a share that will continue to rise.
But sovereign states are no longer the only actors on the scene. A global network of new stakeholders has emerged, including NGOs and citizen activists – often empowered by social media. This new reality demands a new response. We will need to update, adapt, and deepen our methods of working together.”
And here we have a more subtle insinuation of the planning and programming I have been warning about for years. Because national sovereignty is no longer “practical” in an economically interdependent world (a world forced into economic interdependency by the globalists themselves), we must now change our way of thinking to support a more globalist framework.
The first big lie is that interdependency is a natural economic state. Historically, economies are more likely to survive and thrive the LESS dependent they are on outside factors. Independent, self contained, self sustaining, decentralized economies are the natural and preferable cultural path. Multilateralism (centralization) is completely contrary and destructive to this natural state, as we have already witnessed in the kind of panic which ensues across the globe when even one small nation, like Switzerland, decides to break from the accepted pattern of interdependency.
Also, take note of Lagarde’s reference to the growing role that developing nations (BRICS) are playing in this interdependent globalized mish-mash. As I have been warning, the IMF and the international banks fully intend to bring the BRICS further into the fold of the “new multilateralism”, and the supposed conflict between the East and the West is a ridiculous farce designed only as theater for the masses.
Lagarde reiterates the IMF push for inclusion of the BRICS (new networks of influence) into the new system, as well as the IMF’s role as the arbiter of global governance:
“This can be done by building on effective institutions of cooperation that already exist. Institutions like the IMF should be made even more representative in light of the dynamic shifts taking place in the global economy. The new networks of influence should be embraced and given space in the twenty-first century architecture of global governance. This is what I have called the “new multilateralism.” I believe it is the only way to address the challenges that the global community faces.”
The IMF head finishes with my favorite line, one which should tell you all you need to know about what is about to happen in 2015. I have for some time been following the progress (or lack of progress) in the IMF reforms presented in 2010; reforms which the U.S. Congress has refused to pass. Why? I believe the reforms remain dormant because the U.S. is MEANT to lose its veto powers within the IMF, and the IMF has already made clear that lack of passage will result in just that.
“Against this backdrop, the adoption of the IMF reforms by the United States Congress would send a long-overdue signal to rapidly growing emerging economies that the world counts on their voices, and their resources, to find global solutions to global problems.
Growth, trade, development, and climate change: 2015 will be a rendezvous of important multilateral initiatives. We cannot afford to see them fail. Let us make the right choices.”
Why remove U.S. veto power? Because BRICS nations like China are about to be given far more inclusion in the IMF’s multilateralist order. In fact, 2015 is the year in which the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights conference is set to commence, with initial discussions in May, and international meetings in October. I believe U.S. veto power will probably be removed by May, making the way clear (creating the rationale) for the marginalization of the U.S. dollar in favor of the SDR basket currency system, soon to be boosted by China’s induction.
In 2015 what we really have is a sprint towards currency and market devaluation across the spectrum. India, Japan, Russia, Europe, parts of South America, have all been debased monetarily. The U.S. has as well, most Americans just don’t know it yet. The value of this for globalists is far reaching. They have at a basic level created an atmosphere of lowered economic expectations – a global reduction in living standards which will at bottom lead to third world status for everyone. The elites hope that this will be enough to condition the public to support centralized financial control as the only option for survival.
It is hard to say what kind of Black Swans and false flags will be conjured in the meantime, but I highly doubt the shift towards the SDR will take place without considerable geopolitical turmoil. The public will require some sizable scapegoats for the kind of pain they will feel as the banks attempt to place the global economy in a totalitarian choke hold. While certain institutions may be held up as sacrificial lambs (including possibly the Federal Reserve itself), the concept of banker governance will be promoted as the best and only solution, despite the undeniable reality that the world would be a far better place if such men and their structures of influence were to be wiped off the face of the planet entirely.
by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,
The gravy train is over for oil workers. All over North America, people that felt very secure about their jobs just a few weeks ago are now getting pink slips. There are even some people that I know personally that this has happened to. The economy is really starting to bleed oil patch jobs, and as long as the price of oil stays down at this level the job losses are going to continue. But this is what happens when a “boom” turns into a “bust”.
Since 2003, drilling and extraction jobs in the United States have doubled. And these jobs typically pay very well. It is not uncommon for oil patch workers to make well over $100,000 a year, and these are precisely the types of jobs that we cannot afford to be losing. The middle class is struggling mightily as it is. And just like we witnessed in 2008, oil industry layoffs usually come before a downturn in employment for the overall economy. So if you think that it is tough to find a good job in America right now, you definitely will not like what comes next.
At one time, I encouraged those that were desperate for employment to check out states like North Dakota and Texas that were experiencing an oil boom. Unfortunately, the tremendous expansion that we witnessed is now reversing…
In states like North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas, which have reaped the benefits of a domestic oil boom, the retrenchment is beginning.
“Drilling budgets are being slashed across the board,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents more than 500 companies working in the state’s Bakken oil patch.
Smaller budgets and less extraction activity means less jobs.
Often, the loss of a job in this industry can come without any warning whatsoever. Just check out the following example from a recent Bloomberg article…
The first thing oilfield geophysicist Emmanuel Osakwe noticed when he arrived back at work before 8 a.m. last month after a short vacation was all the darkened offices.
By that time of morning, the West Houston building of his oilfield services company was usually bustling with workers. A couple hours later, after a surprise call from Human Resources, Osakwe was adding to the emptiness: one of thousands of energy industry workers getting their pink slips as crude prices have plunged to less than $50 a barrel.
These jobs are not easy to replace. If oil industry veterans go down to the local Wal-Mart to get jobs, they will end up making only a very small fraction of what they once did. Every one of these jobs that gets lost is really going to hurt.
And at this point, the job losses in the oil industry are threatening to become an avalanche. The following are 12 signs that the economy is really starting to bleed oil patch jobs…
#1 It is being projected that the U.S. oil rig count will decline by 15 percent in the first quarter of 2015 alone. And when there are less rigs operating, less workers are needed so people get fired.
#3 Oilfield services provider Baker Hughes has announced that it plans to lay off 7,000 workers.
#4 Schlumberger, a big player in the energy industry, has announced plans to get rid of 9,000 workers.
#5 Suncor Energy is eliminating 1,000 workers from their oil projects up in Canada.
#6 Halliburton’s energy industry operations have slowed down dramatically, so they gave pink slips to 1,000 workers last month.
#7 Diamondback Energy just slashed their capital expenditure budget 40 percent to just $450 million.
#8 Elevation Resources plans to cut their capital expenditure budget from $227 million to $100 million.
#9 Concho Resources says that it plans to reduce the number of rigs that it is operating from 35 to 25.
#10 Tullow Oil has reduced their exploration budget from approximately a billion dollars to about 200 million dollars.
#11 Henry Resources President Danny Campbell has announced that his company is reducing activity “by up to 40 percent“.
#12 The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is projecting that 140,000 jobs related to the energy industry will be lost in the state of Texas alone during 2015.
And of course it isn’t just workers that are going to suffer.
Some states are extremely dependent on oil revenues. Just take the state of Alaska for instance. According to one recent news report, 90 percent of the budget of Alaska comes from oil revenue…
But oil is also a revenue source in more than two dozen states, especially for about a third of them. In Alaska, where up to 90 percent of the budget is funded by oil, new Gov. Bill Walker has ordered agency heads to start identifying spending cuts.
Sadly, it looks like oil is not going to rebound any time soon.
China, the biggest user of oil in the world, just reported that economic growth expanded at the slowest pace in 24 years. And concerns about oversupply drove the price of U.S. crude down another couple of dollars on Monday…
Oil declined about 5 percent on Tuesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its 2015 global economic forecast on lower fuel demand and key producer Iran hinted prices could drop to $25 a barrel without supportive OPEC action.
U.S. crude, also known as West Texas Intermediate or WTI, settled 4.7 percent lower at $46.39 a barrel, near its intraday bottom of $46.23.
There is only one other time in history when we have seen an oil price crash of this magnitude.
That was in 2008, just before the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Saudi Arabia Declares Oil War on US Fracking, hits Railroads, Tank-Car Makers, Canada, Russia; Sinks Venezuela
by Wolf Richter • December 1, 2014
When OPEC announced on Thanksgiving Day that it would maintain oil production at 30 million barrels per day, chaos broke out in the oil market, and the price of oil around the globe spiraled into a terrific plunge. The unity of OPEC, if there ever was such a thing, was in tatters with Saudi oil minister smiling victoriously, and with a steaming Venezuelan oil minister thinking of the turmoil his country is facing [OPEC Refuses to Cut Production, Oil Plunges off the Chart].
The bloodletting in the oil markets on Thursday led to some wobbly stability on Friday, and for a while it seemed oil had found a bottom, but then the US stock market closed early while crude continued trading, and suddenly all heck re-broke loose, and the US benchmark WTI plunged again and broke the $66-a-barrel mark before coming to a rest at $66.06. After a near 10% dive in two days, WTI is now down 37% since June!
This chart shows the Thanksgiving plunge following OPEC’s decision, the deceptive stability Friday, and the afterhours plunge:
Now more information has emerged, confirming prior “rumors” and “conspiracy theories.”
During the closed-door meetings in Vienna, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi told OPEC members that OPEC had to combat the US fracking boom. If OPEC cut output to raise the price of oil, it would lose market share, he argued. The way to win would be to allow overproduction to depress prices to the point where they would destroy the profitability of North American producers. And they’d have to cut production, rather than OPEC.
With Saudi Arabia’s overwhelming power within OPEC, his argument won against objections from desperate members, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Algeria, which wanted a production cut to push prices back up.
“Naimi spoke about market share rivalry with the United States, and those who wanted a cut understood that there was no option to achieve it because the Saudis want a market share battle,” a source told Reuters to make sure the message got out.
Asked if this was a response to rising US production, OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri essentially confirmed OPEC had entered the oil war against the American shale revolution: “We answered,” he said. “We keep the same production. There is an answer here.”
The bloodletting is spreading.
While the US fracking boom is the official target, Canada’s tar-sands producers are getting hit the hardest. The process is expensive. Their production is largely land-locked and often has to be transported to distant refiners in Canada and the US by costly oil trains. Yet these high-cost producers are getting the least for their oil: The heavy-oil benchmark Western Canada Select (WCS) traded for $48.40 per barrel on Friday, down over 40% from June, the cheapest oil in the world.
Their shares got knocked down in sync: For example, Suncor Energy dropped 9% on Friday, down 27% since June; and Canadian Natural Resources dropped nearly 10% for the day, down 28% since June.
The US shale oil revolution is bleeding as well. Shares across the board are getting hit, many of them outright eviscerated. If the word “plunge” occurs a lot, it’s because that’s what these stocks did on Friday.
- Goodrich Petroleum plunged 34% on Friday; down 80% from June.
- Sanchez Energy plunged 29.5% on Friday, down 71% from June.
- Clayton Williams Energy plunged 25.6% on Friday, down 61% from May.
- Callon Petroleum plunged 18.6% on Friday, down 60% from June.
- Laredo Petroleum plunged 33.5% on Friday, down 66.5% from June.
- Oasis Petroleum plunged 27.2% on Friday, down 68% from July.
- Stone Energy plunged 24.1% on Friday, down 68% from April.
- Triangle Petroleum plunged 25.6% on Friday, down 62% from June.
- EP Energy plunged 25.3% on Friday, down 54% from June.
The list goes on. Even large oil companies got clobbered:
- Exxon Mobil down 4.2% for the day and 13% from July.
- ConocoPhillips down 6.7% for the day and 24% from July.
- Marathon Oil down 11% for the day and 31% from early September.
- Occidental Petroleum down 7.4% for the day and 24% from June.
- Anadarko Petroleum down 10.5% for the day and 30% since late August.
Then there is the Oil Service sector.
The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF dropped 8.9% for the day and has plummeted 34% from June. The current standout is its 10th-most heavily weighted component, Norway-based SeaDrill which had announced that it would cut its dividend to zero to deal with its mountain of debt, given the current environment. Its shares swooned on Thursday and Friday a total of 28% and are now down 70% from a year ago. The whole sector followed. This is what debt can do when the going gets tough.
Those are among the official targets of OPEC’s scorched-earth oil war. They’ve been hit, and they’re taking on water.
There is collateral damage.
With increasing amounts of oil being carried by oil trains, the railroads, which had been trading near their exuberant 52-week highs in large part due to the lucrative oil-train business, suddenly took a dive on Friday:
- Union Pacific -4.9%
- CSX -3.8%
- Canadian Pacific -8.0%
- Norfolk Southern -4.7%
- Kansas City Southern -5.1%
- Canadian National Railway -4.6%
- Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, isn’t publicly traded. But if the oil-train business gets hit, so will Buffett’s “steal.”
But this pales compared to the carnage in tank-car builders. On Friday, they plunged:
- Greenbrier -15% for the day, -28% from its September high.
- American Railcar Industries -12.9% for the day, -28.3% since August.
- FreightCar America -7.5% for the day, -21% since September.
- Trinity Industries -11.3% for the day, -36% since September.
The oil price move is already cascading through American industry. Bondholders are next. The US fracking boom was built with debt, much of it junk rated. And this pile of debt is now at the confluence of the collapsing price of oil, high costs of production, and sharp decline rates of fracked wells that force drillers to continue drilling just to maintain their revenues. It’s a toxic mix.
And there are victims of friendly fire, so to speak.
Particularly OPEC member Venezuela, dogged by the world’s highest inflation and worst budget deficit, is running out of options. On November 18, President Nicolas Maduro ordered $4 billion in loan proceeds from China to be transferred from an off-budget fund to one counted in the international reserves. The sudden appearance of $4 billion in international reserves pumped up bondholder confidence: the next day in intraday trading, Venezuelan bonds jumped the most in six years.
But it didn’t last long. Within a week, its international reserves dropped by $1.3 billion to $22.2 billion, Bloomberg reported. Venezuela had burned through one third of the Chinese money in one week. Venezuela must have much higher oil prices. Unless a miracles happens, or unless China bails it out altogether – at a steep price – the country is headed for default.
Russia, third-largest oil producer in the world, after Saudi Arabia and the US, also got hit, as did Norway, and their currencies have been brutalized [Ruble Freefall: And the Ugliest Currencies Are?]
But this time it’s different.
This time, OPEC is trying to depress oil prices. In prior years, OPEC tried to push prices as high as possible, but without killing the global economy and demand for oil. The balancing act led to high oil prices that consumers struggled to pay but that allowed the US shale revolution to bloom. If oil had remained at $40 or $50 a barrel, fracking wouldn’t have taken off. OPEC was, ironically, one of the enablers of fracking (yield-desperate investors, driven to near insanity by the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy, were the other one). And now fracking is threatening to make OPEC irrelevant.
Saudi Arabia, formerly the dominant oil producer in the world, the country whose mere words could shake up markets and manipulate US policies in the Middle East, and the master of an all-powerful OPEC, is reduced to struggling for simple market share, the hard way.
A lot of people believe that the plunge in the price of oil will be brief, and that it has gone pretty much as far as it can go, given production costs in the US and Canada. But the bloodletting in the US fracking revolution will go on until the money finally dries up. Read… How Low Can the Price of Oil Plunge?
By Michael T. Snyder
Americans are going to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season, and on Friday we got to see our fellow citizens fight each other like rabid animals over foreign-made flat screen televisions and Barbie dolls. As disgusting as this behavior is to many of us, there may soon come a time when we will all fondly remember these days. Most Americans are completely unaware of what is currently happening in the financial world, but right now there are deeply troubling signs that we could be on the verge of another major global financial collapse. If the next great economic downturn does strike in 2015, that could mean that we may have just witnessed the last great Black Friday celebration of American materialism. As you read this, stock prices are approximately double the value that they should be, margin debt is hovering near all-time record highs, and the “too big to fail” banks are being far more reckless than they were just prior to the last major stock market implosion. So many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed back in 2007 and 2008 are repeating right now, and as you will see below, this includes a horrifying crash in the price of oil. Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the slow-motion financial train wreck that is unfolding right before our eyes.
Every year, it has been my tradition to write an article about the mini-riots that erupt in retail stores all around the country on Black Friday. This year things were a bit calmer because so many stores opened up on Thanksgiving itself, but there was still plenty of chaos.
But instead of launching into another diatribe about how we are committing national economic suicide by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign-made goods with money that we do not have, I want to focus on what is coming next.
You see, I believe that in the not too distant future many of us will be wishing for the days when the debt-fueled U.S. economy was healthy enough for people to be wrestling with one another on the floor over good deals in our retail establishments.
The next great financial crash (which many have been anticipating for years) is rapidly approaching. So many of the same things that happened last time are happening again. As I noted above, this includes a crash in the price of oil.
In the months prior to the last stock market collapse, the price of oil began plummeting dramatically in the summer of 2008. This was an “early warning signal” that something was deeply amiss in the financial world…
Many people assume that a lower price for oil is good for the economy, but the exact opposite is actually true. The oil industry has become absolutely critical to the U.S. and Canadian economies. And in recent years, the “shale oil boom” has been one of the only bright spots for the United States. If the shale oil industry starts to fail because of lower prices, a lot of the boom areas all over the nation are going to go bust really quickly and a lot of the financial institutions that were backing these projects are going to feel an immense amount of pain.
Unfortunately for us, the “shale oil revolution” simply does not work at 80 dollars a barrel.
And it certainly does not work at 70 dollars a barrel.
As I write this, U.S. crude is sitting at about 66 dollars a barrel due to OPEC’s recent decision to not cut output.
That is the lowest price for U.S. crude since September 2009.
So just like we saw during the summer of 2008, crude oil prices are collapsing once again. The chart below comes from the Federal Reserve, but it is a few days out of date. Now that the price of crude is down to about 66 dollars, you have to imagine the price actually going below the bottom of this chart…
Needless to say, this price collapse is having a huge impact on the stock prices of oil companies. The following information about what happened in the markets on Friday comes from Business Insider…
Here were some of the biggest losers on Friday:
- BP Plc (NYSE:BP), down 5%
- Royal Dutch Shell A (NYSE:RDSa), down 6%
- Total SA (NYSE:TOT), down 5%
- Statoil ASA (NYSE:STO), down 14%
- Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), down 5%
- ConocoPhillips (COP), down 9%
- Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), down 13%
- Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), down 7%
- Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC), down 14%
- Linn Energy (NASDAQ:LINE), down 13%
- Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL), down 28%
- Oasis Petroleum (NYSE:OAS), down 32%
- Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp (NYSE:KOG), down 28%
And this list goes on.
But this could just be the beginning of the oil price declines.
The most powerful oil official in Russia believes that the price of oil could fall below $60 next year…
Russia’s most powerful oil official Igor Sechin said in an interview with an Austrian newspaper that oil prices could fall below $60 by mid-way through next year.
Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft (MCX:ROSN), Russia’s largest oil producer, also said U.S. oil production would fall after 2025 and that an oil market council should be created to monitor prices, the same day the OPEC cartel met in Vienna and left its output targets unchanged.
“We expect that a fall in the price to $60 and below is possible, but only during the first half, or rather by the end of the first half (of next year),” Sechin told the Die Presse newspaper.
And one oil industry analyst just told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately plunge as low as $35 a barrel…
“When you look at the second half of 2015, that’s when you see oil beginning to dwarf demand by about a million, a million and a half barrels a day,” he said. “Thirty-five dollars is a possibility if they don’t get an agreement next spring because that’s when the oil really starts to build and you can have a billion barrels of oil with really no place to put it.”
This comes at a time when there are already a whole host of signs that the global economy is slowing down. Three of the ten largest economies on the planet have already slipped into recession, and the economic nightmare over in Europe just continues to get even worse. In fact, we just learned that the unemployment rate in Italy has shot above 13 percent for the first time ever recorded.
In addition, it is important to remember that the “real economy” in the United States is in far worse shape than it was just prior to the last financial crash. Just consider these numbers…
-One recent survey found that about 22 percent of all Americans have had to turn to a church food panty for assistance.
-This year, almost one out of every five households in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving on food stamps.
-The rate of government dependence in America is at an all-time high and approximately 60 percent of U.S. households get more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes.
-According to a report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has soared to a new all-time record high of 2.5 million.
If things are this bad now, what are they going to look like after the next great financial crash?
And without a doubt, the next crash is coming. Hopefully we have at least a couple more months of relative stability, but many experts are now urgently warning that time is quickly running out.
By this time next year, Black Friday may look a whole lot different than it does today.
By Mollie Hemingway October 14, 2014
As the Ebola situation in West Africa continues to deteriorate, some U.S. officials are claiming that they would have been able to better deal with the public health threat if only they had more money.
Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told The Huffington Post, “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.” Hillary Clinton also claimed that funding restrictions were to blame for inability to combat Ebola.
Conservative critics have pointed out that the federal government has spent billions upon billions of dollars on unnecessary programs promoting a political agenda rather than targeting those funds to the fight against health threats.
Other limited government types point to the Progressive utopian foolishness seen in opposing political factions, both sides of which seem to agree humanity could somehow escape calamity if only we had a properly functioning government. People who don’t want an all-powerful government shouldn’t blame it for not having competence when crisis strikes.
What’s particularly interesting about this discussion, then, is that nobody has even discussed the fact that the federal government not ten years ago created and funded a brand new office in the Health and Human Services Department specifically to coordinate preparation for and response to public health threats like Ebola. The woman who heads that office, and reports directly to the HHS secretary, has been mysteriously invisible from the public handling of this threat. And she’s still on the job even though three years ago she was embroiled in a huge scandal of funneling a major stream of funding to a company with ties to a Democratic donor—and away from a company that was developing a treatment now being used on Ebola patients.
Before the media swallow implausible claims of funding problems, perhaps they could be more skeptical of the idea that government is responsible for solving all of humanity’s problems. Barring that, perhaps the media could at least look at the roles that waste, fraud, mismanagement, and general incompetence play in the repeated failures to solve the problems the feds unrealistically claim they will address. In a world where a $12.5 billion slush fund at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is used to fight the privatization of liquor stores, perhaps we should complain more about mission creep and Progressive faith in the habitually unrealized magic of increased government funding.
Lay of the Land
Collins’ NIH is part of the Health and Human Services Department. Real spending at that agency has increased nine-fold since 1970 and now tops $900 billion. Oh, if we could all endure such “funding slides,” eh?
Whether or not Dr. Collins’ effort to get more funding for NIH will be successful—if the past is prologue, we’ll throw more money at him—the fact is that Congress passed legislation with billions of dollars in funding specifically to coordinate preparation for public health threats like Ebola not 10 years ago. And yet the results of such funding have been hard to evaluate.
See, in 2004, Congress passed The Project Bioshield Act. The text of that legislation authorized up to $5,593,000,000 in new spending by NIH for the purpose of purchasing vaccines that would be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack. A major part of the plan was to allow stockpiling and distribution of vaccines.
Just two years later, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which created a new assistant secretary for preparedness and response to oversee medical efforts and called for a National Health Security Strategy. The Act established Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority as the focal point within HHS for medical efforts to protect the American civilian population against naturally occurring threats to public health. It specifically says this authority was established to give “an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the necessary vaccines, drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies.”
Last year, Congress passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 which keep the programs in effect for another five years.
If you look at any of the information about these pieces of legislation or the office and authorities that were created, this brand new expansion of the federal government was sold to us specifically as a means to fight public health threats like Ebola. That was the entire point of why the office and authorities were created.
In fact, when Sen. Bob Casey was asked if he agreed the U.S. needed an Ebola czar, which some legislators are demanding, he responded: “I don’t, because under the bill we have such a person in HHS already.”
The Invisible Dr. Lurie
So, we have an office for public health threat preparedness and response. And one of HHS’ eight assistant secretaries is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, whose job it is to “lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters, ranging from hurricanes to bioterrorism.”
In the video below, the woman who heads that office, Dr. Nicole Lurie, explains that the responsibilities of her office are “to help our country prepare for, respond to and recover from public health threats.” She says her major priority is to help the country prepare for emergencies and to “have the countermeasures—the medicines or vaccines that people might need to use in a public health emergency. So a large part of my office also is responsible for developing those countermeasures.”
Or, as National Journal rather glowingly puts it, “Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.” A profile of Lurie quoted her as saying, “I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover. It’s a pretty significant undertaking.” Still another refers to her as “the highest-ranking federal official in charge of preparing the nation to face such health crises as earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and pandemic influenza.”
Now, you might be wondering why the person in charge of all this is a name you’re not familiar with. Apart from a discussion of Casey’s comments on how we don’t need an Ebola czar because we already have one, a Google News search for Lurie’s name at the time of writing brings up nothing in the last hour, the last 24 hours, not even the last week! You have to get back to mid-September for a few brief mentions of her name in minor publications. Not a single one of those links is confidence building.
So why has the top official for public health threats been sidelined in the midst of the Ebola crisis? Only the not-known-for-transparency Obama administration knows for sure. But maybe taxpayers and voters should force Congress to do a better job with its oversight rather than get away with the far easier passing of legislation that grants additional funds before finding out what we got for all that money we allocated to this task over the last decade. And then maybe taxpayers should begin to puzzle out whether their really bad return on tax investment dollars is related to some sort of inherent problem with the administrative state.
The Ron Perelman Scandal
There are a few interesting things about the scandal Lurie was embroiled in years ago. You can—and should—read all about it in the Los Angeles Times‘ excellent front-page expose from November 2011, headlined: “Cost, need questioned in $433-million smallpox drug deal: A company controlled by a longtime political donor gets a no-bid contract to supply an experimental remedy for a threat that may not exist.” This Forbes piece is also interesting.
The donor is billionaire Ron Perelman, who was controlling shareholder of Siga. He’s a huge Democratic donor but he also gets Republicans to play for his team, of course. Siga was under scrutiny even back in October 2010 when The Huffington Post reported that it had named labor leader Andy Stern to its board and “compensated him with stock options that would become dramatically more valuable if the company managed to win the contract it sought with HHS—an agency where Stern has deep connections, having helped lead the year-plus fight for health care reform as then head of the Service Employees International Union.”
The award was controversial from almost every angle—including disputes about need, efficacy, and extremely high costs. There were also complaints about awarding a company of its size and structure a small business award as well as the negotiations involved in granting the award. It was so controversial that even Democrats in tight election races were calling for investigations.
Last month, Siga filed for bankruptcy after it was found liable for breaching a licensing contract. The drug it’s been trying to develop, which was projected to have limited utility, has not really panned out—yet the feds have continued to give valuable funds to the company even though the law would permit them to recoup some of their costs or to simply stop any further funding.
The Los Angeles Times revealed that, during the fight over the grant, Lurie wrote to Siga’s chief executive, Dr. Eric A. Rose, to tell him that someone new would be taking over the negotiations with the company. She wrote, “I trust this will be satisfactory to you.” Later she denied that she’d had any contact with Rose regarding the contract, saying such contact would have been inappropriate.
The company that most fought the peculiar sole-source contract award to Siga was Chimerix, which argued that its drug had far more promise than Siga’s. And, in fact, Chimerix’s Brincidofovir is an antiviral medication being developed for treatment of smallpox but also Ebola and adenovirus. In animal trials, it’s shown some success against adenoviruses, smallpox, and herpes—and preliminary tests show some promise against Ebola. On Oct. 6, the FDA authorized its use for some Ebola patients.
It was given to Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died, and Ashoka Mukpo, who doctors said had improved. Mukpo even tweeted that he was on the road to recovery.
Back to that Budget
Consider again how The Huffington Post parroted Collins’ claims:
Money, or rather the lack of it, is a big part of the problem. NIH’s purchasing power is down 23 percent from what it was a decade ago, and its budget has remained almost static. In fiscal year 2004, the agency’s budget was $28.03 billion. In FY 2013, it was $29.31 billion—barely a change, even before adjusting for inflation.
Of course, between the fiscal years 2000 and 2004, NIH’s budget jumped a whopping 58 percent. HHS’s 70,000 workers will spend a total of $958 billion this year, or about $7,789 for every U.S. household. A 2012 report on federal spending including the following nuggets about how NIH spends its supposedly tight funds:
- a $702,558 grant for the study of the impact of televisions and gas generators on villages in Vietnam.
- $175,587 to the University of Kentucky to study the impact of cocaine on the sex drive of Japanese quail.
- $55,382 to study hookah smoking in Jordan.
- $592,527 to study why chimpanzees throw objects.
Last year there were news reports about a $509,840 grant from NIH to pay for a study that will send text messages in “gay lingo” to meth-heads. There are many other shake-your-head examples of misguided spending that are easy to find.
Indeed. The Progressive belief that a powerful government can stop all calamity is misguided. In the last 10 years we passed multiple pieces of legislation to create funding streams, offices, and management authorities precisely for this moment. That we have nothing to show for it is not good reason to put even more faith in government without learning anything from our repeated mistakes. Responding to the missing Ebola Czar and her office’s corruption by throwing still more money, more management changes, and more bureaucratic complexity in her general direction is madness.