By John W. Whitehead
January 26, 2016
“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Adding yet another layer of farce to an already comical spectacle, the 2016 presidential election has been given its own reality show. Presented by Showtime, The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth will follow the various presidential candidates from now until Election Day.
As if we need any more proof that politics in America has been reduced to a three-ring circus complete with carnival barkers, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, lion tamers, animal trainers, tight rope walkers, freaks, strong men, magicians, snake charmers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, ringmasters and clowns.
Truly, who needs bread and circuses when you have the assortment of clowns and contortionists that are running for the White House?
No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people.
Despite what is taught in school and the propaganda that is peddled by the media, the 2016 presidential election is not a populist election for a representative. Rather, it’s a gathering of shareholders to select the next CEO, a fact reinforced by the nation’s archaic electoral college system.
Anyone who believes that this election will bring about any real change in how the American government does business is either incredibly naïve, woefully out-of-touch, or oblivious to the fact that as an in-depth Princeton University study shows, we now live in an oligarchy that is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.”
When a country spends close to $5 billion to select what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified homecoming king or queen to occupy the White House, while 46 million of its people live in poverty, nearly 300,000 Americans are out of work, and more than 500,000 Americans are homeless, that’s a country whose priorities are out of step with the needs of its people.
As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”
In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.
As political science professor Gene Sharp notes in starker terms, “Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.”
To put it another way, the Establishment—the shadow government and its corporate partners that really run the show, pull the strings and dictate the policies, no matter who occupies the Oval Office—are not going to allow anyone to take office who will unravel their power structures. Those who have attempted to do so in the past have been effectively put out of commission.
So what is the solution to this blatant display of imperial elitism disguising itself as a populist exercise in representative government?
Stop playing the game. Stop supporting the system. Stop defending the insanity. Just stop.
Washington thrives on money, so stop giving them your money. Stop throwing your hard-earned dollars away on politicians and Super PACs who view you as nothing more than a means to an end. There are countless worthy grassroots organizations and nonprofits working in your community to address real needs like injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. Support them and you’ll see change you really can believe in in your own backyard.
Politicians depend on votes, so stop giving them your vote unless they have a proven track record of listening to their constituents, abiding by their wishes and working hard to earn and keep their trust.
Stop buying into the lie that your vote matters. Your vote doesn’t elect a president. Despite the fact that there are 218 million eligible voters in this country (only half of whom actually vote), it is the electoral college, made up of 538 individuals handpicked by the candidates’ respective parties, that actually selects the next president.
The only thing you’re accomplishing by taking part in the “reassurance ritual” of voting is sustaining the illusion that we have a democratic republic. What we have is a dictatorship, or as political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page more accurately term it, we are suffering from an “economic élite domination.”
Of course, we’ve done it to ourselves.
The American people have a history of choosing bread-and-circus distractions over the tedious work involved in self-government.
As a result, we have created an environment in which the economic elite (lobbyists, corporations, monied special interest groups) could dominate, rather than insisting that the views and opinions of the masses—“we the people”—dictate national policy. As the Princeton University oligarchy study indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. As such, the citizenry has little if any impact on the policies of government.
We allowed our so-called representatives to distance themselves from us, so much so that we are prohibited from approaching them in public, all the while they enjoy intimate relationships with those who can pay for access—primarily the Wall Street financiers. There are 131 lobbyists to every Senator, reinforcing concerns that the government represents the corporate elite rather than the citizenry.
We said nothing while our elections were turned into popularity contests populated by individuals better suited to be talk-show hosts rather than intelligent, reasoned debates on issues of domestic and foreign policy by individuals with solid experience, proven track records and tested integrity.
We turned our backs on things like wisdom, sound judgment, morality and truth, shrugging them off as old-fashioned, only to find ourselves saddled with lying politicians incapable of making fair and impartial decisions.
We let ourselves be persuaded that those yokels in Washington could do a better job of running this country than we could. It’s not a new problem. As former Senator Joseph S. Clark Jr. acknowledged in a 1955 article titled, “Wanted: Better Politicians”: “[W]e have too much mediocrity in the business of running the government of the country, and it troubles me that this should be so at a time of such complexity and crisis… Government by amateurs, semi-pros, and minor-leaguers will not meet the challenge of our times. We must realize that it takes great competence to run a country which, in spite of itself, has succeeded to world leadership in a time of deadly peril.”
We indulged our craving for entertainment news at the expense of our need for balanced reporting by a news media committed to asking the hard questions of government officials. The result, as former congressman Jim Leach points out, leaves us at a grave disadvantage: “At a time when in-depth analysis of the issues of the day has never been more important, quality journalism has been jeopardized by financial considerations and undercut by purveyors of ideology who facilely design news, like clothes, to appeal to a market segment.”
We bought into the fairytale that politicians are saviors, capable of fixing what’s wrong with our communities and our lives, when in fact, most politicians lead such sheltered lives that they have no clue about what their constituents must do to make ends meet. As political scientists Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams conclude, “In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent. The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better.”
We let ourselves be saddled with a two-party system and fooled into believing that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats, when in fact, the two parties are exactly the same. As one commentator noted, both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by Big Business, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.
Then, when faced with the prospect of voting for the lesser of two evils, many simply compromise their principles and overlook the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.
Perhaps worst of all, we allowed the cynicism of our age and the cronyism and corruption of Beltway politics to discourage us from believing that there was any hope for the American experiment in liberty.
Granted, it’s easy to become discouraged about the state of our nation. We’re drowning under the weight of too much debt, too many wars, too much power in the hands of a centralized government, too many militarized police, too many laws, too many lobbyists, and generally too much bad news.
It’s harder to believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom will prevail.
So where does that leave us?
Benjamin Franklin provided the answer. As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention trudged out of Independence Hall on September 17, 1787, an anxious woman in the crowd waiting at the entrance inquired of Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”
What Franklin meant, of course, is that when all is said and done, we get the government we deserve.
A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved, whether that means forgoing Monday night football in order to attend a city council meeting or risking arrest by picketing in front of a politician’s office.
Most of all, it takes a citizenry willing to do more than grouse and complain.
We must act—and act responsibly—keeping in mind that the duties of citizenship extend beyond the act of voting.
The powers-that-be want us to believe that our job as citizens begins and ends on Election Day. They want us to believe that we have no right to complain about the state of the nation unless we’ve cast our vote one way or the other. They want us to remain divided over politics, hostile to those with whom we disagree politically, and intolerant of anyone or anything whose solutions to what ails this country differ from our own.
What they don’t want us talking about is the fact that the government is corrupt, the system is rigged, the politicians don’t represent us, the electoral college is a joke, most of the candidates are frauds, and, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we as a nation are repeating the mistakes of history—namely, allowing a totalitarian state to reign over us.
Former concentration camp inmate Hannah Arendt warned against this when she wrote, “No matter what the specifically national tradition or the particular spiritual source of its ideology, totalitarian government always transformed classes into masses, supplanted the party system, not by one-party dictatorships, but by mass movement, shifted the center of power from the army to the police, and established a foreign policy openly directed toward world domination.”
Clearly, “we the people” have a decision to make.
Do we simply participate in the collapse of the American republic as it degenerates toward a totalitarian regime, or do we take a stand at this moment in history and reject the pathetic excuse for government that is being fobbed off on us?
Great Britain Condemns Muslim Brotherhood for Terrorism Ties; Obama Isolated in Close Ties to Jihadist Organization
09.12.2015 Author: Henry Kamens
Before oil is sold, it is tested. Oil test labs know exactly where the oil they test comes from and where it goes. We knew this even before the Las Vegas Sun broke a story about it.
But even though this story provided confirmation that there is no mystery about the oil sales funding ISIS, or the mechanism behind them, it hasn’t prevented these sales and transports continuing. This is because the logistics behind them are so sophisticated, and overseen at such a high level, that it is very difficult to isolate and expose the weak links in the chain.
When Bob Woodward of Watergate fame investigated drug use in Hollywood for a biography he found it more difficult to get to the truth than he had with Watergate, because the film industry closed ranks. Imagine how hard it is to expose what world governments are doing to support terrorism, when they try so hard to pretend they are doing the opposite. But maybe, just maybe, enough fingers are pointing in one direction to make it easier for other players to find an alternative, and sacrifice an ally along the way.
Would-be emperor with no clothes
We don’t know all the players involved in the transport and sale of ISIS oil. Inevitably, many are actually reputable oil testing and transport companies who go through the same procedures every day without them being called into question. But a few names which keep cropping up are a bit less than reputable, largely due to the concerns over their existing connections and how they maintain the bottom line.
One of these is Genel Energy Plc. This is one of the Rothschild companies, which should start alarm bells ringing in itself. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, we can say that it has made vast investments in Syria and Northern Iraq and it would make more business sense if it could deal with one compliant government in these countries rather than two unreliable ones. Taking a less charitable line, we can suggest, as some pundits have, that there has long been a Rothschild plan to create a Kurdish state for this purpose, and it was in the works even before the 9/11 attacks.
However, no one is going to sacrifice the Rothschilds, who can buy and sell any country on earth, and through investing in military actions. So if one of the players has to be cut out for being an embarrassment, it would have to be one the West already has plenty against. This is where, once again, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes in. He and his clan have made a lot of money by abusing their authority to become major components in this business. But if anyone has to take a fall to keep the operation running, they are the prime targets, and they know it.
Divorce of convenience
Turkey is a US ally because of where it is. It may be under constant disapproval for being everything the West claims to oppose, but as long as it is useful that doesn’t matter, unless, of course, you have the misfortune to live there.
One of Turkey’s most useful features is its ports – or rather, certain ports not actually in Turkey. Under the Treaty of Kars, signed in 1921, the area now known as the Adjarian Autonomous Region was ceded by the transitional Turkish state to the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, one clause of that agreement states that Turkey has the right to transport goods in and out of the port of Batumi without paying any duties and can use the port whenever it wants without paying any duties. In effect, this means it retains control of Batumi’s port facilities, and can classify them as a “strategic interest”.
This arrangement has several useful aspects. Firstly, the Georgian authorities cannot police the port. Turkey can do whatever it wants there, transporting goods which would be too risky to move elsewhere, and Georgia’s best bet is to claim a piece of the inevitable action. Secondly, as the port is a “strategic interest” any threat to it can be met with a military response, under another clause of the Kars treaty. Get too close, Turkey sends troops in, you risk World War Three over some dodgy goods.
Thirdly, the port was once in the Soviet Union and is now very close to Russia. People, as well as goods, can be smuggled through it, and this has created the smoke-and-mirrors world Batumi presents today, in which no one knows who really controls what. It has long been known as a can of worms best steered clear of, and this is the advice routinely given to reporters, diplomats, businessmen and even Black Sea holidaymakers who get too close to something they aren’t even aware of.
The nature of this port operation was confirmed in 2007. In that year Georgia embarked on an investigation into alleged Russian spies in its Ministry of Defence, including links to Saybolt Georgia. This was conducted with the help of Turkish and Israeli intelligence, but focused not of the Georgian MoD itself but on Batumi, where a thorough investigation was done into everything no one else is allowed to get near. It goes deeper than that … but let’s start with pipeline wars and all kinds of intrigue for the record.
It was later alleged that Russia had set up a spying facility in Batumi, disguised as an oil testing laboratory. But that would have nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence. The ministry’s name had been used to justify bringing in outside intelligence services for another purpose, Georgia having its own intelligence service, which calls in the CIA, not Turkey and Israel, when it wants extra help. So several of the managers of Saybolt Georgia, Armen Gevorkian, director and Ruben Shikoian, his deputy were arrested based on trumped up spy charges. The purpose was to secure actual control of oil exports from Georgia, and this was done in collaboration with Turkish intelligence—as now there would be no oversight.
When the long-preplanned Georgia-Russia war came the following year some regional analysts wondered why Georgia’s largest seaport was not being bombed by Russian planes. Israel is, of course, always seeking friendly terms with Russia as well as being a US ally, and secures a regular supply of oil through Batumi. They also asked why the war only lasted eight days, despite the Western protestations of support for Georgia. Turkey’s behind-the-scenes reminders of its right to intervene to protect its interests, and the disruption this would cause to global oil supplies, go a long way to explaining this.
So it is hardly surprising, given this background, that influential people in the Turkish state use the port for their own purposes. These include the son of President Erdogan. Bilal Erdogan owns the BMZ group, a marine transport company. Of all the companies he might own, this is the one he considers the most useful and unimpeachable.
Both Russia and Syria have openly accused the Erdogan family of transporting undocumented crude oil deriving from ISIS. Russia has also stated that the shooting down of its plane was retaliation for Russia bombing truckloads of oil supplies near the Syrian border.
Obviously the Erdogans deny all this. But Turkey is known to have smuggled Kurdish crude oil through another port, Ceyhan, for years. That port is state-owned. It is also Turkish state policy to support the Syrian opposition through oil sales, alongside the Western powers who arm, fund and train them, and therefore a state-controlled oil smuggling mechanism must exist and be part of a wider Western oil supply operation.
Turkey is serving a purpose, in exchange for the usual payoffs. But maybe the gravy train is about to come to an end. It is possible for test labs to tell exactly where the oil came from. Exactly!
Proof of the pudding
All the information now being released in the Western media conveniently smears Turkey. It is not the only country involved of course. But it is the one which will suffer most when the West tries to continue its game by investigating the allegations which are now being made.
When oil tankers arrive at their destinations the oil they carry can be retested. If results are falsified in Batumi or elsewhere, this will be picked up later on. At the moment the BTC oil pipeline, which passes through Batumi and Ceyhan (the ‘B’ and ‘C’ of its name) does not keep backup samples after testing, which suggests that some of the oil going through it is not what it is purported to be. But this must have been exposed elsewhere, by end users who may now be being given the signal that to maintain their existing supplies, it is in their interests to say what they know.
After all, this process has been gone through before. One of the oil testing labs in Batumi was once run in collaboration with a company called Saybolt Georgia. It parent company, based in The Netherlands, has a sordid history, having been implicated in Food for Oil deals with Iraq between 1996 and 2003.
Saybolt was set up as a scapegoat by US testing company Intertek Caleb Brett, working with US and Turkish intelligence. These parties raised no objection when it hired the son of Alex Bakradze, the former Head of State Security for former Adjarian ruler Aslan Abashidze. When the time came, Caleb Brett dropped the word and it was reported that Saybolt wasn’t all it presented itself as. Saying it was obliged to investigate its own allegations, it discovered that the head of the testing had had no qualifications whatsoever and removed several staff for having failed drug tests, which were of course undertaken in-house.
Thereafter Saybolt’s history revealed, and its connection with Bakradze and the reviled regime his father worked for made public knowledge. Caleb Brett did not pretend this was anything other than a plot: one of its management told one of the dismissed employees, “I can continue to list all non-conformities in QHSE/Compliance, Georgian Branch to explain the departure of one testing employee who was terminated and to share it with the media”.
It is no coincidence that both the BTC pipeline and the smaller Baku-Supsa pipeline are often down for repairs. The oil is merely abstracted from the point at which the repairs are being made, usually before it arrives to Georgian pumping station number 2, and sold on to third parties who use other routes controlled by the same logistics mechanism, off the books. Employing incompetents appears, on the surface, to give a very good reason for undertaking repairs. The repairs themselves also involve filling the pipeline with oil which has not been documented or tested, as theoretically, it isn’t being sent there, until the next political realignment of the logistics arrangements needs to take place.
Ignorance is not bliss
Few would shed tears if the Erdogan family were brought down by oil testing as the case study shows in Georgia. Turkey would likewise present itself as cleansed of its rotten apples, with the same vigour the US displays when distancing itself from Richard Nixon, whose many crimes were not only known about but encouraged by many of those who vilify him today. Then it would continue as an ally on new terms, and we would be told that its ISIS-funding past had been forgotten.
The mechanism for doing this is there, as Caleb Brett tests everything which passes through the BTC pipeline and always has. It has enough knowledge to bring Turkey’s leadership down overnight, and the information we are now receiving indicates that it is interested in doing this. It would also implicate itself of course, and its US and Turkish intelligence partners, if the full extent of its institutional knowledge was revealed. But only the discredited Turks will reveal it, while the international logistics mechanism will be subtly rejigged, with different players, and supplies of ISIS oil to the West, which suit both parties, will continue.
Insider sources claim that these same companies, and players, are tied in with the tankers used today in the smuggling of ISIS oil, and that nexus will give us the link with a group of Georgians working out of the Ukrainian port of Odessa, including former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvii.
When Jimmy Carter was US president he made a number of public addresses about energy, including his famous “malaise” speech. He eventually stopped doing it because the American people were no longer listening. You can get away with a lot if people aren’t really interested in what you’re doing. The progressive exposure of the Erdogan family’s oil smuggling for ISIS will bring down an ally which has pushed its luck too far, but that, rather than what they have done, will be the story.
The actual oil smuggling, and devastation it funds and causes, continue because none of us care enough to stop it. But that is no excuse for cynically exploiting the fact to destroy your own allies, simply because you have the power to do so.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
By David Dayen
The Obama administration’s desire for “fast track” trade authority is not limited to passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In fact, that may be the least important of three deals currently under negotiation by the U.S. Trade Representative. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bind the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union. And the largest agreement is also the least heralded: the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
On Wednesday, WikiLeaks brought this agreement into the spotlight by releasing 17 key TiSA-related documents, including 11 full chapters under negotiation. Though the outline for this agreement has been in place for nearly a year, these documents were supposed to remain classified for five years after being signed, an example of the secrecy surrounding the agreement, which outstrips even the TPP.
TiSA has been negotiated since 2013, between the United States, the European Union, and 22 other nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, and others scattered across South America and Asia. Overall, 12 of the G20 nations are represented, and negotiations have carefully incorporated practically every advanced economy except for the “BRICS” coalition of emerging markets (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
The deal would liberalize global trade of services, an expansive definition that encompasses air and maritime transport, package delivery, e-commerce, telecommunications, accountancy, engineering, consulting, health care, private education, financial services and more, covering close to 80 percent of the U.S. economy. Though member parties insist that the agreement would simply stop discrimination against foreign service providers, the text shows that TiSA would restrict how governments can manage their public laws through an effective regulatory cap. It could also dismantle and privatize state-owned enterprises, and turn those services over to the private sector. You begin to sound like the guy hanging out in front of the local food co-op passing around leaflets about One World Government when you talk about TiSA, but it really would clear the way for further corporate domination over sovereign countries and their citizens.
Reading the texts (here’s an example, the annex on air transport services) makes you realize the challenge for members of Congress or interested parties to comprehend a trade agreement while in negotiation. The “bracketed” text includes each country’s offer, merged into one document, with notations on whether the country proposed, is considering, or opposes each specific provision. You need to either be a trade lawyer or a very alert reader to know what’s going on. But between the text and a series of analyses released by WikiLeaks, you get a sense for what the countries negotiating TiSA want.
First, they want to limit regulation on service sectors, whether at the national, provincial or local level. The agreement has “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards. And a companion “ratchet” clause would make any broken trade barrier irreversible.
It may make sense to some to open service sectors up to competition. But under the agreement, governments may not be able to regulate staff to patient ratios in hospitals, or ban fracking, or tighten safety controls on airlines, or refuse accreditation to schools and universities. Foreign corporations must receive the same “national treatment” as domestic ones, and could argue that such regulations violate their ability to provide the service. Allowable regulations could not be “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service,” according to TiSA’s domestic regulation annex. No restrictions could be placed on foreign investment—corporations could control entire sectors.
This would force open dozens of services, including ones where state-owned enterprises, like the national telephone company in Uruguay or the national postal service of Italy, now operate. Previously, public services would be either broken up or forced into competition with foreign service providers. While the United States and European Union assured in a joint statement that such privatization need not be permanent, they also “noted the important complementary role of the private sector in these areas” to “improve the availability and diversity of services,” which doesn’t exactly connote a hands-off policy on the public commons.
Corporations would get to comment on any new regulatory attempts, and enforce this regulatory straitjacket through a dispute mechanism similar to the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process in other trade agreements, where they could win money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.
For an example of how this would work, let’s look at financial services. It too has a “standstill” clause, which given the unpredictability of future crises could leave governments helpless to stop a new and dangerous financial innovation. In fact, Switzerland has proposed that all TiSA countries must allow “any new financial service” to enter their market. So-called “prudential regulations” to protect investors or depositors are theoretically allowed, but they must not act contrary to TiSA rules, rendering them somewhat irrelevant.
Most controversially, all financial services suppliers could transfer individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws. This free flow of data across borders is true for the e-commerce annex as well; it breaks with thousands of years of precedent on locally kept business records, and has privacy advocates alarmed.
There’s no question that these provisions reinforce Senator Elizabeth Warren’s contention that a trade deal could undermine financial regulations like the Dodd-Frank Act. The Swiss proposal on allowances for financial services could invalidate derivatives rules, for example. And harmonizing regulations between the U.S. and EU would involve some alteration, as the EU rules are less stringent.
Member countries claim they want to simply open up trade in services between the 51 nations in the agreement. But there’s already an international deal governing these sectors through the World Trade Organization (WTO), called the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The only reason to re-write the rules is to replace GATS, which the European Union readily admits (“if enough WTO members join in, TiSA could be turned into a broader WTO agreement”).
That’s perhaps TiSA’s real goal—to pry open markets, deregulate and privatize services worldwide, even among emerging nations with no input into the agreement. U.S. corporations may benefit from such a structure, as the Chamber of Commerce suggests, but the impact on workers and citizens in America and across the globe is far less clear. Social, cultural, and even public health goals would be sidelined in favor of a regime that puts corporate profits first. It effectively nullifies the role of democratic governments to operate in the best interest of their constituents.
Unsurprisingly, this has raised far more concern globally than in the United States. But a completed TiSA would go through the same fast-track process as TPP, getting a guaranteed up-or-down vote in Congress without the possibility of amendment. Fast-track lasts six years, and negotiators for the next president may be even more willing to make the world safe for corporate hegemony. “This is as big a blow to our rights and freedom as the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America in a statement, “and in both cases our government’s secrecy is the key enabler.”
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.