X-mas Goodies …

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Published on Economic Undertow on December 23, 2013

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God takes it in the neck among Americans surveyed in a recent Harris Interactive poll, (click on graph for big). Belief in Almighty God has collapsed 8% from 2005 – 2009. So much for John Michael Greer’s postulation that the world is entering an era of increased religiosity. By 2030 belief in God will be less than belief in ghosts. Heaven and miracles have taken a swift kick in the pants along with angels. There is still public support for Jesus, the devil and hell, but all have lost percentages. Astrology, witches and UFOs get votes but no mention of elves, dwarves or Hobbits …

The joint-and-several ‘God’ is an unknown quality but religions, like other political entities, are creatures of credibility; they exist only so long as their adherents believe in them. There is a real, ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ character to religion which makes the cynical, deterministic aspect of the regime function properly. As with finance, religion requires ‘fools in the market’, credulity is the lubricant of the faith process.

With the passage of time and the advance of modernity religions have become more ‘useless’; they are excluded from policy making, record keeping and secular intermediation — which have been historical roles. As with economics, there is a greater emphasis on abstract articles of faith and the ascendency of doctrine, or one form of doctrine over others. Because none of the doctrines actually ‘work’ or effect a direct outcome — only a promised outcome in some indeterminate ‘tomorrow’ — religion must compete with television and other high-powered anti-imagination forms of marketing which more effectively offer the same thing. ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘the future’ have become big business monopoly goods like ‘pleasure’; religion has been crowded out. In the narrow spaces remaining between marketing campaigns there are marginal ‘doctrine providers’ competing for relevance: sadistic sharia law adherents versus self-interested high-tech militarists, a pope critical of finance versus finance itself.

Filling the void vacated by superstitions; Darwinian evolution has become more popular by 5%. What does this mean? Maybe there is such a thing as progress but there is still a ways to go before America becomes a nation of hard-headed realists …

Speaking of belief in fairy tales:


North America to Drown in Oil as Mexico Ends Monopoly

Joe Carroll and Bradley Olson

The flood of North American crude oil is set to become a deluge as Mexico dismantles a 75-year-old barrier to foreign investment in its oil fields.

Plagued by almost a decade of slumping output that has degraded Mexico’s take from a $100-a-barrel oil market, President Enrique Pena Nieto is seeking an end to the state monopoly over one of the biggest crude resources in the Western Hemisphere. The doubling in Mexican oil output that Citigroup Inc. said may result from inviting international explorers to drill would be equivalent to adding another Nigeria to world supply, or about 2.5 million barrels a day.


Sweep the bumbling Mexican government out of the way, add nimble innovators and entrepreneurs (Exxon-Mobil) and get that gusher of oil! The process is so simple it’s a wonder why nobody thought of it earlier. Here is another one (NY Times):


Surge Seen in U.S. Oil Output, Lowering Gasoline PricesClifford Krauss and Stanley ReedHOUSTON — Domestic oil production will continue to soar for years to come, the Energy Department predicted on Monday, scaling to levels not seen in nearly half a century by 2016.The annual outlook by the department’s Energy Information Administration was cited by experts as confirmation that the United States was well on its way — far faster than anticipated even a year ago — to achieving virtual energy independence.

The report predicted that the increase in United States production would contribute to a decline in the world oil benchmark price over the next few years to $92 a barrel in 2017 from a 2012 average of $112 a barrel, which should translate into lower prices at the pump for consumers.

… “The E.I.A. report confirms that the United States really is experiencing an energy revolution,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian and author of “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.”

Oil production in North Dakota and Texas is expanding so rapidly that a glut of certain higher grades of oil has already developed in the Midwest and Gulf States. That glut is beginning to stir a debate in Washington over whether the Obama administration should reverse a policy of banning most exports of oil that goes back to the 1970s.


Notice the sleight of hand: the promise of low gas prices morphs into exports: extra money for customers becomes all the money for bosses. These guys practice by stealing candy from babies in their spare time …

Sadly, gasoline prices simply cannot fall as drillers must receive a larger percentage of funds than their customers to meet real, geologically driven costs. These costs constantly increase. In a way, throwing deluges of money at Mexican oil fields is the model for the rest of the world’s oil plays. If the drillers’ level of funding does not increase there will be shortages.

Says Kurt Cobb (Resource Insights):


– The trouble with optimistic forecasts of fossil fuel availability is that we can’t fix the situation easily if those forecasts turn out wrong to the downside and we have made absolutely no provision for this possibility, that is, we’ve done nothing to enable us to replace those fuels or to live with less and less of them over time. If we base our policies and actions on such forecasts, they must be right or we are in deep, deep trouble. We should strive instead to create a forecast-proof society.- Therefore, the most prudent course given the stakes is to begin a deliberate, but expedited program of deep energy reductions (through efficiency and conservation), dramatically ramp up the rate of renewable energy production and work furiously to solve the problem of electricity storage since most renewable energy comes in this form.


It’s hard to make deep energy reductions when your economy depends on sales of more cars and tract houses. Cobb wonders if the shills in the ongoing energy Ponzi schemes will be held to account … ?


The U.S. energy independence story: Will anyone be punished if it turns out to be wrong?… I ask because the story — and that’s all it is right now — appears to be driving public policy and business planning practically worldwide.Often implied with that narrative is a corresponding abundance of oil globally. In fact, some are predicating worldwide abundance on a continuous rise in U.S. oil output. This is despite the fact that even many optimistic forecasts make such ideas seem foolish. The actual data for crude plus condensate (which is the definition of oil) show oil production in the rest of world declining almost as much as the United States has increased its production from 2005 onward. Worldwide crude volumes have barely nudged upward in the last eight years, just 2.7 percent versus 10 percent in the previous eight-year period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is despite record oil prices and record investment!Now, a lot of people stand to get hurt by the energy independence/abundance story — which is, in effect, a forecast — if the story turns out to be wrong. This is because governments, businesses and households will not have prepared themselves for a negative surprise — all because they were assured that the United States and even the world had nothing to worry about when it comes to oil supplies.


Here’s a stuffer of some kind or other from Reformed Broker Josh Brown:


Sundown at the Permabear Alamo

I sure hope the US stock market pauses or corrects soon – because otherwise it’s going to be a complete and total permabear massacre.

China is stabilizing. Europe is growing – peripheral Europe is growing! Japan is percolating. US manufacturing is back above pre-recession levels and household net worth is too. American politicians are introducing bipartisan budget deals. Iran is talking peace. The gold investment complex is collapsing.

None of this was supposed to happen! It was all meant to unravel. WTF?

The pessimists have been absolutely routed this year, it’s becoming uncomfortable to watch. Their intellectual leaders are abandoning the cause or, worse, switching sides. None of their formulas or equations are working, they’re just losing more people more money every month. Those who answer to clients have run out of excuses, they’re now lashing out at everyone else to make themselves feel better.


What was the broker before he was reformed? What does he believe in? Elves? Fairies? That the money ‘making’ (stealing) is honest? That it is a substitute for creative and useful work? That it makes the world a better place? Indeed, the so-called ‘pessimists’ have been routed. Economic Undertow must confess missing one of the greatest stock bull markets in American history. Economic Undertow also missed the greatest stock bull market in Zimbabwe history …


Off Limits, but Blessed by the FedBy Gretchen Morgenson (NY Times)The good news arrived in a confidential letter from the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. Enron The nation’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase, had won the right to expand its reach in a lucrative business that has nothing to do with banking: electricity.Areas like electricity are generally off limits to banks because of the risks involved. But with its June 2010 letter, the Fed let JPMorgan take an even bigger role selling electricity in California and the Midwest, saying the push would “reasonably be expected to produce benefits to the public that outweigh any potential adverse effects.”

Three months later, JPMorgan traders began a scheme to manipulate electricity prices, ultimately forcing consumers in those regions to pay more every time they flicked on a light switch or an air-conditioner, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission subsequently contended …


Wall Street is a self-financed, government-approved Ponzi Scheme. Everything looks great for the moment … from a safe distance. Only the Ponzi promoters will be able to convert their holdings into actual money … before the scheme collapses under its own weight …

USA = Albania in 1997; there has been a 25% return in this one year for the S&P 500! How is this supposed to be a normal return?

None of the finance analysts or even high-level economists discuss energy, the effect of rising real energy costs (not nominal costs) on the economy … Nor do they discuss asset bubbles-as-energy-price-hedges. These hedges — which include currency union(s), military invasions of oil producers and shifting jobs overseas have failed completely since 1973. The only noise from analysts is nonsense about ‘Energy Independence’, ‘Saudi America’ and ‘Fracking Revolution’. Fantasy thinking exudes from the governments … when all the bosses are blatantly lying it is best to head for the hills.

Nicole Foss:


Following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, there was a spate of such schemes – notably MMM in Russia, Caritas in Romania, Jugoskandic and Dafiment Bank in Serbia, TAT in Macedonia, and VEFA Holdings, Xhafferi, Populli, Gjallica and several others in Albania. They were the topic of my academic research at the time. All of these lasted for quite a long time, and some paid out spectacular returns for much of that time. For instance, the Albanian funds , or quasi-banks, began by paying out 3-5% per month over a 6 month term and were eventually paying out 10% per month (and briefly much more as an interest rate war ensued very late in the game).


The payees were simply shills, many of them ‘reinvested’ their funds; why not? The person exiting the scheme was left with increasingly worthless paper money. What else to do with it? The Ponzis were together a contained form of hyper-inflation … just like Wall Street is now.


They were able to do this temporarily (offer extremely high interest rates) because the income from the buy-in of new entrants was supplemented by revenue from drug smuggling, oil sanctions busting, money laundering, gun running, human trafficking and a thriving trade in car theft from across Europe. There was some revenue from legitimate business interests, but not much in a country that survived mainly on a combination of remittances and politically supported criminal activity. Ironically, Albania was the darling of the IMF at the time.


Actually, the schemes could offer high rates because they didn’t actually pay anything. Returns were the famous ‘wealth effect’; paper gains. Outside of small cash payments to shills, funds flowed into the schemes and vanished. Promoters converted Albanian leks into harder European currencies using their long-established money laundering facilities. It was the absence of any real payout that kept the schemes running as long as they did. Think of the schemes as lotteries where the prizes became larger and larger with minimal payouts. Here is the IMF:


The Rise and Fall of Albania’s Pyramid SchemesChristopher JarvisDuring 1996-97, Albania was convulsed by the dramatic rise and collapse of several huge financial pyramid schemes. This article discusses the crisis and the steps other countries can take to prevent similar disasters.The pyramid scheme phenomenon in Albania is important because its scale relative to the size of the economy was unprecedented, and because the political and social consequences of the collapse of the pyramid schemes were profound. At their peak, the nominal value of the pyramid schemes’ liabilities amounted to almost half of the country’s GDP. Many Albanians—about two-thirds of the population—invested in them. When the schemes collapsed, there was uncontained rioting, the government fell, and the country descended into anarchy and a near civil war in which some 2,000 people were killed.


Change a few words here and there and it is easy compare Albania to Wall Street:


Why the pyramid schemes grewThe wide appeal of Albania’s schemes can be attributed to several factors, including Albanians’ unfamiliarity with financial markets; the deficiencies of the country’s formal financial system, which encouraged the development of an informal market and, within this market, of the pyramid schemes; and failures of governance.


Just substitute ‘Wall Street’s for ‘Albania’s, ‘Americans’ for ‘Albanians’; include laughable oversight and hyper-complexity of the formal finance system … change ‘shadow banking, black pools and over the counter swaps’ for ‘informal market’ … within this context the emergence of Ponzis is inevitable. Failures of governance in Anglo-American finance speaks for itself.


The proliferation of schemes had baleful effects. First, more depositors were drawn in. Although VEFA had the largest liabilities, it had only 85,000 depositors. Xhafferi and Populli between them attracted nearly 2 million depositors—in a country with a population of 3.5 million—within a few months. Second, the investment funds felt pressured to compete and began to offer higher interest rates on deposits. In July, Kamberi raised its monthly interest rate to 10 percent. In September, Populli began offering more than 30 percent a month. In November, Xhafferi offered to treble depositors’ money in three months; Sude responded with an offer to double principal in two months. By November, the face value of the schemes’ liabilities totaled $1.2 billion. Albanians sold their houses to invest in the schemes; farmers sold their livestock. The mood is vividly captured by a resident who said that, in the fall of 1996, Tirana smelled and sounded like a slaughterhouse, as farmers drove their animals to market to invest the proceeds in the pyramid schemes.Throughout the year, the government was a passive spectator to the unfolding crisis. Although the enormity of the problem became clear when the Bank of Albania discovered that VEFA’s deposits in the banking system were equivalent to $120 million (5 percent of GDP), and despite repeated warnings from the IMF and the World Bank, the finance ministry did not warn the public about the schemes until October. Even then, however, it drew a false and misleading distinction between companies with real investments, which were believed to be solvent, and “pure pyramid schemes.”

When it was suggested that some companies might be surviving by laundering money, President Sali Berisha came to their defense. Press and public reaction was mostly negative: the IMF was accused of trying to close down Albania’s most successful firms.

In November, in response to outside pressure, the government set up a committee to investigate the schemes. The committee never met. On November 19, Sude defaulted on its payments, and the collapse began.


The biggest difference between Albania and the Wall Street version is that the latter is self-financed, that is, the giant banks are lending to the speculators (their own investment arms) so that increase in worth — wealth effect — is collateral for more and more loans.

Meanwhile, here is a stocking stuffer for all the small children out there, not so much from Santa but from the endless clusterfuck in Fukushima, Japan:


Iodine-131 rises in Chiba prefecture.The most recent measurements of iodine-131 in sewage sludge from Chiba prefecture indicate the highest amount of I-131 since August. The last measurement was actually made on Dec. 3. It is the third highest measurement since May 2011.Iodine-131 from Gunma prefecture remained relatively low, as of Nov. 26.


This doesn’t come from The International Atomic Energy Agency or NRC but from a blog called ‘Bobby1′s Blog’! However, the information from Chiba and Gunma is real, from government web sites regarding real places. Here is a screenshot of the Gunma prefecture web page:

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.59.10 PM

Iodine-131 is a daughter product of nuclear fission, it isn’t a decay product. Iodine-131 is created by a nuclear chain reaction where an isotope such as U-235 is bombarded with neutrons. The fissile material decay chains do not include this isotope. The half-life of Iodine-131 is 8.2 days! What this means is there is are recent- or underway nuclear chain reactions nearby or within Gunma and Chiba prefectures.

Iodine-131 is used for medical radiation therapy and is also used as a tracer isotope for industrial purposes such as downhole logging in fracked gas- and oil wells. Isotopes for industrial or medical purposes are created by bombarding Tellurium with neutrons in a reactor. Otherwise Iodine-131 is a waste-product of a nuclear chain reaction: it is a percentage of nuclear spent fuel during and immediately after fissioning as well as a component of post-atomic blast fallout.

The sludge aspect is relevant only so far as that the isotope is concentrated: there should not be any Iodine-131 emissions at all. Below the radar of both the nuclear establishment and the media the Fukushima complex is actively fissioning. The Japanese are effectively running a reactor without containment. That they are not taking immediate steps to bring this to an end is incomprehensible.

The reactors melted down-blew up almost 3 years ago, long past the time to build a cofferdam around the site which would eliminate the flow of groundwater through the complex. It is likely that ground water is reflecting high-energy neutrons and creating chain reactions that are poisoned by Xenon-135. A measure of Xenon would determine the energy level of the reactions. A low-energy reaction is unlikely because the grid structure of the cores has been undone by their melting. More likely are very short high-energy reaction pulses that are poisoned by Xenon. This is very dangerous as high-energy reactions are unpredictable and can run-away into a prompt-criticality event. Such an event would be similar to the March, 2011 explosion in reactor unit #3. The Fukushima site would then be too radioactive for human workers to approach. There would then be the danger of follow-on explosions and fires on the site.

Keeping this in mind Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 5 and 6 must be decommissioned and de-fueled at once. If something goes wrong with the other reactors there is a chance that the fuel in these reactors would be adversely effected. Fuel assemblies from reactor unit #4 spent fuel pool are being shifted to the common fuel pool which is located approximately 100 meters from the four damaged reactors. If there is a significant radiation release from a damaged reactor it will be more difficult or impossible to approach the common pool to service it. All fuel must be removed from the site as soon as possible … regardless of the cost or sacrifice.

With a cofferdam in place it would be possible to seal the entire complex and contain radiation within a sarcophagus structure similar to that built over the ruined reactor at Chernobyl. Control of the underground water flows would reduce reactivity within the destroyed reactors and halt the flow of radioactive materials into the ocean. Radiation emitted by the damaged cores would be contained. It is hard to believe the Japanese have not made the all-out effort to build this containment. If the world’s third largest economy cannot properly manage failure one modest power plant complex how will it deal with its other reactors as the economy falters?

There is a creeping realization that radiation hazards from the Fukushima Daiichi complex are likely far greater than the establishment has been letting on …


Seventy sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan are filling suit against the Japanese company TEPCO after allegedly suffering radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant melt down.The law suit states TEPCO downplayed the nuclear radiation danger until it was too late.According to the suit, radiation experts who assisted in the decontamination say the USS Ronald Reagan sailed straight into a plume of radioactivity, which contaminated the ship’s water supply. Crew members washed, brushed their teeth and drank potentially contaminated water.The law suit claims active and former sailors are suffering from cancer, blindness, impotence, and fatigue as a result of the radiation exposure.


How much longer can the Japanese establishment keep a lid on reactor casualties in Japan? It will become more difficult to do so as time passes.

We need to stop believing that ‘God 2.0′ — technology and ‘Free Enterprise’ — can fix things that the previous versions of God have damaged or ruined. We need to start telling ourselves the truth; it really isn’t that painful for us to do so. Only the lies of interested parties paint truth-telling as ‘too hard to bear’. Everywhere you look it is clear that things are falling apart: reactors, governments, climate, finance and big business. Dear Santa, please give all of us a change of approach.

Or else your popularity is going to take a hit!

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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