Here are a few prominent questions that George W. Bush might want to consider answering before slinking off back to Crawford:
- Why did you ignore the CIA’s warnings in the summer of 2001 that al-Qaeda could strike “imminently”?
- Why did you pledge in the 2000 election debates that you were against nation building, and then embark on not one but two nation-building programs in Iraq and Afghanistan?
- You increased the Federal debt by 86%; to what extent do you accept the blame for America’s debt troubles?
- You reappointed Alan Greenspan as the Fed Chairman; to what extent do you accept that his easy money policies caused the bubble that burst in 2008?
- Were the 2008 bailouts of well-connected banks and financial corporations engineered by your administration compatible with a supposedly “free-market” “capitalist” system? Doesn’t bailing out banks create dangerous moral hazard?
- How can a nation simultaneously claim to be a liberator while also practising torture?
- You swore to uphold the Constitution, yet passed the PATRIOT Act that authorised warrantless wiretapping, and mass surveillance in contravention of the Fourth Amendment. Do you realise that you violated your oath of office?
My sense is that the government has been watching the number of expatriates rise over the years, and simultaneously watching the value of the exit tax fall… and they’ve been looking for an excuse to make sweeping (i.e. retroactive) changes. Eduardo Saverin is the perfect excuse. The Facebook co-founder’s recent renunciation of US citizenship has become a rallying cry for politicians to go back in time and steal money from former citizens retroactively…plus establish a larger base for future tax revenues. This is a truly despicable thing to do considering that these former citizens followed the appropriate rules at the time, paid the tax, and moved on with their lives. Now Uncle Sam wants to go back in time to unilaterally change the deal, and expect everyone to abide even though they’re not even citizens anymore. The arrogance is overwhelming. More importantly, this bill is also a major deterrent for people who are thinking about renouncing US citizenship today.
Asking "what is wealth?" seems needless because we all know what wealth is: never having to work again, endless leisure, endless consumption of the "good things of life," being waited on hand and foot, luxurious belongings, vehicles and homes, a life of travel and sport, trust funds, stacks of secure gold, and so on. All this is "obvious," but is that certainty illusory? There are many people with $2 million in net worth, a significant number with $20 million, and more than a few with $200 million. All would be considered wealthy by the average household earning $63,000 annually with a total net worth of less than $100,000, not to mention the 61 million American wage-earners who pull down less than $20,000 a year who own negligible net worth. Those with a mere $2 million may not reckon themselves wealthy, if their eyes are fixed on those with $20 million. But if a wealthy person suddenly discovers they are riddled with fast-growing cancer, then they quickly lose interest in financial wealth except in terms of what medical treatment it can buy. There really isn't much more modern medicine can do for someone worth $200 million than it can for someone worth $2 million; once one's life and health are at risk, then conceptions of "wealth" are drastically reordered: health is wealth, and nothing else matters.
I had the privilege of seeing Roger Waters perform ‘The Wall’ to a live crowd of over 40,000 fans at the LA Coliseum on Saturday night– the second time I’ve seen the show on this tour. It was an amazing production– I wholeheartedly recommend the experience as it’s something that no DVD or album recording could possibly reproduce. At one point, Waters paused his set and began telling the audience about Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year old Brazilian national who was shot *8-times* by British police several years ago at a south London tube station after being mistakenly identified as a terrorist. The police, adhering to the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ model of peace enforcement, have never been held accountable for taking the life of an innocent man at point blank range. “If we stand at the top of the slope and give our governments, and particularly our police, too much power, it’s a very long and dangerous slippery slope to the bottom,” Waters said. The crowd went berserk, roaring with approval.
The reality is that — with the exception of Obama — Americans have again and again opted for a candidate who has paid lip-service to small government. Even Bill Clinton paid lip service to the idea that “the era of big government is over” (yeah, right). And then once in office, they have bucked their promises and massively increased the size and scope of government. Reagan’s administration increased the debt by 190% alone, and successive Presidents — especially George W. Bush and Barack Obama — just went bigger and bigger, in total contradict to voters’ expressed preferences. The choice between the Republicans and Democrats has been one of rhetoric and not policy. Republicans may consistently talk about reducing the size and scope of government, but they don’t follow through.Today Ron Paul, the only Republican candidate who is putting forth a seriously reduced notion of government, has been marginalised and sidelined by the major media and Republican establishment. The establishment candidate — Mitt Romney — as governor of Massachusetts left that state with the biggest per-capita debt of any state. His track record in government and his choice of advisers strongly suggest that he will follow in the George W. Bush school of promising smaller government and delivering massive government and massive debt.
All models of non-linear complex systems are crude because they attempt to model millions of interactions with a handful of variables. When it comes to global weather or global markets, our ability to predict non-linear complex systems with what amounts to mathematical tricks (algorithms, etc.) is proscribed by the fundamental limits of the tricks. Projecting current trends is also an erratic and inaccurate method of prediction. The current trend may continue or it may weaken or reverse. "The Way of the Tao is reversal," but gaming life's propensity for reversal with contrarian thinking is not sure-fire, either. If it was that easy to predict the future of markets, we'd all be millionaires. Part of the intrinsic uncertainty of the future is visible in unintended consequences. The Federal Reserve, for example, predicted that lowering interest rates to zero and paying banks interest on their deposits at the Federal Reserve would rebuild bank reserves by slight-of-hand. Banks would then start lending to qualified borrowers, and the economy would recover strongly as a result.
They were wrong on every count.
The Spanish government has promised to reform the public sector to make it thinner and more efficient. In practice, however, the political machinery based on spoils is being kept intact while some very critical public functions are coming apart at the seams. This results, for example, in overcrowded courts with insufficient staff and resources that bear no resemblance to a developed nation's judiciary. Angry and less motivated public employees feel robbed of their dignity and pockets while the general population’s dissatisfaction with tax-draining, yet increasingly inefficient, public services grows. Public workers fear a new wave of cuts in their salaries as a result of the debt-laden regional governments’ asking for more "solidarity" from those who have a secure job. Naturally, in a nation with almost 6 million unemployed, public servants will not find much support from society if they opt to go on strikes to protest additional salary cutbacks. Just how far is the government willing to make itself redundant, especially in a time of economic crisis? Does Spain need state-journalists working for state-owned radio and television stations (there are 48 public television stations across the country)? How about the double, triple and sometimes quadruple existence of government officials and agencies due to layers and layers of local, regional and central government institutions? Unions and political parties sustained with taxpayers' money? As far as public servants are concerned, more and more are realizing that a false concept of merit astutely devised by mediocre politicians secured them not a job for life, but a lifetime of serfdom.
Taxation is theft. There is no denying this. If I and a few brutes appeared at the door of an unsuspecting individual and demanded monetary compensation less we drag him off to jail, this would be a clear cut case of robbery. It is a common tactic used by mobs or street gangs to offer protection with the barrel of a gun. The only difference between shakedowns by private thugs and those employed by the state is the badge. The badge legalizes extortion and imprisonment. With that being said, it has been three years since the financial crisis and governments around the world are still reeling in the lesser Depression. Tax collections are down while public expenditures have skyrocketed in a vain effort to stabilize the economy. Much of this mass orgy in spending has been financed by central banks printing money and the suppression of interest rates down to artificially low levels. This is the Keynesian remedy to recession. Spend what you don’t have via the printing press. Have central bankers create paradise on Earth through counterfeiting.
So far it hasn’t worked.
Sometimes, the greatest deeds are done by those who are just doing their jobs, like Judge Katherine Forrest who last week struck down the indefinite detention provision (§1021) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It would be all too easy in this age of ever-encroaching authoritarianism in America for a judge ruling on a matter like this to just go with the government line and throw water over the plaintiffs. After all, telling truth to power has consequences. Forrest was appointed by Obama, but after this ruling one wonders whether she is about to meet a career dead-end. Power — especially narcissistic power — does not like being told uncomfortable truths. Everything about this case is shameful; it should be obvious to anyone who can read the Constitution that indefinite detention without trial (just like assassination without trial — something else that Obama and his goons have no problem practicing and defending) is hideously and cruelly unconstitutional. It defecates upon both the words and the spirit of the document.
From the BBC: "Facebook has started testing a system that lets users pay to highlight or promote posts. Facebook said the goal was to see if users were interested in paying to flag up their information." That’s their plan? That’s Zuckerberg’s big idea? Get users to pay to post premium content!? Did the well-circulated hoax that Facebook planned to get users to pay for use just turn out to be true? If they proceed with this (unlikely) it seems fairly obvious the world would say goodbye Facebook, hello free alternatives. The truth is that Facebook is a toy, a dreamworld, a figment of the imagination. Zuckerberg wanted to make the world a more connected place (and build a huge database of personal preferences), and he succeeded thanks to a huge slathering of venture capital. That’s an accomplishment, but it’s not a business. While the angel investors and college-dorm engineers will feel gratified at paper gains, it is becoming hard to ignore that there is no great profit engine under the venture. In fact, the big money coming into Facebook just seems to be money from new investors — they raised eighteen times as much in their flotation yesterday as they did in a whole year of advertising revenue. For an established company with such huge market penetration, they’re veering dangerously close to Bernie Madoff’s business model.
Bob Farrell's rule #9 is: "When all experts and forecasts agree — something else is going to happen." This statement encapsulates the basic tenant of being a contrarian investor. As Sam Stovall, the S&P investment strategist, puts it: "If everybody's optimistic, who is left to buy? If everybody's pessimistic, who's left to sell?" Going against the herd as Farrell repeatedly suggests can be very profitable, especially for patient buyers who raise cash from frothy markets and reinvest it when sentiment is the darkest. However, being a seller in exuberant markets or a buyer in major rout is very tough, if not impossible, for almost every investor as the emotions of "greed" and "fear" overtake logical buy and sell decision making.
I am not exaggerating.
This is Finnish writer Pentti Linkola — a man who demands that the human population reduce its size to around 500 million and abandon modern technology and the pursuit of economic growth — in his own words.
When Mr. Market ultimately becomes disenchanted with the fiscal excesses of the sovereign deadbeats, he can express his ire most energetically. When the current bond bubble here in the US ultimately bursts, as it must, it's going to be a bloodbath. Of course, there is much, much more at stake to coming to the correct answer on the recovery, or lack thereof, than that. For instance, poor economies make for poor reelection odds for political incumbents. And when it comes to maintaining a civil society, the lack of jobs inherent in poor economies often leads to a breakdown in civility. On that note, overall unemployment in Spain is now running at depression levels of almost 25%, and youth unemployment at close to 50%. How long do you think it will be before the citizens of this prominent member of the PIIGS will refuse being led to the slaughter and start taking out their anger on the swine (governmental and private) seen as bearing some responsibility for the malaise? Meanwhile, back here in the United States, the commander-in-chief is striding around the deck of the ship of state trying to look like the right man for the job in the upcoming election, despite the gaping hole of unemployment just under the economic water line. His future prospects are very much entangled with this question of recovery.
So, what's it going to be? Recovery… no recovery… or worse, maybe even a crash?
It seems so bizarre that a country once regarded as the freest, most economically enviable in the world would treat its productive citizens with such hostility. This is where Eduardo Saverin comes in. The Facebook co-founder, who finds himself a few billion dollars richer this week, recently renounced his US citizenship. And, to the intelligentsia, it’s not ‘fair’. ‘Saverin needs to pay his fair share! He owes America more,’ they whine, completely ignorant that the 30-year old is already forking over a $500+ million exit tax (which may end up in the billions). Apparently it’s not good enough that the company Saverin co-founded has created tens of thousands of jobs, spawned entire industries, and produced oodles of new millionaires. Oh yeah, it’s also made things damn easy for the CIA, NSA, and FBI. You’d think Uncle Sam would pin a medal on his chest. But no. Saverin left behind a lot of value and decided to move on to greener pastures in Singapore. Now the do-gooders in Congress are cooking up new legislation (the EX-PATRIOT Act) designed to permanently bar ‘renunciants’ like Saverin from re-entering the United States.
John Maynard Keynes, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett all said or implied that gold was a barbarous relic. But what’s the barbarous relic? The precious metal that shows prices without a veneer of manipulation, or the paper currency that smudges the true state of supply and demand through money printing, thus misleading markets and society? Charlie Munger says gold is not for civilised people, but in reality gold may be the most civilised currency of all — because it allows civilised people to purchase insurance against the risk of civilisation failing.