In the tradition of dimming debate, the chattering class has reduced systemic corruption in South Africa and the near collapse in Zimbabwe, respectively, to the shenanigans of two men: Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe. Zuma, the President of South Africa, currently faces possible impeachment for corruption, while Robert Mugabe has now been forcibly ‘retired’ after 30 years as President. Surely by now, though, it should be common knowledge that in Africa, if you replace a despot, but not despotism, you only oust a tyrant, and not tyranny. How Kleptocracy Works Emblematic of this is a thematically confused article in The Economist, offering a description of the dynamics set in motion by the Zuma dynasty’s capture of the state. At first, the magazine explains the concept of ‘state capture’ as “private actors [having] subverted the state to steal public money.” Later, the concept is more candidly refined: ‘The nub of the state capture argument is that Mr. Zuma and his friends are putting state-owned enterprises and other governmental institutions in the hands of people who are allowing them to loot public funds.” Indeed. Corruption invariably flows from state to society.
During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different—-it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion—-a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse. During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry—-rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy—-meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again!
Rare protests in multiple cities across Iran, especially in the country’s second largest city of Mashhad, gained momentum on Thursday and Western media and pundits are beginning to take note. Though it appears the main protest locations have been consistently described as being in the hundreds and not yet reaching mass numbers, observers say they are likely to grow in size and in intensity as economic grievances over high prices, corruption, and mismanagement have reached a boiling point. Notably, dozens of videos were uploaded to social media channels Thursday showing demonstrators primarily in Mashhad in northwest Iran chanting ‘death to [President] Rouhani’ and ‘death to the dictator’. Mashhad is considered one of the holiest and most conservative places in Shia Islam, causing some pundits to conclude that if such aggressive anti-government demonstrations can take place there, they could take place anywhere throughout Iran. Other places named by the semi-official ILNA news agency and social media reports where demonstrations have occurred are in Razavi Khorasan Province, including Neyshabour and Kashmar. And there are some indications that authorities in Tehran are preparing for a broader crackdown to prevent protests from spreading.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.
‘When accordingly it is inquired, whence is evil, it must first be inquired, what is evil, which is nothing else than corruption, either of the measure, or the form, or the order, that belong to nature.’ ~Augustine of Hippo The study of Western Civilization has been all but eradicated. This was no accident but, rather, an aggressive policy of leftist academe which has used exclusionary tactics to dominate and pervert the culture and purpose of our universities since the 1960s and 70s.1 But, for us students, driven underground, Western history is the greatest treasure trove of almost every faculty. Not least of these is natural law. This unique philosophy of law so encapsulated the spirit of the West that the late Surya P. Sinha described law as ‘the most central principle of [the] social organization’ of Western civilization alone. “This fact explains that most…theories about law have issued from the Western culture’.2 Sinha even declared law itself to be a non-universal phenomenon of the West, other civilizations developing little more than ‘principles of moral life which are not law.”3 The story of natural law is a fascinating one; Ricardo Duchesne draws from decades of definitive scholarship on the uniqueness of the West to crystallize the “essential message” from across the social sciences: “the rise of the West is the story of the realization of humans who think of themselves as self-determining and therefore accept as authoritative only those norms and institutions that can be seen to be congenial with their awareness of themselves as free and rational agents.”4 Being at the heart of Western civilization, yet lost to history and shrouded in confusion, I would like to clarify the environment in which natural law developed and the consequences of its loss.
During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different—-it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance forever. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion—-a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse. During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry—-rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy—-meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again!
Record high stock and bond prices are flashing danger signs to former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman. Stockman contends, ‘I don’t think we are going to have a liquidity crisis. I think it’s going to be a value reset. I think there is going to be a jarring downward price adjustment both in the stock market and in the bond market. This phantom or phony wealth that has been created since the last crisis is going to basically evaporate.’ So, what asset is safe? Stockman says gold and goes onto explain, ‘I think the time to buy (gold and silver) is ideal. Gold is the ultimate and only real money. Gold is the only safe asset when push comes to shove. They tell you to buy the government bond, that’s a safe asset. It’s not a safe asset at its current price. I am not saying the federal government is going to default in the next two or three years. I am saying the yield on a 10-year bond of 2.4% is way below of where it’s going to end up. So, the only safe asset left is gold. This crazy Bitcoin mania has drained off what would otherwise be a demand for gold. . . . When Bitcoin collapses, spectacularly, which it will because it’s sheer mania in the markets right now. When it collapses, I think a lot of that demand will come back into gold, as well as people fleeing the standard stock and bond markets for the first time in 9 or 10 years.’
The Trump Administration quietly issued an Executive Order (EO) last Thursday which allows for the freezing of US-housed assets belonging to foreign individuals or entities deemed “serious human rights abusers,” along with government officials and executives of foreign corporations (current or former) found to have engaged in corruption – which includes the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, and corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources. Furthermore, anyone in the United States who aids or participates in said corruption or human rights abuses by foreign parties is subject to frozen assets – along with any U. S. corporation who employs foreigners deemed to have engaged in corruption on behalf of the company.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 27, 2017.
[This article is excerpted from An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith.] By the beginning of the 17th century, royal absolutism had emerged victorious all over Europe. But a king (or, in the case of the Italian city-states, some lesser prince or ruler) cannot rule all by himself. He must rule through a hierarchical bureaucracy. And so the rule of absolutism was created through a series of alliances between the king, his nobles (who were mainly large feudal or postfeudal landlords), and various segments of large-scale merchants or traders. “Mercantilism” is the name given by late 19th-century historians to the politicoeconomic system of the absolute state from approximately the 16th to the 18th centuries. Mercantilism has been called by various historians or observers a “system of Power or State-building” (Eli Heckscher), a system of systematic state privilege, particularly in restricting imports or subsidizing exports (Adam Smith), or a faulty set of economic theories, including protectionism and the alleged necessity for piling up bullion in a country. In fact, mercantilism was all of these things; it was a comprehensive system of state-building, state privilege, and what might be called “state monopoly capitalism.” As the economic aspect of state absolutism, mercantilism was of necessity a system of state-building, of big government, of heavy royal expenditure, of high taxes, of (especially after the late 17th century) inflation and deficit finance, of war, imperialism, and the aggrandizing of the nation-state. In short, a politicoeconomic system very like that of the present day, with the unimportant exception that now large-scale industry rather than mercantile commerce is the main focus of the economy. But state absolutism means that the state must purchase and maintain allies among powerful groups in the economy, and it also provides a cockpit for lobbying for special privilege among such groups. Jacob Viner put the case well:
I’m grinning like a Jack in the box clown today. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I’ll be doggone if I will let anything change my mood. When you are done reading, I’m hoping you feel the same way. In 2016, I was bummed out. The negative political crap from the election left much of the country exhausted and frustrated. I was ready to turn the corner from the daily hysteria and melodrama in the media. In 2017 things just got worse, by December I was exhausted, mentally worn out! Television today is a constant barrage of hateful political rhetoric, senseless murders, sexual harassment, scandals, hypocrisy, corruption, illegal immigration, violent protests, disrespecting our flag, and outrageous statements by politicians promoting class warfare. How many times have you heard someone ask, ‘What the heck happened to the country we grew up in?’ ‘What has America become?’
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest batch of presidential decrees has transformed Turkey into a nation of government-endorsed militias and “anti-terror vigilantes.” According to Ahval, Erdogan published Turkey’s latest state of emergency government decree – the country has been under a perpetual state of emergency since the summer of 2016 failed coup – in the Official Gazette on Sunday. And not only does it condone the purging of thousands of civil servants from their jobs, but, in an unprecedented escalation, grants immunity to “those who took to the streets during the coup attempt” or “assisted with suppressing terror.” Furthermore: ”Notwithstanding whether individuals hold a formal title or whether they have fulfilled a formal duty, those who have acted in the scope of suppressing the coup attempt and acts of terror on July 15, 2016, and actions that were extensions of these events” will be exempt from being put on trial for their actions.” Of course, anyone who has been following the situation in Turkey over the past year-and-a-half (and certainly longer) knows that ‘suppressing terror’ is Erdogan’s popular euphemism for punishing or imprisoning suspected Gulenist sympathizers, and also anyone who dares to bring attention to Erdogan’s brazen corruption. As a result, the Turkish president has been busy lately, signing a flurry of decrees that have further consolidated political power in the office of the president – a stunning reversal from the early days of Erdogan’s political career, when he was a well-regarded moderate advocating much needed government reforms.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.
According to Politico, a group of frustrated Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee led by Devin Nunes (R-CA) have been gathering in secret for several weeks to build a case against senior leaders of the Justice Department and the FBI for what they say is “improper” and perhaps criminal mishandling of the salacious and unproven 34-page Trump-Russia dossier, according to four sources familiar with their plans. *** A subset of the Republican members of the House intelligence committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes of California, has been quietly working parallel to the committee’s high-profile inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. […] The people familiar with Nunes’ plans said the goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement. The group hopes to release a report early next year detailing their concerns about the DOJ and FBI, and they might seek congressional votes to declassify elements of their evidence. –Politico When pressed for details, Reps Mike Conway (R-TX) and Peter King (R-NY) were mum, with Conway telling POLITICO, “I don’t want talk about what we do behind closed doors.”
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 22, 2017.
In Part 1 we revived Senator Howard Baker’s famous description of the giant Reagan Tax Cut of 1981 as a “riverboat gamble”, and that it was. When the “bidding war” with the Dems ended in July 1981, the US Congress had cut the Federal revenue base by 6.2% of GDP in the outyears. At today’s economic scale that would amount to a tax cut of $1.2 trillion per year! *** By contrast, the peak year cut (FY 2019) in the current tax bill is just $280 billion. Nevertheless, we present this chart to demonstrate why today’s GOP “riverboat gamble” is actually far more dangerous than the one back then, and also why it’s capacity to actually stimulate a growth surge in the US economy is not even a pale imitation of the 1981 act.
The GOP tax bill is not “at least something”. It’s not “better than nothing”. And, no, we are not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. In truth, this thing is a fiscal, economic and political monster. It is hands down the worst tax bill enacted in the last half-century—-maybe even since FDR’s 1937 soak-the-rich scheme, which re-ignited the Great Depression. True, rather than soak them, the GOP’s bill will pleasure America’s wealthy with a bountiful harvest of tax relief. Owners of public equities, for example, will garner a trillion dollar shower of extra dividends and stock buybacks from the corporate rate cut. Likewise, 4 million top bracket ATM (alternative minimum tax) payers will be relieved of about $80 billion per year of Uncle Sam’s extractions; around 5,000 dead people per year with estates above $20 million will get to leave more behind; owners of real estate will be able to deduct another 20% of property income that isn’t already sheltered by depreciation and interest deductions; and tax accountants and lawyers will become stinking rich helping America’s proprietorships (24 million), S-corporations (4 million), partnerships (3.5 million) and farms (1.8 million) convert their “ordinary income” into newly deductible “qualified business income”.
In an unprecedented decision with potentially serious consequences for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada’s outgoing ethics watchdog Mary Dawson has ruled that Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules when he took Aga Khan’s private helicopter to the business magnate’s private island in the Bahamas during a Christmas 2016 vacation. Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister to ever be convicted of such a violation. According to the law, Trudeau needed to seek permission from the ethics watchdog before making such a trip – something he inexplicably failed to do. The ruling comes just weeks before the end of Dawson’s term, which is set to expire on Jan. 8.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 20, 2017.
Last week, the International Energy Agency made a lot of OPEC brows furrow when it warned that 2018 may not be a very happy new year for the cartel. U. S. shale supply, the IEA said in its December Oil Market Report, is set to grow more than OPEC has estimated and this could be the undoing of the production cut that boosted prices this year. OPEC, for its part, has insisted that U. S. shale production won’t grow as much as the IEA says, baffling some observers who now wonder who they should believe. But let’s put it another way: If the coach of a football team tells you that his team will win the cup because they’re the best, but the football association has estimated that the team is not the best one in the league, who would you believe?
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 19, 2017.
There was a sinister plot to meddle in the 2016 election, after all. But it was not orchestrated from the Kremlin; it was an entirely homegrown affair conducted from the inner sanctums—the White House, DOJ, the Hoover Building and Langley—-of the Imperial City. Likewise, the perpetrators didn’t speak Russian or write in the Cyrillic script. In fact, they were lifetime beltway insiders occupying the highest positions of power in the US government. Here are the names and rank of the principal conspirators: John Brennan, CIA director; Susan Rice, National Security Advisor; Samantha Power, UN Ambassador; James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; James Comey, FBI director; Andrew McCabe, Deputy FBI director; Sally Yates, deputy Attorney General, Bruce Ohr, associate deputy AG; Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director of FBI counterintelligence; Lisa Page, FBI lawyer; and countless other lessor and greater poobahs of Washington power, including President Obama himself. To a person, the participants in this illicit cabal shared the core trait that made Obama such a blight on the nation’s well-being. To wit, he never held an honest job outside the halls of government in his entire adult life; and as a careerist agent of the state and practitioner of its purported goods works, he exuded a sanctimonious disdain for everyday citizens who make their living along the capitalist highways and by-ways of America.
Update 2: It’s all over, and the best case outcome is now fact, with Cyril Ramaphosa elected president of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress on Monday. CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ELECTED PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA’S ANC RAMAPHOSA GETS 2440 VOTES IN S. AFRICA’S ANC LEADERSHIP VOTE Ramaphosa victory threatens President Jacob Zuma’s grip on power after the most divisive vote in the party’s history. Ramaphosa, the deputy president, defeated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s former wife, whom the president had backed. As the FT notes, it is widely speculated that Mr Zuma lent Ms Dlamini-Zuma his support because he believed that as state president she would protect him from prosecution in a corruption case. Meanwhile, Ramaphosa campaigned on a promise to root out corruption and save the ANC from losing its majority for the first time at the 2019 election.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 18, 2017.
The Tory Rebels in the UK Parliament joined forces with Labour and the Remain Camp to defeat BREXIT in reality. They claim that Parliament will now vote on the BREXIT deal, but in reality, they have created an open door for more uncertainty and economic chaos. The Tory rebels were Mr. Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Sir Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Bob Neill, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Another Conservative MP, John Stevenson, abstained from voting in both lobbies. Meanwhile, two Labour MPs, Frank Field, and Kate Hoey voted with the government.
Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta’s posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he ‘had something urgent to tell me’, after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital. What he had to say was actually straight to the point and definitely worth sitting two hours in an epic traffic jam: ‘No one will be allowed to build comprehensive public transportation in Jakarta or in any other Indonesian city. If a mayor or a governor tries and defies the wishes of the ruthless business community which is in fact controlling most of the Indonesian government, he or she will be dethroned, or even totally destroyed.’ These ‘prophetic’ words are still ringing in my ears, several months after the complete destruction of the progressive Jakarta governor, known as Ahok (real name: Basuki Tjahaja Purnama), who tried very hard to improve the seemingly ungovernable and thoroughly destroyed city, constructing new mass transit lines (LRT), restoring old train stations, cleaning canals, attempting to build at least some basic net of sidewalks, as well as planting trees and creating parks. After Ahok’s first and extremely successful term in office, the opposition consolidated its forces. It consisted mainly of the Islamists, big business tycoons, and the military as well as other revanchist cadres (almost exclusively pro-business and pro-Western individuals) that are still controlling Indonesia. ‘Ahok’, an outsider and an ethnic Chinese, patently lost.
Corporate pesticide maker Monsanto, which has faced several recent lawsuits against its products, is paying farmers to use its controversial weedkiller XtendiMax with VaporGrip, an herbicide based on a chemical known as dicamba, Yahoo News reported. The incentive to use XtendiMax aims to refund farmers over half the sticker price of the product in 2018 if they spray it on soybeans that Monsanto engineered to resist it, according to company data. ‘We believe cash-back incentives for using XtendiMax with VaporGrip Technology better enable growers to use a management system that represents the next level of weed control,’ said Ryan Rubischko, Monsanto product manager. Monsanto faces bans and restrictions of its pesticides in several states due to damaged crops from its product which affected 3.1 million acres in nearly two dozen states, according to Reuters. Reuters reported: XtendiMax costs about $11 per acre to buy, and Monsanto is offering an extra $6 per acre in cash back to farmers when they apply it on Xtend soybeans, rather than using another seed-and-chemical combination to control weeds. The rebate means farmers can receive up to $11.50 per acre in cash back next year when they use XtendiMax along with other approved chemicals, such as one called Intact that aims to prevent drift and costs $2.40 per acre, according to Monsanto.