The Beginning Of The End
The Beginning Of The End By Michael T. Snyder - Kindle Version

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They Are Going To Make It Nearly Impossible To Pass On A Farm Or A Business To Your Children

If you have a farm or a small business, would you like to pass it on to your children when you die?  Well, unless Congress does something, it is going to become much, much harder to do that starting next year.  Right now, there is a 5 million dollar estate tax exemption and anything above that is taxed at 35 percent.  But on January 1st, the exemption will go down to 1 million dollars and the tax rate will go up to 55 percent.  A lot of liberals are very excited about this, because they believe that the government will be soaking wealthy people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.  But the truth is that a lot of farms, ranches and small businesses will be absolutely devastated by this change in the tax law.  There are many farmers and ranchers out there today that do not make much money but are sitting on tracts of land that are worth millions of dollars.  According to the American Farm Bureau, approximately 97 percent of all farms and ranches in the United States would be subject to the estate tax if the exemption was reduced to just a million dollars.  That means that the children of these farmers and ranchers would be faced with a very cruel choice when it is time to inherit these farms and ranches.  Either they come up with enough money to pay the government about half of what the farm or ranch is worth, or they sell the farm or ranch that may have been in their family for generations.  Needless to say, most farm and ranch families do not have that kind of cash lying around.  Most of them are just barely making it from year to year.  So this change in the tax law is going to greatly accelerate the death of the family farm in America.  This is also going to devastate many family-owned small businesses.  Many small businesses don’t make much money, but they have buildings or land or assets worth millions of dollars.  Children that may have wanted to continue the family legacy will be forced to sell because of the massive tax bill that they get from Uncle Sam.  This is an insidious cruelty, and it shows just how broken our system has become.

The desire to leave the wealth that you have worked so hard to accumulate all your life to your children is something that is common to virtually all human societies.  We want to know that future generations will be taken care of.

It is simply immoral for the federal government to swoop in and tax farms, ranches and small businesses that were intended to be passed down from parents to their children at a 55 percent tax rate.

A lot of the people that are going to be affected by this change are not “wealthy” at all.  A recent Fox News report examined what this change in the law is going to mean for rancher Kevin Kester and his family…

Rancher Kevin Kester works dawn to dusk, drives a 12-year-old pick-up truck and earns less than a typical bureaucrat in Washington D.C., yet the federal government considers him rich enough to pay the estate tax — also known as the “death tax.”

Kester told Fox News that he has no doubt that his ranch will have to be sold when he dies just to pay the tax bill…

“There is no way financially my kids can pay what the IRS is going to demand from them nine months after death and keep this ranch intact for their generation and future generations,” said Kester, of the Bear Valley Ranch in Central California.

Two decades ago, Kester paid the IRS $2 million when he inherited a 22,000-acre cattle ranch from his grandfather. Come January, the tax burden on his children will be more than $13 million.

Reading that should make you angry.  Every single year, thousands upon thousands of farms, ranches and small businesses are going to be lost to the federal tax monster.

It is almost as if the federal government does not want income-producing assets to remain in the hands of the “little guy”.

What in the world are we supposed to do?

It isn’t as if all of those farmers and ranchers can go off to the big cities and find good jobs.  As I wrote about yesterday, our politicians are standing aside as millions of our good jobs are shipped out of the country.

The cold, hard truth is that our system does not work for average Americans any longer.  Those that roll out of bed every morning, work hard and never complain always seem to get the short end of the stick.

The people that are the backbone of America are the ones that the government is always the hardest on.

Unfortunately, we have gotten to a point where the government is searching for more “revenue” from anywhere it can because it desperately needs more money.  U.S. government finances are a complete and total mess and we are drowning in the biggest ocean of debt the world has ever seen.

We are more than 16 trillion dollars in debt and there are more than 100 million Americans that are enrolled in at least one welfare program.

Someday has to pay for all this.

Middle class Americans are already hit with dozens of different taxes each year, and you can be certain that our politicians will continue to invent ways to extract even more “revenue” out of us.

And of course our politicians will never stop their wild spending.  Despite all of the negotiations that have taken place over the past couple of years, our spending problems just continue to grow.  For example, the federal budget deficit for the month of October was $120 billion, which was more than 20 percent larger than the federal budget deficit for October 2011 was.

So what is the solution?

Well, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner now says that he wants to eliminate the debt ceiling entirely.  He says that we should just have no limit and that the federal government should just be able to go into debt as much as it wants.

In the end, all of this debt is going to absolutely crush us.  We have literally destroyed the future of America, and yet most of the country still seems clueless about all of this.  The blind are leading the blind, and we are headed straight for complete and utter disaster.

One day, when people look back on this period in American history, what do you think people are going to say about us?

How QE3 Will Make The Wealthy Even Wealthier While Causing Living Standards To Fall For The Rest Of Us

The mainstream media is hailing QE3 as a great victory for the U.S. economy.  On nearly every news broadcast, the “talking heads” are declaring that Ben Bernanke’s decision to pump 40 billion dollars a month into our financial system is definitely going to help solve our economic problems.  The money for QE3 is being created out of thin air and this round of quantitative easing is going to be “open-ended” which means that the Federal Reserve is going to keep doing it for as long as they feel like it.  But is this really good for the average American on the street?  No way.  Despite two previous rounds of quantitative easing, median household income has still fallen for four years in a row, the employment rate has not bounced back since the end of the last recession, and new home sales have remained near record lows.  So what have the previous rounds of quantitative easing accomplished?  Well, they have driven up the prices of financial assets.  Those that own stocks have done very well the past couple of years.  So who owns stocks?  The wealthy do.  In fact, 82 percent of all individually held stocks are owned by the wealthiest 5 percent of all Americans.  Those that have invested in commodities have also done very nicely in recent years.  We have seen gold, silver, oil and agricultural commodities all do very well.  But that also means that average Americans are paying more for basic necessities such as food and gasoline.  So the first two rounds of quantitative easing made the wealthy even wealthier while causing living standards to fall for all the rest of us.  Is there any reason to believe that QE3 will be any different?

Of course not.

This time the Federal Reserve is focused on buying mortgage-backed securities.  Yes, the same financial garbage that helped cause the last crisis.  The Fed plans to gobble up tens of billions of dollars of that trash every month from now on.

But will the Fed pay true market value for those mortgage-backed securities?  If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

So this is going to be a huge windfall for some people, and that does not include us.

Not a single penny of this 40 billion dollars a month will go directly into our hands.  The theory is that it will “filter down” to us eventually.

But that hasn’t happened with previous rounds of quantitative easing.

So where does the money go?

A recent CNBC article discussed a very interesting report from the Bank of England about the effects of quantitative easing….

It said that the Bank of England’s policies of quantitative easing – similar to the Fed’s – had benefited mainly the wealthy.

Specifically, it said that its QE program had boosted the value of stocks and bonds by 26 percent, or about $970 billion. It said that about 40 percent of those gains went to the richest 5 percent of British households.

Many said the BOE’s easing added to social anger and unrest. Dhaval Joshi, of BCA Research wrote that  “QE cash ends up overwhelmingly in profits, thereby exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it.”

Wow.

Who benefits from quantitative easing?

According to the Bank of England, it is “mainly the wealthy” who benefit.

As I noted the other day, Donald Trump said essentially the same thing when he told  CNBC the following….

“People like me will benefit from this.”

As I already discussed above, a lot of quantitative easing money gets into the financial markets where it pumps up the prices of financial assets.

But not all of it goes there.

We were told that the whole idea behind quantitative easing was that it was supposed to get banks lending again, but this has not happened.  Instead, banks are sitting on unprecedented amounts of money.  Just look at how the first two rounds of quantitative easing have caused excess reserves being held by banks to explode from close to zero to over 1.5 trillion dollars….

Of course one of the biggest problems is that the Federal Reserve is still paying banks not to lend money.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Federal Reserve is paying banks to park money with them.  So instead of risking their money by lending it out to us, the banks can just park it at the Fed and make risk-free profits for as long as they want.

Must be nice.

If the Federal Reserve really wanted banks to start lending again, all the Fed has to do is to stop paying banks not to lend money.

But of course if more than 1.5 trillion dollars suddenly started flooding into our economy (especially after you consider the multiplier effect) we would be dealing with nightmarish inflation unlike anything we have ever seen before.

So if you want to know why inflation was not even worse after QE1 and QE2 it is because more than a trillion and a half dollars is being parked with the Fed.

So did QE1 and QE2 do any good for average Americans?

Let’s go to the charts.

This first chart shows that the percentage of working age Americans with a job has stayed extremely flat since the end of the last recession.

Does it look like QE1 and QE2 made a difference to you?  I don’t see any difference….

Okay, but what about new home sales?

Did QE1 and QE2 help them?

Nope….

But the mainstream media is still buying the baloney the Fed is pushing.

The mainstream media is promising us that home sales will soon rise and that lots of new jobs are on the way.

Sadly, the truth is that things have steadily gotten worse for average Americans over the past 4 years despite all of the money printing the Fed has been doing.  If you doubt this, just read this article.

But this is all that Ben Bernanke seems to have left.  When printing money doesn’t work, his answer is to print even more money.

QE3 is likely to cause agricultural commodities and the price of oil to rise even further.

So unless you can convince your employer to give you a corresponding raise, this is going to mean that your paychecks are not going to go as far as they did before.

And so that means a lower standard of living.

In a recent article, Bruce Krasting issued an ominous warning….

Higher inflation expectations in the US will filter around the globe. Post the extraordinary steps Ben took yesterday, people will be stocking up on “stuff”. Things like rice, flour, cooking oil, soy, wheat and sugar. If you can eat it, buy it now. It will be more expensive in a month. While your at it, fill up the gas tank, the price is going up next week and every week for the next few months.

In addition, the policy of the Federal Reserve of keeping interest rates as low as possible is absolutely crippling the finances of many retirees.  Even the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, William F. Ford, recognizes this….

One of the overlooked consequences of the Federal Reserve’s recent rounds of monetary stimulus is the adverse impact those policies have had on the interest income of savers. The prolonged and abnormally low interest-rate structure put in place by the Fed has made life particularly difficult for retirees and others who depend on conservative interest-sensitive investments. But the negative effects do not stop there. They spillover into the overall performance of the economy.

Just about everything that the Federal Reserve does these days is bad for ordinary Americans.

But the Fed is not going to stop.  The Fed is addicted to money printing now, and as a recent article by Peter Schiff explained, the Fed is just going to “up the dosage” until it gets what it wants….

The Fed will try to conjure a recovery on the backs of currency debasement. It will not stop or alter from this course. If the economy fails to respond to the drugs, Bernanke will simply up the dosage. In fact, he is so convinced we will remain dependent on quantitative easing that he explicitly said he won’t turn off the spigots even if things noticeably improve.

This is complete and total incompetence by Ben Bernanke and his cohorts over at the Fed.

Economist Marc Faber believes that Ben Bernanke should resign, and I agree with him….

“If I had messed up as badly as Bernanke I would for sure resign. The mandate of the Fed to boost asset prices and thereby create wealth is ludicrous — it doesn’t work that way. It’s a temporary boost followed by a crash.”

And yes, a crash is coming.

Bernanke can try to put it off for a while, but every action he takes is just making the eventual crash even worse.

And some in the financial community clearly recognize this.  For example, credit rating agency Egan-Jones downgraded the credit rating of the United States to AA- on Friday.

The primary reason they gave for the downgrade was QE3.

Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve are destroying the U.S. dollar and destroying our financial system for a short-term economic sugar high.

It is utter insanity.

That is why we desperately need to get the American people educated about the Federal Reserve system.  It is at the very heart of our economic problems and yet neither major political party is willing to blame the Fed for the problems that it is causing.

A bunch of unelected bankers that are not accountable to the American people are running our economy into the ground and the American people do not even realize what is happening.

Please share this article with as many people as you can.  Hopefully we can get the American people to understand that more money printing is definitely not the solution to our problems.

The Too Big To Fail Banks Are Now Much Bigger And Much More Powerful Than Ever

The Democrats, the Republicans and especially Barack Obama promised that something would be done about the too big to fail banks so that they would never again be a threat to destroy our financial system.  Well, those promises have not been kept and the too big to fail banks are now much bigger and much more powerful than ever.  The assets of the five biggest U.S. banks were equivalent to about 43 percent of U.S. GDP before the financial crisis.  Today, the assets of the five biggest U.S. banks are equivalent to about 56 percent of U.S. GDP.  So if those banks were “too big to fail” before, then what are they now?  They continue to gobble up smaller banks at a brisk pace, and they continue to pile up debt and risky investments as if a day of reckoning will never come.  But of course a day of reckoning is coming, and when it arrives they will be expecting more bailouts just like they got the last time.

The size of these monolithic financial institutions is truly difficult to comprehend.  They completely dominate our financial system and everywhere you look they are constantly absorbing more wealth and more power.  The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article….

Five banks — JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy

Despite all of the talk from the politicians, they just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

So why isn’t anything ever done?

Well, one reason is because these gigantic financial entities funnel huge quantities of cash into political campaigns.

For example, Barack Obama gives nice speeches about the dangers of the too big to fail banks, but he is also more than happy to take their campaign contributions.  Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup were all ranked among his top 10 donors during the 2008 campaign.

So do you really expect that Barack Obama is going to bite the hands that feed him?

Of course he is not going to do that.

The truth is that the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have done everything they can to make life very comfortable for the big Wall Street banks.

During the last financial crisis, the too big to fail banks were absolutely showered with bailouts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of small and mid-size banks were allowed to die.

When representatives from those small and mid-size banks contacted the federal government for help, often they were told to try to find a larger bank that would be willing to buy them.

Sadly, the last financial crisis simply accelerated the consolidation of the banking industry in the United States that has been going on for several decades.

Today, there are less than half as many banks in the United States as there were back in 1984.

So where did all of those banks go?

They were either purchased by bigger banks or they were allowed to go out of existence.

This banking consolidation trend has allowed the big Wall Street banks to absolutely explode in size.

Back in 1970, the 5 biggest U.S. banks held 17 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.

Today, the 5 biggest U.S. banks hold 52 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.

So where will this end?

That is a good question.

The funny thing is that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials keep giving speeches where they warn of the dangers of having banks that are “too big to fail”.  For example, during a recent presentation to students at George Washington University, Bernanke made the following statement about the U.S. banking system….

“But clearly, it is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which some companies are ‘too big to fail.'”

So does that mean that Bernanke is against the too big to fail banks?

Of course not.

The truth is that he showered those banks with trillions of dollars in bailout money during the last financial crisis.

The amount of money in secret loans that some of the big Wall Street banks received from the Federal Reserve was absolutely staggering.  The following figures come directly from a GAO report….

Citigroup – $2.513 trillion
Morgan Stanley – $2.041 trillion
Bank of America – $1.344 trillion
Goldman Sachs – $814 billion
JP Morgan Chase – $391 billion

Bernanke has shown that he is willing to move heaven and earth to protect those big banks.

So what did those banks do with all that money?

They certainly didn’t lend it to us.  Lending to individuals and small businesses by those big banks actually went down immediately after those bailouts.

Instead, one thing that those banks did was they started putting massive amounts of money into commodities.

One of those commodities was food.

Over the past few years, big Wall Street banks have made huge amounts of money speculating on the price of food.  This has caused food prices all over the globe to soar and it has caused tremendous hardship for hundreds of millions of families around the planet.  The following is from a recent article in The Independent….

Speculation by large investment banks is driving up food prices for the world’s poorest people, tipping millions into hunger and poverty. Investment in food commodities by banks and hedge funds has risen from $65bn to $126bn (£41bn to £79bn) in the past five years, helping to push prices to 30-year highs and causing sharp price fluctuations that have little to do with the actual supply of food, says the United Nations’ leading expert on food.

Hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital now dominate the food commodities markets, dwarfing the amount traded by actual food producers and buyers.

Goldman Sachs alone has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from food speculation.

Can you imagine what kind of mindset it takes to do this?

Can you imagine taking food out of the mouths of hungry families on the other side of the world so that you and your fellow employees can pad your bonus checks?

It really is disgusting.

But that is the way the game is played.

It is set up so that the big guy will win and the little guy will lose.

The other day I wrote about how this is particularly true when it comes to our system of taxation.

Well, since that article I have discovered some new numbers that were just released by Citizens for Tax Justice.  Some of the things that they have uncovered are absolutely amazing….

Between 2008 and 2011, Verizon made a total profit of $19.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -3.8%.

Between 2008 and 2011, General Electric made a total profit of $19.6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -18.9%.

Between 2008 and 2011, Boeing made a total profit of $14.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -5.5%.

Between 2008 and 2011, Pacific Gas & Electric made a total profit of $6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -8.4%.

So why should middle class families continue to be suffocated by outrageous tax rates when hugely profitable corporations such as General Electric are able to get away with paying nothing?

Our current tax system is an utter abomination and should be completely thrown out.

But as is the case with so many other things, our current system is going to persist because the “big guys” really enjoy the status quo and they are the ones that fund political campaigns.

It would be bad enough if the “big guys” were beating us on a level playing field.

But the truth is that the game has been dramatically tilted in their favor and they know that the politicians are going to take care of them whenever they need it.

So what is going to happen the next time the too big to fail banks get into trouble?

They will almost certainly get bailed out again.

Unfortunately, the big Wall Street banks continue to treat the financial system as if it was a gigantic casino.  The derivatives bubble just continues to grow larger and larger, and it could burst and absolutely devastate the entire global financial system at any time.

According to the New York Times, the too big to fail banks have complete domination over derivatives trading.  Every month a secret meeting that includes representatives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup is held in New York to coordinate their control over the derivatives marketplace.  The following is how the New York Times describes those meetings….

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

When the derivatives market fully implodes, there will not be enough money in the world to bail everyone out.  According to the Comptroller of the Currency, the too big to fail banks have exposure to derivatives that is absolutely outrageous.  Just check out the following numbers….

JPMorgan Chase – $70.1 Trillion

Citibank – $52.1 Trillion

Bank of America – $50.1 Trillion

Goldman Sachs – $44.2 Trillion

So what happens when that house of cards comes crashing down?

Well, those big banks will come crying to the federal government again.

They will want more bailouts.

They will claim that if we don’t give them the money that they need that the entire financial system will collapse.

And yes, if several of the too big to fail banks were to collapse all at once the consequences would be almost unimaginable.

But of course all of this could have been avoided if we would have made much wiser decisions upstream.

Our financial system is more vulnerable than it ever has been before, and the too big to fail banks just continue to grow.

The lessons from the financial crisis of 2008 have gone unheeded, and we are steamrolling toward an even greater crash.

What a mess.

Too Big To Fail?: 10 Banks Own 77 Percent Of All U.S. Banking Assets

Back during the financial crisis of 2008, the American people were told that the largest banks in the United States were “too big to fail” and that was why it was necessary for the federal government to step in and bail them out.  The idea was that if several of our biggest banks collapsed at the same time the financial system would not be strong enough to keep things going and economic activity all across America would simply come to a standstill.  Congress was told that if the “too big to fail” banks did not receive bailouts that there would be chaos in the streets and this country would plunge into another Great Depression.  Since that time, however, essentially no efforts have been made to decentralize the U.S. banking system.  Instead, the “too big to fail” banks just keep getting larger and larger and larger.  Back in 2002, the top 10 banks controlled 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Today, the top 10 banks control 77 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Unfortunately, these giant banks are also colossal mountains of risk, debt and leverage.  They are incredibly unstable and they could start coming apart again at any time.  None of the major problems that caused the crash of 2008 have been fixed.  In fact, the U.S. banking system is more centralized and more vulnerable today than it ever has been before.

It really is difficult for ordinary Americans to get a handle on just how large these financial institutions are.  For example, the “big six” U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) now possess assets equivalent to approximately 60 percent of America’s gross national product.

These huge banks are giant financial vacuum cleaners.  Over the past couple of decades we have witnessed a financial consolidation in this country that is absolutely unprecedented.

This trend accelerated during the recent financial crisis.  While the big boys were receiving massive bailouts, the hundreds of small banks that were failing were either allowed to collapse or they were told that they should find a big bank that was willing to buy them.

As a group, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo held approximately 22 percent of all banking deposits in FDIC-insured institutions back in 2000.

By the middle of 2009 that figure was up to 39 percent.

That is not just a trend – that is a landslide.

Sadly, smaller banks continue to fail in large numbers and the big banks just keep growing and getting more power.

Today, there are more than 1,000 U.S. banks that are on the “unofficial list” of problem banking institutions.

In the absence of fundamental changes, the consolidation of the banking industry is going to continue.

Meanwhile, the “too big to fail” banks are flush with cash and they are getting serious about expanding.  The Federal Reserve has been extremely good to the big boys and they are eager to grow.

For example, Citigroup is becoming extremely aggressive about expanding….

Citigroup has been hiring dozens of investment bankers, dialing up advertising and drawing up plans to add several hundred branches worldwide, including more than 200 in major cities across the United States.

Hopefully the big banks will start lending again.  The whole idea behind the bailouts and all of the “quantitative easing” that the Federal Reserve did was to get money into the hands of the big banks so that they would lend it out to ordinary Americans and get the economy rolling again.

Well, a funny thing happened.  The big banks just sat on a lot of that money.

In particular, what they did was they deposited much of it at the Fed and drew interest on it.

Since 2008, excess reserves parked at the Fed have grown by nearly 1.7 trillion dollars.  Just check out the chart posted below….

The American people were promised that TARP and all of the other bailouts would enable the big banks to lend out lots of money which would help get the economy going for ordinary Americans again.

Well, it turns out that in 2009 (the first full year after Congress passed the bailout legislation) U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.

Lending has never fully recovered since the crash of 2008.  The big financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase have been able to get all the cash that they need, but they have not passed that generosity along to ordinary Americans.

In fact, the biggest U.S. banks have actually reduced small business lending by about 50 percent since the crash of 2008.

That doesn’t sound like what we were promised.

These “too big to fail” banks have been able to borrow gigantic amounts of money from the Fed for next to nothing and yet they still refuse to let credit flow to local communities.  Instead, the big banks have found other purposes for all of the super cheap money that they have been getting from the Fed as Ellen Brown recently explained….

It can be very profitable indeed for the big Wall Street banks, but the purpose of the near-zero interest rates was supposed to be to get banks to lend again. Instead, they are, indeed, paying “outrageous bonuses to their top executives;” using the money to engage in the same sort of unregulated speculation that nearly brought down the economy in 2008; buying up smaller banks; or investing this virtually interest-free money in risk-free government bonds, on which taxpayers are paying 2.5 percent interest (more for longer-term securities).

What makes things even worse is that these big banks often pay next to nothing in taxes.

For example, between 2008 and 2010, Wells Fargo made a total profit of 49.37 billion dollars.

Over that same time period, their tax bill was negative 681 million dollars.

Do you understand what that means?  Over that 3 year time period, Wells Fargo actually got 681 million dollars back from the U.S. government.

Isn’t that just peachy?

Meanwhile, the big financial giants have not learned their lessons and they continue to do business pretty much as they did it prior to 2008.

The big banks continue to roll up massive amounts of risk, debt and leverage.

Today, Wall Street has become one giant financial casino.  More money is made on Wall Street by making side bets (commonly referred to as “derivatives“) than on the investments themselves.

If the bets pay off for the big financial institutions, mind blowing profits can be made.  But if the bets go against the big financial institutions (as we saw in 2008), firms can collapse almost overnight.

In fact, it was derivatives that almost brought down AIG.  The biggest insurance company in the world almost folded in 2008 because of a whole bunch of really bad bets.

The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  It has been estimated that the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars.

The largest banks have tens of trillions of dollars of exposure to derivatives.  When the next great financial collapse happens, derivatives will almost certainly be at the center of it once again.  These side bets do not create anything real for the economy – they just make and lose huge amounts of money.  We never know when the next great derivatives crisis will strike.  Derivatives are essentially like a “sword of Damocles” that perpetually hangs over the U.S. financial system.

When I start talking about derivatives I get a lot of people in the financial community mad at me.  On Wall Street today you can bet on just about anything you can imagine.  Almost everyone in the financial world has gotten so used to making wild bets that they couldn’t even imagine a world without them.  If anyone even tried to put significant limits on futures, options and swaps it would cause Wall Street to throw a hissy fit.

But someday the dominoes are going to start to fall and the house of cards is going to come crashing down.  It is an open secret that our financial system is fundamentally unsound.  Even a lot of people working on Wall Street will admit that.  It is just that people are so busy making such big piles of money that nobody wants the party to stop.

It is only a matter of time until some of these big banks get into a huge amount of trouble again.  When that happens, we might really find out whether they are “too big to fail” or whether we could get along just fine without them.

The State Of The Economy

The U.S. economy is like a rubber band that is being pulled in several different directions at the same time.  Everyone knows that at some point it is going to snap, but nobody is quite sure exactly when it is going to happen.  Right now, the state of the economy is not good, and it is going to get a whole lot worse.  Sadly, most Americans don’t even understand the economic fundamentals well enough to be able to ask the right questions to our politicians.  Today, the United States consumes far more wealth than it produces every single month.  That means we are continually getting poorer.  U.S. debt is also rising at a far greater rate than U.S. GDP is.  On an individual level, if your assets were going down every single month and if you were going into more debt every single single month it would be easy to understand what was happening.  However, most Americans can’t really seem to grasp what is taking place on a national level.  Our politicians and the mainstream media just keep telling them that everything is going to be okay and they just keep believing it.

These days our leaders are resorting to increasingly desperate measures in order to help revive the economy.  On Thursday, Barack Obama decided to release 30 million barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic oil reserve.

Yes, that will drive down oil prices for a few days, but what is going to happen someday if we actually need to use that strategic oil reserve?

But in many ways you can’t blame Obama for trying.  He desperately wants to get reelected and he knows that his campaign will be highly dependent on the state of the economy.  Look for Obama to pull out all the stops as we get closer to the fall of 2012.

Sadly, the truth is that it almost does not matter what the Democrats or the Republicans do at this point.  The long-term trends are so powerful now that it would take a miracle to reverse them. We are facing an “economic tsunami” that is just going to keep on destroying middle class America.

If you went to a store today, and there were two somewhat similar products sitting on the shelf and one cost ten times more than the other one, which one would you buy?

Well, that is the situation facing American workers today.  They have been pushed into one giant globalized labor pool, but big corporations are allowed to pay workers on the other side of the globe slave labor wages.  It costs ten times more (at least) to hire a blue collar American worker than it does to hire a blue collar worker in most areas of Asia.

As a result of the globalization of labor, we have seen a mass exodus of jobs out of the United States, and wages for many of the jobs that remain have been significantly depressed.

There simply are not nearly enough jobs for all Americans at this point.

Recent college grads are finding this out.  A new study that was conducted by Rutgers University discovered that over 30 percent of all those that graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 were not able to get a job within six months of graduation.

But unemployment is only part of the story.  There are millions upon millions of Americans that are “underemployed” today.

There are hordes of highly educated, hard working Americans that are working temporary or part-time jobs at close to minimum wage because that is all they can get.

With good jobs being so scarce, American families are finding it more difficult than ever to make ends meet.

One recent survey found that 9 out of 10 U.S. workers do not expect their wages to keep up with the rising cost of basics such as food and gasoline over the next year.

I talked about the rising cost of food in my recent article entitled “Why Are Food Prices Rising So Fast?”  Today, one out of every seven Americans is already on food stamps, and if the cost of living keeps rising this quickly we are going to see millions more of our fellow citizens clamoring for government assistance.

The decline of the American consumer is having other effects as well.

For example, pre-orders for Christmas toys from China are way down.

It looks like this holiday season is not going to be as “merry” as usual.

It would be nice if we could say that the economy is improving, but that simply is not the case.

American households are in a far different place than they were prior to the recent recession.

For example, did you know that home values in the United States have plummeted $6.6 trillion since the peak back in 2007?

U.S. homeowners have taken the brunt of that decline.  According to the Federal Reserve, average home equity has fallen from 61 percent in 2001 to 38 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

That is a colossal shift.

If U.S. homeowners only own 38 percent of their homes, then who owns the rest?

The banks do.

Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

Health care is another area where American families are getting squeezed.

Today, the United States spends more on health care per person than any other country in the world.

Sadly, we are also one of the sickest populations on the planet.

What is up with that?

Once upon a time the United States had a middle class that was the envy of the entire globe.

Now it is being ripped to shreds at every turn.

Today, approximately half of all Americans say that they could not come up with $2,000 within 30 days without selling away some possessions.

The vast majority of us are basically flat broke and surviving from month to month.

Meanwhile, our vaunted financial system just may be on the verge of another meltdown.

There has been all sorts of volatility in the marketplace recently and there are all kinds of signs that Wall Street is about to go into panic mode.

For example, Moody’s recently warned that it may downgrade the debt ratings of Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley are all either already laying workers off or are rumored to be considering it.

Frank Davis, director of sales and trading with LEK Securities, says that there is a lot of pessimism on Wall Street right now….

“There’s a lot of emotion in this market at the moment, and the conversations among traders are nearly all leaning toward the bear side”

As the financial system spins out of control, the Federal Reserve is increasing the number of workers that it is “embedding” at the big Wall Street banks.

I guess the Fed wants to keep a closer eye on things as they come crashing down.

Sadly, so much of this would be much easier to fix if our nation was not drowning in debt.

Since Barack Obama was elected, the national debt has increased by nearly 4 trillion dollars. If you and I went out today and started repaying that 4 trillion dollars at a rate of one dollar per second, it would take over 120,000 years to do it.

Most Americans have a hard time comprehending these kinds of numbers. Janet Tavakoli tried to put our debt situation into perspective in her latest column….

David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, says it’s even worse than that. When he takes into account future obligations for Medicare, Social Security, Federal debt, Military retirement, Civil servant retirement, and more, we owe $546,663 per household. That doesn’t even include your local debt — it may not be as bad as if you lived in Illinois, but it’s substantial nonetheless — and personal debt including mortgages and consumer debt that average more than $120,000 per household.

But you don’t have to toss wild numbers around to get an idea of how much trouble we are in.

As I have written about recently, there is increasing evidence all around us that the collapse of society is accelerating.  We are seeing disturbing reports of civil unrest pop up all over the U.S. at an alarming rate.

According to a CBS affiliate in Chicago, earlier this week approximately 50 young people conducted a shocking mob robbery of a drug store located on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago….

Some 50 young people barged into a Walgreens at Michigan and Chicago on the Magnificent Mile on Tuesday afternoon. They took bottled drinks and sandwiches off the shelves, then ran off, CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot reports.

When large groups of young people get together and agree to commit crimes that should be a huge red flag for all of us.

We are a nation that is deeply, deeply divided.  Hatred is growing and the love of most Americans is growing cold.

As I have written about previously on “The American Dream“, the American people are actually encouraged to hate one another these days….

The truth is that the “establishment” is constantly trying to divide us and get us fighting with one another.  They pit the Republicans against the Democrats (even as though control both sides).  They pit one race against another.  They pit one gender against another.  We are told that the rich are against the poor, the north is against the south, urban is against rural and that there are even “generational battles” going on.  Frustration and hate are rapidly growing in the United States today, and a lot of that frustration and hate is unfortunately aimed at the targets that the mainstream media has programmed all of us to hate.  Meanwhile, those at the top of the pyramid who are controlling the whole game love it when we are divided because we can never become united and challenge their control.

We need to come together as a nation.  If we don’t, we are going to face an unprecedented nightmare when the economy collapses.

So what do you think about the state of the economy?  Please feel free to leave a comment with your opinion below….

14 Reasons Why The Economic Collapse Of Japan Has Begun

The economic collapse of Japan has begun.  The extent of the devastation is now becoming clear and many are now projecting that this will be the most expensive natural disaster in modern human history.  The tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th swept up to 6 miles inland, destroying virtually everything in the way.  Countless thousands were killed and entire communities were totally wiped out.  So how does a nation that is already drowning in debt replace dozens of cities and towns that have suddenly been destroyed?  Many in the mainstream media are claiming that the economy of Japan will bounce right back from this, but they are wrong.  The tsunami decimated thousands of square miles.  The loss of homes, cars, businesses and personal wealth is almost unimaginable.  It is going to take many years to rebuild the roads, bridges, rail systems, ports, power lines and water systems that were lost.  There are going to be a significant number of Japanese insurance companies and financial institutions that are going to be totally wiped out as a result of this great tragedy.  Of course in the days ahead the Japanese people will band together and work hard to rebuild the nation, but the truth is that it is impossible to “bounce right back” from such a massive loss of wealth, assets and infrastructure.

Just think about what happened after Hurricane Katrina.  Did the economy of New Orleans bounce right back?  No, there are some areas of New Orleans today that still look like war zones.

Well, this disaster is much worse.

The truth is that this is going to be one of the defining moments in the history of Japan.  Hundreds of miles along the coast of Japan have been absolutely devastated.  Authorities are finding it difficult to even get food and water into some areas at this point.

Even before this great tragedy Japan was one of the nations that was on the verge of a national economic collapse.  Their economy had been in the doldrums for over a decade and their national debt was well over 200 percent of GDP.  Now the Japanese economy has experienced a shock from which it may never truly recover.

The Bank of Japan is already flooding the Japanese economy with new yen, and so we may indeed see some impressive “economic growth” statistics at the end of the year.  But just because lots more yen are being passed around does not mean that the Japanese economy is in better shape.

The truth is that a tsunami of yen is not going to undo the damage that the tsunami of water did.  A massive amount of Japanese wealth was wiped out by this disaster.  An economy that was already teetering on the brink is now very likely going to plunge into oblivion.

It is fine to be optimistic, but the cold, hard reality of the situation is that this is a knockout blow for the Japanese economy.  The extent of the devastation is just too great.  This truly is a complete and total nightmare.

The following are 14 reasons why the economic collapse of Japan has now begun….

#1 The Bank of Japan has announced that they have decided to flood the Japanese economy with 15 trillion yen.  That is the equivalent of roughly $183 billion dollars.  This is going to provide needed liquidity in the short-term, but it is also going to set Japan on a highly inflationary course.

#2 Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average declined by more than 6 percent on Monday.  As the full extent of the damage becomes apparent more declines are likely.

#3 Oil refineries all over Japan have been severely damaged or destroyed.  For example, six refineries that combine to process 31 percent of the oil for Japan have been totally shut down at least for now.

#4 The damage to roads, bridges, ports and rail systems is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.  The damage done to power lines and water systems is almost unimaginable.  It is going to take many years to rebuild the infrastructure of Japan.

#5 Right now the flow of goods and services in many areas of northern Japan has been reduced to a crawl, and this is likely to remain the case for quite some time.

#6 Many cities and towns along the east coast of Japan have essentially been completely destroyed.

#7 Japan’s nuclear industry is essentially dead in the water at this point.  Even if there is not a full-blown nuclear meltdown, the events that have transpired already have frightened people enough to cause a massive public outcry against nuclear power in Japan.

#8 Japan is going to need even more oil and natural gas in the long run to replace lost nuclear energy production.  Prior to this crisis, Japan derived 29 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

#9 Japan is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, but that is about to change.  Japan currently has about $882 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and they are going to have to liquidate much of that in order to fund the rebuilding of their nation.

#10 Many factories in Japan are closing down at least temporarily.  For example, Nissan has shut down four factories and Sony has shut down six factories.

#11 Toyota has shut down all production at its factories in Japan until at least March 16th.

#12 A substantial number of Japanese financial institutions and insurance companies are absolutely going to be devastated by this nightmare.

#13 Japan’s budget deficit was already 9 percent of GDP even before this tragedy.  Now they are going to have to borrow lots more money to fund the rebuilding effort.

#14 Japan’s national debt was already well over 200 percent of GDP even before this tragedy.  How much farther into the danger zone can they possibly go?

Sadly, as the economy of Japan goes down it is going to have a huge affect on the rest of the world as well.  For example, Japan is no longer going to be able to buy up huge amounts of U.S. Treasuries.  So who is going to pick up the slack?  Will our government officials beg China to lend us even more money?  Will the Federal Reserve just “buy” even more of our government debt?

Right now there are more questions than there are answers, but what is clear is that the Japanese economy has just been dealt an incapacitating blow.  Hopefully this tragedy will bring out the best in the Japanese people, but no matter how resilient they are, the truth is that this is something that no nation would be able to bounce back from quickly.

Let us hope that the economic damage from this tragedy will be contained and will not spread to the rest of the world.  The global economy is already in enough trouble, and hopefully this tragedy will not cause a cascade of economic failures to sweep the globe.

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