The Beginning Of The End
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Americans Are Literally Being Worked To Death

Are you constantly tired and do you feel incredibly stressed almost all the time?  Well, that means that there is a really good chance that you are a typical American worker.  Even though our incomes are going down, Americans are spending more time at work than ever before.  In fact, U.S. workers spend more time at work than anyone else in the world.  But it was not always this way.  Back in 1970, the average work week for an American worker was about 35 hours.  Today, it is up to 46 hours.  But there are other major economies around the globe that are doing just fine without burning their workers out.  For example, the average American worker spends 378 more hours working per year than the average German worker does.  Sadly, for many Americans work is not even finished once they leave the office.  According to one recent survey, the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work hours have finished.  Other Americans are juggling two or three jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.  Americans are busier than ever and work is often pushing the other areas of our lives on to the back burner.  What this also means is that “family vacations” are becoming increasingly rare in the United States.  In fact, Americans spend less days on vacation than anyone else in the industrialized world.  While some would applaud our “work ethic”, the truth is that the fact that we are being overworked is having some very serious consequences.  In fact, as you will see below, Americans are literally being worked to death.

The following is an excerpt from a comment that one reader posted on one of my recent articles.  Can you identify with what this family is going through?….

I always try and remember to be thankful and say prayers of gratitude for the blessings I have, however I can tell you that my wife and I are getting more and more exhausted.

Straight forward payroll taxes nailed us for $35k last year and the dozens of other taxes are often over-looked but also hitting us harder and harder.

My wife works 14 hour shifts at her dialysis clinic 3 days a week and every other weekend. On the Tuesdays and thursdays she has off she ends up resting half the day to give her poor feet a break since a nurse on her feet 14 straight hours of continual busyness is exhausting.

On top of that, her company has had a pay freeze for 3 years, has dropped Holidays down to just 2 per year ( Thanksgiving and Christmas of which she must work 1 of them), has canceled the reimbursement of her CEU’s ( medical professionals are required to continue to take schooling and classes for their entire career in order to renew their licenses) –also they no longer match 401k’s and her company health plan just bumped up $30 per week!!

I put in so many hours at times that when I get home I am too tired to eat. I come home, change clothes/shower and go straight to bed–this is not living. I try and keep up with my volunteer work and rounds at our local nursing home but something is going to have to give. My caseloads are growing and growing and people are making appts 2-3 weeks in advance. I never had a schedule so filled in advance before. I usually have more long-term pt’s with needs of stroke, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injuries..but now ortho pt’s are scheduling surgeries as to when I’ll have slots for hip replacement and knee replacement rehab time.

I’m ground down and in the mean time everything is getting more expensive, they keep taking more of my money I earn and we are having all of our benefits cut or completely stopped.

All over this country, millions of hard working men and women are slowly being worn down by jobs that are sucking the life out of them.  Working way too many hours for an extended period of time can have dramatic consequences for your health, your family and just about every other area of your life.

But for some Americans, there is simply no other choice.  There are millions upon millions of Americans that live on the edge of financial disaster these days.  According to one recent survey, 77 percent of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time, and the middle class in the United States has been shrinking at a very steady pace in recent years.

Many Americans are not working 60 or 70 hours per week because they want to.

Many are doing it because that is what they must do just to survive.

For example, a recent article posted on Economy In Crisis profiled a mother of four up in Michigan named Lisa Bosworth who can’t make ends meet for her family despite working three jobs….

Bosworth remarried but her current husband, Ray, was forced onto medical disability when a prescription medication caused health problems. The couple, who had a fourth child together, struggle to support their family on Lisa’s meager income.

Bosworth’s gross monthly income from working as a classroom aide in Reeths-Puffer schools and doing two Chronicle newspaper routes is $1,900. That amounts to $22,800 annually, nearly $5,000 below the poverty level for a family of six.

When they run out of money near the end of each month, Lisa and Ray Bosworth line up at one of several food trucks that visit Muskegon each month.

Earlier this month, the couple and three of their children waited in line at a food truck at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Norton Shores. Lisa Bosworth had just finished her two newspaper routes and was clearly fatigued after another 70-hour work week. “I’m tired,” she said.

Today, there are more than 100 million Americans on welfare, and a significant percentage of those people actually do have jobs.  In fact, some are working two or three jobs.

Working class Americans are working harder than ever, but at the same time many of them are making less money than they once did.

This is putting an incredible amount of stress on working class families.

In fact, it appears that a lot of Americans are literally working themselves to death.

And as a recent CBS News article described, this is particularly true for poor Americans that do not have much education….

Overall life expectancy has dropped for white Americans who have less than a high school diploma to rates similar to those of the 1950s and 1960s, new research finds.

The study found non-Hispanic white men without a diploma lived on average until 67.5 in 2008, three years less than they did in 1990. The drop in lifespan was even bigger for non-Hispanic white women with low education: They live five years shorter than 1990 rates, from 78 years old to just 73.5.

This is a sign that our society is going backwards.  Working class Americans are actually living significantly shorter lives than they used to.

Of course the garbage that passes for “food” these days certainly is not helping matters any, but that is a topic for another article.

Sadly, those that are working themselves to death consider themselves to be the “lucky ones” in our society today.

There are countless millions of other Americans that are sitting at home right now without a job.

The mainstream media is trying to convince us that the unemployment rate has been falling, but that is a lie.  If the labor force participation rate was the same today as it was back when Barack Obama first took office, the unemployment rate in the United States would be 11.2 percent right now.

But that doesn’t sound nearly as good as 8.1 percent sounds, right?

And the percentage of working age Americans with a job is actually lower today than when the last recession supposedly ended.

In this economic environment, most people are scared to death of losing the jobs that they currently have because they don’t know if they will be able to get another one.

During the month of August, the unemployment rate actually increased in 26 different U.S. states, and yet we are supposedly in the midst of “an economic recovery”.

But the truth is that we are not better off than we were back during the last recession.  In fact, there are a whole host of statistics that indicate that things are getting worse.

Unfortunately, much of the time people tend to forget that the horrible economic numbers that we are seeing have very substantial real life consequences.

People that cannot find work and people that work very long hours for a very long period of time tend to be much more depressed than the population as a whole.

And depression can often lead to suicide.  According to a recent Daily Mail article, more Americans now die from suicide than from car accidents….

Suicide is the cause of more deaths than car crashes, according to an alarming new study.

The number of people who commit suicide in the U.S. has drastically increased while deaths from car accidents have dropped, making suicide the leading cause of injury death.

Suicides via falls or poisoning have risen significantly and experts fear that there could be many more unaccounted for, particularly in cases of overdose.

That is incredibly tragic, because there is never a reason for anyone to commit suicide.  One of the things that I have learned in my own life is that there is always a way for things to be turned around.

Yes, life can be very hard when you don’t have much money, but our lives should not be about chasing material things anyway.  Our lives should be about so much more than that.

If you are currently feeling overly tired and overly stressed because you have been working too much, I encourage you to take a vacation.

We are only given one life to live.  We shouldn’t spend it working ourselves to death.

So what do you think about all of this?  Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below….

Ack! They Are Actually Going To Let Greece Default!

I wish that I had an “aha moment” to share with you today, but instead all I have is an “ack moment” to share.  As I was analyzing all of the info coming out of Europe in recent days, I came to the following realization: “Ack! They are actually going to let Greece default!”  The only question is whether it is going to be an orderly default or a disorderly default.  Of course the EU (led by Germany) could save Greece financially if it wanted to.  But Germany has decided against that course of action.  Many in the German government are sick and tired of pouring bailouts into Greece and then watching Greek politicians fail to fully implement the austerity measures that were agreed upon.  At this point a lot of German politicians are talking as if a Greek default is a foregone conclusion.   For example, Michael Fuchs, the deputy leader of Angela Merkel’s political party, recently made the following statement: “I don’t think that Greece, in its current condition, can be saved.”  But that is not entirely accurate.  Greece could be saved, but the Germans don’t want to make the deep financial sacrifices necessary to save Greece.  So instead they are going to let Greece default.

Many prominent voices in the financial world that have been watching all of this play out are now openly declaring the Greece is about to default.  Moritz Kraemer, the head of S&P’s European sovereign ratings unit, made the following statement on Bloomberg Television on Monday: “Greece will default very shortly. Whether there will be a solution at the end of the current rocky negotiations I cannot say.”

You might want to go back and read that again.

One of the top officials at one of the top credit rating agencies in the world publicly declared on television that “Greece will default very shortly.”

That should chill you to your bones.

If the EU allows Greece to default, that would be a signal to investors that the EU would allow Italy, Spain and Portugal to all default someday too.

Confidence in the bonds of those countries would disintegrate and bond yields would go through the roof.

Right now, confidence in government debt is one of the things holding up the fragile global financial system.  Governments must be able to borrow gigantic piles of very cheap money for the system to keep going, and once confidence is gone it is going to be incredibly difficult to rebuild it.

That is why a Greek default (whether orderly or disorderly) is so dangerous.  Investors all over the world would be wondering who is next.

At the end of last week, negotiations between the Greek government and private holders of Greek debt broke down.  Negotiations are scheduled to resume Wednesday, and there is a lot riding on them.

The Greek government desperately needs private bondholders to agree to accept a “voluntary haircut” of 50% or more.  Not that such a “haircut” will enable the Greek government to avoid a default.  It would just enable them to kick the can down the road a little farther.

But if Greece is able to get a 50% haircut from private investors, then why shouldn’t Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland all get one?

Once you start playing the haircut game, it is hard to stop it and it rapidly erodes confidence in the financial system.

This point was beautifully made in a recent article by John Mauldin….

So our problem country goes to its lenders and says, “We think you should share our pain. We are only going to pay you back 50% of what we owe you, and you must let us pay a 4% interest rate and pay you over a longer period. We think we can do that. Oh, and give us some more money in the meantime. And if you refuse, we won’t pay you anything and you will all have a banking crisis. Thanks for everything.”

The difficult is that if our problem country A gets to cut its debt by 50%, what about problem countries B, C, and D? Do they get the same deal? Why would voters in one country expect any less, if you agree to such terms for the first country?

But if Greece is able to negotiate an “orderly default” with private bondholders, that would be a lot better than a “disorderly default”.  A disorderly default would cause mass panic throughout the entire global financial system.

One key moment is coming up in March.  In March, 14 billion euros of Greek debt is scheduled to come due.  If Greece does not receive the next scheduled bailout payment, Greece would default at that time.

But the EU, the ECB and the IMF are not sure they want to give Greece any more money.  There are a whole host of austerity measures that the Greek government agreed to that they have not implemented.

Since the Greeks have not fully honored their side of the deal, the “troika” is considering cutting off financial aid.  The following comes from the New York Times….

Officials from the so-called troika of foreign lenders to Greece — the European Central Bank, European Union and International Monetary Fund — have come to believe that the country has neither the ability nor the will to carry out the broad economic reforms it has promised in exchange for aid, people familiar with the talks say, and they say they are even prepared to withhold the next installment of aid in March.

But the austerity measures that Greece has implemented so far have pushed the Greek economy into a full-blown depression.  Greece is experiencing a complete and total economic collapse at this point.  The following comes from the New York Times….

Greece’s dire economic condition can hardly be overstated. After two years of tax increases and wage cuts, Greek civil servants have seen their income shrink by 40 percent since 2010, and private-sector workers have suffered as well. More than $75 billion has left the country as people move their savings abroad. Some 68,000 businesses closed in 2010, and another 53,000 — out of 300,000 still active — are said to be close to bankruptcy, according to a report issued in the fall by the Greek Co-Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

“It’s an implosion — it’s an endless sequence of implosions from bad to worse, to worse, to worse,” said Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor at the University of Athens and commentator on the Greek economy. “There’s nothing to stop the Greek economy losing 60 percent of its G.D.P., given the path it is at.”

But Greece is not the only one in Europe with major economic problems.  The unemployment rate for those under the age of 25 in the EU is an astounding 22.7%.  And as I have written about previously, there are a whole host of signs that Europe is on the verge of a major recession.

Greece is just the canary in the coal mine.  The truth is that the entire European financial system is in danger of collapsing.

Today, it was announced that S&P has downgraded the European Financial Stability Facility.  It is pretty sad when even the European bailout fund is getting downgraded.

Of course most of you know what happened on Friday by now.  Very shortly after U.S. financial markets closed, S&P downgraded the credit ratings of nine different European nations.

Only four eurozone nations (Germany, Luxembourg, Finland, and the Netherlands) still have a AAA credit rating from S&P.

But even more importantly, the nightmarish decline of the euro is showing no signs of stopping.

Right now, the EUR/USD is down to 1.2650.  It is hard to believe how fast the EUR/USD has fallen, but if a major financial crisis erupts in Europe it is probably going to go down a whole lot more.

So what happens next?

Well, if there is a Greek default all hell will break loose in Europe.

But even if Greece does not default, the coming recession in Europe is going to put an incredible amount of strain on the eurozone.

Many have been speculating that Greece or Italy could be the first to leave the euro, but actually it may be the strongest members that exit first.

The number of prominent voices inside Germany that are calling for Germany to leave the euro continues to increase.

In addition, public opinion in Germany is rapidly turning against the euro.  One recent poll found that only 47 percent of Germans were glad that Germany joined the euro, and only 36 percent of Germans want “a more federal Europe”.

As this crisis continues to unfold, there will probably be even more “ack moments”.  European leaders have mismanaged this crisis very badly from the start, and there is no reason to believe that they are suddenly going to become much wiser.

Once again, it is important to emphasize the role that confidence plays in our financial system.  The entire global financial system runs on credit.  Banks and investors lend out money because they have confidence that they will be paid back.  When you take that confidence away, the system does not work.

Let us hope that the folks over in Europe understand this, because right now we are steamrolling toward a credit crunch that could potentially make 2008 look tame by comparison.

***Epilogue***

Now another of the three major credit rating agencies, Fitch, is publicly saying that Greece will default….

“It is going to happen. Greece is insolvent so it will default,” Edward Parker, Managing Director for Fitch’s Sovereign and Supranational Group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in the Swedish capital. “So in that sense it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

2012 Will Be More Difficult Than 2011

Do you believe that 2012 will be more difficult for the global economy than 2011 was?  Well, that is what German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes.  The woman that has become the most important politician in Europe recently declared that 2012 “will no doubt be more difficult than 2011″.  The funny thing is that she has generally been one of the most optimistic public figures in Europe throughout this debt crisis.  But now even Merkel is openly admitting that 2012 is going to be a really, really bad year.  Sadly, most Americans simply do not understand how important Europe is or how interconnected the global financial system has become.  The United States actually has a smaller population and a smaller economy than the EU does.  In fact, the EU has an economy that is nearly as large as the economies of the United States and China combined.  The EU also is home to more Fortune 500 companies that the U.S. is, and the European banking system is far larger than the U.S. banking system.  Anyone that does not believe that a financial collapse in Europe will have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy is living in a fantasy world.  Americans better start paying attention to what is going on over there, because we are about to be broadsided by a massive financial tsunami originating out of Europe.

It is not just Angela Merkel that is warning that 2012 is going to be a difficult year.  The following are several more very prominent individuals that are warning that bad times are on the way….

*Citigroup’s chief equity strategist, Tobias Levkovich, recently made the following statement….

“Europe is likely to have a meaningful recession in 2012″

*Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, recently said that we could soon see conditions “reminiscent of the 1930s depression” and that no country on earth “will be immune to the crisis”.

* Willem Buiter, the chief economist at Citigroup, recently said the following….

“Time is running out fast.  I think we have maybe a few months — it could be weeks, it could be days — before there is a material risk of a fundamentally unnecessary default by a country like Spain or Italy which would be a financial catastrophe dragging the European banking system and North America with it.”

* Even Paul Krugman of the New York Times is sounding quite apocalyptic….

“At this point I’d guess soaring rates on Italian debt leading to a gigantic bank run, both because of solvency fears about Italian banks given a default and because of fear that Italy will end up leaving the euro. This then leads to emergency bank closing, and once that happens, a decision to drop the euro and install the new lira. Next stop, France.”

I have written quite a bit recently about all of the signs that parts of Europe have already entered a recession.

Well, in just the past few days even more numbers have been released that indicate that a recession has now begun in Europe…..

-Manufacturing activity in the euro zone has fallen for five months in a row.

-Bad loans in Spain recently hit a 17-year high and the unemployment rate is at a 15-year high.

-Government revenues in Spain have not been up to the level that was expected.  The Spanish government just announced that the budget deficit for 2011 is going to end up being much larger than anticipated.

-Unfortunately, it appears that virtually all sectors of the Spanish economy seem to be slowing down….

The central bank said early indicators show that Spanish tourism, exports, spending and investment have been hit, which is likely to have led to a contraction in GDP in the fourth quarter.

Of course one of the most alarming things happening in Europe is the rapid contraction of the money supply.  It is almost impossible to avoid a recession when the money supply shrinks substantially.  The following comes from an article a few days ago in the Telegraph….

Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors said the ECB’s “narrow” M1 money figures – tracked for clues on shorter-term spending patterns – show a drastic divergence between the North and South of the eurozone. “Parts of the core may avoid recession but there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the periphery. Real M1 deposits in Greece and Portugal have been falling at an annual rate of roughly 20pc over the last six months,” he said.

Right now, the rest of Europe is heading down the same road that Greece has been traveling on for several years.

Today, Greece is essentially bankrupt and is experiencing a full-blown depression.  At this point, nobody in Europe is even pretending that Greece is going to be okay.  The following comes from a recent Der Spiegel article….

“With debts amounting to 150 percent of GNP, Greece is de facto bankrupt. Over the course of 2011, even the leading representatives of the euro zone finally accepted this fact — after having claimed its opposite a year previously.”

Greece desperately needs relief from all of this debt, but the other nations in the eurozone do not want to provide that relief.  Instead, it looks like Germany is going to ask private creditors to take an even bigger “haircut” on Greek debt than previously proposed.  The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article….

“Germany’s government declined to comment on a report that it may push for creditors to accept bigger losses on Greek debt than previously agreed upon, saying only that talks on lowering Greece’s debt level may end soon.

Germany is studying a proposal to write down 75 percent of Greek government bonds held by private creditors as part of a planned debt swap to ensure greater debt sustainability”

If Germany ends up publicly proposing this, it will shatter what confidence is left in European sovereign bonds.

There is not that much of a difference between a 75 percent haircut and a full default.  If investors are forced to take a 75 percent haircut on Greek debt, then the financial world will have to start wondering if it is just a matter of time before giant haircuts are proposed for Italian debt, Spanish debt, Portuguese debt and Irish debt as well.

Hopefully Germany will not be this stupid.

But something has to be done about Greece.  Right now the IMF is projecting that Greek debt will reach 200% of GDP at some point in 2012 if changes are not made.

Of course Greece could cut government spending even more, but the cuts that have already been made have pushed that country into a total economic nightmare.

In a recent article, I discussed how the brutal austerity measures that we have seen have plunged the economy of Greece into a full-blown depression….

Just look at what happened to Greece.  Greece was forced to raise taxes and implement brutal austerity measures.  That caused the economy to slow down and tax revenues to decline and so government debt figures did not improve as much as anticipated.  So Greece was forced to implement even more brutal austerity measures.  Well, that caused the economy to slow down even more and tax revenues declined again.  In Greece this cycle has been repeated several times and now Greece is experiencing a full-blown economic depression.  100,000 businesses have closed and a third of the population is living in poverty.  But now Germany and France intend to impose the “Greek solution” on the rest of Europe.

The “solution” that the EU and the IMF have imposed on Greece is not working.

So why are all of the other troubled nations in Europe being pushed down the same path?

Just consider the following statistics out of Greece….

*The unemployment rate for those under the age of 24 is 39 percent.

*The number of suicides has increased by 40 percent in the past year.

*Thefts and burglaries nearly doubled between 2007 and 2009.

Is that what we want to see throughout the rest of Europe?

The financial path that Europe is now on was criticized very harshly recently in the New York Times….

“Every government in Europe with the exception of Germany is bending over backwards to prove to the market that they won’t hesitate to do what it takes,” said Charles Wyplosz, a professor of economics at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. “We’re going straight into a wall with this kind of policy. It’s sheer madness.”

Yes, it is sheer madness.

Right now, authorities in Europe are desperately trying to keep a lid on this crisis.  The European Central Bank has been trying really hard to keep the yield on 10 year Italian bonds from rising above the very important 7 percent level.  But unless the ECB is prepared to spend hundreds and hundreds of billions of euros buying up Italian debt in 2012, the yield on Italian bonds is likely to go much higher eventually.

At this point, it is hard to find any economist that is optimistic about Europe or about the euro in 2012.

One of the leading economic think tanks in Europe, the Centre for Economics and Business Research, is extremely pessimistic about the future of the euro as we enter 2012….

“It now looks as though 2012 will be the year when the euro starts to break up”

In fact, they say that there is a 99 percent chance that the eurozone will break up within the next ten years.

Terry Smith, the chief executive of Tullett Prebon, recently used language that was even more apocalyptic….

“If the eurozone crisis could be solved by confident pronouncements, it would already be saved. I would be shocked if Greece does not leave the eurozone in 2012 and this does not lead the markets to test the resolve to defend the positions of Portugal, Spain, Italy and, ultimately, France.”

Yes, there are a whole lot of people out there saying that 2012 will be more difficult than 2011.

Fortunately, there are a few nations out there that are choosing to try some different things.

We aren’t hearing much about it in the United States, but right now Hungary is actually taking some measures to get their central bank under control.

The following comes from a recent article in the Telegraph….

Hungary passed laws for its central bank in a move that experts warned could jeopardise its chances of securing international bail-out funds if it needs them. Officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have warned about the rules which will undermine the independence of the central bank. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban the country would not bow to the “European fashion that the central bank must be in a sacred state of independence”.

Of course the IMF is absolutely furious about this.  The IMF is warning that there will be no bailouts for Hungary if they mess with the “independence” of the central bank.

But hopefully more countries out there will start going after their central banks.  The truth is that it is the central banks and the endless debt spirals that they create that got us into this mess in the first place.

If central banking truly worked, Europe would not be in such a massive amount of trouble.  The euro would not be dropping like a rock and the European financial system would not be paralyzed by panic and fear.

The reality is that central banking does not work and it a colossal failure.

For example, in the United States the U.S. dollar has lost well over 95 percent of its value since the Federal Reserve was created, and the U.S. national debt is now more than 5000 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was created.

It is amazing that there is anyone out there that is still willing to defend central banking.

2012 is going to be one of the most interesting years that we have seen in a long, long time.

Yes, 2012 will be more difficult than 2011 was, but it will also be a great opportunity to wake people up.

Our world is changing faster than ever before, and the Internet has made it possible for average people such as you and I to significantly participate in that change.

Resolve to do what you can to make a difference in this world in 2012, because time is rapidly running out.

North Korea: The Most Bizarre Country On Earth Is Now Even More Unstable

A new era has arrived for North Korea and nobody in the western world really knows exactly what is going to happen next.  Kim Jong-Il is dead, and now control over the most bizarre country on earth has been handed over to 29-year-old Kim Jong-Un.  Many believe that he is even younger than that.  North Korea was already quite unstable while Kim Jong-Il was leading it, and now we have a young man that is going to be eager to “prove himself” to the North Korean hierarchy.  Unfortunately, a lot of young men under the age of 30 don’t handle fame and fortune too well, and a lot of them tend to be hot-headed.  Hopefully Kim Jong-Un will turn out to be a reformer that will open up the doors of North Korea, but he could also end up being worse than his father.  We just do not know at this point.  We know that Kim Jong-Un was educated in Switzerland as a boy, we know that he speaks French, English and German, and we know that he is reportedly a fan of the NBA.  Other than that, we just don’t know a whole lot about him.  What we do know is that Kim Jong-Un is a product of a totalitarian society that is absolutely obsessed with destroying the United States, and that is a very frightening thing.

Today, North Korea has the fourth largest army in the entire world, and we know that Kim Jong-Un was named a four-star general in 2010.  The United States has about 28,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea, but that number is absolutely dwarfed by the 1,000,000 soldiers in the North Korean army.

Most Americans do not realize this, but the Korean war never actually ended.  A ceasefire brought the military conflict to a conclusion in 1953, but there was never a peace treaty.  For nearly 60 years, the two sides have been staring each other down along the 38th parallel.

All during that time, North Korea has been arming itself to the teeth.  North Korea is a nation that is absolutely obsessed with the military and that is absolutely obsessed with destroying the United States.

Most Americans don’t spend much time thinking about North Korea, but most North Koreans are focused on the United States every single day.  We are constantly held up as the great enemy, and North Koreans are taught that one day they will defeat us.

Today, North Korea has thousands of missile batteries and the largest artillery force in the world.  If war with North Korea erupts, Seoul would be flattened within minutes.

Right now, there are approximately 24.5 million people living either in or around Seoul, and that makes it the second largest metropolitan area in the entire world.  Even if North Korea did not nuke Seoul, the devastation caused by thousands of rockets and the largest artillery force on the planet would be unimaginable.

North Korea also has a navy with more than 700 vessels, the largest submarine fleet on the entire globe and a fleet of about 1,650 aircraft.

But most importantly, North Korea has nukes.

Everyone agrees that North Korea has conducted nuclear tests and that they have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, but nobody really knows how big that arsenal is.

It is believed that the latest long-range missiles that North Korea has developed have the ability to reach the west coast of the United States, which is a very frightening thought.

But North Korea is never satisfied with where they are at.  They are always developing new weapons.

For example, there have been reports that North Korea has tested a “super EMP weapon” which would be capable of taking out most of the U.S. power grid in a single shot.

North Korea is no joke.  North Korea has the ability to take out Seoul or Tokyo at any time.  A military conflict with North Korea could plunge the world into a devastating economic collapse in just a matter of days.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to disarm.  Thanks to recent treaties that the Obama administration has signed with Russia, the size of our strategic nuclear arsenal has been reduced by over 90 percent.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but then again not much that the Obama administration does makes sense.

North Korea is a very powerful enemy and they should not be underestimated.  Unfortunately, most of our politicians seem to be clueless when it comes to foreign policy these days.

And North Korea is constantly testing us.

There were reports that North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles off its east coast on Monday.

Was this Kim Jong-Un flexing his muscles?

Was it a tribute to Kim Jong-Il?

Was it just a test-firing that was regularly scheduled?

With North Korea you just never know.

At this point, the South Korean military has been put on a state of high alert.  South Korea is hoping that the transition of power in North Korea will go smoothly, and they are certainly watching things very closely.

The North Korean media is most definitely backing Kim Jong-Un, but that doesn’t mean that Kim Jong-Un is out of the woods yet.

Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S. China Institute, says that there may be significant challenges to the authority of Kim Jong-Un in the months ahead….

“How does somebody who’s not yet 30 win the loyalty and respect and command authority over the entrenched party apparatus, the entrenched military bureaucracy, and the senior party officials who may have been in their positions for a long time?”

That is a very good question.  Could someone in the North Korean military rise up to challenge Kim Jong-Un?  It seems unlikely, but you never know.

Meanwhile, most of the focus in North Korea is still on the death of the “dear leader”.  The passing of Kim Jong-Il has once again demonstrated why North Korea is widely considered to be the most bizarre country on earth.

The following comes from an article in the Telegraph….

State television, which delivered the shock news in a tearful announcement, aired footage from Pyongyang of hysterical North Koreans, young and old, pounding the ground in a display of abject grief.

People on the streets of the North Korean capital wailed, some kneeling on the ground or bowing repeatedly as they learned the news that their ‘Dear Leader’ had died of heart failure while carrying out official duties on a train trip.

“How could the heavens be so cruel? Please come back, general. We cannot believe you’re gone,” Hong Son Ok cried in an interview with the country’s official broadcaster, her body shaking.

Video footage of North Koreans mourning the “dear leader” is posted below….

Of course it must be remembered that if you do not mourn the “dear leader” properly, you and your entire family could get shipped off to a prison camp.

Seriously.

In North Korea, if authorities even suspect that you are not thinking the right thing, you and your entire extended family could be sent to a gulag for the rest of your life.

It is that kind of fear and repression that enabled Kim Jong-Il to maintain such tight-fisted control.

Without a doubt, Kim Jong-Il was truly bizarre.  Kim John-Il enjoyed endless luxuries while his people deeply suffered.  It has been reported that he had a collection of more than 20,000 movies, and it is said that he composed six operas.  It is also claimed that he shot 38 under par (including 11 holes-in-one) the first time he ever played golf.

But all of this leader worship started with his father, Kim Il-Sung.  It is said that hanging up pictures of Kim Il-Sung is compulsory for every household in North Korea, and many Koreans apparently believe that Kim Il-Sung actually created the world.

So yes, North Korea is very, very weird.

And North Korea is also very, very evil.

In a previous article, I discussed how Christians are treated in North Korea.  Sadly, Christians in North Korea are murdered in some of the most brutal ways imaginable.  The following is just one example….

“While Interviewee 17 was in the North Korean Army, his unit was dispatched to widen the highway between Pyongyang and the nearby port city of Nampo. They were demolishing a vacated house in Yongkang county, Yongkang district town, when in a basement between two bricks they found a Bible and a small notebook that contained 25 names, one identified as pastor, two as chon-do-sa (assistant pastors), two as elders, and 20 other names, apparently parishioners, identified by their occupations. The soldiers turned the Bible and notebook over to the local branch of Department 15 of the Korean Workers Party (KWP), but the Party officials said it was up to the military police unit, Bowisaryungbu gigwanwon, to investigate. Tracked down at their place of work through the listing of occupation in the notebook, the 25 persons were picked up without formal arrest by the military bowibu. The interviewee was not aware of any judicial procedures for those seized. In November 1996, the 25 were brought to the road construction site. Four concentric rectangular rows of spectators were assembled to watch the execution. Interviewee 17 was in the first row. The five leaders to be executed – the pastor, two assistant pastors, and two elders – were bound hand and foot and made to lie down in front of a steamroller. This steamroller was a large construction vehicle imported from Japan with a heavy, huge, and wide steel roller mounted on the front to crush and level the roadway prior to pouring concrete. The other twenty persons were held just to the side. The condemned were accused of being Kiddokyo (Protestant Christian) spies and conspiring to engage in subversive activities. Nevertheless, they were told, “If you abandon religion and serve only Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, you will not be killed.” None of the five said a word. Some of the fellow parishioners assembled to watch the execution cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steamroller. Interviewee 17 thought, at the time, that these church people were crazy. He thought then that religion was an “opiate,” and it was stupid for them to give up their lives for religion. He heard from the soldiers who took away the other twenty prisoners that they were being sent to a prison camp.”

Could you imagine watching your loved ones die like that?

Famine has also been a huge ongoing problem in North Korea.

There have actually been reports of cannibalism in North Korea during times of extreme famine.  A number of years ago, the Washington Post shared what one 29-year-old female defector told them about the cannibalism that she witnessed….

“When one is very hungry, one can go crazy. One woman in my town killed her 7-month-old baby, and ate the baby with another woman.”

The amazing thing is that the 29-year-old female defector did not even consider the cannibalism to be wrong….

“I can’t condemn cannibalism. Not that I wanted to eat human meat, but we were so hungry. It was common that people went to a fresh grave and dug up a body to eat meat. I witnessed a woman being questioned for cannibalism. She said it tasted good.”

So is there anyone out there that still wants to move to North Korea?

National Geographic once did an amazing documentary on what life is like inside North Korea, and if you have not seen it yet, you can view it on YouTube right here.  It is absolutely incredible that there are people on earth that are living like that.

Hopefully the rest of us can learn a lesson from them.  A totalitarian police state may make you feel a little bit “safer”, but no rational person should ever want to live in one.

The funny thing is that the North Korean people supposedly have rights.  If you can believe it, the North Korean constitution actually guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The American people need to understand that just because the U.S. Constitution says that we have rights does not mean that we will always have them.  In fact, today our First Amendment rights are being brutally assaulted.

As I wrote about recently, the United States is becoming a little more like North Korea every single day.  If we do not stand up for our rights, eventually they will all be gone.

It has been said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Throughout history, most societies have not enjoyed the same freedoms that we enjoy today.  There always seems to be a tendency for governments to become repressive and to go down the road that North Korea has gone.

Please do not let that happen to America.

The Coming European Superstate That Germany Plans To Cram Down The Throats Of The Rest Of Europe

A lot of people were puzzled about what German Chancellor Angela Merkel meant when she recently stated that the ultimate solution to the financial crisis in the EU would “mean more Europe, not less Europe”.  Well, now we are finding out.  A leaked internal German government memo entitled “The Future of the EU: Required Integration Policy Improvements for the Creation of a Stability Union” actually proposes the creation of a “European Monetary Fund” which would be given the power to run the economies of troubled European nations.  This “stability union” would be quickly followed by the creation of a full-fledged “political union”.  Essentially, this leaked memo proposes the creation of a “European Superstate” which will be crammed down the throats of the rest of Europe whether they like it or not.  National sovereignty would be a thing of the past and European bureaucrats would run everything.  Of course this will never be accepted by the people of Europe until they feel the bitter pain of the coming financial collapse, but we are starting to see that there is already a clear plan for what the Germans wish to implement in the aftermath of the coming crisis.

A lot of people have just assumed that if there is a massive financial collapse in Europe and the euro crashes that it will mean that end of the euro and potentially the breakup of the EU.  But that is not what the Germans have planned at all.

An article in the Telegraph has posted details about the leaked internal German government memo mentioned above.  It really is startling to see that a full-fledged “political union” in Europe is being discussed at the highest levels of the German government….

The six-page memo, by the German foreign office, argues that Europe’s economic powerhouses should be able to intervene in how beleaguered eurozone countries are run.

The confidential blueprint sets out Germany’s plan to tackle the eurozone debt crisis by creating a “stability union” that will be “immediately followed by moves “on the way towards a political union”.

It will prompt fears that Germany’s euro crisis plans could result in a European super-state with spending and tax plans set in Brussels.

Can you imagine what Europe would look like under such a plan?

National sovereignty would be a thing of the past.

Another article in the Telegraph says that the leaked memo proposes that immediately a “European Monetary Fund” should be set up that would have the power to take over and run the economies of European nations that get into too much debt.  But according to the memo this would just be an intermediate step toward a full “political union”….

The six-page German foreign ministry paper sets out plans for the creation of a European Monetary Fund with a transfer of sovereignty away from member states.

The fund will have the power to take ailing countries into receivership and run their economies. Even more controversially, the document, entitled The future of the EU: required integration policy improvements for the creation of a Stability Union, declares that the treaty changes are a first stage “in which the EU will develop into a political union”. “The debate on the way towards a political union must begin as soon as the course toward stability union is charted,” it concludes.

As the crisis in Europe has gotten worse, the Germans have become more aggressive about throwing their weight around.  At this point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the most important politician in Europe and she has been taking the lead in responding to this financial crisis.

As I have written about previously, there have been persistent rumors that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been “secretly plotting” to create a “new eurozone” that will fundamentally change the way that Europe is run.

For example, the following is from an article that recently came out  in the Telegraph….

France is drawing up plans to create a breakaway organisation of eurozone countries with its own treaty, parliament and headquarters – a move that could significantly undermine the existing European Union.

That same article also talked about the goals that France and Germany are hoping to achieve through all of this….

France and Germany are understood to want to strengthen the union between eurozone countries with new taxes and legal measures to stop nations borrowing and spending too much in future.

Of course it is important to note that there is no way that the people of Europe are going to go for any of this right now.

But after feeling the pain of a massive financial collapse for a while will they change their minds?

What is clear is that the status quo is not going to last much longer.  Something has got to change.  Unfortunately, Germany and France seem determined to push the rest of Europe in the direction of creating a European Superstate.

If you want to get a really good idea of what is happening in Europe right now, just check out this video of a recent speech by Nigel Farage on the floor of the European Parliament on November 16th, 2011.  Trust me, it is worth the couple of minutes that it takes to watch it.

But before fundamental structural changes take place in Europe, we are going to see an absolutely crippling financial collapse first.  With each passing day, there are more signs that things are rapidly unraveling.  The following are just a few of the noteworthy news items from Europe that have come out over the past week….

*In Italy there were violent clashes between protesters and police after Mario Monti unveiled his new austerity program.  To get an idea of how crazy things are getting over in Italy, just check out this video.

*Just like what happened when austerity was implemented in Greece, it looks like Italy is now headed down the road toward a major recession.  Industrial orders in Italy for the month of September declined by 8.5 percent.  That is really, really bad news.

*The EFSF has already been forced to buy up huge numbers of its own bonds.  That essentially means that the EFSF is already a bad joke.

*Dozens of big banks all over Europe have been downgraded in recent weeks.  Even German banks are getting downgraded now.  The other day, Moody’s downgraded the ratings of 10 major German banks.

An increasing number of people that work in the financial world are starting to get really freaked out about everything that is going on.

The following is what Mark Mobius, head of the emerging markets desk at Templeton Asset Management, had to say recently….

“There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner, because we haven’t solved any of the things that caused the previous crisis.”

Willem Buiter, the chief economist of Citigroup, believes that if something is not done quickly, there will be a financial collapse in Europe in very short order….

“Time is running out fast.  I think we have maybe a few months — it could be weeks, it could be days — before there is a material risk of a fundamentally unnecessary default by a country like Spain or Italy which would be a financial catastrophe dragging the European banking system and North America with it. So they have to act now.”

Ann Barnhardt of Barnhardt Capital Management actually shut down her entire firm because she could no longer guarantee that the money her clients were putting into the futures and options markets would be safe.  Posted below are extended excerpts from the open letter that she recently released to the public.  Normally I would not post such extended excerpts, but in this case I believe that they are warranted.  What Barnhardt has written should be a huge wake up call for all of us.  It is refreshing (and a bit frightening) to get an honest assessment of the corruption in the financial world from someone that has made a good living in that world.  The following is how she began her letter….

It is with regret and unflinching moral certainty that I announce that Barnhardt Capital Management has ceased operations. After six years of operating as an independent introducing brokerage, and eight years of employment as a broker before that, I found myself, this morning, for the first time since I was 20 years old, watching the futures and options markets open not as a participant, but as a mere spectator.

The reason for my decision to pull the plug was excruciatingly simple: I could no longer tell my clients that their monies and positions were safe in the futures and options markets – because they are not. And this goes not just for my clients, but for every futures and options account in the United States. The entire system has been utterly destroyed by the MF Global collapse. Given this sad reality, I could not in good conscience take one more step as a commodity broker, soliciting trades that I knew were unsafe or holding funds that I knew to be in jeopardy.

So how did the MF Global collapse wreck the system?  Barnhardt went on to explain this….

The futures markets are very highly-leveraged and thus require an exceptionally firm base upon which to function. That base was the sacrosanct segregation of customer funds from clearing firm capital, with additional emergency financial backing provided by the exchanges themselves. Up until a few weeks ago, that base existed, and had worked flawlessly. Firms came and went, with some imploding in spectacular fashion. Whenever a firm failure happened, the customer funds were intact and the exchanges would step in to backstop everything and keep customers 100% liquid – even as their clearing firm collapsed and was quickly replaced by another firm within the system.

Everything changed just a few short weeks ago. A firm, led by a crony of the Obama regime, stole all of the non-margined cash held by customers of his firm. Let’s not sugar-coat this or make this crime seem “complex” and “abstract” by drowning ourselves in six-dollar words and uber-technical jargon. Jon Corzine STOLE the customer cash at MF Global. Knowing Jon Corzine, and knowing the abject lawlessness and contempt for humanity of the Marxist Obama regime and its cronies, this is not really a surprise. What was a surprise was the reaction of the exchanges and regulators. Their reaction has been to take a bad situation and make it orders of magnitude worse. Specifically, they froze customers out of their accounts WHILE THE MARKETS CONTINUED TO TRADE, refusing to even allow them to liquidate. This is unfathomable. The risk exposure precedent that has been set is completely intolerable and has destroyed the entire industry paradigm. No informed person can continue to engage these markets, and no moral person can continue to broker or facilitate customer engagement in what is now a massive game of Russian Roulette.

Even more frightening, Barnhardt says that the MF Global collapse is just the “tip of the iceberg” and that more collapses like this are about to happen….

I have learned over the last week that MF Global is almost certainly the mere tip of the iceberg. There is massive industry-wide exposure to European sovereign junk debt. While other firms may not be as heavily leveraged as Corzine had MFG leveraged, and it is now thought that MFG’s leverage may have been in excess of 100:1, they are still suicidally leveraged and will likely stand massive, unmeetable collateral calls in the coming days and weeks as Europe inevitably collapses. I now suspect that the reason the Chicago Mercantile Exchange did not immediately step in to backstop the MFG implosion was because they knew and know that if they backstopped MFG, they would then be expected to backstop all of the other firms in the system when the failures began to cascade – and there simply isn’t that much money in the entire system. In short, the problem is a SYSTEMIC problem, not merely isolated to one firm.

So what does Barnhardt say that we should all do?  She is actually recommending that everyone should completely abandon the futures and options markets….

And so, to the very unpleasant crux of the matter. The futures and options markets are no longer viable. It is my recommendation that ALL customers withdraw from all of the markets as soon as possible so that they have the best chance of protecting themselves and their equity. The system is no longer functioning with integrity and is suicidally risk-laden. The rule of law is non-existent, instead replaced with godless, criminal political cronyism.

Remember, a few weeks ago I warned you all that a massive derivatives crisis is coming.  Anyone that plays around with derivatives at this point is playing with fire.  Barnhardt says that she will never reopen her firm until Barack Obama is removed from office and fundamental reforms to the financial system have been implemented….

Finally, I will not, under any circumstance, consider reforming and re-opening Barnhardt Capital Management, or any other iteration of a brokerage business, until Barack Obama has been removed from office AND the government of the United States has been sufficiently reformed and repopulated so as to engender my total and complete confidence in the government, its adherence to and enforcement of the rule of law, and in its competent and just regulatory oversight of any commodities markets that may reform. So long as the government remains criminal, it would serve no purpose whatsoever to attempt to rebuild the futures industry or my firm, because in a lawless environment, the same thievery and fraud would simply happen again, and the criminals would go unpunished, sheltered by the criminal oligarchy.

We are on the verge of a financial crisis that could potentially be just as bad (or even worse) than the financial crisis of 2008.

Right now, 2012 is shaping up as a very, very bad year.

As I have written about previously, when European leaders proposed that private Greek bondholders should take a “50% haircut”, they massively undermined faith in the European financial system.

Now panic and fear are in the air and it is unlikely that financial markets will be calmed any time soon.

Already, there are early signs of the kind of massive credit crunch that almost brought about “the end of the world” in financial markets back in 2008.

For example, a CNBC article that was posted on Friday reported that the flow of credit in Europe is seriously drying up….

Fear over European banks’ exposure to risky government debt stalked markets and harried bank executives on Friday, as unsecured lending between banks evaporated and the cost of secured loans rose.

And as a recent article posted on Zero Hedge discussed, a similar thing is starting to happen in the United States….

The entire dollar funding market is now at levels not seen since the Lehman collapse and is effectively frozen. Only this time it is much, much worse as never before has the global central bank cadre been assumed and implied to be backstopping the global liquidity cascade. Ex-out the implied backstop by the monetary authorities, and liquidity is now locked up more than ever in the history of capital markets.

So what should we do about this?

We should take action and get prepared for what is coming.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of Americans seem to be “checking out” instead.  According to a recent Gallup poll, alcohol consumption in the United States has hit a 25 year high.  More than one out of every ten Americans over the age of 12 is on prescription antidepressants, and most American families spend endless hours staring at the television in an attempt to escape the pain and the frustration that they constantly feel.

Hopefully by working together we can help more Americans (and more Europeans as well) to wake up, to get off their couches, and to take action in a positive way.

Time is running out and the economic crisis is rapidly getting worse.

We don’t have any time to waste.

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