Off the keyboard of John Ward
Published originally on The Slog January 2013
Discuss these articles at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
Italian banks have been hiding massive derivatives losses…so now MPS bank needs a €3.9bn bailout. The Talvivaara Mining company of Finland is secretly mining uranium, and covering up dangerous accidents. Both the Germans and the Swiss think the Americans are lending out or selling more than they actually hold in gold, thus raising the spectre of ‘fiat gold’: hence their growing desire to get the gold back before things get totally out of hand. Almost nobody believes the figures for Spanish bank liquidity – and the authorities have relaxed their liquidity requirements in order to get real about this.
All these stories have one simple commonality: deception. Alongside the trend identified by The Slog in recent weeks (the élites are becoming less bothered about fessing up to fibs) is another more encouraging one: the MSM has been rather more on the ball about spotting the mendacity in the first place.
What the main ‘old’ media still aren’t doing, however, is addressing specific reasons why the deceptions are necessary in the first place. In fact, this isn’t even slightly hard to do. The three main élite activities taking place at the minute are:
1. A scramble for energy and new-industry sector resources;
2. The appropriation by sovereign banks of gold as a bulwark against insolvency; and
3. the injection of more unelected technocrats into key positions in order to help carry that out.
Realities which might cause a derailing panic have thus been hidden. But reporting the instances and symptoms of this process is becoming increasingly irrelevant: it’s very good for hits – if you’re chasing hits – but as always, that gets in the way of intelligent analysis of how the rest of us should respond in the face it. And anyway, those ‘in charge’ haha are no longer that fussed about the media finding out about such stuff: the die is cast now, there’s little we can do to stop it….and they know that.
I think any investor or survivalist must therefore apply two critieria to any investment – whatever it might be: first, do I really understand all the fundamentals of this sector? And second, is anyone dicking about with those fundamentals for commercial or sovereign/central bank gain?
For me, silver is looking a better and better opportunity. So using the advice offered above, remember that the metal is prone to at times terrifying volatility…that’s the downside. The upside is that Mario Draghi, Mervyn King and Ben Bernanke do not (as far as I know) have plans for it. Nevertheless, other directionalising folks much nastier than any of us may well have such plans.
As always, caveat emptor applies: ignore what the buggers say, but oggle what they do like a hawk.
Finally, as a trailer to what will be coming soon at The Slog, I leave you with this thought. Every top fiscal Wally around the Western world is busy predicting confidently that Zirp will be maintained until such time as things improve. It is my considered opinion that the main emotion in play during such assertions is hubris. Hugh Briss is a loud sort of cove, but prone to delusions of grandeur: he is the Icarus of our world, convinced he can fly close to the sun, and control its effect. He cannot.
George Osborne yesterday showed once more that he’s ahead of the game by suggesting that Britain faces “a difficult time”, the gdp results were “disappointing”, and thus the Pound is falling…so Brits abroad in the eurozone will “feel the pinch”. The Daily Mail noted all this, and then wrote that the FTSE had ‘smashed through the 6,300 barrier’. No dots were joined up or brain-cells overworked in the reporting of these facts. The phrases ‘currency wars’, ‘selling the Pound to help exports’ and ‘indescribably bonkers’ were absent.
Still, the American ‘recovery’ continues to be the only one in history wherein the Federal Government owes more money every month, over half the public sector pension fund has been thrown at the debt, and the absorption of failed banks by healthier ones is a process taking place 4-5 times a month on average. 53 banks failed in the US last year, and for those of a vengeful disposition, The FDIC has all the gory details.
Doing this sort of thing, of course, simply means that bad banks infect goodish banks with their toxicity….which quietly moves from one balance sheet to another, becoming yet another lump of pulsating radioactive gunk ready to lay the system low.
But heh – volatility is just so now baby. CBOE Holdings, buoyed by the phenomenal success of options and futures contracts based on its Volatility Index (VIX) is ratcheting up its efforts to broaden their appeal.
“The volatility business is only eight years old, but we see terrific growth,” Ed Tilly, CBOE’s president and chief operating officer, told a gathering of reporters in New York recently. “We see hedge funds, prop trading firms, (commodity trading advisors), insurance companies and other institutional users migrating to the product. It’s very important for us.”
‘The volatility business’. Doncha love it? Here we are, it’s the 21st century, and fully grown up adults are gainfully employed building a new sector specialising in calculating the Fanshit Factor. Buy fanshit futures. Compare your own fanshit fear to the fanshit feelings of other calmer souls. Spot the fanshit index falling as more fanshit sprays your new YSL suit an interesting shade of fanshit. Be a fanshit fan: You Know it Makes Sense. Human beings are never funnier than when examining the interior of their own backsides in search of fanshit.
But desperation breeds criminality too – imagine that. Suddeutsche Zeitung reports that Germany’s bank regulator Bafin has now started an investigation against four German banks in connection with alleged manipulation of the Euribor. So far, the German authorities have only cooperated with the Libor investigations, but this is a new investigation.
Do we need a trial to establish guilt here? Probably not: they’re all guilty. Still, some sort of judicial process would be nice. I mean in the sense of politeness to the 65% of us suffering a pythonic grip while the authorities work out how to save themselves. QE does nothing that it claims on the tin. Zirp pauperises anyone on a fixed income with ‘proper’ investments. Libor manipulation screws the borrower. Welfare cuts play well in the markets while leaving all worthy recipients of it even more desperate than the authorities.
They’re called the authorities, by the way, because although they’re rarely authoritative – and never able to command authority through respect – they do have unlimited authority to do WTF they like to anyone and anything at any time they fancy. This is what makes investing such a joy at the moment. But if nothing else, the competition authorities are still on Michael O’Leary’s case, so it’s not all bad.
Ryanair has put out quarterly results showing turnover, profit and passengers continue to rise. The last of these is an especially good sign for any company in the business of getting people into the air, and predictably the results are accompanied by a bullish statement from chief executive Michael O’Leary. As O’Leary could be bullish about the imminence of an asteroid hit, that doesn’t mean much beyond his infinite determination to take over Aer Lingus.
Mad Michael claims that his plan to sell Aer Lingus routes to two separate airlines meets all concerns raised by the competition authorities. They just don’t address my concerns about the possibility of him being a wing short of an aeroplane, but then I’m picky. I once drove a six hundred mile round-trip to pick up four teenage children who unexpectedly found themselves in the Loire thanks to the immaculate scheduling and navigation skills of Ryanair. It is for this and many other reasons that I still think the price of O’Leary buying the national airline of his homeland should be the authorities insisting on rebranding it Cunnilingus.
But just when you thought Absolute Zero Sanity had been achieved, there’s always the Greek austerity problem to prove you wrong. Charis Theocharis, the new Hellenic revenues general secretary, made an astonishing claim in public last week. During his appearance at
the congress of the Association of Property Owners, a number of people
started to shout and protest about the many different taxes imposed on
“I have no money to pay property taxes,” shouted someone from the audience.
An obviously stunned general secretary shouted back, “Me neither”.
Truth, Lies and Tickertape in America and Europe
It’s a desperate politician that ever uses the term ‘one hundred per cent’, but yesterday Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said he was that certain 2013 will be Greece’s last year of recession. Whether it’s a forever thing or just until 2014 we can’t be sure, but speaking to the BBC’s Mark Lowen, Yannis said the Greeks had reason to be optimistic.
Missing from his statement was why they should feel optimistic, but just to back himself still further into a newly-painted corner, Stournaras added, “Towards the last quarter of 2013, we are going to have recovery. The probability of Greece leaving the euro – Grexit – is now very small.”
I would imagine this is what passes for being ‘on message’ in the Eurozone at the moment, and if nothing else it offers an example to French ministers about how they’re expected to behave. In a desperate attempt to disarm a self-inflicted torpedo yesterday, colleagues in the Socialist administration said Labour Minister Michel Sapin was only highlighting faults of the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy when he said France was ‘totally bankrupt’.
‘Totally’ is another of those ‘one hundred per cent’ statements. Not that you can be slightly bankrupt, but either way retreating from such an observation represents a toughie. His boss Pierre Moscovici said: “What he meant was that the fiscal situation was worrying”, but nobody in history ever rang up the administrators to say the situation was totally worrying. As if to prove the point, a poll yesterday by Le Figaro had 80% of readers agreeing that France was bankrupt. You ain’t outta the woods yet, Pierre baby.
But if things seem anything from rosey to awful on the mainland, things are catastrophic on Cyprus. You know there’s a big issue at stake when they drag in the clerics, and last week the island’s orthodox leader Archbishop Chrysostomos II requested financial assistance for the rapidly sinking island nobody wants to sink. However, Chrysostomos turned towards Russia, asking his counterpart in Moscow to try to persuade President Rasputin to grant another emergency loan….on top of the 2.5 billion euros Cyprus got from Russia just 13 short months ago.
According to Fitch, in fact, the total Cyprus now needs is 17 billion euros, which represents seventeen eighteenths of the gdp there. I’d call that ‘worrying’ even on a good day and 25 mgs of Valium; but then, I’m getting hazy on what ‘bankrupt’ means. I’m also unclear as to when Archbishops began to have numbers like monarchs: does this suggest delusions of grandeur, we ask. Or is he the follow up to the last movie, Archbishop Chrysostomos I, in which the Bish looked West but saw only a Belgian skull writing kamikaze poetry?
We may never know, but it’s good to see that the Phantom Finn Olli Rehn has joined the certainty club. “It’s essential that everybody realises that a disorderly default of Cyprus could lead to an exit of Cyprus from the Eurozone,” he said, adding pointedly and yet pointlessly, “It would be extremely stupid to take any risk of that nature.”
That’s another fine mess you got us into, Olli: but as the irrepressible Mark J Grant pointed out yesterday, a big slice of the formula for Europe is that ‘no country will leave the Euro under any circumstances so not only is money thrown about, but deficit goals are relaxed, relaxed and ignored as demonstrated quite clearly in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus. The actual financials in these European countries have gone from bad to worse but it is irrelevant, as there has been a change in the mindset of the Europeans which is being reflected in the minds of investors – which is that “it just does not matter”’. He is of course right on the money, reflected by the fact that Catalonia has just requested another 9 billion euros in aid from Mariano Rajoy’s Madrid Government.
Grant’s brilliant piece was marred only by the growing inability of folks under forty to get the compose/comprise verb right. Something is either composed of, or it comprises. You can’t comprise of something any more than you can compose of music. English is full of comprises, but it does no harm to know the rules.
Knowing the rules has never held the Italians back, and the smell surrounding Monte dei Paschi di Siena Bank (MPS) is getting more pervasively gaggo by the hour. Siena prosecutors have been looking at the MPS accounts, and found suspicious bank transfers for €17bn in 11 months from May 2008 to April 2009 to various other institutions. That’s a figure I’d rank beyond suspicious and heading towards smoking gun held in bright-red cordite-stained hand. I mean, €17bn is a lot. The money went to ABN Amro, Santander and Abbey National, and has an air of f**king enormous bribe about it.
Talking of bribes, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanka’s latest round of bond buying will reach $1.14 trillion before he ends the programme in the first quarter of 2014, according to estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists.
Despite the US being in complete, obvious and unstoppable recovery, Benny the Banke will press on with purchases of $40 billion a month of mortgage bonds, and $45 billion a month of Treasuries – although more than a few Fed officials warn his unprecedented balance-sheet expansion will “impair efforts to tighten policy when necessary” as one mole put it.
I am very happy to be quoted as offering the view that this is a one hundred per cent certainty. But as they say in Brussels, “it just doesn’t matter”. Thank God for that: we are saved.
Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia
Published on Economic Undertow on February 2, 2013
Surreality is when the top story in the New York Times is about King Cakes but the idea is to not scare the horses. Informing the readership in plain English of our ongoing unraveling might provoke uncertainty … then panic … leading to questions about why we endure so many stupid managers everywhere in the world. At the very least, the stock market — which is now near all-time highs — might decline. People might then in theory put off buying a new car or a bigger house or not take on bigger loans. Best to roll out the pastries and downplay the Israeli air strike in Syria and the widening war there or the bank nationalization in Netherlands (Washington Post):
Dutch state nationalizes bank and insurer SNS Reaal NV, injects 2 billion euros in capital (Associated Press)
AMSTERDAM — The Netherlands nationalized its fourth-largest bank on Friday, injecting €2 billion ($2.7 billion) to recapitalize SNS Reaal NV and head off any chance of a messy collapse that would threaten the country’s already fragile economy and financial system.
The total cost to the Dutch government will be at least €3.7 billion, Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a press conference. That’s almost certainly enough to ensure that the Netherlands’ budget deficit in 2013 will be higher than the 3 percent allowed under EU rules, unless the Dutch Cabinet — which has already taken a series of unpopular tax hikes and spending cuts — comes up with further austerity measures.
“This isn’t what we wanted,” Dijsselbloem said. But he added that, without the nationalization, SNS “would have gone irrevocably bankrupt,” with potentially dire consequences.
Ah yes, dire consequences: secured (large) lenders to the bank would have lost some money. Much better for the ordinary citizens of Netherlands to take the billions in losses. The citizens haven’t even earned the money yet, they will never know what it is they have lost! Here is the latest innovative technology in action: the finance cost-morphing time machine. The establishment endlessly promises a high-tech utopia tomorrow. What it actually delivers is invisible public bankruptcy: money that is not earned tomorrow because it was diverted to a tycoon … yesterday.
High-tech time machine in operation, Pableaux Johnson (NYTimes)
Depositors and senior creditors (of SNS) won’t lose any money in the nationalization, the Finance Ministry said.
The closest the Dutch get to actual restructuring …
SNS shareholders will be wiped out, along with some junior creditors, including the state itself. SNS owed the government €800 million, including interest, left over from a 2008 bailout. Other junior creditors will lose around €1 billion, the ministry said. The three biggest Dutch banks, ING Groep NV, ABN Amro, and Rabobank will contribute a combined €1 billion to help save SNS — they are required to do so as under the same law by which the state guarantees their retail deposits. The nationalization shows the damage the crisis has wrought on the oversize Dutch financial sector and means that three of the five biggest banks in the country have now come under state control since the start of the crisis: ABN Amro was merged with the former Fortis and both were nationalized back in 2008. In addition, ING received several bailouts which have still not been fully repaid. Only Rabobank, a banking cooperative, has not yet needed state aid.
Big-bank shutdowns are historical indicators of greater finance system failures-to-come. This dynamic has been in force as recently as 2007 with the collapse of el cheap-o mortgage origination firms and two of Bear-Stearns’ hedge funds. The entire mortgage industry, shadow-banking and then Bear-Stearns itself all fell into the pit shortly thereafter. During the entire period there was a soaring stock market and soothing bromides from the establishment …
Attention must be paid to stumbling banks while the happy talk about ‘growth’ and ‘recovery’ is ignored.
The propping up of key-men works for modest periods only. Cures or resolutions must be put in the place of the props … since 1980 or so nothing has been done other than to entrench the status quo, expand credit and inflate serial asset price ‘bubbles’. Finance has not evolved, it has become an unchanging dead weight, a gigantic millstone around the corpse of modernity … ossified finance has become the final manifestation of ‘progress’. To support banks and the industrial welfare queens there are cheap loans offered by central banks, the laundering of assets, bailouts of businesses belonging to ‘special friends’ (owners) of corrupt government officials. All of this is accompanied by loud public proclamations of better times that are sure to come, tomorrow.
It is always tomorrow … when the positive outcomes are certain to emerge! As a fair exchange businessmen will poison the atmosphere and the ocean so that progress can take place. Meanwhile the key-men multiply like rabbits while the props diminish or crack under the strain.
There are banks and bank-like entities faltering in China, in Spain, as well as Italy, where the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA is underwater due to self-dealing and looks ripe for failure. All of these situations have the potential to upend the economic applecart. Of course, there are the parallel political scandals in all of these countries including China. One must not overlook the Greek and Cyprus problems … or the foreign exchange ‘war’ that is underway between the US, the eurozone, China, Japan and Korea.
The term ‘Dutch’ can be replaced with the name of just about any country …
‘France is totally bankrupt’: French jobs minister Michel Sapin embarrasses Francois Hollande with shocking statement on state of the country’s economy …
Spain is shocked … shocked! The economy of France is a Ponzi scheme where the funds/capital of other countries is taken in exchange for empty promises … gambling and fashion have bankrupted the country, there is nothing left for France but to become Greece.
Figure 1: Charts of car sales here and there from the New York Times: sales nose-dive in Europe. Sales are dependent upon the constant addition of credit-plus central bank moral hazard … as these offer diminished returns there is nothing to support sales
Industrial production figures exclude construction, and reflect the change in each month from the average of 2006 figures. Car sales figures exclude light trucks, and are based on sales volumes in the United States and on registrations of new cars in Europe and Japan. They reflect the total for each 12-month period compared with the 2006 total. (Sources: Bloomberg, Haver Analytics, Ward’s Automotive, European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association)
Autos and other capital-extinguishing goods are collateral for our money, they are the tangible ‘products’ for- and by which we devour our pitiful remnants of real capital … We can continue to destroy capital only if we lie to ourselves about its nature. Currently, we insist that capital is money instead of resources. This is false: money is loans and nothing more. When capital is loans, there are insignificant consequences to its destruction. Old loans are easily replaced with new ones. Only when capital is something that must be dug out of the ground with great effort … does its fleeting existence within our state of affairs become an economic embarrassment … then an indictment.
Meanwhile, finance is losing its ability to paint capital destruction as ‘productive-appearing’ and to thereby prop it up. Here is the greatest key-man failure! The more effort expended to keep the current regime of capital destruction ‘growing’ the faster the costs accumulate … capital is extinguished with one hand while greater claims against the same capital are made with the other.
Figure 2: What sort of un-balanced sheet is this? Here are diminished returns made graphic … the declining productivity of US debt, as $300+ billion borrowed dollars ‘buys’ a $5 billion dollar decline in GDP (by Zero Hedge). This decline can be ignored as long as … the stock market keeps rising! (click on the image to see it in its entirety)
Meanwhile, from the ‘Let The Eat King Cake’ department … in China, (Patrick Chovanek):
What Causes Revolutions? A surprising number of people in China have been writing and talking about “revolution”. First came word, in November, that China’s new leaders have been advising their colleagues to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic book on the French Revolution, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (The Old Regime and the Revolution), which subsequently has shot to the top of China’s best seller lists. Just this past week, Chinese scholar Zhao Dinxing, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, felt the need to publish an article (in Chinese) laying out the reasons China won’t have a revolution (you can read an English summary here). Minxin Pei, on the other hand, thinks it will.
This is like the German high command during the Barbarossa winter of 1941 re-reading Armand De Caulaincourt’s classic account of Napoleon’s doomed 1812 Russian campaign. Sentries that have frozen to death tend to focus the mind: so do the endless rounds of Chinese outrages and miscalculations. Doubts about China’s enterprise are growing … in China, where such doubts matter most.
What would a China revolution look like? Pundits offer a political story about the Communist Party but the problems are economic: the failure of Chinese business ‘success’. Any revolution would certainly take some form of public rejection of automobiles … otherwise there would be no real revolution at all. Such a radical change is unlikely at the moment … The Chinese love their cars … the passage of time and the ongoing bankruptcy of China will do the heavy lifting. The Revolution will come after China becomes Greece.
What must be watched are the banks which are saddled with US$ trillions of bad loans, mostly for ‘capital investment’ which in this case means redundant factories, showy-but-useless public infrastructure and property developments. None of these things can or do pay for themselves, they require endless rounds of new loans … the result being pyramiding debts. Amazingly, it has taken the Chinese only 20 years to reach the profound level of insolvency that has taken the West 400 years to achieve. It is hard to see the Chinese expanding their particular form of capital investment Ponzi scheme … and the accompanying smog … for another 20 years.
The Chinese are not the only folks struggling with air quality: the smog is worse in India … for many of the same reasons as China. The smog is also bad in Athens … Greeks are putting heating oil into their cars and heating their houses with stolen wood.
Figure 3: The chart looks like the Yen has weakened in lockstep with both the Euro and the Dollar. But when you look at the scale, you see that the Yen has lost 22% against the Euro, while it has only given up 13% versus the dollar. From this you might conclude that the logical next step is for the USDYEN to “catch up” to to what has happened with the EURYEN. This thinking takes you in the direction of USDYEN 100. But … the FX markets don’t work like that. If USDYEN moved to 100 while the EURYEN remained “stable” around 122, then the EURUSD rate HAS to fall to 1.22 (-9%).
Sorry, that’s not in the cards.
Depreciation from ¥80 to the dollar to ¥100 means a ‘Great Leap Upward’ in Japanese fuel prices because the country has no native sources of petroleum or other fuels. Japan beggars itself instead of its neighbors: whatever the country hopes to earn by exports is offset by the increased cost of the fuel it must import. At the same time, dollar-fuel prices are increasing because of ‘growth’ propaganda, moral hazard for petroleum ‘investors’ as well as threats of war in petroleum producing regions. With depreciation and higher producer costs the Japanese driver can look forward to paying a deflationary 30% or greater premium for fuel compared to the rest of the world. Certainly, here is conservation by other means!
The foregoing omits systemic risk to Japanese banking and finance which cannot be easily measured. The smallest error can have shattering consequences. For example, the Bank of Japan central bank can be perceived by the marketplace to be making unsecured loans … that is, loans in excess of collateral that it takes on as security. If this is so, the central bank is instantly insolvent … as are other Japanese banks and for the same reason: bad loans and excess leverage! Keep in mind, the only reason why a central bank would think of offering unsecured loans is if the country’s commercial banks are insolvent and unable to lend. The outcome is no effective lender of last resort to guarantee bank liabilities: a run occurs as depositors hustle to remove funds from a defunct system. In this light the recent months’ acquisitions of overseas companies by Japanese businesses is ominous.
There is also the issue whether Middle Eastern suppliers will accept a strongly depreciated yen or if they will demand another form or payment (dollars). The Japanese are playing with fire, looking for an easy, conventional approach that cannot possibly work as intended. Whatever the country attempts there are unintended consequences … which often cannot be discerned until after the attempts are made and it is too late to change course.
What the establishment in Japan fails to understand is the effort to accelerate consumption — either within the country or by trading partners — offers sharply diminished returns. This is because irretrievable capital is consumed instead of rapidly multiplying ‘money’. Because of consumption over the course of decades real capital has become more costly relative to the amounts that can be lent against the consumption process. When returns become negative … the country in question instantly enjoys a Greek-like national bankruptcy.
The bankruptcy is permanent, by the way … the only way for a Greece to become prosperous again is for another country to become more bankrupt than Greece is now.
This net-negative process may indeed be underway in Japan as what it exports must be imported first then subjected to entropy-creating industrial-commercial processes. Every process exacts a thermodynamic levy or ‘tax’, certainly export goods cost Japan more in energy losses than what Japan imports.
A country can make water flow uphill by pushing costs onto unwitting trading partners by way of foreign exchange and leverage against that partner’s account. Japan’s trade surplus — which has subsidized Japan for decades — is nothing more than faulty bookkeeping and overseas loans. Japan has pushed its energy costs onto its customers: the attempt at depreciation is an effort to restart the pushing process.
Meanwhile, all the other consuming countries in the world desire to depreciate their own currencies as well! More of Japan’s customers are broke, they cannot afford to subsidize Japan’s waste any more … or their own.
Certainly, there must be intelligent, perceptive analysts in France, America, China and Japan … however the power of habit and wishful thinking is very strong and the current lesson of Greece being played out on the public stage in real time … is ignored.
While countries beggar their trading partners, many of the same countries are bent on outright theft. War intensifies in the Middle East, in Africa, it stirs off the coast of revolutionary China … every place there is oil or oil consumption that can be ‘exported’ to countries such as the United States. The outcome is increased war premium (Bloomberg):
|Crude Oil (WTI)||USD/bbl.||97.97||+0.48||+0.49%||Mar 13||11:45:10|
|Crude Oil (Brent)||USD/bbl.||116.96||+1.42||+1.23%||Mar 13||11:45:16|
|RBOB Gasoline||USd/gal.||302.58||+2.21||+0.73%||Mar 13||17:15:00|
King cake is a New Orleans tradition served on Fat Tuesday before Mardi Gras. King cake by Sara, who clearly knows how to bake a good one! Any recipe will do as long as it includes sugar. A small plastic doll stuck into the cake after removal from the oven. Note: there are no such things as ‘clashing colors’ in New Orleans …
The survivors of the current state of affairs are those small businesses that do not require credit and can obtain organic returns. As for the others, let them eat king cake.
Off the keyboard of William Hunter Duncan
Published on Off the Grid in Minneapolis on December 7, 2012
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
Sometimes I get so angry. Like last Thursday; I think the trigger was a Twix bar I ate after lunch. I was increasingly angry at work, through the afternoon, until I got home at 4:20 like I do every day, and puffed. I puffed alot! And I got ANGRIER; that’s never happened before!? So I went and bought some beer, and smoked some more, and cleaned my garage, and sang and danced, in preparation for this.
Which cast-iron Kodiak stove I got, for the price of a 12-pack of Michelob Golden Light. From my neighbor. Turns out he has a potentially working furnace he doesn’t want sitting in his dining room. That should solve the heating problem, temporarily. I’m not going to pull a permit for that either.
I got angry again yesterday. We’re behind schedule, in our department at big bank, not because we are slow, but because the bulk of the work arrives at the beginning of the month, it is due in seven days and we don’t usually see much of it, until it has “aged” five days. We were asked early, to quicken our pace, in the morning “huddle.” I did, and found myself becoming increasingly histrionic about it (which may be why I sit at the most awkward, out of sight work station in the department), waiting as I am so often, for the network. Here I am, in the “morgue”, the “meathouse” of one of the largest banks in the world, asked to do more and remember more, for less return, than any job I have ever had, in the the thirty to forty sum odd jobs I have had; and oh my god, the irony, that I should be angry that I can’t audit home loans in foreclosure faster! One might imagine that the intranet/network for such a big enterprise as one of the largest banks in the world, would work better than Minneapolis city wireless at its best, but you’ld be wrong. But then, in the surreal world I now inhabit, literally half the people on the floor and all their belongings can be there on Friday, and gone including the computers, Monday, and no one else left on the floor will be overheard talking about it, this whole week.
Then at lunch yesterday, my only real friend in the department, Shelly, came to me in the lunchroom crying. Auditing a loan, and indexing electronically eight of the nine documents, she got distracted, and forgot whether or not she had imported them into the system. Thinking she was being due diligent, she imported them again. They appeared in the system as duplicates. She was given eight errors. Mind you, we can only score one good point per loan worked, which means it was like the last eight loans she audited correctly, had been counted against her. The expected threshold is 99.5% correct. Shelly would have otherwise been 100% for the month. The errors brought her down to 85%, which could take awhile for Shelly to recover from, perhaps months. (She is my friend because she is the sweetest one there, I think, and I can talk to her about whatever. Which as you might imagine, is rarely light material. LOL
This sort of petty shit (the vulgar scoring process, not me caring about it) comes from outside the department, of course. The woman responsible is the same one responsible for us not being able to eat anything at our work stations, or keep any personal possessions there, and we HAVE to use the under counter keyboard trays (which rules I break daily), and black dude can wear a coat patterned in marijuana leaf (LOL), and hoodies are fine, but I can’t wear my Smartwool hat to comfort my bald noggin in the drafty cold (which rule I have kept to, though I think it’s bullshit). I mean, for fuck’s sake, we are FORECLOSING ON HOUSES. But then, I had my first fugitive fuck you you deserved it, the other day, a first loan for something like $472,000, with a “subordinate” loan of $187,000 at 9.75%, some rancho wtf other el lookitme palatial boxfortards. LOL.
Excusing myself, what?
Of course then I come home and read this guys blog. Reader beware, do not drive through Collinsville, Illinois. The police there are thieves (real pirates don’t work for Authorities.) You can bet too, if it’s happening in Collinsville, it’s happening elsewhere – out-of-state, older model vehicles, cops looking for, or planting marijuana, so they can seize the vehicle and everything in it. Such are the confiscation laws nationwide. It gets a lot uglier than that, in Griggs’ blog. Like I told a friend, who said he could see reasons for drones, for law enforcement – nothing good AT ALL can come from militarizing the police. Which has been done, and is being done, all over, by the Fedz. And if you believe this, every digital communication you ever send from this point on, will be recorded and stored, so that, should you find yourself at odds with the government for any reason, they can download your digital communication history, and use it in the way that people wield such power. I will say though, the fact that Minneapolis just hired our first gay female police chief, assuming she isn’t just another protector of the brotherhood, and the fact that Minnesota didn’t alter its Constitution for the sake of gay baiting, is a sign that Minnesotans haven’t entirely lost their minds.
I mean, aside from the fact that it’s still legal in this state for the police to come in my house and take my house from me, because I smoke marijuana. Meanwhile the Fedz and SaviorO are conspiring a show of force, against the states Washington and Colorado, to make it clear who is king and who cannot smoke pot. Meanwhile, the State’s legislatures conspiring behind the scenes, an economic coup, for the likes of ArchersDanielsMidland, Cargil, Monsanto et al (Only State licensed growers, distributors, sellers etc.)
That plant will grow just about anywhere. It is the most useful plant on the planet. But that’s the thing, and they know it intuitively. If people started growing it, and exploring it’s potential economically, as well as consciously, you would have a Revolution in no time at all. LOL.
Consider this guy, for a moment. You may find him perculiar, or not, whatever, he ran a tea house. He taught tea ceremonies. His tea house was a hub of the arts in San Francisco (until the Fedz stepped in.) And because he distributed, or didn’t, it doesn’t seem clear even after a second trial, LSD and MDNA, the State has decided to put him in federal prison for 10-15 years? Aside from the fact the guy looks like he weighs about a buck-twenty, who do you suppose he was distributing this LSD and MDNA to, if he was? Artistic people. Dancers and music makers and such. Tim Leary is reported to have said, LSD occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who haven’t taken it. I never have, but I’ve smoked enough pot and that one shroom I took, to understand that the reason the State puts 120 lb taoist tea hosts in federal prison for 10-15 for distributing LSD and MDNA, is because IF LSD and MDNA were widely available, there would be a Revolution in no time at all, and it wouldn’t look anything like the sixties. I don’t know what it would look like, but I bet it would look a lot more reasonable about what we face as a species, and a lot more techie than you think. Just what we need right now, actually. But probably, a lot of people don’t want to get high, for all the truth that would be revealed about the situation.
Anyway, I say REVOLUTION. I say, open those gates. I say, call off the dogs. If I want to grow, distill, create whatever I want here, to explore my consciousness, to share what I have with my friends, what man anywhere, has the right to say that I cannot? As for God, God emerged from hallucinations. Which is why I don’t ask permission to put a woodstove in, or a new furnace, or to explore my consciousness. Which woodstove btw has changed the whole course of the plan for this residence. More on that to come.
Speaking of angry, I’ve been thinking a lot about the food issue. I told a friend the other day, how fun would it be to descend on a modest glass facade office building, and re-fit it, into a tiered perch (fish) farm? He agreed, that between the two of us we could probably find a couple dozen guys with various expertise, who would show up tomorrow. He asked, if I could wave a magic wand to fix the food situation, what would I do? I replied, that I would buy all land within a hundred miles of downtown Minneapolis, that is currently dedicated to industrial corn and soybean production, and I would offer it to young families and groups of people willing to live and build sustainable/solar structures on it, and grow healthy food for as many as they could, w/ zero interest loans, w/ a negative-interest incentive if they pay more each season, with forgiveness in the event of adverse weather, or extraordinary success in the way of community building.
What say you, hedge fund fuck? Computer guru philanthro egghead bee-illionaire? I know, you can come work with me in the chop shop at big bank. You can sit at the work station next to me, we can talk about reality (don’t worry, no one will hear, just about everybody is plugged in with earbuds or headsets.) You can sleep on the futon at my house. In the morning, we can bike to the bus station, maybe on my tandem; you can sit in back wearing the mad scientist wig. We’ll get drunk by the stove in my garage on weekends and talk about life. After about six months of that you might be ready to redeem yourself. Maybe. Do something meaningful with all that cash, before it’s gone.
As if on cue, about the food thing, Peter started a most fascinating thread on hydroponics, on the Doomstead Diner. Peter’s a techie genius living on the shore of a Pacific inlet, north of Vancouver Island. They see week long fogs, and there’s no road access, so fresh veggies are dear. He started experimenting, growing indoors, and I know I was amazed with what he showed us. Eggplant? Avocado? RE, Head Admin, said he’d finance a similar set-up here in the “McHovel,” as a kind of Minneapolis Chapter of the Doomstead Diner Hydroponics Project, so look for that around the equinox, this spring. It would be nice to juxtapose against the progress,and work, of the garden.
So, I don’t know. Anger can be productive sometimes. A kind of preparatory fire?
Hard to manage though, once let loose. Good to be balanced, earth, air and water.
Off the keyboard of William Hunter Duncan
Published on Off the Grid in Minneapolis on November 20, 2012
Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
Last winter, living without a working furnace or income, I was ready to fix up this house and sell it. I was going to sell it, and go to dance in the wheat fields of England, to call down a sign, or call out the ones who do it. From there, to the Big Island of Hawaii, to walk around it, up to Dec 21. From there, wherever, perhaps deep in the amazon, in search of Ayahuasca and Strophoria cubensis.
Spring came, and I fell in love with the garden again, and I planted fruit trees. I started the work on the house, which went well up to a point, when I lost any energy for it, after a series of arguments with my father, who shares the mortgage on the house, and has been paying on it the last four years. I walked away from the house, longtime readers, and readers of my books, will recall, during the fall of 2008. I was hardly aware of the financial collapse, as I was in love, and recovering from Lyme disease. I lived with that woman and her kids, in Northern California and Wisconsin, the following two years, when we broke off the relationship and I returned to this house, which had been unoccupied all that time. That is when I started this blog, and expanded the garden. By mid-summer this year, it was clear to me that the house was not saleable to anyone but a speculator at a house-flipper price in a depressed market; and the garden had become like an enchanted place.
I couldn’t go another winter without taking on the mortgage payment, and the Halloween store I managed in the fall of 2010 and 2011, had been sold to a buyer out-of-state, so I had to go looking for a job, which I haven’t had, a nine-to-five or simulacrum, in four years, other than the Halloween store. I applied for about thirty jobs, went to one interview that didn’t go well, skipped a dead-end one. The third interview, I almost skipped; which turned out to be serendipitous, and I am not one to ignore serendipity. They were vague, and somewhat cagey about the job, it being a high-class temp agency, but I would be working for a big bank, which I knew would make my father happy, and I could get there by bus after a one mile bike ride, in about 50 minutes after leaving my house. Not owning a car, and not wanting one, that was a positive (some people at big bank bus two hours each way.) It occurred to me though, the evening after the interview, restless in bed, that I might have been hired to foreclose on houses.
There was a three week gap between the time I was hired, and the start date. During that time, every single person I talked to about my concern, to a one, said, “it’s a job.” Not one person shared my concern, and while some of the people I spoke with are conventional, the majority are not. I was surprised. But then I am dubious about the vast majority of jobs. No one seemed very perturbed by the fact that I would be making less than I had been by the hour, working for my friend Organic Bob moving dirt around and landscaping, less than half I was making at that corporate job I had at the Behemoth in 2008, and only 25% what I was making during the housing boom, remodeling houses.
The DREAM JOB I had been angling for, I failed to be interviewed for, despite that I had a friend advocating for me inside. This, I chalk up to the fact that I failed to pursue the Masters and Doctorate I was being pushed to pursue by my Teachers, back in 2000, but I saw that I would be a fifth-tier Doctor with $150,000 in debt at 40, and besides, I felt the call of the wild. Too wild now, for a scholastic job writing and editing articles about solutions to environmental problems, evidently. So I took the one job I was offered, at big bank.
My concern was confirmed as accurate, day one, within ninety minutes. The trainer said the loans we would be working on were in default, that no one was living in those houses, that we would not be foreclosing on people. I liked him, and still do, but I suspected then and suspect now there is no reason to believe at all, that there aren’t people in the houses on the loans we are foreclosing on. For myself, since then, every weekday but Veteran’s Day, I awoke at five am to foreclose on houses for eight hours, to return home just under twelve hours later. The work has since proven to be more like prison work, than any job I’ve had, and I’ve worked in a foundry, and on 0-180 degree Fahrenheit flat roofs, roofing. My work now is to audit hundreds of on-line mortgage documents each day, most for loans that should never have been issued.
Still, the job has been a blessing in some ways. I’m paying the mortgage again, and I’m able to put money into the house, and the various projects around the garden I’ve long imagined, but had no resources or means to bring into being. The job may be set up like prison work, but there are no petty tyrants, none I have to deal with anyway. In fact, the people I work for directly are very reasonable, and the people I work with are like most people, mostly good. I’ve been able to listen to about 200 hours of old Terence Mckenna recordings. The job has also been a strong lesson in how wrong the housing bubble was for America, and how much fault does rest in average Americans, taking out loans that could only be paid off if the economy were to grow by 5%+ every year for the next several decades, and maybe not even then, with the systematic downward thrust of average wages, and decreasing good-paying jobs, climate change, resource constraints, et al. That, and a clear picture of how un-enlightened big bank is, as if the work I do is fit for humans. We are called “butts in seats, in the meat locker, or the morgue,” I hear, trickling down from above. That may not sound like a blessing, those last two lines, but ever have I tried to pull back the veil of the ruling paradigm.
Not everyone is enamored of my work there. This is what one reader had to say, on the thread dedicated to this blog, in the Doomstead Diner, for members of the forum:
“Sorry, but IMHO working for one of the four big wall street banks is one of the most morally degrading things you can do at this time. Helping them instead of working to put them out of business? Being complicit with them is being complicit with what is wrong at the core. Anything but that. What is this called, ” cognitive dissonance”? What is the use of saying or doing anything if you are going to do that?”
Another had this to say:
“you’re a dime-a-dozen sellout but you’re a first-rate poser. you’re a stain on this place.”
My role at big bank is one rung on a ladder as long as a DNA strand, though unlike DNA, those at each rung are largely ignorant of every other. It is a perfectly bureaucratic structure, big bank, though it ostensibly be a “private” business. It should also be said, big bank isn’t “private”, as it is sustained by free money from the Federal Reserve, which is socializing loses and privatizing the gains, at least until they destroy the dollar. The structure exists as it does, to provide plausible deny-ability for it’s employees, giving them only the most scant responsibility for what is going on – just like every hierarchical Institution everywhere. Were we ever in contact with the actual “borrowers” whose loans we audit, the system wouldn’t work, because that would be humanizing the work. As is, it is almost devoid, the process, of anything even resembling “humanity.” And as you might imagine, most people working there show a singular lack of awareness about any of the deeper realities I try to elucidate in this blog.
Which, speaking of a lack of humanity, would the commenter’s quoted above, feel free to walk into my department and declare such things before the throng? Of the 70+ people working in my department, about 20% are white. Predominant are people of African and Asian origin, first or second generation, and African-Americans. I am struck by the number of pictures of young children on computer screen-savers and backgrounds. Is it merely my knowledge that makes me a hypocrite, a sell-out and first rate poser? If so, what are these others, in their work-a-day ignorance in service to their families, in their culpability to the American dream made possible by vile imperialism?
When I was working as a manager of a Halloween store, I commented at length in this blog, and in my second book, on cheap Chinese crap, and the un-sustainability of crass American consumerism. When I was asked if I wanted to work in a Halloween store, by an old college friend, I said without hesitation, “fuck no!” At the time, I had just returned to Minneapolis, after Wisconsin, I had $80 and no job prospects of any kind. Immediately after that, I thought, he just offered me a job, I haven’t seen him in five years, and I’ve been waiting for a sign. Working there, aside from being fun, and exhausting, made me not one whit more enamored of consumerism, not one whit less honest about what I think about it’s prospects. Indeed, I have come to think of consumerism as a death-cult.
I am not a “moral” man. “Morality”, such as it’s practitioners hold forth righteously upon, is generally a construct over-laid reality, per-suppossing humans are inherently evil otherwise, or mere animals who would immediately proceed to consume each other, without said righteous tight asses lording over us. Whereas, I believe humans to a one, are profound, divine, innately good beings, inherently corrupted by degrees, by the cultural paradigms, morals, ideologies, dogmas, pollutants, programs and pogroms, designed to control life, for the benefit of the few at the expense of ALL. Not being a “moral” man, I am not restrained by absolutist rigidity, which both commenters above show in spades, IMHO, even though theirs is a minority opinion culturally, about things generally. Nuance, being a thing of truer understanding.
As for me having a “truer” understanding, I have also come to believe, that not a one of us on earth has anything like a “true” understanding, of what this life is really all about, though there are no shortage of people who claim to, be they hiding behind a gun, or bizness or gov or Religion or ideology or money or plain ol’ vitriol. Here is some of my response, on the Diner.
I guestimate that of all the loans I’ve seen, about 80% of them were loans in excess of $300,000. I wade through the wreckage of greed mostly. How do I justify it? I am trying to do right by my house, which I like to say I bought twelve minutes before the market collapsed, and I’m still around really only because my niece and nephew live only a mile away. My entire life top to bottom is paradox, and you are free to make of me any kind of villain you like.
IMHO, I am exactly where I need to be, to accomplish the things I imagine. Think of it as an alchemical transmutation, wading through the economic wreckage as I am, reporting on my experience, to bring beauty and love into being? You might have some faith in me. I’m not asking much.
I would be a hypocrite if I did not document publicly, the things I do, and what I think about that, for free. I have two books available for free on my website, www.WilliamHunterDuncan.com. Also a novel I was working on until I was offered my current employment. I’ve written in my blog and one of my books, about planting marijuana on Federal, State and County land, here in the Twin Cities. I aim to live and write with integrity. I am the peace pirate Sir Vis, in service to the Goddess, former manager of the coolest Halloween store in the Midwest, who now finds himself under a mortgage ostensibly owned by the same big bank he now astoundingly finds himself working for, wading through the wreckage of the housing market. Meanwhile, learning skills that will be useful when big bank and the others like them fall. Which they will, as inevitably as the sun will rise tomorrow. Probably not tonight, but soon, very likely.
What possesses you to play the role [the commenter of the second comment listed] you do here, I don’t know. We share a great deal, in our view of the world. You are on the right track about something though. Now is not a time for fearfulness. Terence Mckenna said, when asked what to do in the face of teotwawki, “flood the world with ART.” Which is what I think about my writing, my garden, the things I build, and my life generally. And why I keep telling myself to follow through with the plan I see, to put together a band. Because what could be more important at the end of the world, than a joyful sound?
Thus I make no claims about the “morality” of what I do. Indeed, as to the actual work at big bank, there is nothing particularly honorable, interesting, or empowering about it. It is merely where I find myself, at this time, making the best of it, not to waste the opportunity.
And you, dear readers, are free to trust me, or make whatever judgement you like, however harsh. Though I don’t recommend harsh moral rigidity as a way of being. Rather, I would have you embrace the mystery, of this very curious life, joyously, wherever you find yourself.