Apr 14

Today’s News 14th April 2017

  • For The Third Straight Month, The US Killed More Syrian Civilians Than Russia

    Authored by Alex Hopkins via AirWars.org,

    March was the deadliest month ever recorded by Airwars during the Coalition’s campaign in Iraq and Syria. This coincided with the greatest number of munitions dropped by the allies so far in the war. The high number of alleged incidents across both countries forced Airwars temporarily to pause its full vetting of Russian airstrikes in order to keep pace with the reported Coalition toll.

     

    After a disastrous strike on March 17th claimed up to 230 lives in Mosul, media attention intensified – and the Coalition began reviewing its strike policies in the campaign there. However, civilians were also killed in record numbers across the border in the vicinity of Raqqa, Syria. Indeed it appears highly likely that the Coalition killed hundreds of civilians in Syria during March, with little press coverage. Neither the campaigns for Raqqa nor Mosul have finished – and Coalition proxies backed by US forces have yet to even begin fighting in Raqqa city itself.

     

    For the third straight month the reported civilian toll of Russian airstrikes in Syria was surpassed by that of the Coalition in both Iraq and Syria. But this may change, as Moscow again ramps up its own air campaign – one that has already left thousands of civilians dead.

    Coalition military developments

    As of March 31st 2017, 11,554 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 7,831 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign against so-called Islamic State. During March, reported strike actions in Syria decreased by 21%, with 434 reported strikes. In Iraq, 268 strikes were declared – a marginal decrease of 1% over February. Yet as the record tolls of civilians killed and bombs dropped show, these strike numbers do not tell the whole tale.

    The month actually saw the greatest number of munitions dropped during the war so far. The declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Australia – along with possibly Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) dropped a total of 3,878 munitions on ISIL targets in March, according to figures published by US Air Force Central Command. This was a 13% increase over the previous month. So far this year, 10,918 munitions have been dropped on Iraq and Syria, with January, February and March each setting new records for munitions dropped. This represents a 59% rise on the number of munitions released during January – March 2016, suggesting that President Donald Trump may be following through with his election promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”.

    According to official figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM, the US carried out 97% of all Coalition strikes in Syria during March. The remaining members of the alliance conducted just 13 strikes in Syria during the month – a drop of 28% on those carried out in February.  In effect, the US is carrying out a quasi-unilateral campaign against ISIS in Syria – alongside its completely unilateral campaign against al Qaeda targets.

    Over the same period there was a small decrease of 5% in declared US strikes in Iraq, with 166 airstrikes reported. According to figures provided by both the UK and France, strikes by both allies increased significantly during March. In the same four week period from February 26th to March 27th, the UK reported 41 strikes (a 128% increase on February) and France 43 strikes (a 169% rise on February).

    Given that official CENTCOM figures show that all of the US’s allies carried out 70 strikes in Iraq during March between them, and that we know that the UK uses the Coalition’s definition of ‘strike’, it appears that – as in October 2016 – France may be using a more generous definition of the term ‘strike’ than that used by the Coalition.

    Footage of an RAF Tornado strike on an ‘ISIL headquarters’, five miles east of Raqqa, on March 18th 2017.

    Advances in West Mosul and Raqqa

    The Iraqi Security Forces, backed by Coalition and Iraqi airpower, pushed further into West Mosul during March, ousting ISIL from more of the city.

    On March 15th, the 9th Iraqi Armored Division liberated the Badush subdistrict and surrounding areas. The US announced the deployment of 250 soldiers in preparation for the forthcoming attack on the the Old City, the densest-populated part of Mosul.

    Following a major casualty event in Al Jadida/New Mosul on March 17th, elements of the West Mosul offensive were reportedly paused due to growing concerns for civilian casualties, and reports that ISIL was unlawfully using local residents as human shields.

    Meanwhile in Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accelerated their operation to isolate Raqqa, prior to a multi-pronged offensive to seize the Tabaqa Dam. In an attempt to cut the Aleppo-Ar Raqqa highway, the US made a dramatic air drop to transfer 500 SDF fighters to the southern bank of the Euphrates River. Yet these aggressive military moves carried a heavy price tag for civilians in both Iraq and Syria.

    Coalition civilian casualties

    March saw the highest number of civilian deaths likely caused by the Coalition so far in the 32-month war, as the Coalition-backed campaigns to oust ISIL from West Mosul and Raqqa continued to intensify.

    Across both Iraq and Syria, Airwars researchers tracked a record 166 incidents of concern allegedly involving Coalition warplanes – a 67% increase from the 99 events tracked in February. A massive total of 1,782 to 3,471 civilian non-combatants were alleged killed in these March events – numbers not seen from foreign strikes since the worst of Russia’s brutal air campaign in 2016.

    The unprecedented scale of the alleged death toll meant that for the third straight month, civilian casualty events reportedly carried out by the Coalition in both Iraq and Syria significantly outweighed those allegedly involving Russia just in Syria. However, according to Airwars’ most recent monitoring, Russian strikes have begun once more to reap a heavy toll and this dynamic could flip once more, especially if the Coalition is firing less often. The unilateral US strike on a regime airbase in the early hours of April 7th may also lead to a reduction of Coalition sorties to avoid confliction with Russian planes.

    Of the 166 claimed civilian casualty events attributed to the Coalition, Airwars had assessed 63 of these as fairly reported. That classification reflects an incident as having two or more credible sources, and which took place in an area where Coalition airstrikes were declared in the near vicinity. Between 477 and 1,216 non-combatants are currently assessed as likely having died in these events – over four times the 110 likely non-combatant deaths estimated for February. These are not anonymous people: 359 victims are so far named, each tracked and recorded by local monitoring groups and listed by Airwars in its public database.

    There is significant debate concerning why civilians are at far greater risk on the battlefield. The Pentagon has denied that its rules of engagement have changed under Donald Trump’s presidency, which for the moment appears to be the case. As previously reported by Airwars’ Samuel Oakford, Iraqi officials have said that it is now easier to call in US and Coalition airstrikes – though this change reportedly dates back to December 2016. Coalition spokesman Colonel Joseph Scrocca has referred to any shifts in how airstrikes are called in, and who is authorized to do so, as “merely a procedural change”. While these changes may not match the military’s official definition of new “rules of engagement,” that is little solace for those affected by the new and looser guidelines.

    Mosul: a near tripling of likely fatalities

    The steep rise in civilian deaths witnessed in the last days of February continued into March, as civilians bore the brunt of the battle for West Mosul’s densely populated areas.

    Overall, between 1,308 and 2,435 civilians were claimed killed by the Coalition in Mosul during March, across 68 separate civilian casualty events. Of these incidents, Airwars currently assesses 11 of them as likely carried out by the Coalition alone. Between 156 and 355 non-combatants likely died across these incidents – compared to 62 to 64 likely deaths in February. Additionally, at least 66 civilians were injured in these events. That low ratio of fairly assessed incidents reflects the confused situation on the ground in Mosul, where Iraqi security forces and ISIL are also responsible for many deaths. In some cases, all three may be linked to an individual incident.

    March saw the highest proportion yet of events in Iraq graded as contested, with such events more than quadrupling against February. Across 44 such incidents, between 1,017 to 1,908 civilians were claimed killed.

    “The rise in contested deaths shows the challenges we’ve faced in tracking incidents,” explains Airwars’ Iraq researcher. “Events could have been carried out by Iraqi forces or  the Coalition – and in most incidents there were reports saying that both were responsible.”

    Official data for March shows a significant Coalition escalation in West Mosul: In total,  152 airstrikes were reported near Mosul – an 11% rise on February. Yet those strike numberes mask the ferocity of the assault. Some 1,723 targets were bombed throughout the month – a sharp increase of 44% on the 1,194 bombed in February. From the outset of March it was clear that civilians were paying a deadly price for this rampup in actions.

    As with February, Airwars continued to monitor reports of the deaths of entire families. The number of women and children killed rose steeply: at least 108 children and 30 women were reported killed across ‘fair’ and ‘contested’ events, with hundreds more slain in contested actions.

    On March 2nd for example, 14 civilians from three families were reportedly killed when an airstrike targeted a car bomb parked near residential homes in West Mosul’s Nabi Sheet neighbourhood, according to local sources. FaceIraq News named the victims as Nazim Abdul Rahman Chet‘s family; the family of Dawood, Suleiman; and the family of Yousef Mahmoud Salhan.

    The aftermath of heavy shelling on Nabi Sheet, destroying the city's main market for handicraft and killing up to 16 people (via Mosul Ateka)
    The aftermath of heavy shelling on Nabi Sheet, destroying the city’s main market for handicraft and killing up to 16 people on March 6th (via Mosul Ateka)

    In addition to homes, Airwars monitored reported strikes that damaged or destroyed civilian infrastructure. On March 6th, Nabi Sheet was attacked again, with local sources reporting that 16 civilians died and dozens more were injured in violent clashes and airstrikes which left the area’s busy market in ruins. On the same day, local residents and security forces reported the deaths of up to 33 civilians when the Coalition struck Mosul’s train station. Sources said that the majority of the victims were former members of the Iraqi security services, army and police detained by ISIL, which was using the station as a prison.

    The frequency and severity of events in Mosul increased as the month wore on. In the two weeks from March 6th to March 19th, our researchers tracked 26 separate civilian casualty events – with over 80% of these assessed as ‘contested’ – but all of them containing at least one credible report which pointed towards the US-led Coalition.

    On March 17th-18th, in the greatest loss of life in any one casualty event of the war, upwards of 230 civilians died after a reported Coalition airstrike on the Al Jadida/New Mosul neighbourhood, sparking international outrage. Initial reports said that the Coalition struck a house near Al Rahma Al Ahli Hospital housing hundreds of displaced people. Mosul Insta put the death toll at 250. However, in a filmed visit to the scene, the head of the Iraq Provincial Council, Basma Basim, said that she feared as many as 500 had died – a figure also given by the Iraqi Observatory – though these higher allegations may reflect overall casualties in the neighbourhood, adding to the confusion surrounding the event.

    There were in addition reports of ISF artillery fire and possible ISIL truck bombs in the near area. The Coalition confirmed it had carried out a strike “in the vicinity of alleged civilian casualties” and launched an investigation.  Airwars continues to track reports of those killed in this catastrophic incident. The dead include the twin brothers Ali and Rakan Thamer Abdulla, their father Haj Thamer Abdulla and 23 other family members; the family of the wife of Karim Jassim Al Salim; Hisham Hazem and Issam Hazem of the Sheikh family, the family of Khadr Kaddawi (12 people); the Basem al-Muhzam’s family (11 people); and the Sinjari family  (30 people). 

    Twins Ali and Rakan Thamer Abdullah, two well known local bodybuilders who were slain in western Mosul. Image courtesy of Iraqoon Agency.

    In the week of the Al Jadida incident – March 13th to 19th – the Coalition publicly declared 34 strikes in Mosul against 464 targets. On March 17th alone, the day of the event, it reported that 118 targets were bombed in four “strikes” in or near Mosul. In the days following the Al Jadida incident however, there was an almost immediate scaling back in the number of targets bombed in Mosul, according to official CENTCOM data reviewed by Airwars. From March 19th to March 31st, targets bombed fell by 59%. Over the same period there was a 75% reduction in claimed civilian fatalities.

    While the last weeks of March didn’t see further incidents on the huge scale of Al Jadida, West Mosul’s civilians remained at extreme risk. On March 26th – in one of  three major casualty events likely carried out by the Coalition that day – 19 members of the family of Hassan Younis Arzu al-Jarjar died in a strike on the Tawafa area of West Mosul , according to Iraqyoon, Yagein and Iraqi Spring Media.

    Later that night, another 15 or more non-combatants perished in another alleged Coalition strike, this time near Al Batool hospital in Zanjili. Some sources said the victims were mostly children and elderly people.

    The month ended on as grim a note as it had begun on, with six events reported on March 30th, likely killing a minimum of 35 non-combatants and wounding at least 27 more. In the third reported incident in the Zanjili neighbourhood in just five days, dozens of civilians died when an alleged Coalition raid and possibly mortars – of unclear origin – hit civilian homes according to multiple sources. A graphic video by Yaqein (sourced from ISIL’s media wing) offered distressing testimony in which a witness says to camera “Airstrikes are targeting us. It’s only a residential area, nothing is here…all the people are dead and nothing is left.”

    Survivors search for victims following a reported Coalition strike on Zanjili, Mosul March 30th [image via ISIL video]

    Survivors search for victims following a reported Coalition strike on Zanjili, Mosul March 30th [image via ISIL video]

    Raqqa: civilian deaths spiral higher

    Though international attention paid to the civilian toll in Mosul grew after the March 17th strike, there was far less consideration of deaths in Syria – particularly around Raqqa where the month proved the deadliest by far of the Coalition’s campaign. In fact the majority – 57% – of all alleged civilian casualties incidents tracked by Airwars for the month were not in Iraq but in Syria.

    Across 52 incidents incidents assessed as fair by Airwars, between 320 and 860 civilians were likely killed by the Coalition during March – almost seven times the minimum likely death toll during February. Moreover, unlike in Mosul there were barely any ‘contested’ events (only two) and only four contested events reportedly also involving Moscow. There appears little doubt the Coalition was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths in Syria during the month.

    “Since the beginning of the year the Coalition campaign in Syria has been getting more and more intense, peaking in March,” says Kinda Hadda, head of Airwars’ Syria team. “What was notable for the month was not only the frequency of the allegations but the high casualty figures for some of those.”
    Of the 52 ‘fair’ incidents, 90% were in Raqqa governorate, where between 275 and 743 non-combatants were assessed as likely killed by Coalition aircraft. Of these, at least 52 were likely children and 45 women – over seven times the numbers killed the previous month. At least a further 255 were wounded in these events.
    “Unlike in the opposition held areas, reporting from ISIL-held Raqqa province is very difficult and dangerous,” adds Haddad. “Therefore the reporting can be quite opaque and inconsistent, and casualties could potentially be a lot higher.”

    This spike in fatalities in Syria is in some respects more troubling than the civilian death toll observed in West Mosul. To an extent, casualties were expected to rise in densely populated areas of Mosul – though based on the Coalition’s reaction, they were still caught off guard by how many perished. Yet in Raqqa, fatalities have been predominantly in villages and towns that surround the governorate’s capitol. These areas share little in common with the narrow and packed streets of West Mosul, and yet numerous and large-scale casualty events have become the norm.

    Neither can the spiraling death toll be explained by an increase in strikes and targeting. Notably, both strikes and targets bombed in Raqqa fell in March. Across 243 strikes (a decrease of 11% on February), 366 targets were bombed (down 38% from February). These factors clearly suggest the US may have changed the way it is conducting strikes in Syria – with deadly risks for civilians on the ground.

    Tabaqa in particular continued to come under attack. In March, 15 civilian casualty incidents were tracked for the city during the month, likely killing a minimum of 100 non-combatants. On March 1st, up to 12 civilians including four children died and 14 others were wounded when civilian homes near the church roundabout in the Al Thani neighbourhood were allegedly hit by the Coalition.

    The aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on the church roundabout in Al Tabaqa, March 1st (via RBSS)
    The aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on the church roundabout in Al Tabaqa, March 1st (via RBSS)

    As in West Mosul, displaced civilians repeatedly came under fire. On March 11th in Kasrat Al Faraj, east of Raqqa, up to 22 non-combatants including six children and seven women reportedly died when an alleged Coalition airstrike hit schools in the area. According to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, the Saqer Kureish school was among buildings struck in a midnight raid, while Syria News Desk reported that Coalition warplanes conducted four strikes which hit two schools hosting displaced people.

    The worst reported incident in Syria during the month occured on March 21st in Al Mansoura. The former Al Badiya school – now reportedly full of displaced Syrians – was hit in a confirmed Coalition raid, killing at least 33 civilians and wounding up to 56 more according to locals. The death toll continued to climb, with the majority of sources stressing that most of the victims were women and children.

    Coalition commander Lt General Townsend later denied that the strike had killed civilians – but local monitors disagreed, with some saying that up to 100 displaced families were on the premises The entire families of Khalif Al-AytoKitan Al’amash and his family, Mohammed Jum’a Al-Hadid and his family;  Khaled Hasan al-Qadi and his family and the family of Saleh Mohammad al Jassem made up of 18 people were among those reported killed. Airwars has identified numerous local media reports from late February onwards stating that internally displaced civilians had been moved to the Al Mansoura area – suggesting a major intelligence failing by the US and its SDF allies.

    The aftermath of an alleged Coalition strike on a school in Al Mansoura, March 21st (via Mansoura in its People's Eyes)
    The aftermath of a Coalition strike on a school in Al Mansoura, March 21st (via Mansoura in its Peoples’ Eyes)

    In the days prior to an offensive to retake the Tabaqa Dam on March 22nd, Airwars tracked an increase in civilian casualty events in the area, with three incidents reported on March 20th alone. Those likely left at least 12 civilians dead. Between March 21st and 22nd there were another three incidents, in which a minimum of 72 non-combatants died.

    On March 22nd, 36 named civilians died in an alleged Coalition airstrike on an automated bakery in Tabaqa’s Al Thani neighbourhood.  A local source told the Smart News Agency that there had been four raids “killing the owner of the bakery, the employees and dozens of civilians who were nearby.” Among those killed were six members of the Al-Qobos family, three from the Al Omar family and three from the Al Abed family. Some sources put the death toll as high as 52, including seven children and 10 women – with up to a further 55 wounded.

    The child Udday Hasan Khalif, 10 years old, killed in an alleged coalition raid yesterday on al Thani neighbourhood bakery in al tabaqa.
    Udday Hasan Khalif, 10 years old, was killed in an alleged Coalition raid  on al Thani neighbourhood bakery in al Tabaqa, March 22nd

    Before March ended, there would be more civilian casualty events reported in Al Mansoura. On March 29th, sources said that seven or eight civilian members of a family displaced from Maskanah died when an alleged Coalition airstrike hit their car. Six civilian homes were also reportedly destroyed. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently named some of the victims as Mohammed Al-Hasa, A’ziz Al-Hasan, Ibrahim Al-Ali, Mohammed Al-Hamid, Hasan Al-A’klah and Mahmood Al-Mohammed.

    The following day – March 30th – the family of Abd al Aziz Barakat al Ahmad Al Faraj (including his wife and four children) were reportely killed when an alleged Coalition raid hit their home in Al Mansoura.

    With the assault on Raqqa yet to begin and hundreds of civilians already dying monthly in Coalition actions, urgent action is required from the US and its allies to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants.

    //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    The family of Abd al Aziz Barakat al Ahmad Al Faraj, killed in an alleged Coalition strike on their home in Mansoura, March 30th.

     

    Russian military actions and civilian casualties

    After two consecutive months of scaled-back actions in Syria, March saw a significant and lethal rise in the number of incidents of concern allegedly involving Russian warplanes. Overall there were 114 such events tracked by Airwars during March – an 80 per cent increase over February’s claimed incidents.

    Though it will be some time before Airwars can fully assess the incidents, between 165 and 292 non-combatants are alleged to have died in these 114 events. However those figures are unvetted and unfiltered, and should not be directly compared to the Coalition numbers in this report.

    “Russia’s focus seemed to be mainly on Idlib province, Hama and the Damascus eastern suburbs,” explains Kinda Haddad. “After a lull in January and February we saw a major increase in events in Syria. The end of the Astana peace talks in mid March could have been one of the factors in the spike.”

    It remains to be seen whether Russian actions will continue to rise. At least for March, the death toll attributed to the Coalition for the month was at a level comparable to the most intense periods of Moscow’s brutal air campaign in Syria during 2016.

  • North Korea Slams Trump's "Provocative, Aggressive Words", Will Test Missiles "When It Sees Fit"

    In a terse response to President Trump's earlier threats and later promises of pre-emptive strikes, North Korea's vice foreign minister Han Song Ryol says it is not his own country but the United States and President Donald Trump who are "making trouble."

    Vice Minister Han made the comments in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang on Friday. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that North Korea was "looking for trouble" and added that if China doesn't do its part to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. can handle it.

    Han cited Trump's tweets as problematic, as well as the U.S. military's participation in exercises with South Korea and an aircraft carrier's move to the region.

    "Trump is always making provocations with his aggressive words. …. It's not the DPRK but the US and Trump that makes trouble."

    Furthermore, North Korea's vice foreign minister said it will conduct its next nuclear test whenever its supreme headquarters sees fit, warning that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was in a "vicious cycle" as tensions with the U.S. and its allies deepen.

    Han told AP that Pyongyang won't "keep its arms crossed" in the face of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.

    As we detailed earlier, tensions have escalated on the Korean Peninsula, as this Saturday marks the anniversary of the birth of the nation's founder — Kim il-Sung, grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. At the highest levels in South Korea and the U.S., sources told NBC News, there are fears North Korea could mark the "Day of the Sun" by testing a nuclear device. As discussed yesterday, North Korea in the past has used these national holidays to celebrate the strengths of the regime and to reinforce the national narrative of their independence, as confirmed by Cha.

    "I think that is what President Trump is getting trying to get the Chinese to do," said Cha. "[It] would impose real pain and force real choices on North Korea — whether the costs are worth it for them to continue to pursue this program if they no longer have any sustenance."

    In addition to the coal ships, the Chinese made an important gesture at the UN Thursday: A surprising abstention on a Security Council resolution condemning a Syrian chemical weapons attack. China didn't stand with the Russians on Syria, as it has in the past.

  • Peter Schiff Warns: "Nothing Has Changed Under Trump… We're Headed For A Major Crisis"

    Authored by Mac Slavo via SHTFplan.com,

    When Donald Trump was elected, there was so much optimism among libertarians and conservatives, it was almost palpable. However, it’s only been several months into his first term, and it’s becoming quite apparent that Trump is no savior. In retrospect, it was foolish to think any single person could snap his fingers, and reverse decades of financial mismanagement and political corruption. It was foolish to think that he could dismantle an entrenched bureaucracy that is more powerful than most people realize.

    But not everyone was convinced that Trump was going to be able to turn this ship around. Peter Schiff knew that the damage done by the political establishment was irreversible, and that our financial system was living on borrowed time. In a recent interview with Future Money Trends, Schiff explains why Donald Trump can’t stop the inevitable, and how you can crash proof your assets ahead of the economic pain that is coming:

    Donald Trump should already be disappointing a lot of people who thought we were going to get change, we were going to make America great again. We didn’t repeal Obamacare, that’s here to stay. Major tax reform is dead. We’re dropping bombs.

     

    I mean it’s the same old same old right? Big government… bigger deficits… more cheap money… keep the air in the bubble. We’re headed for a major major crisis.

    Watch the full interview with Peter Schiff:


    (Watch At Youtube)

    As for what that major crisis will be, it’s not what most people would expect. As Schiff points out, it’s not going to be triggered by one sector of the economy, as we saw in during the last financial crash. The crisis is going to emerge with the dollar itself, which Schiff says could cause precious metal prices to soar. Everyone is taking for granted the fact that the dollar is king, but it’s not going to be for long. Not when our government continues to rack up debt like a compulsive gambler; which at this point, doesn’t appear to be changing under Trump.

    The dollar is living on borrowed time, literally. And so we just don’t know. It’s like a bomb with a fuse, but we just don’t really know how long the fuse is. The dollar, I think is in a major bubble. I think it is in the process of topping out. I think once it completes this top it’s going down. And I think it’s going to take out the lows from 2008…

     

    …I think it’s going to go down for the count. Because the last time, what saved the dollar was the financial crisis, and that crisis resulted in everybody buying the dollar. But I think the next crisis is not going to be the same crisis that we had in 08. I think the dollar is going to be the crisis. I don’t think it’s going to be a bread and butter financial crisis.

     

    This is going to be a currency crisis. So it’s going to be the US government. It’s not going to be the mortgage markets that’s blowing up. It’s going to be the treasury bond market that’s blowing up. It’s going to be the Federal Reserve that’s blowing up. And this is going to be a major major negative for the dollar, not a positive.

    We really don’t know how long that fuse is, but there’s no doubt that it’s been lit. There is a frustrating truism in economics. You can easily predict if something bad is going to happen, but you can never predict when it’s going to happen.

    That’s because the economy is built on numbers that are easy to calculate, but it’s impossible to predict how people will react to those numbers. In our case, people don’t want to believe that this economy is built on a house of cards and that their standard of living is in jeopardy. That willful ignorance, that confidence, can keep the show going long after the curtain should have been drawn. However, no amount of confidence can keep an unsustainable system running forever. Eventually, reality becomes impossible to ignore.

    Trump doesn’t want to preside over a major decline in our standard of living, but ultimately that has to happen. Because this is the consequence of all this excess consumption that went on before he was president. You know, we sacrificed our future to indulge our past. The future is now the present. We’re here, and it’s time to pay the piper.

    There’s only one thing you can do, according to Peter Schiff. Prepare yourself and your family with real assets like gold and silver that will keep your finances afloat during the next currency crisis.

     

  • Which Graduate Degree Gets You Out Of Debt The Fastest?

    Via Priceonomics.com,

    If you’re one of the 29% who feels their choice of major in college didn’t prepare them to secure the job they wanted after graduation, you may be considering graduate school as a shot at a do-over. Those seeking higher income may indeed find themselves better equipped after earning a graduate degree. But this second chance can come at a steep cost.

    But is it worth it? And moreover, does it matter financially if you attend a prestigious graduate school or not?

    One way of answering this question is to look at how much income you make after grad school compared to the amount of debt you've now accumulated. We decided to analyze data from Priceonomics customer Earnest, a financial services company, to see which advanced degrees produced graduates with the the most (and least) student debt and how that compared to their actual earnings after school. 

    We looked at the following graduate degrees: MDs (medicine), DDS (dentistry), Pharm D (pharmacy), MBA (business administration), JDs (law), Masters in Science or Engineering, Masters in Arts, and other masters degrees.

    We found that medical professionals take on the most debt – even when their high salaries are accounted for – while MBAs enjoy a low debt burden relative to their income.

    We also looked at the question of does the prestige of the school matter.

    We found graduate program prestige comes with tangible financial benefits: for all disciplines except medicine, graduates of top-100 programs enjoy lower debt relative to their income upon graduation. This trend continues after graduation, with the exception of engineering graduate students, where students from less prestigious schools have more favorable debt to income ratios six years after graduation than their counterparts from higher ranked schools.

    ***

    We first asked how much debt the typical graduate degree holder carries. This data is supplied by respondents looking to refinance their debt, so while it is self-reported, users must be reasonably accurate if they wish to receive realistic rate estimates. Average student loan debt – which comprises debt accumulated in college and graduate school – is reported for each degree type below.

    Data source: Earnest

    Future medical professionals – a category that includes doctors, dentists, and pharmacists – can expect to take on the most debt to finance their degrees. Future lawyers, too, take on six-figure debt to finance their degrees. Masters programs of all stripes are the cheapest, though graduates’ debt still ranges from around $60,000 all the way up to nearly $90,000.

    This ranking lines up with degree program duration: MD programs typically take 4 years to complete, JDs 3 years, and full-time masters programs 1 or 2 years. 

    Even with a hefty price, a degree program may be worth it if it confers earning power to match. If we account for income, do doctors still have the highest debt compared to other graduate degree-holders?

    To answer this question, we divided average debt by our respondents’ average self-reported income to calculate a debt-to-income ratio for each group of graduates. Debt-to-income ratios below 1 mean these degree-holders make more than they paid for their degree in one year. Values over 1 mean the degree cost more than what the typical graduate makes in a year.

    Data source: Earnest

    Even if we take income into account, medical professionals bear the greatest burden when it comes to paying for their degrees. These graduates make a solid income, but it’s not enough to balance out their formidable debt.

    Graduates with Masters of Arts degrees take second place in our debt-to-income ranking despite paying the least for their credentials. These graduates can expect relatively low starting salaries that handicap their ability to pay down debt.

    At the other end of the spectrum, MBAs enjoy the lowest debt-to-income ratio. These degrees are relatively affordable and confer high earning power. 

    The relationship between income and debt changes over time as graduates climb the career ladder and pay down their loans. We wanted to see how debt-to-income ratio changes as graduates establish themselves in their careers, so we broke our sample down by years post-graduation to chart a debt-to-income trajectory for each degree type.

    Data source: Earnest

    Graduates with all degree types experience a decrease in debt-to-income ratio after graduation, but in some professions, those ratios come down faster than in others.

    Medical professionals have the highest debt-to-income ratio immediately after graduation. This is likely because MDs begin their careers in residencies, which are essentially low-paid apprenticeships lasting 3 to 6 years. Once residents become practicing physicians, they can expect comfortable six-figure salaries and subsequently make fast progress on their debt. 

    In contrast, MBAs have the flattest trajectories toward debt freedom. Though they have the lowest debt-to-income ratio across the entire post-graduation time period we considered, they  make the least progress between years 1 and 11 after graduation.

    The chart below zooms in on the last data point in our chart, ranking debt-to-income ratio for midcareer professionals 11 years removed from graduation.

    Data source: Earnest

    Even in the middle of their careers, graduates with Masters of Arts degrees earn relatively little compared to their debt. Costly law and medical degrees hold debt-to-income ratios near 1 for lawyers and doctors, as well. 

    Professionals with degrees in business, science, or engineering fare comparatively better, making comfortably more than the cost of their degree in one midcareer year.

    Of course, all degrees aren’t created equal. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, for example, grants its MBA recipients access to a higher-powered network than does the average public college. This advantage could translate to a real difference in earnings and, in turn, debt-to-income trajectory. 

    To see the difference grad school reputation can make, we broke our sample down based on whether a graduate’s degree program landed in the top 100 for their field, then charted debt-to-income trajectory over 11 years post-graduation.

    Data source: Earnest

    School reputation matters. Across a variety of disciplines, professionals who graduate from higher-ranked schools begin their careers with less debt relative to their income. And for the most part, this trend is still apparent a decade after graduation. 

    There’s one exception: medical professionals have more or less the same debt-to-income trajectory regardless of their school’s reputation. With respect to student debt, all medical degrees are created equal.

    ***

    So if you’re seeking an affordable graduate degree that will boost your earning power, what should you do?

    The “rich doctor” stereotype makes medicine look appealing, but it doesn’t do justice to the burden of financing an MD. Medical professionals take on an average debt near $200,000 to finance their degrees, and early in their careers, their income does little to offset their debt. Attending a more prestigious school doesn’t mitigate their high debt-to-income ratio; graduates of top schools pay just as much relative to their salary as grads from lower-ranked programs.

    In contrast, the average MBA makes six figures after spending one or two years in graduate school. They typically take on around $90,000 in debt, but consistently enjoy a low debt-to-income ratio. This is doubly true for graduates of top-100 business programs, who enjoy the high income that comes with access to a high-powered alumni network.

  • MaKe AMeRiCa GReaT AGaiN…
  • A 'Polite' History Of Government "Predictions"

    Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

    Recently the Congressional Budget Office published a scathing report that the US government debt-to-GDP ratio will double over the next 30-years.

    Few government agencies are as blunt as the Congressional Budget Office.

    In fact the agency’s report plainly states that “the prospect of such large and growing debt poses substantial risks for the nation. . .”

    Echoing this sentiment, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office called the US debt:

    “a serial horror story in which the greatest economic power ever to grace the globe sails directly into self-inflicted crisis, suffering and decline.”

    Debt matters.

    Nearly every major superpower over the last thousand years, from the French Bourbon monarchy to the Ottoman Empire, was eventually crushed under the weight of its debt.

    The CBO has been sounding the alarm bells for years warning successive administrations that there will be serious, serious consequences in the future.

    The irony is that the CBO is probably being overly optimistic.

    I pulled some of their older projections from several years ago, and while they nailed the trend, they totally underestimated how severe the debt crisis would be.

    In January 2007, for example, the CBO issued its annual budget and economic outlook in which they made 10-year projections about the national debt.

    So, 10 years ago, the CBO estimated that by 2017, the “debt held by the public” would be $4.2 trillion, which they estimated would be 24.6% of GDP.

    (Note that the CBO tends to focus on “debt held by the public”, but this number is only a portion of the total national debt.)

    Now it really is 2017.

    So how much is the actual debt held by the public today?

    $14.35 trillion, or 76.5% of GDP… more than three times what the CBO projected back in 2007.

    (Bear in mind that TOTAL government debt in the US is $20 trillion, around 106% of GDP.)

    In other words, the CBO’s projection was wrong by $10 TRILLION.

    That’s not to take anything away from the CBO; as the old saying goes, predictions are hard, especially about the future.

    The agency is clearly doing its best to objectively highlight the obvious (and dangerous) trend of rising debt levels in the Land of the Free.

    Their math just happens to be off by an order of magnitude.

    It’s not just the CBO either.

    As I frequently write to you, each year the Board of Trustees of the various Social Security trust funds releases a report detailing the dismal finances of that program.

    In the Trustees’ 2005 report, for example, they projected that the trust funds would be “fully depleted,” i.e. completely run out of money, in the year 2043, nearly four decades later.

    Eh, who really cared… 40 years was such a long time away.

    The next year in the 2006 report, however, their estimated year of depletion changed to 2040… 34 years in the future.

    By 2010, it had changed again to 2037… 27 years into the future.

    And from last year’s 2016 report, the estimate changed yet again to 2034, just 18 years into the future.

    Notice the trend? In a little more than a decade, the Trustees’ estimated date when the trust funds would be fully depleted has accelerated by 9 years.

    In other words, the closer we get to the date, the more accurate their calculations become, and the faster they believe the trust funds will go bust.

    Again, it’s hard to fault the trustees.

    They have the right message: Social Security is going broke. They just happen to have been too optimistic in their timing.

    It mystifies me how this is not front-page news on a daily basis.

    I mean, the implications are enormous; the people who run the Social Security program are saying, flat out, that they’re running out of money and the program will have to curtail benefits.

    And the guys within the government who watch over the budget are shouting from the rooftops that the national debt poses substantial risks.”

    I imagine most people would probably agree that this stuff matters.

    It just doesn’t matter to them today. Or tomorrow. Or next year.

    It’s easy to put off obvious and dangerous consequences that won’t strike until several years into the future.

    Such short-term thinking is in our nature as human beings.

    It’s why we eat garbage foods that poison our bodies… because the life-threatening diabetes and heart disease won’t hit us for another couple of decades.

    This is a dangerous gamble, especially considering that there are countless solutions to distance yourself from the impact of your government’s serial irresponsibility.

    For example, there are plenty of options to establish a far more flexible, robust retirement structure like a self-directed SEP IRA or solo 401(k).

    These plans allow you to save more money for retirement, cut your administrative costs, and realize far better returns in alternative asset classes.

    As an example, instead of stuffing all of your retirement savings in an overpriced stock market, your IRA or 401(k) could own a profitable private business or royalty stream that consistently pays strong, healthy cash flow month after month.

    This way, when Social Security does go broke, you won’t be affected one bit.

    No one else can make this a priority in your life but you.

    I’ll say it again: all it takes is the right education, and the will to act.

    Do you have a Plan B?

  • Russophobia Tops Trumphoria – Moscow Stocks Plunge To 8-Month Lows

    For eight straight week after President Trump was elected, global investors fell over themselves to buy Russian stocks, driving the MICEX index to record highs. However, the constant Russian headlines climaxing in the last two weeks of chaos has seen Russian stocks collapse – erasing all of the post-election gains and more.

     

    However, as is clear from the chart above, while Russian stocks are languishing at 8 month lows; Russian credit risk remains near 3 year lows.

    “We see no reason that the market would return to the difficult-to-justify euphoria seen in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory,” Sberbank CIB analysts Cole Akeson and Andrey Kuznetsov said in an e-mailed note on Thursday.

     

    “Recent events in Syria evoke a higher level of caution than in weeks prior.”

    Interestingly, the last two days have seen a notable divergence as while Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were talking through their disagreements in negotiations in Moscow late on Wednesday, the Micex Index closed at its lowest level since before the U.S. election but Russia's credit risk actually improved…

    Almost as if someone wanted to send the message (via stocks – because the mainstream can understand that) that Russia is 'bad'.

    The slump has made Russian stocks the cheapest relative to emerging-market peers since 2015.

  • Canada Officially Moves To Legalize Recreational Marijuana Nationwide

    Authored by Carey Wedler via TheAntiMedia.org,

    Canada officially moved to legalize recreational marijuana on Thursday when the government introduced legislation allowing the possession of small amounts of cannabis. The new law also sets regulations for the sale, growth, and purchase of the plant.

    USA Today reports:

    “Canada’s federal government set the age at 18, but is allowing each of the provinces to determine if it should be higher. The provinces will also decide how the drug will be sold and distributed. The law also defines the amount of THC in a driver’s blood, as detected by a roadside saliva test, that would be illegal. Marijuana taxes will be announced at a later date.”

     

    Vox notes that Canadians will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants per household and possess up to 30 grams per person. For the most part, the bill follows the recommendations made by a recent federal task force on marijuana legalization.

    The outlet points out that the details of the bill could change as the bill works its way through Parliament, adding that if the legislation passes, it could be illegal under international law, which still favors prohibition. Canada joins Uruguay, the only other nation to have fully legalized recreational marijuana (Portugal has had great success with its decriminalization of all drugs).

    Canada first allowed medical marijuana for terminal illnesses in 2001, and in some parts of the country, like Vancouver, weed shops are legal and law enforcement tolerates use of the plant. But the new legislation codifies the rights of all Canadians to use it, even if it still places restrictions on use (for example, attempting to regulate THC blood content in the context of driving  a car is a controversial practice in the United States, where studies show driving while high is far less dangerous than driving drunk)

    If the law is passed, it will undoubtedly cut into crime rates in Canada, where tens of thousands of marijuana users are still arrested for possession every year.

    As the Liberal Party, which introduced the legislation, argues:

    Arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.”

    If the bill passes, Canada will join multiple U.S. states, including California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, which have all legalized recreational marijuana. It will join an even longer list of U.S. states and other countries relaxing laws, even if they are not outright repealing them.

    Canada has taken a forward-thinking approach to drug addiction in general; last year the country began sponsoring injection centers where heroin addicts could consume their narcotics under the supervision of a doctor.

    As mounting research shows the plant offers a wide range of medical benefits, and as the drug war continues to prove itself inefficient, ineffective, and destructive around the world, Canada’s recent move signals legalization is all but inevitable. As the Liberal Party of Canada’s website has argued:

    Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”

  • Exposing Who's Behind Surging Subprime Delinquencies (Hint: Rhymes With 'Perennials')

    For months now we’ve been writing about the mysteriously rising subprime delinquencies afflicting auto ABS structures despite repeated confirmations from the Fed and equity markets that ‘everything is awesome’ (see “Auto Bubble Burst Begins As Subprime Delinquencies Soar To 2009 Levels” and “Signs Of An Auto Bubble: Soaring Delinquencies In These 266 Subprime ABS Deals Can’t Be Good” for a couple of recent examples).  Shockingly, as confirmed by the chart below from UBS strategist Matthew Mish, 2016 vintage subprime auto ABS structures are even underperforming 2007/2008 vintage securitizations.

     

    Now, Mish is back with more survey data explaining the who/what/when/where/why’s of spiking loan delinquencies. 

    Ironically, survey results suggest that households making over $100,000 per year are 2.5x more likely to default on loan payments over the next 12 months than those making under $40,000…because making more money just means you can afford more debt, right?

    First, the survey evidence suggests the rise in consumer default perceptions has occurred primarily in the middle and upper household incomes cohort. And those consumers concerned with missing a payment are highest in the upper income category (household incomes of $100k+). In particular, the most elevated readings occur at the lower ends of the middle and higher income categories (i.e., 50-74k and 100-149k, respectively.

    UBS

     

    Of course, the most ‘shocking’ results of the survey suggest that our precious snowflake millennials are over 5x more likely to default than folks aged 45 and above.  That said, we suspect that many of those defaults may come from student loan debt...which is totally bogus because higher education should be ‘totes free’, right?

    UBS

     

    In another shocking discovery, people with the most debt were also found to be most at risk of default…who knew?

    UBS

     

    Oddly, however, households who reported being able to cover their monthly expenses were more at risk of default than households burning through cash each month…sounds like these folks have picked up some valuable lessons from Tesla on how to burn through cash without defaulting…

    UBS

     

    Finally, this last chart was intended to shed light on why certain households are more likely to default but, in the end, the “no specific reason” category dominated responses leading UBS to conclude that people are just far more comfortable defaulting on debt, in general, in the post-crisis era.

    This mosaic seems quite consistent with the reported concerns earlier around limited positive cash flow (income vs expenses) and the broader reality that real median wage growth has been largely non-existent in recent years (and for several decades) despite rising debt levels. However, the most commonly cited reason continues to be ‘no specific reason’. While difficult to prove decisively other survey results on the millennial generation specifically seem to be consistent with the thesis that US consumer willingness to default (or the lack of stigma associated with bankruptcy) may have increased further in the post-crisis era.

    UBS

     

    To summarize the UBS survey results, increasing delinquencies are being driven by millennials who graduated college with massive student debt balances, but were making decent money so they levered up even more to buy a house (or 2), a couple of cars and a timeshare.  That said, now that the earnings growth they expected has failed to materialize, their sense of entitlement has taken over and they’ve decided to socialize their debt burdens while completely ignoring the stigmas associated with such actions.

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