- From Nuisance To Threat: The High Cost Of Truth
I am convinced that the US, and probably the entire Western world, that is, the American Empire, has entered an era in which respect for truth does not exist in public and private institutions. We have been watching this develop for some time. Think, for example, back to August 3, 2002, a recent time in terms of our present predicament, but a time prior to political consciousness of anyone younger today than 33 years old. In the summer of 2002, the world was being prepared by propaganda for a US invasion of Iraq. On August 3 of that year, the prestigous British publication, The Economist, summed up the consensus of ruling opinion in two sentences: “The honest choices now are to give up and give in, or to remove Mr. Hussein before he gets his [nuclear] bomb. Painful as it is, our vote is for war.”
As Lewis Lapham, myself and others asked at the time, what bomb? The only evidence of a bomb was fabricated and known to be fabricated. The UN weapons inspectors concluded that the infamous Weapons of Mass Destruction were a creation of US propaganda. President George W. Bush eventually acknowledged that Iraq had no such weapons. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the lies he was deceived by the Bush regime into telling the UN about Saddam Hussein’s WMD are a stain on his career.
Despite the 2003 US invasion known to have been based entirely on lies, US troops were not pulled out of Iraq until 2011, and whether or not they were pulled out, they are back in Iraq now. None of these facts has had any impact on the good opinion that Washington and the media have of themselves.
Unchastened, Washington and its presstitutes lied about Libya and destroyed that prosperous country. They lied about “Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people,” and would have destroyed Syria also had it not been for the Russians.
Blocked by Russia, Obama, Hillary, and Victoria Nuland turned on Russia, first overthrowing the democratically elected government in Ukraine, and when Crimeans voted practically unanimously to reunite with Russia, the Obama regime and its media whores falsely alleged “Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
This false charge, repeated endlessly still today by the Western presstitutes, became the justification for economic sanctions against Russia that Washington imposed on its European vassals, entirely at their expense, which shows what craven cowards European governments are. If Washington orders “jump,” the UK Prime Minister, the German Chancellor, the French President ask, “How High?”
One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected president was his commitment to normalizing relations with Russia and reconsidering the continuation of NATO a quarter century after its purpose ceased to exist with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Trump’s commitment constituted a direct threat to the power and profit of the US military/security complex, whose $1,000 billion annual budget requires a major threat that only Russia can provide.
Consequently, Russia and its president have been demonized. American propaganda, bald-faced lies, spread fear of Russia and Putin throughout the American Empire. The Empire’s response to those who confront the propaganda with the facts is to denounce those with the facts as “Russian agents” or “Putin’s dupes.” The hatred of Russia that has been inculcated by the neocons and presstitute media has resulted in Republican Senator John McCain, representing Arizona (to the disgrace of Arizonians), calling on the Senate floor Republican Senator Rand Paul, representing Kentucky, a person who “is now working for Vladimir Putin” for objecting to tiny Montenegro being made a NATO member.
When this website was included on a list of 200 Russian agent/dupe websites by a secret, undisclosed group called PropOrNot, I wondered whose money was behind this entity as well hidden as an offshore money laundering operation. I made a joke of it, which amused the Russians.
As no one knows what PropOrNot is, the site has no credibility. So the forces for war moved up several levels to Harvard University Library. On that website someone posted what is essentially the PropOrNot list. Harvard does not say that the list is vetted or explain why anyone should believe it. The list is attributed to a Melissa Zindars, an assistant professor of communication and media at some unnamed institution. It is a list, she says, that she uses in her class to teach students how to avoid “fake and false news.” In other words, the list reflects her own ignorance and biases.
As one reader observed, Melissa tells on her own indoctrination by the presstitute, CIA-serving US media: “I read/watch/listen very widely, from mainstream, corporate owned sources (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes) as well as The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and various local and alternative sources with different political perspectives (Truth-Out).”
So here we have the Western world informed by Harvard University Library of who is safe to read on the basis of an unknown young woman’s biases. Those safe to read are the lying presstitute media who serve the cause of war and the police state.
When you witness this level of total corruption at what pretends to be America’s finest university, and it is on top of the 24 years of nothing but lies from the previous three two-term presidents, who between them have murdered and dislocated millions of people in numerous countries, and not been held accountable for even one of the millons of lives destroyed, you cannot avoid realizing that for the United States and its corrupt vassal states, Truth is something to be avoided at all costs.
When Trump collapsed under pressure and fired his National Security Adviser, Gen. Flynn, he unintentionally gave credence to the charge that any and all who think well of normalized relations with the other major nuclear power are “Russian agents,” and that to be a “Russian agent” means that you are guilty of treason and deserve to be impeached if you happen to be the President of the United States.
The consequence of Flynn’s removal from office has been to enable the Russophobic forces to define as treason the desire for detente with Russia. If this had been imposed on US presidents during the First Cold War, probably life on earth would not exist today.
What is scary about the US and Europe is not merely the gullibility and insouciance of such a large percentage of the populations. What is very frightening is the willingness of the media, government officials, military, and members of professional organizations to lie for the sake of their careers. Try to find any shame among the liars that their lies expose humanity to thermo-nuclear annihilation. It is not to be found. They don’t care. Just let me have the Mercedes and the McMansion for another year.
The Saker, an observant being, says that the color revolution being conducted by the neoconservatives, the Democratic Party, the presstitutes, the liberal/progressive/left, and by some Republicans against President Trump is “de-legitimizing the entire [democratic] political process which brought Trump to power and upon which the United States is built as a society.” The consequence, says The Saker, is that “the illusion of democracy and people power” has been destroyed both domestically and abroad. The propaganda picture of “American Democracy” has lost its believability. As the false picture crumbles, so does the power that was based on authority constructed by propaganda.
The Saker asks: do we face an endless horror or a horrible end?
As George Orwell said decades ago, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
This is the way the criminals who rule us see it, and it is the way their whores in the media see it. If you tell the truth in America, you are a purveyor of fake news and possibly a traitor.
- Visualizing The 100 Websites That Rule The Internet
There are over 1.1 billion websites on the internet, but the vast majority of all traffic actually goes to a very select list of them. As Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, Google.com, for example, has an astounding 28 billion visits per month. The next closest is also a Google-owned property, Youtube.com, which brings in 20.5 billion visits.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Vodien, and it lists the 100 highest ranking websites in the U.S. by traffic, according to website analytics company Alexa.
The information is grouped by company – for example, you can see that Google controls four sites in the Top 100 (Google, Youtube, Blogger, and Google User Content), while Verizon owns the Huffington Post and AOL.com (they will also control Yahoo and Tumblr when that deal closes in Q2). The data is also sorted by industry, so sites in a similar category are grouped in the same color.Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist
A STEEP DROPOFF
The dropoff from #1 to #100 is significant. Google.com has 28 billion visits, but a website like Citi.com (ranked #98) only has 53 million visits a month. That’s a 500x difference!
Meanwhile, a website like Visualcapitalist.com gets one million visits per month, and is ranked #33,000 in the United States – a 50x difference from Citi. Further down the trail – there are literally millions of tiny websites that get thousands or just hundreds of visits per month, and some that don’t get any love at all.
The whole distribution is quite fascinating, and it is clear that the spoils go overwhelmingly to the very top of the food chain. However, that also means that there is an entire world of millions of websites out there that almost no one (except Google’s crawler) has ever seen.
- The Democrats' Trump-Russia Conspiracy Campaign Collapses
Is sanity finally returning? After weeks of ranting and raving about Russian "interference" and Putin-Trump conspiracies, so-called 'intelligence' agencies and high-ranking Democrats are quietly walking back their rhetoric and managing their base's expectations – simply put: there's no 'there', there.
'Moon of Alabama' reminds us that a while ago Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone warned: Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media:
If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future.
And now, as The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald writes, key Democratic officials are now warning their base not to expect…
From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.
The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.
Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.
The latest official to throw cold water on the MSNBC-led circus is President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morell. What makes him particularly notable in this context is that Morell was one of Clinton’s most vocal CIA surrogates. In August, he not only endorsed Clinton in the pages of the New York Times but also became the first high official to explicitly accuse Trump of disloyalty, claiming, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
But on Wednesday night, Morell appeared at an intelligence community forum to “cast doubt” on “allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all,” he said, adding, “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
Obama’s former CIA chief also cast serious doubt on the credibility of the infamous, explosive “dossier” originally published by BuzzFeed, saying that its author, Christopher Steele, paid intermediaries to talk to the sources for it. The dossier, he said, “doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think.”
Morell’s comments echo the categorical remarks by Obama’s top national security official, James Clapper, who told Meet the Press last week that during the time he was Obama’s DNI, he saw no evidence to support claims of a Trump/Russia conspiracy. “We had no evidence of such collusion,” Clapper stated unequivocally. Unlike Morell, who left his official CIA position in 2013 but remains very integrated into the intelligence community, Clapper was Obama’s DNI until just seven weeks ago, leaving on January 20.
Perhaps most revealing of all are the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — charged with investigating these matters — who recently told BuzzFeed how petrified they are of what the Democratic base will do if they do not find evidence of collusion, as they now suspect will likely be the case. “There’s a tangible frustration over what one official called ‘wildly inflated’ expectations surrounding the panel’s fledgling investigation,” BuzzFeed’s Ali Watkins wrote.
Moreover, “several committee sources grudgingly say, it feels as though the investigation will be seen as a sham if the Senate doesn’t find a silver bullet connecting Trump and Russian intelligence operatives.” One member told Watkins: “I don’t think the conclusions are going to meet people’s expectations.”
What makes all of this most significant is that officials like Clapper and Morell are trained disinformation agents; Clapper in particular has proven he will lie to advance his interests. Yet even with all the incentive to do so, they are refusing to claim there is evidence of such collusion; in fact, they are expressly urging people to stop thinking it exists. As even the law recognizes, statements that otherwise lack credibility become more believable when they are ones made “against interest.”
Media figures have similarly begun trying to tamp down expectations. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, which published the Steele dossier, published an article yesterday warning that the Democratic base’s expectation of a smoking gun “is so strong that Twitter and cable news are full of the theories of what my colleague Charlie Warzel calls the Blue Detectives — the left’s new version of Glenn Beck, digital blackboards full of lines and arrows.” Smith added: “It is also a simple fact that while news of Russian actions on Trump’s behalf is clear, hard details of coordination between his aides and Putin’s haven’t emerged.” And Smith’s core warning is this:
Trump’s critics last year were horrified at the rise of “fake news” and the specter of a politics shaped by alternative facts, predominantly on the right. They need to be careful now not to succumb to the same delusional temptations as their political adversaries, and not to sink into a filter bubble which, after all, draws its strength not from conservative or progressive politics but from human nature.
And those of us covering the story and the stew of real information, fantasy, and — now — forgery around it need to continue to report and think clearly about what we know and what we don’t, and to resist the sugar high that comes with telling people exactly what they want to hear.
For so long, Democrats demonized and smeared anyone trying to inject basic reason, rationality, and skepticism into this Trump/Russia discourse by labeling them all Kremlin agents and Putin lovers. Just this week, the Center for American Progress released a report using the language of treason to announce the existence of a “Fifth Column” in the U.S. that serves Russia (similar to Andrew Sullivan’s notorious 2001 decree that anyone opposing the war on terror composed an anti-American “Fifth Column”), while John McCain listened to Rand Paul express doubts about the wisdom of NATO further expanding to include Montenegro and then promptly announced: “Paul is working for Vladimir Putin.”
But with serious doubts — and fears — now emerging about what the Democratic base has been led to believe by self-interested carnival barkers and partisan hacks, there is a sudden, concerted effort to rein in the excesses of this story. With so many people now doing this, it will be increasingly difficult to smear them all as traitors and Russian loyalists, but it may be far too little, too late, given the pitched hysteria that has been deliberately cultivated around these issues for months. Many Democrats have reached the classic stage of deranged conspiracists where evidence that disproves the theory is viewed as further proof of its existence, and those pointing to it are instantly deemed suspect.
A formal, credible investigation into all these questions, where the evidence is publicly disclosed, is still urgently needed. That’s true primarily so that conspiracies no longer linger and these questions are resolved by facts rather than agenda-driven anonymous leaks from the CIA and cable news hosts required to feed a partisan mob.
It’s certainly possible to envision an indictment of a low-level operative like Carter Page, or the prosecution of someone like Paul Manafort on matters unrelated to hacking, but the silver bullet that Democrats have been led to expect will sink Trump appears further away than ever.
But given the way these Russia conspiracies have drowned out other critical issues being virtually ignored under the Trump presidency, it’s vital that everything be done now to make clear what is based in evidence and what is based in partisan delusions. And most of what the Democratic base has been fed for the last six months by their unhinged stable of media, online, and party leaders has decisively fallen into the latter category, as even their own officials are now desperately trying to warn.
- Trump Responds To Obama Wiretap Question: "At Least Merkel And I Have Something In Common"
Following today’s latest developments over Trump’s allegations that the UK’s GCHQ may or may not have helped Obama to wiretap the Trump Tower, an allegation which the infuriated British Spy Agency called “utterly ridiculous” and prompted it to demand an apology from the White House, a German reporter asked Trump for his current opinion on whether Obama had indeed wiretapped Trump. The president’s response: he gestured to Angela Merkel and said “on wiretapping by this past administration, at least we have something in common.”
— CNN International (@cnni) March 17, 2017
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) March 17, 2017
Merkel’s reaction was similarly amusing: almost as if she had heard for the first time that in 2010, and for years onward, Barack Obama had been wiretapping her and countless other heads of state.
For those unsure what the exchange was about, we suggest you read the Telegraph’s “Barack Obama ‘approved tapping Angela Merkel’s phone 3 years ago’… President Barack Obama was told about monitoring of German Chancellor in 2010 and allowed it to continue, says German newspaper.”
And incidentally, in yet another change in the official narrative, after both Sky News and the Telegraph reported earlier today that the White House had apologized to Britain over the accusation that its spy agency had helped Obama spy on Trump, the NYT reported that the White House has said there was no apology from either Spicer or McMaster, and that instead the Administration defended Spicer’s mention of the wiretapping story.
WH now sez there was no apology to Brits from @PressSec /McMaster; they fielded complaints & defended Spicer’s mention of wiretapping story
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) March 17, 2017
Finally, as Axios adds, after Trump and Merkel left the stage reporters again asked Sean Spicer whether he apologized for repeating an anonymously sourced Fox News claim that British intelligence helped in wiretapping Trump Tower. His response: “I don’t think we regret anything.“
- Home-Flipping Profits Just Hit An All Time High: These 10 States Offer The Highest Return Potential
That most distinct remnant of the 2006 housing bubble – home flipping – is not only back, it is more profitable than ever.
According to a new report by ATTOM Data Solutions and RealtyTrac,193,009 single family homes and condos were flipped — defined as sold in an arms-length transfer for the second time within a 12-month period — in 2016, up 3.1% from 2015 to the highest level since 2006, when 276,067 single family homes and condos were flipped.
Home flips in 2016 accounted for 5.7% of all single family home and condos sales during the year, up from 5.5 percent in 2015 to a three-year high but still well below the peak in 2005, when 338,207 single family homes and condos were flipped representing 8.2% of all sales.
The report also shows that 126,256 entities — including both individuals and institutions — flipped homes in 2016, up less than 1 percent from 2015 to the highest number since 2007, when 143,266 entities flipped properties.
Meanwhile, the share of flipped homes that were purchased by the flipper with financing increased to an eight-year high of 31.5% in 2016 while the median age of homes flipped increased to 37 years — a new high going back to 2000, as far back as data is available — and the median square footage of homes flipped decreased to 1422 — a new record low going back to 2000.
“Home flipping was hot in 2016, fueled by low inventory of homes in sellable or rentable condition along with a flood of capital — both foreign and domestic — searching for the returns and stability available with U.S. real estate,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “The combination of more home flips and a greater share of financing for flip purchases resulted in a 19 percent jump in the estimated dollar volume of financing for home flip purchases, up to $12.2 billion for the flips completed in 2016 — a nine-year high.”
“Investors in search of flipping returns are increasingly willing to move to secondary and tertiary housing markets and neighborhoods with older, smaller properties that are available at a deeper discount,” Blomquist continued. “Given that many of these markets are more affordable, we are also seeing a higher share of the flipped homes sold to FHA buyers, with that share reaching a four-year high of 19.6 percent in 2016.”
Perhaps what is most interesting in the 2016 data, is that homes flipped last year, sold for a median price of $189,900, a gross flipping profit of $62,624 above the median purchase price of $127,276 and representing a gross flipping return on investment (ROI) of 49.2%. Both the gross flipping dollar amount and ROI were the highest going back to 2000, the earliest home flipping data is available for this report.
Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, there were 11 with an average gross flipping profit of $100,000 or more in 2016: San Jose, California ($145,750); Boston, Massachusetts ($140,000); San Francisco, California ($140,000); New York, New York ($127,250); Los Angeles, California ($127,000); San Diego, California ($111,000); Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California ($105,000); Seattle, Washington ($102,000); Vallejo-Fairfield, California ($101,000); Baltimore, Maryland ($100,500); and Washington, D.C. ($100,000).
“Our strong wage growth is still supporting rising home prices, which when combined with the historically low number of homes for sale in Seattle, gives home flippers substantial returns on their investments,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, covering the Seattle market. “I believe flipping serves as a negative for any housing market because it further erodes housing affordability, but if there’s a demand for it in the market, it’s a trend we will continue to see.”
Highest gross flipping returns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Louisiana metros
Among the 117 metro areas analyzed in the report, those with the highest gross flipping ROI were East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (241.5 percent); Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (130.0 percent); Cleveland, Ohio (116.2 percent); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (107.1 percent); Toledo, Ohio (102.0 percent); and New Orleans, Louisiana (101.2 percent).
Along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New Orleans, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and a gross flipping ROI in 2016 of 75 percent or higher were Baltimore (96.6 percent); Cincinnati (87.2 percent); Buffalo (85.8 percent); Rochester (76.2 percent); Oklahoma City (76.1 percent); Chicago (75.9 percent); Jacksonville, Florida (75.8 percent); Memphis, Tennessee (75.6 percent); and Grand Rapids, Michigan (75.0 percent).
Highest home flipping rates in Tennessee, California and Florida metros
Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, those with the highest home flipping rate as a percentage of all home sales were Memphis, Tennessee (11.7 percent); Clarksville, Tennessee (10.1 percent); Visalia-Porterville, California (10.1 percent); Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida (9.9 percent); and Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida (9.9 percent).
Along with Memphis and Tampa-St. Petersburg, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and a 2016 home flipping rate of at least 7 percent were Las Vegas (9.2 percent); Miami (8.8 percent); Orlando (8.3 percent); Phoenix (8.0 percent); New Orleans (7.9 percent); Jacksonville, Florida (7.7 percent); Virginia Beach (7.6 percent); Baltimore (7.4 percent); Birmingham (7.4 percent); St. Louis (7.1 percent); and Nashville (7.1 percent).
Biggest increase in home flipping rates in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and New York metros
Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, those with the biggest year-over-year increase in the home flipping rate were Reading, Pennsylvania (38.8 percent); Lincoln, Nebraska (38.6 percent); East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (36.6 percent); Rochester, New York (31.8 percent); and Allentown, Pennsylvania (29.3 percent).
Along with Rochester, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and an annual increasing in home flipping rate of at least 10 percent were New Orleans (up 26.5 percent); San Antonio (up 25.2 percent); Dallas (up 20.9 percent); Boston (up 16.4 percent); New York (up 16.0 percent); Columbus, Ohio (up 14.6 percent); Oklahoma City (up 13.8 percent); Philadelphia (up 11.6 percent); Cincinnati (up 11.5 percent); Grand Rapids, Michigan (up 11.3 percent); Charlotte (up 10.5 percent); Kansas City (up 10.4 percent); and Cleveland (up 10.2 percent).
39 zip codes where at least one in five home sales was a flip in 2016
Among 5,625 U.S. zip codes with at least 10 homes flipped in 2016, there were 39 zip codes where at least 20 percent of all home sales during the year were home flips, including zip codes in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, California, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York and New Jersey.
In the Los Angeles metro area, which accounted for six of the 39 zip codes with a home flipping rate of at least 20 percent in 2016, the best opportunity for flipping is in lower-priced neighborhoods with properties that need significant repairs, according to Brett Chotkevys, co-founder of Helpful Home Solution, which flips properties in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California.
“We do pretty much a full gut on the houses we buy. Most of those we buy are pretty nasty … they’re falling down, there are druggies living there,” said Chotkevys, noting that a typical rehab for his LosAngeles flips will run $40,000 to $50,000, and it’s not “inconceivable” for him to spend six figures on a Los Angeles fix-and-flip. “We like south central (Los Angeles) a little bit more. The barrier to entry is lower. We can pick up properties in the 200s. … There are normal people not making gobs of money that can afford to buy these houses.
“With us being where we are in the cycle, and us being very near the top, we’re not buying any big properties, anything close to a million, and trying to flip those,” Chotkevys added.
* * *
Finally, for those who may be looking to get in the game, even at this late stage, the following infographic lays out the 10 states that have the highest “flipping” gross return on investment.
- Demand For Physical Gold Is Collapsing
I serve on the Board of Directors of a large Singapore-based company that’s in the gold and silver business.
And, last night during our quarterly conference call, the management team gave me a lot of intriguing information.
Sales of physical gold and silver are collapsing across the entire industry.
At the US Mint, for example, sales of US Eagle gold coins fell by 67% between February 2016 versus February 2017.
And sales of US Eagle silver coins are down 75% over the same period.
The World Gold Council’s data also shows a substantial decline in physical precious metal demand in 2016, particularly with bars, coins, and jewelry.
Suppliers and refiners in the precious metals business are echoing these numbers, lamenting that sales are extremely slow and margins are falling.
For our Singapore company, this decline is irrelevant.
They have their own proprietary, state-of-the-art storage facility and a number of cutting-edge service like bullion-backed peer-to-peer loans, so business is great.
But I would expect that a number of other bullion dealers will probably go bust if this downturn lasts much longer.
The one conundrum is that this trend does NOT correlate with the price of gold.
In US dollar terms, the gold price is up 16% since the beginning of 2016.
So it would be reasonable to conclude that sales of physical bars and coins are up as well.
But they’re not.
The reason is because there’s a HUGE difference between physical gold and “paper” gold.
When people talk about the gold price, they’re really quoting the price of gold contracts at exchanges around the world in London, Shanghai, Chicago, etc.
Traders aren’t actually buying and selling physical gold.
These gold contracts are merely paper financial instruments, like stocks and bonds, that traders use for speculation.
When some conflict breaks out in Africa, the knee-jerk reaction is for traders to buy gold contracts.
And when central bankers announce that the economy is totally awesome, traders dutifully dump their gold contracts.
But they’re really just buying and selling highly leveraged paper assets. Nothing physical changes hands.
It’s the same with gold ETFs; these are merely financial instruments to gamble on the paper price of gold.
Investors who truly understand the benefits of owning gold, and don’t simply want to speculate on the price, buy physical bars and coins from a dealer.
And quite often there’s a massive difference in fundamentals between the demand for physical coins and the paper price.
During the 2008 financial meltdown, the paper price of gold and silver plunged.
Speculators and traders were hit by margin calls and forced to sell their contracts.
But demand for physical coins was incredibly strong; savvy investors were looking for a safe haven.
There was a total disconnect between the paper price and physical demand.
That’s now happening again, but in reverse. The paper price is rising, but physical demand is falling.
Management told me last night that they’ve been invited to speak at several investment conferences attended by family offices and high net worth individuals.
But they told me that there’s very little interest in owning physical precious metals among these wealthy investors.
Everyone seems to want to dump all of their money in US stocks or real estate, expecting that they’ll easily make 20% despite both markets being at all-time highs.
This strikes me as total madness. Few people ever prospered buying what was popular and expensive.
There seems to be no fear in the market… no regard for sense or safety.
And my contrarian instincts tell me that this complacency is a great reason to own physical gold and silver right now.
Remember that gold is primarily a form of savings.
You could hold your savings in a bank account, denominated in paper currency like dollars or euros or renminbi.
Or you could hold savings in physical cash. You could even own government bonds.
Each of these is a form of savings.
But so is gold and silver. (And cryptocurrency, for that matter.)
The difference is that gold and silver cannot be conjured out of thin air by a central bank.
And unlike cash, or money in a bank, precious metals actually keep pace with inflation over time.
I remember having a conversation once with a famous investor who told me that he didn’t know what was going to happen in the future…
… and THAT’S why he owned gold– for the “I don’t knows.”
Will there be a trade war with China in the next few years? A shooting war? A major debt crisis? Another terrorist attack? “I don’t know.”
Gold and silver are fantastic insurance policies against the “I don’t knows” due to the metals’ 5,000 year history of value and marketability.
There’s no need to go overboard and keep 100% of your net worth in precious metals.
But given the obvious risks on the horizon that we discuss regularly, and these bizarre demand trends, it’s a great time to consider adding to your physical precious metals savings.
- These Are The Most Dangerous Countries For American Tourists
Each year, the State Department issues dozens of advisories with the intent of keeping Americans safe as they travel abroad. What countries are targeted by these advisories, and what risks do Americans face by visiting them? Are State Department advisories effective in keeping American travelers safe?
We decided to investigate what are the most dangerous countries for American to visit as measured by State Department warnings and also by actual deaths. We used data from Priceonomics customer data.world, a platform that ties many different data sets together so it's easy to analyze them (you can download their dataset here).
We found that Mexico, Mali, and Israel have been targeted by the most travel advisories in recent years, but that Americans are more likely to face life-threatening danger in Thailand, Pakistan, and Honduras. Indeed, warnings and deadly violence are correlated on the whole. And fortunately, some travelers – at least those headed to the Philippines or Egypt – seem to heed these advisories, as those countries see dropoffs in tourism following warnings.
We began by identifying the countries that are most often targeted by U.S. State Department travel advisories. The State Department has multiple mechanisms for advising American travelers, but we focused just on Travel Warnings, which are issued when lasting turmoil in a country poses such a danger that the State Department discourages any travel there at all.
We filtered out warnings that had been issued for natural disasters, then ranked countries based on the number of Travel Warnings issued against them in an 8-year period between 2009 and 2017. We display the top 25 below.
Mexico tops the list with 28 warnings in an 8-year period. It’s worth noting that these warnings are regionally specific, targeting sites where crime syndicates are particularly active. Popular tourist destinations like Mexico City and the Yucatán peninsula (including Cancún) are generally regarded as safe.
Most other countries on this ranking are participants in ongoing international conflicts (e.g., Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan), or are sites in which extremist groups regularly carry out terrorist attacks (e.g., Mali, Nigeria, Syria).
North Korea is an interesting exception, as the government itself presents a danger to American travelers. According to the State Department, foreigners are liable to be jailed for unspecified reasons, or for seemingly innocuous infractions like interacting with the locals or taking unauthorized photos.
How do State Department warnings square with the actual likelihood of crime abroad? Reliable, global data on crime is difficult to come by, but the State Department tracks the incidence and causes of American deaths abroad. We used that dataset to identify countries where Americans are most likely to experience life-threatening danger while traveling.
In the table below, we rank the foreign countries in which the most Americans were killed between 2009 and 2016. Before ranking, we filtered the data to include only homicides, executions, deaths in terrorist attacks, and drug-related deaths.
In general, a violent death abroad is extremely unlikely. Between 2009 and 2013, 1,151 Americans – out of a population of 316 million – were killed abroad. For comparison, 15,809 homicides occurred in the U.S. in 2014 alone.
Of the 1,356 killings that occurred abroad, 1,193 (88%) happened in the 25 countries listed above. And just one country, Mexico, accounted for 50% of those deaths.
Of course, more Americans die in Mexico because vastly more Americans travel to Mexico than any other country. This holds true to a lesser degree for some of the other countries near the top of this ranking, including the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
With that in mind, we adjusted our ranking to account for the volume of tourism from the U.S. We calculated the number of Americans murdered in a country per 100,000 American tourists, using travel numbers from a dataset gathered by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We excluded any country that received fewer than 100,000 American visitors between 2009 and 2016.
Adjusting for travel volume shuffles our ranking, if not drastically changing it; 16 of the 25 countries listed here also appear on our ranking of countries by absolute number of American deaths.
Pakistan and Thailand jumped to the top of the list, each with a handful of deaths in a relatively small pool of tourists.
Surprisingly, there is only modest overlap between this ranking and the set of countries receiving the most travel warnings. Of the top 10 countries ranked here, only 4?—?Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, and Mexico?—?were among the top 25 countries targeted by travel warnings.
This led us to wonder about the connection between State Department warnings and American death abroad. Does the State Department issue more warnings for a country if Americans are more likely to be killed there? To find out, we correlated the number of Travel Warnings issued for each country with number of Americans (per 100,000 travelers) killed there.
On the whole, there is a significant relationship between the number of American deaths abroad per capita and the number of travel warnings a country receives (r = 0.56, p = <.001).
But within this chart, we identified some interesting patterns. In some countries, the number of Travel Warnings a country receives does scale with the number of deaths. In others, no warnings are issued even while the risk of death is relatively high. In still others, many warnings are issued even though most Americans pass through the country intact.
In which countries are warnings well correlated with the risk of death? In which are they not? In the rankings below, we identify 5 countries that exemplify each pattern.
A relatively high number of American travelers die in the countries in the left-most ranking above. Accordingly, these nations are often targeted by State Department warnings.
The center ranking features countries where warnings are “under-issued;” the risk of death is relatively high for Americans, but no warnings were issued in the 8-year period we examined. This ranking consists mainly of Central and South American countries where roughly 1 in every 100,000 U.S. travelers will be killed.
Finally, the countries in the right-most ranking are often targeted by warnings, but Americans have a low risk of facing life-threatening danger while visiting them. This may have to do with a regional pattern of unrest; in Turkey, for instance, tourists visiting the southeast may be subject to terrorist attacks spilling over from Syria, while travelers to Istanbul are comparatively safe.
Alternatively, few Americans may die in these countries because they are heeding the high number of Travel Warnings these nations receive. This raises the question of how travel advisories impact tourist behavior. Does traffic to a country drop after the State Department targets it with a Travel Warning?
To find out, we again put the Bureau of Transportation Statistics dataset to work, this time comparing travel numbers in the 6-month periods immediately preceding and immediately following the issuance of a Travel Warning. For this analysis, we only considered countries that had received at least 3 warnings.
Egypt sees the largest drop-off in travel after a warning is issued with a 34% decrease in travel. Thailand travel appears to follow a similar trend; when warnings are issued, American travel to Thailand drops by 15%.
Travel declines modestly in Israel and Venezuela after the issuance of a warning, even though neither country lands a spot on our top 25 nations by American deaths per capita.
And strangely, travel to Ukraine, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia rises by more than 10% after a warning is issued.
Overall, American don’t appear to be especially sensitive to State Department warnings. Of the 16 countries we featured here, double-digit travel change was seen for seen for only 5, and those changes could be driven by many other factors.
For simplicity, we restricted our analysis to just one advisory mechanism – the U.S. State Department Travel Warning – and one outcome measure – American deaths abroad. It’s possible different trends would have emerged if we had considered other data sources. But given these constraints, what did we see?
In absolute terms, more American tourists are killed in Mexico than in any other foreign country. This is partly owing to the strong flow of tourism between the U.S. and Mexico; when figures are adjusted to account for the volume of tourism, Pakistan rises to the top of the heap, with roughly 4 deaths per 100,000 travelers.
Despite this, Thailand does not rank among the top 25 countries for travel warnings. In general, warnings are not strongly correlated with American deaths abroad: countries like Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are relatively safe despite being subject to numerous warnings, and the converse is true in Belize, Guatemala, and Guyana.
Even warnings that are well correlated with violence are only valuable if travelers heed them, and tourism appears largely insensitive to travel advisories. In approximately half the countries we considered, tourism shifted by no more than 2% after issuance of a warning.
- Trump's Budget A First Step Toward De-Politicizing Science
The Trump administration has released its proposed 2018 budget, and within it are some things worth cheering. Trump’s "America First budget" includes needed cuts to the regulatory state, defunds efforts to purchase more Federal land, eliminates funding for 19 minor government agencies, and makes significant cuts to a number of more significant ones — including the State Department, HUD, and Commerce. Unfortunately, the proposal also reflects the myth that America’s military is underfunded, calling for a $52 billion increase for the Pentagon and another $2.8 billion increase for Homeland Security. The budget also ignores America’s web of entitlement programs, the larger driver of the nation’s fiscal woes.
While the Trump budget, should it pass, would do little to change government spending as a whole, the targeted cuts would have a positive impact beyond the US debt clock. For example, the proposed cuts to the Energy Department, the EPA, and the National Institute of Health represent a significant step toward separating state and science.
It should go without saying that scientific research is a vital part of civilized society, allowing for technological breakthroughs that dramatically increase the quality of life for mankind as a whole. It is precisely because of its great importance that it should not be politicized by being influenced by politicians and government bureaucrats. The inherent problems of government's inability to efficiently allocate scarce resources doesn't change when the subject is science, so government research can suffer with the same issues of waste, fraud, and abuse that regularly haunt other programs.
The National Institute of Health, one of the areas most impacted by the Trump budget, provides a number of examples of such questionable research. As Senator Jeff Flake documented last year, the National Institute of Health dedicated millions to such pressing research as the impact of cocaine on bees, testing sex steroids on goldfish, and studying the appearance of Jesus on toast. In its own version of Washington Monument Syndrome, the NIH then came back to Congress asking for more funds to dedicate to actual public health concerns.
Waste at the NIH isn’t just a concern for economists and attention-seeking politicians, Dr. Michael Braken, at Yale University School of Public Health, has argued that 87.5 percent of the organization's research is waste.
For every 100 research projects, only half lead to published findings. Of those 50, half have significant design flaws, making their results unreliable. And of those 25, half are redundant or unnecessary because of previous work. That’s how you get to 12.5 percent.
Not only are the priorities of public research questionable, it can impact the science itself. We have seen this particularly in the case of climate science, one area which is targeted extensively in Trump’s budget.1
Earlier this year Dr. John Bates, a former NOAA scientist, documented how climate data was improperly handled. The purpose, as Bates states, was:
[to put a] thumb on the scales — in the documentation, scientific choices, and release of datasets — in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming hiatus and rush to time the publication of the paper to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.
Government-funded science was manipulated to push a government agenda.
Past administrations' concerns with warming have also led to programs incentivizing “alternative energy” sources, which can lead to all sorts of bad investments by private companies seeking public subsidy. One of the most prominent examples was the failure of Solyndra, the solar panel company that went bankrupt after receiving billions from taxpayers. These programs also take a hit in Trump’s budget.
Cuts to government research programs, however, should only be the first step toward making American science great again. The second part should come in the form of cutting taxes to the wealthiest Americans, and eliminating taxes for scientific investment. This is precisely what Murray Rothbard advocated in Science, Technology, and Government, and it would build upon a long standing American tradition of wealthy Americans playing a pivotal role in scientific innovation.
While it’s fair to debate whether Elon Musk is closer to Howard Roark or James Taggart based on his use of government subsidies, his SpaceX program has demonstrated the potential of privatizing space exploration — and the efficiencies that come with it. For those concerned about private interest in research without explicitly profitable ends, last year private non-profits provided $2.3 billion to basic research.
While his proposed budget is a solid first step toward de-politicizing science, unfortunately the increase in Pentagon spending means that military-related research will continue to enjoy the perks of government privilege. Resources that could have been dedicated to serving the wants and needs of the public will instead be allocated to building ever more expensive weapons for the world’s most powerful military (regardless of its actual performance).
As long as Trump continues to view the military-industrial complex as a sacred cow, he won’t make real progress in draining the swamp.
- These US States Entered A Recession In 2016
At the beginning of 2016, a minor war broke out between two intellectual camps: one said that as a result of the collapse in energy prices, the US economy would slide in a recession as the bulk of the states responsible for job gains under Obama were the same ones that would get crushed with oil plunging. The opposing camp – which boasted Janet Yellen at one point – vociferously claimed that sliding oil prices are great for consumers and with thanks to the extra purchasing power, the US would not only avoid a recession but prosper. One year later we look back to see which, if any, of the two camps was correct.
As it turns out, the truth was in the middle, because while the US in total may have avoided an economic contraction (at least according to the NBER), numerous states did in fact enter a recession.
Based on new research by Kansas Fed Economist Jason Brown, several states suffered severe downturns as of the third quarter of 2016 that hampered growth nationwide. According to the report, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming experienced recessions last year, while others saw milder contractions, including Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Louisiana and West Virginia.
As noted first by Bloomberg, Brown said a ripple effect from the decline in commodity prices hit the oil- and coal-dependent states particularly hard, leading to economic contractions as local governments such as Oklahoma cut back on spending.
The findings also underscore the growing sense of economic inequality in the nation, as data compiled by Bloomberg show states like Washington and Massachusetts grew well above the national average last year. They saw employment climb as joblessness expanded in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska.
These “mini recessions” may have had far greater political implications than previous expected: of all the states mentioned that experienced some degree of economic downturn, only New Mexico and Maine supported his rival, Hillary Clinton. Perhaps it was sheer luck, or an active analysis of which US states are in the more dire of economic straits, but Donald
Trump targeted his campaign to voters “left behind by the economic
recovery”, pledging after his win to help Americans he called “the
forgotten men and women of our country,” and which were found mostly in the contracting states. He won.
To be sure, as Bloomberg notes, identifying recessions at the state level isn’t an exact science, as there’s no single authority that does so. Further complicating matters is the fact that data on GDP is published with a longer lag than at the national level. So, to come up with his findings, Brown took monthly, state-level data on economic activity from the Philly Fed and ran two different statistical models, for two periods ending in September 2016. There’s not enough information to say definitively whether states are out of recession just yet, he said.
Other researchers have found similar results. In January, S&P Global Ratings said that six of eight major oil-producing states fell into recession in 2015 and 2016, including New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The report also shows Alaska, Louisiana and North Dakota entered recession and that North Dakota went from the fastest growing state in 2014 to the worst performer in 2015.
Finally, since the states that S&P and Brown said were in recession represent 4.4% of U.S. GDP, their downturns “certainly” affected national growth.
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