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    The Day Everything Changed

    by Chris Martenson

    Friday, September 19, 2008, 9:30 PM

    0
    Friday, September 29, 2008

    Executive Summary

    • Official market intervention has been openly confirmed.
    • US markets can no longer inspire world confidence.
    • The rules have changed.

    "After today, nothing will ever be quite the same in the US financial markets.  A turning point has been reached.  Many people will not be aware of this for another 6 to 8 months, but we will someday refer to our financial markets as “before 9/19” and “after 9/19.”

    Prior to this week, mine was one of a few voices that warned of the degree to which official intervention had been creeping into our markets.  I first noticed this behavior some years back, with very strangely-timed, massive futures-buying operations that would hit the market at the most improbably fortuitous times.

    If this had happened once or twice, I could have written it off as a strange trading strategy, worked out by some clever hedge fund. But one of the rules of trading is that if you try the same thing over and over again, eventually the other players will see what you are doing and steal your lunch.

    Yet whoever was doing this did it brazenly and seemingly without regard for their entry prices…a surefire way to shovel money into the market and lose it.   Who could be doing this, and why?  I formed  suspicions, talked to people, gathered evidence, weighed the odds, and concluded that this had to be official intervention.

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    The Greatest Looting Operation in History

    by Chris Martenson

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008, 12:36 AM

    0
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    In this report, I delve into the bailout plan and why it is destined to fail, no matter how it is configured.  It is important that you at least consider the possibility that it very well could fail, with disastrous consequences for the dollar and the continued operation of the US government in its current form.

    “See, you know the way a bailout works? Here’s the way a bailout works. A failed president and a failed Congress invest $700 billion of your money in failed businesses. Believe me, this can’t fail.”

    ~ Jay Leno

    The recently proposed bailout of failed Wall Street banks represents the most brazen attempt at grand larceny ever in our nation’s history. Some have even likened it to financial terrorism, because Wall Street went so far as to repeatedly say; “Either we get this bailout or the entire system goes under.”

    This echoes, more or less precisely, what happened in the years after Ronald Reagan deregulated the S&L industry in 1982. Within a few short years, excesses and fraud were rampant within the system, and taxpayers were forced to cover the inevitable bust that followed. Many well-connected individuals made out like bandits on sweetheart deals meted out by the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC).

    But this crisis, which has been presented as if it caught everyone by surprise, was no surprise at all. It was years in the making, and the response was carefully planned over the past year. The bailout proposal, as originally presented (on Sat. 9/20/08), was shocking.

    First, there was the sneaky language that the $700 billion figure was the most that could be spent at any one time, meaning that there was no limit on the spending at all. Second, the right of review by any court of law or other administrative body was to be stripped away, a distinctly unconstitutional and anti-American provision if ever there was one. Third, the Treasury Secretary was to be embodied with complete unitary power in selecting who was to be empowered with an open-ended taxpayer checkbook.

    No review, no limits, no questions.

    So what happens when you have vague language and an unlimited budget? Fraud and self-dealing, that’s what. Mark my words, this is the largest looting operation ever in the history of the US, and it’s all spelled out right there in the delightfully brief bailout document that Paulson and Bernanke are attempting to ram through a scared Congress.

    Folks, if it looks like a looting operation, smells like a looting operation, and acts like a looting operation, it’s a looting operation.

    There are some in Washington DC who ‘get it,’ including Bernie Sanders, who recently stated:
    [quote] “While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. […] The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush’s policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all. This is absurd. This is the most extreme example that I can recall of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.” [/quote]

    Hopefully, for the sake of justice, the bailout will be significantly modified prior to passage.

    However, it won’t really matter much in the end, because there is no possible way for any bailout to succeed, no matter how it’s configured.

    Three simple truths

    Instead, there are three simple truths that have to be recognized, if we are to navigate our way through this crisis: 

    1. The United States government is insolvent.
    2. The entire US financial system is insolvent.
    3. There is no combination of new debt/borrowing schemes that can possibly correct #1 and #2.

    The first rule of life is, “When you are in a hole, stop digging.” The past 25 years have witnessed the greatest accumulation of debt ever recorded by our nation. That is our hole. Yet our current leaders have ordered a backhoe and promised to use it.

    Figure 1: This chart compares total debt (or ‘credit’) in the US to GDP (or Gross Domestic Product) on a percentage basis. Current total credit market debt stands at more than 340% of total GDP. As we can see on this chart, the last time debts got even remotely close to current levels was back in the 1930’s, and that bears a bit of explanation. The debt-to-GDP ratio back then didn’t start to climb until after 1929 (solid arrow), because debts remained relatively fixed in size, while it was the GDP that fell away from under the debts. With the exception of the Great Depression anomaly, our country always held less than 200% of our GDP in debt (gray dotted arrow). In 1985 we violated that barrier and never looked back. What each of us knows to be “just how the economy works” is really a historically unusual experiment with debt that is barely 25 years old. In the sweep of economic history, this barely qualifies as a blink.

    This 25-year-long borrowing binge has so badly distorted our collective sense of right from wrong that we no longer seem capable of setting simple priorities. The consideration by Washington DC of a $700 billion bailout proposal in the same week that it passed a record-setting $612 billion defense budget is a perfect example of this dynamic. No trade-offs mentioned; “Yes, we’ll have one of everything” is the reigning mentality.

    Our first challenge in confronting this crisis

    This crisis is fundamentally one of insolvency (definition below), not a failure to have enough dollars floating around, which means that it is not a liquidity crisis.

    Definitions:

    • Insolvency. A condition where one’s assets are exceeded by one’s liabilities to an insurmountable extent. Distinct from bankruptcy, which is a legal event precipitated by a final inability of cash flow to continue to carry an insolvent entity any further. Insolvency nearly always precedes bankruptcy.

    • Liquidity. A measure of how much money exists in a useable form. A person with a $10 million house but no money in the bank is said to be “illiquid,” not “poor” or “broke.” A “liquid” market, like the stock market, offers a reliable and fast way to exchange assets for money. When the Fed is said to be adding “liquidity,” they are taking assets from banks in exchange for cash.

    The institutions in question are as insolvent as a minimum-wage janitor trying to make payments on a $2 million beachfront house using only his earnings. The aggressive lowering of interest rates by the Fed in their attempt to help provide liquidity to the banks was like assuring that the janitor’s checks cleared at the bank a little faster. But improving liquidity did not help. It couldn’t, because the problem was one of solvency, not liquidity.

    But if liquidity won’t do the trick, what will?

    Here we must face the hard truth that merely transferring the failed loans from the insolvent banks to an insolvent nation will do nothing but forestall the problem until a slightly later date (when it will be larger and more severe, by the way). The fact that both candidates for president are openly supporting the bailout says that reality has not yet penetrated the inner beltway.

    So the first challenge will be recognizing that it really is not possible for an insolvent nation to bail out an insolvent financial system by borrowing more money. This is an absurd notion, and in total it really is no more and no less complicated than that. One cannot solve a crisis rooted in debt by issuing more debt.

    Our second challenge in confronting this crisis

    On September 23rd, 2008, before the Senate banking committee, Bernanke said, “I believe if the credit markets are not functioning, that jobs will be lost, the unemployment rate will rise, more houses will be foreclosed upon, GDP will contract, that the economy will just not be able to recover.”

    The palpably strong desire by the current politicians to “get the economy back on track” and to immediately return (if possible) to maximum consumption is absolutely the wrong response at this moment in history. We do not need to return to our borrow-and-borrow-more ways of the past. We desperately do need to demonstrate awareness that the future is loaded with challenges that only grow larger and more urgent with time. None of these challenges, ranging from energy dependence, to population, to a broken entitlement and pension system, will be helped by a return to our former credit-dependent ways. In fact, they will be exacerbated.

    So our second challenge is to recognize that our first instincts to repair a broken system are wrong.

    Instead, we need to have an honest accounting of our current economic condition, matched against the very real warning signs that our consumptive lifestyle is due for a radical overhaul. If we miss this chance to level with ourselves, we will have squandered an enormous opportunity.

    Your biggest challenge

    Recently, Senator Chris Dodd (CT) stated, “[W]e’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.” I know that the temptation is to trust that somehow these big players on Wall Street and in Washington DC have this all under control, or that they will fashion something workable to tide us over for a while. While they might be able to limp this along for a while longer, it might also fail sometime next Tuesday, and it will certainly fail sooner or later. When our economy finally suffers a complete meltdown, the resulting calamity will be as individually dramatic to each of us as if our homes burned to the ground. Your challenge is to accept that this crisis is fundamentally “unfixable” and that wherever the future takes us, it will not be a simple continuation of the past. With this acceptance, the challenge becomes assessing what might happen and what you can do about it.

    Okay, so now what?

    The immediate risk that I see here centers on a collapse in the international value of the dollar, which will rapidly morph into a massive financial crisis for the federal government. When all is said and done, I fully expect the federal government to be half its current size, with states, to varying degrees of success, picking up the slack as best they can.

    The chance that the US dollar will go into a steep decline from here is very high. I personally place the risk that a major dollar decline will ensue within the next 6 months at 50%. Here’s how that would play out.

    In its full wisdom, while times were good, the US government opted largely to finance itself with short-term debt in the form of 3 month and 6 month “T-Bills.” In essence, because these T-Bills ‘roll over’ every 3 or 6 months at whatever the current interest rate is, the US government opted to finance itself with an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). Hold onto that thought.

    Now that the government has embarked on a course of massive deficit spending that is sure to top $1 trillion next year (and possibly go as high as $2 trillion), this money will have to either be borrowed from overseas or printed out of thin air by the Federal Reserve. In either case, there is a very high probability that either/both of these actions will cause interest rates to climb, possibly quite steeply and suddenly.

    And here is where the “vicious spiral” comes into play, exacerbated by the short-term (ARM-like) borrowing stance described earlier. The more the government needs to borrow, the higher interest rates will go. The higher that interest rates go, the greater the need to borrow. So more borrowing begets higher interest rates, which beget more borrowing, which beget higher interest rates, which….ah, you get the idea.

    If (or when) this dynamic gets started, its self-reinforcing nature will cause both the dollar to collapse in value and interest rates to shoot upwards. Either of these effects alone would provide a serious hit to our debt-based way of life, but together they promise to deliver earth-shaking changes to those who are unprepared. Concurrent with this death-spiral for the dollar will come massive (hyper?) inflation of imported goods, the most important of which, to our daily lives, will be oil. Gasoline at $10 or even $50 per gallon is not unthinkable.

    This means that you, individually, need to begin thinking about ways to economically insulate yourself from this possibility, as does each state in the union.

    My advice to you is the same as it has been for months.

    • Trim your expenses as far as humanly possible.
    • Don’t take on any more debt for any circumstances, unless you are speculating and can manage the risks.
    • Hold gold and silver, physical only. How much? That depends on how many of your US-dollar-denominated holdings you’d like to be absolutely sure do not go to zero.
    • Keep cash out of the bank. Three months’ living expenses, if you can.
    • Develop a sense of community, and get to know the people you can count on and who will count on you.
    • When you can, keep things topped off around the home. You never know.

    I laid out my investment thoughts back in May, which you should read when you get the chance. That Martenson Report is titled Charting a Course Through the Recession and is free to registered users.

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    The Recession Is Here

    by Chris Martenson

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008, 6:57 PM

    0
    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    In this report I review the recent data to conclude that a recession is here right now. Don’t wait to hear this fact much later on the news…it’s time to start spending and behaving like we are at the beginning of a pretty serious economic decline.

    The prior economic reading of 3.3% GDP growth (recently revised down to 2.9% growth) will certainly go down in the history books as one of the more grossly errant economic statistics of the decade. Where that statistic claimed the economy was still expanding, in actuality the economy was almost certainly contracting.

    If we want to know where all this is heading so that we can stay ahead of the game, it’s more important that we keep a close eye on the real economic data than on shoddy economic statistics or even Congress’ struggle to salvage the credit markets with gargantuan new borrowing programs.

    After all, repairing the ability of banks to lend money will prove fruitless if it turns out that nobody wants to borrow any because they are too busy fighting a recession. Repairing the credit facilities at the outset of a recession would be like building an Ark at the beginning of a long drought.

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    It’s Here And It’s Now

    by Chris Martenson

    Saturday, October 4, 2008, 12:55 AM

    0
    Friday, October 3, 2008

    Introduction

    Everything that I have been writing about, everything that I have been lecturing about, and everything that I made the Crash Course about is now in motion.

    It is here, and it is happening right now.

    The purpose of this Martenson Report is to nudge you further and further toward taking any remaining actions that can help shield you from what is coming. I want you to understand that my advice and my voice are just one of many, and that your job is to listen to everything and make up your own mind.

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    A Preview to Chapter 20 (or, Navigating a Martenson Report)

    by Chris Martenson

    Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 1:51 AM

    2
    Monday, October 6, 2008

    My belief is that massive, unprecedented change is coming.

    No, I believe that it is already underway. When the dust settles in one, five, or twenty years, the economic landscape will be utterly changed.

    Another belief I hold is that by taking steps now, both small and large, you can significantly minimize disruptions in your life that so many others will experience. While we will all end up in the same place in twenty years, I want your path to be as gentle as possible. By undergoing voluntary change, you will have more opportunities to shape your path than those who find change involuntarily forced on them. Where others will someday reach a cliff face that needs to be scaled all at once, my goal is to walk with you up the side trail. Each Martenson Report is designed to reinforce the lessons of the Crash Course, with my goal being to help you navigate the changes ahead.

    Beliefs

    It all begins with beliefs. I created the Crash Course to provide all the intellectual evidence anyone could possibly need, laid out like an air-tight prosecution with the following conclusion: The next twenty years will be unlike the last twenty years. But if your underlying beliefs are in opposition to this message, you may find yourself taking no actions at all. Examples of such beliefs might be:

    1. Technology will arise that will blunt or maybe even reverse the impact of Peak Oil”. If this is one of your core beliefs, then it won’t really matter how well I lay out the case that Peak Oil is not only real, but frighteningly near. So you won’t take any actions. You’ll continue to live at drivable distances from where you work and play, and you won’t bother to bolster your food security or maneuver your portfolio holdings away from exposed industries and companies or do anything else.
    2. This is just a normal recession – we’ve faced them before, and they don’t last that long.” If you hold this belief, then you are open to the typical broker’s suggestion that the best strategy is to “buy and hold for the long-term.” You might also be tempted to tune out all the current market information as “noise” that provides no value to your understanding and is probably harmful in its potential to alter your outlook.

    So, it can be said that beliefs drive our actions. Somebody else said it even better:

    Your beliefs become your thoughts
    Your thoughts become your words
    Your words become your actions
    Your actions become your habits
    Your habits become your values
    Your values become your destiny


    ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    So I structured the Crash Course specifically to enable you to open up your beliefs to examination. Not because I have any particular assessment or judgment about whether you hold the “right ones” or the “wrong ones,” because I don’t. I did this because at key turning points, such as the one we are at right now, it is vitally important that you know what your beliefs are, so that you can be aware of the ways in which they are guiding, enhancing, or inhibiting your actions. It is a dead certainty that at a major point of change, most people will be holding limiting beliefs rooted in the status quo, while a smaller number of people will hold enhancing beliefs providing them with greater opportunities to take advantage of the changes when they arrive.

    The Martenson Report

    My weekly, and often daily, writings are designed to continue to expose the fact that the very change we are talking about is right here, it’s right now, and it’s massive. I seek to continually reinforce the notion that the past is gone and it’s not coming back, and that a new future is upon us. The breadth and depth of these changes literally touch every single support system and every political and corporate institution in existence. The possible range of ways to prepare is nearly infinite, requiring that we carefully and strategically sort them into smaller groupings that we can actually do something about. Because we can’t possibly prepare in every possible way, we need to have a brutally efficient means of prioritizing our actions into the ones that provide the most potential protection or return for the least investment of time and/or money.

    Because of this, I write The Martenson Report with three specific “Horizons” in mind as crudely depicted below.

    I break my own thinking into three specific horizons spanning just a few years each and I “bucket” all the possible risks and events that I care to focus on into those three segments of time.

    While it’s never too soon to begin to modify one’s actions in response to any major change, even if it’s 10 years out, it pays to begin with those elements that are closest and will have the most impact.

    For example, I have mainly kept the Martenson Reports geared towards the first Horizon because that’s where I think most people have the most work to do, because it has the most immediate challenges, and because, as challenging as they are, we can get our minds around these changes. The Horizon II & III changes are big, hairy, and scary. Adapting to them will require lots of lead time and you should have them on your radar screen. However, I would council that you attend to Horizon I stuff before you put too much aggressive action towards the Horizon II and III stuff. Naturally, if you were going to make a big move anyway, perhaps sell a house and move somewhere, or buy a car, you should definitely put on your long-term thinking cap on and let those Horizon II and III possibilities inform your decision-making processes.

    What do I do first?

    Even within any given Horizon, we need to further prioritize our actions. Let’s break them into three tiers. Tier I actions should always be initiated (and preferably completed) before starting on any Tier II actions, which should themselves precede any Tier III actions.

     

    Tier I >> Tier II >> Tier III

     

    Here’s an example. Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you hold the personal view that there’s a risk, a chance, a possibility, that the US banking system could be forced to go “on holiday” at some point over the next year. Let’s give it some really outrageously high chance, like 33%. That is, a one-in-three chance that US banks could get shut down for a period of time, perhaps for a week or more at some point over the next year. What should you do?

    My advice would be to consider all of the most likely things that could happen that you could easily remedy at low or no cost before moving on to harder stuff. Here is a simplified example, with only one item in each “tier”, of actions that you might take:

    Tier I: Have some cash out of the bank, so that you can continue to buy things and operate even if your personal bank is not open, your ATM card does not work, and your credit card is inoperative. Cost? Whatever the lost interest would be, plus having to worry about how to safely store this money. Potential benefit? The ability to conduct your life relatively unhindered if the banks close down.

    Tier II: Move money from distant, possibly unsafe banking/brokerage accounts to safer banks. This is important to do, but not as critical as getting a supply of cash on hand for emergencies. So you should get your Tier I cash needs taken care of before spending any time on moving your money around. Fortunately the Tier I action can be accomplished on your lunch break tomorrow so it’s not a big deal.

    Tier III: Build your local community. Find out who can do what, who will need your help, and what you can do to help. Only do this after taking care of your personal issues, so that you can have a clear head and can really be helpful to others. If you’ve ever actually listened to those airplane cabin attendants, you are already familiar with this advice: “Please secure the oxygen mask over your own mouth and nose before helping your neighbor or child…” The same principle applies here. All of my advice follows this basic outline. The simple, low-cost, high potential return solutions are the ones I press first.

    Why I follow the markets (and report on them) so closely

    Often I will report on what some people consider to be “market noise.” I focus my attention on the markets because I believe they give me a valuable head start on what’s really happening. I have little faith that “we the people” are entrusted with the real situation by our leaders in the media and/or in politics. Therefore, my best source of timely and accurate information is the markets.

    When I see certain things happen in the markets that will finally tell me which way this whole mess is going to break, I will personally be taking some very aggressive last-minute actions. For example, if/when the US dollar begins to head down in earnest at the same time that interest rates rise, that will be my cue to immediately swap out all of my remaining dollars for “things.” I have “buy lists” in place for items ranging from hard assets to basic staples.

    It is only by closely monitoring the markets that I feel comfortable knowing what’s going on, even if this amounts to “reading tea leaves” and being subject to lots of truly random noise in addition to the small amounts of real signal.

    What I do is monitor the stock, gold, dollar, interest rate, and credit markets, all day, every day that they are open. And then I report at PeakProsperity.com on what I am seeing and thinking in response to the day’s events. For those who cannot (or will not) monitor the markets this closely, I can be an important source of information.

    But I do not monitor the markets to pick stocks or find bargains or make a killing. I think the markets are designed in such a way as to seriously discriminate against the small investor, and I also happen to believe that they are all going to sink a LOT lower over time to reflect the fact that too many claims have been made against the future. What are the chances for a small time investor to record gains in a broadly declining market? In my judgment, somewhere between zero and slim.

    So, my aim is not to monitor the markets for gain, but for their informational content. If you want to play the markets, there are a lot of high quality newsletters and free sources of information out there to help you do this. I personally analyze the markets for what they can tell me about where we are along the Crash Curve. I want clues as to how long this will take to unfold and what it might look like when it gets there. So I monitor the markets and then report on them to you.

    Summary

    I write my reports with the clear intent of reinforcing your awareness that the future will be very different from the present, and I measure my success by whether you actually took actions or not – and, (if you did) by whether your actions were structured in such a way that you took care of the easy, low-cost stuff first before moving on to the harder items.

    I want you to be safe and secure.

    I have faith that, with reliable information, good advice, and a little bit of common sense for good measure, you and I will be able to navigate what lies ahead.

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    The Six Stages of Awareness

    by Chris Martenson

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 8:04 PM

    14
    Wednesday, October 8. 2008

    The text below is from a past Crash Course seminar.  It is a very loose adaptation of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ "Five Stages of Grief."

    Often a broad new awareness results in a series of emotional responses that mimic the grief associated with loss.  I call these the Six Stages of Awareness.

    Each of us here is somewhere along this progression.  Most of us will inevitably pass through all six stages, each at a different speed, not always in order, and some will skip stages.

    While we read or hear each others’ comments at this site and elsewhere, my hope is that we can find acceptance and understanding of the fact that each person is naturally at a different stage of acceptance and awareness. 

    Each person needs to process the stage they are currently in (within normal bounds of civility and appropriateness, of course) and deserves the support of others as they progress at their own pace.

    (The following was spoken at a seminar:)

    Today is about examining data in a whole new way.   I am going to provide you with a new framework for viewing this data, a scaffolding on which to drape this data, that is probably built a little differently than the framework you already have.  The information is absolutely vital and critical to your future, but it will be worthless if we examine it in the same way that it has been presented to us by what I’ll term ‘our popular culture.’

    So your first opportunity today will be the opportunity to change your thinking.

    I must warn you, this will not be easy for some.  I know this from experience.  You may well find yourself progressing through something akin to the five stages of grief throughout the day and throughout the next few months.  Awareness can be troubling enough to mirror the process of grief, and knowing this can be important in grounding oneself.

    So let’s now progress through some examples of what you might experience at each of the six stages.

    The Six Stages of Awareness

    STAGE 1:  You might begin with a series of statements to yourself, such as, “No way can this be true.  There must be alternative explanations.  This simply can’t be; I would have heard about it.”  To help speed you through this stage of denial, I offer you access to the source data so that you can check it for yourself.  Further, I only draw upon sources that I believe most reasonable people would consider to be highly credible.  If you can view all of the data that I will present and find some alternative set of explanations as to why and how all of these things will not matter, I need you to share this with me, pronto.

    STAGE 2:  Next, you might find yourself full of anger, saying to yourself (and possibly your loved ones and anybody else who will listen), “Aaaaarghh!!!  Those bastards at the Fed, in the government, in media, have been hiding things from me, lying, and serving their own interests at my expense. How dare they!!!"  While anger is a perfectly normal and even healthy stage to pass though, it is also counterproductive, in the sense that anger often serves to inhibit action…and as you’ll see later, we don’t really have a lot of time to spend in the non-solution stage. So for everybody’s sake, you need to move through this phase as rapidly as possible.  This is also why you will not find me assigning blame and pointing fingers.   Blame leads to anger and often a sense of victimization – both of which serve to inhibit taking action.  Further, the "blame game" only serves to polarize people into opposing teams – and we’re all on the same team in the end.

    STAGE 3:  The next stage is bargaining.  Here you might find yourself thinking such thoughts as, “If I simply change a few things in my life, perhaps that will be sufficient and I won’t have to really change.  I’ll use efficient light bulbs, buy a Prius, and save more each year.”  You will find yourself bargaining with the data for more time, a different outcome, perhaps for a miracle to emerge.  Perhaps some new technology will arise that will give us abundant and limitless energy, or we’ll elect a new president capable of speaking the truth and marshaling the considerable talents and energy of this country.  This, too, is a stage, and I’ve assembled a framework for understanding in such a way as to help you understand the critical difference between wishful thinking and realistic solutions.  Please understand that I am not going to purposely step on your hopes – I am as hopeful as anybody you will ever meet – it’s just that I want our collective hopes to be placed in the right places, where they can do us some good.  My hopes center on the tremendous reservoirs of talent, energy, and problem-solving that reside in this country, this community, and this room.  I am confident that we will pull through all of the problems that we are about to discuss and that we can do it with joy, verve, and excitement.  Misplaced hopes and defective strategies, on the other hand, will only let us down in the future, as they fail to deliver.

    STAGE 4:  The next stage is fear, and it can take many shapes. “I’m going to die broke.  People will come out of the cities and eat all my food and harm my family.  The future is going to be unbearably bleak.   I might die.  I might starve.   I’m not built for a world that mirrors the dystopian nightmare of Mad Max.”  It is important to name these fears and confront them directly.  Trying to ignore or stuff them away is simply a recipe to assure that they linger deep down, infecting your dreams and fostering paralysis.  Fears are debilitating.  They will prevent you from acting and they will ultimately erode your physical well-being.  Most of these fears are grounded in the knowledge that our social, energy, and food networks are, for the most part, unnecessarily complicated and often wafer-thin.  How will they operate in a more challenging environment?   We don’t really know, and it’s that uncertainty which creates a deep sense of unease.  Our food supply is both robust and fragile.  If the continuous parade of trucks ever stopped rolling, for any reason, nearly all communities would find their store shelves stripped bare within 2-3 days.  In fact, when we peel back the covers and examine each aspect of our various support systems, we find that they are nearly all built upon the implicit assumption that the future will be pretty much exactly like today.  But what if it’s not?   For myself, the only answer was to actively take steps to address each of my most basic fears.  Imagine that you live in a maze made out of some flammable material and you have a fear of being caught in a fire in the maze.   How could you reduce your fear?  One way would be to familiarize yourself with the way out.  Another might be to leave the maze and live somewhere else.  Attempting to ignore the fear is not a strategy, because you would still know, on some level, that even though you are ignoring the fear, the risk remains…and so will the fear.   The easiest way to reduce fear is to take concrete actions to reduce risk.

    STAGE 5:  The most critical stage to navigate is depression.  With a realistic assessment of our predicament, it is extremely common for people to begin to harbor such thoughts as, “Crap, we’re screwed. What’s the point?  I am powerless to do anything about this.  There’s nothing that any of us can do, anyway.”  At this stage, dark fantasies of the future begin to creep into our thoughts, and fear paralyzes our ability to think, let alone act. It is my goal to help you limit this stage to the absolute shortest possible time – perhaps we can find a way to bypass it altogether.

    STAGE 6:  The final stage is acceptance.  You will know you are here when you begin to think, “However we got here is unimportant – it is what it is.  Let’s figure out how to navigate the future with the tools and advantages we’ve got, not what we wish we had.”  With acceptance comes peace, a sense of calm, and the ability to think clearly and take actions.  However, acceptance and urgency can co-exist, and I do not mean to imply otherwise. 

    Working through these stages is not a one-way trip.  I, myself, cycle through stages #4 (fear) and #6 (acceptance) pretty routinely, but spend less and less time in #4 with every pass.  What I hope you take away from this is that wherever you happen to be in these six stages will almost certainly shift over time.  If you are uncomfortable with where you are in this process, know that it is temporary.  My audacious, gigantic goal is to enable you to move through each of the six stages faster and more smoothly than I did.

    Lastly, please remember that everybody is somewhere along this curve, and my experience is that the people who are further along tend to catch grief from the people who are not.   I ask that you be as respectful as possible of those who are in a slightly different place with all this.  Know that where they are is right where they need to be at this moment.  We can all benefit tremendously from supporting each other through this process.

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    How the Credit Markets Affect Us All

    by Chris Martenson

    Thursday, October 9, 2008, 5:12 PM

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    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    In this Martenson Report, I cover the importance of the credit markets to the smooth functioning of our just-in-time economy.  If the credit markets fully seize up, it is not a stretch to state that most businesses and the flow of many goods will also seize up.

    In fact, this has already happened, to a limited extent.  Should this extend further, there are a few basic precautions that you should consider as a means of mitigating the impact of a potential banking/credit lock-up.

    Okay, time for a little chat about the reasons that a credit market freeze-up has the potential to change your life in sudden and dramatic ways.

    Many people mistakenly believe that at some point in the distant past we moved from a barter economy to a money-based economy. In truth, we have a credit-based economy.

    In a money-based, or “cash-based,” economy, the whole thing would work a lot like your debit card. Businesses would immediately swap money for goods at the point of the transaction.

    But that’s not how our system operates. Instead, when goods flow between distributors, suppliers, and retailers, they do so on the basis of credit. For example, if your local grocery chain orders additional food from their distributor, credit is what gets that transaction moving right away. The grocery store has a line of credit with the distributor, which has a line of credit with their bank, which has lines of credit with other banks, one of which has a credit arrangement with the grocery store.

    Typically, businesses carry 30-60-90-day terms on cash settlement for goods and services sent/received. So the lines of credit are an important ‘lubricant’ to the process of buying and selling goods, with cash settlement coming after-the-fact and often comprising a bulk payment for numerous credit-based transactions that might have occurred over a period of time.

    At the larger level, credit transactions worth trillions of dollars are occurring between importers and exporters, with municipality paychecks, between nations, in stock margin accounts, and so forth. Credit is everywhere and it is how we conduct business. Without credit, we’d need to revert to a cash-based economy (hard cash or the electronic equivalent) and the simple fact is that our financial and judicial machinery are just not set up to handle a cash-based economy. They could be, I suppose, but right now they aren’t.

    So we need to ask ourselves, “What will happen if the credit markets completely freeze up?Here’s an example from Tuesday (Oct 7th, 2008), neatly illustrating the confusion and stasis that results from a credit market seizure:

    The credit crisis is spilling over into the grain industry as international buyers find themselves unable to come up with payment, forcing sellers to shoulder often substantial losses.

    Before cargoes can be loaded at port, buyers typically must produce proof they are good for the money. But more deals are falling through as sellers decide they don’t trust the financial institution named in the buyer’s letter of credit, analysts said.

    "There’s all kinds of stuff stacked up on docks right now that can’t be shipped because people can’t get letters of credit," said Bill Gary, president of Commodity Information Systems in Oklahoma City. "The problem is not demand, and it’s not supply because we have plenty of supply. It’s finding anyone who can come up with the credit to buy."

    In the article above there are willing buyers and sellers but believable bank credit is the missing element.

    Banks are essential intermediaries in a credit-based system, and the flow of goods comes to a shuddering halt without available, and, most importantly, believable credit. Sure, I suppose it is possible for a buyer to wire over the cash money to release the goods, but that type of exchange takes a different form of trust that is very likely to be in short supply during a crisis. Who would want to send off money without a system of assurances that the products will be shipped? Where there is an entire system of checks and balances erected around credit transactions, there are fewer for cash transactions.

    Think of an Ebay auction where you use your credit card vs. sending off cash in an envelope. If the deal goes bad, you have more options for recourse under the credit transaction than the cash transaction. This is also true for businesses of every size.

    This is why the recent decision to allow banks to “mark (all of their toxic assets) to maturity” was a bad move. While it helped the balance sheets appear to be healthier, which I am sure made some CEOs happy, it also served to make the banks’ financial positions less transparent, causing an offsetting erosion of confidence. After this move there is now less certainty about anyone’s solvency. And so our credit markets are seizing up, and grain is not being shipped from docks. On the surface this may not seem like a huge problem, but once you understand how our entire economy is predicated on a “just in time” delivery system, the problem is obvious. A couple of examples:

    • Grocery stores typically only have 3-5 days of food on hand. The continuous arrival of new trucks on a daily basis is essential to keeping them supplied. Credit allows this to happen.
    • The US imports 17% of its daily gasoline needs from foreign refiners. Credit allows this to happen.

    Literally every single supply chain in our complicated consumer network is dependent on the smooth functioning of the credit markets. (Okay, maybe not the illegal drug market, but you get the drift.) While it is possible to switch to a cash-based scheme for normal business transactions, that process will take time, possibly years, and the credit markets are currently imploding at a rate that suggests we have only a few weeks to sort all this out.

    This is what is happening behind the scenes, and this is why the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are operating in such a panic mode.

    In a larger sense, what we are seeing is the inevitable result of a fractional reserve banking system that has burned itself out. In 2003, Alan Greenspan reduced the US interest rate to the emergency level of 1% and held it there for a year. The rest of the world’s central banks followed suit, and the rest is history.

    As a result, we had the greatest expansion of debt that the world has ever seen. Credit bubbles always end in a bust, and they do not end until all of the prior excesses are wrung out of the system. For the US, this presents quite a tricky bit of landscape to navigate, because we mainly financed our excesses through foreign borrowing. Plus, we still own the world’s reserve currency. Together these facts compound the difficulty of managing a successful conclusion to the crisis.

    So we are now forced to admit, at least to ourselves, that it is now possible that both the dollar and the entire fractional reserve banking system could implode.

    In the case of the dollar, trillions and trillions of them are now held by foreigners. In order for the dollar to merely maintain its value internationally, foreigners must keep buying it at the same pace as before. If they continue to maintain their current dollar positions, but stop buying more, the dollar will fall. If they stop buying more and decide to unload the ones they already have, then the dollar will crash.

    We have, in essence, three generations of excess spending out there in the hands of foreign nations, some of them openly hostile to the US. Our future rests upon their kindness. In the case of the banking system, it is already, obviously, in terrible shape. The entire network, in aggregate, is insolvent. The damage in several key financial stocks this week has been staggering, if not frightening.

    Recalling my earlier statement about “marking to maturity,” we can see evidence of the resulting level of concern by viewing the stock price of Citigroup, which holds slightly more than $1 trillion (with a “t”) of the so-called “Level III” assets, which are equivalent to the “marked-to-maturity” assets that I spoke of earlier. Here we can see that Citigroup is rapidly approaching its recent lows, having lost all of the momentum that the “no short” rule change gave it a while back:

     

     

    And here are several other major insurers that are certainly going down soon. MetLife starts the ball rolling here:

     

     

    That chart, my friends, is a complete disaster. Something is very broken at MET that will require a lot of fixing. MET “…offers life insurance, annuities, automobile and homeowners insurance, retail banking and other financial services to individuals, as well as group insurance, reinsurance and retirement and savings products and services to corporations, and other institutions."

    And here’s Prudential Financial. This, too, is a very ugly chart:

     

     

    PRU “…offers an array of financial products and services, including life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, pension and retirement-related services and administration, investment management, real estate brokerage and relocation services, and, through a joint venture, retail securities brokerage services.

    And here’s Aegon, a major holding company offering insurance, pension, and financial services and products. This chart shows the complete breakdown of yet another gigantic company with financial tendrils that reach far and wide:

     

     

    And here’s the last one, Hartford Financial Services (HIG – primarily an insurance company), slightly larger than AEG but smaller than MET:

     

     

    These are all gigantic companies, each as large as Enron and each with charts indicating that utter failure is just around the corner. We can all hope that a financial rescue is in the works that will be able to fix all of this, but we’d be better off planning as if that weren’t going to happen.

    What you can do about this

    First, I want you to accept the possibility that the entire banking system could go into a form of financial cardiac arrest and fail to work properly. If this happens, uncertainty and fear will rule the day. Jobs will be lost, goods will grow scarce, and rumors will fly.

    The most obvious impacts will be felt locally. Towns, municipalities, and states will have to navigate the loss of significant portions of their budgets. Services will be cut. Some stores and supply channels will not be able to operate, either because their cash flow got pinched and they went out of business as a result, or because their credit facilities dried up and prevented normal operations. Some goods will rapidly become scarce.

    The first step in preparing yourself for this scenario is to understand why this has happened. By taking the Crash Course, you already know the mechanics of this situation and that everything that the Treasury and Fed are trying to fix (at least publicly) are merely symptoms. The cause was a 25-year-long credit binge that finally ran out of steam.

    The second thing you can do is to adopt a highly defensive posture with respect to money and your basic living arrangements. Let me reiterate the basic Tier I actions that you should all have taken by now:

    • Trim your expenses as far as humanly possible.
    • Keep cash out of the bank. Three months’ living expenses if you can; otherwise as much as possible.
    • Do you have essential medicines that you count on? If it’s possible, keep an extra supply around the house.
    • When you can, keep things topped off around the home. I recommend keeping at least a three-month supply of food on hand, in case the trucks stop rolling for any reason. I know this may sound “out there” for some of you, and if this goes too far in your mind, simply ignore it. But for anybody who has even the slightest worry in this regard, when all is said and done it takes relatively little effort and no extra money to make this fear go away. I say “no extra money,” because you would eventually have bought and eaten the food anyways. Through all of human history, up until about 50 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the average family not to know exactly where its food for the winter was located. Our modern dependence on just-in-time delivery is a very, very recent development, and one for which we may potentially pay a very high price
    • Hold gold and silver, physical only. How much? That depends on how many of your US-dollar-denominated holdings you’d like to be absolutely sure do not go to zero.

    And here are the Tier II actions that you should consider in preparing for a potential credit market collapse:

    • Develop a sense of community and get to know the people you can count on and who will count on you.
    • Don’t take on any more purely consumptive debt for any circumstances, unless you are speculating and can manage the risks. This means you should not buy a house that is a stretch, you should make the old car go a little longer, and you should not be putting anything on the old credit card that you cannot find a way to do without.
    • Keep your job! I don’t care how much you hate your current position, keep it until and unless you have another one (or until you retire, but even then, please be very sure of how you will pay your living expenses).

    Let me close by saying that I fervently hope that this whole banking crisis blows over and does not result in you needing to draw upon any of the safeguards that I have laid out above. That is my most sincere wish.

    But as I see things now, the chance of a banking collapse and/or dollar crisis remains unacceptably high.

    Do what you need to do. Do what you believe is right, and tune out the rest.

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    Warren’s Risky Play

    by Chris Martenson

    Friday, October 17, 2008, 8:01 PM

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    Friday, October 17, 2008

    One of the most emailed stories at the NYT website today is an Op-Ed piece by Warren Buffett entitled Buy American. I Am.

    I think this piece deserves some closer attention because Warren Buffett is so influential in the world of money. Let’s examine his ideas closely.

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    Market Predictions and Outlook Update

    by Chris Martenson

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 12:47 AM

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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    In this report I will review the advice and predictions I made on May 27, 2008 (exactly five months ago) in a report entitled Charting a Course Through the Recession.

    In striving to be accurate, fair, and complete, and in the spirit of constant improvement, it’s important to review where we went right and where we went wrong.  I’m pleased to say that many of my predictions were right on target.  I didn’t anticipate such an aggressive dollar advance, but now I see this trend continuing for awhile.  I am continuing to recommend some of the same prudent actions as always.  Stay out of debt, keep cash close by, get some money out of the dollar (gold), and know your neighbors.  And stay tuned for more from me in future reports.

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    Post-Election Blues

    by Chris Martenson

    Friday, November 7, 2008, 2:48 PM

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    Friday, November 7, 2008

    The credit bubble has burst.  Twenty-five years of spending more than we’ve earned has finally caught up with us.  Now that the continuous expansion of credit has ceased, it is no longer possible to finance the carrying costs of the prior debt, and collapse is the inevitable outcome. But how will it play out?

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