Monday, November 12, 2007

Signs of the Economic Apocalypse, 11-12-07


Gold closed at 834.70 dollars an ounce Friday, up 3.2% from $808.50 at the close of the previous week. The dollar closed at 0.6814 euros Friday, down 1.2% from 0.6894 at the close of the previous Friday. That put the euro at 1.4676 dollars compared to 1.4504 the Friday before. Gold in euros would be 568.71 euros an ounce, up 2.0% from 557.43 for the week. Oil closed at 96.32 dollars a barrel, up 0.4% from $95.93 at the close of the week before. Oil in euros would be 65.63 euros a barrel, down 0.8% from 66.14 for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 8.67 Friday, up 2.8% from 8.43 at the end of the week before. In U.S. stocks, the Dow closed at 13,042.74 Friday, down 4.2% from 13,595.10 for the week. The NASDAQ closed at 2,627.94 Friday, down 6.9% from 2,810.38 at the close of the week before. In U.S. interest rates, the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.21% Friday, down ten basis points from 4.21 for the week.

The dollar continued to fall last week, and losses accelerated in the stock market last week. In the United States the Dow fell 4% and the NASDAQ nearly 7%. Gold gained another 3% in dollars and 2% in euros. The only bright spot was oil, which gained only four tenths of a percent in dollars and lost nearly eight tenths of a percent in euros.

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board seems to have lost control of the situation.The Fed’s usual remedy, pumping money into the system, is making the disease worse. The reason is that the Fed creates money by lending it to banks who lend it to everyone else. The problem is that everyone except speculators are all borrowed out, so the speculators have more cheap money to speculate with unproductively via hedge funds. That has kept stock prices from collapsing but has done nothing to fix the underpinnings of the crisis. According to Mike Whitney,
The charade cannot go on forever. And it won't. Rate cuts do not address the underlying problem which is bad investments. The debts must be accounted for and written off. Nothing else will do. That doesn't mean that Bernanke will suddenly decide to stop savaging the dollar or flushing hundreds of billions of dollars down the investment bank toilet. He probably will. But, eventually, the blow-ups in the housing market will destabilize the financial system and send the banks and over-leveraged hedge funds sprawling. Bernanke's low interest "giveaway" will amount to nothing.

The deregulation of the financial industry during the past 25 years caused this mess. And it was completely foreseeable. But the people who pushed it through knew they could make unimaginable amounts of money on the boom caused by lack of regulation and, it they are smart or connected enough, get out while they are ahead leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab. Pam Martens uses the example of Citigroup to illustrate the problem:

The Toxic Giant and It's Own Black Hole
Wall Street Metes Out Street Justice to Citigroup

By Pam Martens

November 6, 2007

After years of receiving slaps on the wrists by regulators for helping insolvent companies hide the true state of their finances from investors, Citigroup's day of reckoning has arrived in the form of "street" justice.

Wall Street colleagues are publicly challenging the adequacy of Citigroup's capital, its accounting practices, and its own black hole-Cayman Islands debt structures. Some of the oldest Wall Street firms are also refusing to pony up billions for a grand scheme endorsed by the U.S. Treasury, ostensibly to unfreeze debt markets. Wall Street firms see it as a bail out of Citigroup and just one more free ride from the Feds.

Citigroup has been repeatedly charged in investor lawsuits with creating off balance sheet structures to hide the debt of large U.S. firms such as Enron. In each case, it has been allowed to pay millions to regulatory bodies and billions to private plaintiffs to settle the charges without an admission of guilt and avoid a public trial. These trials, however, might have provided critical transparency and an early warning to the public and its colleagues on Wall Street.

But next year, Citigroup will face trials in both Italy and the U.S. in two separate actions for creating off balance sheet structures that plaintiffs contend were significant contributors to the bankruptcy of the giant Italian milk company, Parmalat. Citigroup named one of these structures Buconero, Italian for "black hole." Another structure Citigroup set up for Parmalat sold commercial paper, backed by fake invoices, to U.S. money market funds. Citigroup contends it was "the victim" in all matters related to Parmalat.

The U.S. trial, set for May of 2008 in a New Jersey State Court, is not being brought by a U.S. prosecutor, but an Italian trustee for Parmalat, Enrico Bondi.
Dave Serchuk, a reporter for Securities Week at the time, reported in its February 2, 2004 issue that Citigroup had bundled essentially worthless Parmalat debt and sold it in the form of asset backed commercial paper to what U.S. investors thought were among the safest and most liquid investments: money market funds. Unfortunately, the incendiary Parmalat/Citigroup money market story failed to get picked up by mainstream media.

Now, once again, one of the most troubling aspects of the current Citigroup debacle that has gone unreported is the extent to which these opaque and convoluted debt instruments managed by Citigroup, called CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), got dumped into Cayman Islands SIVs, transmuted into AAA-rated commercial paper, landed in the so-called safe money market funds in the U.S., including an astonishing amount at Citigroup's competitor, Merrill Lynch.

According to Standard & Poor's Structured Finance research reports, Citigroup is managing the following Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs), incorporated in the Cayman Islands and not consolidated on Citigroup's balance sheet: Centauri Corp., Beta Finance Corp., Sedna Finance Corp., Five Finance Corp., and Dorada Corp. (1) In addition, according to press reports, Citigroup created two more SIVs as recently as November 2006: Zela Finance Corp. and Vetra Finance Corp. (2) These SIVs contain approximately $80 Billion in what is increasingly being viewed as toxic debt.

Knowing the history of Citigroup and knowing the safety and liquidity requirements for money market funds, how did one of the oldest and most sophisticated firms on the street, Merrill Lynch, end up with a boatload of this SIV paper in its various money markets? The most troubling of its money market exposure as of its July 31, 2007 filing with the SEC is its Citigroup managed SIV commercial paper positions in what one would think would be the safest of all its money market funds, the Merrill Lynch Retirement Reserves Money Fund. Merrill's SEC filing shows $52.9 Million in Beta Finance, $53 Million in Five Finance, $10 Million in Sedna Finance, and $10.7 Million in Zela Finance. (3)

In a research report written by Meredith Whitney for CIBC World Markets on October 31, 2007, there is a key clue to why Citigroup has finally lost the confidence of the street: "While Citigroup has stated that it will not consolidate the assets of these 7 SIVs, it will continue to provide liquidity. As such, Citigroup's assets would increase as it extends short term funding to SIVs. With a bigger asset base, or denominator, Citigroup's capital ratios would decline. While not specifically disclosed, we know that part of the 6% sequential increase in Citigroup's 3Q07 total assets was from the addition of commercial paper issued to SIVs." (Translation: it can't find a new sucker to roll over its maturing SIV commercial paper; it has become the sucker of last resort along with its balance sheet.)

Citigroup's ignoble beginning foreshadowed its sorry state today. It is the Frankenbank created back in 1998 out of the body parts of Travelers Insurance, Salomon investment bank, Smith Barney brokerage, and retail banking giant Citibank, with the brain of Wall Street titan, Sandy Weill, implanted firmly to run a confidence game of unprecedented proportions. (Mr. Weill retired from the firm a few years ago after it made him a billionaire.)

Citigroup's creation required the repeal of depression-era investor protection legislation (Glass-Steagall Act) put in place to prevent stock brokerages and investment banks that are prone to high risk, speculation and collapse from merging with commercial banks that hold deposits earmarked for safety by a frequently gullible public.

I recently found in my files from that time a letter addressed to me from one Robert Frierson, Associate Secretary of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The letter is dated September 23, 1998. It is one of those quixotic examples of the relics of "we the people" government struggling for air in the "we the corporations" era.

The letter is formal and polite and on watermarked paper with a faint outline of our Nation's capital silhouetted underneath its ominous text. The letter advises me that Frankenbank is going to move forward but my testimony had been considered.

The letter was a followup to the public testimony I gave against the merger on Friday, June 28, 1996 at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Galen Sherwin, then President of the National Organization for Women in New York City (now a civil rights lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union) and I, then a naively optimistic civil rights litigant against one of Weill's firms, had planned to simply protest outside the building during the testimony by Sandy Weill sycophants. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to be courteously ushered inside, giant protest signs and all, and afforded a slot to speak on one of the panels. (Both the Federal Reserve's typed transcript of the testimony and my hastily hand scribbled remarks are permanently archived on the web site of this peculiar institution.) (4)

Here is an excerpt of what I had to say nine years and 90 Citigroup market manipulations ago:

"It is amazing how soon we forget. It was just 60 years ago that 4,835 of America's banks went broke and closed their doors, leaving shareholders and depositors destitute. The underlying reason that this happened was the lack of moral courage by our regulators and elected representatives to just say no to powerful money interests. Instead of just saying no, Washington handed the banks the equivalent of an ATM card to the Fed's discount window to speculate in stocks ... We also want to remember that the political dynamics that created the backdrop for the banking meltdown in the '30s grew from a corrupt, cozy culture between Wall Street and Washington ... We can hardly look to the safekeepers of the public trust when they are falling over themselves to reap campaign windfalls from Wall Street. Washington and regulators are quick to criticize moral hazard when it is on foreign shores. Let's look at the moral hazard incubating at Travelers and Smith Barney. In 1996, when the SEC and the Justice Department found that Smith Barney was one of 24 firms fleecing their own customers through six or more years of price fixing, no one went to jail. Within the last two years, when a special prosecutor found that Smith Barney had bribed the former U.S. agricultural secretary, again, no one went to jail. The firm is currently under investigation by various municipalities for the fraudulent markup of treasury securities, and that, in fact, is enough to hold up this merger, since a criminal charge against a primary dealer of treasury securities would lend its taint to one of America's major money center banks ... ."

Ms. Sherwin testified regarding the private justice system at Weill's Salomon Smith Barney that barred employees from accessing the nation's courts as a condition of employment. That system was successfully transplanted to the merged behemoth Citigroup and helps to explain how transparency vanished at what Ms. Sherwin predicted to the Fed in 1998 would "grow into a bloated corporate tyrant."

In the end, all Ms. Sherwin and I had for our efforts was a letterhead souvenir from the Fed and a web site archive reminding us we tried.

We were trumped by a stream of sycophants, nonprofits receiving money from the subject under scrutiny.

Here's a representative example of what the Fed considered against our testimony. Note that this doctor admits he has "no special credentials in business economic matters" and then proceeds to urge the most dangerous financial merger in the history of the world because he likes Sandy Weill, whose name, by the way, is engraved on the building he enters each day to receive a pay check."My name is Alberto Gotto. I am the provost for Federal Affairs at Cornell University and the dean of the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College in New York City. Here as the dean of the medical college in New York City, practicing physician and medical educator, I have no special credentials in business economic matters, but I do want to speak about an area in which I do have special and particular knowledge, and that concerns the excellent corporate citizenship of the Travelers Group and its Chairman and CEO Sanford I. Weill." (5)

The Bush administration would like to spin the current Wall Street crisis as the product of millions of hapless poor people with bad credit ("subprime") defaulting on their mortgages. Thus, it's been dubbed "the subprime mess" in headlines spanning the globe. That poor people were tricked into unconscionable mortgages predestined for foreclosure by a Citigroup subsidiary, CitiFinancial, and other predatory lenders, is but a symptom of the real disease and crisis. (6)

The Citigroup debacle rises from the same ideology creating endless reports on failures of Federal agencies to perform their oversight roles in protecting the American people with the taxes we give them to do just that. Viewed collectively, one can only conclude that the Bush administration has reengineered these taxpayer supported agencies to stand down on corporate malfeasance with a mantra of corporate profits before people and the flimsy overt pretext that free markets will handily function in the place of regulators with subpoena power.

After millions of lead paint infested toys slipped by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, dangerous drugs were rubberstamped by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), (only to be recalled after hundreds of thousands of injuries, including death), FEMA, the Department of Defense and Attorney General's office discredited for political cronyism, along comes the Citigroup hubris as the poster child crying out for timely enforcement of rules and regulations.

Citigroup's 10k filing with the SEC states that as a bank holding company it is subject to examination by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Having failed to heed the warnings nine years ago, perhaps the Fed will listen now and hold that long overdue examination.

Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years; she has no securities position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire.

(1) Standard & Poor's on Citigroup's SIVs
(2) Citigroup creates two more SIVs in November 2006
(3) Merrill Lynch's holdings of Citigroup SIVs as of 7/31/2007 in one money market.
(4) Pam Martens' and Galen Sherwin's testimony to the Federal Reserve Board against the merger creating Citigroup. See Panel 25.
(5) Alberto Gotto's testimony to the Federal Reserve. See Panel 20.
(6) Anita Hill reports in this Boston Globe article how CitiFinancial preyed on the uneducated and minorities.
See additional Congressional testimony here

There was some dark irony last week, with the news that the new personal bankruptcy law in the United States that prohibits individuals from getting out from under credit card debt has caused more problems for banks than the old system by driving foreclosures:
Bankruptcy Law Backfires as Foreclosures Offset Gains

Kathleen M. Howley

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Washington Mutual Inc. got what it wanted in 2005: A revised bankruptcy code that no longer lets people walk away from credit card bills.

The largest U.S. savings and loan didn't count on a housing recession. The new bankruptcy laws are helping drive foreclosures to a record as homeowners default on mortgages and struggle to pay credit card debts that might have been wiped out under the old code, said Jay Westbrook, a professor of business law at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and a former adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Be careful what you wish for,'' Westbrook said. “They wanted to make sure that people kept paying their credit cards, and what they're getting is more foreclosures.”

Washington Mutual, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. spent $25 million in 2004 and 2005 lobbying for a legislative agenda that included changes in bankruptcy laws to protect credit card profits, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington group that tracks political donations.

The banks are still paying for that decision. The surge in foreclosures has cut the value of securities backed by mortgages and led to more than $40 billion of writedowns for U.S. financial institutions. It also reached to the top echelons of the financial services industry.

Prince Exits

Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Charles O. “Chuck” Prince III stepped down this week after the country's biggest bank by assets said it may have $11 billion of writedowns on top of more than $6 billion in the third quarter. Stan O'Neal was ousted as CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's largest brokerage, after an $8.4 billion writedown. Both firms are based in New York.

Morgan Stanley, the second-biggest securities firm, said in a statement today that subprime losses will cut fourth-quarter earnings by $2.5 billion. The New York-based bank said it lost $3.7 billion in the two months through Oct. 31 as prices for securities linked with home loans to risky borrowers sank further than traders expected.

Even as losses have mounted, banks have seen their credit card businesses improve. The amount of money owed on U.S. credit cards with payments more than 30 days late fell to $7.04 billion in the second quarter from $8.37 billion two years earlier, according to data compiled by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In the same period, the dollar volume of repossessed homes owned by insured banks doubled to $4.2 billion, the federal agency said. New foreclosures rose to a record in the second quarter, led by defaults in subprime adjustable-rate mortgages, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington.

‘Let the House Go’

People are putting their credit card payments ahead of their mortgages, said Richard Fairbank, chief executive officer of Capital One Financial Corp., the largest independent U.S. credit card issuer. Of customers who are at least three months late on their mortgage payments, 70 percent are current on their credit cards, he said.

“What we conclude is that people are saying, ‘Honey, let the house go,”‘ but keep the cards, Fairbank said Nov. 5 at a conference in New York sponsored by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The new bankruptcy code makes it harder for debtors to qualify for Chapter 7, the section that erases non-mortgage debt. It shifted people who get paychecks higher than the median income for their area to Chapter 13, giving them up to five years to pay off non-housing creditors.

No Help Left

The court-ordered payment plans fail to account for subprime loans with adjustable rates that can reset as often as every six months, said Henry Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. Two-thirds of debtors won’t be able to complete their payback plans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

“We have people walking away from homes because they can’t afford them even post bankruptcy,” said Sommer, a Philadelphia- based bankruptcy attorney. “Their mortgage rates are resetting at levels that are completely unaffordable, and there’s nothing the bankruptcy process can do for them as it now stands.”

Four million subprime borrowers with limited or tainted credit histories will see their mortgage bills increase by an average 40 percent in the next 18 months, according to the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington. About 1.45 million of those will end up in foreclosure by the end of 2008, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, a research firm and unit of Moody’s Corp. in New York.

Lenders began the process of seizing properties on 0.65 percent of U.S. mortgages in the second quarter, a record in a quarterly Mortgage Bankers study that goes back 35 years. The percentage of subprime borrowers making late payments increased to 14.82, a five-year high, from 13.77.

Bankruptcies Increase

Personal bankruptcies rose 48 percent to 391,105 in the first half of 2007 from a year earlier and Chapter 13 filings accounted for more than one-third of those, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In the first half of 2005, they were just 24 percent of the total.

Bad mortgages slashed Washington Mutual’s profit by 72 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the Seattle-based thrift said Oct. 17. Income from credit card interest rose 8.8 percent to $689 million in the period, helping to offset a loss the bank warned on Oct. 5 would be 75 percent.

Washington Mutual shares tumbled the most in 20 years yesterday after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the thrift had pressured real estate appraisers to assign inflated values to properties. Its dividend yield fell to 11 percent and the company traded at 0.74 price-to-book value.

Citigroup’s third-quarter earnings fell 57 percent on mortgage losses. Bank of America stopped so-called warehouse lending to mortgage brokers after its profit declined 32 percent in the same period.

‘Unintended Consequence’

JPMorgan reported profit growth of 2.3 percent in the quarter, the smallest in more than two years, after reducing the value of leveraged loans and collateralized debt obligations, investment packages of mortgages, by $1.64 billion.

Washington Mutual spokeswoman Libby Hutchinson in Seattle, JPMorgan spokesman Thomas Kelly in New York and Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco in Charlotte, North Carolina, declined to comment on the bankruptcy law.

“The law had an unintended consequence of taking away a relief valve that mortgage borrowers used to have,” said Rod Dubitsky, head of asset-backed research for Credit Suisse Holdings USA Inc. in New York. “It’s bad for the mortgage borrowers and bad for subprime investors because it means more losses.”

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 was the biggest overhaul to the code in more than a quarter of a century. The old law, the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 that was signed by President Jimmy Carter, had loosened requirements for debt forgiveness.

Lobbying Effort

Financial companies began a coordinated lobbying campaign for bankruptcy reform in 1998 when the American Financial Services Association, a trade group representing credit card companies, joined the American Bankers Association to form the National Consumer Bankruptcy Coalition.

Campaign contributions from the coalition and its members totaled more than $8.2 million during the 2004 election that gave Bush his second term in office. Two-thirds of the donations were given to Republicans who supported the bankruptcy changes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group, later renamed the Coalition for Responsible Bankruptcy Laws, has since disbanded. Its members included Washington Mutual, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, MasterCard Inc., and Morgan Stanley.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors and DaimlerChrysler also were members. They won provisions in the new code that changed the way car loans are treated in bankruptcy.

Reform the Reform

Congress may soon take action to “reform the bankruptcy reform,” Zandi said. The House Judiciary Committee is working on legislation to let bankruptcy judges restructure home loans by lowering interest rates and reducing mortgage balances to reflect current market value.

Banks including Washington Mutual, Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. sent a letter to the committee opposing the change, saying such restructurings should be done privately.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the largest U.S. lender, said last month that it will modify $16 billion worth of adjustable-rate mortgages. Washington Mutual said in April that it will spend $2 billion giving discounted rates to help customers with subprime loans refinance at better terms.

So far, most lenders have been reluctant to change loan agreements. About 1 percent of mortgages that reset in January, April and July were modified, according to a Sept. 21 Moody’s Investors Service report that surveyed 16 subprime lenders that account for 80 percent of the market.

Congress probably will approve at least a limited measure to permit loan modifications, said Westbrook, the University of Texas law professor.

“They are going to have to figure out some way to address the problem,” Westbrook said. “I don’t think our economy or our consciences can handle the number of foreclosures we’ll see if they do nothing.”

Not surprisingly the gloom is spreading and not even the mainstream media can pretend that the economy is healthy. The following pathetic attempt is the best they can do:

Foreign Cash Could Boost Housing Market

Stephen Bernard

Foreign Cash Could Provide Much Needed Relief for U.S. Housing Market Thanks to Weak Dollar

NEW YORK (AP) -- The weakening dollar has caused many problems for consumers, but it may also be providing the fuel for one unintended -- and very welcome -- benefit: a rally in the struggling housing market driven by foreign investors.

For an individual or developer trying to sell a home, interested buyers are just as likely to already have a place in London or Paris as they are to be first-timers new to the market.

"European investment is likely to pick up," said Mark Vitner, chief economist for Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp. "Now is the time to come over and take advantage."

The theory goes that foreign investors step in and replace first-time home buyers who have been squeezed out of the housing market during the recent downturn. These new investors in turn allow current homeowners to sell and trade up to larger homes.

That will help restart owners moving up the housing ladder, a process that had been key to economic growth in recent years.

Some mortgage brokers are already seeing a boost in inquiries about buying property from overseas. Dan Green, a certified mortgage planning specialist and author of, said the number of inquiries he's received from outside the U.S. is probably five to 10 times larger than it was a year ago.

A boost in the number of homebuyers would provide needed relief for the beleaguered housing market.

Home sale prices fell every month in 2007 through August, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Existing home sales have declined for eight straight months through September, according to the National Association of Realtors.

As the housing market has plummeted, the dollar has also sunk to record lows compared to other currencies, such as the euro, meaning more spendable cash in the U.S.

"The dollar is on sale," said Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, a foreign buyer would need only 34,100 euros to make a $50,000 down payment on a house. At the beginning of the year, the same buyer would have needed 37,920 euros to make the same down payment.

The influx of foreign investors can help set a floor for the real estate market, Green said.

Because lending guidelines have been so restricted in recent months due to rising delinquencies and defaults, it is more difficult for U.S. customers to get a home loan. First-time homebuyers are especially being squeezed right now, Green said, and that is where the foreigners can provide support.

For investors from countries like Ireland, the exchange rate is providing a boost in spending power, said Phillip Hegarty, the sales director for Castleroc Estates, a Dublin, Ireland-based firm that works with Irish investors to buy residential and commercial real estate in the United States.

"It's an enticing investment," Hegarty said.

Hegarty said there is plenty of demand for investment in locations like Chicago and New York, and often that demand exceeds supply.

But New York and Chicago are not the only locations likely to provide popular options for foreign investors. Places like Florida and California are likely to see a surge in foreign investment.

"In a market with great turmoil, (the weak dollar) is one factor supporting some key markets," Wachter said of the weakening dollar.

Wachter said markets like Miami and San Francisco, which are under pressure from the U.S. slowdown, are increasingly being supported by foreign investors.

To think that investors and speculators from other countries could actually prop up a housing market of a population of three hundred million is absurd. It might help a bit in a few wealthy enclaves, but anything more is absurd. Housing is driven ultimately by people who need to live in it. Those are the people to whom speculators end up selling. Notice that the article takes an unlikely hypothetical and treats it as if it is happening and as if it is way more widespread than it could ever be.

The bottom line is the crash we have been expecting for several years is happening NOW. Ran Prieur puts it this way,

November 8. Two fun questions on yesterday’s big post. First, Kat writes:
“You keep saying how close the crash is, and I just wanted to know how much time you think I’d have left to buy some land.”

First, the crash is not close -- we are in the crash. This is what the crash looks like -- not roving gangs storming your house to steal canned food, but trains breaking down and roofs leaking and unemployed people moving in with family and employed people cynically going through the motions. Ten thousand little breakdowns, and adjustments to breakdowns, will slowly build up until you find yourself eating dandelions and sorting out your pre-1982 pennies to sell the copper. But there will not be one day when everything is different.

Second, you have all the time in the world to get land -- but you might not be buying it. Maybe you’ll buy 200 gallons of high fructose corn syrup while it’s still subsidized to keep poor people sick, and ferment and distill it into 120 proof alcohol, and trade seven kegs for five acres of clearcut. Or you’ll get a job in the "fell off a truck" economy to save money to buy a farm at a foreclosure auction, or you’ll know someone who already has land and needs helpers, or you’ll squat an abandoned house with a quarter acre lawn, turn it into gardens, and when the owning bank notices you and threatens to call in Blackwater, you’ll slip out in the night and do the same thing somewhere else. There’s no hurry -- the land is not going anywhere.

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