From Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), English satirical novelist, Scoop (1938)
As there was no form of government common to the peoples thus segregated, nor tie of language, history, habit, or belief, they were called a Republic.
From Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), English satirical novelist, Scoop (1938)
As there was no form of government common to the peoples thus segregated, nor tie of language, history, habit, or belief, they were called a Republic.
The barrage from the media and establishment powers will continue to be relentless. From David Stockman on a guest post at theburningplatform.com:
General Flynn’s tenure in the White House was only slightly longer than that of President-elect William Henry Harrison in 1841. Actually, with just 24 days in the White House, General Flynn’s tenure fell a tad short of old “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”. General Harrison actually lasted 31 days before getting felled by pneumonia.
And the circumstances were considerably more benign. It seems that General Harrison had a fondness for the same “firewater” that agitated the native Americans he slaughtered at the famous battle memorialized in his campaign slogan. In fact, during the campaign a leading Democrat newspaper skewered the old general, who at 68 was the oldest US President prior to Ronald Reagan, saying:
Give him a barrel of hard [alcoholic] cider, and… a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year… and… he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.
That might have been a good idea back then (or even now), but to prove he wasn’t infirm, Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in US history (2 hours) in the midst of seriously inclement weather wearing neither hat nor coat.
That’s how he got pneumonia! Call it foolhardy, but that was nothing compared to that exhibited by Donald Trump’s former national security advisor.
General Flynn got the equivalent of political pneumonia by talking for hours during the transition to international leaders, including Russia’s ambassador to the US, on phone lines which were bugged by the CIA. Or more accurately, making calls which were “intercepted” by the very same NSA/FBI spy machinery that monitors every single phone call made in America.
To continue reading: Flynn’s Gone But They’re Still Gunning For You, Donald
This week’s Appalachian Messenger.
SLL has long maintained that the economy is in much worse shape than indicated by official statistics. With President Trump taking office, it’s a good bet the numbers will catch up with reality. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:
Retail sales are held up by only two sectors. The rest are sinking.
There are two components of “retail and food services sales” that have been booming over the past few years through the fourth quarter 2016. And then there’s all the rest combined – 71% of total retail sales – that has been in decline since the third quarter of 2008. That’s the tough reality of retail sales in the US.
First the good news: e-commerce sales
In the fourth quarter, e-commerce sales soared 14.3% from a year earlier, to $123.6 billion, not adjusted for seasonality and price changes, according to the Commerce Department today. E-commerce sales for the entire year 2016 jumped 15.1% year-over-year to $394.9 billion, accounting for 8.1% of total retail and food services sales, up from 7.3% in 2015. You see where this is going.
E-commerce sales include online sales by retailers with brick-and-mortar stores, such as Walmart and Macy’s that are all trying to carve out a presence on the internet, with varying success.
This chart uses seasonally adjusted e-commerce sales to eliminate the very large seasonal fluctuations, including the spike every Q4 and plunge every Q1, but it’s not adjusted for inflation:
While e-commerce soared 14.3% year-over-year in Q4, total retail and food services sales, including e-commerce, rose only 3.9%. In all of 2016, total retail sales edged up only 2.9% from 2015. So what is left over once e-commerce is removed from the equation?
To continue reading: Worse Than a Decade of Stagnation
Review of The Socionomic Theory of Finance, by Robert R. Prechter
Socionomic theory predicts it will be at its least popular when it’s most useful, implying that right now, few will read The Socionomic Theory of Finance (STF) or this review, although it’s an important book and most financial market participants would benefit immensely from learning why they consistently lose money.
The prevalence of herding throughout the animal kingdom suggests its evolutionary benefits. A gnu in a herd sees a stalking lion and before you know it, they’re all fleeing because they’re all fleeing. One may end up gnu tartare, but the rest are safe, and evolution cares about species, not individuals. On a less bloodthirsty note, when a gnu finds a spring in a parched savannah, before you know it, the herd has bellied up to the bar. In an uncertain world, herding allows for virtually instantaneous dispersal of knowledge and evolutionarily effective responses.
Socionomics (so-shee-o-nom’-ics or so-see-o-nom’-ics) is the study of social mood and its influence over social attitudes and actions. It provides a basis for explaining the genesis of past social events and for anticipating future ones, thereby offering a new science of history and social prediction.
STF, pg. 113
That humans, in contexts of uncertainly, herd, is the least controversial socionomic assertion. It’s all downhill from there, in terms of a first-blush reader’s willingness to accept further assertions. However, Robert Prechter, claiming that socionomics is a science, does what scientists do: views suppositions as hypotheses that must be tested, and if necessary, revised or discarded. So don’t quit reading after the next few paragraphs, even though it may seem, on first blush, absurd. Press on, reminding yourself that socionomics holds itself to scientifically rigorous standards.
In contexts of uncertainty, herding is what Prechter terms “pre-rational.” It is not governed by the same part of the brain and the same mental processes as solving a math problem or rational herding in contexts of certainty—queuing up early with your friends for what you all know will be a sold out concert. Pre-rational herding impulses take precedence over rational reflexion and are the fundamental psychological driver of inherently uncertain financial markets. So-called rational reflexion comes into play after the impulsive imperative, and is nothing more than rationalization for impulsive action or inaction performed either before or after the rationalization. Following the herd in financial markets brings participants to grief, because the herd always has and always will buy high and sell low.
Socionomic theory breaks revolutionary and controversial ground.
The main theoretical principles are that in human, complex systems:
• Shared unconscious impulses to herd in contexts of uncertainty lead to mass psychological dynamics manifested as social mood trends.
• These social mood trends conform to a hierarchal fractal called the Wave Principle (WP) and therefore are probabilistically predictable.
• These patterns of human aggregate behavior are form-determined due to endogenous processes, rather than mechanistically determined by exogenous causes.
•Social mood trends determine the character of social actions and are their underlying cause.
STF, pg. 313
The concept of individual free will is not negated, but social mood impels social action. The last bullet point often proves the bridge too far, and not just for those seeing it for the first time. Everybody “knows” that events are behind social mood and its swings. Rising stock markets and expanding economies make people optimistic and happy. Depressions and wars make people depressed, pessimistic, fearful, and belligerent. It’s the job of social scientists to figure out how to promote prosperity and rising markets and prevent depressions and wars.
If Prechter’s right, the social scientists are wasting their time. The socionomic theory requires a 180 degree reversal in most people’s thinking. Social mood trends, regulated by their own internal, or endogenous, dynamics and impervious to external influences, motivate social actions. Social mood is the cause; social actions are the effects. Stock markets rise and economies expand because of rising social mood. Depressions and wars are results of falling social mood.
Social mood itself is intangible, although its effects are not, but we have indicators of social mood, called sociometers, from fields of human endeavor that are collective exercises in contexts of uncertainty. The best sociometers are equity markets, which second by second register changes in the speculative herd’s mood. Studying stock market charts in the 1930s and 1940s, Ralph Nelson Elliott discerned the wave patterns that became the basis for the Elliott Wave Theory (EWT).
As established by R.N. Elliott empirically and Benoit Mandelbrot mathematically, financial prices fluctuate as a fractal, with a comparable style of movement on all time scales, from seconds to centuries.
STF, pg. 232
A fractal, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is: “[A]ny of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size.”
While Elliott waves are irregular, they take shape according to certain guidelines and mathematical relationships, many incorporating the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21….). For any given time period a stock market can go up or down, but the EWT yields probabilistic predictions about its likely direction and pattern, which means it can be empirically tested. Much of STF is devoted to demonstrating the EWT’s predictive efficacy in both an absolute sense and relative to other economic and financial theories.
In Part I, Prechter demolishes a slew of external, or exogenous, cause theories purporting to explain financial markets. Think interest rates, earnings, oil prices, trade deficits (or surpluses), the unemployment rate, GDP, war, peace, central bank policy, news shocks, or any other exogenous factor has a consistent relationship to stock averages? They don’t, and Prechter has the charts to prove it. Think the prices of precious metals reliably rise with inflation? More charts, and again, there’s no consistent relationship. Spicing up Part 1 are quotes confidently asserting various consistent relationships. The absolute certainty expressed, in light of subsequent events, makes some of them unintentionally hilarious.
Surely central bank control of short term interest rates is an exogenous factor affecting at least the bond market? Prechter at one point thought so, but had an epiphany, an insight that remains controversial to this day: central bankers are human. As such, they ride the same social mood waves as everyone else, but because they’re basically part of the government and governments are always the last to get the joke, they act with a lag. Turns out—and Prechter’s got the charts here, too—the Fed’s interest rate moves follow rather than lead short-term interest rate markets. If you want to know the Fed’s next move, watch short-term interest rates, which is how the analysts at Elliott Wave International (EWI), Prechter’s company, have accurately predicted such moves, including last December’s increase.
To win acceptance, a theory must be empirically testable and yield accurate predictions if specified test conditions are met. Prechter presents solid evidence that the socionomic theory yields testable predictions that flow logically from its postulates and are far more accurate than random guesses.
Socionomics deals with herding behavior in contexts of uncertainty, so its predictions are not confined to finance. Take the famous hemline indicator, the correlation between hemlines and the trend in the stock market. Fashion is herding: what’s everybody else wearing? Hemlines, socionomics posits, are driven by the same social mood as the stock market. Women get optimistic, frisky, and daring during periods of rising social mood and wear miniskirts; they wear more somber clothes with lower hemlines during periods of falling social mood. The socionomic theory throws off all sorts of these non-finance hypotheses, which the STF explores in detail.
Prechter’s bread and butter is finance. He’s had his whiffs—predictions can only be probabilistic, not certainties. However, he and EWI’s numerous home runs, including the last stock market crash and the subsequent rally, put them in the prognosticators’ hall of fame. Like most of their big calls, those two evoked widespread derision until they were borne out. Chapter 22, “Elliott Waves vs. Supply and Demand: The Oil Market,” makes a compelling contrary case to whatever everyone “knows”—that the price of oil is governed by supply and demand. EWI has an astounding track record in that market, compiled over a 22-year span by five different analysts.
Prechter does an outstanding job of making his theory accessible. He is a fine writer with a straightforward style, which makes most of the book an easy read. The numerous charts are well labeled and explained.
There are a couple of quibbles. Prechter differentiation of the socionomic theory from other economic and financial theories is at times repetitive and tedious. He makes compelling arguments that socionomics upends much of the conventional social sciences, and that socionomics deserves acceptance as a new social science. It’s not an overstatement to say he’s put the science in social science. However, Part VII consists of articles written by other writers that seem aimed towards establishing socionomics’ credentials among academics. The points established are important, but are mostly refinements and subsidiary to the basic theory, and the writing, unfortunately, is too often in dense academic prose. This section can and probably will be skipped by most general readers, and they won’t have missed the thrust of the book.
Socionomics predicts its own popularity. In periods of rising social mood, the herd listens to the chorus of exogenous cause rationalizations for rising markets and economic vigor, and believes straight-line projections of more of the same. It ignores endogenous mood waves and chart analysis—the heart of the socionomic theory of finance—and predictions the market will reverse course. So the STF’s publication at a time when stock market averages are making new highs almost daily may be an instance of poor timing.
Or perhaps not. Prechter’s prediction for equity markets and the economy is that we are within months of the end of a fractal series of rising mood trends that will mark the top not just of the bull market wave that began in 2009, but a larger wave that began in 1974, a still larger wave that began in 1932, and a still larger wave that began in the 1780s. After these up waves comes a series of huge down waves, a devastating financial crash, and a depression greater than the Great Depression. Then, presumably, Prechter will be more widely read.
The Socionomic Theory of Finance represents a seismic shift in social science, a breathtaking, monumental intellectual accomplishment. Prechter has exposed exogenous cause “theories” as nothing more than post hoc rationalizations with the predictive power of coin flips. It may take a century or two for socionomics to win general acceptance (anyone who understands the theory will understand why), and per its own analysis its popularity will rise and fall inversely with social mood. To his credit as a scientist, Prechter invites further study, refinements, and modifications. However, those who directly challenge socionomics cannot fall back on the comfortable and widely accepted formulations he’s discredited. They must propose a theory that yields testable hypotheses and has more predictive power. That’s how real science works. Until someone builds that better theoretical mousetrap, socionomics will reign intellectually supreme. Let’s leave Prechter with the last word.
To an uninitiated person, conventional economic thinking feels right even though it’s wrong, and socionomic causality feels wrong even though it’s right. To begin your journey out of that mindset, you must learn to accept and then embrace irony and paradox, at least as humans are unconsciously wired to interpret things. Once you recognize that social mood and patterned herding are independent, primary causes that have consequences in social action, once you get used to the world of socionomic causality, the irony and paradox will melt away, and everything the markets do will make sense. Rather than appearing unfathomable, market action will become completely normal, somewhat predictable and wonderfully entertaining.
STF, pg. 373
The Wall Street Journal accuses intelligence personnel from withholding information from the president for whom they work. That, as opposed to anything Trump and his team have done this past year, sounds like treason. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
Following President Trump’s exclamations today with regard “un-American” leaks of classified intel, it appears he has a bigger, more serious problem on his hands. WSJ reports that US intel officials have withheld information from President Trump due to concerns it could be leaked or compromised.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified current and former officials familiar with the matter, reports that officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him.
In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
In some ways Trump may not care: according to the WSK, “Trump doesn’t immerse himself in intelligence information, and it isn’t clear that he has expressed a desire to know sources and methods. The intelligence agencies have been told to dramatically pare down the president’s daily intelligence briefing, both the number of topics and how much information is described under each topic, an official said. Compared with his immediate predecessors, Mr. Trump so far has chosen to rely less on the daily briefing than they did.”
However, now that the WSJ brought up this topic, one can be absolutely sure the first demand Trump will make during his next intel briefing: “show me all the information.” That’s when things could get rough.
To continue reading: On The Verge Of Treason: US Spies Withhold Intelligence From Trump
Although he made a name for himself helping Edward Snowden reveal government surveillance, Glenn Greenwald is not at all bothered that Michael Flynn’s phone calls with a Russian diplomat was intercepted, nor that they were leaked to the press for political ends. Greenwald’s position apparently is that all government leaks are good leaks, regardless of the motivations of the leakers. A question for Greenwald: if an intelligence agency had monitored Edward Snowden’s phone calls before he left the US, leaked to the press a conversation in which Snowden disclosed his plans, and thus thwarted Snowden’s planned disclosure and escape, and probably put him in jail, would that be a good leak? Motives matter in these cases, and Greenwald’s argument is weak; he’s trying to excuse both the intercepted calls and the leaks. From Greenwald at theintercept.com:
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S NATIONAL security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, was forced to resign on Monday night as a result of getting caught lying about whether he discussed sanctions in a December telephone call with a Russian diplomat. The only reason the public learned about Flynn’s lie is because someone inside the U.S. government violated the criminal law by leaking the contents of Flynn’s intercepted communications.
In the spectrum of crimes involving the leaking of classified information, publicly revealing the contents of SIGINT — signals intelligence — is one of the most serious felonies. Journalists (and all other nongovernmental citizens) can be prosecuted under federal law for disclosing classified information only under the narrowest circumstances; reflecting how serious SIGINT is considered to be, one of those circumstances includes leaking the contents of intercepted communications, as defined this way by 18 § 798 of the U.S. Code:
Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates … or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes … any classified information … obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
That Flynn lied about what he said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was first revealed by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who has built his career on repeating what his CIA sources tell him. In his January 12 column, Ignatius wrote: “According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking.”
That “senior U.S. government official” committed a serious felony by leaking to Ignatius the communication activities of Flynn. Similar and even more extreme crimes were committed by what the Washington Post called “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls,” who told the paper for its February 9 article that “Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials.” The New York Times, also citing anonymous U.S. officials, provided even more details about the contents of Flynn’s telephone calls.